Sensory Deprivation

Before I get into today's column, I'd like to thank everyone for checking back to the site and being patient with me.  It's been a very busy last three months.  But if you enjoy what you read here at, then you'll probably enjoy my contributions to the 2004 STATS Inc Scouting Notebook (available in early February) and the Fantasy Baseball Index (available later this month).  Both should be readily available at most bookstores. 

Anyway, back to business...

They probably seem like two completely different stories, but it strikes me that both are symptoms of a problem that continues to plague this sport.  The symptoms I'm speaking of are the Hall of Fame voting and Pete Rose; the problem is the sportswriters.

Don't get me wrong.  For too long their contributions to our culture have been undervalued.  Sports is a natural environment for stories of heroism, courage, impossible victory and dignity in defeat.  Valuable life lessons are communicated by people's actions in sports more easily than in just about any other medium.  And most of the guys writing for newspapers, networks and online sources do a fantastic job of bringing these stories from the stadium directly to your heart.  For that, they should be applauded and rewarded.  The great ones should be considered along with the notable figures in fiction and non-fiction for honors and distinctions. 

Great storytellers, but analysts, they are not.

Hall of Fame voting

Take this year's Hall of Fame class.  I have no beef with Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley being voted to the Hall of Fame.  However, when they are voted in over more deserving players, players who contributed more to their teams' success, players like Ryne Sandberg, Bert Blyleven and Goose Gossage... then I have a problem.

Molitor was a very good hitter and one of the smartest players to ever play the game.  He was also a baserunning threat into his 40s.  But almost half of his 2683 games were played as a designated hitter (1174 to be exact).  The last year he played another position more than DH was 1990.  He played 1143 games and accumulated 1449 of his 3319 hits after that point.  Which means that almost half of his career production came in his final eight of 21 years when he no longer had to play the field regularly.  In his first 13 years, he averaged 113 games per season.  After becoming a DH almost exclusively, he averaged 143.  Were it not for the DH, Molitor probably would not even be considered for the Hall of Fame; he simply would never have been healthy enough to accumulate the stats he eventually did.  In essence, he was Al Oliver with more speed.  Had Oliver DHed after turning 32 the way Molitor did instead of finishing out his career in the NL, he might now be in the Hall of Fame as well.  As it is, he's not even considered.

Sandberg, on the other hand, was one of the ten best second baseman to ever play the game.  He won an MVP award (Molitor never did) and nine gold gloves.  If you only play half the game because you are sitting on the bench when your team is pitching, it's very hard to win a gold glove (although managers and coaches once saw to that, awarding Rafael Palmeiro a gold glove in 1999 when he played just 28 games at first, but 135 as DH).  Sandberg went to 10 All-Star games (to Molitor's seven) and posted better numbers in the postseason than Molitor, who's only award was a World Series MVP.  Sandberg has the 14th best OPS for a second baseman in history, but among that group only Charlie Gehringer, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Robbie Alomar and Joe Morgan were his equals as glovemen.  He, Rogers Hornsby and Davy Johnson are the only second basemen to ever hit 40 home runs in a season. 

Was Molitor one of the ten best at anything?  A career .slugging percentage of .448 (four points lower than Sandberg's) for a guy who spent half his career as a DH is not what I would call a Hall of Fame no-brainer.  His runs created per game is tied for 226th best all time.  If offense is his only tangible contribution, shouldn't a guy be better than 226th all-time to get into the Hall?  Yet, the writers saw him as a first ballot lock, naming him on 85% of their ballots while citing Sandberg on only 61%.

And what about Eckersley?  Yes, he was a great reliever, but that was only half his career.  For the first half, he was a good, but not great starter.  His entire Hall of Fame candidacy is based on 6 of his 12 years as a reliever.  Great as they were, are they really enough to overshadow Blyleven's career, a starter who won 287 games, pitching mostly for average or below average teams in ballparks that were hitter friendly?  Is Eckersley's career 3.50 ERA  somehow better than Blyleven's 3.31?  Are the Eck's 390 saves (3rd best all-time) really that much more impressive than Blyleven's 60 career shutouts (9th best) and 3701 strikeouts (5th best)?  Can a guy who pitched well for 3285 innings (116 *ERA+) with a .535 winning percentage be that much better than a guy who pitched slightly better for 4970 innings (118 *ERA+) with a .534 winning percentage?  The writers seem to think so because Eckersley was named on 83% of their ballots while Blyleven received the voting equivalent of a golf clap (35%).

And what about Gossage?  If Eckersley is going in on the strength of his work as a reliever, shouldn't a pitcher who did exactly what Eckersley did but for twice as many years be accorded the same honor of enshrinement?  Gossage, who was the dominant closer for more than a decade had more years with an ERA under 2.00 (four) than Eckersley (three) and topped 80 innings a season three times as often.  Yet Gossage was named on just over 40% of the ballots.

Pete Rose

Rose has finally admitted to that which many of us have known for quite some time, thanks to the thoroughness of the Dowd report: that he bet on baseball and that he bet on games in which his teams participated.  Not surprisingly, Rose admitted his guilt in a fashion that would only serve him: in a book that will net him plenty of money, and on the eve of the Hall of Fame announcements, thereby redirecting the focus once again from those worthy of acclaim to himself. 

Has there ever been a more reprehensible figure in the history of baseball who didn't actually shoot someone?  Actually, there have been but I'll save my Bud Selig column for another day.  The point is that there haven't been many.  For 14 years, he has sullied baseball with his bald-faced lies and distortions.  Even in his book, he never says he is sorry for his actions, only that he is sorry that he got caught.  And then he tells his readers to "move on".  Just get over it, he insists.

Despite this repugnant lack of contrition for committing baseball's only cardinal sin and his continuing hubris toward baseball and its fans, a significant majority of the sportswriters say they will vote him into the Hall of Fame if he becomes eligible.  I suppose this is where it gets fuzzy - you are permanently banned from baseball if you gamble on games in which you are involved... until you admit that you did so?  I've looked at the rule governing gambling in baseball several times, and nowhere in it does it stipulate that a player or manager's record or resume should be taken into account when it comes to deciding his fate with regard to gambling on the game.  It's pretty clear: it doesn't allow for any mitigating circumstances.  So maybe the writers and those who would have Rose back in the game are writing a new rule concerning gambling.

So what will they put on his Hall of Fame plaque?  "Pete Rose: Broke Ty Cobb's record for career hits, finishing with 4256, but was banned from baseball for gambling on his team 4 to 5 times a week as a manager in 1987 and 1988.  He was finally re-instated after 14 years of lying about it when he admitted his transgressions in a best selling book."  Yeah, that's some deterrent, guys.  I'm sure every baseball player from now on will think twice about consorting with gambling elements.

One day, and I hope it's soon, the writers, or someone in a position to affect change in baseball, will come to their senses.