Odds and Ends

Palmeiro and the Hall

Now that Rafael Palmeiro is closing in on 500 home runs, there has been a lot of talk about his candidacy for the Hall of Fame.  Given the recent history of the Hall's behavior and selections, I don't see how anyone can say Palmeiro is not a Hall of Famer.  

It used to be that 400 homers was the magic number for hitters, but since we are in the most offensive era in the history of baseball, the standard had to be raised.  And yet, here's Palmeiro about to surpass the new standard and now his critics want to raise it again?  Or worse yet, ignore it.  I'm sorry, but that's just a load of hooey.

Look, there are a number of guys who belong in the Hall but the writers and the veterans committee have been too myopic to understand how good these guys were.  Guys like Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo belong, yet have not even gotten close to getting in.  The writers defend themselves by saying these guys didn't win any MVPs.  Nonsense.  Who voted for the MVPs?  That's right, the writers.  If the writers couldn't see how good they were while they were playing, why would they notice five years after the fact?  

MVP voting has always been so confused that not even the sportswriters themselves understand uniformly what they're voting for.  How else can one explain Alex Rodriguez not winning at least one so far, despite being the second best shortstop in history (behind Honus Wagner) and Ted Williams not winning it despite hitting for the triple crown?  ARod was ninth in the MVP voting in 1998 despite becoming only the third player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season.  Ninth?!?!  In the AL?  Will they hold that against him?  It's conceivable that he could finish his career with the most homers, runs and RBI of anyone in history - his current pace puts him finishing with around 830 homers and over 2300 RBI and runs if he plays until he's 40 - and still not win one single MVP.  He's already the youngest in history to eclipse 300 homers for a career, the only infielder to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season, the only shortstop to ever hit 50 homers in a season (and he's done it twice) and he holds the record for most total bases in a season for a shortstop (in fact, he has the top 4 total base seasons for a shortstop).  And he still hasn't won a single MVP.  Clearly, the MVP vote is a popularity contest with only marginal basis in reality and not a substantive measure of a player's greatness.

Some will point to Palmeiro's mere four All Star appearances as proof he doesn't belong.  Again, that's a popularity contest with little basis in reality.  Miguel Tejada has only one All-Star appearance and Omar Vizquel has only 3 but because they play the same position and in the same era and league as Jeter, Garciaparra and ARod, have little chance of piling up the appearances.  If either of them played in another decade or in the National League, they would be regular attendees.  Cal Ripken made his last couple All-Star teams due to the fan vote, despite being one of the worst players at his position at the time.  Despite these glaring flaws, this should be a measure by which we consider great players? 

Palmeiro is 37 and a good bet to play at least through next season.  He is likely to finish his career in the top 20 in homers, doubles, hits, extra base hits, runs, RBI and at bats.  His statistical comparables through age 37 are (in order): Eddie Murray, Billy Williams, Fred McGriff, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield.  That's 8 of 10 Hall of Famers and the other two might get in. 

At worst, he's the Don Sutton of hitting - a guy who never wowed us with great single season numbers but over the course of a career, compiled some very impressive totals.  Sutton never won a Cy Young award.  He won 20 games just once, one ERA title and that's about it.  And I don't believe anyone ever said of him while he was playing, "Oh yeah, Don Sutton is one of the top 5 starters in baseball."  However, he ended up 7th all-time in strikeouts and innings pitched and 10th all-time in shutouts.  And he's in the Hall of Fame.

Palmeiro is closing in on a similar legacy.  Only Bonds and Sosa have hit more homers than Palmeiro while he's been in the league and only Bonds has more RBI.  And no one has more hits.  Palmeiro will most certainly finish in the top 20 all-time in RBI and doubles as well as homers, runs and extra base hits, and has a decent chance of topping 3000 hits; he already has over 2600.  Only Hank Aaron, Eddie Murray and Willie Mays have 500 homers and 3000 hits and all three were no-brainers for the Hall.  Palmeiro should be there too.  Now if we can only get them to get the other guys in...

Dodger starters

It's only the first month of the season, but it looks as though the Dodgers have the best rotation in the National League.  They are currently first in ERA and second in strikeouts.  And it's quite possible that not a single on of their starters will win 15 games because their offense is woeful.  And it may not get any better.

Shawn Green is the only legitimate threat in the line-up.  Fred McGriff is on his last legs and it could be that the real Paul LoDuca is the guy who never hit more than 8 homers in a season before 2001 and may not top 10 ever again.  Dave Roberts still gets on base and steals bases, but if only one guy is getting on base, they're not going to hit too many 3-run homers.  Brian Jordan is a much better hitter in the playoffs than he is over the course of a season - he just can't maintain his intensity and stay healthy at the same time - and the war of words between Adrian Beltre and Dodger management may mean he doesn't develop until he gets free of LA.  

Regardless, Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis provide pitcher-quality offense every day and few line-ups in baseball can be effective with 3 easy outs (the starting pitcher being the other) getting regular at bats.  

Still, the Dodgers should be relatively competitive, so look for their middle relievers to get an inordinate amount of decisions - wins and losses.

The All-Star Game

Following last year's tie, the people who run baseball felt it was imperative to infuse some relevance into the All-Star Game.  So they concocted a plan whereby the league that wins the mid-season exhibition will gain home field advantage for the World Series.  And I thought they couldn't top contraction as a bad idea.  Never underestimate the ineptitude of Major League Baseball's leadership.

First, home field advantage in the World Series can be a very significant edge.  In fact, the last visiting team to win a Game 7 was the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 1979.  The other 8 times the Series has extended to seven games since then have all been won by the home team.  But this advantage will now be decided by an exhibition game in which all 30 teams must, by rule, be represented.  So it's quite conceivable that home field advantage for baseball's biggest games could be decided by players who wouldn't otherwise be All-Stars had they not played for terrible teams.  

Another flaw is that now, the managers for the All-Star teams have a tactical reason for ruining his competitions' chances.  After the fans select the starters, the previous year's World Series managers get to select the alternates.  They also select all of the pitchers, as well as how they will be used.  What is to prevent a manager from wearing out a pitcher from one of his competitors in the name of competing to win the All-Star game?  For example, what is to prevent Mike Scioscia from leaving Pedro Martinez on the mound for 7 or 8 innings?  If Martinez breaks down from the extra work, doesn't that increase Scioscia's team's chances to win the wild card by putting a significant dent in Boston's chances?  Or if he lets Barry Zito throw 130 pitches?  If Zito breaks down, doesn't that increase the chances that the Angels could win the division?  Granted, by all accounts Mike Scioscia, and for that matter, most major league managers would never be that malicious.  But with the added incentive of winning the game, there's certainly the opportunity to be more careless with other teams' players.

If baseball wants a way to decide home field advantage, make regular season records be the determining factor.  Or each league's record in interleague play.  But to make an exhibition game so decisive, especially one in which the managers are handicapped by the rules and by the fans, makes absolutely no sense.  We can only hope this experiment will run out harmlessly and a more sensible solution can be adopted in the near future.