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...
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
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.