Ranting and Raving About Baseball With Mike Carminati (Part Two)
I divided my interview with Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants into two sections. Part One covered Mike's opinions on topics ranging from his beloved Phillies to sabermetrics to his favorite players and baseball heroes. Part Two is exclusively devoted to Mike's views on the merits of certain Hall of Fame candidates.
RWBB: You recently posted an article, listing the players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot along with a few of those tables that tend to frequent your site. Let's go over several of the leading candidates and then we will discuss some of the omissions from the past.
Mike: Let me say that I have looked at the percentage of active players at any given time who eventually end up in the Hall, and the average is about 6% with a normal range around 4-8%. There have been three periods since the early 1880s in which the percentage went out of that range. When the National League contracted to eight teams in 1900--one year before the American League became a major league--the percentage skyrocketed to about 13%. In the late Twenties and early Thirties, the percentage sometimes reached about 12%. This is due to the bloated offensive numbers of the day and the disproportionate power given the players of that era when they were on the Hall's Veterans' Committee. The third period is since the early Seventies. The percentage has not been over 4%--the nominal low--since then, and it shrank rapidly thereafter. I know that there are still a number of players from the period who are eligible for the Hall vote, but we're not talking about an odd Bert Blyleven here. We're talking about one half to one quarter the number of people being admitted as compared to the previous 80-90 years. The players from the expansion era are getting screwed.
I'm a bit more liberal in doling out Hall plaques to players from my youth than the average sabermetrician.
RWBB: Paul Molitor is newly eligible. Is he HOF worthy?
Mike: I want to answer this question three ways. Will he get in? Should he get in given the de facto Hall standards? And would I put him in? The first is just handicapping. The second is estimating what the Hall standards are and if he matches them. The third is simply my opinion. Molitor will go in on the first ballot. He should go in according to the established standards. And I would put him in.
RWBB: Dennis Eckersley is another first timer.
Mike: Eck will go in, hopefully, on the first ballot. He should go in, and I would put him in.
RWBB: If he gets the nod, that would mean three relievers--Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, and Hoyt Wilhelm--would be in the Hall of Fame. How do you feel about Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Lee Smith?
Mike: Goose may go in via the writers. However, he has been treading water lately. He should go in. It's hard to say what the Hall standards are for closers, but I think Gossage would have made it more easily if his career had not gone on so long after he had stopped being a closer. Fingers got in so easily. Gossage was more qualified, but in the intervening years between their careers and becoming eligible, the number of saves for closers went through the roof. Then everyone forgot how good Gossage was and focused on the save totals. I would put him in.
I think Sutter will go in but may run out of time with the writers. He may be voted in by whatever body eventually replaces today's Veterans' Committee. Sutter is a special case in my book. Probably on his stats alone he wouldn't go in. However, he was the first modern closer and was amazing in his day. If you were to tell the story of relief pitching and reduced it down to one man, it would be Sutter. He's the one that changed it all. He just had a shorter peak than most. The Hall has found room for Candy Cummings for supposedly inventing the curveball and on Morgan Bulkeley for being the first president in the NL even though William Hulbert called the shots. I would say this is more deserving. Would I put him in? After conducting an exhausting study of relief pitching, decade by decade, I would say emphatically yes, and before Gossage and Eck.
As far as Lee Smith goes, I thought he would go in last year. The voters don't seem to know what to do with the closers. I think he'll probably make it within the next few years. Should he go in given the standards? The Hall has never barred anyone who is eligible and set the record for a significant stat. He set the record for saves, which is supposed to be the most important stat for closers. I like Adjusted Runs Prevented better. Who cares if a closer starts the ninth with a three-run lead and can hold on to it?
Personally, I think Smith had some great years especially early on with the Cubs, but I don't ever see him being the most dominant closer in the game. I would have to think about his long career and overall effectiveness. However, I don't think he had a high enough peak to qualify.
RWBB: Ryne Sandberg was the best second baseman in baseball for a ten-year stretch. Why do you think he was overlooked last year?
Mike: I thought Sandberg would go on the first ballot. I get the feeling that he was a victim of the bloated numbers of the past decade and of writers who wanted to ensure that he was not a first-ballot inductee. He could go as early as next year, but he will be voted in by the writers at some point. He definitely should go in. I would put him in.
RWBB: Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy. Four of the best outfielders in their time and MVPs all.
Mike: Rice's votes are going down though they are still high. I think that he'll eventually go in but I'm not sure when or how. I think that he is an extremely borderline case. I wouldn't single him out. I would rather put his old teammate, Dwight Evans, in first.
Dawson's numbers are climbing, and I think the voters will elect him in the next five or so years. Dawson is a better candidate than Rice or Parker. I'm on the fence as to whether I would put him in. Probably.
Murphy is an interesting case. He's facing attacks on two fronts. First, he went from great to average to sub-par in a very short time and at an early age. He had his last great season in 1987 at 31, was an average ballplayer for a couple of years, and then fell off the face of the earth. Being washed up at 35 hurts your Hall of Fame chances. It puts all the pressure on your peak value. Your peak had better be Koufaxian.
That's the second front he's facing. His peak went through a reevaluation after the offensive explosion of the Nineties. He's only been eligible for the Hall for about 5 years. .300 with 35 homers and 100 RBI just wasn't as impressive as it once had been. There were also feelings in the sabermetric world and in the baseball writer cognoscenti that he had been overvalued during his peak. People pointed to his relatively low adjusted OPS especially in 1982. They felt that his MVP candidacy was helped greatly by his being a Gold Glove center fielder. Also, there was a reevaluation of his defense and the feeling was it wasn't all that and a bag of chips.
I don't think he'll be voted in by the writers. His numbers are flagging. I think he'll be reassessed by whatever replaces the VC and given the distance of years and the abating offenses, he'll go in. I think that he definitely meets the criteria of the Hall. I would probably put him in, but he wouldn't be my first choice among outfielders.
RWBB: How do you feel about Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez, and Don Mattingly?
Mike: First, let me say that Steve Garvey is not my Padre--sorry a little paternity suit humor. All three are borderline cases. They're three slick fielding first basemen who started to lose it around 33, 34 years old. Hernandez barely stayed on the ballot and may drop off after this year. Mattingly's vote numbers are dropping like a stone. Garvey is treading water among the second-tier candidates. I think that they are the types of candidates that in the past the Vets have jumped all over for the Hall. I could see them all going probably in this order: Mattingly, Garvey, and then Hernandez.
Do they qualify? Hernandez may have the best case from this point of view and is aided by the longest career of the group. Mattingly has the best peak but was a totally different ballplayer after 28. A lot of that is due to injuries but, if "woulda, shoulda" counted, Mark Fidrych and Lyman Bostock would be Hall of Famers. Garvey's defensive rep hit a bump after Total Baseball pronounced him a sub-par first baseman and then was revitalized by Bill James Win Shares. Like Derek Smalls, he is the lukewarm water of the group.
I don't know if I would put any of them in. Hernandez is the most likely.
RWBB: Now that Gary Carter finally made it in, I believe Bert Blyleven has become the most overlooked, multi-year candidate of all.
Mike: Blyleven's numbers are starting to grow, but they're still low. I'm thinking Veterans' Committee. Should Blyleven go in? A definite yes. He's the second best candidate on the list after Molitor. Would I put him in? Oh, yeah.
RWBB: Jim Kaat and Tommy John also may have been victimized by falling short of the 300 wins mark after it became magical.
Mike: Well, Kaat ran out of options and now has to wait for the veterans to get their act together. I think once they have a viable solution to the Vets' Committee, he will go in. Does he meet the standards? He's borderline. Would I put him in? Probably not, though I remember him fondly from his Phillies days.
John's votes have been slipping. He will probably be rescued by the Veterans' Committee. Does he meet the standards? See Kaat. Would I put him in? See Kaat. I would put him ahead of Kaat.
RWBB: Now, let's discuss a few players not on the BBWAA ballot. Ron Santo?
Mike: Given that Santo is a broadcaster in Chicago and given the publicity over his health, I could see his candidacy gathering steam. If the VC elects anyone, it will be him. Given the dearth of third basemen, he exceeds the standards and I believe I would put him in.
With respect to the Veterans' Committee, I have to say it was a travesty that Marvin Miller was not elected last year given his influence on the game and the number of voters who played during his tenure. I think that he could get some more support in the future though. There are players not on the VC ballot who are better than a number who are. Bobby Grich, Darrell and Dwight Evans, and Sweet Lou Whitaker come to mind. There is very little chance that they will get in though they should and I would support them.
RWBB: It's hard to believe that Grich and Whitaker couldn't even get 5% of the votes in their first and only year on the ballot.
Mike: Yeah, add Dan Quisenberry to that list. I could see them having problems because of their era and their positions, but no support whatsoever? I don't think that they'll ever be elected unless in some posthumous George Davis-type move. Grich and Whitaker don't have the strongest cases going by numbers solely, but when you consider that they were second basemen and are probably in the top dozen or so at that position, that really meets the Hall criteria. Grich is a particularly odd case because he was a Gold Glove winner and a power-hitting second baseman, which you'd think would garner him some votes. Maybe playing during Joe Morgan's hegemonic second base career wasn't the greatest idea. He's also hurt by having his best season during the 1981 strike, when he was arguably the best player in the AL but got no MVP support.
As far as Quisenberry, his career as a closer was too short and his numbers were hurt by the glut of saves in the Nineties, but his peak was pretty impressive. It was better than Smith's and Myers' and probably better than Gossage's. I don't think he should get in given the scant standards for closers nor would I put him in, but his candidacy merited more than a cursory, one-year review.
RWBB: Bill James believes Darrell Evans is the most underrated player in baseball history.
Mike: That sounds about right. Reggie Smith is another good one. So is the other Mr. D. Evans. I think Evans is hurt by never really having a peak. He had many good years but never had one of those headline-grabbing ones. He was overshadowed by Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and Ron Cey at third in the NL in those days. It's hard to play in the same league as the greatest player in baseball history at your position. Ask Brian Giles.
Evans just happened to play the most overlooked position in the Hall and even though he was a power hitter, he did a lot of little things, defense, taking a walk, getting on base, that get overlooked. And he batted around .250. Santo and Graig Nettles suffer from similar biases. Maybe when Wade Boggs goes in, they will remember that third basemen can go in the Hall, too.
RWBB: OK, you brought up his name. Pete Rose. In or out?
Mike: Who? Oh yeah. I am probably the only person in America who thinks Rose probably bet on baseball but that his ban should be ended without an apology and he should go in the Hall. However, he cannot and should not go into the Hall until the ban is lifted. Who cares if Rose bet on baseball anyway? It carries a one-year suspension that he has served 14 times over. Did he bet on the Reds? I'm not sure, but I have not seen one credible shred of evidence in the Dowd witch hunt. If Rose apologizes, it would be the first credible piece of evidence. Moreover, if he did ever bet on the Reds, he should be banned permanently.
Baseball basically screwed Pete Rose. Bart Giamatti signed an agreement with Rose and went back on it before the ink dried and then died, thereby martyring himself and leaving Rose high and dry. It's high time that baseball closed this sordid chapter and they probably will soon. I think Rose will go in within five years. I wouldn't celebrate it, but it is eminently fair.
RWBB: There might be a Rose Parade all the way to the Hall of Fame with Pete out front twirling the baton if, and when, he becomes eligible. I have less of a problem with Rose in the HOF as I do allowing him back onto the field in some official capacity. His accomplishments as a player cannot be ignored but neither can the lifetime ban for conduct detrimental to the game in which Rose agreed be disregarded.
Check back on Wednesday for a mid-week special on tidbits gathered from the 2004 edition of The Bill James Handbook.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT