Baseball BeatDecember 31, 2004
A Hall of Fame Chat with Tracy Ringolsby
By Rich Lederer

My Dad's and Tracy Ringolsby's careers overlapped in 1977 and 1978. My father was Director of Public Relations/Promotions for the California Angels from 1969-1978, and Tracy covered the Angels for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from March 1977-July 1980.

Ringolsby subsequently covered the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from July 1980 - July 1983, the Royals for the Kansas City Star-Times from August 1983 - February 1986, and the Rangers for the Dallas Morning News from March 1986 through the 1989 season. He was the national baseball writer for the Dallas Morning News during the 1990-91 seasons and has been covering the Rockies for the Rocky Mountain News since April of 1992. Tracy has also written a syndicated weekly column since March of 1986.

A co-founder of Baseball America, Ringolsby was the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1986. He was the Master of Ceremonies at Cooperstown in 1986 and 1992. Tracy has been a member of the Society of American Baseball Research for 25 years. Ringolsby holds the distinction of being the only sportswriter ever nominated for the Shining Star Award for journalistic excellence by the Colorado Press Association (which he won in 2001).

Ringolsby, 53, lives on 80 acres northwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming with his wife, Jane, two thoroughbreds and a quarter horse. His daughter Laramie also lives in Cheyenne and works for the State Department of Transportation. He is also a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, the University of Wyoming Cowboy Joe Club, the National Western Stockshow, the Scout of the Year Foundation, and the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

Tracy and I met in person for the first time in over 25 years at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim earlier this month. He agreed to discuss his Hall of Fame ballot with me in a series of emails and instant messages.

RL: I saw your ballot and was curious as to why you voted for Dave Concepcion over Wade Boggs?

TR: I didn't vote Dave Concepcion over Wade Boggs. That's not a fair statement. I had three open spots on my ballot so it wasn't a matter of choosing any individual over the other.

RL: OK. Let me rephrase the question. Why did you vote for Concepcion?

TR: I feel Concepcion was a dominant player at his position in his time, very underrated for intangibles, and things he -- along with Tony Perez -- did to keep the egos on those Reds teams from tearing the team apart. Concepcion and Perez were the settling influences. Concepcion also was a marvelous shortstop and handled the bat extremely well.

RL: I would rank Boggs as the fourth-best third baseman ever and am not convinced that Concepcion is even one of the game's top 15 shortstops.

TR: I am sure there is a statistical comparison that allows you to say you feel Boggs is the fourth-best third baseman ever, and I respect your opinion. I, however, see major fallacies in the comparsion of stats over generations because the emphasis of the game changes dramatically. Guys can benefit statistically or be hurt in terms of stats based off their park. A left-handed hitter at Fenway Park probably has as much a stat edge as any hitter at Coors Field. I don't think of Boggs among the dominant players at his position during his era, much less all time. This comes from personal observations and feelings from having covered the American League during the bulk of Boggs' career. I never felt Boggs was a threat in game situations, much like Rod Carew, and I'm sure this will be another black mark against me, but I didn't vote for Carew either.

RL: At least you're consistent. Boggs and Carew are very comparable offensively. I even pointed this out in an article I wrote earlier this month in support of Boggs. However, I believe Boggs was a superior player overall because he was a better than average third baseman most of his career whereas Carew split time between first and second base and was no better than average defensively.

TR: While Boggs did win two Gold Gloves, I don't know that you'd say he was exceptional as a third baseman. He worked to become a decent third baseman.

RL: Do you look at factors besides statistics and awards?

TR: Despite how easy it is for those who don't know me to pass off everything I write as being anti-stats, I have been a member of SABR for roughly 25 years. Stats are the tool I can use to feel I have a handle on a player. I do not pretend to be able to visually break down a player like a scout.

I see intangibles as counting along with tangibles in determining a player's greatness. I look for players who their teammates felt would make them better in a tough situation. I look for players who played the game to win and didn't care about the personal aspects, realizing that if they succeeded the personal accolades and stats would be there. Boggs was a corner infielder. For him to be dominant, in my opinion -- and it's just my opinion -- he had to be a power guy.

RL: I don't know why you have to be a power guy to be considered a "dominant" third baseman. I love power, but I value players who make a habit of getting approximately 200 hits and 100 walks every year very highly, too.

TR: Well, third basemen, first basemen need to be power guys or else they get a lineup out of whack. You can afford to carry a non-power guy at one of the corners if you have an A-Rod at shortstop or a Carlton Fisk behind the plate or Fred Lynn in center field, but that's a situation where you have to adjust for the lack of what you normally want from a position.

RL: I also noticed that you voted for Jack Morris and not Bert Blyleven.

TR: Jack Morris has always been an easy choice for me. He was the pitcher that you wanted on the mound in a big game throughout his career. He had that extra sense of how to win. He didn't let big games get away from him.

RL: Have you ever voted for Blyleven? If not, why not?

TR: I felt Blyleven was a pretty darn good pitcher but never felt he was dominating or intimidating or the best in the game. He was able to build up quality numbers because he was good for a long period of time -- which is an excellent accomplishment -- but I don't see him as great at his position in his era.

RL: Are you comfortable denying Hall of Fame honors from a pitcher who is 5th on the all-time list in strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, and 24th in wins?

TR: The fact that I don't vote for a Boggs or Blyleven doesn't mean they were bad players. Let's remember, in voting on the Hall of Fame we are talking about the elite of the elite. So I do get a bit uncomfortable in trying to explain why I didn't vote for somebody because then it makes it look like I am belittling the player's accomplishment. I'm much more comfortable explaning why I did vote for a player.

RL: What do you make of the fact that, other than Blyleven, every pitcher who is eligible for the HOF in the top 14 in strikeouts and top 20 in shutouts has already been enshrined?

TR: There are players in the Hall of Fame I didn't vote for or, if I had been voting at the time, wouldn't have voted for -- and I don't feel compelled to use their comparisons in assessing a candidate's worth. Also the fact I don't vote for someone does not mean I didn't respect their accomplishments or credentials.

RL: Some people have accused you of voting for or against players based on your relationships with them.

TR: That's off base. When I covered the Seattle Mariners, Maury Wills was the manager and we rarely spoke -- I think eight times in six months. In his book, there is a debate over whether he hated me or Don Baylor more. Regardless, I voted for Wills every year he was on the ballot because I felt he changed the way the game was played.

RL: Maury was a special player. I had the privilege of watching him play for the Dodgers from 1959-1966. His stolen bases were much more valuable during the lower-scoring 1960s than they would be today.

TR: I don't think the value of stolen bases has really declined. It's a matter of the quality of the stolen base and the disruption it can create. What happened, particularly with Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, is that stolen bases were overexposed, and their value decreased but Rickey wannabes were not able to have the success ratio to make the stolen bases an effective tool.

RL: Well, we may disagree on Boggs, Blyleven, Concepcion, and Morris (and perhaps the value of stolen bases) but reasonable people can disagree, right?

TR: Exactly. That's why it takes 75 percent (not 100 percent or 50 percent) to get a player elected. What's important in baseball is the arguments are more strongly about people who aren't in than with other sports where you always wonder why certain people are actually in.

RL: Your Hall of Fame selections generated a lot of controversy at Baseball Primer.

TR: As I'm sure you know from having met me many years ago when I played cards with your Dad at your house, I don't really care if people agree with me. But I do care if they question my integrity. My method of making decisions or drawing a conclusion may be different from somebody else, but nobody who has ever known me has ever been able to accuse me of being lazy or not putting effort into trying to determine my decisions.

RL: You have certainly made the rounds over the past three decades.

TR: To have people like Michael Lewis write that I have never talked to Billy Beane -- even though Billy and I actually have a good relationship -- and then to say I'm a writer who sits at home, without going to the ballpark and issues decrees eats at me. If anything, maybe I've gone to too many ballparks. I've covered baseball for 29 years and I am still a beat writer by choice. The day to day presence at the park is what I enjoy. Sadly, I must assume that guys who want to be baseball writers and aren't, for whatever reason, find it easy to cling to misstatements of someone like Michael Lewis and give legs to the lies. Funny thing is, it makes me question the validity of anything those people claim to be true because from my own experience I have seen that they don't put much effort into drawing conclusions -- at least they didn't in regards to me.

RL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

TR: It's been a pleasure. It's always nice to exchange ideas with people who realize you can disagree with dignity and respect.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


Well, we now understand why Tracy Ringolsby should stick to reporting.

Why keep stats? In fact, why even keep score? Or which team won? Or standings? We could decide the game based on "the intangibles", or the players "that handled the bat extremely well". Or, the pitchers that "didn't let the big game get away from [them]. As for the Hall of Fame, we should just elect the players that "played the game to win and didn't care about the personal aspects". I guess that means David Esckstein should get in when he is eligible. And by the way, I don't mean this to be disrespectful or undignified-just based on common sense, or as some (perhaps Tracy) might say, horse sense.

Yeah there are some serious problems with much of Mr. Ringolsby's logic.

I think it's pretty obvious that Gary Gaetti, Kelly Gruber, Brook Jacoby, Kevin Seitzer, Carney Lansford, Steve Buschele, and Mike Pagliarulo were better than Boggs in the AL and I won't even get into the NL.

I have always felt that Concepcion and Morris should be in the HOF. Concepcion was widely regarded as the best shortstop of the 1970s--If I'm not mistaken, Pee Wee Reese was quoted in the mid-1970s as saying Concepcion was maybe the best shortstop he ever saw. He was a very good clutch hitter, and defensively, the best shortstop of his day... at least until Ozzie arrived on the scene. Likewise, Morris was a big time pitcher. He does not have the career numbers of Blyleven but he was perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the league for a stretch of time.

I think if you're widely regarded as the best player at your position for a five or six year period, then you should get in the Hall of Fame. Statistics are fine, but they can be very misleading when comparing players from two different eras. A perfect illustration is Babe Ruth, who lead the league one year with, I think, 17 homeruns and a couple years later he hit 54. Same player at the peak of his career, but the difference in statistics is enormous. I noticed where Vinny Testaverde is in the top 6 NFL quarterbacks in passing yards. Nothing against Vinny, but I have never considered him a great quarterback, yet based on his statistics (and the logic that supports Blyleven making the HOF) he will make the NFL Hall of Fame, while one of the three or four best quarterbacks in the game today, Trent Green probably will not make it, simply because he doesn't have the career statistics of Testaverde.

Statistics are the most objective way of evaluating performance. Stats are not perfect but they are much better than anything else, including random opinions and selected memories.

The sabermetric community has developed methods of adjusting statistics so they can be compared from one era to the next. These adjustments can also take into account the advantages or disadvantages of playing in a hitter's or a pitcher's ballpark.

Metrics have even been devised to estimate the number of runs a hitter created or a pitcher saved as well as the number of wins a hitter or pitcher may be worth over an average or replacement player. All of the heavy lifting has been done. It's just up to the reporters of baseball information (i.e., sportswriters, announcers, and, yes, even bloggers) to get these facts into the hands of as many baseball fans as possible. There is no denying the fact that this information is becoming more and more accepted. The train is a-coming. Those who are in denial and standing in the way of the train are going to get run over by it sooner than later.

General managers are even using this type of information when evaluating free agents and trades. Several sportswriters are now referring to such stats when selecting MVPs, Cy Youngs, and Hall of Famers. A veteran like Peter Gammons has begun to mention them in his columns. Heck, Sports Illustrated used them widely in its baseball preview last spring.

Re the Vinny Testaverde-Bert Blyleven comparison, I can shoot holes in that logic all day long. Testaverde may be sixth in career passing yards but where does he stand in passing efficiency? In other words, Vinny may have some impressive "counting" stats because of his longevity but where does he stand when it comes to his "rate" stats?

Blyleven, on the other hand, has both. He is not only 5th on the all-time list in strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, and 24th in wins -- counting stats all -- but (among pitchers with 4000 or more IP) he is also in the top 20 with respect to his ERA and WHIP relative to the league average; 5th in K/IP relative to the league (Ryan, Clemens, Walter Johnson, and Carlton are the only pitchers who rank ahead of him); and 6th in K/BB ratio relative to the league average (Mathewson, Jenkins, Maddux, Walter Johnson, Young, and Clemens are the only pitchers who rank ahead of him).

Let's face the facts, Blyleven is one of the best pitchers in the history of the game. Testaverde, on the other hand, is not among the all-time best quarterbacks. I find it ironic that those who don't believe in stats wind up using them to support whatever they want to believe.

I remember a couple years ago, Mr. Ringolsby devoted an entire article to the Twins' attendance problems and how Bud Selig was right when he said that Minnesota didn't want to support a Major League franchise. For his evidence, Mr. Ringolsby cited attendance data that was completely erroneous - it showed the Twins ranking far lower than they actually did. And that error was the whole basis for his article. I wrote him a kind email, pointing out what I believed to be an error, and requested a correction. My email remains unanswered, and the error was never corrected.

Maybe it's good that Ringolsby is anti-stats now because if he tried to use them, he'd probably cite incorrect ones anyway.

The amazing thing is no where in the interview did I say I was anti-stats. I only said there are other considerations that had to be factored in. As for the Twins attendance, far lower was a typo that had the Twins off by two spots that appeared in the Minneapolis paper in which the column I wrote was drastically edited to fit space, and had several key factors removed. But that's netierh here nor there. I might add every email that was sent tome in regards to the Twins column was answered.

Never in the interview above did I say I was anti-stats. It was even pointed out that I have been a member of SABR for 25 years. Spycake seems to have selective reading. As for the Twins column that is referred to the ``completely erroneous'' is a false statement that was in the Minneapolis paper, for which I do not work, had no control over the massive editing and cutting that was done to the article printed in the Minneapolis paper. And as for the Twins ranking ``far lower than they actually did'' I believe it had them two places lower. I might also add that every email that was sent to me in regards to that Minnesota column was answered.

I agree with a lot of what you had to say, Tracy. I also am not against statistics, but
they can be misleading if misused. More sophisticated metrics are good, but the bottom line is that you can never compare players from different eras with any degree of certainty. To think otherwise is being dilusional. You can compare some things, such as a player's speed in the 100 yard dash, and make inferences, but there are countless variables when comparing different eras that no set of metrics can measure them all. Thus, there is a limit to the information statistics can provide. More subjective things, such as consideration of a player's aura, should enter somewhat into these kind of judgments (after all, judgments by their nature are subjective). For example, I don't have to study Mariano Rivera's career stats to know that over a several year stretch it usually was lights out when he entered an important game. I'm not arguing against statistics, but I am saying the traditional over reliance on statistics is flawed. Other things should be weighed too. To me if a baseball player was widely regarded as the dominant player at his position (as Concepcion, Morris, Sandburg, Gossage, and Sutter were) or if he revolutionalized the game (as Maury Wills did) then he should make it in the HOF. It is an unjustice to deny these players from the Hall of Fame.

Wow, thanks for the reply, Tracy. I apologize for mislabeling you as "anti-stats," but it was just my impression you put an awful lot of stock in "intagibles" (for something as serious as a Hall of Fame selection!). Also, you seem to be exceedingly selective in which stats you deem to be important, in the Boggs/Concepcion cases. You're entitled to your opinion, though.

As far as the Twins piece, I believe I read it at one of your Denver news sites, not a reprint in a different paper. I was concerned that your focal piece of evidence was the Twins attendance figures, which I then looked up at several sources and they all showed your data (however you obtained it) was incorrect. Perhaps the ranking wasn't significantly wrong, but I also recall you highlighted a decline in average attendance, when in actuality it was a slight INCREASE in attendance from the same point in the previous season (I believe your article appeared in May/June of that year, right before school lets out and attendance picks up anyway). If you had recognized this, it wouldn't suprise you that the Twins' average attendance increased in 2003 for the third consecutive year (it dropped slightly this year, in part due to the early season hijacking of Twins games from television). I thought it was pretty simplistic to solely feature that data to back up your assertion that Selig was right and Minnesota doesn't support the Twins, when not only was the data incorrect, but the average was misleading and other obvious factors were completely ignored (crappy indoor football stadium, frequent owner threats, TV ratings on the rise). Once again, you're entitled to your opinion, but to me, it seems you make up your mind before any objective data enters into it, and then you only consider the data that agrees with you.

And I never received a response to my email, nor did I ever see a correction posted for the attendance data at your Denver news site (Rocky Mountain News? I haven't been there in awhile). I imagine that even if my email failed to reach you for some reason, one of the other emails you mention would have highlighted the error and a correction would have been posted. Oh well. I still appreciate that you've actually appeared here at A-B to defend yourself.

I think we can all agree that what we are after is "How much did this guy help his team win".

How you answer that question is what's up for grabs. There are three main points of discussion:

1 - Against what baseline level do you compare the player's win accomplishments? The higher the baseline level, the more you are interested in peak careers and not longevity (Koufax). The lower the baseline level, the more you are interested in the longevity of the career (Sutton).

2 - How much do the stats of the player accurately represent those win accomplishments? How much credit can I give for intangibles, and what makes me believe that my perception is any more accurate than the stats?

3 - When trying to understand the context in which the player performed, how do I correct for that bias? Do I try to take the man out of a context that he was perfectly suited for, and hold him up to the same context as everyone else? Or, do I try to throw in my baseline player into that same context? In the first case, Boggs will look very good, maybe great. In the second case, Boggs will look great.

In the end, who really cares what someone else thinks? The HOF simply tries to end a debate with a yes/no, is he or isn't he. The more interesting discussions are those that are left open-ended, as those spawn discussions that force the readers to think in different ways.

If this means that Boggs and Blyleven aren't voted in, then so be it. It would have been more fun discussing Yount if he wasn't voted in so fast.


The only thing I would change about the HOF is to have a check mark saying "will consider more next year", so that players like Dewey Evans could remain on the ballot. Evans and Rice are similar in quality and bias. The unfortunate part is not that Evans won't make the HOF, but that we can't argue if he will make it.

Why does Tracy Ringolsby need 5% of other voters to know that Dewey Evans is a HOF for Tracy to have more time to consider if Deway is a HOFer? Can't we just ask Tracy: "Do you need more time? Might you change your mind?". Get 75% of the voters to say "yes", and we can keep Dewey on the ballot.


That sounds like a great idea. I'm not sure Trammell or Whitaker should go in the HoF, but I do think players like them (and the couple you referenced) should get more than one look. Sometimes an initial reaction to a player is that he falls short of the standards. A second look may reveal that the individual compares favorably to several players already enshrined.

No offense intended but anyone who votes for Morris but has problems with Blyleven probably should not be voting.