A Hall of Fame Chat with Tracy Ringolsby
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.]