HOF Candidates 15-11
Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 15: Andruw Jones
Three centerfielders in baseball history have won 10 Gold Gloves in a row:
Willie Mays, who actually won 12 in a row (and would undoubtedly have won two or three more had the Gold Glove been created before 1957).
Ken Griffey Jr., who won his first Gold Glove at age 20 and won every year until he turned 30 and left for Cincinnati and the National League (where Andruw reigned).
Andruw Jones, who won his first Gold Glove at age 21 and his last at age 30.
When discussing the greatest defensive centerfielders in baseball history -- certainly by reputation -- you could do worse than those three* -- Say Hey, the Kid and Andruw.
*A more complete list would include Garry Maddox, Devon White, Richie Ashburn, Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Jimmy Piersall, Curt Flood and a whole bunch of current players like Lorenzo Cain, Kevin Kiermaier, Billy Hamilton, Byron Buxton, etc.
But when you look at that trio using advanced defensive numbers, you see something interesting.
Let's use Tom Tango's simple back-of-the-envelope "plays above average." This is not that advanced a stat. All you have to do is take a player's range factor per nine innings (the number of plays the player made every nine innings) and subtract the league range factor per nine innings. Then, you multiple the difference by the player's innings divided by nine, and that gives you the number of plays above/below average.
It's a rough calculation that doesn't pretend to tell you everything. There are many different reasons -- ballparks, types of pitchers, etc. -- why outfielders make plays. But this still gives you a decent estimate of the player's defensive skill without getting into hypotheticals; it only deals with plays the outfielder made.
Over his first 10 Gold Glove years, Willie Mays made 191 plays above average, 19 per year. That's very good. Mays' best year was 1972, when his range factor per nine innings was 2.78 and the league's was 2.45. (Take the difference, .33, multiply that by innings/9 and we see that Mays made 48 more plays than average that year.)
The system is not as good to Ken Griffey Jr. By range factor, Griffey in his 10 Gold Glove years. made 119 FEWER PLAYS than the average centerfielder. Yes, he was below average at making outs. Again, not saying that this was Griffey's fault, there can be any number of reasons. But his range factors were just not very good. In 1990, he was 68 plays below average.
And then there's Andruw Jones. Oh ... Andruw Jones. By this little system, Jones was a crazy 278 plays above average in his 10 years as a Gold Glover, a breathtaking total. In 1999 alone he made 82 more plays than average ... just incredible.
Is this unprecedented playmaking? No. Not at all. Not even close. I don't have an easy way to do this for every player (I wish I could), but I just went to glance at Richie Ashburn's page. Nobody was better at making plays than Ashburn. He was the Wayne Gretzky of outfield putouts. From 1949 to '58, 10 years, Ashburn had five of the top eight seasons EVER in putouts.
And what did that mean? Well, it meant that he made an astonishing SIX-HUNDRED-SEVENTY-ONE plays above average over 10 years, average 67 per year, which is more than Mays EVER had in a single season.
I think there's still something to learn from these numbers. I think everyone knows that we're in a bit of transition when it comes to how we view defense. For one-hundred-plus years, we judged defense almost entirely with our eyes (and with the help of the errors stat).
For instance, in 1957, Richie Ashburn made 499 putouts, almost 100 more than second-place Willie Mays. By plays above average, Mays was actually three plays BELOW average while Ashburn was 88 plays ABOVE. Every advanced stat today says that Ashburn had a significantly better defensive season than Mays.
And yet Mays won the first ever Gold Glove unanimously. Of course he did. And I'm not saying that Willie Mays did not deserve the Gold Glove, I would never say something that sacrilegious, I'm just saying that by the eyes it was Mays, by the numbers it was Ashburn, and it's no easy feat finding middle ground.
By the eyes, Griffey was otherworldly. By the numbers he was good.
And this is why Andrew Jones is so special -- he was otherworldly by the eyes AND by all the numbers. We'll never be able to say conclusively that he was the best defensive centerfielder ever, but he's certainly in the photograph, and he hit 400 home runs, and while he isn't yet in the Hall, his shadow certainly casts over the Hall of Fame plaques of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine.
No. 14: Gary Sheffield
There are two things keeping Gary Sheffield out of the Hall of Fame. One is the steroid allegation (and admission). Two is his baseball defense. Let's take them one at a time.
The steroid issue with Sheffield has always been cloudy. He has admitted unknowingly using a steroid cream on his knee when he was working out with Barry Bonds. Is that where it ends? Some say yes, some say no. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Bonds had arranged for Sheffield to not only use the cream but also the "clear" and something called "red beans," steroid pills made in Mexico.
There was also testimony in the Mitchell Report from a judge who said that he had a conversation with Bonds' now infamous trainer Greg Anderson. The judge said that Anderson traveled to Minneapolis because his "best client wanted him to help his close friend Gary Sheffield, who was in a slump and struggling at that time." Sheffield later admitted getting a bill from BALCO for "vitamins."
On the other hand, Sheffield also wrote that he was aware of the steroid craze as early as 1994 and was so bothered by it that he reached out to Bud Selig's office to investigate (though Selig's office denies ever getting the request).
So what do you do with all of that? Taking it bit by bit, Sheffield's admitted use of the cream to heal his knee seems pretty insignificant to me. If all he did was apply a dubious cream in a one-time effort to get better (and it didn't even work), I mean, that's a speeding ticket. That's no different from what Mickey Mantle did in 1961. I think keeping him out of the Hall of Fame for that alone is pure lunacy.
Say what you will about Sheffield, but the guy could hit.
Beyond that, though, there's a lot of smoke suggesting that he wasn't exactly forthcoming about his full steroid involvement. I guess I would put it this way: If steroid use is your big issue, which is to say that it's important to you that players from the Selig Era who used steroids are NOT elected to the Hall of Fame, then I think there's probably enough smoke to not vote for Sheffield. But I would add that there have been several players elected into the Hall of Fame the last few years who were surrounded by at least as much smoke as Sheffield.
Then there's the defense issue: Sheffield, by bWAR, ranks as the second worst defender in baseball history, behind only Adam Dunn. We can argue whether he was really THAT bad -- Bill James is one of those people who thinks he probably wasn't -- but let's assume he was that bad.
What do you do with that information? Is it disqualifying? Well, consider this: About half the players in the Hall of Fame have a negative defensive WAR. Yeah, that's right: Half.
Now part of that is because defensive WAR includes a positional adjustment, but even if you look at straight fielding runs above average, more than a quarter of the Hall of Famers were below average fielders. And most of the great defenders -- Ozzie, Aparacio, Max, Brooks, Tinker, Maranville, Fox, etc. -- were not particularly good hitters.
This leads to my two feelings about this. One is that Hall of Fame voters do not appropriately value players who are both excellent fielders and excellent hitters -- they really are rare, rare birds. Larry Walker should have been put in the Hall of Fame a long time ago.
And second -- I think we might not be doing it right when we try to subtract value from a player because of a severe weakness they had. Yes, of course, everything should be considered. But Gary Sheffield's bat was so special, so valuable, so unique historically that managers would play him anywhere just to get it in the lineup. If you do one thing as well as Gary Sheffield hit a baseball, you become legendary.
Gary Sheffield is legendary. I'd put him in my Hall of Fame.
No. 13: Scott Rolen
Bill James tweeted something the other day that has me thinking a lot ...
I have gone back and forth how I feel about this. I entirely agree that the Hall of Fame is not a paycheck, not something you should earn like a sales bonus (which is why I've always been suspicious of Hall of Fame magic numbers like 3,000 hits or 300 wins).
And I also agree that the Hall of Fame is "an honor," though I sometimes believe we would have a more interesting, gripping and enlightening Hall of Fame if the "honor" part was downplayed.
It's the "most worthy of admiration and respect" part that has me bewildered. I have no idea what that means.
Well, actually, I know EXACTLY what it means.
Scott Rolen has a Hall of Fame resume. His 70.2 WAR says Hall of Fame. His 56.9 JAWS says Hall of Fame. His combination of great hitting and great fielding is rare (as I just wrote in the Sheffield essay) and says Hall of Fame.
And he was, by every measure I can think of, worthy of admiration and respect. He played the game hard, he was good enough to contend for the World Series MVP in 2006, he was notable for his charity work, he overcame a rough time in Philadelphia to excel in St. Louis and play pretty well in Cincinnati.
But admiration and respect ... those are loaded words. They mean different things to different people -- and it takes 75 percent of the vote to elect a player into the Hall of Fame. How many players can you honestly say would poll at 75 percent if the question were: "Is this player worthy of admiration and respect?"
And in this case, I'm not even talking about the negative aspects ... I'm pretty sure that Scott Rolen would not have 25% of people say he was UNworthy of admiration and respect.
But would more than 75% say he IS worthy? I don't know. I doubt people thought about it that much. I'm sure he'd score high in the "no opinion," column. Rolen was one of those players who performed quietly. I just don't think people have spent a lot of time thinking about how much they admired or respected Scott Rolen.
Should that be a factor in his Hall of Fame argument?
Should it be THE factor in his Hall of Fame argument?
I don't know. I think Bill was probably referring more to guys like the next two players on the list than he was to Scott Rolen, but I'm not as worried about the Mannys or Schillings. People will always argue about them. But guys like Rolen might disappear, and I don't think that's right.
No. 12: Manny Ramirez
I've written this before, but if you looked ONLY at Manny Ramirez's stats, you would think he was the greatest winner in baseball history.
His first full year was 1995; he hit .308/.402/.558 and was a key in leading Cleveland to its first pennant in more than 40 years.
In 1997, he hit .328/.415/.538 and was a key in Cleveland winning the pennant again. The next year, he hit 45 homers and drove in 145 runs and led Cleveland to the ALCS.
In 1999, he slugged .663, drove in 165 runs, somehow didn't win the MVP (didn't even come close, finishing in a tie for third) and Cleveland made the playoffs again.
In 2001, he went to Boston. The next year, he won a batting title but couldn't quite get the Red Sox over the top (93 wins). In 2003, though, he hit .325/.427/.587 and took the Red Sox to the brink of the World Series (though, as always happened in Boston, the season ended in heartbreak).
Then in 2004, he led the league in homers and slugging and the Red Sox did the unthinkable, winning their first World Series in forever. MannyBManny was MVP of that World Series.
In 2007, he was an All-Star again -- 10th straight year -- and he was impossible to get out in the playoffs, and the Red Sox won another World Series.
In 2008, he went to the Dodgers mid-season, hit .396 with a ridiculous 17 homers in 53 games and led the Dodgers to their first NLCS since they won the World Series two decades earlier (he hit .533 in that NLCS). And the next year, his last semi-full year, he hit .290/.418/.531 and the Dodgers reached the NLCS again.
Who else has a résumé of winning that looks like that ... especially for three different teams?
And yet we know that by personality Manny Ramirez was exactly the opposite of what most people would call a "winning player." He was a pain in the neck. He was a defensive nightmare. He ran the bases indifferently. He would do 10 things every year that made everybody shake their heads.
Which just goes to show two things:
We're probably always overestimating the impact -- positive or negative -- that one player can make.
A bat like Manny's will make up for a whole lot of nonsense.
No. 11: Curt Schilling
A few years ago, an athlete -- I won't name him -- threatened me after I wrote something he found unfair. I've had plenty of athletes and coaches yell at me -- I suppose that's just part of the sportswriter deal -- but this was an actual threat. I should say, I didn't take his words literally and doubt he meant them literally (he was just REALLY mad) and I never felt unsafe. But I steered clear of him as requested and never felt like that was a salvageable relationship. He hated me. I wasn't too crazy about him either.
He certainly wasn't a bad player, but he was not a Hall of Fame caliber player.
I sometimes ask myself: Would I vote for him if he were?
Maybe I would ... but let's take it a step further. What if he had TRULY threatened me? What if I honestly felt unsafe? What if he had said something about my family? What if he had tried to get me fired? What if he actually HAD gotten me fired? Etc.
Surely, there's a line where I would no longer be able to separate the player's performance from my own personal feelings.
Where is that line, though? Where should that line be? Is my line in the right place? Am I too dispassionate? Am I not dispassionate enough?
My own personal experiences with Curt Schilling were always good. He was very nice to me every time I dealt with him as a player. As I've written before, he sent me a very kind email the night after Game 1 of the 2001 World Series (I had written a column about his father). He and I spent some time together for other stories in the early 2000s and exchanged an email or two about personal things. He made it very clear to me that he didn't care for numerous people in the media (he named some names), but he treated me well, for whatever that's worth.
Since he retired, as has been well reported, he's become very outspoken about any number of things and he has said or written or linked to things that I find deeply offensive. Friends of mine have told me that regarding the Hall of Fame they either have not voted for him (if they have a vote) or would not vote for him (if they don't), and I get it.
But I still vote for him and I will because his opinions don't seem to me to directly relate to baseball or the Hall ... and he was one helluva pitcher. I'm not sure I'm right about that. Honestly, I'm not sure I'm right about any of it.
When Schilling and Randy Johnson were pitching for the Diamondbacks, someone explained the difference between the two:
"With Johnson, you can't stand him on the day he pitches and you love him the rest of the time. With Schilling, you love him on the day he pitches, and you can't stand him the other days."