Today's Game: Will Clark
All this week we’re taking a closer look at the 10 people on the Today’s Game Era Ballot for the Hall of Fame.
There's a Hall of Fame case to be made for Will Clark, but if we’re being honest about things, it really isn’t any better than the case to be made for John Olerud or Keith Hernandez or Darrell Evans or Ken Boyer or Jim Edmonds or Willie Davis or Reggie Smith or Graig Nettles or Bobby Abreu or Buddy Bell or Willie Randolph or Dwight Evans or … well, there are a lot of terrific players not in the Hall of Fame.
You would choose Clark from the sea of terrific non-Hall of Famers because he was cool. Lord, was Will Clark cool. I can remember being young and going to the batting cage with a friend and wasting quarters just so I could hit left-handed, just so I could pretend to be Will Clark.
I’d put my hands up high, the way he did.
I’d wave the bat slowly behind me the way he did.
I’d try to swing through and let go with my right hand at exactly the right moment, just like he did.
How cool was Will the Thrill? Clayton Kershaw wears 22 because the greatest pitcher of our generation wanted to be Will Clark instead.
But is cool enough? Let’s compare Will Clark to another cat, my all-time favorite Yankee (a dubious but impressive title) Don Mattingly:
Clark’s career was slightly longer — he got 561 more plate appearances, or roughly one season’s worth.
— Mattingly hit .307/.358/.471 with a 127 OPS+. Clark hit .303/.384/.497 with a 137 OPS+
— Mattingly had 442 doubles. Clark had 440.
— Clark had 284 homers. Mattingly had 222.
— Mattingly went to six All-Star Games. Clark went to six All-Star Games.
— Mattingly was a better first baseman, though Clark was above average.
— Mattingly won an MVP award. Clark finished second to his teammate Kevin Mitchell in 1989.
— Mattingly led the league in batting average, hits (twice), doubles (three times), RBIs, slugging and total bases (twice).
— Clark led the league in runs, RBIs, walks, doubles and total bases.
Pretty similar, maybe a slight edge in perception for Mattingly because of those league-leading achievements. But by WAR, Clark (56.5) dwarfs Mattingly (42.4), and it’s because of that on-base percentage difference. Clark wasn't actually a big walker. Yes, he led the league with 100 walks in 1988, but 27 of those were intentional. He didn’t walk 75 times in any other year. But he still walked a lot more than Mattingly. (He also struck out a lot more than Mattingly.)
I could see putting Mattingly and Clark in the Hall of Fame.
I could see putting neither Mattingly nor Clark in the Hall of Fame.
But I really couldn’t see putting one in over the other. To put in Clark over Mattingly is to say that if Mattingly walked a little more, he'd be in the Hall -- does anyone believe that? To put Mattingly in the Hall over Clark doesn't really make any sense either.
And that’s the big point that these veterans committees are looking at when you talk about players who, for whatever reason, were not elected by the BBWAA. Remember, when we get this far into the process there are no obvious candidates left for the veterans committees, or Eras Committees, as they're now known. Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken, all these guys get into the Hall of Fame long, long before those committees meet.
[caption id="attachment_23732" align="aligncenter" width="458"] When it comes to coolness, Clark's hard to beat.[/caption]
So the players who get to the committees have already been passed over. What these committees are doing — or should be doing — is looking to see if the BBWAA MISSED something big during Passover. It certainly happens. The BBWAA totally whiffed, for instance, on the greatness of Arky Vaughan, maybe because his career was so short.*
*I just noticed this — Arky Vaughan and Don Mattingly had EXACTLY the same number of plate appearances in their careers, 7,722. That’s wild. You can compare their stats pretty directly.
Mattingly: .307/.358/.471, 2,153 hits, 442 doubles, 20 triples, 222 homers, 1,099 RBIs, 1,007 runs, 14 stolen bases, 127 OPS+, 227 Rbat (runs above average offensively).
Vaughan: .318/.406/.453, 2,104 hits, 356 doubles, 128 triples, 96 homers, 926 RBIs, 1,173 runs, 118 stolen bases, 136 OPS+, 363 Rbat.
Of course, Vaughan was a shortstop, Mattingly a first baseman, and that makes a huge difference, too — Vaughan had 30 more wins above replacement.
Since this century began, the various veterans committees have put in only five 20th century major leaguers, and you could argue (I suppose) that each of them was meant to correct an oversight.
— In 2001, when Bill Mazeroski was elected, the oversight apparently was that the writers didn’t put enough emphasis on Maz’s great defense. This was a hugely controversial decision and, probably more than anything else, led to the dissolving of the old Veteran's Committee.
— In 2009, when Joe Gordon was elected, well, I think it was because the committee believed that the BBWAA didn’t fully take into account that Gordon served two years in World War II during what would have been the prime of his career.
— In 2012, the veterans committee voted in Ron Santo, whose greatness as a player became more apparent as everyone began to appreciate the value of walks (Santo led the National League in walks four times). I think the BBWAA really DID miss the value of those walks.
— And last year, the committee voted in Alan Trammell and Jack Morris. The argument for Trammell is that he was overshadowed by all-time greats Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith; I think that's right. The argument for Morris is that the vast majority of the BBWAA DID vote for him -- he got 67.7% of the vote one year -- and really, let's be honest, two-thirds of the vote should be enough for election.
In other words, the committee searches for a COMPELLING REASON to buck the BBWAA’s judgment and vote players in' it's like appealing a decision. Is there are grounds for review? And as much as I love Will Clark (and Mattingly), I just don’t see that compelling reason to put them in the front of that line of amazing players who are not quite Hall of Famers.
Intead, Clark and Mattingly will just have to settle for being first-ballot inductees into the Hall of Awesome.*
*Where they'll get to hang out with Bo Jackson, Eric Davis, Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden, among others. We’ll have to do that Hall of Awesome post soon.