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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/31/17

The Continuity of A Baseball Historian's Interest

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Third Generation Red Sox Nation Citizen
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Back in 2011 I set aside my geopolitical concerns for a few moments and put on my baseball historian's hat, (click here 8/1/2011) inspired by a discussion I was tangentially part of as to whether star Boston Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans deserved to be in the baseball Hall of Fame. I opted that he did not, and began a discussion of what I thought writers from the Baseball Writers who vote for such inductees should be thinking about when evaluating candidates.

Several years later, after the induction of three pitchers and one position player in 2015, I commented in some of my usual writing environs-- but somehow, not OpEdNews-- about how the job of deciding inductions was getting done with mixed results, and I argued that not using the reasonable system of baseball historian Bill James resulted in the induction of at least one questionable Hall of Fame candidate.

In the process of making the argument I made two years ago, I more formally introduced the readers to Bill James. Anyone actually interested in baseball as a history, an institution, needs to curl up with his books.

So, as I said then,

Expansion means that there are far more truly qualified candidates for the Hall of Fame in comparison with those already enshrined than there were when there were 8, or 10, teams per league, The problem is that this does lead to the enshrining of the very very good, of whom one was elected in this election, along with the great, of which three were elected.

Any fan, or more than fan (I am a Third-Generation Citizen of Red Sox Nation, and a Baseball Monk), who is truly interested in seeing clearly, or prescribing clearly, how the process of enshrining members of sports Halls of Fame should be adapted to accommodate the reality of more clearly statistically qualified candidates due to expansion should read Bill James from 1985 (James, Bill, "The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract", Villard Books, NY 1986). This is from pages 180-181. If you're a fan, you need this book, it will be a constant companion, I consider it a baseball writing masterpiece.

James provides general definitions for Hall of Famers, and then later provides his considerations of which definition the BBWAA must have been using to confirm this candidate or that. I will take the time to type this out for you all.

Mind you, James doesn't provide us with a similar chart of who might be let in as pitchers, but you can consider who's gotten in just now, and their qualification in comparison to the Hall as a whole. James, a humorous man, is being a little bit understated when he calls some choices the Hall has made in the past "idiosyncratic."

Definition A: A Hall of Famer is any player who could reasonably be argued to be the greatest ever at the position he played. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Walter Johnson would be typical Hall of Famers at this level.

Definition B: A Hall of Famer is a player who is one of the greatest ever at the position he played. Such a player should be the dominant player in his position while he is active, with the exception of the relatively rare occurrence of talent doubling up on a position, like Mantle and Mays in the 1950s and 60s. A Hall of Famer should be the biggest star on the field at almost any time. Such a player would ordinarily be the biggest star on a pennant-winning team. This definition would let into the Hall of Fame such players as Joe Morgan, George Sisler, Al Kaline and Joe Cronin.

Definition C: A Hall of Famer is a player who is consistently among the best in the league at his position. Such a player would ordinarily be the biggest star on his team unless it was a pennant-winning team, in which case he would be regarded as one of the most valuable members of the team.This definition would make room in the Hall of Fame for such players as Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Billy Herman, Fred Clarke, Johnny Evers and Harry Heilmann.

Definition D: A Hall of Famer is a player who rises well above the level of the average player, a player who would be capable of contributing to a pennant-winning team and would be one of the outstanding players on an average team. This definition would include such players as Joe Rudi, Wally Schang, Lloyd Waner (Little Poison), Eppa Rixey (who was elected by the Veterans Committee with a 266-251 career won-lost record. Rixey is the only pitcher besides Johnson among James' examples, but I'm sure you can extrapolate the definitions when considering pitchers statistically) and Tommy McCarthy.

Thus, James here has delineated the steps down from All-time Greatest to Very Very Good. In the most recent elections of four players-- three pitchers and a player, and because there are more pitchers in the major leagues than any other position, there is always going to be a greater prevalence of at least nominally qualified candidates knocking on the door-- I conclude that two Definition B Hall of Famers and two Definition C Hall of Famers were elected. And one of those is borderline with Definition D.

Johnson and Martinez are the Definition B players, and no one can possibly deny that for both peak and career value Johnson is one of the All-Time Greats. He borders on Definition A, though one would PROBABLY not say he was greater than Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove. I watched him once beat the Sox without his best stuff. If you thought Don Drysdale's motion was snaky and intimidating, well, you should have seen Randy Johnson.

Martinez led the league in ERA 5 times-- only Lefty Grove with 9 has more-- winning percentage 3 times and strikeouts 3 times. He won 3 Cy Young Awards in 4 years. Injuries eventually shortened his career, but he must rank in the top 10, maybe higher, for peak value as a pitcher. A solid Definition B Hall of Famer.

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My name is William Perkins Homans the third, but probably more people know me as the bluesman (and artist) Watermelon Slim.

I've been in the fight against war, fascism, injustice and inhumanity for 47 years. I was at MayDay, 1971, (more...)

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