Special circumstances

This grew out of a conversation in comments about Mark McGwire. McGwire’s resume is impressive in the category of home runs — 583 career (tenth all-time), four times first in the league, including his record-setting 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999. I think he’s a Hall of Famer. However, the assumption that he is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer without deducting for steroid use… Well, that’s a bit much. McGwire’s career is awfully short for a Hall of Famer, or rather he didn’t come to the plate that much in a 16-year career — his 7660 career plate appearances are 297th all-time, and he’ll fall out of the top 300 this year, before the All-Star break. McGwire, a very large man even unsupplemented, had chronic problems with his ankles early on, and the usual aches and pains later in his career. Do you give him credit for what he would have done, if healthy?

To my mind, certainly not. Too many players — including probably hundreds of pitchers — had Hall of Fame ability but are not candidates because of injury. Once you open that door, you’d have to double the size of the Hall, at a minimum, and even I don’t want that. I doubt that even [NAME DELETED BECAUSE IT WOULD GET POLITICAL], who has 50 Hall of Fame candidates and once had 100 would want that. You can’t give extra credit for games not played because of injury. I’ve written a lot about Dale Murphy, but I don’t think I ever wrote that he should be in the Hall of Fame because he would have done more if he hadn’t gotten hurt.

There are some things you could give extra credit for. (A lot of the following is after Bill James, but then so is a lot of what I write.) The two that are most obvious are Military Service and Segregation. By the former, we normally mean World War II. Phil Rizzuto, for example, is in the Hall in part due to extra credit for three years lost to the Army; Dom DiMaggio will probably get in eventually with the same credit. Larry Doby lost a little time early in his career to segregation and was given credit for that. Jackie Robinson kind of combines the two; he only played one year of Negro league baseball, but that’s because he was in the service the three years before that.

The others are more controversial, and I don’t know how I feel about them. One is Death. James rather glibly calls this an “extreme injury” in The Politics of Glory, dealing with Thurman Munson. Munson probably wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer anyway, but I think there’s something to be said for the argument, most notably that this standard has been used in a Hall of Fame election. Addie Joss, who didn’t even qualify under the Hall’s only one real standard (playing ten seasons in the majors; he played in only nine before dying at the age of thirty) was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1978. I think that’s a precedent and you could apply it if it came up. I don’t think that (other than Munson) there’s anybody it really applies to.

Another is Trapped In The Minors. This was a common problem before baseball was fully organized, and there’s an argument that you should give credit to players who were great players but not allowed to show it on the big stage. It might still be a problem today. Ryan Howard didn’t get a real shot until he was 26 because he was blocked by Jim Thome; what if he comes up a bit short?

Then there’s the Blackball, and by this I don’t mean segregation, but players thrown out of organized baseball for reasons other than corruption. Sal Maglie lost four years of his career after jumping to the Mexican League; the two years after he came back (at 33 and 34) he was 18-4, leading the league in ERA and win percentage, and 23-6, leading the league in wins. He wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer with those four years, probably (he won only 118 games in his career) but if you add in what he lost to the war (he didn’t play in the majors until he was 28)…

Related to this is Work Stoppage, in which case we’re starting to get away from “external forces”. I know a lot of people wouldn’t want anyone to get credit for time missed due to a strike. McGwire was hurt most of 1994-1995, but probably lost some time to the strike. There are a number of other players — David Cone, notably — whose case would be strengthened by extra credit for strike time.

There may be others, but that’s what comes to mind. To reiterate, I do think that Mark McGwire is a Hall of Famer, despite his short career. After all, while he maybe only had 7660 career plate appearances, Joe DiMaggio had only 7671.

64 thoughts on “Special circumstances”

  1. Difference: Joe DiMaggio was a Yankee.

    (Ok, he was also a CF, and did win a handful of titles, but that’s completely beside my stupid point).

  2. Ray Chapman might have had a shot. He certainly didn’t do enough while alive, but he had accumulated some good counting stats for a shortstop at that time, and had the misfortune to die in 1920, just as offense was exploding. He’d have had to age well.

  3. Also, quite frankly, even though my opinion has no validity nor did anybody ask for it, I’ll give you my thoughts on steroids and the HOF.

    Except in a very few cases, suspicion of steroid use cannot be confirmed either way (positively or negatively). In light of this, if baseball really wants it to be a non-issue going forward in the game, then put steroid users in the HOF. Just treat everybody as if they never did steroids and judge them on the merits of the case that they made through their playing time.

    If that ever happens, I will give everybody on this blog (and, why not, in Africa) one million dollars. This is one of the few ways that we can put this behind us. Baseball did the same thing with segregation and with the war. They didn’t exclude white players that played during the darkest era of baseball because none of them actually voiced concerns about not having let Blacks and Latinos play the game. The HOF just brushed it off (the first person in the HOF was the famous civil rights advocate Ty Cobb). Imagine the uproar if Babe Ruth wasn’t let into the HOF because of this issue.

    Similarly, they haven’t (to a major degree) not let players in that lost time to the war. In fact, they are almost rewarded more for their service overseas than they would have been if they had stayed home to accumulate stats.

    So, if you cranky old gentlemen ever want to really push back the steroid years, stop reminding everybody of them by raising the issue through HOF voting.

  4. The biggest problem I see with the voting in relation to steroids is something that could conceivably happen, though not certainly. If you put one guy in (say Bonds or Clemens in two years) than shouldn’t you be forced to put all the other guys in who were connected, either proven or tangentially, to steroids? For instance, if McGwire falls off the ballot next year, but Bonds and Clemens get in eventually, and then years down the road ARod gets in on the first ballot, I don’t think you could have someone like McGwire or Sosa on the outside looking in.
    Personally, I feel like if the BBWAA and the HOF doesn’t do something in the very near future (like they did with Rose, agree with it or not, they did make some sort of stand)then they will be facing a very large PR problem soon.

  5. I think that Clemens and Bonds were already Hall of Famers before they turned into the Hulk, so the argument is that they’re Hall of Famers even minus steroids. Without steroids, McGwire might have been out of baseball by 1996. That’s the argument, anyway.

  6. The only solution is to accept that they played in the Steroid Era and roll with it. Everyone will know what was up. Perhaps refer to it at the Hall as the “Pre-Testing Era”.

    Will that be unfair to the McGriffs of the time? Yeah, and I don’t blame them if they’re bitter about it. But until MLB got serious about testing, they were essentially telling the players to juice or go to the minors.

    To act shocked (shocked, I tell you) at this point is just adding another layer of hypocrisy and there’s already so much of that it’s rotting our teeth.

  7. What I don’t understand is keeping out McGwire for supposedly using, yet not voting for McGriff for not having comparable stats. McGwire should be in. Anything else just makes things too complicated.

  8. Anything other than a blanket pass (not that I am necessarily advocating it) gets complicated very quickly. Even that has it’s obvious complications.

  9. The biggest issue is that there simply is no way to establish a consistent standard of proof to exclude people. From there, the line of demarcation descends into absurdity pretty quickly.

  10. The work stoppage issue arguably has cost McGriff quite heavily. Without the strike McGriff would have reached 500 HR, thus giving him a magical counting stat.

  11. When looking at the offensive numbers from the Steroid Era, my brain has a tendency to shut off sometimes. It just loops into, “It was a huge science project, from which we now know most of its results. It wasn’t real.”

    So, when it comes to HoF voting, I’m still not sure how to really evaluate those people and I’m not sure I ever will. From the absurd numbers to the “whodunnit factor” (and all its implications), it remains one grand mess and each HoF vote reminds me of that.

  12. I’m at the point now where I equate steroid use for ballplayers- at least until MLB got serious about it- with fake boobs on strippers. At my most cynical I see it as a cost of doing business. At my most forgiving I see it as doing whatever it takes to be the best at your job. Regardless I’m no fan of either practice but in both cases, the landscape is permanently changed.

  13. It’s basically impossible to do this quantitatively, but I prefer to think of PEDs as being like a park effect: when it comes to players who certainly or probably used, I simply try to take some air out of their stats — and I try to adjust the deflation to the type of drug used and length of time that they were on it. I prefer this kind of gradient to a sort of binary approach, by which either all users must be excluded or all drug use must be ignored.

    Even if you heavily discount their stats, Bonds and Clemens are still Hall of Fame material; however, if you heavily discount his stats, McGwire is a very borderline case, and I probably wouldn’t vote for him. Though I don’t know how much and for how long he used, Kevin Brown is a very borderline case, and I probably wouldn’t vote for him. Though I don’t know how much and how long he used, Andy Pettitte probably doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, if you take air out of his already thin stats.

    It’s a qualitative filter, and it doesn’t tell me definitively who to vote for. But it does help me determine who I wouldn’t vote for.

  14. I agree with Alex. Subtract some (read: many) of his HR, and McGwire is a very, very limited player. He couldn’t do anything – run, field, hit for average, stay healthy – but hit homeruns, and many of those came under the use of PED. Him and Joe DiMaggio in the same sentence is a sacrilege. HOF – no way!

    Not that I care though.

  15. Odd list:

    Most Defensive G at 1B:

    1. Eddie Murray, 2413
    2. Jake Beckley, 2380
    3. Fred McGriff, 2239
    4. Mickey Vernon, 2237
    5. Mark Grace, 2162

  16. The reason that there are so few historically amazing 1B is the defensive spectrum: the greatest players generally didn’t start out at 1B, they moved there when they got older, like Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, and Stan Musial.

  17. First, I’m a little puzzled by something Mac said re McGuire on the previous thread about not having driven in enough runs. As I understand (and I agree with the reasoning), runs driven in isn’t a very good stat for evaluating players. Mickey Mantle only drove in 100 runs 3 or 4 times. So I’m not sure why that should be held against McGuire.

    Second, what bothers me about steroid discussions is the casual way that people think they can discern who did and did not use. First, everyone talks about players with much larger physiques or big heads, but I doubt that a lay person (or probably even an expert) can really look at a person’s body and determine that it’s from steroids. Second, we don’t even know how much of an effect steroids has on hitting performance. To the extent that it helps players recover from injuries, it would presumably help them put up better numbers, but, for example, I don’t think you can say that Barry Bonds hit x home runs on steroids and would have hit x- something without. Maybe there’s a placebo effect; players think they are better so they hit better when using steroids. I don’t know. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume no one took steroids and the greater strength resulted from new weight training techniques that weren’t available to Mays, Mantle, Aaron, etc. Should we discount for that? Should we discount Gaylord Perry’s record because he was throwing spit balls? To me, the numbers are what the numbers are. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (and Dan Marino to a lesser extent) took advantage of different rules (and longer schedule) when they threw those TD passes; should we say Y.A. Tittle is the real record holder?

  18. mraver,

    I reluctantly concede that Wuerffel was better (or at least more successful)than Peyton Manning in college. :)

    On the topic of equating winning with greatness, I heard a really stupid comment on talk radio here re Aaron Rodgers. The guy was saying he’s not an elite QB yet because he has to win a playoff game. Of course, he has only played in one playoff game and only put up 45 points in that game; but the Packers lost 51-45–apparently, the inability of Green Bay to stop Arizona was the QB’s fault, just like pitchers who don’t get much run support simply don’t know how to win. I want to know how you get a job on sports talk radio; you don’t need to know anything and all you do is watch sports and talk through your ass. What a job!

  19. Marc, I think we absolutely should discount Perry’s numbers because of his spitball, or Whitey Ford because of his gunk balls and other methods of ball defacement. I don’t think you can ignore their cheating; I also don’t think you should ignore their accomplishments. I think the only fair thing is to consider their accomplishments through the prism of their cheating.

    Whitey Ford probably still is a Hall of Famer, despite everything, just because he was regarded by many of his peers as one of the best pitchers of his era, and his win totals are artificially low because Casey Stengel held him back to pitch against other teams’ aces.

    Perry? I dunno. Strikes me that if you take some air out of his stats he looks more ordinary, though that’s partly because he hung around till he was 44. I’d see him as a borderline case.

  20. Marc,
    Most sports radio is just schtick, a simple formula, not terribly different from professional wrestling.

    I travel a lot & check out sports radio around the country (usually in a rental car). Thanks to the geniuses in Bristol, Conn., most of it exactly the same, shaded for the local audience.

    You get two guys who take different positions for the sake of argument & entertainment. One is “the unhinged guy,” the other is “the voice of reason.” Some of these stations dive into the dreaded “guy talk” (discussion of hot gals, salacious double-entendres, etc.) It’s an act. It gets old. And much of the talent is unconvincing.

    To me, there’s WFAN in New York & everything else sucks. (Yes, spoken like someone who’s lived here for 20 years.)

  21. @28, that’s a bit disingenuous though, as they are already in the Hall, and clearly aren’t going to be dismissed, along with many other amphetamine users, dopers, game-throwers, gamblers, etc. Some form of “cheating” has been in the game since it’s inception. It’s the ex post facto of declaring “from today forward, no ‘cheaters’ will be enshrined, and further, I get to pick if you were a cheater or not”, absent any proof, that’s disturbing. We KNOW Gaylord cheated, among others, and yet nothing will be done about it. It was casually accepted at the time. Many are presuming, with no factual evidence, that several eligibles and near eligibles have cheated. And yet these deductions of which you speak will only be applied to the Hall eligibility of the latter, while the former rates a shoulder shrug.

  22. I would be so bad at hosting talk radio. You have to be good at showing respect for the opinions of dumb/irrational people, and I’m not very good at that.

  23. So, on topic, Sheffield is set to retire. I don’t think he’ll ever be voted in, but is he a HoFer?

    Little black ink, plenty of gray, terrific WAR, fat 12 year peak of 155OPS+, very good rate and cumulative stats, comp list is 9 HoFers and McGriff. I’d say yes.

    /”You have to be good at showing respect for the opinions of dumb/irrational people” – the ghost of Skip Caray strongly disagrees with this.

  24. Spike, I don’t think you’re being fair to my argument. Of course we KNOW Perry cheated — the voters KNEW it too. Similarly, we KNOW that Bonds and Clemens cheated. So do we take that into account, or do we ignore it? I think the only intellectually honest thing to do is to take it into account.

    Sheffield’s probably a Hall of Famer, but so is Albert Belle. I wonder if Sheff will pull down more votes than Palmeiro.

  25. @33, I get you, but while there is no penalty that is going to attach to the earlier “cheaters” for taking this into account, there most certainly will for those not already enshrined, many with no evidence other than guilt by association. That hardly seems fair.

    Belle? Awful short peak, only a handful of dominating seasons. I don’t think I could vote for him.

  26. To be fair here, we’re talking about voting in the MLB HOF, not imposing some kind of criminal punishment or denying some government benefit. What level of proof does a voter need to have if they believe a former player cheated? Or that they exihibited some other flaw of character that’s arguably relevant to election to the the HOF? These are highly subjective judgments anyway, so I see no problem with gray areas and judgment calls when it comes to steriods and other forms of cheating.

  27. A 5 for 1 swap. WOW! They traded their #3, #4, #8, and #15 prospects along with a minor league filler. Man, the Cubs are dumb.

    #3- B+
    #4- B
    #8- B-
    #15- C

    What’s wrong with these people?

  28. The #15 guy is filler; C prospects are pretty interchangeable. Three B prospects is a big haul, but they’ll control Garza for the next three years.

    If Hendry really thinks they will contend in 2012 or 2013, the deal makes some sense, and the Central’s still a weak division; it’s hard to see any of those teams winning more than 92 games. But the Brewers added Marcum and Greinke, and the Cardinals and Reds are strong, and it’s hard to see the Cubs leapfrogging all three of them, even after adding Matt Garza and Carlos Pena.

    The Cubs act like they’re in win-now mode every year. But, needless to say, they never win.

  29. Do any of you guys think the veteran’s committee will eventually put Harold Baines in the Hall. I know he was primarily a career DH but he put up some really good career numbers and was still a very good hitter at age 40. Just curious.

  30. Chirinos doesnt look like a filler to me. Sure, he’s 26, but he put up some impressive numbers at AA-AAA while playing catcher.

    18hr 74rbi .999ops

    I’d take him.

  31. Another thing to take into consideration for Sheffield’s case is that he was linked with Bonds in the BALCO case IIRC. Though it would be interesting to see which hat he would wear. In his defense, over the second half of his career he was regarded as a good clubhouse guy and not the cancer he was as a kid with the Brewers.

  32. I would think Sheffield would wear a Marlins hat, but who really knows? I’m sure if he gets in, they’ll find a way to put a Yankees hat on him. But when I think of him, the first hat I think of other than the Braves (and he wouldn’t go in as a Brave, as he really didn’t do much of HOF-worthy note while here) is the Marlins.

  33. @38, that’s it exactly – the trade itself isn’t dumb, but the rationale for why it was made, sure is.

  34. @43, in 2003, he put up a .330/.419/.604/1.023, 39HR 162OPS+ line in 155G with ATL. That’s a HoF quality season (and Sheff’s best in terms of WAR and dWAR) , although you are quite right about his going in with a FL hat, i think

  35. You know… I know I’ve mentioned this before, but looking at salaries on baseball-reference is a strange thing… I don’t find it nearly as disturbing to think that Chipper Jones has made $140M or so (with another 33M or so coming), even though that is just an insane amount of money, as I do that Eli Marrero made $10M in his career, or Ray King making $8M in his.

    Also… in the Sheffield to the HOF discussion? He is Chipper’s most similar player (at this point in his career)…

  36. @46
    He should be in the discussion. 500 HR starts a discussion, although Kingman usually ends it.
    Like it or not, he’s right in the middle of the PED story.
    I’m amazed by how young he broke in and how well he performed late in his career.
    His swing always reminded me of someone slamming a thick door very hard.

  37. I’m no help in any HoF discussions. The requirements seem such a moving target to me.

    FWIW, I watched Rock Raines almost all of his career and always thought he and Eric Davis were among the best players I ever saw on a consistent basis.

  38. so, it doesnt seem like anyone is interested in soriano because of the pick forfeit. When will baseball realize that the arb process is outdated?

  39. Get well soon, UGA VIII. I think it may be time to consider some variety in the gene pool.

  40. “If Hendry really thinks they will contend in 2012 or 2013, the deal makes some sense,”

    And therein lies the rub. They’re not serious contenders. Well, maybe they are for the division, but even in the “anything goes” world of MLB playoffs they still would have no shot, even if they did somehow make it in.

    Tampa Bay, on the other hand, just had a very nice day.

  41. The thing with McGwire for me is the character clause. I realize that much more repugnant men are in the Hall (Anson, Cobb, etc.) But if the numbers are border line things like character come more into play. I know it’s not a morality contest and shouldn’t be (otherwise Dale Murphy’s a no doubter, which I don’t believe he is). I don’t even really mind that he used PEDs, it’s how he handled it afterwards; only coming clean when he wanted a MLB job and even then not really. Aside from HRs his carreer numbers are not amazing. It won’t upset me to see him left out, sanctimonious moralizing aside.

  42. Anyone hear of the homeless man with a radio voice, Ted WIlliams? Good story here also. Two guys put his video on youtube. Now he has a job with Cleveland Cavaliers, they bought him a house, and he’s doing interviews all over the place. Hopefully, he’ll take advantage of his opportunity.

  43. Or when Kenshin Kawakami’s place in Sugarloaf Country Club will go up for sale. He paid $850K, cash, in April ’09. Current market value, $763.5K.

    (Also notable, JHey has a mortgage on a $165K townhome. I doubt he sweats the payments….)

  44. Chipper back in the cage today. one quote from the carroll rogers’ blog entry from Haus himself:

    “I’ve read some blogs over the course of the offseason and everybody is sort of writing me off,” Jones said. “And to be honest with you, I listen to the radio and I hear ads for season tickets, and they’re all about ‘Come out and see (Jason) Heyward, McCann, Prado.’ It’s like I don’t even exist anymore.”

    Someone’s pissed!
    here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/299mms3

  45. funny Chipper says that, but his comment right before it was this…

    “I thoroughly expect to be the Opening Day third baseman,” said Jones, who also tempers his chances with realism. “But I have days where I go down in the weight room and I think there’s no way. But today I feel like that there’s no doubt that I’ll be the Opening Day third baseman.”

  46. Mac,

    Something special or important? Usually you don’t announce them like that.

    On Chipper: we all have days like that. Major League ballplayers aren’t immune to emotions. It’s probably something personal between him and the organization. After all he’s given us, I think he has the privilege to say things like that once in a while.

  47. 58 – What ‘blog’ is Chipper reading that projects him hitting 7th or 8th ? Gotta be DOB’s comments section. C’mon, Chipper please don’t think that represents intelligent Braves chatter on the ‘blogs.’

  48. Wow – something really terrible is happening. You should all check out cnn or fox or whatever you prefer asap.

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