Rob Neyer

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Monday, December 23
Updated: December 24, 10:18 AM ET
 
Letters on the Hall

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

Aside from Charlie F. Hustle, no subject elicits more e-mail than the Hall of Fame, so this week I'm going to spend a couple of columns responding to various questions and entries regarding said Hall...

    Rob, I think Bert Blyleven and Tommy John both deserve Hall of Fame consideration. Their numbers are remarkably similiar. John won 288 games, Blyleven 287. Both pitched over 4700 innings in their careers. John's ERA, 3.34, Blyleven 3.31. John averaged 13 wins/yr for 26 yrs, Blyleven 14/yr. Mike

Consideration? Sure.

But aside from the numbers you cite -- and yes, those are generally the only numbers that anybody looks at -- Blyleven and John weren't really all that similar.

Blyleven is third on the all-time strikeout list (behind Ryan and Carlton); John is somewhere down in the 40s.

Blyleven spent most of his career pitching for teams that played in ballparks that were at least decent for hitters, while John spent most of his career pitching for teams that played in ballparks that were good for pitchers (and this had the expected effects on their ERAs).

Blyleven spent much of his career pitching for teams that weren't very good, while John spent most of his career pitching for teams that were quite good (and this had the expected effects on their wins and losses).

Blyleven was the better pitcher, and it's not really very close. I'm not saying that John doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, because by the standards that have been established he probably does. But Blyleven's got a significantly better case, if what you're looking for is greatness.

seeya,
rob

    I just read your article about deserving players on the Hall of Fame ballot, and although I agree with your assessment regarding your votes, I must ask you about a player you mentioned. Jim Kaat had 283 wins, playing for some lousy teams for a long time. By the time he got to a good team (the Phillies prior to the 1976 season) he was ready to become a reliever, thus eliminating many opportunities to increase his win total. Will he ever make the Hall? He has to be better than a Don Sutton who played for playoff contenders every year of his career, or at least equal to Phil Niekro, another great pitcher who pitched for lousy teams most of his career.

    Just thought I'd ask.

    Colin Hammond

Well, you're right about Phil Niekro.

But I'm not sure why you'd say that Kaat played for lousy teams for a long time.

From 1961 through most of 1973, he pitched for the Twins. In those 13 seasons, the Twins finished at .500 or better nine times, and in six of those seasons they won more than 90 games. That sound like a lousy team to you?

He pitched for the White Sox in 1974 and '75, and the Sox were respectable both seasons.

I think Kaat's got a pretty good argument. But what I find is that when people try to make the arguments for marginal Hall of Fame candidates like Kaat -- and I don't intend that description as an insult -- they often overstate the case, or just invent "facts" that aren't facts. And that doesn't really help

peace,
rob

    Rob:

    You don't believe that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame? Check his stats. He was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s (look it up!). He also propelled his teams to the playoffs: in '84 and '87 with the Tigers, in '91 with the Twins and in '92 with the Blue Jays. His performance in the '91 World Series should alone be enough to get him into the Hall. I agree with most of your other assessments of players, but give Jack more thought.

    Joe Schur

Well, if you're going to put Morris in the Hall of Fame because of the '91 World Series, then you gotta make room for Series heroes Babe Adams and Lew Burdette, too. Adams, especially, because his career was just as valuable as Morris'. No, the heart of your argument is the other thing.

I've actually given Jack Morris a lot of thought. And I don't think he belongs in the Hall because he was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s any more than I think Mark Grace belongs in the Hall because he had the most hits in the 1990s. Those sorts of distinctions are always indicators of quality, and they're usually the indicators of great quality.

But sometimes they're also accidents of timing and circumstance. And that's the case with Morris and Grace. Both of them were great players, but neither was great enough to get a plaque in Cooperstown.

best,
rob

    Rob, I disagree with your comments regarding Ken Williams' qualifications for the Hall of Fame. For the last eight years I have been involved with the POP Award. This award is presented to each player who, in a season in which he qualifies for the batting title, achieves the following:
  • A .300 average or greater
  • A .400 on-base percentage or greater
  • A .500 slugging average or greater

    In MLB history there have been 35 players to achieve this distinction five times in their career. Twenty-six (26) players are eligible for the Hall of Fame, Joe Jackson is not eligible by virtue of his suspension, eight are active, and one has not been inducted despite being eligible for inclusion in the Hall. And that one player? Ken Williams is the only player to meet these criteria and not have been selected for induction. The other 25 players eligible for the Hall of Fame have been enshrined. It seems to me the knock on Ken Williams is he played in a hitter's park in a hitter's era. The reality is that he was above average in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, (park adjusted) virtually every season he played (see baseballreference.com). He was a uniquely consistent player. I would vote for him because he is the best percentage hitter not in the Hall. Best Regards,
    Richard Freedman

Actually, if there's a knock on Williams, it's that he didn't play enough. Williams played in at least 130 games in only six seasons, which I suspect would be fewer than any Hall of Fame hitter of the 20th century, not including catchers.

It's true that Williams was a great hitter in six seasons -- his five POP seasons, plus one more -- but that was basically his career. It seems to me that if you're going to make a Hall of Fame argument for a player who finished his career with 1,552 hits, you've got to argue that he made a huge contribution with his glove ... and Ken Williams was a left fielder. A pretty good left fielder, but a left fielder nonetheless.

Basically, he was George Foster with a shorter career. And there ain't nobody pumping Foster for Cooperstown.

    Mr. Neyer,

    In reading your piece about the new-look Veterans Comitteee for the Hall of Fame, you indicated that Don Newcombe would have "a decent case if you give him credit for the two seasons he spent in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, but he's not going to get that credit."

    Granted, 149 wins makes him borderline even if you generously assume that he got shortchanged 30-40 wins during the war. It's also no small note that he likely got a later start in his major-league career as he was the first black pitcher [ed. - actually, he was the second; Dan Bankhead was the first] in the National League.

    But consider: As far as I can tell, he's the only player to ever win the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young Awards. He's one of the best-hitting pitchers of all time. If I remember correctly, he was one of the first if not the first American player to play in Japan, helping to open the pipeline of talent that has produced the Ichiros, Godzillas, and other players.

    Put his career in context, and I say he's Hall-worthy.

    Gregg Palermo

The award stuff is interesting, but I'm not sure it really adds much to the discussion. Same with the hitting, which contributes to his (impressive) W-L record.

As for getting a "later start," Newcombe reached the majors in 1949, a few weeks before his 23rd birthday, so it's hard to figure how the color line changed his career. I suppose if you give Newcombe an extra season at the start of his career and two extra seasons in the middle, you push him to ~200 wins.

But it seems to me that if you have to go to that much trouble, you probably shouldn't. There are just too many ifs in the equation.

The real problem isn't that Newcombe's career started too late; it's that it ended too early. He was washed up at 34, and that just isn't true of many Hall of Fame pitchers.

-rob

Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published next spring by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason.





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