Sports Nut

Deck the Hall

When I advocated burning the Baseball Hall of Fame to the ground, the Fray began to grumble. When I was prideful enough to think I could rebuild and restock it, many Fraysters turned downright resentful. What was Don Sutton doing in the new hall? And who was I to toss Big Ed Walsh to the curb?

What really rang the Fraysters’ bells was my minimum standard for hall entry: Roy Campanella for position players and Don Drysdale for pitchers. If you’re better than Campy or Drysdale, I argued, you’re in. If not, you’re out. A number of readers called the standard “arbitrary” and one accused me of “setting the bar too high.” A reader calling himself LJS had a more ambitious idea. He pointed out that while comparing Campanella to, say, Gary Carter is easy, comparing Campanella to an outfielder or a shortstop is not. Why not name a best of the worst for each and every position?

Others took issue with my standards for automatic induction: 300 wins for pitchers, 2,873 hits (Babe Ruth’s total) or 493 home runs (Lou Gehrig’s total) for hitters. Partha Mazumdar alerted the Fray to the Harold Baines Problem—that is, that Baines needs just seven hits to reach the Babe Ruth plateau and, assuming he does, how could I justify putting such a “mediocre” player in the hall? Baines is the first player with hall-worthy offensive stats who spent a major portion of his career as a DH. But with Frank Thomas coming down the line, the hall has to start inducting DHs at some point, and there’s no better player to start with than Baines. Ask yourself this: Is any player who collects 2,866 hits, most of them before the Juiced Ball Era, mediocre, even if he didn’t play in the field?

Dave Rey objected to the exclusion of Ed Walsh, a fastballer who won 40 games in 1908. Several players in the new hall had short careers, but Walsh’s was really short: He had six good/great seasons, one OK season, and then his arm fell apart from overwork. From the short career guys I demanded, more or less, a decade of high performance. Don Drysdale never had a season like Walsh did in 1908, but he was far more consistent: nine good/great seasons and three OK seasons. In pitching, that’s lifetime.

Chris Long likes the new hall better than the old one but wondered if I evicted too many catchers. Maybe throwing out Carlton Fisk was a bit harsh. But I don’t quite buy the argument that because Fisk was one of the 10 best catchers of all time—or, one might say, the best catcher of his era—he belongs in the hall. I’m all for including more catchers, but I’m wary of “best of” analyses. If Fisk was the best catcher of his era but the 25th best player overall, does that make him a mortal lock for Cooperstown? Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza are not only the best catchers in baseball, they’re among the very best players. And as long as we’re making positional adjustments, why did Long take issue with my addition of Lave Cross (2,666 hits, 412 doubles, 136 triples from 1887 to 1907) when third base is the most underrepresented position in the hall?

Jay W. Mitchell made a strong case against the inclusion of Don Sutton, who managed to win 324 games (as many as Nolan Ryan) but never really dominated the game. Winning 300 games, I’m reminded again and again, is the equivalent of winning 15 games for 20 seasons, an accomplishment unimaginable to any current player who isn’t Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, or, maybe, Tom Glavine. JT argued against the inclusion of labor leader Marvin Miller, suggesting that “he’s the reason Minnesota [and other small market teams] can’t keep good players.” True, but Miller is also the reason that the owners who could afford to pay players only thousands of dollars a year in the early ‘70s can now pay magically afford to pay them millions of dollars.

But the most striking thing is what the Fray didn’t say. If you so much as gently criticize Cal Ripken Jr., they’ll tear you apart. Urge the Mets to trade Piazza to the Yankees, and they’ll crucify you. But because no one offered much more than a tepid defense of the old hall when I urged the ejection of its non-stars and its immolation, I can only guess that for the first time in Slate history, we’ve sounded a consensus viewpoint. Excuse me while I go purchase a can of gasoline.