ESPN’s Rob Neyer acknowledged an
yesterday, as he considered the Hall of Fame candidacy of
I have not been particularly enthusiastic about Brown’s Hall of Fame case in the past, but I’m beginning to realize that’s been largely because he never felt like a Hall of Famer to me – which of course is exactly the sort of “thinking” for which I’ve criticized so many Hall of Fame voters for so many years.
When it comes to baseball analysis and historiography, Neyer is one of the leaders of the ever-more-persuasive Party of Statistics. Baseball has been measured and recorded in so much detail that ineffable-seeming claims about players can be checked against the numbers. Did
pitch to the score, saving his best performances for when they were most needed? Apparently not, if you
he pitched in, and how well he pitched in them.
Gut feelings and unexamined legends are supposed to be in eclipse. This year, Hall of Fame voters seem poised to elect
in his 14th turn on the ballot. It’s the result of a steady campaign by analysts who’ve argued that despite Blyleven’s reputation as merely a good pitcher, the evidence says he pitched like a great one.
One of Blyleven’s most eloquent champions is Joe Posnanski. Here’s what Posnanski offers in his
, in the hopes of finally getting Blyleven into the Hall:
Blyleven was rarely talked about as one of the great pitchers of his time (though people did acknowledge his historically great curveball). I have never thought this should matter – after all, I can remember Steve Garvey, Fred Lynn, George Foster, Dave Parker and many others referred to as “future Hall of Famers” when they were at their peak, and it didn’t quite work out that way. This, I think, is why we wait five years before voting on a retired player. We want to let a lot of that nonsense dissipate.
And it should have dissipated. Maybe Bert Blyleven did not have a reputation as a great big-game pitcher, but 5-1, 2.47 ERA in the postseason (one of those wins coming over sainted big-game pitcher Jack Morris) and his record in 1-0 games suggest that he didn’t really let that reputation stop him from pitching well in big games.
Forceful and, to me, convincing. Elect Bert Blyleven, already. But here’s Posnanski on
He was a terrific pitcher. But when you have a borderline Hall of Fame case, I think you need to bring something extra, something that separates you from all the other borderline Hall of Fame cases. As I have grown older, I have come to believe that greatness is not simply a line … Willie Mays wasn’t great simply because he hit well and fielded well and ran well. Greatness is a multilayered, three dimensional thing. Brown’s often brilliant pitching earns him his day in court, but in the end, is the verdict that he he great? He was at points in his career. But he was also a surly pitcher who did not seem to add much to team chemistry, and he did not distinguish himself in the postseason. He signed a gigantic contract at age 34 but did not age well, to the point where at the end he was considered an albatross. He falls short of the Hall of Fame for me, but not by much.
Is this the same writer? Brown was “surly”? He didn’t “add much to team chemistry”? He was “considered” an albatross? (An albatross who had a 2.39 ERA at age 38?)
It’s not that I disagree with this assessment of Kevin Brown. I didn’t think much of Brown when he was playing. He spent one season with the Orioles and went 10-9 with a good ERA on a woefully mismanaged team. The numbers say he was their second-best starter that year, but all I remember is him hurting himself by trying to grab a hard-hit ball with his pitching hand. Actually, the phrase that came back was “stupidly trying to grab a hard-hit ball,” which: who am I to call it stupid?
Yet that’s how it was with Brown. When he got hurt, the reaction was to say he went and got himself hurt. When he showed up on the league-leader charts—five straight years with an ERA of 3.00 or under, including a 1.89 for the Marlins—I didn’t care. Good riddance to the guy. He was nothing special.
As Neyer said, that’s the sort of thinking that the current generation of baseball analysts is meant to try to overturn. It’s not that Brown was Tom Seaver and he unequivocally belongs in the Hall. By old-fashioned standards, he would have no case at all: just 211 wins, no Cy Young Awards, only one season winning 20 or more games. The reformers have done the work of pointing out that starters have fewer chances to accumulate wins nowadays, that you don’t win games if your team doesn’t score runs, that the Cy Young voters have frequently overlooked sustained excellence to reward good luck.
You have to accept those principles to begin with, before Brown’s portfolio starts looking like Hall of Fame material. And it’s true that Brown lacks any sort of “something extra”—a famously great performance with a championship on the line, something that would put him in the history books more prominently than as part of the 1997 Marlins team photo. And he is on the ever-longer list of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s seems simple enough to write him off. So where are the people who challenge us not to trust the simple answers?