The Baseball Hall of Fame has become utterly absurd. We have completely lost the purpose of it. It is designed to honor the best players in the history of the game, and that is not happening.
There are some pretty obvious reasons for this, and most of them involve performance-enhancing drugs. I'm not going to debate whether steroid users, or even suspected steroid users, belong in the Hall. As I've written, I don't even think journalists should be deciding these things. You're entitled to your opinion.
I just want to illustrate how ridiculous it's become -- not necessarily wrong, but ridiculous. To do this, I have put together two all-time teams. One is comprised of Hall of Famers. The other is made up of players who have been rejected from the Hall, for whatever reason.
Are the Rejects better? We will find out. But it would be a hell of a game, (or if the whole PED topic makes you angry, a game in hell).
Three things to note here:
1. We are evaluating these guys based solely on their production. That's it. There are no moral or ethical judgments, and no worries about performance-enhancing drugs. I'm not saying anybody on the Rejects belongs in the Hall of Fame. That is a separate debate.
2. We're evaluating players against the major leaguers of their era. So Babe Ruth does not get downgraded for playing in the segregated majors and Barry Bonds does not get downgraded for playing in the PED era. I think the overall quality of play is higher now than it's ever been -- this is true in almost every sport -- but that doesn't matter much, either.
The whole point is to look at what the players did on the field against their contemporaries. That's it. (Among other stats, I used WAR from Baseball-Reference.com.)
3. Most Hall of Fame arguments go like this: Player X is in, and Player Y was at least as good, so Player Y should be in. In those arguments, Player X is usually one of the worst players in the Hall of Fame -- still great, obviously, but just on the right side of the borderline.
This is different. We're comparing the Rejects to the best players in the Hall of Fame. That should be impossible, right? I mean, these guys aren't even in the Hall of Fame.
OK, let's go.
HALL OF FAME: Johnny Bench: .267 BA, .342 OBP, .476 SLG, 126 OPS+, 72.3 WAR
REJECTS: Mike Piazza, .308 BA, .377 OBP, .545 SLG, 143 OPS+, 56.0 WAR
The basic hitting stats obviously don't tell the whole story here, because Piazza played in a hitters' era and the gap between their defensive skills was enormous. Still, Piazza led his league in OPS+ twice, and for the 10-year stretch from 1993 to 2002, he hit 41 home runs per 162 games, a ridiculous performance for a catcher over a 10-year stretch.
HALL OF FAME: Lou Gehrig, .340 BA, .447 OBP, .632 SLG, 179 OPS+, 493 HR, 1,995 RBI, 108.5 WAR
REJECTS: Jeff Bagwell, .297 BA, .408 OBP, .540 SLG, 149 OPS+, 449 HR, 1,529 RBI, 76.7 WAR
Can you make a case for Bagwell here? Well, you can make a case it's a wash. Gehrig had Babe Ruth in front of him. That'll boost your RBI totals. Gehrig's best year was probably 1934, when he hit .363 with a .465 OBP, 49 home runs, 40 doubles and 165 RBs, a Triple Crown season. Bagwell's best: 1994, when he hit .368 with a .451 OBP, 39 homers, 32 doubles and 116 RBIs in just 110 games. (That was the strike year, though Bagwell also got hurt late in the season and would not have played a full year).
Bagwell was also a better baserunner than Gehrig and turned himself into a very good fielder. I'm not saying he was better than Gehrig, or even as good for his time. But the gap is not as big as you might think. We're comparing him to the best first baseman ever, and he doesn't have to be embarrassed by it.
HALL OF FAME: Rogers Hornsby, .358 BA, .434 OBP, .577 SLG, 175 OPS+, 124.6 WAR
REJECTS: Craig Biggio, .281 BA, .363 OBP, .433 SLG, 112 OPS+, 62.1 WAR
Biggio's Hall of Fame case is solid. He should be in (and will be). Nonetheless, this is one of several positions where the Hall of Famers clearly have a big edge over the Rejects. The Rejects may have to sign a second basemen in fictional free agency.
HALL OF FAME: Honus Wagner, .328 BA, .391 OBP, .467 SLG, 151 OPS+
REJECTS: Alan Trammell, .285 BA, .352 OBP, .415 SLG, 110 OPS+, 67.1 WAR
Another big win for the Hall of Famers. Still, I need to make the Hall of Fame case for Trammell here.
He once told me that before his first ballot, he thought of himself as a borderline Hall of Famer, so he wasn't shocked when he didn't get in. He is a humble guy. But he should be in, and in fact, he is a prime argument that the Hall of Fame is more of a museum than a way to honor the very best players in history. Fellow shortstop Ozzie Smith sailed into the Hall on the first ballot. Tram barely stayed on the ballot. Ozzie was more exciting and a bigger celebrity -- most fans would rather see him in a museum. But Trammell was a better player.
HALL OF FAME: Mike Schmidt, .267 BA, .380 OBP, .527 SLG, 147 OPS+, 548 HR, 103 WAR
REJECTS: Pete Rose, .303 BA, ,375 OBP, .309 SLG, 118 OPS+, 76.7 WAR
This is a fun one, because Schmidt used his Hall of Fame induction speech to campaign for Rose, his old Phillies teammate.
Rose is known as the Hit King for his record 4,256 hits, but hanging on for that record obscured what a great player he was in his prime. From 1965 to 1979, Rose hit .316/.388/.442, with an OPS+ of 130.
Even so, Schmidt was clearly the better player. And if you're thinking, "Hey, three straight positions where the Hall of Famers have a big edge, not too shabby," don't get too excited. Rose is just keeping the seat warm for Alex Rodriguez. And Rodriguez's WAR is already higher than Schmidt's.
HALL OF FAME: Babe Ruth, .342 BA, .474 OBP, .690 SLG, 714 HR, 2,213 RBI, 206 OPS+, 178.3 WAR
REJECTS: Sammy Sosa, .273 BA, .344 OBP, .534 SLG, 609 HR, 1,667 RBI, 128 OPS+, 54.8 WAR
Ruth is really the symbol of what people like to think the Hall of Fame is: a nostalgic salute to dominance. And the most amazing thing is that he was also one of the best pitchers in the game. I still can't believe the Red Sox moved such a great pitcher to the outfield. Man, I'm so glad I wasn't writing a column in 1919. I would have shredded them for that.
As for Sosa . . . OK, Ruth was obviously the more dominant player. It isn't even worth debating. But by most Hall of Fame standards in history, Sosa would have been a first-ballot, 90-plus-percent guy. Over a seven-year stretched, he averaged -- AVERAGED -- 52 home runs.
If you had told me when I was 12 years old that a man would hit 609 home runs and compile 1,667 RBIs, with a respectable batting average, and would get only 12.5 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, I would have choked on my Big League Chew.
HALL OF FAME: Willie Mays, .302 BA, .384 OBP, .557 SLG, 660 HR, 156 OPS+, 150.8 WAR, 338 SB
REJECTS: Shoeless Joe Jackson, .356 BA, .423 OBP, .517 SLG, 170 OPS+, 59.6 WAR
Mays would probably get the vote as best all-around position player in baseball history, though Hank Aaron would argue the point, and has. But for his time, was he even the best player in this debate?
Jackson played in the Dead Ball Era and hit only 54 home runs in 5,693 plate appearances. Mays hit 660. But Jackson's 170 OPS+ should give you an idea of how great he was. So should this:
Ty Cobb was seven months older than Jackson, so they were pretty much the same age. From 1908 to 1920 -- Jackson's entire career -- Cobb hit .377 with a .444 on-base percentage and .527 slugging percentage. You will notice those are only marginally better numbers than Jackson's, and for a long time, Cobb was considered the best player ever. Cobb was a much better basestealer, though Jackson did steal 202 bases. And Cobb played many more games, mostly because, unlike Jackson, Cobb was not banned for life at age 32 for being an accomplice to a World Series fix. But at his peak, Jackson was right there with Cobb.
Jackson came up as a centerfielder, though he did not stay there, and it is hard to imagine he fielded as well as Mays. Anyway, you could do quite well with either gentleman. And this has nothing to do with anything, but they are both sort of mentioned in John Fogerty's Centerfield -- Fogerty sings "Say hey, Willie" and "Don't say it ain't so," which is of course a reference to Jackson.
HALL OF FAME: Ted Williams, .344 BA, .482 OBP, .634 SLG, 190 OPS+, 119.8 WAR
REJECTS: Barry Bonds, .298 BA, .444 OBP, .607 SLG, 514 SB, 183 OPS+, 158.1 WAR
Ah, the marquee matchup! Williams said when he walked down the street, he wanted people to say "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." Bonds said when he walked down the street, you better not follow him. Actually, Williams may have said that, too.
Williams' WAR takes a hit because of . . . uh, war. He missed three years to serve in the military. He was a better pure hitter for his time, and I don't mean "pure" like "he didn't use PEDs." He never had a bad year. He never even had good years. They were all great, except for his age-40 season, when he hit .254, but still walked a lot and had an OPS+ of 114.
I thought Bonds' late-career stats were misleading because teams walked him so much. I understand the strategy, but if they had just pitched to him like he was a human being, his on-base percentage would have been lower than .531 from 2001 to 2007. But Bonds was one of the best defensive outfielders in the game for a long time and a much better baserunner than Williams.
They have a lot in common -- lousy media relations, no World Series title, a sense that their greatness did not receive its due. And this, too: Bonds was still a dominant player when he retired -- it's amazing that after his .276/,480/.565 line in 126 games at age 42 in 2007, he couldn't find a job. And Williams retired after a .316/.451/.645 line in 113 games at age 41 in 1960.
HALL OF FAME: Hank Aaron, .305 BA, .374 OBP, .555 SLG, 155 OPS+, 755 HR, 2,297 RBI, 137.3 WAR
REJECTS: Dick Allen, .292 BA, .378 OBP, .534 SLG, 156 OPS+, 351 HR, 1119 RBI, 55.6 WAR
You thought I was going with Mark McGwire here, right? I almost did. But I used Allen instead because he played in the same era as Aaron and, as you can see from the numbers, posted some very similar numbers. He just didn't last nearly as long and didn't have quite the home run pop, and he wasn't the same quality of fielder, but that doesn't matter here.
So the edge goes to Aaron, but you can imagine Allen sitting on the Rejects bench, smoking a cigarette as he waits to DH. I'm proud to have him on the team.
And by the way, if you want to use McGwire here instead: he had a higher career OBP (.394) and OPS+ (163) than Aaron.
HALL OF FAME: Walter Johnson, 417-279 record, 2.17 ERA, 1.061 WHIP, 3,509 K, 157.8 WAR
REJECTS: Roger Clemens, 354-184 record, 3.12 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, 4,672 K, 133.9 WAR
The ERA gap means nothing -- Johnson pitched many years in the Deadball Era. From 1919 to 1927, Johnson's ERA was 3.08, right there with Clemens's career ERA. I can't begin to choose one over the other, even if they are only measured for their time.
But I hope by now people realize, right or wrong, the nuttiness of leaving Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall of Fame. Purely based on production, they can look Ted Williams and Walter Johnson in the eye. Ted Williams and Walter Johnson!
HALL OF FAME: Dennis Eckersley, 197-171, 390 saves, 3.50 ERA, 116 ERA+, 58.4 WAR
REJECT: Lee Smith, 71-02, 478 SV, 3.03 ERA, 132 OPS+, 27.6 WAR
Eckersley spent a large portion of his career as a starter, which explains the WAR discrepancy (he pitched many more innings). This is one reason he made the Hall so easily -- voters projected what he would have done as a career reliever.
But as a reliever, Eckersley had a 2.85 ERA, in line with John Franco's (2.89) and Dan Quisenberry's (2.76). Smith struck out almost a batter per inning. I have a hard time distinguishing among the Hall of Fame cases for relievers. They all look so similar to me. It gives me a headache.
So what can we conclude? The Hall of Famers are better . . . but I mean, they are not a LOT better. The Rejects were, by any on-field measure, some of the best players in baseball history. We ought to do something for them. I dunno. Maybe erect a building or something.