Storming the Hall

Major League Baseball linked to this article from its Twitter feed today.  It’s an impassioned case for Fernando Valenzuela to make the Hall of Fame.

What a joke, right?  No rational fan who looks at the stats could possibly think that, right?

Luckily, the author talks more about Fernandomania, and what he meant to the LA Dodgers of the 1980s.  “I won’t write about all of his statistics,” says Sarah Morris, “because they don’t tell the story.”

A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced a null class for 2013 induction.  Jack Morris and his splitter sat on the outside.  Advanced stats show that Morris didn’t have the best statistical career of any pitcher, and others in his era outperformed him over the long haul.  Morris’s candidacy comes down to pitching his team to a couple of titles and a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

What is the Hall of Fame, though?

If it’s just about stats, there’s no need for voting.  A computer could crunch the numbers and, five years after a player’s career is over, either place him in or out based on statistics measured against his peers and those already in the Hall.  Heck, if it was all about stats, you wouldn’t even have to play the games, would you?  You could have a computer pick the champion.  Hey, it works for college football.

Halls of Fame are supposed to be museums to their respective sports, and baseball’s hall is the most revered.  All-time players are shut out if they carry the stench of cheating or gambling.  Players enshrined in a Hall of Fame should be excellent, but even more importantly they should be significant.

Bernie Williams was, by most statistical measures, a more prolific player than Don Mattingly, but was named on fewer ballots.  Most likely, the voters recognized Mattingly for being the face of the New York Yankees through a lean decade.  Williams, always a class act, was tempermentally similar to Mattingly in many ways, played a tougher position, and exceeded his production – but was never the rock the franchise was built around.   That counts for something, and it should.

As former Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat said, “It’s a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Achievement.”  Reggie Jackson hit 563 home runs, but there are only three that fans think of instantly when they see his spot on the wall.  Three thousand hits is nice and everything, but the hushed reverence you hear around Roberto Clemente’s plaque recalls his selfless end.

There are simply no sabermetrics for fame; the Hall is subjective, as it should be.  Remember, this isn’t anything serious.  It’s literally just a game.

Should Mattingly be a Hall of Famer?  That answer probably depends on how old you were when he was in his prime, and what team you rooted for – and its the same way with Morris’s take on Fernando Valenzuela.

Except Morris is completely wrong because the Dodgers suck.

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