In 1988, when Gregg Jefferies arrived in the big leagues at 19-years-old and helped the Mets blast their way to a division title that, until September, was in doubt, he was tolerated by the veterans in the clubhouse because he was helping them win. The next season, the trouble started because of Jefferies’s immaturity; perceived selfishness; tantrums; and status as “teacher’s pet” of manager Davey Johnson. Things spiraled downward as even the players who considered themselves the epitome of “team-first” attitude like Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson shook their heads in disgust at the pampered rookie.
Looking back, it’s easy to understand how Jefferies wound up being so self-centered. His father was his high school coach; he tore his way through the minor leagues; he had gorgeous mirror-image swings from both sides of the plate; and his defensive flaws were tolerated by a manager and front office who looked at his potential and allowed him to get away with helmet-flinging, cussing and childish behaviors despite the negative effect it was having on the rest of the team.
The biggest problem Jefferies engendered was the attention he paid to his numbers. Players like Johnson and Teufel—-who saw themselves as subservient to the team’s goals—-resented Jefferies’s selfish focus on how many hits he got and how close he was to breaking all of Pete Rose’s records on his way to the Hall of Fame. It’s this kind of attitude that is a detriment to a team having on-field chemistry and winning, as opposed to a group of players thinking of themselves first and how each and every action they take is going to alter the future they’ve planned for themselves. I believe this type of attitude dovetails with the numbers that players require to get into the Hall of Fame; and if enshrinement is their ultimate goal, they’re more likely to do things on the field that may not help their team win in the now because their “immortality” is riding on raising their on base percentage by ten points.
Players who are being denied enshrinement because of a stat or because of some false notion that they don’t “deserve” to be Hall of Famers for one reason or another are being punished by the stat geeks and their criteria for what a Hall of Famer should be. Until yesterday, Jim Rice was one such player. Another who is being punished for what he wasn’t instead of rewarded for what he was is Andre Dawson. Dawson’s on base percentage is seen as one of the main reasons why he “shouldn’t” be a Hall of Famer in the eyes of those who are obsessed with numbers; while his former teammate Tim Raines is having his virtues extolled for the similar numerical reasons. This is taking the circumstances and putting them grossly out of context. There are other aspects that have to be looked at aside from sheer numbers. Here they are:
The manager of the individual player should play a major part in whether said player should be penalized for his absence of “Hall of Fame numbers”. When Dawson arrived in the big leagues to stay, his manager was Dick Williams. By most accounts, Dick Williams was a fine manager, a successful winner and able to control his clubhouse. He won four pennants including one in each league and two World Series with the Oakland Athletics dynasty in the early 70s; but Dick Williams was not a manager who was obsessed with on base percentage above all else. In looking at his teams, those that won and those that didn’t, he never had a group of players whose main focus was to get on base.
An old-school manager like Williams had roles for his players. The leadoff man (Raines with the Expos) was there to get on base for the middle of the lineup (Dawson and Gary Carter). This was their stated job. The middle of the lineup was not advised to take pitches and walk to leave the job of driving in runs to the bottom of the lineup. If a young player arrives in the big leagues and a veteran manager tells him to swing the bat and drive in runs rather than take a bunch of pitches as the on base percentage advocates mandate, what’s he supposed to do? Is he going to defy his manager and wait and in the eyes of the manager, leave it up to the next guy, or is he going to start hacking at the first pitch he deems acceptable to drive in the runs?
In looking at the numbers of Williams’s teams from his first job with the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox of the late 60s; to the A’s in the 70s; then later to the Expos, Padres and Mariners, he was a manager who had a leadoff guy to get on base and power in the middle of the lineup. Rightly or wrongly (and Williams’s success suggests that he may have been right), that’s the way it was done; and with managers like Williams, young players had a choice: do it his way or don’t play. If Dawson was swinging at pitches to try and hit them out of the park instead of bolstering his numbers by walking fifteen more times a year, he shouldn’t be penalized for it now as his Hall of Fame candidacy is being scrutinized by numbers that were barely paid attention to during his career by his boss.
In looking at the other successful managers from that era—-managers who were considered great at their jobs, rightly or wrongly—-they based their strategies on what they believed and their personnel. Sparky Anderson had guys like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Ken Griffey who got on base in front of Johnny Bench and George Foster; but it wasn’t due to anythi
ng that Anderson was demanding, that’s just the way those guys hit.
Gene Mauch was as studious a manager as you’d find, focusing on every little number and every little detail, but the only major on base guy he had was Rod Carew. Carew’s job was to get on base and score in front of Larry Hisle. Billy Martin managed Rickey Henderson from the time he arrived in the majors and Henderson, like Raines, had a job: get on base and steal; it was only later that he became the all-around hitter he was. To sit and in hindsight decry a deserving player’s candidacy because of those circumstances is changing the criteria based on a point-of-view and it’s just as bad as voting for a player based on reputation instead of hard facts.
- Why are some players rewarded for certain numbers and accomplishments (or for getting hurt), while others are punished?
Would Cal Ripken be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer without that consecutive games streak? Would Brooks Robinson be a Hall of Famer without the reputation for fielding brilliance? Would Carlton Fisk’s numbers be sufficient to get him into the Hall of Fame had he not broken every offensive record for catchers by hanging on and continuing to play long past his sell-by date?
Why is it that Kirby Puckett and Sandy Koufax are (deservedly) rewarded with Hall enshrinement when their careers were cut short by injury and Don Mattingly, whose back prevented him from continuing his string of excellence, gets no support whatsoever? Why is it that Jim Rice’s reputation as difficult with the media was a likely part of his long wait, while a guy like Puckett—-whose gregarious nature was a cover for his true off-field behaviors and had to be known to the media—-had that aspect of his life ignored. Mattingly and David Cone are seen as two of baseball’s all time good guys; shouldn’t they get points for that based on the arbitrary nature of the voting? And if injuries are part of the equation, then why aren’t Dawson’s terrible knees taken into account for his candidacy?
The on base percentage argument for Dawson should apply to Ripken. Ripken’s on base percentage was .340, Dawson’s .323; Ripken hit 431 homers in 3001 career games; Dawson hit 438 in 2627 career games; Ripken won two Gold Gloves and two MVPs; Dawson won eight Gold Gloves and one MVP. Would Ripken, sans streak (which late in his career was an entity in-and-of itself and a selfish detriment to the team goals) be a no-doubt Hall of Famer or a stat compiler who had to wait a few years to get in?
What about Robinson and Fisk? Robinson’s career OBP is .322; his career batting average .267; he hit 268 homers and won 16 Gold Gloves; should he be in the Hall over contemporaries like Ron Santo and Graig Nettles? Santo was a far better hitter than Robinson and won five Gold Gloves of his own; Nettles hit 122 more homers and was almost as great a fielder as Robinson; why isn’t he in the Hall? Fisk hung around, hung around, hung around, accumulated records, never won an MVP; won one Gold Glove as a rookie; never won a World Series and was a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but why him and not Ted Simmons, who was a far better hitter than Fisk ever was?
What about a great player like Dave Winfield? Winfield’s OBP is .353; he hit 27 more homers than Dawson in over 300 more games; Winfield won seven Gold Gloves and never finished higher than third in the MVP voting; and Winfield flamed out royally in the post-season, but was a first ballot, don’t even need to think about it, Hall of Famer. Why?
And how about a guy like Reggie Jackson? Despite his massive power numbers and post-season heroics, Reggie only had an OBP of .356 and wasn’t just a bad outfielder, he was a rotten outfielder. Why is a defensive liability like Reggie, who struck out more than anyone else, a no-doubt Hall of Famer when a guy like Edgar Martinez, who was a truly great hitter with a massive OBP, won’t get consideration because he was a DH for most of his career. So if he’s played an immobile first base with a stone glove, he’d get points for that? It takes a true team player to accept that he’s a fulltime DH, rather than demanding to be placed out on the field because he’ll have better credentials to the Hall after his career ends. The bottom line is that anyone ‘s candidacy can be scrutinized; reasons can be found to exclude just about every Hall of Famer if you look hard enough.
- The condescending zealotry:
There’s an attitude among many stat guys that if you don’t agree with them, then you’re an idiot. If you don’t acquiesce to their way of seeing things, you aren’t a viable part of the conversation and you deserve mock and ridicule. There’s no way to convince them to see things differently because they have the “hard data” in front of them and nothing is going to change their minds.
I was an opponent of Bert Blyleven as a HOFer before looking deeply at his numbers and realizing that he was a truly great pitcher who just happened to pitch for some bad teams and in some poor luck. Had he been on the Dodgers of the 70s as Don Sutton was, Blyleven would’ve been a first ballot, no-question Hall of Famer with 325 wins. I think Tommy John should be in the Hall of Fame, not just because of his numbers, but because he was very successful and revolutionized the game with his then-unheard of surgical procedure that now bears his name; Bruce Sutter did a similar thing with his split-fingered fastball and string of greatnes
s out of the bullpen that was similar to Koufax’s greatness as a starter—-it was short, but it made them worthy of enshrinement.
There’s no way to argue with such fanatics because they don’t listen. They won’t be swayed because they can’t be swayed because the importance of out-of-context numbers are so ingrained in their head that they ignore other arguments since they don’t pop out of a calculator and this is just as bad as voting or not voting for a guy because of peer pressure or because he’s automatically assumed as a HOFer because of a record or because of his position or because of his reputation that have little to do with what he actually accomplished.
The problem with looking at Dawson’s numbers and denying him his rightful place (while demanding that a guy like Raines receive the ultimate honor) is ignoring other factors like what the manager of the club was asking him to do; what his role was with the team; and focusing on his faults or injuries rather than what he accomplished.
Dawson’s a Hall of Famer in my eyes, and eventually, he’s probably going to get in, but if it were up to those who are buried under reams of statistics, he wouldn’t receive the honor and their way of determining who should be in and who should be out is just as bad as the way those who don’t put everything into the equation, except they can’t be convinced otherwise because their criteria is so ingrained, wrongly in many cases.