EVALUATING BASEBALL'S 2017 TODAY'S GAME ERA COMMITTEE BALLOT

Mark McGwire Mark McGwire
02 Dec
2016
Not in Hall of Fame

Index

With the second revamping of its veterans committee structure in the last six years, the Baseball Hall of Fame seems ready to address the twin challenges of the logjam on the writers' ballot and of an evaluation process that until now has given scant attention to candidates from the last few decades of the game.

The Hall of Fame has scrapped the three committees that have existed since 2010, each responsible for a specific era of baseball history—the Pre-Integration Era (covering the period from 1871 to 1946), the Golden Era (from 1947 to 1972), and the Expansion Era (from 1973 to the present)—in favor of four committees:

Early Baseball (1871 to 1949)

Golden Days (1950 to 1969)

Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)

Today's Game (1988 and later)

Moreover, the frequency with which those committees will meet has been weighted toward candidates from the last half-century. Starting in 2020, the Early Baseball Committee will meet once every ten years, while the Golden Days Committee will meet every five years. This leaves the Modern Baseball and Today's Game Committees to alternate their meetings every year except in years that end in 0 or 5. Leading off is the Today's Game Committee, which convenes this year at the annual baseball winter meetings and will announce its results on December 5.

This is welcome change—and a crucial one. In the last few years, not only has there been a ballot logjam on the writers' ballot, the slate of players exclusively voted upon by the qualified members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), but in 2014 the Hall of Fame had reduced the number of years that a player could remain on a BBWAA ballot from 15 years to 10 (provided the player received at least five percent of the vote during each election).

In addition, there has been increasing criticism of the Hall and its post-BBWAA voting process, with the "veterans committee" (using the generic term) still devoted to scouring baseball's distant past for Hall of Famers while ignoring the growing logjam of players from the most recent half-century who have exited the BBWAA ballot but who may indeed have been Hall of Fame-caliber players.

So, while the former Golden Era Committee elected former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo to the Hall in 2012—long considered to have been a significant oversight—the cockeyed emphasis came into glaring view the following year when the BBWAA, with a ballot overstuffed with qualified candidates, could not elect a single player—but the Pre-Integration Era found three inductees including catcher and third baseman Deacon White, who last played a game with Benjamin Harrison had been president. (It should be noted that the BBWAA and the veterans committee have always operated independently from each other.)

Furthermore, the Hall has waived all waiting periods for candidates who fall into any of the four new categories. Indeed, Mark McGwire, the slugging first baseman who had been practically a national hero in 1998, when he broke Roger Maris's record for the most home runs hit during a single season, and then had become one of the poster children for performance-enhancing drugs (PED), is one of the five players on the Today's Game ballot.

The optimistic view to this restructuring of the post-BBWAA election mechanism is that it addresses the increasing disparity in the growth of Major League Baseball in the last few decades, with the corresponding quality of play yielding more qualified candidates who have been perhaps unfairly overlooked or have simply been forced off the BBWAA ballot because it has been recently overstocked; concurrent with this has been the seemingly equal emphasis on baseball's bygone days, which has been the focus of scrutiny ever since the Baseball Hall of Fame came into existence 80 years ago. (The Veterans Committee was created in 1936 to ensure that players and others from baseball's earliest days would not be forgotten.)

However, there are two aspects to the downside to the recent restructuring. One has to do with the waiving of any waiting period, which might not be a liability. From the players' perspective, each player had to wait out a five-year eligibility period following their retirement before qualifying for the BBWAA ballot, and then each had a potential maximum of fifteen years for consideration until 2014, when that period was shortened to ten years. In other words, there was time for reflection on that player's legacy and qualification for what is arguably the most exclusive of the major Halls of Fame in any endeavor.

But as for the non-players, that immediacy could prove problematic. On the ballot this year is Bud Selig, who served as the official Commissioner of Baseball from 1998 to 2014, when he handed the reins to Rob Manfred effective for the 2015 season; furthermore, Selig had been the acting Commissioner since 1992, when he assumed the post following Fay Vincent's resignation in September. Selig's tenure has been one of the most eventful and contentious in baseball history. Shouldn't it be given more time for evaluation?

More seriously for the Modern Baseball and Today's Game Committees, each is a body comprising a much smaller number of voters than the BBWAA electorate; committees under the previous structure typically numbered 16 members composed of Hall of Fame members (both players and non-players), baseball executives, and media figures and baseball historians. By contrast, the number of BBWAA voters in the 2016 BBWAA election was 440, down from the previous year as the Hall of Fame had also instituted a rule that disqualified a voter who had not written actively about baseball for 10 years, which was a positive step.

But although the post-BBWAA committees must also elect a candidate with at least 75 percent of the vote, that voting body is much smaller than the BBWAA electorate. And although the integrity of the veterans committee has not been called into question for quite some time, there is still a sense of a "star chamber" decision having been reached, particularly with respect to player candidates, most of whom had an opportunity on the BBWAA ballot.

Make no mistake: The committee restructuring is a strong step toward more efficiently evaluating legacy; however, given the recent term restriction on the BBWAA ballot from 15 years to 10 for a player candidate, there is the potential for candidate election by a much smaller and much more elite body. Again, and given the composition of the various committees, there is a potential of greater influence by baseball's oligarchs and lesser influence from its hoi polloi.

Still, it will take a few years to see how effective the revamped post-BBWAA election mechanism actually is. For this year, let's examine the candidates under consideration.

The 2017 Today's Game Committee Ballot

This year's Today's Game Committee has ten candidates to consider, five players, three executives, and two managers. The five players are Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire. The three executives are John Schuerholtz, Bud Selig, and George Steinbrenner. The two managers are Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella; .both Johnson and Piniella are former players as well, and although their playing records are included for consideration (as with the 2014 Expansion Era Committee election of Joe Torre), their notability is primarily for their managerial careers.

The seven players have all appeared on a BBWAA at least once while this is the first time that any of them have appeared on a post-BBWAA ballot. The table below summarizes their voting history on a BBWAA ballot.

2017 Today's Game Candidates, BBWAA Voting Summary

Player

First Appearance

Years on Ballot

Debut Percentage

Ending Percentage

Highest Percentage

 
Baines, Harold

2007

5

5.3

4.8

6.1

 
Belle, Albert

2006

2

7.7

3.5

7.7

 
Clark, Will

2006

1

4.4

4.4

4.4

 
Hershiser, Orel

2006

2

11.2

4.4

11.2

 
* Johnson, Davey

1984

1

0.7

0.7

0.7

 
McGwire, Mark

2007

10

23.5

12.3

23.7

 
* Piniella, Lou

1990

1

0.5

0.5

0.5

 
* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Other than Mark McGwire, whose travails on the BBWAA ballot have been exhaustively documented, only Harold Baines maintained any sustained interest, hovering around the elimination threshold of five percent for five years before finally dipping below that threshold in 2011. No doubt Baines, who played 1643 of his 2830 games as a designated hitter, felt that bias toward the DH position—discounted by some as being a "role" and not a "position"—that has dogged Edgar Martinez, still on a BBWAA ballot although his time is growing short for election.

Mark McGwire
Will Mark McGwire have better luck on the Today's Game ballot--so soon after the writers rejected him on their ballot?


Otherwise, all five of the players are contemporaries, having retired within two years of each other. As players, Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella belong to an earlier period; both first came up in the mid-1960s, both coincidentally with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom Johnson is associated, while Piniella hung on until his age-40 season whereas Johnson retired following his age-35 season. Two of the three executives, John Schuerholtz and Bud Selig, are on a Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.

The 2017 Today's Game Player Candidates

Of the four position-player candidates, two of them—Will Clark and Mark McGwire—are first basemen while Harold Baines and Albert Belle are outfielders; although Baines is remembered primarily as a designated hitter, he did start 984 games in right field.

Here are the four position players on the 2017 Today's Game ballot, ranked by bWAR, Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR (as calculated by FanGraphs), listed alongside it and explained below the table. Also included are the playing records of the two manager candidates.

Position Players on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Position Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

McGwire, Mark

.263/.394/.588/.982

.415

62.0

66.3

163

157

Clark, Will

.303/.384/.497/.880

.381

56.2

52.0

137

136

Belle, Albert

.295/.369/.564/.933

.396

39.9

41.1

144

139

Baines, Harold

.289/.356/.465/.820

.358

38.5

38.4

121

119

* Johnson, Davey

.261/.340/.404/.744

.336

27.5

28.9

110

112

* Piniella, Lou

.291/.333/.409/.741

.330

12.5

12.3

109

107

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Slash Line: Grouping of the player's career batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage.
wOBA: Weighted on-base average as calculated by FanGraphs. Weighs singles, extra-base hits, walks, and hits by pitch; generally, .400 is excellent and .320 is league-average.
bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.
fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.
OPS+: Career on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 OPS+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.
wRC+: Career weighted Runs Created, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 wRC+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.

Here are the bWAR and other qualitative statistics of Orel Hershiser, the sole pitcher on the 2017 Today's Game ballot; statistics are explained below the table.

Pitcher on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot

Pitcher

W-L (S), ERA

bWAR

fWAR

ERA+

ERA–

FIP–

Hershiser, Orel

204–150 (5), 3.48

51.7

48.0

112

89

93

W-L (S), ERA: Grouping of the pitcher's career win-loss record (and career saves, if applicable) and career earned run average (ERA).
bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.
fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.
ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
ERA–: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
FIP–: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 FIP– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

The table below combines both position players and pitcher into a ranking by bWAR with their fWAR values also listed.

All 2017 Today's Game Candidates, Ranked by bWAR

Rank

Player

bWAR

fWAR

1

McGwire, Mark

62.0

66.3

2

Clark, Will

56.2

52.0

3

Hershiser, Orel

51.7

48.0

4

Belle, Albert

39.9

41.1

5

Baines, Harold

38.5

38.4

6

* Johnson, Davey

27.5

29.9

7

* Piniella, Lou

12.5

12.3

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

The table below combines both position players and pitcher into a ranking by fWAR with their bWAR values also listed.

All 2017 Today's Game Candidates, Ranked by fWAR

Rank

Player

fWAR

bWAR

1

McGwire, Mark

66.3

62.0

2

Clark, Will

52.0

56.2

3

Hershiser, Orel

48.0

51.7

4

Belle, Albert

41.1

39.9

5

Baines, Harold

38.4

38.5

6

* Johnson, Davey

29.9

27.5

7

* Piniella, Lou

12.3

12.5

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

In terms of value as measured by Wins Above Replacement, it does not matter whether the candidates are ranked by bWAR or fWAR because although there are differences between the valuations as done by Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, the variances are not enough to change the rankings. Mark McGwire deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame while Will Clark and Orel Hershiser qualify for the threshold. No other candidate is in the discussion, while Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella must be evaluated on their managerial careers.

But what about the players with respect to other players at their position who are in the Hall of Fame? Sabermetrician Jay Jaffe has developed "JAWS," the Jaffe WAR Score system, to compare a player at a position against all players, in aggregate, who are already in the Hall at that position by using their WAR values. Note that Jaffe's system uses the Baseball Reference version of WAR, and the usual caveats about the limitations of WAR apply.

The JAWS rating itself is an average of a player's career WAR and his seven-year WAR peak. Jaffe also assigns one position to a player who may have played at more than one position, choosing the position at which the player contributed the most value. The purpose of JAWS is to improve, or at least maintain, the current Hall of Fame standards at each position to ensure that only players at least as good as average current Hall of Famers are selected for the Hall.

The table below lists all five players on the 2017 Today's Game ballot, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics, which are explained below the table, as well as the average bWAR and JAWS statistics for all Hall of Fame players at that position. The table also contains the players' ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards, also explained below the table. Also included in the table are the two manager candidates on the ballot.

All 2017 Today's Game Candidates, Qualitative Comparisons to Hall of Fame Players (Ranked by JAWS)

Player

Pos.

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

Ave. HoF bWAR

Ave. HoF JAWS

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

McGwire, Mark

1B

62.0

41.9

51.9

17

65.9

54.2

170

42

Clark, Will

1B

56.2

35.9

46.0

25

65.9

54.2

84

42

Hershiser, Orel

SP

56.8

40.4

48.6

79

73.9

62.1

90

34

Belle, Albert

LF

39.9

35.9

37.9

38

65.1

53.3

135

36

Baines, Harold

RF

38.5

21.3

29.9

70

73.2

58.1

66

44

* Johnson, Davey

2B

27.5

23.4

25.5

71

69.3

56.9

38

19

* Piniella, Lou

LF

12.5

16.2

14.3

163

65.1

53.3

20

14

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Pos.: Player's position under evaluation in this table.
bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.
WAR7: The sum of a player's best seven seasons as defined by bWAR; they need not be consecutive seasons.
JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score system—an average of a player's career WAR and his seven-year WAR peak.
JAWS Rank: The player's ranking at that position by JAWS rating.
Ave. HoF bWAR: The average bWAR value of all the Hall of Famers at that position.
Ave. HoF JAWS: The average JAWS rating of all the Hall of Famers at that position.
Hall of Fame Monitor: An index of how likely a player is to be inducted to the Hall of Fame based on his entire playing record (offensive, defensive, awards, position played, postseason success), with an index score of 100 being a good possibility and 130 a "virtual cinch." Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.
Hall of Fame Standards: An index of performance standards, indexed to 50 as being the score for an average Hall of Famer. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

Based solely on JAWS, no player candidate (nor manager candidate as a player) meets the threshold for the Hall of Fame. McGwire comes closest, falling roughly 2.5 wins below the JAWS threshold and nearly four wins below the bWAR threshold set by the first basemen already in the Hall of Fame. Otherwise, both Clark and Hershiser are significantly below their respective thresholds and will require other factors to determine their fates, as will the other four candidates.

First Baseman Candidates: Will Clark and Mark McGwire

Coincidentally, both Will Clark's and Mark McGwire's careers began in 1986, and they retired within a year of each other. How did they stack up against first basemen of their era?

The table below lists both Clark and McGwire along with six notable first basemen whose careers began within five years of Clark and McGwire's Major League debut in 1986 (in other words, between 1981 and 1991), ranked by bWAR, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR, listed alongside it.

Contemporary First Basemen and 2017 First Basemen Candidates on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

(B) Bagwell, Jeff

.297/.408/.540/.948

.405

79.6

80.2

149

149

(A) Thomas, Frank

.301/.419/.555/.974

.416

73.7

72.0

156

154

(C) Thome, Jim

.276/.402/.554/.956

.406

72.9

69.0

147

145

Palmeiro, Rafael

.288/.371/.515/.885

.380

71.6

70.0

132

130

McGwire, Mark

.263/.394/.588/.982

.415

62.0

66.3

163

157

Olerud, John

.295/.398/.465/.863

.377

58.0

57.3

129

130

Clark, Will

.303/.384/.497/.880

.381

56.2

52.0

137

136

(B) McGriff, Fred

.284/.377/.509/.886

.383

52.4

56.9

134

134

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

The table below lists those six contemporary first basemen along with Clark and McGwire, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the JAWS statistics for all first basemen in the Hall of Fame.

Contemporary First Basemen and 2017 First Baseman Candidates on the Today's Game Ballot, Qualitative Comparisons, Ranked by JAWS

Player

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

(B) Bagwell, Jeff

15

1991

2005

79.6

48.2

63.9

6

150

59

(A) Thomas, Frank

19

1990

2008

73.7

45.2

59.5

9

194

60

(C) Thome, Jim

22

1991

2012

72.9

41.5

57.2

10

156

57

Palmeiro, Rafael

20

1986

2005

71.6

38.7

55.2

12

178

57

Ave of 19 HoF 1B

NA

NA

NA

65.9

42.5

54.2

NA

NA

NA

McGwire, Mark

16

1986

2001

62.0

41.8

51.9

17

170

42

Olerud, John

17

1989

2005

58.0

38.9

48.4

21

68

39

Clark, Will

15

1986

2000

56.2

35.9

46.0

25

84

42

(B) McGriff, Fred

19

1986

2004

52.4

35.8

44.1

31

100

48

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Will Clark and Mark McGwire find themselves in some elite company. Frank Thomas is already in the Hall of Fame, elected in 2014 in his first year of eligibility. Jeff Bagwell, dogged by rumors of PED usage in his six years on the Hall of Fame ballot, garnered 71.6 percent of the vote last year and is a very likely inductee in 2017. Jim Thome is eligible for the 2018 BBWAA ballot, and with both a clean image with regard to PED and 612 career home runs, seventh all-time, he seems a likely inductee in the near future.

On the other hand, Rafael Palmeiro, only the fourth hitter in Major League history to collect at least 3000 hits and at least 500 home runs, could not shake his high-profile PED associations and fell off the BBWAA ballot after 2014, having never received more than 12.6 percent of the vote. Fred McGriff could be a poster child for the Hall of Fame threshold, an outstanding and durable power hitter whose output was consistently excellent if not elite, and that is what has hurt him on the seven ballots he has been on since 2010, having never cracked the one-quarter mark for votes cast in that time—and his time is running out as he has until 2019 to attract three-quarters of the vote in one of those three years.

At least McGriff, an archetypal slugging first baseman, has fared better than John Olerud, who scarcely registered on the 2011 ballot before disappearing for good, his fate now in the hands of some future Today's Game Committee—should it recognize him. Yet Olerud, who led the American League with a .363 batting average for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, the year in which they won their second World Series, was a slick-fielding first baseman—scooping up three Gold Gloves in his career—who hit for a high average and also for some power—500 career doubles and 255 home runs. Moreover, he was an early sabermetrics darling as he got on base just shy of four of every ten plate appearances, a .398 clip, as he walked 1275 times and struck out just 1016 times.

Of the eight first basemen in our sample (and we are not even including current and recently-retired players such as Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, and even Todd Helton), Will Clark most resembles John Olerud—and that does not bode well at a position that prizes home runs and run production above all else. Despite winning one Gold Glove in 1991, Clark was not the defensive ace that Olerud was; Clark was league-average, worth over his career two defensive runs above average while Olerud was worth 97. But Clark was a high-average hitter who could also draw a walk while hitting with decent power—440 doubles, 47 triples, and 284 home runs in 7173 at-bats.

"Will the Thrill" burst onto the National League in 1986 as a sweet-swinging 22-year-old rookie first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, hitting a home run in his first at-bat off no less than Nolan Ryan, and he quickly became one of the best in the Majors. For a seven-year period from 1987 to 1993, Clark posted a .301/.376/.505/.881 slash line, yielding a 148 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 166 hits, 32 doubles, 5 triples, 24 home runs, 89 runs scored, and 95 runs batted in. He finished in the top five for Most Valuable Player voting in the NL four times, coming in second to teammate Kevin Mitchell in 1989.

From 1988 to 1992, Clark was named to five consecutive NL All-Star squads, with a sixth nod in 1994, his first year with the Texas Rangers. As injuries began to impact Clark's playing time, the Giants did not pick up his contract after the 1993 season, and he signed with the Rangers, with whom he gained a second wind. In his five years with Texas, Clark hit over .300 every season except in 1996 although his home run totals diminished; from 1994 t o1998, Clark posted a .308/.395/.485/.880 slash line, generating a 124 OPS+, averaging every year 137 hits, 29 doubles, 15 home runs, 76 runs scored, and 79 RBI.

Signing a two-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles, Clark remained a .300 hitter but was hardly a factor as injuries limited him to 156 games between 1999 and 2000; he did get his 2000th career hit as an Oriole. At the 2000 deadline, Baltimore traded Clark to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 31.

Back in the National League, Clark seemed revitalized: In 51 games and 197 plate appearances, Clark ripped off a blazing .345/.426/.655/.1.081 slash line with 15 doubles, 12 home runs, and 42 runs driven in, helping the Cardinals into the postseason. Clark hit one home run during the three-game Divisional Series sweep of the Atlanta Braves, a three-run shot off future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. During the Championship Series against the New York Mets, Clark hit a torrid .412 with another home run and two doubles while posting a .500 on-base percentage, but the Mets shut down the Cardinals in five games. But despite this late-career surge, Will Clark had called it quits after the 2000 season, retiring at age 36.

Will Clark was an outstanding first baseman who produced a few thrills during his career, but injuries throughout that career stifled his production, which hampered his chances for the Hall of Fame as good-hitting first basemen are hardly underrepresented. His career is notable enough to warrant a second look, particularly after his one-and-done in 2006, but Clark did not produce the counting numbers nor exhibit a dominating run of seasons to warrant a Hall of Fame induction.

We noted previously that the waiving of a waiting period for a candidate can be a double-edged sword. In the case of Mark McGwire, he just finished his tenure on the BBWAA ballot in 2016—and here he is on a veterans committee ballot one year later. McGwire is just under the threshold for first basemen in the Hall of Fame already, and he is a better candidate for the Hall than a number of first basemen already in the Hall. The reason McGwire did so poorly had nothing to do with his performance and everything to do with his use of performance-enhancing drugs, to which he finally admitted using at various times during his career in January 2010; this was followed by his mea culpa that he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame under any circumstances, the kind of self-abnegation we are used to seeing associated with Communist China and the public confessions that followed group indoctrination sessions to correct aberrant behavior.

Not only am I tired of having written in support of McGwire's Hall of Fame case, I'm tired of writing that I'm tired of having written in his support. The epitome of the Three True Outcomes hitter—a home run, walk, or strikeout—it isn't that McGwire has a .588 career slugging percentage, which is seventh all-time, or an OPS+ of 163, which is eleventh all-time, or even that he hit one home run every 10.61 at-bats, which is the best all-time, even topping Babe Ruth, who is a full at-bat behind McGwire with 11.76 at-bats per home run. It is not even that no hitter ever reached 500 home runs in fewer at-bats than did McGwire, who needed just 5487 at-bats to do so. Rather, what is remarkable about McGwire is that he had just 300 fewer walks than hits, 1626 hits to 1317 walks, so that despite a pedestrian batting average of .263, he tallied a .394 on-base percentage, 131 points higher than his batting average. Those 1317 walks include only 150 intentional passes.

Mark McGwire was one of the candidates most affected by the 2014 rules change limiting players on a BBWAA ballot from 15 years total to 10 years; McGwire had been in his eighth year of eligibility when the rule was instituted, giving him just two more years instead of seven. We will never know whether he could have reached the 75 percent necessary for induction although the collateral results of players such as Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens may suggest an answer.

But regardless of any of this, Mark McGwire will not be elected by the Today's Committee in 2017. It is not that the members may not think that he is worthy of the Hall. Rather, it is that they may indeed think that he is worthy—but it is too soon for the post-BBWAA mechanism to elect McGwire. Recalling our previous analogy, electing McGwire is tantamount to the oligarchs dictating to the hoi polloi that they know better who is a Hall of Famer. Electing McGwire, who publicly admitted his PED usage, could damage the credibility of the newly revamped post-BBWAA committees, and the members of the committees know it, the BBWAA writers know it, and the fans know it.

And Mark McGwire knows it. He knows that he is being set up to be pummeled once again, shown the promise of a Hall pass only to be smacked upside the head with it. The canary in the coal mine when it came to players with PED association, McGwire took the initial brunt of the opprobrium before the other PED reprobates began to appear on the BBWAA ballot, and he is serving the same function now for the post-BBWAA committees.

How soon Mark McGwire appears on another Today's Game ballot—or whether he returns to one at all—remains to be seen. But for 2017, the one player most qualified for the Hall of Fame will not be elected.



Right Field Candidate: Harold Baines

Even though Harold Baines spent much of his career as a designated hitter, setting a number of records for DHs that have since been surpassed by the likes of Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz, Baines started 984 games as a right fielder with another 23 games in center field and seven in left field. Look up the term "professional hitter" in the baseball lexicon, and you will find a picture of Baines—as well as the evidence of his deficiencies as a fielder: He has a career minus-11 in fielding runs above average while his defensive WAR (dWAR) is minus-20.3, as much a reflection of the defensive penalty assessed to designated hitters as of his sub-standard fielding skills that kept him in the American League for his entire 22-year career.

The table below lists Baines along with seven notable right fielders whose careers began within five years of Baines's Major League debut in 1980 (in other words, between 1975 and 1985), ranked by bWAR, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR, listed alongside it.

Contemporary Right Fielders and 2017 Right Field/Designated Hitter Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

(A) Gwynn, Tony

.338/.388/.459/.847

.370

68.8

65.0

132

132

Clark, Jack

.267/.379/.476/.854

.377

52.8

50.6

137

138

Canseco, Jose

.266/.353/.515/.867

.375

42.3

42.1

132

130

Strawberry, Darryl

.259/.357/.505/.862

.372

42.0

41.5

138

137

Barfield, Jesse

.256/.335/.466/.802

.353

39.3

39.0

117

117

O'Neill, Paul

.288/.363/.470/.833

.362

38.8

41.0

120

120

Baines, Harold

.289/.356/.465/.820

.358

38.5

38.4

121

119

Gibson, Kirk

.268/.352/.462/.815

.358

38.3

35.9

123

123

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.

The table below lists those seven contemporary right fielders along with Baines, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the JAWS statistics for all right fielders in the Hall of Fame.

Contemporary Right Fielders and 2017 Right Field/Designated Hitter Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by JAWS

Player

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

Ave. of 24 HoF RF

NA

NA

NA

73.2

43.0

58.1

NA

NA

NA

(A) Gwynn, Tony

20

1982

2001

68.8

41.1

54.9

14

279

54

Clark, Jack

18

1975

1992

52.8

31.3

42.1

28

28

35

Strawberry, Darryl

17

1983

1999

42.0

34.7

38.3

39

56

30

Barfield, Jesse

12

1981

1992

39.3

34.4

36.9

45

20

18

Canseco, Jose

17

1985

2001

42.3

29.6

35.9

50

103

39

Gibson, Kirk

17

1979

1995

38.3

29.8

34.0

56

16

22

O'Neill, Paul

17

1985

2001

38.8

27.3

33.1

59

71

37

Baines, Harold

22

1980

2001

38.5

21.3

29.9

70

66

44

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.

Among Harold Baines's contemporaries, only Tony Gwynn, inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2007, stands out—and even "The Round Mound of Batting Crowns" is about three wins below the average for all 24 of the Hall of Fame right fielders; of course, it is a position chock-full of some of the greatest hitters in baseball history, from Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on down.

Otherwise, this is not an elite sample. So why is Harold Baines on the ballot? For one thing, he survived four BBWAA ballots, keeping just above the five percent minimum threshold, until he fell just short in 2011; none of the other seven right fielders ever made it to a second BBWAA ballot, with Jesse Barfield not ever making a BBWAA ballot. (Tony Gwynn, too, lasted on only one BBWAA ballot—of course, he collected 97.6 percent of the vote on the 2007 ballot as he sailed into the Hall of Fame on his first try.)

For another, Baines compiled big numbers during his 22-year career. He is 45th in hits with 2866, one of three players within the all-time top 50 who are eligible for the Hall of Fame but are not currently in the Hall; the other two are Rafael Palmeiro (3020 hits) and Barry Bonds (2935), and both have PED notoriety. Baines's other counting numbers that are within the top 100 all-time include 2830 games played (19th); 1628 runs batted in (32nd); 4604 total bases (41st); 921 extra-base hits (60th; tied with Bobby Abreu and Hall of Famer Goose Goslin); 384 home runs (65th); 488 doubles (72nd; tied with Hall of Famer Mel Ott and potential Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell); and 1062 walks (94th). Baines led the American League in slugging percentage in 1984 with .541, his only appearance atop a leaderboard. He was named to six All-Star teams, and finished among the top ten in MVP voting twice.

An excellent career—but Harold Baines is not a Hall of Famer. Perhaps Baines's inclusion on the ballot is a trial balloon for subsequent players whose careers were primarily as designated hitters, specifically, Edgar Martinez, should he fail to be elected on a BBWAA ballot—he has three more chances on a BBWAA ballot—and David Ortiz, who, should he not reverse his decision to retire after the 2016 season, would be eligible for a BBWAA ballot in 2022. Otherwise, Harold Baines's inclusion on the Today's Game ballot is a professional courtesy to a professional hitter who is not among baseball's elite.

Left Field Candidate: Albert Belle

Is Albert Belle the Dick Allen of his era? Like Allen, Belle was a contentious, sometimes controversial player who was often an offensive powerhouse; however, Belle's career was cut short by degenerative arthritis in his hip and forced him into retirement at age 34. His stormy relationship with the media may have cost him once he became eligible for the BBWAA ballot in 2006: Belle survived his first time with 7.7 percent of the vote, but lost more than half of that support the following year and fell off the ballot.

The table below lists Belle along with six notable left fielders whose careers began within five years of Belle's Major League debut in 1989 (in other words, between 1984 and 1994), ranked by bWAR, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR, listed alongside it. Also included in the table is Lou Piniella, a left fielder who is not a contemporary of Belle and is on the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Contemporary Left Fielders and 2017 Left Fielder Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Player

Slash Line

wOBA

bWAR

fWAR

OPS+

wRC+

(B) Bonds, Barry

.298/.444/.607/.1.051

.435

162.4

164.4

182

173

(C) Ramirez, Manny

.312/.411/.585/.996

.418

69.2

66.3

154

153

Gonzalez, Luis

.283/.367/.479/.845

.364

51.5

55.2

119

118

Belle, Albert

.295/.369/.564/.933

.396

39.9

41.0

144

139

Alou, Moisés

.303/.369/.516/.885

.378

39.7

47.7

128

129

Gant, Ron

.256/.336/.468/.803

.351

33.9

32.7

112

112

Vaughn, Greg

.242/.337/.470/.807

.350

30.7

25.5

113

111

* Piniella, Lou

.291/.333/.409/.741

.330

12.5

12.3

109

107

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

The table below lists those six contemporary left fielders along with Belle, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the JAWS statistics for all right fielders in the Hall of Fame, as well as Lou Piniella, a left fielder who is not a contemporary of Belle and is on the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Contemporary Left Fielders and 2017 Left Fielder Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by JAWS

Player

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

(B) Bonds, Barry

22

1986

2007

162.4

72.7

117.6

1

340

76

(C) Ramirez, Manny

19

1993

2011

69.2

39.9

54.6

10

226

69

Ave. of 24 HoF RF

NA

NA

NA

65.1

41.5

53.3

NA

NA

NA

Gonzalez, Luis

19

1990

2008

51.5

33.8

42.7

24

103

48

Belle, Albert

12

1989

2000

39.9

35.9

37.9

38

135

36

Alou, Moisés

17

1990

2008

39.7

27.6

33.6

45

80

44

Gant, Ron

16

1987

2003

33.9

26.4

30.2

52

44

26

Vaughn, Greg

15

1989

2003

30.7

27.4

29.0

56

51

25

* Piniella, Lou

18

1964

1984

12.5

16.2

14.3

163

20

14

* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Two of the left fielders above the JAWS threshold, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez, are among the elite hitters of their era—Bonds of course is simply off the charts. However, both have major issues with respect to PED, with Ramirez, who failed two drug tests following establishment of a new drug policy in 2006, almost certain to be blackballed when he first arrives on the 2017 BBWAA ballot. Albert Belle, while never associated with PED, nevertheless served a 10-day suspension in 1994 for having been caught using a corked bat—complete with an in-game caper to retrieve the bat before it was officially examined that involved pitcher Jason Grimsley, who was deeply mired in PED including a high-profile association with Roger Clemens.

Ranked by JAWS, Albert Belle is tucked between Luis Gonzalez and Moisés Alou in our sample, but Belle had the shortest career of any of them because of an early retirement caused by injury. Belle's first two years with the Cleveland Indians found him seeing limited service, but by 1991 he broke out, posting a .282/.323/.540/.863 slash line, generating a 134 OPS+, with 31 doubles, 28 home runs, and 95 runs batted in. Belle's slash line was down the following season, but he slammed 34 home runs and drove in 112 RBI, the first of eight consecutive years with 30 or more home runs and nine consecutive years with 100 or more runs driven in.

Indeed, Albert Belle was an unholy terror at the plate throughout the 1990s, largely with the Indians until the end of the 1996 season, and then two years each with, respectively, the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles before retiring. During the decade, Belle produced a .298/.374/.571/.945 slash line, yielding a 146 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 167 hits including 38 doubles and 37 home runs, 95 runs scored, and 120 runs batted in. He led the American League in RBI three times, including 148 in 1996, and in total bases and slugging percentage twice each while in 1995 he led the AL in six categories: runs scored (121), doubles (52), home runs (50), runs batted in (126), total bases (377), and slugging percentage (.690).

No batter in the Major Leagues, before or since, has ever hit at least 50 doubles and at least 50 home runs in a single season. Belle was the runner-up in AL MVP voting—a clear case of theft as the winner, Mo Vaughn of the Boston Red Sox, could match Belle in only one major category as both tied with 126 RBI. The voting was very close, with Vaughn just two percentage points ahead of Belle; retrospectively, bWAR bears out Belle's superiority as he was worth 6.9 wins to Vaughn's 4.3 wins.

Albert Belle
Albert Belle hit like a monster in the 1990s. Is that enough to get him into the Hall of Fame?


Just how dominating a hitter was Albert Belle in the 1990s? Let's compare him to notable right-handed power-hitting batters who played in at least most of the 1990s, with "notable" being an arbitrary benchmark of at least 350 career home runs. (Belle slugged 381 round-trippers all told.) This sample of 15 gives us a mix of three batters already in the Hall of Fame, four batters on the current BBWAA ballot, and one batter, Mark McGwire, on this year's Today's Baseball ballot with Belle. Note that four batters are missing one season in the 1990s and one, Manny Ramirez, is missing two; he did not debut until 1993 with the Indians and remained Belle's teammate until 1996, when Belle signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox for the 1997 season.

The table below lists those 15 batters ranked by Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) along with other qualitative statistics for the 1991 to 2000 period.

Right-Handed Power Hitters (350 or more HR), 1991-2000, Ranked by oWAR

Player

Slash Line

OPS+

bWAR

oWAR

RAA

RAR

(A) Thomas, Frank

.320/.439/.581/.1.020

168

56.4

62.4

349

587

(B) Bagwell, Jeff

.305/.417/.552/.970

159

62.1

57.5

444

639

McGwire, Mark

.275/.421/.641/.1.062

178

44.9

48.2

308

472

(A) Piazza, Mike (9 yrs.)

.328/.392/.580/.972

156

46.6

48.1

344

487

Belle, Albert

.298/.374/.571/.945

146

40.0

46.0

183

419

(B) Sheffield, Gary

.298/.411/.543/.954

152

30.2

42.7

160

318

Gonzalez, Juan

.295/.345/.570/.915

135

31.3

36.7

113

322

(C) Ramirez, Manny (8 yrs.)

.313/.407/.592/.998

152

29.9

33.6

165

317

Burks, Ellis

.294/.371/.531/.901

127

27.2

30.0

142

290

(A) Ripken, Cal

.280/.339/.446/.785

106

38.6

29.8

171

392

Williams, Matt

.278/.326/.505/.831

119

36.4

29.1

202

371

(B) Kent, Jeff (9 yrs.)

.284/.348/.493/.841

121

29.5

29.0

160

312

(B) Sosa, Sammy

.277/.339/.540/.879

128

39.3

28.2

234

410

Galarraga, Andres (9 yrs.)

.299/.357/.540/.897

123

19.4

21.6

61

211

Davis, Chili (9 yrs.)

.283/.382/.486/.868

128

17.9

18.0

9

183

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.
(C): Denotes player not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

oWAR: Wins Above Replacement for offensive play only, as calculated by Baseball Reference.
RAA: Runs Above Average as calculated by Baseball Reference.
RAR: Runs Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

In terms of offensive value, Albert Belle's 46.0 wins above a replacement player is fifth in our sample, behind two Hall of Famers, Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza; one hitter, Jeff Bagwell, on the threshold of election in 2017; and McGwire, who like Belle is getting his second chance on the Today's Game ballot. Gary Sheffield, on the BBWAA ballot for 2017, is the only other hitter with at least a 40.0 oWAR.

At least among right-handed power-hitters, Albert Belle was clearly an elite slugger in the 1990s—one of the best, in fact. But does this span of dominance give him a commanding enough peak to overcome a relatively short career as shown by his modest WAR values?

Let's see how Belle compares to players with similar career lengths who have made it into the Hall of Fame. The following tables contain players whose careers spanned at least 10 years, the minimum MLB service time required to qualify for Hall of Fame consideration, and are generally close to Belle's 12 years as a Major Leaguer. Most of the players are in the Hall of Fame, elected either by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) or by the various Veterans Committees that have existed over the decades.

Items to note are that the careers of these players range across various eras of baseball starting with the modern game in 1901, and that all eight fielding positions are represented. Both points have an impact on the various applications of WAR used below: Players in earlier eras will look "better" because the comparative talent pools (that is, the pool of replacement players) are not as strong as in later eras, and because WAR incorporates the player's defensive position and abilities, players at the strength positions up the middle (catcher, second base, shortstop, center field) have an advantage over those players at the non-strength positions (first base, third base, corner outfield).

The table below lists the players ranked by Offensive Wins Above Replacement along with other qualitative offensive measurements.

Short-Career Hall of Fame Position Players and Selected Others, Ranked by oWAR

Player

Slash Line

OPS+

bWAR

oWAR

RAA

RAR

(1) DiMaggio, Joe

.325/.398/.579/.977

155

78.1

73.3

571

815

(2) Vaughan, Arky

.318/.406/.453/.859

136

72.9

70.9

473

718

Allen, Dick

.292/.378/.534/.912

156

58.7

69.9

287

541

McGwire, Mark

.263/.394/.588/.982

163

62.0

64.8

379

644

(x) Jackson, Joe

.356/.423/.517/.940

170

62.3

61.2

380

592

(2) Baker, Frank

.307/.363/.442/.805

135

62.8

59.2

337

582

(1) Greenberg, Hank

.313/.412/.605/.1.017

158

57.5

55.9

393

607

(1) Robinson, Jackie

.311/.409/.474/.883

132

61.5

54.2

397

616

(1) Kiner, Ralph

.279/.398/.548./946

149

49.3

54.1

261

495

(2) Sewell, Joe

.312/.391/.413/.804

108

53.7

53.8

241

550

(1) Puckett, Kirby

.318/.360/.477/.837

124

50.9

52.4

239

510

(1) Cochrane, Mickey

.320/.419/.478/.897

129

52.1

52.2

320

550

(2) Averill, Earl

.318/.395/.534/.928

133

48.0

51.0

255

517

(2) Doby, Larry

.283/.386/.490/.876

136

49.5

47.8

305

495

(1) Terry, Bill

.341/.393/.506/.899

136

54.2

47.3

334

550

Belle, Albert

.295/.369/.564/.933

144

39.9

45.8

173

419

(2) Wilson, Hack

.307/.395/.545/.940

144

38.8

42.5

235

404

(2) Combs, Earle

.325/.397/.462/.859

125

42.5

41.8

211

443

(2) Gordon, Joe

.268/.357/.466/.822

120

57.1

41.4

364

570

Maris, Roger

.260/.345/.476/.822

127

38.2

34.3

200

382

(1) Campanella, Roy

.276/.360/..500/.860

123

34.2

33.8

169

352

(2) Hafey, Chick

.317/.372/.526/.898

133

30.1

31.3

148

306

(2) Rizzuto, Phil

.273/.351/.355/.706

93

40.8

28.3

205

405

* Johnson, Davey

.261/.340/.404/.744

110

27.5

26.9

92

275


(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
(x) Denotes player ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

Albert Belle, an offensive powerhouse for most of his career, still winds up in the bottom half of our sample of mostly players with relatively short careers who are in the Hall of Fame, who would be Belle's peers should he be elected to the Hall.

But is this a failing of Belle's, or a reflection of his era? After all, WAR entails a replacement player, hypothetically, a player coming up from the minors to take the Major Leaguer's place. Like today's era, Belle's era was one of talent compression, or many excellent players in the overall pool of talent, as opposed to talent dispersion, or a few excellent players among a pool of average or mediocre players.

But during his run, Belle was consistently at or near the top of the heap. So, given Belle's power-hitting forte, not just home runs but doubles as well, how does he stack up against our sample of short-career Hall of Famers and a few others?

The table below lists the players ranked by extra-base hits along with other quantitative offensive measurements.

Short-Career Hall of Fame Position Players and Selected Others, Ranked by Extra-Base Hits

Player

GP

PA

H

2B

HR

R

RBI

TB

XBH

(1) DiMaggio, Joe

1736

7672

2214

389

361

1390

1537

3948

881

McGwire, Mark

1874

7660

1626

252

583

1167

1414

3639

841

Belle, Albert

1539

6676

1726

389

381

974

1239

3300

791

(1) Greenberg, Hank

1394

6098

1628

379

331

1046

1274

3142

781

(2) Averill, Earl

1669

7221

2019

401

238

1224

1164

3390

767

Allen, Dick

1749

7315

1848

320

351

1099

1119

3379

750

(1) Puckett, Kirby

1783

7831

2304

414

207

1071

1085

3453

678

(1) Terry, Bill

1721

7108

2193

373

154

1120

1078

3252

639

(1) Kiner, Ralph

1472

6256

1451

216

369

971

1015

2852

624

(2) Vaughan, Arky

1817

7722

2103

356

96

1173

926

3003

580

(2) Wilson, Hack

1348

5556

1461

266

244

884

1063

2593

577

(2) Hafey, Chick

1283

5115

1466

341

67

164

777

833

572

(2) Gordon, Joe

1566

6535

1530

264

253

914

975

2657

569

(2) Sewell, Joe

1903

8333

2226

436

49

1141

1054

2945

553

(2) Doby, Larry

1533

6299

1515

243

52

253

970

960

548

(x) Jackson, Joe

1332

5695

1772

307

54

873

785

2577

529

(2) Combs, Earle

1455

6513

1186

154

58

1186

633

2657

521

(1) Cochrane, Mickey

1482

6208

1652

333

119

1041

830

2470

516

(2) Baker, Frank

1575

6667

1838

315

96

887

991

2647

514

Maris, Roger

1463

5847

1325

195

275

826

850

2429

512

(1) Robinson, Jackie

1382

5804

1518

273

54

137

947

734

464

(1) Campanella, Roy

1215

4815

1161

178

242

627

856

2101

438

* Johnson, Davey

1435

5465

1252

242

136

564

609

1938

396

(2) Rizzuto, Phil

1661

5816

1588

239

38

877

563

2065

339

(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
(x) Denotes player ineligible for the Hall of Fame.
* On the Today's Game ballot primarily as a manager.

In terms of extra-base hits, Belle again ranks highly when compared to short-career Hall of Famers and those in consideration for the Hall. Belle is one of only six hitters in our sample with 700 or more extra-base hits, with Belle just nine extra-base hits shy of 800. It is worth noting that the 1994 season was a strike-shortened season, and Belle would have only added to his already-impressive season totals of 35 doubles, 36 home runs, and 101 RBI had it been a full season; Belle played in 106 games of the 113 total games the Cleveland Indians played before the work stoppage.

Albert Belle is clearly a poster child for the "bubble candidate," a Hall of Fame candidate whose résumé is not definitive enough to gain entry to the Hall without deliberation yet too substantial simply to be dismissed. Let's examine Belle in relation to a pair of Hall of Famers, Ralph Kiner and Hack Wilson, along with Dick Allen, most recently on the last Golden Era ballot in 2015, on which he fell one vote shy of election.

We will look at each player's decade of dominance, the ten consecutive years in which they had their greatest impact; in Dick Allen's case, we will examine the years 1964 to 1974 while omitting the 1973 season, in which he played in just 72 games because of injury. The table below lists these four right-handed sluggers by Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) along with other qualitative statistics for their ten-year periods.

Ten-Year Peak for Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Ralph Kiner, and Hack Wilson, Ranked by oWAR

Player

Slash Line

OPS+

bWAR

oWAR

RAA

RAR

Allen, Dick

.298/.385/.551/.936

165

55.4

65.3

296

505

(1) Kiner, Ralph

.279/.398/.548/.946

149

49.3

54.1

261

495

Belle, Albert

.298/.374/.571/.945

146

40.0

46.0

183

419

(2) Wilson, Hack

.310/.396/.553/.949

146

38.1

41.9

235

397

(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

What is noteworthy in the table above are the similarities in the four sluggers' slash lines, particularly their OPS percentages, which are within thirteen-hundredths of a percentage point of each other. Their OPS+ values reflect the quality of their respective competition: Both Belle and Wilson played in eras of high offensive production, the 1920s and 1990s, respectively, while Kiner's stretch from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s was less so, and Allen's period, particularly the first half, was in the 1960s and a pitching-dominated era.

This may also account for the relative values of the other qualitative measures. The metrics that evaluate the player's value over a replacement player—bWAR, oWAR, RAA, and RAR—suggest the talent pool of each player's era—the more outstanding players there are available, the less the replacement value they provide. We compared Belle to several right-handed hitters from the 1990s, and while Belle was often among the top ranks, he was not an uncontrovertibly elite slugger—and we compared only right-handed hitters.

In terms of generating extra-base hits, Belle was indisputably impressive, so let's see how he compares to our current sample.

The table below lists these four right-handed sluggers ranked by the total number of extra-base hits they hit along with other quantitative offensive statistics.

Ten-Year Peak for Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Ralph Kiner, and Hack Wilson, Ranked by Extra-Base Hits

Player

GP

PA

H

2B

HR

R

RBI

TB

XBH

Belle, Albert

1468

6417

1673

381

373

951

1199

3207

771

Allen, Dick

1409

5982

1544

257

303

929

934

2852

631

(1) Kiner, Ralph

1472

6256

1451

216

369

971

1015

2852

624

(2) Wilson, Hack

1271

5311

1412

261

238

860

1033

2521

566

(1): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
(2): Denotes player who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Belle's ability to hit for extra bases is remarkable even—perhaps especially—in this small sample. Belle's 771 total extra-base hits outdistances the other three by a huge margin, and while he just eclipses Kiner in home runs, Belle's 381 doubles stand well apart from the others. In addition, Belle fell just one RBI shy of 1200 in this ten-year period, and while runs batted in is a team-dependent statistic—Belle did play on a Murderers Row of sorts at least in Cleveland—it is nevertheless another gaudy statistic in his favor.

We have gone the distance here to make the Hall of Fame case for Albert Belle, who lasted two years on a BBWAA ballot before disappearing, only to reappear this year on the Today's Game ballot. Unlike Will Clark and even Harold Reynolds, Belle has sufficient weight in counting numbers, qualitative measures, and especially peak dominance to merit serious consideration.

For the final comparison, I chose Dick Allen, Ralph Kiner, and to a lesser extent Hack Wilson because they seemed to be a prime bubble candidate from their era. I added Wilson because at least in looking at his WAR scores next to Belle made me wonder if Belle is the Hack Wilson of his era: Belle remains the only hitter to hit at least 50 doubles and at least 50 home runs in the same season and should have been the American League Most Valuable Player in 1995; in 1930. Wilson hit 56 home runs, which remained the National League single-season record until Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs and Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs 68 years later, and drove in 191 runs, which remains the all-time single-season record for RBI.

Hack Wilson appeared on 15 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballots between 1937 and 1962 (voting, particularly during World War Two, was not always annual) but he never collected more than 38.3 percent of the vote; that was in 1956, eight years after Wilson had died at age 48. However, Wilson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 by the Veterans Committee.

As for the other two hitters in our final sample, Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA—although that was literally by the skin of his teeth: Kiner received one vote over the minimum required for the 75-percent qualification in his 15th and final year of eligibility in 1975. Keep in mind that Kiner was the premier slugger in the National League for much of his ten-year career: He led the NL in home runs for his first seven years, slamming 50 or more twice, in 1947 (51) and 1949 (54), and for the five-year period between 1947 and 1951 the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger crushed a total of 234 long balls over the fence, an average of 47 per year. He also drove in at least 100 runs during that time, averaging 121 RBI per season as he was in the top ten of NL MVP voting every year.

Then there is Dick Allen. Allen appeared on 14 BBWAA ballots over 15 years—he garnered just 3.7 percent of the vote in 1983, but was returned to the ballot in 1985, where he gathered just enough support, peaking at 18.9 percent in 1995, his penultimate year, to remain on the ballot. The 1964 National League Rookie of the Year and 1972 American League Most Valuable Player began his playing career during the tumultuous 1960s, and as an African-American Allen caught a fair dose of the racial divisiveness emblematic of the time, which has contributed to the perception that Allen was himself divisive and contentious, a charged leveled against Albert Belle although Belle did not have the same social upheaval to contend with in the 1990s.

As a player, though, Allen was an impressive offensive force, even more so considering that he played the first half of his career in an offensively-challenged period, one considered a "Golden Era" for pitching but one in which Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski could lead the AL in 1968 with a .301 batting average—the only qualified hitter to bat .300 or higher. Yet Allen, the seven-time All-Star, managed to post a career OPS+ of 156, tied for 21st all-time with Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, both elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.

I will admit that when I did my ballot assessment of the Golden Era for 2015, I stated that Dick Allen was the best candidate on the ballot, but that he fell just short of the Hall of Fame. In looking at the comparisons to Albert Belle here, I realize that I was wrong: Dick Allen, compared to various short-career Hall of Famers, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame with them, and in fact he looks stronger than some of them. Like Belle, Allen is another bubble poster boy, helping to define in some measure what the threshold for admittance may be, even if only for his era.

Which makes Albert Belle's case so taxing: He clearly slugged the hell out of the ball during the 1990s—we've seen how he has topped or has come close to topping the list for extra-base hits—but so did a lot of hitters during that high-offense period. Was Belle that much better than his contemporaries? Among the 15 right-handed power-hitters we profiled for the 1990s, Belle's OPS+ of 146 is seventh, about in the middle. Among the 24 short-career players, many of whom are in the Hall of Fame, Belle's 144 OPS+ is tied for seventh, comfortably in the upper third. If ever a player was made for the Keltner List, it may be Belle, who may look like a Hall of Famer but who may not feel like one.

I feel as if I may be eating my words once more in a couple of years, but rather than looking like Dick Allen or Ralph Kiner, Albert Belle looks more like the Hack Wilson of his era; again appropriately enough, both Belle and Wilson are tied for 49th all-time in OPS+ with 144. Wilson may be in the Hall of Fame, but his was a gratuitous election. Despite all those extra-base hits, Albert Belle's would be too, although ask me again in couple of years.



Pitcher Candidate: Orel Hershiser

The Los Angeles Dodgers were on top of the world in 1988, beating the Oakland Athletics in five games to become World Series champions, and although Kirk Gibson's walk-off home run hit off Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley to clinch the Series opener for the Dodgers remains the iconic moment, it was Dodgers starting pitcher Orel Hershiser who was named the Series Most Valuable Player.

In fact, Hershiser, who pitched two complete-game victories in the World Series including a Game Two, three-hit shutout, seemingly carried the Dodgers on his back all through 1988: Leading the National League in wins (23), complete games (15), shutouts (8), and innings pitched (267), "Bulldog" easily won the NL Cy Young award although Danny Jackson of the Cincinnati Reds had an identical win-loss record of 23–8, a .742 winning percentage. Hershiser's earned run average was about a half-run better than Jackson's, 2.26 to 2.73, but what clinched the Cy Young award for Hershiser was his record-setting streak of 59 consecutive innings without giving up a run, breaking the record of 58.2 innings previously held by Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, a former Dodger who was the team's radio announcer during Hershiser's streak. Stretching for almost a month, Hershiser hurled five consecutive shutouts and then the first ten scoreless innings of a marathon 16-inning game against the San Diego Padres that the Padres wound up winning 2–1. And as if this weren't enough, Hershiser also won his only Gold Glove for fielding in 1988.

Heading into the postseason against the favored New York Mets for the NL pennant, Hershiser started three games in the NL Championship Series, receiving no-decisions in the first two games that the Dodgers' bullpen ultimately lost, but pitching a five-hit shutout over Ron Darling in the decisive Game Seven to lead the Dodgers to the World Series. Hershiser also picked up a save in the 12-inning Game Four when, in the bottom of the inning, he entered with two outs and the bases loaded in a 5–4 game to retire Kevin McReynolds on a pop fly to center. Hershiser was named the NLCS MVP.

For one season, Orel Hershiser pitched like a Hall of Famer—but does his entire career make him worthy of Cooperstown? The writers did not think so when they voted on him in the mid-2000s: He received a polite 11.2 percent of the vote in his 2006 debut but then fell to 4.4 percent support the following year and thus dropped off the ballot.

As we have been doing thus far, let us examine Hershiser's contemporaries, pitchers whose careers began within five years of his 1983 debut.

The table below lists Hershiser along with twelve notable starting pitchers whose careers began within five years of Hershiser's Major League debut in 1983 (in other words, between 1978 and 1988), ranked by bWAR, with other qualitative statistics, including fWAR, listed alongside it.

Contemporary Pitchers and 2017 Pitcher Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by bWAR

Pitcher

W-L (S), ERA

bWAR

fWAR

ERA+

ERA–

FIP–

(A) Maddux, Greg

355–227, 3.16

106.8

116.7

132

76

78

(A) Johnson, Randy

303–166 (2), 3.29

102.0

110.6

135

75

73

(A) Glavine, Tom

305–203, 3.54

81.5

66.9

118

86

94

(B) Schilling, Curt

216–146 (22), 3.46

79.9

79.8

127

80

76

(A) Smoltz, John

213–155 (154), 3.33

69.5

79.6

125

81

78

Brown, Kevin

211–144, 3.28

68.3

76.5

127

78

78

Cone, David

194–126 (1), 3.46

62.5

56.0

121

84

84

Saberhagen, Bret

167–117 (1), 3.34

59.2

55.3

126

80

81

Finley, Chuck

200–173, 3.85

58.4

56.9

115

87

88

Stieb, Dave

176–137 (3), 3.44

57.2

43.8

122

82

93

Hershiser, Orel

204–150 (5), 3.48

56.8

48.0

112

89

93

Gooden, Dwight

194–112 (3), 3.51

53.2

56.7

111

90

93

Langston, Mark

179–158, 3.97

50.7

49.2

107

93

91

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.

Talk about a stacked deck: Four of those pitchers—Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz—are first-ballot Hall of Famers while Johnson and Maddux rank among the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Joining them are Curt Schilling, who is certainly one of the greatest postseason pitchers and whose middling performance on the BBWAA ballot is puzzling, and Kevin Brown, who was unfairly a one-and-done in 2011 although Brown's connections to performance-enhancing drugs (PED) was certainly a factor.

The table below lists those dozen contemporary starting pitchers along with Hershiser, ranked by JAWS, along with other JAWS statistics and ratings for the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards. Also included are the JAWS statistics for all starting pitches in the Hall of Fame.

Contemporary Pitchers and 2017 Pitcher Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by JAWS

Pitcher

No. of Years

From

To

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

(A) Johnson, Randy

22

1988

2009

102.1

62.0

82.0

9

331

65

(A) Maddux, Greg

23

1986

2008

106.8

56.3

81.6

10

254

70

(B) Schilling, Curt

20

1988

2007

79.9

49.0

64.5

27

171

46

(A) Glavine, Tom

22

1987

2008

81.5

44.3

62.9

30

176

52

Ave. of 62 HoF SP

NA

NA

NA

73.9

50.3

62.1

NA

NA

NA

Brown, Kevin

19

1986

2005

68.3

45.4

56.9

46

93

41

(A) Smoltz, John

21

1988

2009

69.5

38.8

54.1

58

162

44

Cone, David

17

1986

2003

62.5

43.5

53.0

60

103

39

Saberhagen, Bret

16

1984

2001

59.2

43.3

51.3

66

70

32

Stieb, Dave

16

1979

1998

57.2

44.8

51.0

67

56

27

Finley, Chuck

17

1986

2002

58.4

39.8

49.1

75

54

27

Hershiser, Orel

18

1983

2000

56.8

40.4

48.6

79

90

34

Langston, Mark

16

1984

1999

50.7

41.8

46.2

93

64

23

Gooden, Dwight

16

1984

2000

53.2

39.1

46.1

95

88

40

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.

Standards are high for the Hall of Fame—even Smoltz, the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to combine at least 200 wins and at least 150 saves, falls just below the WAR and JAWS thresholds established by pitchers currently in the Hall.

But as we have seen so far, it is the bubble candidates that make the evaluating an exciting challenge. Using wins, a traditional measurement of effectiveness, how does Hershiser compare to his contemporary pitchers whose career win totals are within roughly ten wins of Hershiser's career total of 204 wins? The table below summarizes those results as a win-loss record and corresponding winning percentage along with other quantitative measurements including games started, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, walks, and strikeouts.

Select Contemporary Pitchers and 2017 Pitcher Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by Wins



W–L (Pct.)

GS

CG

SHO

IP

BB

SO

(B) Curt Schilling

216–146 (.597)

436

83

20

3261.0

711

3116

(A) Smoltz, John

213–155 (.579)

481

53

16

3473.0

1010

3084

Brown, Kevin

211–144 (.594)

476

72

17

3256.1

901

2397

Hershiser, Orel

204–150 (.576)

466

68

25

3130.1

1007

2014

Cone, David

194–126 (.606)

419

56

22

2898.2

1137

2668

Gooden, Dwight

194–112 (.634)

410

68

24

2800.2

954

2293

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.

Using another traditional measurement, earned run average, the table below summarizes those select contemporary pitchers of Hershiser along with other qualitative measurements.

Select Contemporary Pitchers and 2017 Pitcher Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by ERA



ERA

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

WHIP

H/9

SO/9

SO/BB

(B) Curt Schilling

3.23

127

80

3.23

76

1.137

8.3

8.6

4.38

Brown, Kevin

3.28

127

78

3.33

78

1.222

8.5

6.6

2.66

(A) Smoltz, John

3.33

127

81

3.24

78

1.170

8.0

8.0

3.05

Cone, David

3.46

121

84

3.57

84

1.256

7.8

8.3

2.35

Hershiser, Orel

3.48

112

89

3.69

93

1.261

8.4

5.8

2.00

Gooden, Dwight

3.51

111

90

3.33

93

1.177

8.2

7.4

2.40

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.

ERA: Earned Run Average, the number of earned runs allowed by a pitcher, multiplied by 9, then divided by the number of innings the pitcher pitched, to project the average number of earned runs a pitcher would record over the course of an entire game.
ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
ERA–: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
FIP: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out. This ratio measures a pitcher's effectiveness at preventing home runs, walks, and hits by pitch and at inducing strikeouts.
FIP–: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 FIP– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
WHIP: Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched.
H/9: Hits per nine innings pitched; the number of hits allowed by a pitcher, multiplied by 9, then divided by the number of innings the pitcher pitched, to project the average number of hits allowed a pitcher would record over the course of an entire game.
SO/9: Strikeouts per nine innings pitched, the number of strikeouts by a pitcher, multiplied by 9, then divided by the number of innings the pitcher pitched, to project the average number of strikeouts a pitcher would record over the course of an entire game.
SO/BB: The ratio of a pitcher's strikeouts to bases on balls (or walks).

Just how fine is the threshold? With respect to ERA, these six pitchers are separated by roughly a quarter of a run while their win totals are also roughly within ten wins of Hershiser. Will a more qualitative comparison make the delineation clearer?

The table below summarizes those select contemporary pitchers of Hershiser by a number of qualitative metrics, ranking them by Wins Above Average.

Select Contemporary Pitchers and 2017 Pitcher Candidate on the 2017 Today's Game Ballot, Ranked by Wins Above Average

Pitcher

Slash Line

RA9

RAA

WAA

RAR

pWAR

(B) Curt Schilling

.243/.286/.387/.673

3.64

487

54.1

806

80.7

Brown, Kevin

.249/.306/.349/.655

3.75

370

40.5

691

68.5

(A) Smoltz, John

.237/.293/.360/.653

3.60

345

38.0

656

66.5

Cone, David

.232/.309/.359/.669

3.79

323

35.6

628

61.7

Hershiser, Orel

.249/.312/.364/.676

3.93

209

25.1

514

51.7

Gooden, Dwight

.244/.310/.357/.667

3.85

195

24.0

474

48.2

(A): Denotes player who is in the Hall of Fame.
(B): Denotes player who is on the BBWAA ballot for 2017.

Slash Line: Aggregate opposing hitters' batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentages against the pitcher.
RA9: Runs allowed per nine innings pitched; this includes unearned runs.
RAA: Runs better than average, as calculated by Baseball Reference. This measures the runs prevented by a pitcher compared to a league-average pitcher.
WAA: Wins above average, or the wins added by this pitcher compared to a league-average pitcher. This differs from Wins Above a Replacement player in that it is measured against pitchers already in the Major Leagues and not pitchers arriving from the minor leagues.
RAR: Runs Above a Replacement Player. This measures the runs prevented by a pitcher compared to a replacement player.
pWAR: Wins Above Replacement for a pitcher's pitching performance only. This does not include a pitcher's value as a batter, baserunner, or fielder.

Although their slash lines are fairly similar, the qualitative metrics for run prevention (RA9, RAA, RAR) and value (WAA, pWAR) form the threshold that puts Hershiser in the bottom half.

Orel Hershiser became a free agent after the strike-shortened 1994 season, his age-35 year, and he signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Indians. In his three years with Cleveland, Hershiser won 45 games against only 21 losses for a .682 winning percentage. In the American League with its designated hitter during a high-offense period, Hershiser's ERA crept over the 4.00 mark in his last two seasons although his ERA+ of 113 over those three seasons indicated a still-effective pitcher.

Indeed, in 1995 Hershiser helped the Indians, an offensive powerhouse as exemplified by Albert Belle, to the postseason, where they went all the way to the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, the first time since 1954 that Cleveland had made it to the Series. Along the way, Hershiser was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League Championship Series—the first player ever to have been named a CS MVP in both leagues—as he won both his starts against the Seattle Mariners, allowing just two earned runs in 14.0 innings as he struck out 15 batters against only three walks, as the Indians defeated Seattle in six games.

As Cleveland went on to face the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, Hershiser had to battle Greg Maddux in both his starts; he lost the Series opener, a close 3–2 game, but he bested Maddux in Game Five, an elimination game with Atlanta up three games to one in the Series, pitching eight strong innings while surrendering just one earned run of two he allowed overall as Cleveland closer Jose Mesa earned a shaky save, yielding two runs in the ninth as the Indians held on for a 5–4 victory. Nevertheless, the Braves won Game Six for their third (and so far last) World Series crown.

Hershiser again helped pitch the Indians to the postseason in 1997, his age-38 year. He earned no decisions in his two starts against the New York Yankees in the AL Divisional Series although Cleveland then advanced to the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, where Hershiser pitched a four-hit gem over seven scoreless innings yet picked up another no-decision as Cleveland won in extra innings. But in the World Series against the (then-)Florida Marlins, an exciting series that went to all seven games, he got blasted in both his starts, allowing 13 runs, all earned, in ten innings as he incurred two losses.

After the 1997 season, Hershiser played one season each with the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets, a full-time starter in both years although a league-average one, before returning to the Dodgers in 2000. Hershiser pitched in only ten games, six of those starts, as he won just one game against five losses and posted a whopping 13.14 ERA. Not surprisingly, the Dodgers released him mid-season.

Hardly a power pitcher, Orel Hershiser succeeded through control and finesse; a neat statistical quirk is that he issued exactly half the number of walks, 1007, as he did strikeouts, 2014. Hershiser's historic 1989 season is the culmination of a strong six-year streak beginning in 1984 in which he posted a 98–64 win-loss record, a .605 winning percentage, and a 2.68 ERA with a 132 ERA+, throwing 23 shutouts including the eight in 1989, and striking out 1006 against only 428 walks.

Orel Hershiser had one Hall of Fame-caliber season in 1989, and the preceding five full seasons—particularly 1985, when he won 19 games against only three losses and posted a 2.03 ERA—were outstanding ones. But Hershiser was, overall, a very good pitcher with moments of excellence, and he does not rise to the level of an elite Hall of Fame pitcher.

Managing Expectations: Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella

Both former players who gained greater prominence as field skippers, both Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella have one World Series title each, coincidentally each for his only trip to the Series. Piniella's was a surprise sweep by the Cincinnati Reds over the Oakland A's in 1990, early in his managerial career, while Johnson guided the New York Mets to their second World Series title in the memorable, infamous, seven-game 1986 Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Piniella is 14th all-time with 1835 wins, over a 23-year managerial career, while Johnson is 31st in wins with 1372 over a 17-year career. Johnson's .excellent 562 winning percentage indicates how he had only one losing season (for a full season of managing), during his first year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999. Piniella's .517 winning percentage largely reflects his three years managing the hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 2003 to 2005 along with a few fallow years in Seattle, his longest stint by far as he led the Mariners for ten years from 1993 to 2002; however, Piniella did guide them to their historic 116-win season in 2001, the most wins by any American League team ever and tied with the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most ever by any Major League team, only to see them lose to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Of the top 15 managers by total games won who are eligible for the Hall of Fame (the 15th, Bruce Bochy, is still an active manager), only Piniella and Gene Mauch are not in the Hall; curiously, Mauch's .483 winning percentage is 17 points below .500 as Piniella's is 17 points above .500. Mauch never won a pennant or a World Series, while Piniella has one of each including the Mariners' remarkable 116 wins in 2001.

Lou Piniella
Under Lou Piniella, the Seattle Mariners won a historic 116 games in 2001. Is that enough to get him into the Hall of Fame?

Beginning his managerial career with the New York Yankees in 1986, Piniella guided the Bronx Bombers to excellent seasons that year and the following year—90 wins in 1986 and 89 in 1987—but the Yankees finished second and fourth, respectively. Replaced by Billy Martin, whom Piniella had replaced for the 1986 season, Piniella became the Yankees' general manager for the 1988 season but midway through the season he moved down to the field again—and again replacing Billy Martin—to finish out the season.

Moving in 1990 to Cincinnati to manage the Reds, notorious for their "Nasty Boys" trio of relievers Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers, Piniella led the Reds to a 91-win season and a World Series title. The Reds fell to 74–88 the following year although Piniella, who had a contentious relationship with eccentric team owner Marge Schott, righted the ship in 1992 as the Reds won 90 games but finished second in the NL West to the Atlanta Braves.

Piniella was then dismissed but took up residence in Seattle the following year as he managed the Mariners for a decade. Three of those seasons were losing ones, but when the Mariners were on they were really on, with superstars Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and Alex Rodriguez, then Japanese phenomenon Ichiro Suzuki, who arrived in 2001, providing the fireworks. The Mariners won 90 or more games four times, three of them consecutively from 2000 to 2002 including the record-setting 116 wins in 2001, which saw Suzuki become only the second player to be named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season.

Under Piniella, the Mariners made their only four postseason appearances to date, including the exciting 1995 AL Division Series against the New York Yankees that saw Seattle win the clinching Game Five in 11 innings, overcoming the Yankees' go-ahead run in the top half of that inning with a two-run double by Martinez that scored Joey Cora and, memorably, Griffey to send Seattle to its first AL Championship Series. Unfortunately, the Mariners lost that series to the Cleveland Indians in six games.

Taking a chance with the struggling Tampa Bay franchise, Piniella managed the Devil Rays for three seasons and even got them to a then-franchise-best 70 wins in 2004. But Piniella was impatient with the Rays' front office, which was building for the future while Piniella wanted them to increase payroll for immediate results—in 2005, Tampa Bay had the lowest payroll in the major leagues with $30 million; by contrast, the Yankees had a $208 million payroll that year. Piniella accepted a buyout for his contracted 2006 season, and later that year he signed on to manage the Chicago Cubs.

With the Cubs, Piniella got them to the postseason in his first two years, including a two-game squeak past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central in 2007 and a gaudy 97 wins the following year, but Chicago was swept in the first round in both years. In 2009, the Cubs finished 7.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, and after 125 games in the 2010 season that found the Cubs 23 games below .500, Lou Piniella hung it up as a manager.

Beginning his Major League managerial career with the New York Mets in 1984, Davey Johnson enjoyed six winning seasons, from 1984 to 1989, right off the bat, making the postseason in two of those years. Five of those seasons saw the Mets win at least 90 games including 100 games in 1988 and, famously, 108 games in 1986.

That year's postseason is a highlight in Mets' history: First they defeated the Houston Astros in six games for the National League pennant, culminating with a 12-inning win in Game Five to give the Mets a 3–2 edge in the series. However, the NLCS then moved to Houston for the final two games—although the Mets were hoping to end it with the next game. They did, but not before an epic, 16-inning battle. The Astros had taken a three-run lead in the bottom of the first inning as Houston's Bob Knepper held the Mets scoreless until the ninth inning, when the Mets tied the game, sending into extra innings. Each team traded a run in the 14th inning, but two innings later New York jumped out to a three-run lead. With Mets reliever Jesse Orosco starting the bottom of the inning with a strikeout of Craig Reynolds, New York looked to be in good shape. But then the Astros strung together a walk and three hits for two runs, and with the tying run on second with two outs, Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to send the Mets to the World Series.

That World Series turned out to be against the Boston Red Sox in one of the classic Fall Classics in baseball history. The Red Sox took the first two games, in New York, before dropping the next two back in Boston. But then Boston's Bruce Hurst outdueled Dwight Gooden in Game Five for a 4-2 win, and when, in Game Six, back in New York, Red Sox ace Roger Clemens was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth inning with the Red Sox up 3–2, it looked as if Boston might clinch its first World Series in 68 years.

But the Mets tied the score off reliever Calvin Schiraldi in the bottom of the inning, and a scoreless ninth sent the game into extra innings. With Boston's Dave Henderson homering to lead off the top of the tenth, and the Red Sox pushing across another run before being retired, victory again looked to be in sight—particularly after Schiraldi retired the first two Mets in the bottom of the frame. Then Gary Carter singled, and Johnson sent pinch-hitter Kevin Mitchell in to hit for pitcher Rick Aguilera. Mitchell singled, and Ray Knight followed suit, scoring Carter on another single as Mitchell went to third. Red Sox manager John McNamara called to the bullpen for Bob Stanley to relieve Schiraldi—and Stanley promptly uncorked a wild pitch on a three-and-two count, with the Red Sox one strike away from winning the Series. Mitchell scored from third, and Knight moved to second. Then, on another 3–2 count totaling nine pitches overall, Mookie Wilson tapped a grounder up the first-base line, where—can't you hear announcer Vin Scully report the result? Alas, first baseman Bill Buckner could not field the ball between his legs, Ray Knight galloped home from second, and the Mets had a new lease on the Series.

The Red Sox might have taken a 3–0 lead in Game Seven, but the Mets tied the score in the sixth inning and hung on to win their second World Series while the Red Sox—yes, the Curse of the Bambino. And even though the Mets let Johnson go just 42 games into the 1990 season, he remains the winningest manager in franchise history with 595 wins against just 417 losses for a .588 winning percentage.

Johnson then took a turn at managing the Cincinnati Reds, first coming in to relieve Tony Perez for the remainder of the 1993 season (Perez had replaced Lou Piniella), and then leading the team to a pair of winning seasons in the next two years, finishing first in both years and making the postseason in 1995. (The 1994 season was strike-shortened, with no postseason played.) But Johnson and Reds owner Marge Schott did not get along, and Johnson was gone after 1995.

No matter, because the Baltimore Orioles snapped him up, and Johnson, who had played for Baltimore, took the Orioles to the postseason in both years he managed there, winning 98 games in 1997 although the Orioles couldn't get past the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. And, again, Johnson had a contentious relationship with his employer, owner Pete Angelos, and Johnson was again out of a job after 1997. Landing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999, Johnson could not produce his magic as the Dodgers finished four games under .500, and although Johnson led LA to a second-place finish with 86 wins in 2000, he was again let go.

Johnson then largely left the Major Leagues for a decade although he remained active in international baseball as well as managing the US Olympic team during the 2008 Summer Olympics; he again managed an American team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Returning to major-league managing in 2011, Johnson found himself as the third manager in that season for the Washington Nationals. Making a favorable impression, he returned in 2012 and promptly led the Nationals to their first postseason appearance (not including their record when the franchise was the Montreal Expos) with a 98-win campaign, the best record in the majors. The Nationals finished second the following year, and Davey Johnson retired after the 2013 season.

Johnson lacks the counting numbers but was a winning manager on each of the five teams he managed, winning at least 98 games in a season with three different teams (the Mets, Baltimore Orioles, and Washington Nationals) while his 1986 Mets won 108 games.

From either a quantitative or qualitative perspective, Piniella or Johnson, respectively, could sneak across the threshold and into the Hall. And although I think that Piniella would get the nod based on his total wins, I do not think either one will be elected this year.



Executive Decisions: John Schuerholtz and George Steinbrenner

Of the two executives, John Schuerholtz and George Steinbrenner—we'll treat Bud Selig separately below—are almost opposites although both steered winning franchises.

A college baseball star, John Schuerholtz had been a young teacher at a Baltimore junior high school when, in 1966, he wrote to Baltimore Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger and asked for a job. Surprisingly, he was offered an assistant's position—at a smaller salary than his teaching job—but Schuerholtz, a graduate of Towson and Loyola Universities, buckled down and did his homework. Soon he was an assistant to the Orioles' director of player development Lou Gorman, and when Gorman left in 1969 for the new American League expansion team the Kansas City Royals, Schuerholtz followed him into this new opportunity.

With the Royals, Gorman and Schuerholtz applied the model they had learned in Baltimore, where the Orioles had won three AL pennants and two World Series between 1966 and 1970. It took the Royals, who at one point had Lou Piniella on their roster, a few years to develop, but they began to build a strong foundation by drafting and acquiring franchise players George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, Frank White, and Willie Wilson.

And by 1976, with manager Whitey Herzog at the helm, the Royals had won the first of three consecutive division championships although they lost to the New York Yankees in all three AL Championship Series. Clinching the division once more in 1980, the Royals this time bested the Yankees to get to their first World Series, facing the National League pennant-winners the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies wound up winning the Series, their first ever, in six games, with Game Six remaining the most-watched game in World Series history as 54.9 million television viewers tuned in to see the Phillies prevail.

By 1983, John Schuerholtz had been named the team's general manager. Remembering his fundamental lessons in Baltimore, he used the Royals' farm system to cultivate an impressive staff of pitchers including Bud Black, David Cone, Mark Gubicza, Danny Jackson, and Bret Saberhagen. The Royals made the postseason again in 1984 but were swept by the Detroit Tigers, who went on to win the World Series. By 1985, Saberhagen had won the AL Cy Young award as he and Brett helped to lead the Royals back to the playoffs, where they defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in a thrilling ALCS to advance to the World Series.

The Royals' Series opponent was their cross-state neighbors the St. Louis Cardinals, which led to the Series being dubbed the "I–70 Series" for the interstate highway that connects the two Missouri cities. Once again, the Royals provided the thrills as they fell behind the Cardinals three games to one, but behind manager Dick Howser the Royals rebounded to win the Series; ironically, the Cardinals were managed by Whitey Herzog, the Royals' erstwhile manager. The 1985 World Series is also notorious for its two blown umpiring calls in Game Six, the second a crucial bang-bang play at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning involving Royals baserunner Jorge Orta and Cardinals pitcher Todd Worrell that umpire Don Denkinger called safe even though replays showed that Orta was out. With that lease of life, Kansas City scored two runs to win the game, and then won the Series in an 11–0 blowout in Game Seven. Interestingly, years later, John Schuerholtz championed the use of replay to adjudicate close calls even though a replay in 1985 would have overturned the Royals' good fortune thanks to Denkinger's call.

Although the Royals remained a winning franchise through the second half of the 1980s, they made no return to the postseason following their 1985 World Series victory; by 1990 Schuerholtz had recommended himself to Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten for the team's general manager position following Bobby Cox's decision to manage the team on the field. Schuerholtz remained the Braves' general manager until 2007, helping to steer the Braves to a sustained run of excellence that is the highlight of Schuerholtz's career as a baseball executive.

In 1991, with a pitching staff that included future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz along with Steve Avery, the Braves won their first National League pennant in 33 years—remarkable considering that the Braves had finished in the division cellar the previous season—in an exciting seven-game NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Facing the Minnesota Twins, who had similarly been cellar-dwellers in 1990, the Braves provided their half to one of the most exciting World Series ever, capped by an epic Game Seven that saw the Twins' Jack Morris go the distance in a ten-inning shutout—Morris simply refused to let manager Tom Kelly take him out of the game—as John Smoltz matched him for 7 1/3 innings before leaving in the eighth inning. The Twins finally eked out a run with one out in the tenth inning on a bases-loaded pinch-hit by Gene Larkin that scored Dan Gladden, who had doubled to start the inning.

The Braves again made it to the World Series in 1992, and again they downed the Pirates in another NLCS that went the distance, ending with a Game Seven come-from-behind win for the Braves in the bottom of the ninth inning—down 2–0, they rallied for three runs including pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera's two-out single that scored David Justice and, memorably, Sid Bream, who chugged home ahead of the throw by Pirates' left fielder Barry Bonds. However, the Braves couldn't handle the Toronto Blue Jays, who took the World Series in six games for their first world championship.

In 1993 the Braves scored a coup by signing Greg Maddux, later a first-ballot Hall of Famer, who helped Atlanta to a 104-win season, finishing one game ahead of the San Francisco Giants (who had just acquired Bonds) in the NL West; the Braves went a torrid 55–19 over the last 74 games to overcome the Giants' division lead, although they lost the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.

With the 1994 a wash because of the strike that forced the cancellation of the World Series, the Braves returned strong in 1995. Having won 90 games in the newly-created East division of the National League, Atlanta polished off the Colorado Rockies, not only a new team but the first NL wild-card team, in the NL Division Series before sweeping the Cincinnati Reds for the NL pennant, setting up a confrontation with the AL pennant-winners the Cleveland Indians, which had won 100 games and featured a pitchers'-nightmare lineup including Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. But the Braves had the pitchers to prevail, including the Series MVP Tom Glavine, who won two games including a combined shutout in the clinching Game Six, which gave Atlanta its first World Series title in 38 years, since the team had been located in Milwaukee.

The Atlanta Braves, with John Schuerholtz as the team's general manager, reeled off a streak of ten consecutive division titles following their 1995 world championship, returning to the World Series twice more, in 1996 to defend their crown and again in 1999, but they were bested by George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees both times as the Yankees established their own dynasty. Nevertheless, the Braves under Schuerholtz clinched a total of 14 consecutive division titles, a feat unmatched by any team including the Yankees.

Having developed an organizational flair with the Orioles, Schuerholtz has become the business face of modern professional baseball, an intelligent, perceptive executive with an outstanding track record of franchise success. However, that anonymous, corporate competence will likely not get him into the Hall of Fame, at least not this time.

On the other hand, George Steinbrenner, who owned the New York Yankees from 1973 to his death in 2010, has truly been one of the most larger-than-life figures in baseball history, and with the Yankees having won seven World Series titles under his ownership—fully one-quarter of the 27 the Bronx Bombers have won in their history—Steinbrenner had the hardware to back up his colorful, autocratic manner.

Who says you can't throw money at the problem? When Steinbrenner, a shipping magnate, took ownership of the Yankees in 1973, the once-storied franchise was ineffective and in disarray. Rather than wait for the Yankees' farm system to cultivate talent, Steinbrenner simply went out and bought it, looking to jump-start the team with high-priced free agents such as former Oakland A's pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter and outfielder Reggie Jackson. The acquisition of Jackson paid quick rewards when he slugged three consecutive home runs, off three different Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers, in the clinching Game Six of the 1977 World Series, earning the team its first world championship in 15 years and himself the undying sobriquet "Mr. October."

Not that Steinbrenner had rosy relationships with his high-profile—and high-cost—players. In 1981, Steinbrenner signed free agent outfielder Dave Winfield to a ten-year contract worth $23 million, making Winfield the highest-paid player at the time—although Steinbrenner reputedly thought the contract value was only $16 million. And by 1985 Steinbrenner was blasting his blue-chip hitter as a "Mr. May" when Steinbrenner wanted another "Mr. October" or even a "Mr. September"; that year, the Yankees lost the American League pennant to the Toronto Blue Jays as the season was ending. Compounding the animosity, Steinbrenner in 1990 hired Mafia-connected gambler Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Winfield, a move that got Steinbrenner banned for life from running the Yankees by commissioner Fay Vincent, although by 1992 Steinbrenner was back at the Yankees' helm. The capper came when, following Winfield's being voted into the Hall of Fame, he elected to be inducted as a San Diego Padre, his first team before signing with the Yankees.

Furthermore, Steinbrenner's notorious grooming policy of banning long hair and facial hair except for moustaches, an edict that began as soon as he assumed ownership of the franchise and which likely reflects his education at a military academy and subsequent service in the Air Force, produced a continual source of friction between him and his charges. Memorably, Steinbrenner's disdain for hirsute unkemptness began so soon that, upon spotting long-hairs in the lineup during the 1973 home opener, he wrote down the uniform numbers of the offenders because he did not yet know who his players were. Don Mattingly was a notable violator of Steinbrenner's grooming obsession, although Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage's trademark walrus moustache was born as the acceptable limit of defiance to the Boss's possible chaetophobia. No wonder relief pitcher Sparky Lyle, another mustachioed Yankee, popularized the term "the Bronx Zoo" to describe the Yankees. Nevertheless, New York remained the baseball Mecca for free agents, even the previously-hirsute ones such as Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, who willingly depilated themselves upon signing a Yankees contract.

But if Steinbrenner had a contentious relationship with his players, that was nothing compared to his dealings with his managers. Steinbrenner fancied himself an on-field strategist as well, which did not sit well with the men he hired to actually perform that duty—one former manager, Dallas Green derisively nicknamed him "Manager George"—although Steinbrenner is just as (in)famous for the managers he fired, sometimes more than once.

During Steinbrenner's reign, no fewer than 15 managers toiled in the dugout for the Boss, with four of them—Dick Howser, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, and Lou Piniella (who had also been a Yankees' outfielder in his playing days)—having made two stints while Billy Martin, perhaps the most celebrated of Steinbrenner's skippers, lays claim to having served on five separate occasions; in fact, Piniella spelled Martin after Martin's fourth stint in 1985, only to be replaced by Martin at the start of the 1988 season—and then only to replace Martin after 68 games, which might not have been such a good idea as the Yankees had been 40–28 under Martin but only 45–48 under Piniella, who was gone by the end of the season, replaced by Dallas "Manager George" Green. In addition, Ralph Houk and Yogi Berra had managed the Yankees prior to Steinbrenner's acquisition of the franchise before working for him; Houk had been the manager Steinbrenner had inherited although Houk left under his own power after the 1973 season.

George Steinbrenner
George Steinbrenner (L) with his five-time manager Billy Martin. Is the Boss truly a viable Hall of Fame candidate?

By the mid-1990s, however, the Yankees under manager Joe Torre and with its vaunted "Core Four" players—shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, and pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera—became a dynasty, winning, between 1996 and 2009, eleven division titles, seven American League pennants, and five World Series titles including four in five years between 1996 and 2000, missing only 1997, in which the Cleveland Indians represented the AL.

Under George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees, always a storied franchise, became akin to baseball's "America's Team" even—especially—if you hated them. Steinbrenner's big, open checkbook used to buy free agents to pursue championships quickly was arguably an incentive for Major League Baseball to institute during the 1996 Collective Bargaining Agreement a luxury tax, a mechanism that penalizes financially big-payroll teams that exceed a specific spending threshold. The goal is to redistribute, directly or indirectly, that money to teams with smaller payroll to effect a competitive balance. Whether that has been effective is also arguable—for example, from 1997 to 1999, the Yankees paid out nearly $10 million in luxury tax while winning World Series in two of those three years—while the phenomenon of "moneyball," or trying to maximize player value on the cheap, among low-payroll teams, notably the Oakland A's, became a staple of the 2000s.

Steinbrenner himself became the franchise's constant presence in the media, whether making Miller Lite commercials with Billy Martin in the 1970s or making Visa commercials with Derek Jeter in the 2000s. A fictionalized version of Steinbrenner became George Costanza's (Jason Alexander) boss (and a recurring character) in the sitcom Seinfeld.

George Steinbrenner appeared on the 2011 Expansion Era Committee ballot, polling fewer than eight votes; executive Pat Gillick got the sole nod for the Hall on that ballot. If the Today's Game Committee decides that Steinbrenner's ownership of the Yankees had contributed to—and had not hindered—the club's run to seven World Series championships under his reign, this may be the year for Steinbrenner to enter Cooperstown. Why not? Bill Veeck eventually got in, although we're still waiting for Charlie Finley.

Conspicuous Commissioner: Bud Selig

As the most recent former Commissioner of Baseball, Allan "Bud" Selig has cast a giant shadow on Major League Baseball in the last quarter-century although Selig, as a baseball owner dating back to his minority stake in the then-Milwaukee Braves, has been involved in the sport for twice that time. But as the Acting Commissioner from 1992 to 1998, becoming the Commissioner later in 1998, Selig has overseen a host of changes and events in baseball: expansion to 30 teams, restructuring each league into three divisions, interleague play and a merging of the two leagues under the Office of the Commissioner, the introduction of wild card teams into the postseason, revenue sharing and an overall financial turnaround in the sport, and, notoriously, the 1994 baseball strike that cancelled the World Series, and the opprobrium surrounding the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Milwaukee native Selig grew up a fan of the hometown minor-league Brewers before eventually becoming the largest public stockholder in the major-league franchise the Braves, which had moved to Milwaukee from Boston in 1953. However, when the Braves left for Atlanta in 1965, Selig divested his stock and set about trying to bring another Major League franchise to Milwaukee. That bore fruit when in 1970 he bought the financially failing Seattle Pilots, brought them to Milwaukee, and then renamed them the Brewers after his beloved childhood team. (And the Seattle Pilots, which existed for only one season in 1969, might have languished in the Brigadoon of baseball memory were it not for pitcher and author Jim Bouton, whose landmark inside-baseball baseball diary Ball Four, which exposed the less-than-glamorous truth about baseball and its participants, documented Bouton's daily travails in the Pilots' bullpen during that season.)

Selig acted as the owner and president of the Brewers until 1992, when he became the Acting Commissioner of Baseball. During Selig's tenure with the Brewers, they made it to the postseason in 1981 and again in 1982, when "Harvey's Wallbangers," the hard-hitting crew led by Gorman Thomas and Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount and nicknamed for manager Harvey Kuenn, faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, which went to all seven games although the Cardinals won the Series. However, the Brewers soon fell into the basement for the rest of Selig's tenure.

Squaring off against then-Commissioner Fay Vincent, who accused baseball owners of colluding in the mid-1980s to suppress player contracts, both dollar amounts and lengths of term, Selig led a group of owners seeking Vincent's removal. Vincent suffered a no-confidence vote and subsequently resigned, and with no effort to find a replacement, Selig, who by now was the chairman of the Executive Council of Major League Baseball, became the de facto acting commissioner.

As acting commissioner, Selig had instituted by 1994 a wild-card spot for each league with a corresponding realignment to three divisions, from two previously, in each league, enabling the wild-card team to play one of the three division winners. The impact was now three rounds of postseason play—Divisional Series, Championship Series, World Series—which polarized fans, and not for the first time did Selig do that as he instituted further reforms. Of course, Selig needed to have the support of team owners to institute these changes, but as Selig had been a team owner himself (his daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb assumed his ownership interest in the Brewers), suspicion loomed that he was a commissioner, albeit an acting one at this point, who wasn't in the owners' pockets—rather, he had part-ownership in the trousers.

Selig was on point during the 1994 players' strike, prompted by a worsening financial situation that eventually resulted in the institution of the luxury tax and that invoked memories of the owners' collusion—including Selig's involvement—in the mid-1980s that saw the ouster of Commissioner Fay Vincent and Selig step into the vacuum. The upshot was Selig's cancellation of the World Series, the first time that had happened since 1904, and a lingering resentment and animosity among baseball fans even when play resumed in 1995. But the resumption of play in 1995 nevertheless entailed initially the use of replacement players, regarded as "scabs" in the context of labor-management relations, which fans in any case regarded as a dispute between millionaires and billionaires with the fans left holding the bag.

By 1998, fan animosity had abated while Selig, now officially named as the Commissioner of Baseball by owners' vote, introduced another innovation: interleague play. For the first time other than in spring training exhibition games and the World Series, American League and National League teams played each other as part of the regular season, with those games counting as part of every team's record. The benefit was to introduce teams and their players to fans who could only see them on television (although free agency and the continual migration of players overall had long since quashed the idea of league affiliation), but it was unsurprising that this too was controversial.

The 1998 season also featured several sluggers who seemed to have a legitimate shot at breaking the single-season record for home runs, 61, set by Roger Maris in 1961. Ken Griffey, Jr., Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, and even Gregg Vaughn all hit 45 or more home runs, but it was the chase between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs that began to grip the nation—even those with little to no interest in baseball. McGwire eventually belted 70 home runs, smashing Maris's mark, while Sosa was close behind with 66 long flies, and their exploits, along with the offensive explosion throughout baseball, seemed to save the sport by erasing the resentment over the 1994 strike.

But then the specter of performance-enhancing drugs began to loom larger as players seemed to be getting huge and baseballs flew off bats and over fences, hit by players not regarded as power threats before. Steroids became a household term—and a dirty word for those who believed that players were blatantly cheating by artificially making themselves into musclebound sluggers or flame-throwing pitchers.

Through it all, Selig was reluctant to act. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke McGwire's single-season mark, set just three years previously, by three home runs, and the outcry over PED usage grew louder and uglier as Major League Baseball—Selig, the owners, the MLB Players Association—seemed to be ignoring the issue. By 2006, baseball had instituted the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program with its clear penalties for testing positive for banned substances, and in 2007 the independent investigation by former Senator George Mitchell, asked by Selig to investigate the PED issue, returned its report, which identified 89 players alleged to have used PED including Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Gary Sheffield, all on the current BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. But by then, fan disgust was even higher than it was for the 1994 strike, with the ramifications still being felt—and sure to flare up once more with Manny Ramirez on the 2017 BBWAA ballot.

Another Selig innovation includes the "this time it counts" importance of the All-Star Game following the tie game that occurred when the 2002 game ended in an extra-innings tie because each league's team had run out of players. It was an embarrassing moment for baseball and for Selig himself—the game was played in Miller Park, the Brewers' home field in Selig's hometown of Milwaukee—but the consequence was similarly controversial: Starting in 2003, the league that wins the All-Star game would be ensured that its World Series representative would have home-field advantage, thus elevating essentially an exhibition game for the fans into a game of consequence. This innovation has just been struck down by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement concluded in December 2016.

Bud Selig
"This time it counts"--Bud Selig deciding what to do about the 2002 All-Star Game. Have we really had time to evaluate the controversial commissioner?

There is no doubt that Bud Selig has presided over one of the most eventful eras in baseball history; Jerome Holtzman, the former official historian for MLB from 1999 to his 2008 death, has called Selig the best commissioner in baseball history, which seems more like a party endorsement than an impartial assessment. Selig is certainly one of the most notable commissioners, and he has had a significant impact on the sport, and he may in fact be a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

However, Selig retired in 2015; he remains the Commissioner Emeritus of Baseball, a title that has not existed until now. Isn't it too soon to evaluate—and then decide on—his legacy? The vote on Bud Selig may in fact be a bellwether for the Hall of Fame, or at least the veterans committee aspect to deciding legacy.

Today's Game Committee Recap

Of the five player candidates, only Mark McGwire has the credentials for the Hall of Fame, but as I concluded above, voting McGwire in this year, so soon after he exited the BBWAA ballot, will look like elitist favoritism.

Albert Belle defines the bubble, at least for this year's crop of player candidates. He was a truly fearsome slugger for most of the 1990s, an offensive-rich period that may have obscured, and may continue to obscure, his record. I don't think Belle stands out during his period in the same way as Ralph Kiner and Dick Allen did during theirs; Belle looks more like Hack Wilson, also an auspicious slugger albeit one also in a high-offense era; Wilson is a Hall of Famer but as a gratuitous Veterans Committee pick. I would not vote for Belle, but if he is elected it is not as if his case is completely unjustified.

Of the three remaining player candidates, Will Clark was an excellent first baseman when he was healthy but not an elite one at any time. Harold Baines piled up impressive career counting numbers and is a strong designated hitter candidate, but he too is not distinguished enough. Orel Hershiser had a historic pitching season in 1989, when he set the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched during the regular season before being named the Most Valuable Player in both the National League Championship Series and then the World Series, and he had some excellent seasons prior to that. But, again, Hershiser was an outstanding pitcher in his peak years but never an elite one.

Among the non-players, Lou Piniella could very well sneak in as a Hall of Fame manager based on his record—he is 14th in career wins—but apart from his famous temper and on-field antics, Piniella's managerial career, although excellent, does not rise to level of elite. Davey Johnson has the better winning percentage, and proved himself to be a winner with every team he joined to manage. Furthermore, Johnson has that memorable 1986 World Series title with the Mets on his resume. Still, Johnson, like Piniella, is an excellent manager but not at the Hall of Fame level.

Of the two executives not named Bud Selig, John Schuerholtz established an outstanding track record with the Kansas City Royals and especially with the Atlanta Braves. And although only one World Series win didn't hamper Bobby Cox, Schuerholtz, less visible to the public—although not to the Today's Game Committee that will deliberate his candidacy for the Hall—does not jump out as a Hall of Fame executive. On the other hand, George Steinbrenner is probably the most recognizable team owner at least in recent history, and with his New York Yankees—unlike the Braves—establishing itself as a dynasty that can go all the way to the world championship, he simply seems like an executive who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Even if, indirectly, he got there through his pocketbook.

As for Bud Selig, he is undoubtedly one of the most influential and impactful baseball commissioners in history, as well as being one of the most controversial. Selig belongs in the Hall of Fame, and my only objection to his being elected on this ballot is that it is too soon after his retirement. I don't like playing the contingency game, because I think that if a candidate proves to be a Hall of Famer, then it doesn't matter when he is elected. But I do believe that waiving the waiting period does not allow for greater reflection.

To recap:

Mark McGwire is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. However, he will most likely not be elected this year because it is too soon after his tenure on the BBWAA ballot that was shrouded with opprobrium.

Albert Belle is a classic threshold candidate. I do not think he is solid enough to move over the threshold, but if he is elected, it is not as if he is completely unqualified.

Lou Piniella is the only eligible manager within the top 15 in career wins among all-time managers who is not in the Hall of Fame apart from Gene Mauch, who had a losing record overall and never won a World Series. Piniella may not be elected, but if he is, he is among strong company.

George Steinbrenner may not be elected simply because of his persona, but he did revive the Yankees and form a dynasty. He will be in the Hall of Fame at some point.

Bud Selig is a Hall of Famer. A controversial one, but he made a lasting impact on baseball.
Last modified on Saturday, 03 December 2016 16:10

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