The Hall of Fame index is way to separate players into different tiers. Absolute rankings are not meaningful all the time. If I were to throw out five right fielders like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, and Josh Reddick, it would be accurate to say that Reddick was the fifth ranked right fielder in the group. However, what does that even mean? Obviously, the separation between number four and number five makes that distinction practically meaningless.
That’s obviously an extreme example, but when we get to the debate over players on the outside looking in, we get to players that fans obviously have an emotional attachment to. When it’s a beloved player it becomes increasingly difficult to look at them objectively. If it is a hated player, we have the same problem. We will see both examples in the players that played a majority of their careers before 1990.
Social media doesn’t usually allow for indepth analysis and nuanced arguments. One Facebook group threw out the question of whether you would pick Parker or Oliva for the Hall of Fame if you had to pick one. Could I pick neither? Such an argument also leaves out the three names above them (in addition to Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith from the previous article). A part of that is the perception over the counting numbers that each of them put up. Some of that is the perception of the players off the field and in the clubhouse. Let’s take a look at the counting numbers.
Well, obviously Staub and Parker were better than those other guys. They had more hits and drove in more runs. They also hit for a better average than both Bonds and Clark. So, how in the hell do those two end up with more value than the bottom three? Well, the easy answer is that all numbers have a context. We have to consider the era they played in, the home ballpark, and whether those numbers were accrued over the course of a dozen seasons or twenty seasons. We also haven’t accounted for defensive value at all.
Baseball fans remember hits, home runs, Runs, and RBI. They remember batting average. They don’t remember walks, OBP, or slugging percentage. Those numbers just don’t roll off the tongue. This perception widens when we are dealing with a personal hero. Suddenly we remember the good times and forget about the bad times. We also forget about context. This is why we include peak value in the conversation. How good were these guys when they were at their very best?
This is where Bonds shines. His career was relatively short, so he didn’t have the counting numbers the others had. The index is merely a guide, so a voter could figure him not to be worthy of the Hall of Fame for any number of reasons. Like his son, he could be a little surly and that probably caused him to move around a lot. Another thing we notice in every industry is that when you are difficult to get along with, teams aren’t willing to tolerate you unless you are really good. When you stop being really good they stop employing you.
Still, he was really good when he was at his best and you really couldn’t say that about anyone else with the exception of Oliva. The others either were a grade below across the board or didn’t produce enough good seasons to make the grade. That certainly describes Parker and Clark. They had some really good seasons that were Hall of Fame quality. They just didn’t have enough of them. Staub was consistently solid, but rarely ever good.
Hall of Fame Index
Whether any of these guys is a Hall of Famer is what I like to call a “sports bar” question. It’s best discussed over a beer with friends. The index is designed to measure fitness. I won’t say that any of the bottom four are not Hall of Famers, because that is more of a philosophical question. What I will say is that there are others (as we have seen) that are more qualified to go in at this point.
Just like with all of the other articles, we will look at offensive numbers, defensive numbers, and MVP voting. These don’t necessarily tell us anything that we haven’t already seen, but they serve to explain why we are seeing what we are seeing. Occasionally, our opinions can change, but usually we already have our minds made up. This is just evidence to point us one way or another.
If we go back to the referenced social media question, we find two very different reasons why Oliva and Parker aren’t qualified. When he was healthy and at his best, Oliva was as good as the second tier BBWAA guys. He simply wasn’t healthy enough throughout his career to match their longevity. We could say that about quite a few guys. Don Mattingly immediately comes to mind from my childhood. If we are going to make allowances for that then we will have to keep that door pretty wide open.
As for Parker, he just wasn’t as good as we remember. That happens too. Sometimes a player comes up big in a big moment and becomes the stuff of legend. Sometimes a good player plays on a good team and ends up looking like something more than good. Either of those could be true of Parker as he did play on some good Pirates teams.
As for Clark and Staub, we are only seeing half of the battle (offense is weighted more than fielding in reality, but saying half is just easier). Clark in particular looks like a Hall of Famer here, but spent about the same amount of time at first as he did in right field, so he didn’t have the requisite defensive value.
Again, Parker comes out worse than we remember. Those of us that grew up watching him heard all of the stories about the legendary arm and we saw examples on the highlight reels. The measure of a player is how often they are able to succeed and not whether they are capable of the spectacular on occasion.
If anything, the offensive and defensive numbers demonstrate how tragic a case Oliva’s career truly was. He was brilliant offensively and defensively, but couldn’t stay on the field. Bobby Bonds on the other hand demonstrated why he was as valuable as he was because of his ability to hit and field.
Our final tests are the MVP tests. Invariably, we can make the mistake a justifying or torpedoing a selection based on how a player fared in the MVP voting. This assumes the voters were right. As we know, the voters often aren’t able to accurately pinpoint value and that assumes they are even trying. What the test does show is how each player was thought of when he was in the midst of his career. The BWAR test shows where he probably should have been rated had the voters been ranking them accurately. The tests aren’t perfect. Baseball-reference only tracks the top ten position players each season, so we don’t get any top 25 votes on that portion. Still, the scores should be similar if everything else is equal.
BBWAA MVP Points
|Top 25||Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
BWAR MVP Points
|Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
We would have assumed that Parker was overrated going in, but actually that was not the case. In both tests he ended up getting votes in four and five seasons in the top five. That’s pretty darn impressive. The problem comes in what happens in the other seasons. Parker and Oliva are prime examples of why I wait until a player has played ten seasons. We can assume Hall of Fame fitness before that and with some players (cough…Mike Trout…cough) that assumption is pretty safe. That isn’t always the case.
Parker and Oliva looked like Hall of Famers before they got to their tenth season, but whether it was injury or ineffectiveness, they petered out. Clark and Staub are explained fairly easily as well. Defense matters, but to many in the BBWAA it doesn’t. The Bobby Bonds experience is a little more complicated.
Beat writers and players hang out together all the time. They spend every day together. Beat writers are therefore privy to the personality quirks of every guy where casual fans may not. Modern writers have access to numbers that those from the past did not. Also, with the advent of social media, players can bypass the media and interact directly with fans. So, fans will become more keenly aware of which players are “cool” and which ones are “assholes.” Bonds might have charitably been put in the latter category.
Most beat writers wouldn’t blatantly stick it to a guy that is surly with them, but a few would. On top of that, these MVP votes are often close. If you have two guys with similar numbers you will vote for the one you think is the better “clubhouse leader”. When you start looking at the top ten or top 25 you are looking at a lot of similar players. Bonds played for a number of teams because ultimately the teams tired of his act. Still, even with all of that the BBWAA wasn’t horribly off on Bonds. Still, they didn’t give him the love he deserved. Maybe the new Veterans Committee can take up the mantle.