Ten Years After (More or Less)

Iíve been regularly posting on the I Love Baseball message board recently, kind of dipping my feet in the water after being out of the pool for a few years. A couple of years ago, on this site, I wrote that ďI don't have the energy at the moment to sort through my evolving feelings about the game over the past few years, but I'm less of a fan right now than at any time since starting university 30 years ago.Ē As quickly as possible, and starting with the most obvious, a few reasons why: ē the pall cast by the PED era. Itís hard to overstate this. From í93, when Griffey, Thomas, and Gonzalez all hit 40 HR in their early 20s, and Olerud made a run at .400 (I wrote a big thing on that season for Radio On), right through to Bondsís surreal 2001-2004 block of sea- sons, I was completely immersed in how a generation of players was dismantling the offensive record book. Bit by bit, player by player, all of that has been reduced to something between a gigantic illusion and a bad joke. Not for everyone--on ILB and elsewhere, lots of people adamantly argue that the role of steroids was always minimal, and that Bonds and McGwire and the rest are being unfairly scapegoated. I donít know--I started somewhere similar, but at a certain point I had to admit that my own enthusiasm had been severely dimmed. Baseball would like to you believe that the PED era is in the past now. As for usage, maybe, but as contro- versy, no chance--not with all of these players just now coming onto the HOF ballot. ē the Jaysí inability to re-enter the land of the living. Every now and again they tease you, and I guess itís something that they havenít sunk to the depths of the Orioles, Pirates, or Royals. They just tread water instead. ē some peripheral factors: the surfeit of Jaysí games on TV (too much of a mediocre thing; if they were in contention, that probably wouldnít be a problem); taking an interest in base- ball cards (connected to the offensive explosion) and then losing that interest; and Bill Jamesís relinquishment of the baseball-annual business to lesser competitors. I think each of those factored in. ē finally, an admission: I used to be ahead of the game, now Iím behind. When I wrote a long analysis of Joe Carter for Radio On in 1994, I felt like I had really absorbed Jamesís methods and knew what I was doing. Iím still at the same place, but now baseball analysis involves metrics like WAR and VORP and BABIP--I didnít have a clue what the latter meant (batting average on balls in play) when someone tossed it my way on I Love Baseball. So Iíve become a bystander in the evolving Sabermetric takeover of player evaluation; everyone else is twittering and tum- blering, and Iím still dunce-cappiní and kazooiní. Having said all that, I still take great interest in Hall of Fame debates. Sometime during the 2001 season, I made some projections on here as to which active players were headed for induction. I was working from Bill Jamesís contention that, at any given moment, itís normal for about 30 active players to eventually end up in the HOF. Iíve been meaning to revisit my predictions ever since, so here goes. Cutting and pasting from the original piece, here were my picks: PITCHERS -- Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, P. Martinez, Glavine, Rivera PLAYERS -- Piazza, I. Rodriguez, McGwire, Bagwell, Palmeiro, Thomas, Thome, Helton, Alomar, Biggio, Ripken, Larkin, Jeter, A. Rodriguez, Garciaparra, C. Jones, Henderson, Gwynn, Bonds, Griffey, Sosa, Gonzalez, Ramirez, Guerrero HITTER -- E. Martinez There are a different ways I could organize this, but let me start with the proverbial ele- phant in the room, the PED guys. Iíll put them into three groups: 1. Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod: Depending upon how Bonds and Clemens make out in court--a nice snapshot of what it means to be a baseball fan today--Iím of the belief that the voters will exempt these three guys from PED purgatory on the basis that they had all resoundingly cleared the HOF bar before they ever started using. I think this is a somewhat common view. Weíll find out when Bonds and Clemens go on the ballot in 2012. 2. McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, Ramirez: A.k.a., PED purgatory. Going by McGwireís showing so far-- about 25% support and dropping--these guys are simply not going into the HOF anytime soon. Iím not sure what would need to happen to turn this around. 3. Bagwell, Thome, I-Rod: What do these guys have to do with PEDs? Nothing--not that we know of, anyway, not so far. I have doubts about all three, especially Bagwell and I-Rod. (Think about the physical appearance of each of them, and combine that with the dramatic spike in their of- fensive numbers that occurred at some point. Bagwell came up as a Mark Grace type, a .300 hit- ter with 15-HR power, and for the first three years of his career, thatís exactly what he was. In 1994, he transforms himself overnight into Jimmie Foxx; in 2004, at the age of 36, he falls off the face of the Earth.) One thing that Iíve expressed on ILB and elsewhere is that, confi- dentiality agreement or not, the 100+ names on that 2003 report should become public knowledge. Otherwise, you may end up with a situation where guys like Ramirez and Palmeiro are barred from induction because somebody leaked their names, while, through sheer whim, a Bagwell dodges the bullet and gets in. But short of any revelations still to come, all three of these guys will be inducted. Okay--that leaves my 21 other picks. 4. Ripken, Henderson, Gwynn: Already in. 5. Maddux, Johnson, Rivera, Piazza, Alomar, Jeter, Griffey: These are the only guys from the list who Iíd put down as a 100% lock. Amazing how strong Riveraís case has grown since the original piece, where I included him with some equivocation (ďMariano Rivera is starting to look more and more credibleĒ) on the belief that there would have to be more than one Yankee from the late-í90s dynasty inducted. Alomarís path has been interesting too. At the time, I was trying to figure out how high heíd end up on the career hits list (eighth, I predicted). Two things proceeded to hap- pen: his career fell apart, and--based on last yearís vote, his first on the ballot--he seemingly became a sure thing anyway, falling only eight votes short. Bagwell and Walker come onto the bal- lot next year, but I canít see him missing. 6. Pedro, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, Chipper, Guerrero: You could probably move Glavine, Thomas, and Biggio into the group above, if you believe that 300 wins, 500 HR, and 3,000 hits are still invulnerable benchmarks. Because they all hung around longer they should have to get there, I wonít quite go that far, but Iím still 95% certain that all six of these guys are first-, second-, or third-balloters. Even with Pedroís many ordeals since coming over to the National League, heís still sitting with over 200 wins, a career winning pct. of almost .700, a career E.R.A. under 3.00, three Cy Youngs (and the fifth-highest total ever for career pct. of Cy Young vote), and one of the handful of greatest post-WWII seasons ever for a starting pitcher in 1999 (or 2000, take your pick). 7. Helton, Larkin: Iíve never been big on Larkinís chances, but I included him last time because most everyone else seemed to think he was HOF-bound. Last year was his first time on the ballot; he drew 51.6% of the vote, which Iím guessing is historically very promising. There will be lots of competition coming onto the ballot in the next few years, so Iím pretty much exactly where I was on his chances 10 years ago; I donít know. Helton, I think, is perilously close to no chance, although I wouldnít completely write him off yet. Heís been on steady drift since 2004, so at 37, heíd have to do something dramatic pronto. His Sabermetric numbers are there, but he doesn't have anywhere near the career totals heíd need. Walkerís support next year should tell us something about where the voters stand on numbers compiled in Colorado. 8. Gonzalez (as in, ďJuan GoneĒ--you do remember him, right?), Martinez, Garciaparra. Gonzalez goes onto the ballot next year; Iím guessing he does somewhat better than Albert Belleís 7.7% first time around, after which he disappears. Edgar drew 36% of the vote last year, his debut; not a promising start for a DH. Strange, but I never mentioned Garciaparra anywhere in the original piece, just included him on my HOF list--strange because he missed almost the entirety of the 2001 season, the first of many injuries that would derail his career. I guess I assumed that, still only 28, 2001 would be a blip from which he'd quickly recover. He did, for two more HOF-caliber seasons, then phy- sical deterioration did him in. In a way, he's Mattingly to Alomar's Puckett; their careers were all ended prematurely, but two of them had cleared the bar and two of them hadn't. If I were to knock off the confirmed PED group, and also groups 7 and 8 above, that would leave 22 of my original 31 as going in, with 9 falling short. Who would be my nine picks today to replace them? ē Albert Pujols: If heís ever linked to steroids, MLB may as well put the ďClosedĒ sign up in the shop window. ē Ichiro: You canít really compare him to any precedent. Whatever his (clear) Sabermetric short- comings, Iím pretty sure heíll go in on the first ballot. ē John Smoltz: Didnít include him last time, after which he had three good-to-phenomenal years as a closer, followed by three more very solid years as a starter. That left him with 213 wins, 154 saves, a career E.R.A. of 3.33, and a full season's worth of great post-season numbers com- piled for the Braves; I think heíll go in. (One point of contention on ILB has been how much weight should be given to Billy Wagner's dismal post-season stats. I've been arguing that post- season performance should only tip the scales if the sample is large enough--only 11.2 innings for Wagner--and that I'm more inclined to count the post-season for somebody than against him. Smoltz benefits on both counts.) ē Trevor Hoffman: Whatever the HOF bar is for a closer, I canít see that 600 saves and a sub-3.00 E.R.A. wouldnít be safely on the other side. ē Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Tim Lincecum: Not all of them--letís say one for sure, maybe two. Halladay is looking really strong at the moment. ē Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer. Today, on track to be 100% locks. But theyíre both 27; cf., Juan Gonzalez. ē Any One or Two from a Bunch of Other People: Iíve engaged in some back-and-forth on ILB with regards to Wagner and Paul Konerko the past couple of days--longshots both, but working on better resumes than you might think. Sheffield and his 500 HR are in purgatory, so no need to include him. Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Robinson Cano, Oswalt, Pedroia, Damon...there are a lot of possibili- ties. When it comes to prognostication, I still defer to Casey Stengelís famous assessment of Greg Goosen: ďWe got a young catcher right here, he's 20 years old and in 10 years, he's got a chance to be 30.Ē

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