Tuesday, January 8, 2002
Pyramid scheme could really help Hall
Before we get to my plan to save the Baseball Hall of Fame -- a plan that includes a replica of an Egyptian pyramid, no less -- allow me to explain why I'm writing this column in the first place:
How can Jim Rice not have a spot in Cooperstown ...
The Baseball Hall of Fame officially "jumped the shark" for me in 1998, the year Don Sutton and Jim Rice headed the ballot. Had the Dodgers offered to trade Sutton straight-up for Rice during their respective athletic primes, Red Sox management would have giggled and hung up on them.
So who was voted in that year? You guessed it ... Don Sutton.
It didn't matter that Rice was the finest power hitter in baseball for an entire decade, averaging .305 with 33 home runs and 106 RBI from 1975 to 1986 (gaudy numbers for that era). Nope. Voters were much more impressed by the ageless Sutton, who hung around for 23 years and finished with 324 wins. Who cared if Sutton only finished with one 20-win season, or that he only topped 15 wins once over his final 12 years? If you're very good -- not great, very good -- for an extended period of time, that's enough to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. So Sutton made the cut.
As for Rice, he excelled for a shorter period of time -- just 12 seasons -- failing to notch 2,500 hits and 400 home runs for his career. And since he was renowned for being unfriendly to reporters during his career, the choice was easy. Jim Rice was out. That's baseball. They even have a screwed-up Hall of Fame.
And it's not just Rice. Gary Carter's stats are nearly identical to Johnny Bench's stats, save for the fact that Bench hit about 60 more homers and was considered a better defensive catcher (although Carter was no slouch). Jack Morris was the dominant pitcher of the '80s and served as the ace for three championship teams. Goose Gossage was the most unhittable reliever of my childhood, ending up with two rings, 310 saves and a memorable three-inning save in the transcendent '78 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees.
And yet those guys are still sitting on the Hall of Fame ballot.
... when Don Sutton does?
There's a reason I take this so personally: I was there. Carter, Rice, Morris and Gossage were the best players at their respective positions (or at least among the best) when I was growing up. Shouldn't that be what the Hall of Fame represents? Excellence over a reasonably long period of time?
The problems don't end there. Remember how your grandparents refused to use the TV remote control and insisted on getting up and changing the channels manually? If there were a sports equivalent of that phenomenon, it would be the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the prevailing theme is, "That's the way they did it back then, so that's the way we'll do it now." Not to turn into Chandler Bing here, but could the entire process be more dumb? Could it be less fan-friendly? Could it be any less thought-provoking?
Ask yourself this question: Did you argue about the Hall of Fame selections with anyone this week? Of course not ... you probably don't care. And why should you? It's like arguing about the Grammy Awards: You know they don't accurately reflect excellence in music. If they did, Toto wouldn't have won four Grammys in 1982.
And that's why none of us really care about the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the only people who do care -- ancient baseball writers -- will be dead soon, anyway. It's almost a lost cause. Almost.
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Of course, I still think the whole thing can be salvaged.
While driving to Shea Stadium five summers ago with my buddy Gus and his father, Wally, we came up with a brainstorm to save the Hall of Fame. We were inadvertently borrowing Bill James' plan to redefine Hall of Famers and "weigh them" for importance depending on their qualifications, a process James explained in his "Historical Abstract" (none of us were aware of this at the time). Regardless, I'm positive that Wally invented the "Pyramid Concept."
Here's the premise: In an ideal world, the Hall of Fame should be a place where someone could stroll in, spend weeks walking around, absorb everything about the game ... by the time they departed, they would know everything there is to know about professional baseball.
Well, the way the place is presently constructed, all the Hall of Famers are sort of lumped together. It's like having a Hall of Fame for models and putting Cindy Crawford's plaque next to the girl who modeled as the "Before" picture in the original "Weight Watchers" ad.
So why couldn't we transform it into a five-level pyramid -- seriously, an actual pyramid, like a replica of the Luxor casino in Las Vegas -- where elected players are assigned to different levels?
Bear with me ...
Ground floor of The Pyramid ... designated for marginal guys who were considered "Borderline Hall of Famers," either because of the Rice Factor (great career, not long enough) or the Sutton Factor (very good for a long time, rarely great) ... anyone voted in simply because they reached a benchmark (400 homers, 300 wins, etc.) would be thrown in here ... you could even include players who broke significant individual records (Don Larsen, Roger Maris, Johnny Vander Meer, etc. -- though, personally, I say no).
Modern "L1" examples: Carter, Sutton, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Gossage, Rice, Morris, Catfish Hunter, Wade Boggs, Tony Perez, Lee Smith, Rollie Fingers, Tom Glavine (if he keeps going strong). You get the idea.
Second floor of The Pyramid ... not quite as cluttered, not as much space ... reserved for guys who were definitely Hall of Famers, but didn't quite possess a Level 3 résumé for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Their team never won a World Series.
2. Something was missing from their career totals.
3. They never enjoyed an outrageously good single season.
4. Somebody else played their position during their time who was better.
5. Their career was shortened by injury and/or rapidly declining skills.
Modern "L2" examples: Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk, Dave Winfield, Willie Stargell, Rod Carew, Jim Palmer, Ryne Sandberg, Kirby Puckett, Carl Yastrzemski, Paul Molitor.
Reserved for the "No-Doubt-About-It" Hall of Famers ... these guys were undoubtedly the best at their position for years and years, with all the requisite "résumé" stats to match ... unfortunately, there's a distinct, crucial difference between Level 3 and Level 4 (explanation coming).
Modern "L3" examples: Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith (more on him later), George Brett, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Robbie Alomar, Eddie Murray, Greg Maddux (assuming he keeps cruising along), Randy Johnson (ditto), Dennis Eckersley (a unique case, but definitely).
These are basically "L3" guys, only there's something just inherently "greater" about them. Some possible indications:
1. Do you have to consider them in any "best of all-time" discussions?
2. Did they have transcendent games or memorable moments?
3. Did they hit 500 homers, get 3,000 hits or win 300 games?
4. Were they just dominant at times?
5. Will you always remember watching them play, even when you're 80 years old and peeing on yourself?
Modern "L4" examples: Reggie Jackson, Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Cal Ripken Jr., Nolan Ryan (a great argument here -- some don't even consider him a Hall of Famer), Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds (maybe even a little low for him, as scary as that sounds), Roger Clemens (it hurts, but it's true). (Note: Pete Rose should be an "L4 guy," Dwight Gooden should have been an "L4 guy," and Darryl Strawberry could have been an "L4 guy." None of them make it ... although Rose should be here eventually because Ty Cobb's in here, and Rose couldn't have been more of a jerk then Cobb. Also, other than Clemens and Bonds, out of the veterans playing right now, Junior Griffey, Maddux and maybe Randy Johnson have the best shots at Level Four. It's too early to tell about anyone else.)
Take a deep breath. Level 5 is the top of the pyramid, literally and figuratively. You can rattle the L5 guys off the top of your head: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Grover Alexander, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
Sixteen in all. That's it. That's Level 5. The best of the best. The Pantheon.
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Hey, maybe it wouldn't work. Maybe it's too complicated. Maybe it's too far-fetched. But you have to admit, it makes the process infinitely more interesting.
Four of my favorite wrinkles about the Pyramid Model:
1. People would argue endlessly about which players belong on which levels. It would be the "Ginger vs. Mary Ann" of sports debates. Is Koufax an "L4" or an "L5"? Does Ryan even make it past "L1"? Does Yaz crack the "L3"s? Should Brooks Robinson, Clemens and Morgan be "L4"s? Should The Eck even be an "L1"? Is Ripken an "L5" because he broke Gehrig's record?
What about Barry Bonds, who certainly seems to have the requisite credentials on paper for the Pantheon. And on and on and on ...
2. To institute the Pyramid scheme, a special selection committee would re-assign levels to every existing member. Let's say the committee features 50 members, made up of well-known players, journalists and broadcasters). Each member would vote on levels for every existing HOF member from one (lowest) to five (highest); the average score for each member (rounded up)
would determine their level; and each person would have to vote for 15 players (no more, no less) for the top level of the Pyramid.
(I mean ... wouldn't that be an immense amount of fun? How many columns would Rob Neyer be capable of writing during "Re-Assigning Committee Week"? Can't you picture Neyer in a small hotel room, surrounded by half-eaten boxes of Chinese food, 30 different encyclopedias and 20 pounds of dirty laundry strewn everywhere, looking like Campbell Scott during the final 30 minutes of "Singles"? This needs to happen.)
3. All incoming members would be assigned a level. For instance, let's say Ozzie Smith gets elected this week (and he should). After he gets selected, everyone on the Voting Committee would fill out another ballot assigning "levels" for those players from one to five, with the average score for each member (rounded up) determining their level. Makes it a little more interesting, no?
4. The Pyramid structure would look cool. Besides the aesthetic benefits of a five-story pyramid-shaped building that contains every single nugget of baseball history and resembles a pyramid, can you imagine walking around the Hall of Fame, climbing each level ... and finally reaching The Pantheon? Unbelievable. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.
Yup ... too bad it will never happen.
That's baseball for you. Instead of moving forward, our national pastime keeps moving backward and sideways. That's why the game is controlled by unions, TV money and luxury boxes. That's why big-market teams swallow small-market teams. That's why owners bitch about rising costs and then shell out gigantic, $50 million-plus deals to Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho
Park. That's why World Series games start at 8:30 every night. That's why Don Sutton was elected to the Hall of Fame and Jim Rice wasn't ... and that's why few people care in the first place.
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While we're here, since the Hall of Fame announcements happen today, I decided to fill out my own personal Hall of Fame ballot. In a perfect world, only players wielding considerable credentials (like Ozzie) would get elected at all. But since the committee has shown astounding leniency over the years, we have to "dumb down" our ballot because so many of these
players have Level 1 qualifications. That's one reason I love the Pyramid idea so much, because the shaky HOF guys get crammed together on the bottom level, where they belong.
Ozzie Smith: Yes
Forget the "Best defensive shortstop" stuff ... he was the best defensive player of my lifetime. Nobody had a bigger impact defensively and nobody played their position with more flair. Just a remarkable talent, and not only because he spruced up every episode of "This Week In Baseball" during his Padres years in the late-'70s (you could count on an Ozzie highlight every week). He was an underrated offensive player during the second part of his career ('85 to '93), as well as a clutch playoff guy for some accomplished Cardinals teams (three pennants, one title). And he was durable as hell. You could actually make the case that, in retrospect, Ozzie was the most valuable everyday player of the '80s.
Anyway, we won't forget Ozzie ... and isn't that what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be all about? He's in -- Level 3, to boot.
Jim Rice & Dale Murphy: Yes and no
You can't vote in Puckett last January, then claim that Rice isn't a Hall of Famer because he lacked longevity. Come on. Puckett's career was cut short because of glaucoma; Rice's career was cut short because he lost his bat speed in a mysterious "X-Files"-type accident (even Kathleen Turner didn't slip that fast). What's the difference? Rice was definitely a Level 1 guy.
As for Murphy, his numbers were awesome during that eight-year run from '80 to '87, but I don't remember him ever reaching that vaunted "Holy Crap" level that Rice reached from '77 to '79. His numbers (398 homers, four seasons with an OPS above .900) make him intriguing, but I can't recall the last time I said to myself, "Man, I miss seeing Dale Murphy play
I mean, Jim Rice broke his bat once on a checked swing. A checked swing!
(Note: Don't underestimate the post-Murphy era bitterness on my part. With four of Murphy's rookie cards in my possession from the thousands and thousands of baseball cards I purchased in 1978, it was like holding four winning lottery tickets as Murphy's career bloomed in the mid-'80s. Now those cards are used as coasters in the Sports Guy Mansion. Damn it all.)
Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez: No, no and no
Hey, I enjoyed the cheesy 'stache and the Bird-esque Indiana roots as much as anyone, but I can't imagine any way that Donnie Baseball makes it, when his career tailed off in the late-'80s faster than Anthony Michael Hall and Andrew McCarthy combined. He's not even remotely close, and that's before we even mention the obvious Ewing Theory ramifications here -- the Yanks promptly rolled off four championships after he retired).
(Of course, every Yankees fan believes that Mattingly was a Level 4 Hall of Famer. You haven't really lived until you argued about the Hit Man's Hall of Fame credentials at a bar with a bunch of Yankees fans. It's like arguing about the existence of dinosaurs with Carl Everett -- relevant facts, statistics and evidence simply don't matter. I'm afraid to even make fun of them about this; I never had a car bomb put under my car, and I'd kind of like to keep it that way.)
As for Garvey, his credentials look pretty good, but I was alive during that time, and trust me ... we weren't hanging out on the playground flipping for Steve Garvey cards every day. Very good player ... but he wasn't remotely special in any way. Plus, his post-baseball performance has been positively creepy.
Hernandez almost gets my vote because of his defense and his watershed "Seinfeld" cameo ("I'm Keith Hernandez. ... I won the MVP in '79"), but his power numbers just weren't there in the mid-'80s. Does a first baseman who only cracked 100 RBI once and never seemed to get his OPS over the .800-to-.850 range qualify as a Hall of Famer? I can't see it. How can you
only average 89 RBI from '84 to '87 on those Mets teams when you're batting third?
Mike Henneman, Davey Concepcion, Jeff Russell, Scott Sanderson, Tim Wallach, Lenny Dykstra, Mike Greenwell, Robby Thompson: No, no, no, no, no, no, no and no
How did these guys even sneak on the ballot? I love the fact that Mike Greenwell made the cut. High comedy. Apparently, Carlos Quintana was knocked off at the last minute.
Bert Blyleven and Tommy John: No and no
Blyleven seems to be gaining steam because of the Sutton Factor (22 years, 287 wins, 3.34 ERA and a startling 3702 K's), his infamous Uncle Charlie, one of the memorable beards of the '80s, and one of Chris Berman's best nicknames (Bert "Be Home" Blyleven). I wouldn't be outraged if he made the cut. On the other hand, I can't remember coming home from school and having my father say to me, "Let's go to Fenway and scalp tickets -- Bert Blyleven's in town!" He's out.
John's résumé was pretty similar to Blyleven (26 seasons, 288 wins, 3.31 ERA, not nearly as many K's), and he was a Red Sox killer who personified the term "crafty southpaw." Frankly, I was terrified of him. But he wasn't quite a Hall of Famer -- like Blyleven, he was never a clear-cut "This guy's one of the best pitchers alive right now" guy. Plus, he played for the
Yankees. He's out.
Frank Viola, Jim Kaat, Ron Guidry: No, no and no
Frankie V's inclusion on the ballot made me say, "Hey, Frankie V.!", but that's about it. If the Twins hadn't run him into the ground early in his career, he's probably still a fifth starter somewhere and closing in on 300 wins. Too bad. As for Kaat, he pitched before my time, but he works for the Yankees now -- that's good enough to knock him off my list. And Guidry didn't even win 175 games. I can't imagine how he even gets considered here.
(By the way, Guidry's career stats, relatively short prime, history of arm problems, notoriously skinny body and sudden decline reminds me just enough of Pedro Martinez that I just threw up in my mouth.)
Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter: Yes and no
If you needed six outs from 1977-1984, Gossage was The Guy. That has to count for something, right? Nobody was more intimidating than the Goose, one of a handful of truly memorable players from my childhood. As an added bonus, he was a solid Level 1 guy who had a surprisingly long career (23 years). And the nickname pushes him over the top. Whatever happened to great baseball nicknames like "The Goose"? Anyway, he's in.
Sutter lasted 10 years less than Gossage and wasn't quite as overpowering, although his '77 season was the greatest whatifsports.com season of all-time: 109 innings, 127 K's, 69 hits, 23 walks, 31 saves, 1.34 ERA. Good God almighty. And the fact that he invented/perfected the split-finger counts for something. But Sutter wasn't great for long enough, even if the Amish beard was a fun touch. He's out. Barely.
Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker: No and no
Both of them made me at least say, "Hmmmmmmmm." Trammell anchored some nice Tigers teams in the mid-'80s and was a fantasy draft staple at short -- let the record show that he went ahead of Cal Ripken in my draft just about every year in the '80s and early-'90s (and he was just as good defensively). But a .285 average, 185 homers, one ring, four Gold Gloves, one World Series MVP ... in the words of Joel Goodson's alumni interview in "Risky Business," "Your record is very impressive, but it's just not Princeton material, is it?" He's out.
Sweet Lou's argument was pretty similar: Best second baseman in the American League during his time, a consistent ".280/20/75" guy for more than a decade, finished with respectable numbers (.276, 244 HRs, .789 OPS, three Gold Gloves). Not quite enough. He's out. By the way, it's a little-known rule that any baseball star named Lou has to be referred to as "Sweet Lou." It's in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Dave Parker: No
And it's his own damned fault. If it's any consolation, he makes my All-Cocaine team, which is not to be confused with the '86 Mets.
Gary Carter: Yes
I loved Carlton Fisk as much as anyone, but for an entire decade (1977 to 1986), Gary Carter was the best catcher in baseball. It's not even up for discussion. And given that he anchored those Mets staffs in the mid-'80s and started the game-winning rally against Calvin Schiraldi in That Game (ugh), he's a no-brainer for Level 1. Forget that he was an annoying phony and that Marcia Clark bought her hairstyle on E-Bay from him.
Andre Dawson: No
The Hawk! Sixteen quality seasons in a 20-year career, 438 homers, one Rookie of the Year, eight Gold Gloves, one MVP, consistently a .285/30/95 guy, one of the two best right fielders of his era (along with Dave Winfield), a guy who battled knee problems during the majority of his career and still produced every season, and he even had a cup of coffee with the
But other than his '87 season with the Cubs, I can't remember ever thinking to myself, "Man, it doesn't get any better than Andre Dawson!" And don't forget, as my buddy Dan McLaughlin points out, the Hawk had a couple of chances to push playoff teams over the top (Cubs in '89, Expos in '81) and batted just .128 in his two NLCS appearances. No way he makes it on the
first ballot. Sorry.
Jack Morris, Luis Tiant: Yes and yes
I'd even vote Morris in as an "L2" -- that 10-inning, complete-game shutout in Game 7 of the '91 Series was the best "big-game" pitching performance I've ever seen. It really ticks me off that Morris probably won't make the Hall of Fame for some reason. He also won 162 games in the '80s, which speaks for itself. And remember, Morris once dismissed female sportswriters by saying, "The only time I want to talk to a woman when I'm naked is if I'm on top of them or they're on top of me," which might be one of the five or six funniest high-school yearbook quotes of all-time. Throw in that cool
handlebar 'stache and he's in.
As for Luis, I think he deserves a little leeway because he defected from Cuba in his late-20s -- nobody knows exactly how old he was -- yet he pitched at a high level for 16 seasons, won 221 games and earned the reputation as one of the finest big-game pitchers of the '70s. And he was the most charismatic starter of that entire decade.
Let's say Luis was 29 years old when he made his major-league debut in 1964, which seems like a fair guess. He rolled off an 81-52 record from 1973 through 1976, winning at least 20 games in three of those four seasons, and he was probably 41 years old in 1976. Amazing. Throw in those 221 career wins, and Luis gets my vote for Level 1.
(Looooooo-ie! Loooooo-ie! Looooooo-ie!)
Until next year ...
Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.