It’s that time of year again, when the Hall of Fame ballots, some 430 of them, are in the hands of the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association, and the WAR mongers are out in full force tearing down the cases of such worthy candidates as Omar Vizquel and Jeff Kent, like they did with Jack Morris — while trying desperately to make a case for Scott Rolen, as they did two years ago for another very good but oft-injured player in Jim Edmonds.
I realize a lot of my baseball writer colleagues take this WAR stuff very seriously, even though the godfather of sabermetrics, Bill James, is now suggesting it might not be the be-all/end-all stat it’s cracked up to be. Because if it was, then Wade Boggs, with a WAR of 91.1, is a better all-around third baseman than either George Brett (88.4) or Chipper Jones (85), who is on the ballot for the first time this year. Now I love Boggsie, voted for him without any hesitation his first time on the ballot, mostly because of those five batting titles and a slew of other boldface (as in ‘denotes led league’) scattered throughout his record. But if you’re asking me who I want for my third baseman among him, Brett and Chipper, he comes in a distant third.
Problem is, WAR puts a heavier emphasis on walks and on-base percentage than it does on homers and run production. Let me ask you this: If you were starting your own team of non-Hall of Famers, who would you make your first pick from among Rolen, Lou Whitaker, Kenny Lofton, Dwight Evans, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles or Vlad Guerrero? If you were going strictly by WAR, which unfortunately too many GMs in baseball have become married to, Guerrero, despite a .318 career batting average, 449 homers, ten 100-RBI seasons, six seasons of 100 or more runs, would be a distant seventh in that group. Because he didn’t walk a lot — instead went up there swinging the bat and driving in runs —Guerrero’s WAR has been factored out at 59.3 while all the others are over 65.
I suspect this is why Guerrero failed to achieve election (with 71.1%) in his first year on the ballot last year when he should have been a slam dunk. It is also why Rolen, with a 70 WAR, is this year’s darling of the sabermetrics crowd.
I liked Rolen too. Thought he was one of the best fielding third basemen I ever saw. But his career is full of blanks. For starters, he had only seven seasons in which he played 140 or more games. How is that Hall of Fame? In 17 years in the bigs, he never once led the league in any category. He did have five 100 RBI seasons and six Gold Gloves, but he also had 133 fewer homers than Guerrero and 513 fewer hits.
Forget his WAR, Jeff Kent should be in the Hall of Fame.
It’s too bad he was hurt so much, just as it’s too bad Don Mattingly had only six great seasons before he got hurt. But because of that, and because the ballot is overloaded with candidates with far greater numbers, for all the clamoring on his behalf by the WAR mongers, Rolen is probably destined for the same fate as Edmonds, failing to attain the necessary 5% to stay on the ballot.
Then there’s Vizquel, whose 45.3 WAR is dwarfed by the 76.5 of Ozzie Smith, the shortstop he is most compared to. Sorry. You can’t tell me there was that much of a difference between these two superb defensive shortstops, especially when Vizquel hit .272 lifetime to Ozzie’s .262 and his 2,877 hits are the third most of any shortstop in history.
By now, you get the idea. I do not use WAR — a stat based on imaginary players that even its proponents are hard-pressed to define — as a criteria for determining a Hall of Famer. It seems to me, it’s a bogus stat designed for making the case for players who are not Hall of Famers.
Rather, I have two very simple Hall of Fame criteria:
There’s not much difference between Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith.
The first is the “see” test. In watching a player for 10 or more years, did I say to myself: “I’m looking at a Hall of Famer”? That one applied to Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken and George Brett as much as it did Morris and Vizquel. Every time I saw Jack Morris — and I saw him a lot — he was the best pitcher on the field that day and the only pitcher three different managers chose to give the ball to for Game 1 of the World Series. The four greatest fielding shortstops I ever saw were Vizquel, Ozzie, Luis Aparicio and Mark Belanger. Ozzie had the flair and the back flips, but Vizquel, for me, was the best. Made every play look easy.
The second criteria is almost as simple: Did this man dominate the game at his position? This is where Jeff Kent, who still holds the record for most homers by a second baseman, won an MVP award, had eight 100 RBI seasons and was a five-time All-Star, gets my vote — as does Edgar Martinez, the greatest DH of all time.
I voted for eight people this year, the most ever for me, but to all the WAR mongers who feel they have to agonize and computerize over all the candidates on the ballot, I have only this to say: It ain’t that hard, folks. If you have to really think about a candidate and make a case for him, he probably isn’t a Hall of Famer.