Monday, January 07, 2008


Hall Of Fame Hissy Fits

Going on mainstream sports web sites like and reading the ongoing Hall of Fame debates is quickly becoming a sick pleasure of mine. Every time I start to read the comments on the latest hackneyed ESPN "debate", I get Good Paulie and Bad Paulie whispering into each ear. Good Paulie tells me that if I continue to read the increasingly bizarre arguments for Jim Rice's Hall of Fame candidacy from frothy-mouthed computer geeks around the country, it will only result in a substantial decrease in brain matter and dates. On the other hand, Bad Paulie just tells me how frickin' entertaining it is to see these people get so worked up over this crap, and I can't argue with him. So thus I camp out on the computer and read on with a guilty conscience.

It absolutely amazes me how venomous these HOF debates can get. The problem is, many fans have pet players or players who were on their favorite team growing up, and they'll concoct as many convoluted arguments as they can to try to validate their player's HOF credentials. If you dare, dare, try to present evidence that proves they don't belong, God help you.

We're all guilty of it, to some extent. Once upon a time, being a huge Giants fan, I was ready to make a huge Hall of Fame case for Matt Williams. Obviously Williams, as much as we all love the guy, is no HOFer. I also think that Ted Simmons* should be in. Actually, I'll go one further. I think it's an effing travesty that Simmons isn't in, and even worse that he barely got a sniff from the voters. I can make a pretty good case for him (and this being Hall of Fame week, essentially, I just might do that later), and I'm just a nerd with Baseball Reference and the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract to go on.

Fortunately for my sanity and my social life, I don't really care enough to get worked up over it. If Simmons never gets elected, I'll survive and go about my life as a disgruntled Giants fan. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for a lot of these chat forum posters. You'd think some people would have better things to do than try all day to convince Internet denizens who have no HOF vote that their man is Cooperstown material, but you'd be wrong. It can get very emotional, and sometimes I wonder, if you actually do win an argument on a chat board, and the other guy says, like, "whoah, dude, you convinced me, Buddy Biancalana should totally be elected", what do you win? Some sense of self-satisfaction? I guess I'll never know.

The whole thing has a sort of Fox News Channel effect. It's loud, obnoxious, mostly counterfactual, and about 95% of the arguments made are completely asinine, but dammit, I just can't turn away, no matter how pissed off I get. I guess it's just fun to get really mad disagreeing with blowhards who have no clue what they're talking about, whether that be Sean Hannity or "ArodgotpwnedbyurMom6969" on the ESPN forums.

The player drawing the most heated discussion this go-round is probably Jim Rice, the Boston left fielder who played from 1975 to 1989. If you have about two hours to kill, go here, read Rob Neyer's argument for why Rice is not a HOFer, then read the comments section, which is rife with Bostonians and Rice sycophants skewering Neyer as if he spit on the Bible. It should give you some impression of the kind of hurt feelings these debates bring out.

For the record, I think Neyer and the other anti-Rice people (for lack of a better term) make a good case. He was a good hitter and an underrated fielder, but he was one-dimensional, he was helped a lot by Fenway Park, and really only had like three stellar years. Plus, his teammate for many years, Dwight Evans, was just as good of a hitter, for a longer timespan, and was a terrific fielder (remember the Game 6 catch?), and yet he gets zero HOF support. Does this make any sense to anyone?

Most of Rice's proponents will say he was "the most feared hitter of his era", which is not only hogwash (Mike Schmidt or Reggie Jackson, anyone?) but a completely ridiculous point to make in an intelligent debate. You can't really prove or refute it, it's just something you pull out of your ass when all the numbers prove that you just might be totally wrong. And, as Neyer showed, Rice was never, ever near the top of the pack in intentional walks, which would kind of seem to indicate that he probably wasn't really that feared after all.

Another claim trotted out by Rice's supporters is that he led the AL in home runs or total bases or whatever in (insert completely arbitrary span of years). This might be true (I think Rice did lead the majors in total bases from 1975-1986), but you can cherry pick stats like that to prove that anybody is great.

When Neyer or any of the other stat nerds refute this point, the pro-Rice side see their argument essentially boil down to "well, if you don't think Rice is a Hall of Famer, you don't know baseball! Get your head out of the trig book and get your ass in the stands!" That's a generalization, but a fair one given the goofiness of a lot of the comments on that Neyer writeup.

One more thing about Rice, too. Is it just me, or does he seem to be getting a lot of love from sportswriters when he was roundly regarded as a complete prick in his playing days? Maybe Barry Bonds shouldn't be so worried after all.

Anyway, since we find out who gets the Cooperstown call on Thursday, and since January is the most boring baseball month, we'll talk Hall of Fame in the coming days, including who'd be on my ballot (given my stathead inclinations, it shouldn't be much of a shock).

*Why do I care one bit about Simmons, a player who had essentially all of his peak years in the decade before I was born? Two words: Harvey's Wallbangers.

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