By Dan Bernstein
Eventually I will have to abandon my desire for a more strict interpretation of what it means to be a baseball Hall of Famer, as it appears that the business of enshrinement will ensure that the doors to such immortality remain more open than not.
It’s just a museum in the hills of upstate New York, after all, and probably not worth losing sleep over the fortunes of Pete Rose, steroid users, craven executives, or any other various and sundry cheats and liars. If we really wanted to dig up retroactive dirt on everyone, it would defeat the purpose of the exercise and probably leave the rooms mostly empty.
But that doesn’t mean all principles are abandoned as we assess candidates, the process of which is more interesting than anything else. Regardless of what the honor actually means or signifies, the debate and discussion surrounding the respective resumes still fascinates, particularly as our ability to interpret and understand statistics grows with each passing year.
And the newly designed committee system is allowing for era-based reconsideration of large swaths of players, many who were exiled to the fringes by voters, left as part of the Hall of the Very Good. That this class involves those whose faces graced my television, the magazines I bought and the cards I collected in the 1970s and ’80s makes it resonate further when I try to figure out why a pair of second basemen got left off the latest special ballot.
Cases will be made for Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell as the Modern Era voters convene. All really good players (Miller excepted, of course) with the hitters now able to take advantage of the Jim Rice problem we discussed here a year ago that has lowered the bar significantly. Ever since Rice got in, all kinds of previously rejected comparisons were legitimized.
What I can’t figure out is why neither Lou Whitaker or Bobby Grich are being considered by this group, since both of them are among the best second basemen of all time and both are arguably better than others at the position already honored.
Grich compiled 70.9 bWAR and 69.2 fWAR over his 17-year career with Baltimore and California, with the latter number ranking eighth in history among second basemen. Another telling number is his JAWS score, which Jay Jaffe designed to further account for the Bill James concepts of full-career value and peak value. Grich has a 58.6 JAWS, placing him seventh among second basemen, just behind Rod Carew, with a full 15 Hall-of-Famers below him, including Frankie Frisch, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio and Nellie Fox.
Whitaker is right there alongside him, with 74.9 bWAR and 68.1 fWAR that rank him ninth among all second basemen, ever. His JAWS is 13th, too, nestled in between Robinson and Alomar. It’s astonishing that his longtime Tigers double-play partner, Trammell, gets his renewed shot, and he’s left out in the cold completely. Either of the two is rarely mentioned without the other.
Grich and Whitaker might not end up with the support from the committee to get in, but they clearly deserve proper deliberation as much or more than the Modern Era list currently compiled.
If the ranks of the Hall are going to swell, as it seems they are, it can at least be done more fairly.