Thinking about baseball (just a quick riff on the Hall of Fame)

Joe Posnanski had a (typically outstanding) blog post on Thursday about the baseball Hall of Fame.  He decided to come up with an all-star team of his lifetime, and in the course of doing so hit upon a very good idea, namely listing the top 5 players at each position in the Poz Era.

This led to an examination of Gary Sheffield’s Hall of Fame candidacy.  Sheffield officially retired on Thursday after not playing at all in 2010.

Posnanski noted Sheffield’s well-deserved reputation as a “scary” hitter, one who particularly cleaned up on mediocre pitchers.  I witnessed this phenomenon in person at this game.  I have never seen a home run leave the playing field as quickly as Sheffield’s first-inning blast off poor Victor Santos, who instinctively ducked as the baseball left Sheff’s bat; approximately .3 seconds later, the ball hit the batting eye just a few feet above the center field wall.

However, as good a hitter as Sheffield was, he was not a good defender, and as Posnanski points out, corner outfielders are supposed to hit.  Thus, when compared to his contemporaries Sheffield is not a top-5 right fielder.

I thought this was an excellent way to evaluate his Hall of Fame argument.  Posnanski did me a favor in a way, because I have been on the fence about whether Sheffield is a Hall of Famer.  JoePo was considering Sheffield a possible “yes” until conducting this little study.  I’m inclined to agree with his current position, which is that Sheffield has to wait in line behind a number of other corner outfielders.

This brings me to a second point, and maybe the main focus of this admittedly unfocused post.

One of the things you hear (or read) a lot is people complaining about BBWAA voters casting a ballot for a player for the first time after several years on the ballot.  Bert Blyleven is a good example.  It took 14 years for Blyleven to finally be elected.  He didn’t win any more games or strike out any more batters in those 14 years, but writers who hadn’t voted for him at first started voting for him later.  Why not vote for him the first time?  He’s either a Hall of Famer, or he’s not.

I understand this argument, and yet…

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, of course, but if I did, honestly compels me to admit that I probably would have not been initially certain of Blyleven’s worthiness.  I certainly think he’s a deserving Hall of Famer now, but there was a time I wasn’t so sure — and it’s not just Blyleven.

I have only recently come around to the notion that Larry Walker deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.  I like to think I know a little bit about baseball, but I have had a hard time evaluating him, thanks mostly to Coors Field.  I’m now comfortable enough to say that Walker belongs in the Hall, but I can easily understand a writer taking a few years to come to that conclusion.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Gary Sheffield retired Thursday.  On Friday, Jim Edmonds announced his retirement. Like Ted Williams, Edmonds homered in his last at bat as a major leaguer.  Unlike Williams, Edmonds isn’t a “lock” Hall of Famer.

Tangent:  thanks to Bill Deane and some of his friends, we know that Edmonds is the 45th player to homer in his final at bat in the majors.  It’s a very interesting group of players that includes Albert Belle, Mickey Cochrane, and Joe Frazier (not the boxer). Frazier, who among other things once managed the Mets, died this week.

Until recently, I was not on the Edmonds Hall of Fame bandwagon, but now I am starting to believe that Edmonds, like Walker, merits induction.  I think that center field is an under-represented position in the Hall (just one reason why I support Dale Murphy’s candidacy), and it is hard to argue with the notion that Edmonds is one of the outstanding centerfielders of his time.

Posnanski rates him second in the Poz Era (forgetting to list Murphy, despite Poz regularly putting Murph on his Hall of Fame ballot), and that may be just about right. By that reckoning, Edmonds is only a non-Hall of Fame type if you believe that of all players who have mostly played center field in the last 40 years, only Ken Griffey Jr. is a Hall of Famer.  That strikes me as unlikely.

Of course, you could be more of a Bernie Williams or Andruw Jones supporter than an Edmonds loyalist, and I can understand that, although I don’t think either of those players had as good a career as Edmonds.  The point (assuming there is one) is that at this moment in time, Jim Edmonds is arguably a very serious candidate for the Hall of Fame, and yet it is doubtful that 75% of the BBWAA voters (or even 50%) currently perceive him that way.

Ten or fifteen years from now, that could change.  And that’s okay.

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