SweetSpot: Dale Murphy

Wait, another Hall of Fame column? Hey, there's never a bad time to talk about the Hall of Fame.

I was talking to Jim Caple today, and at some point the discussion diverged to Jack Morris and his chances to get in next year ("Unlikely," Jim says) and then I pointed out Joe Posnanski's line about Dale Murphy being the big winner on this year's ballot because he gets booted off the ballot and into Veterans Committee land. Joe's theory being that Murphy has a much better chance now of getting elected.

[+] EnlargeDale Murphy
AP Photo/Rusty KennedyDale Murphy is no lock to be elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
"Not so fast," Jim said, making a good point: The Veterans Committee hasn't exactly been a free ride of late. Sure, it's elected a lot of owners and executives and umpires in recent years, but the only post-integration player elected in the past decade has been Ron Santo last year. And, frankly, he had to die to finally get elected.

In fact, the Veterans Committee has elected very few post-integration players in the past 25 years:

Ron Santo, 2012 (66.6 WAR, 43.1%)
Bill Mazeroski, 2001 (32.2 WAR, 42.3%)
Orlando Cepeda, 1999 (46.1 WAR, 73.5%)
Larry Doby, 1998 (47.0 WAR, 3.4%)
Nellie Fox, 1997 (46.3 WAR, 74.7%)
Jim Bunning, 1996 (56.7 WAR, 74.2%)
Phil Rizzuto, 1994 (38.1 WAR, 38.4%)
Red Schoendienst, 1989 (39.0 WAR, 42.6%)

All of these players had a little something "extra" to help get them in: Santo died, Mazeroski was regarded as the best fielding second baseman in history and hit that Game 7 home run in the World Series, Cepeda was one of the first Latin stars, Doby helped break the color line, Fox and Bunning were just a few votes shy of election by the BBWAA, Rizzuto was a famous Yankee, and Schoendienst also had a successful career as a manager that included a World Series title.

Still, that's only eight players in 25 years. Meanwhile, the Veterans Committee has elected five umpires, nine managers and eight executives (not including the Negro Leagues selections).

So Murphy's case isn't exactly all that much better. He peaked at 23.2 percent on the BBWAA ballot, lower than any of the above except Doby.

The next turn of the Veterans Committee will look at those who made their contributions post-1972, but the rules state players must be retired at least 21 years, so Murphy, who retired in 1993, won't be eligible in 2013.

The last time the VC voted on post-1972 candidates, only Pat Gillick was elected. Dave Concepcion received eight of the 16 votes (12 needed for election), while the other players all received fewer than eight (Vida Blue, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub). So I assume the VC will just recycle through a similar ballot, although it would be nice to add Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich and Willie Randolph to the ballot. Evans and Randolph weren't eligible last time around. Not that any of those players other than Concepcion have a chance.

Plus, with Joe Torre and Tony La Russa also being eligible, those are pretty automatic selections.
Jerry Crasnick has a nice story on Dale Murphy and the push his family made for him on his final year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Murphy has no shot at getting elected after receiving just 14.5 percent of the vote a year ago; his family needed to start the campaign five years ago. Murphy doesn't have a strong Hall of Fame case despite his two MVP Awards, but you do wonder why his support never built after getting 19.3 percent and 23.2 percent of the vote his first two times on the ballot. Jim Rice, a contemporary and player of similar career value -- Baseball-Reference has Rice at 44.3 WAR and Murphy at 42.6 -- started a little higher than Murphy, but not that much higher at 29.8 percent, and slowly built Hall of Fame momentum until he got elected in 2009, his final year on the ballot.

[+] EnlargeDale Murphy
AP Photo/Rusty KennedyDale Murphy was voted the NL MVP after the 1982 and 1983 seasons.
The Rice/Murphy comparison is even more difficult to understand when factoring that Rice could be a bit surly at times and wasn't really well-liked by the media while Murphy is universally regarded as one of the class individuals in the game's history. It certainly isn't a "fame" thing; yes, Rice played in Boston, but Murphy was one of the biggest stars of the '80s, with Braves' games broadcast all over the country on TBS.

Rice has some statistical advantages in his favor -- he hit .298 lifetime versus Murphy's .265 mark, had eight 100-RBI seasons to Murphy's five -- but Murphy played center field, got on base at nearly the same rate since he walked more, ran better and Rice received a big advantage from Fenway Park. Neither player reached 400 home runs (Rice had 382, Murphy 398) or 1,500 RBIs (1,451 for Rice, 1,266 for Murphy), but Rice got the support.

Of course, you can't really create a Hall of case around a Jim Rice comparison, since Rice is one of the weakest Hall of Famers the baseball writers have elected. Let's compare Murphy to two other 1980s outfielders: Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. Many think Raines has a better Hall of Fame case than Rice, Murphy or Dawson.

If we look at each player's "Hall of Fame" seasons -- what I'll call a season with 4.0 WAR or greater -- we get this:

Rice: Five seasons, 29.2 total WAR
Murphy: Six seasons, 36.2 total WAR
Dawson: Six seasons, 37.3 total WAR
Raines: Six seasons, 37.5 total WAR

So, yes, at his peak Murphy was awesome. He even compares favorably to first-ballot outfielders like Dave Winfield (six seasons of 4-plus WAR, total of 32.6) and Tony Gwynn (seven seasons, total of 39.6 WAR). What Murphy lacks are some of those 2-win and 3-win seasons, seasons that add to a player's career totals and help cement a legacy. Those aren't really Hall of Fame seasons, but they are seasons that Hall of Fame voters factor in. Jay Jaffe has a more in-depth statistical look at Murphy's career.

There is one interesting side note to Murphy's case. As many voters decline to vote for PED-tainted candidates, or rebel against all these fancy new stats, you might think they would be more inclined to vote for "clean" players like Murphy (if we can assume anybody was clean, even in the '80s, it would be Murphy), but that hasn't been the case at all. Sometimes you just can't please the Baseball Writers Association of America. And sometimes it elects Jim Rice.

I'm not an actual Hall of Fame voter. But if I did have a ballot, here's what it would look like.

Yes votes

Jeff Bagwell: He's vastly overqualified by even tough Hall of Fame standards, an outstanding all-around player who was one of the very best of his generation. A "no" vote on Bagwell can only be justified under ... well, I don't believe it can.

Barry Larkin: As valuable as Ozzie Smith, I view him as one of the top 10 shortstops of all time. Easily qualified by even tough Hall of Fame standards.

Edgar Martinez: I wrote about Edgar a couple years ago. I admit to some bias as a Mariners fan, but Martinez is simply one of the best hitters of all time. His career was a little short, and yes, he spent most of his time as a designated hitter, but he was so dominant at the plate that he deserves the votes.

Mark McGwire: We all know the issues. Look, eventually these guys will get in ... the Hall of Fame won't stand for the baseball writers determining a moral standard for election to its Hall of Fame. The Hall doesn't belong to the writers; they are merely a conduit for election. It might take five years or 10 years or 25 years, but time will pass and McGwire and others from his generation will get in.

Rafael Palmeiro: Leaving aside the PED issue, there's obviously no precedent for leaving out a player with Palmerio's career credentials -- 569 home runs (12th all time), 3,020 hits (25th), 1,835 RBIs (16th), 1,663 runs (31st) and 5,388 total bases (10th). You do read things like "Palmeiro was never one of the best at his position" as justification for not voting for him. But I don't think that's quite accurate. Using Baseball-Reference WAR, here are the top five first basemen in the majors from 1989 to 2004:

Palmeiro twice rates as the best first baseman in the league, second another time and has two other seasons in the top five (plus one season as the best DH). On top of the career totals and amazing durability, that's good enough for me.

Tim Raines: The second-greatest leadoff hitter of all time, comparable in value to Tony Gwynn. Should be a lock, but hasn't reached 40 percent of the vote during his four years on the ballot. SweetSpot readers give Raines the "yes" nod by an 85-15 vote.

Alan Trammell: I didn't write about Trammell, but his Hall of Fame support has been surprisingly minimal and he has no shot of getting in this year. In reality, you can't find two players much more identical than Larkin and Trammell.

So close I would feel guilty if I had an actual ballot

Jack Morris: I think those who rely solely on WAR sell him short. He survived in an era when most starting pitchers didn't last long enough to establish Hall of Fame credentials. He did have a certain aura about him that doesn't show up in the statistics. As I wrote the other day, he's very close. SweetSpot voters are split as well: 54 percent say yes, 46 percent say no.

Worth strong consideration, and maybe I'll change my mind in the future

Fred McGriff: I wrote on the Crime Dog over the weekend. I could be wrong here; of the nearly 3,500 votes in the SweetSpot poll, 83 percent of you consider McGriff a Hall of Famer ... a huge split over the criminally low support the BBWAA has given him (just 18 percent last year).

Larry Walker: My friend Jim Caple asks how I could consider Martinez a Hall of Famer, but not Walker, considering Walker's all-around brilliance, similar career length (8,030 plate appearances for Walker, 8,672 for Martinez) and similar OPS+ totals (147 for Martinez, 140 for Walker). I'll investigate Walker further next year, but three things still bother me:

(1) His home/road splits during his Coors Field days are generally quite large:

1995: .343/.401/.701 at home, .268/.361/.484 on the road
1996: .393/.448/.800 at home, .142/.216/.307 on the road
1997: .384/.460/.709 at home, .346/.443/.733 on the road
1998: .418/.483/.757 at home, .302/.403/.488 on the road
1999: .461/.531/.879 at home, .286/.375/.519 on the road
2000: .359/.446/.615 at home, .259/.371/.399 on the road
2001: .406/.483/.773 at home, .293/.416/.549 on the road
2002: .362/.453/.671 at home, .312/.387/.530 on the road
2003: .338/.469/.551 at home, .227/.370//395 on the road

(2) Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Todd Helton -- a lot of players put up monster numbers in Coors in the '90s and early '00s.

(3) Martinez didn't have a long career, because the Mariners screwed around with him for three years. Walker only reached 8,000 plate appearances because he was very injury-prone -- he missed 495 games during his prime years with various injuries. (Walker played 140-plus games just four times; Martinez did it nine times.)

Bernie Williams: A brilliant player for eight seasons and a key player on four World Series champs. But the Hall of Fame is simultaneously a mix of peak performance and endurance; Williams' peak value is close, but I believe he falls short on the career trek.

A little short for my tastes

Dale Murphy: Similar to Williams, except he won two MVP Awards but lacks the rings. His run was even shorter -- really only an outstanding player from 1982-1985, plus 1980 and 1987.

Lee Smith: I'm not a big fan of closers, even if they did last forever. When I wrote about Smith, my biggest issue is that I don't think he was ever the best closer in the game. It might also be worth considering that the four modern closers in the Hall -- Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Dennis Eckersley -- were all closers for World Series winners. Smith appeared in only four postseason games in his career (and lost two of them).
Tim RainesRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesTim Raines is often cited as the second-greatest leadoff hitter in MLB history.
There are a lot of columns and analysis out there advocating the case for Tim Raines for the Hall of Fame. I probably won't add anything new to the discussion, but let me start here:

Player A is Raines. Player B is Tony Gwynn. That final column is times reached base. Yes, Raines reached base more often in his career than Gwynn, in just slightly more plate appearances. I'm not the first writer to come up with that comparison. Joe Posnanski, among others, is especially fond of this factoid. The point of the statistic isn't to bring down Gwynn, rather to show how potent and devastating an offensive player Raines was. The arc of his game was a little different than Gwynn's but the results are similar: Gwynn got more singles, Raines walked more and had a little more power. He was one of the great base stealers of all time and scored more runs in his career than Gwynn.

That's what Raines did: He scored runs. He's 51st on the all-time list and of the 50 players ahead of him, all eligible candidates are in the Hall of Fame except for Jimmy Ryan and George Van Haltren, two 1890s outfielders; turn-of-the-century shortstop Bill Dahlen; and Rafael Palmeiro.

A common refrain about Raines from his advocates is that he was one of the best players in baseball over a span in the 1980s. This isn't some after-the-fact hocus-pocus going on. It was widely believed at the time. In a 1984 Sports Illustrated piece on Raines, Pete Rose said: "Right now he's the best player in the National League. Mike Schmidt is a tremendous player and so are Dale Murphy and Andre Dawson, but Rock can beat you in more ways than any other player in the league. He can beat you with his glove, his speed and his hitting from either side of the plate." In his annual Baseball Abstracts, Bill James often argued the case of Raines' all-around brilliance. Raines finished fifth, sixth and seventh in MVP votes, despite playing for mediocre Expos teams.

Raines' five-year peak was 1983 to 1987. According to Baseball-Reference's WAR ranking, the top five players during those years were Wade Boggs (39.7), Rickey Henderson (34.1), Cal Ripken (33.3), Schmidt (31.4) and Raines (30.7). Pretty nice company. (The next five were Alan Trammell, Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Murphy and Keith Hernandez.)

To be fair, this alone doesn't make him a Hall of Famer. I checked every five-year period since 1969 (1969 to 1973, 1970 to 1974, etc.) and not all of the names that appear in the top five are Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers. Heck, Sal Bando rated as the best player in baseball from 1969 to 1973.

Some characterize Raines as having too short of a peak level of dominance. From 1988 to 1995, he averaged .283/.375/.409, with 81 runs and 33 steals per season. Maybe not an MVP candidate anymore, but still a good player, top leadoff hitter and valuable contributor. He's hardly alone in this aspect. He had six seasons with an OPS+ of 130 or higher, the same as Jim Rice, Dawson and Ernie Banks, and more than Kirby Puckett, Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Tony Perez or Robin Yount.

Maybe Raines doesn't have a slum-dunk case. But he has a case. Maybe voters have forgotten his great years in Montreal (and they have forgotten; he received only 37 percent of the vote last year). Maybe they remember his final seasons with the Yankees, when he became a part-time player on two World Series champions. Maybe they can't believe he compares favorably with Tony Gwynn.

Lou Whitaker & Alan TrammellAP Photo/Lennox McLendonLou Whitaker and Alan Trammell formed one of the best double-play combinations in history.
With Jim Thome hitting his 600th home run and the Cubs unveiling a statue last week to honor Ron Santo, the Hall of Fame has been on my mind. I'll go more in-depth on Hall of Fame analysis in the offseason, but here are 10 eligible players who deserve a plaque in Cooperstown.

Catcher: Ted Simmons. Simmons was a career .285 hitter with more than 2,400 hits and during his 1971-1980 peak he hit .301/.367/.466. Only Yogi Berra has more RBIs among catchers -- yes, Simmons has more than Bench, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter or Carlton Fisk. He has more hits than any catcher except Ivan Rodriguez. I'm not saying Simmons was better than those guys, but he produced at the plate like few catchers.

First base: Jeff Bagwell. Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols and Jeff Bagwell: The four greatest first basemen of all time. Bagwell received only 41.7 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot. He'll get in eventually.

Second base: Lou Whitaker. Here are the players who rank ahead of Whitaker on Baseball-Reference's WAR (wins above replacement-level) list for second basemen: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Nap Lajoie, Charlie Gehringer and Frankie Frisch. That means Whitaker ranks just ahead of Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg. OK, maybe you don't think Whitaker is quite as good as those three. But he had a terrific all-around game, with good power (242 home runs), patience (.363 career OBP -- the same as Biggio, 19 points higher than Sandberg), a good glove and speed on the bases. Yet he received only 15 votes his first year and was booted off the ballot.

Third base: Ron Santo. Christina Kahrl made Santo's case here.

Shortstop: Alan Trammell. Barry Larkin received 62 percent of the vote last year and should deservedly make it this year, so I'll stump for Trammell, who peaked at 24 percent last year but is running out of time, as it was his 10th year on the ballot. Trammell hit .300 seven times, won Gold Gloves, was the best player on a World Series winner and should have won the 1987 AL MVP Award.

Left field: Tim Raines. Arguably the best player in the NL in the 1980s, or at least for a five- or six-year span. (B-R ranks him fifth, behind Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy, Ozzie Smith and Keith Hernandez, but Raines wasn't a rookie until 1981. Give him another season and he'd move up to second.) He reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn (3,977 to 3,966, in just 127 more plate appearances). He was one of the greatest basestealers of all time.

Center field: Dale Murphy. If you like peak value, then Murphy is your guy.

Right field: Larry Walker. His case isn't a slam dunk, but I was surprised he fared so poorly on his first year on the ballot (20.3 percent). The various injuries hurt his counting stats and the three batting titles are discounted a bit because of Coors Field, but the guy still produced a .313/.400/.565 and was regarded as the best right fielder in the game for many years.

Designated hitter: Edgar Martinez. Simply put: One of the greatest hitters of all time.

Pitcher: Kevin Brown. Now that Bert Blyleven finally made it, there isn't an obvious pitcher. The six highest guys on B-R's list would be Rick Reuschel, Brown, Luis Tiant, Tommy John, Jerry Koosman and David Cone. Brown received just 12 votes last year, despite 211 wins, two ERA titles, a remarkable stretch from 1996 to 2001 when he posted a 2.53 ERA during the height of the steroid era, and a World Series title with the Marlins. Plus, he helped the Red Sox win it all in 2004.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

Stars of the Forgotten '80s

July, 23, 2011
The recent votes for the Hall of Fame have seemed to engender a lot of controversy. Whether it's Bert Blyleven finally getting in thanks to the efforts of sabermetricians such as Rich Lederer and Jay Jaffe, angry disagreements over the BBWAA’s elections of Jim Rice or Andre Dawson, or dickering over why Bruce Sutter got in before Goose Gossage, the subject seems to inspire debate, even when all-time greats like Roberto Alomar and Blyleven are getting their due.

It’s in that spirit of complaint that we should ask if a big part of the problem is what LCD Soundsystem called “the unremembered ’80s.”

Since I’m sure some will complain that a decade starts with the ‘0’ year and others that it ends with it, let’s start by casting a wider net and look at the WAR leaders for 1980-90, while noting who’s been voted to Cooperstown and who hasn’t. It’s admittedly quick and dirty, but it’s a place to start the conversation. Looking at the 15, it’s great for the 10 who have gotten their due. (Sure, we can kibitz over Dawson for all sorts of reasons, but he was nevertheless a great player.)

Starting from here, you could put together an excellent lineup of stars from the ‘80s who haven’t made it into the Hall of Fame. Going position by position:

Catcher: Probably the weakest position, but Lance Parrish’s 324 career homers and 35.7 WAR (28.8 in the ’80s) would suit. Parrish was also one of the best-throwing catchers of his day, gunning down 39 percent on his career, helping to land him on eight All-Star teams. Effectively, he was to the AL what Gary Carter was for the NL.

First Base: Back in December, Mark Simon put together a nice overview of the case for why Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall. I’ve slowly started coming around to this point of view, aided by the additional information from Michael Humphreys’ book "Wizardry" on all-time fielding greatness -- recommended for any stathead’s bookshelf -- with the finding that Hernandez rates as the best fielder at first in baseball history. Hernandez had all the virtues you'd want in a first baseman minus the overwhelming power.

What might surprise people is that it’s Hernandez who shines via WAR, and not New York’s other first baseman, Don Mattingly. It really shouldn’t surprise anybody. As great as Donnie Baseball was, he burned very, very brightly so very, very briefly. He has a good argument for being baseball’s best ballplayer for four years -- and then he wasn’t that guy anymore, playing through injuries and declining effectiveness. As great as his peak value was, he doesn't even present the decade’s best argument for inducting a briefly game-best ballplayer. (We’ll get to Dale Murphy shortly.)

Second Base: Has to be Lou Whitaker.

Once in a while, you’ll still get the odd stathead who argues that the BBWAA doesn’t make huge mistakes, making the easy comparison of its track record for putting people into the Hall against the various flavors of Veterans Committees the process has been saddled with over the years. Fair enough, but what about Lou Whitaker? The BBWAA eliminated Whitaker from all future consideration in his first year on the ballot, one of its most spectacularly thoughtless decisions where Hall voting is concerned.

Whitaker was the best second baseman in baseball between Joe Morgan and Robbie Alomar. Whitaker is the post-World War II WARP leader among all Hall-eligible players not in the Hall of Fame; he beats Sandberg and Willie Randolph fairly easily. He also beats Bobby Grich, 69.7 WAR to 67.6. Whitaker tops Raines (64.6) and Larkin (68.9) and Trammell (66.9).

But by receiving just 15 total votes in his first (and last) year on the ballot, Whitaker was dropped forever after from BBWAA consideration, because he didn’t reach the five-percent cutoff. He deserves much, much better, so we can hope this is one of those mistakes that whatever rules apply in 2015 or later can get him voted in by the Veterans Committee, the electoral college or the Diet of Worms. Somebody has to get this right, don’t they?

Third Base: Like catcher, the choice may fall short in a Hall of Fame argument, but Buddy Bell (60.8 career WAR) was a fine defender and paragon of professional hitterdom, but because most of his career was spent on dead-end Indians and Rangers teams, he may be better remembered for his nondescript days in the dugouts of the Tigers, Rockies and Royals.

Shortstop: If Whitaker has been flat-out screwed by the process, there’s still some hope that ’80s great Alan Trammell will get his due from Cooperstown. Tram was the signature player from those great-to-good Tigers teams of the ’80s that seem to have been collectively forgotten ever since their manager, Sparky Anderson, got elected. Maybe Trammell suffers from being the best shortstop in baseball before Ripken, and maybe he’ll get his due after Barry Larkin gets voted in, but there really shouldn’t be any controversy over voting him in. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system puts Trammell seventh overall among Hall-eligible shortstops (leaving Alex Rodriguez out of the conversation since his career’s still a going concern).

Outfield: Tim Raines should be a no-brainer, but if Parrish’s case paled next to Carter’s in front of the current electorate, it shouldn’t be surprising that the second-best leadoff hitter of all time managed to be caught in the same sort of tunnel vision just because he happened to be a contemporary of Rickey Henderson. Although there’s nothing to be done for Whitaker, Rock should get the benefit of the same sort of campaign run by those who previously worked so hard to get Blyleven to Cooperstown. This is one of those oversights that should be corrected in the next couple of years.

As I mentioned, I’d run with Dale Murphy as a worthwhile Hall of Famer at a time when we’re putting Rice and Dawson in. Like Dawson, Murphy had a multi-year run in the sun as someone widely considered baseball’s best player, winning back-to-back MVPs in 1982 and ’83 (and arguably deserving another in 1987). Whereas Mattingly had a four-year run, Murphy's started in 1980 and ran through ’87, producing 264 homers and a .517 slugging. In some ways he had Carter’s career in reverse -- it didn’t really take off until he was taken out from behind the plate and stuck in the outfield to stay. Murphy finished with 398 homers, a low tally by today’s standard, but that's more than Rice. And with a 45.7 career WAR to Rice’s 41.5, maybe one of the signature players of the ’80s deserves reconsideration.

For right field, you could go for Dwight Evans for career value. His 61.8 total WAR puts him among the 150 top players all-time, but Dewey was as much a star of the ’70s as the ’80s -- he just aged well, like a fine wine. Since the ’80s are a controversial era, let’s go with a controversial great: Darryl Strawberry. I wouldn’t put him in the Hall, but in the ’80s he ranked seventh in runs created with his bat (Rbat on Baseball-Reference), behind five Hall of Famers and Murphy.

Starting pitching: We’ve left moundsmen to the side, but there’s a good reason for that -- Jack Morris, and the odd notion that somehow he was a great pitcher. Given that the ’80s comprised the bulk of Morris’ useful career, you’d expect that he’d rate among the best pitchers of the era. He doesn’t.

Taking a look at the pitchers’ table, you’re sure to ask: Where’s Morris? Take it all the way down to 15th, and that’s where you’d find the mustachioed workhorse -- behind Teddy Higuera and Bruce Hurst, and behind fellow warhorse Charlie Hough.

The top 10 is an interesting group itself, because it includes so many guys who suffered major arm injuries or early burnout. The ’80s represented a new, tough challenge for pitchers. Run-scoring increased, and a lot of guys broke down trying to live up to workload standards established in the ’60s and ’70s. Gooden, Tudor, Saberhagen, Hershiser -- outside of Clemens, the best pitchers of this generation all blew out their arms. The field was open for odd ducks like Mike Scott and Dave Stewart to wind up having tremendous but brief runs of greatness, but as wonderful as they were, nobody’s putting them in the Hall of Fame.

Let's bring this back to Morris. Say you want to just look at the good bits of Morris’ career -- 1978-92. Morris was just the seventh-best pitcher in that span via WAR, behind the Rocket, the Ryan Express, the Eck and Bert Blyleven, not to mention those stars of the ’80s who usually don’t get much press -- Dave Stieb and Bob Welch.

What Morris leads in from his own heyday is two big counting stats. First, there’s his 236 wins. That’s a product of three things: playing with a star-studded lineup, great run support and his durability. In the rush to condemn Morris’ worthiness, the durability seems to get short shrift, but he did throw 400 more innings than anybody else in baseball in this “Age of Morris.” If you want to argue that a man should make the Hall for being durable during an age of fast burnouts, that’s not such a bad thing.

But at that point we may as well start talking about Stieb’s worthiness as well, since he had the best balance of durability and quality during this time. But like Whitaker, Stieb is someone the BBWAA forgot, eliminating him in his first year on the ballot in 2004 with just 1.4 percent of the vote. But that isn’t going to stop me from tabbing Dave Stieb as the starting pitcher of the ‘80s, not Morris. Besides Stieb’s leading WAR tally, he was third in wins (158), behind Morris (177) and Welch (164), tied with Fernando in shutouts with 29, and his ERA+ of 128 tops even Doc Gooden (125) and the oft-injured Tudor (126). Besides, Stieb had no-hitters broken up in consecutive 1988 starts with two outs and two strikes in the ninth, and a perfect game busted up with two outs in the ninth in 1989. (He did finally get a no-hitter in 1990, against the Indians.) If anyone in this field deserves a break, it’s Stieb.

Closer: The overall leader in saves from 1980-90 was Jeff Reardon with 285, but the better pitcher was slow-shufflin’ Lee Smith with a 23.8 WAR to Reardon’s 17.4, a tally that also tops those of Dan Quisenberry (23.6) and Dave Righetti (23.0). Smith eventually set the record for saves and currently rates third all-time with 478, with 265 of those coming in the broadly defined ’80s.

Why isn’t Smith in Cooperstown? To some extent he’s being penalized for the fact that standards for Hall-worthy closers are still being made up as we go along. But another problem is that Smith’s career has one foot in the era when closers threw 100 innings and settled for 30-save seasons, and the other in the Eck era where closers have been reserved for ninth-inning save opportunities alone. Smith doesn’t properly belong in either, so you can’t bundle him with Rollie Fingers and Goose and Sutter and Quiz on the one side, or with Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera on the other. Reaching the postseason just twice in an 18-year career probably does him no extra favors with the voters.

We can’t know exactly why the ’80s have been overlooked in terms of the Hall, but given the presence of several all-time greats at key defensive positions -- like Whitaker and Trammell -- an all-time great leadoff man in Raines, a nice power tandem in Straw and Murph, and perhaps the best starting pitcher in baseball over a decade in Stieb, I’d enjoy taking my chances with these guys against all comers. They do not deserve to be forgotten, and one hopes that several of them -- beyond a likely like Raines -- get their due.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Here is why Friday's Baseball Today podcast with myself and researcher, writer, Mets/Rays fan extraordinaire Mark Simon is a must-listen:

1. Mark discusses his rules for being allowed to root for a second favorite MLB team, our emailers chime in and I admit to softening on my original stance. That said, I still won't root for an AL team.

2. Ben Zobrist goes absolutely nuts at Target Field, but what are our expectations for him?

3. We bang the drum about the Cleveland Indians, at least ever so slightly. Does this surprising bunch actually have staying power?

4. Remembering the anniversary of one of the biggest strikeout games in history, with a sidebar of Mark's recollections on the pitcher who accomplished this, as well as something good-guy Dale Murphy did under the radar.

5. We examine the big weekend series, excluding the one each of our favorite teams are playing in. A hint: Big night for Ervin Santana!

Plus: Well, the emails are always excellent, we manage to discuss Rangers manager Ron Washington and former pitcher (from the early 1900s!) Noodles Hahn in the same breath, and it's a big weekend for the Braves, for multiple reasons. All this and more on Friday's Baseball Today podcast. Have a great weekend and we'll return Monday!

Mackey Sasser doesn't deserve disease

December, 16, 2010
More from the mixed-up files of Mr. William E. Robinson, this time about a tough old catcher named Clint "Scrap Iron" Courtney:
    By the time Scraps joined the Orioles in 1960 he couldn't throw very well anymore. The story was that he'd hurt his arm Indian wrestling a teammate on the trunk of a car. They'd gotten into an argument about who was the best Indian wrestler and decided to settle it on the spot. Not only did Clint not throw to bases well, but during the season he began having trouble just throwing the ball back to the pitcher, which sometimes happens to catchers who otherwise have strong arms. It becomes a mental block we used to call "getting the monkey on your back." Courtney definitely had the monkey on his back. With runners on base, he'd be afraid he might throw the ball by the pitcher and allow the runners to advance. To build his confidence, he'd catch the pitch and walk out in front of the plate to toss the ball back to the pitcher.

Today that mental block is called "Mackey Sasser Disease." Which hardly seems fair, now that we know Mackey Sasser wasn't the first to suffer this dreadful malady.

Actually, we already knew he wasn't the first. If memory serves (sorry, I'm not near my books), Dale Murphy also had problems throwing the ball back to the pitcher.*

* Yes, Dale Murphy first reached the majors as a catcher. When that didn't work out, the Braves turned him into a first baseman. It wasn't until 1980, Murphy's fifth season in the majors and his third (mostly) full season, that he took over as Atlanta's center fielder. I'm generally a supporter of Murphy's Hall of Fame candidacy, but it's a stone fact that Murphy played 120 games as a center fielder in just four seasons in his entire career. I learn something new almost every day.

Mackey Sasser just got stuck with it because ... I don't know, actually. Maybe because when it happened to Courtney, nobody was coming up with such clever tags? Maybe because when it happened to Sasser, "Steve Blass Disease" had been a part of the vernacular for so long that it was easy to make the adaption? Right around the same time, of course, Steve Sax had trouble throwing the ball to first base ... and when the same thing happened to Chuck Knoblauch a few years later, he was said to have come down with a nasty case of "Steve Sax Disease."

But Sax wasn't the first, nor was Blass, nor Murphy, nor even Courtney, probably. If we're going to stick guys with these terrible honors, we should at least make some effort to find out who really deserves them.

Anyway, there's a wonderfully coda to this story (which is appropriate, because Courtney was wonderfully colorful) ...
    Later, after we moved into the Astrodome, Courtney became our bullpen catcher. He warmed up relief pitchers in the Astrodome bullpen, which was down the right field line. He still had a problem throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Many times he'd throw the ball wild, and it would go onto the field, stopping the game while someone retrieved it. One night after throwing a couple of balls away, he was so embarrassed that he went into the clubhouse in the middle of the game, took his uniform off, and said, "I quit. That's the last time I'll put on a major league uniform." And it was ...

Courtney later managed for Eddie Robinson in the minor leagues, and keeled over dead one afternoon in the team hotel (and no, that's not the wonderful coda).

Being careful with Hall comparisons

July, 28, 2010
Joe Posnanski outlines the biggest problem with electing marginal (at best) Hall of Famers. We've all trod that ground before, but Joe's really good and if we can't re-trod, where are we? But it's this last little bit that I wanted to show you, because our own Keith Law makes a cameo appearance ...
    One last thing … my friend Keith Law seems to be taking a beating because he has said that Omar Vizquel is not a Hall of Famer in his book. I certainly don’t want any of Keith’s angry e-mail, but it’s just worth pointing out that one argument I often hear for Vizquel is that he compares well with Ozzie Smith. I really don’t think that’s true. I think Ozzie Smith was a much better player than Vizquel. There’s no question that Omar was a defensive wiz, but he was certainly no Wizard. He did not have Ozzie’s range, his remarkable ability to make the great play, his double play talents, etc.

    This is no knock — Ozzie is the best defensive shortstop in the history of baseball, I believe. And while Vizquel was a terrific defensive player, I don’t think he’s anything close to second-best — I think he’s in a massive pile with a lot of terrific defensive players ranging from Belanger to Burleson to Bowa to Barry ... and those are just the Bs. And though Smith was widely viewed as a weak hitter ... he was actually a better offensive player in context than Vizquel. I’m using WAR a lot here, which might simply not be persuasive to you. But Ozzie Smith ranks 74th all-time among every day players in WAR. Vizquel ranks 209th. I simply don’t think if Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Fame standard, that Vizquel has a great Hall of Fame case.*

    If Jim Rice is the standard, however ...

    * Update: Since several people have misunderstood the paragraph, let me clarify here: I am NOT saying that I will not vote for Vizquel. I am not ready to make that judgment yet … Vizquel has been a fabulous player and I’ll take the five years after retirement to let his career settle. I am only saying that the Ozzie Smith comparison, to me, does not hold up. Ozzie Smith is not my line of demarcation when it comes to Hall of Fame shortstops.

I'm NOT saying I won't vote for Vizquel, either.

Joe's right, though: Based on the information that's available to us NOW, Vizquel isn't anywhere close to Ozzie Smith, or for that matter the great majority of the other Hall of Fame shortstops.

Sure, Rice won an MVP Award and Dwight Evans didn't ... but Dale Murphy won twoMVP awards and hasn't drawn nearly the support Rice did. Sure, Andre Dawson, for all his faults, was for a time an impressive blend of power and speed. So were Jimmy Wynn and Bobby Bonds and Reggie Smith.

There was something different about Rice. Something different about Dawson. And perhaps -- we'll known in seven or eight years, I guess -- something different about Omar Vizquel. But it's hard to find the differences in the raw numbers. I'm convinced that if you want to figure out how Jim Rice was deemed a Hall of Famer by 30 percent of the voters in 1995 and 76 percent in 2009, you'll have to engage in a sort of archaeological and anthropological expedition. Because in strange cases like these, your usually considerable powers of logic just won't be enough.