SweetSpot: Edgar Martinez

Let's finish up with the 14 players I consider strong Hall of Fame candidates. Of course, if I had a ballot, I could vote for only 10 ... well, that's another essay, my friends. Here is Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.


The Hall of Famers

14. Tim Raines (69.1 career WAR, 52.2 percent of the vote last year) -- I’m a big supporter of Raines although it’s possible that the sabermetric crowd has overstated his case just a bit. Raines had a high peak from 1983 to 1987 while with the Expos -- his combined WAR ranks fourth among position players, behind Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken, meaning he was arguably the best player in the National League over that span. He was also an outstanding player in the 1981 strike season and again in 1992 with the White Sox. Other than those seven seasons, however, he was merely good instead of great and spent his late 30s as a part-time player.

Still, as others have written, as he’s a very close statistical comp to Tony Gwynn -- Raines just happened to replace Gwynn’s hits with walks. He’s one of the best basestealers in history and the WAR is right in line with recent Hall of Fame selections. The good news is that Raines’ case is building, from 22.6 percent to 30.4 to 37.5 to 48.7 to 52.2. If he can avoid a collapse this year because of the crowded ballot, his momentum appears strong enough to eventually see election.

13. Craig Biggio (64.9 WAR, 68.2 percent) -- Results from public ballots have Biggio just crossing over the 75 percent mark. Biggio reached the magical 3,000-hit barrier, meaning the only surprise was he didn’t get elected in his first year on the ballot. In the past, 3,000 hits meant you were a mortal lock for Cooperstown. Of the 28 players to reach 3,000 hits, only Biggio, Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro failed to get elected on the first ballot (not including Pete Rose and Derek Jeter).

Of course, to get there, Biggio wasn’t helping his club at the end. He picked up 265 hits his final two seasons while being valued at minus-1.7 WAR. He posted poor on-base percentages and had poor range at second base, not surprising considering he played in his age-40 and age-41 seasons. That's the flaw in focusing on round numbers. Biggio only got there by hanging on.

At his peak, however, Biggio was a tremendous offensive player as a second baseman, with power, speed, on-base skills and the ability to steal bases. From 1994 to 1998 he ranked third, third, second, 12th, third and second, in the NL in offensive WAR and was right up there with the best all-around players in the game.

12. Alan Trammell (70.3 WAR, 33.6 percent) -- To me, it’s clear that the BBWAA threw its support behind the wrong Detroit Tiger. Trammell is basically the same player as Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR), except he played in the same league as Cal Ripken and Larkin played in the same league as Shawon Dunston.

The weird thing about this is that I'm pretty sure Trammell was more famous while active than Larkin, at least on a national level. Larkin did win an MVP Award but Trammell's teams were in the playoff race for most of his career while the Reds were a small-market club that was up and down during Larkin's career. I think what happened is basically this: Say the 33 percent who vote for Trammell also voted for Larkin. That leaves the other two-thirds of the voting pool. Say one-third were NL beat guys and columnists and the other third were AL beat guys and columnists. All the NL guys voted for Larkin because he was the best shortstop in his league but didn't vote for Trammell. But the AL guys didn't vote for Trammell either because he wasn't Ripken -- and then after Trammell retired, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra came along. Larkin gets the easy label -- best in his league -- that Trammell doesn't. Which is too bad. Trammell was a beautiful ballplayer who did everything well.

11. Mark McGwire (62.0 WAR, 16.9 percent) -- One of the things I’ll never forget as a baseball fan is watching McGwire take batting practice while covering a Cardinals-Tigers game at Tiger Stadium in 1999. Standing behind the batting cage as he launched ball after ball onto the roof or over the roof made me re-think the laws of physics (not that I know the laws of physics).

Why McGwire and not Sammy Sosa, when their career WAR isn't that dissimilar? Maybe it is a feel thing, a feeling that McGwire is one of the game's historic figures. I think that counts for something. He also has the best home run rate in history (higher than Babe Ruth).

10. Edgar Martinez (68.3 WAR, 35.9 percent) -- Bias alert! I wrote about Martinez back in 2009 and then again the other day. I rate him a little higher than the guys above because he had more high peak seasons -- five with 6-plus WAR, eight with 5.5-plus WAR and two more at 4.9 and 4.8. Simply, one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Sadly, if the Mariners didn't waste three years of his career letting him unnecessarily rot in the minors, his case would be much stronger.

9. Mike Piazza (59.2 WAR, 57.8 percent) -- We'll learn a lot about Piazza's future Hall of Fame hopes this year. He achieved a strong showing in his first year. If that grows this year, it's a good sign. If it falls or remains the same, it could be that he's maxed out already due to PED concerns. About that WAR total: It's difficult for catchers to compile the same WAR as other positions, as they play fewer games and often have shortened careers. Piazza ranks sixth all time among catchers, behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.

8. Mike Mussina (83.0 WAR, first year) -- As I wrote back in November, Mussina is eminently qualified for the Hall of Fame.

7. Frank Thomas (73.6 WAR, first year) -- I wrote about Thomas the other day. It looks like he'll get in on his first year on the ballot. Will Thomas' election help Martinez? Once Thomas is in, doesn't it mean you can't use the "but he was a DH" argument against Martinez? Probably not. That suggests a consistent and logical line of thinking from the BBWAA, which ... well, that's like expecting a Cardinals fan to be treated with kindness and respect while sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers wearing a Matt Holliday jersey.

6. Tom Glavine (81.4 WAR, first year) -- Not much to add about Glavine that you don't already know. Durable, consistent, got the most out of his ability. Like Greg Maddux, an absolute joy to watch (unless you were a Mets fan). He owned the outside corner of the plate -- and maybe a few inches beyond -- with that changeup. I think Glavine and Maddux have a bit of an unfair reputation of not showing up in the postseason. Compare their results to those of Andy Pettitte, who does have a reputation as being extra-special clutch in October:

Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 35 GS, 218 1/3 IP, 1.27 WHIP
Maddux: 11-14, 3.27 ERA, 30 GS, 198 IP, 1.24 WHIP
Pettitte: 19-11, 3.81 ERA, 44 GS, 276 2/3 IP, 1.30 WHIP

Their records aren't as good because they didn't get the same run support, not because they didn't pitch well.

5. Jeff Bagwell (79.5 WAR, 59.6 percent) -- Other than not playing an up-the-middle position, the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable (at least until a shoulder injury cut his career a few years short), excellent defender. Here's something I wrote on Bagwell last January.

There are those who refuse to vote for Bagwell under the assumption he used PEDs; Bagwell has strongly denied using PEDs, telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick in 2010:

I never used [steroids], and I'll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that's the God's honest truth. All of a sudden guys were starting to hit 60 or 70 home runs and people were like, 'Dude, if you took [PEDs], you could do it too.' And I was like, 'I'm good where I'm at. I just want to do what I can do.'


There's nothing abnormal about Bagwell's career curve, other than his freakishly awesome 1994 MVP season when he hit .368. He didn't suddenly start posting career-best numbers in his mid-30s like McGwire or Barry Bonds. He was good as a rookie, got better, remained great and then slowly declined in his 30s.

4. Curt Schilling (79.7 WAR, 38.8 percent) -- Why Schilling over Glavine, even though Glavine won 305 games while Schilling won just 216 games? OK, here's why:

1. Wins are overrated.

2. More career pitching WAR (80.7 to 74.0).

3. Schilling had more high peak seasons -- eight 5-plus WAR seasons with three at 7.9 or higher compared to Glavine's four and one.

4. Postseason dominance.

In the end, I just feel Schilling had the bigger impact on the game's history -- the 2001 World Series triumph for the Diamondbacks, ending the Red Sox curse in 2004 and winning another title in 2007.

Glavine was more durable and lasted longer and maybe you prefer that type of career arc. But I'll take Schilling and his big seasons and go to war with him in October.

3. Greg Maddux (106.8, first year) -- The smartest pitcher who ever lived. At his 1994 and 1995 peak, maybe the best pitcher who ever lived.

2. Roger Clemens (140.3 WAR, 37.6 percent) -- Let's say Clemens started using PEDs in 1997, the year he went to Toronto and went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA. The popular mythology is that Clemens was fat and washed up in Boston. Actually, he had ranked second among AL pitchers in WAR and led the league in strikeouts in 1996. But whatever. Anyway, through 1996 he was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and 81.3 career pitching WAR. That's more career WAR than Glavine or Schilling. After two big Cy Young seasons with the Blue Jays, he went to the Yankees. And you know what? He wasn't that great with them -- 77-36 but with a 3.99 ERA. He won a sixth Cy Young Award because he went 20-3, not because he was the best pitcher in the league. He won a seventh with the Astros because he went 18-4 (he was seventh among NL pitchers in WAR). Other than the 1.87 ERA in 2005 -- thanks to an absurdly low BABIP -- his late career basically matches what Nolan Ryan did in his 40s.


1. Barry Bonds (162.5 WAR, 36.2 percent) -- Somebody tweeted this on Tuesday night, Bonds hitting a mammoth home run at Yankee Stadium in 2002 -- a blast so impressive that even Yankees fans cheered in awe.

On a basic level, I understand the no votes: Cheaters shouldn't be honored. My colleague Christina Kahrl made a great point about how we view the PED guys: It's a litmus test that tells us what we want from the game. As she told me, we have to remember the past is plenty grimy, full of stories and people every bit as wonderful as we want them to be -- people who also happen to be human.

From 1988 to 1994, Bonds was second in the majors in home runs (to Fred McGriff) and first in OPS and sixth in stolen bases. His WAR was 13 wins higher than the No. 2 position player (Rickey Henderson). From 1988 to 1995, he was 14.5 wins better than the No. 2 guy (Cal Ripken). Ken Griffey Jr. joined the league in 1989. From '89 to '98, Bonds' WAR was 84.1, Griffey's 65.6 (and the No. 3 guy, Barry Larkin, way back at 51.1). Bonds was the most devastating force in the game before he allegedly started using PEDs sometime after McGwire and Sosa went all crazy in 1998.

Ray Ratto just wrote a brilliant Hall of Fame column and he had two great points about Bonds (and Clemens): "1. The player did things on the baseball field that few others did. ... 6. I DON’T WORK FOR BASEBALL, AND I DON’T CARE WHAT IT PURPORTS TO BE. I CARE WHAT IT IS, AND THIS IS PART OF IT."

Bonds is arguably the greatest player of all time, and, yes, a man with many flaws.

What do you want out of the game?
When Frank Thomas first arrived in the majors, he was a force of nature unlike anybody baseball fans had seen in a long time.

[+] EnlargeFrank Thomas
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesFrank Thomas, a two-time AL MVP, hit 521 home runs during his 19-year career.
There had been big guys before, of course, big guys who certainly intimidated opposing pitchers with their size and made third basemen back up an extra step or four -- players like Frank Howard, Dave Kingman and Dave Winfield. Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were in their heyday as the Bash Brothers with the A's when Thomas joined the White Sox in 1990. Darryl Strawberry was still mashing.

But Thomas was different. He wasn't tall and lean or even tall and muscular, but instead tall and massive, built like the former Auburn tight end that he was. He wasn't merely a slugger, one who would sacrifice batting average for power. He was a hitter, right from his rookie season, a guy who matched Tony Gwynn's artistry with Ted Williams' plate selection. He hit home runs almost by accident.

From 1990 to 1997, his first eight seasons, Thomas hit .330/.452/.600. From 1946 to 1989 those numbers had been reached in an individual season just 11 times -- seven of those by Williams. My father's generation had Williams; we had Thomas. Thomas won an MVP Award in 1993 when he hit .317 with 41 home runs, 128 RBIs and 112 walks. He won another in the strike-shortened 1994 season, hitting .353 with 38 home runs and 109 walks in 113 games. He earned the nickname "The Big Hurt" and it was absolutely apropos.

Those eight seasons constitute the heart of Thomas' dominance, although hardly the end of his career. He had one final dominant season in 2000, hitting .328 with 43 home runs and 143 RBIs to finish second in the MVP voting as the White Sox won a division title. He hit 42 home runs in 2003 and with the A's in 2006 finished fourth in the MVP vote, as much for his leadership and Oakland's surprising division title as for his numbers (.270, 39 home runs).

Thomas finished with a career triple-slash line of .301/.419/.555, 521 home runs and 1,704 RBIs. He is, unquestionably, one of the 20 greatest hitters of all time and even fewer matched his peak level of offensive dominance.

He's on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time -- and he may not get in.



Edgar Martinez is on the ballot for the fifth time. He has his loyal core of supporters but he's not making progress to Hall of Fame election: he's received 36 percent, 33 percent, 37 percent and 36 percent of the vote in each of the past four years. He's a long way from getting to the 75 percent needed for election and while some Hall of Famers the BBWAA eventually elected did start with a lower vote percentage, Martinez appears to be stuck in mud. The crowded ballot isn't going to help his vote total increase; if anything, the appearance on the ballot this year of Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent (plus the final-year sympathy votes for Jack Morris), may actually cut into Martinez's total.

[+] EnlargeEdgar Martinez
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesEdgar Martinez finished his career with a .312 batting average and was a two-time AL batting champion.
Martinez's credentials don't quite jump out at you like Thomas' do. He didn't quite have Thomas' power (Martinez hit 309 home runs) and was often overlooked playing in Seattle and overshadowed by teammates Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, but at his peak he, too, was one of the most devastating right-handed hitters ever seen. Like Thomas, he hit for a high average while drawing an enormous number of walks. He won two batting titles and reeled off seasons where he hit .356, .343, .337, .330, .327, .324 and .322. He sprayed line drives corner to corner; to me, he was a right-handed George Brett (although Martinez drew more walks, so he got on base more). He had eight seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or higher -- more than Reggie Jackson (7), Willie McCovey (7), Griffey (4), Brett (4), Carl Yastrzemski (4), Ernie Banks (2), Johnny Bench (1) and numerous other Hall of Famers. Thomas also had eight such seasons (and two more partial seasons). In terms of career WAR, Thomas is only slightly higher, 73.6 to 68.0.

As Hall of Famer Paul Molitor once said about Edgar, "He was one of the most feared right-handed hitters for a long time in this league. The amount of respect he has from peers speaks to the value of the offensive player he was."



Thomas and Martinez, of course, spent most of their careers as designated hitters. Thomas played 971 of his 2,322 career games at first base; Martinez played 592 of his 2,055 career games in the field, mostly at third base. Thomas was a bad first baseman; Martinez was an adequate third baseman, moved to DH after some injury problems in 1993 and 1994.

Voters have held that against Martinez, suggesting that he was merely a "specialist," as if being one of the best hitters in the game for 13 seasons somehow lacks value; some voters will withhold a check next to Thomas' name on their ballot with the same justification. Designated hitters don't belong in the Hall of Fame.

One reason the Hall of Fame voting is so contentious is because it's often a conflict between emotion and reason. The Jack Morris case is all about emotion; it's difficult to construct an analytic defense for him as a Hall of Famer. The PED disagreements are all about emotion ("Cheaters!") versus reason ("It was part of the game in that era, we don't know who did what, etc.").

This is why the DH argument annoys me; it's an inconsistent application of reason. In recent years, the BBWAA has elected three relief pitchers -- Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley (who also started but was elected primarily on his merits as a closer). There is no more extreme version of a specialist than a closer. Lee Smith -- never considered the best closer in the game while active -- received more votes last year than Martinez. Who was the better player? It's not even an argument worth discussing. No general manager would have traded Edgar Martinez for Lee Smith.

Even more infuriating is that Sutter was an elite reliever for only eight seasons, Gossage for 10, Eckersely for five. You can't vote for closers and then dismiss Martinez or Thomas as specialists.

The Hall of Fame is about greatness. Few hitters achieved the level of Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez (of course, getting some voters to understand the value of all their walks is another issue). They were great, the best in the game, the core definition of a Hall of Famer.

Maybe they were one-dimensional players. But what a dimension. Both are worthy Hall of Famers.
The Baltimore Orioles have played 54 games and Manny Machado has played in all 54. The amazing Machado fact, however, isn't that he hasn't missed a game but that he's hit 25 doubles -- he hit another one Thursday night, a grounder down the third-base line. That puts him on pace for 75; the all-time record was set by the not-legendary Earl Webb for the Red Sox in 1931.

Manny Machado
ESPN Stats & InformationIn his first full season, Manny Machado has been lacing doubles all over the field.
We can get carried away with early season "on pace" totals -- Jason Grilli is on pace for 66 saves! Patrick Corbin is on pace to go 24-0! -- but Machado's pace is pretty fun, in part because it seems possible, however slim, that he could challenge Webb's record. Machado's Orioles teammate Brian Roberts hit 56 just four years ago, proving you can hit a lot of doubles in Camden Yards and it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Machado could hit 11 more doubles than Roberts.

Still, the odds are he won't do it. Just last year Joey Votto had 22 doubles through the Reds' first 54 games, which put him on a pace for 66. He got hurt but had fallen off by then anyway. Roberts had only 16 through 54 games in 2009. Craig Biggio had a couple seasons where it appeared he could make a run at 67 -- he had 38 doubles in 87 games at the All-Star break in 1999 and 35 in 87 games in 1994. He finished with 56 in '99 and the strike hit in '94, but he'd fallen off pace by then. Lyle Overbay had 37 at the break in 2004 (finished with 53) and John Olerud had 37 in 1993 (finished with 54). Todd Helton hit 59 in 2000, the highest total since 1936, but was never on serious Webb pace.

The guy who appeared most likely to chase down Webb was Edgar Martinez in 1996. Through the Mariners' first 54 games -- Martinez played in all of them -- he had 29 doubles. At the All-Star break he had played in all 85 of Seattle's games and belted out 42 doubles, which put him on pace for 80 (!). Even if he slowed down just a bit it appeared that he would do it. ESPN.com started running an Edgar Martinez Doubles Watch (hey, we were based in Seattle then).

Then, on July 20, Lou Piniella had the brilliant idea to start Martinez at third base for the first time that season. He collided with catcher John Marzano on a foul pop up and bruised his ribs, landing on the disabled list and ending a streak of 293 consecutive games played. Martinez missed 22 games. Upon returning he wasn't the same hitter, batting .309 but with just eight doubles in 44 games. He finished with 52 in 139 games.

SportsNation

How many doubles will Manny Machado end up with?

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    36%
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    20%
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    36%
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    7%
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    1%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,771)

Machado has one huge advantage over Martinez -- he can run, so has the ability to stretch singles into doubles that may generate a few extra two-baggers. Besides that, he has another advantage: He doesn't walk much. Martinez had 123 walks that year but Machado has just 12 so far, so he's putting a lot more balls in play.

Also, he has power but not too much power (yet), as with five home runs he's on pace for 15. That matches the Roberts mold as he had 16 home runs in '09. Plus, pitchers are still trying to figure out the best way to get Machado out. He's hit nine doubles off fastballs and those are the ones he lines into the gaps -- seven of the nine to left- and right-center. He yanks "soft" stuff down the line. Only five of his 25 doubles have been groundballs, meaning he's hitting line drives or deep flies for most of his two-base hits.

Odds are that Machado falls short, of course, that pitchers find a small hole in his swing or learn to take advantage of his aggressiveness. Still, this has become one of the intriguing little sub-stories of 2013, the breakout performance of another young star. Can he do it? What do you think?


On June 5, 2009, David Ortiz was hitting .187 with one home run and had struck out 48 times in 46 games. Just two seasons earlier, he had hit .332 with 35 home runs in helping lead the Boston Red Sox to their second World Series title in four seasons.

Ortiz got his eyes checked that day even though he said they weren't the reason for his season-long slump. There were predictions of his imminent release. Some maintained he was older than his actual age. Bill Simmons joked that Red Sox fans needed to mail some human growth hormone to Ortiz.

Instead, the Red Sox rolled the dice. General manager Theo Epstein and consultant Bill James concluded that such slumps were normal for a player of Ortiz's age. Ortiz hit .266 with 27 home runs the rest of that season. Since 2010, he has hit .298/.390/.562. The only hitters with a higher wOBA since then are Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and Ryan Braun.

On Tuesday night, Ortiz hit a three-home run off Matt Moore in the first inning, although Moore shut down the Sox after that in Tampa Bay's 5-3 victory. At age 37, Big Papi is still going strong, hitting .333/.370/.613. The guy who struck out in 21 percent of his plate appearances in 2009 and 24 percent in 2010 now strikes out less than 15 percent of the time and remains one of the most feared hitters in the game, not much different from his 2003-2007 peak, when he finished in the top five of the MVP voting five years in a row.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesKnown for his power and as the jovial face of two Red Sox championship teams, David Ortiz could well see Cooperstown before Edgar Martinez.
This post-2009 rebirth and hot start in 2013 has thrust Ortiz back into the spotlight: Is he the greatest designated hitter of all time? And how do his Hall of Fame chances stack up?

With apologies to Paul Molitor (more games in the field than at DH), Frank Thomas (best years came when he was playing first base), Jim Thome (ditto) and Harold Baines (great longevity), the greatest DH of all time is Edgar Martinez. Which I suppose some people would rank somewhere higher than greatest LOOGY of all time but below greatest utility infielder of all time.

Martinez and Ortiz were both originally signed by the Mariners and both had their breakout seasons at age 27 -- Martinez when he finally got a chance to play and Ortiz after getting released by the Twins and going to the Red Sox.

Here are their career numbers:

Martinez: .312/.418/.515, 309 HRs, 1,261 RBIs, 147 OPS+, .405 wOBA, 68.3 WAR
Ortiz: .285/.380/.549, 406 HRs, 1,346 RBIs, 138 OPS+, .392 wOBA, 40.2 WAR

That's Baseball-Reference WAR, by the way. FanGraphs has a similar difference. Why such a large split in career value? Some of that is simply career length; Martinez has about 900 more career plate appearances, so Ortiz will close the gap a bit -- but not all of it -- as he continues to play. A little bit of it is fielding -- B-R credits Edgar with plus-17 runs defensively from his days at third base and Papi at minus-13 runs. That's a 30-run difference, worth about three wins of those 28 wins. Martinez picks up a little more value in positional adjustments -- he played third base for a few years while Ortiz played first base.

But the big difference is simply that Martinez was the better hitter. Yes, Ortiz has more power, but Martinez was an on-base machine. He created runs while using up fewer outs than Ortiz, and that creates a lot of value. Martinez had 11 seasons with a .400-plus OBP, including three that led the American League and seven more that ranked in the top five. Ortiz has had only three -- including the partial season of 2012 -- and ranked in the top five only three times. On-base percentage is still king, and Baseball-Reference rates Martinez having eight seasons of 5.0 WAR or greater, Ortiz with three of 5.0 or greater.

Here's another way to look at it: Ortiz has created about 1,409 runs in his career while using up 4,970 outs; that's 7.6 runs per 27 outs. Martinez created 1,631 runs while using up 5,273 outs, or 8.3 runs per 27 outs.

Martinez was better, and it's not really a debate. I'm not arguing that just because I'm admittedly a huge Martinez fan; I'm arguing that because the numbers don't lie. And before you mention "BUT WHAT ABOUT CLUTCH! BIG PAPI IS THE CLUTCHIEST OF THE CLUTCH!" … well, Ortiz has hit .264/.376/.514 in "late and close" situations; Martinez hit .312/.449/.471. Ortiz is feared; Martinez was feared, just as respected by opposing pitchers as Ortiz is now.

Ortiz did fare better in MVP voting with those five top-five finishes; Martinez had only one. But perception of value is not the same thing as real value.

That said, Ortiz may end up being a better Hall of Fame candidate, depending on how the allegations of performance-enhancing drugs play out down the road. He'll have more home runs and RBIs, and Hall of Fame voters love those home runs and RBIs. The MVP voting results will help. The clutch hitting -- especially in the postseason -- will help define memories of him. He'll earn bonus points for being arguably the best player, or at least the face of the franchise, on two World Series winners. And, importantly, Ortiz was simply more famous than Martinez, one of the most famous players of the 2000s. Ortiz played for the Red Sox; Martinez for the Mariners. Ortiz is big and jovial and owns that big left-handed uppercut; Martinez was quiet, disciplined and overshadowed by Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez.

SportsNation

How would you assess David Ortiz's Hall of Fame case?

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    32%
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    45%
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    23%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,285)

Of course, like Martinez, Ortiz will face the DH bias, and that might be a tougher hurdle than the PED stain. Personally -- and, yes, again, I'm biased -- Martinez is a pretty clear-cut Hall of Famer. Many people don't think DHs should be in the Hall of Fame, but I don't have an issue there. Edgar's 10-year peak as one of the best hitters in the game is Cooperstown-worthy, and his career WAR justifies his inclusion.

Ortiz is a notch below, and even giving him credit for his postseason heroics I have trouble getting him into Hall of Fame territory. He'll have trouble cracking 50 career WAR, even with a couple more strong seasons, which would make him a weak Hall of Fame candidate by that measure. But if he pushes past 500 home runs and 1,600 RBIs, I can see Ortiz reaching Cooperstown before Martinez.

Is this a sad day for baseball? Maybe not. There will be another election next year and one the year after that. I presume onward into the future players will get elected. But this year? The Baseball Writers' Association of America struck out.

Nobody can deny the current process is broken. This summer, the Hall of Fame will hold an induction ceremony that will honor three individuals who have been dead for over 70 years. Only one of those was a player, and Deacon White played so long ago he was a catcher without a glove.

The Hall of Fame is a museum, but there will be no Astros fans trekking to Cooperstown to see Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell inducted and take a tour of baseball history. There will be no Tigers and Twins fans going to see Jack Morris get in. No Expos fans cheering Tim Raines, Mariners fans driving 3,000 miles to see the great Edgar Martinez inducted or throngs of Mets fans making the short drive to see Mike Piazza's speech.

If you've never been to the Hall of Fame, maybe this summer is the time to go. The lines will be short.

Some quick thoughts:

[+] EnlargeCraig Biggio
Brian Bahr/ALLSPORTCraig Biggio's 3,060 hits -- good for 21st all-time -- were not enough to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Craig Biggio (68.2 percent)
The BBWAA went against its history by not electing Biggio. Every eligible player with 3,000 hits except Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro was elected in his first year on the ballot (Pete Rose being ineligible). Somehow the writers didn't find room for a player who scored the 15th most runs in history. He'll get in next year.

Jack Morris (67.7 percent)
I almost feel sorry for Morris at this point. His vote total went up just 1 percentage point from last year, leaving him 42 votes short of election. He has one year left on the ballot, and while players as close as Morris often get the sympathy vote when they get this close, his candidacy will be hurt by the addition of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to next year's ballot, two pitchers in a higher class than Morris. I just heard Bob Costas on MLB Network mention that the sabermetric community has hurt Morris' case, unlike how it helped Bert Blyleven's case. I think Costas is 100 percent wrong with that statement. In Morris' first five years on the ballot, he received less than 30 percent of the vote. He was initially rejected because voters looked at his 3.90 career ERA as unworthy of Hall status. His totals have risen through the years despite the strong sabermetric evidence against him.

Jeff Bagwell (59.6) and Mike Piazza (57.8)
Bagwell's total increased 3.6 percentage points from last year, and Piazza fared well for a first-ballot guy. By historical measures, both are on an excellent Hall of Fame path. Barry Larkin, for example, received 51.6 percent his first year, 62.1 percent the next and was elected in his third year with 86.4 percent. Bagwell and Piazza are tied to PED rumors, so historical measures may not apply to them; Bagwell's total certainly didn't rise as rapidly as Larkin's did. Still, it's also true that Bagwell and Piazza are being viewed differently than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Tim Raines (52.2)
In his sixth year on the ballot, Raines' total increased from 48.7 percent. He still has nine years to get in; he'll get there.

Lee Smith (47.8)
While Smith's support isn't surprising in light of the fact that three of the past 14 members elected by the BBWAA have been relief pitchers, it continues to baffle me. Yes, he racked up a lot of saves, but I always put the Smith question this way: At any point in his career, even when he was at his scariest, most dominant peak, would he have been traded for a Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling or Alan Trammell? Of course not. Smith's general manager would have been laughed off the phone, yet he got more votes than any of those guys. His vote total did drop and it was his 11th year, so he's a guy who was affected by the crowded ballot. His chances took a big turn for the worse.

Curt Schilling (38.8)
While it's amazing that Schilling received almost 30 percentage points fewer votes than Morris, this is actually a decent vote total for a first-year candidate. It may be a slow trek for him, but I believe he's on the path to induction.

Roger Clemens(37.6) and Barry Bonds (36.2)
No surprise that these two received less than 40 percent. The most interesting fact is that Clemens received eight more votes than Bonds.

Edgar Martinez (35.9)
In his fourth year, Martinez lost a few votes. He is already fighting the bias against designated hitters, so even though he is just one of 16 players with at least 10 seasons with a .400 OBP (11 total), this wasn't a good day for him.

Alan Trammell (33.6)
Trammell also lost votes. His bandwagon didn't really begin until last year, but it's too late for him and the ballot is too crowded. He is every bit the Hall of Famer that Larkin is, but with three years left, it will be up to some future version of the Veterans Committee to put him in.

Sammy Sosa (12.5) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8)
They stayed on the ballot, but they're not getting in, at least not through the BBWAA.

Bernie Williams (3.3) and Kenny Lofton (3.2)
Maybe the most discouraging result of the day is that Williams and Lofton -- admittedly, borderline guys -- will be booted off future ballots, their cases never given the opportunity to be argued. Whitaker'd.

* * *

So there we go. A crowded ballot gets even more crowded next year with the additions of Maddux, Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. Good luck, voters.
Jeff BagwellPaul Jasienski/Getty ImagesJeff Bagwell looks certain to be elected to the Hall of Fame -- but not this year.

On Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET, the Hall of Fame voting results will be announced. It's possible that Jack Morris makes it in, and maybe Craig Biggio makes it in, and maybe nobody makes it in.

One guy who won't make it in is Jeff Bagwell, who received 42 and 56 percent of the votes his first two years on the ballot. There will be much consternation and many angry words written about his failure to get elected, but I'm here to tell all you Bagwell supporters: Relax. Your man is on an excellent Hall of Fame trajectory; he will get in soon enough.

Hey, I'm with you. I believe he had a Hall of Fame career; I wrote a post last year headlined "Denying Jeff Bagwell would be a travesty." OK, maybe that was a little strong, but sometimes we have to write headlines to stir things up and the good news is that Bagwell received a big bump in his vote percentage. Yes, there are some who refuse to vote for him because they suspect he used steroids and some who just don't believe he was a Hall of Famer (even though he's one of just 31 players with at least 1,500 RBIs and runs scored).

Anyway, here are the Hall of Famers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 2000, the year on the ballot they first received at least 56 percent of the vote and the year they finally got elected:

SportsNation

Would you vote for Jeff Bagwell for the Hall of Fame?

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    86%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,404)

Barry Larkin: Second year, elected in third
Roberto Alomar: First year, elected in second
Bert Blyleven: 11th year, elected in 14th
Andre Dawson: Fifth year, elected in ninth
Rickey Henderson: First year
Jim Rice: Seventh year, elected in 15th
Goose Gossage: Seventh year, elected in ninth
Cal Ripken: First year
Tony Gwynn: First year
Bruce Sutter: 11th year, elected in 13th
Wade Boggs: First year
Ryne Sandberg: Second year, elected in third
Paul Molitor: First year
Dennis Eckersley: First year
Eddie Murray: First year
Gary Carter: Fourth year, elected in sixth
Ozzie Smith: First year
Dave Winfield: First year
Kirby Puckett: First year
Carlton Fisk: First year, elected in second
Tony Perez: Third year, elected in ninth

As you can see, Bagwell is ahead of the "pace" of several of these guys, including Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Tony Perez, none of whom have the Hall of Fame credentials of Bagwell.

Also, once a player gets up to 56 percent, his eventual election is a near certainty. The only three players in the past 30 years to get to that percentage and not get elected are Orlando Cepeda (who got to 56 percent in his 13th year), Jim Bunning (who got there in his 10th year, got to 74.2 percent in his 12th year, but then dropped off) and Gil Hodges (got there in his fifth year but peaked at 63 percent in his final year). Cepeda and Bunning were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee, while Hodges remains the player (other than Jack Morris) with the highest vote percentage never to make the Hall of Fame.

Bagwell isn't the only player on this year's ballot on a possible Hall of Fame path.

Tim Raines received 48.7 percent of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot last year. Here are some Hall of Famers who received less than that percentage at one time yet still got elected by the BBWAA: Blyleven, Rice, Gossage, Sutter, Carter, Luis Aparacio, Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider, Hank Greenberg, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau and -- get this -- Joe DiMaggio (although I believe there was some confusion at the time about his eligibility). And that doesn't include the numerous Hall of Famers elected by the various veterans committees, including many players who never sniffed election from the writers (Rick Ferrell never received 1 percent of the vote, for example).

Even Edgar Martinez, who received 36.5 percent of vote on his third year on the ballot, has started better than some Hall of Famers.

Look, I can't explain why this happens, why a player's vote total can increase dramatically in a few short years. Sure, the roll call of voters changes over time, but it changes very slowly, since once voters have reached their 10 years in the BBWAA they get to keep voting until they die, whether or not they still cover baseball or have watched a game in 20 years.

There is a psychological phenomenon known as groupthink that perhaps applies here. This occurs when a group of people seek harmony or conformity in their decision-making. In social psychology, this is applied in a negative manner. Irving Janis, who wrote "Victims of Groupthink" in 1972, suggested events like the failure to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Bay of Pigs fiasco were results of groupthink, cases in which opposing views weren't considered.

Is that what happens here? Eventually, the Hall of Fame voters form a consensus opinion. Basically, the voters want to elect somebody to the Hall of Fame, so it's natural that a form of groupthink develops. That seems to be the case with Jack Morris. Here's a guy who was under 30 percent of the vote his first five years on the ballot. To use the Malcolm Gladwell terms from "The Tipping Point," there were then "connectors" and "salesmen" -- leaders of sorts within the BBWAA with a heavy influence -- who started voting for Morris, helping to increase his vote totals by influencing others that Morris' narrative trumps the 3.90 ERA that voters had soundly rejected as Hall of Fame material in his early years on the ballot. As the vote total slowly builds, others climb on board -- groupthink. Jim Rice got in because he had connectors and salesmen on his side; the comparable Dale Murphy never had the right guys leading his cause.

Anyway, this gets us back to Jeff Bagwell: He was at 56 percent last year and should climb over 60 percent this year, putting him even closer to the 75 percent threshold. His election by the BBWAA appears inevitable.
At the age of 36, David Ortiz is having one of the finest seasons of his distinguished career. He's hitting .309/.399/.628 with 21 home runs and leads the American League in OPS and runs scored while ranking second in slugging percentage and total bases. Because he's putting up these numbers in a lower run-scoring environment then a few years ago, his season is comparable to 2006, when he hit 54 home runs, or 2007, when he hit .332 with 35 home runs.

Ortiz homered on Wednesday on an inside pitch -- his 11th such home run, tying Ryan Braun for the major league lead -- showing that he still has the bat speed to turn on a pitch when he's busted inside. Not bad for a guy some Red Sox fans wanted released a few years ago after hitting one home run through May of 2009.

The other day on the Baseball Today podcast, Eric Karabell and I briefly touched on Ortiz and Edgar Martinez, asking: Who is the best designated hitter? With the Red Sox opening up a series in Seattle, it's the perfect time to run through a comparison between the two ... especially since Ortiz was originally signed by the Mariners (he was traded to the Twins while still in Class A ball and still went by David Arias).



By the time he's done, Ortiz is a good bet to approach 500 home runs and he should easily top 1,500 career RBIs, both numbers well beyond Martinez's career marks. But you'll notice one significant difference between the two: Martinez's career WAR is nearly 30 wins better than Ortiz's. How can there be such a large spread?

1. Martinez's advantage in on-base percentage is more significant than it appears upon quick glance. Ortiz's career OBP is an excellent .379; Edgar's is a Hall of Fame-worthy .418. For sake of comparison, Ortiz has ranked in the top 10 in the AL in OBP five times (including 2012) while Martinez did so 11 times, including six seasons where he ranked first or second. So factor in that Ortiz makes more outs and Martinez was more productive -- over his career Ortiz has created 7.5 runs per 27 outs while Martinez created 8.3.

SportsNation

Who is the greatest DH?

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    75%
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    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,250)

2. Run scoring environment. Ortiz has played in a time where the league average has been a .340 OBP and .434 slugging. For Martinez, the figures are slightly lower: .336 OBP, .420 slugging. You also have to factor in home park. Throughout his Red Sox career, Fenway Park has favored hitters. Martinez played first in the Kingdome, which was essentially neutral (it was a good home run park, but hurt batting average and doubles), and then Safeco, which favored pitchers. So that makes Martinez's runs more "valuable" since they came in a more difficult run-scoring environment.

3. Positional advantage. Remember, before he became a DH, Martinez spent four seasons as a third baseman. The first three of those, 1990 to 1992, came before the offensive explosion. Martinez's numbers those years don't jump off the stat sheet -- he averaged .318/.402/.477 -- but those were extremely valuable seasons as he compiled 17.5 WAR.

Anyway, in my book, it's pretty clear that Martinez's career value has been higher and he's a deserving Hall of Fame candidate.

SportsNation

What do you think of David Ortiz's Hall of Fame chances?

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    20%
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    49%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,595)

What about Ortiz? His WAR total leaves him far short of Hall standards, but he'll have other arguments on his side:
  • The possibility of 500 home runs and 1,500-plus RBIs.
  • High finishes in MVP voting: From 2003 through 2007, he finished fifth, fourth, second, third and fourth.
  • Reputation as a clubhouse leader and clutch hitter, as exemplified by some big postseason hits.
  • Key member of two World Series champions with good postseason numbers.
  • He was famous, which is not irrelevant.

What do you think?
SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield and I met in the bucolic Bristol studios to discuss the great game of baseball, with many ranging topics for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast , including:

1. After hitting Marco Scutaro in the head with a pitch, was Stephen Strasburg afraid to pitch inside?
2. From fast and young to slow and ... well, you know, Jamie Moyer found work, again.
3. Wade Miley, NL All-Star? Yep!
4. Why do I want Derek Jeter to get more hits than Peter Edward Rose?
5. How are the fans doing for the AL All-Star voting?
6. What should we expect from Anthony Rizzo as he’s set for his Cubs debut?
7. David Ortiz, Hall of Famer? Other than in nickname, how does he compare with Edgar Martinez?
8. Ozzie Guillen catches a big mistake and still loses the game.
9. What does the future look like for Justin Smoak?
10. Are the Orioles playoff-bound?

It really was a packed Tuesday edition of the Baseball Today podcast, so download and enjoy. Dave and I will return Wednesday!

A Mariners fan passes away at 103

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
6:38
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While a lot of headlines in sports these days focus on the ugly side of things, there is still plenty of good to be found. My grandma, Ruth Bishop, passed away today. She was 103. I’m not going to claim that she was the biggest Mariners fan in the world, but she did love the team. For the last 10 years or so she lived in a dorm-sized room. While she had paired down her possessions over the years, a good quarter of the items she retained were Mariners related -- blankets, bobbles, a stuffed moose, pillows and an autographed poster of Edgar Martinez.

[+] EnlargeTed Bishop
Ted BishopRuth Bishop attended her first Mariners game last year at 102.
Our visits rarely focused on her aches and pains. We instead focused on what Lou Piniella saw in Bobby Ayala or if Heathcliff Slocumb would ever record an out. Even when my grandma’s vision started to fail, she would argue balls and strikes if Dave Niehaus hinted that the pitch looked good. Her passion for the team was pure, very similar to the passion many of us felt as youngsters watching our favorite team or getting your favorite player in a pack of baseball cards. Contract talks and scandals didn’t mean that much to me then.

I don’t know if my grandma’s rest home was unique or symbolic of similar retirement communities. But the seniors lived for Mariners games. They watched religiously and in the very end, Mariners game times were a big part of how my grandma kept time. And for that I say thank you to the Seattle Mariners. I’m fairly confident that following the team kept her mind sharp as a tack and added at least a couple years to her life. At the very least, it made her final years much more enjoyable.

And while these types of stories never make the news, the Mariners were nothing but first class in their treatment of Ruth. She attended her first game at Safeco last year and they treated her like royalty: Bag of goodies, picture on the big screen and all. And Martinez went even further, calling Ruth on her 100th and 103rd birthdays.

Thank you, Mariners. Thank you, Edgar.

Ted Bishop is a senior director of digital partnerships for ESPN.com.


This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:

  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:
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).

The most talented team of all time

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
5:49
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What does that question even mean, "The most talented team of all time?"

Does it simply mean the best team? The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, a total matched only by the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Certainly, that Mariners club had a lot of talent -- Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 and Bret Boone had a monster season and Edgar Martinez got on base and John Olerud was really good and the pitching staff was underrated although not exactly filled with Cy Young winners. Still, I don't think many fans would say that was the most talented club ever assembled, especially since Ichiro is the only likely Hall of Famer.

[+] EnlargeIchiro
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireIchiro Suzuki hit .350 for the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games.
The 1955 Cleveland Indians had more players on their roster who appeared in an All-Star game at some point in their career than any other team, with 28. Was that the most talented team? It was a good club, won 93 games and finished in second place, and 28 All-Stars is certainly a lot. But considering there were only eight teams per league back then and that from 1959 to 1962 two All-Star games were played each season, a lot of players from that era were "All-Stars." Plus, some of the players were at the end of their careers (Ralph Kiner, Bob Feller) or just beginning (Rocky Colavito played five games).

Or maybe the definition of talent is different. Guys like Martinez and Olerud certainly got the most out of their abilities, as neither were what you would call a five-tool player. But the 1974 San Francisco Giants, for example, featured an outfield of Gary Matthews, Garry Maddox and Bobby Bonds, three athletic players who could hit, run and field. Dave Kingman was on that team, a guy who hit the ball as far as anybody in the game's history. Shortstop Chris Speier was a 24-year-old All-Star. Steve Ontiveros, a 22-year-old rookie third baseman, showed promise by hitting .265 with more walks than strikeouts. On the pitching staff, John D'Acquisto was one of the hardest throwers in the league. Ed Halicki was a 6-foot-7 right-hander with a blazing fastball. It was a talented team. It also lost 90 games.

Maybe the 1975-76 Reds were the most talented team ever assembled: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Cesar Geronimo. The '76 team led the National League in home runs, batting average, stolen bases, doubles, triples, walks and -- of course -- runs. Bench, Morgan, Concepcion and Geronimo all won Gold Gloves. But the pitching staff didn't compare: Don Gullett threw hard when he first came up, but relied on a forkball by the mid-70s; Gary Nolan had been a 19-year-old phenom in 1967, but was a finesse guy with great control after years of shoulder problems. Closer Rawly Eastwick threw hard, but the staff as a whole didn't -- in fact, the '75 team ranked last in the NL in strikeouts.

Anyway, just some random thoughts for a slow Thursday afternoon. What do you think is the best way to approach this topic? Got suggestions for the most talented team ever? Discuss below and we can address the topic in the future.
Albert PujolsStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesWill Albert Pujols' on-field value increase over the course of his 10-year contract?
Let's be honest: I don't think Arte Moreno cares too much about 2017 or 2018, let alone 2021, when Albert Pujols will be 41 years old and finishing up the final season of his 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Last week, ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski projected Pujols' numbers over the next 10 years. Szymborski's system predicts a fairly rapid decline for Pujols after the first four seasons. The Pujols defenders will rightly point out, however, that there have been few players like him in the history of baseball, that he doesn't drink and eats his vegetables and all that, and thus any projection system concerning Pujols will have a wide range of error.

So let's do this. Let's look at the most valuable first baseman or designated hitter since 1969 at each age, from 32 to 41, using Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement system. I'm using designated hitters for two reasons: Pujols will inevitably end up there at some point, and as you'll see, many of the "best" players at these ages have been DHs, not first basemen. Simply put: First basemen, even great ones, do not age well. At the end, we'll compare the total WAR of this method to Szymborski's ZiPS system.

Age 32: Lance Berkman, 2008 Astros -- 6.7 WAR (.312/.420/.567)

Actually, Edgar Martinez of the '95 Mariners was higher with 7.7 WAR, but he was primarily a DH that year. Martinez hit .356/.479/.628. It's perhaps interesting to note that Berkman and Martinez (you'll see his name a lot on this list) have higher career walk rates than Pujols. Berkman is at 15.5 percent for his career, Pujols at 13.1 percent. Martinez finished at 14.8 percent. If you factor in only unintentional walks, the difference is even greater. Pujols' walk rate declined in 2011 to a career-low 9.4 percent. Some of that was due to a big drop in intentional walks, but he was also more aggressive at the plate -- he averaged 3.65 pitches per plate appearance, his lowest average since 2004 and the second-lowest average of his career. Was it an anomaly, or the sign of a hitter with declining bat speed looking to "speed up" his bat by cheating a bit? One of the keys to Martinez being so successful late into his 30s was his extraordinary plate discipline. Pujols doesn't strike out much, but if he's cheating, that means he'll chase more bad pitches. And remember, walks create value in the form of on-base percentage. Pujols' .366 OBP in 2011 was 60 points below his career mark entering the season.

Next five: Willie McCovey (6.4), Jim Thome (5.9), Cecil Cooper (5.9), Keith Hernandez (5.6), Jeff Bagwell (5.5).

Age 33: Rafael Palmeiro, 1998 Orioles -- 6.2 WAR (.296/.379/.565)

From 1995 through 2003 (when he was 38), Palmeiro averaged 41 home runs per season. His average WAR over that span was 4.1. The potential edge Pujols has over Palmeiro is batting average -- Palmeiro hit .285/.380/.556 and was helped by playing five seasons in Texas. On the other hand, Palmeiro had 90-plus walks in a season five times over that 1995-03 span. Pujols walked 61 times in 2011.

Next five: Edgar Martinez (6.2), Jeff Bagwell (5.3), John Olerud (5.1), Todd Helton (5.0), Mark McGwire (4.9)

Age 34: Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals -- 7.2 WAR (.299/.470/.752)

Well, needless to say this one comes with a big asterisk. Look below and you will see the overall values of the best first basemen are starting to tail off quite rapidly.

Next five: Edgar Martinez (6.2), Eddie Murray (5.6), Carlos Delgado (3.8), Jeff Bagwell (3.8), Don Baylor (3.7)

Age 35: Mark McGwire, 1999 Cardinals -- 5.5 WAR (.278/.424/.697)

Thome makes the next five list below. He's one of the best hitters of the past 25 years, but from age 32 on, Thome had just two seasons with an offensive WAR of 4.0 or greater (ages 32 and 35). He's a different kind of hitter than Pujols, of course -- lower average, more strikeouts, more walks. But through age 31, he was hitting .287/.414/.567. From age 32 onward, he's hit .264/.388/.542. Thome is actually a kind of a best-case scenario: He has maintained much of his value as a hitter, although he's had issues remaining completely healthy.

Next five: Edgar Martinez (5.0), Jim Thome (4.6), Al Oliver (4.3), Todd Helton (4.2), Wally Joyner (4.2)

Age 36: Paul Molitor, 1993 Blue Jays -- 5.7 WAR (.332/.402/.509)

We're starting to see more designated hitters now. Molitor, Martinez and Hal McRae were all DHs.

Next five: Edgar Martinez (4.6), Rod Carew (4.4), Will Clark (4.1), Hal McRae (4.0), Jeff Bagwell (3.5)

Age 37: Edgar Martinez, 2000 Mariners -- 5.7 WAR (.324/.423/.579)

Now it's getting even more extreme: Only Andres Galarraga played first base of the top six guys here. The point is: Pujols will have to continue to hit like Martinez and continue to play first base to maintain his WAR above 5.0. Martinez hit .324 at 37. Pujols' batting averages the past four seasons: .357, .327, .312, .299.

Next five: Andres Galarraga (5.4), Frank Robinson (4.7), Ellis Burks (4.0), Paul Molitor (3.3), Brian Downing (3.1)

Age 38: Edgar Martinez, 2001 Mariners -- 5.5 WAR (.306/.423/.543)

Again ... a bunch of DHs, other than Willie Stargell, who had a nice late-career push at ages 38 and 39 (hitting a combined .287/.367/.559 over those two years, although offering little on the bases or in the field).

Next five: Frank Robinson (3.7), Willie Stargell (3.4), Frank Thomas (3.3), Gary Sheffield (3.1), Rico Carty (3.0)

Age 39: Paul Molitor, 1996 Twins -- 3.4 WAR (.341/.390/.468)

Molitor had an amazing late peak: From ages 34 through 40, he hit .320. Again, a totally different type of hitter and athlete than Pujols -- smaller, faster, much more athletic in the traditional sense of speed and agility.

Next five: Edgar Martinez (2.8), Willie Stargell (2.3), Brian Downing (2.1), Frank Thomas (2.0), Dave Parker (1.9)

Age 40: Edgar Martinez, 2003 Mariners -- 3.5 WAR (.294/.406/.489)

Look how low the WAR totals are getting. These aren't players who offer much value at this point in their careers.

Next five: Brian Downing (2.5), Harold Baines (2.3), Paul Molitor (1.4), Pete Rose (1.4), Reggie Jackson (1.3)

Age 41: Brian Downing, 1992 Rangers -- 2.5 WAR (.278/.407/.428)

If Pujols is still playing in the final year of his deal, he'll have to defy the odds of Father Time to remain an asset for the Angels (and by asset, we mean you'll have to ignore his salary). Downing is the only first baseman/DH to produce a WAR above 0.1 at age 41 since 1969.

OK, the final tally:

Szymborski's ZiPS: 32.4 WAR -- 32 wins above replacement level
Best players at each age: 51.9 WAR -- 52 wins above replacement level

What's interesting is that currently a win on the free-agent market is worth about $5 million. Take $254 million and divide by $5 million, and you get ... 50.8 wins.

So, if Pujols matches the production of the best player at each age since 1969 for the next 10 seasons, his on-field value will actually match the contract Moreno gave him. As great as Pujols is, I don’t see that happening, especially considering the signs of decline the past four seasons (his on-base percentage has also fallen from .462 to .443 to .414 to .366). Also consider that -- to put this delicately -- at least a couple players on these lists had some unusual aging patters to their careers in the midst of the steroids era.

If Pujols helps deliver the Angels a World Series title or two in the next few years, Moreno will be happy. And yes, Pujols provides value in more ways than just wins on the field -- the Angels reportedly sold 1,000 season-ticket packages after the Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings were announced. No doubt Pujols jerseys and T-shirts will be extremely popular in Orange County this summer. But you can’t deny it remains extremely likely that the back end of the deal will be a major albatross for the Angels.
Does Adrian Beltre's three-homer game rank as one of the top postseason hitting games of all time? After all, he belted three home runs in a slim 4-3 victory. One way to measure this is via something called WPA -- win probability added -- which takes into account the score and inning of the game to determine the change in win probability of the game based upon the outcome of each plate appearance. Under this method, the greatest WPA for one game is Kirk Gibson's two-out, two-run, bottom-of-the-ninth home run for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, which scored a WPA of .870.

Just for fun, here is the rest of the top 10 via that method, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com:

2. Steve Garvey, Padres, 1984 NLCS Game 4 (.854 WPA): Went 4-for-5 with five RBIs in a 7-5 win over the Cubs, including a walk-off, two-run homer. The Padres retired Garvey's uniform number because of that game.

3. Charlie Keller, Yankees, 1941 World Series Game 4 (.826): This is the famous game in which Mickey Owen dropped the third strike, leading the Yankees to score four runs in the ninth to win 7-4. Keller hit a two-out, two-run go-ahead double in the ninth, and also had an RBI single in the first during a 4-for-5 game.

4. Cookie Lavagetto, Dodgers, 1947 World Series Game 4 (.822): Lavagetto's pinch-hit two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the ninth broke up Bill Bevens' no-hit bid and gave Brooklyn a 3-2 victory.

5. Michael Tucker, Braves, 1998 NLCS, Game 5 (.812): Don't remember this one? Me neither. Tucker went 3-for-5 with five RBIs, including a three-run homer in the eighth as Atlanta beat the Padres 7-5.

6. Brian Jordan, Braves, 1999 NLDS, Game 3 (.806): It's OK, all those Braves playoff games from the '90 runs together. The Braves won 5-3 with Jordan hitting a three-run homer in the sixth and a two-run, two-out double in the 12th.

7. Stan Hack, Cubs, 1945 World Series Game 6 (.806): The Cubs' leadoff hitter, Hack went 4-for-5 with two walks and three RBIs in a 12-inning 8-7 victory, including the winning double with two outs.

8. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies, 2009 NLCS Game 4 (.754): Rollins' line doesn't seem that impressive -- 2-for-5, double, two RBIs -- but that double came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to score two runs and give the Phillies a 5-4 win.

9. Francisco Cabrera, Braves, 1992 NLCS Game 7 (.737): Reckon you might know about this one.

10. Gary Carter, Mets, 1988 NLCS Game 1 (.724): Orel Hershiser had finished the season with 59.1 scoreless innings. He took a 2-0 lead into the ninth, but Darryl Strawberry's RBI double knocked out Hershiser and Carter's two-out double off Jay Howell knocked in two runs for a 3-2 lead.

Now ... that's a great list, although probably not what you had in mind for best hitting performances. Those are all late-game clutch performances that snapped victory from the jaws of defeat. Here is another list of six performances that stand out to me for their all-around awesomeness, trying to avoid lines from blowout games like this one.
  • Reggie Jackson, Yankees, 1977 World Series Game 6: Three swings, three home runs. Reggie went 3-for-3 with a walk, four runs and five RBIs as the Yankees wrapped up the World Series with an 8-4 win.
  • George Brett, Royals, 1985 ALCS Game 3: With the Royals down 2-0 in the series, Brett hit a solo home run in the first; doubled and scored in the third; hit a two run-homer in the sixth to tie the game 5-5; singled to lead off the eighth and came around to score the winning run; 4-for-4, four runs, three RBIs in a 6-5 win. Wow.
  • Edgar Martinez, Mariners, 1995 ALDS Game 4: Trailing the Yankees 2 games to 1, Edgar hit a three-run homer in the third to cut a 5-0 deficit to 5-3, and then hit a grand slam off John Wetteland in the eighth when the game was tied. He finished 3-for-4 with a walk and postseason-record seven RBIs (also done by Mo Vaughn, Troy O'Leary and John Valentin).
  • Will Clark, Giants, 1989 NLCS, Game 1: The game turned into an 11-3 blowout over the Cubs, but Clark went 4-for-4 with a walk, two home runs, four runs and six RBIs.
  • Babe Ruth, Yankees, 1926 World Series 4: The Bambino goes 3-for-3 with three home runs, two walks, four runs and four RBIs in a 10-5 victory.
  • Kirby Puckett, Twins 1991 World Series 6: Down 3-2 in the series, Puckett hit an RBI triple and scored in the first; hit a sac fly in the fifth; singled in the eighth; hit a walk-off home run in the 11th. To top it off, he also robbed Ron Gant of a home run. (Puckett also went 4-for-4 with four runs in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series.)
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.


Mariners CelebrateDan Levine/AFP/Getty ImagesA common picture from the 2001 Mariners season: Ichiro Suzuki and Mike Cameron celebrating.
"Two outs, so what?"
--Catchphrase for the 2001 Seattle Mariners


Every Mariners fan has his or her favorite game from 2001. After all, we watched nearly every one or followed online the ones we couldn’t see on TV or attend in person.

I have two. The Mariners had romped through the first half, going 63-24 and leading the division by 19 games. By fortuitous circumstance, Seattle hosted the All-Star Game that year and it had been a Mariners celebration, with eight players named to the roster, including starters Ichiro Suzuki, Bret Boone, John Olerud and Edgar Martinez. The American League won the game 4-1, with Freddy Garcia earning credit for the win and Kazuhiro Sasaki recording the save.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesIchiro was one of eight Mariners All-Stars in 2001. The Mariners even hosted the game.
It would have been easy for the club to relax with such a big lead, but that’s not how the 2001 Mariners played baseball. In the first game following the All-Star break, they hosted the San Francisco Giants and Barry Bonds, then chasing Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record. Sure enough, Bonds launched a long home run in the first inning and the Giants held a 3-2 lead entering the bottom of the ninth. But David Bell homered on a 3-2 pitch from Robb Nen to send the game into extra innings. In the 11th, Mike Cameron walked with one out and stole second. With two outs, Tom Lampkin hit a chopper over the middle that second baseman Ramon Martinez gloved, but with no chance to get Lampkin. Cameron kept churning around third and beat Martinez’s throw home.

Relax? The Mariners would go 17-6 in their first 23 games out of the break.

My other game came a couple of weeks later. The Mariners led the Twins 3-2 in the eighth inning when Lou Piniella sent out little-used utilityman Charles Gipson as a defensive replacement in center field. Sure enough, later that inning Gipson threw out the potential tying run at home plate. That was the 2001 Mariners -- Piniella making every right move, all 25 guys contributing and delivering clutch throws and big hits. Baseball is a team game made up of individual talents. But I've never seen a baseball team where the sum of the team exceeded the individuals like the 2001 Mariners. They were a team in perfect harmony.

* * * *

"I haven't seen him hit the ball with any authority."
--Mariners manager Lou Piniella on Ichiro Suzuki, late in spring training


The Mariners had lost to the Yankees in six games in the 2000 American League Championship Series, but then Alex Rodriguez signed with Texas as a free agent. The Mariners countered that loss by winning the posting process for Ichiro Suzuki and signing him to a three-year, $14 million contract. In a less-heralded move, the team also signed free-agent second baseman Bret Boone. Still, nobody knew exactly what to expect from the club.

Spring training got off to a bad start. Jay Buhner, third on the team in home runs in 2000, suffered a torn arch in his left foot in his first at-bat and would miss most of the season. More troublesome was the performance of Ichiro, whom Piniella had initially planned on hitting third in the lineup. But Ichiro wasn’t hitting the ball with any power and the Seattle papers wondered if he was overmatched by major league pitchers who threw harder than the pitchers he'd regularly faced in Japan. Piniella and hitting coach Gerald Perry expressed their concerns that teams would just bunch their defense to the left.

Finally, in late March, Ichiro smacked a home run. "I shook his hand when he got to the dugout, just like I would with anyone else," Piniella said. "He had a big smile. I know it was good for him to hit the ball hard in that direction."

It was a small turning point for the Mariners. Maybe their Japanese import would be OK after all. Still, Piniella decided to install Ichiro as his leadoff hitter.

Like all of Piniella’s moves that year, it was the right one.

Ichiro got two hits in the season opener. A few days later he went 4-for-6 with two runs, a double and a two-run, game-winning home run in the 10th inning in Texas. A couple of days after that came The Throw. Ichiro had started a go-ahead Mariners rally in the top of the eighth with a pinch-hit single. In the bottom of the inning, facing the boos and taunts of Oakland fans who had been hounding him throughout the series, he sent his own message when he gunned down Oakland’s Terrence Long at third base with a laser beam from right field.

[+] EnlargeBret Boone
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesA familiar sight for M's fans in 2001: Bret Boone flipping his bat after a home run.
"I'll tell you what, you could hang a lot of clothes on that throw,” Piniella said. "It was going to take a perfect throw to get me -- and that's what he did,” Long said.

Just like that, Ichiro was a national sensation. He hit .336 in April, with hits in 23 of 25 games. The Mariners, meanwhile, went 20-5, including a three-game sweep in the Bronx. After the Mariners thumped the Rangers in one series, A-Rod predicted with complete insincerity but amazing accuracy that the Mariners would win 115 games. On May 23, Bell hit a home run in the eighth inning to beat the Twins, kicking off a 15-game winning streak. Ichiro and then Boone appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Later, Ichiro, Boone, Cameron and Martinez appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, under the billing "ALL WORLD."

* * * *

"It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end here."
--Bret Boone, after losing the ALCS to the Yankees


The Mariners never let up. Ichiro would win the batting title with a .350 mark and lead the league in hits and stolen bases. Boone had one of the greatest seasons a second baseman ever had, hitting .331 with 37 home runs and a league-leading 141 RBIs. The beloved Martinez, 38 years old, hit .306 with a .423 on-base percentage and 116 RBIs. Slick-fielding first baseman John Olerud had a .402 OBP and scored and drove in more than 90 runs. Cameron knocked in 110. Mark McLemore played all over the field and scored 78 runs and swiped 39 bases. With Ichiro, Cameron, Boone and Olerud, it was one of the best defensive teams I've ever seen. The pitching was the best in the league, as well. Garcia led the league in ERA, Jamie Moyer won 20 games and Sasaki, Arthur Rhodes and Jeff Nelson provided a dominant bullpen trio.

The team went 18-9 in June and July and 20-9 in August. They were selling out every game -- the M's would lead the AL in attendance that year, outdrawing the Yankees, a team that had won three straight World Series titles. Local TV ratings were off the charts. The team clinched the division title soon after the return to action after the 9/11 attacks halted play for a week. A champagne-soaked celebration didn’t seem appropriate. Instead, the team gathered near the pitching mound for a prayer. Somebody brought out a flag and the players walked the flag around the stadium, thanking the fans for their support. As Seattle newspaper columnist Art Thiel would write, "They found a way to honor their achievements, fans and country without histrionics, triteness, or bad taste. A season of greatness found a seminal expression apart from the game."

[+] EnlargeMariners
Otto Greule/Getty ImagesThe Mariners celebrated their division title in subdued fashion.
All that was left was the season record for victories. The 1998 Yankees had won 114 games. The 1906 Cubs, in a much different era, had won 116 games. Piniella pushed hard, keeping the regulars in the lineup. The Mariners surpassed the Yankees in Game No. 160 as Olerud and Boone homered and Moyer pitched a gem. The next day, they tied the Cubs as Boone homered in the first inning and five pitchers combined for a 1-0 shutout. No team had ever won more games. "I think if you assembled an All-Star team and put them in our division, they couldn’t win 116 games," Boone said.

Maybe Piniella pushed too hard. Maybe the team was gassed from the record drive. Maybe the pressure to match their regular season was too great. Or maybe the playoffs are just a crapshoot. The Mariners, of course, aren’t regarded as one of the greatest teams of all time. They’re not mentioned in the same breath as those ’98 Yankees or the ’86 Mets or ’75 Reds. They didn’t win the World Series; they didn’t even reach it.

They beat Cleveland in five games in the Division Series, rallying to win the final two games after getting bombed 17-2 in Game 3. But there were problems. Shortstop Carlos Guillen had contracted tuberculosis, and there were fears he’d infected the entire clubhouse. He missed the Cleveland series and played sparingly in the ALCS against the Yankees. Martinez had pulled a groin against the Indians and was ineffective in the ALCS. In the first two games, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina pitched gems. Seattle won Game 3 14-3 and led Game 4 1-0 on Boone’s homer in the eighth, but Bernie Williams homered off Rhodes to tie it and then Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run walkoff homer off Sasaki. Game 5 was an anticlimactic 12-3 blowout.

* * * *

"I'm tired of [expletive] losing, I'm tired of getting my [expletive] beat, and so have those guys. We gotta change this [expletive expletive] around and get after it. And only we can do it. The fans are [expletive] off, and I'm [expletive] off, and the players are [expletive] off. And that's the way it is. There's no [expletive] easy way out of this, can't feel sorry for ourself, we gotta [expletive] buckle it up and get after it."
--Mariners manager John McLaren, June 2008


The decline wasn’t immediate. The 2002 club was in first place as late as Aug. 18 and won 93 games, but missed the playoffs. Piniella, in part to be closer to his family in Florida and in part because he was angry management hadn’t added any reinforcements at the trade deadline, left after the season to manage Tampa Bay. The 2003 club led the division by five games on Aug. 15, but Oakland got hot and the Mariners faded. Once again, 93 wins wasn’t enough to make the postseason.

By 2004, the team was aging and in decline and general manager Bill Bavasi, who had replaced Pat Gillick, was ill-equipped to handle the transition. Still, the downfall was excruciating. The Mariners had arguably become baseball’s premier franchise. They were filling Safeco Field. They were fun to watch. They had some of the highest revenues in the sport. Maybe they weren’t the Yankees -- but they were the next-best thing.

Since 2004, the team has gone 566-714, including 100-loss seasons in 2008 and 2010. The offenses the past two years have been two of the worst baseball has seen in decades. Attendance, once more than 43,000 per game, has fallen to 23,489. The decline in popularity is evident in the team’s radio broadcasts. The only commercials with player endorsements involve Jay Buhner, who has been retired 10 years, and Seattle-area native Travis Ishikawa, who has never played for the Mariners.

So what happened?

The foundation for demise was set in the Gillick era. Due to free-agent signings, the Mariners had no first-round pick in 2000, 2001 and 2003 and failed to sign 2002 first-rounder John Mayberry Jr. Those four drafts produced just two major leaguers of significance -- Adam Jones, who was traded to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard trade; and Eric O’Flaherty, who the club released after the 2008 season.

The team did suffer some bad luck with a slew of pitching prospects in the early part of the decade. Ryan Anderson, compared to Randy Johnson for his 6-foot-10 stature and blazing fastball, was a top-10 prospect but blew out his shoulder and never reached the majors. Jeff Heaverlo tore his labrum. Clint Nageotte battled injuries. Gil Meche had pitched well as a rookie in 2000 but missed all of the 2001 season with a frayed rotator cuff -- yes, the 2001 club could have been even better. While Meche eventually returned, he was never the star his rookie season indicated he had a chance to become.

[+] EnlargeClement
John Williamson/Getty ImagesIn 2005, the Mariners could have drafted Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun or Ryan Zimmerman. Instead they took Jeff Clement.
To make matters worse, when the Mariners hit bottom and started earning high draft picks, they botched them. In 2005, they had the third pick and most experts had them taking Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Instead, in one of the deepest drafts in recent years, they took USC catcher Jeff Clement, passing not only on Tulowitzki, but Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Ricky Romero. Those guys went with the next four picks. (Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza also went later in the first round). In 2006, drafting fifth, the team passed on local product Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw to draft Brandon Morrow. In 2007, the team took hard-throwing but inexperienced Canadian high school pitcher Phillippe Aumont; Jason Heyward went three picks later. 2008 first-rounder Josh Fields was a college reliever expected to reach the majors quickly; Mariners fans are still waiting.

Current rookie Dustin Ackley looks like the first good hitting prospect the Mariners have developed since A-Rod. Actually, that’s not completely accurate; they developed Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera, but Bavasi gave them away to Cleveland in ill-advised trades for Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez in 2006. Those two combined for nine home runs that year and the Mariners finished 78-84. Bavasi brought in past-their-prime veterans like Scott Spiezio (.198 average over two seasons) and Rich Aurilia (.241 average before being sent back to the National League). Later, Bavasi would do unmentionable things like signing Carlos Silva and trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez.

In recent years, nearly every hitter the Mariners have produced has reached the majors with no concept of the strike zone -- guys like Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Wladimir Balentien and 2011 graduates Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero. You’re not going to win with guys like that.

So now the Mariners are headed for another season of 90-plus losses. They suffered through a 17-game losing streak in July. They’ve had some bright spots like Ackley and fellow rookie Michael Pineda. They still have Felix Hernandez. At one point recently, 12 of the 25 players on the roster were rookies, a sign that a complete rebuild was in order. But Ichiro is getting old, Franklin Gutierrez has regressed, Justin Smoak remains a question mark and third base and left field remain problem areas. The rookies strike out too much, the bullpen is thin and Felix's body language often suggests that he'd like to pitch with more than two runs of support.

I’ll be honest: It makes a Mariners fan want to re-watch that "Sweet 116" videotape again.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

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