Monthly Archive for January, 2010

Weekend Reading: The Last Pale Light In The West

1.  The Rogue’s Baseball Index is a-humming. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

2. Andre Dawson to enter Cooperstown as an Expo. Quelle tragédie! (Walkoff Walk)

3. Chan Ho Park feels the love. And he seems like a pretty good guy. (KoreaAM via SOSG)

4. No love for the old folks, though. (Rob Neyer)

5. No love for the Western States either. Pitchers & Poets is a Seattle-based blog, written by an Astros fan and a Dodgers fan. As you can imagine, we find the East-Coastiness of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball lineup objectionable, deplorable, and quite disappointing. (Fanhouse).

Crowd the Hall

About two decades before the birth of Jesus Christ, construction began on what some historians have called the first Hall of Fame. It was conceived of by the Roman Emperor Augustus as a way to honor his gods, his ancestors, and himself. Hardly discerning when it came to his statuary, Augustus loaded his personal Hall of Fame with 108 busts, some hauled back to Rome from far-off lands, others commissioned by Augustus himself, others yet commemorating military triumphs.

Earlier this month, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown elected its 293rd member in Andre Dawson. He will have to make due with a bronze plaque instead of a full-on marble statue. At initial glance, 293 seems like a lot of members. After all, the history of baseball in America pales in comparison with that of conquests in Rome, and Cooperstown is in many ways more notable for the players it leaves out than the ones it admits.

This year, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar found themselves on the cusp of entry, scraping in vain at the impregnable golden fences of Cooperstown. Next year, they should be admitted. But what makes the Hall of Fame dynamic – as an institution more than as an actual building – is the list of men left on the outside. The Hall of Fame is defined by that invisible line that separates the worthy from the unworthy. It is the line over which celebrated men like Marvin Miller and Buck O’Neill, Gil Hodges and Ron Santo can never cross.

The location of this line, this threshold, is hard to place. Once upon a time, it sat squarely between numbers. It sat between 499 and 500, between 299 and 300, between 2,999 and 3,000. Only certain circumstances – misdeeds, injuries, intangibles – could compromise the landmarks of greatness. But these are different times. Belief systems, like home run records, have been crushed beneath a type of deceit. Traditional statistics, once considered infallible measurements of performance, have been proven inadequate.

There are 539 Hall of Fame voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Aside from the broad and broadly-covered schism between old-school skeptics and sabermetric believers, that means 539 unique definitions of what merits Hall of Fame induction. Induction requires 75% approval, or 405 votes. Once eligible, players can remain on the ballot for up to fifteen years. This means time for voters to consider the legacy of a candidate as his career fades further into the rear-view mirror. For guys like Blyleven, who seems to be gaining momentum at the pace of a baseball rolling across a flat surface, it means annual near-misses, an extended human drama that feels destined to play out like the final scenes of an ancient tragedy.

This is why there needs to be some level of Hall of Fame voting reform. Not just for poor Blyleven, for whom induction would mean so much at this point, but for all of us. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be a celebration. It’s supposed to be nostalgic and it’s supposed to make us happy. We want to see our heroes in tears on that podium for their final moments of glory. We want to remember what it felt like to watch them play and win and lose.

I don’t know what I’d prescribe to fix the Hall of Fame voting process, but I know this. I would let more people in. I would ease the restrictions. I would welcome more players and more managers and more executives and more ambassadors. Not a lot more, but a few more; some of those legacies stranded right outside the gates would be granted admission.

As it stands now, the voting process is entirely subjective. There are no statistical requirements for entry, no thresholds that need to be reached. There are just those 539 writers and the meager check and balance of the Veterans Committee (an essay for another time). If it were otherwise, if this were a Hall of Greatness or Hall of Merit, then Bert Blyleven would have already been admitted, and the whole conversation would be moot.

But it’s a Hall of Fame. And that’s a different thing. With a Hall of Fame, the stakes are basically non-existent. Is Mickey Mantle’s presence in Cooperstown really soiled by Bill Mazeroski’s? There need be no statistical formula for inclusion. We have our hearts and our imaginations and the whole point of the institution is to please us, the baseball fans who trek to upstate New York, and pass hours arguing about it. So why not ease the standards, ease the frigid self-righteous shrieking over whether an excellent player (anybody whose even part of the conversation is an excellent player) is or isn’t quite deserving enough?

How could this be accomplished without creating a Hall of Mediocrity, or a Hall of Cora Brothers? There are a few possibilities that immediately come to mind. One option is to simply lower the 75% threshold used by the BBWAA, perhaps even to a more sane 70%. Another would be to introduce an element of controlled fan voting. I realize that some fans hate All Star voting because they believe average folks aren’t smart enough to know who the best second baseman in the NL in a given year is, but the fans are what powers baseball. As a single component of a larger formula, fan voting could bring a new dynamism to the process. A third option would be to introduce appeals processes, so certain candidacies could be resurrected.

I don’t know how much thought Augustus put into the statues in his forum. It is very possible that he argued for hours with advisors over whether to include a 109th statue, or whether a certain ancestor or general was being unjustly excluded. But honor and glory are not finite substances of which we could run out. Even with a slightly-expanded Hall of Fame, there will be emotional induction ceremonies and heated arguments over who deserves admission. It’s just that if we open the gates to Cooperstown just an inch or two wider, there will be more joy, and isn’t that the whole point?

RBI News

Today’s the day of the big Rogue’s Baseball Index relaunch.  Below is the text of our intro post over there:

Welcome to the new and improved Rogue’s Baseball Index blog. When we unveiled the RBI in September, it was as a Wiki, a browse-able dictionary with no practical uses and without even its own domain name. Today the RBI is reborn as a blog. It’s still baseball like you’ve already thought it, only this time it’s delivered to your doorstep (or RSS Feeder) every day. Check in for new terms every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and archived gems on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The wiki will also still available for your perusing pleasure.

If you’re still not quite sure what this is all about, you can visit our About Page. But here’s the main idea: The Rogue’s Baseball Index (or RBI for short) is what we have deemed an alternative baseball lexicon: it’s a baseball dictionary, if Merriam was Mike “King” Kelly and Webster was Bill “Spaceman” Lee. It’s brought to you by Ted Walker and Eric Nusbaum, the guys behind Pitchers & Poets. We’ll also have regular contributions from Carson Cistulli. Artwork and Design are by Mark Penxa and Kolin Pope.

Tell your friends. And don’t forget to subscribe by RSS.

Unsatisfied

I’m mostly just posting because it’s now been two weeks since Ted or I any of our friends have said anything about baseball on this here website. Rest assured that he benefits of this interlude, inexcusable as it may be in length, will soon reveal themselves. All that said, this part of the off-season is boring. There’s nothing we can really do about it. Pitchers and Catchers Day is right around the corner. Football is almost over. The Winter Olympics are almost a go (watch the hockey, people). In the meantime let’s busy ourselves with arbitration cases and 2010 speculation. Let’s play catch  next time the sun comes out.  We’re unsatisfied for now, but we’ll be over it soon.

PS: PnP officialy endorses SOSG Orel in the vicious Sons of Steve Garvey Survivor Contest

Situational Essay: Nicknames

Old friend Kenneth “The Page”  Morgan chimes in to help us through the January doldrums with a nice semi-HOF related post.

I’m a sucker for nicknames and I’m very liberal when it comes to these attachments. While others may groan after Chris Berman reaches for yet another potential gem, I eat it up every time. While doing some Edgar Martinez Hall of Fame research I came to the realization that our current pool of sluggers and hurlers are grossly under-represented in the nickname department.

If you take a walk down Hall of Fame lane you’ll notice many of the members have one thing in common: at least one nickname. Browsing the list of current stars, I couldn’t help but wonder ‘Where’s the Beef?’ Albert “The Machine” Pujols, Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, and Kevin “The Greek God of Walks” Youkilis are all very fitting choices. But why haven’t we addressed many of the other probable future legends of this era? Joe Mauer, Ichiro, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley are a few examples of those left out. _(Now that I think about it, maybe we should just officially adopt the example from Rogue’s Baseball Index and refer to him as “The Joe Mauer” (ed note: that plug was completely unsolicited). Do we need to wait until late in their careers before we can properly Knight our heroes?

Let’s look at a few trends:

1) Alliterations always aids (Joltin’ Joe, Hammerin’ Hank, Sultan of Swat, The Splendid Splinter)

2) The goofier the better (The Bird, Spaceman, Yogi, El Guapo)

3) Robust phrases (The Big Unit, Nails, The Iron Horse, The Rocket, Death to Flying Things)

To properly preserve the legacy of players from this era we need to pick up the pace with naming. Although I can tolerate nicknames in many form, I cringe when I hear Hanley Ramirez referred to as “H-Ram”, or Jimmy Rollins as “J-Roll”. This is the ultimate in laziness and we cannot settle on these choices. There’s a reason we don’t hear “T-Will” attached to Ted Williams; it just sounds silly.

I have a few ideas of my own. Brian Bannister would make a good “SABR-tooth Tiger”. As for my favorite player, sure “Gar” and “Papi” are decent options but I feel like I should channel my inner George Costanza and we should now call Edgar Martinez “Eleven”.

Discussion Questions:

1) What are some of your favorite nicknames?

2) Have you created any nicknames for current players?

3) How worried are you about the lack of nicknames in today’s game?