Mattingly, Rice, and the HOF

I read a lot of the Hall of Fame articles out there and usually I honestly don’t really care. But I have 2 issues that have struck me this year:

1. Jim Rice getting closer to election. Peter Gammons blames Rob Neyer, and presumably “stat-heads” for “degrading” Rice. No one is saying that Rice is a bad person or had a bad career. Aren’t we supposed to be critically evaluating these players to see if they are worthy? Well guess what, when you critically evaluate someone, you criticize. That’s how it works.

Jim Rice was an elite hitter for a 3-4 year span. That’s it. He was a below average, DH type fielder. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? If he does, guess who else should be there? Don Mattingly, Albert Belle, Mo Vaughn, Jason Giambi… well you get the idea. Let’s look at each player’s best 5 seasons, according to OPS+, which may not be the definitive measurement of a player, but a good indication of hitting ability, Rice’s primary (dare I say only) asset.

Rice: 157, 154, 147, 141, 136
Mattingly: 161, 156, 156, 146, 133
Belle: 193, 177, 171, 158, 145
Vaughn: 153, 152, 150, 146, 144
Giambi: 198, 187, 172, 161, 153

I realize that these players played in different times, but the point is, there are many impressive DH-type hitters who have multiple year periods where they are amongst the games best and “most feared” hitters. David Ortiz will likely be one as well, when all is said and done. If Rice gets in, Mattingly in particular must get in: you can’t say Mattingly’s numbers were inflated by his era and unlike the other players on this list, Mattingly was not a DH. He was a Gold Glove first baseman. Even if Gold Gloves are meaningless for the most part, by no measure was Mattingly a poor fielder.

Add the fact that Rice’s numbers were inflated by Fenway, and you don’t have a Hall of Famer. Which leads me to my second complaint.

2. The Hall of Very Good. I’ve heard this term used numerous times and it would be tempting to end my Jim Rice rant by saying “he deserves to be in the Hall of Very Good, not the Hall of Fame” or “they don’t call it the Hall of Very Good” or something else stupid. But guess what? They also don’t call it the “Hall of Great” or the “Hall of the Best.” It’s the Hall of Fame. So if the name of the institution should truly reflect the people enshrined, we shouldn’t even be looking at numbers. Mattingly? You’re in! You were the most famous Yankee for over a decade. Hideki Matsui? Start preparing your speech, it’s just a matter of time because you’re the most famous player ever from Japan.

But the Hall of Fame doesn’t care about fame and nor should they. So let’s stop using the name as an excuse for why players who are merely “very good” are denied entrance.

I’ll even help you out: “Player X is not suitable for induction because they don’t call in the Hall of Very Good” would be a bad thing to say. “Player X is not suitable for induction because he was not a truly great baseball player on par with the other players currently enshrined” would be much better.

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