Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Thoughts on the 2019 Hall of Fame class

This year's inductees to Cooperstown are a tale of two electoral bodies. While I hate the media, I'll give the BBWAA credit for getting this year's election right: Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Roy Halladay are all, in my mind, worthy of induction, so congratulations to them. It was well deserved.

The Veterans Committee, on the other hand, laid a giant egg. Harold Baines and Lee Smith were both fine players, but neither one reached the heights I would expect from a legitimate Hall of Famer.

I suppose you could make the argument that Lee Smith was one of the most dominant relievers in the game in the '80s, but once the '90s came around, he became a consistent-but-not-dominant one-inning closer. To me, that makes him nothing but a guy who had a good career. By the time I started following baseball in the '90s, I don't recall anyone talking about him as though he were a legend. He was most notable for being the all-time saves leader for a while, but then, so was Jeff Reardon. Granted, it's not as though a great player can't slip below the radar, but in this case, I think the general perception is about right.

Baines is another guy who got a lot of talk but ultimately no induction from the writers. He was a beloved player on Chicago's South Side during the '80s, and in the '90s he made a good career out of being a veteran bat for potential contenders to round out their lineup with. Like the word "feared" with Jim Rice, the label Baines acquired was "professional hitter." It suited him well, as he was primarily a DH from 1987 on, and he was pretty consistent year after year. He was never, however, a serious MVP candidate, nor did he ever hit more than 29 homers in a season. According to Baseball Reference, his 162 Game Average is 22 homers, 93 RBI, and a .289/.356/.465 batting line. Not bad, but when the only reason you have a job is to wield the lumber, you need to do much better than that if you want to be considered an immortal. Really disappointed in this choice, even more so than Smith.

The Hall of Fame voters have made a lot of blunders over the years, and the more they make in this era of better data, it gets harder for me to take induction all that seriously. Still, it's nice to see the truly great players get recognized, so my hat is off to them.

The Hall of Famers' First Major League Home Runs post has been appropriately updated.