I was reading Buster Olney’s baseball blog this morning (ESPN.com Insider account required), and he printed some emails from readers who were responding to Olney’s idea of having a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award in the Hall of Fame to honor people like Buck O’Neil and Minnie Minoso, who didn’t quite have the stats to get in the Hall as players, but whose contributions to the game deserved recognition. Here is one of those letters:
The Hall of Fame is not a place for social experiments. If people didn’t play in the major leagues and put up Hall of Fame numbers they should not be in the Hall of the Fame. The Hall is for the best of the best. We can guess all we want what stats the Negro leaguers would have put up, but since they never played in the majors, we will never know. I am sure Buck O’Neil is a nice man, but he doesn’t have the stats to be in the Hall of the Fame, and shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall is already diluted enough with people who should not be in: i.e., Tony Perez, Don Drysdale, Pee Wee Reese, Al Kaline, Bill Dickey, George Kell, Reggie Jackson (how they let a .260ish hitter in the Hall is beyond me), etc. The Hall should be for the best of the best, not the also-rans.
Don Parnell, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Mr. Parnell’s list of undeserving Hall of Famers got me thinking about what I know about each of those men. I looked up all their stats on baseball-reference.com, because while I know of guys like Bill Dickey and George Kell, I sure couldn’t tell you a lot about them. Looking at the stats, I can see how you can make a case that some of these guys shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but I think Parnell’s list was too long. Three people in particular stand out to me:
- Don Drysdale: No, Drysdale doesn’t have the freakish numbers that a lot of Hall of Fame pitchers do. He only won 209 games. His ERA was only 2.95. But his win total is low because he only played 13-1/2 seasons. If he had played 20 seasons and had a record of 310-246, would there be any question? What if he had struck out 3683 hitters in 20 seasons instead of the 2486 he whiffed in his shorter career? And his 2.95 ERA is 21 percent better than the 3.57 league ERA for his career. (As a reference point, Bob Gibson’s 2.91 ERA was 27 percent better than the league’s average.) The bottom line on Drysdale is that he was one of the most dominant, feared pitchers from the late 1950s to the mid-’60s, and he was half of one of the greatest 1-2 punches in pitching history (with Sandy Koufax, of course). His stats don’t justify being a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer, but his election in 1984, 15 years after his career ended, was fitting and appropriate.
- Al Kaline: I am not sure what Parnell’s idea was here, but Kaline had over 3000 hits, 399 home runs, and an OPS of .856. He also made 15 All-Star teams (including 13 in a row) and won 10 Gold Gloves in 11 years. I am trying to figure out what Parnell sees that I don’t, and the ONLY thing I can think of is that Kaline had less than 400 homers. If he had been just a power hitter, I would agree that this is a deal-breaker; but Kaline was a great hitter and a great fielder — the power was just one piece of the package.
- Reggie Jackson: Make no mistake about it: I am no fan of Reggie Jackson. Part of that is because I grew up in Dodger Blue, and I was mere months old when Reggie lit up my Dodgers for three homers in one game in the 1977 World Series. Part of it is because Reggie was/is so unbelievably arrogant. And part of it is because I have a hard time with all-or-nothing guys like Reggie, who either homered or struck out in 32 percent of his career at-bats. But the bottom line is that you can’t argue with results. He hit 563 home runs. He drove in 1702 runs. He had an OPS of .846 when the league average OPS was .704. Despite his lousy batting average, he had an on-base percentage of .356 when the league average was .322. He made 14 All-Star teams. He won one MVP award and finished in the top five four other times. Was he an all-around great player? No. Was he a clear-cut Hall of Famer? Absolutely.
Just my two cents.