The All-Non-HOF Team of the 1980s

It’s always fun to read posts that name all-decade teams throughout baseball’s rich history. One twist I don’t think I’ve seen is an all-decade team of non-HOFers. Of all the years that make up baseball’s glorious (and inglorious) past, I feel like this is the one I know best.

From skipping school in 1980 to catch the one-game playoff between the Dodgers and Astros to my firsthand experiencing of the Loma Prieta earthquake that interrupted the first ever Bay Bridge World Series, these were ten years of my life that revolved around baseball obsessively. As such I bring not only a ton of knowledge but more importantly (for debate) a ton of bias to these picks–more so than I’d be capable of with any other decade.

DISCLAIMER #1: I know this will ruin the page for many of you, but I’m excluding juicers from my selections. However great their final numbers–and even their pre-juice numbers–they are all banned for life in my book. I don’t collect them, I don’t want them in Hall, and I don’t even want them on a little read web page of also-rans.

DISCLAIMER #2: While my list is riddled with Detroit Tigers, I swear I’m not a homer. I grew up in L.A. and followed–still follow–the Dodgers religiously.

frontCATCHERS

  • Starter – Lance Parrish – This man gets my vote for the most under-rated player of the decade. Parrish notched seven of his eight (!) career all-star appearances in the 1980s, scooping up three Gold Gloves along the way. True there’s not a ton of black ink on Parrish’s record, though he does hold the dubious distinction of leading the league in passed balls at least one season in three different decades. (My guess is he’s the only catcher to claim that honor, but I haven’t actually checked.) Over the four-year stretch from 1982-1985, Parrish averaged 30 HR and 99 RBI.
  • Backup – Tony Peña – A five-time all-star and three-time Gold Glover during the decade, famous for throwing runners out without even standing up, Peña also batted .395 during the 1987 postseason, collecting 17 hits in 43 at bats.

donma19tosu5FIRST BASEMEN

  • Starter – Don Mattingly – Donnie Baseball played only six full seasons during the 1980s, but they were easily the best six seasons of his career. In addition to winning the AL MVP award in 1985, Mattingly made six all-star teams and took home five gold gloves. His 1986 season (.352/32/113) represented the first .350/30 season since 1961 and put him in the most elite of pinstripe company (Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle). When Mattingly closed out the decade with a .323 career average, I doubt you could find a person anywhere who didn’t regard him as a lock for Cooperstown. We’re talking about Donnie Baseball, for Chrissakes–I mean the man’s last name is BASEBALL after all!
  • Backup – Will Clark – Despite only playing four seasons in the decade, Will the Thrill–along with teammate Kevin Mitchell–turned the hapless Giants into one of the best teams in baseball, capturing NL West crowns in 1987 and 1989. The only major leaguer ever–and possibly the only person ever–to boast the middle name Nuschler, Clark batted .304 for his abbreviated decade, averaging 25 home runs and 88 runs batted in. I know fans can make a strong case for Keith Hernandez here, and they may well be right. I’ll call the middle name the tiebreaker.

front (1)SECOND BASEMEN

  • Starter – Lou Whitaker – Five straight all-star selections from 1983-1987 (one wearing a souvenir stand uniform!), three gold gloves, and a decade long pairing with Alan Trammell to form one of baseball’s best middle infield combos ever, it’s crazy to me that his HOF votes topped out at 2%. And meanwhile, Johnny Evers has a plaque in Cooperstown because he was in a poem! Did voters even notice how Whitaker signed his 1982 Topps card?
  • Backup – Frank White – This five-time all-star and eight-time Gold Glover (three and five in the decade, respectively) is another under-rated player from the 80s. Not spectacular but very good for his position over a pretty long stretch.

4d9039c2b8546ce968d3facb82d02d79--cincinnati-reds-baseball-cardsTHIRD BASEMEN

  • Starter – Buddy Bell – This may well be where the HOFers at the position (Schmidt, Brett, Boggs) just destroy my best non-HOFers. Sidebar, but when I was in elementary school in the late 70s–for no good reason other than his name–this was the player my best friend and I made fun of all the time. He was pretty much our stand-in for sucky baseball player. Little did we know he’d finish his career with over 2500 hits and dominate the first half of the next decade with four all-star appearances and five Gold Gloves.
  • Backup – Carney Lansford – From 1981-1984 Lansford batted .300 every season, winning the AL batting crown with a .336 average in the strike season of 1981. His lone all-star appearance came in 1988 as a member of the AL Champion Oakland A’s squad. Bonus points awarded for stylish batting stance.

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SHORTSTOPS

  • Starter – Alan Trammell – A five-time all-star and four-time Gold Glover during the decade, I will commit heresy here and say I’d be fine if my team had Alan Trammell while the other guys had Robin Yount or Cal Ripken. I’m not saying he’s better or even as good–just that he isn’t really THAT much worse. I know everybody and their cousin topped 20 HR in 1987, but I still drool over any .343/28/105 season I can get from a shortstop not loading up at BALCO.
  • Backup – Dave Concepcion – The final three of Concepcion’s eight consecutive all-star appearances came from 1980-1982. I can’t say a ton more about Davey, who clearly peaked during the previous decade, other than I remember his bounce throws to first being featured on an episode of This Week in Baseball.

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s-l225 (1)s-l225OUTFIELDERS – Sorry, I know I have way too many of these guys.

  • Starter – Kirk Gibson – I am ignoring all stats here and basing this selection solely on Gibson’s mammoth homer of Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series and his unbelievable game winner off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. You may remember the “Sports Talk” players of the late 80s where you  put an oversized baseball card into a player 200x the size of an iPod and listened to a short bio or highlight reel. Well the Kirk Gibson one was outstanding–it featured Padres HOF skipper Dick Williams heading out to the mound to see if the Goose wanted to walk Gibby. Well, you can guess that Gossage said no. And then, holy sh*t! I think Gibson hit the ball to the freaking moon.
  • Starter – Pedro Guerrero – Five all-star selections, an MVP calibre season in 1985, and a World Series co-MVP in 1981 aren’t so shabby, but one wonders what might have been if Pedro hadn’t suffered a gruesome baserunning injury just prior to the start of the 1986 campaign. As a huge Pedro fan growing up, I was incredibly bummed that he got traded for John Tudor in 1988 and missed out on another ring.
  • Starter – Dale Murphy – Seven all-star selections, five Gold Gloves, and back-to-back MVPs during the decade earn Murphy a starting spot on the squad. I know it’s cheating to combine different seasons but here are Murph’s highs for the decade: .302 BA, 131 R, 44 HR, 121 RBI, 30 SB, 115 BB, 29 IBB. So good that Topps gave him TWO rookie cards!
  • Backup – Darryl Strawberry – This 1983 NL ROY followed up his rookie campaign with eight consecutive all-star selections, six of them in the 1980s, and I was so sure he would hit 500+ homers that I bought a “200-pack” of his 1990 Upper Deck card. (Yes, that’s what it sounds like–a stack of 200 cards–all being 1990 UD Darryls.) I was lucky enough to meet Darryl following an insane Gooden vs. Valenzuela pitching duel (tied 0-0 after nine innings) in 1985. He was super cool and kind enough to sign a trading card for me, even while holding his baby, D.J.
  • Backup – Willie Wilson – This man started the decade right with a then-record 705 at bats (darn you, Jimmy Rollins!) and was an absolute terror on the bases. Some Willie Wilson facts you might have forgotten include his five triples titles in the decade, a batting title, and highs of 133 runs and 230 hits. Haters can key in on his then-record 12 strikeouts in the 1980 Fall Classic; however, I am pretty sure 12 Ks won’t even crack the top ten five years from now.
  • Backup – Dwight Evans – I know a lot of Boston fans who really believe Dewey belongs in Cooperstown. I’d say he’s borderline in that he wouldn’t hurt the Hall by being in, but he doesn’t hurt the Hall by being out. As for the 1980s though, he was definitely Boston Strong. His 162 game averages were .280/.373/.497 with 106 R, 28 HR, and 99 RBI. Worse players have made it to Cooperstown, and worse players will continue to make it to Cooperstown.
  • Backup – Eric Davis – I gotta put this guy on the list based solely on this: In 1986 he had 27 homers and 80 stolen bases; the following season he had 37 home runs and 50 steals. Obviously, E.D. wasn’t able to keep that up for his whole career, but it’s still pretty ridiculous.
  • Backup – Bo Jackson – Hard to come up with bigger bummers in sports than thinking about what Bo might have done in baseball and football without that terrible hip injury. Bo could ground out and strikeout better than most guys could hit home runs.
  • Backup – Al Oliver – Besides having one of the coolest cards in the 1976 Topps set, Scoop was an all-star the first four seasons of the decade, batting .300 or better in each of those seasons. Oliver could also drive in runs, driving in 117 Rangers in 1980. (I’ll spare you the fancy sabermetrics, but this would be like driving in 150 guys on an average team or 200 on a good team.)

STARTING PITCHERS

  • dwight-goodenStarter – Dwight Gooden – Doc’s first two seasons–like Guidry’s first two seasons seven years earlier–were so freaking good that he would have made my list even if he did zero for the rest of the decade. (And I know you’re thinking, “Isn’t that pretty much what he did do?”) In fact, Gooden’s worst W-L percentage for the remainder of the decade was .667 (eat your hearts out, Bert Blyleven and Nolan Ryan), and he was actually a very good pitcher every one of those seasons. He just wasn’t God anymore.
  • answer_man_orel_hershiser_talks_dodgers_baseball_boogie_and_jugglingStarter – Orel Hershiser – The Bulldog’s 1988 second half and postseason were so incredible that he’d make the team with nothing else under his belt. First, here is Hershiser’s September: 6 G, 55 IP (huh!?), 5-0 W-L, 0 R, 0.00 ERA. And now his October: 6 G, 42.2 IP,  3-0 W-L, 5 ER, 1.05 ERA, and a huge save! But let’s definitely add bonus points for going 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA in 1985. Most years, that gets you better than 3rd in the Cy Young voting.
  • 2b32f4320b8c9ef8569c3b72bda20505--tigers-baseball-detroit-tigersStarter – Jack Morris – The Tigers ace was the winningest pitcher of the decade (162 W), which in any prior decade would have made him a Hall of Famer. His no-hitter on April 7, 1984, let the world know just how scary that Tigers team, only the third in baseball history to lead wire-to-wire, was gonna be. For what it’s worth, I’d happily send this man to the mound any day of the week, and he gets a Hall vote from me as well. I definitely don’t put him in the Bob Gibson/Walter Johnson category, but I don’t think he’d be too much of a poser hanging with the Burleigh Grimes/Bert Blyleven crowd.
  • 1987fleer-davestiebStarter – Dave Stieb – A six-time all-star during the decade, his 140 wins were second behind Jack Morris. And while I’m not a big sabermetrics guy, some of you will be excited (and possibly surprised) to know that Mr. Stieb led all 1980s pitchers in WAR!
  • Backup – Dave Stewart – Not a ton to get excited about over the first 7 years of the decade, but what a finish! The first three of his four consecutive 20 win seasons and of course that menacing glare from the mound. (By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see a guy rack up four straight 20-win seasons again. And yes, it makes me sad to type this.)
  • Backup – Fernando Valenzuela – Here is the pitcher with the fourth most wins of the 1980s (128 W)–or more precisely, tied with Charlie Hough. In case you’re wondering if it’s unusual for none of a decade’s top five winningest pitchers (Morris, Stieb, Welch, Valenzuela, Hough) to be Hall of Famers, it sure is!
  • Backup – Bret Saberhagen – Two Cy Young Awards for the decade gives Saberhagen an automatic in. Of his six seasons, three were terrific, two were average, and one was awful–though he still made the all-star team!
  • Backup – Mike Scott – A top three pitcher in MLB from 1985-1989, Scott averaged 17 wins over that stretch and had the dubious distinction of having won every game I ever saw him pitch. He was the 1986 NLCS MVP, even though his team lost, going 2-0 with two complete games, an ERA of 0.50, and 19 strikeouts.

RELIEVERS

First off, it pains me to add this category as I feel like the disappearance of the complete game and shutout is the single worst change to the game over the course of my lifetime. I get it that data favors a fresh arm out of the pen over a starter facing batters a third or fourth time; however, I also feel like the game is simply not as fun to watch. Never mind that chapters of the record books have now been permanently closed. Consider instead how much time–all of it commercials–gets added when the new normal is for an average of 9-10 pitchers to enter every single game. The all-time lowlight for me was when Dave Roberts pulled Ross Stripling who was pitching a no-hitter in his major league debut. (Of course, the next batter homered to win the game!)

But eff it. Here we go.

  • 155Dan Quisenberry – As much as I hate relief pitching, I gotta admit I enjoyed watching this guy. Similar to when I watched Kent Tekulve in the 1979 Fall Classic, I mostly just thought to myself, “How the hell does anyone hit this guy?” Quiz opened the decade strong with a 12-7 record and 33 saves (okay, I DO respect any reliever that nails down double-digit wins), good for fifth in the AL Cy Young voting. But this was all just prelude to one of the most dominant relief stretches ever, when Quiz finished in the Top 3 for Cy Young all four years from 1982-1985. I still marvel at the man’s 1983 Topps card–just look at that arm angle!–but give zero props to Fleer in 1982 for one of the lamest action shots ever. On a sad note, Quisenberry also finishes high on the list of modern baseball players who died way too young, only making it to age 45.
  • Lee Smith – Even though Smith’s top years came in the 1990s, he was solid enough in the 1980s to earn mention here. He was a very good reliever for fourteen straight seasons (1982-1995), retiring as the (former) all-time leader in saves.
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The All-Non-HOF Team of the 1970s

It’s always fun to read posts that name all-decade teams throughout baseball’s rich history. One twist I don’t think I’ve seen is an all-decade team of non-HOFers. As it’s not only the decade I fell in love with baseball but also a decade that’s particularly overlooked by HOF voters, the 1970s feels like the right place to start. I don’t think this team would beat the 1970s all-decade team of HOFers, but I wouldn’t expect any blowouts either.

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CATCHERS

  • Starter – Thurman Munson – 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, 1976 AL MVP, 7 all-star selections, and 3 Gold Gloves–all by the age of 32. I remember him as having more pop than his stats actually show. But maybe that’s because 15 HRs for a catcher used to be a lot. I personally dig his 1978 Topps card–I’m a sucker for the bright, blurry crowds that hallmarked so many of the backgrounds in that set–but it’s his 1971 Topps card that many collectors consider a Top 10 card of the decade.
  • Backup – Ted Simmons – 5 all-star selections in the decade (8 overall) for this switch-hitting backstop who seemingly flirted with .300/20/100 every year of the decade. In all honesty, I don’t LOVE any of Ted’s cards from the 1970s, but I’d probably go with 1974 if I had to choose. There’s kind of a Rembrandt darkness to the shot.

1976-Topps-Steve-Garvey-150-211x300FIRST BASEMEN

  • Starter – Steve Garvey – His 1974 NL MVP season kicked off the first of 6 all-star seasons in the decade (10 overall) to go with 4 straight Gold Gloves. A threat every season to bat .300, collect 200 hits, and drive in 100 runs, not to mention a monster in the postseason. And more importantly (to me), Garvey was a freaking God to the kids of Los Angeles in the late 70s and early 80s. A ritual of the spring was to be the first to rip a Garvey from a pack, at which point you could either keep the Garvey and rule collecting for a good week or so or else trade the Garvey for pretty much the best 10 cards in some other guy’s collection. 1981 was the year I came in first, and I kept the card–I wasn’t an idiot!
  • Backup – Dick Allen – While some of his best years came in the 1960s, Allen still took home the 1972 AL MVP and made four all-star teams in the 1970s. As an added bonus, Dick’s 1971 cards (regular issue and Super) were the first ever Topps cards to feature a player with a mustache.

136604SECOND BASEMEN

  • Starter – Bobby Grich – The 1970s included 4 all-star selections and 4 Gold Gloves. Particularly notable was his 1979 season in which Bobby batted .294 with 30 HR and 101 RBI. Fans who actually watched Grich play knew he was very good for his position but not great. Then the sabermetricians came along and told us we were wrong–we had actually been witnessing one of the best second basemen of all time!
  • Backup – Davey Lopes – With “only” two all-star selections and Gold Gloves during the decade, Lopes is included mainly for his speed. From 1973-1979, Lopes averaged 53 steals per year, and–as his 1976 Topps Record Breaker card shows–almost never got caught!

135065THIRD BASEMEN

  • Starter – Pete Rose – Averaged 205 hits per year over the decade, which is pretty insane. Now for good measure throw in 9 all-star selections (!) and the 1973 NL MVP award. Based on games played, Rose probably belongs atop the list of outfielders, but memories of his 1976, 1977, and 1979 Topps all-star cards are too burned in my memory to take him off third base. Rose is of course subject to some of the most vigorous HOF debates around. I used to be a strong advocate, but I think I’m finally at peace with his omission. That said, I think the LAMEST THING EVER would be to induct him posthumously (since his ban is only a “lifetime” ban).
  • Backup – Bill Madlock – Batted .320 for the decade and won two of his four batting titles.  Also batted .375 for the Bucs in the 1979 World Series. Despite bearing the nickname “Mad Dog,” I gotta say Madlock has some of the warmest smiles you’ll see on a baseball card.
  • Backup – Graig Nettles – I’ll give the team a second backup here since you never know if Rose might end up somewhere else in the field (or God knows where off the field!). Nettles may be best known to 1980s baseball card collectors as the guy with the toughest error card (“C” Nettles) from the 1981 Fleer set, but he was also at times the reincarnation of Brooks Robinson at third–especially in the postseason–and a very solid power hitter, swatting 252 homers in the decade and 390 in his career.

79-560FrSHORTSTOPS

  • Starter – Dave Concepcion – 6 of his 9 all-star selections came in the 1970s, along with 5 Gold Gloves. The one year Concepcion wasn’t an all-star between 1973 and 1982 came in his best season, 1974, when he batted .281 with 14 HR and 41 SB. Still, despite Concepcion’s perennial all-star status, he always struck me as one of the least intimidating guys ever to make it onto cardboard. His 1977 pose reminds of that guy on your Little League team who was scared to bat and jumped out of the box every time the pitcher went into his motion.
  • Backup – Bert Campaneris – 5 all-star selections in the decade along with the final 2 of his 6 stolen base titles. I’m at a loss to recall what book this might have been, but I distinctly remember learning about Campaneris for the first time by reading a book about the greatest baseball players ever. Ruth, Gehrig, Campaneris, Cobb, … right? As for his best cardboard, why not take 1976 Topps, where either an Oakland Athletic or a New York Yankee hogged every all-star card except… (I’m gonna leave it blank as a trivia question for readers.)

1407974e5565bdad9f4dfd4fea7d09c725be32151864OUTFIELDERS

  • Starter – Dave Parker – The Cobra remains in my mind one of the top all-around baseball talents anywhere. His 1978 NL MVP season was one of the best of the decade, and his back-to-back batting titles in 1977-1978 contributed to a .317 mark for the decade. While Parker’s 1976 Topps card was named “best of the year” by Wax Pack Gods, my favorite might be his 1979 Topps, if for no other reason than the totally bananas uniform!
  • Starter – George Foster – Three straight RBI titles between 1976-1978 highlighted what might have been the decade’s top three-year peak, and his 1977 season (.320, 52, 149) was easily the decade’s finest. Top card was 1978, just to flip it over and drool over those stats.
  • Starter – Fred Lynn – The first 5 of Lynn’s 9 consecutive all-star selections came in the 1970s, started off by his famous 1975 ROY/MVP campaign and book-ended by a 1979 campaign that was even better. It’s a funny thing…at the close of the decade, if you were a GM and could build a team around player, I have to imagine the first names that would come to mind would be Lynn, Parker, Garvey, Foster, Rice, J.R. Richard, and Ron Guidry. Hard to believe only one made the Hall–and just barely at that!
  • Backup – Amos Otis – The man known as A.O. was a five-time all-star and three-time Gold Glover in centerfield for the Royals. Otis also twice topped the A.L. in doubles and in 1971 stole bases to pace the junior circuit. Rather than feature his best cardboard, let me put in a plug for his Kansas City Monarchs bobblehead, with all proceeds benefiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
  • Backup – Don Baylor – Groove finished the decade with a bang, taking home the 1979 AL MVP award with a .296/36/139 season that led his Halos to their first ever division title. Baylor’s 1970s accomplishment also included four of his eight “hit by pitch” titles and a personal high of 52 stolen bases in 1976.
  • Backup – Dave Kingman- Here is a man who would fit right into today’s “feast or famine” approach to hitting, able to hit tape measure homers or whiff with the very best of them. While his batting average toiled around .230 for much of the decade, Kingman finished with a fantastic .288/48/115 season in 1979 that included one of the top slugging averages of the decade (.613). And of course, his 1978 Topps card was something to behold!

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PITCHERS

  • Starter – J.R. Richard – Here is a pitcher whose career trajectory was not unlike that of Sandy Koufax over his first ten years–five or so pedestrian seasons followed by total domination of the league followed by career-ending medical issues in his prime. Particularly noteworthy was his dominance of the Dodgers, going 13-0 with a 1.57 ERA over the final 17 contests of his career. J.R. is also the only player I know of who had both a “missing” card (1973 Topps) and an “extra” card. Though J.R.’s last MLB appearance was at the 1980 All-Star Game, he nonetheless earned a spot in the 1982 Topps set.
  • UntitledStarter – Vida Blue – Three 20-win seasons, two more 18-win seasons, the 1971 AL MVP and Cy Young Awards, four all-star selections, three World Series rings, and a 300 K season made Blue one of the most accomplished pitchers of the 1970s. While 1971 was clearly Blue’s best (and really, one of THE best ever), he showed he was no flash in the pan by closing out the Topps decade with an All-Star card in the 1979 set.
  • 74-167FrStarter – Luis Tiant – Among pitchers with over 100 wins in the 1970s, Tiant’s .607 winning percentage for the decade is right up there near the top. His three 20-win seasons also put him in select company among non-HOFers. Besides sporting a fantastic fu-manchu on his 1974 Topps card, Tiant may have also been part of the best father-son pitching duo ever. (Read this quick bio to see just how great the elder Tiant was as a pitcher in Cuba.)
  • Untitled2Starter – Mike Cuellar – Cuellar won 102 games over the five year stretch from 1970-1974, including a career high 24 in 1970.
  • Backup – Ron Guidry – Louisiana Lightning only pitched three full seasons in the 1970s, but they were so good that he still made my all-decade team. His 1978 AL Cy Young Award season (25-3, 1.74) remains one of the best pitching seasons of the modern era, and his postseason record for the decade was a perfect 4-0.
  • Backup – Wilbur Wood – Used primarily in relief over the first decade of his career, Wood won 20+ games each of his first four seasons as a starter, including two 24-win seasons. Also one of the few pitchers of the modern era to top 20 losses more than once.
  • Backup – Tommy John – Known these days more for the surgery and high-end underwear that bears his name, John also posted a .613 winning percentage for the decade, along with two 20-win seasons.
  • Backup – Jim Kaat – Most of Kaat’s best seasons came in the 1960s, but the decade of the 1970s still featured seven of Kaat’s then-record 16 Gold Gloves and a pair of 20-win seasons with the White Sox.

How many Hall of Famers should there be?

There’s nothing like the National Baseball Hall of Fame for starting a good argument among baseball fans. All it takes to feed the fire names like these–

  • Pete Rose
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Maris
  • Mike Piazza
  • Steve Garvey
  • Gil Hodges

And of course I could have listed about 100 more guys without much difficulty. In general, there are three main flavors of most HOF disputes.

  1. Player X (not in HOF) is better than Player Y (in HOF). Therefore Player X should be in. (And sometimes add in something about one guy playing in New York.)
  2. Controversy X (e.g., gambling, steroids, spitballs) should/shouldn’t be relevant to HOF membership.
  3. The HOF just has way too many players!

The first is a very slippery slope in that all it takes is one dubious HOF selection (e.g., Rick Ferrell) to usher in strong cases for potentially hundreds of other players. The second is intractable enough even where we think we have full knowledge of a player’s exploits (e.g., A Rod) but becomes even worse where there are players where the jury is still out (e.g., Piazza, Pujols, Beltre). I’m not here to settle either of these arguments but rather to focus on the third. Is there a right size of the HOF? I think there are three useful ways to think about the answer.

HONORING THE TOP 1%

To date, there are about 250 players in the National Baseball HOF, spanning both Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues. Meanwhile, the total number of players to have set foot on a diamond is roughly 25,000. Some very quick math puts the size of the HOF at about 1% the number of players.

Similarly, the number of players to make their Major League debut each year is in the 250-300 range. One percent of that number is around 2-3, which aligns pretty closely with the number of new HOF inductees each year.

Even divorced from baseball, the top one percent as a marker of elite status in any field probably sounds reasonable to most people, myself included. Now getting the right number of players and getting the right players still remain two separate things, but I do think it’s helpful for fans who believe the Hall is too big to think about it in terms of this percentage. For example, ESPN has created their own “Hall of 100” (with 25 additional Honorable Mentions) in response to the “too big” criticism. (And yes, for every new player added another player is kicked out.) Their Hall, which honors about 0.4% of all players, is large enough for just about any notable PED user you can think of but too small to include Roy Campanella and Carl Hubbell among their Honorable Mentions.

HOW OFTEN DOES TRUE HOF TALENT SHOW UP?

A valid critique of the Top 1% argument is that expansion drives up the player pool but doesn’t in itself (hence shouldn’t) create more Hall of Fame talent. As such it may make sense to think about the number of Hall of Famers in more absolute terms. Forgetting for a second about how many teams and MLB debuts we have these days, how many new players should we expect to see each year who have Cooperstown in their future?

I’d be hard pressed to defend my answer on anything but gut feel, but I’ll go with two, at least on average. To see what number of HOFers that leads to, let’s take 1876 as the first year of MLB and assume that most HOF-calibre players debuting in 1996 or later wouldn’t yet meet eligibility criteria. This gives us 120 years of baseball to work with, which at two players per year again puts the size of the HOF as just about right, even if certain eras show up as clearly over/under-represented.

KEEPING IT RELEVANT

While it’s hardly an argument to please purists, we should also consider the importance of annual inductions to the continuing viability and relevance of the Hall of Fame. And I do think inductions here is rightly plural.

I was lucky enough to be in Cooperstown on induction weekend for Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount (though I missed the actual ceremony). Honestly, that felt like a good number–even a right number–of inductees. If some years had two, that would feel okay, as would four some years. But zero, gosh that just doesn’t work. And even one feels a bit thin.

Perhaps oversimplifying a bit, let’s go with 2-3 on average and keep 1936 as Opening Day for the Hall. That gives us 82 years at 2.5 inductees per year, or 205 players total. While this number is about 20% lower than actual size, it still points to 250 as more correct than something like the ESPN Hall of 100.

CONCLUSION

While it’s easy to look at some–even many–of the plaques in the Hall of Fame and feel like the Hall is way too big, I have presented three different arguments for the size of the Hall being at least approximately the right size. All point to a current player membership of around 200-250, with an added 2-3 new members each year.

Not convinced? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments.

The Dwight Gooden fan’s underwhelming guide to stadium giveaways (SGA)

Living through Dwight Gooden’s 1985 baseball season, both as a fan and as a collector, was one of the highlights of my baseball life. While newer statistics like WAR and WHIP hadn’t yet come into vogue, it seemed obvious even without fancy metrics that Dr. K was having one of the best pitching seasons ever–maybe the very best–and all at the age of 20. He would go on to win the pitching triple crown, not just for the National League but for the Major Leagues–and his pitching WAR of 12.2 is tops in the modern era, aside from Walter Johnson (1912, 1913) and Cy Young (1901).

As long as his list of accomplishments that season was, his list of SGAs is very, very short. Here it is–

June 15, 2008 Lynchburg Hillcats

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Doc’s 1983 minor league season with the Lynchburg Mets was almost as nuts as his 1985 big league campaign: 19-4, 2.50 ERA, and an eye-popping 300 strikeouts in 191 IP.  The season was commemorated 25 years later by the Lynchburg Hillcats with a limited edition (1000) Dwight Gooden figurine.

From what I can tell, this is a very difficult item to find–at least online. I have seen only one, with a price of $39.95 OBO without original packaging.

July 21, 2013 New York Mets

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Just over five years later, Dr. K’s first major league ballclub honored him with his one and only bobblehead, sponsored by Gold’s Horseradish. The packaging and the back of the bobblehead’s base make reference to Doc’s four all-star appearances (1984, 1985, 1986, 1988).

This bobblehead is fairly easy to find online. with NIB going for about $35-40.

At the moment, that’s all there is. In the future, maybe we can look forward to one commemorating Dr. K’s 1996 no-hitter with the Yankees or even a “Doc and Darryl.”

Dwight Gooden then and now

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PART ONE – WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

No matter what team you followed in 1985, there was no greater pull from a pack of cards than young Dwight Gooden, who was at that time working on the greatest first two years of any pitcher in baseball memory. It would be hard to forget just how dominant Dr. K really was, but here are some numbers from the back of his 1986 Topps card in case a reminder is helpful.

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I was lucky enough to catch Dr. K live at Dodger Stadium in a late season matchup against Fernando Valenzuela, himself once the young phenom with unlimited potential. Going into the contest, Gooden’s record was 20-4 with a 1.81 ERA while Fernando sat at 16-9 with a 2.37 ERA. While each pitcher had lost their prior start, they had preceded the losses with 11 and 9 game winning streaks respectively. The contest had all the makings of a pitcher’s duel going in, and it absolutely lived up to the hype. At the end of nine innings, the teams were knotted at 0-0, a score that prevailed until the 12th when Darryl Strawberry launched a two-run double off Tom Niedenfuer (of course!). Doc’s final line that night was not much different from his line on most nights: 9 innings, no runs, 5 hits, no walks, and 10 Ks–all of them awesome. Best game I ever saw live.

Doc followed up his stellar 1985 season with a solid but very mortal effort in 1986. As a kid, I didn’t know what personal challenges Gooden was dealing with, but it was clear he wasn’t the same pitcher, even as he went 17-9. Though the Mets would go on to be world champs, Gooden was winless in the postseason, and there was a real sense that the magic was gone.

In truth, Gooden remained a very good pitcher for many more years (74-34 over the next five years with an ERA in the low threes), but even “very good” was nowhere near what once felt like his destiny–to be the greatest ever. Add in ten more years of largely journeyman-level pitching, punctuated by a full-year suspension, and the career of Dwight Gooden, despite the 45th highest winning percentage in Major League history and a career ERA bested by only 12 active pitchers–all aces–today, reads much more like a tale of what might have been than what actually was.

PART 2 – WHAT ACTUALLY WAS

From a news perspective (and even a privacy perspective), the 1980s and 1990s might have well been ancient history. There was no internet (apart from military, university, or uber-nerd populations), no social media, nothing viral apart from actual diseases, and little you might learn about your sports heroes beyond the stories told in numbers on the backs of their baseball cards. The high-profile coverage of cocaine use on Gooden’s Mets teams was at that time the exception rather than the rule for hearing just about anything our favorite players did off the playing field.

For me, it took watching the ESPN documentary “Doc and Darryl” to fully understand the arc of Dwight Gooden’s baseball career and to even begin to learn about Dwight Gooden the man. I won’t offer any spoilers here but will simply encourage all baseball fans to see the film, which is well worth the $3 or so on YouTube. What I will say is that Gooden was and remains a man whose larger challenges were never on the ballfield. His life was incredibly difficult, and I gather it sometimes still is.

PART THREE – HEROES THEN AND NOW

As a kid in 1980s, I had the same dream as so many other boys. When we threw tennis balls against the garage door, it was always alongside the same play-by-play: two outs, bottom of the ninth, World Series, game 7. When we tossed acorns or buttons or pairs of socks in the air to hit over the fence, the bases were always loaded and our team was down by three. No matter how unspectacular our Little League “careers” or even if we were still on a team, our dream was to be the hero, to get the last out, to knock in the winning run. We wanted to be Darryl. We wanted to be Doc. We would have traded away everything we had for even one moment on the baseball diamond with such infinite possibilities. Such was what it meant to be young and in love with the game.

Nowadays, I still marvel at the sight of Clayton Kershaw or Jake deGrom on the mound, but I’ve never once dreamed of being either. Maybe I’m too old, too busy, or just too boring these days. All I know is I’ve moved on. On the rare day I grab a bat or put on a glove, the narration is no longer some dramatic baseball scenario but simply a “Please, God. Don’t let me rupture my achilles.” But even today, there is no pitcher I root for harder and no card I’d rather find in my old stacks than Dr. K.

Part of it is the memories–how much of a thrill Dwight Gooden made the 1985 baseball season. However, the larger part is story of Dwight Gooden the man. Even with his 194 victories on the baseball diamond, his biggest victory is simply that he’s still here. I imagine every day as a battle for him and not every day a success. Some days he throws strikes, and other days he gets shelled. But there he is, still on the mound, still competing, trying to go nine. So maybe I’m just a sucker for a happy ending, but I’ll still say that this is what it means to be an inspiration: to “fall down seven times, stand up eight,” as they say. To keep battling. To help others battle. To not always win. To be like us. And most of all, just to be yourself. The hardest part of being a real hero isn’t the hero but the real. 

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The author in his “Cincy” colored GoodenBrand tee

With that, I offer this short to-do list–

  1. Watch “Doc and Darryl” if you haven’t already.
  2. Support Doc and his family (while looking badass) by buying GoodenBrand apparel.
  3. Dig through your old shoeboxes and relive the thrill of pulling a Dr. K rookie.
  4. Keep on battling.

All the best,
Jason

If Bob Gibson had Dennis Eckersley…

Bob Gibson’s astounding 1968 season

Gibson_1969Two things jump out from Bob Gibson’s 1968 season besides his unbelievable 1.12 ERA.

  1. He still managed to lose 9 games.
  2. He averaged 8.96 innings per game.

Knowing that modern pitchers wouldn’t go nearly that number of innings before bringing in the closer, it’s fair to wonder what Gibson’s 22-9 W-L record might have been had he been paired with one of history’s greatest closers.

While there is always a more complicated and (probably) more correct way to approach the problem, I will err on the side of simplicity and follow this approach–

  • Award a win for any game that Gibson actually won in 1968.
  • Award a win for any loss or no decision in which Gibson surrendered his lead in the 8th or 9th innings.
  • Award a no decision for any loss or no decision in which Gibson did not lead but was tied after 7 or more innings.

Review of Gibson’s Losses

  • April 20 – Gibson trailed 4-1 after 7 innings and ultimately lost 5-1. Even with a great reliever like the Eck, this would still have been a loss.
  • May 12 – Gibson gave up two runs in the seventh to fall behind 3-2. Still a loss.
  • May 17 – Gibson lost 1-0 in the bottom of the tenth. Had there been a closer, this would have been a no-decision.
  • May 22 – Gibson gave up an early run in what was ultimately a 2-0 loss. Even with a closer, this would have remained a loss.
  • May 28 – Gibson gave up the go-ahead runs in the 7th. Still a loss. (And by the way, this loss took Gibson to 3-5 on the year. Fortunately, he would go on to win his next 12 starts, 8 of them shutouts.)
  • August 24 – Gibson held a 4-3 lead after 7, so we’ll call it a win.
  • September 6 – Gibson surrendered the game-winning run in the 6th. Still a loss.
  • September 17 – Gibson gave up a first-inning run and lost 1-0. Still a loss.
  • September 22 – Gibson gave up the winning run in the bottom of the 8th, having entered the inning with a 2-2 tie. With a closer, this would have been a no-decision.

Review of Gibson’s No-Decisions

  • April 10 – Gibson left the game after 7 innings, trailing 1-0. The Cards came back to tie the game in the 8th and win in the 9th. This one remains a no-decision.
  • April 15 – Gibson left the game after 7 innings, trailing 3-1. The Cards came back to tie the game in the 8th and win in the 10th. Remains a no-decision.
  • August 4 – In this game that was decided in the bottom of the 13th, the score was tied 3-3 after seven. With Gibson still in the game, the Cards led 4-3 after 8 and were tied 4-4 after 9. Optimistically, this would convert to a win.

Gibson’s Revised Record

Tallying up these results, Gibson’s record changes from 22-9 with 3 no-decisions to 24-6 with 4 no-decisions. While that’s an improvement, it’s perhaps much less than the impact we’d see in today’s aces were they to attempt to go all 9 innings vs exit early. This is partly because runs were so scarce in 1968 that Gibson didn’t have to give up many to earn a loss. However, it’s also because Gibson was effective enough in the late innings that a great reliever wouldn’t have been much better.

Gibson by the Inning

The graph below shows the number of runs, including unearned runs, that Bob Gibson gave up by inning in 1968. While the seventh inning was by far his roughest, the eighth was one of his best, and the ninth was at worst about average. From the graph, the conclusion seems to be that Gibson would have been helped less by Dennis Eckersley and more by a terrific middle reliever who would have taken over in the 7th. And so the question left for us to ponder isn’t what if Gibson had Eck; it’s what if Gibson had Mark Eichorn. But let’s call that the subject of another article.

Gibson by Inning

Cardboard Play Ball – Part 1

Mize_1953Something I used to do all the time as a kid and occasionally still do today is take a stack of 50 or so baseball cards and make two teams from it–mine and that of some imaginary opponent. To go from stack to season, there are essentially three things you need to figure out–

  1. A fair and fun draft order
  2. An understanding of player value
  3. How to play a game

In this post, I’ll share some ideas for each of these, along with some preliminaries.

Preliminaries

Here are the main types of rosters you might consider for each team. This in combination with the number of teams in the league will inform how many cards you need. Of course, sometimes it works the other way around.

  • Basic – One player per position, including starting pitcher (and DH if you must!)
  • Basic Plus – Same as above, but with a 4-man (or 5-man) pitching rotation, plus optional relievers
  • Full Roster – Full team of 24 or 25 players just like a real MLB ballclub
  • Full Roster Plus – Same as above, but with “minor leaguers”

Draft Order

Here are several approaches, along with some pros and cons. Will assume four teams (A, B, C, D) here, but you can generalize to any other number. Will also assume that the first round draft order is A, then B, then C, then D unless otherwise stated.

  • Basic Order (ABCD ABCD ABCD) – This is the simplest. The four owners simply take turns, always following the same order. The disadvantage of this scheme, naturally, is that the owner who goes first has a decided advantage.
  • Jesus Order (ABCD DCBA ABCD) – This minor variation is sometimes called a “snake draft” in that it sort of zig zags back and forth. Were Jesus a fantasy baseball owner, I suspect this would be his favorite as it fulfills the prophecy that “the first shall be last.”
  • Circular Order (ABCD, BCDA, CDAB, DABC, ABCD) – An improvement upon the Jesus Order in that each owner picks first in some round(s). However, owner D can certainly complain that all the best players are gone by the time he picks first.
  • Random Circular Order – Same as above but each of the four sequences are determined randomly. For example, Round 1 may be CDAB and Round 2 may be ABCD.
  • Random Order – Draft order in each round is determined on the fly by randomly generating a permutation of ABCD. While Random Circular leads to only four possible draft orders, Random now allows for 24. For instance, the sequence DCBA is now possible.

In the most typical approach to drafting, the assumption is that the owner is either selecting from all available players or at least all available players subject to roster limits (e.g., no team can have more than two catchers).

Variations that are much more fun, though they can lead to unfair teams by increasing the role of chance, is to do one of the following–

  1. Position Restriction – Restrict selections to a position selected at random. For instance, owners are forced to draft shortstops in Round 1.
  2. Random Restriction – Restrict selections to a subset of four players, randomly selected from among all players.

Player Value

My goal here isn’t to open the door to any SABR-rattling. It’s simply to acknowledge the big questions that arise when, for example, it’s your turn to draft and you’re choosing between a 1975 Hank Aaron and a 1978 George Foster. Here are several approaches, with the last one being the most complex but still my favorite.

  • Year on Back – Assuming the back has stats, go with the last year shown (e.g., 1974 for Aaron and 1977 for Foster). And if there aren’t stats, look ’em up somewhere.
  • Year of Card – As a minor variation, go with the card’s year of issue. If you are using cards from multi-year issues (e.g., 1934-1936 Diamond Stars), I’ll leave it to you to come up with a scheme.
  • Best Season – Tailor made for Hack Wilson fans! Choose from among “qualifying seasons” only–i.e., avoid 1952 Ted Williams and his 10 at bats, .400 average, and .900 slugging percentage.
  • Career Average – Something like the 162-game average at baseball-reference.com works here. Or just divide the career stats by the number of seasons.
  • Random Season – Chance reigns supreme here, particularly for players with a single “career season” amid general mediocrity. Again, only include “qualifying” seasons.
  • Random Top Ten – One season is selected randomly from among the top ten qualifying seasons identified by the owner. (Where a player has fewer than 10 qualifying seasons, repeat the player’s worst season some number of times until ten seasons are reached.)

Playing the Games

In all honesty, playing the games will be the least fun aspect of all of this, but I’ll offer some ideas in a future post. In the meantime, you already have everything you need to play owner and draft a terrific team–everything except the cards, that is!