How is it, in an era when more and more information and analysis is readily available, do Hall of Fame voters keep making dumber and dumber selections.
Of course, Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, is a smart choice, but former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice, rightfully evaluated by Bill James in his New Historical Baseball Abstract as “probably the most overrated player of the last 30 years,” is the dumbest pick in recent memory.
Forget for a moment that there are numerous players out there better than Rice who have been waiting a lot longer — Minnie Minoso, Ron
Santo, Dick Allen, Dale Murphy, and Dave Parker come to mind. Consider merely that there is a far better candidate than Rice, practically his
contemporary, at Rice’s own position who is more deserving. Tim Raines — like Rice, a left-fielder for of his career — played in 413 more
games, had a higher OBA (.385 to .352), scored 322 more runs, was a better fielder, and an immeasurably better base runner, stealing 750
more bases and grounding into 173 fewer double plays. For much of his career, Tim Raines wasn’t rated much lower than Rickey Henderson as an all-around player.
Over 15 years, how did Rice go from just 26 percent of the votes needed for election to 76 percent? My friend Rob Neyer of ESPN.com tells us in an e-mail what a lot of New York writers dare not say: “The Boston writers’ aggressive campaign to get Rice elected was, I’m sure, a big factor. Another thing, there’s an anti-sabermetrics backlash among a lot of voters. You show them objective evidence of somebody’s worth, and they often don’t want to hear it. They know what’s right because they know it, and that’s that.”
When, I wonder, are New York writers going to start being as homeish and chauvinistic as their Boston counterparts? In other words, when are they going to start lobbying for Don Mattingly the way Boston writers lobbied for Rice? Rice played for 16 years in 2089 games; Mattingly
played 14 years, 1785 games. Mattingly out-hit Rice (.307 to .298) over their careers and had a higher OBA (.358 to .352). Rice had a higher
slugging average (.502 to .471), but he played his home games in what was, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a better hitter’s park – for instance, Rice hit .320 over his career at Fenway Park to .277 on the road, while Mattingly was .313 at Yankee Stadium and .302 at all other
American League parks.
Mattingly was also a superior defensive player. One of the arguments usually offered against Mattingly’s Hall candidacy is that he played one of the two easiest defensive positions, first base. But Rice played the other easiest position, left field, and wasn’t very good at it. Mattingly, on the other hand, was a superb first baseman, winning nine Gold Gloves and leading the league’s first basemen in double plays four consecutive seasons.
As far as intangibles go, even most Boston writers couldn’t stand Rice when he was playing, while Mattingly was always acknowledged for his
contributions in the dugout and clubhouse. Yet Mattingly received just 11.9 percent of the vote this year for the HOF — down from 15.8
percent last year. Any manager in his right mind would much rather have had Don Mattingly on his roster than Jim Rice. So why does Rice get his day in Cooperstown before Donnie Baseball?
It took Jim Rice 15 years after his first year of eligibility to make it into the Hall. Mattingly’s fire year of eligibility was 2001. He’s already waited more than half as long as Rice. Let’s start the drum beating now.