Jon Heyman defends his Hall of Fame ballot

33 Comments

Blyleven AP.jpgLast week I mentioned the little tweet-storm Jon Heyman set off when he announced his Hall of Fame ballot.  To review, he had Robbie Alomar, Andrew Dawson, Barry Larkin, Dave Parker, Jack Morris and Don Mattingly
Many people took issue with this ballot, myself included. It’s a pretty
awful one all things considered. Parker? Morris? Mattingly? 

At
the time I gave kudos to Heyman for standing in the box and defending
his choices.  Maybe he should have quit while he was, well, stalemated.
Because today he wrote a column defending his choices in greater detail, and his case hasn’t been helped a bit. With apologies to Ken Tremendous, let’s run down this bad-boy, passage-by passage:

I consider impact more than stats. I like dominance over durability. I
prefer players who were great at some point to the ones who were merely
very good for a very long time. And I do recall it’s called the Hall of
Fame, not the Hall of Numbers.

Which
explains why he has voted for the dominant Jack Morris? (note: Jack
Morris was never dominant) and why he leaves out the famous Mark
McGwire?

The reason I haven’t yet voted for Raines is that while he was a star
in Montreal, he was merely a good player for the bulk of the rest his
career, spent mainly with the White Sox and Yankees.

Wait,
what happened to “great at some point” mattering and “good
for a long time” not being important?  He has completely reversed that
with Raines.

Every year, I take hits for my lack of support of Blyleven, and this
time on Twitter I was called “stupid,” a “moron” and “idiotic,” by
(at least) a trio of Blyleven supporters. No one player incites more
controversy or stirs more emotion over his candidacy, which is slightly
ironic after a career that was marked by solid attributes such as
consistency and durability but somewhat lacking in drama.

In
the Twitter exchanges Heyman refers to there were maybe three or four
people just calling names. There were a dozen or two making sober and
cogent arguments. Heyman never addresses those arguments. It’s all
about the crazies.

My contention regarding Blyleven is that almost no one viewed him as a
Hall of Famer during his playing career, and that is borne out by the
17 percent of the vote he received in his first year of eligibility in
1998, followed by 14 percent the next year.

Yet
he is a fan of Morris, who got 22.9% of the vote in his first year and
19.6% of the vote in his second. And he spent a paragraph talking about
how his mind is changing on Tim Raines, who got 24.3% in his first year
of eligibility, but not Heyman’s vote. And Don Mattingly, who was last
seen hovering at around 16%, and also did not previously get Heyman’s
vote.  And Dave Parker, who continues to get way less than 20% of the
vote (and who has a drug history unmatched in the game, which Heyman
says should disqualify McGwire).

Look, it’s completely
legitimate to change one’s vote over time. Heyman does it himself. But
to point to Blyleveln’s lackluster first year vote totals as evidence
against his Hall of Fame case is both disingenuous and tautologous.

After going on and on about how Blyleven never showed greatness as opposed to the ability to merely compile stats, Heyman says:

Some will say that Blyleven’s career was equal to Hall of Famer Don Sutton’s
but I say it is just short of Sutton’s. They both had big totals in
other categories but Sutton wound up with 37 more victories, going over
the magic 300 mark by 24.

Got that? Stat compilers suck, unless of course they compile long enough to reach some arbitrary number like 300.  And make no mistake: if Blyleven had gotten the 13 wins needed to make 300, Heyman would have no problem with his relative lack of “dominance” his winning percentage or the cut of his jib. He would have voted for him on the first ballot, because he just decided that he likes some numbers and doesn’t like others, no matter how important or unimportant they are.

Many stat people suggest wins are not important in evaluating careers.
But until wins don’t decide who’s in the playoffs and who’s out, who
makes the World Series and who doesn’t, I will continue to view them as
important. A pitcher’s goal for each game is to win the game, not to
strikeout the most batters. And until that changes, I will count wins
and losses.

OK, fine, you’ve changed course on your “compiling argument.” It’s your column. So let’s assume that counting wins does matter. Unless
Heyman has devised a different sort of counting than we’re used to, how
he fails to acknowledge that Blyleven, at 287, has more wins than
Morris, at 254 is beyond me.  And given that he votes for position
players who don’t get any wins credited to them, I assume he
appreciates that wins are team stats, not purely individual ones. Of
course if he concedes that Don Mattingly didn’t care about winning,
I’ll retract this point.

Heyman would, and often does, point to winning percentage as
a key factor, noting that while his supporters often cite the fact that
Blyleven pitched for bad teams, his career winning percentage — .534
— wasn’t that much better than the teams on which he pitched: .496. 
What he leaves out is that the difference between Morris’ career winning
percentage — .577 — and the teams on which he pitched — .547 — is
actually less than Blyleven’s. In other words, Blyleven outpitched his teams at a better clip than the supposedly dominant Morris did.

My basic philosophy
is to emphasis impact more than numbers . . . It is why I vote or Jack
Morris, a bulldog who was considered the best
pitcher of the ’80s, and who pitched the best game of the ’90s.

The
fact that anyone considers Jack Morris the best pitcher of the 80s is
curious at best. Sure, if you go by “wins between 1980 and 1990” I suppose he
is, but Roger Clemens was a better pitcher every single season they
shared the league together outside of Clemens’ rookie year. Dave Stieb
was better than Morris over the entire decade. But even if you set
those guys aside, doesn’t one have to acknowledge that any of the top
5-10 pitchers of the 70s — a group to which Bert Blyleven belongs —
would have, in their prime, been the best pitcher of the 80s? Being the
best starter of the 80s is like being the best football team in Alaska.
Nice factoid, but it has nothing to do with greatness.

Jack Morris: Dominant bulldog received Cy Young votes seven times, won more games in
the ’80s than anyone and was a general force in the American League
(though his overall stats admittedly aren’t as good as Blyleven’s).

So
if the stats don’t matter, we take away the most wins in the 80s thing
and we’re left with, what? Morris was a “dominant bulldog” who won Game
7 of the 1991 World Series?  That’s the Hall of Fame case for Jack
Morris and the anti-case for Blyleven? 

Great. It’s Heyman’s
ballot and he can do what he’d like to it. I’d just like him to point
to one piece of objective evidence that establishes Jack Morris as
“dominant” before he expects me to even begin to agree with his vote.
Until that time, I’m going to continue to assume that Heyman, like many
other writers, simply decided at one point that Bert Blyleven isn’t a
Hall of Famer and continues his increasingly stubborn search for
evidence to back up that opinion with something approaching facts.

Adams homers in 16th to lift Cardinals over Dodgers 4-3

adams
Getty Images
4 Comments

ST. LOUIS — Matt Adams homered in the 16th inning to lead the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night for St. Louis’ season-best fifth straight victory.

It was the second consecutive game that the Cardinals won in their final at-bat. They beat the Padres on Thursday after scoring a run in the ninth inning.

Adams homer came with one out off Bud Norris (5-9), who gave up six runs as a starter in an 8-1 loss at Washington on Wednesday.

Seth Maness (1-2) picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief for St. Louis, which was playing its longest game of the season.

Jedd Gyorko hit a two-out homer off closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth to tie the game 3-3.

Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick homered for the Dodgers. Los Angeles has lost four of six. The red-hot Turner has seven homers and 17 RBI this month. He hit two homers in a 6-3 win over Washington on Thursday.

Turner blasted his career-high 18th homer of the season off Seung Hwan Oh in the ninth to break a 2-2 tie.

Corey Seager had four hits and drove in the first run of the game. He had hit in seven successive at-bats before flying out in the ninth.

Kendrick’s solo shot in the sixth tied the game 2-2. He has hit in 14 successive games trying Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon for the longest current streak in the majors.

Los Angeles starter Brandon McCarthy allowed one hit and two runs over 6 1-3 innings, the longest of his four starts this season. He left with leg cramps. McCarthy struck out four and walked three.

St. Louis starter Michael Wacha allowed two runs on 10 hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one.

Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore recorded his 28th successive scoreless outing by retiring two of four batters in the seventh. He has not allowed a run in 41 of 42 appearances this season.

Minor League Players’ Wage Suit against Major League Baseball suffers a huge setback

The judge's gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East
13 Comments

A judge handed minor leaguers looking to hold Major League Baseball liable for underpaying and exploiting them a huge setback today, ruling that the case cannot go forward as a class action. Minor leaguers who want to sue over their pay and treatment still can, but they’ll have to do it individually. The ruling saps the minor leaguers of their leverage, as Major League Baseball would likely be able to fend off individual cases which, by themselves, might only amount to several thousand dollars per claim.

The background: in 2014, former Miami Marlins player Aaron Senne sued Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, and three major league clubs claiming that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He was later joined by former Royals minor leaguer Michael Liberto and Giants farmhand Oliver Odle. Eventually others joined and the suit had been expanded to 22 teams as defendants.

The upshot of the case is that, while the minor league season lasts only part of the year, players are required to do all sorts of things outside of merely playing games for which they are not compensated. Training, meetings, appearances and the like. When all of that time is added up, the players claim, their already low salaries are effectively far below minimum wage in violation of the law. Major League Baseball has countered this by claiming that minor leaguers are basically part time seasonal workers — like landscapers and pool boys — who are not subject to federal labor laws.

Last year the judge gave the case conditional certification, allowing the players to try to establish that it should go forward as a class action. This would streamline the case from the plaintiffs’ perspective and give them the power of collective action by asserting hundreds or more similar cases into one proceeding. The judge’s ruling today, however, was that the cases really weren’t factually similar and thus collective action was not appropriate because figuring out how many hours each player worked and what was required of him varied too greatly among the players.

From his order:

“The difficulties associated with determining what activities constitute ‘work’ in the context of winter training are compounded by the fact that there appear to be no official records documenting these activities. Because it may be impossible to determine from official records the types of conditioning activities in which the players engaged, membership in the state classes based on winter training would depend largely upon the players’ ability to remember, with a reasonable amount of detail, what they did during the off-season (often for multiple years and for many, several years in the past) to stay fit.”

The judge said that, in light of this, each case would be unique and would require “individualized inquiries” to find damages and liability. That phrase –“individualized inquiries” — constitutes magic words which sink would-be class actions. If a company overcharges all of its customers by $8 due to an error repeated a million times, it’s easy to look at one set of facts and judge them together. If you had to look at a million different wrongs, that’s no class action. And so it is not a class action for the players.

As many courts who have dealt with these sorts of cases have noted, for many plaintiffs, a class action is the only practical method of adjudicating Fair Labor Standards Act cases because individual plaintiffs are frequently unable to bear the costs of separate trials. They are, by definition, (allegedly) exploited workers. They’re not going to be able to pay legal costs and fight off a multi-billion dollar business in order to collect the few thousand dollars they were underpaid. At the same time, however, the defendants have rights too and, if the facts of each players’ treatment truly differ (e.g. the Yankees make their minor leaguers do more than the Brewers do) it’s not fair to bind one defendant’s defense to the acts of another.

So, where does this leave the players? Not dead. Not yet, at least. Their claims have not been dismissed on the merits. They have only been denied the right to act collectively. The individual plaintiffs can now file separate lawsuits against their former employers and Major League Baseball under the same theories. It would be harder to land a big blow in such a scenario, but if enough do, it could end up being death by a thousand cuts for the clubs and the league. Their legal fees might go up and, eventually, if they lose enough of these cases, more might be filed. There are a lot of former minor leaguers, after all, and once there’s some blood in the water, more of them — and their lawyers — may enter the frenzy. Decertification is certainly a win for the league right now, but it’s not necessarily a permanent win.

There are likewise some other quasi-collective forms this case could take such as multi-district litigation in which the cases, while individual, are coordinated in a loose fashion. That could lead to some efficiencies for suing players even if it’s not as robust as a class action.

We’ve written quite a bit about minor league pay and treatment in this space by now, so you probably know where we stand on it. We believe that minor leaguers are exploited and underpaid and we believe that Major League Baseball has been happy to exploit and underpay them for some time. Ultimately we believe that this state of affairs cannot and will not persist and that eventually, somehow, baseball will either see fit to pay its workers fairly or, more likely, will be forced to do so by a court or by collective bargaining of some fashion.

Today, however, was a big setback for the minor leaguers. Today’s ruling will give Major League Baseball and its clubs more time and more comfort in which to underpay them. There’s no doubt about it.