Assessing the first time Hall of Fame candidates

23 Comments

John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle has his Hall of Fame ballot, and he tweeted the first time eligibles who are on it. Here they are with my insta-take:

  • Carlos Baerga:  There were about six months in the mid-90s when people thought he was a mortal lock. Of course, back then people thought Pamela Anderson was all that too.
  • Jeff Bagwell: Should be a first ballot guy, no?
  • Bret  Boone: If you combined him and Aaron together and made them a catcher like Bob, maybe.
  • Kevin Brown: He’s someone who was a lot better than you remember and was always better than he got credit for. I’m not going to spend a ton of political capital making his case, but he’s got a better one than Jack Morris does.  He’ll also fall off the ballot due to lack of support after this year, I imagine.
  • Julio Franco: Can he skip straight to the veteran’s committee ballot?
  • Juan Gonzalez: No chance and not deserving, but I’m curious to see if the old school writers’ overvaluation of his RBIs and MVP Awards will outweigh the old school writers’ overreaction to his PED associations.
  • Marquis Grissom: He falls into the category of “I hope he gets one vote so he can always say he got a Hall of Fame vote, because I liked the guy.”
  • Lenny Harris: He wouldn’t even make the pinch hitter’s Hall of Fame. Longevity, man.
  • Bobby Higginson: I remember when my friends who are Tigers fans tried to talk me into him being a big freakin’ deal. That never really happened, but for a while there he was all the Tigers had.
  • Charles Johnson: If feels like everyone has forgotten about Charles Johnson. Really: when was the last time anyone talked about him?  Kind of crazy for a guy who, for a while anyway, was one of the best catchers in baseball.
  • Al Leiter: Another guy who was probably better than Jack Morris and will get no play whatsoever.
  • Tino Martinez: I can’t think of this guy without thinking about how idealized he was in the years after he left the Yankees. If I had a dime for every time a Yankees fan said “if only we still had Tino . . .” from 2002 until 2004. Him and Brosius could have formed a club.  Martinez actually spent his last year — 2005 — with the Yankees again. If they had won the World Series that year Martinez would probably be getting some moderate “he was a winner!” support.
  • Raul Mondesi: An argument could be made that his late career awfulness ruined it for “toolsy guys” everywhere. Any time I hear someone being described as having “great tools” — which you still do once in a while — I think of Mondesi.
  • Jon Olerud: He has an identical OPS+ — 128 — to Jim Rice. Both of them should have plaques in the Hall of Very Good.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: To the extent I have a coherent philosophy of steroids guys and the Hall of Fame, it’s this: if I think that they were good enough even without steroids (to the extent I can even tell that) I’d vote them in.  If I felt that steroids was the difference between Hall-level performance and merely good performance, I’d leave them off.  This approach has about a zillion problems with it, but I think it’s better than a blanket “never vote for ‘roiders” or a blanket “ignore all PED information” policy.  Among guys who have made the ballot so far, Palmiero is the closest case. I can’t help but think that he’d fall short of Cooperstown numbers without the juice. I also can’t help but acknowledge that he played in great hitting environments for most of his career too.  So if I had a ballot this year, I’d say no. I’d wait. Maybe we’d learn more about PEDs over time and I’d revisit, but for now I’d say no. I think the voters will give him the iciest of shoulders this year. He may not even get the 5% or whatever it is he needs to stay on.
  • Kirk Rueter: I can’t say I ever expected him to make a Hall of Fame ballot, but hey, if you hang around long enough . . .
  • B.J. Surhoff: He was one of many veteran pickups those title-run Braves teams made at the latter, less successful end of the line. In this I can’t make a fair assessment of him no matter how hard I try. He was pretty good for a while though, and versatile. He stands as the best argument for teams having up years and down years as opposed to winning all the time: constant winning spoils you and skews your impressions of otherwise good players. Don’t believe me? Ask Yankees fans to give a brief overview of Lance Berkman’s career. Many of them will describe some journeyman palooka to you.
  • Larry Walker: Another one who is way better than Jim Rice ever was, but who won’t get much support I fear. I haven’t thought terribly hard about him yet, but I could probably be convinced that he belongs.

We’ll obviously have a lot of time later this month to hash out the Hall of Fame arguments.  But it’s nice to get them started, no?

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

Getty Images
2 Comments

There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.