Short careers and the Hall of Fame: it’s better to burn out than fade away

58 Comments

After writing the Dale Murphy post an uncomfortable thought struck me: would it have been better for his Hall of Fame case if he had been hit by a bus in 1988 than for his career to have simply cratered like it did?

I know, I’m awful for thinking that. Trust me when I say this is just a thought experiment. Dale Murphy is by all accounts a wonderful father, husband and human being and he gave me great joy in the early years of my Braves fandom. I’m delighted that he was not, in fact, run over by a bus while crossing a street in Salt Lake City, Utah in January 1988. Because that would be dreadful.

But if it had happened, he would have shuffled off this mortal coil — or at least out of baseball if the bus had inflicted merely debilitating as opposed to fatal injuries — with a damn interesting baseball career.

Our last memory of him would have been putting up a monster year: .295/.417/.580, 44 homers, 105 RBI and 115 runs scored. All for an awful team, so by all rights he shouldn’t have had a decent pitch to hit all year.  At the moment the bus hit him, he’d have a career line of .279/.362/.500 in 12 seasons, which for the era was fantastic: a 132 OPS+.  Oh, and multiple MVP awards and gold gloves at a premium defensive position.

Clearly that would have landed him in the Hall of Fame, right? It had to!  Because let’s look at another center fielder whose career was cut short after 12 seasons:  .318/.360/.477, an OPS+ of 124, and multiple gold gloves. That center fielder was Kirby Puckett, and he was voted into the Hall of Fame with over 80% of the vote in his first year of eligibility.

The difference: Puckett left the game on top, having his eyesight ruined by a freakish onset of glaucoma, ending his career. Murphy, in contrast, had something just as freakish but not as conventionally tragic happen: his skills just somehow evaporated, and he spent another six years in the baseball wilderness, toiling for the Phillies and the Rockies, desperately trying to regain his elite form.

It’s a safe assumption that Puckett would have remained a Hall of Fame caliber player for several more years and would have finished with career stats that more than justified his induction.  But it is an assumption. Dale Murphy is a rare example of a player who just lost it overnight, but he is proof that it could happen to anyone.

I don’t mean to make some sort of political point with this. I don’t think Puckett was unfairly inducted nor do I think Murphy is unfairly being held out.  It’s just one of those strange and uncomfortable realizations about how we as human beings fill in gaps in a narrative. How we mentally honor or reward victims of a certain set of circumstances and give no benefit of the doubt to victims of a different set of circumstances.  Of how we think better of going out on top, no matter how tragic it was that the man in question went out, than we do of someone working hard but ultimately failing to recapture what he once had.

Even for those of us who are really partial to the numbers, it’s never just about the numbers. And I’m not sure how to reconcile it all.

Braves designate Josh Collmenter for assignment

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last night Braves reliever Josh Collmenter surrendered three homers and seven runs in the 10th inning of a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He came into the game when it was tied 5-5 so, yeah, ouch. Today Collmenter is on his way to no longer being a Braves reliever as he has been designated for assignment.

Collmenter made 11 appearances for the Braves, going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in 17 innings. If he doesn’t latch on someplace else he can take heart that his final act in the big leagues was striking out former MVP Andrew McCutchen. If only he hadn’t surrendered consecutive homers to David Freese, Jose Osuna and Jordy Mercer just before that. Oh well. Take the good with the bad.

Right-hander Matt Wisler, who has been no great shakes in the bigs himself, was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett before today’s series finale against the Pirates. He’s currently throwing mopup duty for Bartolo Colon, who got shelled for seven runs in four innings.

Given how Colon is going, maybe the Braves will be thinking about some more transactions soon.

Wanna feel old? Dusty Baker’s son Darren is graduating from high school

Associated Press
1 Comment

Remember Darren Baker, the son of Nats manager Dusty Baker? If you do, it’s because you remember him as a three-year-old bat boy for the San Francisco Giants who, during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, was almost run over at home plate only to be saved by Giants first baseman J.T. Snow. Simple math makes it obvious that the kid is now 18, but it still feels weird that so much time has passed.

Now Darren is graduating from Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California, so father Dusty will miss the Washington Nationals weekend series against the San Diego Padres to attend the ceremonies and festivities. Baker will rejoin Washington when they begin a three-game series in San Francisco on Monday. In the meantime, bench coach Chris Speier will assume managerial duties.

Time flies, man.