Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel and the Hall of Fame

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Soon-to-be 45-year-old Omar Vizquel is set to play a 24th season in the bigs after recently inking a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. He’s not promised anything, but it’s likely that he’ll have a roster spot in John McDonald’s old role. It’ll be his fourth straight season as the game’s oldest position player, and he could graduate to oldest overall for the first time if neither Jamie Moyer nor Tim Wakefield can nail down a job.

My guess is that Vizquel, by virtue of his longevity and defensive excellence, will pretty much waltz into the Hall of Fame after he finally calls it a career. Probably not on the first ballot, but likely by the third.

Still, I will take issue with it when it happens. I’m not someone who believes the Hall of Fame is only for the best of the best of the best — there should be plenty of room in there for Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and others — but I don’t like the idea of a player who was never really among the best in his league getting inducted.

And that’s my problem with Vizquel’s case. In 23 seasons, he’s been listed on an MVP ballot once: someone gave him an eighth-place vote in 1999. That was deserved: by Baseball-reference WAR, he was the AL’s fifth-best player in 1999, so there was definitely an argument for him getting a few more down-ballot votes.

But even in his best year, Vizquel wasn’t viewed as one of the AL’s top 10 players. In most years, hardly anyone would have put him in the top 20. Is that really a Hall of Famer? There’s something to be said for being very good for a long time, but was Vizquel even very good?

It’s the same sort of thing with Jack Morris. In his case, the revisionist history is even more stark. The pitcher of the 1980s?  A dominant 250-game winner? Tell me again that I had to be there to see it, because those who were there didn’t see it either.

Morris pitched in the American League for 18 years. In that time, 432 Cy Young ballots were cast. Morris claimed the top spot on three of them. 432 chances for someone watching to say he was the best pitcher in the league in a given year and only three did. And it’s not like he ever missed out because of a dominant showing by someone else: he never finished in second place in the Cy Young balloting. His top finishes were two third places, and he lost out to Rollie Fingers and LaMarr Hoyt in those years.

Vizquel’s case is different. The momentum for Morris is largely based on Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The driving force for Vizquel will be the 11 Gold Gloves. Ozzie Smith (13) and Brooks Robinson (16) are the only infielders with more. Offensively, Vizquel matches up nicely with Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville. He’s a notch below Smith.

That Ozzie was seen by many as such a no-brainer helps Vizquel immensely. After all, if Ozzie is so obviously a Hall of Famer and Vizquel was only a little worse offensively and a little worse defensively, then he must make the cut, too.

But I don’t buy that. Ozzie Smith was a Hall of Famer, but when it comes to first ballot choices, he was a little more Kirby Puckett than Cal Ripken Jr. Vizquel is enough of a step below him that I don’t think he makes the cut. Of course, others may feel free to disagree.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]