Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Candidates: Will Clark

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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Will Clark

The case for his induction:

Like artists, musicians and writers, there is a tendency to view ballplayers who break out onto the scene in a big, seemingly fully-formed way as always great, no matter what comes later. Sometimes, like James Dean, if they disappear while still young and great, they are forever immortalized. Other times, like Bob Dylan, they have a second and third act which builds on that initial promise, justifying and reinforcing their legacy. Other times, like Orson Welles, they break out big but then decline, sort of hanging around and perplexing us as to why they can’t replicate that early success. Will Clark seems to fall into the Orson Welles category.

By the time Will “The Thrill” Clark was 25, he had notched three top-five finishes in the NL MVP balloting and led his Giants into the 1989 World Series. He found himself and his sweet swing on the cover of magazines and was everyone’s idea of baseball’s next big star. But the power soon disappeared and he never topped 16 homers from ages 28-33. His rate stats were still excellent — he got on base at a healthy clip and played a good first base — but that power swoon came in the middle years when most Hall of Famers find that second gear that Clark never found. He did put together a fantastic final year in 2000, splitting time between the Orioles and Cardinals and batting .319/.418/.546 in 507 at-bats, but then he retired to spend time with his young special needs son, which is a very good reason to retire, to be fair.

The case against his induction:

The numbers just aren’t there. That 2000 season he finished with the Cardinals was like Welles “Touch of Evil.” Great, but not enough to redeem years wandering in the wilderness. While he had some near-MVP seasons early, his peak does not scream “Hall of Famer” and his short-for-a-Hall-of-Famer career of 15 seasons prevented him from compiling the sorts of numbers one might expect a candidate to compile. Heck, even if he played 20 years he may not have gotten there. So much of his value was tied up in walks and defense and those numbers don’t necessarily pop, even in the aggregate. He wasn’t the most durable player late in his career either, and that mitigates against even an imaginary 20-year career resulting in Cooperstown-worthy totals.

Would I vote for him?

Probably not. He had the “fame,” at least early in his career, but that fame and that name outstripped his performance as the years wore on. He gives me a John Olerud vibe. He was much better than Wally Joyner, but he feels closer to him than most Hall of Famers I can think of. A few more peak seasons and you could talk me into him, but I think he falls short.

Will the Committee vote for him?

I doubt it.

Playing in Texas and Baltimore in the mid-to-late 90s and still only topping 20 homers twice is an odd pattern for a guy who was once known for home run power, especially when that guy is a first baseman. That whole positional expectations thing is unfair to Clark — it’s not his fault that he was good at a lot of things first basemen aren’t and not as good at what people expect first basemen to be — but it has cast his candidacy in a bad light. It’s why he was a one-and-done guy on the writers ballot and it will likely doom him on the Today’s Committee ballot as well. Saying someone just doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer is a lazy copout, but in this case I think it’s a copout that happens to coincide with objective reality.

Don’t get down on yourself, Will. You always had your “Citizen Kane” years in San Francisco. We could watch that over and over again.

David Ortiz wins the Edgar Martinez DH of the year award

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Major League Baseball announced this afternoon that David Ortiz has has been voted the winner of the 2016 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award. It’s his eighth and final time winning the award, having won it previously in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Ortiz’s swan song was a glorious one. He hit .315/.401/.620 with 38 homers and 127 RBI on the year and won his seventh Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award. He finished the season first in the AL in doubles (48) and slugging percentage, tied for first in RBI, third in on-base percentage, sixth in batting average tied for eighth in home runs. He set records for batters age 40 or older in doubles, extra-base hits, home runs and RBI.

Neither the DH nor the DH award are new — each just completed their 43rd season — but the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award was renamed Edgar Martinez award in 2004. Ballots are cast by club beat writers, broadcasters and AL public relations departments with nominees including all players with a minimum of 100 at-bats as a designated hitter. Here are the past award winners:

1973 – Orlando Cepeda (Boston)
1974 – Tommy Davis (Baltimore)
1975 – Willie Horton (Detroit)
1976 – Hal McRae (Kansas City)
1977 – Jim Rice (Boston)
1978 – Rusty Staub (Detroit)
1979 – Willie Horton (Seattle)
1980 – Hal McRae (Kansas City)
1981 – Greg Luzinski (Chicago)
1982 – Hal McRae (Kansas City)
1983 – Greg Luzinski (Chicago)
1984 – Dave Kingman (Oakland)
1985 – Don Baylor (New York)
1986 – Don Baylor (Boston)
1987 – Harold Baines (Chicago)
1988 – Harold Baines (Chicago)
1989 – Dave Parker (Oakland)
1990 – Dave Parker (Milwaukee)
1991 – Chili Davis (Minnesota)
1992 – Dave Winfield (Toronto)
1993 – Paul Molitor (Toronto)
1994 – Not awarded
1995 – Edgar Martinez (Seattle)
1996 – Paul Molitor (Minnesota)
1997 – Edgar Martinez (Seattle)
1998 – Edgar Martinez (Seattle)
1999 – Rafael Palmeiro (Texas)
2000 – Edgar Martinez (Seattle)
2001 – Edgar Martinez (Seattle)
2002 – Ellis Burks (Cleveland)
2003 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2004 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2005 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2006 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2007 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2008 – Aubrey Huff (Baltimore)
2009 – Adam Lind (Toronto)
2010 – Vladimir Guerrero (Texas)
2011 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2012 – Billy Butler (Kansas City)
2013 – David Ortiz (Boston)
2014 – Victor Martinez (Detroit)
2015 – Kendrys Morales (Kansas City)

Breaking down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Candidates: Albert Belle

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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Albert Belle

The case for his induction:

Albert Belle’s case is the yin to Harold Baines’ Hall of Fame case’s yang. Whereas Baines is all career longevity value with no discernable Hall of Fame-worthy peak, Belle had a peak that puts him in some pretty lofty company but no longevity whatsoever.

In his favor: he was a bad, bad man for a few years. Between 1993 and 1999 — his age 26-32 seasons — he averaged a line of .308/.391/.602, 41 homers and 127 RBI. That’s an AVERAGE for seven years. And that’s with two of those years — 1994 and 1995 — being shortened due to work stoppages. Heck, his first two full seasons before that peak consisted of 28 homers and 95 RBI and 34 homers and 112 RBI, respectively. He should’ve been the unanimous MVP Award winner in 1995 but was boned out of the award, which went to Mo Vaughn, because the writers simply didnt like him. He probably should’ve won the 1998 Award too. He finished eighth. The players who were clearly better than Belle during his prime were Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and probably Frank Thomas. That’s it.

Even with is early seasons and decline figured in, Belle ranks up there with Hall of Famers, at least as far as rate stats go. His career OPS+ of 144 puts him in the same range of Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman, Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero.

 

The case against his induction:

Belle played for only ten seasons due to a degenerative hip condition that ended his career at age 33. That killed his counting stats. If healthy he would’ve likely sailed past 500 homers, 1,600 RBI and all manner of other milestones typically achieved by Hall of Famers. But like they say: if me auntie had been a man she’d be me uncle, and what a player might’ve done if healthy should not count in favor of his Hall of Fame case, even if it’s something to consider assessing the man more broadly. The fact was he did not contribute beyond ten seasons and, in terms of career aggregate value, he falls far short of a lot of players who themselves haven’t sniffed induction, making it a hard case for good old Uncle Albert.

Beyond the numbers, Belle had a bad reputation on and off the field. And unlike a lot of players who are portrayed as bad guys, Belle really was a bad guy. The least of his transgressions involved him being caught with a corked bat in 1994. He knocked Brewers Fernando Vina to the ground with a forearm blow that was, to most observers, unnecessary and excessive. He once chased down some kids who threw eggs at his home on Halloween . . . whith his SUV, hitting one of them. He smashed things in the clubhouse, including his teammates’ possessions, buffet tables and the thermostat, which he preferred to keep at 60 degrees despite the protestations of his teammates. It goes without saying he was uncooperative and hostile to the press with many high-profile run-ins. There are some convinced that Belle’s anger — and strength — was attributable to ‘roid rage, but he was never implicated in any PED scandal and has, to this day, denied taking PEDs, simply saying that his behavior as a player was because he was “an angry black man.”

 

Would I vote for him?

Should his behavior and attitude count against him when it comes to Hall of Fame balloting time? Most say yes. I tend to be pretty forgiving about such matters, but sheesh, running down kids with your car seems a bit more serious to me than not talking to the press or corking one’s bat. If it was a close call I’m not sure what I’d do with such things and I do not know whether they’d tip the scales against Belle. I’ve contented myself to conclude that, on the merits alone, I believe his career was too short to get my vote and be thankful that I don’t have to reach the realm of moral judgment. He was an amazing player in his prime — one of the best slugers the game has seen —  but the game simply didn’t see enough of him. Not that the game is complaining.

Will the Committee vote for him?

No way on God’s green Earth. They never voted for Dick Allen because he was perceived as prickly. Belle makes Allen look like a cross between Father Christmas and Mr. Rogers. He may get a vote or two of gruding respect thrown his way, but I would bet my children on him not getting inducted in this or any other year. One hopes that the reason for that is a judgment on the brevity of his playing career, but I suppose most of it is because Belle was a horse’s hindquarters.

So, sorry Albert. But we’ll always have 1995.