Thoughts on Henderson and Rice and the Hall of Fame

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Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were inducted into the Hall of Fame
yesterday. A lot of folks were either hoping or expecting that Rickey
would say something silly or arrogant or what have you, but that was
always going to be a longshot. While never one to suffer from
self-esteem problems, it’s been close to 20 years since Rickey has been
the hot dog in the Oakleys we all remember, and anyone who watched and
listened to him carefully as his career wound down knows that he
(eventually) grew into a rather mature player with a sense of history
and even, dare I say it, humility about him. I mean, how can you not be
humble when you play in the independent leagues in your 40s like
Henderson did?

Anyway, I thought his speech
was very genuine and, at least on the Rickey scale, quite appropriate
to the occasion. Indeed, given the man Henderson seems to have become,
an instance of true “Rickeyspeak” probably would have seemed forced and
wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun as a lot of commentators are
snarking about today. I especially thought his nod to Billy Martin —
“Mr. Billy Martin always got the most out of me. I miss you very much,
and I wish you were here with me today” — was quite nice.

What can you say about Jim Rice? For a couple of years a lot of folks
have been saying that he wasn’t truly Hall of Fame worthy. Bill James
called him “the most overrated player in the past 20 years” when he
wrote his “Historical Baseball Abstract
in the late 1980s. I tend to agree with that assessment, but it’s
probably not worth getting all worked up about. His worthiness, or lack
thereof, is a function of what any given person thinks the Hall of Fame
is all about. If it’s truly about “fame” he’s a fine choice, as anyone
who is around my age certainly grew up with him being talked about as
one of the best players in the game, rightly or wrongly so. If you’re
more into the whole Hall of Merit thing, well, he probably doesn’t belong there.

That argument is irrelevant now, of course, as he now and forever will be Jim Rice: Hall of Famer. As for his speech:
Pretty much par for the course as these things go. An argument could be
made that he showed less humility than Henderson, but I don’t feel too
strongly about making it. I did not know that his real name is Ed, so I
guess you really do learn something new every day.

Overall, the best speech of the day came not from a player, but from
a player’s daughter, as Judy Gordon, daughter of Veteran’s Committee
inductee Joe Gordon, said her father “insisted against having a
funeral, and as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball
Hall of Fame as his final resting place.”

That statement struck me just the right way yesterday. It seems so
spot on. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Cooperstown, but when I
was there as a kid, I got the same feeling I get when walking around an
old graveyard. I mean that in the best of ways, mind you — I love old
graveyards. The dead seem to speak there, and if the setting is
pleasing — as Cooperstown certainly is — you can’t help but feel good
about humanity as you tread about and think about those who came and
went before.

Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich win 2018 MVP Awards

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Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich were announced on Thursday evening as the winners of the 2018 Most Valuable Player Awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Betts, 26, led baseball with a .346 batting average, a .640 slugging percentage, and 129 runs scored. He also put together a .438 on-base percentage with 32 home runs, 80 RBI, and 30 stolen bases while ranking among the best defensive outfielders. According to Baseball Reference, Betts was worth 10.9 WAR, the highest total by a position player since Barry Bonds in 2002 (11.8). It was the 21st time a player compiled a 10.9 WAR or better since 1871. The others to do it along with Betts and Bonds: Cal Ripken, Jr., Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

Betts is the first Red Sox player to win the MVP Award since second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2008. Other members of the Red Sox to win the award include Mo Vaughn (2005), Roger Clemens (1986), Jim Rice (1978), Fred Lynn (1975), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Jackie Jensen (1958), Ted Williams (1946, ’49), Jimmie Foxx (1938), and Tris Speaker (1912).

Angels outfielder Mike Trout and J.D. Martinez each received one first-place vote with Betts receiving the other 28. Trout finished in second place with 265 overall points, Indians infielder José Ramírez finished third with 208, and Martinez finished fourth with 198. They were followed by Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor, Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Blake Snell, Justin Verlander, Mitch Haniger, Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts, José Altuve, Blake Treinen, Andrelton Simmons, Whit Merrifield, Edwin Díaz, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Jed Lowrie, Trevor Bauer, Aaron Hicks, and Chris Sale.

Trout is now one of four players to finish second in MVP Award voting four times, joining Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Albert Pujols. Trout was the runner-up behind Miguel Cabrera in 2012-13 and Josh Donaldson in 2015.

Yelich, 26, led the National League with a .326 batting average, a .598 slugging percentage, and a 1.000 OPS. He also put up a .402 on-base percentage with 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 118 runs scored, and 22 stolen bases while playing above-average defense in the outfield.

Yelich is the first member of the Brewers to win the MVP Award since outfielder Ryan Braun in 2011. The other Brewers to have won the MVP Award are Robin Yount (1982, ’89) and Rollie Fingers (1981).

Nearly a unanimous choice, Yelich was voted in first place on 29 of 30 ballots with NL Cy Young Award winner getting the other first-place vote. Cubs infielder Javier Baéz finished in second place with 250 points and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished in third place with 203 points. They were followed by Freddie Freeman, deGrom, Paul Goldschmidt, Lorenzo Cain, Trevor Story, Matt Carpenter, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Ronald Acuña Jr., Aaron Nola, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Jesús Aguilar, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Markakis, and Eugenio Suarez.

Coincidentally, both MVP Award winners hit for the cycle this season. Betts achieved it on August 9 while Yelich did it twice, on August 29 and September 17. Yelich also finished two home runs and one RBI short of the Triple Crown.

The BBWAA voters submitted their ballots before the start of the postseason, so the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series and that the Brewers made it to Game 7 of the NLCS had no impact on the award results. That the Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games during the regular season and the Brewers won the NL Central tiebreaker over the Cubs certainly could have been factors for many voters, however.