Remember back when Jim Rice was on the ballot for the Hall of Fame and his supporters liked to talk about how “feared” a hitter he was? If not, trust me, they did it all the time.
They sort of had to, you see, because there was an unsettling dissonance about Rice’s Hall of Fame case that they needed to resolve. For much of Rice’s career people thought of him as a Hall of Fame guy and talked about him as such. But later, when people took a fresh look back at his career, it really didn’t look all that strong for a Hall of Famer. So a lot of Rice voters decided to push the idea that Rice was the most “feared” hitter of his era and claim that that put his borderline-at-best case over the top.
Unlike some other baloney-filled, dissonance-resolving arguments like, say, Jack Morris “pitching to the score” (note: he didn’t), the “Jim Rice was feared” thing was hard to counter. There was no real evidence for it. He wasn’t intentionally walked a ton, but that’s not necessarily definitive of anything, as he often had strong hitters behind him. Mostly, though, it was hard to counter because even if you did analyze it objectively, anyone pushing the “fear” thing would simply reject the evidence and argue back from authority. Like Dan Shaughnessy famously did in this 2008 column after my friend Rob Neyer took issue with the “fear” narrative:
Guess you had to be there. Or maybe talk to some of the players and managers who were there. Rice was dominant. Rice was feared.
Whatever. Rice got in and no one died so everyone let it go.
Flash forward to today. The Boston Globe’s Hall voters all released their ballots and the rationale for their votes. The highlight: Shaughnessy has referenced “fear” again! This time, however, he did so to justify not voting for a player:
Edgar Martinez stays on the outside for me, and not because he was a DH. Just never thought of him as a dominant, feared hitter in his era.
Hmm. What happened to talking to the players and managers who were there, like Shaughnessy said we should do back in 2008? Seems he didn’t bother to do that this time and, instead, decided to just go with what he subjectively thought. That’s sort of . . . inconsistent. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was too busy to ask around! So let’s help him out, shall we?
- Ken Griffey Jr.: “He carried the team for a period of time. He was one of the most feared hitters in the game for 10-plus years.”
- Paul Molitor: “He [Edgar] was one of the most feared right-handed hitters for a long time in this league. The amount of respect he has from peers speaks to the value of the offensive player he was.”
- Pedro Martinez: “Believe it or not, the guy that I hated facing the most wasn’t a guy that really did well against me. It was actually a guy that didn’t do that well … The toughest guy I faced I think — with all due respect to all the players in the league — was Edgar Martinez.”
- Randy Johnson: “Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I didn’t have to face him too much”
- Mariano Rivera: “The toughest – and thank God he retired – Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough.”
Sorry it’s only five examples, but I figured that since four of them are Hall of Famers and one of them will be, it’s a pretty decent set.
Whatever the case, as I said above, “fear” is a pretty dumb thing on which to base one’s Hall of Fame vote. But Dan Shaughnessy is a Spink Award winning journalist with decades of experience in the business, so far be it from me to tell him how he should exercise his right and his honor to cast Hall of Fame ballots. If he says fear matters, dadgummit, fear matters.
But Jeez, Dan. If you are gonna use a dumb basis, at least be consistently dumb, will ya? Or at least listen to what you said a few years ago and “maybe talk to some of the players and managers who were there.” Because they seem to have some opinions different than you do on the matter.