erik lundegaard

Hall of Fame Links

A batch of fun articles on ESPN.com yesterday about Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by (lest we forget) the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). How great that the most prestigious awards in our national pastime — Hall of Fame, MVP, Cy Young — are doled out by observers rather than participants? Image, for example, the most prestigious film award being that scroll from the National Society of Film Critics.

How good was Rickey? He was, according to Tim Kurkjian’s article, “too good.” Kurkjian gives us the stats but this is the one I like: The career stolen-base gap between Henderson in first place (1,406) and Lou Brock in second (938) is 468 — which is more than the entire total for the active leader, Juan Pierre (429).

Great quotes from pitchers, too. Here’s Mike Flanagan:

“He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen. If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great.”
Tom Candiotti is less diplomatic:
“I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can.”
Rob Neyer returns to that career stolen-base record and argues why no one will ever break it. He keeps drilling down. Active leader Juan Pierre is 31 percent of the way to Rickey’s record but he’s also 31 years old. Next on the list is Omar Vizquel, who’s 41. Among young speedsters, Jose Reyes, is 25 with 290 steals. During the last four years he’s averaged 65 steals per season, and to catch Henderson, Neyer writes, “all Reyes has to do is continue stealing 65 bases per season … for another 17 seasons.” Last season Reyes stole 56 bases so he’s already off the mark. So Neyer creates a fictional speedster and tells us what he’ll have to do. He’ll have to arrive in the majors early, steal a lot early, last 20 seasons, and average 70 steals per season for those 20 seasons. The catch? “In the first nine seasons of this new century, only two players — Reyes and Scott Podsednik — have managed to steal 70 bases in even one season.”

Finally, it’s worthwhile to check out Neyer’s arguments against Jim Rice and for Tim Raines, not because I necessarily agree — I haven’t crunched the numbers — but as a reminder of how difficult it is to measure quality. Few industries are as meritocratic as baseball. Entire professions — scouts and coaches — have been created to judge and aid excellence in baseball. Then there are the numbers players leave behind. We know their quality by their quantity: 1,406; 755; 511; .366. And yet we still have these arguments. Most industries don’t nurture talent so systematically, and there are no numbers. We’re forced to rely on other means. These means. Imagine baseball with no scouts and no stats and you have some idea how the rest of the world is working.

Badly.

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Posted at 08:42 AM on Tue. Jan 13, 2009 in category Baseball  

COMMENTS

Tim wrote:

I have a dream: That the pendulum will swing back at some point and the strategies of the '80s will return when the power numbers of the '90s and '00s crater. Then, and likely only then, will the stolen base return to its former glory and fleetfoot base thieves will get season totals in the 100s every year. And then someone can tell Rickey Henderson that he ain't the greatest anymore.
Comment posted on Wed. Jan 14, 2009 at 05:23 AM

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