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Hall of Fame Gets It Wrong Again
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
January 13, 2009

Aside from opening their arms to Keith Law and Rob Neyer, two awesome writers whose work is fortunately read by many, the Hall of Fame has disappointed me once again. It’s not so much that Jim Rice has been inducted by the skin of his teeth in his last year of eligibility that infuriates me, but rather the cold shoulder treatment that Tim Raines is currently receiving. Some how, some way, Rice received 54% more of America’s most respected baseball writers votes than Raines did.


On Jim Rice

Some of the arguments for Jim Rice are:

  1. He was one of the most dominating and feared hitters throughout the 70s.
  2. He hit a lot of homers when the homers “meant something”
  3. RBI
  4. RBI
  5. RBI

These arguments are about as concrete as a paper plate. There are a couple of logical fallacies with the first and perhaps most popular reason. One of them is that Rice only played five full seasons in the 70s. Giving a player credit for dominating a decade when he only played half of it does not make sense. Even if Rice had played through out the decade of the 70s, it wouldn’t have mattered. The 70s itself is arbitrary. It just sounds nice. It’s a round number. There is no difference between dominating from 1907-1916 and dominating from 1970-1979. I also have a problem with Jim Rice being labeled as the most “feared” hitter of his time. Jim Rice only drew 77 intentional walks in his career. Barry Bonds had 120 in 2004 alone. Now of course, IBB is not the end-all be-all of how “feared” a batter really was, but I have hard time believing that a player who made so many outs through out the course of his career was really that “feared”.

Tim Kurkjian babbled about how in Rice's era, 30 home runs “meant something” and how the current offensive style of baseball has inflicted a bias in the writers. He then humorously supported Mark McGwire, and cited his unadjusted SLG, but I digress. It is true that we are playing in one of the biggest offensive eras in history. However, the way some of the Rice advocates describe Rice’s era, you would think every year during his career mirrored the 1908 National League. I agree that when comparing players across eras, it is crucial that we look at the run environment. The run environment in which Rice played was 5.09 RPG. The average over the course of baseball history is about 5 RPG. As you can see, Rice did not play in a pitcher friendly run environment, and he can thank Fenway Park for that.

RBI serves as a Mason-Dixon line when it comes to sabermetric analysis and traditional analysis. Traditionalists view RBI as a good metric because they represent how many runs a player knocked in, and what can be more valuable than that? However, I view RBI as a series of events, usually ignited by more than one player, and giving one player sole credit for those events is ill advised. Jim Rice led his league in RBI twice, and was in the top five seven times, so it’s easy to see why so many people love Rice.

I really don’t have any personal animosity towards Jim Rice, and his Red Sox cap does not make me think any less of him as a player. In fact, I think the fact that Rice was a very good hitter gets lost in the shuffle when sabermetricians and number-nerds talk about his candidacy. It’s just that he wasn’t a Hall of Fame level hitter, and certainly wasn’t a Hall of Fame caliber defender.


On Tim Raines

I was not surprised when I had learned that Raines did not get elected, but the fact that he is having trouble garnering even a quarter of the voters support is sickening. This shows just how lost some of writers truly are when it comes to evaluating a player’s career. The main reasons for Raines’ exclusion are most likely:

1. Lack of milestones

2. He was the second best lead-off man

3. Cocaine problems

Voters pointing to his lack of arbitrary bookends such as 1,000 RBI, 3,000 hits, and a .300 batting average are just silly. While these milestones are certainly great to have, they do not give us a good indication of how good he really was.

Raines suffers because one of his contemporaries was Rickey Henderson, who just happens to be one of the top 15 players in the history of the game and the best lead-off man ever. It had never occurred to me that player must be the best at a certain aspect to be enshrined. Does that mean Jimmie Foxx, Joe Morgan, and Tris Speaker do not belong in the Hall because they were not the best at their respective positions? No, it does not, This is just another case of the writers cherry-picking qualifications.

Raines infamously admitted to using cocaine when he claimed that he slid headfirst into bases to avoid cracking the vials of snow in his back pocket. However, Raines rid himself of the off-field indiscretion, was clean for most of his career, and had a good reputation as far as his character goes. By the way, Paul Molitor, who happens to be enshrined, also had a cocaine problem in the early 80s, yet that didn’t hurt his case, did it?

There is no doubt that not only does Raines belong in the Hall of Fame, but that he was also a superior player than Rice was. Raines has a 4.2 win advantage in Batting Wins, and that is prior to adjusting for stolen bases. Speaking of stolen bases, Raines has the highest success rate of all players who have stolen at least 300 bases, swiping 808 bases at an 84% clip. When given credit for his dominance on the base paths, he pulls even further ahead offensively.

Raines also has an edge defensively. Unfortunately, there are no play-by-play defensive metrics that go back to the 80s, but Raines does have 22 Fielding Runs Above Average, which is 90 better than Rice's mark of -68.

Hopefully, sooner, rather than later, Raines will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.  On a side note, I’d like to congratulate Rickey Henderson for his induction and send my condolences to Bert Blyleven.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at tony@baseballevolution.com.

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