Monday, January 08, 2007

One Last Hall of Fame Hurrah for Steve Garvey

I know this may be heresy, but the name of our blog notwithstanding, I can't fully justify Steve Garvey getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame in this, the 15th and final year he is on the ballot. Besides the fait accompli that is Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken's coronations (announced tomorrow at 11am PST), I can see the argument for Jim Rice, and maybe Goose Gossage and Andre Dawson.

But I find it interesting that even Dodger beat writer Ken Gurnick of can't even promote Garvey's candidacy with a straight face (not that you can tell whether he's smirking from his writing; but you get the idea):

"I don't see why Rice, Gossage or Dawson -- each having received more than 60 percent of the vote last year -- aren't already in. Gwynn and Ripken are easy picks. This will be my 15th and last vote for Garvey -- he'll come off the ballot next year -- but you don't make 10 All-Star Games without being one of the premier (and most famous) players of your generation."

Ten All-Star appearances is nothing to slouch at, true--the only non-Hall of Famer-caliber players with more All-Star appearances that I could find are Roberto Alomar (12), Barry Larkin (12), and Bill Freehan (11); everyone else is either an active player, pending admission or at least consideration, or banned due to gambling on the game. But All-Star Game selections are a by-product of fame, given the fan-voting element, and shouldn't be the strongest factor for Hall admission--or Kirk Gibson would be up there, as would Darryl Strawberry, and you could even make cases for Bob Uecker and Mookie Wilson.

In Bill James' book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, James illustrates how capricious the election process is (and I can imagine it is only worse with the dawn of the internet campaigning for Hall candidates), but he distills election away from the fundamentally flawed comparative argument (i.e., "if X is in the Hall of Fame, then Y needs to be there too"), and toward the simple position that Hall of Fame members should reflect players who were dominant at their position for a decade. (I do hope I got the takeaway correct here, as it's been a while since I've read this book.)

Garvey's playing time of 1969-1987 overlaps at the end with Keith Hernandez, a five-time All-Star, who overshadowed Garvey defensively. Both players have one NL MVP award (Garvey 1974; Hernandez 1979). And offensively, their career batting averages are close (though to be fair Garvey was much more productive in HRs and RBI). However, Garvey, as a Dodger, never even led his own team in OPS (which was led by Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, and Reggie Smith). Garvey was in the top 10 in batting average six seasons and top 10 in home runs for three seasons. In short, he was a hit machine and solid, but not exactly "dominant" in his era.

Where the Garv' does elevate among others' status, however, is exactly what Gurnick references--fame. I suppose this word is in the very name of the institution, so maybe that's an accurate criterion. But James also mentions in his book how fame, through playing with famous teammates in a big-city, was exactly what got Phil Rizzuto in the Hall as well, despite also being less than dominant. Scooter is a nice guy, sure. But so is Garvey--heck, he is (or at least, was) a role model! (And this is coming from one of his sons.)

I'm pretty borderline on this one but I think Garvey falls short once again, and maybe gets in later off the Veterans' Committee. I can't put Garvey in the same echelon as Ripken or Gwynn, or even maybe Rice (eight-time All-Star, also 1 MVP award and comparable BA, but far superior HR and RBI totals). But even if I can't fully support it, I guess I'll be rooting for Garvey tomorrow (sort of like the guy at the Eagles games who doesn't want to cheer too loudly for the opposing team for fear of getting batteries thrown at him).

And once Garvey gets there, he can bring Dusty, Reggie, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and the Penguin in with him.


Orel said...

Well put. Such disloyal sons we are.

Unknown said...

Good call. Garvey was a solid player for a long time, but not HOF caliber. My only point of contention is that I think Larkin should get serious HOF consideration. Then again, I think Alan Trammell belongs in there, so what do I know?