Halls of Fame

by Quin Hillyer

With this being the week when Major League Baseball announced its newest Hall of Fame electees and when the Pro Football Hall of Fame (later today) announces its finalists, the former professional sportswriter in me (that’s how I got my start) insists that I weigh in — even though I don’t have time to come close to fleshing out my arguments. Jason Epstein yesterday gave his thoughts on the baseball Hall. They make good sense except that I rule out the obvious steroid abusers. But let me add that it’s not just the stat geeks who make a compelling case that Alan Trammell should be in the Hall; any baseball purist who watched Trammell play for years would say the same. In baseball, I’m a big believer in stats — but also a believer that stats don’t tell the whole story. There is a sense of time and place and professionalism and just pure aesthetics that also should weigh in, at the margins at least. In all ways, Trammell fits.

It also should be a lead-pipe cinch for Curt Schilling to make it, based on sustained excellence during the regular season and absolutely phenomenal performances during his various playoff and World Series endeavors. Another player who for too long has been denied is reliever Lee Smith, who at one point held the all-time saves record and who served as a good bridge between the old-style relief pitcher, who might go two or three innings, and the modern “closer,” who is a bit pampered by being asked to come in only in “save” situations of one inning or less. I’m not worried about Craig Biggio; he’ll make it next year, to judge from the sympathy for his falling just two votes short this year. But I am flabbergasted at the lack of support for Fred McGriff, another player who showed absolutely no evidence of a steroids “spike” in performance, and whose 493 homers, 1,550 RBIs, superb career .886 OPS, extraordinary .917 OPS (with a .303 batting average and 10 home runs in ten post-season series, including a .955 OPS during a winning World Series effort in 1995 and 1.023!!! in his other World Series) all combine to absolutely demand that he be enshrined. It is a travesty that he didn’t get in on his first opportunity, and worse than a travesty that in his fifth year of eligibility he has fallen to less than 12 percent of the ballots. Some of the baseball writers just have no clue.

Finally, a note for the Veterans Committee in future years: I thought Jim Rice was the most borderline player admitted via regular ballot in the past three decades (and his numbers don’t come close to McGriff’s!), but if he is in, then his teammate Dwight Evans deserves enshrinement even more. The offensive numbers are amazingly comparable (with Evans making up for a lower batting average by drawing many, many more walks, and with Evans also being the AL leader in RBIs for the whole decade of the 1980s, and with Evans actually having an edge — or, really, Rice having a demerit — by avoiding Rice’s astonishingly high rate of hitting into double plays during the final half of his career); but Evans was so superior in defense (one of the all-time greats) to the merely decent-to-sorta-good Rice, while playing the more difficult position (right requires a better throwing arm and, especially in Fenway, more range) that Evans clearly should rank above Rice and be less borderline than Rice was.

Now, to football. 

Of this year’s semifinalists, the ones who absolutely should be inducted this year (this is an “ought,” not a prediction) are Morten Andersen, the league’s all-time leader in points scored and a great long-ball kicker and superb clutch performer; running back Jerome Bettis; wide receiver and return man Tim Brown (please do look at the stats!); wide receiver Marvin Harrison (arguably the second greatest receiver ever); defensive end Michael Strahan; defensive back Aeneas Williams (who would be in the mix for best-ever at his positions if he hadn’t played for small-market teams); and coach Tony Dungy.

Finally, a note: Although after numerous years as a semifinalist punter Ray Guy wasn’t even on the list this year, he really should be in the Hall. True: No other punter is there (unless he played another position too). And true: Perhaps three-fourths of the kickers in the league today kick it as high and far and accurately as Guy did, and a few probably exceed Guy. But no punter, ever, has so exceeded the rest of the league’s performance during his era as Guy did back in the 1970s. Sure, modern training methods have produced super-powerful punters — but in Guy’s years, he was sui generis. He was, in effect, a great force for the Raiders’ defenses, consistently giving the black-and-silver five to ten more yards of breathing space, series after series, game after game, than other teams enjoyed. Those Raider teams, despite their consistently winning records, actually had a penchant for winning games by close margins rather than blowing teams out — and it is safe to assume that a number of those close wins would have gone the other way had Guy not made it so much harder for other teams to score against them.