Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Check Your Brain at the Door

This has been out there for a while, but I'm still trying to get back in the swing of this blog thing...
After the Hall of Fame vote was announced, The Sporting News' Sean Deveney made this...well, for want of a better word, interesting observation:

Today, Rich Gossage was elected to the Hall, but, as usual, some of the top offensive stars of the 1980s remained out in the cold. Boston's Jim Rice finished with 72.2 percent of the vote, 16 votes shy of induction. Andre Dawson got 358 votes, 50 shy of induction. Tim Raines, one of the best all-around players of the '80s, got just 24.3 percent of the vote. Murphy -- a back-to-back MVP who hit 398 home runs -- got just 13.8 percent of the vote.

All four deserve Hall entry. But all four are greatly underappreciated because of the Steroid Era that came immediately after their careers were over. They were impressive players during their time on the field, but the problem is, by the time they came up for the Hall of Fame, baseball numbers everywhere were swelling -- thanks in large part to steroids. That made numbers put up earlier look paltry.

Deveney doesn't say anything I disagree with here. It's obvious to any sentient being that there were a lot more home runs hit in the 1990's than the 1980's. Kinda like how there were a lot more home runs hits in the 1930's than that 1910's (for different reasons, of course).

And that's why guys like Bill James and the folks at Baseball Prospectus and a host of other people who are smart at math have developed a variety of methods of comparing different eras.

But I digress...It's the last line of Deveney's piece that made me laugh out loud:

With baseball infected by swollen stats from the last 15 years, the stars of the 1980s are easily overlooked.

Note the clever use of the passive voice. Writers (and other assorted weasels) will use the passive voice when they don't want you to know who is actually performing the action they describe.

Let's recap Deveney's argument. Swell players like Rice, Dawson, and Raines "deserve Hall entry." But the offensive inflation of the Steroids Era made their numbers "look paltry." And because of those "swollen stats," Rice, Dawson, and Raines are "easily overlooked."

Ask yourself, Gentle Reader -- who overlooked those players in this year's Hall of Fame balloting? If Deveney wanted to be honest, he could have reworked that last sentence thusly:

With baseball infected by swollen stats from the last 15 years, the BBTAA easily overlooked the stars of the 1980s.

Deveney's entire piece is a lamentation over those damned dirty steroid cheats, and how their damned dirty cheating ways have unfailry kept our faves of the '80s out of the Hall. But is it really those dopers' fault? Or is it because the members of the BBTAA can't be bothered to conduct some critical thinking when it comes to cast their ballots?

Look, since McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro first when to Capitol Hill, we've been inundated with reports about the phony, fake numbers of the Steroid Era. You'd think those phony, fake numbers would be easy to disregard, especially in comparison to clean players like Dawson, Rice, and Dale Murphy. Apparently, you'd be wrong.

Is it because the members of the BBTAA can't grasp math more complicated than "fifty homers is more than thirty homers?" Is it because concepts like OPS+ or Equivalent Average get too close to the heresies espouses in Moneyball?

In fairness to Deveney, he wasn't the only one to make this argument, or the only one to disappear the conduct of his cohort. He's just the guy unlucky enough to have had an easily-found web link.

But all the arguments are ludicrous. If Rice and Dawson aren't in the Hall of Fame, don't blame McGwire or Bonds. Blame it on your fellow typists, the guys who actually vote. Bonds might be the worstest person in the history of the universe, but it's not his fault the writers check their brains at the door when it comes time to vote.

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