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Debating the HOF candidates
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01/06/2003  3:34 PM ET 
Debating the HOF candidates
Reporters go toe-to-toe over this year's big names
Vote now for the 2003 All-Star game
Ryne Sandberg won nine Gold Gloves and made 10 All-Star appearances. (AP Photo)
It's that time of year again. With the Hall of Fame announcement coming on Tuesday, MLB.com reporters Jonathan Mayo and Matthew Leach embarked on their third annual Hall of Fame debate.

The debate took place via e-mail on Monday, with each writer giving his thoughts on who should and shouldn't be enshrined in Cooperstown this coming summer. So without further ado ...

Matthew Leach: Free Ryne Sandberg! Eddie Murray is getting all the attention as the sure-fire first-ballot inductee in this year's class, but where's the love for Ryno?

Baseball Perspectives
 Matthew Leach

Nine Gold Gloves and 10 All-Star appearances, plus an MVP Award, pretty much tell the story on Sandberg. He faded quickly, but he was better in his comeback seasons than people remember. And his peak was long and outstanding.

What's not to like? Power, average, speed, a few walks, defense and durability. It's not every second baseman who tops 150 games in 11 different seasons. We can get to Murray in a moment, but in my opinion, Sandberg is just as deserving a Hall of Famer, and ranks higher at his position all-time than Murray does at his.

As for Murray, well, should we just get out the Dave Winfield discussion from two years ago?

Jonathan Mayo: Putting your slight melodrama about Ryno aside, I'm not sure Murray and Winfield are exactly the same, but I get your point. And it is worth mentioning that the top player in similarity score, according to baseball-reference, is none other than Dave Winfield. Although unlike Winfield, Murray was still fairly productive late in his career, hitting 22 homers and driving in 79 runs at age 40

Baseball Perspectives
 Jonathan Mayo

The arguments: His gaudy career numbers, to be specific, speak for themselves. You don't have to go much further than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. When you can be grouped exclusively with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, you know you belong. Throw in 1,900-plus RBIs, eight All-Star appearances and even three Gold Gloves, and that's why he's been getting most of the attention. It doesn't seem that his sour relationship with the press during his playing days will hurt him one iota.

That won't be Ryno's problem. He got along swimmingly with the media, especially in Chicago. The only question is whether he excelled for long enough to make it in his first go-round. And while I agree with you, Matthew, that he was the best second baseman in his era, I wonder if everyone realizes that (or even uses that as a Hall of Fame criterion). Still, I think he gets in, but Murray surpasses him in total percentage.

Another first-timer on the ballot is Lee Arthur Smith, the all-time saves leader. Matthew, I know you and I have enjoyed lobbying for closers getting into the Hall in our past debates. But what about Smith? And how about some of the other firemen we've discussed who are still on the outside looking in?

Leach: This is what I get for not looking at the numbers before I write. Murray was a better hitter at his best than Winfield was. When I think of the two, I think of them the same way -- excellent hitters, quality defensive players, played for a long time, were never really great.

But that's not fair to Murray. From about 1981-85, he was one of the best hitters in the American League, arguably the best. And as with Winfield, I am certain that he will be a first-ballot inductee because of the career milestones. That 500-3,000 combination is still automatic. Did you know Murray stole 10 bases three times? That's cool.

Hall of Fame 2003

Induction Ceremony
Sunday, July 27
Cooperstown, New York

The inductees
Gary Carter | Eddie Murray

Schedule of weekend events
Complete coverage

Hmmm ... Lee Smith.

Saves.

Hmmmmmmm.

Did you ever, at any point in his career, watch Lee Smith walk out to the mound and think "Hall of Famer"? I didn't. The saves record is definitely the main thing he has going for him, along with pitching in 1,000 games. His top comparisons using similarity scores are Jeff Reardon, John Franco and Doug Jones. Smith had about four seasons that you would classify as excellent. That's not bad, but it's not Hall of Fame material.

Every year that we do this, I end up stealing something from our friends at Baseball Prospectus. Once again, that time has come. I feel like if Lee Smith gets in, he owes Jerome Holtzman the biggest thank you of all, for inventing the save statistic. Without it, we're not even discussing him.

But Sutter and Gossage, that's a different matter. Two years ago I believe I said no on both. Last year, no and yes. This year, I might be convinced that they both belong in.

What do you think? And are we out of viable first-time candidates?

Mayo: I'll answer your last question first. In a word, yes. With all due respect to Fernando Valenzuela (isn't he still pitching somewhere?), there aren't any other first-timers who really seem Hall-worthy to me.

Now back to the closers. I've long been a proponent of getting Goose into the Hall. The 310 saves are nice, but that doesn't tell half the story. Scores of closers will pass that mark in the future, now that they only have to pitch one inning at a time. Gossage tossed over 100 innings as a reliever four times, and topped 90 IP twice more. He appeared in over 1,000 games to boot, making nine All-Star teams and posting a 2.87 ERA and eight saves in 19 postseason games. By the time the Mariano Riveras and Trevor Hoffmans become eligible, the argument for closers will have to be re-shaped. For now, Gossage deserves a plaque. The only thing hurting Goose is that he hung around too long.

Sutter really didn't, with maybe the exception of a comeback year at age 35. Sutter had five 100-plus-innings seasons, went to six All-Star Games, won a Cy Young Award and four Rolaids awards. The problem with closers and the Hall is that there isn't a set way to define what's Hall-worthy. But that sounds pretty good to me. Maybe they can just induct Sutter's splitter, which helped revolutionize pitching (for better and for worse).

Now that we've moved on to guys who have been on the ballot before, what about some who have come close in the past. Is this finally the year for Gary Carter? And what about a pair of outfielders like Jim Rice and Andre Dawson?

Leach: It's a shame that Gossage is penalized for sticking around. Because while it's true he was a shadow of his former self a the end of his career, he was still pretty good. Gossage was at least better than average for most of his post-closer career, and that's saying something for a 40-year-old. He needs to be in.

Sutter had four seasons in which he topped 30 saves and 100 innings, another in which he had 28 and over 100, and yet one more at 27 and 99. There have been very, very few better relief seasons than his '77 campaign with the Cubs. I won't lose sleep if he doesn't get in, because his career was short and he tailed off quickly.

I don't know if this is Carter's year; somehow I think he may have to keep waiting. But it's ridiculous that he's still waiting. The Kid is on the short list of the greatest ever to play catcher. He was superb with the bat and pretty darn good behind the plate. If Carter had a telegenic World Series home run, he would already be in. And by the way, he did play very well in his three postseasons.

Hawk? I dunno. He was a guy who looked better than the numbers said he was. Rice, no way. He was too much of a Fenway creation.

Mayo: Matthew would never say this, but he puts his considerable standing in the Red Sox Nation at risk when he makes a statement like that. So kudos to you for such personal courage and convictions.

I think I may be a slightly bigger fan of Dawson than you are, Matthew. While it is close, it's hard to argue with more than 400 homers, nearly 1,600 RBIs and 300-plus steals. That's a combination that's awfully rare. And if Ryno deserves credit for his Gold Gloves, how about Hawk's eight? Add in a Rookie of the Year, an MVP Award and eight All-Star games, and I think the end result is induction. He might not get it this year, but I think he should. Heck, the guy should get in just for giving the Cubs a "blank check" to fill out. I don't want to put too much credence into "playing the game the right way" in this debate, but Dawson did it.

Hey, Matthew, how about some of those starters still out there? This is Jim Kaat's last year on the regular ballot, and there's always our good friends Bert Blyleven and Tommy John, not to mention Jack Morris. Any love for these guys in your book?

Leach: As for Dawson, eight Gold Gloves are nice, but he was a corner outfielder, not a middle infielder. Mostly, though, he just had way too many seasons where he was pretty good but not great with the bat. A .323 lifetime on-base percentage is not real pretty.

Jim Kaat is not a Hall of Famer. He had some good years, but he was little more than solid for most of his years. Tommy John is interesting, but if not for the surgery, he's not considered. And I would vote for the surgeon rather than the surge-ee.

But Blyleven was one hell of a pitcher. We've discussed ERA+ in this space before. In short, it's a measure of a pitcher's ERA relative to the team average, accounting for his home park. Over 100 is better than average. Well, Kaat ranks at 107 on his career, or seven percent better than average. John, 111. Blyleven is a healthy 118 to go along with his 3,701 strikeouts. Put him in.

Morris was a very good pitcher for a lot of very good teams. He was durable, tough, all that. But was he ever great? In my opinion, no. Except that one night in the World Series.

Mayo: I'm with you on the Flying Dutchman (Blyleven). People always want to point to his won-lost record and say he only had a .534 winning percentage. I say, "Who cares about that?" Using wins to measure a pitcher's value is pointless. Rick Helling won 20 games one year (something Blyleven did only once) and has a slightly better winning percentage. Does that mean Helling is as good as Blyleven? Do I need to really answer that question?

Blyleven played for some pretty bad teams, and when he did get the chance in the postseason, he excelled. He definitely deserves entrance. As for John, Kaat, et al, I could make arguments for inclusion, but my heart wouldn't be in it.

Leach: And we wouldn't want to ask you to do something your heart wasn't in.

Which brings us to my favorite part of this exercise, the sentimental candidate. The guy I can't bring myself to support, but I wish I could.

Last year, I used this space to champion Dale Murphy. So how about another ex-Braves outfielder this year, Brett Butler. Not many people think about Butler as a Brave, because Atlanta traded him very early in his career. He was part of a package for -- gulp -- Len Barker. It was probably the first heartbreaking trade of my sports fan life.

Butler was the absolute textbook leadoff hitter. He hit for average, drew walks, stole bases and hit a ton of triples. He scored 100 runs six times. I think it's fair to say that if he had been a great defensive center fielder -- which, it must be admitted, he wasn't -- he would be a Hall of Fame candidate.

As it was, he was a terrific player and fun to watch.

Mayo: I, too, enjoyed watching Butler play. He should get consideration solely based on the fact he's part of a dying (maybe extinct) breed: a guy who knows how to bunt. And he did it as well as anyone ever has.

But my sentimental tip of the cap goes to Davey Concepcion. I never saw the Big Red Machine play, but Concepcion deserves his share of credit for their success. All 19 of his seasons came in Cincinnati, and he helped the Reds get to four World Series. His glove was his strongest weapon, and he got five Gold Gloves for his efforts.

But he wasn't awful at the plate. In fact, his numbers compare very favorably with last year's inductee, Ozzie Smith. Concepcion had fewer steals and runs scored than Ozzie, but he hit for a slightly better average, more home runs and drove in more runs. Hitting .297 in the postseason and going to nine All-Star Games doesn't hurt his cause, either.

I know he's not going to get in this year, but he certainly deserves a more serious look than he's been given in the past.

Well, that's our two cents (give or take a buck or two) worth on the Hall of Fame debate. Feel free to weigh in with your opinions on MLB.com's message board.

Jonathan Mayo and Matthew Leach are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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