Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hall of the Future

After the Hall of Fame results were announced Monday, I got an e-mail from Frank the Tank that had a very brief message and links to the respective career numbers of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.

It also came with intentions of a full blog post on his site to dig deeper into the issue of this specific vote.

When a White Sox fan writes to alert me to the injustice done to Dawson, it tends to perk my ears up a bit. From a personal standpoint, it was win-win for me - I like Rice and have a feeling that Dawson's time will come soon, so it was a minor sigh of relief and a feeling that the Hawk's time will come.

Frank rightly calls into question why any voter would pick one over the other and why Rice would be that one in any case. At the risk of stealing his thunder, I'll quote directly from his e-mail, because he uses pretty words:

Their offensive stats are pretty much the same over time (with Dawson having higher career totals due to a longer career). They both made 7 All-Star Games and won 1 MVP Award.

The key difference for me, though, is that Dawson also won 8 Gold Gloves (while Rice didn’t win any). Dawson, at his peak, had the best arm I had ever seen – the way he could nail guys at third base with cannon shots from right field without even a hop was unbelievable.

It seems as though Dawson was every bit the offensive player that Rice was (at the very least) while Dawson also was the best fielding right fielder of his generation (with Rice not making much of a difference as a fielder).

Am I missing something here (other than the preponderance of pro-Red Sox writers out there)?

With all due respect to the preponderance of pro-Red Sox writers, it's worth noting that Dawson eventually ended up in Boston as well, but I wonder how much his time in Montreal hurt him in this case.

Completely setting aside the fact that the man can barely stand at this point because his knees are shot from playing on the painted concrete that the Expos called a field, what else did playing in Montreal do to hinder Dawson's chances?

My immediate reaction to the e-mail was that years spent hidden north of the border couldn't have helped Dawson in this case. More to the point, this year's crop had two pitchers - Bert Blylevel and Jack Morris - who are constantly on the lists of guys the Hall missed compiled by bitter fans and heartbroken writers.

It's easy to lock in on the stars of the league, regardless of where they played - Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor and George Brett come to mind here - but it's worth considering that if Morris had pitched for the Yankees or Blyleven for the Dodgers, they'd be in the Hall already.

Compounding these possible problems and the meat of what I've been kicking around since Monday is what impact the modern media coverage will have on future Hall votes.

There was a time in my memory where instant access to sports scores - much less video highlights or even entire games - was impossible. Unless you had a buddy who worked overnights at the local TV station, chances were that you didn't have up to the minute scoring.

Today, I can get all of this and more on the bus with my phone.

Granted, it wasn't a total media blackout in those dark days of the early 80's, but aside from a listing of scores and a video of someone falling into the dugout on a pop fly, most of the attention in the specific markets was focused on the home team and division rivals and teams with playoff aspirations if there was time.

Not so much these days.

No longer are good players lost in the shuffle by playing in small markets. If someone is playing well, ESPN will have the highlights for you to catch with your morning coffee. If a rookie starts knocking the cover off the ball, you can go back and pick things apart pitch by pitch on the league's main site and see why.

While Frank is right to question the Red Sox Nation push to put Rice in the Hall on his final ballot, keep in mind that regardless of the WGN flagship games for Dawson, it was much more likely to see Rice highlights on the east coast when the two were playing. That has to have some sort of impact.

I can see this going one of two ways with the change in how and when we get our information.

1.) Flashy players will be overvalued to a point that it will produce a lot of borderline inductees - I'll call this the Juan Pierre prototype - whose numbers won't look so hot when compared to other players. Just because a guy was always on Web Gems or always killed in your roto league doesn't mean he should be in the Hall.

2.) More attention being paid to players who would have traditionally toiled away and done really well without exposure to a national audience - I'll call this the Johan Santana in Minnesota prototype. On top of that, there are always players who do very well, but never really have a breakout season. In extreme cases, these can be great Hall candidates, but without a little flash to draw the eye, they tend to get skipped over pretty quickly.

In addition, better, more accessible stats will also help break up old logjams as voters go back to the drawing board to decide if someone is a late-ballot inductee.

Regardless, I can't see the jump in coverage failing to have some sort of effect on the way Hall ballots are cast for better or for worse. I just hope it doesn't open the floodgates for every jackass who ever ran through a wall or drilled the peanut guy, just because it got a million hits on YouTube.

As long as technology doesn't rapidly reach the voters, who are mainly old print guys, we shouldn't see much deviation for the next 15 to 20 years at least.

I think we'll be safe.

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