What Players should be Hall of Fame candidates?

I should say at the outset that I have no particularly strong feelings about Jack Morris's Hall of Fame candidacy. There are very few players whose Hall of Fame candidacy I care all that much about, in fact. There's one I'll argue passionately about, but more on that in a second. Right now,I'm going to say something about Jack Morris, inspired by Murry Chass's blog post about how he voted for Jack Morris and Jack Morris alone on this year's ballot.

Chass is making a statement with his ballot, a kind of misguided last stand in protest of what he calls "new-age stats guys," whom he dismisses as having BBWAA-envy. He says that Morris didn't cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs. He also says that Jack Morris "willed the Minnesota Twins to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, refusing to leave as long as the game was scoreless." This, Chass says, is symbolic of the failure of the statistic: "Numbers," he says, "simply don't tell the whole story."

He's right, of course.

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First of all, let me say that I think this is an asinine piece of get-off-my-lawnism by a guy whobased on his smug dismissal of advancements in ways in which we understand the game and his decision to use his power as a voter to make a statement rather than actually showing respect to the Hall of Fame and what it is or should behas no place near a Hall of Fame ballot. I'm glad it's the last time he's voting.

Chass's dismissal of statistics is a terrible piece of argument. First of all, any argument that is based around a dismissal of it's object as "new-fangled" is, to me, a rocky one to start with. If you don't believe sabermetrics are a valuable tool, that's fine. I disagree but you are entitled to that position. But don't dismiss them as new-fangled. Nothing expresses more succinctly a fear of the present so much as the word "new-fangled."

Chass further derides sabermetrics first as "new-age," a poorly chosen adjective. "New-age" to me connotes a position that is touchy-feely, in-touch-with-your-emotions, ignoring reason in favour of a misguided sense of spirituality. In other words, everything sabermetrics is not. Sabermetrics is the opposite of "new age." If anything, I'd criticize sabermetrics for occasionally erring too far into the cold, rational, abstraction of pure numbers, which is, I think, Chass's larger point.

It's too bad it's buried beneath this poor excuse for an argument, because I think it's a good point. If Hall of Fame ballots we're based purely on numbers, I think they'd miss a significant facet of the game. More than any other sport, I think, baseball is a narrative game. I think that's why people so obsessively document the game to begin withto piece back together a story that happened some Sunday afternoon however many years ago. Of course, it's a fool's errand. No box score, no scorecard, no statistics can ever capture the totality of the game. It's only ever an approximation, one that is missing some of the most beautiful parts of the sport. If you reduce, say, Jackie Robinson down to his numbers, you're missing one he'll of a story. Ditto Jack Morristhough I'm still not convinced that the particular story Chass tells is itself worth inclusion of the Hall of Fame.

I think it a great shame that people who argue from the numbers and people who argue from the narrative have let themselves become so polarized. Accepting statistics as a way of comparing players doesn't mean you can't appreciate a good story, or an incredible or implausible accomplishment. Sometimes they'll even help you appreciate all the more the rarity of an achievement. Similarly, loving the mythology of the game doesn't mean you have to reject statistics as a means of evaluating a player.

These are different means to the same end, an enjoyment of the game. And they're both part of the story of baseball, the story that is apparently supposed to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Oh. And the person whose candidacy I'd argue passionately about? Joe Jackson, of course but in a way that's all about the story.

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Posted in Entertainment Post Date 01/05/2016






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