Mensching: Tigers duo’s Hall snub tests faith in voters
Even as we look across the fence at our neighbor and wonder what’s wrong with that guy? we like to believe in the wisdom of crowds.
On Wednesday, when the latest Baseball Hall of Fame class is announced and Tigers great Alan Trammell joins the rest of his former 1984 teammates in being shut out from Cooperstown, that belief will be severely tested.
One of that decade’s best teams has for no good reason failed to catch the eye of the baseball writers who get to make the official declaration of just who the best of the best really are.
And they wonder why we have a chip on our shoulders in Detroit? Did they watch the same players and look at the same stats as the rest of us?
Trammell is in his last year of eligibility and not even close to the 75 percent threshold he’d have to pass for enshrinement. He peaked by receiving recognition on about one-third of ballots in 2013 and dropped to just one in four voters finding justification to fill in a box next to his name last year.
Two years ago Jack Morris fell off the ballot, receiving just over 61 percent of votes his final year.
And these two aren’t even the worst examples of Tigers being overlooked. In 2001, Trammell’s double-play partner, Lou Whitaker, failed to even earn a second year on the ballot after not clearing the 5 percent mark. More than 19 out of every 20 BBWAA-badged baseball writers, the people who purport to know more about the game than you and me, didn’t recognize they were watching one of the great second basemen of all time.
So tell me about that neighbor of yours ...
Just how good were Whitaker and Trammell?
Whitaker ranks seventh all-time among second baseman in wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference. He’s 12th among second baseman in Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe’s JAWS statistic, which compares a player’s peak and total career numbers to those of players already in the Hall. Whitaker has better numbers than 13 of them. One those, Craig Biggio, was put on a plaque last year.
More than 95 percent of Hall voters had no clue what they were doing in 2001.
Trammell ranks 11th in both WAR and JAWS among shortstops. He’s above Derek Jeter, a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Of course, Trammell didn’t play in New York. Fifteen Hall of Famers have worse career numbers by those measures.
He’s above Barry Larkin, elected in 2012, too.
Maybe you don’t like stats like WAR and JAWS because they seem too complicated, you don’t know how they’re calculated, or it’s hard to define a career in one stat.
But it’s difficult to compare players from different eras otherwise. Fifty home runs used to be a big deal, until it wasn’t. Today, it is again. We’ve seen pitching ERAs rise and fall. The game is constantly changing. We need to adjust for that when evaluating careers.
Otherwise it falls to the eye test, which apparently is too tough an exam for some.
Maybe all of this shouldn’t really matter to us. It’s just a museum, right? One that most of the people filling up the stadiums will never visit, anyway.
But it does — both to those who take their vote seriously and to those who use those results when telling the history of the game.
Short of a veterans committee voting in Al and Lou some years in the future, a team that opened the season 35-5, won a World Series and had the greatest infield duo is left on the outside of Cooperstown looking in.
The only solace there is that plenty of other players who deserve to be there are being kept out right now, too.
That makes for a pretty incomplete museum, thanks to certain gatekeepers.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s getting better. But until it does, you have to question just how wise this crowd of voters is.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.