Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 22, 2000
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame: Lou Whitaker, Dave Concepcion and Dave Parker
Hall of Fame Part 3: Lou Whitaker, Dave Concepcion and Dave Parker (Originally ran 12/22/00 on the Boston Sports Guy website):
Lou Whitaker is a pretty easy one, in my book. No question whether Sweet Lou had the longetivity – only Eddie Collins and Joe Morgan played more games at second base than Whitaker. It’s a tough position; a lot of guys get ruined turning double plays in traffic. And there was never any down time in the 18 seasons (not counting an 11-game cup-a-joe in 1977) of Whitaker’s career. He was Rookie of the Year in 1978, and notched his two best slugging percentages in his last two seasons, 1994 and 1995 (when he was platooned). He never had an on base percentage below .331, and was over .360 eleven times, finishing his career at .363. He slugged over .400 fourteen years in a row, a very rare accomplishment for a middle infielder.
Whitaker wasn’t an iron man, but he appeared in over 130 games twelve times, plus appearing in all 109 Tigers games in 1981. His only serious injury was the one that finished the Tigers off as a contender (after 11 years in or around the pennant race), when he missed the last month of the 1988 season after tearing a hamstring dancing at his sister’s wedding. He ran well (only once hitting into more than 10 double plays in a season), hit for a solid average with some power and good patience – in short, a complete offensive player, no weaknesses other than his chronic struggles with lefthanded pitching and some subpar performances in the postseason. He was also a solid defensive player, outstanding for the first several years of his career; he won three Gold Gloves and made everything he touched look easy. His career offensive totals are comparable to those of several other Hall of Fame second basemen.
Trammell is a tougher question, probably a little short on the same standard, but the simple fact is that Whitaker was an above-average hitter at a fielder’s position, and a good glove, year in and year out for nearly two decades. Whitaker was the best at his position between Morgan and Sandberg; he didn’t dominate the game but he fits in perfectly with the Tigers tradition of steady contributors, from Sam Crawford to Charlie Gehringer to Al Kaline. He should be IN.
Davey Concepción is a classic example of a guy with the skeleton of a good Hall of Fame argument but no meat on the bones. He had a long career, 19 years, played a key defensive position and played it well; he played for many championship teams; he was the best in his league and possibly the best player in baseball at his position for six years (1974-79). He was a nine-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves. He hit well in the postseason, pounding the Pirates in 1975 and 1979 and hitting well in 3 of his 4 World Series appearances.
But . . . that’s all. Concepcion was a good hitter for a shorstop, at least before Robin Yount and Alan Trammell redefined the position in the early 1980s into one where some run production was expected. But he was never actually a good hitter, as his lifetime batting/slugging/obp of .267/.357/.322 will attest. The Runs Created formula pegs him as a below-league-average hitter for the balance of his career, plus Riverfront was a pretty good place to hit. Yeah, he played for great teams, but not only were Bench and Morgan arguably the best ever at their positions and in their prime, and not only was Rose a legitimately great player, but we’ve already put Tony Perez in the Hall of Fame for having the “leadership” and “clutch ability” to turn this scrappy bunch into winners . . . not to mention Sparky . . . let’s just say that there are no more extra bonus points for intangible magic left to award for the Big Red Machine.
The damning question, among the list Bill James devised for deciding who is really a Hall of Famer, is this: could a team with Dave Concepcion as its best player win the pennant? In 1982, the Reds finally found out; Concepcion hit .287 and the Reds lost 101 games. That’s not to suggest that a Concepcion-led team would necessarily lose 100 games, but I wouldn’t have confidence in such a team to finish much above .500. That’s not a Hall of Famer. He’s OUT.
Dave Parker got 20.84% of the vote last year, so he’s probably losing steam. Parker was a dynamite player in his late-70s heyday, a very similar player to Winfield but with a bit less power and hitting for a better average. It’s hard to say a guy had too few good years when he was in the top 10 in RBI nine times, got over 2700 hits and drove in nearly 1500 runs. Parker’s career totals are strikingly similar to those of Billy Williams, but he played in a better era for hitters and the percentages are less impressive; his career on base percentage was .339. If you replaced Parker’s 1980-84 seasons with Dale Murphy’s, you’d have a first ballot guy. Let’s take a look at that period, averaged out over 4.67 seasons:
That’s age 29-33; not exactly Parker’s prime, but the time a Hall of Fame outfielder should still be head and shoulders above the league. The five years Parker spent mailing it in because he was fat and on drugs just kill his candidacy. It’s great that he turned things around, but the ship sailed while he was snorting with the Parrot, and we should cut him no slack for what might have been. Parker’s OUT.