Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 31, 2006
BASEBALL: Belle, Rice and Dawson in Context

As promised, I've got an article up today at the Hardball Times taking a look at the Hall of Fame candidacies of Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, and Albert Belle, in the context of a fairly long list of other Hall of Famers, Hall candidates or former candidates, including a number of people I've written about in the past, such as Dick Allen, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans and Jose Canseco. (Jimmy Wynn, who I met last week, is also included in the chart). (UPDATE: Repoz, with his unique sense of humor, locates for us a visual representation of the "grey area").

This was a fun, if exhausting study, and I hope you enjoy reading it; you can consider this an open thread for comments on it. Here's more background from my prior writings on many of the same players:

*Summary of the 2006 balloting.

*From this January, my summary of the case against Dawson.

*2005 tribute to John Olerud.

*From 2004, initial thoughts on Fred McGriff as a Hall of Famer.

*From 2003, a season-by-season Win Shares analysis of Hall of Fame Outfielders of the 1920s-1930s.

*My 2003 Hall of Fame ballot, with a look at Dawson, Rice and others.

*2002 essay on Allen, Canseco and the problem of looking at career totals vs. season-by-season accomplishments, including a season-by-season look at Allen and Canseco.

*2001 essay comparing Roberto Clemente to Stan Musial, Pete Rose and others.

*2000 essay on Rice, Kirby Puckett and Dale Murphy.

*2000 essay on Parker and others.

*2000 essay on Hernandez, Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly.

*2000 essay comparing Rice and Tony Perez.

*1998 email to Rob Neyer arguing for more consideration of total plate appearances in the MVP debate.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:37 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Great work, Crank. That was an excellent piece.

I, too, noted immediately just how badly Dewey got screwed. If he came around 10-15 years later, when James's influence was stronger and folks understood secondary skills, he'd be in the Hall. We'd be talking Dewey, not Rice. Of course the same could be said regarding Straw vs. Dawson, Carew vs. Grich, and many more.

The guy who surprised me the most was Kiki Cuyler. I knew that his numbers were inflated by his era, and I knew he missed some playing time, but I was shocked to see him so low.

Finally, well-stated regarding Dick Allen. Injury-prone and a bit of a head case, but man, could that dude hit! Kind of like Belle without the durabilty: a right-handed hitting machine, with some "personality issues." In their own ways, Hornsby, Manny, Belle & Allen all share some things in that regard.

Posted by: Mike at January 31, 2006 9:24 AM

Great article there. For reasons I never understood, Frank Thomas never got his due. I always thought of him as the second coming of Ted Williams, but then slowed up quickly--amazing how the truly greats lst without inuries, with Mantle and Dimaggio coming to mind as exceptions to that.

Cuyler suffered from Bobby Murceritis. He was considered, at the time, to have amazing talent, but not the singlemindedness that the "greats" had. My guess is, like Murcer, he was really good, but what a reporter or GM sees as great is not necessarily so.

Hornsby, Allen, Belle, Manny, and add Cobb and Ted to this list, share something in common: a belief among many that they were more concerned with padding their stats instead of helping the team, which is silly. You help your team by doing your best. Belle was a surly, unfriendly hitting machine. He was the prime mover on those excellent Indians of the 90s who failed to win the big ones for the reasons that all teams do: their pitching failed them (OK in one case Mesa choked, but you get the point).

I think when you lump these kinds of players together, say Rice, Belle and Dawson, you start thinking of them as equal types, and they weren't. Albert Belle was about the second best hitter in the AL (after Frank Thomas), while he played. Rice was a terrific hitter with many flaws, among them creating enormous amounts of outs--a major flaw when you consider a hitters job is to create runs with as few outs as possible. Belle was a dominating hitter, Rice put up some high numbers in reporter conscious categories, and Dawson was a good player, very much like Dale Murphy, who also put up some pretty good nubmers while making nice with the press. Belle didn't, and neither did Thomas, but if you are going to pick a couple of 90s candidates, those are the guys.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 31, 2006 9:39 AM

Thomas is hurt for two reasons, perhaps related. His first four seasons came before (91-92) the hitting explosion, and as the hitting explosion occurred (93-94). So his numbers, which were obscene in the context of early 90s baseball, quickly paled as Bonds, Belle, Bagwell & other guys with names not necessarily starting with "B" started throwing up 325/450/650 seasons with regularity.

The other way in which Frank suffers, I think, is that like many trailblazers, he's been overtaking in the public consciousness by those that followed. Since Mantle retired, no one hit 300+, belted 35+ HRs and walked 100+ times. Only the "Pantheon" guys did that, and they were all dead, retired, or in the HOF. In other words, they lived in an ethereal zone of myth, known only through their gaudy stats in the Baseball Encyclopaedia.

I remember thinking, in the late 80s, as I came to understand the true nature of offensive production, that a guy who could hit .300 with some power would be unstoppable if he just stopped swinging at slop, the way Keith & Raines & Jack Clark did. But the first two didn't have the power stroke, and the latter couldn't make consistent contact.

Then, late in 1990, Frank came along and hit something like .330 with plenty of doubles and a few HRs . . . and walked 40+ times in 190 ABs!!! I was amazed.

I remember hanging out with some friends early in the 1991 season when Frank was leading in RBIs. I told them it would last, that he was for real. And they laughed at me. But I -- like many folks here at Baseball Crank, I'd guess -- knew he was the real thing because of his amazing strike zone control.

At any rate, my point was that soon enough tons and tons of the game's power hitters followed in his footsteps and created even better numbers, out of context: Bonds, Thome, Belle, Manny, Sheffield, Chipper, etc. Not all of them walked 100 times or hit 40 HRs, but you get the gist.

In retrospect, we forget that Frank did it first, and he did it when guys were still good hitters if they did 280/350/475.

When he retires, though, and they look at him in full perspective, he'll make the HOF with ease I'd guess.

Posted by: Mike at January 31, 2006 10:14 AM

Frank was certainly on the front edge, the power hitter with excellent secondary numbers. But he wasn't the first, even in this generation. Even though I don't love him, Barry was the first. His career started 6 years earlier and Franks breakout 1993 was dwarfed by Barry's '93. Frank went .317/.426/.607, Barry went .336/.458/.677. And this was pre roids Barry...

Love or hate the guy, he is quite simply, incomparable...

Posted by: The Juice at January 31, 2006 3:34 PM

Sidebar, why is there no discussion of Albert Belle and roids? Skinny guy when he came in, a house when he left...

Posted by: The Juice at January 31, 2006 4:03 PM

Juice-

No argument from me regarding Bonds. But '92 was the first season he entered .300+/100+ BB territory. Frank did it his first full season and didn't look back til, what, '97?

Posted by: Mike at January 31, 2006 4:26 PM

Just finished reading your article in Hardball Times and the 2000 essay on Rice and Perez. Great stuff.

Admittedly as a guy who was a Sox Fan from age 7 and attended college in Boston from '77-81 I have a Rice/Evans bias. I think they should both be in the Hall. I spent many an evening sitting in the RF bleachers looking at Dewey's backside. And that arm!!

After reading your 2000 essy, though, I think you're giving Rice less credit than you should. Look again at what you said in discussing the merits of Tony Perez vis a vis Rice. It's all true. And that, in my mind, puts Rice in.

Is he Mickey Mantle? No. But that's a criterium that few will match.

Posted by: Giacomo at January 31, 2006 8:52 PM

Liked your analysis. It's always nice to see someone use a stat that gives OBP its due -- something OPS fails to do.

Your Rate stat shows just how valuable Belle's prime years were. But since after that his career was basically finished, I have a hard time putting him in the Hall. I agree that Belle is like Dick Allen in having a too-short career and poor P.R. to boot. Had they been nicer guys, they might have gotten the treatment given to Koufax or Puckett or other guys who were elected with relatively short careers. But 'tis not to be.

McGriff is another who might slip through the cracks, unfortunately, because his prime was soon dwarfed by the '90s offensive boom. We'll see if the BBWAA gets savvier about offensive context and OBP and other sabermetric insights in the coming years, but I'm not optimistic about that happening soon.

I was shocked to see how well Olerud fared in your rankings. For whatever reason, I never realized he was such an on-base machine. While his power vacillated, his OBP's stayed around or above .400 for a decade. But I think he's headed for the same fate as the guy just below him on the list, Keith Hernandez.

I'd be interested in seeing your analysis applied to other positions. How would Bobby Grich and Darrell Evans (two other high-OBP guys who fell short of induction) fare with your Rate stat?

Formatting note: You or your editor needs to fix the two em dashes that were inputted incorrectly and show up in the article as "&mdahs;" instead of "—".

Posted by: tbw at February 2, 2006 11:21 PM
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