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Does Roger Maris deserve a plaque in Cooperstown?

Bud Selig believes that Roger Maris should gain induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The BBWAA were asked to consider Maris’ candidacy 15 times.  His peak vote total of 43% was well short of the 75% required for election.

Q: Why is this even a discussion?


There are two items worth noting on the BBWAA election rules

  • “5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
  • “6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.”
When the veterans committee debate Maris they need to determine that the writers overlooked a perfectly qualified candidate.  It’s abundantly clear that outstanding single season performances are not alone basis for election.
That leaves rule #5.  Let’s assume the writers of the ’70s and ’80s knew much more than we do about Roger’s integrity, sportsmanship and character. All we can review is the players record, ability and contributions to the team.  “Ability” fulfilled should equal performance (“players record”).  I don’t know what in addition to record we can consider as a “contribution to the team”.  Baseball teams win games if they score more runs than their opponents.  Contributions to runs scored and prevented are all included in Maris’ record.  If you can think of any other contributions worth considering please share (don’t say “chemistry”).
Distilling a players record down to a single number doesn’t provide a narrative but it does give us a very good idea of overall ability.  Leave it to the sportswriter to romance over double-play turning combinations or sweet swinging “Yankee Clippers”.  WAR, WARP and Win Shares level the playing field and are more inclusive than pinpointing batting average, stolen bases or home runs. 61 is an awesome number but it only tells us about one aspect of a players game (ability to drive the ball over the fence).  It doesn’t tell us about their ability to make contact, get on base, drive the ball to the gaps, run, field or throw.  The comprehensive numbers we will look at include all aspects of a players contribution.  Even if you disagree with the formula’s output it must provide a more complete view of player performance than any single number in the formula.
Comparing Maris to his right field contemporaries:
                         WAR*     Win Shares Above Bench**
Rocky Colavito      52              129
Vada Pinson          52              114
Tony Oliva            46              124
Frank Howard        45              160
Roger Maris           41              112
Felipe Alou            41                95
Bob Allison            41                89
*average WAR(P) from FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus
**from The Baseball Gauge
Rocky Colavito clearly had a better career than Roger Maris yet he finished dead last, 37th out of 37, the last time he appeared on a HOF ballot.  “The Capital Punisher” fell off the ballot after just one year. Pinson peaked at 16% in 1988. Only Tony Oliva received support (47%) on the Maris level.
I don’t mind if Roger Maris is given credit for holding the single season HR record but for Bud Selig to tout him as Hall of Fame worthy is flat out irresponsible.

Giving Kirk Gibson (the ballplayer) his long overdue

Here is a list of outfielders who peaked alongside Taxi and ALF:

  1. David Mark Winfield
  2. Fredric Michael Lynn
  3. James Edward Rice
  4. Andre Nolan Dawson
  5. Kirk Harold Gibson
  6. Anthony Keith Gwynn Sr.
  7. Darryl Eugene Strawberry
  8. Kirby Puckett

That’s 5 HOF’ers, 2 guys who made 17 All-Star appearances between them and one lonely soul who was never selected to pay in a Midsummer Classic. Which of these superstars (+1) do you think provided the greatest value to their teams during their prime?

Evaluating each of their 5 best consecutive seasons according to Win Shares Above Bench it’s not particularly close…

Accumulating 80 WSAB from 1984-88 it’s Crenshaw High’s own Darryl “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent” Strawberry.  This is extraordinary considering he was just 26 years old in 1988 (one year away from entering a normal hitters prime).  The only other guy on this list who peaked so early was Jim Rice who had his best year at age 25.

Win Shares Above Bench during greatest 5 year stretch:

  1. Darryl – 80 WSAB
  2. Gwynn – 73
  3. Lynn – 73
  4. Rice – 72
  5. Gibby – 70
  6. Winfield – 69
  7. Kirby – 68
  8. The Hawk – 67

Since Bill James distributes 3 Win Shares for each team victory we can divide WSAB by 3 to get an equivalent # of WAR.  Darryl was worth 5.3 wins during his prime, everyone else contributed 4.5-4.9 wins.  The knock on Gibby is that he didn’t accumulate enough hits, RBI or hockey pucks but from 1984-87 he was the 2nd most productive OF in the AL (behind only Rickey Henderson, who was the greatest player on the planet during the Taxi-ALF era).

Gibson averaged 27 HR & 30 SB (83% success rate) over his 5 peak years.  In his career he was doubled up 75 times fewer than average and had an advantage of 162 in this category over Jim Rice.

The Tigers won the most games in baseball (98) in ’87 but lost to the Twins in the ALCS. Gibson became a free agent and signed with the Dodgers for 3 years/$4.5m.  This made him the 2nd highest paid player on the team behind Fernando Valenzuela.  LA improved from last in the NL in runs scored in ’87 to a respectable 6th in ’88.  They won 21 more games and the NL West title. Gibson contributed a career high 21 WSAB and deservedly took home the MVP.

Kirk Gibson is one of a select few people in the world who were great big league ball players for longer than most U.S. Presidents serve in office.