Tuesday, March 07, 2006

One More Time with Feeling


Kirby Puckett died yesterday. He was a great player to watch and one of the people that everyone loved to be around. The press loved him, his teammates loved him, hell even the opposition loved him. Love can take you a long way. Apparently even all the way to being a first ballot Hall of Famer. I have to apologize for being on this HOF kick lately, but this particular inductee has always been a sore spot for me. Kirby Puckett played 12 full seasons in the major leagues. He led the league in hitting once, led the league in hits 4 times, led in total bases twice, won 6 gold gloves and helped the Twins win two World Series titles. It's an impressive resume, no doubt, but does it stack up to the greatest at the position? Can you make an argument that Kirby is one of the best CF's of all time? On his hall of fame plaque it calls him a "prolific" run producer. He was so prolific in fact that he scored 100 runs three times and drove in a hundred three times. That compares to five 100 rbi seasons for Bernie Williams and eight 100 run seasons and five 100 rbi seasons for Dale Murphy along with scoring 100 runs four times. Let's compare Kirby to Bernie Williams: Kirby's 162 game averages: Hits- 209, Runs - 97, HR's - 19, RBI - 99, Walks - 41, OBP - .360, Slg. - .477. Here are Bernie's numbers: Hits- 185, Runs - 108, HR's - 23, RBI - 100, Walks - 86, OBP - .384, Slg. - .480.

As you can see Bernie's numbers compare favorably with Kirby's. And keep in mind that Bernie did win a batting title, won 4 gold gloves and helped the Yankees to Four World Series titles. And Bernie is the all time leader in post season HR's and RBI's.
I am not here to argue that Bernie belongs in the HOF, but I am here to raise the question of why Kirby made it on the first ballot. Are his numbers so overwhelming that it would have been a travesty to deny him? No. Was his situation so tragic, that it would have been cruel to deny him? No. So how do you explain his status as a first ballot HOF'er? Goodwill must go a really long way.

Albert Belle played 12 full seasons, just like Kirby. He put up better stats at the plate than Kirby. His career was ended before its time by an injury, just like Kirby. But the only way that Albert Belle will get into the HOF in Cooperstown is by buying a ticket. Unlike Kirby, Albert never smiled. He never gave good interviews. He was surly with the press and the fans. He engendered no good will at all. He may not get enough votes to even stay on the ballot. Dale Murphy was all the things that Kirby was (5 Gold Gloves in CF, 2 MVP awards, Clemente Award), although he never won a World Series. Perhaps if his career had been cut short by injury after those MVP seasons, he would have been a first ballot HOF'er too.

Look, I don't want to bash Kirby Puckett. He was a great player, but his career stats do not warrant being a first ballot Hall of famer and his year-to-year stats don't either. Sandy Koufax had his career cut short by an injury, but he was so dominating that his yearly stats made him worthy of the Hall. Puckett's career stats clearly don't reach the best at the position (Willie, Mickey, Cobb, DiMaggio, Speaker) and his yearly stats don't even stand out against the good at the position (Bernie Williams, Dale Murphy). This is the slippery slope that leads to mediocrity in the HOF.

How can Bernie not be in if Kirby's in? How can Dale Murphy not be in if Kirby's in? See what I mean.

Just for fun here is a partial list of players who could be considered among the top 3 players of all time at their position, that did not get in on their first HOF attempt:
Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Grove, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Matthews, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Eddie Collins, George Sisler, Carl Hubbell, Whitey Ford, Mel Ott.

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