Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pete Rose and the Baseball Hall of Fame

I tried to retire this blog when I essentially retired from ultrarunning.  But, all 3 of my readers said I should continue writing, so I did.  But, I also said that without the ultra focus, I'd feel free to write whatever I wanted, rather than just ultras and skiing.  By now, my limited audience is really sick of CrossFit stories.  And, fishing stories were getting so old that I created a new blog to talk about them.

I've written about baseball here a few times.  I did a couple articles on using run differential to predict win-loss records, with respect to an Orioles team that was very, very lucky a few years ago.  Today, I imagine, I'm not going to make any new friends.  Once this post shows up in search engines, I'm sure I'll have to delete a few incendiary comments.  But, here goes.

In my opinion, it is clear that Pete Rose should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame.  To further fan the flames, I'll go even further and say that Rose is one of the more overrated players in baseball history.  I think his statistics are good enough to be in the HoF, but I don't think it's a slam dunk.  One number in particular, which I'll address below, really, really bothers me.

The 1919 Black Sox scandal threatened to destroy baseball.  The integrity of the game was challenged when gamblers greatly influenced a World Series.  Others are far more knowledgeable about this subject than I am, and I'm not going to re-hash that history here.  One of the things that came out of that scandal was baseball's Rule 21.  Part "d" of that rule is what I'm going to address here.

Rule 21, Part d:
"(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible."

Pete Rose has violated both parts of this rule and has admitted to this.  Because he violated the second part, he is "permanently ineligible".  Banned.  Not part of the baseball.

Some people argue that he never bet against his own team.  My response is "So what?"  The rule is the rule and he broke the rule.  He is ineligible.  The game was almost destroyed by betting, and that is why the rule exists.  He broke the rule.  He is permanently ineligible.  Yes, I know I'm repeating myself, but I am so tired of the online arguments in favor of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, because he allegedly never bet against his own team.

Now, let me diverge for a bit.  For years, I've thought the Hall of Fame itself has a major weakness.  There are people who are clearly the all time greats - people who had amazing careers over a long period of time.  Ruth.  Gehrig. Young.  Johnson.  Mays.  Cobb.  Williams. Musial.  Mathewson. There is no doubt that they belong in the HoF.  They don't even need a first name to be recognized.

There are others who were brilliant, but for a short period of time  Sandy Koufax stands out to me as the perfect example here.  Herb Score, but his career was way too short.  Thurman Munson.  Lyman Bostock (does anyone remember him?)  Maybe Kirby Puckett, but his career was about 12 seasons.

And then, there are players who were above average, sometimes well above average, over a long period of time.  Ferguson Jenkins.  Tommy John.  Bert Blyleven.  Nolan Ryan.  On the hitting side, Tim Raines comes to mind.  Harmon Killebrew.  Johnny Damon.  And, I put Rose in this category.

I think of the players in this latter group as people who collected gaudy absolute numbers by playing a long, long time.  They weren't terrible players at all.  But, they weren't the best of the best.

So, if you look at Pete Rose's total career, you see the all time hits record.  But, remember that he was a terrible player for the final five years while he doggedly chased the record.  He also made more than 10,000 outs in his career.  He ranks 65th all time in a category known as WAR - Wins Above Replacement value.  He is right behind Adrian Beltre and Jeff Bagwell.  Are they Hall of Fame material?  But, still he's in the top 100 baseball players of all time in this category.  So, yeah, he's a very good player.

What happens when you look at his qualitative numbers though.  When you ignore the gaudy collected numbers, and peer into how good he was per at bat?  In a statistic known as OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted by league and ballpark), Rose ranks 411th all time.  This is just among hitters.  His WAR ranking included hitters and pitchers.

But, you might argue, his career value probably dropped because he hung on a long time to get the career hits record.  To that, I might say "so what?", because he was actively hurting his own team in a search for a personal record.  But, let's borrow some information from a CBS Sports article.

If Rose had retired at age 40, with approximately 3700 hits, his career OPS+ would have ranked him 257th all time.

If he had retired when he got 3000 hits, he would have ranked about 220th all time.

Yes, I remember watching Rose growing up.  Charlie Hustle.  The charisma.  The collision at home plate in the 1970 All Star game.  The never-say-die attitude.  I admire those traits.

If I get to create my own HoF though, I put Rose in the longevity wing, if the gambling hadn't happened.  In the current system, I think he belongs in the HoF for his career achievements, if the gambling hadn't happened.

But, the gambling happened.  The rule is clear.  If Pete Rose is ever inducted into Cooperstown, I will never step foot in the HoF again.  I think it would send a message to other players that the rules don't matter.  But, they do.  The rules exist for a reason, and I can't see any reason to ignore the rule and invite Rose to Cooperstown.  Ever.

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