Let's kick off this year's annual Hall of Fame post by relating an exchange I had with a reader during the past season.
This reader - let's call him "A.J.," in honor of the man who picked up the final Yankees victory of 2011 - insisted all season that the Yankees simply don't hit in the clutch. I usually told him he was full of hooey. He felt vindicated when the Yankees dropped the ALDS to Detroit largely because of a lack of clutch hitting in Games 2, 3 and 5.
I challenged A.J.: Give me the numbers to back up your assertion. Forget about the small sample size of the playoffs, and show me the regular-season data which displays the Yankees' un-clutchiness. Or just give me your parameters, and I'll get the numbers for you.
A.J. requested the 2011 Yankees' performance with runners in scoring position when they're up by two, down by two and everything in between.
Thanks to my friends at Baseball-Reference.com, I was able to deliver: Here are the numbers.
Overall, in 6,306 regular-season plate appearances, the 2011 Yankees tallied a .343 OBP and .444 SLG. 1,053 of those plate appearances fit A.J.'s "clutch" definition. In those opportunities, they put up a .370 OBP and .431 SLG.
Pretty much what we'd expect, right? Opponents pitch more carefully with runners in scoring position, and the Yankees worked their at-bats more carefully, walking more often and settling for a base hit over extra bases. In all, they delivered 351 RBI in their 854 "clutch" at-bats, a vastly superior ratio to their overall 836 RBI in 6,306 at-bats.
It's a simple enough lesson, but one worth reiterating when it's Hall of Fame ballot time: Perceptions and memories are fun, but numbers have to carry the day. Numbers don't have to be the whole story, but I don't see how you can have a story without numbers.
Jeff Bagwell: He was a yes for me last year, his first year on the ballot, and nothing has changed in a year's time. He's a Yes again
Since his superb stats really aren't in question, we all know what the elephant in the room is with Bagwell: The perception that, given how dramatically his body and his statistics changed, he must have used illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
To which I say, it's not a matter of lacking hard evidence about this accusation. It's a matter of me not caring about it. Bagwell never violated MLB's drug-testing program, which didn't exist until the final two seasons of Bagwell's career (2004-05). Everything prior to that is irrelevant.
Think of it this way: At the risk of sounding pompous - ah, forget it, I know I sound pompous - my role as a Hall of Fame voter is to act as a judge and abide by the laws on the book. I can't be making up my own laws. And the baseball laws, prior to 2004, stated that you could pretty much do what you wanted on the illegal PED front.
Jeromy Burnitz: In these parts, he's probably best remembered as the guy who left the Mets as a young player - he went to Cleveland for decent pitchers Paul Byrd and Dave Mlicki, plus current Angels GM Jerry Dipoto - found stardom with Milwaukee and then returned to the Mets. With whom, of course, he was terrible in 2002 before hitting well enough in 2003 to get salary-dumped to the Dodgers.
He had some decent years with the Brewers, from 1997 through 1999, but I'm not sure he should even be on the ballot. He's an easy No.
Vinny Castilla. How many people can boast of never having to buy a meal in either the country of Mexico or the state of Colorado? That's one of the nice things about going through this ballot player by player. It allows us to tribute and recall players who don't belong in Cooperstown but do deserve to be remembered.
Castilla, a Mexico native, put up some big numbers for those early Rockies teams. As we'll discuss later with Larry Walker, however, not all big numbers are created equal. Castilla stopped being anything approaching an All-Star once he turned 32. Another easy No.
Juan Gonzalez: He was a No for me last year, his first year on the ballot, but he received 5.2 percent of the vote, just making the 5-percent cut to stay on the ballot for a second year.
Juan Gone's biggest calling card to his supporters, are his RBI. He's 70th all-time with 1,404, just behind Hall of Famer Robin Yount (1,406) and 28 ahead of Hall of Famer Johnny Bench (1,376). The problem with that argument is, those guys aren't in the Hall because of their RBI. Gonzalez's RBI totals are as much a tribute to Rangers GMs Tom Grieve and Doug Melvin, who put together powerhouse offenses, as to Gonzalez himself, who received plenty of opportunities to drive in his teammates.
He's a No again. He just didn't stand out enough for a guy who didn't play a premium position defensively.
Brian Jordan: Many people don't remember - there's no reason to do so - but the Yankees seriously considered signing Jordan to replace Bernie Williams after the 1998 season. Brian Cashman in particular was a fan. Joe Torre was more into Albert Belle. But Bernie worked his way back to the Bronx as a free agent, and Jordan went from the Cardinals to the Braves and continued putting together a solid career.
Solid, yet not spectacular. Another simple call here: No.
Barry Larkin: Of the players on last year's ballot who didn't hit the 75 percent threshold for induction, none received more support than Larkin, who got 62.1 percent. Given the underwhelming new class here, Larkin is the favorite to join Ron Santo's widow on the podium.
And deservedly so. He's one of the best shortstops of all time, with a prime of - let's say - 1988 through 1999 and a few more serviceable years on either side of that. In his third year on the ballot, he's a third straight Yes for me.
Javy Lopez: We'll remember him for his monster aberration season of 2003, and for Greg Maddux's refusal to pitch to him during their 12 years as Braves teammates. We certainly won't remember him as an all-time great. No.
Edgar Martinez: I'll confess, the fact that he was such a great guy gives me added pleasure in making him a Yes for the third straight year. But that's not why he makes my cut. He makes my cut because he was an offensive monster. His .418 lifetime on-base percentage ranks him 22nd all-time, for crying out loud, just ahead of Hall of Famers Stan Musial (.417) and Wade Boggs (.415).
That he spent the bulk of his career as a DH raises the bar for him to get into Cooperstown. For me, though, he meets that bar. He was that good.
Don Mattingly: For my sixth straight year of doing this, Donnie Baseball is a No, and it's a very safe bet that he'll complete his 12th year on the ballot without reaching 75 percent of the vote.
Here's a new wrinkle, however, albeit one that's still pretty wild at this juncture: Mattingly enjoyed a promising debut as Dodgers manager, helping his players overcome the potentially huge distraction of the Frank McCourt meltdown. If Mattingly can hang around as a manager and accomplish some things, then his candidacy for the Veterans Committee - which considers the totality of a candidate's career, rather than him just as a player - would receive a significant boost.
In the meantime, though, Mattingly will probably hang around the ballot for three more years after this, as he enjoys consistent support above the five percent range (he tallied 13.6 percent last year) yet gets nowhere near 75 percent.
Fred McGriff: He seems like another "Linger for 15 years" guy, as this is Year 3 for him and he made 17.9 percent of last year's ballots.
For me, McGriff comes pretty close. Another good year or two, and more postseason experience, and perhaps he'd get over the top. He lacks those resume-builders, however, so he's a No, once again.
Mark McGwire: I've documented my feelings previously (see the older ballots) on why I've switched on McGwire; it ties into my comments on Bagwell that I see my role as upholding the laws at the time, rather than retroactively legislating.
So for the third straight year, McGwire is a Yes for me, following three nos. I know some don't vote for him just based on his numbers, rather than the illegal PED revelations; I don't see that, not with a .982 OPS and 583 homers in 7,660 plate appearances.
Of course, he's going nowhere fast, overall. A guy with an illegal PED background (or at least a perceived such background) might eventually find his way to Cooperstown - next year, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa join the ballot - but McGwire seems stuck in limbo along with his fellow Ms Mattingly and McGriff.
Jack Morris: Ah, Mr. Morris. Our favorite lightning rod, all the more so now that Bert Blyleven is in Cooperstown.
This ties back to my introductory conversation with "A.J." Morris felt like a Hall of Famer. He did to me, for sure. I remember sitting in the offices of The News Tribune (may it rest in peace) in Woodbridge, New Jersey in August of 1993, my very first days as a professional sports journalist, and having one of the veteran scribes ask me this very question. Morris was still active, for crying out loud.
"Sure," I said. "Look at what he did in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series." And I voted for Morris in my first two years with this privilege.
But there are simply no numbers to support his candidacy. I don't see one. Wins? At 254, he does lead Bob Gibson (251), but he trails non-Hall of Famers Tommy John (288) and Jim Kaat (283). He trails Jamie Moyer (267), for crying out loud, and I don't think anyone has Moyer headed for baseball immortality.
'91 Game 7? An all-timer. But how much should that one game count? Is it the equivalent of a Cy Young Award-caliber season?
Of course, there's also the whole thing about wins being a terrible way to measure pitchers, as opposed to being a great way to measure teams.
In any case, for the fourth straight year, Morris is a No for me, and this - his 13th year - is probably his last best chance on the writers' ballot, given the influx of talent that arrives next year. In addition to Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, we'll have Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling, with Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina coming up the subsequent year.
Morris received 53.5 percent of the votes last year, so he'd have to get a considerable jump to attain 75 percent.
Bill Mueller. No. Of course not. But in a cool note for Bostonians, he's the first 2004 Red Sox member to make it here.
Anyone who can boast of both a walkoff homer (July 24, 2004) and a playoff-game-tying hit (2004 ALCS Game 4) against Mariano Rivera did all right for himself. Especially since the playoff single up the middle, following Dave Roberts' steal of second, set in motion the greatest postseason comeback ever.
Terry Mulholland. He's got the longevity part covered, but not the dominance part. No.
Dale Murphy: Another M hanging around for a long time, as this is his 14th year on the ballot. He received 12.6 percent last year.
Murphy's case always reminds me of Mattingly's. He enjoyed six outstanding seasons (1980, '82-'85 and '87) but didn't support those with much more. He's a No again.
Phil Nevin: His greatest claim to fame, at least in New York, is that the Astros selected him first overall in the 1992 amateur draft, passing on a young shortstop named Derek Jeter.
Jeter-philes can probably tell you all five players that came ahead in that draft, thereby allowing the Yankees to pop him at number six: Nevin, Paul Shuey (Cleveland), B.J. Wallace (Montreal), Jeffrey Hammonds (Baltimore) and Chad Mottola (Cincinnati). Ian O'Connor, in his Jeter book "The Captain," does a great job reporting out the thinking (and failure, of course) of all five teams.
At least Nevin can say that he made the Hall of Fame ballot. His candidacy is pretty weak, though. He's an easy No.
Rafael Palmeiro: OK, so last year, he was a No for me, for this reason: I had 11 candidates that I really liked, and you can list only 10. So I left off Palmeiro because of his 2005 suspension for failing an illegal PED test. His indiscretion was worse than, say, McGwire's, because he committed his wrongdoing at a time when there were known consequences for such actions.
This year, however, I don't go to 11. I go to eight. And Palmeiro...gosh darn it, he really had a heck of a career. He was an above-average offensive player for 19 straight years, 1987 through 2005, with all but the first and the last of that string featuring enough plate appearances (502 or more) to qualify for the batting title.
Yup, he cheated, he was caught and he served the time, all fair and square - and for what it's worth, that '05 positive test pretty much ended his career. But should that be a disqualifying factor for his Hall of Fame candidacy, or merely a damaging one?
I'm going with "damaging." Next year, with the influx of candidates, I might find myself with a surplus once more and keep Palemeiro off. Right now, though, he's a Yes.
Brad Radke: Looking back now at what he did, the right-hander can be regarded as underrated. He was a workhorse - nine seasons of 200-plus innings, and his strong ERA+ counts - 10 over 100, eight over 110 - show that his 4.00-ish ERAs came at a time when hitters dominated (see: all of the illegal PED talk we've been having).
I also liked Radke because he committed long-term to the Twins in 2000, at a time when they were terrible, and, after the 2004 season, he turned down an aggressive offer from Boston to stay in Minnesota.
He needed another four or so copy/pastes of his best years to make the promised land. He's a No, but someone who deserves more credit for a really good career.
Tim Raines: You'll occasionally hear people mention "Longevity vs. Dominance" in these Hall of Fame debates. I reject the question. I think you need both to get to the top.
Raines, for instance, was a dominant offensive player in the 1980s. An on-base machine. Just a step behind Rickey Henderson when it came to elite leadoff hitters.
If Raines had retired after, say, 1992, his last great year? I don't think he would get my vote. But he hung around for another nine seasons and added some real positives. He was a valuable reserve on those 1996-98 Yankees teams, picking up a couple of World Series rings and enhancing his reputation as a great clubhouse guy.
He's a Yes, for the fifth straight year, and he exemplifies that, unless you're Sandy Koufax, you can't get by on just dominance or just longevity.
Tim Salmon: Mr. Angel. A class act and a really good offensive player, he's exactly the kind of guy who deserves to be rewarded with inclusion on this ballot. I remember interviewing him the night the Angels won the 2002 World Series, seeing the joy he felt.
No, he isn't a Hall of Famer. What is he? He's a poster boy for the value of spending your whole career with one team. He can do no wrong in the O.C.
Ruben Sierra: "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent," Robert De Niro's character said in "A Bronx Tale," and people often seem to evoke that sentiment when discussing Sierra's career. Such a brilliant beginning, such a quiet ending and a considerable amount of stupidity in between, as he clashed with the likes of Sandy Alderson (in Oakland), Tony La Russa (also in Oakland) and Joe Torre (with the Yankees).
Sierra really changed at the end of his career, however, having been humbled by where his choices took him - he barely played in the majors from 1997 through 2000 - and offering wisdom to younger players.
And while he's a No for the Hall of Fame, he does have 2,152 hits on his ledger, terrific 1989 and 1991 seasons for Bobby Valentine's Rangers and one of the best ironic rip-job quotes of all time: After the Yankees dealt him in Detroit, Sierra - upset because he felt he hadn't been treated with respect - complained of his former team, "All they care about over there is winning."
Lee Smith: I've gone from No (2007) to Yes (2008) back to No (2009-11) on him, and I'm staying on No. The big debate on closers is, "How much can one separate himself from the pack?" My belief is, "Not very much, unless you're Rivera." And you can't get the dominance part of the equation if your Wins Above Replacement aren't high.
Alan Trammell: He produced a bit of an uneven career, with more potholes (1981-82, 1985, 1989) than you'd ordinarly see on an elite resume. But man, the highs were high, and the lows...weren't too low, given that he was excellent defensively.
He's a Yes, for my fifth straight year, and like Morris, this might be his last and best chance in his 11th year on the ballot. Given that he received just 24.3 percent of the vote last year, it's hard to see him ever making it. After Glavine and Mussina in '14 come Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in 2015.
Larry Walker: As we mentioned all the way back up with Castilla, while it might feel that you should clump all those mid-'90s Rockies in one large group, you shouldn't. Walker was the best. He put up impressive numbers with the Expos, before he joined Colorado, and then the Cardinals, after his departure.
Yes, his career home numbers (.431 OBP/.637 SLG/1.068 OPS) dwarf his road numbers (.370/.495/.865), but the latter figures are nothing at which one should sneeze. He was a darn good hitter, and the OPS+ metric, which compensates for ballpark inadequacies, still loves him despite his long life at Coors Field. For the second straight year, he's a Yes.
Bernie Williams: One of my all-time favorite players to cover. Great guy. Thoughtful guy. Considerate guy.
Spacey guy. My favorite Bernie story: I was entering Legends Field (now Steinbrenner Field) one morning when the receptionist picked up the phone. "Good morning, New York Yankees," she said.
"Nine-fifteen," she said, in response to a question, and then hung up.
"That Bernie Williams calls here every time there's a road game," she complained, shaking her head while smiling. "He always wants to know what time the bus leaves."
No, for Bernie, a big clubhouse sign reading, "BUS LEAVES AT 9:15" didn't quite cut it.
Is Bernie a Hall of Famer? He's awfully close. He played a premium position and excelled from 1994 through 2002. He picked up another 545 plate appearances in the postseason and put up a .371 OBP and .480 SLG, quite comparable to his regular-season counts of .381 and .477.
He's a No for me, however, because he fizzled quickly after '02 and because his defense, no matter how many Gold Gloves he won, was a liability by most measures (not to mention, by most eyewitness accounts). But it's just a matter of time before the Yankees retire his number 51, and if he doesn't make it to Cooperstown, most of us would settle for Monument Park.
Tony Womack: No, although, in his defense, he wasn't a very nice guy.
Eric Young: E.Y. and I come from the same area of New Jersey, Middlesex County. We have much in common. Young starred for New Brunswick High School and Rutgers, whereas I had Mr. Collazo, the J.P. Stevens baseball coach, as my gym teacher during senior year.
Young had his moments as a major-leaguer, making the Garden State proud; he was Castilla's and Walker's teammate on the 1995 Rockies, the first Colorado team to make the playoffs. Of course, he's a No on the Hall of Fame question.
--Have a great day.