A Mortal Lock for Cooperstown?

Lately I’ve read a lot about Omar Vizquel being a Hall of Fame shoe-in.  I confess to being mystified by it, and I don’t mind telling you why.  First, there are no objective standards employed by voters.  We try to apply some  (300 wins, 3000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 saves, etc., etc.), but they don’t distinguish between positions or eras very well.  It’s hard to be a ‘lock’ for anything that has no clearly defined standards.

Second, the subjectivity can be polarizing.  Why does Player A get in, while Player B doesn’t (even though some of his stats may be much better)?  Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax present some difficulty here.  Are they in because of what they might have accomplished, had they not been injured?  If so, then Ray Chapman should be considered.  He was a very good shortstop before a pitch from Carl Mays killed him.

Third, defense is very difficult to quantify and the numbers we get from quantifying defense tend to be less meaningful and reliable.  If we don’t have numbers, then the only things we have to go on are impressions and opinions.  Bill Mazeroski is the key name here.

This brings us back to the great cloud of unknowing: Omar Vizquel doesn’t meet any of the non-standards that we haven’t established.

In my mind I use a fourfold distinction that Bill James suggested a couple of decades ago to rate a player’s suitability for Cooperstown:

1.   Was he considered the greatest player of all time?

2.   Was he considered the greatest player of his generation?

3.   Was he considered the greatest player at his position?

4.   Was he considered a good player for a long time?

Here are examples of players who fit these four categories: (1) Babe Ruth; Willie Mays; (2) Joe DiMaggio; Ted Williams; (3) Rollie Fingers; Johnny Bench; (4) Bert Blyleven; and Enos Slaughter.  To these I’ll add the usual ‘objective’ standards mentioned above, like 300 wins or 3000 hits.  I also consider players already enshrined, focusing on players of similar talent, position, and impact.  The playoffs are factored in as well.  As you can tell there’s still a great deal of room for subjectivity, leaving plenty of room for disagreement.

I like Omar and think he’s headed for Cooperstown, but he’s hardly a shoe-in.  He falls short of almost every perceived HoF benchmark.  3000 H?  No.  500 HR?  No.  1000 RBI?  No.  He’s been excellent defensively (11 gold gloves), but the lack of standards for defense regarding HoF suitability is problematic.  He’s never been considered the best player in history, the best player of his generation, or even the best shortstop of his era.  He’s never won a World Series.  He was a great playoff performer thrice (’95; ’98; ’01), but he’s no Mr. October.  He’s never been the greatest player on a great team.  He’s never been the greatest player on a bad team, either.  His value has always been qualified by the word ‘defensive’: he’s been a very good defensive player for a long time.  That’s his big credential.  That leaves us with little other than nostalgia, sentimentality, and lateral comparisons to fill in the gaps.

Perhaps a key reason why Omar’s considered to be Cooperstown-bound is Ozzie Smith.  Ozzie was enshrined primarily on his ability as a defender and Omar is strongly reminiscent of the Wizard.  That said, I’ll enjoy watching Omar Vizquel tie the great Babe Ruth’s career hits total.  I’ll also leave you to chuckle about the incongruity of Omar Vizquel and Babe Ruth being mentioned together on the basis of a fairly significant offensive achievement.

Wes Kepstro

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