Monday, 11 October 2010

The Hall-aday of Fame

After watching the brilliance of Roy Halladay once again on Wednesday night I inevitably began thinking about Doc’s hall of fame chances.

While the value of wins in determining a pitcher’s hall of fame-worthiness is a matter of great debate, a debate I am resolutely on the fence about, Halladay’s win total seems to closely match what would be considered hall worthy at this stage in his career. Halladay is 169-86 with a strong 3.32 ERA for his career thus far. He is 33. Given that his control is likely to last longer than his speed I think it’s definitely plausible that Halladay can pitch into his early 40s and continue to pitch at his current elite level for another 4-5 years. For the sake of argument lets say that Halladay has another 8 years in him as a big league starter. Playing for Philly for half of that I would predict Halladay averages around 17 wins for the next four years, that’s another 68 victories. For the remaining four years I’ll guess that Halladay averages 12 wins a year, another 48. I’ll also assume that Roy picks up an average of 10 losses a season during these years. Calculating loses is harder to do of course as Halladay might find himselves pitching for a non-contender in later years. This leaves Halladay with a career total of 275-166. Combine this with a career ERA in the 3.30-3.60 range and Halladay is clearly a better hall of fame prospect than the likes of Mike Mussina, John Smoltz and Curt Schilling (who are both, in my opinion, clear 3rd of 4th ballot inductees). It leaves him 100 wins over .500 which gets him into the best-of-the-best Pedro Martinez territory.

Without wanting to get bogged down in the advanced stats, which if anything just serve to elevate Roy’s genius, I shall move on to the intagibles which usually play a huge role in deciding who is a hall of famer and who isn’t.

Halladay has appeared in 7 All Star games. He will appear in at least 5 more unless something pretty horrendous happens to him. He has won one Cy Young award and is a lock to win another. This will put him in elite company as a pitcher who has won the award in both leagues. He has thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter – in the same season! At his current rate I would predict that Halladay will come very close to, if not exceed 3000 SO for his career.

In conclusion he is an absolute certainty for the Hall of Fame, first ballot, Greg Maddux style, bet your house on it type candidate.

But…what if Halladay never pitches again. It could happen. He could get hurt, he could join a cult, he could decide to ‘spend time with his family’. What of his chances then? In short, how long does a player have to be dominant and prove themselves as the very best in the game to be considered worthy of Cooperstown? Is it possible for a player’s performance in one season to gain him entry?

For the record I believe that it is possible, or at least it should be. I’ve long held the belief that the hall of fame should be viewed like the MVP award. It is not about selecting the best players from the era, it is about magic, aura and the stories that will live on throughout subsequent re-tellings of baseball history. While no-one minds when the likes of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson are rewarded for careers of consistency and for being very good players, for me, this is the antithesis of what the hall of fame should represent. The hall is about Babe Ruth redefining the game, about DiMaggio’s hit-streak, about Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier, about Koufax’s brief brilliance and so on and so until we reach Henderson’s dazzling base-running and Ripken’s beating of Gehrig’s consecutive game record. Sustaining a .300 average or having X amount of 100 RBI seasons just don’t cut it for me. I say it tongue in cheek but I do think there is a great of merit in the view that the sole criteria of election to the hall of fame should be having Ken Burns mention your name when he makes a documentary about the decade in which you played.

That said, I think Roy Halladay’s 2010 season makes the grade. He has done everything a pitcher might hope to do over the course of a long career in the space of one brilliant year. He has won 20 games, he has led his team to the post-season where they have to be considered favourites to win the World Series, he has thrown a perfect game and he has now thrown a post-season no-hitter. Ask any young pitcher starting what they hope to be a lengthy career what they hope to achieve and chances are all of these achievements will be cited. That Halladay has managed to do them all in one year is not simply excellent, it is legendary, it is hall of fame-worthy.

Tim Lincecum is another case in point. Obviously Tim doesn’t have the career numbers of Halladay and, due to his youth he is not eligible for the hall at present. But the magic is there. What could be more magical than the idea of a small, skinny kid who looks more like a character from a Harold and Kumar movie than a big league ball-player emerging from nowhere to win back to back Cy Young awards and put up Ryan-like strikeout numbers whilst almost single-handedly making the Giants a playoff team once again? While ‘the Freak’ has had a down year this year those two years of dominance equal the brief peaks of Pedro Martinez and Whitey Ford and can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as those of Koufax. While I’m not saying that Tim Lincecum is a hall of famer, at least not yet, he represents the excitement and dazzling dominance that the honour should represent. While I’ve already said that I think Mike Mussina is a hall of famer I would take Lincecum’s brief dominance (even if it all ended tomorrow) over Mussina’s 15 years of simply being very good and very dependable any day. We watch sports to be entertained, to be shocked and to be amazed. We do not watch sports to see talented employees methodically going about their business. That is the distinction.

It comes down more or less to the old adage of whether it is ‘better to burn out than to fade away’. Whitey Ford is a perfect example of this. He was dominant for a very short period of time, then he became the sly villain of the Yankees, using any edge he could to win. Even with his ball tampering later years Ford has a very short career. His career victory total is way below the majority of his hall of fame brethren. He, along with Koufax epitomises the idea of the brief but brilliant career being more interesting and more worth of fame than, for example, the endless succession of fair to very good seasons compiled by Bert Blyleven. MLB needs to do away with this ridiculous 10 years Major League service rule associated with the hall of fame. It is utterly redundant, and, I suspect, would never actually have been enforced. If Albert Pujols had retired at the end of 2009 with 9 consecutive seasons of 30 HR and 100 RBIs, a lifetime .330 average, 3 MVPs and a world series ring would he have been denied entry to Cooperstown because he’d only played for 9 years? I seriously doubt it.

I’ve gone way off piste in this entry but I feel I’ve arrived at a point none the less. We should celebrate excellence over consistency. Roy Halladay is excellent, celebrate him.

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