As noted below, the Baseball Writers' Association of America took a big step today by letting in web-based writers -- Rob Neyer and Keith Law from ESPN.com, along with Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl from Baseball Prospectus. From Dec. 11, 2007, here's a look at how having a few more "neostatistican" writers -- Murray Chass' word -- consider the candidates could influence who gets into the Hall of Fame in future years.
Tim Raines is caught in the middle of baseball's culture war.
As you know, the patron saint of Canadian seamheads (check out the writing chops of the creators of raines30.com, a catchbasin for all the Raines arguments), is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. It comes as the pitched battle between the new-gen web writers -- most of whom would put Raines in the Hall in a heartbeat -- and the old guard among the BBWAA who vote for Cooperstown has hit its all-time pissiest.
It's taken until now for the BBWAA to add Internet-based writers to its badge list (you have to be a member for 10 years before you can vote for the Hall). It's a step forward, and if you care about baseball, it matters. In the same breath, though, last week the BBWAA denied entry to two of the best out there, including Rob Neyer of ESPN.com. The weak defence offered up was that Neyer and his colleague Keith Law, who was also denied, supposedly don't attend many games in person to do their work. Well, two Ottawa Citizen writers are on the BBWAA badge list, and while they earned it, they're likely not attending man games as working journalists these days.
(Note: This was right after Ottawa ceased to be a Triple-A city.)
Neyer especially eats, drink and sleep baseball 24/7/365 and probably spends more time on any given day trying to think of how to define a good or great ballplayer than a dozen newspaper guys who just cherry-pick whatever stats fit their arguments (they know who they are). Yet he can't join the BBWAA and thus vote for who to let into the game's shrine.
Figure that one out. Anyway, Neyer hasn't needed a BBWAA badge to write his acclaimed books (check out page 346 of Baseball Dynasties, where he says, "Any baseball writer who doesn't think Tim Raines is a Hall of Famer should turn in his laptop computer.") However, Tim Raines and other underappreciated players need Neyer, since it's the new-gen writers who understood Raines' greatness best and have been most responsible for spreading the gospel and popularizing the use of stats that explain him better than the traditional ones. (If they stopped counting RBI altogether, I wouldn't lose any sleep.)
When Raines goes into the Hall of Fame, he'll be one of the first inductees who had his on-base percentage, a lifetime .385, cited as a major part of his Hall of Fame argument. He also scored more runs than anyone else eligible for the Hall of Fame who hasn't been inducted.
Just go to baseball-reference.com and check out the annual National League leaders in offensive winning percentage from 1983-87, Raines' peak period. Raines was the only player in the NL who finished in the top five in the NL every year during that stretch.
He did that while playing in a league that included Hall of Famers such as Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and Mike Schmidt (who to be fair, was a veteran player by then).
It's not even an argument for the new-gen writers, but meantime, judging from the (just my luck) column Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci published today, Raines will only get about 50 per cent support, far shy of the needed 75%, this year. It takes time.
The point is that the early adopters, including those who created the Raines site (John Brattain, Craig Burley, Jonah Keri and Tom M. Tango, who were nice enough to cite Out of Left Field) have been a big part of helping people get it with Tim Raines.
The BBWAA did brush off Rob Neyer. There are a few of the old guard who are very threatened by the geeks with their computers. However, they are adapting and it looks like that will help Tim Raines get his rightful place in Cooperstown. It still sucks that it might not happen sooner.
A Rock-solid case (Tom Verducci, SI.com)
Vote the Rock; Raines absolutely deserves call from Cooperstown (Jay Jaffe, SI.com, Nov. 29, 2007)
(Much obliged to Pete Toms for the links.)