Well, looks like we can add Chris Sprow to the list of people who, regardless of what their business cards say, have no business writing about baseball. In a column in the June 29th edition of ESPN: The Magazine, Sprow discusses the players currently enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame that he believes to be least deserving.
While I have no problem with Mr. Sprow expressing his opinions, I do take issue with his reasoning, which in turn leads me to feel some degree of disappointment with ESPN for presenting this drivel as if it were an informed point of view.
Sprow correctly identifies Bill Mazeroski as one of the first casualties of any purge of the HOF; no player with a career adjusted OPS+ of 84 should even be allowed to visit the Hall of Fame (with the exception of Ozzie Smith at 87, but at least he played shortstop).
Once the list comes to Boston Beaneaters star Hugh Duffy, though, Sprow’s reasoning takes a nosedive. Again, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and a left fielder with a career adjusted OPS+ of 122 is certainly a worthwhile candidate to have their HOF credentials questioned. However, rather than discussing points such as Duffy’s place in the left-field positional delta and the brevity of his peak as a hitter. Quoth the Sprow:
“Hugh was pretty good—he has a career average of .324—but consider us slightly concerned that in 1894 he ballooned to an average of .440, then never hit higher than .352 in a season thereafter.”
Never hit higher than .352 thereafter? Let’s ignore the fact that Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Schmidt, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. have exactly two seasons between them in which they hit .352 or higher (Aaron in 1959 and A-Rod in 1996). Who gets chastised for failing to hit .400?
A few slots down from Duffy on Sprow’s list of undeserving Hall of Famers is former Pirates shortstop Arky Vaughan. Vaughan’s inclusion on the list should immediately raise eyebrows, as even Sprow notes that by many metrics Vaughan is the second-best shortstop of all-time (after Honus Wagner). However, it is again the reasoning rather than the point that is problematic. Sprow:
Vaughan has just 2,103 career hits and 96 home runs.
Vaughan’s 2,103 career hits place him 204th all time, a ranking that may sound pedestrian, but when it is taken into consideration that there are over 16,000 player entries on Baseball-Reference, it can be appreciated that Vaughan’s hit total actually places him in the 98th percentile in the category all-time. But who gives a damn about hit totals? Ichiro routinely leads the league in hits, and clearly, he isn't that good.
What we, not to mention those of us who are paid by the largest sports media company in the world to think and write about sports, should be noting is that Vaughan’s career adjusted OPS+ of 136 bests Hall of Famers Ripken, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Al Kaline, Orlando Cepeda, Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Roberto Clemente and a whole slew of others. Not to mention it also bests active luminaries such as David Ortiz, Jason Bay, Adam Dunn and Chase Utley.
It should also be noted that while his 96 career home runs are nothing to write home about, Vaughan finished in the top 10 in the league in doubles in five of his 14 seasons, OPS in seven and slugging in four (Side note: Vaughan also died at the age of 40 when he was lost at sea, which is something that used to happen to people).
It’s fine to argue that Arky Vaughan or Hugh Duffy or any baseball player is better or worse than any other player. However, at least attempt to make a rational argument, especially if the argument is going to be consumed by an audience of millions. I didn’t even get paid to write this piece and I somehow managed to squeeze in a little research prior to expressing my opinions.