Hall of Fame? Try just 'Very Good'

Rich Kraetsch@richkraetschCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2010

1990:  Andre Dawson #8 of the Chicago Cubs smiles during practice in 1990.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On Wednesday the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make Andre Dawson the only member of the first Hall of Fame class of the new decade.

With that decision, the BBWA continued to march the Hall away from its namesake of “fame” and toward another moniker that, while it is still praiseworthy in its own right, is not of the same meaning and prestige. Indeed, over the last decade or so, a good number of the selections by the BBWA for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown have done more to highlight the need for a Hall of Very Good rather than enshrine players that deserve to be remembered as truly elite throughout the future of baseball history.

Take Dawson for example. He has a career .279/.323/.482 line at the plate with a 119 OPS+ (that’s above average, but not by much). Added to that is appearing in the top 10 of the league in OPS+ only three times in his career, never leading the league in on-base percentage or slugging and leading the league in total bases only twice.

Overall, Dawson was not much of an offensive demon, as he had only three seasons of .350+ OBP in his 21 years in the MLB, and his career OPS+ of 119 suggests that while he was slightly above average in getting on base and hitting with power, he certainly wasn’t one of the elite players of his era.

And on the defensive side of the game, Dawson doesn’t seem to be as elite of a player as the writers and his HOF status would have you believe—and yes, here come those darn-fool funny-sounding numbers again. Dawson played a total of 1,027 games as a center fielder, and logged a career fielding-runs above average (FRAA) of 37 at the position, certainly an above-average number. However, through the 1984-85 seasons, Dawson began to switch over to right field, where he played for the rest of his career, notching 1,281 games at the position with a FRAA of -41. Altogether, Dawson finished his career with a FRAA of -6.

Now, a negative number in the FRAA column does not necessarily denote a player that was bad or even well below average at a position (though it could), and Dawson’s numbers are not indicative of someone that is decidedly bad or sub par at any given position. In fact, Dawson finished well above replacement-level at every position he started games at, including his 40 games in left field.

To clarify, Andre Dawson wasn’t bad at defense and, truth be told, he was right around league-average year in and year out, something that thousands of ballplayers have hoped for but have never been able to achieve. Though, Dawson was really never the best defensively, either, and his average abilities with the glove do not go far in covering up the lack of dominating offensive statistics.

In reality, Dawson wasn’t a world beater when he was playing in the MLB; he wasn’t even a league-beater most of the time. Dawson’s 438 career home runs (36th all time), 503 doubles (48th all time) and really, almost all of his counting-stat successes have been more of a product of the longevity of his career rather than his ability to out-play and appear heads and shoulders above his peers, which is the true mark of a HOFer. Dawson’s ability to play 21 seasons in the MLB and appear 34th on the all-time games played list is truly commendable, but should not have been commended with a Hall of Fame selection.

Rather, Dawson joins a long(ish) list of recent inductees whose playing stats and abilities have dragged down the standards of the Hall of Fame more than live up to or even further them. Dawson joins Dave Winfield, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Bruce Sutter, and Jim Rice as recent inductees that, while definitely good and above average in their time, were not world-beaters and barn-burners worthy of the title Hall of Famer, and would be better relegated to the Hall of Very Good.

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