Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dead Horse

Ichiro just tied Pete Rose for most 200-hit seasons. Which is one more excuse for sports radio to start talking about how great Pete Rose was.

I no longer care about the Hall of Fame issue. I was against him going in, but steroids strike me as so much worse that I'm not exercised about Rose anymore. He was a great player, solid HOF credentials - I'm not going to argue that he wasn't any good. But he is simply not "one of the greatest players who ever lived." He's not in the top 30. Baseball illusions - the entertainment value of players rather than their contributions to runs scored and runs prevented - make him overrated.

First, and most important, leadoff hitters are not as important as #3 and #4 hitters. They are probably ahead of #2 and #5 hitters in importance, but closer to them than the 3 and 4. Evidence: The greatest hitters of all time (a few modern players should move up the list since 2004). How many leadoff hitters there? And a few of those, Biggio and Boggs, for example, were not always leadoff. Leading off - getting on base and high-percentage base-stealing - is a wonderful skill but not the highest.

Second, even at that narrowed skill set, Rose was not the best. Rickey Henderson was certainly superior - Boggs, or reaching back to Billy Hamilton were better; maybe even Raines and Biggio. Rose gets extra credit for lots of doubles, but he didn't draw that many walks, and was not a good base-stealer. The lack of walks is part of his second-most famous accomplishment, his hit streak. Guys who control the strike zone and thus draw walks have fewer AB per game, and do not figure as prominently in hit streaks. Ted Williams actually hit for a better average, scored more runs and drove in more runs than Joe DiMaggio during the latter's 56-game streak.

Nor did Rose play one of the top three defensive positions (C, SS, CF), for all his versatility. Being able to play 2B, 3B, and some outfield is nice. Playing decent SS or CF would be better.

We get sucked in by the baseball myth of the Leadoff Hitter to a myth even further from reality: that all this Charlie Hustle stuff was all that meaningful. Sure, it's better to have a guy who runs out a walk, is always clapping his hands, or always looking for a takeout slide than to have a guy who mopes around and causes teammates to lose focus. But it doesn't actually put many runs on the board. It's show. It's the kind of thing that warms the heart of coaches and old baseball guys, and they talk themselves into thinking it's Very Necessary. Rubbish.

Give me either of two other guys on his team, Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench. Give me contemporaries Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Mike Schmidt; or certainly the big names who started a little before him: Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Mathews, Snider - even Berra or McCovey


Michael said...

Couldn't agree more.

Ymarsakar said...

The 4th and 5th hitters are the "clean up hitters".

The ones that are counted on for homeruns if the last 3 can get on base without too many outs. Or a walk if bases are loaded. Or simply an outfield fly that lets somebody steal a base, including homebase, even if the ball is caught given the time it takes to throw from outfield to home.

Ymarsakar said...

You might actually find watching Cross Game, a drama shot about baseball, more than some of these national league type games going on, AV.

It's great baseball fun.

@nooil4pacifists said...

I agree that Rose doesn't belong at the very top, but even your list had him 32nd--which is pretty good. And I give Rose extra points for both being exciting to watch and giving 110 percent all the time--unlike, say, Rickey Henderson.

Considering those who I saw play, I agree that Mantle, Schmidt and Robinson were better. Though I'm a big fan, I'd rate Yaz close to Rose--as does your list. Barry Bonds raises separate issues, as you hint. And, as good as Joe Morgan was, I simply can't stand him.

Were I Commissioner, I'd put Rose in the Hall the day after he dies. I wouldn't give him the honor of speaking at the induction ceremony.