Sunday, January 3, 2016

Interview with Graham Womack: The 25 Best Players Not in the Baseball Hall of Fame

A couple of weeks ago I began an email interview with Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present. Graham's latest project debates the 25 best players not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. We are on the eve of him releasing his results. I will post who I voted for later this week. Let's get to the interview:

Me: Graham, thanks again for agreeing to this. Let's get right to the Hall of Fame project. When was the first year you did it and what gave you the idea for it?

Graham: I did my project for the first time in December 2010. Earlier that year, I'd read a book by Len Berman where he'd used a panel of experts to select the 25 greatest players in baseball history. I thought it might be interesting to use a similar approach to find the best players not in Cooperstown.
I was also motivated by an experience I had the year before when I made my own list of who, at the time, I thought were the 10 best players not in. Some website picked up on one of my selections, Dale Murphy after and said my website had selected Murphy as one of the 10 best. I thought to myself, "No, it's just me." I wanted to change this.

Me:  That is great. As I write this I am still trying to figure out my 25 guys. Interestingly enough, the news broke today that the ban on Pete Rose will not be lifted, which under the current rules, will forever make him ineligible for the HOF. I agree with Manfred's decision but I think there needs to be a compromise. His name needs to be on the ballot.

That leads us to what I call the "Flawed Four" on this ballot, Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. How do you think they should be judged when it comes to the HOF?

Graham: I'm in favor of them all being in the Hall of Fame, with their misdeeds noted on their plaques. They were all among the greatest players all-time, and you can't tell the story of baseball without them.
Me:  I agree. I understand the view point of the people who refuse to vote for the steroid guys on the premise that they are not convinced that the numbers they put up for real. However, the Rose and Shoeless Joe situations boggle my mind as to why you could keep them out. They broke the ultimate rule and their lifetime ban is just but keeping them out of the HOF doesn't fit the crime. It had no effect on the players that they were.

One of the things I am looking forward to with this vote on the 25 best players not to be in the HOF is not voting for Mark McGwire. I think he is one of the most overrated players in the history of the game. The narrative that he shouldn't be in the HOF just based on the steroid issue annoys me. Forget the steroids, he was a one dimensional player. He didn't hit for average, didn't get on base, lousy fielder, lousy base runner and never had a memorable moment besides homer #62. He wasn't a guy who could carry a team. He had power and seemed to hit homers when they didn't matter. Call me crazy if you want but he is a classic example of the home run ball clouding the judgement of so many. Is McGwire making your list of 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame?

Graham: I don't actually vote in this project anymore, so I can't tell you if McGwire will or won't make it. That's up to voters.
Me:  I brought up McGwire as being someone I feel is overrated, let's look at the opposite spectrum, who do you feel is one of the most underrated players of all time?

Graham: Bobby Grich, or any other position player who did lots of things well besides hit for a good batting average. So many fans and even former players still judge by this marker.

Me:  Bobby Grich is great. I grew up in Rochester, NY and he played for the Rochester Red Wings (AAA). It was before my time but you were always reminded he was one of their great alums.

Who do you have on your list as an overrated player who is in the Hall of Fame?

Graham: Lloyd Waner. I always used to forget which Waner, Paul or Lloyd was the undeserving Hall of Famer who got in on his brother's coattails. A friend on Twitter helped me remember by saying the L in Lloyd stands for "lousy Hall of Famer."

Me:  Thanks for that. I will now be on his baseball reference page for the next hour.

You have an incredible blog in which you write about baseball's past and present. I wrote a piece on a weekend baseball trip to NY that my father took with my grandfather when he was 9 years old. It was 1957, he saw Ted Williams hit a pop up grand slam over the short porch in Yankee Stadium one day and the next day he saw a young Don Drysdale square off against Robin Roberts in Ebbets Field where Duke Snider would hit his last home run ever in that ballpark. I remarked that if I had a time machine I would head back to that weekend and tag along.

If Doc Brown gave you the keys to the Delorian for a baseball trip where would you go and why?

Graham: Great question. I could probably think of 5-10 moments in baseball history right away that'd be fun to check out. But if I'm limited to just one place, I think it makes the most sense to go to a time in baseball history before video, to see something I wouldn't otherwise see. One possibility: the 1909 World Series, which featured a young Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner in his prime. It'd be great to see how they actually played, not just how they've been written of or photographed.

Me: Great answer. I think that is why I like playing Out of the Park Baseball and other baseball simulation games so much. It is the closest thing I can get to a time machine. 

MLB has a fairly new commissioner and he seems much more progressive than Bud Selig. What are some changes you would like to see implemented on his watch?

Graham: That's a good question. I haven't been paying that close attention to Rob Manfred, though I'd like to see him be less of a mouthpiece for MLB owners than Bud Selig often seemed to be. It'd also be great to see MLB do more to subsidize the cost of travel baseball for kids, to get more minorities playing again.

Me: They definitely need to market the game differently. The best athletes in this country are no longer choosing baseball. Of course the concussion crisis in football might end up helping baseball in the long run. Numbers are down for kids playing football. 

I played Division 1 college football but to me baseball is still the greatest game. I am assuming you agree with me, if so, we are in the minority.  Do you worry at all about the low interest levels when it comes to baseball from the younger generation?

Graham: Not really. Baseball's revenue has increased roughly five fold over the last 20 years. Attendance is higher than ever. Baseball is no longer the national pastime and certainly not more popular than football (or NASCAR for that matter.) But I still think it's a healthy sport.

Me:  Good point. I feel baseball has become the regional past time instead of the national past time. The World Series tv ratings might not look great but over the course of the season the local cable channels that cover the regional team for 162 games do very well.

Graham, thanks again for the interview. When and where will you post the results of the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame? You always seem to be working on projects, what do you have in line next for us?

Graham: Results for my project should drop around January 4. I don't have any other big projects in the works, but I'm sure I'll think of something. I try to do something at least once a year.
Thanks for doing this interview!

Be sure to check out Graham's fantastic baseball blog Baseball Past and Present where he will have the results of his project up on Monday. He also has a great piece up right now on Ken Griffey Jr and his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame with a unanimous vote. You can also follow Graham on twitter @grahamdude 

1 comment:

  1. You said that Mark McGwire "didn't get on base". I'm sure you 're not aware that McGwire's .394 career OBP puts him ahead of Carew and Gwynn, two players who got into the HOF primarily because of their ability to get on base. Also note that MCGwire has more WS rings than Carew and Gwynn combined.