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Manny Ramirez, Tim Raines, and the meaning of Cooperstown

Some Hall of Fame decisions should be easy, but we make them hard.

Based on its voting record during the past five years, I would not be shocked if the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) votes Casey Blake into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. In this scenario, the candidacy of Tim Raines ends with a whimper, and Manny Ramirez is tossed into a box in the basement labeled, “tainted”.

There are other Hall of Famers who deserve overwhelming support — Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and Jeff Bagwell come to mind — but I’d like to focus on the case of the two left fielders not named Barry.

Tim Raines

About 901,405 words have been spilled regarding the candidacy of Tim Raines, most of them penned by Jonah Keri. The average Hall of Fame left fielder owns a career WAR of 65.1; Tim Raines accumulated 69.1. As you may be aware, the BBWAA is a relatively old and curmudgeonly group whose opinions about advanced statistics often sound like adults speaking in a Peanuts cartoon.

To that point, let’s consider his “traditional” statistics. Raines’s 808 stolen bases is fifth highest total of all-time, trailing Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb. They are all in the Hall. Furthermore, Raines had a career success rate of 84.7 percent, which is the highest of anyone with at least 400 attempts. 84.7 percent is preposterous, and is part of the reason Fangraphs considers him the second-most valuable base runner of all-time after Henderson.

Part of the reason Raines stole so many bases was his incredible talent for reaching base. As Keri points out, “Tim Raines reached base more times than Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner, and Roberto Clemente. I have a ton of arguments for Tim Raines, but that's a simple one — and if you ignore it, I don't know what's wrong with you." 1,330 of these trips along the base path started with a walk, which should wither some writer’s complaint that Raines “only” tallied 2,605 hits in his career.

Unfortunately, some writers are idiots, and 27 8-by-10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was wouldn’t change their minds.

Even if someone reaches to character issues to exclude Raines, it truly becomes a reach. While Raines briefly abused cocaine in the early part of his career, he kicked the habit and played clean for another 20 seasons. Shouldn’t this be the type of story that is celebrated in baseball circles, particularly when the drug sapped many promising players of the same generation of their potential?

Manny Ramirez

Before I write anything else, please consider the following.

How do you not vote for this guy?

Right. When a team signed Manny Ramirez, they got all of Manny Ramirez. Even in his time with the Tribe, this included his incredible approach at the plate (famously described by Orel Hershiser as “See ball, hit ball.”); accidentally leaving his paycheck in a pair of boots in a visitor’s clubhouse; and finally, being asked by the team to stop committing to public appearances because he never showed up, anyway.

It’s more important to see what Manny being Manny meant on the field. Across nineteen seasons, Manny slashed .312/.411/.585. According to Baseball Reference he added 81.2 wins to his teams at the plate in that time, but coughed up 22.5 defensively.

I don’t think there is another statistic in baseball that can be more quickly confirmed by the eye test. Even when you add his defensive...contributions, Manny would be better than the average left fielder in the Hall. If you still aren’t swayed by the statistics, then I present to you the players with the careers most similar to Manny’s, according to the Bill James Similarity Score.

Albert Pujols (878)
Frank Thomas (865) *
Jimmie Foxx (860) *
David Ortiz (855)
Miguel Cabrera (835)
Ted Williams (833) *
Ken Griffey (816) *
Gary Sheffield (814)
Mickey Mantle (813) *
Jim Thome (810)

This is an open-and-shut case if not for the steroid implications.

I understand there are some who believe that only the elite of the elite should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and that means keeping the blemished from earning a bust. This is often referred to as the “Small Hall” mindset. It’s probably clear to you by this point, but I am very much an advocate of a large Hall.

The Hall of Fame should serve as a museum that teaches the history of the game and a celebration of its greatest players simultaneously. It is fine to believe that steroids tainted the game for a time, but keeping players who “used” out of the Hall only serves to bolster the ego of voters. It does nothing for fans of the future. It does nothing to explain the emotions of the steroid era, the frenzy with which it began in 1998, or the confused disappointment with which is dissipated in a word cloud of Balco, cream, clear, and Canseco.

I don’t think you need to make an effort to underline the greatest of the great, because we speak of them by using only nicknames. Babe. Hammering Hank. The Say Hey Kid. The Iron Horse. Stan the Man. Mantle. Teddy Ballgame. Junior. If votes feel the need to formally create an inner circle, fine. I actually think it’s a fantastic idea — combined fan and writer vote every four years to choose the 50 best players, regardless of position, with absolutely no criteria necessary. Imagine how heated that conversation would get? Can it be bad for baseball to have kids playing the game in their backyards hear a discussion about whether Adrian Beltre belongs alongside Mike Schmidt and Frank Robinson.

In reality, I expect Tim Raines to make it on his final ballot, because the alternative — Jonah Keri committing seppuku is terrible. Trevor Hoffman will sneak in because someone decided baseball needed another statistic in 1969. Manny will never be elected by the writers, and neither will Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, or Roger Clemens. Writers will continue to make idiotic decisions like kicking Kenny Lofton off of the ballot in one vote. Omar Vizquel will not receive the consideration that he deserves because he wasn’t Derek Jeter. Even slam-dunk candidates like Chipper Jones and Jim Thome might find themselves embroiled in steroid controversy despite never being implicated.

It will be up to a future Veteran’s committee to place them all into the Hall where they belong. It may take decades.