Rob Neyer links to a column by Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle suggesting that some writers might be thinking of voting Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame, once he's eligible. Shulman says he conducted "a small straw poll of hall voters" which probably means he asked two guys while they were sitting in the press box together, covering the same game.
Let's hope so. If not, the Hall of Fame is about to lower its standards a bit.
Shulman says that Vizquel's credentials as the all-time leader in games played at shortstop, plus his 11 Gold Gloves and his 2700+ hits (by the time he's done) should make him a solid Hall candidate. Neyer argues that the fact that the man was never considered a great player, not just defender, should mean that the writers wouldn't even consider voting for him. Sure, he got all those Gold Glove votes, but when it came down to it, he only got any votes for the MVP once, finishing a distant 16th in 1999. This despite anchoring the infield defense of half a dozen playoff teams with the Tribe in the late nineties and early oughts. Also, he's not much of a singer.
Here are the 23 current players whom the Hall considers shortstops, with their Baseball Prospectus career WARP3 totals, which is Wins Above Replacement Position, adjusted for all time, encompassing offense, defense and even pitching.
Omar Vizquel currently sports a total of 100.3 WARP3.
It should be noted that some of these guys spent significant amounts of their careers at other positions. Ernie Banks actually played more games at first base than he did at short. Yount played almost half his career as an outfielder. Boudreau and Cronin were, in addition to being very good players, managers for a long time, with some degree of success.
Wells and Lloyd were both presumably very good players in the Negro Leagues, but we don't really have any credible numbers for them. Monte Ward was also a pitcher, and a pioneer in the early days of major league baseball. Joe Tinker was elected by a suddenly generous Veterans Committee in 1946, right after a World War, when they were feeling especially nostalgic, apparently.
But even if you throw all of those guys out, the average for the remaining players stays almost exactly the same, 111.3, instead of point four. So don't worry about that.
Vizquel's WARP3 number fits in rather nicely with the career marks of several of these guys. It's more than Rabbit Maranville, Joe Tinker, Joe Sewell, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Hughie Jennings or Luis Aparicio. It's also more than Rizutto, and almost as much as Pee Wee Reese, but still way less than Aarky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau or Luke Appling, all five of whom lost time to the War.
If you go by the argument of pointing out the existing bar, which is down there somewhere in the neighborhood of Travis Jackson or Phil Rizutto, even accounting for the war, it's obvious that Omar has done more in his career than those guys, despite never being great in a single season. But it's also obvious to most observers that those guys shouldn't be in the Hall in the first place, so that's not a terribly convincing argument.
Even if you want to use the benchmark of where the average is, it would seem that Vizquel would at least reasonably maintain, if not raise the standard of MLB HoF shortstops. Of course, so would Bill Dahlen, and I don't see anyone clamoring for his candidacy.
This type of argument is something of a slippery slope. It's not a bad starting point to only enshrine players whould maintain or even raise the standard of the existing crop at a given position, but that's not enough, in my mind. We ought to want to make the Hall more exclusive, and therefore more impressive, not less.
Sure, we can put Omar Vizquel in. he's better than Travis Jackson, right, even though he doesn't have as cool a first name? Then we've got to let Ron Santo in, too, though, since he's better than George Kell, right? And what about Harold baines, since he has the most games and hits and what-not as a Designated Hitter? Shouldn't he be considered Hall-worthy?
If you think instead about where the bar should be, instead of where it is, I think you have to leave Vizquel out of the Hall. Not everyone in the Hall has to be Honus Wagner or Cal Ripken, but "appreciably better than Gary Gaetti" doesn't seem like such an outlandish requirement to me.
We've had more than 125 years to see what great players look like, and to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I think we should know them when we see them. Omar Vizquel is not one of them.