One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.
Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)
Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.
I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.
Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.
There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.
The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)
Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.
Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)
Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.
Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?
What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)
Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.
As the off season rolls along, discussions between teams and free agents are starting to heat up. The bigger names will start to fall in place now that a certain Second Baseman, who played in the Bronx last year is off the market. Robinson Cano’s contract with the Seattle Mariners has signed the third largest contract ever, tied with Albert Pujols. Both contracts are for 10 years and $240 million. Not quite what he wanted, as Robinson Cano was seeking a contract worth $310 million over 10 years. To put that into perspective, the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu had a GDP in 2010 of $36 million, or $5 million more than Cano was seeking annually While to the average person this is more money than we can imagine being paid, for an elite Major League Baseball player it is not quite the same stretch.
Every year pundits write baseball’s obituary, saying it is a dying sport. If they are right, then why do salaries keep going up, why do sponsors keep spending millions to advertise with Major League Baseball? Dating back to the last Major League Baseball strike in 1994-1995, the yearly salary for the highest paid player has risen from Barry Bonds’ $7.29 million to Alex Rodriguez‘s $27.5 million. That is a 377% increase in 19 years. I would say that is representative of a sport that has plenty of life.
So now that I have debunked the idea that baseball is on life support, lets look at whether Robinson Cano is worth, in baseball terms, the $310 million contract he was seeking ($31 million average annually), or even the $240 he will receive ($24 million average annually). Since the start of the 1995 season the following players have had the highest annual salary: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Belle, Barry Bonds (again), Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Carlos Delgado, Alex Rodriguez, and Alex Rodriguez (again).
Excluding the pitchers on the list (Maddux, Martinez, Brown, and Clemens), and comparing Cano’s career to the other highest paid players, this is how Cano stacks up statistically.
The year they signed the contract, and their career stats amassed before signing the contract:
Barry Bonds- 1992, ($7.29 million)
7 seasons, G 1010, R 672, H 984, 2B 220, HR 176, RBI 556, SB 251, BB 611, SO 590, BA .275, OBP .380, SLG .503, OPS .883
Ken Griffey Jr.- 1996, ($8.5 million)
6 seasons, G 845, R 518, H 972, 2B 194, HR 172, RBI 543, SB 88, BB 374, SO 477, BA .306, OBP .379, SLG .541, OPS .920
Albert Belle- 1996, ($11 million)
8 seasons, G 913, R 592, H 1014, 2B 223, HR 242, RBI 751, SB 61, BB 396, SO 622, BA .295, OBP .369, SLG .580, OPS .949
Barry Bonds- 1997, ($11.45 million)
11 seasons, G 1583, R 1121, H 1595, 2B 333, HR 334, RBI 993, SB 380, BB 1082, SO 871, BA .288, OBP .404, SLG .548, OPS .952
Mike Piazza- 1998, ($13 million)
7 seasons, G 840, R 511, H 1038, 2B 148, HR 200, RBI 644, SB 11, BB 330, SO 493, BA .333, OBP .396, SLG .575, OPS .972
Mo Vaughn- 1998, ($13.333 million)
8 seasons, G 1046, R 628, H 1165, 2B 199, HR 230, RBI 752, SB 28, BB 519, SO 954, BA .304, OBP .394, SLG .542, OPS .936
Carlos Delgado- 2000, ($17 million)
8 seasons, G 829, R 493, H 818, 2B 214, HR 190, RBI 604, SB 5, BB 436, SO 728, BA .282, OBP .383, SLG .557, OPS .940
Alex Rodriguez- 2000, ($25.2 million)
7 seasons, G 790, R 627, H 966, 2B 194, HR 189, RBI 595, SB 133, BB 310, SO 616, BA .309, OBP .374, SLG .561, OPS .934
Alex Rodriguez- 2007, ($27.5 million)
14 seasons, G 1904, R 1501, H 2250, 2B 395, HR 518, RBI 1503, SB 265, BB 915, SO 1524, BA .306, OBP .389, SLG .578, OPS .967
Then we compare these numbers against Robinson Cano:
Robinson Cano- 2013, (wanted $31 million, got $24 million)
9 seasons, G 1374, R 799, H 1649, 2B 375, HR 204, RBI 822, SB 38, BB 350, SO 689, BA .309, OBP .355, SLG .504, OPS .860
Robinson Cano is seen as a slugger who can change a game with one sing of his bat, although perception and reality may be out of alignment. He is well established in Major League Baseball after 9 seasons. The highest paid players in Major League Baseball since the strike in 1994 have all played 8 years or fewer except for Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez when they both signed contracts which made them the highest paid player in baseball for a second time.
Examining Cano’s career statistics against the other members of this list at the time they were the highest paid player in Major League Baseball he has scored more Runs than everyone except Bonds* and Rodriguez* (both when they signed their second contract). Only Rodriguez* had more career Hits and more Doubles. Belle, Bonds*, Vaughn, and Rodriguez* had more Home Runs. Bonds* and Rodriguez* had more RBIs. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Bonds*, Rodriguez, and Rodriguez* had more Stolen Bases. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Bonds*, Vaughn, Delgado, and Rodriguez* had more Walks. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Piazza, and Rodriguez had fewer Strikeouts. Only Piazza and Rodriguez had a higher career Batting Average. Everyone had a higher career On Base Percentage. Everyone but Bonds had a higher Slugging Percentage. Everyone had a higher OPS than Cano.
Ultimately I think what Robinson Cano is as a player is a hard hitting Second Baseman who can collect a lot of hits, drive the ball in the the alleys for doubles and hit 20 to 30 home runs a season. It is important to remember that Yankee Stadium is easier to hit home runs in than Safeco Field, so be prepared to see a bit of a drop in Cano’s home run total. He is billed as a slugger, and he approaches his at bats as such. However with two strikes he is smart enough to take what he is given instead of continuing to swing for the fences. Will Cano make a difference for the Seattle Mariners? Yes. Will he be an elite player at the end of this contract? Doubtful. Should Cano, and any other player, make as much money as they can? Absolutely. Cano is an elite player. Is he a future Hall of Famer? He is trending that way but he has work left to do. I believe is initial demand of $310 million was way over his value, and the contract he signed is still high. The Mariners did over pay, but Cano will have a positive impact on Seattle, as they should start to contend in the American League West again soon.
*Second contract (not the asterisk most people feel they should have next to their names)