Last week, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar were voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. I consider both to be legitimate, albeit second-tier, Hall of Famers.
The way I see the Hall, anyone in the top ten all time at his position deserves to be selected. We’re talking, after all, about 100 plus years of modern baseball history. For starting pitchers, by the same reasoning, I think anyone in the top 40 or so belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Lower ranked players may belong in the Hall, as well. But their claims are likely to be borderline.
My review of the numbers puts Alomar right around tenth among all-time second basemen. Similarly, I rate Blyleven around 40th among all-time starting pitchers.
Another way of looking at the matter is to compare the two to others in the Hall of Fame who played their position. This doesn’t mean using the “lowest common denominator” – if a player was admitted by mistake, we don’t want to repeat the mistake. But Frankie Frisch is generally thought to deserve his place in the Hall of Fame, and I think Roberto Alomar was his equal.
I recall Bill James comparing the two in his Historical Abstract. I can’t remember who came out ahead, but I think he rated them as very close. I rate Alomar as the slightly better player, but we should remember that Frisch acquired some fame as the manager of the Gashouse Gang that brought a World Championship to St. Louis in 1934.
As for Blyleven, his career looks a lot like Hall of Famer Don Sutton’s to me. I would also rate him as about equal to Jim Bunning and ahead of Early Wynn. I consider Sutton, Bunning, and Wynn to be high to medium border line Hall of Famers. Blyleven also seems comparable to, though a bit below, Phil Niekro. I regard Niekro as a solid second-tier member.
When the Hall of Fame selects a new member these days, I always canvass my personal recollection — not as a way of assessing the selection, but just for fun. With Blyleven there was of course that great curve ball.
But my first thought after hearing of his selection was of Blyleven’s major league debut against the Washington Senators in 1970, a game I heard on the radio. The first batter he faced, Lee Maye (who must have been feeling “hitterish” as he liked to say), homered. But Blyleven shut the Senators down completely after that, and won 2-1 with late relief help. Great, I thought, we can’t even beat a pitcher from Holland.
Alomar’s signature moment was not a happy one; it involved spitting on an umpire. But when I think of Alomar, I think of his amazing 1996 season, his first with the Baltimore Orioles. Second basemen with names like Hornsby and Morgan have had better seasons, but this was the best year by a second baseman that I’ve ever followed on something like a daily basis. Alomar won the Golden Glove and batted .328 with 22 home runs, 132 runs, and 94 RBIs.
More important to me, though, was the joy of watching him play. I had more or less boycotted baseball the previous year due to the 1994 strike. But I couldn’t resist tuning in Orioles games in 1996 just to watch Alomar play.
Alomar never played at quite that level again in Baltimore, but he had two comparable seasons later on for the Cleveland Indians. Whatever one thinks about him on a personal level (he has been sued by two women for having unprotected sex while allegedly being HIV positive), he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame in my estimation.
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