November 18, 2019 – Whether you are a fan of baseball or not, you’ve heard of, and probably seen, the film “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as a General Manager for the Oakland Athletics, and his statistician assistant, who use numbers, not hype, to determine who should be on the team. That small market Oakland team makes the playoffs, despite losing several of its best players to free agency.
I use the film as a teaching device, to show students how the scientific approach can help us overcome biases that some have. For example, some scouts focus on how big a player’s muscles are, or how many home runs one hits, or strikeouts instead of focusing on the statistics that really help a team win, like getting on base, scoring runs, and pitchers who get outs. Heck, one scout’s plan is to look at how attractive one’s wife is to determine “confidence,” a thoroughly unscientific methodology.
We can also help determine who should be among baseball’s best by looking at who gets picked for Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame Era. Sadly, two years ago, the voters bypassed many top-notch players, picking a few pretty good players, but overlooking better players who belong ahead of them in Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame.
We could look and argue about all kinds of statistics, like whether hits matter more than stolen bases, or whether saves matter more than strikeouts. The best method is to determine excellence regardless of position or individual statistics. To figure out the best, I awarded each of the ten Baseball Hall-of-Fame finalists one point for making the All-Star Team, one point for winning a Silver Slugger Award (available to even pitchers) and a Golden Glove Award for good fielding. I also give three points to winning a season’s Most Valuable Player Award, a Cy Young Award, or a Rookie of the Year Award.
Doing this gives us a tie for first between New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly and Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy (who also played catcher and first base), with 22 points. If I had to pick one, Murphy would get the slight nod for sharing the coveted Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Award in 1987 for his charity work.
Third place would be Steve Garvey, 1B (17 points). Fourth would be a tie between OF Dave Parker and New York Yankees Catcher Thurman Munson (16 points each). Sixth would be Detroit Tigers 2B Lou Whitaker (15 points) followed by Dwight Evans, OF, Boston Red Sox (13 points), Ted Simmons, C, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tommy John, pitcher (4 points). I didn’t have any points for Marvin Miller, involved in labor negotiations for baseball.
The last time we had such a vote, Alan Trammell (SS, Detroit Tigers), Jack Morris (pitcher) and Harold Baines (OF and DH) made it into Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame. But they were not better than those who didn’t make it in. Trammell would have finished seventh, Baines eighth, and Morris ninth. When we don’t apply meaningful data, errors like this are made. Even now, people are downplaying Murphy and Mattingly’s chances, though evidence shows they are the two best.
Regardless, I’d like to see all, if not most of these players get in. These players were generally good community citizens, played the game right, and did not engage in the horrific steroid abuses. Each lost their chance to get into the Hall-of-Fame earlier as cheaters like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa stole their votes. I hope many of them can get in, and the poor role models who didn’t do the same level of community service, never make it into Cooperstown.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] His Twitter account is JohnTures2.