Pete Rose in . . . The Nagging QuestionJanuary 7, 2008
There’s a lot of voting going on lately, what with the New Hampshire primary and the announcement of the results of the Hall of Fame vote both happening tomorrow. I was going to spend the morning writing about the existential implications of a particularly light-hitting utility infielder from the 1970s named Luis Gomez, but I feel like getting into the voting frenzy instead, especially since the most likely candidates for this year’s official seal of baseball immortality come from the ranks of the Cardboard Gods. Some of the more deserving candidates, including Alan Trammel, Dale Murphy, and Tim Raines, started to become prominent just as my childhood was ending, but the other names expected to make the strongest showing in this year’s vote were in or at least entering their prime during my baseball card years: Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson, and Bert Blyleven. I have no inside knowledge about this, and haven’t researched the reports of those who do, but if I had to guess I’d predict that Rice and Gossage get in tomorrow, with Blyleven a narrow miss.
Whatever the result, it is sure to stir up controversy about the arbitrary nature of Hall of Fame voting. If Rice gets in, many will wonder why he’s in and, say, Dick Allen isn’t. If Blyleven doesn’t get in, many will wonder why he’s not in and, say, Don Sutton is. Why Lou Brock but not Tim Raines? Why Pee Wee Reese but not Alan Trammel? Why 1930s basher Chuck Klein but not 1990s basher Mark McGwire? (OK, that last question was kind of loaded, or perhaps even juiced, but the point is every player is a product of their times, more or less, and so why ignore the inflated numbers of the 1930s—a segregated era, no less—while completely discounting the inflated numbers of the 1990s?)
You know, I don’t know the answer to any those questions. So instead of trying to answer them, I propose to pass the time today in the pursuit of determining which of the Cardboard Gods is most deserving of an even more arbitrary and ridiculous designation: Best Everyday Player of the 1970s.
I got the idea for this designation a few days ago, during a discussion about Reggie Jackson on Bronx Banter. A participant in the discussion, williamnyy23, provided a list, via baseball-reference.com, of the top twelve OPS+ averages in the decade among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances (for more on OPS+ see baseball-reference.com’s glossary; basically, it is the best single statistic for reflecting a player’s worth as a hitter):
1 Willie Stargell 156 OPS+, 5083 plate appearances
2 Reggie Jackson 148, 5912
3 Rod Carew 142, 5916
4 Reggie Smith 142, 5352
5 Joe Morgan 140, 6320
6 Ken Singleton 139, 5778
7 Johnny Bench 132, 6001
8 Bobby Bonds 132, 6561
9 Bob Watson 132, 5625
10 Tony Perez 129, 6155
11 Cesar Cedeno 128, 5482
12 Pete Rose 128, 7399
So I present that list to you, the voters, as the ballot for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s. But first, a few things:
- I am well aware that this is all very ludicrous. For example, Mike Schmidt’s career started too late to be on the above list, but does that make him worse than all the players mentioned? Of course not.
- But then again, who cares if it is ludicrous? I grew up in the 1970s, and really in many ways I still live in the 1970s, and so by god I want to know who was the Best Everyday Player of the 1970s.
- Please note the word Everyday. My feeling is that if pitchers were included in the discussion, there would be less debate. Tom Seaver tops everyone on the above list in terms of being the Best of the Decade.
- Please feel free to write in a vote. I myself have struggled all morning over the question of whether to lodge a middle-finger vote for the immortal Luis Gomez. The system doesn’t work! We’re all doomed anyway! Luis Gomez for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s!
- Why, you may ask, am I featuring the 12th player on the ballot, below such fringe candidates as Bobby Bonds and Cesar Cedeno, as the card illustrating today’s ramblings? Pete Rose? You must be joking! Indeed, Pete Rose was at any given time not the best player on his team. He was not even the second best player. He may not, if the above list and its inclusion of Tony Perez is any indication, have even been the third best player on his team. For comparison’s sake, consider (as I often do) this year’s Boston Red Sox. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are the top two players, and this season Mike Lowell joined them to make a Big Three. So was Pete Rose no better than the 1970s version of the Red Sox’ fourth best player, Kevin Youkilis? And if so, please tell me, Wilker, that you aren’t casting your vote for Pete Rose for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s.
- I’m casting my vote for Pete Rose for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s. Mind you, I’m not that confident in the vote. I realize that at their peaks Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan were superior, and may even have been during those peaks the best to ever man their respective positions. I realize the sheer power of Stargell and Reggie would give your team an explosive element that Rose could never provide. I realize that the kind of offensive firepower Rose could provide (think knife-jabs and slashes rather than cannon shots) may have actually been provided more effectively by Rod Carew. But even given all that Rose still contributed significantly to his team’s offensive attack, and, more than that, he did it every single day every single year of the decade in question. Bench was a catcher and could not play every day and wore down by the end of the decade. Morgan also slowed down and played fewer and fewer games as the decade wore on. Stargell’s relatively low number of plate appearances speaks to his problems with injuries, and one of the bigger knocks against Reggie was that he occasionally took games off even when he was in the lineup. I know I’m verging on the much-lampooned idea of “clutchitudiness” when I start talking about things like this, but I think it’s fair to say that Pete Rose was never accused of mailing in his efforts. He played every day and he played hard and he played effectively every position he was asked to play (the former second baseman entered the 1970s as a sure-handed outfielder, became a sure-handed third baseman, and ended the 1970s as a sure-handed first baseman) and he hit. He helped his team win every day, from the beginning of the decade until the end. He gets my vote.
Who gets your vote?