Ar-gue serious? (This is an “Are You Serious” pun, please be impressed)

15 Jan

This is a baseball-intense post, because I like baseball, I know baseball, and dangit, baseball’s cool. On the plus side, I make a non-baseball point as I go, so stick around!

They interviewed Robert Wuhl on MLB Network today, in connection with the network showing Cobb, which featured Wuhl as the interviewer of Ty Cobb, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Wuhl is famous for his baseball fandom. In addition to Cobb, he appeared in Bull Durham and was the title character in Arli$$. There aren’t many (quasi-)famous actors who are bigger into the game, and for that I like the guy. There aren’t enough baseball fans out there. Like baseball more, guys. It’s fun.

During the interview, the topic moved naturally from Ty Cobb to the Hall of Fame (that ol’ character clause that so many people talked about last week that somehow negates Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from being eligible). Wuhl said (and I won’t be quoting him; I wasn’t taking notes) that last week’s Hall of Fame results announcement — “Oh look, there aren’t any Hall of Famers in a list that includes Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Schilling, Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire, Trammell, Raines, Martinez, and probably Sam Malone!” — was a joke.

Naturally, the hosts asked him to elaborate on that point, to identify who should have been voted in, and his first go-to name, which you’ll notice wasn’t in my above list, was Jack Morris.

Now, I disagree there. Morris was a very good-not-great pitcher who, in my opinion, has become the flagpole guy for the old-school, don’t-look-at-the-new-stats kind of baseball analyst. I think that’s ridiculous, as I have yet to understand why there are those who refuse to even entertain the idea of learning more about their vocation. Why do those people assume that everything we knew about baseball in 1924 is everything we’d ever need to know about baseball?

But that’s not the point I’m making here. Wuhl’s argument in favor of Morris’ candidacy started here (and remember, these quotes aren’t exact):

“Do you know how many pitchers spent their entire career in the American League in the DH era?” he asked. After receiving a no from Harold Reynolds, he answered. “None! That’s ridiculous!”

On its face, that sounds a little crazy. The designated hitter was introduced in 1972. That’s time for a pitcher to start, pitch about 15 years, retire and get elected. Heck, it’s 40 years; some guy could have done it twice. And yet there’s no one? Does that mean our standards for pitchers in the DH era are just too high?

But it takes about four seconds to unravel Wuhl’s argument. Think about all the parameters he introduced in one sentence. The guy has to be a pitcher. He had to have started his career in 1972 or later. He had to have pitched entirely in the American League. Other than the DH, do you know what started in the ‘70s? Free agency. Guys don’t stick with one team for too awfully long and, while it’s possible to switch teams without switching leagues, one naturally portends the other quite often.

I decided to check Wuhl’s claim. Sorting all pitcher stats 1972-on by Wins Above Replacement (and you might not accept WAR as the be-all end-all, which is fine, but it’s a hell of a good sorting tool, and if you find another stat that negates this point, I’ll listen) makes it pretty easy to check the possible candidates for Wuhl’s list.

Using FanGraphs’ calculations, this is the entire list of guys who notched 50 or more total WAR in the last 40 years while plying their trade solely in the junior circuit: Ron Guidry. Jack Morris. Mike Mussina. That’s it. That’s all.

Mussina (85.6 WAR) isn’t yet eligible for the Hall of Fame. His time comes next year, and he really deserves the call, but we’ll see. Guidry, with 50.6 WAR, fell off the ballot in 2002, after nine chances and never more than 8.8 percent of the vote. He had a perfectly acceptable career, but spent his whole time with the Yankees, and without that I don’t think he even gets the attention that he did. And then there’s Morris, with 56.9 WAR and one legendary game comprising the majority of his resume.

But maybe 50 WAR was too high a standard. I looked down to 40, adding four more guys to the list — Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, Brad Radke and Mark Gubicza. None of the four got even a second shot on the ballot. I don’t really think going further down the WAR list is going to give me anything more informative.

In short, Wuhl’s qualifications for Morris are absurd. There’s probably a good argument to be made for Morris, as there is for all sorts of good-not-great players. I can, if pressed, give you a really good argument for Will Clark, for Steve Garvey. Heck, for Dave Stieb. While I don’t consider Jack Morris a Hall of Fame-caliber player, I fully recognize that you could defend his candidacy, so long as you don’t mind reaching pretty freaking far.

That’s why inventing asinine argument like Wuhl’s is counterproductive. (Moving past baseball now! Woooo!) When you have a point to make, you should be able to form a strong argument for your point. Resorting to contorting facts or creating easily disprovable points in support of your side does more to negate your point than it does to defend it.

Put it this way — if you have to make up standards or rules to make your point, that’s a sign you don’t have legitimate defenses. And if you don’t have legitimate defenses, why are you on the side you are on? If you can’t argue it, why believe it?

I like Robert Wuhl. He’s funny, he likes baseball. Good stuff. But I’ll never hire him as my lawyer. You have to be able to argue well to be my lawyer. Sorry Arli$$.


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