Rickey Henderson Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

At least according to this guy, Corky Simpson of the Green Valley (AZ) News & Sun.  With a vote for the Hall, he declared in December that he’d vote for Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Jim Rice, Alan Trammell, and Matt Williams (not a hometown vote there).  Yet Simpson didn’t vote for Rickey Henderson, easily the greatest lead-off hitter of my generation and probably all-time.  Ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous was this summarizing statement late in the column, rationalizing his vote this way: “There is no universally accepted definition of greatness in baseball, but all of the men nominated contributed enormously to the enjoyment of the game.”  Henderson somehow didn’t sufficiently contribute to the enjoyment of the game, setting the single-season (130 in 1982, one of three years over 100) and career stolen-base records (1,406), developing home-run power, scoring runs in chunks (2,295, the all-time leader), drawing 2,190 walks (2nd all-time), and changing the tempo of the game? [Edit: …in addition to amassing 3,055 hits.] Check out his monstrous 1985 with the Yankees–24 HR, 72 RBI, .314/.419/.516, 146 runs, 80/90 in stolen bases, 99 walks to 65 Ks.  Yeah, what’s Henderson ever done to make the game enjoyable to watch? Mentioning that “[v]oters were limited to ten choices,” Simpson did not explain why he only made eight, or why he did not choose Henderson.  I’m shaking my head in disbelief.

As if all this weren’t nonsensical enough, Simpson refused to vote for Mark McGwire because “…there is doubt about whether McGwire’s career was chemically enhanced and unless — and until — that matter is taken care of, this voter won’t mark the ballot for Mark.” No disagreement from me there.  Yet Matt Williams, for whom Simpson voted, admitted in November 2007 to taking HGH to recover from an injury.  So what exactly is the hang-up, Corky, using PEDs or needing to clear the air about them before voting for a player who used them?  Frankly, Williams doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall regardless–378 HRs, 1218 RBI, .268 AVG/.317 OBP (career-high of 43 walks?  Please.)  That’s nothing but a home-job vote.  Remember that the next time people give grief about votes and arguments for the Hall for Mattingly.

Yet Nick Prevenas, also of the luminous Green Valley News & Sun has come to Simpson’s defense in a recent column, asking,

Henderson is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but did he deserve the distinction of being baseball’s first unanimous selection since the special election held to enshrine Lou Gehrig?

Eight voters didn’t vote for Cal Ripken when his name came up. A mind-boggling 23 writers didn’t feel like Willie Mays (arguably the greatest position player of all time) deserved inclusion.

Babe Ruth, the most famous baseball player who ever lived, was left off 11 ballots. Hank Aaron, baseball’s home-run king, wasn’t on nine ballots. Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400 and possibly the best pure hitter in history, didn’t see his name on 20 ballots.

Is Henderson a more deserving ballplayer than these legends? Considering he’s responsible for the maddening athlete trait of speaking of oneself exclusively in the third person (“Rickey Henderson thinks Rickey Henderson had a great game today…”), I say no. His on-field talent is only exceeded by his relentless self-absorption.

Are these really the relevant issues, Henderson’s unanimous enshrinement and his allegedly “relentless self-absorption?”   The issue isn’t unanimity for Hall selection or being more worthy of a chance at unanimous than recent or distant stars of the game, at least with me, but rather why Simpson simply wouldn’t vote for Henderson.  It’s not explained and, even if it were, not defensible to me.  On Henderson’s demeanor, had Barry Bonds not taken PEDs, which in all likelihood he did, I would have gladly voted for him for the Hall if I had the chance.  That’s the shame of Bonds, something my good friend Frank the Sage and I have discussed at length.  For all his self-absorption, Bonds was a tremendous player without resorting to PEDs, a great two-way player who could play a mean left field when his knees were healthy, could steal bases and whack homers.  Bonds appeared to be as self-absorbed as they come based on my media-gleaned perceptions.  But without the taint of steroid use, Bonds was more than Hall-of-Fame worthy.

I frequently ask why some players such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn–and others in the past–were not unaninously selected to the Hall.  Now we know not just that voters pass them by, but who–yet not why.


Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 10:34 am  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. At some point, baseball needs to decide if the HOF is a popularity contest or a statement about true merit on the baseball diamond. The selections seem so arbitrary and subjective – and, most of all, inconsistent. There should be a standardized checklist for voters to follow. Yes, it would take the suspense out of the proceedings, along with the debates, but not voting for Rickey Henderson is just plain ridiculous.

  2. I was never a big Rickey Henderson fan on a personal basis but as a baseball fan I would, without question, vote for him to the Hall of Fame.

    This post does a succinct job in summarizing the major weakness in the current system: inconsistent and bias writers as the determining factor! Now there are many good and fair writers but the lack of guidelines is something that MLB really should address to get away from the popularity contest it has become.

    At times these writers seem to have bigger egos than the players they are judging! and one must wonder if they use these types of oversights as a way of generating attention and traffic to their paper/site or get their 15-minutes of fame. In this case, I would submit that may be in play as the exclusion of Henderson on his ballot is just asinine.


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  4. Isn’t it funny, voters choose not to evolve by saying things like “but did he deserve the distinction of being baseball’s first unanimous selection since the special election held to enshrine Lou Gehrig?”

    If a voter thinks that someone is worthy of the Hall, they should vote for him. They should not leave the box unchecked beside his name simply because there is the chance that he will become unanimous, as if that will somehow take away from what the Hall is, or maybe what Lou Gehrig was. Look, whether or not Rickey is unanimous or not, won’t take anything away from what Lou Gehrig was, and how great of a player he was.

    I made the mistake of saying that Craig Biggio wasn’t a first ballot Hall Of Famer a while ago, but that I probably would have voted for him after that. NOW, the only reason I wouldn’t vote for someone on the first ballot, that I might down the road is because of PED’s and whether or not more info might come out or because I really cannot decide. And if is that difficult to decide whether a player is great enough for enshrinement, then I probably shouldn’t vote for him, even as good as he may have been. As for Biggio, he is in.


  5. i remember your article about biggio joe–it was right around the time i discovered your blog

  6. To take some of the comments together, I think that the power of gate-keepers that sports writers have has been too intoxicating for some. For others, biases of region and city, AL and NL, generations, players’ attitude and, probably to some degree, race all factor in too much with voting for candidates.

    I’m glad you put your finger on the cross-generational comparison, Joe. It’s a good point. What does Henderson’s scenario matter to the legacy of Gehrig? I don’t know if I’d consider your stance a mistake as much as an assessment of his attributes.

  7. […] Jason at Heartland Pinstripes has another great post about the problems with the BBWAA and voting for Hall of Famers.  […]

  8. […] Debates about Hall of Fame voting criteria are good, honest fun, …but they do get annoying at times, don’t they? (Been to Cooperstown? It’s great. Get there.) Differences are brought up over the role of statistics alone, what era a player played in, what team they were on (Ron Santo comes to mind) , what city they were unnoticed and “wasting away” in (see Tim Raines and Bert Blyleven), whether or not they were “juiced” (McGwire, Bonds, Sosa: the Unholy 3, though they’re just the scapegoats for hundreds of others), and whether or not their respective teams won a lot of championships. […]

  9. Rickey the great teammate: His locker was next to Billy Beane’s, but Beane got sent down to the minors. After a few months, Beane got called back up to the bigs. Six weeks after his call up Rickey said “Hey, man, where have you been? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

    with a story like that how could rickey not make the hall of fame…seriously, look at his numbers…he is the most prolific leadoff hitter of all time…the hall is full of bad guys, last time i checked the hall was based of your talent and production…not your attitude

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