As I was sitting around today thinking, as I am wont to do, I thought, wait a moment - comparing McGwire to Bonds is a bit unfair. I mean, if only players as good as Bonds made it into the Hall of Fame, it would be a club more exclusive than my bedroom.
So, I thought to myself, I should compare McGwire to the other first basemen in the hall before judging him so harshly. Just like looking at his numbers compared to Bonds, this surprised me as well. When I think of first basemen, I think of the strongest offensive position in the game. Either the Hall doesn't represent that, or McGwire is really one of the best all time. But, let's get to the analysis and let you judge for yourself.
First off, there are 20 first basemen or DHs in the hall. I took out Buck Leonard since I don't have win shares information for him and added McGwire to the comparison. Then, I looked at four categories: total win shares, win shares per season, high win share season and number of 30 win share seasons.
As we saw in my last post, McGwire had 342 total win shares, a high of 41 and three seasons of 30 or more win shares. Compared to Bonds that was extremely average. But, in the context of the other first basemen, it was pretty decent - but the big category where McGwire shined was WS per season. Here is the list:
Lou Gehrig - 28.76
Johnny Mize - 22.53
Jimmie Foxx - 21.75
Mark McGwire - 21.38
Eddie Murray - 20.81
Hank Greenberg - 20.54
Roger Connor - 20.17
Bill Terry - 19.86
Paul Molitor - 19.71
George Sisler - 19.47
Dan Brouthers - 18.68
Willie McCovey - 18.55
Orlando Cepeda - 18.24
Cap Anson - 17.32
Harmon Killebrew - 16.86
Jim Bottomley - 16.13
Jake Beckley - 15.90
Tony Perez - 15.17
Frank Chance - 13.94
George Kelly - 12.06
Not looking closely at the others to give you details, I just know that McGwire's first year was one win share, his last was eight and he had two in the middle of only six win shares. The fact that the other 12 seasons brought him up to fourth place is pretty impressive.
(Here I'd like to make a note - it should be obvious, but Lou Gehrig led every category. By a wide margin. He had 12 seasons with over 30 win shares. His high was 44. He had 489 total. Next high in those categories were Jimmie Foxx with eight 30 win share seasons, Foxx and McGwire at 41 for a season, and Eddie Murray with 437. The average you can see above.)
If you take all of the categories and rank them 1-20 with equal weights here is what you get:
Lou Gehrig - 4
Jimmie Foxx - 10.5
To me this is the first group. These guys are the elite at their position. Like Ruth, Bonds, Cobb, Mays and Aaron in the outfield. Here is the second group:
Mark McGwire - 26
Willie McCovey - 26.5
Johnny Mize - 27
Eddie Murray - 29
Roger Connor - 29.5
Harmon Killebrew - 32.5
Hank Greenberg - 36
I include Greenberg in this group since he lost some of his best years to the war. But, truthfully, he belongs there with his limited playing time. Third group:
Paul Molitor - 42
Dan Brouthers - 42.5
Orlando Cepeda - 49.5
Tony Perez - 50
Bill Terry - 50.5
Cap Anson - 54.5
George Sisler - 55.5
Frank Chance - 58
Jim Bottomley - 68.5
Jake Beckley - 69.5
George Kelly - 78.5
So, as you can see, McGwire is among elite company. Of course, that is assuming we keep the post steroid numbers. But, even if we downgrade those numbers, there is still something special about him - in context.
Steroids and the Hall
Ok, Jon and Andy (along with a horde of our minions) were discussing the steroid controversy earlier this week and whether or not players would merit the hall if the stats after steroids wouldn't have existed. (Well, truthfully, I was more interested in discussing the Congressional and media coverage at the time, but it got me thinking. Which is always dangerous. Especially to rabbits.) So, last night, I decided to whip out my volume of "Win Shares" and see where each of the players were in terms of win shares at the end of each year and whether they would merit the hall at that point. I have to give Andy his due. We was spot on with relation to Bonds. I also have to give him credit for saying McGwire's early career would not merit election. I may have to take him one further - and say that his whole career may be a little lacking.
So, let's start at the beginning. Would Bonds and McGwire make the Hall if their careers would have ended after the 1996 season? Why 1996? Three reasons.
1. This is between the years where I have heard the steroids started. I have heard cynics say as early as 1994. I have also heard 1998 - the year McGwire broke the home run record. I figured I would compromise.
2. This represents for both athletes 11 years since their debut in MLB. Kirby Puckett and Sandy Koufax both made it to the hall with excellence in twelve year careers and Hank Greenberg made it with only 13 (but war reasons shortened his time as well.)
3. (And the real reason I chose it) This is the first year that I feel Barry Bonds would make it to the Hall of Fame.
At the end of the 1996 season, Mark McGwire had 218 win shares - or the same as Kirk Gibson over the course of his career. A good career, but not Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds had 348 win shares. This put him on the level of Lou Brock - a Hall of Famer. To me, even more telling, at this point in his career, McGwire had only one season where he had at least 30 win shares - his rookie season of 1987. (He had exactly 30 win shares.) MVP type seasons are defined as those over 30, where 20-29 are all-star seasons. He had six more of these. Again - more like a good solid Kirk Gibson than a Hall of Famer. On the other hand, Bonds had six seasons over 30 win shares by 1996. (37, 37, 41, 47, 36 and 39.) He also had four all-star type seasons. Only his first year (1986) where he had 15 win shares was not at least an All-Star season. I would be hard pressed to argue that is not Hall of Fame at that moment.
But, let's continue to look at the picture. By the end of 1997, Bonds had 384 win shares - same as Rod Carew. 1998 got him to 418 - Dave Winfield is at 415. 1999 matched him with Eddie Murray at 437. 2000 saw him pull past Mike Schmidt - 469 to 467. Bonds has ended 2004 with 13 seasons over 30 win shares and a total of 658. This is third to only Babe Ruth (756) and Ty Cobb (722). I don't think I hear anyone saying Bonds is not a great player (if they are saying that, they should be beaten with a riding crop - well, unless they like that kind of thing) but this is just one of the many proofs for that as well as adding fuel to the fire of being the greatest ever. (To round out the top players, Honus Wagner has 655, Hank Aaron has 643, Willie Mays has 642, Cy Young has 634, Tris Speaker has 630 and Stan Musial has 604 - the only players with over 600 win shares.)
McGwire had 243 win shares at the end of 1997, bringing him even with Jay Bell and Albert Belle. (No relation.) 1998, his record setting season, brought McGwire to 284, one behind Chili Davis and nine behind Mark Grace. 1999 saw his total grow to 314 - same as Bill Dickey, Edd Roush and Pee Wee Reese - all Hall of Famers, but at more strenuous defensive positions. 2000 brought him even with Nolan Ryan and Jim McCormick. (Had to look up Jim in Baseball reference - a 19th century pitcher from Scotland with 265 wins in 10 years.) Finally, McGwire's last year of 2001 brought him exactly even with Dick Allen at 342 win shares. McGwire had only three seasons where he had over 30 win shares. (McGwire's career total, let me point out, was lower than Bonds' 1996 total.)
After looking at these numbers, knowing McGwire's era and the reduced value of the home run, I would be prepared to go one step further than my buddy Andy and say that McGwire doesn't belong in the hall at all - steroids or not. I used to think that he wasn't a one dimensional player, that his on-base average made up for his other deficiencies - but I don't know if I can say that anymore. For, when you look further at today's modern players, if you include McGwire at 342 win shares - what about the following folks?
Jeff Bagwell - 384 win shares
Rafael Palmeiro - 384
Darrell Evans - 363 (albeit in 21 seasons compared to McGwire's 16)
Frank Thomas - 359
Fred McGriff - 342
Andre Dawson - 340
Will Clark - 331
Keith Hernandez - 311 (Of course Jon would tell you he should be there already)
(Of course, in his defense, I have to list Orlando Cepeda at 310 win shares is in the Hall of Fame.)
Call me cynical, but I don't think of these players as Hall of Famers. I think of them as great players that were fun to watch - but nothing special. (I'll also say I don't remember Keith's play in the field to head off a cutting response from Jon.) McGwire also brought me a lot of joy as a Cardinals fan in 1998. But, in this time of inflated offenses, it may be time to scale back on what we view as career levels necessary for induction. Maybe 600 should be the new 500.
Anyway, Bonds is clearly the man. To remove him from Cooperstown, you'd have to establish that he started steroids after 1994 - when he had only nine seasons and 273 win shares - one more than Jose Canseco in his career - and we all know he is not Hall of Fame material. Steroids or not.