A few days ago, Neil Greenberg took his life in his hands and published an article at the Washington Post arguing that David Ortíz does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Using Bill James’s Keltner list, Greenberg applies the criteria to Ortíz and finds Big Papí comes up a little short.
The way Greenberg interprets the criteria is, to my mind, somewhat subjective—as is the Keltner list itself—but the gist of his argument is that Ortíz was one of the best hitters in baseball, but not necessarily one of the best players. This sounds bad for Edgar, who was also primarily a hitter, as does the next question: was he the best player on his team? This seems like an unfair measuring stick, especially for someone who spent the better part of his career playing alongside a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Griffey. I was not familiar with the Keltner list before reading this article, but I am surprised that someone as objective and fair-minded as Bill James would come up with a list that is so context-dependent. Consider the question, “Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?” To be fair, James came up with the Keltner list in 1985; maybe a few seasons of seeing Mike Trout struggle to single-handedly hold up the Angels would cause him to reconsider the weight of that question.
Greenberg actually winds up implicitly arguing for Edgar’s inclusion, by pointing out that Ortíz isn’t as good a hitter as Edgar using rate stats instead of counting stats. He concludes that because Ortíz is a one-dimensional hitter, tainted by PED suspicion, and without a fielding position, Ortíz does not belong in the Hall. However, in doing so, Greenberg weakens Edgar’s case. If voters are to judge players for not fielding a position, what specialists will make it in? If all PED-suspected players are excluded, will the Hall truly represent the best players in baseball? Does being a “one-dimensional” hitter matter when the dimension is hitting 500 home runs? Arguing that Ortíz doesn’t belong is as untenable as arguing Edgar doesn’t belong. Both arguments rest too heavily on specious claims, and this particular argument has too many familiar whiffs of the argument against Edgar. Both men deserve to be in the Hall.