On Monday, December 9, the results of the 2013 Hall of Fame Expansion Era vote will be announced live at 10 AM ET from the winter meetings in Orlando, FL, but you can be sadly assured that former Angels second baseman Bobby Grich’s name will not be read.
In fact, even though many of the sabermatricians who were able to push Bert Blyleven into the Hall have been flying the Bobby Grich flag just as high, the eleven-member Historical Overview Committee of the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to even put the second baseman’s name on their ballot. That honor would fall to Davey Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, and Ted Simmons.
I don’t really blame voters in 1992 for not voting Grich into the Hall of Fame five years after his retirement because that was towards the end of the era where position players were considered Hall of Fame material based on little more than their triple-crown numbers, but at least the BBWAA got his name on the ballot.
In 1992, most Hall of Fame voters viewed Grich as a shoo-in for the Hall of the Very Good. The 6-foot-2 infielder was selected to six All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves over the course of his 17-year career. He received MVP votes in five seasons, and he won a Silver Slugger award in 1981. But when voters compared Grich’s triple-crown (.266 BA, 224 HR, 864 RBI) numbers to those of Hall of Famers like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, Grich’s numbers just didn’t compare, so Grich was eliminated from Hall of Fame consideration after just his first time on the ballot; he received only 2.6 percent of the vote and was promptly removed from the next year’s ballot.
Since then, his only hope has been that the BBWAA members in charge of the Expansion Era balloting will eventually get it right and enshrine him into the Hall of Fame where he belongs. Expansion Era players (players whose main contribution came after 1972) will not be considered again until 2016, so hopefully, over the course of the next three years they will come to understand how great a player Bobby Grich really was.
One of the key statistics we look at now to determine the value of a player is OPS, which is a metric that combines your ability to not make outs with your ability to drive the ball with authority.
Let’s look at the first part of this metric, not making outs. Grich’s ability to reach base safely translated into a career .371 on-base percentage, which bests the OBPs of Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Paul Molitor, George Brett, Kirby Puckett, and Roberto Clemente, among others. Grich understood how vital not making outs was to the outcome of a baseball game, so he mastered the art of getting on base. He was able to reach base safely so often in his career because in addition to getting on base via a hit, he was patient at the plate and willing to take one for the team. Six times in his career, Grich was in the top ten in the league for walks. Eight times in his career, he was in the top ten in being hit by a pitch.
But in addition to not making outs, Grich, unlike most second sackers, could hit for power as well. Three times in his career, he was in the top ten in the league in extra base hits. In 1981, Bobby Grich was the first second baseman to lead a league in home runs since Rogers Hornsby did it in 1929. His career .424 slugging percentage is better than that of Hall of Fame second basemen like Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski, and others, and is just a hair away from Joe Morgan’s .427 career slugging percentage.
Then, when you put these two statistics together and adjust for a player’s home ballpark, just to put everyone on a more fair playing field, you get a stat called OPS+. When you look at Bobby Grich’s OPS+ and compare it to the OPS+ of other second baseman already in the Hall of Fame, something special happens. Out of the 19 second baseman enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, only six, I repeat, only six, have an OPS+ better than Grich’s 125. His OPS+ is better than Joe Gordon’s, who was “recently” voted into the Hall by the Veteran’s committee in 2009. Grich’s OPS+ is better than Ryne Sandberg’s (114) and Roberto Alomar’s (116).
If that wasn’t enough to put Grich in the Hall of Fame, his defense was ridiculously excellent. In addition to the four Gold Gloves he won, Bobby Grich was often in the top five in the league in just about every defensive statistic imaginable:
- assists by a second baseman 9 times, led the league 4 times
- putouts by a second baseman 8 times, led the league 3 times
- double plays by a second baseman 9 times, led the league 3 times
- range factor by a second baseman 8 times, led the league 4 times
- fielding percentage by a second baseman 8 times, led the league twice.
Additionally, according to Sean Smith’s Total Zone rating, Bobby Grich’s 1973 season was the best defensive season by a second baseman since 1956 (which is as far back as his research goes).
And then when you put a player’s offensive contributions together with his defensive contributions, you get the ubiquitous WAR. As you can imagine, given his excellence at the plate and with the glove, Bobby Grich’s WAR was exceptionally high. He accumulated 71 WAR during the course of his career. That total is better than 14 of the 19 second baseman currently in the Hall of Fame. The only members of that club whose WAR is higher than Grich’s are Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Charlie Gehringer, Nap Lajoie, and Rogers Hornsby.
What’s even more mind-blowing is what Grich’s WAR and other counting numbers would have been if three seasons of Major League Baseball hadn’t been stolen from him. He was the 19th overall pick of the 1967 draft, and during his stint in the minor leagues, Grich was considered one of baseball’s top prospects. In 1970 when he was 21-years old, he hit .383 for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. Grich spent the following year at Triple-A again and hit .336 with 32 home runs. In most other organizations, Grich would have been playing in the Majors those two years, but the Baltimore Orioles had a pretty good second baseman named Davey Johnson who was blocking his way. And then in addition to missing out on the 1970 and ’71 seasons, Grich lost a year in the middle of his prime when he had surgery on his back during his first season with the Angels in 1977.
And still he compiled 71 WAR. That is more than Barry Larkin, Gary Carter, Jim Palmer, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Ernie Banks, and Duke Snyder could compile. Look at it this way: Derek Jeter, who is a sure thing first ballot Hall of Famer, is sitting at 72.3 WAR, just a tick above Grich.
And he can’t even get on the Veteran Committee’s ballot? Give me a freakin’ break. It’s just one more sign of how insane our world has become.
Thank you to baseball-reference, the National Baseball’s Hall of Fame and Museum‘s article, “Twelve Finalists Comprise Expansion Era Ballot for Hall of Fame Consideration in 2014,” The Hardball Times‘ article by Sean Smith “Measuring Defense for Players Back to 1956″ and the Los Angeles Times for the photo. Grich isn’t in the Hall of Fame and Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize while fighting two wars. Insane.