The Case for Joey Votto
Joey Votto is back, and at age 39 he looks better than ever, and it got me thinking about something. To get the idea started, here are five players between 66 and 68 bWAR:
Duke Snider, 65.9 WAR
Willie Randolph, 65.9 WAR
Dwight Evans, 67.2 WAR
Ernie Banks, 67.7 WAR
Graig Nettles, 67.9 WAR
Now, look at those five players. Two are in the Hall of Fame. Three are not. The two who are in the Hall of Fame are legends. And the three who are not in the Hall of Fame have never been all that close to getting elected.
Dwight Evans probably has been closest of the three: In 2020, he was on the veterans committee ballot, and he got eight votes — just four short of induction. But then, bizarrely, he was left entirely off the 2022 ballot. Nettles topped out at 8% on the BBWAA ballot and has never appeared on a veterans ballot. Randolph got just five votes the one year he was on the ballot and has also never appeared on a veterans ballot.
What strikes me about this is that, intuitively, even if you believe in the Hall of Fame cases of Nettles, Evans and Randolph (and I do), you probably also appreciate that they are not Ernie Banks, and they are not Duke Snider. They’re just not. Banks and Snider are, to use that Hall word, FAMOUS in ways that Evans, Nettles and Randolph are not.
Why are they more famous? I mean, Nettles, Randolph and Evans played for the Yankees and Red Sox, the two biggest teams in the sport. Nettles had one of the most famous defensive performances in World Series history and was named MVP of the 1981 ALCS. Randolph, like Nettles, was the Yankees’ captain, and he started four All-Star Games. Evans won eight Gold Gloves and hit 385 home runs. Why are Banks and Snider more famous?
Well, I think it comes down to a lot of things. With Banks, it’s easy — career WAR doesn’t tell his story at all. He was a transcendent shortstop until age 30, a pioneer, a force of nature, a member of the 500-homer club when that was an exclusive thing, and one of the most beloved players who ever lived. I mean, he’s Mr. Cub. It’s a beautiful day for baseball. Let’s play two.
With Snider, it’s a little more complicated — he was not cheery and optimistic like Banks, and he had his spats with the fans (he once said Brooklyn fans did not deserve a pennant) and the press. But he had a playing style that inspired awe, and the nickname to match. He was Philip Roth’s hero. He was the third man in the song, “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke). He was center stage for The Boys of Summer.
“Edwin Donald Snider was his name,” Roger Kahn wrote in that classic book, “but Duke suited. His hair had started graying when he was twenty-five, but his body bespoke supple youth. As Duke moved in his long-striding way, one saw the quarterback, the basketball captain, the Olympian. Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it. ‘If’ was a perfect poem for the Duker.”
My point is: However you feel about WAR, I have really come around to the idea that you can have two players whose VALUE AS PLAYERS is roughly equal, and one of them can be a surefire Hall of Famer while the other one is not. Was Reggie Smith, when you take defense and baserunning into consideration, as valuable a player as Willie McCovey? I could buy that argument. Which one am I putting in the Hall of Fame? Willie McCovey 10 out of 10 times.
What does this have to do with Joey Votto?