I chose this picture deliberately. It’s from my favorite season of Barry Bonds’ career, 1993, when he transformed the San Francisco Giants from a 90-loss team into one that won 103 games. Even though he wasn’t yet 30, Bonds won his third National League Most Valuable Player Award that season and also reached 60 Wins Above Replacement.
There are fans — and still many voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America — who will look at Bonds alleged use of performance enhancing drugs following the 1998 season and conclude it invalidates anything that came before or after. To me, though, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before. And to be honest, I prefer the lithe version of Bonds who could hit for average and power, run, and play lock-down left field.
Today, Bonds heads up a poll sure to irk some readers. Last month, via the survey website Qualtrics, I had 425 respondents vote on 10 players at each position, from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving. Having previously presented results for pitchers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, and shortstops, today focuses on left fielders.
Q7 – Rank the following left fielders, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving
|Shoeless Joe Jackson||3.40|
[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]
Early on in the voting, Shoeless Joe Jackson was actually beating Bonds by a narrow margin, which seems absurd to me. Conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series seems worse to me than steroid use, but other factors could be helping Jackson’s case. The passage of time and films like “Field of Dreams” and “Eight Men Out” have probably eased public rancor a bit. Other factors are likely at work, too — more about what they might be in a moment.
First, as always, here’s a more detailed breakdown of how people voted:
I’m struck, first of all, to see Bonds and Jackson each so favorably rated. I had expected more ninth and tenth-place votes for each man. Instead, filters via the survey website that I used for this project, Qualtrics, tell me that 187 of 425 voters had Bonds and Jackson in their top two choices. Almost two-thirds of voters included Bonds and Jackson in their top four.
That said, there were some differences worth highlighting between voters who ranked Bonds first and those who preferred Jackson. The 299 respondents who voted Bonds first gave Jackson an average ranking of 3.72. The 74 respondents who voted Jackson first gave Bonds an average ranking of 6.03. There were also 48 respondents who ranked Bonds last, giving Jackson an average ranking of 2.48. I don’t know what this is about. It would seem to me that if voters could forgive Jackson his transgressions, they could do the same for Bonds.
Bonds suffered a little as well with other voters who might seemingly be sympathetic. Among them:
- The 131 voters who ranked Rose as most-deserving among third basemen were more likely to favor Shoeless Joe, giving Jackson an average ranking of 2.44 against 2.82 for Bonds. Bonds also did slightly worse with these voters than his 2.61 overall average;
- 269 of the 313 voters who ranked Clemens as most-deserving among pitchers named Bonds the most-deserving left fielder, giving him an average ranking of 1.37. Of the other 44 voters, here’s how the first-place votes went: 31 for Jackson; six for another of my favorite candidates, Minnie Minoso; five for Albert Belle; and two for Charlie Keller.
- The 202 voters who ranked Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro fourth or better gave Bonds an average ranking of 4.02 and Jackson an average ranking of 3.27.
- Just three of the 41 voters who thought Curt Schilling the top pitcher overall ranked Jackson ninth or tenth. Twenty-three of these voters ranked Bonds as such. (Granted, Bonds did far better with the 211 voters who ranked Schilling second, with Bonds rating an average of 1.56 with these voters as opposed to 6.59 among those who rated Schilling first.)
Other results aren’t as surprising, such as the 44 voters who rated Keith Hernandez, Steve Garvey, Fred McGriff, Gil Hodges, or Don Mattingly the top first baseman giving Bonds an average ranking of 5.73 and Shoeless Joe an average ranking of 2.30. My free Qualtrics account allowed just 10 questions, so I forewent demographic questions to get the maximum amount of baseball data and thus can’t verify my sense that these were older voters. But it’s clear these are voters who don’t have much use for sabermetrics.
Perhaps there’s a case to be made that, on balance, Jackson is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Bonds. Jackson hit .356, third-best lifetime. Babe Ruth is said to have copied his swing. Jackson also played for a World Series-winning team, the 1917 Chicago White Sox, unlike Bonds. And perhaps those who favor Jackson believe he was innocent of throwing the 1919 World Series, though evidence exists otherwise. I wonder as well if racial bias is hurting Bonds here, though I’m not confident enough of this to make a detailed argument.
Still, I don’t see the case for Jackson over Bonds. Even just comparing both players through their first 13 seasons — the length of Jackson’s career and the number of years Bonds is believed to have played clean — the sabermetric chasm is too wide. After all, Bonds racked up 74.5 Wins Above Average for these seasons, while Jackson was good for 40.2. I generally see 30-40 Wins Above Average as a good benchmark for Hall of Fame candidates I’d enshrine on the basis of sabermetrics. To me at least, a clean Bonds was an arguable Hall of Famer better than Jackson.
That said, thanks again to everyone who’s been reading along. We’ll finish up with center field and right field on Monday and Tuesday respectively.