Tuesday, May 15, 2012


We are scornfully amused (as opposed to viscerally disgusted...tease out that reference, Darren Voila!) [misspelling intentional] at the recent mugging for the Hall of Fame voters indulged in by Johnny Damon.

Damon's nickname is "Caveman" (or so at least is the claim at Forman et fil, and if you can't trust those guys, you really can't trust anybody--what's that you say? Those WAR rankings? [insert extended throat-clearing noises here]) and his antics with the Times' Tyler Kepner (who may well have that slightly glazed look on his face as a result of too many interactions with Damon over the years...) are a throwback to the type of Chatty Cathy sportswriting--or is that Talky Tina??--that still holds sway in those dwindling newsrooms across what's left of our great nation.

We used to like ol' Johnny, especially when he had those Geico locks, but just like Tina, we've slowly but inexorably grown more homicidal (though not correspondingly higher-pitched a la June Foray...) about his increasingly self-important self-disclosures. Nothing that's going to get us locked up as yet (sorry to disappoint some of you...), but the level of self-congratulation that Damon has been evidencing places him  in the company of those endless self-promoting post-meta-neo-sabesters who have become a daunting little coterie over the course of the Moneyball ablution.

Damon has had a nice, long career that was blessed with excellent timing, benefitting from the offensive surge and the penchant for veteran players that co-existed with it. He has amassed a solid hit total (2730 as  of this writing, which ranks 56th all time). He seems personally most proud of his run scored total (1647, currently 34th all-time, third among active players), even though it should be clear to anyone that this total is inflated by the era in which he played, his presence on elite offensive teams during much of the preceding decade, and the fact that he batted high in the batting order, giving him a much better chance to score than would otherwise be the case.

But Damon isn't in any way a better player than Vada Pinson, another lefty-swinging centerfielder who played the bulk of his career for the Cincinnati Reds, whose career counting stats are remarkably similar to Damon's. When you adjust for era, Pinson is a better player, and he was certainly a better player at his peak than Damon.

Vada still has about 30 more hits than Damon; he has more homers (and triples--ha!) than Damon. It's clear that as a young player he was much more highly thought of by his team: the Reds batted Pinson third for a number of seasons.

Pinson had an extremely early peak even by baseball standards: either age 22 or 24, depending on what measure you use. Damon, by contrast, continued to have solid seasons well into his mid-30s after having been barely a league-aveage hitter up through the age of 26.

The comparison chart, at first glance, seems to favor Damon--that long, sustained performance into the twilight of his career has a lot of counting stats that build up to boost his case. But focus on that OPS+ value and remember that 1966-75--the years of Pinson's long decline phase--represent the lowest collective run-scoring environment since the deadball era. And focus on the fact that Pinson was a lot better than Damon as a younger player.

And then focus on the fact that Vada Pinson, as good as he was, as close to great as he was as a young player, is in no conceivable way a Hall of Famer. And if we are saying that--the great honking bellwether for the largest possible of all possible Halls of Fame--if we are saying that, then realize that these are two guys who are quintessential icons for what others (whose names shall be suppressed so that Talky Tina will not pay their daughters a fateful nighttime visit...) call The Hall of Very Good.

So Johnny, please just focus on trying to hit well enough to stay in the majors this year, and if you actually make it to 3000 hits (a magic bullet benchmark from caveman days), then you can talk it up and we won't take umbrage, or want to cancel your subscription to the resurrection as well as your god-damned car insurance.