Trapped by numbers: Andre Dawson and the Hall of Fame
Dawson has 2,774 hits, 438 homers, 314 stolen bases and eight Gold Gloves
But no outfielder in the Hall of Fame has an OBP within 20 points of Dawson's .323
Only two Hall of Fame outfielders have lower batting averages than Dawson's .277
One of my favorite people in the business, the ubiquitous Ken Rosenthal, is writing a piece -- maybe he already has written it -- in which he argues strongly that Andre Dawson belongs in the Hall of Fame. I guess that I'm one of the foils for the story (along with another favorite, Ken Davidoff) because I have written on numerous occasions that while I love Dawson and want to vote for him, I find that I just cannot because of that lifetime .323 on-base percentage.
Ken Rosenthal -- too many Kens here -- makes the argument that on-base percentage was not stressed during Dawson's time, and he was a great, great player in every other way with all the homers and all the stolen bases and all the Gold Gloves. I think that's a strong argument ... I told Ken that he might very well be on the right side of this. In fact, I don't feel too great being on MY side of the argument. I have thought about Dawson about as much as I've thought about anyone on the ballot ... and at times I have thought, "You know, he was so good in so many areas, and he was a class guy and a leader, maybe I should ..."
... and, I still have not been able to pull the trigger. And here is why: Because on-base percentage is just so much bigger than so many people seem to realize. On-base percentage is not some convoluted modern statistic. On-base percentage is not something new ... it goes back to the time before Ty Cobb. On-base percentage is not even about walks. On-base percentage is simply the core of baseball, the very heart of it since the first ball hit the first stick. It is about how many times a batter gets on -- and, conversely, how many times he makes outs. It is what the game is all about.
It isn't about walks, it really isn't. That's one thing everyone seems to miss. You say OBP and everyone says, "Oh, walks." But that's not it. Walks and hits by pitch make up a pretty small portion of on-base percentage. Most of it is hitting. True, Andre Dawson did not walk at all. But that's not the real point: He hit .277 for his career, which is OK but certainly not stellar. If he had hit .295 or .300, his on-base percentage would be significantly higher and nobody would be talking about any of this. His on-base percentage is a reflection of a whole lot more than walks: Do you know how many outfielders there are in Hall of Fame with batting averages of .277 or lower? Two. Reggie Jackson and Ralph Kiner. Dawson doesn't really compare to either of them. The first hit 500 home runs and was Mr. October. The second led the league in homers for seven straight years and, yes, he also finished first or second in walks six straight times. And, remember, it took FOREVER for Kiner to get in.
Then we can point out again that no outfielder in the Hall of Fame has an OBP within 20 points of Dawson's .323.
Look: Dawson got on base less often than the average major leaguer of his time. That's just a very tough thing to overlook. Dawson certainly has the strong counter arguments -- almost 2,800 hits, 438 homers, 314 stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves. I respect Ken's argument, and certainly have great admiration for Andre Dawson. But that's my thinking.
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Speaking of Hall of Fame ... brilliant reader Mick writes in to ask: Will Mark Grace be the only guy to lead a decade in hits and NOT make the Hall of Fame?
The quick answer is: No. Not as long as Pete Rose is out there. Pete led the 1970s in hits by a mile -- he hit 2,045. I originally had him with the obscure decade hits record, but as a couple of brilliant readers pointed out, I had overlooked Rogers Hornsby in the 1920s. Still, 2,045 hits is a lot (Ichiro could break Hornsby's record with 241 hits next season ... I suspect he won't get there, but it's not really fair anyway because Ichiro did not play in U.S. in 2000. If we count his 153 Japanese hits that year, he would pass Hornsby sometime in June).
But I assume Mick did not mean Pete ... I think he meant: Will Mark Grace be the only guy not banned for life to lead a decade in hits and NOT make the Hall of Fame?
Now, it gets trickier. On the one hand, the answer is yes. Everyone who led what we consider a full decade in hits, other than Rose, is in the Hall of Fame:
1990-99: Mark Grace with 1,754 hits
1980-89: Robin Yount with 1,731
1970-79: Pete Rose with 2,045
1960-69: Roberto Clemente with 1,877
1950s: Richie Ashburn with 1,875
1940s: Lou Boudreau with 1,578
1930s: Paul Waner with 1,959
1920s: Rogers Hornsby with 2,085
1910s: Ty Cobb with 1,948
1900s: Honus Wagner with 1847
But that's a pretty simplistic answer. There are several players who have led the league in hits for a 10-year period and not gone to the Hall of Fame.
For instance: Willie Wilson led baseball in hits from 1979 to 1988 with 1,727. I like Willie a lot, and I still say he might be the fastest man to ever play major league baseball. But he is not going to the Hall of Fame.
Steve Garvey led baseball in hits from 1975 through '84. He's not going to the Hall, either.
And so on.
I'm not a big fan of decade stats. I think it's swell that Jack Morris led the 1980s in wins. He also led the decade in runs allowed, in wild pitches and in base runners allowed. All in all, it doesn't tell me much.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and the author of joeposnanski.com.