Author's note: I am a ways into the Very Long Book I'd like to crowdfund later this year. To prod myself forward and to assuage my neglected-blog guilt I'll be posting occasional excerpts from the draft.
If you can figure out a way to genuinely satisfy somebody with a sentence that begins "Your favorite player wasn't half as good as you think, but that doesn't mean he was bad", please write me care of my employer:
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Revisionism isn't popular among the people getting revised, which is a good thing—it's a check against our natural and unconscious urge to explain the past as a story about how great we are.† (The one constant theme in the writing of historians is this: "From the time of Herodotus, history has been colored by pettiness, short-sightedness, and an obvious bias in favor of the prejudices and fashions of the present. Until now.")
At the same time it's hard, through every revisionist lens of the last 20 years or so, to see Lou Brock exactly as his contemporaries did. Go back before his contemporaries and you can't see him, either: The way baseball was played between Ty Cobb and Maury Wills suggests managers, players, and fans saw even less in stolen bases than we do.
Really there were 30 years, centered around 1975, in which Lou Brock could have been Lou Brock—a mediocre left fielder who struck out too much, who didn't hit the ball very hard, who knew how and when to run and was willing to press his luck—and he starred in most of them. He is not a Hall of Famer in the wins-above-replacement sense, but if he retired tomorrow with the same counting stats and kept himself out of the steroid morass he'd be elected again in 2022 or so.
Predicting next year's revisions is a sucker's game, but I'm a sucker: At some point during the parade of retired '90s Yankees, people who write Hall of Fame listicles will have to deal with postseason statistics, even though they are not included on Baseball-Reference leaderboards.
I understand that it's unfair to your favorite fringe candidate to do this. (Mine too!) I understand that we'll need to find a balance somewhere between valuing World Series at-bats as players and fans do and naming David Freese the single greatest third baseman who ever lived. I understand, even, that by valuing postseason at-bats for their ends at all you're forced to ask whether hitting .464 in a losing World Series has more or less value than hitting .300 in a winning one.
But that's one way to write history, I guess: Keep your eyes open to the compromises you're making to tell the story you believe from the evidence to be true, and then make the compromises.
For the most part your favorite player wasn't half as good as you think, but he also hit .391 in the 87 most important plate appearances of his career. I don't know exactly what that means. But if you think it should matter more than how bad he was for a 69-win team in 1978, I can at least buy that.
†: In the words of Cardinals fan and actual historian John Terry, "humans will misremember history again and again until the sun burns out."