A new Red is now on the ballot for Cooperstown. That’s good.

It’s Brandon Phillips.

That’s not necessarily… bad. It’s just disappointing.

I think this way because of my students.  I teach college and my students range from everything from hard-driving PhD candidates in their 30s who submit papers 4 days early to semi-comatose 18-year-olds who “aren’t sure what (my) path is yet” and enjoy asking questions addressed several times on the syllabus. Both, however, tend to have equal reactions to grades below an A.

They get hysterical. They get hysterical. I got hysterical over coursework exactly twice in college: Once when I overslept for Spanish class (this, it goes without saying, was freshman year) and once when I completely forgot about an essay’s due date (this, it goes without saying, was senior year.)

The Gift

My D- in Spanish was a gift and I knew it; my A for showing up to a senior writing seminar in which we sat in a circle and gossiped about Lord Byron for 50 minutes and turned in exactly one “self reflection” paper a  semester was also a gift, and I knew that too.

Sometimes, when I update my CV, I wince a little when I see the magna cum laude next to my name. Is it worth as much as an engineering major’s? Given the fact that I then proceeded into a fine arts Master’s program for which the firm policy was to give no grades at all, probably not.

It made sense to get hysterical over grades when it meant facing down either Conversational Latin II the next semester or the Viet Cong. This is situation is what spawned grade inflation in the first place, and understandably so.

But ootching up a finals grade to spare a student the rice paddies is quite different from rounding from a D+ to an A- –which is exactly where we are now– because Maqqchhhhea (pronounced “Amy”)  must post a 4.0 on the ‘gram.

In the beginning of my teaching career, I graded much more harshly, which, it was immediately became clear, was a mistake. My student evaluations were a trash heap. If I ever wanted to climb the rungs of academia, significant adjustments to my grading methods were required.

Once, I gently told a hysterical student to consider a B- on a paper as an excellent grade considering its complexity and the class average. Response: “NOT TO ME. My goal is an average over 95% and I must have a higher grade from you to reach it.”


Nomination Inflation 

Western higher education is now in a place in which the only way to fail a course in the humanities is to not show up for it. And baseball now suffers from the same problem. There’s no fudging a hard stat, but we nonetheless suffer from nomination inflation anyway.

This was perhaps inevitable as the game grew along with the Hall and a stats measuring system that has graced us with the opportunity to minutely compare Ted Williams to Honus Wagner to Brandon Phillips and back again. In addition to walks, hits, and homers, we may now take into consideration OPS, fWAR, and wOBA. You will note that Brandon does not fare especially well in either format.

And that’s the point.

Might As Well

You could say it’s an unfair comparison between a total refiner of the game to Phillips, who truly is no end to a good fellow and a lot of fun at RedsFest and who also batted a lifetime .275.  You could perhaps argue that Phillips deserves a spot because of his fielding prowess and string of awards, but… well… we’re kicking around the idea of putting him in the same building as Willie Mays?

So why is Brandon Phillips on the ballot in the first place? He was nominated because, well, they had to nominate someone,  and his career certainly wasn’t terrible. But this practice of “might as well” has led to a 2023 ballot for which it’s perfectly understandable for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to glance at and say “Nah.”

It is, of course, possible to elect no one. But this has happened exactly twice, and one of those times was when Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were on the ballot and everyone got hold of themselves for once.

The Solution

I think every team should have its own Hall of Fame.

This honors the player and provides intergenerational connections; it also stands a point of nostalgic release for the fan base, who know that at least somebody, somewhere, will always remember this pretty good ballplayer who provided them with a lot of happy moments in the stands and on the porch. Sometimes, and in some towns, that’s all that’s required for greatness.

That is the function the Reds Hall of Fame provides. Fans nursing Pete Rose-related grudges against Cooperstown can at least gaze upon Rose’s bronzed face on Joe Nuxhall Way and retain some modicum of comfort.

Rules: The MLB and Cooperstown stay far, far away from them. Each team, with the input of the fanbase, decides on criteria and voting privileges. It’s their team. It’s their HoF.

And, of course, Brandon Phillips belongs in ours.

Just not further north.


15 Responses

  1. LDS

    Grade inflation has dire consequences in the real world. The expectations of many college graduates were so out of line with job requirements. I’m glad I’m retired. And, yes I agree on Phillips – a great Red but not a Willie Mays.

    • greenmtred

      He isn’t, but there are plenty of players in the Hall who weren’t, either. It’s probably not realistically possible, but judgments concerning who is worthy and who isn’t would need to take into account the very large differences between eras to be objective.

      • LDS

        I agree. Too many that shouldn’t be, are and some that should be, aren’t. Yes, the difference between the Mays era and the Phillips era is significant. I preferred the older game.

      • greenmtred

        I did, too, LDS. Have a good Thanksgiving.

      • LDS

        Happy Thanksgiving to you @greenmtred and to the rest of the RLN staff and members.

  2. Melvin

    Phillips may have been the most “fun” second baseman to watch of all time. 🙂

    • LDS

      I think Morgan still holds that title.

      • Jim t

        I’m also a huge Morgan fan.

        Everyone have a great Thanksgiving!!!

      • Melvin

        Yeah Morgan was better. I just mean he didn’t make the unusual plays like Phillips.

    • greenmtred

      Put another way, Morgan was a much better hitter. Phillips was a brilliant defender.

      • Melvin

        Morgan was a great defender too with at least four gold gloves. Phillips made the “I can’t believe he did that ” plays defensively. Guess I should have explained what I was trying to say better. Lol

  3. Old Big Ed

    Nicely written piece, as usual.

    Phillips is one of a long line of interesting Reds’ second sackers. In my time, that includes Pete Rose, Tommy Helms, Joe Morgan, Bret Boone, the wonderful Pokey Reese, Phillips, India and McLain.

    My grade-inflation story comes from my brother, who graduated 3 daughters from a suburban Louisville school. The district superintendent at graduation bragged about how well the school was doing, because the class had “the most students ever with straight A’s.”

  4. Mark Moore

    Great piece, MBE. Then again, that’s what we loyal RLN readers expect, right?

    Entitlement seems to be the most prevalent “core value” out there right now. And it spans generation gaps like nothing else. Just look at the US political scene for one of the more public train wrecks on that front.

    I always chuckle and shake my head when I see GPA listed on a resume or a LinkedIn profile … especially for graduate school (let alone a doctoral program). Doing well is kind of expected or you wash out pretty much anywhere at that level (the true corporate profit center skoolz excepted). DD#1 just finished her first quarter at SCAD with one graduate-level class taught by the department chair. She worked hard, sought out and incorporated feedback, and would have been happy with a “B”. Her work was rewarded, so all that much better. I don’t have to worry about her expecting any free rides, that much is sure.

    Wishing the entire RLN crew and fanbase a Happy Thanksgiving. Strip steaks over charcoal sometime in the late afternoon. Waffles and omelets for breakfast/brunch in the mean time.

  5. AMDG

    Phillips was a good player for a number of years and absolutely deserves to be in the Reds Hall of Fame.
    (Granted the Reds HOF has an incredibly low barrier to entry, which Phillips easily passes)

    But he is no way a Cooperstown HOF candidate. Not even a borderline candidate.

  6. AMDG

    Speaking from experience, most engineering students treat their required humanities classes as an easy “A” which they put little to no effort into. Those classes are simply a blow-off class to pad a GPA, while they focus on what they would consider to be their “real” classes.

    Whether it’s right or wrong, the students in the technical fields (science/engineering) would likely equate a 2.0 in their field with a 3.0 in a business field, and a 4.0 in the humanities/liberal arts/general studies/etc…