Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame: Herb Pennock vs. Ron Guidry
In this, the fourth installment of this series, I propose replacing one Yankee (of questionable merit) in the Hall of Fame with another, better choice. If it seems to you that this series is a bit top-heavy with Yankees up to this point, it’s probably because there are so many of them in The Hall in the first place.
Perhaps more surprisingly, there are other Yankees who are not in The Hall, but who have a better case for being enshrined there than several players, Yankee and non-Yankee alike, who currently enjoy a spot in the Hall of Fame Plaque Room.
When most people think of the 1927 Yankees, they think of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and perhaps outfielders Earle Combs and Bob Meusel. Pitcher Waite Hoyt might also come to mind among serious baseball fans.
Herb Pennock? Well, perhaps there are a few hardcore fans around who could toss that name at you, too.
Pennock was a good pitcher on a very good team, perhaps the best team in history. Actually, Pennock (The Knight of Kennett Square), a Pennsylvania boy, first came up with the Philadelphia A’s in 1912. By 1915 he had joined the Red Sox and enjoyed some success there until 1923, when the Sox sent him to the Yankees. (Pennock did not play a major role in either of the Red Sox World Championship teams in 1915-16.)
Pennock, just hitting his stride now at age 29, was immediately successful pitching for New York’s American League team. In his first season, he won 19 games and led the A.L. in winning percentage at .760. In his next five seasons, he won 21, 16, 23, 19 and 17 games for the mighty Yankees.
Over the course of those half-dozen years, the best years of his career, Pennock led the league in winning percentage once, shutouts once, innings pitched once, and WHIP twice. He also walked the fewest batters per nine innings three times.
Only once during those years did Pennock reach 100 strikeouts in a season. He also never actually led the league in wins, either. He did, however, finish 3rd in A.L. MVP voting in 1926 and 4th in 1924, so his contributions to those great Yankee teams did not go unnoticed.
Pennock pitched until age 40 when he retired after a short, one-year stint back in Boston. He had pitched for the Yankees for eleven years, winning a total of 162 games while losing just 90. Overall in his career, Pennock posted a record of 241-162, meaning he lost as many games in his entire two-decade career as he’d won pitching about half as long with the Yanks.
Although Pennock’s career win-loss record is very good, and he was an important part of the Yankees rotation during those years, Pennock was a questionable choice for election into the Hall of Fame in 1948. His career WAR of 36.9 is the same as no-one’s-idea-of-a-Hall of Famer, Burt Hooton.
Pennock’s career ERA of 3.60 is pretty decent for the high scoring era in which he pitched the majority of his career, but his career ERA+ of 106 gives us a pretty good indication that he was, in reality just a bit better, all things considered, than the average pitcher in his day.
There’s nothing wrong with being a good player on a great team. That, and a lot of durability are one of the quickest and surest paths into the Hall of Fame.
But then there’s true greatness which, even if it burns brightly for just a short time, blinds us with its brilliance.
Such was the career of Ron (Louisiana Lightning) Guidry. Like Pennock, Guidry enjoyed his glory days with the Yankees. Also like Pennock, Guidry was a lefty. Unlike Pennock, though, and to quote Bruce Springsteen, “He could throw that speed-ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy.”
Guidry got a bit of a late start in Major League baseball, not landing a regular gig until he was already 26-years old in 1977. But he was an immediate success, posting a 16-7 record with a 2.82 ERA, and an ERA+ of 140. In the World Series, Guidry defeated the Dodgers in Game 4, pitching a complete game, 4-2 victory.
In 1978, however, Ron Guidry produced one of the greatest seasons by any pitcher in baseball history.
Guidry started 35 games, won 25 of them, lost only three times, and posted a ridiculous ERA of 1.74. His ERA+ was an off-the-charts 208. He also led the league in WHIP 0.946 and in shut-outs with nine. He threw 16 complete games and struck out 248 batters in 273 innings pitched. Guidry won the A.L. Cy Young award and finished second in MVP voting.
In the World Series, Guidry again pitched a complete game victory, this time over Dodger ace Don Sutton, 5-1.
The following season, Guidry led the A.L. in ERA (2.78), topped 200 strikeouts again, and posted an 18-8 record while finishing third in the Cy Young award voting.
Guidry would continue to have several productive seasons with New York, finishing in the top ten in Cy Young voting in 1981, 1983, and 1985. In his ten full seasons as a starting pitcher, Guidry would finish in at least the top seven in Cy Young voting six times.
Also recognized as one of the best fielding pitchers of his era, Guidry won five Gold Glove awards. He also pitched in four All-Star games.
Guidry ended his career in 1988 at the age of 37.
Although many argue that his lack of durability has hurt his chances a great deal as far as earning entry into the Hall of Fame is concerned, it might be useful to consider that Guidry topped at least 190 innings in a season nine times, and over 200 seven times. Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax, by contrast, each topped 200 innings in a season just five times during their respective careers.
Koufax and Guidry each topped 2,300 innings pitched, while Dean hurled just over 1,900. Guidry and Dean each led their league in wins twice, while Koufax led his league in wins three times. Koufax’ career win-loss percentage was .655, Guidry’s was .651, Dean’s .644.
Dean and Koufax both top Guidry in career ERA+ at 131 each, while Guidry scores a still very nice 119. Guidry accumulated 170 wins to Koufax’ 165 and Dean’s 150. Koufax tops the three in career WAR (54.5) to Guidry (44.4) and Dean (39.6).
The point here isn’t that Guidry was as good as Koufax, because he wasn’t. When compared to Dizzy Dean, Guidry holds up very well. The primary point here, though, is that we are not comparing Guidry to Pennock, because Guidry is quite obviously better than Pennock.
All of which is another way of saying that, regarding Pennock and Guidry, The Hall clearly has the wrong Yankee lefty enshrined at Cooperstown.