The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 3
The 1960’s was for the Baseball Hall of Fame, as it was for America in general, a decade of turmoil. It featured some of the highest highs, and the lowest lows. In 1962, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill into law, prohibited discrimination in public places, and made employment discrimination based on race illegal.
By 1965, America was also knee-deep in the jungles of a disastrous war in South-East Asia. The middle ’60’s also witnessed the equally unforced (though not nearly as serious) error of inducting Eppa Rixey, Elmer Flick, Burleigh Grimes, Lloyd Waner into The Hall.
The hymn of our National Pasttime, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was rapidly being eclipsed in American culture by The Beatles, “Revolution,” The Doors, “Break On Through,” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”
As the decade sputtered to a soggy conclusion among the nation’s youth at Woodstock in upstate New York, just a few miles away two of America’s favorite sons, Stan Musial and Roy Campanella were immortalized in Cooperstown, New York. Seldom had Americans witnessed so much turmoil in a single decade before or since.
In his induction speech in 1966, Ted Williams used the opportunity to call for the induction into The Hall of the great Negro League players of the first half of the 20th century.
America, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, would never be the same.
And yet, among Hall of Fame voters, some things would never change.
If you’ve come with me this far in the series, then you know that the purpose of this multi-part analysis is to find that elusive Golden Age of the Hall of Fame that lots of fans and pundits go on about, when supposedly only the best of the best were inducted. This mythical quest has been, up to this point, fruitless.
Remember, we are not merely looking for players for whom a legitimate Hall of Fame-worthy case can be made. We’re looking for only the true immortals, Mt. Olympus-worthy players.
In our two prior installments of this series we discovered, lo and behold, that at least a third of the first 66 players inducted into The Hall between 1936-59 were not necessarily the Olympian superstars that later generations of fans believed that they must have been.
These choices have had long-term ramifications that continue to haunt Hall of Fame voting up to the present day.
So let’s take a closer look at the 25 players inducted into The Hall from 1961-69.
1961 — VC: Max Carey, Billy Hamilton
Clearly, in ’61, the Veteran’s Committee had a speed fetish.
Billy Hamilton’s 914 career stolen bases currently rank third all-time, but was the record for 77 years until 39-year old Lou Brock broke it in 1978. Hamilton led the league in steals five times, in on-base percentage five times (including an absurd .521 OBP in 1894), in walks five times, and in runs scored four times. His career OPS+ of 141 is also impressive. Even including our modern era, Hamilton was probably one of the top three lead-off hitters of all-time.
Max Carey was also a lead-off hitter and a prolific base-swiper. His 738 steals currently ranks 9th all-time. Overall, though, he was a lot more like Brett Butler than he was Billy Hamilton. Carey never produced a WAR exceeding 5.4 in any given season. He never finished higher than 11th in MVP voting. His career OPS+ is just 107. But he did lead the league in stolen bases ten times.
Although a case can be made for Max Carey’s election into the HOF, clearly, his career was not that of an elite superstar.
1962 — BBWAA: Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson. VC: Edd Roush
There are still some people out there who believe that the only reason that Jackie Robinson was elected into The Hall was that he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and that his career numbers don’t merit Hall inclusion. In other words, he was elected as a symbol, not as a ballplayer.
In his relatively short ten year career, however, Robinson scored at least 99 runs in each of his first seven seasons. He led the league twice in stolen bases. He won a batting title. He drove in over a hundred runs in 1949. He had a career on-base percentage of .409. His career OPS+ was 131.
Robinson drew 740 walks in his career against fewer than 300 strikeouts. He had respectable power, slugging at least .500 in five seasons. Also an asset in the field, he posted a career defensive WAR of 7.8. He also led the N.L. in offensive WAR for four straight years, 1949-52.
His career WAR, 63.2, is quite high for someone who only played ten years.
Jackie Robinson belongs in The Hall both for his historic contributions to baseball as well as his very significant contributions on the field.
Bob Feller was also a legend in his own time. By the age of 22, he was already a three-time 20 game winner. Then he went off to fight in WWII, and missed three of his prime seasons. Returning from the war, he went on to win 20 games three more times. A serious power-pitcher, he led the league in strikeouts seven times. His career record of 266-162 (notice he wasn’t a 300 game winner) and his career WAR of 66.0 (reaching at least 8.6 in three seasons) are the raw material of a Hall of Fame career.
Edd Roush had a spare “d” in his first name, helped the Reds defeat the White Sox in the 1919 “Black Sox” Series, won a pair of batting titles, and was a pretty darn good player. His OPS+ of 126 is respectable, as is his 46.5 WAR, but it’s obvious the Veteran’s Committee didn’t upstage the BBWAA’s choices in 1962.
1963 — VC: John Clarkson, Elmer Flick, Sam Rice, Eppa Rixey
Clarkson, with an ERA+ of 134 and a WAR of 82, is definitely deserving.
Flick, like Clarkson, a 19th century player, is also solid. OPS+ 149.
Sam Rice is a bit of a stretch. Career OPS+112 and 51 WAR is Johnny Damon territory.
Rixey pitched a long time (1912-33) for the Phillies and Reds, posting an respectable 51 career WAR and a mediocre 266-251 record. He doesn’t seem to have been the best pitcher in his league in any of his 21 seasons, though he was very good for four or five of them.
1964 — BBWAA: Luke Appling. VC: Red Faber, Burleigh Grimes, Tim Keefe, Heinie Manush
Luke “Old Aches and Pains” Appling was a seven-time All Star who won two batting titles and struck out just 528 times in over 10,000 plate appearances. Led A.L. in Offensive WAR in ’43 with a mark of 6.5. A career WAR approaching 70, this infielder deserves his Hall recognition.
When the Veteran’s Committee gets frisky, it’s as ready and willing to please as a Texas high school cheerleader after a Friday night football game. Thus, Faber, Grimes, Keefe and Manush were elected in one fell swoop.
Faber enjoyed success with the White Sox, winning 20+ games for three straight years in the early ’20’s, twice leading the league in ERA, ERA+, and complete games. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher Faber is most closely comparable to is…Burleigh Grimes. And Burleigh Grimes is close to Eppa Rixey, and Rixey is close to Hoyt, and Hoyt is close to… ah, but you get the point.
As you may have gathered by now, there really isn’t much point arguing that there is some sort of reasonable standard for pitchers as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. With a couple of 20-win seasons, and an overall winning record, you have as much chance as the next guy to make it into The Hall. Timing, and not much else, appears to be everything as far as perceived Hall worthiness is concerned.
Keefe was a great 19th century pitcher with over 300 wins and a WAR above 80. I’ll take ’em.
Heinie Manush, like so many players of his generation, hit for a high average (.330) but accumulated a relatively low career WAR (44.1) and a respectable, but not overwhelming OPS+ (121.) I’ll trade you a Heinie Manush for a Zack Wheat, straight up.
1965 — VC: Pud Galvin
Tossed 72 complete games in 1883. I’m not making that up. One of only two 300-game losers in baseball history, the other being Cy Young, whom they named an important award after. So that’s not a bad thing. Galvin is an old-time immortal.
1966 — BBWAA: Ted Williams
Obviously, a true immortal. 2,021 walks against just 709 strikeouts. Career OPS+ 190. Career On-Base Percentage, .482 is still the best ever. Missed five seasons to two wars, and still finished with a career WAR of 125.3. Greatest hitter ever.
1967 — BBWAA: Red Ruffing. VC: Lloyd Waner
Ruffing, like Eppa Rixey before him, pitched for a long time, enjoyed four 20-win and two 20-loss seasons, and was never the best pitcher in his league in any given year. But a career ERA+ 110 and WAR 53.6 are not generally indicative of greatness.
Lloyd Waner was an even worse choice. See Lloyd Waner vs. Dale Murphy for more details.
1968 — BBWAA: Joe Medwick. VC: Kiki Cuyler, Goose Goslin
Joe “Ducky” Medwick was an excellent hitting left fielder for the Gas House Gang Cardinals of the 1930’s. But he peaked by age 27, then began a slow descent into mere competence over the next several years, until finally retiring at age 36 in 1948. He was the N.L. MVP in 1937. Career OPS+ 134 is the same as Al Kaline and Paul Waner. Reasonably good choice.
Please allow me to pay homage to the Book of Genesis for a moment: Willie Keeler begat Hugh Duffy. Hugh Duffy begat Earle Combs. Earle Combs begat Zack Wheat. Zack Wheat begat Edd Roush. Edd Roush begat Lloyd Waner. Lloyd Waner begat KiKi Cuyler. KiKi Cuyler begat Harry Hooper, and on and on, a thin, sub-royal lineage that persists through generations of Hall voters, up to the present day.
Goose Goslin, one of two geese in the Hall of Fame, is deserving. Career WAR 63 is pretty close to Al Simmons and Home Run Baker. It would be wrong to keep him out.
1969 — BBWAA: Roy Campanella, Stan Musial. VC: Stan Coveleski, Waite Hoyt.
According to Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca in “A Moment in Time,” Campanella was always a little jealous of all the press and publicity Robinson received, but they did respect each other as players. Campy won three N.L. MVP awards, and helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series title in 1955. One of the top ten catchers in baseball history. A car accident in 1957 left the 35-year old Campanella crippled for life.
Stan “The Man” Musial was a power hitter who also won an astonishing seven batting titles. His 6,134 career total bases are second all-time to Hank Aaron. Musial also won three MVP awards. A class act and a true immortal. Interesting to note, however, that he did not reach 500 home runs in his career, a fictitious standard, (along with 300 wins) that Hall voters continue to desperately hang onto as a substitute for actual statistical analysis.
The Veteran’s Committee vouched for Coveleski, and he’s a respectable choice. Nice career ERA+ 128 is the same as Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson, though he’s not really in their class, of course.
Hoyt, born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., pitched for the Yankees, the Giants and a few other teams in his 21-year career, but his claim to fame is that he was considered the ace of the ’27 Yankees pitching staff. Career ERA+ 112, 237 career wins, two 20-win seasons, and six World Series wins might remind some of Jack Morris. The comparison is apt. Neither of them belongs in The Hall of Fame.
So there you have it. Hall voting in the ’60’s generally mirrors Hall voting in previous decades.
Out of the 25 players inducted into The Hall during this decade, 14 were very good picks, five more were perhaps acceptable, and six were pointless choices. Therefore, the voters were reasonably successful in around 76% of their choices, which is similar to previous decades. The mythical Golden Age of the Hall of Fame, then, did not exist in the 1960’s, despite some of the incredible talent inducted during that decade.
Now, because you’ve come this far with me, for your viewing pleasure, click on the youtube link below, and enjoy.