The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 1

Is it possible that a player in the Baseball Hall of Fame could be considered under-appreciated?  Isn’t membership in those hallowed halls evidence enough that a particular player’s legacy has been abundantly lauded?

Yet it is true in baseball, as in other walks of life, that even those honored can be quickly overshadowed by subsequent (or even prior) honorees.

For example, the actor Robert Duvall has won an Oscar, two Emmy’s, and four Golden Globe Awards.  Yet his name seldom seems to roll easily off the tongues of people discussing the best actors of the past forty years.  On the other hand, Duvall’s contemporary, Robert DeNiro, is ubiquitous on the vast majority of Best Actor lists.  Duvall has received critical acclaim, but still seems to be generally under-appreciated.

But enough prologue.  Let’s get down to business.

It needs to be stated upfront, of course, that choosing a list of under-appreciated players is in large part an exercise in the subjective.  After all, your list will probably look quite different from mine.  We all have our biases, and we all choose the statistics most useful to suit our needs.

Having said that, today’s post (the first of six planned posts on this topic) will focus on the first two players in this series who comprise the right side of my infield.  Here, then, is the initial installment of my All-Time Hall of Fame Most Under-Appreciated Team:

1888 N403 Yum Yum Tobacco Roger Connor, Redemp...

1888 N403 Yum Yum Tobacco Roger Connor, Redemption Back SGC 60 EX 5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Base – Roger Connor:  Born in Waterbury, CT in 1857, Connor played his entire 18-year career (but for one season in the ill-fated Player’s League) in the National League.  He retired in 1897 at age 39, having amassed an incredible 233 triples (fifth most in history).

Playing primarily for the Trojans, the Giants and the Browns, Connor had more seasons of 100+ runs scored (8), than Lou Brock.  He had as many 100 RBI seasons as Mickey Mantle, and his career WAR (80.6) is a bit higher than Ken Griffey, Jr.’s 79.2

Connor’s OPS+ (153) was better than Honus Wagner’s mark of 151.  Connor is credited with being the first player to ever hit an out-of-the-park Grand Slam, and the first to hit a home run completely out of the Polo Grounds.

A big man, listed at 6’3″, 220 pounds, Connor both threw and hit left-handed.  He could hit for average (.316 career), he could hit for power (led N.L. in home runs in 1890), he could steal a base (7 times he topped 20 steals), and he could play some defense (a solid 6.2 dWAR.)

Perhaps most impressively, Connor’s 138 career home runs remained the M.L.B. record for 23 years after his retirement, until Babe Ruth shattered the mark in 1921.

Roger Connor died in his hometown of Waterbury, CT in January 1931.  A victim of the Florida real estate crash of the early 1920’s, Connor and his wife are buried side-by-side in unmarked graves in Waterbury’s St. Josephs’s Cemetery.

Second Base – Joe Gordon:  Although there are at least a couple of Yankees who probably don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame (Herb Pennock and Phil Rizzuto come to mind), Joe Gordon has long been an under-appreciated player.

Other Yankee second basemen have been more widely known over the decades, players like Tony Lazzeri, Billy Martin, Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph, and now, Robinson Cano.  But, with the possible exception of Cano, no second baseman in Yankee history was better than Joe Gordon.

Gordon was born in Los Angeles in 1915, but his family later moved north to Oregon.  Drafted by the Yankees as an amateur free agent, he immediately made an impact in New York, swatting 25 homers and driving in 96 runs for the 1938 Yankees.  This incredible team also featured Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey.

In 1942, at the age of 27, Gordon won the A.L. MVP award.

Up through 1943, when Joe Gordon was still in his prime (28-years old), he’d already enjoyed six highly productive years with the Yanks.  He had averaged 24 homers and 95 RBI per year, and had accumulated 33.3 WAR (about what Cano has generated in his first eight years.)

Then came WWII, or rather, Gordon’s call to duty in a war that was already half over.  The War cost Gordon two full years (1944-’45.)  In 1946, he got injured in spring training and had a terrible year.  He was traded to Cleveland the next season for pitcher Allie Reynolds.

The trade worked out well for both teams.  Gordon went on to lead the Tribe to a World Series victory over the Boston Braves in the ’48 World Series.  His 32 homers that year remained the A.L. record for a second baseman for 53 years, until 2001.

During Gordon’s tenure with the Yankees, he played in exactly 1,000 games, and he garnered exactly 1,000 hits.

Joe Gordon’s 253 home runs remains the career record by an A.L. second baseman.  That is a remarkable total, considering both of his home ball parks did not favor right-handed power hitters, also recalling that he missed a couple of his prime years to war.

Finally, Gordon’s resume is further buttressed by a stellar defensive reputation.  His career 22.4 dWAR is better than that of any second baseman in history not named Bill Mazeroski.  Gordon’s overall career WAR of 54.0 is better than that of Chase Utley, Jeff Kent, Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzeri and Bobby Doerr, to name but a few other highly productive second basemen.

Joe Gordon died of a heart attack in 1978, age 63.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame 30 years later, in 2009.  It shouldn’t have taken that long.

In the next installment of this series, I will take a look at the left side of the infield of my All-Time Under-Appreciated team.

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21 thoughts on “The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 1

  1. footinthebucket on said:

    Thanks for that clip from “apocalypse Now.” Duvall’s been in a lot of movies where he plays a higher ranking military guy (“The Great Santini” is another example of this; there are more, I believe.) This is kind of interesting, because when my father and he were in the army together at Camp Gordon, Georgia, neither had any aspirations to get past PFC! My father graduated from Brooklyn College in ’53, was drafted right after that, kept his nose clean, and was out in ’55. Same with Duvall. Interestingly, Duvall came from a military family; his father was a career military guy. (I’m not sure what branch.

    Glen

    • Glen, Thanks for that interesting bit of info on Duvall. He has always been one of my favorites. In never knew he was actually in the army. And with your father, yet. What a great story that makes, huh?
      As always, thanks for reading,
      Bill

  2. This is an interesting topic. When it comes time for HoF selection, it seems like there are a TON of articles on players who are snubbed, and maybe even a few on HoF players who are iffy, but I can’t remember seeing something in defense of players who were already there.

    I’ll have to begrudgingly admit that I’d never heard of Roger Connor (or the Trojans; I assume you’re not talking about USC), so I’ll grant he may be an under appreciated player.

    It’s funny (in the ironic sense, and definitely not in the ha ha sense) that Joe Gordon returned from WWII and THEN suffered an injury. So many men from an entire generation (and not just sports, but in all other walks of life including entertainment) gave up a chunk of their youth (and sometimes more) to fight in that war.

    I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right regarding Robert Duvall. He kinda fades into the background. If you ask somebody to list the greatest actors of our time, they might leave him off. But then, when reminded, might put him in that list. Perhaps it’s because his acting style is so understated. I can think of many, many “great” characters he’s played, but off hand, I can’t think of any “big” ones. I mean “big” in the sense of scenery-chewing and scene stealing (and immediately after I wrote those words, I remembered “Apocalypse Now,” which I last saw a clip of about 30 seconds ago). He’s handsome, but not “movie-star” handsome. More “real-life” handsome.

    • “What do you know about surfing? You’re from goddamned New Jersey!” I love that line from Apocalypse Now.
      Connor is definitely not a household name, and probably never will be. And you’re right on the money regarding the irony of WWII vets coming back to America, having lost time and opportunity (or far, far worse.)
      Glad you like the topic.
      Thanks, Bill

  3. Mike Cornelius on said:

    Great research and as well-written as always. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    Mike

  4. Another well-written, insightful article, Bill. Thanks for the nod to Robert Duvall, he is also a favorite of mine. Let’s not forget his role in The Great Santini, filmed down your way.

  5. footinthebucket on said:

    I forgot to tell you that writing about this is a terrific and very original idea, Bill. Mostly, we think of people who SHOULD be in the Hall of Fame who aren’t (Minnie Minoso comes readily to mind to me), as well as who SHOULDN’T be in the Hall of Fame who IS in the Hall of Fame. This an innovative idea.

    Let me see if I can think of an under-appreciated Hall of Fame member. How about Hank Greenberg? Or Bill Mazeroski? (It gets me teed off when people say, “Oh, he only got in because of that home run in the world series!) Baloney! He was probably the best defensive second baseman EVER. I also don’t understand why the voters for the Hall of Fame don’t give MORE consideration to great defensive players who weren’t necessarily such great offensive players. Let’s not forget how the Mets won it all in 1969: Pitching and DEFENSE!

    Glen Russell Slater

    • I think there was a time when Greenberg was under-appreciated, but I’m not sure that’s true anymore. It’s interesting to note how few first basemen, outside of Gehrig and Foxx, really are considered superstars (in a Reggie Jackson sort of way), considering how important an offensive position first base has always been. Eddie Murray, for example, is not exactly a household name these days, let alone Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson, or Johnny Mize.
      Thanks for reading, and for the kind words,
      Bill

      • Speaking of Dan Brouthers, I was thinking of him as you acknowledged Roger Connor. The two are almost interchangeable as the great power hitters of the 19th century. Then I realized Connor didn’t get inducted into the Hall of Fame until 1976, 31 years after Brouthers. Hard to believe it took so long.

  6. footinthebucket on said:

    My father—- certainly appreciated both Gordon AND Robert Duvall. My family went to just about every movie that Duvall was ever in because they were pals in the army in 1954. They even acted together in a production of “Room Service” in downtown Augusta, Georgia, near to where they served (Camp Gordon, Georgia).

    Glen Russell Slater

    • Hey Glen, That’s a great story, man. I’d love to meet Duvall someday. To me, his finest moment on film was when he played Colonel Kilgore, commanding officer of the 7th Air Cav in “Apocalypse Now.” My favorite line: “Charlie don’t surf!”

  7. Yes! Been waiting for this series. When I saw the title, I thought “Joe Gordon”. And there he is. Looking forward to the rest!

  8. Nice idea for a series. You can argue (and I have) that all 19th Century players are underappreciated and it’s a chore to decide which ones to emphasize. But I like adding in 20th Century players also because it’s amazing how many of them have dropped off the radar. Gordon is a good choice for one of these.
    Looking forward to your SS, 3B guys.
    v

    • Completely agree with you. I realized when I began this that I could make up an entire team of nothing but 19th-century players, but I decided to mix it up a bit. As you say, there are still plenty of 20th century guys who have virtually fallen off the radar.
      Thanks, as always,
      Bill

  9. As a Yankee fan, I completely agree with Joe Gordon being under-appreciated. He is rarely mentioned when Yankee greats are discussed.
    Roger Connor is one of my favorite 19th Century players. I think I stand with V, in saying that he’s appreciated by the both of us.

    Kevin G

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