The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 3

This is the third installment of a six part series analyzing the most under-appreciated players in the baseball Hall of Fame.  For a more complete explanation of the purpose of this series, click on Part 1.   Click here is you missed Part 2.

To this point, I have identified 4/5ths of my infield.  From left to right, they are third baseman Eddie Mathews, shortstop Arky Vaughan, second baseman Joe Gordon and first baseman Roger Connor.

Now let’s find out who my catcher and my left-fielder are, shall we?

Catcher – Gary Carter:  If you ask most baseball fans, even the smart ones (I’m talking to you, oh faithful reader), to name the top ten catchers in baseball history, you may or may not find Gary Carter’s name on that list.  It’s just as likely, if not more so,  that Bob Boone, Ted Simmons, and Thurman Munson would be named instead of Gary Carter.

Now, I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not any of those three catchers should be in the HOF, where Carter is already a member.  All three were very fine catchers in their day.  Yet why is it that Gary Carter, as far as his reputation is concerned, seems to exist on the periphery of these lists?

The fact is, Gary Carter was one of the top five (not merely the top ten) catchers of all time.

I wrote a post about Carter just after his death back in February on this topic, but allow me to list some of the highlights.

Gary Carter’s career dWAR, (a measure of his defensive value), was 25.4.  Johnny Bench, who many people regard as the greatest catcher ever, had a career dWAR of 19.3.

Carter had six seasons with a dWAR of 2.0 or better.  Bench had three seasons at that level.  Jim Sundberg, also held in high regard as a great defensive catcher, had a career dWAR of 25.0 and five seasons of at least 2.0 dWAR.

Stunningly, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochrane combined for exactly one season of 2.0 dWAR.  So, even if you add Johnny Bench to that group, you still come up two seasons short of Gary Carter’s six seasons of 2.0 dWAR.

Therefore, it is pretty clear that Gary Carter was one of the top three defensive catchers of all time.

Carter won five Silver Sluggers and was an eleven time All Star.

Carter hit 324 home runs in his career, more than HOF catchers Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane combined.  Of those 324 homers, he hit 298 of them as a catcher, good for 6th on the all-time homer list for catchers.

Carter’s career WAR, including his offense, was 66.4.  Only one catcher in history, Johnny Bench, had a higher career WAR among catchers (72.3).  This includes relatively recent catchers like Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza.

Keep in mind, however, that in 1999, when the All Century Team was being voted upon, the panel that compiled the list placed the names of eight catchers on the ballot.  Gary Carter’s name was not among them.

Keep in mind, too, that after Carter died about seven months ago, Reggie Jackson was quoted as saying that he didn’t consider Carter to be a “real” Hall of Famer.

It’s hard to believe that a player as highly productive as Carter was, who should have benefited from playing (and thriving) in New York City with the Mets during the mid-1980’s, could be so readily marginalized and forgotten.

Perhaps his stature will rise, as it should, in the future.

Jesse Burkett

Jesse Burkett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Left-Field – Jesse Burkett:  

Jesse Burkett was born in Wheeling, WV a few years after the Civil War ended (to the extent that it ended at all in West Virginia) in 1868.  A relatively small man (5’8″, 155 pounds), Burkett broke into the Majors with Brooklyn in 1890 at age 21.  He played for 16 seasons, through 1905, retiring at age 36.

Burkett came within four points (.396 in 1899) of being one of only three men in baseball history to hit .400 three times.  The other two players are Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

Burkett won three batting titles, led his league in hits three times, twice in runs scored and twice in total bases.  He had six 200-hit seasons, (Tony Gwynn had five.)

Burkett scored over 100 runs nine times.  Lou Brock, in contrast, reached 100 runs scored seven times.  Burkett’s 1,720 runs scored ranks 25th all-time.

Jesse Burkett’s career batting average of .338 is tied with Tony Gwynn for 18th best all-time.

With 182 career triples, Burkett is 15th on that particular list.

Was Burkett just another 19th century Baltimore-Chop singles hitter?  Well, his career OPS+ was 140, the same as Duke Snider, Vlad Guerrerro and Gary Sheffield, and one point better than a somewhat more famous 19th century player, King Kelly.

Burkett was not only a very fine player, he was quite a character, although apparently devoid of a sense of humor.  He was once thrown out of both games of a double-header.

In the first game, he refused to leave the field, so the umpire declared the game a forfeit win for the opposing team (Louisville.)  After being thrown out of the second game, again for arguing, Burkett once again refused to leave the field.  This time, the umpire had six policemen remove Burkett from the diamond.

Burkett’s career WAR of 60.5 puts him in the same company, relatively speaking, with a couple of other HOF left-fielders, Ed Delahanty (66.5) and Billy Williams (59.5).  Both of those players were on my short list of left-fielders whom I considered for my under-appreciated list.  Ultimately, though, I decided that, to the extent that baseball fans are familiar with 19th century players, Delahanty is a bit more well-known than is Burkett.

And as for Billy Williams, it was a close call, but Williams’ Black Ink score in Baseball-Reference.com was 18, while Burkett’s was 31.

That suggests that, despite their very similar WAR scores, Burkett was more of an impact player in his day than was Williams.  While I don’t doubt that Williams was under-appreciated, Burkett is all but completely forgotten in most baseball communities.

Burkett was voted into the baseball HOF in 1946 by the Veteran’s Committee.  One of the few 19th- century stars to still be alive when voted into The Hall, Burkett died in Worcester, MA in 1953, age 84.

In my next installment, I will reveal my picks for center-field and right-field on my All-Time Under-Appreciated Hall of Fame All Star Team.

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11 thoughts on “The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 3

  1. Another thoughtful series, Bill. I am responding to #3 and not #1 or #2 because I’m a huge Gary Carter fan. However, ALL of your posts are superb, and well worth the time it takes to study them.

  2. You have a way with words, Bill.
    I’d never heard of Burkett before, but I love you description of him. Typically when you hear that someone was a “character” the last thing you expect to find is that they’re humorless. That’s a combination set for disaster if ever there was one.

    Gary Carter I remember of course. I actually saw him play once as an Expo in LA’s 1983 home opener (the Expos won, but I got a kick-ass “25 Years In LA” cap for free that I still have). I’m not sure why Carter is regarded so poorly, but I imagine it might stem from the animus other players are said to have for him.
    I’d bet a quarter (the most I ever bet; gambling, fortunately, does not number among my many vices) that you’ve read “The Bad Guys Won,” about the ’86 Mets (if you haven’t, you really should; but again, I’d bet a quarter that you have). That book alleges that he Carter was perceived as a “me-first/made-for-TV” kinda player.

    As for Reggie’s unkind words, maybe he feels that having your own candy bar is what solidifies your Hall of Fame credentials.

    Great work as usual.

    • Hey man, First off, I haven’t read, “The Bad Guys Won,” so that quarter is mine! I haven’t read it ’cause, as a Mets fan, I didn’t feel like reading what I guessed was a hatchet job on one of the best teams to win a World Series in the past quarter century. Sure, they were a bunch of drunken, drugged-out, overpaid, racist, ignorant bastards. But they were my drunken, drugged-out, overpaid, racist, ignorant bastards. In fact, other than the overpaid, racist (some of my best friends were white), and (perhaps) ignorant parts, I was a lot like them while in my twenties.
      I know that there was some tension at that time between Keith Hernandez (my boy) and Gary Carter, but they seem to have put their differences aside in later years. Hell, I used to put my brother in headlocks all the time, and once, he smashed a metal lunchbox into my face. I guess if someone wanted to write about us, we’d come off looking like a couple of assholes, too (which might actually be accurate, come to think of it.)
      As for Burkett, I guess I was partly drawn to him because he actually sounded a bit like my dad. Most people who’ve come into contact with my dad over the past half century came away shaking their heads feeling, in equal parts, awe, agony and aggravation, yet they would invariably tell me that my dad was “quite a character.” NO ONE, however, ever accused him, nor was he ever able to demonstrate, an actual sense of humor.
      Thanks for reading, man. Always much obliged.
      Also, email me at wmiller6381@gmail.com and fill me in on your latest, mysterious projects. If you’re writin’, I’ll be happy to read.
      Bill

      • I’ll do that.

        I hadn’t thought about the “nasty” aspects of TBGW on someone who is a fan. As someone not coming from that viewpoint, I found the book’s allegations to make for interesting reading. I pride myself on being a critical reader, and think I did a good job separating the plausible from the unlikely. Despite what the title would imply, the book actually humanized some players for me and made me like them better (Hernandez, Darling). It also confirmed a couple of opinions (Strawberry and the the little criminal whose name escapes me just now). One story I recall that seemed unlikely was of one player slaughtering a dog (I don’t remember the guy’s name–Kevin something? He was a black dude– but I seem to remember him playing for the Padres a few years later). That didn’t read real to me.

        So in retrospect, my recommendation of the book was probably ill-considered.

        I was a lot like them while in my twenties.

        I think a lot of us were. If everybody started out a gentleman, what would be the point of striving to be a gentleman?

      • Hey Man, I didn’t mean to come across too strongly as a fan, so please don’t take it that way. I’ll actually probably read the book someday. If it puts Keith Hernandez in a positive light, that’s good enough for me.
        Thank You, Oh Wise Smaktakula!
        Bill

  3. Burkett is an inspired choice. I might have taken Rick Ferrell over Carter but then you probably meant “real” Hall of Famers.
    BTW love Reggie Jackson, but Reggie, you were wrong.
    v

    • Well, I always respected Reggie’s talent, especially when he with Oakland and his one (forgotten) season in Baltimore. But, yeah, he should have just kept his mouth shut on this one. As for Rick Ferrell, let’s just say I think The Hall could’ve done better, like choosing his brother, Wes.
      Thanks, man,
      Bill

  4. Adam Darowski on said:

    Carter is an excellent selection and might be the most underrated Hall of Famer, period. wWAR has him as second all time, as he gets by on peak AND longevity. Just the total package.

    Gary Carter: 166.6 wWAR
    Reggie Jackson: 143.3 wWAR

    I like the Burkett choice, though I might have still gone with Delahanty. A couple other options would have been Fred Clarke (who you seriously NEVER hear about) and Al Simmons (who I don’t think we hear about enough).

    • Yeah, Carter was an easy one for me, though I did toy with the idea of choosing Gabby Hartnett for a while.
      Left Field was a bit of a challenge for me. There are 20 left-fielders in The Hall. The five on my short list were Billy Williams, Al Simmons, Ed Delahanty, Fred Clarke and Jesse Burkett. It was a judgment call. Ultimately, I decided to reject Clarke ’cause he only had two seasons at 5.0 WAR or better. Kenny Lofton was as good (or better) a player, but he probably won’t make it into The Hall. Simmons put up some great numbers, but again, his career WAR is right there with the other guys, 64.3, so I just didn’t see any advantage to choosing him over Burkett.
      Still, I agree that there are other reasonable choices other than Burkett.
      Thanks again for reading, man.
      Bill

  5. I Continue To Love These, Dude.
    It’s Always Obvious You Put Plenty Of Time Into Your Research.
    I Love That Fact 🙂
    Keep’em Comin’, Mr. Bill!
    -B.

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