The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 8

If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that we are constructing an all-time, most under-appreciated Hall of Fame baseball team.  Lately, we’ve been putting together a pitching staff. Currently, we have three pitchers on this staff:  Kid Nichols, Hal Newhouser, and Eddie Plank.  It’s staff long on talent, but short on appreciation for their respective efforts.

So let’s add another pitcher to the staff.

How about one who didn’t win his first Major League ballgame until he was already past 30 years old?  In his first 20 appearances, he posted a record of 0-8, with more walks than strikeouts in 63.2 innings pitched.

Clearly, not an auspicious debut for any big league pitcher, let alone one who would end up in the Hall of Fame.

Charles Arthur (Dazzy) Vance was born in Orient, IA, in 1891, but was raised on a farm in Nebraska.  He began playing Class D ball at the age of 21 in the Nebraska State League.  At first, he was considered a strong prospect because he threw so hard he “dazzled” the hitters, thus his nickname.  The problem was, as it is with so many young pitching prospects, he had a difficult time staying healthy.

He made his MLB debut on April 16, 1915 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a disaster.  He lasted just 2.2 innings, walked five batters, hit another, struck out none, and was charged with three earned runs.  The Pirates immediately shipped Vance over to the Yankees where, appearing in eight games, he was nearly as bad.

Over the next half-dozen years, Vance appeared in only two more Major League games.  Then, at age 29, when most minor league ball players his age have either long since washed out or are certainly looking for an alternative career, a strange thing happened.

The story goes that Vance was playing poker with a few of his minor league buddies.  Winning a hand, he reached over to rake in the pot of cash in front of him on the table.  While doing so, he banged his arm on the side of the table, the same arm that had been causing him so much trouble throughout his career.  Apparently, once he banged it, it hurt so badly that he couldn’t sleep.

English: A 1933 Goudey Baseball Card of Dazzy ...

English: A 1933 Goudey Baseball Card of Dazzy Vance #2. I did a proper copyright search of the card, and the copyright wasn’t renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next day, we went to a doctor who examined his arm, performed some sort of procedure (Bill James speculates that the doctor removed floating bone-chips that, somehow, previous doctors had managed to miss), and rested for a few days.

Vance later said that his arm returned to life as quickly as it went sore on him back in 1915.  Vance rebounded to win 21 games for the (minor league) New Orleans Pelicans in 1921.  He was now 30-years old.

The following season, at age 31, the Brooklyn Robins (later, the Dodgers), took a chance on him.  They actually wanted no part of Dazzy Vance, but his friend, a minor league catcher named DeBerry, was called up to the Majors. He said, however, that he wouldn’t go unless Vance could come up with him.

After ten years and 133 minor league wins, Dazzy Vance had finally made it back to the Majors.  Thus was launched the highly improbable Hall of Fame career of Dazzy Vance.

In his “rookie” season of 1922, 31-year old Dazzy Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts, shutouts, and posted an 18-12 record for a team that finished the season with a losing record.

In 1922, Vance began a string of seven consecutive seasons in which he would lead the N.L. in strikeouts.  It is still the league record.  Only Walter Johnson (eight consecutive times) and Lefty Grove (seven consecutive times, almost concurrently with Vance) have either matched or topped Vance’s performance, and both of them toiled in the Junior Circuit.

In 1924 and ’25, Vance led the N.L. in wins both seasons, posting a combined record of 50-15.  While the ’24 Robins were very good, the ’25 team was very bad.  Either way, Vance was outstanding.

Vance was named the N.L.’s Most Valuable Player in 1924 at age 33.  That year, he won the pitching triple-crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts.  He also led the league in ERA+, complete games and (not that anyone knew this at the time) WAR for pitchers.

From 1922-1930, in addition to the seven strikeout titles, Vance led the league in wins twice, ERA three times, complete games twice, shutouts four times, ERA+ three times, WHIP three times, and strikeouts / 9 innings eight times.

Vance also led league pitchers in WAR four times, which is another way of saying that, had the Cy Young award existed in his day, he would have deserved four of those awards, as many as Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux each earned in their careers.

His career WAR of 60.5 is higher than several other Hall of Fame pitchers, including Bob Feller, Ed Walsh, Juan Marichal and Rube Waddell, to name a few.

But age did finally catch up with Dazzy Vance.  After age 40, he won just 34 more games over the next five seasons.  Never having made it to the playoffs during his eleven seasons spent pitching for Brooklyn, Vance eventually did make it to the post-season, in 1934, with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Vance appeared in Game 4, a game Detroit would go on to win, but the Cardinals ultimately defeated the Tigers in seven games.   So, in the twilight of his career, Vance finally got to experience a World Championship.

Vance retired in 1935 at age 44, having accumulated 197 wins vs. 140 losses, while pitching for mostly bad Brooklyn teams.  A couple of years later, the Baseball Hall of Fame would open for business.

In a way, his lengthy journey (back) to the Majors would be mirrored by the amount of time it took him to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  First appearing on the ballot in 1936, he received just one vote.  It wasn’t until 1955, about twenty years later, that Vance would finally be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Vance was already 64-years old when he was voted into The Hall.  But, having waited nearly a decade to make it back to the Majors, I’m guessing he was used to waiting for good things to happen.    At least he lived to enjoy the experience.  Vance died in 1961, age 69, and remains to this day, I think, a very under-appreciated player.

The next post will be the last in this series.  We have one more pitcher to go to round out our rotation.

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55 thoughts on “The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 8

  1. I always thought Fred Merkle got a raw deal. And who could forget Richie Ashburn “Why The Hall Not!” But finally.

  2. Congrats on “Freshly Pressed” and welcome to the club. 😉

  3. And yet guys like Joe Blanton make 8 million dollars a year while guys like Mr. Vance aren’t even known. Nice post and idea.

  4. Great post. I agree with you, some players are unappreciated. I was wondering if you could check out my blog. Come and see a kid’s view on all things baseball. Feel free to offer any advice and to pass it along.
    http://bleacherboy.mlblogs.com/

    -David

  5. Reblogged this on vitainalbin and commented:
    A must read for all those voracious readers.

  6. Wow what a great story thanks for the post. That is a first ballot career right there, imagine what his stats would like if he’d been able to get going even 2-3 years earlier.

    • Hello, I guess if Vance had started a bit earlier, he would have put up even more excellent stats, but perhaps his story wouldn’t have been so compelling. I really appreciate that you dropped by and had a look. Hope you come back!
      Cheers, Bill

  7. Righteous baseball press. Thanks for this great niche blog. Congrats!

  8. highly enjoyable and well written. very informative

    • Thanks for the kind words, and for coming over to look at my site. Much appreciated.
      Bill

      • you picked a great topic. i am enjoying reading your previous posts. you write in a magazine level, very very readable

      • Hi, I have to tell you that I went over to your blog today. The article on Tim Tebow and the Jets was funny as hell, man. I’ve signed up to follow your blog. It’s definitely a good one.
        And thanks for coming on over here as well. I much appreciate it.
        Cheers, Bill

      • Thanks! i am a life long Jets fan and although i am a yanks fan i go to citi field a lot, its like 2 miles away. I don’t always write about sports. I did analyze the presidential candidates through star trek characters if your a trekkie at all. Thanks a lot for the follow

      • Yes, I read that as well. It was a good one. I enjoy your work. Wow, two miles from Citi Field. Here I am, a Mets fan, and I’m around 900 miles away from Citi. Never even been there yet.
        Thanks for following.
        Bill

  9. What about Dale Murphy of Atlanta Braves? He retired with Phillis, I believe.

  10. AWESOME post, thanks for sharing! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed as well!

  11. Northern Narratives on said:

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I grew up a big baseball fan and I also like the history of the game. You have inspired me to check out some baseball blogs 🙂

  12. Bill, congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. This is a great article and I am happy that you have been recognized for your successful efforts.

    We are looking forward to many more.

    Allan

  13. What a great story. Like most everybody, I enjoy a story about perseverance and talent finally winning out. I’m a little surprised that such a late bloomer kicked off at 69 (which, admittedly, was a lot “older” in 1961). It’s nice that he lived long enough to see his induction into the Hall, and also that he wasn’t crushed between a cruise ship and a dock, because I’m told that’s something HOF players have to watch out for.

    I’d never heard of the Pelicans. Were they a pro club? Seems like it would be too hot & muggy to toss around the ol’ alligator-hide, but what do I know?

    • The Pelicans were a minor league team in, I believe, the Yankees farm system way back when down in New Orleans. Actually, there is a different Pelicans team now in existence near here in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They are a Single-A Ranger’s farm club. Haven’t been to one of their games yet.
      Gotta watch out for those cruise ship docks. They’ll get you every time.
      And yes, Vance’s story is one of the more peculiar ones in MLB history. But certainly one worth re-telling.
      Thanks, man.
      Bill

  14. Adam, you’re going to make Niekro over-appreciated all by your ownself!

  15. It’s funny how you mention Marichal here–I’d argue he’s as un-appreicated as Vance, maybe more so (personally, I’ll take Marichal’s career over Vance’s.) Despite the fact that Marichal’s career exists in the memory of any number of people who are still among the living (as opposed to Vance’s), no one seems to talk about Marichal much anymore.

    • Marichal does seem to have become somewhat forgotten, even despite taking a bat upside Johnny Roseboro’s head in ’65. Still, Marichal enjoyed some benefits that Vance didn’t. Marichal’s Giants were virtually always a very good team when he pitched for them. Vance’s teams were mostly bad. He also pitched in a better era for pitchers than Vance did, and in a better pitcher’s park as well. Marichal also came up to stay at age 22, so had about nine years head start on Vance. Despite all those advantages, he won just 46 more games than Vance.
      Marichal was also a good strikeout pitcher, but never led the league in that category. In 1924, Vance led the league with 262 K’s. Next closest in the league was his teammate Burleigh Grimes with 135. The pitcher in 3rd place had just 86. Now that’s dominance.
      Having said that, I do think Marichal is a good candidate for the under-appreciated squad.
      Thanks, man.
      Bill

      • I dont’ really see Marichal as forgotten. If anything, I think the run environment of the era cause him to be a bit overrated. He had a half dozen seasons that were really brilliant—which is a nice peak.

        B-R puts Marichal’s #1 comp as Carl Hubbell. Talk about unfair. Compare the two environments those guys pitched in. It really doesn’t compare. It’s a shame that Bill James’ similarity scores have no adjustment for era.

      • Forgotten in the sense that, when was the last time you heard anyone mention Marichal in casual conversation? Then again, you can say the same thing about Winston Churchill, I guess.

      • Actually, you could make a case for King Carl being under-appreciated as well; the first dozen years of his career doesn’t have any holes in it.

      • That’s definitely true.

      • I don’t think he’s Phil Niekro-level under-appreciated… 😉

        But yes, Carl Hubbell certainly applies.

      • Phil Niekro for President!

  16. Dazzy’s a good one. It’s nice to see he got into the Hall of Fame despite fewer than 200 wins. I hope David Cone does the same thing one day. In fact, they’re a bit similar—high strikeout guys with injury problems who were good enough to get in despite missing a lot of time. Vance’s time missed was just more condensed than Cone’s.

    Very curious to see who the last one is. 🙂

    • I always liked Cone, too, especially when he pitched for the Mets. But I doubt he’ll ever see the inside of the HOF without first buying a ticket. I think he has four things going against him: 1) He isn’t identified with any one team. Voters like that connection for some reason. 2) He has a strange career arc, starting out strong, pitching well without a lot of wins to show for it in the middle, then goes 20-7 for the Yanks near the end in ’98. 3) Even his Cy Young award season is wrecked by the lockout in ’94. 4) There are other pitchers similar to him, such as Kevin Brown, Dave Stieb, perhaps Orel Hershiser, heck, even Dwight Gooden. He just doesn’t really stand out in any way obvious to the average BBWAA voter.
      As for my last pick, honestly, I haven’t settled on one yet. I’ve changed my mind a couple of times already. We’ll see.
      Take care, man.
      Bill

      • Here’s hoping for Phil Niekro. He’d still be my #2 starter on this squad. 🙂

        I would absolutely put David Cone and Kevin Brown in the Hall of Fame right now. No questions asked. I’d also like to see David Cone and Orel Hershiser get some support, but Cone and Brown (and Tiant and Reuschel) are more important causes at the moment.

        Great stuff, as always.

      • The only way I see any of those guys getting in is if some future Old-Timers Committee has as its membership a bunch of guys who played ball in the ’80’s and ’90’s. I guess it could happen. Predicting future HOF membership is always a bit of a crap-shoot.

  17. footinthebucket on said:

    Bill, as soon as I got to the line saying that he didn’t get a win until he was 30 years old, I thought to myself, “That’s GOT to be Dazzy Vance! And I was right!!!! What do I win?

    That’s quite a story about the poker and the bone chips (as WELL as the POKER chips!) It does, however, sound a little apocryphal. I wonder. Also, I wonder if the catcher, Duberry, REALLY wouldn’t accept being in the major leagues unless his pal, Dazzy Vance, went with him. It sounds a little bit like the plot from “Bang The Drum Slowly.”

    But it’s still a super story!

    Whenever I see my 1970 Sandy Vance baseball card (also a pitcher, and also for the Dodgers), I think of DAZZY Vance. And vice versa. You would think that he would have been a hall of famer with a name like THAT. First name: Sandy. Pitched for the Dodgers. (Think Koufax). Last name: Vance. Pitched for the Dodgers. (Think Dazzy)!

    But, then again, I’m not the SHARPEST knife in the drawer!

    Now, about your next addition to the “most unappreciated hall of famers” thing. Let me take a guess. Ted Lyons? He’s definitely been ignored.

    It’s a SUPER idea for an article, Bill. I never thought of anything like that. I’ve just thought of people who DON’T deserve to be in the Hall of Fame and those who DO who AREN’T. (I am a rabid supporter of Minnie Minoso getting in there, as I’ve mentioned before. And he really DOES belong. I can’t figure out why he hasn’t made it.)

    Glen

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