The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Is the Wrong Giants First Baseman in the Hall of Fame?

A while back, I asked the question, “Is the Wrong Red Sox Outfielder in the Hall of Fame?”  This is a follow-up of sorts, though the intent is not necessarily to turn this into a new series.  Nevertheless, I do become intrigued from time-to-time by the often haphazard approach the various Hall of Fame voting groups take to selecting their Hall of Famers.  This is one of those times.

Player A is in the Hall of Fame.  He gained entry into the Hall of Fame in his 15th-year on the ballot, receiving 77.4% of the votes cast that year.  In his first year on the ballot, he received just 4% of the vote, but there was apparently no rule at the time that a player must receive at least 5% to remain on the ballot.

Player A spent his entire career with the Giants.  He batted and threw left-handed.  He was a Southerner.  He stood 6’1″ and weighed 200 pounds.

Player B is not in the Hall of Fame, having fallen off the ballot in his first year of eligibility when he received 4.4%, a bit more than did Player A on his first year on the ballot.  But as it stands today, if a player doesn’t receive 5% of the ballot, he drops off the ballot.

Player B spent the first half of his career as a Giant, and it is the team he is still primarily associated with.  He batted and threw left-handed.  He, too, was a Southerner.  He stood 6’2″ and weighed 190 pounds.

Now let’s compare their respective career statistics:

Player A:                            Player B:

Career Hits – 2,193          Career Hits – 2,176

Doubles – 373                    Doubles – 440

Triples – 112                      Triples – 47

Home Runs – 154              Home Runs – 284

RBI – 1,078                        RBI – 1,205

Runs – 1,120                      Runs – 1,186

Batting Average – .341    Batting Average – .303

On-Base % – .393            On-Base % – .384

Slugging % – .506             Slugging % – .497

OPS – .899                        OPS – .880

OPS+ – 136                       OPS+ – 137

Walks – 537                      Walks – 937

Strikeouts – 449               Strikeouts – 1,190

WAR – 54.2                       WAR – 56.2

As you can see, they were close in a few statistical categories, and each “won” seven categories.  If you throw in their respective Black Ink scores, which indicates the number of times a player led his league in a statistic in a particular season, Player A scored a 12, while Player B scored a 13.

Neither player won an MVP award.  Player A finished third twice in the voting, while Player B once finished runner-up in the voting.

So, have you guessed the identities of each of these players?

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Bill Ter...

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Bill Terry of the New York Giants #20. PD-not renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Player A is Bill Terry.

Player B is Will Clark.

If you think Terry’s .341 career batting average should give him the edge, keep in mind that Terry won just a single batting title in his career, and generally played in a much hitter-friendlier era than did Clark.

It appears to me that if one of them is in the Hall of Fame, then so, too, should be the other.  Whether you believe either of them belongs in the HOF is another matter.

But it does raise the question as to whether or not the 5% rule should be abandoned.

After all, clearly a player’s stature can grow significantly over time, as it did with Bill Terry (not to mention Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice, and several other Hall of Famers.)

 

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inning of 12 August 1992 game between San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Game boxscore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Is the Wrong Giants First Baseman in the Hall of Fame?

  1. Frankly, if you say both should be in, I’d say “fine.” If you say neither should be in, I’d also say “fine.” If I had to pick one, I’d pick Will because a) I think his best years are a little better than Terry’s b) he was a better player for more years and c) I think he played in tougher era.

    What I wnat to know is this–how the hell can you hit over .400 and still finish 7th in the league in slugging percentage?

    • I’m pretty sure that in 1930, they dispensed with pitchers altogether and simply put the ball on a tee. League batting average was an incredible .303. Terry, despite his .401 average, was probably just the 4th most valuable hitter in the league that year, behind Chuck Klein, Hack Wilson and Babe Herman. At least ten guys had on-base percentages of .425 or better, including the immortal Bernie Friberg. I, too, don’t see a great deal of difference between Clark and Terry, once you adjust for park, league and era. Neither of them were Musial, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Cobb or Wagner. They were closer to Ducky Medwick, Indian Bob Johnson and Joe Gordon. Of course, two of those three are in The Hall (along with Terry), so Clark would not be out of place, either.
      Thanks for the comment,
      Bill

  2. There’s gotta be more to getting into the HOF than just accumulating good ratio stats on the far right-hand side of your Baseball Reference page. Bert Blyleven’s election makes a ton of sense from a sabermetrics standpoint, for those who discovered his career in baseball research books long after he retired; but very little sense for people who actually grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, when he was merely considered a “very good” pitcher. Clark is similar to Blyleven.

    Terry was a 3-time All-Star — the first three years they had a game (’33/34/35) and he retired after ’36. He had six top-10 MVP finishes and batted .293 across 3 World Series. He batted .341 in his career at a time when that was a premiere stat.

    The “4% HOF in his first year” is VERY misleading — his first year of voting was 1936, the first year of voting *period*, and included a bunch of guys still active (like Lou Gehrig) in addition to Terry. Literally a zillion future HOF’ers lost the vote that first year. HOF voting was not annual until several years later. When Clark finally got in, in 1954, look who DIDN’T make it on the same ballot– Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg! I wouldn’t use the delay in Terry’s admission as a knock against Terry personally. The vote was just different back then.

    Clark was very good, but was not “the” first baseman in the NL when he played there (in the way that Terry was). He made five playoffs but only one World Series. He had some very good years but, as someone said above, was not the “legend” Terry was.

    Returning to the sabermetrics argument… Bill James had proposed some HOF “tests” in one of his lesser-read books from 20 years ago (“The Politics of Glory”). Without actually answering the questions myself, I’d suspect Terry passes those tests but Clark does not. Even though the far-right side of their Baseball Reference pages contain similar numbers.

    (Although, B-R has Terry’s “HOF Monitor” as 169, and Clark’s as…. 84).

    • Hi Jason. You make some good points on what it means to be a HOF’er, relative to Clark and Terry. I would say we’re dealing with two different, though related, issues here. One is “What is a true Hall of Famer?” That question can be and will be debated forever, but I do agree with you that it can’t be quite as simple as what a given player’s WAR or OPS+ happens to be. The esteem they were held in when they were actually playing, along with, let’s face it, at least some traditional counting stats, will always be part of the equation.
      On that score, aside from Terry’s era-inflated .341 career batting average, neither player clearly accumulated the typical counting stats that are often associated with Hall-of-Fame deserving players. Neither came close to 3,000 hits or 500 homers, for example. Nor did either ever reach the iconic status we associate with the likes of Ruth, Mays, Mantle, Musial, Aaron, Cobb, or several others who might be defined by some as the “inner-circle” Hall of Famers. Terry was well-respected in his day, but I’m not sure I’d say he reached legendary status.
      Moreover, the nature of what it means to be “legendary” has certainly changed a great deal over the past half-century. Terry played at a time and in a place when sportswriters, and an eager public, were constantly seeking to generate new heroes. Now, we live in a far more cynical era when the idea of heroes / legends is seen as quaint and anachronistic.
      Which brings us to the second question, which is can we really determine which of the two players was clearly better than the other? For that, we have little choice but to take into consideration modern metrics like WAR or OPS+. Another way of saying it is, if Will Clark played in the N.L. in Terry’s era, and Terry played in the N.L. in Clark’s era, is it likely that one player or the other would be revealed as truly dominant? Based on the more modern metrics, I just don’t see it. Clark was probably the best first baseman in the N.L. for about six seasons, from 1987-92, and remained an above-average player for several seasons after that. Terry was probably the best N.L. first baseman in his era for around six or seven years in the late ’20’s and early ’30’s, but appeared to burn out all at once. Both were very fine hitters, but Terry never once led the league in offensive WAR, while Clark managed to do so just once.
      As for the 5% rule, my point was basically that if you dispensed with it altogether, we might be surprised a decade or so later to discover that the stature of certain players grew exponentially over time. Terry was on a crowded ballot for years, (and you’re correct in pointing out that HOF voting by the BBWAA didn’t occur every season back then), but it’s also worth pointing out that while Terry languished on the ballot, players like Pie Traynor, Frankie Frisch and Herb Pennock were each inducted by the BBWAA while Terry continued to be passed over. It’s also possible, of course, that Will Clark could have remained on the ballot for 40 years, and never have sniffed HOF induction.
      You mention Bill James’ book, “The Politics of Glory” which I found to be a fine read many years ago. In another book of his, “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” published around a dozen years ago, James writes of Terry: “…one of the more overrated players in baseball history,” and refers to him as a cold, sarcastic man. On Will Clark, he writes, “Clark was a truly great player…from 1987 through 1992. The numbers weren’t nearly as big as they are now, and Clark played in Candlestick, where fly balls go to get frostbite.” James ranked Clark as the 14th best first baseman of all-time, and Terry as the 26th best first baseman ever. Not to say that that’s the definitive final answer here, but it’s just something to kick around.
      Anyway, great conversation here. As always, I’m glad you’ve joined the discussion.
      Thanks, Bill

  3. Unfortunatly election to the HOF is more a popularity contest than a selection of the most deserving, based on individual contribution. What’s more tragic is today where we have a more complete set of tools for determining qualified individuals,…the writers continue to use outdated thinking when casting their ballots. Either they become more versed in the analytics, or turn the job over to SABR. On a related comparison, Tom Glavine was recently elected to the Hall, when anyone who follows the game closely knows that Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown made a superior contribution during their careers than did Tom,…but will not be elected because they did not compile the counting stats that Glavine was able to achieve. We still haven’t learned our lesson after the past elections of Don Sutton, Early Wynn, and gulp! Catfish Hunter! The list is endless…if I hear another argument why Jack Morris should be in the Hall, I will scream! 🙂 Seriously,…Dave Stieb among others were far more deserving, although they will never see the HOF nor should Jack

    Great comparison between Bill and Will,…the difficult issue with comparisons between eras is the contribution of players in the context of their peers

    Regards

    • Hi, yes, there has always been a personality component that has been part of HOF voting (as with many other kinds of voting), and that will probably never change. I do think that incremental change, as far as modern statistical evaluations are concerned, will take place over time. But The Hall is also just a museum, and as such, people will always have their favorites. Catfish’s numbers, for example, do not now seem so impressive, but there’s no doubt that he was and remains a legendary player in baseball lore. No one from my generation who followed baseball does not know who Catfish Hunter was. So be it. But The Hall has always been a work in progress, and maybe that’s ultimately for the best, even if the process seldom appears fair or rational.
      Thanks very much for the comment, and for reading my blog.
      -Bill

  4. I’m confused about the HOF criteria, and frankly, I’ve given up. I really don’t give a shit anymore. Will sure brings back a lot of memories of my best friend in elementary school though. He was Giants and I was A’s. He was Will Clark and I was Mark McGwire. Neither of them will probably make the Hall, all but perpetuating its reputation with 30 somethings as a joke and a shrug of the shoulders.

    • Gary, You’re probably right about The Hall becoming gradually irrelevant among people under 45 or so. Seems like baseball in general has two demographics (and I know I’m over-generalizing here), older guys like myself, and little tee-ball tykes who go out to the game with their parents who don’t actually bother watching the game, but like the idea of an afternoon out in the sun, checking the box on an imaginary list that they have properly done something that all parents are supposed to do every once in a while.
      The Byzantine HOF voting process certainly can’t compete with modern standards and expectations of entertainment, which is why I think the HOF will gradually become a cloistered ruin populated by dusty old guys in tunics who shy away from sunlight, lighting votive candles in front of the Holy Relic of a Honus Wagner finger-bone.

  5. I’m probably repeating myself, but HOF voting seems so effected by trends. Terry was already the 6th first baseman who got elected and I wonder if at some point, the trend became “hey, a 1B has to hit more home runs.” Terry snuck in before the expectation changed and Clarke and Mattingly and Keith Hernandez didn’t hit enough home runs and so they were overlooked while Kirby Pucket and Roberto Alomar got in. It’s all about real estate, don’t ya think? as in Position Position Position matters. It’s a messed up system, but a great bass line to riff off.

    • Hey Steve, I think you’re right about trends in voting. It does take a while for the mind-set of what a proper player for each position should be like. For example, for many years, the ideal shortstop was a light-hitting, slick-fielding type like Luis Aparicio, which is part of why Ozzie Smith was able to make it into The Hall. Then along came Cal Ripkin, Jr., and the perception of what a shortstop could / (now should) do has also changed. Thing about first base, though, is people will probably always prefer the big-boppers.
      You know, I think one reason why there are so few third-basemen in The Hall is that there has never been any consensus on what a “proper” third baseman should look like (aside from the obvious like Mike Schmidt.) But is a third baseman an infielder akin to a second baseman, or is he more properly a first baseman who just happens to play on the opposite corner of the infield?
      Take care,
      Bill

      • i did a quick count. 16 3B and 20 2B with 4 2B getting in between 1989 and 1991; Shoendist, Morgan, LAzerri and Carew. Sounds like one of those trends. I wonder if someone like Ozzie Smith could ever get in again? As you mentioned, Ripken raised the bar and Schmidt for 3B and maybe Morgan for 2B.

        I still don’t entirely grasp WAR, so I’m hesitant to make this comment, but maybe players like Hernandez and Mattingly will be more recognized as HOF’ers as more comprehensive evaluation statistics become the criteria.

      • As they say in the tootsie-pop commercial, “The world may never know.”

      • with metrics, the world already knows and it makes Gary’s reflections and your follow up ring kind of true.

  6. I presume the trifecta of a .341 batting average, hitting .400 in 1930, and being a teammate of Frankie Frisch all helped get Terry into the Hall. I seem to remember that the last half of Clark’s career was considered something of a disappointment because of the injuries. I wonder how much that hurt his HofF chances.

    I understand your point about the 5% rule, but wonder how much getting rid of the vote for only 10 rule would change the percentages. Frankly, I don’t see why a player can’t stay on the ballot any time he gets a single vote. What? The writers can’t read a long ballot?
    v

    • I think you’re right about the era-inflated batting average, and having been a teammate of Frisch’s, being the primary reasons for Terry eventually making it into The Hall. I think the two things that hurt Will Clark the most were that 1) players who move from one team to another a couple of times while still in the prime of their careers seem to be viewed less affectionately than players who play primarily or exclusively with one team, maybe moving on only at the tail-end of their careers. I think that’s what hurt Fred McGriff’s chances as well. The other thing that hurt Clark’s chances is that the bias regarding first basemen is that they should be prodigious home-run hitters. People tend to view “proper” first basemen as the Willie McCovey / Harmon Killebrew types rather than the Keith Hernandez / Will Clark sorts.
      Clark’s numbers (at least as measured by OPS+, for example), were actually pretty strong even after he left San Fran. Injuries did cut into his numbers a bit as time went on, but then again, Willie Stargell never reached 150 games played in any single season in his career. But again, Stargell fits the model of what people have come to expect from a first baseman. Big, strong and a constant threat to hit a mammoth home run. (Perhaps that’s also part of why Frank Thomas is already in the HOF, and Jeff Bagwell is still awaiting induction.)
      I also agree with you that the ten-player limit on voting should also be scrapped.
      Thanks, as always,
      Bill

      • i spoke too soon about 1B expectation of power. i never understood the trend. It all depends on the team that’s surrounding him. Lyle Overbay never ht home runs, but he could field rela well and hit doubles like he was playing at spacious polo grounds, but when it comes to elite 1B, yeh, then it makes sense. Give me the power for the HOF.

      • Then there’s also Jon Olerud, who was a helluva hitter, and a nice-fielding first baseman as well.

      • Being a lefty, I found Olerud to be the best guy to watch and emulate as a kid. He knew the strike zone like Votto does today and he was from Hendrix hometown Seattle. I’d make a pilgrimage to the northwest for a Hendrix Olerud ceremony of some sort.

      • Cito Gaston tried to turn Olerud into a pure power hitter, but Olerud wisely resisted. He was definitely underrated. As for Seattle, Bruce Lee is buried there, so now you have three reasons to visit the city.

      • there’s a holy trifecta. Bruce Lee seemed like a shortstop. Olerud is already on first. Jimmy had to be a pitcher, probably in the American league. The bat would have melted in his hands

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