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Archive for the tag “Baseball Writers Association of America”

The Baseball Hall of Fame Vote (Or, Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship)

Normally, when a ship is about to smash itself upon the craggy coast of, say, a nineteenth century New England village during a nor’easter, the black rats aboard would be wily enough to read the warning signs in time to jump ship and attempt to save themselves by swimming through the swells.

Not so, apparently, with the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA), America’s last bastion of discomfiting morality.  Just as the S.S. Hall Ballot 2013 set sail, the BBWAA rats began to puncture holes in their own vessel, now listing dangerously to port-side before they’d even left port.  And more of them  continue to climb aboard,  though it should be obvious by now that their (nautical) position, (like Dave Kingman playing third base), is untenable.

How else to account for the inevitable shipwreck-of-a-ballot being buffeted around like a latter-day Pequod doing battle with the GREAT WHITE WHALE of our time, steroids?

Wait a minute.  Aren’t the writers — those sportswriters lucky enough to actually receive a ballot (in a newspaper industry, mind you, with about as much of a future as a harpooner) — simply supposed to vote for the best players of the past decade or so whose names now appear on ballot?  When did the baseball writers, an old-time boys club not to be mistaken for a boy’s choir, become the Maginot Line of virtue in our society?

Yet moralize they will once their ballots are submitted on January 9th.
Some of them will tell you it’s simply wrong to allow cheaters into The Hall of Fame even though plenty of cheaters are already in there.  They will argue that to let in a Barry Bonds or a Roger Clemens will turn the Hall’s Plaque Room into an atrocity, akin to burying Napoleon’s remains in Westminster Abbey (well, they probably won’t come up with that one, I suppose, though they’ll wish they had.)

Yet the Hall has withstood the induction of a KKK member, Tris Speaker, as well as the enshrinement of such other virulent racists as Cap Anson and Ty Cobb, to name just two of probably many.

Gaylord Perry was an admitted cheater.  He even wrote a popular book about cheating called, “Me and the Spitter.”

 Leo Durocher, while managing the Giants in ’51, had his players utilize a complex set of mirrors and a German-made telescope to steal the signs of opposing pitchers in the second half of the ’51 season, up to and including  the pennant deciding game in which Bobby Thomson probably knew what Ralph Branca was about to throw before he hit the legendary (probably tainted) home run.

Don Sutton and Whitey Ford were said by many to have regularly scuffed the ball.

And as for Performance Enhancing Drugs, “Greenies” don’t count?  Mike Schmidt and Hank Aaron were both admitted users of “Greenies” and Willie Mays probably used them as well.  “Greenies” have been specifically banned from baseball since 1971.  They might not have enabled a player to hit a ball further or to throw it harder, but they did allow the player to continue to perform at peak performance when their body otherwise might not have been able to.  That is the same purpose for which  Mark McGwire claims to have used PED’s.

Meanwhile, even if none of those reasons impress you very much or cause you to take a second look at PED use, consider this.  It’s probable that at least one or two PED users are already in The Hall.  The taint has probably already occurred.  If PED use really began to manifest itself in the Majors in the early to mid-1980’s, this means that for around twenty years now, the BBWAA has been inducting players who could conceivably have used PED’s.  Given the large number of stars who’ve now been linked to PED’s (either by leak, personal admission, or circumstantial evidence) over the past 20 years, is it inconceivable that some of their peers already in The Hall might also have been users?

Consider, as well, that the despite the “best” intentions of the BBWAA over the next decade, almost certainly at least a couple more PED users will be enshrined.  The alternative is that NO players will be enshrined, and despite the Baseball HOF’s best efforts at appearing Regal and Above the Fray on this issue, no organization will squawk louder than The Hall will when NO player is inducted into The Hall for several years running.

We’re talking big bucks on the line here for The Hall’s big, annual Induction Weekend.  No induction, no big crowds.  No big crowds, a lot less money coming into the town coffers.  (Current Hall Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, whose family owns just about all that is worth owning in Cooperstown, would not be happy about that.)

Finally, there is the long-term issue of the continued relevance and viability of a HOF which excludes virtually all of the significant record holders and award winners of an entire generation of players.  Consider List A and List B, for a moment:
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List A:

Tommy McCarthy
George “High Pockets” Kelly
Rick Ferrell
Lloyd Waner
Jesse Haines
Freddie Lindstrom
Chick Hafey
Herb Pennock
Jim Bottomley
Ray Schalk
Rube Marquard
Elmer Flick
Ross Youngs
Kiki Cuyler
Joe Kelley

That’s a list of 15 players who are actually in the HOF.
Now let’s take a look at List B:
Barry Bonds
Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Roger Clemens
Sammy Sosa
Larry Walker
Mark McGwire
Craig Biggio
Edgar Martinez
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell
Kenny Lofton
Curt Schilling
Fred McGriff
Lee Smith

Virtually every player on List B is better than every player on list A, yet there’s a very real chance that NONE of the players on List B will be elected this year, and that perhaps only 2 or 3 will be elected in coming years.  Granted, not all of these players suffer from the scarlet letter of Steroids.

Yet, from both a historical standpoint as well as from a perspective of pure entertainment, obviously far more fans (despite their misgivings about any particular player) would prefer to visit Hall Plaque Room B over Hall Plaque Room A.  And certainly the players on List B were both more talented and, therefore, more Hall-worthy than List A.  So, the question arises, how irrelevant do we want to allow The Hall of Fame to become?

Which players from List B (and let’s add Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, and Don Mattingly to round out our ballot) would you vote for?  Remember, you can vote for up to ten players.  Which ones would you choose not to vote for, and why?

Happy New Year,
Bill Miller

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 6

When last we reviewed the inductees into the baseball Hall of Fame, we observed that during the decade of the 1980’s, Hall of Fame voters did a reasonably nice job with their choices.  Certainly, compared to the 1970’s and to some other previous decades we’ve looked at before, the 1980’s was something approaching a Golden Age for the Hall of Fame.

And a Golden Age for the HOF is what we’ve been looking for all along.  Has the baseball Hall of Fame, as some writers and fans seem to believe, ever enjoyed an era when only the best of the best were inducted?

In Parts 1-5 in this series, what we have found is that in virtually every decade outside of the 1930’s, the voters have made some highly questionable –in some cases just plain terrible– choices for the Hall of Fame.

Yet the decade of the 1980’s, in which only a couple of really poor choices were made, offers reason for hope that HOF voting is finally on its way to reaching that much spoken of, yet mysteriously elusive, Golden Age.

So let’s now turn to the 1990’s and see if the voters continued to build on this momentum, or if, instead, they reverted to form.  And once again, BBWAA is the Baseball Writers Association of America, while the V.C. is the Veteran’s Committee, a motley assortment of scruffy little elves who live in the bowels of the Hall of Fame.

Major League Baseball player Joe Morgan of the...

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1990:  BBWAA – Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer

Despite the fact that former 10 time All-Star and two-time N.L. MVP  second baseman Joe Morgan often embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth as an announcer, he was one of top three greatest  second baseman of all time.  Ironically, despite his own egregious examples of ignorance regarding modern baseball statistics, it is precisely sabermetrics that holds Morgan’s career in highest regard.

Morgan’s career WAR of 103.5 is 20th best all-time among position players.  His career OPS+ of 132 rates him as high as Tony Gwynn and Al Simmons.  Otherwise, Morgan was just a career .271 hitter who never reached 200 hits, 40 doubles, or 300 total bases in a season.

So you see, Joe, sabermetrics are your best friend, if you would just stop talking long enough to allow the oxygen to enter your brain.

Jim Palmer was the ace of the Orioles pitching staffs once upon a time, but I remember him better, perhaps unfairly so, as the man who modeled underwear in magazines.  My own favorite pitcher of the era, Tom Seaver, modeled three-piece suits while pretending to throw fastballs (tacky, I admit, but at least he kept his pants on.)

1991:  BBWAA – Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Gaylord Perry  V.C.  Tony Lazzeri 

Busy year for The Hall.  Carew, Jenkins and Perry are all laudable choices.  Carew was one of the finest natural hitters of all-time.  He was voted onto every All-Star team from 1967-1984.  Carew won seven batting titles.  Strangely, despite all the times he reached base, only once did he top 100 runs scored in a season.

Jenkins, perhaps the greatest Canadian-born player in Major League history, reached 20 wins in a season seven times.  His career WAR of 81.3 is 20th best all-time among pitchers.

Perry topped 300 wins while leading the league in wins three times with three different teams.  He won two Cy Young awards (one in each league), and is 10th on the career WAR list for pitchers at 96.3.  One of the last of the spit-ball pitchers, it is interesting to me that MLB picks the rules it chooses to either ignore or enforce, apparently based on no particular guidelines other than will this be bad for P.R.?

English: 1933 Goudey card of Tony Lazzeri of t...

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Tony Lazzeri was a slugging second baseman for the Yankees in the 1920’s and ’30’s.  His huge RBI totals have led many to believe that he is one of the all-time greats at his position.  Between 1926-36, he topped 100 RBI seven times, and reached a .300 batting average five times.

His overall game, however, was simply good, but not great.  His career OPS+ of 120, and career WAR of 48.3 reveal a player who was, and remains generally overrated, though certainly not merely average.  A flawed, if somewhat defensible choice for The Hall.

1992:  BBWAA – Rollie Fingers, Tom Seaver  V.A.  Hal Newhouser 

Are you old enough to remember when the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year was a new award?  Do you remember when closers were called “fireman?”  Do you remember when these “fireman” used to regularly pitch over 100 innings per season?

Enter Rollie Fingers.  The Rolaids Relief award was created in 1976, and Fingers then went on to win the award four times, as well as a Cy Young and A.L. MVP award in 1981 for the Brewers.  He topped 100 innings in a season eleven times, and made five All-Star games.  He was most famous, of course, for his handlebar mustache while pitching for the great A’s teams of the 1970’s.

Some have argued that Fingers was a bit overrated, and that his reputation far exceeded his statistical excellence.  My response to that is, I’d like to care, but these are closers we are talking about, a position that just doesn’t interest me.  The “Save” stat is one of the most bogus of any major sport.  Therefore, if we have to put relief pitchers in The Hall, I’ll take the one with the best mustache.

Tom Seaver:  A reasonable argument can be made that Tom Seaver was the greatest pitcher of all time.

Hal Newhouser won consecutive MVP awards while pitching for the Detroit Tigers in 1944-45.  Incredibly, he also finished second in MVP voting in 1946.  Over a five-year period, 1944-48, he led the league in wins four times, averaging 25 wins per season during those four years.  His WAR of 56.3 (better than Whitey Ford) and his career ERA+ of 130 are HOF worthy.

English: Reggie Jackson signs with the New Yor...

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1993:  BBWAA – Reggie Jackson

Mr. October was one of the most conceited, brash, exciting and controversial baseball players ever.  In a way few other athletes have ever been able to do (Muhammad Ali comes to mind), Reggie Jackson could regularly back up his words with his performance.  Sure, he struck out a ton, but first in Oakland, then especially in New York City, Reggie defined the meaning of the word Super-Star.

If Reggie Jackson is not a Hall of Famer, then no one is.

1994:  BBWAA – Steve Carlton, V.C.  Phil Rizzuto

Steve Carlton had a running feud with the press.  Phil Rizzuto became a member of the press after he retired from baseball.  Carlton got into The Hall despite his poor relationship with the media. Rizzuto got into The Hall primarily because he worked in the media.  Carlton was a great pitcher who belongs in The Hall.  Phil Rizzuto was a decent shortstop who had one great year but who clearly does not belong in the HOF.  The BBWAA got it right, the V.C. got it wrong.

1995:  BBWAA – Mike Schmidt  V.C.  Richie Ashburn, Vic Willis

Eight-time Home Run champ, three-time N.L. MVP, ten time Gold Glove winner Mike Schmidt was the greatest third baseman in MLB history.  What I’ve never understood is how Pie Traynor of the old 1920’s and ’30’s Pirates was widely considered the best third baseman in history until Schmidt came along.  Anyone ever hear of a guy named Eddie Mathews?

Richie Ashburn played center field for the Phillies in the late ’40’s and into the ’50’s before finishing his career with the Cubs and the ’62 Mets.  Although he hit with very little power, he was an on-base machine, played hard, and was a Gold Glove caliber outfielder.  He knew what his job was, and he always did it well.  Solid choice for the HOF.

English: Portrait of former MLB pitcher Vic Wi...

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Vic Willis played in the National League the last two years of the 19th century, then 11 more in the 20th century.  He topped 20 wins eight times in 13 years, but he never led the league in wins.  He did, however, lead the league in losses twice, reaching a high of 29 losses for the terrible Boston Beaneaters in 1905.  His 249-205 record does not scream Hall of Famer, nor does his ERA+ of 118.  Still, he is at least a half-way defensible choice, if not an obvious one.

But what the hell was he doing wearing a catcher’s mask in this picture?  Looks a little creepy, doesn’t he?

1996:  V.C.  Jim Bunning

As a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Jim Bunning was not one of my favorite people. As a pitcher, though, Jim Bunning probably does belong in the HOF.

Career record: 224-184, ERA 3.27, ERA+ 114, WAR: 60.1.

1997:  BBWAA – Phil Niekro  V.C.  Nellie Fox

The knuckleball is one goofy pitch, but if you are the best knuckleballer of all time (96.3 WAR), you gotta belong in The Hall.  Niekro topped 300 wins over the course of a quarter century of baseball.  He led the league in complete games and innings pitched four times each, and in wins twice.  Pitching for some horrific Braves teams, he also led the league in losses for four straight years, 1977-80.

For whatever reason, there were a lot of pitchers who came up in the late 1960’s and pitched well into the ’80’s, tossing an enormous amount of innings along the way:  Seaver, Carlton, Blyleven, Perry, Niekro, John, Kaat, Sutton, Ryan, etc.

I’m not sure why that is, but I have a hunch that, as the Great Depression and World War II wound down, the average caloric intake and overall nutritional improvement (more protein, for example), in the diet of the youth of that era played an underrated role in the size, strength and stamina of these future Major League pitchers.  Knuckleballs and spitballs aside, this was one durable generation.

English: Chicago White Sox second baseman . Le...

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Nellie Fox had a girl’s name (sounds like a leading lady from the silent film era), but he played one helluva second base.  Fox just missed election by the BBWAA (74.7 percent) in his last year on the ballot in 1985, so give credit to the V.C. for correcting that oversight.

Fox led his league in assists six times, and, beginning in 1952, he led the league in putouts ten consecutive years.  His career d WAR: 10.0, is among the top ten all-time among second basemen, and he won three Gold Gloves.  Made every All-Star team from 1951-63.  Despite over 10,000 plate appearances, he never struck out as many as 20 times in one season.  Won A.L. MVP honors in 1959 for the Go-Go White Sox.  There’s enough there for induction into the HOF.

1998:  BBWAA – Don Sutton  V.C.  George Davis

Don Sutton snuck up on us.  In his first decade as a Dodgers pitcher, he was recognized as one of the most consistently good pitchers in the N.L., but few people would have guessed that one day, he would make the Hall of Fame.

In his 23-year career, Sutton never led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, or strikeouts.  He led the league in ERA just once.  He never won a Cy Young award (although five times he finished in the top five.)  But only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan started more games than Sutton, only six pitchers in history threw more innings, and Sutton stands at #7 on the all-time strikeout list with 3,574, two places ahead of Walter Johnson.

Sutton compiled a 324-256 record, despite enjoying just one 20-win season.  Sutton was never the best pitcher in the league, but, cumulatively, he was one of the best starting pitchers who ever lived.

English: George Davis, Major League Baseball H...

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George Davis broke in as a 19-year old outfielder with a terrible Cleveland Spiders team (44-88) in 1890.  Eventually, he shifted to third base, then shortstop (the reverse of the usual pattern) and got traded to the Giants, where he wound down the 19th century.  He finished out his career in the early aught’s of the 20th century with the White Sox.

Along the way, he amassed 2,665 hits, 1,545 runs scored, 619 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 121.  His career WAR was an outstanding 90.7.  He was the best player in the A.L. in 1905.

He also might just be the finest baseball player in history that almost no one has ever heard of.

1999:  BBWAA – George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount  V.C.  Orlando Cepeda

Are you kidding me?  This group has to go down as one of the finest in the history of the Hall of Fame.

The first thing that comes to mind about George Brett is how, when Yankees manager Billy Martin protested that Brett’s bat had too much pine tar on it in a game at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, the umpire ruled that the home run Brett just hit in the top of the ninth to put the Royals ahead was null and void.  Brett came storming out of the dugout like a wild man.

The umpire’s decision was later overruled by the A.L. President, the game was resumed, and the Royals later won the game three weeks later.

Brett also made an improbable run at becoming the first hitter to bat .400 since Ted Williams in 1941 when he finished with a .390 average in 1980.  Brett hit at least .300 eleven times, winning three batting titles along the way (his last in 1990 when he was already 37-years old.)  Brett ranks 6th on the career doubles list with an astounding total of 665, and he lashed 3,154 hits in his career. An obvious HOF’er.

How great was Nolan Ryan?  His 5,714 strikeouts are a record that I can’t ever see being broken.  He surpassed the great Walter Johnson’s once hallowed career strikeout total by over 2,000 strikeouts!  Ryan led his league in strikeouts a ridiculous eleven times, threw a record seven no-hitters and is tied with Bob Feller for the most one-hitters with 12.

Ryan’s 6.6 hits / 9 innings is the lowest (therefore, the best) rate in baseball history.  No one, including Sandy Koufax, was harder to hit.  Ryan also won 324 games in his career.  His 61 shutouts are tied with Tom Seaver for seventh place in baseball history.

Yet Ryan never won a Cy Young award.  He also never led the league in wins, but he did once lead the league in losses.  His career walk total, 2,795, is 50% higher than any other starting pitcher in baseball history.    In fact, he walked more batters in his career than Walter Johnson and Cy Young combined.

Ryan’s 292 career losses are the third most ever, and his .526 won-loss percentage is rather low by HOF standards.  His career ERA+ of 112 is the same as Derek Lowe, Juan Guzman and the immortal Ice Box Chamberlain.  Ryan’s career WAR of 84.8, is 16th best among pitchers.

Although it is somewhat difficult to gauge exactly where Ryan rates among the game’s greatest pitchers because he is so unique, I think it is safe to say he does not belong in the top ten.  Placing him in the middle or lower half of the top 20 sounds about right.

English: Major League Baseball Hall of Famer R...

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Robin Yount is the greatest player in Milwaukee Brewers team history.  Just an 18-year old kid when he came up in 1974, he played his entire 20-year career with the Brewers.  He was their starting shortstop through 1984, then at age 29 he moved into the outfield.

Yount is the Brewer’s all-time leader in at bats (11,008), hits (3,142), runs scored (1,632), doubles (583), triples (126), home runs (yes, home runs, 251), RBI (1,406), total bases (4,730), and WAR (76.9).  He also won two A.L. MVP awards.  He obviously belongs in the HOF.

Orlando (Baby Bull) Cepeda, the V.C.’s HOF offering for 1999, had one of the greatest starts to his career of any ballplayer in history.  Beginning at age 20 in 1958, Cepeda drove in at least 96 runs in each of his first seven years for the S.F. Giants, averaging nearly 32 homers per year while regularly batting over .300.  Yet he enjoyed only a couple of excellent years after that run, and he was essentially done as a ballplayer by age 33.

Cepeda was voted Rookie of the Year in 1958, and he won the 1967 N.L. MVP award.  His career WAR, 46.8, is a bit on the low side.  But during his peak years in his 20’s, he was one of the best players in the National League.  While his induction into the HOF can be viewed as questionable, it was not wholly undeserved.

The 1990’s, then, were the best overall decade for the HOF since the 1930’s.  Fully 83% of the players elected during this decade were very solid choices, and only one, Phil Rizzuto, was obviously a poor choice.

If, then, you are looking for the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame, the recent 1990’s might be your era.

Next time, in Part 7 of this series, we’ll look at HOF elections during the first decade of the 21st century.  Then we’ll see if we can draw any conclusions as we sift through the final overall numbers of Hall membership.

See the links below if you want to take a look at any of the first five installments of this series.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 5

Welcome back to our quixotic quest to find the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame.  Up to this point, we have found that no such animal exists.

There were fewer players elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1980’s than there had been in the 1970’s, and, in general there was some improvement in the caliber of the players inducted.  As we concluded in Part 4 of this series, fewer than half of the former MLB players inducted into The Hall in the ’70’s were excellent choices, and some of the players chosen during that decade were just plain embarrassing.

So let’s turn to the decade of spandex and leg warmers, and take a closer look at HOF voting patterns.

Once again, for those of you scoring at home (or for those of you just reading this blog), BBWAA stands for Baseball Writers Association of America.  V.C. are the initials for the Veteran’s Committee.

1980:  BBWAA – Al Kaline, Duke Snider  V.C.  Chuck Klein

English: Brooklyn Dodgers centerfielder .

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Kaline and Snider are a fine pair of stars, much beloved in their respective baseball hometowns, Detroit and Brooklyn.    When they were on the field, and you were at the park, all was right with the world, or soon would be.

Funny thing about these two great players, neither one of them won an MVP award.  Kaline, who just missed 400 career home runs by one, never hit 30-home runs in a season.  Snider, on the other hand, reached 40 home runs in five consecutive years.

Yet Snider hit only eight more homers in his career than Kaline.  Kaline was the better defensive outfielder (16.3 WAR to -2.1 WAR.)  They each led their league in hits one time.  Kaline’s career WAR (91) was better than Snider’s (67.5) though their offensive WAR’s were much more similar.  Snider’s career OPS+ 140 was better than Kaline’s 134.

Either way, you couldn’t go wrong.

Chuck Klein was a fantastic player with the Phillies for five years from 1929-33, during which he won an MVP award and finished 2nd in the voting twice.  During each of those five seasons, he amassed at least 200 hits and scored over 100 runs.  He also led the N.L. in home runs and total bases four times each.

His career started to go downhill fast after age 32, and his career WAR (39.2) is on the low side, but his career OPS+ of 137 is highly respectable and, it’s worth noting, is the same as three players who came later:  Jack Clark, Will Clark and Reggie Smith.

Overall, despite a mediocre career WAR, Chuck Klein belongs in The Hall.

1981:  BBWAA – Bob Gibson  V.C.  Johnny Mize

I am proud to say that in the year of my high school graduation, the HOF added two worthy inductees.  Bob Gibson is a no-brainer.  What surprises me is that somehow it fell to the Veteran’s Committee to induct Johnny Mize.  How did the BBWAA miss this one?

How does a ten-time All-Star (who also missed three of his prime years to WWII), who led his league in home runs four times not crack 45% of the vote?  Mize accumulated a WAR of 70.2, and his OPS+ was an outstanding 158, the same as Hank Greenberg.

To my knowledge, Mize is the only player in history who hit 50 home runs in a season (51, actually) who struck out fewer than 50 times (42) in that same year.  Mize was a great player.  Kudos to the V.C. for inducting him into the HOF.

1982:  BBWAA – Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson  V.C.  Travis Jackson

Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson in the same year?  Are you kidding me?  Even the BBWAA wasn’t going to screw this one up.  Aaron is a top five all-time player; Robinson arguably a top ten.

If you’ve been following along in this series, then you know that the V.C. has a fetish for Giants players from the 1920’s and ’30’s.  Enter Travis Jackson, a slick-fielding, light-hitting infielder who played his entire 15-year career with the Giants during that era.

Career WAR 43.3, OPS+ 102.  Not an automatic out, but not nearly enough of a bat to justify induction into the HOF.

Thus we have the first HOF mistake of this particular decade.  I hope you Giants fans are happy.

1983:  Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson  V.C.  George Kell

True or False, a corner infielder with a .267 career batting average, who never led his league in hits, runs scored, home runs, batting average, total bases, on-base percentage or slugging percentage, but who did lead his league twice in double-plays grounded into, with a career OPS+ of 104, does not belong in The Hall?

If you said, “True,” normally, I’d have to agree with you.  But not with Brooks Robinson.  There are some players whose particular skills in one facet of the game are so utterly superior to anyone else who ever played the game, or who will ever play the game, that this aberration needs to be recognized for what it is.  True greatness.

Brooks Robinson’s career Defensive WAR (27.3) is the best Defensive WAR in Major League history.  The next closest infielder, the brilliant Ozzie Smith, comes in at 21.6 WAR.  The next best defensive third baseman on the WAR list, Buddy Bell, registered a 16.5 WAR.

Robinson, the 1964 A.L. MVP, was also the 1970 World Series MVP, a perennial All-Star, and he won 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards as well.  Brooks Robinson deserves to be in the HOF.

Juan Marichal pitched virtually his entire career (all but 13 games) with the San Francisco Giants during the 1960’s and ’70’s.  He topped 20 wins six times, leading the N.L. in wins twice.  His career WAR (64.0) is certainly HOF territory.  His career ERA+ (123) is one point better than Bob Feller’s.

Despite smashing Dodger’s catcher Johnny Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat in August, 1965, Marichal belongs in the HOF.

George Kell was a respectable third baseman with limited power (just 78 career home runs) who nevertheless made 10 All-Star teams in the ’40’s and ’50’s, and finished in the top five in MVP voting twice.  Only once did he reach 5.0 WAR in a season.  While comparisons to Carney Lansford and Bill Madlock are gratuitous, they are not unwarranted.

1984:  Luis Aparicio, Don Drysdale, Harmon Killebrew  V.C.  Rick Ferrell, Pee Wee Reese

I have a theory, probably wrong, that when the economy is strong, Hall voters become more generous with their votes, and when the economy is sour, they become stingier with their votes.  If you have nothing else to do tonight, there’s a topic for you to research.

And so it was with Hall of Fame voters in 1984.  They inducted five retired players, seemingly regardless of merit or talent, into The Hall because, well, let the good times roll.

Briefly, then:

1)  Killebrew – Career WAR: 61.1,  OPS+ 143, 573 home runs, 1,584 RBI.  Nice choice.

2)  Aparicio –  Career WAR: 49.9,  OPS+ 82, 9 time stolen base leader, 9 Gold Gloves. Nice defense, but checking the numbers more closely, not Ozzie Smith nice.  That OPS+ is awful.  Questionable choice.

3)  Drysdale – Career WAR: 65.7, ERA+ 121, 209 wins, two 20-win seasons, three-time K leader, one Cy Young award.  Essentially, he was Kevin Brown with a better P.R. agent.  Check the numbers.  Good choice, if you don’t mind a relatively short peak.

4)  Ferrell – Career WAR: 22.9, OPS+ 95. One of the worst players in The HOF.

5)  Reese – Would you believe that his career WAR: 66.7, is the highest of these five players?  Frankly, I didn’t expect that.  He has the same WAR as Eddie Murray.  His OPS+ of 98 isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than Aparicio’s.  Here’s another reason Reese belongs in The Hall.  Solid choice.

1985: BBWAA – Lou Brock, Hoyt Wilhelm   V.C.  Enos Slaughter, Arky Vaughan

Lou Brock:  Let’s begin with the positive.  3,023 career hits, including four 200-hit seasons.  1,610 runs scored.  938 stolen bases, including 8 times leading the league in that category.  A record (until Rickey Henderson broke it) 118 steals in one season.  Five top-ten MVP award finishes.  Six All-Star games.

Now the bad news.

Did you know that only 20 players in history struck out more times than Lou Brock?

Did you know that Brock’s career on-base percentage (.343) is the same as Otis Nixon and Randy Winn?

Did you know that in addition to leading the league in steals 8 times, he led in times caught stealing 7 times?  Did you know that he led the league in errors made by an outfielder 7 times, and that his career Defensive WAR was -4.8?

Brock’s career WAR was only 39.1, and his OPS+ was just 109.  In retrospect, Tim Raines, for example, was a much better ball player.  Still, Brock’s positive numbers are significant enough to merit enshrinement in the HOF.  A defensible, if somewhat flawed, choice.

When Hoyt Wilhelm retired after the 1972 season at age 49, he had pitched in more games (1,070) than any man in history.  This was pretty much his claim to fame, and his ticket into Cooperstown.  Since his retirement, four other pitchers have surpassed his total.

But how good a pitcher was Wilhelm during his two decades in the Majors?

He finished his career with a record of 143-122 and 227 saves.  The modern “closer” hadn’t been invented yet, so that was a lot of saves back then, though it is worth mentioning that Wilhelm never once led his league in saves.

His career ERA+ was an impressive 147, tied with the unlikely duo of Dan Quisenberry and Walter Johnson. Wilhelm’s career WAR was 41.3, but it’s certainly harder to accumulate a high WAR when used primarily as a reliever.  Although the “Most Games Pitched” stat is a bit of a yawner, his other peripheral numbers merit Hall inclusion, given the limitations of his position.

The Veteran’s Committee loves guys like Enos “Country” Slaughter, player’s whose reputations were somewhat inflated and who got along well with the guys.  Slaughter was a good player who, like several of the V.C.’s picks, had a couple of big years and lots of decent ones.  His career WAR was a respectable, but not automatic HOF triggering, 54.1, and his OPS+ was also a nice, but not awe-inspiring 124.  Reasonable choice.

Who is the most underrated player in the Hall of Fame?  If there is such a thing, it might be Arky Vaughan.  Playing mostly for the Pirates, but also for the Dodgers,  he accumulated a WAR of 75.6, scored and drove in runs, drew walks, slashed doubles and triples into the gaps, and played respectable defense.

He led the N.L. in runs, triples, walks, and on-base percentage three times each.  He led all N.L. position players in WAR three times.  He won a batting title.  He led the league in steals once.  And he was named to nine All-Star games.  Tragically, he died at age 40, just four years after retiring from baseball.  This is one the V.C. got right.

1986:  BBWAA – Willie McCovey  V.C.  Bobby Doerr, Ernie Lombardi

With Harmon Killebrew having been elected in ’84 and Willie McCovey in ’86, we may have located the genesis for the arbitrary idea that HOF caliber first basemen should have 500 home runs to their credit.  McCovey, a prodigious slugger (521 home runs) certainly belongs in The Hall.

Bobby Doerr:  See what happens when you put Travis Jackson in the HOF?  You make it that much easier to induct solid-but-not-great players like Doerr.  Doerr was a good (but not great) defensive second baseman who hit with surprising power (223 home runs) for a middle infielder.

He played in a good hitter’s era in a nice hitter’s park.  His career OPS+ 115, and WAR of 47.7, shed further light on the subject.  At this point, he has to be considered a mid-range HOF’er, a category that I’m pretty sure the original founders of The Hall never had in mind.

Ernie Lombardi caught for 17 seasons, but apparently, he didn’t catch much.  He led the league in Passed Balls nine times, and in errors four times.  His career Defensive WAR was -2.7.  But boy, could he rake, finishing with a career batting average of .306, winning a couple of batting titles along the way.  He won the N.L. MVP award in 1938, though he was only the sixth best player in the league.  A career WAR of 39.0 means, even for a catcher, there was less here than meets the eye.  A sentimental pick by the V.C.

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden

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1987:  Catfish Hunter, Billy Williams

While it is true that modern statistical analysis has not been very kind to Catfish Hunter (WAR: 35.4, ERA+ 105), I have to say that in my subjective opinion, Hunter belongs in The HOF.  He was a legend in his own time, sporting a great mustache, nickname, and an assortment of pitches that usually resulted in 20-wins per season.

The ace of two great teams in the ’70’s, Hunter pitched on five World Series Championship teams.  He won at least 21 games in five straight seasons.  He won a Cy Young award in 1974, and also finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the voting in three other seasons.

He pitched in eight All-Star games.  He threw a perfect game on May 8th, 1968, vs. the Carew-Killebrew-Oliva Twins.

I wasn’t a fan of the A’s or the Yankees back in the ’70’s, but I do get the larger than life persona.  Sure, he was not all that different from Jack Morris, whose possible election to The Hall I strongly oppose, but this is my personal bias, and I’m sticking to it.

Billy Williams was widely considered a fine, consistent player throughout the 1960’s during his 16 seasons with the Cubs (he broke in with the Cubbies at age 21 in 1959.)  He was N.L. ROY in 1961.  He led the N.L. in games played five times, and held the N.L. for most consecutive games played (1,117) until Steve Garvey broke his record in 1982.

Williams could hit for average (he won a batting title in 1972 at age 34), he could hit for power (426 home runs), he could score runs (1,410), and he could rack up total bases (4,599, good for 36th all-time.)  Williams is also in the top 50 all-time in runs created and in extra base hits.  And his career OPS+ of 133 reveals that his hitting success was not just a product of cozy Wrigley Field.

Billy Williams earned his induction to the Hall of Fame.

Willie Stargell hit the longest home run at Ve...

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1988:  BBWAA – Willie Stargell

Pops Stargell seemed like a great guy to be around, leading the “We Are Family” Pirates of ’79 to an upset victory over the Orioles in the World Series that year. He was also co-MVP that year with Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez.

Stargell, by the way, played his entire 21-year career with the Pirates, from 1962-82.

Here are Stargell’s career numbers, and here are Fred McGriff’s.  Is it just me, or are they quite similar?  And if Stargell belongs in The Hall (and I wouldn’t argue that he doesn’t), then where’s the love for McGriff?

1989:  BBWAA – Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski V.C.  Red Schoendienst

How would you like to be in a spelling bee naming the Hall of Fame inductees of 1989?

Like Willie Stargell, Bench and Yaz each played their entire careers with one team apiece.  Bench may have been the greatest catcher of all time.  Yaz was the heart and soul of the Red Sox from 1967-78, the most heart-breaking years in BoSox history.  Obviously, they both belong in the HOF.

Schoendienst was an underrated second baseman for the Cardinals.  He was named to ten All-Star games.  His career Defensive WAR was over 7.0, which is very nice.  He garnered 2,449 hits, including a league-leading 200 in 1957, but his career OPS+ was just 94, and his overall WAR was 40.4.  A bit of Willie Randolph combined with Alvin Dark.  There are worse players in The Hall; Schoendienst is not an embarrassment.

So our score-card for this decade is as follows:

Excellent Choices – 19

Mediocre / Questionable Choices – 7

Poor Choices – 3

Not a bad haul, certainly better than what the 1970’s produced.  But it is worth noting that, as with the decades prior to the 1970’s, around one-third of Hall inductees were less than obvious, excellent choices.

Does that percentage, then, reflect what a normal HOF equilibrium, and if so, will that equilibrium persist in the succeeding decades?  We’ll take a closer look at Hall voting patterns of the 1990’s in the next installment of this series.

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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 was the only player for the Cow...

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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.

Hamilton’s addition into The Hall was a rare, astute move by the Veteran’s Committee.

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.

Hall of famer Edd Roush led Cincinnati to the ...

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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.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first 45 players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The purpose of doing so was to determine if it is true, as so many claim, that The Hall was once the exclusive domain of the truly excellent, the best of the best.

After examining all the players inducted into The Hall through 1949, we have to conclude that even in its early years, the BBWAA and the various Old Timers Committees were already arriving at some questionable choices for player inductions into the Hall of Fame.

Fully 38% of the first 45 players chosen can be regarded as specious choices.

Although my analysis is not entirely a matter of sabermetrics, modern measurements like WAR, OPS+ and ERA+ do figure prominently in my evaluations.

Now let’s take a look at the subsequent players elected into The Hall for the years 1951-69.

1951 — BBWAA: Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott

Nine-time All Star, three-time MVP Jimmie Foxx, who came within two homers of matching Ruth’s

Jimmie Foxx of the Boston Red Sox, cropped fro...

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single season record just five years after it was set, received just 9% of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1936.  A word of caution to the Class of 2012, that’s what a crowded ballot can do.

Ott, like Foxx, topped 500 home runs, thus helping to create the myth that 500 home runs is the standard by which power hitters must be judged to gain entrance into The Hall.

1952 – BBWAA:  Harry Heilmann, Paul Waner

Heilmann, with a pocket full of batting titles and a career OPS+ of 148, received 1.7% of the vote from the BBWAA in 1942.  A decade later, without producing so much as a bunt single in the interim, the same BBWAA gave him 86.8% of the vote.

This Waner brother (Big Poison) actually does belong in The Hall.

1953 — BBWAA: Dizzy Dean, Al Simmons. VC: Chief Bender, Bobby Wallace

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the dorsal fin of the Veteran’s Committee appears on the horizon.

The Veteran’s Committee absolutely loves light-hitting, slick fielding middle infielders.  Bobby Wallace’s defensive WAR (11.9) is the same as Bill Mazeroski’s, and is very close to Rabbit Maranville’s 11.8 as well as Phil Rizzuto’s 11.0.  Theoretically, this should bode well for Omar Vizquel (13.3) once he becomes eligible.  Undoubtedly, some will argue that a Vizquel induction would seriously erode the high standards of The Hall.  Clearly, as you can see, that would not be the case.

Dean had a great run, but flamed out fast.  He had five great seasons in a row, winning an MVP award along with two second place finishes, and one other good year.  Essentially, he paved the way for Sandy Koufax, and his equally brief run of greatness, to make it into The Hall.

Chief Bender, a Native-American of the Chippewa tribe, pitched for three A’s championship teams in

Chief (Charles Albert) Bender, pitcher and inf...

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the early years of the 20th century.  In his rookie season, 1903, he led the league by plunking 25 hitters in 270 inning pitched.  Don’t mess with the Chippewa.  But his career ERA+, 112, and his WAR, 38.5, are significantly lower than the vast majority of pitchers elected to The Hall up to this point.

1954 — BBWAA: Bill Dickey, Rabbit Maranville, Bill Terry.

Eleven-time All Star Bill Dickey is still among the ten best catchers who ever played the game, so at the time of his induction, few catchers in history had ever been as good as he was.

Rabbit Maranville:  See Bobby Wallace above.

Bill Terry was similar to George Sisler in that he was a slick-fielding first baseman who hit for high averages, but delivered little else of significance between the foul poles.  Won a batting title.  Career Offensive WAR 48.1.  Essentially, he was John Olerud.

1955 — BBWAA: Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance. VC: Home Run Baker, Ray Schalk.

Hard to believe that by 1955, Joltin’ Joe was already eligible for the Hall of Fame.  In his short 13-year career, he finished in the top ten in MVP voting ten times, winning the award three times.  Certainly an obvious choice for The Hall.  Interestingly, his closest modern comparable player (according to Baseball-Reference) eligible for The Hall is Larry Walker.

For seven consecutive seasons, from age 31-37, Dazzy Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts.  I’m of the opinion that this kind of dominance merits Hall membership.

Of the pair of catchers elected, Gabby Hartnett was a solid choice, but Ray Schalk was a poor one.  In fact, Schalk’s election set the bar so low (at least for catchers) that it is possible to make a case that Butch Wynegar deserves to be inducted into The Hall.

Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs.  Home Run Baker hit 96.  They both led their league in home runs four times.  McGwire’s career WAR was 63.1.  Baker’s was 63.7.  This is as good an indication as any of how misleading traditional counting stats (home runs, batting average, RBI, etc.) can be.  Baker does belong in The Hall.

Ted Lyon’s election set the stage for later misfires like Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, Red Ruffing and Waite Hoyt.

1956 — BBWAA: Joe Cronin, Hank Greenberg.

Two solid choices for the Hall of Fame.

1957 — VC: Sam Crawford

MLB career leader in triples with 309.  Career OPS+ 144.  Career WAR 76.6.  Solid choice.

1959 — VC: Zack Wheat.

Wheat is a marginal HOF’er.  Won a single, empty batting title in 1918 (18 extra base hits.)  OPS+ 129 is the same as Freddy Lynn.  Career WAR 57.8 puts him in Willie Davis territory.

During the 1950’s, then, just 14 of 21 players inducted into the Hall of Fame were high quality choices.  Therefore, about one-third of all the players inducted during this decade were of questionable merit (or worse.)  Thus, out of the first 66 players inducted into The Hall between 1936-59, just 42 were what can be described as high quality choices.  That represents just about 64% of all players chosen up to this point.

This begs the question, so when does this Golden Age of the Hall of Fame actually begin?  Perhaps we’ll have better luck during the 1960’s, the next installment of this series.

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The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 1

Many times over the past couple of weeks I’ve read the following comment regarding a player that someone doesn’t think should be inducted into the Hall of Fame:

 “If he is elected, it will lower the standards of the Hall of Fame.”

 Or, alternatively, “The Hall used to have very high standards, but they’ve been watered down over the years.”

 I know you’ve heard or read these comments as well.  Perhaps you’ve even uttered them.

I decided to take a look back at HOF elections going all the way back to the first one in 1936 to see if there really was a Golden Age when only the best of the best were inducted, and where the proverbial train went off the rails.  

I didn’t have to search very far.

What follows is Part 1 of a multi-part series analyzing the year-by-year inductees (MLB players only) to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, gratuitous commentary included.  (BBWAA: Elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America; VC: Elected by the Veterans Committee):

1936 — BBWAA: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner.

So far, so good.  Eleven writers left Ruth off their ballots, perhaps out of concern that his induction would “water down The Hall.”

1937 — BBWAA: Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Cy Young

Nice to see Cy Young just barely squeak in with 76% of the vote in his second year on the ballot.

1938 — BBWAA: Grover Cleveland Alexander

Career WAR of 104.9 is fifth best all-time for pitchers.  Poor bastard suffered from epilepsy, shell-shock from WWI, and alcoholism.  But boy, could he pitch.  His 90 career shutouts are still the N.L. record.

1939 — BBWAA: Eddie Collins, Lou Gehrig, Willie Keeler, George Sisler. VC: Cap Anson, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, Hoss Radbourn

Keeler was a career .341 hitter, but a career WAR of 60.8 ties him with Buddy Bell for 103rd place among position players.  Not a slam dunk.

Sisler hit over .400 twice, and set single-season hit record (257) later broken by Ichiro.  A.L. MVP 1922.  Yet career OPS+ 124 is the same as Sixto Lezcano and Bobby Bonilla.  Career WAR of 50.4 is just 168th all-time.

Old Hoss Radbourne tossed 678 innings in 1884.  Ouch.

Cummings pitched six years in the 1870’s, and allegedly invented the curveball.  So is 1939 the year the HOF begins to lose its way?  Much worse is on the way.

1942 — BBWAA: Rogers Hornsby.

The only player elected during the five years of the WWII era.  The nation must have been rationing HOF votes along with everything else.

1945 — VC: Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Jennings, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke

Just nine years after The Hall’s initial Mount Rushmore election, the Veteran’s Committee apparently

Hall of Famer and first baseman Hughie Jenning...

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got drunk and elected every 19th century Irish ball player they could think of.  Maybe they were celebrating the end of WWII.

Bresnahan invented shin-guards, which is nice, but career WAR of 41.6 is pretty low.  Brouthers and Delahanty definitely belong in The Hall.

Clarke is borderline, as is Jimmy Collins (a great defensive third-sacker.)  Collins accumulated 1,999 hits.  You would think he would have found a way to get just one more hit.

King Kelly was a legend in his own time.  How do you objectively assess a legend?  You don’t.  We simply don’t abide his kind these days.

Hughie Jennings is interesting.  He led his league in WAR four straight seasons (1895-98), which is pretty damned impressive.  He accumulated 35.3 WAR in just those four years.  But that represents fully 76% of his entire career value (46.4).  So, do you prefer a player with a high peak, or a player who plays reasonably well over a long period of time?

Jim O’Rourke is one of my favorite players in The Hall because he hails from my hometown of Bridgeport, CT, and because he was known as Orator Jim.  It was said of him, “Words of great length and thunderous sound simply flowed out of his mouth.”  That is my all-time favorite quote about a ball player.  If there is an orator’s HOF somewhere, he should be in it.  As for the baseball HOF, well, perhaps not.

So by my count, the class of 1945 includes two definite HOF’ers, four borderline inductees, one poor choice, and King Kelly.

1946 — VC: Jesse Burkett, Frank Chance, Jack Chesbro, Johnny Evers, Tommy McCarthy, Joe McGinnity, Eddie Plank, Joe Tinker, Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh.

Tinkers to Evers to Chance wasn’t great poetry, and it wasn’t a great day for The Hall.  Tinker was an excellent defensive shortstop but a poor hitter who doesn’t belong in The Hall.  Evers won the 1914 MVP award, but also doesn’t belong.  Chance was the best hitter of the three, had a short peak, and finished with less than 50 career WAR.

At age 30, in 1904, Jack Chesbro started 51 games for the N.Y. Highlanders, won a Major League record 41 of them, pitched 454 innings, and posted a WAR of 8.8.  Also reached 20 wins four other times.  But he won fewer than 200 games in his career, and his career WAR is less than 40.  If he is in on the strength of one huge season and a few good ones, then a case can be made that Roger Maris also belongs in The Hall.

Jesse Burkett, one of the great hitters of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, belongs in The Hall, as does Gettysburg Eddie (326 wins) Plank.

Though he pitched just seven full seasons, Fordham University’s Ed Walsh won 40 games for the ’08 White Sox, and his career ERA of 1.82 is the lowest in MLB history.  So you gotta give him a nudge into The Hall as well.  Rube Waddell was one of the strangest, and one of the greatest, pitchers of all-time.  He led the A.L. in strikeouts six consecutive years, but would go chase a passing fire truck in the middle of a game.

Iron Joe McGinnity completed 314 of his 381 starts, topping 300 innings pitched in the first nine of his ten Major League seasons.  Led N.L. in wins five times.  Topped 400 innings pitched twice.  Back-to-back seasons of over 10.0 WAR.  He’s O.K. by me.
Outfielder Tommy McCarthy must have slipped into the Hall of Fame when no one was looking.  There is no other way to account for his inclusion.
By my count, that makes five solid HOF’ers inducted in ’46 out of a group of ten players.

1947 — BBWAA: Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell.

With the Old-Timers Gang out of town, the BBWAA reasserts itself with some classy picks.

1948 — BBWAA: Herb Pennock, Pie Traynor.

Pennock was a very poor choice; a case can be made that Pie Traynor belongs in the HOF, but not a very strong one.

1949 — BBWAA: Charlie Gehringer. VC: Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Kid Nichols.

Each of these three are fine choices.  Gehringer was one of the all-time great second basemen.  Brown and Nichols were among the very best pitchers in their respective eras.

Of the first 45 players elected to the Hall of Fame up to this point, approximately 28 were excellent choices, six were poor choices, and the other 11 were borderline or questionable picks.  That means fully 38% if the picks were not of the highest quality.

That brings us up to the 1950’s, which I will tackle in Part 2 of this series.  As you shall see, the questionable inductees continue unabated.

Dan Brouthers

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2012 Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Analysis

Let’s try to sift through the wreckage of the 2012 BBWAA Hall of Fame vote, and

Barry Larkin, Cincinnati Reds, 2004, by Rick D...
attempt to reconstruct the debacle.  Maybe we’ll find a black box or something.

1)  Reds shortstop Barry Larkin received 86.4% of the vote, easily exceeding the 75% he needed for induction into the Hall of Fame.  One of the top ten shortstops of all time, he is a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame.

2)  Jack Morris received 66.7% of the vote.  He has a couple of years left on the ballot, and stands a good shot at getting elected before his time is up.  His career WAR was 39.3, the second lowest among the 14 players on the ballot who survived the cut.  Morris received 382 votes.  Brad Radke, career WAR 40.9, received just two votes and fell off the ballot.  Morris had a mustache.  Radke didn’t.  BBWAA voters like men with mustaches.  They think it makes them look tough, you know, like a Hall of Famer should.

3)  Forty-four percent of the American public believes that the world is less than 10,000 years old.  This is the same percentage as BBWAA voters who left Jeff Bagwell’s name off of their HOF ballots.  One has to wonder if they are, in fact, the same people.

4)  Lee Smith, a relief pitcher who specialized in taking naps before his 9th inning cameos, received 50.6% of the vote.  Apparently, this means that about half of the voters believe the save is a crap statistic, and they are correct.

5)  Tim Raines got 48.7% of the vote.  What’s interesting here is that no one mentions anymore that Raines was part of a cocaine scandal that rocked baseball back in the 1980’s.  It was a very big deal at the time.  Yet Raines now has a real chance of someday getting into the HOF.  What are we to make, then, of all the hullabaloo surrounding the PED scandal of recent times?  My guess is that it’ll ultimately go the way of all American scandals, including Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, etc.  The public doesn’t so much forgive.  It simply forgets.

6)  Alan Trammell:  Sometimes I think HOF voters are just kind of lazy.  Why bother taking a look at a guy like Trammell’s numbers year after year?  He just didn’t, you know, feel like a Hall of Famer when he was playing.  Yet his career WAR (66.9) is better than Ozzie Smith, PeeWee Reese, Luis Aparicio, and Ernie Banks, not to mention Phil Rizzuto and Rabbit Maranville.  In fact, Trammell’s career WAR is only slightly below Barry Larkin’s 68.9.  I’m not saying that Trammell was as good as Larkin, but he is clearly legit Hall material.  So why did he receive just 36.8% of the vote?  Ask the voters.

7)  The Designated Hitter rule came into being in the American League in 1973, the same year that Tony Orlando and Dawn dominated the singles charts with “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.”  While Tony Orlando and Dawn are long since gone, the D.H. remains, a relic of the age of Nixon.  The bastard child of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and A.L. President Joe Cronin, it remains with us today, an oddity largely rejected by the BBWAA, who gave Edgar Martinez, the greatest D.H. ever, just 36.5% of the vote.

8)  Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff received just 23.9% of the vote.  If he’d hit just seven more career home runs, he would probably have doubled that vote total.  Writers look at their hands a lot, and the BBWAA writers noticed that they have ten fingers, so they can only think in terms of numbers divisible by ten.  493 (home runs) is not divisible by ten.  500 home runs would be.  Thus the low vote totals for Crime Dog.

9)  Larry Walker (22.9%) played during an era where we were all buried in an avalanche of three-run home runs and 14-10 ball games.  For a while, he called Coors Field home.  Coors Field was to the baseball fan what the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas would be to a group of college under-grads, the ultimate venue to enjoy a bacchanal of pure lust and carnal pleasure.  Larry Walker is being penalized for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nothing’s going to change that.

10)  Mark McGwire (19.5%) – The ultimate example of how our culture is like a pair of tectonic plates crashing into each other, causing massive earthquakes and unending destruction.  We wanted massive biceps, towering home runs, Ruthian records, immortal legends.  We got all of that.  We also wanted Scouts Honor, drug-tested teachers, lock ’em up law and order, and family values.  We got some of that, too.  But the natural tension between the two caused a fissure to develop into which  McGwire’s reputation dropped, wordlessly and without a murmur from a society that demanded his creation, and his demise.

Four other players, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmiero, and Bernie Williams all received enough votes to remain on the ballot to fight another day.  Thirteen other players dropped off the ballot.  One of those players, Bill Mueller, actually received four votes for the Hall of Fame.  Every society has a subculture, and every subculture has a lunatic fringe.  Baseball is our little subculture, and, apparently, Bill Mueller voters are our lunatic fringe.

That’s as far as I care to go with this.  Let me know your thoughts about today’s voting results.

Best Regards, Bill Miller

Publicity photo of the musical group Tony Orla...

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