The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Duke Snider”

Greatest Pitchers vs. the Greatest Hitters

What happens when you put a pair of superstars on opposite teams on the same field?  One superstar happens to be a pitcher, and the other one is a batter.  How well do some superstars perform against others?

I decided to take a look at some of the best pitchers of all-time, and see how well they performed against high level competition.  Specifically, I have listed the stats of a fine hitter a pitcher performed well against, and a HOF-caliber batter who hit them hard.  Although there may be individual batters who hit certain pitchers even better than the ones I’ve listed, generally speaking, those hitters weren’t normally considered superstar level performers.

Here are the results:  (Minimum of 50 at bats.)

1)  Sandy Koufax vs. Hank Aaron:

116 at bats, 42 hits, 6 doubles, 3 triples, 7 homers, 16 RBI, 14 walks, 12 strikeouts.  .362/.431/.647  OPS:  1.077

2)  Sandy Koufax vs. Lou Brock:

65 at bats, 12 hits, 4 doubles, 0 triples, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .185/.232/.246  OPS:  .478

3)  Bob Gibson vs. Eddie Mathews:

95 at bats, 31 hits, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 4 homers, 13 RBI, 21 walks, 14 strikeouts.  .326/.448/.526  OPS:  .975

4)  Bob Gibson vs. Roberto Clemente:

125 at bats, 26 hits, 1 double, 2 triples, 4 homers, 16 RBI, 2 walks, 32 strikeouts.  .208/.219/.344  OPS:  .563

5)  Tom Seaver vs. Joe Morgan:

109 at bats, 32 hits, 8 doubles, 0 triples, 5 homers, 11 RBI, 23 walks, 17 strikeouts.  .294/.415/.505  OPS:  .919

6)  Tom Seaver vs. Johnny Bench:

84 at bats, 15 hits, 7 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 8 RBI, 11 walks, 27 strikeouts.  .179/.271/.333  OPS:  .604

7)  Warren Spahn vs. Stan Musial:

291 at bats, 95 hits, 21 doubles, 6 triples, 14 homers, 45 RBI, 43 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .326/.417/.584  OPS:  1.001

8)  Warren Spahn vs. Duke Snider:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 4 homers, 12 RBI, 8 walks, 18 strikeouts.  .238/.315/.425  OPS:  .740

9)  Robin Roberts vs. Ernie Banks:

121 at bats, 41 hits, 4 doubles, 3 triples, 15 homers, 31 RBI, 7 walks, 22 strikeouts.  .339/.377/.793  OPS:  1.170

10)  Robin Roberts vs. Orlando Cepeda:

63 at bats, 16 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 11 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .254/.262/.397  OPS:  .658

11)  Steve Carlton vs. Gary Carter:

116 at bats, 36 hits, 9 doubles, 0 triples, 11 homers, 24 RBI, 18 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .310/.400/.672  OPS:  1.072

12)  Steve Carlton vs. Tony Perez:

108 at bats, 21 hits, 5 doubles, 0 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBI, 16 walks, 26 strikeouts.  .194/.294/.324  OPS:  .618

13)  Nolan Ryan vs. Carl Yastrzemski:

50 at bats, 17 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 14 RBI, 12 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .340/.469/.600  OPS:  1.069

14)  Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Yount:

69 at bats, 16 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homers, 10 RBI, 8 walks, 16 strikeouts.  .232/.329/.406  OPS:  .735

15)  Greg Maddux vs. Tony Gwynn:

94 at bats, 39 hits, 8 doubles, 1 triple, 0 homers, 9 RBI, 11 walks, 0 strikeouts.  .415/.476..521  OPS:  .997

16)  Greg Maddux vs. Mike Piazza:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 10 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .238/.247/.400  OPS:  .647

 

Player Narratives, and the Hall of Fame

Do me a favor.  Take a look at these final career numbers, and tell me if you think the player who compiled these numbers is probably in the Hall of Fame or not.  Do not try to guess who the player is, because we’ll come back to that later.  Please allow the numbers to speak for themselves:

2,460 Games

2,490 Hits

441 Doubles

493 Home Runs  (27th)

1,550 RBI  (42nd)

1,349 Runs

1,305 Walks

4,458 Total Bases (50th)

1,704 Runs Created (49th)

Triple Slash Line:  .284 / .377 / .509

OPS+    134

1,447 Assists (10th at his position)

1,775 Double Plays Turned (5th at his position)

I’m choosing not to include this player’s WAR because it has become too easy to simply go directly to that one statistic and form one’s judgment based on that stat alone.  I will tell you that it is better than some HOF’ers, and not as good as some others.

At this point, you are probably withholding your final judgment based on who the player is.  I would probably do the same.  But why do we do that?  Why does the player’s identity matter so much in our final evaluation as to whether or not he belongs in The Hall?  Shouldn’t the numbers speak for themselves?

The truth is, we tend to place a great deal of weight on the player’s particular narrative.  Did he play for one team his entire career?  Was he beloved by millions, or was he a surly jackass who alienated press and public alike.

Certainly, we want to know, too, in which era the player performed.  Were his numbers special for their time, or were they more representative of a good but not necessarily a great player?

What about intangibles such as playoff performance, overcoming significant personal or professional handicaps, being a suspected cheater, or suffering a tragic, career-ending injury at a relatively young age?

What position did he play?  Historically, more offense has always been expected from outfielders and first basemen than from middle infielders or catchers.

If I told you the numbers listed above belonged to Duke Snider, (they do not, but they plausibly could have), you, too, would probably choose to enshrine the well-respected slugger from the legendary Boys of Summer.  The Brooklyn narrative and the lure of baseball’s so-called Golden Era would be too strong to resist.  Mickey, Willie and The Duke, and all that.

Similarly, if I told you those are Willie Stargell’s numbers, (again, they are not), once again, you would allow that those statistics are sufficient to make the case that “Pop” Stargell, the lifelong Pirate and spiritual leader of the 1979 We Are Family championship ball-club, belongs in the Hall of Fame.

On the other hand, if I told you that these numbers belonged to Dick Allen, Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, or Joe Carter, for various reasons, you might very well come to an opposite conclusion regarding their HOF-worthiness.

The truth is, when it comes to whom we deem to be HOF-worthy, we love our narratives.  We tend to work backwards, I think, and use statistics to rationalize our preconceived prejudices regarding who does or does not belong in The Hall.

Certainly, there are a handful of players who obviously belong in The Hall, are there not?  Lou Gehrig comes to mind.  Gehrig slugged 493 home runs, (as many as the player whose stats are listed above.)  He died young and tragically, and was a fabled member of the ’27 Yankees.

Mike Schmidt also comes to mind.  A dominant player in his era, Schmidt compiled 54 fewer total bases than did the mystery player joining us today.

No one I’ve ever heard of has ever argued that Willie “Stretch” McCovey doesn’t belong in The Hall.  A tremendous run producer, McCovey drove in just five more runs in his career than did our soon-to-be revealed player.  McCovey topped 30 homers seven times.  Our Mystery Player accomplished that feat ten times in his career.

Here’s another example.  When I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s, it was clear and obvious to all of the neighborhood boys that Catfish Hunter was a Hall of Famer long before he became eligible, while Bert Blyleven was merely a fine pitcher, but not a particularly interesting one.

For those of us now in our early 50’s, that narrative remains powerful to this day.  While more recent stats point to Blyleven being far more valuable than Hunter, all I remember about Blyleven is that he pitched in Minnesota for lots of bad Twins ball clubs.  It wasn’t until later that I became aware of his reputation as a great prankster, though I doubt even that information would have been enough to sway my opinion of his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

I now see that as far as his numbers are concerned, Bert Blyleven does belong in the Hall of Fame.  Yet, although I recognize that Hunter’s numbers may ultimately appear to be lacking, his narrative remains superior.  He was the mustachioed ace of first the great A’s clubs of the early ’70’s, then the ace of the fine Yankees teams of the later ’70’s.  He had a great nickname, was always good for a quote, won at least 20 games five consecutive seasons, and died relatively young at age 53.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that there’s room for both pitchers in the Hall of Fame.  Sometimes, if we remain open-minded enough, life can be a win-win.

O.K., enough of that.  Who is our Mystery Player?

He is none other than Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff.

Fred McGriff was well-respected, and generally well-liked, and his numbers appear to be worthy of HOF induction, but there are a few problems with his narrative.

For one thing, unlike Schmidt, McCovey, Gehrig, Gwynn, Ripkin, Kaline, Clemente and so many other Hall of Famers, it is difficult to associate McGriff with any one team.  He started out as an extremely productive Toronto Blue Jay, became a highly productive Padre, then moved on to become a reliably productive Brave.  Once he left Atlanta, he moved on to Tampa Bay, where, now in his mid-30’s, he provided solid punch in their batting order.

At age 38, clearly his best years behind him, all he did was slam 30 homers, drive in 103 runs and slug .505 with the Cubs.  He hit his 490th home run as a Dodger, then retired as a Devil Ray at age 40 in 2004.

McGriff also had the misfortune to have his best seasons in the first half of his career (pre-1994), when hitting 35 homers per season still meant something.  By the time he got the opportunity to play before a national audience on TBS with the Braves, every third player seemed to be enjoying 30 homer seasons.  His production began to be viewed by that point as ordinary, the norm of what a first baseman should be producing.

That McGriff finished in the top ten in MVP voting six times, that he reached an OPS+ of at least 140 in ten seasons, and that the first time he went on the Disabled List was in his 18th season at age 39 (talk about an Iron Man) is apparently no match for the overall lack of gripping drama, personal tragedy, or single-uniform predictability that sports fans love.

Fred McGriff has now been on the HOF ballot five years.  Last year, he was named on just 11.7% of all votes cast.  At this point, it seems unlikely that McGriff will be voted into the HOF anytime soon.  You, too, may believe that McGriff just doesn’t quite belong in the Hall of Fame.

But if that’s the way you feel, ask yourself this.  Is it the numbers or is it the narrative that prevents you from considering him to be a worthy Hall of Famer?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays first base coach Fred McG...

Tampa Bay Devil Rays first base coach Fred McGriff during a Devil Rays/New York Mets spring training game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

My Inner-Circle Hall of Fame Choices

Over at Baseball Past and Present, Graham Womack is conducting a fun and interesting survey of who his readers believe are the best of the best, regarding baseball’s Hall of Fame.  He is calling it the Inner Circle project.  If you click on the link, you’ll find access to a ballot which includes players currently in the Hall of Fame.  Our challenge is to choose just 50 of them (and it has to be exactly 50) who theoretically make up the core of the Hall of Fame.

English: Original title: "Plenty of baseh...

English: Original title: “Plenty of basehits in these bats” Original description: Washington D.C., July 7. A million dollar base-ball flesh is represented in these sluggers of the two All- Star Teams which met in the 1937 game at Griffith Stadium today. Left to right: Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg, 7/7/37 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I submitted my ballot a couple of days ago, and decided to share it with all of you today.  I have to admit that I found it very challenging to restrict my list to just 50 players.  In my initial run through of the ballot, I checked off 65 names, and it was very difficult to decide which 15 players to knock off my list.

I suspect that somewhere around 30-40 players will appear on just about everyone’s ballot, but I anticipate some disagreement, perhaps a great deal, regarding the final 10 or so choices.

I decided to just list my choices without explanation, but I will be interested to hear which players you would have included or rejected compared to my ballot.

So here’s my list, as they appeared on the ballot:

1)  Al Kaline

2)  Babe Ruth

3)  Bob Feller

4)  Cal Ripkin

5)  Carl Yastrzemski

6)  Carlton Fisk

7)  Charlie Gehringer

8)  Christy Mathewson

9)  Cy Young

10) Duke Snider

11) Eddie Collins

12) Eddie Mathews

13) Eddie Murray

14) Frank Robinson

15) Gary Carter

16) George Brett

17) Hank Aaron

18) Harmon Killebrew

19) Honus Wagner

20) Jackie Robinson

21) Jimmie Foxx

22) Joe DiMaggio

23) Joe Morgan

24) Johnny Bench

25) Lefty Grove

26) Lou Gehrig

27) Mel Ott

28) Mickey Mantle

29) Mike Schmidt

30) Nap Lajoie

31) Paul Waner

32) Pete Alexander

33) Reggie Jackson

34) Rickey Henderson

35) Rod Carew

36) Rogers Hornsby

37) Sandy Koufax

38) Stan Musial

39) Steve Carlton

40) Ted Williams

41) Tom Seaver

42) Tony Gwynn

43) Tris Speaker

44) Ty Cobb

45) Wade Boggs

46) Walter Johnson

47) Warren Spahn

48) Willie Mays

49) Willie McCovey

50) Yogi Berra

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Mickey Mantle

Which of the three Triple-Crown categories is least impressive?

Home Runs will always be impressive, both for sheer crowd-pleasing spectacle and as an always relevant and useful statistic.  The Dead Ball era has been dead for nearly a hundred years now, and it ain’t coming back.

Batting Average has lost some of its luster over the years as on-base percentage has increasingly gained traction as a measure of a hitter’s ability to avoid outs.  But when a player like Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs wins numerous batting titles, we understand that we are watching special players.

I submit, therefore, that Runs Batted In is the least impressive of the three Triple-Crown categories.  I’m certainly not the first person to make this statement, and I’m sure I won’t be the last.  But I would like to use the career of a specific Hall of Fame player to illustrate my point.  That player, of course, as you can see from the title of this post, is Mickey Mantle.

English: New York Yankees centerfielder and Ha...

English: New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, as you very likely already know, Mickey Mantle was a fabulous run producer.  Among the statistics in which he led the A.L. during his 18-year career are the following: Offensive WAR: 10 times; Home Runs:  4 times; Runs Scored: 5 times; Runs Created: 7 times; Walks: 5 times; Adjusted OPS+: 8 times; and Total Bases: 3 times.

The Mick also drove in 1,509 runs in his career, good for 51st place all-time as of this writing, but he ranked a more impressive 20th all-time upon his retirement.

We should be able to expect, then, that he drove in over a hundred runs several times over the course of his career.  After all, he hit in the middle of Yankee lineups thick with offensive punch, teams that were wildly successful primarily due to their ability to generate more runs than most other teams in their league.

Yet a check of Mantle’s career stats reveals that, surprisingly, he topped 100 RBI in a season just four times in his career.  By way of contrast, his center field rivals in New York City at the time, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, enjoyed ten and six 100 RBI seasons, respectively.

This raises the following question:  How many times did Mickey Mantle lead his league in Runs Batted In?

If you are aware that Mantle won the 1956 Triple Crown, then you are by definition aware that he led the league in RBI at least once.  Well, you may be surprised to learn that 1956 was the only year in his career that he actually did lead the A.L. in RBI.

Español: foto de Mantle NY Yankees

Español: foto de Mantle NY Yankees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a very logical reason why Mantle enjoyed so few 100 RBI seasons.

To drive in lots of runs, one needs, of course, lots of runners on base to drive in.  As it turns out, the Yankees from around 1957 through at least 1964, had a series of low to mediocre on-base percentage players hitting ahead of Mantle in the lead-off and #2 slots in their lineups.

Here are the primary culprits:

1)  Bobby Richardson, career on-base percentage: .299. (played steadily from ’57-’66)

2)  Tony Kubek, career on-base percentage:  .303 (played from ’57-’65.)

3)  Gil McDougald, career on-base percentage:  .356 (played from ’51-’60.)

4)  Hector Lopez, career on-base percentage:  .330 (played w/ Yanks from ’59-’66.)

5)  Clete Boyer, career on-base percentage:  .299 (played w / Yanks from ’59-’66.)

6)  Phil Linz, career on-base percentage:  .295 (played w / Yanks from ’62-’65.)

Folks, as you can see, with the exception of Gil McDougald, that’s one lowly bunch of on-base percentages.  But taking a closer look at Gil McDougald, after 1957 his on-base percentages during his final three seasons were .329 / .309 / .337.  Those numbers mesh well with the rest of his teammates listed above.

This serves to illustrate my original point that RBI totals are often misleading because a player can’t drive in teammates who are unable to consistently get on base.

The RBI stat survives today, however, as one of baseball’s “masculine” stats.  The so-called run producers are, by definition, supposed to have gaudy RBI totals by season’s end to justify their enormous paychecks. Runs Batted In will probably remain popular as stats go, but it should be kept in proper perspective.

After all, if Mickey Mantle couldn’t find a way to annually lead the league in this stat, how much credence should we put into it in the first place?

Now here’s a final aside that might really surprise you.

Although Mays, Mantle and Snider combined for twenty, 100+ RBI seasons in their careers, these three Hall of Famers produced JUST TWO RBI titles between them, Snider in ’55 and Mantle in ’56.  Willie Mays never led the league in RBI.

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 .

Image via Wikipedia

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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Baseball Players We Lost in 2011

The following information comes from an email from a friend of mine, Jim Copeland.  All credit goes to him.  I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all that is contained herein, but Jim usually knows what he is talking about. 

Matty Alou, 72: The smallest (5-foot-9) of the Alou Brothers swung the biggest bat, both literally (a 36-ounce model that seemed to outweigh him) and statistically (he won the National League batting title in 1966 by hitting .342 and retired as a career .307 hitter). Nov. 3, Miami, diabetes. 

Gino Cimoli, 81: The NL All-Star outfielder with the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers batted .265 across a 10-year career with seven different clubs. Feb. 12, Roseville, Calif., kidney and heart failure.

Wes Covington, 79: With 54 home runs, he was a junior member — the seniors being Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews — of the Milwaukee Braves’ back-to-back World Series teams of 1957-58. July 4, Edmonton, cancer.

 Ryne Duren, 81: His thick glasses intimidated hitters and his blazing fastball put them away. The inspiration for cinema’s Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn topped the Majors with an inconceivable 20 saves in 1958, when he fanned 87 in 75 2/3 innings for the Yankees — the first of six consecutive seasons in which his strikeouts exceeded his innings. Jan. 6, Lake Wales, Fla.

Mike Flanagan, 59: He helped pitch the Orioles into two World Series (1979 and ’83), winning the AL Cy Young Award on the way in ’79, but wasn’t able to achieve as much success as the team’s general manager. Aug. 24, Monkton, Md., suicide.

Bob Forsch, 61: His ceremonial opening toss prior to World Series Game 7 was merely the last of thousands of clutch pitches by the only pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters (1978 and ’83) for the storied Cardinals franchise. Ken Forsch’s “little brother” also helped pitch St. Louis into the World Series in 1982, ’85 and ’87. Nov. 3, Weeki Wachee, Fla., thoracic aortic aneurysm.

 Joe Frazier, 88: Baseball, too, lost a Smokin’ Joe, the one-time infielder whose 207-game run as Mets manager ended two months into the 1977 season, with his replacement being Joe Torre. Feb. 15, Broken Arrow, Okla., heart attack.

 Woodie Fryman, 70: The ole Tobacco Farmer from Kentucky didn’t break into the Majors until he was 26, and the lefty won 141 games in an 18-year career through 1983. Feb. 4, Lexington, Ky., heart ailment.

Lou Gorman, 84: The 2002 inductee into the Red Sox Hall of Fame spent more than three decades in baseball operations, a career highlighted by stints as general manager in Seattle and Boston. April 1, Weston, Mass., natural causes.

Greg Halman, 24: He smiled, he joked, he excited with anticipation all of his native Netherlands. He was fresh off his most significant stretch of Major League action and was set to invite Seattle’s love in 2012. He was abruptly, inexplicably taken from us. Nov. 21, Rotterdam, knife stabbing.

Roy Hartsfield, 85: He was the charter manager of Toronto, guiding the Blue Jays through their first three seasons (1977-79), a just reward for a long stint as a successful Minor League skipper. Jan. 15, Atlanta, liver cancer.

 Hideki Irabu, 42: The right-hander helped blaze Japanese players’ trail to the Majors, going 29-20 with the 1997-99 Yankees before his career wound down in disappointment. July 27, Los Angeles, suicide.

Eddie Joost, 94: The smooth-fielding infielder was one of the last remaining links to the fabled Philadelphia A’s, with whom he became a two-time (1949, ’52) All-Star, then the team’s last manager before its move to Kansas City. April 12, Fair Oaks, Calif.

Harmon Killebrew, 74: The Hammer struck for 573 homers across a 22-season Hall of Fame career, playing all but 106 of his 2,435 games as the revered and beloved face of the Washington-Minnesota franchise. May 17, Scottsdale, Ariz., esophageal cancer.

 Charlie Lea, 54: The France-born righty went 43-31 for the Expos from 1982-84, but he left his most permanent mark with his May 10, 1981 no-hitter against San Francisco. He was a long-time member of the broadcast crew for the Memphis Redbirds. Nov. 11, Collierville, Tenn., heart attack.

Marty Marion, 94: He fielded shortstop as no one with two arms had any business, thus was known as The Octopus as the centerpiece of the Cardinals’ World Series championship teams of 1942, ’44 and ’46. March 16, Ladue, Mo., natural causes.

Charlie Metro, 92: He dabbled both in outfield play and managing before becoming one of the true scouting legends of the game, primarily for the Dodgers. March 18, Buckingham, Va., lung cancer.

Jim Northrup, 71: As the starting right fielder on the 1968 Tigers that united Detroit at a time of deep social divide, the lefty hitter belted 21 homers and drove in 90 runs, the high note of a 12-year career. June 8, Grand Blanc, Mich., seizure.

Jose Pagan, 76: Versatile and affable, the Puerto Rican crowned a 15-year career by playing a vital role on the 1971 World Series champion Pirates, for whom he started at four different positions. June 7, Sebring, Fla., Alzheimer’s disease.

Mitchell Page, 59: A third-round Draft pick in 1973 by the Pirates dealt to Oakland as part of a nine-player blockbuster in March of ’77, he broke in with the ’77 A’s as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up — to Hall of Famer Eddie Murray — hitting .307 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. March 12, Glendale, Ariz., in his sleep.

Duane Pillette, 88: The big right-hander earned two unique spots in baseball lore, starting the St. Louis Browns’ final game and earning the Orioles’ first victory after the franchise’s 1954 shift to Baltimore. May 8, San Jose, Calif., heart failure.

Mel Queen, 69: As a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, he had a brief but unique career with the Reds as on outfielder/pitcher prior to a conversion to full-time pitching in 1967. Then as a pitching coach/advisor, he tutored three Toronto pitchers to Cy Young Awards — Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens (twice) and Roy Halladay. May 13, Morro Bay, Calif., cancer.

Bob Rush, 85: Mr. Cub of the mound during the outset of Ernie Banks’ wider reign, the big right-hander was an eight-time double-figures winner for the perennial cellar-dwellers of the ’50s, including a 17-13 mark with a 2.70 ERA in 1952. March 19, Mesa, Ariz.

Larry Shepard, 92: He never got to do it in the Majors, but he sure knew a lot about pitching, winning 179 games during a 13-season Minor League career then steering the Big Red Machine pitchers as Cincinnati’s pitching coach. He also served as Pirates manager for two seasons between Danny Murtaugh stints. April 6, Lincoln, Neb., natural causes.

Dave Sisler, 79: The bespectacled pitching branch of the famed Sisler clan (Hall of Fame father George was a career .340 hitter and brother Dick a two-time All-Star) posted 38 wins from 1956-62 in his career as a reliever and spot-starter. Jan. 9, St. Louis, prostate cancer.

Roy Smalley, 85: A cornerstone of one of baseball’s leading families — brother-in-law of Gene Mauch and father of Roy Smalley III — he was the Cubs shortstop replaced by Ernie Banks, making him Wally Pipp to Mr. Cub’s Lou Gehrig. Oct. 12, Sahuarita, Ariz.

Duke Snider, 84: The Duke of Flatbush — and of Chavez Revine — hit nearly .300 and struck 407 homers, mostly for the Dodgers during a Hall of Fame career that spanned 18 seasons and both coasts. Feb. 27, Escondido, Calif., diabetes.

Paul Splittorff, 64: A 1987 inductee into the Royals Hall of Fame, the left-hander had 129 wins from 1974-80 for Kansas City’s AL West dynasty, and he remained vital on the scene as the team’s TV analyst. May 25, Blue Springs, Md., oral cancer.

 Chuck Tanner, 82: The onetime nondescript utility outfielder enjoyed an uninterrupted 19-season run as a manager with four teams, most gloriously the “We Are Family” Pirates, whom he guided to the 1979 World Series championship. Feb. 11, New Castle, Pa., following a long illness.

Dick Williams, 82: He was hard-nosed as a vagabond utility player during a 13-season playing career, even harder-nosed as a Hall of Fame manager who won pennants with three different teams (Boston, Oakland, San Diego) and two World Series with the A’s. July 7, Las Vegas, brain aneurysm.

Gus Zernial, 87: Oh, how Ozark Ike could swing the big lumber, especially from 1950-53, a four-season span during which he totaled 133 homers and 430 RBIs for two teams (White Sox and Philadelphia A’s). Jan. 20, Fresno, Calif., heart disease.

Two suicides and a murder.  Let’s hope 2012 is less tragic than 2011. 

And to those of you who have been taking the time to read this blog, thank you, and have a Happy New Year. 

Bill

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 6 – The Brooklyn Dodgers

The Brooklyn Dodgers have been extinct for fifty-three years now.

Yes, I am aware that there is a team out in L.A. that calls itself the Dodgers, and that they have been in existence for nearly as long as their original name-sake.  But the two versions of the Dodgers are as different from one another as Bob Marley, the comedian from Maine, and Bob Marley, the Reggae singer from Jamaica.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were baseball’s happy, lovable, birthday-party-of-a franchise.  Their Sym-phony band serenaded fans and players alike with a perpetual cacophony of off-key, tone-deaf music recalling  a time when baseball’s soul hadn’t yet been completely sucked dry by corporate avarice.

The L.A. Dodgers, on the other hand, are your well-to-do, late middle-aged uncle tooling around in an expensive convertible, trying to impress  a girl-friend half his age.

But the Brooklyn Dodgers were also an actual baseball team.  And, although theirs was largely a record of futility dating back to the days of Zach Wheat, by the late 1940’s,this was a team on the rise.

Their names, summoned from the stately pen of Roger Kahn, still evoke timeless awe in those who hear them:  Pete Reiser, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, Clem Labine, and, of course, Jackie Robinson.  The Boys of Summer.

But one man, a right-fielder by trade, has sometimes gone overlooked among those who journey down memory lane all the way to Ebbet’s Field in Flatbush, N.Y.  His nickname… “The Reading Rifle.”

His name was Carl Furillo.

Outside of his baseball address in Brooklyn, N.Y., Furillo lived his entire life in Stony Creek Mills, PA, where he was born in 1922.  At the age of 24, he made his debut with the Dodgers, the team with whom he spent his entire 15 year career.

Although Furillo had already enjoyed seven productive seasons with Brooklyn, including identical 18 homer, 106 RBI campaigns in 1949-50, Carl Furill0’s Best Forgotten Season occurred in 1953.

At the age of 31, he won the N.L. batting title with a .344 mark.  His on-base percentage was .393, he slugged .580, and his OPS was .973 (fifth best in the league.)  His OPS+ was a career high 146, also good for fifth best in the N.L.

Furillo had 38 doubles, 21 homers and 92 RBI’s while striking out just 32 times all season.  He finished tied for 9th in MVP voting in 1953 with teammate Carl Erskine.  In fact, an astonishing seven Dodgers finished in the top 14 in MVP voting in 1953.  Furillo’s teammate, Roy Campanella won the award, and Duke Snider finished in 3rd place (although he had the highest WAR of any of the Dodgers at 9.5.)

Interestingly, Jackie Robinson, 12th place in the voting, had a slightly higher WAR than MVP winner Campanella (7.3 to 7.2.)

Furillo remained a productive player for the Dodgers for the next five years, hitting between .289 and .314 per season.

When the Dodgers moved to Chavez Ravine in L.A. in 1958, Furillo went with them.  He enjoyed his first year out west, batting .290 with 18 homers and 83 RBI’s.  But at the age of 36, his career was clearly winding down.

He finished his career with a .299 batting average, over a thousand RBI’s, and nearly 2,ooo hits.  He also led the N.L. in outfield assists twice, and he played in two All-Star games.

Furillo played his last game as a Dodger on May 7, 1960.

In a few months, a new young President would be elected, and a new era would dawn on the L.A. Dodgers.

Now, meet Joe Black.

Before there was Tony LaRussa and his coddled, one-inning specialist, there was Joe Black.

Joe Black, born in Plainfield, New Jersey,  made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952 at the age of 28.  He had pitched well for a Negro League team, the Baltimore Elite Giants, for several years before arriving in Brooklyn.  His late arrival may indicate that although the dam holding back the flood of African-American talent had been severely eroded by 1952, it had not fully collapsed.

In 1952, Joe Black enjoyed one of the Best Forgotten Seasons of any Brooklyn Dodger.

He pitched in 56 games in his rookie season, tossing 142 innings, far more innings than modern relief pitchers are expected to hurl.  He finished 41 games, and his 15 saves were second best in the N.L.  These totals demonstrate how much the role of a relief pitcher has changed over the decades.  Black pitched whenever his manager felt like he needed him, not merely when a pre-determined inning number appeared on a scoreboard.

His 15-4 record, 2.15 ERA, and 1.00 WHIP were so impressive that Black not only won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award, he finished third in the MVP voting.

After injuries decimated the Dodgers pitching staff shortly before the 1952 World Series began, Black was asked to start Game One of the World Series against the Yankees.  Black beat Allie Reynolds 4-2, becoming the first African-American to win a World Series game.  Black then started Games 4 and 7.  Although he lost both of them, he pitched very well in all three outings.

Strangely, however, this was Black’s only effective season in his major league career.  His WAR for 1952 was 4.0.  For his entire career, it was 3.4.  WAR is a cumulative stat, so this indicates that Black’s career after 1952 actually resulted in negative value until his retirement in 1957 at the age of 33.

It is a mystery as to why a career that began with so much promise went downhill so quickly and dramatically.  Black pitched just 414 innings in his entire career, finishing with a career record of 30-12, but his ERA after 1952 was never lower than 4.00 in any season.

Perhaps starting and working deep into three World Series games in seven days took their toll on his arm.

Although Joe Black’s 1952 season is largely forgotten today, it deserves to be remembered as one the Best Forgotten Seasons any Brooklyn Dodger ever produced.

Author’s Note:

This was my 50th blog-post.  I want to say thank you to all of you who have been reading along for the past several months.  I appreciate all the comments many of you have left for me, and I have enjoyed this experience even more than I thought I would.

So, once again, Thank You.

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