The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Johnny Bench”

Those Who Caught the Great Pitchers: Part 2 – Jerry Grote

This is the second installment of this series.  You can read Part 1 here.

As a young boy growing up a Mets fan in the 1970’s, I always liked Jerry Grote.  Looking at the back of his baseball card, I realized he wasn’t going to ever win a batting title, but watching him play on WOR-Channel 9, I watched him catch enough to know that he was a true professional behind the plate.

Even with the advances made in modern statistical calculations, including dWAR, it is difficult to put a real value on how much a catcher like Jerry Grote was worth to the Mets while he was their primary catcher from the late ’60’s through the mid ’70’s.  Thumbing through a copy of the 1974 Mets yearbook, I found this entry:

“Fortunes of Mets continued to revolve in great measure around availability of bulldoggish, fiery competitor ranked with elite N.L. receiving corps; Shea troupe’s decline began to set in after Ramon Hernandez pitch fractured his right arm bone in Pittsburgh May 11, while pennant push coincided with return to steady full-time duty July 21.”

Perennial stolen-base leader Lou Brock considered Jerry Grote the toughest catcher he ever tried to steal off of, and Johnny Bench himself once remarked that if he’d been on the same team as Grote, he (Bench) would have been relegated to third base with Grote being the regular catcher.

Joe Torre, who both played for and managed the Mets, once compared Grote to Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons.  He said that while Bench and Simmons were hitters that caught, Grote was a catcher who hit.  While that may have been an oversimplification of the abilities and careers these three fine players enjoyed, it does reflect on the high level of respect accorded to Grote by his contemporaries, especially concerning his defense.

Tom Seaver worked with a total of 25 catchers during his MLB career, including Grote, Bench and Carlton Fisk.  No catcher caught Seaver more than Grote did.  Grote was behind the plate for a Seaver start 239 times.  Bench was a distant second at 94 times.  Mets backup catcher Duffy Dyer caught Seaver 55 times.  Seaver made 395 starts as a Met.  Grote was behind the plate in 60% of those starts.  It’s hard to imagine Seaver developing quite the way he did without the defensive prowess of Jerry Grote.

Grote was the Mets starting catcher 1,105 times during his 11 1/2 seasons as a Met (1966-77.)  During that time, he was named to two All-Star teams, led N.L. catchers in putouts in 1970 and ’71, in Range Factor / Game six times, and in Fielding Percentage once.  He never led N.L. catchers in runners caught stealing largely because most base-runners just wouldn’t test his arm.

A .252 career hitter with just 39 career homers, Grote was never a great hitter, but he always viewed his defense as his primary job.  With Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and, a bit earlier, Nolan Ryan to catch, the question is, was his reputation partly enhanced by having the good fortune to catch those excellent pitchers, or were those pitchers so highly productive at least in part because they were lucky to have Jerry Grote behind the plate?

Certainly, a young pitching staff has a lot to learn, and a catcher as assertive and competent as Grote could only have reinforced their development.

Grote’s toughness behind the plate was legendary.  Out of San Antonio, Texas, Grote was an old school guy who was not afraid to call out Seaver or any of the other pitchers when they made a mistake.  He often had run-ins with umpires who earned his wrath, including one alleged incident when he allowed a pitched ball to hit an umpire in the mask.

Pitchers who shook him off could expect him to come barking out from behind home plate, so it didn’t happen very often.  And in 1988, seven years after he’d retired as an MLB catcher, Birmingham Barons manager Jerry Grote inserted himself into a game as his team’s catcher when no one else was available.  At age 42, it was the final time he suited up for a game.

Perhaps we should allow Tom Seaver to have the final word regarding the career of Jerry Grote.  Seaver once remarked on national television that even having had Bench and Fisk behind the plate at one time or another in his career, the finest catcher he ever enjoyed as a battery-mate was Jerry Grote.

If Jerry Grote  was good enough to win high praise from none other than Tom Seaver, who are the rest of us to judge?

Doubles, More Doubles, and Norm Miller

When I first began collecting baseball cards as a kid back in 1974, it quickly became apparent that the Topps Chewing Gum  Co. had a bit of a problem with quality control.  Not that I understood what that term meant, exactly, but the baseball cards themselves were often off-center, of varying degree of glossiness and / or brightness, and sometimes included print-spots that resembled extra-large zits on player’s faces.

To my young mind, worse than any of the above grievances was the issue of coming across the same faces numerous times, pack after wax pack.  Try as I might to come up with a Johnny Bench or a Reggie Jackson, invariably I would pull a Ray Fosse, a Jack Brohamer, or a Tom House.

Or, most frustratingly, for (literally) my money, a Norm Miller.

Norm Miller Atlanta Braves (Baseball Card) 1974 Topps #439

Norm Miller was a backup outfielder for the Atlanta Braves.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, Miller, age 28, was entering his swan-song season in the Majors.  He broke in with the Astros in 1965 at age 19, but whatever the Astros first saw in this presumably hustling teenager, the bloom had long since faded from this particular flower.

The less sagacious Atlanta Braves, however, appeared to believe that there was still reason enough to carry Miller’s light bat at the end of a thin bench.  From that vantage point, at least Miller got to witness firsthand Henry Aaron’s final assault on Ruth’s home-run record.  There are worse ways to earn a living.

Perhaps subconsciously I was also coming to terms with the realization that, an aspiring outfielder myself, and also part of the vast and influential Clan Miller, I might also never amount to anything more than a backup outfielder with underwhelming statistics.

Miller’s citrus-smile mocked me throughout the last half of the ’74 school year, and the entire baseball season.  He looked like a man who wasn’t exactly a ball-player, but was happy enough to be wearing one of those uniforms, anyway.  His non-threatening, every-man demeanor was as reassuring as it was distressing.  Suppose I should strive and aspire to someday be someone — a man of note — only to be revealed to all the vast public as an impostor?

From mid-March, when I began collecting baseball cards, Norm Miller became the one constant in my life.  He followed me into my sleep, and into my dreams.  I was shagging fly balls in a perfect pasture of an outfield, when a Braves bullpen coach shouted at me to get off the field, grab a broom and start sweeping the dugout.  Ralph Garr mocked me as he sauntered over to the batting cage.  Johnny Oates flicked dirt from his cleats onto my little corner at the end of the bench.

Doubles, we called them.  Whenever you got two or more — it didn’t matter how many — of a certain card, we called them doubles.  I think perhaps some people still do.

In school, Miller became the answer to some of my math problems.  12×12?  No sweat.  That’s the pile of Norm Miller baseball cards on my bedroom floor.  If Norm Miller traveled on a train from Atlanta to Cincinnati at 15 miles per hour, and if Rowland Office was traveling from Atlanta to Chicago at 25 miles per hour, and you knew that Miller was going to go 0-4 with two strikeouts in the second game of a double-header, how many times would you play him for the rest of the year?

For my eleventh birthday in May, a Norm Miller birthday cake, not a Billy Miller birthday cake, should have been set on the table for all the children in my neighborhood to enjoy, each little candle a bat splinter from his Louisville Slugger.

Once, I even got two Norm Millers in one pack.  I’m ashamed to admit I began littering the ground that summer with unwanted Norm Miller cards on my way home from the A&G Market, my local grocery store of choice.  I wanted to ask Ann and Gus why they kept sticking Norm Miller cards in every single pack they sold me, but I was too young and still too intimidated by adults to be so rude.

If you were to dig up any section of asphalt on Bridgeport’s west end, I’m confident that even today, you would turn up a soiled and battered Norm Miller baseball card, his smile forever fixed on whatever it was he was focused on at that particular moment in his life.  Had he just finished a nice pancake breakfast?  Were his eyebrows clipped just the way he liked them?  Was there a cute girl waving at a player behind him, and he mistakenly thought she was a fan of his?

Norman Calvin Miller, I estimate that you owe me at least $12.50 for all the dimes I spent on you back in the summer of ’74, and I won’t even figure in inflation.  When you read this, and I know that you are still keeping tabs on my life, please leave the envelope full of dimes on the top of my bureau at my old address in Bridgeport.  I’m confident that it’ll find me.

In his final career at bat, on September 16, 1974 at Candlestick Park, Norm Miller, pinch-hitting against Giants pitcher Jim Barr, struck out.  I like to think he went down swinging, for all of us.

Gary Carter: Better Than You Remember

Recently, from some of the comments I’ve been reading following the death of Gary Carter, it has become obvious to me that many people seriously underrate the actual baseball career of Gary Carter.

While virtually everyone praises his enthusiasm for the game, and for his calm, stoic demeanor in the face of life-threatening tragedy, also implicit in these generally positive comments has been a miss-perception of what Carter’s true value was as a baseball player.

So please allow me to indulge in a second consecutive post about Gary Carter.  Let me also add that Carter was not my favorite player on the Mets.  He ranked about third, behind Keith Hernandez and Dwight Gooden.

But let’s set the record straight.  Gary Carter was a great catcher who, without question, belongs in the Hall of Fame.  And it’s not just because he played for the Mets on a World Championship team.  That was simply the icing on the cake of a remarkable career.

It will be instructive to compare Carter’s career to the ten or so players generally considered to be among the finest catchers in baseball history.

Defensively, from all the stats I’ve seen, there are only about three catchers in history, (Bench, Pudge Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg) who rate better than Carter.  Carter’s career Def. WAR was 10.0.  Only Pudge Rodriguez (16.9) and Sundberg (10.4) actually rank higher in that regard.

Carter was a great defensive catcher (eight time leader in putouts, five time leader in assists) who could also hit.

As a hitter, only three catchers hit more homers, and one of them (Berra) played in a much better era for hitters.  Bench, whom many consider the greatest catcher of all-time, produced the following batting line: .267 / .342 / .476.  Carter, playing in a similar era but normally with worse teams than Bench, posted the following:  .262 / .335 / .439.  Not terribly different.

I like Hartnett, but playing in an extreme hitter’s era, when anyone’s grandma could hit .275, Hartnett (despite a 20-year career) never reached 2,000 hits or even 900 runs scored.  Defensively, he was a good catcher, but there have been several better.

Bill Dickey, like Hartnett, was a good hitter in a great hitter’s era.  Some power, good defense.  Interestingly, Dickey reached 130 games played just five times, and 120 games just seven times.   Carter played at least 130 games a total 12 times. Personally, I’ll take the more durable catcher, who also happens to hit with more power.

Mickey Cochrane, like Dickey and Hartnett, was a fine hitter in a great hitter’s era.  Cochrane won two MVP awards (1928, 1934) but with just two homers, 74 runs scored, 35 extra base hits, and 180 total bases, it’s hard to see how he deserved the second one.

Cochrane’s career OPS+ 128 is impressive for a catcher, but his career Def. WAR of -0.3 indicates he would never have beaten out Carter for a Gold Glove award.

Munson hit for a higher average than Carter, but had much less power (113 homers) and seldom drew any walks to help his on-base percentage.  At the time of his death, his career was already in decline, so I don’t think he would have piled up a lot more stats if he’d gotten to play another four or five years.

Campanella had three great years, but so has Joe Mauer.  Campanella is much beloved because he played for the second most written about franchise in sports history (other than the Yanks), and because of the tragedy of his career-ending injury.  (And I mean no disrespect to Campanella or his fans.)  Gary Carter, by contrast, had about six great years, and several other very good ones.

Ted Simmons was an excellent hitter who happened to do some catching.  After age 32, he was moved out from behind home-plate, and piled up some additional numbers as a DH / First Baseman.  Simmons and Carter played contemporaneously.  But no manager of their era would have chosen Simmons as his starting catcher over Carter.

Playing for the Mets didn’t help Carter’s rep as much as playing his first ten years (his best years) up in Montreal hurt his rep.  If he’d played his Entire career in New York, he’d be rated among the top half dozen who ever played.

The only catchers I’d probably rate ahead of Carter are Bench, Berra, Pudge Rodriguez, and Piazza (for his offense only; defensively he was closer to Ted Simmons than to Johnny Bench.)

Here are the total number of seasons that each of the following catchers reached at least 6.0 WAR (combined offense and defense) in their careers:

1)  Bench – 5
2)  Carter – 5
3)  Piazza – 4
4)  Fisk – 3
5)  Mauer – 3
6)  Rodriguez – 3
7)  Berra – 2
8)  Campanella – 2
9)  Freehan – 2
10)  Munson – 2
11) Simmons – 2
12) Cochrane – 1
13) Dickey – 1
14) Hartnett – 1
15) Howard – 1
16) Porter – 1
17) Posada – 1
18) Torre – 1

It would be sadly ironic, therefore, if the outpouring of grief, support and condolences for Carter and his family resulted in his true legacy as a baseball player being relegated to, as they say, the dustbin of history.

Clearly, Gary Carter wasn’t simply a competitive guy with a jovial personality who happened to be a pretty good Major League catcher.

Gary Carter was, without question, one of the finest catchers who ever played the game.

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

Image via Wikipedia

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...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Related articles

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 15 – The St. Louis Cardinals

Only 13 catchers have ever been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They are:

1) Johnny Bench  2) Yogi Berra  3) Roy Campanella  4)  Carlton Fisk  5) Gary Carter  6) Micky Cochrane  7) Gabby Hartnett  8 ) Rick Ferrell  9) Buck Ewing  10) Bill Dickey  11) Ernie Lombardi  12) Roger Bresnahan  13) Ray Schalk

Certainly, as soon as Mike Piazza becomes eligible, he will join this group.  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez is  likely to become the 15th member, assuming he doesn’t get caught in the steroid scandal.

Current Twins catcher Joe Mauer, owner of three A.L. batting titles, is the best bet among the current crop to make it into Cooperstown someday.  Still, that means that fewer than 20 catchers will enjoy their place in the HOF for at least the next couple of decades.

On average, then, approximately one catcher per Major League decade is enshrined in The Hall.

Obviously, the catching position, along with third base, is one of the two most underrepresented positions in The Hall.

Yet there is a catcher with remarkable career statistics who has never even sniffed Hall membership, peaking at just 3.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 1994.

His name is Ted Simmons.

Simmons made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1968, the year Bob Gibson and company defeated the Tigers in the World Series.  Simmons retired 20 years later as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

Simmons spent the first thirteen years of his career with the Cardinals.  During that time, he was named to six All-Star teams, and he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times.  As an example of how much he was respected as a hitter, he twice led the N.L. in Intentional Walks.

But it is when one compares Simmons career stats with the other 13 HOF catchers that the magnitude of his accomplishments becomes apparent.

Ted Simmons hit more career doubles (483) than any catcher in the HOF.  Only the still active Pudge Rodriguez has ever hit more among players whose primary position was catcher.

Simmons’ 1389 career RBI’s are surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Simmons’ 1074 runs scored ranks  fifth when compared to HOF catchers.  His .285 career batting average would be tied for sixth with Yogi Berra.  Simmons’ career On-Base Percentage (.348) is higher than those compiled by Fisk, Carter, and Bench, just two percentage points behind (again) Yogi Berra.

Ted Simmons walked more times in his career (855) than he struck out (694).

Simmons career OPS+ (117) is exactly the same as Carlton Fisk.

Ted Simmons amassed 3,793 total bases, good for 100th all-time for ALL Major League hitters.

Perhaps most impressively, not one catcher in the Hall of Fame has more career hits than Ted Simmons (2,472.)  Even Mike Piazza has fewer career hits than Ted Simmons.

Defensively, Simmons was overshadowed by Johnny Bench, then later by Gary Carter.  There is no question that Bench and Carter were the two best N.L. catchers of their respective eras.  But Ted Simmons was a good defensive catcher as well.

Although Simmons never won a Gold Glove, he did lead the league in assists twice: 1972, 1978.  He ranks 19th among all catchers in total putouts in for his career.

Ted Simmons’ Best Forgotten Season was 1975, when, as a 25-year old, he hit .332, slashed 193 hits, and compiled 285 total bases, all career highs.   He also drove in exactly 100 runs (one of three times in his career that he would reach that mark), and he also drew 63 walks while fanning just 35 times in 581 at bats.  His adjusted OPS+ was 142, sixth best in the N.L.

Simmons was a solid run producer as well.  His 108 Runs Created in 1975 was fifth best in the league.  He finished sixth in N.L. MVP voting in ’75.

But Simmons was one of those players, like Eddie Murray, who had about five different seasons that could be argued was his finest, depending on which statistics you choose to emphasize.

In 1977, he recorded a career-high on-base percentage of .408 along with a career OPS of .908.  That same season, he also led the N.L. in Intentional Walks with 25.  His WAR score of 6.3 was also a career high.  He also finished ninth in MVP voting that season.

In 1978, Simmons reached career highs in doubles (40), Slugging Percentage (.512) and OPS+ (148).

In 1980, his final season in St. Louis before he was traded to Milwaukee, he was awarded his one and only Silver Slugger award.

Simmons’ strength — his overall consistency — may have been his greatest enemy, however.  Because he never had a huge season where he, like Johnny Bench, won an MVP award or led his team to a World Championship, he tended to be overlooked and taken for granted.

Simmons never led his league in Home Runs, RBI’s, Batting Average, Runs Scored, or any other hitting category other than Intentional Walks and Grounded Into Double Plays.  He also never won a Gold Glove award.

Clearly, though, Ted Simmons deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

In fact, I would rate him first among all the players who deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown but who have not yet received that honor.  I would also rate him ahead of at least two catchers who are already in the Hall of Fame:  Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell.

Writer and statistician Bill James ranks Ted Simmons as the tenth best catcher of all time.  If you are in the top ten all time at any position on the baseball diamond, let alone the most difficult position of all, how can you not be considered good enough to be in the Hall of Fame?

Simmons had the bad luck to be born into the same generation that produced Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Thurman Munson.  Had he been born a decade earlier, or a decade later, he would have stood out as the best catcher of his generation, and his plaque would already be in Cooperstown.

In baseball, as in life, timing is everything.  But the time has come for Ted Simmons’ career accomplishments to be recognized and enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Post Navigation