In this new series, we are going to clean up The Hall, the Hall of Fame, that is. According to the Hall of Fame’s official website, about 1% of all players who have ever worn a Major League Baseball uniform have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
That number seems about right to me.
But it raises a question. How big and crowded should The Hall be allowed to become? Currently, there are 295 plaques (which includes managers, umpires, etc.) in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery. Over time, of course, this number will continue to grow, and although it is not growing quickly, it is possible to foresee a day when the Plaque Gallery is as crowded as the checkout line at Target on Black Friday.
I have no particular number in mind as to what constitutes “enough” plaques in the Plaque Gallery. But could The Hall physically hold, for example, 400 plaques? How about 500? Assuming baseball continues to hold any interest for the general public one century hence, will anyone in the year 2112 make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown to stand in front of Orlando Cepeda’s plaque and have any idea who he was? Should that matter?
First of all, we have to stop pretending that every player who was considered a superstar in his time cannot be reevaluated in light of all that has happened in the several decades since he last put on a pair of spikes. The passage of time offers a perspective not available to that particular player’s contemporaries.
Certain players who appeared to be superstars in the first half of the twentieth century now appear, given modern standards of objective analysis, to have been merely very good ball players who left a strong emotional imprint on the judgments of peers (and voters) of decades past.
What I’m proposing, then, is to gradually improve the quality of the players in the Hall of Fame, one player at a time. One player out; another (arguably better) player in.
All of which brings us to Phil Rizzuto.
Phil Rizzuto was an important part of several New York Yankees championship teams in the 1940’s and early ’50’s. His defensive skills made the Yankees pitchers better. But was his defense good enough to merit Hall of Fame selection?
In a word, no. Rizzuto’s dWAR for his career, (interrupted for three years by W.W.II) was 11.0, the same as Frank White, and slightly higher than Willie Randolph. For a relatively weak-hitting infielder, his defense needs to be world-class — Ozzi Smith-good — to justify selection to The Hall of Fame. Rizzuto doesn’t meet that test.
Rizzuto’s career offensive numbers are unimpressive. He posted a career triple slash line of .273 / .351 / .355. Rizzuto’s career OPS+ of 93 is about the same as Edgar Renteria’s career mark of 94.
Rizzuto hit just 38 home runs in his career, scored only 877 runs, stole 149 bases and amassed just 339 extra base hits in his entire career. He did, however, lead his league in sacrifice bunts four times.
Rizzuto enjoyed one fantastic year when he won the A.L. MVP award at age 32 in 1950. His WAR of 7.1 led the league. He reached a career high 271 total bases, scored 125 runs and batted .324. Rizzuto also produced 200 hits, drew a career high 92 walks, and slammed 36 doubles.
Although he was a five-time All Star, much of his Hall of Fame resume revolves around this one season. But lots of players have had one great season. It is not often the case, however, that they go on to gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
Rizzuto was the David Eckstein of his era, but on a much bigger stage, and with a more formidable P.R. machine behind him.
The player whom I would replace him with is former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell. Whereas Rizzuto posted a career WAR of 41.8, Trammell easily outclasses him with a mark of 66.9. By comparison, HOF’ers Eddie Murray, PeeWee Reese, Gary Carter and Roberto Alomar all produced lower career WAR than Trammell.
Trammell also posted a better career OPS+ of 110 to Rizzuto’s 93.
A much better power hitter, Trammell slugged 185 home runs in his career. He also produced 652 extra base hits, nearly twice as many as Rizzuto’s 339. Trammell’s triple slash line of .285 / .352 / .415 is also better than Rizzuto’s, as is his .767 OPS.
Trammell compiled 2,365 hits, 1,231 runs scored, and 1,003 RBI. Each of these numbers are significantly higher than what Rizzuto produced. And even accounting for the three years that Rizzuto missed while in the service, it is still unlikely that the would have matched Trammell’s totals in any of those categories.
Defensively, Trammell was no slouch, either. He won four Gold Gloves, and finished his career with a dWAR of 7.5, not as good as Rizzuto’s, but not significantly worse, either.
Trammell finished second in A.L. MVP voting in 1987. He won three Silver Sluggers as the best hitter at his position. He also made six All Star Teams.
Clearly, Trammell was the better shortstop. Removing Rizzuto from The Hall and replacing him with Alan Trammell would make The Hall incrementally better, but you have to start somewhere.
- MLB Hall of Fame: Why MLB Needs to Tear It Down and Start Over (bleacherreport.com)
- Video Shows Rizzuto, Ford and Berra on the Road in Austria (nytimes.com)
- MLB Hall of Fame: Top 10 Players Eligible For, but Not in Cooperstown
- The Best Shortstops in Baseball History (sports-central.or