The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s compare their respective career statistics:

Player A:                            Player B:

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

Doubles – 373                    Doubles – 440

Triples – 112                      Triples – 47

Home Runs – 154              Home Runs – 284

RBI – 1,078                        RBI – 1,205

Runs – 1,120                      Runs – 1,186

Batting Average – .341    Batting Average – .303

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

Slugging % – .506             Slugging % – .497

OPS – .899                        OPS – .880

OPS+ – 136                       OPS+ – 137

Walks – 537                      Walks – 937

Strikeouts – 449               Strikeouts – 1,190

WAR – 54.2                       WAR – 56.2

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

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

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

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

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

Player A is Bill Terry.

Player B is Will Clark.

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

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

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

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

 

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Is the Average Hall of Fame Player?

Virtually every conversation about the Baseball Hall of Fame includes some version of the following argument:

“We shouldn’t water down the Hall of Fame.  It should only be reserved for the best of the best.”

The implication being, of course, that every pitcher on the ballot needs to compare favorably to Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax.  The same, of course, is true of every position player on the ballot.  Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams are the immortals that some fans believe our most recent ballot hopefuls need to measure up to in order to merit serious consideration for being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But how realistic and accurate is that assessment?  What is a “real” Hall of Fame-caliber player?  When we’re discussing the careers of Biggio, Bagwell, Thomas, Piazza, Walker, etc., (among the position players on the ballot), what is a fair and honest standard to hold them to in order to reward them with a plaque in Cooperstown?

Fortunately, Baseball-Reference has a page that actually sheds some light on these questions.  Here are the statistics for a typical, average position player already in the Hall of Fame:

Games:  2,134, Plate Appearances:  8,996, At Bats:  7,917, Hits:  2,397, Doubles:  409, Triples:  110

Home Runs:  209, Runs Scored:  1,321, RBI:  1,212, Stolen Bases:  228, Walks:  889, Strikeouts:  728

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .376 / .462,  OPS:  .837  WAR:  69

I did a little research to see if I could find one player in baseball history who came closest to approximating those stats over the course of his career.  While there was no one player that matched perfectly, of course, there were a few who came relatively close.  For example, here’s Player A:

Games:  2,076, Plate Appearances:  9,053, At Bats:  7,869, Hits:  2,336, Doubles:  449, Triples:  55

Home Runs:  287, Runs Scored:  1,366, RBI:  1,257, Stolen Bases:  147, Walks:  1,069, Strikeouts:  1,212

Triple Slash Line:  .297 / .381 / .477,   OPS:  .858  WAR:  49.5 (But Offensive WAR:  62.7).

As you can see, Player A had a little more power, and a little less speed than your “average” HOF player.  But overall, this player is a pretty good comp.  Let’s try another.  Here’s Player B:

Games:  1,976, Plate Appearances:  8,283, At Bats:  7,173, Hits:  2,176, Doubles:  440, Triples:  47

Home Runs:  284, Runs Scored:  1,186, RBI:  1,205, Stolen Bases:  67, Walks:  937, Strikeouts:  1,190

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .384 / .497,  OPS:  .880  WAR:  56.2

Player B’s batting average is right on the money, and his on-base percentage is close.  Again, a little more power and less speed than the average HOF’er.   One last comp:  Player C 

Games:  2,380, Plate Appearances:  9,086, At Bats:  7,946, Hits:  2,383, Doubles:  413, Triples:  148

Home Runs:  169, Runs Scored:  1,247, RBI:  1,304, Stolen Bases:  71, Walks:  1,018, Strikeouts:  538

Triple Slash Line:  .300 / .382 / .453,  OPS:  .834  WAR:  55.1

Player C’s Triple Slash Line is very close to the average HOF’er, as are his hits, doubles and triples.  The WAR is a little low, but the rest of the profile matches up pretty well with our hypothetically average Hall of Famer.

Which of the three do you like best?

O.K., I wasn’t being completely fair.  Of the three players I analyzed, only Player C is actually in the Hall of Fame. Player C is Enos Slaughter, inducted into The Hall in 1985.

Working backward, Player B is Will Clark, and Player A is Bernie Williams.  In other words, a typical Hall of Fame-caliber player isn’t necessarily even in the Hall of Fame.

As you can see, then, although many baseball fans feel protective of the Hall of Fame, and don’t want it to be “watered down” by inducting “unworthy” players, the truth is, the Hall of Fame doesn’t require protection from any of us.

There is little danger that any of the players on the current ballot who might conceivably be inducted would, in any objective way, lower the standards of the Hall of Fame as it actually exists.  If anything, the majority of the players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot are, by historical standards, overqualified.*

Simply put, this is not just Hank Aaron’s Hall of Fame.  It is Enos Slaughter’s Hall of Fame as well.**

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

*You will find that this is true, even if you decide to break the list down position by position.

**It may also some day be Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame.  Though his stats are also pretty close to the historical averages, I didn’t include him because he is still currently active.

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Is This a Hall of Fame Pitcher?

How many outstanding seasons must a pitcher accumulate to become a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate?  This question is more important than ever because, now that the 300-game winner is likely to become all but extinct, it will become  increasingly necessary over the next several years to develop a set of objective criteria which might enable a  broad consensus to form regarding what exactly constitutes a Hall of Fame pitching career.

When we look back over the history of baseball regarding what it has meant to be a Hall of Fame-worthy pitcher, the 300-win threshold was not always considered a prerequisite to HOF induction.  Certainly, plenty of exceptions to this relatively modern de facto standard have been  made over the years to recognize the excellence of pitchers such as Dizzy Dean (150 wins), Jack Chesbro (198 wins), Rube Waddell (193 wins), Ed Walsh (195 wins), Addie Joss (160 wins), Dazzy Vance (197 wins), and, of course, Sandy Koufax (165 wins.)

In none of their respective cases did winning fewer than 200 games, let alone 300,  prevent their eventual enshrinement.  Fans and sportswriters alike were apparently of the opinion that greatness did not necessarily equal longevity, or that “only” a few outstanding seasons simply weren’t enough to merit Hall induction.

Yet by the 1970’s — certainly by the 1980’s — it had become de rigour for fans and pundits alike to trumpet the 300-win standard (or something damned close to it) for a pitcher to obtain even a passing glance at Hall immortality.  The irony is that at precisely about the time Hall voters had appeared to come to expect this arbitrary standard of would-be HOF pitchers, the game itself was evolving in ways (increased reliance on team’s bullpens, for example) that would make it less likely that modern pitchers would ever likely become 300-game winners.

There is always a lag time between what is true and what we believe to be true.  That is called learning from experience.  The history of America is the history of what we once believed to be true (slavery was justifiable, women could not compete in the workplace with men, etc.) versus where we are (however imperfectly realized) today.  HOF voters and fans are no different, and represent, perhaps, an even more conservative subculture of the general population.  Once an idea takes root, it is nearly impossible to shake.  Thus the continual, disproportionate attention paid to statistics such as batting average (for hitters) and wins (for pitchers.)

So, keeping in mind actual Hall of Fame history, please allow me to provide you with a series of statistics, and you tell me, (keeping in mind that only about one-third of Hall of Fame pitchers have actually won over 300 games) did this particular pitcher enjoy a HOF-worthy career or not?

Let’s begin with this pitcher’s three best consecutive peak seasons:

58 wins, 19 losses, completed 35 of 99 starts, 13 shutouts, 745 innings, 744 strikeouts, 1.04 WHIP, .187 batting average against, 2.28 ERA, 22.0 WAR, won a Cy Young award, and finished 2nd and 7th in the voting the other two years.  Incidentally, this is not a 19th-century, or early 20th-century dead-ball era pitcher.

At this point, would you agree or disagree that those are Hall of Fame-caliber numbers?

Lest you might think that those three seasons represent the entirety of this pitcher’s productive career, here are his statistics for his seven best consecutive years (he missed about half of one of these seasons):

119 wins, 46 losses, a .721 win-loss percentage, 209 starts, 55 complete games, 20 shutouts, 1,522 innings, 1,391 strikeouts, 1.14 WHIP (the same as Greg Maddux’s career WHIP), .207 batting average against, a 2.83 ERA, and 36 WAR (which includes his very respectable contributions with the bat.)

There was another 4th place as well as a 5th place finish in Cy Young voting during those additional four seasons.  In four of those seven years, he struck out over 200 batters, and he never lost more than nine games in any one of those campaigns.  That 36 WAR, by the way, is about the same as or higher than a few starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and we’re not quite done with this pitcher yet.

So, how about now?  Does this seven-year run of success merit HOF attention?  Does he at least belong in the conversation?  Are his numbers, at least at this point, not on a par with the other pitchers I mentioned in an earlier paragraph who won fewer than 200 games, but are in the Hall anyway?

To be eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a ballplayer needs to have accumulated at least ten seasons of service time at the Major League level.  So let’s look at this pitcher’s best ten-year period, and we’ll evaluate his HOF-worthiness:

154 wins-81 losses, .655 win-loss percentage, 296 starts, 67 complete games, 23 shutouts, 2,128 innings, 1,852 hits, 1,835 strikeouts, 3.03 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .212 batting average against (he batted .200 over those ten seasons), and 47.0 WAR.

Admittedly, those are just about the only productive seasons he enjoyed during his career, but they certainly were a productive ten years.  The 154 wins are not that different from the number Koufax, Vance, Dean, and the others won during their entire careers.  And this pitcher’s final career WAR, 53.2, is higher than Hall of Famers Elmer Flick, Burleigh Grimes, Sam Rice, Mickey Cochrane, Bobby Doerr, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Lazzeri, Chief Bender, Bob Lemon, Nellie Fox…and Sandy Koufax.

Mind you, no one’s arguing that this pitcher was necessarily better than any of those players.  But if his career WAR is at least on a  par with those Hall of Famers, would it be ridiculous to ask if he should at least be in the conversation regarding the Hall of Fame?

His final career totals:

194-112, .634 win-loss percentage, 2,800 innings, 2,564 hits, 2,293 strikeouts, a .226 career batting average against, 1.25 WHIP, 3.51 ERA (though just 3.11 over his 12 years in the N.L.) a no-hitter, the aforementioned Cy Young award, a Rookie of the Year award, four trips to the All Star game, a Silver Slugger, and a World Championship ring.

So what’s your final decision as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Either way, you’ve just taken a long, hard look at the career of Dwight Gooden.

Gooden spent just one year on the HOF ballot, drew just 3% of the vote, and that was the end of that.

It may very well be that every single member of the BBWAA took the time to seriously consider Gooden’s record before they cast their ballot, but I doubt it.  Players are preceded, smothered and sometimes buried by the narrative that has attached itself to their names, like barnacles under an old ship.  Gooden’s narrative is complex and tragic.

Now, I realize Gooden is far from the only potentially deserving HOF candidate to have been virtually ignored by HOF voters.  But I chose him precisely because so few fans and writers have ever appeared to take his overall career as seriously as his accomplishments suggest that they should.

Not every pitcher who finds success in the Majors is going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  I get that.  But the current process does beg the question, short of 300 victories, just what exactly is it that voters want?

Author’s note:  I had written this post in its entirety before learning of the retirement of the great Roy Halladay late yesterday afternoon.  I could just as easily have made my key point about Halladay as about Gooden.  Will Halladay, with just 203 career wins, end up one and done on the Hall ballot like Gooden, or will the BBWAA recall all the great years Halladay enjoyed in his career, and reward him accordingly?  Most importantly, by what objective criteria will they decide?

My Hall of Fame Ballot, and a Cautionary Tale

Are you familiar with the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, located on the campus of Bronx Community College in New York City?  Not many people are.  It was formally dedicated in May, 1901, as place to honor prominent Americans who had a significant impact on U.S. history and culture.  Modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, its 630 foot open-air colonnade was conceived as a place where marble busts of America’s most significant writers, presidents, inventors, and the like would be commemorated for all time.  A very serious blue ribbon panel of 100 men was cobbled together to make initial nominations, and for several decades, the landmark was taken quite seriously.

As you have probably guessed by now, the existence of this Hall of Fame put the seed of an idea into the head of Ford Frick, who passed this idea along to Stephen Clark (of the Cooperstown Clarks), whose very wealthy local family connections paved the way for this unlikely caper to come to fruition.  Stephen saw this as an idea to bring business to Cooperstown, suffering from the ravages of the Great Depression, and nearly overnight, this quaint little village was  dedicated as hallowed ground where the Abner Doubleday legend also conveniently took root.  That there was no easy way to transport people to Cooperstown to visit the proposed new shrine doesn’t seem to have fazed Clark.

Meanwhile, while the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was just getting off the ground, the more established, high-brow Hall down in the Bronx (on what was then the campus of New York University) was in its heyday.  The New York Bar Association went so far as advocating for certain of its members, and newspapers breathlessly covered the annual inductions.

In a fantastic little article I recently discovered, Baltimore Sun columnist Joe Mathews (August 1, 1997), wrote, in a sentence that could serve as a cautionary tale for the institution up in Cooperstown, “The 97-year old monument is a shrine not only to [them], but to an ideal of fame that, like the hall itself, is dusty and decaying.”

Apropos to nothing, my favorite sentence in the article is, “The first hall of fame was the brainchild of a Presbyterian minister who was influenced by his concern for prostitution, democracy, and the Roman Empire.”  (emphasis added.) Mets brass, take note.  Want to put asses in the seats at Citi Field next season?  Why not go with  “Prostitution, Democracy and the Roman Empire” as next season’s slogan?  It’s certainly much more compelling than “Show up at Shea” (1998), or “Experience It” (2003).

Now, back to our story.

Hardly anyone ever visits The Hall of Fame for Great Americans these days anymore, even though it sits on an easily accessible college campus.  Its committee of electors made its final official inductions in 1976.  Among the four final inductees were a horticulturist and a judge.  None of the final four have yet had a bronze bust built in their honor.  Its Board of Trustees formally dissolved in 1979.  Since then, the colonnade has been far more popular with pigeons than with people.  You may still visit the 98 bronze busts in existence.  Self-guided tours are available daily from 10:00-5:00, with a suggested donation of $2.00 per person.

Attendance to the Baseball Hall of Fame has steadily declined over the past twenty years, from a high of over 400,000 in the early 1990’s to around 260,000 last year.  Although the Hall of Fame is a non-profit institution, and is, in effect, a ward of the State of New York, it appears that its operating budget was over two million dollars in the red in its last fiscal year.  Over the past decade, the HOF has more often than not lost money.

Outwardly, the Baseball Hall of Fame appears to be a healthy, thriving entity.  It has a modern website, a Board of Directors featuring such luminaries as Tom Seaver and Joe Morgan, and disproportionate influence on how the game itself is remembered from one generation to the next.  Its solid brick exterior and its pastoral location connote classical American values such as fortitude, temperance and diligence.  And it contains part of the original facade of Ebbet’s Field.  What can go wrong?

By all means, consider the official Hall of Fame ballot a sacred totem of a mystical shrine, if you will, but consider this:  Will our choices result in a stronger institution, more relevant to modern American sensibilities of entertainment and utility, or will they further contribute to the atrophy that apparently is slowly setting in?

Having said that, and while chafing at the ten-player limit arbitrarily imposed on actual BBWAA voters, here are my choices, in no particular order,  for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

1)  Greg Maddux

2)  Mike Piazza

3)  Craig Biggio

4)  Jeff Bagwell

5)  Tim Raines

6)  Tom Glavine

7)  Mike Mussina

8)  Alan Trammell

9)  Frank Thomas

10)  Don Mattingly

I’m sure the most controversial pick on this list will be Don Mattingly.  Fine.  Up until I set about typing this post, I would not have included him among this group, either.  But in light of all the previous paragraphs I’ve written about The Hall in this article, the relevant question is, would the enshrinement of Donnie Baseball be a good thing for the future viability of The Hall, or would it somehow be a “bad” thing.

Three questions:

1)  Was Don Mattingly ever the best player in the game during his career?

2)  Did Don Mattingly represent the game, his team, and himself with nothing but respect both on the field and off?

3)  Did he meet the 10-year minimum length career criteria for Hall eligibility?

The answer to each of these questions is yes.  From 1984-87, there was no better player in the American League than Don Mattingly.  He was always nothing but professional.  He played for 14 seasons.  At various times in his career, he led his league in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  From 1984-89, he averaged 330 total bases per season.  Perhaps most impressively, however, he never struck out more than 43 times in any single full season in his career.

In his only playoff appearance, in 1995, vs. Seattle, he batted .417 in 25 plate appearances.  He was a six time All Star, won three Silver Sluggers, nine Gold Gloves, and his .996 Fielding Percentage is among the ten best all-time at his position.  He won an MVP award, and finished runner-up once as well.  If he picked up a bat today, at age 52, he would probably still outhit Ike Davis.

Perhaps more to the point, Mattingly has legions of loyal fans who might just possibly trek all the way up to Cooperstown to see their hero enshrined, and to listen to his acceptance speech.  Years from now, dads might still be taking their kids to see Mattingly’s plaque at The Hall.  How many parents do you think bring their kids all the way up to Cooperstown each year to stand in awe of the plaques of HOF “immortals” such as Herb Pennock, Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner, or Dave Bancroft?

Explain to me, then, how inducting Don Mattingly into the Baseball Hall of Fame would be bad for baseball, or for The Hall itself?

In the final analysis, the Hall of Fame is an idea as much as it is a place.  All baseball fans, in their heart of hearts, have their own idea as to what constitutes fame in this context.  When the chasm between what fans believe in their hearts is legitimate fame relative to the actual composition of the institution itself  grows too wide, then the fans, faced with an untenable choice, will always follow one and ignore the other.   Should that happen, The Baseball Hall of Fame may one day bear an uncanny resemblance to that other unfortunately failed Hall of Fame further downstate on a bluff overlooking the indifferent Harlem River.

Baseball Trivia Contest: Hall of Fame Names

Now that we find ourselves here in the dog days of August, let’s have some fun.

On the left-hand column below, I created a list of Hall of Fame baseball players by their surnames only.  On the right-hand side, you will notice a list of the real first names of each of these HOF players.   Your challenge is to match the first name on the right with the HOF player it belongs to on the left.  Each first name will be used just once.

See how many you can match up before you check the answer key at the bottom of the page,  then let me know how you did.  It might help to print out this page so you can do it by hand.

1)  Seaver                                                     A)  Rik

2)  Dean                                                       B)  Adrian

3)  Bender                                                   C)  Leon

4)  Ford                                                        D)  Gordon

5)  Grove                                                     E)  William

6)  Anson                                                     F)  George

7)  Berra                                                       G)  John

8)  Koufax                                                     H)  Edward

9)  Traynor                                                   I)  Jay

10)  Wilson (Hack)                                       J)  Charles

11)  Ewing                                                     K)  Lawrence

12)  Goslin                                                     L)  Robert

13)  Paige (Satchel)                                      M)  Lewis

14)  Fox (Nellie)                                             N)  Jacob

15)  Kelly (King)                                              O)  Harold

16)  Blyleven                                                   P)  Vernon

17) Brouthers (Dan)                                       Q)  Leroy

18)  Gomez (Lefty)                                          R)  Sanford

19)  Cochrane                                                  S)  Michael

20)  Chesbro                                                     T)  Dennis

Answer Key:

1)  F

2)  I

3)  J

4)  H

5)  L

6)  B

7)  K

8)  R

9)  O

10) M

11) E

12) C

13) Q

14) N

15) S

16) A

17) T

18) P

19) D

20) G

Hall of Fame of the Heart

What does reason know?  Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning. -Dostoevsky

If you could build your own Baseball Hall of Fame, what kind of place would it be?

It’s likely that the actual Hall of Fame includes several  players you admired while growing up.  It’s also likely that some of the players you admired the most then, and still do today, were never deemed Hall worthy.

You may not even have any real problem with that.  Intellectually, you probably understand the statistical reasoning that has served to exclude some of your favorite players.

But suppose we were to construct a Hall of the Heart, that is, a place (or, more accurately, an idea), where those players who captured our imagination all those years ago would be enshrined?  In fact, when we use the term “Hall of Fame,” it begs the question, famous to whom?

If fame is the fleeting, fickle standard by which we are to choose our immortals, it is by definition an extremely subjective standard.  Just because the evolution of The Hall has coincided with a revolution in statistical analysis doesn’t necessarily mean that the membership of the former should be almost entirely dependent upon the mathematical equations of the latter.

Or, as the 19th century Russian writer, Dostoevsky, stated in Notes From Underground:

[Man] is fond of striving toward achievement, but not so very fond of the achievement itself, and this is, naturally, terribly funny. In short, man is constructed comically; there is evidently some joke in all of this. But two times two makes four is still an altogether insufferable thing. Two times two makes four–why, in my view, it is sheer impertinence. Two times two makes four is a brazen fop who bars your way with arms akimbo, spitting.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  This is not a diatribe in favor of the so-called “traditionalist” view of baseball.  Nor am I suggesting that the statistical work that has been done by the modern, progressive wing of the baseball universe has been accomplished by “brazen fops.”   The fact is that the “traditionalists” use stats just as readily to make their particular cases just as often and with as much gusto as those of the sabermetric persuasion.  They just choose to use a different set of (generally older) stats.

What I’m advocating here is a return to the idea of baseball as fun, as entertainment, and as the fount of the dreams of youth.  For that, we have to look inward, into our irrational, passionate selves.     We never cheer a 1.040 WHIP, but we do cheer the unlikely triple hit by the chubby kid that scores the go-ahead run in the home-half of the eighth inning.

What follows, then, is (perhaps inevitably) a list of the players who inspired my imagination as a child, and on into my teens and early twenties.  They are the by-product of time and place, and are of a distant genetic lineage to the gods and immortals of old:  Hercules, Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon, Heracles, Theseus, etc.

I will strive for brevity in my comments about each one of my heroes.  My list, after all, is not intended to convince you of anything at all, except of my own vulnerable humanity.

It is also not in any particular order.  Let the imagination do its work, uninterrupted:

1)  Tom Seaver:  My very own Odysseus.  Conquering hero, fated to spend several years away from home ( Queens / Ithaca) eventually to return again, triumphant, however briefly.

2)  Freddy Lynn:  Inspiration in the summer of ’75 for so many backyard dives and catches.  To play so fearlessly, even for one season in the sun, is what it’s all about.

3)  Steve Garvey:  Though it’s not a Steve Garvey model, I bought a first-base mitt to be like him.  I still have it today.  Handsome, dependable, heroic and a star, in the mid-1970’s, he was everything I could ever hope to be.

4)  Rusty Staub:  There was always something mysterious about him.  Rusty sometimes wore a black glove while batting, he came from foreign lands (Montreal, by way of Houston), and he was also a practicing chef.  He was like a secret agent masquerading as a baseball player, and he had a certain swagger about him.  He was like Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  crossed with Robert Vaughn in The Magnificent Seven.

5)  The Boys of Summer:  This was the first grownup book I ever read.  I was around ten or eleven years old, and while reading it, I wanted the entire Brooklyn Dodgers team to be my friends and family.  Roger Kahn also made me want to be a writer, if I couldn’t be a ballplayer.

Giants manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy...

Giants manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy Mathewson during the 1911 World Series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Christy Mathewson:  Although he played long before my time, I was struck by his story, his boyish good looks, and his integrity.  Mathewson was college educated.  His manager, John McGraw, was an old-school tough without much formal education.  Yet McGraw loved Mathewson like a son.  It was the sort of relationship I coveted with my father.

Mathewson was gassed in a training accident in 1918 during the First World War.  He would die young, at age 45 in 1925, of tuberculosis.

Like Achilles, he would shine brightly all too briefly.  He was both literally and figuratively a warrior, and the war would contribute to his early demise.

7)  Keith Hernandez:  Keith was, without doubt, the greatest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen.  He took charge of the infield in a way I’ve never seen a first baseman do either before or since.  Always fearless and accurate when throwing across the diamond, he cut down more base-runners in a week, than I’ve seen some do in a year.

Keith was also a great clutch hitter.  Never a big power threat, Keith would spray line-drives all over the place, usually when they mattered most.

He also had a smoking habit, and, although it never inspired me to start smoking myself, it did make him seem more accessible and human.  He wasn’t some body-building athlete intent on perfecting his physique.  He was a baseball player with the God-given ability, the natural instincts and the competitive drive to succeed in a very difficult sport.

8)  Will “The Thrill” Clark:  An intense southern boy from the bayous of Louisiana, Will Clark was  nothing if not a competitor.  The eye-black he wore made him look like a special forces sniper.  Another first baseman, he helped get me back into collecting baseball cards in the late 1980’s.  I wanted to collect every card that featured him, and I wanted to copy his smooth, left-handed swing.  I was always happy when the Giants came to town so I could watch him play.

If the character, Swan, from the movie, “The Warriors” was a pro baseball player, he’d be Will Clark (and wouldn’t the Baseball Furies just love that?)  Swan is the very first Warrior you see in this clip. The movie is loosely based on Homer’s, The Odyssey.

Eric Davis hit for the cycle in 1989.

Eric Davis hit for the cycle in 1989. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)9)

 9)  Eric Davis:  Eric the Red.  A contemporary of Will Clark, he played with a slash and burn style reminiscent of the Norseman of myth and legend.

I absolutely loved the way Eric Davis, in his prime, made the game of baseball look so easy that he might soon grow bored with it and find another hobby.

He could steal bases, hit homers, range around the outfield, score runs, and he played with just enough of the toughness of the streets of L.A. where he grew up.

Later, in 1998, Davis also made a heroic comeback from colon cancer to play remarkably well for the Baltimore Orioles.

Eric Davis and I also share a birthday, May 29th.  He was born exactly one year before me.

10)  Jeff Bagwell:  Bagwell grew up in my home state of Connecticut and is just a few years younger than I.  Throughout the ’90’s, Bagwell was my favorite player.  He was powerful, he could really run the bases, which was most unusual for a first baseman, and I loved his wide-open stance.  An aggressive player, Bagwell basically had no weaknesses in his game.  If the god Apollo could play baseball, he would be Jeff Bagwell.

These are certainly not the only ten players in my Hall of the Heart.  A random sampling of many others would include Roger Maris, Dwight Gooden, Larry Walker, Bernie Carbo, Jerry Grote, Lou Gehrig, Bill Lee, Jim Bouton, Dave Kingman, Sid Fernandez, Rube Waddell, Jerry Koosman, Mookie Wilson, Jon Matlack, Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Murcer, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Kirby Puckett, Ken Griffey, Jr., Ted Williams, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Gary Carter, David Cone, Mike Vail, Lenny Randle, Mark Fidrych, Ron LeFlore, Sandy Koufax, Smoky Joe Wood, Ron Guidry, Dizzy Dean,  Arky Vaughan, Paul Konerko, Brian Giles, Nomar Garciaparra, Rusty Greer, “Toe” Nash, Sidd Finch, Moonlight Graham, Robin Ventura, Addie Joss, and yes, even Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Oh, and some guy who used to pitch for the Red Sox named Babe Ruth.

Now that’s a Hall of Fame for which I would happily pay the price of admission.

Who would you include in your irrational, sentimental Hall of the Heart?

I’d like to know.

Ten Facts About the Baseball Hall of Fame

After today’s disappointing BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results, I’ve decided to avoid commenting on that issue directly, but to instead make a simple list of ten facts about The Hall that will be (hopefully) less depressing to read.

So here are ten facts you may or may not already know about the Baseball Hall of Fame:

1)  The HOF is located in Cooperstown, New York, which is hundreds of miles from nowhere.  If you wanted to make a place less accessible, you would have to choose a location perhaps somewhere in  Albania.

2)  The current Chairperson of the Board of the Hall of Fame is 58-year old Jane Forbes Clark.  In the early 1930’s, her grandfather, Stephen Clark, was one of a band of conspirators who attempted to bribe two-time Medal of Honor winner marine General Smedley Butler (shown below) into leading a right-wing fascist coup de’ tat against newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt.  The money to purchase the weapons to be used (provided by Remington Arms, where my dad worked for over 20-years) was to be fronted by, among others, the Dupont Corporation, and the House of J.P. Morgan.  The plot collapsed when General Butler informed certain members of Congress about the plans for this coup.  Also allegedly involved in the plot was future Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, grandfather of President George W. Bush, who would, of course, go on to own the Texas Rangers baseball team.

3)  A few years after this coup plot, the Clark family, the most prominent family in Cooperstown, bought into the idea of a baseball Hall of Fame, proposed by Clark’s business partner Alexander Cleland, in part as a way to counter some of the negative publicity (little though it was) regarding the coup attempt.

4)  Jane Forbes Clark’s great, great-grandfather helped start the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which, like Remington Arms, was also in my hometown of Bridgeport, CT.  She still uses a Singer sewing machine today.  That company was the genesis of the (enormous) Clark family fortune.

5)  The building that today is the Baseball Hall of Fame was originally a high school gymnasium.

6)  Cooperstown’s normal population is just 2,200 people, but on HOF induction weekend, it swells to over 30,000.  The HOF’s annual operating budget is 12 million dollars, and it has a full-time staff of 100 people.

7)  The Baseball Hall of Fame has three floors, over 38,000 artifacts (of which only a small percentage are ever available for viewing), 2.6 million library items and over 130,000 baseball cards, (but I’ll bet they don’t have this one.)

On the back of this card, we learn that “George likes marshmallow milkshakes.”

8)  The Baseball Hall of Fame first opened its doors in 1939.  In that year, future Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Brock and Phil Niekro would each be born.  Also, Hitler would launch WWII.

9)  One baseball HOF’er, Catfish Hunter, has no team represented on his baseball cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.  He refused to choose between the A’s and the Yankees because he was on good terms with both teams and didn’t want to offend either of them.

10)  In eight of the past ten years, the Baseball Hall of Fame has operated at a financial deficit.  In 2011, The Hall posted a two million dollar net loss.  Dozens of area businesses depend either entirely or in large part on the tourists who come to Cooperstown for the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Public services, in turn, which depend on tax receipts, can also be negatively impacted by a local economy hurt by a lack of tourists.  One has to wonder if the voting members of the BBWAA took that possibility into account when they self-righteously decided to punish the entire class of 2013 for the transgressions of some of their contemporaries.

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

Best Position Players Not In the Hall of Fame: All-Time Team

“Tis the season, for Hall of Fame voting.

That means, of course, that today must be Cyber-Monday, the day in which I spend around six hours in my sweat-pants — pot of coffee at-the-ready — poring over statistics, analyzing the career records of various retired players…oh, wait, I do this all the time anyway.

Here are the ground-rules for my list of Best Retired Players Not Already in the Hall of Fame:

1)  No 19th century players.  In my opinion, the baseball writers / bloggers / historians, etc., have spent more than enough time picking over the skeletal remains of that century, regarding baseball.  As it says in a pretty famous book, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

2)  The player not only has to be retired; he also has to have appeared on the BBWAA HOF ballot at least once since he’s been retired.

3)  The player has to meet basic Hall of Fame requirements, such as having played at least ten seasons in the Majors, can’t have been deemed ineligible due to “legal” issues (do you hear me, Pete Rose?), etc.

And that’s basically it.  So let’s get started.

Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1B  Jeff Bagwell:  (1991-2005)  A no-brainer.  Baseball-Reference.com (I’ll  constantly be referring to this invaluable website throughout) has Bagwell listed as the sixth greatest first baseman of all-time.  Thirty-eight players have reached the 30 (homers) – 30 (steals) club in baseball history.  You know how many of them have been first basemen?  Just one.  Jeff Bagwell.  And he did it twice.

Bagwell’s career OPS+ of 149 is tied for 36th best in baseball history, at any position.  He was an outstanding base-runner, a very good fielder, could hit for both power and average, and was durable, leading the league in games played four times.

His 1,788 runs created is tied with HOF’er Al Simmons for 39th all-time, ahead of such immortals as Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Reggie Jackson and Eddie Mathews.

Bagwell was the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1991, and the league’s MVP in 1994.

Last year, Bagwell was named on 56% of the ballots cast by members of the BBWAA.  Apparently, the other 44% were a bit scared off by “rumors” that Bagwell might somehow have been associated with the steroids scandal.

Yet the fact remains that no evidence has surfaced that Bagwell had anything to do with steroids at all.  Hopefully, another 20% of the BBWAA will come to their senses this year and vote Bagwell into The Hall where he clearly belongs.

2B  Bobby Grich:  (1970-86)  Baseball-Reference (from here on out, B-R), ranks Grich as the 8th best second baseman of all-time.  The seven listed immediately ahead of him, and three of the four directly behind him, are all in the Hall of Fame.  Grich’s 67.3 WAR is higher than the average of the 19 second basemen in The Hall.

A four-time Gold Glove winner, Grich was an excellent defensive second baseman.  He also had good power for a middle infielder, slugging 224 career homers, including a league-leading total of 22 in the strike year of 1981 (100 games played), and 30 homers in 1979.

Only six second basemen in history have a career OPS+ better than Grich’s mark of 125, and each of them is in the Hall of Fame.  Playing for both the Orioles and the Angels in his 17-year career (1970-86), Grich possessed one of the best combinations of offense and defense ever by a second baseman, and certainly belongs in the HOF.  (All apologies to Lou Whitaker, my second choice.)

SS Alan Trammell:  (1977-96)  Bill James ranked Trammell as the 9th best shortstop of all time.  B-R has him ranked in 11th place.  So let’s compromise and call him the 10th best shortstop ever.  Now, if you are among the top ten players in one of baseball’s most difficult defensive positions, it seems logical that you belong in The Hall, doesn’t it?

Alan Trammell’s career WAR of 67.1 is exactly the same as recent HOF inductee Barry Larkin.  It is also better than 13 other shortstops already in the HOF.  Trammell and his keystone mate Lou Whitaker were each always among the best defensive players at their respective positions in their era.

Trammell was the best player in the A.L. in 1987, batting .343, with 205 hits, 109 runs scored, 28 homers, 21 steals and 105 RBI (and his usual stellar defense), but finished second to George Bell in MVP voting due to Bell’s gaudier power numbers.

Trammell won several Gold Gloves, posted a solid .285 career batting average, slugged 185 homers and 412 doubles (shortstops were not yet necessarily expected to be dangerous hitters, as would become the norm a bit later), and played his entire 20-year career (1977-96) in Detroit.

This year will be Trammell’s 12th on the HOF ballot.  Last year, he was named on 36.8% of the ballots.  Perhaps the BBWAA will take a more serious look at Trammell’s career this time around and give him the boost he needs to make it into The Hall before his eligibility runs out in just a few more years.  He certainly belongs there.

English: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken...

English: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer in a 1955 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3B  Ken Boyer:  (1955-69)  As perhaps many of you already know, third base is the least represented position in the HOF.  Only eleven third basemen are in The Hall, and it took Ron Santo’s drawn-out induction last year to get the number that high.  Ken Boyer should be inducted to make it a dozen.

Boyer is rated by B-R as the 14th best third baseman of all time.  Of the 13 players listed ahead of Boyer, three are either currently active or have recently retired, one — Edgar Martinez — wasn’t really a third baseman at all, and all but one of the rest of them are already in The Hall.  Only Graig Nettles is as qualified as Boyer to stake a claim on this list.

Ultimately, I chose Boyer because I believe his overall game was a hair better than Nettles’ was, and because Boyer was selected to play in eleven All Star games in 15 years, while Nettles was chosen six times in 22 seasons.

For a solid decade, 1955-64, Boyer was always one of the best players in the N.L.  In 1964, the year in which the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series, Boyer led the league with 119 RBI and was named N.L. MVP that season.

A five-time Gold Glove winner, Boyer ranks 20th all-time in assists as a third baseman.  Boyer also hit for solid power (282 homers), had very decent speed (68 triples), and finished his career with a respectable .287 batting average.

Boyer was dropped off of the BBWAA’s HOF list after receiving just 11.8% of the vote in his final year of eligibility in 1994.  Yet, as of this writing, Boyer remains the best third baseman not in the Hall of Fame.  Perhaps some day, a future Veteran’s Committee will endorse his induction into the HOF.

C  Ted Simmons:  (1968-88)  Simmons HOF candidacy was always hurt by the fact that his career largely occurred during what can now be considered a Golden Age of catchers.  In the 1970’s and into the ’80’s, there was no shortage of World Class catchers:  Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Bob Boone, Darrell Porter, Jim Sundberg and Gary Carter, among others, each donned the so-called tools of ignorance.  Ted Simmons had a fine career, but was overshadowed by some of these other catchers.

Still, B-R ranks Ted Simmons as the 10th best catcher of all-time.  Simmons was an underrated defensive catcher, though no match for several of the others I’ve listed above.  But more to the point, Simmons was a catcher who could really hit.  Here are his batting averages from 1971-80:  .304, .303, .310, .272, .332, .291, .318, .287, .283, and .303.

After switching leagues at age 31, leaving the Cardinals for the Brewers, Simmons caught fewer and fewer games every year, becoming increasingly a 1B / DH.

Despite the competition at his position and in his league, Simmons was named to eight All Star teams in his career.  Only one catcher, Pudge Rodriguez, has ever hit more career doubles than Simmons’ total of 483, and his 1,389 RBI is also the second highest total of all time by a player whose primary position was catcher, surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Strangely, Ted Simmons was only on the BBWAA HOF ballot for just one year, 1994, in which he received just 3.7% of the vote.  Looking back nearly 20 years later, it’s difficult to understand how Simmons could garner such little support for such an excellent career.

Thus, Ted Simmons remains the best catcher not in the Hall of Fame.  (Apologies to Joe Torre, my second choice.)

LF  Tim Raines:  (1979-2002)  In my opinion, after Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines is the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  And other than Rickey Henderson, I believe that Tim Raines was the best top of the order, base-stealing, run-producing player of the past eighty years.

Tim “Rock” Raines stole 808 bases in his career, leading the league in steals four times.  He stole at least 70 bases in a season in each of his first six years in the Majors.  Significantly, he never led the league in times caught stealing.  By way of comparison, Lou Brock led the league in steals eight times, but also led in times caught stealing seven times.  Raines career stolen base success rate of nearly 85% is one of the best in MLB history.

But Raines was also an excellent all-around run producer.  He created exactly 1,636 runs in his career, the same total as Tony Gwynn, and more than Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and former teammate Andre Dawson.

Of the seven left-fielders ranked ahead of Raines by B-R, five are in The Hall.  The other two are Barry Bonds and Pete Rose (see the link to an article about Pete Rose below.)  There are 13 left-fielders who rank behind Raines who are in The Hall. Clearly, Raines has more than a legitimate case to be enshrined in The Hall.  Until that day arrives, however, he will remain the best left-fielder not in the HOF.

CF  Jimmy Wynn:  (1963-77)  Frankly, although I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy Wynn, I didn’t expect him to be my center-fielder on this list.  But I am happy to say that he fits the bill.  B-R ranks Wynn as the 15th best center-fielder ever.  Each of the 14 listed ahead of him are either already in The Hall, are currently active, or have only recently retired.  Kenny Lofton (ranked 8th) appears on the HOF ballot for the first time this fall.

I’ve made this argument before, but let me briefly state it one more time.  If you took HOF’er Jim Rice and placed him in the Houston Astrodome for the majority of his home games, and you put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for the majority of his, then Wynn would be in The Hall, and Rice would be remembered as a very solid player along the lines of say, Joe Carter.

In 1967, for example, the entire Astros team hit just 93 home runs.  Jimmy Wynn hit 37 of those homers, representing an astounding 40% of all of the Astros homers that season.  The aging Eddie Mathews and a very young Rusty Staub each hit 10 homers that year, good for second place on that team.

Meanwhile, flashing ahead ten years, Jim Rice led the A.L. with 39 home runs.  But among his teammates, George Scott hit 33, Butch Hobson hit 30, Yaz hit 28, Fisk hit 26, and Fred Lynn hit 18. The BoSox as a team that year hit 213 home runs in ’77.  Therefore, Rice’s 39 represented just 18% of the team total.  Obviously, then, time and place matter a great deal when attempting to judge a given player’s value.

Aside from Jimmy “Toy Cannon” Wynn’s enormous power, Wynn was an on-base machine, reaching at least 90 walks in a season nine times, including a league-leading 148 walks in 149 games in 1969.

Wynn’s career lasted from 1963-77, spent almost entirely in the N.L.  His career OPS+ of 129 is, perhaps a bit ironically, one point better than Rice’s career mark of 128.

If Kenny Lofton fails to be voted into The Hall this year, his first year on the ballot, then he will become the best center-fielder not in The Hall.  But unless that happens,  Jimmy Wynn will remain the best one not in the HOF.

RF  Larry Walker:  (1989-2005)  I know what you’re going to say.  Two Words:  Coors Effect.  I’ve already written one entire blog-post about why Larry Walker belongs in the HOF.  But briefly, both before and after he played his home games at Coors Field, he was always an outstanding baseball player.

B-R ranks Walker as the 9th best right-fielder ever.  His career WAR of 69.7 almost perfectly matches the 69.5 average of the 24 players in The Hall at his position.

As a fielder, Larry Walker was credited with 150 outfield assists, good for 12th place among all outfielders in baseball history.  He won seven Gold Gloves for his fielding.  He won those Gold Gloves as both a member of the Expos and the Rockies.

Walker was an excellent base-runner.  Among those who saw him play, it was rare that anyone ever saw Walker make a base-running mistake.  He slugged 471 doubles and 62 triples in his career, always ready to take the extra base on an unsuspecting outfielder.  He also stole 230 bases in his career, posting a respectable 75% success rate in that category.

Walker could hit for both average and power.  His career line of .313 / .400 / .565 places him among the greatest right-fielders in history, as does his career OPS+ of 141 (which takes into consideration a player’s time and place.)  Although Walker clearly hit better at Coors Field (and why, precisely, should that be held against him?) he also hit very well pretty much everywhere else.

In the final 144 games of Walker’s career, which he spent with the Cardinals after leaving Colorado, the 38-year-old Walker posted a batting line of .286 / .387 / .520 with an OPS+ of 134, fine numbers for a player on the verge of retirement.

In some cases, a player is almost completely a product of his environment.  Dante Bichette comes to mind.  In other cases, though, an already great player uses his environment to his advantage.  Larry Walker belongs in the latter category.  One other place Larry Walker belongs is in the HOF.  Until that happens (and Walker will be on the ballot for the third time this year), Walker will remain the best right-fielder not in the HOF.

DH  Edgar Martinez:  (1987-2004)  I’m not a big fan of the Designated Hitter rule, but I am a fan of Edgar Martinez.  Quite simply, Edgar Martinez is one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history.  Edgar appeared in just 564 games as a third baseman out of 2,055 games played, so he can be said to have been a player without a legitimate defensive position.  There was a time I would have held this against him, as, apparently, many BBWAA voters still do.

The fact remains, however, that Edgar Martinez was simply the best pure D.H. in baseball history.  Martinez hit .312 for his career, winning two batting titles along the way.  He hit 514 doubles, 309 home runs and drove in over a hundred runs six times.  His career OPS+ of 147 is the same as HOF’ers Mike Schmidt, Sam Thompson, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and future HOF’er Jim Thome.

Martinez played his entire 18-year MLB career with the Seattle Mariners.  Given the evolving way in which the D.H. position is being used these days — some teams have begun rotating their regular players through the D.H. to give them more rest — it is possible that Edgar Martinez will go down in history as the best Designated Hitter of all-time, regardless of whether or not he eventually makes it into the Hall of Fame.

So those are my choices for the nine best players not in the Hall of Fame.  Do you agree or disagree with my choices?  I’ll be interested to find out.

Next time, I’ll examine the best pitchers who are not in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 8

If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that we are constructing an all-time, most under-appreciated Hall of Fame baseball team.  Lately, we’ve been putting together a pitching staff. Currently, we have three pitchers on this staff:  Kid Nichols, Hal Newhouser, and Eddie Plank.  It’s staff long on talent, but short on appreciation for their respective efforts.

So let’s add another pitcher to the staff.

How about one who didn’t win his first Major League ballgame until he was already past 30 years old?  In his first 20 appearances, he posted a record of 0-8, with more walks than strikeouts in 63.2 innings pitched.

Clearly, not an auspicious debut for any big league pitcher, let alone one who would end up in the Hall of Fame.

Charles Arthur (Dazzy) Vance was born in Orient, IA, in 1891, but was raised on a farm in Nebraska.  He began playing Class D ball at the age of 21 in the Nebraska State League.  At first, he was considered a strong prospect because he threw so hard he “dazzled” the hitters, thus his nickname.  The problem was, as it is with so many young pitching prospects, he had a difficult time staying healthy.

He made his MLB debut on April 16, 1915 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a disaster.  He lasted just 2.2 innings, walked five batters, hit another, struck out none, and was charged with three earned runs.  The Pirates immediately shipped Vance over to the Yankees where, appearing in eight games, he was nearly as bad.

Over the next half-dozen years, Vance appeared in only two more Major League games.  Then, at age 29, when most minor league ball players his age have either long since washed out or are certainly looking for an alternative career, a strange thing happened.

The story goes that Vance was playing poker with a few of his minor league buddies.  Winning a hand, he reached over to rake in the pot of cash in front of him on the table.  While doing so, he banged his arm on the side of the table, the same arm that had been causing him so much trouble throughout his career.  Apparently, once he banged it, it hurt so badly that he couldn’t sleep.

English: A 1933 Goudey Baseball Card of Dazzy ...

English: A 1933 Goudey Baseball Card of Dazzy Vance #2. I did a proper copyright search of the card, and the copyright wasn’t renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next day, we went to a doctor who examined his arm, performed some sort of procedure (Bill James speculates that the doctor removed floating bone-chips that, somehow, previous doctors had managed to miss), and rested for a few days.

Vance later said that his arm returned to life as quickly as it went sore on him back in 1915.  Vance rebounded to win 21 games for the (minor league) New Orleans Pelicans in 1921.  He was now 30-years old.

The following season, at age 31, the Brooklyn Robins (later, the Dodgers), took a chance on him.  They actually wanted no part of Dazzy Vance, but his friend, a minor league catcher named DeBerry, was called up to the Majors. He said, however, that he wouldn’t go unless Vance could come up with him.

After ten years and 133 minor league wins, Dazzy Vance had finally made it back to the Majors.  Thus was launched the highly improbable Hall of Fame career of Dazzy Vance.

In his “rookie” season of 1922, 31-year old Dazzy Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts, shutouts, and posted an 18-12 record for a team that finished the season with a losing record.

In 1922, Vance began a string of seven consecutive seasons in which he would lead the N.L. in strikeouts.  It is still the league record.  Only Walter Johnson (eight consecutive times) and Lefty Grove (seven consecutive times, almost concurrently with Vance) have either matched or topped Vance’s performance, and both of them toiled in the Junior Circuit.

In 1924 and ’25, Vance led the N.L. in wins both seasons, posting a combined record of 50-15.  While the ’24 Robins were very good, the ’25 team was very bad.  Either way, Vance was outstanding.

Vance was named the N.L.’s Most Valuable Player in 1924 at age 33.  That year, he won the pitching triple-crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts.  He also led the league in ERA+, complete games and (not that anyone knew this at the time) WAR for pitchers.

From 1922-1930, in addition to the seven strikeout titles, Vance led the league in wins twice, ERA three times, complete games twice, shutouts four times, ERA+ three times, WHIP three times, and strikeouts / 9 innings eight times.

Vance also led league pitchers in WAR four times, which is another way of saying that, had the Cy Young award existed in his day, he would have deserved four of those awards, as many as Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux each earned in their careers.

His career WAR of 60.5 is higher than several other Hall of Fame pitchers, including Bob Feller, Ed Walsh, Juan Marichal and Rube Waddell, to name a few.

But age did finally catch up with Dazzy Vance.  After age 40, he won just 34 more games over the next five seasons.  Never having made it to the playoffs during his eleven seasons spent pitching for Brooklyn, Vance eventually did make it to the post-season, in 1934, with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Vance appeared in Game 4, a game Detroit would go on to win, but the Cardinals ultimately defeated the Tigers in seven games.   So, in the twilight of his career, Vance finally got to experience a World Championship.

Vance retired in 1935 at age 44, having accumulated 197 wins vs. 140 losses, while pitching for mostly bad Brooklyn teams.  A couple of years later, the Baseball Hall of Fame would open for business.

In a way, his lengthy journey (back) to the Majors would be mirrored by the amount of time it took him to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  First appearing on the ballot in 1936, he received just one vote.  It wasn’t until 1955, about twenty years later, that Vance would finally be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Vance was already 64-years old when he was voted into The Hall.  But, having waited nearly a decade to make it back to the Majors, I’m guessing he was used to waiting for good things to happen.    At least he lived to enjoy the experience.  Vance died in 1961, age 69, and remains to this day, I think, a very under-appreciated player.

The next post will be the last in this series.  We have one more pitcher to go to round out our rotation.

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