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

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 7

Because I am a both a baseball and an American history geek, back in 1994, a few months before the MLB lockout, a couple of friends and I decided to go on a tour of both the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Baseball Hall of Fame (it’s amazing what you can get away with when you don’t yet have kids.)

Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA

Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA (Photo credit: Don & Suzan)

We had a great time, of course, standing on top of the summit of Little Round Top, then, a couple of days later, viewing Lou Gehrig’s address book (behind a glass case, of course.)  Somewhere along the way, between all the beer, baseball, and bullet holes in Gettysburg’s buildings, I happened to notice that the name of one baseball player seemed to pop up from time to time in both venues.

It was “Gettysburg” Eddie Plank.  Allow me to tell you a little bit about him.

Eddie Plank was born in Gettysburg, PA, just twelve years after the Battle of Gettysburg.  Raised on a family farm just north of the battlefield, it was not unusual in those days for a farmer to uncover the remains of a lost and forgotten soldier who died in a lonely location on the vast battlefield.

Plank didn’t even start playing baseball until he was seventeen.  Trying out as a pitcher for the Gettysburg College team, he made the squad as a left-handed pitcher (yes, another one in this series) who threw the ball awkwardly across his body.  He never actually attended Gettysburg College, but eventually harnessed his delivery enough to become a decent pitcher for their team.

Having gotten something of a late start, he didn’t make his MLB debut until 1901, when he was already 25-years old.  He then went on to pitch in the Majors, primarily for the Philadelphia Athletics, for the next 17 seasons.

In his rookie campaign, he posted a very decent 17-13 record.  He then went on to enjoy eight 20-win seasons over the next sixteen years.  In fact, only once in the next eight years did he fail to win at least 19 games in a season (he was injured in 1908.)

Plank helped lead Philadelphia to a pair of World Series triumphs over the Giants in 1911 and 1913.

English: Photograph shows Eddie (Edward Stewar...

English: Photograph shows Eddie (Edward Stewart) Plank, pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the statistics that impress me the most about Eddie Plank:

1)  He was the first left-handed pitcher to top 300 wins.  No other southpaw reached 300 wins until Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton came along several decades later.

2)  His 69 career shutouts are the fifth-highest total of all-time, and the most ever by a lefty.  He threw as many shutouts in his career as HOF pitchers Sandy Koufax and Dazzy Vance combined.

3)  His career WAR of 82.0 ranks 17th best all-time among pitchers.  His career WAR is higher than HOF pitchers John Clarkson, Steve Carlton, Pud Galvin, Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Nolan Ryan, Robin Roberts, Old Hoss Radbourn, Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, and many others.

4)  Over the last 15 seasons of his 17-year career (he also pitched for the Terriers and the Browns), his highest ERA in any season was 2.87, and in his final season, at age 41, he posted a 1.79 ERA in 131 innings pitched.

5)  In six World Series starts, he posted a 1.32 ERA across 54.2 innings.

Eddie Plank finished his career in 1917, just as young American Doughboys were being sent overseas to fight the War to End All Wars.  He returned to his family farm in Gettysburg, leading tours across the old battlefield.  At age 50, just nine years after he retired from baseball, Eddie Plank suffered a stroke and died.  He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg.

[Eddie Plank, Philadelphia AL (baseball)] (LOC)

[Eddie Plank, Philadelphia AL (baseball)] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Eddie Plank posted a career record of 326-194 with an ERA of 2.35.  Of the 24 pitchers who have won at least 300 games in their careers, just six pitchers other than Plank avoided also losing 200 games.

Those six pitcher are Christy Mathewson, John Clarkson, Old Hoss Radbourn, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Lefty Grove.  That’s some pretty impressive company to be associated with.  And only Johnson and Grove were also left-handed.

About a decade after Plank died, the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened for business up in Cooperstown, NY.  After five years on the ballot, Plank never topped 27% of the ballots submitted by the BBWAA.  Eventually, it would take the Old Timers Committee to elect Plank in 1946, along with ten other players, some of whom actually belonged in the HOF.

So Eddie Plank joins Kid Nichols and Hal Newhouser as the third pitcher on my all-time, under-appreciated Hall of Fame squad.  I will be adding two more pitchers to my rotation.  I hope you’ll come back to find out who they are.

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 3

This is the third installment of a six part series analyzing the most under-appreciated players in the baseball Hall of Fame.  For a more complete explanation of the purpose of this series, click on Part 1.   Click here is you missed Part 2.

To this point, I have identified 4/5ths of my infield.  From left to right, they are third baseman Eddie Mathews, shortstop Arky Vaughan, second baseman Joe Gordon and first baseman Roger Connor.

Now let’s find out who my catcher and my left-fielder are, shall we?

Catcher – Gary Carter:  If you ask most baseball fans, even the smart ones (I’m talking to you, oh faithful reader), to name the top ten catchers in baseball history, you may or may not find Gary Carter’s name on that list.  It’s just as likely, if not more so,  that Bob Boone, Ted Simmons, and Thurman Munson would be named instead of Gary Carter.

Now, I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not any of those three catchers should be in the HOF, where Carter is already a member.  All three were very fine catchers in their day.  Yet why is it that Gary Carter, as far as his reputation is concerned, seems to exist on the periphery of these lists?

The fact is, Gary Carter was one of the top five (not merely the top ten) catchers of all time.

I wrote a post about Carter just after his death back in February on this topic, but allow me to list some of the highlights.

Gary Carter’s career dWAR, (a measure of his defensive value), was 25.4.  Johnny Bench, who many people regard as the greatest catcher ever, had a career dWAR of 19.3.

Carter had six seasons with a dWAR of 2.0 or better.  Bench had three seasons at that level.  Jim Sundberg, also held in high regard as a great defensive catcher, had a career dWAR of 25.0 and five seasons of at least 2.0 dWAR.

Stunningly, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochrane combined for exactly one season of 2.0 dWAR.  So, even if you add Johnny Bench to that group, you still come up two seasons short of Gary Carter’s six seasons of 2.0 dWAR.

Therefore, it is pretty clear that Gary Carter was one of the top three defensive catchers of all time.

Carter won five Silver Sluggers and was an eleven time All Star.

Carter hit 324 home runs in his career, more than HOF catchers Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane combined.  Of those 324 homers, he hit 298 of them as a catcher, good for 6th on the all-time homer list for catchers.

Carter’s career WAR, including his offense, was 66.4.  Only one catcher in history, Johnny Bench, had a higher career WAR among catchers (72.3).  This includes relatively recent catchers like Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza.

Keep in mind, however, that in 1999, when the All Century Team was being voted upon, the panel that compiled the list placed the names of eight catchers on the ballot.  Gary Carter’s name was not among them.

Keep in mind, too, that after Carter died about seven months ago, Reggie Jackson was quoted as saying that he didn’t consider Carter to be a “real” Hall of Famer.

It’s hard to believe that a player as highly productive as Carter was, who should have benefited from playing (and thriving) in New York City with the Mets during the mid-1980’s, could be so readily marginalized and forgotten.

Perhaps his stature will rise, as it should, in the future.

Jesse Burkett

Jesse Burkett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Left-Field – Jesse Burkett:  

Jesse Burkett was born in Wheeling, WV a few years after the Civil War ended (to the extent that it ended at all in West Virginia) in 1868.  A relatively small man (5’8″, 155 pounds), Burkett broke into the Majors with Brooklyn in 1890 at age 21.  He played for 16 seasons, through 1905, retiring at age 36.

Burkett came within four points (.396 in 1899) of being one of only three men in baseball history to hit .400 three times.  The other two players are Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

Burkett won three batting titles, led his league in hits three times, twice in runs scored and twice in total bases.  He had six 200-hit seasons, (Tony Gwynn had five.)

Burkett scored over 100 runs nine times.  Lou Brock, in contrast, reached 100 runs scored seven times.  Burkett’s 1,720 runs scored ranks 25th all-time.

Jesse Burkett’s career batting average of .338 is tied with Tony Gwynn for 18th best all-time.

With 182 career triples, Burkett is 15th on that particular list.

Was Burkett just another 19th century Baltimore-Chop singles hitter?  Well, his career OPS+ was 140, the same as Duke Snider, Vlad Guerrerro and Gary Sheffield, and one point better than a somewhat more famous 19th century player, King Kelly.

Burkett was not only a very fine player, he was quite a character, although apparently devoid of a sense of humor.  He was once thrown out of both games of a double-header.

In the first game, he refused to leave the field, so the umpire declared the game a forfeit win for the opposing team (Louisville.)  After being thrown out of the second game, again for arguing, Burkett once again refused to leave the field.  This time, the umpire had six policemen remove Burkett from the diamond.

Burkett’s career WAR of 60.5 puts him in the same company, relatively speaking, with a couple of other HOF left-fielders, Ed Delahanty (66.5) and Billy Williams (59.5).  Both of those players were on my short list of left-fielders whom I considered for my under-appreciated list.  Ultimately, though, I decided that, to the extent that baseball fans are familiar with 19th century players, Delahanty is a bit more well-known than is Burkett.

And as for Billy Williams, it was a close call, but Williams’ Black Ink score in Baseball-Reference.com was 18, while Burkett’s was 31.

That suggests that, despite their very similar WAR scores, Burkett was more of an impact player in his day than was Williams.  While I don’t doubt that Williams was under-appreciated, Burkett is all but completely forgotten in most baseball communities.

Burkett was voted into the baseball HOF in 1946 by the Veteran’s Committee.  One of the few 19th- century stars to still be alive when voted into The Hall, Burkett died in Worcester, MA in 1953, age 84.

In my next installment, I will reveal my picks for center-field and right-field on my All-Time Under-Appreciated Hall of Fame All Star Team.

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I named the under-appreciated right side of my Hall of Fame infield:  First Baseman Roger Connor and Second Baseman Joe Gordon.  For an explanation of what this series is about, you can go back and read the first post here.

In today’s entry, I will divulge my choices for the most under-appreciated shortstop and third baseman in The Hall.  You may be surprised by at least one of my choices.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Floyd &q...

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Floyd “Arky” Vaughan of the Pittsburgh Pirates #229. PD-not-renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortstop – Arky Vaughan:  Outside of people who write blogs like this as a hobby, Vaughan’s HOF career has gone largely unnoticed by the average baseball fan.

Joseph Floyd Vaughan was born in Arkansas in 1912, (thus, Arky), though his family moved to California when he was very young.

Signed by the Pirates, it was hoped that Vaughan might finally be the shortstop to fill the shoes of Honus Wagner, who had retired 15 years earlier.

Vaughan broke into the Majors in 1932 at age 20, performing reasonably well.  He batted .318 and posted a 3.6 WAR.

For the next nine seasons, Vaughan was the best shortstop in either league.  He made the All-Star team in every season he was eligible, led his league in triples, walks, and on-base percentage three times each, and won a batting title, hitting .385 in 1935.

Vaughan’s .491 on-base percentage in 1935 is still the single-season record for a shortstop.

Vaughan posted a ridiculous strikeout to walk ratio in his career, drawing 937 walks while striking out just 276 times.  His career OPS+ of 136 compares favorably to HOF shortstops Ernie Banks (122) and Lou Boudreau (120).  (Derek Jeter’s is currently 118.)

Vaughan was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 at age 30.  Playing a new position, third base, Vaughan had a down year.  He rebounded, however, in 1943 when Pee Wee Reese went off to WWII, Vaughan gaining his old position back for that season.  He belted 39 doubles, and led the league in stolen bases and runs scored.

But 1943 was also the turning point in Vaughan’s career.  He was involved in a bitter dispute with manager Leo Durocher, at one point pulling off his uniform and telling Durocher to shove it up his ass.  Though he finished out the ’43 season, he refused to report to the Dodgers in the spring of ’44. He remained unofficially retired, living the life of a farmer, and did not return to the Dodgers until 1947.  By then, Durocher was gone, but Vaughan, now 35-years old, was not the player he had once been.

Vaughan remained a part-time player for the next couple of seasons, until retiring after the 1948 season, age 36.

About ten years ago, Vaughan was rated by baseball statistician Bill James as the second best shortstop of all-time.

Vaughan’s career on-base percentage of .406 is the highest ever by a shortstop, better than Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez and Luke Appling.  His career WAR of 70.5, accumulated in just a dozen full seasons, places him among the top 50 position players of all-time.  In fact it is better than what HOF’ers George Kell and Pie Traynor produced combined.

Many, many shortstops are more famous than Arky Vaughan.  More baseball fans are probably familiar with Bert Campaneris, Dave Concepcion, and Bud Harrelson (none of whom are in The Hall) than they are with Vaughan.  And that’s too bad, ’cause Vaughan deserves to be remembered and appreciated more than any of them.

Tragically, Vaughan drowned when his fishing boat capsized in 1952, just four years after he retired from baseball.  He was just 40-years old.

He was finally voted into The Hall by the Veteran’s Committee in 1985, fully 33 years after his death.

Third Base – Eddie Mathews:  You may think this is a strange choice.  Eddie Mathews, the 12-time All-Star third baseman for the Braves?  The man who hit over 500 career home runs, and who drove in over 1,400?  Perhaps the second greatest (after Mike Schmidt) third baseman to ever play the game?  The Eddie Mathews with the career WAR of 91.9, good for 22nd best among all position players in history? (33rd best, if you include pitchers.)

Circa 1963 head shot photograph of American ba...

Circa 1963 head shot photograph of American baseball player Edwin Lee Mathews wearing a Milwaukee Braves cap. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, that Eddie Mathews.  Here’s why.

Out of the 235 ballots cast listing the top 50 Inner Circle Hall of Famers on Graham Womack’s project back in July, Mathews received 148 votes.  That means that 87 people who cast ballots did not think that Mathews rated among the 50 best players of all time.

Still not convinced?

Back in 1999, MasterCard sponsored an All Century Team composed of the top 100 players of all-time, as voted on by the fans.

Over two million votes were cast.  Only 174,529 ballots were cast for Eddie Mathews.  Thus, only about eight percent of the fans who cast ballots believed that Mathews was one of the top 100 players ever.

By comparison, Brooks Robinson, who hit about half as many homers in his career as Mathews did, and whose career WAR was almost 18 points lower than Mathews, received 761,700 votes.

Mike Schmidt (855,654 votes) and Robinson were named as the All Century Team’s two starting third baseman.  Mathews was ignored.

How about one final example?

Eddie Mathews retired in 1968 after a 17-year career during which he slugged 512 homers, scored over 1,500 runs, drew over 1,400 walks (he ranks 24th all-time on that list) produced an OPS+ of 143 (the same as Harmon Killebrew and Mike Piazza, and better than Duke Snider or Reggie Jackson.)

Seems like a slam-dunk case for induction into the Hall of Fame, correct?

On Mathews first time on the ballot (in 1974) he received just 32% of the vote from the baseball writers.  In his second year, he received a little over 40%.  Finally, in his fifth year on the ballot in 1978, Mathews cleared the 75% percent threshold by accumulating 79% of the vote.

Here’s what baseball writer Joe Posnanski had to say about this:

Eddie Mathews’ (32.3%) Hall of Fame journey is baffling. How could a third baseman with 500 home runs not go first ballot? I guess timing plays a role — he did come on the ballot in 1974, the same year as Mickey Mantle. But nobody particularly exciting joined the ballot the next year, and Mathews’ totals only went up a few percentage points. Nobody particularly exciting joined the following year either, but again Mathews’ numbers barely climbed — after three years, he was still not at 50%. The voters finally came to their senses in 1977, jumping him into the 60s, and he was elected the following year. But I really don’t know why it took so long. The low batting career batting average (.271)? The under appreciated skills (Mathews led the league in walks four times)? Eddie Mathews was one of the greatest baseball players ever — when he went on the ballot in 1974 he was almost without question the best third baseman ever. The voters not electing him first ballot is one of the stranger decisions in the history of the Hall of Fame.

Here’s the link to the rest of the Posnanski article.

Eddie Mathews, it appears, might just be the most taken for granted superstar in baseball history.

In 2001, Bill James ranked Eddie Mathews as the 34th greatest player (including pitchers) who ever lived.  Mathews died that same year, age 69, in La Jolla, California.  Here’s an interesting read about the events that led up to Mathews death. published on Arne Christensen’s blog, Misc Baseball.  It’s definitely worth a read.

Next up in this series, my choices for the most under-appreciated catcher and left-fielder in the Hall of Fame.  Thanks for reading.

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 1

Is it possible that a player in the Baseball Hall of Fame could be considered under-appreciated?  Isn’t membership in those hallowed halls evidence enough that a particular player’s legacy has been abundantly lauded?

Yet it is true in baseball, as in other walks of life, that even those honored can be quickly overshadowed by subsequent (or even prior) honorees.

For example, the actor Robert Duvall has won an Oscar, two Emmy’s, and four Golden Globe Awards.  Yet his name seldom seems to roll easily off the tongues of people discussing the best actors of the past forty years.  On the other hand, Duvall’s contemporary, Robert DeNiro, is ubiquitous on the vast majority of Best Actor lists.  Duvall has received critical acclaim, but still seems to be generally under-appreciated.

But enough prologue.  Let’s get down to business.

It needs to be stated upfront, of course, that choosing a list of under-appreciated players is in large part an exercise in the subjective.  After all, your list will probably look quite different from mine.  We all have our biases, and we all choose the statistics most useful to suit our needs.

Having said that, today’s post (the first of six planned posts on this topic) will focus on the first two players in this series who comprise the right side of my infield.  Here, then, is the initial installment of my All-Time Hall of Fame Most Under-Appreciated Team:

1888 N403 Yum Yum Tobacco Roger Connor, Redemp...

1888 N403 Yum Yum Tobacco Roger Connor, Redemption Back SGC 60 EX 5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Base – Roger Connor:  Born in Waterbury, CT in 1857, Connor played his entire 18-year career (but for one season in the ill-fated Player’s League) in the National League.  He retired in 1897 at age 39, having amassed an incredible 233 triples (fifth most in history).

Playing primarily for the Trojans, the Giants and the Browns, Connor had more seasons of 100+ runs scored (8), than Lou Brock.  He had as many 100 RBI seasons as Mickey Mantle, and his career WAR (80.6) is a bit higher than Ken Griffey, Jr.’s 79.2

Connor’s OPS+ (153) was better than Honus Wagner’s mark of 151.  Connor is credited with being the first player to ever hit an out-of-the-park Grand Slam, and the first to hit a home run completely out of the Polo Grounds.

A big man, listed at 6’3″, 220 pounds, Connor both threw and hit left-handed.  He could hit for average (.316 career), he could hit for power (led N.L. in home runs in 1890), he could steal a base (7 times he topped 20 steals), and he could play some defense (a solid 6.2 dWAR.)

Perhaps most impressively, Connor’s 138 career home runs remained the M.L.B. record for 23 years after his retirement, until Babe Ruth shattered the mark in 1921.

Roger Connor died in his hometown of Waterbury, CT in January 1931.  A victim of the Florida real estate crash of the early 1920’s, Connor and his wife are buried side-by-side in unmarked graves in Waterbury’s St. Josephs’s Cemetery.

Second Base – Joe Gordon:  Although there are at least a couple of Yankees who probably don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame (Herb Pennock and Phil Rizzuto come to mind), Joe Gordon has long been an under-appreciated player.

Other Yankee second basemen have been more widely known over the decades, players like Tony Lazzeri, Billy Martin, Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph, and now, Robinson Cano.  But, with the possible exception of Cano, no second baseman in Yankee history was better than Joe Gordon.

Gordon was born in Los Angeles in 1915, but his family later moved north to Oregon.  Drafted by the Yankees as an amateur free agent, he immediately made an impact in New York, swatting 25 homers and driving in 96 runs for the 1938 Yankees.  This incredible team also featured Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey.

In 1942, at the age of 27, Gordon won the A.L. MVP award.

Up through 1943, when Joe Gordon was still in his prime (28-years old), he’d already enjoyed six highly productive years with the Yanks.  He had averaged 24 homers and 95 RBI per year, and had accumulated 33.3 WAR (about what Cano has generated in his first eight years.)

Then came WWII, or rather, Gordon’s call to duty in a war that was already half over.  The War cost Gordon two full years (1944-’45.)  In 1946, he got injured in spring training and had a terrible year.  He was traded to Cleveland the next season for pitcher Allie Reynolds.

The trade worked out well for both teams.  Gordon went on to lead the Tribe to a World Series victory over the Boston Braves in the ’48 World Series.  His 32 homers that year remained the A.L. record for a second baseman for 53 years, until 2001.

During Gordon’s tenure with the Yankees, he played in exactly 1,000 games, and he garnered exactly 1,000 hits.

Joe Gordon’s 253 home runs remains the career record by an A.L. second baseman.  That is a remarkable total, considering both of his home ball parks did not favor right-handed power hitters, also recalling that he missed a couple of his prime years to war.

Finally, Gordon’s resume is further buttressed by a stellar defensive reputation.  His career 22.4 dWAR is better than that of any second baseman in history not named Bill Mazeroski.  Gordon’s overall career WAR of 54.0 is better than that of Chase Utley, Jeff Kent, Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzeri and Bobby Doerr, to name but a few other highly productive second basemen.

Joe Gordon died of a heart attack in 1978, age 63.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame 30 years later, in 2009.  It shouldn’t have taken that long.

In the next installment of this series, I will take a look at the left side of the infield of my All-Time Under-Appreciated team.

New Negro League Data-Base on Baseball-Reference.com

I was pleased to read today on the homepage of the National Baseball Hall of Fame that Baseball-Reference.com now features a new database of Negro League statistics.  They do not claim that these statistics are anything but incomplete, but, at last, a serious attempt is being made by a highly credible baseball website to document the long-neglected accomplishments of Negro League players.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Below is the official press release of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on this topic:

March 22, 2012
Statistics for Negro Leagues players, like Hall of Famer Buck Leonard (shown crossing home plate), are now online at baseball-reference.com. (NBHOF Library)Statistics for Negro Leagues players, like Hall of Famer Buck Leonard (shown crossing home plate), are now online at baseball-reference.com. (NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – For more than a century, African-Americans made history on the baseball diamond prior to Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in the major leagues.

Beginning today, that history – in the most complete form ever assembled – is available to a world-wide audience through one of the game’s premier statistical websites.

Statistics on Negro Leagues players are now available through the Hall of Fame’s website partner, www.baseball-reference.com. The website, which has become the go-to resource for baseball statistics throughout the industry, will publish biographical and statistical information on all Negro Leagues players who were identified in a groundbreaking study commissioned by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum a decade ago.

“The data that forms the basis of these statistics is the result of years of tireless research by a dedicated team of historians,” said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “We are so proud to have been able to facilitate this research, and equally pleased that our partner, baseball-reference.com, is able to make this information available to the public. This history that once was lost is now alive to help tell the story of the great African-American baseball heroes of the early 20th Century.”

The Negro Leagues statistical database is the most comprehensive study on African-American Baseball ever produced, a team effort of “The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group” deputized by the Hall of Fame Board of Directors in 2001 and led by Dr. Larry Hogan, Dick Clark, and Larry Lester. Major League Baseball provided the Baseball Hall of Fame with a $250,000 grant in July 2000 in order to initiate a comprehensive study on the history of African-Americans in Baseball, from 1860-1960.

The research resulted in a raw narrative and bibliography of nearly 800 pages and a statistical database, which includes 3,000 day-by-day records, league leaders and all-time leaders. The research was culled from box scores from 345 newspapers of sanctioned league games played from 1920-48.

“There have been a number of books capturing oral histories, biographies written about players, and team histories, but few mediums tackle the statistical challenge of compiling data from the Negro Leagues,” said Larry Lester. “The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group was tasked with this challenge in 2001, and a decade later we present, via www.baseball-reference.com, a sampling of our findings. More data will be released, once a complete audit has been done, that will demonstrate the talent of men who played before Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues.”

The study includes sanctioned league game box scores from almost 100 percent of games played in the 1920s, in excess of 90 percent of the box scores from games played in the 1930s and box scores from 50-70 percent of games played in the 1940s and 50s, during which time the various leagues began to disband and newspapers ceased to report game information. The end result is the most comprehensive compilation of statistics on the Negro Leagues that has ever been accumulated.

The compiled statistics will be accessible at baseball-reference.com like the data from the 17,000-plus men who have played Major League Baseball. There were no formal or official statistics from the various Negro Leagues, but the numbers in the database represent league-sanctioned games from 1920-54 for which there is a viable box score. Exhibition games and other related events are not included.

“This treasure trove of information on the Negro Leagues fills in a major gap of the historical record of the game of baseball,” said Sean Forman, the founder of baseball-reference.com. “The research provided from the study, along with the technology that allows it to be published and accessed, will result in a greater understanding of the Negro Leagues, and ultimately more research on the subject.”

For more information, please visit www.baseballhall.org.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis – Final Thoughts

By my count, there are just over 200 former Major League baseball players in the Hall of Fame.  This does not count players who were eventually elected to The Hall not for what they did on the field, but for what they later did as coaches, managers, or even team owners.

Satchel Paige

Image via Wikipedia

I also did not count former Negro League players like Satchel Paige who, though he did spend some time in The Majors, is actually in The Hall primarily for his vast accomplishments as a Negro League pitcher.

After having written well over 15,000 words on this subject, I have come to several conclusions.

First, there is broad consensus on the top 40-50 players of all-time.  I don’t mean that you and I would come up with exactly the same list of players on such a list, just that if you polled a room-full of those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time on this stuff, our lists would not vary greatly.

So far, so good.

There are 23 players who have a career WAR over 100.  These are the shoo-ins.  There are another ten players who accumulated WAR between 90-99 in their respective careers (interestingly, this is one of the smallest cohort groups in the HOF.)

Among the players in the 90+ range include Christy Mathewson, Jimmie Foxx, and Al Kaline, so I think it’s probably safe to assume that expanding the Hall to at least the top 33 players would be acceptable to a reasonable person.

Yet, if we limit Hall membership to this elite group of 33 players to ensure that only the “best of the best” are included, we have slammed the door shut on Cal Ripkin, Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, and a dozen other players who generated 80-89.9 WAR in their careers.  And I know you’re not up for that, are you?

Now that I have strong-armed you into accepting the top 50 players, (as measured by WAR), into The Hall, I’m sure you feel like you can rest on your laurels here.  Just keep these 50 plaques in The Plaque Room in the HOF, and eliminate all the others.  Then you’ll have a TRUE Hall of Fame where only the best of the best are honored.

But we still have a couple of problems here (three actually.)  The first thing you might be forgetting is that baseball is constantly generating new players, some of whom are pretty damned good.  Albert Pujols, for example, is already approaching 90 WAR.  What happens when he is elected into The Hall?  To keep Hall membership exclusive by limiting it to just the 50 top players, whom do you then kick out of The Hall?  Wade Boggs?  Steve Carlton?  Good luck on that.

And Pujols won’t be the last player to top 80 career WAR in his career.

You also have another problem.  You still don’t have a catcher in the HOF.

WAR is tough on catchers (see Adam Darowski’s Hall of wWAR for more on this topic,) in large part because they just don’t play as often as other position players, and because the nature of the position takes a bigger toll on the human body, which tends to wear out faster than someone playing, say, first base.

Also, though this may be of lesser concern to you, there also aren’t any relief pitchers over 80.0 WAR in The Hall.

We can go on and on like this, adding now all players between 70-79 WAR (including Bench, Carew, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Mize, Robin Yount, etc,) and even dropping into the 60’s WAR (including Ernie Banks, Duke Snider, Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk, and some guy named Jackie Robinson, to name a few.)

Pick a random WAR cohort to eliminate, and I’ll tell you why you have a problem.  No players in the 40-49 range should be allowed, you state firmly, because now you’re shoving in guys with less than half the career WAR as the top couple of dozen players in The Hall.

English: Baseball pitcher Rube Waddell in 1901

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I’ve got two words for you:  Sandy Koufax.  Or, if you prefer, Dizzy Dean.  How about Rube Waddell?  He only led his league in strikeouts six straight season.  Sure there are players in the 40+ WAR cohort who don’t belong in The Hall, but where’s the cutoff, exactly?

Meanwhile, in the 20+ and 30+ career WAR groups of HOF players, you have some of the best relief pitchers of all time, including Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers.  What should we do about them?

If we ignore WAR for these players, plus the players like Koufax and Dean who burned brightly for just a few short years, and players like Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Ryne Sandberg and Willie Stargell (each in the 50+ WAR cohort) whose reputations somehow don’t mesh with what we’d expect their WAR’s to be, we are left with a bit of a mess of a situation.

Sure, in general, the lower the WAR, the worse the player is, but there are enough exceptions to make us consider, perhaps, what this all means.

What exactly is it we’re trying to accomplish here?  When we say that we want only the best players in The Hall, do we mean that we simply want the players, regardless of our emotional connection to them, and despite what their historic legacy might be, who meet the standards of a mathematical formula (however well put together), or are we looking for something more here?

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden

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Catfish Hunter has one of the lowest career WAR of any starting pitcher in the HOF.  I concede, unconditionally, that he was an overrated pitcher who, if we wasn’t fortunate enough to have pitched for excellent A’s, then the Yankees teams in the ’70’s, he would have been more or less just another pitcher.

But I’m glad Catfish is in The Hall.  The fan in me just doesn’t give a rat’s ass what his WAR is (and I don’t consider myself a “traditionalist,” whatever the hell that means, when it comes to stats, either.)  I greatly respect modern statistical analysis, and I’m glad that I have a nice peg to hang my biases on when it suits me (WAR says Jack Morris doesn’t belong in The Hall, so screw him.)

Tommy McCarthy, Boston Reds, Albumen Print

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None of this changes the fact, however, that there really are players in The Hall who don’t belong there.  We could probably even agree on several of them.  I would take out Lloyd Waner, Tommy McCarthy, Freddie Lindstrom, Herb Pennock, and Dave Bancroft before breakfast tomorrow morning.  But they’re there, and I guess they’re not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, short of taking the vote away from the BBWAA and from the Veteran’s Committee (which has largely stopped electing former players just about all together anyway), what is to be done about Hall voting now and on into the future?  How do we eliminate mistakes, and get back to the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame?

Here’s the good news.  If it is exclusivity you seek, we are already swiftly sauntering down that street.  Here’s the evidence.

In each decade since the 1970’s, inductions of former MLB players into The Hall has declined for four straight decades.  The number of players inducted into the HOF in each of the past four decades is as follows:

1970’s – 36  (one of the worst decades in terms of quality of players inducted in history.)

1980’s – 29

1990’s – 24

2000’s (including 2011 inductees) – 22

And this is without yet knowing how the steroids controversy will affect several (otherwise obvious) potential HOF’ers like Bonds, Clemens, etc.  Almost certainly, in the very near future, there will be a huge backlog of historically significant players not in The Hall that will rival the untapped talent available to the first HOF election committees back in the 1930’s.  Whether this is a good thing or a tragic situation depends on your point of view.

But one thing’s for sure.  No one will be able to argue that too many mediocre players are being elected into The Hall.

Although no group of humans, and no statistical formulas, will probably ever solve the puzzle of how to create a “perfect” Hall of Fame, I believe that if you are looking for a time when there was something resembling a Golden Age for the HOF, you can stop looking.

We may already be there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1990:  BBWAA – Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1993:  BBWAA – Reggie Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1996:  V.C.  Jim Bunning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t have to search very far.

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

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

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

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

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

1938 — BBWAA: Grover Cleveland Alexander

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

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

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

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

Old Hoss Radbourne tossed 678 innings in 1884.  Ouch.

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

1942 — BBWAA: Rogers Hornsby.

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

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

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

Hall of Famer and first baseman Hughie Jenning...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1948 — BBWAA: Herb Pennock, Pie Traynor.

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Brouthers

Image via Wikipedia

Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame: Herb Pennock vs. Ron Guidry

In this, the fourth installment of this series, I propose replacing one Yankee (of questionable merit) in the Hall of Fame with another, better choice.  If it seems to you that this series is a bit top-heavy with Yankees up to this point, it’s probably because there are so many of them in The Hall in the first place.

Ron Guidry

Image by Willie Zhang via Flickr

Perhaps more surprisingly, there are other Yankees who are not in The Hall, but who have a better case for being enshrined there than several players, Yankee and non-Yankee alike, who currently enjoy a spot in the Hall of Fame Plaque Room.

When most people think of the 1927 Yankees, they think of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and perhaps outfielders Earle Combs and Bob Meusel.  Pitcher Waite Hoyt might also come to mind among serious baseball fans.

Herb Pennock?  Well, perhaps there are a few hardcore fans around who could toss that name at you, too.

Pennock was a good pitcher on a very good team, perhaps the best team in history.  Actually, Pennock (The Knight of Kennett Square), a Pennsylvania boy, first came up with the Philadelphia A’s in 1912.  By 1915 he had joined the Red Sox and enjoyed some success there until 1923, when the Sox sent him to the Yankees.  (Pennock did not play a major role in either of the Red Sox World Championship teams in 1915-16.)

Pennock, just hitting his stride now at age 29, was immediately successful pitching for New York’s American League team.  In his first season, he won 19 games and led the A.L. in winning percentage at .760.  In his next five seasons, he won 21, 16, 23, 19 and 17 games for the mighty Yankees.

Over the course of those half-dozen years, the best years of his career, Pennock led the league in winning percentage once, shutouts once, innings pitched once, and WHIP twice.  He also walked the fewest batters per nine innings three times.

Only once during those years did Pennock reach 100 strikeouts in a season.  He also never actually led the league in wins, either.  He did, however, finish 3rd in A.L. MVP voting in 1926 and 4th in 1924, so his contributions to those great Yankee teams did not go unnoticed.

Pennock pitched until age 40 when he retired after a short, one-year stint back in Boston.  He had pitched for the Yankees for eleven years, winning a total of 162 games while losing just 90.  Overall in his career, Pennock posted a record of 241-162, meaning he lost as many games in his entire two-decade career as he’d won pitching about half as long with the Yanks.

Although Pennock’s career win-loss record is very good, and he was an important part of the Yankees rotation during those years, Pennock was a questionable choice for election into the Hall of Fame in 1948.  His career WAR of 36.9 is the same as no-one’s-idea-of-a-Hall of Famer, Burt Hooton.

Pennock’s career ERA of 3.60 is pretty decent for the high scoring era in which he pitched the majority of his career, but his career ERA+ of 106 gives us a pretty good indication that he was, in reality just a bit better, all things considered, than the average pitcher in his day.

There’s nothing wrong with being a good player on a great team.  That, and a lot of durability are one of the quickest and surest paths into the Hall of Fame.

But then there’s true greatness which, even if it burns brightly for just a short time, blinds us with its brilliance.

Such was the career of Ron (Louisiana Lightning) Guidry.  Like Pennock, Guidry enjoyed his glory days with the Yankees.  Also like Pennock, Guidry was a lefty.  Unlike Pennock, though, and to quote Bruce Springsteen, “He could throw that speed-ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy.”

Guidry got a bit of a late start in Major League baseball, not landing a regular gig until he was already 26-years old in 1977.  But he was an immediate success, posting a 16-7 record with a 2.82 ERA, and an ERA+ of 140.  In the World Series, Guidry defeated the Dodgers in Game 4, pitching a complete game, 4-2 victory.

In 1978, however, Ron Guidry produced one of the greatest seasons by any pitcher in baseball history.

Guidry started 35 games, won 25 of them, lost only three times, and posted a ridiculous ERA of 1.74.  His ERA+ was an off-the-charts 208.  He also led the league in WHIP 0.946 and in shut-outs with nine.  He threw 16 complete games and struck out 248 batters in 273 innings pitched.  Guidry won the A.L. Cy Young award and finished second in MVP voting.

In the World Series, Guidry again pitched a complete game victory, this time over Dodger ace Don Sutton, 5-1.

The following season, Guidry led the A.L. in ERA (2.78), topped 200 strikeouts again, and posted an 18-8 record while finishing third in the Cy Young award voting.

Guidry would continue to have several productive seasons with New York, finishing in the top ten in Cy Young voting in 1981, 1983, and 1985.  In his ten full seasons as a starting pitcher, Guidry would finish in at least the top seven in Cy Young voting six times.

Also recognized as one of the best fielding pitchers of his era, Guidry won five Gold Glove awards.  He also pitched in four All-Star games.

Guidry ended his career in 1988 at the age of 37.

Although many argue that his lack of durability has hurt his chances a great deal as far as earning entry into the Hall of Fame is concerned, it might be useful to consider that Guidry topped at least 190 innings in a season nine times, and over 200 seven times.  Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax, by contrast, each topped 200 innings in a season just five times during their respective careers.

Koufax and Guidry each topped 2,300 innings pitched, while Dean hurled just over 1,900.  Guidry and Dean each led their league in wins twice, while Koufax led his league in wins three times.  Koufax’ career win-loss percentage was .655, Guidry’s was .651, Dean’s .644.

Dean and Koufax both top Guidry in career ERA+ at 131 each, while Guidry scores a still very nice 119.   Guidry accumulated 170 wins to Koufax’ 165 and Dean’s 150.  Koufax tops the three in career WAR (54.5) to Guidry (44.4) and Dean (39.6).

The point here isn’t that Guidry was as good as Koufax, because he wasn’t.  When compared to Dizzy Dean, Guidry holds up very well.  The primary point here, though, is that we are not comparing Guidry to Pennock, because Guidry is quite obviously better than Pennock.

All of which is another way of saying that, regarding Pennock and Guidry,  The Hall clearly has the wrong Yankee lefty enshrined at Cooperstown.

[Herb Pennock, Philadelphia AL (baseball)] (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

2011 Hall of Fame Vote: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Perplexing

Jeff Bagwell

Image via Wikipedia

The results are in, and there weren’t any major surprises.  Bert (we suddenly loved you all along) Blyleven (79.7%), and Robbie (sorry we messed up last year) Alomar (90%), were the only two players on this year’s ballot elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Looking over the percentage of votes each player received from the BBWAA revealed interesting results, some unexpected, some utterly perplexing.

THE GOOD:

1)  Roberto Alomar will now be enshrined in The Hall.  Alomar was a stunning offensive player, and although his defense was a bit overrated (see my last bl0g-post), he certainly belongs in The Hall.  Some bloggers / writers have Alomar rated as among the top three 2nd basemen of all-time.  I think that overstates his legacy a bit much.  I am comfortable rating Alomar in the top 5-10 second basemen ever.

2)  Bert Blyleven, the Bearded Dutchman, joins Alomar.   Personally, I don’t think I would have voted for Blyleven.  I know that some people will think it’s outrageous to hold this opinion, but if he was such an obvious HOF candidate, then why has he been passed over 13 previous times?  Some people point to his 3,701 career strikeouts (5th all-time) as one bit of evidence that he should be enshrined.  But he averaged 6.7 K’s / 9 innings in his career, good, but not great.

Voting for Blyleven isn’t voting for greatness; it voting for remarkable durability (he averaged 245 innings pitched per season in his career.)

So why file his election under THE GOOD?

First, because I have nothing against Blyleven personally, and there’s no reason to rain on his parade.  Obviously, this vote means a lot to Blyleven and his supporters.

Second, because now that his enshrinement is a done deal, we can start to focus a little more seriously on some of the other players who also deserve enshrinement.  Which brings us to…

3)  Barry Larkin: Larkin received a promising 62% of votes cast, an improvement over the 51% he received last year, his first on the ballot.  Larkin is one of the ten best shortstops of all-time, and the best N.L. shortstop of his era.  It will be interesting to see if his relatively strong showing this year represents his high-water mark, or if it is a stepping-stone to future Hall induction.

Next year’s relatively weak class of first-time HOF candidates, however, could work in his favor.  Let’s hope it does.

THE BAD:

1)  Jeff Bagwell, an obvious Hall of Famer if there ever was one (unless you really weren’t paying attention), received a lower percentage of votes (41.7%)  than I thought he would, and I had low expectations for him going into this election.  His (hopefully temporary) rejection does not, however, come as a surprise because, and there is no way to sugarcoat this, many of the BBWAA voters are cowards.

What are they afraid of?  They are afraid to induct a player that they know, statistically speaking, should be a first-ballot HOF’er because they believe he just MIGHT have used steroids.

Even though Bagwell’s name has never appeared on any list of users, and even though no former teammates of his have ever accused him of being a user,  somehow an internet driven whiff of scandal has created a false cloud of controversy over his name and reputation.

And the voters are deathly, and unreasonably, afraid that if they were to induct Bagwell into The Hall, and then it was later revealed that he was, after all, a steroid user, then they would look foolish.

But they are wrong.  If (as unlikely as it is) that Bagwell was elected and then, at some later date, it turns out he was a user, then the shame of his tainted induction would be on him, not on the voters.

In other words, placing the onus of responsibility on a particular player to prove that he didn’t use steroids is unreasonable and unjust.  Guilty until proven innocent is the fallback position favored by cowards in an irrationally fearful society, and history is seldom kind to those who accuse others of some perceived crime, who then later turn out to have been innocent.

Prediction:  Bagwell is eventually elected into The Hall, but it could take a while.

2)  Larry Walker: Much of what I have just written about Bagwell can be applied to the case of Larry Walker as well.  And, as an added obstacle to The Hall, Walker is penalized for having played in the best hitter’s park ever constructed in one of the better era for hitter’s in modern history.

Only one in five voters (20%) believe Walker had a HOF career.

Setting aside the steroid issue, on which you have probably already formed an opinion, yes, Walker benefited from playing at Coor’s Field.  But I can’t think of any other player in baseball history who was penalized for having similar good fortune.  For example, if you had put Jim Rice in the Astrodome for his entire career, he certainly would not have ended up in The Hall.  Conversely, if you had put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for his career, he would have put up HOF numbers.

As another example, Mel Ott hit 323 (63%) of his 511 career home runs at the Polo Grounds, the highest total any player ever hit in their home ballpark.

Walker was already an outstanding player before he signed with the Rockies.  He was a great defensive player, an excellent base-runner, and could hit for power and average.

Yet his relatively poor showing in this year’s Hall of Fame vote does not portend, I fear, an eventual Hall induction.  More likely, he will continue to languish in the Dale Murphy/ Ted Simmons limbo, never taken quite seriously enough by the BBWAA that the full weight of his career will ever receive anything other than token appreciation.

3) Tim Raines: Raines was named on 37% of the ballots cast.  It is clear that Raine’s cocaine use, as well as the Conventional Wisdom that other lead-off hitters such as Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock outshone him, will probably keep Raines out of the Hall.  I can’t think of any other reason why someone would not vote for him.  The Conventional Wisdom in this case is, as it often proves to be,  just plain wrong.

The Utterly Perplexing:

1)  Edgar Martinez: (33% support) – What to do with Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history?  The crux of the issue is, there is no consensus on what constitutes a legitimate baseball player.  And don’t wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame to clarify the issue of what to do with the virtual life-time DH anymore than they will the issue of players linked to steroids.

The Hall of Fame, an institution that should be jealously guarding its reputation, has been cryptically, irresponsibly silent on the salient issues of the day regarding baseball, and the players it accepts for enshrinement.

2)  Lee Smith: Smith, 3rd on the all-time Saves list, was snubbed, appearing on 45% of the  ballots  cast.  What is a closer to do?  Either Saves, as a statistic, impress you, or they do not.

Smith emerged from the single-inning “clean” Save era, where 9th inning specialists usually entered the game with no one on base, and three outs to work with.  Sounds simple enough, and Smith did his job well.  But is this task, however well-performed, impressive enough to merit HOF recognition?

I believe, despite the large number of closers who compiled over 300 saves, that the voters will ultimately reward only a small handful of these specialists.  Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman come to mind as probable future inductees.  But I don’t believe that the BBWAA membership is all that impressed by raw Save totals.  Nor do I believe that they should be.

3)  Fred McGriff: (18% support) – Why the lack of love for the Crime Dog?  If I told you that a player who hit just under 500 home runs, registered eight 100+ RBI seasons, who had the same OPS+ as Al Kaline, and who has never been linked to steroids, appeared to be on the road to nowhere regarding Hall of Fame enshrinement, what would you think?  Frankly, I don’t know what to think, either.

4)  Marquis Grissom received four votes.  Tino Martinez received six votes.  B.J. Surhoff nailed down two, and Brett Boone and Charles Johnson received HOF support from one voter each.  How is it that each of these decent but unspectacular players received votes for The Hall, yet so many writers do not see Bagwell, Raines, Larkin or Walker as Hall material?  It’s a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, without the inevitable “now it all makes sense” ending.

So what are your thoughts on today’s BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results?  I’d like to know.

The complete results from the BBWAA:

Name Votes Pct.
Roberto Alomar 523 90.0%
Bert Blyleven 463 79.7%
Barry Larkin 361 62.1%
Jack Morris 311 53.5%
Lee Smith 263 45.3%
Jeff Bagwell 242 41.7%
Tim Raines 218 37.5%
Edgar Martinez 191 32.9%
Alan Trammell 141 24.3%
Larry Walker 118 20.3%
Mark McGwire 115 19.8%
Fred McGriff 104 17.9%
Dave Parker 89 15.3%
Don Mattingly 79 13.6%
Dale Murphy 73 12.6%
Rafael Palmeiro 64 11.0%
Juan Gonzalez 30 5.2%
Harold Baines 28 4.8%
John Franco 27 4.6%
Kevin Brown 12 2.1%
Tino Martinez 6 1.0%
Marquis Grissom 4 0.7%
Al Leiter 4 0.7%
John Olerud 4 0.7%
B.J. Surhoff 2 0.3%
Bret Boone 1 0.2%
Benito Santiago 1 0.2%
Carlos Baerga 0 0.0%
Lenny Harris 0 0.0%
Bobby Higginson 0 0.0%
Charles Johnson 0 0.0%
Raul Mondesi 0 0.0%
Kirk Rueter 0 0.0%

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