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Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Thurman Munson”

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 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.

Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame: Rick Ferrell vs. Thurman Munson

Picture of Thurman Munson (deceased)

Image via Wikipedia

This is the third installment of this series.  Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Briefly, the point of this series is to find a player better than someone else already in the Hall of Fame at the same position.  This is not to say that the alternate player I have chosen is definitely a Hall of Famer.  Rather, it is just to point out that better choices are often readily available.

So let’s take a look at Hall of Famer Rick Farrell, a catcher chosen by the Veteran’s Committee for induction into The Hall in 1984.  Then we’ll compare Farrell’s career with that of former Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, tragically killed in a plane crash in August of 1979.

Rick Ferrell was a very durable backstop who, when he retired in 1947, had caught more games up to that point than any A.L. catcher in history.  Highly respected by Connie Mack and others, Ferrell reputedly had a strong throwing arm and was very smooth behind the plate.

Ferrell currently ranks 28th all-time in assists and 37th in putouts by a catcher.  He also handled four knuckleball pitchers while toiling with the Senators, certainly no easy task.  So we can establish that, at least defensively, Ferrell was a very good catcher who played for a very long time (1929-47 inclusive.)  But is that enough to deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Let’s take a look at the rest of his record.

Ferrell was a seven time All-Star.  His best year offensively was 1931 when his OPS+ was 113.  His lifetime batting average was .281.  Ferrell’s best finish in MVP voting was 12th place in 1933.  He drew far more walks (931) than strikeouts (277.)  His career on-base percentage was a pretty solid .378.  He managed 1,692 hits of which 324 were doubles.

Ferrell slugged just 28 home runs and drove in 734 runs in 18 seasons, scoring just 687 more.  His career OPS is .741, while his OPS+ is just 95.  By way of comparison, Rick’s brother, Wes, a pitcher, slugged 38 home runs and produced a career OPS+ of 100.

Keep in mind as well that Ferrell generally played in a hitter’s era.  Ferrell’s career WAR of 22.9, which includes his defense, is one of the lowest in The Hall.

Rick Ferrell lasted just three years on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, never topping 0.5 percent of the vote.  Clearly, the baseball writers didn’t think Rick Ferrell belonged in The Hall.  And frankly, neither do I.  But the Veteran’s Committee, in their collective mysterious wisdom, apparently felt otherwise.

Thurman Munson would be an appropriate alternative to Rick Ferrell.  Here’s why.

Let me begin by saying that, as a kid growing up in southern Connecticut in the ’70’s, I never liked Munson.  He always struck me as scruffy and gruff, the kind of guy I might like to punch out if he was my age.

He was dumpy looking, had no real power to speak of, and worst of all, he played for the hated Yankees.  As a Mets fan, I wasn’t exactly part of Red Sox nation.  Still, when the Red Sox and Yanks engaged in one of their periodic on-field brawls, I always rooted for the BoSox.  You know how it goes.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

But none of that detracts from the career Thurman Munson enjoyed with the Yankees from 1969-79.  In an era blessed with fine catchers (Bench, Fisk, Simmons, etc.), Munson was one of the best.  A seven time All-Star in his ten big league seasons, Munson finished in the top ten in batting average five times. He was voted A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1970.

Munson’s career WAR (a cumulative stat) of 43.4 nearly twice as high as Rick Ferrell’s career WAR of 22.9, and Munson played in nearly six fewer seasons than Ferrell.

Munson was a fine defensive catcher, leading the A.L. in runners caught stealing twice, and generally handling the Yankees pitching staff very effectively.  He won three Gold Glove awards for his defense.

A much better hitter than Ferrell, Munson topped a 120 OPS+ in five different seasons, including a career high 141 in 1973.  Three times, Munson finished in the top four in the A.L. in hits.  Munson also drove in at least 100 runs in three consecutive seasons.

In 1976, Munson won the A.L. MVP award for leading the Yankees to their first A.L. pennant in 12 years.  He also finished in the top ten in MVP voting in two other seasons.

Where Munson truly excelled, however, was in the post-season.  Munson played in 30 post-season games, batting .357, including a .529 mark against the Reds in the ’76 World Series. Ironically, that World Series against the Big Red Machine was the only one of six post-season series that the Yankees lost with Munson behind the plate.

The bottom line is that as a kid, I was wrong about Munson.  Sure, he looked like a fire-hydrant that needed a shave, but the man could play baseball, and he was a winner.

Thurman Munson was certainly among the dominant players in his era in a way that Rick Ferrell just never was.  And for that reason, Munson would be a suitable replacement for Rick Ferrell in the Hall of Fame.

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