German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht cautioned us to, “…not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.” To the players below their fear might be the inadequate career. But to be fair, anyone who we even considered for the HoME was quite good, even if these guys didn’t make the cut.
After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the HoME, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries. To make our process going forward is a bit easier, we remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration. We pay tribute to them in this column with a brief write-up along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.
There are 744 players on our list for HoME consideration. With fifteen elections complete, we’ve elected 87 and put to rest 247 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. We now have 410 players to consider for what is now 125 spots in the HoME. Those following closely might think there are only 122 spots remaining, but with the BBWAA voting for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, we have three more spots to fill. However, we’ll still see nearly 70% of our remaining players receive obituaries at some point.
And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.
Year Carried New Considered Elected Obituaries Continuing to Over Nominees this Election Next Election 1971 87 21 108 6 20 82 1966 94 26 120 7 26 87 1961 91 24 115 6 15 94 1956 92 32 124 7 26 91 1951 93 27 120 9 19 92 1946 94 26 120 8 19 93 1941 82 29 111 5 12 94 1936 75 29 104 8 14 82 1931 69 17 86 2 9 75 1926 71 25 96 9 18 69 1921 66 27 93 4 18 71 1916 53 31 84 5 13 66 1911 47 20 67 5 9 53 1906 33 28 61 3 11 47 1901 0 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1971
Right handed Tiger starter Tommy Bridges might not have been there to see the best moment of his career. In the 1935 World Series, he threw complete games in a Game 2 win and also in the deciding Game 6. It was in that sixth game, with the score tied at three, that Bridges shined – and shied away. Stan Hack led off the Cub ninth with a triple, but a strikeout, a comebacker, and a fly to left later, Bridges was out of the inning. (By the way, if I were Cub manager Charlie Grimm, I’d have pinch hit Kiki Cuyler for my pitcher, Larry French, with a man on third and one out in the ninth). Anyway, Bridges was proud of himself, I guess. He went into the tunnel to have a cigarette, and that’s where he stayed as a Mickey Cochrane single, a Charlie Gehringer groundout, and Goose Goslin single won things for the Tigers.
My absolute favorite thing about Kiki Cuyler is that you pronounce the first three syllables in his name exactly the same. Kai-kai Kai-ler. He also hit two inside-the-park homers in the same 1925 game and was said to be the favorite player of Ward Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver. The right fielder won four stolen base titles and hit .321 in a career that led to a spot in the Hall of Fame, though not the HoME.
Johnny Evers, the lefty hitting 2B mostly for the Cubs early in the 1900s, is a borderline Hall of Fame selection who just couldn’t find his way into the HoME since we at the HoME aren’t so enamored with the Tinker to Evers to Chance mythology. He won the NL MVP (Chalmers Award) in 1914, his first year with the Boston Braves, and is said to be the player who realized Fred Merkle missed first base in the Merkle’s Boner game of 1908.
Depending on who you ask, Nellie Fox was either a great fielder (Rfield) or below average (DRA). Since Eric and I trust DRA more, “Mighty Mite” and his weak bat are toast this election. He won the MVP in 1959, an award he only deserved if you trust defensive metrics that we don’t. He did lead the AL in hits four times and totaled 2663 in his 19 seasons, mostly with the White Sox. He also made a dozen All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves. Make no mistake, Fox was a great player. He just isn’t HoME-worthy.
Pitching alongside Indian greats Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon might have made Mike Garcia seem more impressive than he really was. After all, Lemon and maybe Wynn are overrated. The big righty’s career lasted for 14 seasons, from 1948-1961, all but the last two of which were in Cleveland. In Garcia’s defense, he was an ERA champion in 1949 and again in 1954, and he did make three All-Star teams. In his only World Series, in 1954, his 111-win Indians were swept in four games by the Giants. Garcia started and lost the third game, and he finished out the Cleveland season on the mound in a losing effort the next day.
In what was debatably the greatest game anyone ever pitched, Harvey Haddix threw twelve perfect innings for the Pirates on May 26, 1959. You’d think that would be enough, but it wasn’t. Braves hurler Lew Burdette gave up twelve hits but not a single run in 13 innings. As Haddix took the mound in the 13th, perfection was about to turn to defeat. A Don Hoak error put aboard the winning run. A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron followed. And then a double by Joe Adcock ended this outstanding game in a loss for Haddix.
Although Gil Hodges isn’t deserving of the Hall of Fame, he’s certainly gotten a lot of support. In fact, nobody has received more votes for the Hall without getting in. The trivia doesn’t stop there for this eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove first baseman. Hodges also hit four homers in one game in 1950 and holds the single season record with 19 sacrifice flies in 1954.
Isaac Asimov, Kim Jong-il, John Madden, and Jackie Jensen all suffered from pteromerhanophobia, or a fear of flying. The AL right fielder had led the league in RBIs in three of the five seasons before his phobia caused an abrupt retirement in 1960. He tried to come back the next season, but to no avail. Jensen won a Gold Glove, made a trio of All-Star teams, and was AL MVP in 1958 when Mickey Mantle probably deserved it. But Jensen drove in 122 to Mantle’s 97. Such was life in pre-SABR times.
Johnny Logan was a shortstop for the Braves and the Pirates from 1951-1963. He made four All-Star teams, and he took home a doubles title in 1955. In 1957, he set a record with 10 assists by a shortstop in a World Series game. Otherwise, Logan was pretty awful in his two World Series, posting a .154/.241/.269 line in 60 trips to the plate. At the peak of triviality, he was the first batter to face Sandy Koufax in the majors.
Catcher Sherm Lollar spent the majority of his 18-year career behind the plate with the Chicago White Sox. He was a fine defender with an acceptable bat. He made seven All-Star teams, basically behind Yogi Berra, and won the first Gold Glove by a catcher in 1957. Lollar wasn’t a bad player, and he’s eligible for the Golden Era ballot next year, but he’d be a poor selection for the Hall. While he’s likely the best catcher from his era not enshrined, there are much better catchers to put in before Lollar, like this guy who was just denied.
According to Peter C. Bjarkman’s article at the SABR Bio Project, rumor was that righty starting pitcher Dolf Luque often carried a gun, even when in uniform. One story he relays tells of a pitcher, Terris McDuffie, who begged out of a game because of a hangover. Apparently a loaded pistol waved by Luque was the perfect hangover cure. During more sane days, Luque won an NL best 27 games and led the league in ERA for the 1923 Reds. He did lead the NL in ERA one more time, but he never won more than 17 games in any other season.
A slugging right fielder who played the majority of his career with the Cubs, Bill Nicholson led the war-depleted NL in both homers and runs batted in in 1943 and 1944. He was so feared in 1944 that he was actually intentionally walked with the bases loaded, joining Abner Dalrymple, Nap Lajoie, Del Bissonette, and later Barry Bonds and Josh Hamilton in that exclusive club. Overall, he smacked 272 home runs in his 16 seasons.
Sweet-swinging infielder Pete Runnels played 14 seasons in the majors, from 1951-1964. His most productive years were for the Red Sox from 1958-1962. During that time he won a pair of batting titles and slashed at .320/.408/.427. A fine hitter indeed, Runnels also took himself off the bases a lot. He stole 37 bases in his days, but he was caught 51 times. His worst mark was the record-setting 1952 when, as a Senator, he was caught in each of his ten attempts. In a related but entirely untrue story, his manager Bucky Harris died that off-season in a traffic accident. He was unable to identify red lights.
Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst should likely be known just as Red Schoendienst, sans moniker. Along with Nellie Fox and Bill Mazeroski, he was elected to the Hall by the Veterans Committee between 1989 and 2001. During the same years, more deserving recent players like Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and Willie Randolph were falling off the BBWAA ballot. Don’t get me wrong, Schoedienst was a good second baseman, as his ten All-Star teams would suggest. But his bat was plenty weak. In 19 campaigns, he collected 2449 hits, which is impressive indeed, but he did so with a 94 OPS+, suggesting he was a below average hitter.
Quick, what do Jimmie Foxx, Kurt Bevacqua, Glenallen Hill, and Roy Sievers have in common? They’re the only four men to hit pinch grand slams in both leagues. The 1949 AL Rookie of the Year, Sievers possessed a fairly powerful bat, but even during his 1954-1962 peak, he wasn’t one of the game’s 20 best players. He is the best Senator home run hitter ever however, smacking a record 42 in 1957 and 180 in his Washington career.
Along with Philadelphia Phillie teammates and fellow Hall of Famers Ed Delahanty and Billy Hamilton, Sam Thompson hit .400 in 1984. But not one of them even finished first in the Phillie outfield in batting average that year. Tuck Turner beat them all and qualified for the NL batting title. And Boston Beaneater Hugh Duffy beat him too to take home the crown. Thompson holds the record for most runs batted in per game, .926. And he also holds the single-season record for most times driving in a teammate, 156 in 1887.
Mike Tiernan played his entire career, from 1887-1899, with the New York Giants, mostly in right field. The powerful lefty won a pair of home run titles and is one of only 29 players with multiple cycles to his credit. Bill James gave him the distinction of “A Better Man Than a Ballplayer” for the 1890s in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
Earl Torgeson was a fine player. Think Wally Joyner for a more recent value comp. Torgeson drew a bunch of walks and stole some bases for a first baseman. But he just wasn’t that great. Perhaps the thing for which he is best remembered is sharing a nickname with Earl Averill. Both were from Snohomish, Washington, and both were known at times as “The Earl of Snohomish”.
Best known as the player who hit the long drive that Willie Mays famously caught over his shoulder, Vic Wertz was actually a fine player in his own right. In 17 seasons, he hit 266 home runs. And the RF/1B made the All-Star team four times. Perhaps most amazingly, he missed much of the 1955 season with polio – yes, polio – and then came back to hit a career-high 32 home runs to go with 106 runs driven in for the Indians the next season.
Gene Woodling was a decent enough player, though never really a star. He suited up for six teams over 17 season from 1943-1962. Primarily a left fielder, Woodling’s career was somewhat similar to Dusty Baker’s. While Baker went on to manage, Woodling became a scout for the Yankees and is credited with signing Thurman Munson. As a player, he was an All-Star in 1959, and he contributed three World Series home runs and a .318/.442/.529 line for the Yankees in 104 plate appearances.
That’s our death toll this election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1976 election for more obituaries.