The Baseball Hall of Fame is bad at electing second basemen. Sure, they put in easy calls like Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins and Joe Morgan and Jackie Robinson. But other great players like Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich are out. Willie Randolph is a borderline guy, but he received the support of just five voters the one time he was on a ballot. And Ross Barnes has been dead for over 99 years, and he’s not in. Maybe he’ll get a 100th deathday present next year? Maybe not.
Also, there are a bunch of guys in the Hall who we’ve already dismissed from intellectual HoME consideration. Tony Lazzeri and Johnny Evers aren’t the best choices, but if you’re a certain type of voter, they’re defensible. Then there are Red Schoendienst and Nellie Fox, clearly not good choices, at least to this voter. And finally we have 1978 nominee Bill Mazeroski, a very bad selection. Today’s piece, our seventh in the “How the Hall Failed” series, will focus on Red, Fox (but not Redd Foxx), and Maz. What were the voters thinking, and what made them get these calls wrong?
Before we explore why the mistakes were made, let’s first take a look at our three players and where they rank among second basemen – only among second basemen. And just for fun, let’s compare RedFoxMaz to Grich, Whitaker, and Randolph, three who are outside of the Hall. Below is a chart that includes my adjusted WAR rank for each player’s top-5 seasons, top-10 seasons, and career rank among second basemen.
Top-5 Top-10 Career Red Schoendienst 30 39 31 Nellie Fox 35 32 33 Bill Mazeroski 45 45 45 Bobby Grich 12 8 8 Lou Whitaker 24 14 11 Willie Randolph 28 21 15
One trio looks like it should be in, while the other should be out. Thus the “How the Hall Failed” post. I know, you think I’m using these crazy calculations to come up with just the numbers that benefit my argument. Fine. I’ll try another chart. In this one, I’ll include traditional 2B-type numbers like hits and runs scored. I’ll also add some standard, more refined numbers like OPS+ (park adjusted OBP+SLG, where 100 is average), and Michael Humphrey’s DRA, which basically is a number describing how many runs their fielding was worth.
Hits Runs OPS+ DRA Red Schoendienst 2449 1223 94 54.2 Nellie Fox 2663 1279 93 -36.1 Bill Mazeroski 2016 769 84 148.3 Bobby Grich 1883 1033 125 140.6 Lou Whitaker 2369 1386 117 109.1 Willie Randolph 2210 1239 104 125.0
Well, there you have it. The traditional numbers see the guys who got elected about the same as the guys who haven’t. On the other hand, the more advanced numbers – the smarter numbers – say something different. OPS+ says Randolph was a good hitter, while Grich and Whitaker were quite good. Red and Fox weren’t good, and Maz was quite bad. And then there’s DRA, which suggests that the great RedFoxMaz isn’t quite as great in the field as we’ve been told. Sure, Mazeroski’s number is very impressive, but let’s not forget the crappy offense. And RedFox lags behind.
(Full disclosure, Humphreys ranks Maz as the second best all-time at 2B. Grich is fourth, Randolph is sixth, and Whitaker is seventh. Red and Fox aren’t in the top-ten).
Let’s just look at straight WAR, which I believe inflates the defensive contribution of Fox a considerable amount. Michael Humphreys of Wizardry fame explains that Fox made 82 fewer errors than would have been expected at 2B over his career. Such error avoidance can make us overrate a player. Further, his putout totals seem to be inflated because he took more than his share of infield flies. That’s more explanation of how we overrate him.
Red Schoendienst is tied with Don Mattingly and Lenny Dykstra for 276th in history in WAR. Nellie Fox, even with his questionably rated defensive number, is in 194th place, just ahead of Jim Fregosi. And Bill Mazeroski is in 381st place, a shade ahead of Eric Davis and Cecil Cooper. The Hall doesn’t have 194 hitters enshrined. And it sure as hell doesn’t have 381.
Just for fun, let’s look at only offensive WAR. Schoendienst is a not-too-impressive 350th, tied with Ron Hunt and Ted Kluszewski. Nellie Fox is a few slots ahead, tied with Del Ennis and Mickey Vernon for 334th place. And then there’s Maz. He’s tied with Rich Aurilia, Julio Lugo, and others for 869th all-time. Each of the other three, if you’re counting, are in the top-140. And by the way, there are 140 hitters in the Hall.
Clearly it’s not their bats that got them in. And it’s not their gloves if we trust the best statistics going. Maybe it’s other defensive numbers. Let’s look at straight double plays turned. Maz and Fox are first and second all-time in DP at 2B. Ah, that must be it. And Red is in tenth.Perfect! We have our explanation.
But hold on one second. Right behind the first two are Randolph and Whitaker in third and fourth. And right behind Red is Grich in eleventh. You can’t make this stuff up!
In assists, it’s Maz, Whitaker, Fox, Randolph, Grich, and Red, in that order, all inside the top-20.
In putouts, it’s Fox, Maz, Randolph, Whitaker, Red, and Grich, in that order, again all inside the top-20.
What we see is as of yet, Hall voters have only embraced the good-field, little-to-no-hit guys. The good field, good-hit guys, at least those who played in the 1970s and 1980s, aren’t receiving the same treatment as guys from the 1950s and 1960s who were inferior hitters.
Maybe that’s because all of the 1950s/1960s guys have some other noted supporter or an argument that voters cling to.
- Red Schoendienst won more than 1000 games plus an NL pennant and the 1967 World Series as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
- Bill James, in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame, called Nellie Fox the best 2B who isn’t in the Hall. Since James wrote that book, the Hall has enshrined every single member of James’ infield.
- Bill Mazeroski hit the only seventh game, ninth inning, walk-off home run in World Series history when he took Ralph Terry deep in 1960.
So they all sort of have something. Of course, it’s not accurate to say the above characteristics brought about election all by themselves. There’s more to it than that, but I do think they are contributing factors. For the record, I do believe Schoendienst’s managerial career and Mazeroski’s homer basically put them over the top. As for Fox, maybe the support of an expert like James combined with a misinterpretation of his defense and a fairly weak 1959 MVP made it happen.
But let me be fair here – and be consistent. Our terrible 2Bs didn’t get to the Hall right after their playing days ended. As selections of the Veterans Committee, not the BBWAA, it took each one a while. Red took 26 years after his playing days ended. It was 29 years for Maz. And Fox took 32 years. Based on those numbers, all isn’t lost for guys who retired in 1986, 1992, and 1995. Of course, even if Grich, Whitaker, and Randolph make it, RedFoxMaz doesn’t go away.
Since we’ve already given comparisons in career WAR for Red, Fox, and Maz, I’d like to do the same for our other three. You know, just to rub it in.
oWAR Comps WAR Comps, Hitters Bobby | Al Simmons, Alan Trammell, | Rafael Palmeiro, Derek Jeter Grich | Larry Walker, Bill Dahlen | Johnny Mize, Ron Santo ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lou | Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, | Johnny Bench, Sam Crawford Whitaker | Rafael Palmeiro, Ron Santo | Luke Appling, Reggie Jackson ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Willie | Bill Dickey, Enos Slaughter, | Goose Goslin, Buddy Bell, Randolph | Lance Berkman, Darrell Evans | Craig Biggio, Andre Dawson
To date, the Hall has done a bad job at the keystone. At the HoME, we’re going to do better.