In some ways, 1996 was our most exciting election yet. We have two first ballot entrants: Keith Hernandez, a guy who never even got support from 11% of Hall voters, and Rick Reuschel, a pitcher who only two Hall voters supported at all. Beyond them, we’re electing Jim O’Rourke, a guy who’s been on every ballot we’ve seen thus far, and Roy Campanella, the only person we’ve un-killed. Exciting stuff!
Our four 1996 electees bring the Hall of Miller and Eric to 151 of the greatest players in the game’s history, which means we’ve filled 70% of our institution. We still have 61 more to vote in through our 2014 election, just over three every time out.
Not everyone who got a vote got in this election, as our rules mandate that players be named on both ballots to gain induction into the HoME. Let’s look at how we voted in 1996.
Miller Eric 1 Rick Reuschel Keith Hernandez 2 Keith Hernandez Rick Reuschel 3 Red Faber Roy Campanella 4 Jim O'Rourke Jim O'Rourke 5 Whitey Ford Bill Freehan 6 Roy Campanella Dave Bancroft 7 Don Sutton
The Class of 1996
Keith Hernandez: The 1979 NL co-MVP with Willie Stargell may have been the greatest defensive player in the game’s history. He would charge bunts like a madman, comfortably and aggressively throw across the diamond for outs at third, and routinely take responsibility for relays from the outfield. Hernandez was a fine hitter too. With enough power to keep pitchers honest, he hit .296 and put up an OBP of .384 through strong plate discipline. At a stacked position, he still shines. Until Jim Thome and Albert Pujols are eligible late in the 2010s, Hernandez may be a stealth member of the top ten first basemen in history. Though he made only five All-Star teams, he played eight seasons at that level, which is something that can be said about only seven others while playing first base. That’s it. Hernandez plus Gehrig, Anson, Foxx, Connor, Brouthers, Bagwell, and Mize.
Rick Reuschel: For a guy who didn’t look like a ballplayer, Reuschel was one hell of a ballplayer, and like Hernandez, another stealthy HoMEr. He used an assortment of sinkers and sliders and cutters to keep hitters off balance rather than overpowering them with heat. From 1976-1980, he was the best pitcher in the game aside form Phil Niekro. He had as many All-Star type of seasons, seven, as Robin Roberts, Nolan Ryan, and Don Drysdale, yet he was only selected to three All-Star teams. Perhaps that’s because he pitched for a decade in front of some awful defenses in the bandbox that was Wrigley. In terms of career WAR, he’s in the top three dozen ever, better than Carl Hubbell, Bob Feller, and Juan Marichal. He won 20 games only once and topped 14 only four times, which is testament to the poor teams for whom he pitched. And for a guy who missed most of three seasons in the middle of his career, he’s still one of only 18 pitchers in our data set with 14 seasons of 2.8+ WAR. Rick Reuschel was an all-time great.
Jim O’Rourke: In the end, we’re left with the fact that Orator Jim has somewhere between 72 and 75 equivalent WAR. That’s a tremendous number. At his peak he was merely an All-Star, and not all that often. But he strung together as many near All-Star seasons as anyone who isn’t a top-tier all-time great. While the spread of performance at his time is much, much wider than in today’s game, and it’s possible that O’Rourke benefits from the Schoenfield Paradox, we’re still looking at a player with as many 4-win seasons as Billy Willams and Tim Raines, as many 3-win seasons as Manny Ramirez and Jesse Burkett, and as many 2-win seasons as Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. O’Rourke has the most extreme and flat career of any position player out there. Even more so than Jake Beckley. But we have to go with the overwhelming career value. In his 36th election, Jim O’Rourke is a HoMEr.
Roy Campanella: When we undeaded him, Eric wrote that he had what other backlog catchers lacked, a dominant trait. Campy was a peak monster, the best catcher in the NL and perhaps MLB for several years. In retrospect, we were too hasty to knock him out of consideration in the early 1990s, but we’ve seen the error of our ways. Only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Buck Ewing, Carlton Fisk, and Mike Piazza beat Campanella in each of his two best seasons. In addition, there may be some extra defensive value related to handling pitchers that isn’t captured by any defensive statistics. And as the clock winds down in our process, those things can matter. It may have taken him 23 elections and one exhumation, but Roy Campanella is now a HoMEr.
Nine different players received votes this election, but only four of them were supported by both of us. And since it still takes votes from both of us to elect a candidate, we explain those solo votes here. For the first time in eight elections, Eric joins Miller having solo votes.
Red Faber: I’m now up to 27 votes for Faber. Turning back would be difficult. And it’s not necessary.
- We’re electing 61 pitchers through 2014, and Faber ranks 47th for me.
- He was the game’s most valuable pitcher from 1920-1925.
- For thirteen seasons, from 1919-1931, he’s the most valuable pitcher in the American League.
- For half a century, from 1904-1943, he trails only Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove in value on the mound among AL pitchers.
Whitey Ford: Ford’s gotten my support eleven times. Here’s why.
- Nobody was better on the mound in the AL from 1943-1975, 33 seasons.
- He has as many four win seasons as Early Wynn, Urbah Shocker, Wes Ferrell, Rick Reuschel, Red Ruffing, Amos Rusie, and Robin Roberts.
- He has as many (or more) three win seasons as Pedro Martinez, John Clarkson, Ed Walsh, Amos Rusie, Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Vic Willis, and on, and on, and on.
- He has six World Series rings and a record ten World Series wins.
Don Sutton: You might have heard that that he’s seventh ever in innings and fourteenth in wins. Ultimately that’s going to be enough for me.
Bill Freehan: After much deliberation, I’m coming out for Freehan and skipping Ernie Lombardi and Gene Tenace. I don’t know yet about Roger Bresnahan. Freehan’s case revolves around four keys that together add up to a vote for me:
- Best catcher in the AL for at least a decade.
- He’s from a period of time that is underrepresented in the HoME by a lot.
- He appears to have a wealth of uncaptured catching value in the form of handling pitchers and calling a game. There’s a lot more evidence of this for him than perhaps any other catcher candidate and certainly among the backloggers I researched. A thought experiment of mine suggests that Freehan could have picked up several Wins of value in this way.
- Other than Bresnahan (who is from an era when we may have more players than we should), the other catchers have major question marks that Freehan does not.
Dave Bancroft: I’m ready to close out the backlog at shortstop. His argument, like Freehan’s, has several layers. None of them by themselves is enough. Together they make a vote.
- Shortstop has room, and since Bancroft is the last for me, we won’t overpopulate it.
- He played during a stretch that is underpopulated in our Hall.
- He is strongly similar to HoME member Joe Sewell and may rank a little ahead for some. It’s close enough to be defensible in either direction or a tie.
- Among members of the backlog at all positions, he ranks among the upper-middle of the pack, so he is highly competitive with them to begin with and not a mere nod to structural concerns.
Thanks for checking out our 1996 election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those elected and to see plenty more information about the HoME.