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1997, RIP, Obituaries of Players We're No Longer Considering

RIP, Players Falling Off the 1997 Ballot

Pete Browning Grave

Only 44 years on the planet but 37 elections for the Gladiator and the original Louisville Slugger

Our 1997 election brought Dwight Evans the fame that Cooperstown has rejected so far. And we dug back for 2B Billy Herman and C Bill Freehan as well. We’ve elected 154, and we continue to kill off those who aren’t going to make it.

Today, there are several obits that are very difficult to write. We lose the guy who’s really our 50th Hall casualty in Hughie Jennings, a Hall of Fame manager in John McGraw, as well as Pete Browning and Mike Griffin, players who had been around since our first and second elections respectively.

The obituaries will come in only two forms from here on – those that are very difficult to write and those for players we’ve all seen on Sports Center. We’re down to the nitty gritty.

There were 744 players in our database at the start of this project. With 154 so far elected and through 37 elections and now 410 obituaries written, today we have just 181 players to review for our 58 remaining HoME spots. That means we can elect a shade over 32% of the remaining population.

Below is the tally from each election since our first in 1901.

Year   Carried     New      Considered   Elected   Obituaries  Continuing to
         Over    Nominees  this Election                       Next Election
1997      40         3          43          3           7           33
1996      42         7          49          4           5           40
1995      41        11          52          4           6           42
1994      38       8+1          47          3           3           41
1993      41         9          50          3           9           38
1992      40        10          50          3           6           41
1991      40         9          49          1           8           40
1990      42         9          51          3           8           40
1989      45        10          55          6           7           42
1988      44         7          51          2           4           45   
1987      44         3          47          0           3           44
1986      44         4          48          1           3           44
1985      47        10          57          1          12           44
1984      50         5          55          2           6           47
1983      52         8          60          5           5           50
1982      51         8          59          3           4           52
1981      59         8          67          1          15           51
1980      59         8          67          3           5           59
1979      67         6          73          6           8           59
1978      78         6          84          5          12           67
1977      86         6          92          2          11           79
1976      82        26         108          6          16           86
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 1997

A truly outstanding 19th century player who may have been the best hitter in the history of the American Association, Pete Browning is a tough kill for us. A triple slash triple crown as a rookie with the Louisville Eclipse in 1882 represented one of his three batting titles. And his career OPS+ of 163 is tied with Jimmie Foxx and Mark McGwire Ken Griffeyfor #11 all-time. Even those who aren’t familiar with this Louisville Slugger understand his legacy. Browning was the first player to have his bats hand-crafted to his specifications. As the story goes, Louisville Slugger was born.

The father of one of the best players of the 90s, Ken Griffey Sr. was no slouch himself as the Big Red Machine right fielder. He made three All-Star teams and was the game’s MVP in 1980 when he had a pair of hits, including a homer against Tommy John. In 1990, he and Jr. were the first father and son to play on the same major league team. And on September 14 of that year, the duo homered in the same game.

Mike Griffin was a talented center fielder who played in the American Association, the Players League, and the National League from 1887-1898. Remembered by some as the first major leaguer to homer in his first plate Mike Griffinappearance, Griffin was a fine hitter though not much of a home run threat, hitting only 42 in his career. He received an obit today because the HoME is looking like it’ll have 16 CF without him, and he still has to compete against the likes of George Gore, Bernie Williams, Cesar Cedeno, and others at the position.

Known as “Ee-Yah” because of his wild shouts from the third base coach’s box during his days at the helm of the Detroit Tigers, Hughie Jennings had the best peak of any player we’ve ever killed off. Playing shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, Jennings had short but incredibly high peak from 1895-1898 during which he never fell below 7.3 WAR. With short-season adjustments, reasonable people could say he never fell below 8.4 WAR during that time and put up an incredible 37.8 WAR over four seasons. That number is topped on offense by only fourteen hitters – the best of the best who have ever played. However, Hughie JenningsJennings did very little aside from those great four years. Yes, 1894 was nice. But for the rest of his career, we’re looking at less than 7 WAR before adjustment and only 8.3 thereafter. We love Jennings’ peak, but there’s nothing in support of that 4-5 year run.

Let’s start at the top. Chet Lemon is a ridiculously underrated player historically. Underrated guys were sort of common in the 1970s and 1980s, believe it or not. The SABR revolution hadn’t Chet Lemonyet taken hold, so walks weren’t respected as they should have been. And defense wasn’t understood quite as well as we understand it today. Also, the BBWAA didn’t adjust to the larger league size in their Hall voting. Chet the Jet was a solid hitter and a very good fielder. He knew how to get hit by a pitch, leading the AL four times in five years. What he knew how to do less well is stuff that excites. He topped 20 homers just once, his non-HBP Black Ink is limited to one doubles title. His best playoff work was in an ALCS loss. And he was considered about the 40th best player on the 1984 Tigers. No, Lemon doesn’t deserve the HoME, as three of his Tiger IF teammates do, but he does deserve some real recognition.

Let me admit right up front a bias in favor of Little Napoleon (a name that seems pretty redundant, right), John McGraw. Let me also admit to not quite remembering why I like him so much. But I do know it’s less because he’s John McGrawsecond all-time in managerial wins and more because he’s likely one of the two-dozen best 3B ever. A winner of three OBP titles, including the sick .547 mark in 1899, McGraw had an outstanding bat and six seasons playing at the All-Star level. His problem is a relatively short career; he had only Dave Parker, Kelloggseight seasons where he played at the level of a regular starter. And it’s for that reason that we ultimately had to kill him.

When the Cobra, Dave Parker, uncoiled his outstanding arm, runners stood little chance. And at his 1975-1979 peak, Parker was one of the game’s best players. He was the 1978 NL MVP and took home two batting titles, won three Gold Gloves, and made seven All-Star teams during his career. Parker was very good in the 1979 playoffs, hitting .341 as the Pirates beat the Reds and then the Orioles to win the World Series. However, both injuries and cocaine use took their toll on the slugger who finished with 339 homers and nearly 1500 RBI, and he never put together the Hall of Fame career he might have.

Our 1997 is now in the books. Please go to our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1998 election for more obituaries.

Miller

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “RIP, Players Falling Off the 1997 Ballot

  1. Sorry to see Browning go. I’ve not gotten to McGraw yet on my blog, but I’ve begun to look at the data. He’s going to be tough because even by 1910 McGraw the manager has begun to completely overshadow McGraw the player and finding out what they thought of him as a player is difficult.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | November 24, 2014, 9:03 am
    • Given that we reviewed Browning’s case approaching 40 times, I feel we gave him sufficient attention. And it’s extremely hard to let go of a player who you’ve been considering so deeply for so long. He kind of feels like part of the family. But ultimately, there were better players by era and position – at least that’s what we determined.

      As far as McGraw, he’s a guy who I’d have expected would have gotten my vote. I’ve always loved him, even though I can’t remember how the love affair began. Entirely disregarding managing has been an advantage for us throughout this process. It lets us be laser-focused on the numbers. In 1970, I’d have felt pretty good about calling McGraw a top-10 3B ever. But the crop of very good to great players whose careers began after 1960 proved too much for him, unfortunately.

      Posted by Miller | November 25, 2014, 12:48 pm

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