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2014 Golden Era Committee, Sidebars

Examining the Golden Era Ballot

Will the leading returning candidate get his Hall ticket punched next week?

Will one of the leading returning candidates get his Hall ticket punched next week, or will Hodges’ wait continue?

The Hall of Fame announced its Golden Era committee’s final 10-man ballot in late October. While others have already commented on it, we decided to wait until closer to the announcement of the election itself to pipe up. We’ll talk about each guy in detail in just a moment, but first we’ve listed the candidates. If they are a newbie to this ballot, they’re asterisked.

  • Dick Allen*, first base/third base
  • Ken Boyer, third base
  • Gil Hodges, first base
  • Bob Howsam*, executive
  • Jim Kaat, starting pitcher
  • Minnie Minoso, left field
  • Tony Oliva, right field
  • Billy Pierce*, starting pitcher
  • Luis Tiant, starting pitcher
  • Maury Wills*, shortstop

For the curious, here are the official results from that 2012 election. Twelve votes are required for immortalization:

It's clear that Billy Pierce improves this ballot, but does he deserve a vote?

It’s clear that Billy Pierce improves this ballot, but does he deserve a vote?

  • Ron Santo(15)
  • Kaat (10)
  • Hodges (9)
  • Minoso (9)
  • Oliva (8)
  • Buzzie Bavasi (3)
  • Boyer (3)
  • Charlie Finley (3)
  • Allie Reynolds (3)
  • Tiant (3)

ERIC: This ballot is an improvement over the previous Golden Era slate and a tremendous improvement over the Expansion Era’s 2014 group. The screening committee did three things especially well:

  • kicking Allie Reynolds and Charlie Finley off the island
  • avoiding the manager role altogether
  • backfilling Santo’s slot with a player.

MILLER: Agreed on all three. Let’s examine the four trades from ballot to ballot.

Pleasant? Perhaps not. A serious Hall of Fame candidate? Absolutely.

Pleasant? Perhaps not. A serious Hall of Fame candidate? Absolutely.

Perhaps we can say that Dick Allen takes the place of Ron Santo. One beloved and deserving Hall of Famer gets in, and one despised and deserving Hall of Famer takes his place. Good trade, though I don’t anticipate Allen has much of a shot with this group.

Then they traded out Allie Reynolds for Billy Pierce. This is a dramatic improvement. While the three people who voted for Superchief three years ago may be disappointed, the baseball world should be happy. In terms of overall value, the former Yankee is roughly equivalent to Dennis Leonard or maybe A.J. Burnett. Even though I’m not of the opinion that Billy Pierce is a Hall of Famer, the difference between him and someone like Don Drysdale or Juan Marichal is smaller than the difference between him and Reynolds.

As far as the third trade, shipping out Buzzie Bavasi for Bob Howsam doesn’t mean a lot to me. Neither deserves enshrinement, I don’t think.

The final trade isn’t really even up. They got rid of Charlie Finley and added Maury Wills. On one hand, Wills is roughly equivalent to Hall of Fame shortstops Travis Jackson, Luis Aparicio, and Phil Rizzuto. On the other, none of those three belong.

ERIC: There are warts here too, but we’ll get into those and how we would build a better ballot in our next post.

MILLER: So let’s get to our analysis of the ballot.

ERIC: It’s to the screeners’ credit that they added Dick Allen to this ballot. I suspect he hasn’t a chance in hell thanks to his personality, but I’m pleased to see his name among these ten. He made an easy yes vote for the Hall of Miller and Eric on the basis of his playing record.

MILLER: I’m certainly with you on Allen. For some reason I’ve always been a fan of his. Too young to know about him as a person and always a contrarian by nature, I took a liking to Allen as a kid and have never turned back. Don’t tell anyone, but he’s quite similar to Ernie Banks minus a couple of decent seasons Mr. Cub had toward the end of his career.

Boyer wonders why being roughly equivalent to Brooks Robinson doesn't merit him a vote.

Boyer wonders why being roughly equivalent to Brooks Robinson doesn’t merit him a vote.

Another guy who I really like is Ken Boyer. He’s a hell of a lot better than Freddie Lindstrom, George Kell, and Pie Traynor. And we both rank him among the best dozen or so 3B ever. I’m not betting on him getting a plaque, but he should.

ERIC: If Rawlings can change the Gold Glove Award to include a statistical aspect, maybe the tide has started to turn on defense. Perhaps Boyer, a top-half third baseman, has a shot? He’s fully qualified.

Then there’s Gil Hodges. Someone has to be the face of the in/out line. Hodges isn’t a good enough player to be that guy, but he remains the only fellow no longer on the ballot to get 50% of the BBWAA’s vote but no plaque. As a player he’s about as good as Fred Tenney or Norm Cash or Dolph Camilli or Ed Konetchy. Not a one of whom should be in the Hall. Hodges never led the league in any important offensive stat. He was never the best hitter, let alone the best player, on a team featuring Robinson, Snider, Campanella, Reese, Newcombe and later Drysdale, Kofuax, and Davis.

The only way that Hodges is a Hall of Famer is via Part B of the Eras Committees rules for election:

Those whose careers entailed involvement in multiple categories will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of Baseball.

Trouble is that Gil Hodges’ managerial career is pretty spotty. His lifetime winning percentage over nine years and 1414 games was .420. Sure the story is a tad more complicated because he took over two lousy expansion teams. He did bring the Senators somewhere near to respectability, and of course he steered the Mets to a championship, but Hodges would ultimately have a similar and maybe worse case than Jim Fregosi. It’s not enough.

MILLER: It’s not hard to see why voters would be attracted to Hodges. He made eight All-Star squads, he drove in 100+ seven straight years, and he smacked 20+ homers eleven years in a row. Round numbers are attractive. And two other acceptable comps for Hodges, though they were better hitters and lesser defenders, are Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda. Say what you will about those two, but voters will say they’re Hall of Famers. Hodges had nine Golden Era votes three years ago. There’s a shot he gets in this time.

Another guy with a shot to get in is Bob Howsam. I say he has a shot just because, as an executive rather than a player, he’s different from the other candidates. I’m far stingier when it comes to executives than you are, and as such Howsam isn’t even close for me. He sort of won a title in St. Louis, and he was at the helm of the Big Red Machine. But he didn’t build the Machine. He was given both Johnny Bench and Pete Rose to start. Sure, the trades for Joe Morgan and George Foster were great, but they’re not nearly enough to get him into the Hall. Not for this (non)voter.

ERICI looked deeply into Howsam’s case and at GM candidates in general two weeks ago, and Howsam is close er to the Hall’s in/out line among GMs than Hodges is among players. He would neither materially improve nor damage the Hall’s established standard for GMs. I don’t oppose his eventual election, but I think his contemporaries Buzzie Bavasi and Harry Dalton are in line ahead of him. In Howsam’s defense, saying he started with Rose, Bench, and Perez undersells him. He didn’t merely acquire Morgan and Foster. He basically gutted the team around his stars and replaced it with an outstanding supporting cast. Then kept the Big Red Machine running for 13 years. This is a list of players (and a manager) he either drafted, acquired by trade, or signed as an amateur between 1967 and 1978 (when he turned over GM duties to his successor and assumed the vice presidency of the Reds):

  • Sparky Anderson

    How you view Howsam could have a lot to do with how many execs you think belong in the Hall.

    How you view Howsam could have a lot to do with how many execs you think belong in the Hall.

  • Jack Billingham
  • Pedro Borbon
  • Clay Carroll
  • Dave Collins
  • Dave Concepcion
  • Dan Dreissen
  • Rawley Eastwick
  • George Foster
  • Cesar Geronimo
  • Ken Griffey
  • Ross Grimsley
  • Don Gullet
  • Ray Knight
  • Charlie Liebrandt
  • Jim McGlothlin
  • Joe Morgan
  • Ron Oester
  • Tom Seaver
  • Wayne Simpson
  • Mario Soto
  • Bobby Tolan
  • Pat Zachary

This is why the Reds didn’t fall out of contention between 1969 and 1981. They averaged 95 wins for 13 years and finished lower than third only once. Howsam’s ability to continually find talent to surround his stars was amazing, and no dynasty goes on a 13-year run like the Reds did without a great GM. In fact, we need only look a little to the west for an example of the opposite situation, where the Santo-Jenkins-Banks-Williams Cubs never made it into October because they could never find enough merely average guys to supplement their formidable core. Or to compare Howsam’s situation to more recent examples, Brian Cashman didn’t acquire Jeter, Posada, Mariano, Bernie, and Pettitte. Nor did John Schuerholz acquire Glavine, Smoltz, and Justice—nor even Blauser, Lemke, Gant, Lonnie Smith, Pete Smith, Stanton, Avery, Wohlers, or Mercker. Like Howsam, both these Hall-of-Fame bound GMs entered promising situations and continually located a great cast of characters to keep their teams in contention every single season.

Speaking of long runs, there’s Jim Kaat and his 283 wins. He is the Jack Morris of his era.

MILLER: Regarding Howsam, I want to undersell him. I undersell him on purpose because I think the Hall has too many executives enshrined now. Even if Howsam won’t damage the Hall’s established standard, I don’t think he belongs.

And as far as Kaat, we shouldn’t just dismiss him. I’m not a fan, but Kitty is the returning candidate with the most votes last election. A couple of converts, and he’s in. He won 283 games and 16 Gold Gloves. That’s the stuff I expect voters to like. They shouldn’t like him, but we shouldn’t just dismiss him. One thing I find funny about Kaat is that he pitched for 25 seasons, but in only 15 of them did he accumulate over 0.51 WAR, at least according to my numbers. I hope they don’t elect Kaat.

ERIC: Of every pitcher who won 270+ games, Kaat is easily the least impressive. It’s axiomatic that Hall of Fame players be above average players, so let’s look at his closest competition by Wins Above Average (including batting, which put Kaat in the best light). We’ll define his competition as anyone with 250+ wins and an ERA+ either lower than his or within +5 points of his own 108.

And what about the best situated returner and 16-time Gold Glove winner?

And what about the best situated returner and 16-time Gold Glove winner?

NAME             W  ERA+  IP   WAA
====================================
Robin Roberts   286 113  4688  41.6
Nolan Ryan      324 112  5386  33.2
Red Ruffing     273 109  4341  30.1
Pud Galvin      365 107  6003  27.0
Early Wynn      300 107  4564  26.3
Mickey Welch    307 113  4802  23.8
Don Sutton      324 108  5282  22.0
Tommy John      288 112  4710  21.6
Bobby Mathews   297 104  4956  20.9
Burleigh Grimes 270 108  4175  20.3
Jim Kaat        283 108  4530  14.0
Jamie Moyer     269 103  4074  13.1
Jack Morris     254 105  3824   9.9
Gus Wehying     264 102  4337   6.2


Sure enough, there’s Kaat and Morris near the bottom. By pitching WAA only, Kaat is the worst, followed by Morris. Kaat’s impressive fielding is already baked into WAA. Wins Above Average is not by any means the only thing we look at to compare players, but we don’t need to dig any deeper for reasonable evidence that Kaat is one of the least impressive members of this group. I swatted him down because he just wasn’t very good!

Another leading vote getter is Minnie Minoso, and his case is…not as straightforward as Kaat’s. Minoso’s play in the majors puts him very close to the in/out line, at least for me. Right around Ralph Kiner, actually. Since I probably won’t vote for Kiner in our Hall of Miller and Eric elections, that’s close but no Cuban cigar. Then there’s the rest of the story. After a brief cup of coffee in 1949, Minoso made the majors for good at 25 years old in 1951 and immediately played at an All-Star level. Looking backwards from 1951 at his prior seasons, he was ready.

He played 1950 and 1949 in the PCL. Back then it was a semi-independent league with numerous ex-MLB regulars in its ranks. As an affiliated minor league today, the PCL’s average age is about 26. Back then, it was about 30, which is an important difference. It probably played closer to today’s Japan than the lower level of today’s AAA teams.

A complicated case for a candidate who absolutely deserves consideration.

A complicated case for a candidate who absolutely deserves consideration.

1950: San Diego, PCL, age 24

  • 945 OPS in a 731 league on a 767 team
  • K-rate 11% (league 12%) and BB rate 8.5% (league 9.6%)
  • 6.4 years younger than league average

1949: San Diego, PCL, age 23

  • 865 OPS in a 731 league on a 784 team
  • K-rate 11% (league 12%) and BB rate 8.5% (league 9.6%)
  • 6.7 years younger than league average

Based on my own previous research for the Hall of Merit project, I guesstimated that Minoso’s home parks probably increased scoring mildly, maybe about 2 or 3 percent. Nonetheless, in both seasons, at the highest minor league level, Minoso more than held his own.

1948: a) New York Cubans, Negro National League b) Dayton, Central League (A ball), age 22

  • 1053 OPS led the NNL (small sample)
  • Played well in both East-West All-Star Games
  • Batted .525 with 825 SLG in 11 games in A ball (small sample)

The NNL stats may or may not be complete (the amazing Gary Ashwill will surely tell us this someday at his wonderful website), but Minoso’s performance in 1948 says he was probably way better than both of those leagues. Prior to that he seems pretty green.

Unlike our project, the Hall of Fame probably can consider play from non-MLB situations as part of a total contribution. So if we are to consider these seasons as part of Minoso’s major league career, we might look at them in this simple way:

  • 1948: Around average, about 2 WAR.
  • 1949: A little above average, about 3 WAR.
  • 1950: Near All-Star level, about 4 WAR.

That would increase Minoso’s career from 50 BBREF WAR to 59 and increase his JAWS from 45.0, 20th among eligible left fielders, to 49.4, 13th among eligibles and just ahead of Sherry Magee. JAWS is not the only way to look at this question nor an end-all-be-all since it doesn’t adjust for length of schedule. But as a rough tool, it shows Minoso already right on the line at his own position and probably inside the Hall in my radical scenario. Combining my interpretation of his MLB numbers, adjusting all batters for season lengths, in this scenario he’d jump up over the line but not quite that high. I’d imagine him ending up between HoMErs Zack Wheat and Bob Johnson near the bottom of the left-field heap.

A person can take two views of Minoso’s situation. On one hand, Cleveland may well have farmed him out because they had Keltner and Rosen ahead of him (Minoso was a third baseman in the NNL)—end of story, no consideration of his record before the majors. On the other hand, this time of racial transition in the big leagues made for haphazard talent acquisition and some very retrospectively strange decision making, which was really another obstacle faced by dark-skinned players. Getting into organized baseball was just the start for them. While there are no guarantees, were he a white player, Minoso would likely have traveled through a more structured minor league apprenticeship, seen his position figured out earlier on, been better known to his front office so they could make better decisions, and taken a predictable trajectory to the majors.

MILLER: Before I get to Minoso, let me throw in one or eight more lines about Kaat. He’d be a poor choice in my opinion. But he wouldn’t be a worse choice than a dozen other Hall of Famers. And given his place on the ballot, there’s a decent shot he rallies enough votes to get in. You’re right. He’s just not very good.

Onto Minoso!  Yes, there’s a big difference between what we look at for the HoME and what the Hall does and should look at. And Minoso’s contributions outside of HoME categories aren’t insignificant. Further, I think Hall voters will really consider those things. I advocated for Minoso’s HoME obituary well before we actually ended his chances. However, I’m far less certain that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Yes, there are better choices on this ballot – Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, and a guy we haven’t yet discussed, but in a vacuum, electing Minoso wouldn’t be awful.

Fans of Tony Oliva have to appreciate what an incredibly packed ballot this is.

Fans of Tony Oliva have to appreciate what an incredibly packed ballot this is.

Electing Tony Oliva, a guy who I really like, would be awful. He was really an outstanding player for eight seasons, all of which were worth at least four wins, and five of which were worth five. Also, from 1964–1971, only Carl Yastrzemski and Brooks Robinson produced more value among non-pitchers in the American League. But that was it for Oliva’s career. He never had another season where he was worth as much as a single win. If the Hall wants to vote for short career guys with less and other-worldly peaks, I might point them to Cesar Cedeno or Vada Pinson, maybe even someone like Dolph Camilli, as they’re looking at Oliva.

ERIC: I agree that Oliva falls well short of a Hall of Fame career. If you’re going to be short, you’d better stand tall. If you know what I mean. For Billy Pierce, I would direct everyone to look at what you’ve already written for our project. Pierce is a good candidate but ultimately falls short for us, though our standard is higher than the Hall’s. In the Coop, he’d be in the lower third but a lot better than some of its pitching dreck. Which is to say, why bother? So I’ll move on. You’ve also written recently about Luis Tiant whom we voted into the Hall of Miller and Eric. I’m genuinely surprised by the lack of support he gets. The Golden Era voters only gave him three nods last time, and even at the home of some of the most sabermetrically inclined folks out there, Baseball Think Factory, he nabbed only 57% of a mock vote.

MILLER: I’d take Pierce over Kaat. And as you know, I’d take Tiant over both of them in a battle that ends soon after it begins. But because the debate is fun, I want to take issue with your surprise at his lack of support.

Voters are confused by Luis Tiant. Let’s start with the traditional. Luis Tiant won 229 games in the majors. Far from damning by itself, it’s still only the same number as Sad Sam Jones. Tiant topped 13 wins in a season only six times in his career. The traditional win number isn’t exactly jumping off the page.

Worse than his win total is his win total compared to his contemporaries. By WAR, the pitchers below are the dozen most valuable from 1961–1980. Check ‘em out, with win totals beside.

While it's very clear Tiant deserves our respect, the question remains as to whether or not he deserves our vote.

While it’s very clear Tiant deserves our respect, the question remains as to whether or not he’ll earn a Hall plaque.

Tom Seaver     311
Phil Niekro    318
Bert Blyleven  279
Gaylord Perry  314
Steve Carlton  329
Bob Gibson     245
Fergie Jenkins 284
Nolan Ryan     302
Rick Reuschel  214
Jim Palmer     268
Don Sutton     324
Luis Tiant     229

Tiant trails nearly everyone, most of them by a ton. The one guy who he doesn’t trail is Rick Reuschel, a guy who some have postulated may be baseball’s most underrated player ever. Wins matter in the minds of voters, particularly when there’s such a gap between you and your contemporaries.

The guy closest to El Tiante, other than Big Daddy, is Bob Gibson. And Gibson is a player who really helps to color Tiant’s career. Our guy had what should have been a signature season in 1968. He put up a scintillating, AL-leading ERA of 1.60 with nine shutouts. Over in the other league, Gibson had a 1.12 ERA to go with thirteen shutouts. So when Tiant was at his best, others were better. Even in his own league, his 21 wins look paltry compared to Denny McLain’s 31. And it’s not just McLain. Tiant was only tied for third in wins. And he was one of five AL pitchers with a sub-2.00 ERA. Over in the NL, even Bobby Bolin posted an ERA below 2.00. I linked to Bolin because it’s entirely reasonable not to be familiar with his career.

Voters are also incredibly attracted to post-season numbers. While Tiant’s are admirable, they’re also few. Aside from 1975, he got only two outs ever in the playoffs. And in 1975, yes, he threw a shutout against the A’s in the ALCS and another against the Reds to open the World Series. And yes, he hurled another complete game win in Game 4. However, he did his legacy no favors leaving behind in Game 6. And his Red Sox cost him dearly the next night when they lost. So he lost. In his only trip to the World Series, he lost. And in the Series overall, he wasn’t the biggest star. That was Carlton Fisk. Or maybe Pete Rose. Rawley Eastwick? Hell, maybe Bernie Carbo gets more press than Luis from that Series.

Our hero hit the BBWAA ballot in 1988 and scored 30.9% of the vote. He finished eighth on the ballot. HoMErs from 1988 with fewer votes on that ballot than Tiant include Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, Dick Allen, and Ken Boyer. They also include recent inductees Joe Torre and Ron Santo. After that election, Tiant never again topped the 18% of the vote he received in his fifteenth and final year on the ballot.

Voters are confused by Luis Tiant and players like him. Guys who appear similar to him, at least to me, include David Cone, Urban Shocker, and Dave Stieb. Can you think of anything the four have in common? Right, they’re not in the Hall. Dennis Eckersley, another pitcher with very similar numbers, was elected, but his path to get there was very different.

Wills was a fine player but the screening committee could have done a lot better.

Wills was a fine player but the screening committee could have done a lot better.

That’s why I’m not surprised that they don’t know what to do now. How rare is it to reach 30% on your first ballot and not get in? Well, of all players no longer in consideration by the BBWAA, only three have reached 30% on their first ballot and not yet been elected. Tiant is second on that list. The beloved Steve Garvey garnered support from 41.6% of the voters in 1993. And the other guy on the list scored 30.3% of the votes in 1978. That’s Maury Wills.

ERIC: Speaking of those whose support I don’t understand….

MILLER: I want to say that I don’t understand the respect given to Maury Wills, but I do. He was a shortstop every bit as good, and I might argue better than, Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Luis Aparicio, and Travis Jackson. He was a Dodger who thrice won a World Series. He won an MVP in 1962. Ignore for a moment that the trophy should have gone to Willie Mays. Or Frank Robinson. Or Hank Aaron. But Wills won it, dammit. And he was fast. Super fast. Voters love fast guys. Well, not Tim Raines. But other fast guys.

ERIC: I wish that super fast meant that Tim Raines would finally get in, but that’s a discussion for another ballot.

That’s everyone on the Golden Era Ballot. Now you all know what we think of them. We hope you’ll talk about them in the comments section. On Monday, we’ll walk through the ballot we’d have drawn up and give you our predictions for the election.

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