With eleven obituaries last year, we reached our highest death toll since 1985. Well, 2001 was just as bloody with another eleven receiving obituaries today. Same as in 2000, it wasn’t only newbies who felt the chopping block. Today we say goodbye to five backloggers: Roger Bresnahan, Joe Kelley, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Medwick, and Gene Tenace. We say goodbye to another Hall of Famer too, Kirby Puckett. Puckett, plus the first four mentioned above, bring our Hall death total to 58. That’s right. We’re saying that more than a quarter of Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame has plaques etched of the wrong guys.
Any backlogger at this point is a tough player to get rid of, and it’s never incredibly easy to axe a Hall of Famer, but Joe Medwick was a particularly difficult cut. He joins only Larry Doby, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Willie Stargell as players in every other Hall but not in ours. More on Medwick below.
With the inclusion of the 2015 nominees, we now have 752 in total who have been or will be up for review. We inducted both Lou Whitaker and Dave Winfield in 2001. That means we’ve elected 165 of the game’s greats in our 41 elections. And now we’re up to a robust 449 obituaries. In all, we have only 139 players to review for our 50 remaining HoME spots. Right now we can elect almost 36% 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 2001 23 8 31 2 11 18 2000 26 9 35 1 11 23 1999 30 9 39 4 9 26 1998 33 9 42 4 8 30 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 2001
The first of our catchers to bid farewell this election is The Duke of Tralee, Roger Bresnahan. Bres does get credit for inventing shin guards, and he developed a leather batting helmet too. So perhaps he deserves a Hall plaque though not a space in the HoME. There was a greatness to him, no doubt. With adjustments, he looked like an All-Star a few times, but that’s only as many as Del Crandall or Mickey Tettleton. Ultimately, we found that he didn’t play quite enough. And aside what Christy Mathewson offered, he doesn’t have a lot of soft skill reputation. For us, he just doesn’t get there.
The 1988 NL MVP, Kirk Gibson, launched one of the game’s most famous homers when he took the unhittable Dennis Eckersley deep to walk off with Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. But aside from that 1988 season, he never really played like an All-Star, all things considered. J.D. Drew isn’t a bad comp in terms of career value. In terms of meaningless stats, only Gibson, Eric Davis, and Ray Lankford have posted 250 HR and 250 SB without scoring or driving in 1000 runs.
As with all backloggers who get cut at this point, we really struggled with Joe Kelley, the left fielder who gained fame for the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. Kelley was one heck of a hitter, posting an OPS+ of 122 or above every year from 1893-1904. He was a mediocre to below average defender though. And he played at a position already pretty populated and in an era already very populated in the HoME. He had four seasons of 6 WAR, but we ultimately decided that there just wasn’t space. Kelley will have to settle for the 1896 NL SB title, a tie for the most hits ever in a doubleheader, and a Hall of Fame plaque that the Veterans Committee bestowed upon him in 1896.
For a catcher, seven-time All-Star Ernie Lombardi had one heck of a bat. Of course, he didn’t do anything else well. If we make no adjustments for slow-footedness, he’s one of the dozen and a half or so best catchers ever. Of course, Bill James called Lombardi the slowest man ever to play well in the majors. Schnozz hit .306 for his career and won batting titles in both 1938, his MVP season, and 1942. Aside from Hartnett, it’s possible that he may have been the best NL catcher before Bench. But it’s also possible that there’s negative value in his legs beyond our estimation. He’ll always have the distinction of catching both halves of Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters. And less positively, he’ll have “Lombardi’s Snooze”. What he won’t have is a place in the HoME.
I’m not going to pick on Don Mattingly. He had back problems that kept him from being the player he could have been. But we’re really looking at Mark Grace or a somewhat lesser version of Carlos Delgado. Donnie Baseball was a nice player, and while he didn’t likely deserve his 1985 AL MVP, he had some really cool numbers that year. It’s tough to beat a league leading 145 RBI. He added three 2B titles, a pair of hit titles, and the 1984 batting title. Let’s be honest though. After his sixth All-Star season in 1989, he was pretty much done as a useful player, averaging just about 1.5 WAR per year in his final six.
Everyone sees Joe Medwick as a Hall of Famer, and I mean everyone. He’s in the Coop, the Hall of Merit, the Hall of Stats, and every other Hall of Fame we follow. But I don’t see it. Medwick gets squeezed at the position by outstanding defenders like Bobby Veach and Jimmy Sheckard. And we determined that he’s lesser than Bob Johnson as well. The Hall, it seems has had a really tough time in left field. Hafey, Manush, Brock, Rice, Stargell, Kiner, Kelley, and now Medwick have all gone by the HoME wayside, while the aforementioned trio as well as Sherry Magee and Shoeless Joe have made it in. Overall, Ducky had a trio of 6-win seasons and three more at 4.5+. His career value is quite similar to that of Enos Slaughter. He won the 1937 NL MVP and the triple crown too. Add to that ten All-Star games. Medwick was great, but just not great enough.
With just 161 wins and a single All-Star appearance, the number one overall draft pick in 1981, and a Mariner, Athletic, and Tiger righty, Mike Moore may be surprised even to be nominated for the HoME. His career highlight must have been the 1989 World Series. Moore started and won Game 2 and Game 4 in Oakland’s sweep of the Giants that was interrupted for ten days by an earthquake. For career value, think Mel Parnell, Mike Garcia, or Freddie Fitzsimmons.
Lance Parrish was a pretty unique player. Among catchers, only he, Pudge Rodriguez, and Yogi Berra reached double figures in homers for fifteen consecutive years, and he’s sixth all-time in catcher home runs. He was an All-Star eight times, won three Gold Gloves, and got some serious consideration for the HoME with four or five seasons at All-Star-level. Ultimately there wasn’t enough production in the lesser half of his career to merit a vote.
Because of a loss of vision, Kirby Puckett was forced to retire before he could experience his full decline phase. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that he’d have been able to add enough value to his career that he’d have had a spot in the HoME. But as it was, the playing record of this 10-time All-Star and 1989 AL batting champ just wasn’t enough. His great catch in the 1991 World Series certainly helped. So did his home run a few days later. So did his four hit titles and 1994 RBI title. But Puckett was a mediocre defender who didn’t walk much. Ultimately, he had a career in the majors that was pretty similar to Larry Doby’s. And for us, that career falls short.
The first player ever to homer in each of his first two World Series at-bats, Gene Tenace was a catcher, sort of, mainly for the A’s and Padres, who smacked 201 career homers and posted a career OBP of .388 despite hitting just .241 for his career. Only eight times did he play in 100 games in a season, and in six of those seasons he drew 100+ walks, including BB titles in 1974 and 1977. He was an All-Star in 1975 and the World Series MVP in 1972. Overall, there was some greatness in Tenace. He played at the All-Star level six times, and he was close two more times. Ultimately, Tenace falls short for us because we can’t really compare him to other backstops, as he caught in just 57.5% of his games. He also didn’t do it for long enough or have the soft skills like a Bill Freehan.
With the deaths of Bresnahan, Lombardi, and Tenace this election, we close out the catcher backlog in the HoME. Darren Daulton, Mickey Tettleton, Javy Lopez, and Mike Piazza will still receive our review, but all are easy calls. Catcher is the least clear cut of our positions, and the toll it takes on a body reduces the ability to rack up a great career. The gap between the best catchers and the borderline feels wider than anywhere else. We have come to accept that catcher will simply lag behind due to its punishing nature, and that otherwise, we might end up electing down to Lance Parrish or Jim Sundberg to maintain balance. That just doesn’t feel right. At some point the quest for balance runs into a dearth of candidates, and that’s where we are.
Lots of guys made our ballot. Andy Van Slyke was like lots of guys. But he was a better version than many, and a pretty darn good player overall, about the level of Steve Finley, Ellis Burks, or Hall of Famer Earle Combs. Van Slyke put up three All-Star type seasons and another five at 3+ WAR. He won five Gold Gloves, a hits title, a 2B title, and a 3B title. He didn’t have much playoff success, hitting just .190 overall, but he did homer in the first inning of the opening game of the 1991 NLCS against Tom Glavine.
Our 2001 election is now over. Please take a look at our Honorees page to see the plaques of our new members and all of the HoMErs. And check back here after the 2002 election for more obituaries.