In my attempt to justify supporting Athletic and Brewer third baseman Sal Bando, I noticed that he totaled more WAR from 1969-1973 than any player in the game. Clearly, Bando isn’t in the Hall of Fame, nor is in the Hall of Miller and Eric. So I got to wondering, how many other players led the game in WAR over five years and aren’t in the Hall or HoME? So that’s what we’re going to look at today. Who was the game’s best non-pitcher by WAR from 1871-1875, from 1872-1876, from 1873-1877… You get the point. Right?
1871-1875, 1872-1876, 1873-1877
Ross Barnes was the dominant player in the earliest days of the majors, leading our troops through the game’s first three five-year runs. While Barnes isn’t in the Hall, he reached the HoME on his sixth ballot in 1926.
Deacon White took over for the next two periods, starting in 1874 and ending in 1879. The star third sacker had to wait until 2013 to make it to the Hall, but he got into the HoME in our very first election in 1901.
1876-1880, 1877-1881, 1878-1882, 1879-1883
The next four periods belonged to Cap Anson. The first player ever with 3000 hits reached the Hall in 1939 and the HoME the first time he was eligible in 1906.
Who’s Fred Dunlap, and what’s he doing on this list? Sure Shop was a second baseman who played for parts of a dozen seasons, though only ten full seasons. He got a ton of his value, as did a lot of players, from the 1884 Union Association, a failed “major” league that only existed in 1884. Twelve teams participated, only eight of which topped 25 games. Dunlap earned a translated 7.4 WAR that season for a St. Louis Maroons team that went 94-19. He won the triple slash triple crown and also led the league in hits, runs, and homers. The 1936 the Veterans Committee supported him with 2.5 votes (don’t ask), while we wrote his obituary after his fifth election in 1921.
1881-1885, 1882-1886, 1883-1887
Dan Brouthers won our next three games. He reached the Hall of Fame in 1945 and the HoME on his first ballot in 1906.
1884-1888, 1885-1889, 1886-1890, 1887-1891, 1888-1892
Roger Connor finished the ABC 1B who dominated the early days of the game with five wins. Like Anson and Brouthers, he reached the Hall in his inaugural 1906 campaign. And he joined his mates in the Hall in 1976.
Not so fast, Dan Brouthers is back for one more run.
Sliding Billy Hamilton with his great speed and strike zone control took our next two periods. The Hall honored him in 1961. The HoME did the same his first time around in 1911.
The next two periods go to Ed Delahanty, who swept away the game before being swept over Niagara Falls to his death in 1903. The Hall elected Big Ed in 1945. We did the same when he was first on our ballot in 1911.
Hughie Jennings becomes the first guy to take the title just once and still make it into the Hall. Ee-Yah got to Cooperstown in 1945. But he never made it to the Hall of Miller and Eric, as we considered his case 35 times before writing his obituary in 1997. The problem for Jennings, we think, is that he had four incredible seasons, one other very strong one, and nothing else. He becomes the second non-HoMEr to dominate his league over a five-year period.
1895-1899, 1896-1900, 1897-1901, 1898-1902
Ed Delahanty returns with four more titles. Jennings interrupted Big Ed’s run with a very short period of greatness.
1899-1903, 1900-1904, 1901-1905, 1902-1906, 1903-1907, 1904-1908, 1905-1909, 1906-1910
Based on this run of eight straight periods, it might seem that Honus Wagner was the game’s greatest player to this point in history. I can buy that. The Flying Dutchman was a member of the Hall’s inaugural 1936 class and made it into the HoME when he hit our ballot in 1926.
1907-1911, 1908-1912, 1909-1913
You might have thought Ty Cobb would have a longer run atop the game than three periods. He got the most votes in the Hall’s first vote in 1936. And that’s the same year he reached the HoME on his first ballot.
Might Eddie Collins and his two titles rank as the game’s most underrated inner circle guy? And is that even a distinction? In 1939 he made it to the Hall. In 1936 he made it to the HoME on his first try.
Tris Speaker took the honors for just one five-year run. But the Grey Eagle made it to Cooperstown in 1937 and the HoME in his first try in 1936.
1913-1917, 1914-1918, 1915-1919
I knew it didn’t make sense that Ty Cobb led for just three periods. Here are three more.
1916-1920, 1917-1921, 1918-1922, 1919-1923, 1920-1924
Lemme tell ya, sports fans, about a guy named Babe Ruth and his five periods atop the list. He was an original Hall member, finishing second to Cobb in 1936. And he became a HoMEr in 1941.
It’s nice that Rogers Hornsby could get his place in the sun. Were it not for this little blip, the 1942 Hall of Famer and first-ballot 1941 HoMEr might be the best player never to take the five-year title.
1922-1926, 1923-1927, 1924-1928, 1925-1929, 1926-1930, 1927-1931, 1928-1932, 1929-1933
Surprising nobody, Babe Ruth is back for eight more. That’s thirteen titles. Our reigning champ.
1930-1934, 1931-1935, 1932-1936, 1933-1937, 1934-1938
I’m a bit surprised that the run at the top, five wins, lasted as long as it did for Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse reached the Hall after a 1939 special election. His election to the HoME, on his first ballot, in 1946, was equally special.
The baseball player most likely to show up in your crossword puzzle, Mel Ott, is next. The Hall honored him in 1951. We did the same the first time we could in 1956.
Mr. Coffee, Marilyn Monroe, and this! Joe DiMaggio checks in next with his two titles. The Yankee Clipper became a Hall of Famer in 1955. The HoME erected his plaque in 1961, the first time he was eligible.
One and done for Teddy Ballgame? Ted Williams reached active duty status in the navy, missed the 1943 season, and still led over this period. He became a Hall of Famer in 1966 and a HoMEr on his first crack that same year.
Even during WWII, our winner makes sense. Lou Boudreau was the game’s best player for two periods. He reached Cooperstown in 1970. And like so many others on this list, he was a first ballot HoMEr in 1961.
Did you know that Stan Musial led the NL in triples five times? Now he has two more titles. The Hall elected him in 1969. The HoME did so when he first became eligible in 1971.
Old Shufflefoot, Lou Boudreau, is back.
And Ted Williams is back from the war and back on top two more times.
At least until Stan Musial took the title back with two more.
Jackie Robinson took the game by storm and quickly became one of its greats. Cooperstown acknowledged him in 1962. We did the same on his first ballot in 1966.
How great is this? Stan Musial is back for a third pair of titles, making him the only player ever to retake the title two times after losing it.
1952-1956, 1953-1957, 1954-1958, 1955-1959, 1956-1960
I’m a little surprised Mickey Mantle’s run was quite as long as his five periods considering the competition at the time. The Hall welcomed the Commerce Comet in 1974. The HoME did so as soon as we could in 1976.
1957-1961, 1958-1962, 1959-1963, 1960-1964, 1961-1965, 1962-1966, 1963-1967, 1964-1968
Yeah, Hank Aaron is the best player ever to never top this list, I’d say. This run of eight belongs to Willie Mays. The Hall said “Hey” in 1979. And on his first ballot, we did the same thing that same year.
No run for Aaron, but one for Roberto Clemente? Okay. A special election sent Clemente to upstate New York in 1973 just three months after his death took him to upstate heaven. Clemente was a first ballot HoMEr in 1978.
Carl Yastrzemski, buoyed by his triple crown season of 1967, gets two periods on this list. We welcomed him on the first ballot the same year the Hall did, 1989.
Roberto Clemente is back for one more go.
Finally, here’s the reason I’m writing this post. Sal Bando was baseball’s best non-pitcher by WAR for a five-year stretch. He becomes only the third player ever with that distinction who’s not in the HoME. The first two, as you’ll recall, were Fred Dunalp and Hughie Jennings. Both have a fatal flaw. Dunlap has a lot of his value tied up in a dubious 1884 campaign, which is how he got to the five-year top in the first place. And Jennings only has five good years, albeit four great ones, which is how he got on this list. Bando is different. He led the game for five seasons, yet he also posted two All-Star-level seasons and three others of 3+ WAR outside of that stretch. Bando is indeed a strange player by that account. The combination of his uniqueness in this regard, an underpopulated era, and an underpopulated position give me confidence that my continued support of Bando is wise.
1970-1974, 1971-1975, 1972-1976, 1973-1977
Joe Morgan was a little guy who packed a big punch and won four titles. Cooperstown welcomed Little Joe in 1990. We did the same. It was his first ballot.
1974-1978, 1975-1979, 1976-1980, 1977-1981, 1978-1982, 1979-1983, 1980-1984
Eight home run titles and outstanding defense helped to make Mike Schmidt the best in the game seven times. He reached the Hall and the HoME as soon as he could, in 1995.
Rickey Henderson did it with speed, defense, pop, and plate discipline for these two periods and nearly his whole career. Cooperstown elected him in 2009. I would expect the HoME to follow suit that year.
1983-1987, 1984-1988, 1985-1989, 1986-1990
Wade Boggs was an on base machine. With four periods of dominance, getting into the Hall in 2005 was no surprise. A couple of elections from now I fully expect he’ll make it to the HoME.
1987-1991, 1988-1992, 1989-1993, 1990-1994, 1991-1995, 1992-1996, 1993-1997, 1994-1998, 1995-1999
Long list, huh. Nine periods. It’s Barry Bonds. Even if the Hall never welcomes him, the HoME will in 2013.
Another guy who has Hall of fame troubles, Alex Rodriguez, breaks Bonds’ streak. We’ll see in a few weeks if he has anything left.
1997-2001, 1998-2002, 1999-2003, 2000-2004, 2001-2005
It’s Barry Bonds again. These five titles give him a record 14 in all. Yeah, he was this good.
2002-2006, 2003-2007, 2004-2008, 2005-2009, 2006-2010, 2007-2011, 2008-2012
Albert Pujols might not be the beast he once was, but he’s still averaging 3.5 WAR per year on the west coast.
If you’re wondering whether or not Robinson Cano will get into the Hall of Fame, the comparison to the above players would seem to be in order. Every other player with at least two such titles is either in the Hall, going, or named Bonds.
There have been 35 players to lead baseball in non-pitcher WAR in history. Of those, 25 made it into the Hall of Miller and Eric on their first ballot: Deacon White, Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, Roger Connor, Billy Hamilton, Ed Delahanty, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Lou Boudreau, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Carl Yastrzemski, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt.
Three others will get there as soon as they’re eligible: Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Barry Bonds.
Three more are still active: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano.
One player, Ross Barnes, took six ballots. But to be clear, Barnes should have gotten into the HoME in 1901. Eric voted for him, but I was being very patient and overly cautious.
There are only three players remaining.
- Fred Dunlap played ten full seasons and dominated the very weak Union Association in 1884.
- Hughie Jennings played twelve full seasons, though he only played 100 games in seven of them. Only five times was he worth above 2.2 WAR with my adjustments. Every other HoMEr has at least seven such seasons.
- Sal Bando is the only other player. I rank him only #20 at third base. He’s behind Ned Williamson, a guy who’s already received a HoME obituary. And he’s a near doppelganger of Heinie Groh, a guy about whom we’re still not sure. Among non-pitchers, he ranks ahead of three hitting HoMErs: Bill Freehan, Roy Campanella, and George Wright on my list. He also doesn’t have the negatives associated with Dunlap or Jennings. He has five years at 5.3+ WAR, three more at 4.4+, and three more at 2.9+. Without him, third base may be our least populated position other than catcher. And it appears that Bando’s sixteen seasons in the bigs are underpopulated in the HoME as well. I’m not 100% certain my vote for Bando is correct, but the fact that no eligible player without extenuating circumstances has led the bigs in non-pitcher WAR over a five-year period makes me think I’m probably doing the right thing.