In many ways our 2004 election, our 44th overall, was predictable. Vegas odds were near 100% that Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley would go in. And unless our bodies were inhabited of ghosts of BBWAA members past, Dave Stieb was a sure thing too. However, it’s the vote for Jose Cruz on his eleventh ballot that has odds makers scratching their heads a little bit.
See, Cruz isn’t in any of the Halls we follow, so he joins Tommy Leach, Bobby Veach, and Bucky Walters as four HoME members whose greatness hasn’t been recognized by others. We realize that his era remains underrepresented within our hallowed halls, and we saw room remaining in left field. Those two things combined with consistent excellence merits Cruz a vote.
With his election in addition to the three newbies to the ballot, the HoME now contains 177 of the greatest players in history, and there are only 38 spots remaining through our 2015 election. That means almost 35% of the remaining 109 players we’ll consider will one day reach the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Let’s look at our 2004 votes.
Miller Eric 1 Paul Molitor Paul Molitor 2 Dennis Eckersley Dave Stieb 3 Dave Stieb Dennis Eckersley 4 Pud Galvin Jose Cruz 5 Sal Bando 6 Jose Cruz
The Class of 2004
Paul Molitor: “The Ignitor” isn’t the first designated hitter elected into the HoME; over two dozen HoMErs have some experience at that “position.” But he’s the first player we’ve elected whose primary position is DH. Molitor was actually a decent defensive player who just couldn’t play the field and stay healthy simultaneously. But he could always hit. As a hitter, Molitor was something of a Derek Jeter prototype. A righty infielder who hit over .300, drew his walks, had a little pop, and ran the bases effectively. This comparison shows it well:
AVG lgAVG BABIP BB% lgBB% ISO lgISO MOLITOR .306 .264 .326 9.0 8.6 .142 .074 JETER .310 .269 .350 8.6 8.6 .130 .090
Mollie led the AL in runs and hits three times each. The seven-time All-Star and member of the 3000 hit club also won a 2B and a 3B title. In 1987 Molitor put together a 39-game hitting streak. In 1982 he was excellent in a World Series loss to the Cardinals, and then he hit .500 and won the MVP as his Blue Jays topped the Phillies in 1993. Molitor played seven years like an All-Star and another four at 4+ WAR. As the only player ever with a .300 average, 3000 hits, 500 steals, and 200 homers, he’s a very easy selection for the HoME.
Dennis Eckersley: Eck is one of our most interesting candidates ever. His motion, coming somewhere between half and three-quarters, was very deceptive, especially because he hid the ball behind his body well and relied on a late-breaking slider. There’s little doubt that he’s in the Hall of Fame because of his excellence as a reliever from 1987 through the end of his career. However, he’s in the HoME more because of his work as a starter from 1975-1986. He won 197 games and saved 390. He made two All-Star teams as a starter and another four out of the pen. In 1992, he won seven games, saved 51, and was named the AL MVP and Cy Young. He and John Smoltz are the only two players in the game’s history with 150 wins and 150 saves. Whether you think he’s a starter or a reliever, he’s one of the 50 or so best pitchers ever and very deserving of HoME induction.
Dave Stieb: It’s simply comical when someone other than Stieb is called the best pitcher of the 1980s. He was worth 10 wins more than any other pitcher for a decade. And he was worth 18 more wins than a certain pitcher who received a ton of Hall of Fame support. Stieb didn’t win as many games as some of his contemporaries, only 176 in all, but his WAR numbers are impressive indeed with three or four years of 7-win value. There are only 35 other pitchers in our data set with four such seasons. And of those, only 20 still best Stieb by their eighth best season. That’s one heck of a prime for any pitcher, regardless of the number of games he won. Of those 20 pitchers, all but one – Roger Clemens – is already in the Hall of Fame. Pretty good company. Of note, in his last two 1988 starts, here and here, he had no-hitters broken up with two out and two strikes in the ninth. Those were the second and third of four times he lost a no-hit bid in the ninth. He eventually pitched a no-no against Cleveland two years later. How many eligible 7-time All-Star pitchers are not in the Hall of Fame? Just four: Stieb, Billy Pierce, Camilo Pascual, and Lee Smith. And Stieb is noticeably better than these other guys. Stieb led the AL in pitcher WAR in 1982, 1983, and 1984. He was 2nd in 1985. He was 3rd in 1981. That’s an amazing run of dominance. You know who had a run like that? Sandy Koufax: 2nd in 1961, 1st in 1963, 2nd in 1964, 4th in 1965, 1st in 1966. Just sayin’ is all.
Jose Cruz: It’s taken us a long time to think through Cruz. There are two things that hinder analysis of his career. One is that he blossomed late, though it’s an open question whether the Cards handled him poorly early on. More important, the Astrodome distorted his statistics drastically. A corner outfielder, Cruz never topped 17 homers. He never hit higher than .318. He never slugged .500 or rolled up a .400 OBP. He never drove in 100 or scored 100. He never topped 200 hits or 40 doubles. He led the league only three times: once in hits (189 in 1983) and twice in sac flies. It was all the Astrodome. Here’s Cruz’s lifetime home/away splits:
G R H 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG Home 1166 497 1094 189 61 59 .289 .366 .418 Away 1187 539 1157 202 33 106 .280 .344 .422
Pretend for a moment that the away numbers represented his true abilities. The dome took away about 50 homers and a dozen doubles and replaced them with 28 triples. If we simply doubled his road figures, he’d have finished with about 2300 hits, 400 doubles, and 212 homers. Of course, most batters do better at home than on the road. It’s not difficult to imagine Cruz doing better than those figures.
The Astrodome had another effect on Cruz as well. He had good speed, especially for a left fielder, which played up on the dome’s Astroturf surface. DRA rates him as a plus-plus defender. The problem with that from a perception standpoint is that no one really sees it. They see his batting stats and shrug but they don’t see all the runs saved with the glove. It’s a nasty double whammy for Cruz.
That said, Cruz was not a peak sensation. He played well year in and year out but never had that one glorious season that everyone remembers. I suppose the Astrodome wouldn’t let him. But he strung together a long succession of good seasons. Given the lack of depth we have so far as we try to avoid replicating the errors of the Hall in forgetting about the 1970s and 1980s, he’s a fine addition to the HoME. We could have taken the easy route and gone for Joe Kelley (yet another 1890s guy) or Joe Medwick (yet another 1930s guy) or Willie Stargell (with his abominable glove and relatively short offensive peak). This is a more thoughtful selection.
Two more solo votes from Miller, so we have a couple of explanations.
Pud Galvin: He won a billion games and pitched three billion innings. That’s the basic argument.
Sal Bando: Bando is quite a bit like Jose Cruz for three reasons. First, he played during an under-represented era. Second, there’s room remaining at his position. And third, I prefer him to his competition – Heinie Groh. The difference between Bando and Cruz, is that the third sacker could lay claim to being the game’s best player for a period of time, and Cruz couldn’t.
That’s it for our 2004 results. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those elected and to see plenty more information about the HoME.