When Eric and I started this process a couple of years ago, we did so because we were frustrated, mostly with the BBWAA and their unwillingness to elect overly qualified candidates. I’m not talking about guys like Bonds and Clemens. I mean the Alan Trammells and Mike Mussinas of the world.
But the more I got into this project, the more upset I became with the players who have been elected. Anyone reading this post knows that the Veterans Committees, in all of their forms, have done a terrible job electing players. Everything from lack of expertise to cronyism to untimely death has led to a ton of terrible choices. In fact, the VC has elected 96 players thus far. We agree with only 48 of those selections. We’ve written obituaries for 47 others, and we’re still mulling the case of Pud Galvin.
Yeah, the VC has been pretty stinky. And we’ll cover their awfulness in a few weeks.
Today it’s the BBWAA that I go after here. They’re supposed to be the real guardians of the gate. Bert Blyleven, somewhat famously, took fourteen tries even though he was a better pitcher than two-thirds of those in the Hall. Gary Carter took six tries even though he may be the second greatest catcher ever. Hell, even Joe DiMaggio took three tries.
Today we’re going to look at the problematic pitching selections made by the writers, and we’ll explore their mistake hitters in two weeks.
Better players on the ballot: Any of the best six players who didn’t get elected would have been better choices: Al Simmons, Charlie Gehringer, Bill Terry, Paul Waner, Jimmie Foxx, Harry Heilmann. And there were others.
The story: This story is a fairly simple one. Pennock was a nice pitcher for the Red Sox, then was traded to the Yankees in 1923 and became a star. From 1923-1928 he was the game’s best pitcher aside from Dazzy Vance. And he was excellent for New York in over 50 World Series innings, including a win for the 1927 Murderers Row Yankees. Sure, he was a good pitcher, somewhat similar in quality to Vida Blue, Camilo Pascual, or Carlos Zambrano. But he wasn’t a Hall of Famer. Then in January of 1948 he died tragically and unexpectedly. Shortly after that, he bested on the Hall of Fame ballot a contemporary and far superior pitcher, Dazzy Vance, and now will forever be enshrined. It took the BBWAA thirteen ballots to make their first mistake. But they were just getting started.
Better players on the ballot: Al Simmons, Bill Terry, Bill Dickey, Dazzy Vance, Ted Lyons, Joe DiMaggio, etc.
The story: Dizzy Dean was a great pitcher, make no mistake. From 1932-1937 he was in the conversation with Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell as the game’s best. But that was it for his career. In the 1937 All-Star Game, a comebacker from Earl Averill broke his toe. Dean changed his delivery as a result, and he hurt his arm. He was never the same again. Like Pennock, he was a star in the World Series for a well-known team, the 1934 Gas House Gang. Unlike Pennock, death wasn’t a precursor to his Hall selection. But he was very much in the public eye as a beloved broadcaster. He hit the national television scene in 1952 and was elected a year later. If you’re a massive peak voter, I don’t hate Dean’s election. But you’re really have to love peak over career. And you’d have to tolerate a pitcher who might not have even been the game’s best at his peak. Dean isn’t a disgustingly bad selection, no worse than Billy Pierce or Mark Langston would be, but he’s clearly below our line.
Better players on the ballot: As ballots go, this one was pretty weak. But the votes could have gone to Eddie Mathews, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, or Ken Boyer.
The story: Much of the story here is the relatively weak ballot. Lemon’s best run was from 1948-1956 when he was baseball’s third best pitcher, a far distance behind Warren Spahn and fellow 1976 electee Robin Roberts. Like our previous two pitchers, Lemon had some World Series success, leading the 1948 Indians to their last title. Also like our last two pitchers, there was a bit of a post-career spotlight on Lemon managing the Kansas City Royals from 1970-1972. It’s not exactly Tinker, Evers, and Chance, but there’s a shot Lemon got some residual love from voters as being part of a big-three with Bob Feller and Early Wynn. At least the writers didn’t elect Mike Garcia… Jerry Koosman is a really good comparison, maybe Dennis Martinez. Lemon’s fame eclipses his greatness. That’s why he’s in the Hall and not the HoME.
Better players on the ballot: This was a pretty weak ballot, but votes certainly could have gone to Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Joe Torre, Ken Boyer, Jim Bunning, or Billy Williams.
The story: I don’t really think the Hall failed on this one. It’s just a difference in taste. You prefer thin crust. I like deep dish. You want more relievers. I want fewer. Okay. Based on the relatively limited value of relief pitchers, we at the HoME decided to take only about three (Wilhelm’s best season by WAR, by the way, was 1959, the one year he was predominantly a starter). Our three or so are Goose Gossage, part of Dennis Eckersley, parts of Lefty Grove and Red Faber and John Smoltz, and, of course, one day Mariano Rivera. If we were to take one more reliever, Wilhelm would have been that guy. The story here is really much less about how the Hall failed and more about the different tastes of the BBWAA and the HoME.
Better players on the ballot: Lots of guys. Better pitchers on the ballot include Jim Bunning, Mickey Lolich, and Wilbur Wood. Let’s add in Ken Boyer, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Joe Torre, Thurman Munson, etc.
The story: Tell me if you heard this one before. Hunter led a couple of teams to World Series titles. Woo hoo! Vote him in! Hunter also won 20 games five times. Writers love that sort of thing. How much? On the same ballot was a teammate of Hunter’s, a guy who was considered a leader of the World Champ A’s, a guy who played an underrepresented position in the Hall, and a guy who we just elected to the HoME, Sal Bando. Worse than even Herb Pennock, Catfish was the single crappiest starting pitcher selection the baseball writers have ever made. If you want my full take on what an awful selection Hunter was, see here and here.
Better players on the ballot: Fingers received more votes than Bobby Grich (11), Thurman Munson (32), Bobby Bonds (40), Luis Tiant (50), Joe Torre (62), Dick Allen (69), and Ken Boyer (71) combined. There was also Ron Santo who should have gotten his honor before his death.
The story: The very worst thing about the election of Hoyt Wilhelm was that it opened the door for the election of Rollie Fingers. Fingers was excellent at what he did. Don’t get me wrong. But Eric and I both prefer the value of Dan Quisenberry, Stu Miller, Lee Smith, John Hiller, Keith Foulke, John Franco, Lindy McDaniel, and Sparky Lyle. Maybe that list isn’t entirely fair. Fingers was spectacular in the post-season, helping the A’s to win consecutive World Series from 1972-1974. And there’s the all-time saves lead, that which myopic writers used to give Fingers votes. For those who are counting, he’s now #12 all-time, with Jon Papelbon right on his tail.
Better players on the ballot: More valuable relievers Goose Gossage and Lee Smith were on the same ballot. But they didn’t have the same momentum, nor did they have the split-finger.
The story: This is a story about momentum, about saves, and about the split-fingered fastball. Sutter had more momentum and time on the ballot than Gossage, so he got more votes. He was once third in saves, behind only Fingers and curiously Gossage. That’s how powerful momentum is. In the minds of voters, it outweighed even saves. As for the importance of one pitch, it’s mentioned on the first line of his Hall of Fame plaque. Oh, and he had a win and two saves for the Cards in their 1982 World Series title. At his peak, Sutter was valuable, about as valuable as Mike Caldwell or Steve Rogers from 1977-1979. That’s not Hall level, right?
If you’re an undeserving HoMEr and want to be elected to the Hall of Fame, you should plan to just sneak in over the line as all of our starters did. Or you could be a relief pitcher, a characteristic shared by three of our seven hurlers. And it’s a really good idea to have some big World Series cred. Six of our seven pitchers fit that category.
Tune in two weeks from today for our review of How the Hall Failed, BBWAA Hitters.