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How the Hall Failed, Sidebars

How the Hall Failed, BBWAA Hitters

A couple of weeks ago we reviewed the pitchers who the BBWAA voted into the Hall of Fame even though they didn’t make it into the HoME. Today we’ll look at the hitters. Less commonality among this group, but equally poor selections.

Pie Traynor, 1976Pie Traynor

Elected: 1948

Ballot: eighth

Votes: 76.9%

Better players on the ballot: The seven hitters who finished directly after him on the ballot were all better choices: Al Simmons, Charlie Gehringer, Bill Terry, Paul Waner, Jimmie Foxx, Harry Heilmann, and Bill Dickey. There were others.

The story: When I was a kid, I learned a decent amount about the game from baseball cards. So in 1976, when Topps put out the The Sporting News All-Time All-Stars sub-set, I learned that Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Walter Johnson were the best at their positions. I also learned that Pie Traynor was the best at his. It was common knowledge, I guess. But like common knowledge can be sometimes, it was wrong. Writers were wowed by the .320 batting average, I suppose. But Traynor never finished in the top-four in his league. He was a lesser player than Home Run Baker, Deacon White, Jimmy Collins, and others. Think of him like Bill Madlock, but as a consistently plus player for eleven years rather than five or six.

Rabbit Maranville, 1914Rabbit Maranville

Elected: 1954

Ballot: fourteenth

Votes: 82.9%

Better players on the ballot: We could just begin and end with Joe DiMaggio. But Joe Cronin, Dave Bancroft, and Arky Vaughan were also on that ballot. Combined, their support was less than half of Maranville’s.

The story: I want to say that Maranville isn’t such a bad selection, but there were sooooo many good shortstops who played before or with him. At the time he retired in 1935, he wasn’t one of the top ten shortstops ever. Known for his great defense, as he should have been, Maranville was a crappy hitter. His election just doesn’t make sense—until you realize he died just a few months before he was elected. Emotional votes and remembering a player as better than he was always have and likely always will happen. I wish the voters would think about the game more than their own sadness. Hell, I just wish they would work on getting it right more than they do. Rabbit’s wrong.

Joe Medwick, 1943Joe Medwick

Elected: 1968

Ballot: ninth

Votes: 84.8%

Better players on the ballot: Roy Campanella, Lou Boudreau, Johnny Mize, Arky Vaughn, Pee Wee Reese, Joe Gordon, and Richie Ashburn

The story: The Hall did some strange stuff half a century ago. For a while they elected only every other year. And for a while they had run-off elections. Medwick was in one of those run-off elections in 1967 after tying Red Ruffing in the primary. He lost, so there was some real momentum going into the next year. Ducky had a phenomenal 1934 World Series, something the voters no doubt appreciated. He also won the 1937 NL triple crown. Those things get votes. To be fair though, I don’t think the Hall failed here. A reasonable person can prefer Medwick and Joe Kelley to HoMErs Jose Cruz and Roy White. Our thought is that our pair fared better relative to their era than Medwick and Kelley.

Ralph Kiner, 1950Ralph Kiner

Elected: 1975

Ballot: thirteenth

Votes: 75.4%

Better players on the ballot: Robin Roberts, Hal Newhouser, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, and Richie Ashburn would all have been superior choices.

The story: Kiner hit baseballs very, very far. In fact, he led the NL in dingers each of his first seven seasons in the bigs. The other thing very much in his favor was a broadcasting career that made him a beloved figure, even in 1975. And then there was inching up the ballot through the early 1970s. Kiner’s negative is that he was a lousy fielder with a very short career. For five years he was behind only Stan Musial and Ted Williams among position players, but he added only about eleven WAR beyond those seasons. He’s close, but not close enough for the HoME at a position that’s pretty stacked.

Luis Aparicio, 1956Luis Aparicio

Elected: 1984

Ballot: sixth

Votes: 84.6%

Better players on the ballot: There must be a way to figure out the weakest Hall ballots ever. After that work is done, I think 1984 might be right up there. Billy Williams, Jim Bunning, Joe Torre, and Thurman Munson would have been more deserving of votes.

The story: Among non-relievers, this is probably the worst selection the BBWAA has ever made, even worse than my personal most hated, Catfish Hunter. Aparicio was on a weak ballot, and voters fell in love with his defense. Don’t tell anyone, but Aparicio’s defense wasn’t that great. He’s not as overrated as Omar Vizquel, but he’s on that level. Plus, Aparicio couldn’t hit. He was as bad as Maranville and a lesser defender. Season-for-season, he’s a near doppelganger of Tony Fernandez, if finding value somewhat differently. The BBWAA had a very tough time in the mid-1980s. Of the eighteen bad selections, six were made from 1984-1988, and four were made in Little Louie’s year and the next.

Harmon Killebrew, 1962Harmon Killebrew

Elected: 1984

Ballot: fourth

Votes: 83.1%

Better players on the ballot: This is the same ballot as Aparicio. Somebody had to get the votes. Maybe it should have been Billy Williams, Jim Bunning, Joe Torre, or Thurman Munson.

The story: In some ways Killibrew was the Kiner of his time, except with more years, less Black Ink, and bad defense at multiple positions. With a plurality of his games at first base, that’s where I categorize him. Basically, voters saw those 573 home runs and just had to elect. Most homers ever in the AL other than Ruth? Most homers by an AL righty? You have to elect, right? Wrong. Killebrew couldn’t do much else right on the field other than hit long balls. Mark McGwire is a decent comp, but Big Mac wasn’t quite as bad on the bases or grounding into double plays. And as a kid, Mac could defend. Killer never could.

Lou Brock, 1975Lou Brock

Elected: 1985

Ballot: first

Votes: 79.7%

Better players on the ballot: On his first ballot, Roy White, a contemporary of Brock’s who played the same position and was a more valuable player received exactly zero votes. Voting for White, Dick Allen, Thurman Munson, Joe Torre, Ron Santo, Ken Boyer, or Billy Williams would have been smarter.

The story: There are exactly two things at work here. First is the all-time stolen base lead, long since relinquished to Rickey Henderson. The other is 3000 hits. Never mind that Brock was also the all-time leader in times caught stealing and didn’t steal at a spectacular clip. Also never mind that Brock was a good hitter, not a great one. Also ignore Brock’s below average defense and the fact that he’s not among the 30 best players ever at his position. In terms of value, he’s not so different from Augie Galan. For a more contemporary comparison, try Jim Rice (which isn’t exactly praiseworthy). Brock is the all-time worst first-ballot BBWAA selection, even if you give him extra credit for his spectacular hitting in three World Series.

Willie Stargell, 1972Willie Stargell

Elected: 1988

Ballot: first

Votes: 84.2%

Better players on the ballot: Jim Bunning, Luis Tiant, Ken Boyer, Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Dick Allen, Thurman Munson, Bobby Bonds, and Reggie Smith all deserved votes over Pops.

The story: If you don’t like comparing Harmon Killebrew to Ralph Kiner, try matching Stargell up with him. They played the same position for the same team. They both hit tape-measure home runs, and they both played awful defense. Stargell had half of an MVP Award and a World Series ring against five extra home run titles. And they were equally undeserving of enshrinement. Man, the BBWAA loves undeserving left fielders. That 1979 season with the We Are Family Pirates was huge. It probably wasn’t one of his ten best seasons, and he probably wasn’t one of the best 30 or so position players in the NL that year. However, he shared the MVP at age-39, and he was also the MVP and unquestioned star of the NLCS and the World Series. Basically, the BBWAA used the incorrect 1979 NL MVP plus ten games in October to push Pops over the top in terms of his Hall of Fame candidacy. And that’s a mistake.

Tony Perez, 1976Tony Perez

Elected: 2000

Ballot: ninth

Votes: 77.2%

Better players on the ballot: Gary Carter, Goose Gossage, Bert Blyleven, Luis Tiant, and Keith Hernandez all should have gotten support over Perez.

The story: The Big Red Machine is a lot of the story here. Clutch too. At least the appearance thereof. Perez was a fine player, driving in an average of over 100 runs a year for eleven seasons. However, during those eleven years he may not have been one of the ten best non-pitchers in the game. Fred Tenney, Frank Chance, Gil Hodges, Norm Cash, Fred McGriff. That’s who Tony Perez is. Season over season, his best comps might be third sackers Heinie Groh and Ron Cey. They’re of very similar value but at a less stacked position. On the 1976 Reds, he was tied with Ken Griffey for seventh best on the offense in WAR. The next year he was just behind Cesar Geronimo in eighth. Yeah, clutch. Seriously, for those two seasons, in the middle of his career, even though he drove in 200 runs, Perez was basically the worst non-pitching starter on the Reds.

Kirby Puckett, 1989Kirby Puckett

Elected: 2001

Ballot: first

Votes: 82.1%

Better players on the ballot:Gary Carter, Goose Gossage, Bert Blyleven, Luis Tiant, Keith Hernandez, and Lou Whitaker all deserved more attention than Puckett.

The story: Batting average, likeability, great moments, and tragedy all came together to elect Kirby Puckett. To be fair, Puckett is a little like HoMEr Bob Johnson in that he was never bad. That’s why I can understand the pro-Puckett arguments. In both his rookie year and his final year, he posted over three WAR. In between, he had three other acceptable years and seven more of 4+ wins. But that’s not better than Cesar Cedeno or Chet Lemon or Willie Wilson or Brett Butler for a career. However, none of them hit .318. None of them had the great catch off the bat of Ron Gant in Game Six in 1991. None of them had the walk-off home run later that night. None of them had to retire early because of glaucoma. None of them were beloved in the way Kirby Puckett was. Give Puckett five more years, one each with 5 WAR, 4 WAR, etc., and you have a HoMEr. Sadly, those seasons never happened. He was a lot like Tony Lazzeri, season over season, with a more interesting story. But stories don’t make players deserving of HoME induction.

Jim Rice, 1980Jim Rice

Elected: 2009

Ballot: fifteenth

Votes: 76.4%

Better players on the ballot: Andre Dawson, Bert Blylevem, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell, and David Cone all deserved more love than Rice.

The story: As a Red Sox fan who watched baseball for the first time in 1978 when Rice was the AL MVP and an undisputed monster at the plate, Rice should have been my favorite player, For whatever reason, he wasn’t. In some ways he’s the hitting equivalent of Jack Morris, in that Rice was fake feared while Morris was a fake ace. In other ways, he’s closer to Catfish Hunter in that he’s among the very worst players the writers have ever elected. However you see it, you have to see Rice as undeserving. He’s a cross between Charlie Keller and Charlie Jones in terms of value. What, you haven’t really heard of those guys? Exactly.

Conclusions

The BBWAA has done a miserable job electing left fielders. Five of the eleven guys on this list played left primarily. Unlike on the mound, you could be a hitter and get elected on your first ballot. And this group was also different from pitchers in that there was far less need for post-season greatness. Long balls, defense, World Series moments, and clutchiness were all embraced here. No real trends, other than the LF strangeness, I don’t think.

So in the last two weeks we’ve gone through the eighteen mistakes made by the BBWAA. While eighteen may not seem like a lot, we’re talking about 15% of all of the guys they’ve elected. This is that same group that passed on Dan Brouthers, Eddie Plank, Billy Hamilton, Ron Santo, and so many other greats. It’s the same group that’s going to screw up Alan Trammell and Tim Raines and may err on Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling as well. Thank goodness we have the Veterans Committees. Or not. We’ll get to them in a couple of weeks.

Miller

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “How the Hall Failed, BBWAA Hitters

  1. A thought on Stargell’s MVP. While his stats may not have not have measured up, much of Stargell’s value lay in his motivational skills (Yeek, I sound like a pop shrink). His “Stargell Stars” on the hats, his leadership certainly helped Pittsburgh to a pennant and can’t be discounted. It’s just tough to quantify. Having said that, I don’t disagree with you on his Hall of Fame status. Although you tie Stan Musial in anything (in this case 475 home runs) that’s going to get people’s attention.
    Nice, nice analysis.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | June 12, 2015, 7:19 am
  2. I can buy Pendleton over Bonds in 1991. I don’t and won’t ignore leadership qualities. However, value matters too. Stargell was worth something like Omar Moreno was. Was Dave Parker a great player in ’79 because he was thinking of Stargell when he was batting or throwing? I don’t think so.

    I don’t mean to trash Stargell, who was a great player. And I don’t want to discount his leadership, which was evident throughout 1979, at least at the end when I watched. (Plus, those hats are my favorites ever!). But Stargell was sooooooo far from the best player in the NL that season. I think his votes were based on emotion, which is why I vote for his hat, not for his MVP.

    And about Stan the Man, yeah. Connect to him, and I think twice too.

    Posted by Miller | June 12, 2015, 7:43 am

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