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What if We’d Given Military-Service and Negro League Credit?

You don't furrow your brows at Charlie Keller...lest he furrow his back at you.

You don’t furrow your brows about Charlie Keller’s HoME chances…lest he furrow his back at you.

As you may know our rules preclude us from issuing credit to players who went to war. Where the Hall of Merit requires some adjustment from its voters for wartime service, and where the Hall of Fame has obviously made mental adjustments, we took a different path. So no Scooter, no Doerr, no Keller, no Country Slaughter. Nor also Sam Rice (different war).

But let’s pretend for just a moment that we could have issued war credit for those guys or anyone else we’d wanted to. Would it have made a difference?

And what about for the Negro Leaguers? Some of those guys fall under both the war and the Negro Leagues situations. How would the composition of the HoME look had we made provisions in our rules to account for these fellows?

There Are Rules Here

We can’t go all willy-nilly with this sort of thing. We could end up making up entire careers from whole cloth, and that’s not what we’re after. So let’s lay down some simple ground rules.

  1. For seasons in the middle of a career, we give the player his average full-season value (unless it’s obvious he wouldn’t have played a full year).
  2. For seasons at the end of a career, we’ll give something less than that
  3. No credit for seasons that might have occurred before the player’s actual career began
  4. A Negro Leaguer must have played half his seasons in MLB to qualify for this thought experiment.
  5. Negro Leaguers who went to the minors first will have their minor-league time considered for credit.

And here’s the big one for me: no military credit for pitchers allowed. Now you might think that’s pretty draconian, but given what we know now about pitcher attrition, I’m not playing pretend Russian roulette with Bob Lemon’s arm and calling it good. So we stick to the hitters.

By the way, since I’m speaking for myself here, I’m going to use my own WAR soup, which swaps much of BBREF’s fielding value out for DRA, which can be found at seamheads.com. I call it equivalent WAR, which I’ll abbreviate eqWAR. You might think of it as Eric’s Qurazy WAR. And I’ll quote my little JAWS-like stat, CHEWS (Chalek’s, Equivalent WAR System).

World War I

Sam Rice

  • eqWAR: 62.4
  • CHEWS: 47.8
  • War years: 1918 (7 games, 0.3 WAR)
  • Full-seasons average: 4.0
  • New eqWAR: 65.9
  • New CHEWS: 49.5

The most recognizable non-HoME name impacted by World War I was Wahoo Sam. He dang-near made the HoME. We didn’t cut him loose as a candidate until very late in the game. To be honest, he could easily re-emerge if more information about his throwing arm and base running becomes available. In the event, a raise to 49.5 CHEWS would put him is in the immediate vicinity of HoMERs Reggie Smith (49.1), Harry Hooper (49.1), Sammy Sosa (49.8), and Willie Keeler (49.9). In fact, Hooper would be a near clone, especially since both probably have yet-undiscovered arm value.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: In

Ken Williams

  • eqWAR: 46.8
  • CHEWS: 42.5
  • War years: 1918 (2 games, 0.0 WAR)
  • Full-seasons average: 4.6
  • New eqWAR: 49.1
  • New CHEWS: 43.6

The first Ken Williams averaged 4.6 eqWAR in his full seasons, but it’s a bit unfair to credit him a full season since he’d just emerged from the minors (for a second time) and would only play half a year in 1919. Give him 2.3 eqWAR in his military season, and he rises up to 43.6 CHEWs, and a career that looks like a dead ringer for George Foster.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Rabbit Marranville

  • eqWAR: 44.6
  • CHEWS: 39.5
  • War years: 1918 (11 games, 0.4 WAR)
  • Full-seasons average: 2.7
  • New eqWAR: 47.1
  • New CHEWS: 40.6

This clown prince of the middle infield made doesn’t make up much ground with the extra credit. He’s just a little closer to Roger Peckinpaugh.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

World War II

Walker Cooper

  • eqWAR: 38.9
  • CHEWS: 34.1
  • War years: 1945 (4 games, 0.1 WAR)
  • Full-seasons average: 3.8
  • New eqWAR: 42.6
  • New CHEWS: 36.6

Walk enlisted in 1945 and was back from war’s end just in time to play in 1946. As a catcher, let’s call a full season anything over 300 PAs. Extending him war credit raises his profile to one similar to Jack Clements or Darrell Porter. Closer than you might think to the HoME, but not close enough to be a serious threat.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Dom DiMaggio

  • eqWAR: 40.1
  • CHEWS: 36.6
  • War years: 1943–1945
  • Full-seasons average: 4.0
  • New eqWAR: 52.1
  • New CHEWS: 42.1

Poor Dom missed his age 26–28 seasons, the very heart of his career. Which means that this guesstimate probably underrates him. As it stands, a CHEWS of 42.1 moves him up from the likes of Paul Blair to the more sunny pastures of Fielder Jones and Jimmy Ryan. What would it have taken during his peak to be a HoMEr? Three seasons worth more than six wins. His best was 6.1 eqWAR. Three six-win years would would even him up with Bernie Williams who was a tough one to say no to. Three 6.5 win years would push him above George Gore who was even tougher to say no to.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Bobby Doerr

  • eqWAR: 56.2
  • CHEWS: 46.6
  • War years: 1944–1945
  • Full-seasons average: 4.4
  • New eqWAR: 60.6
  • New CHEWS: 48.6

We shied away from Doerr in part because we thought there was downside value to what’s known about his career. That downside comes in the form of GIDPs, which he hit into a ton of in the 12 years we know about, but we’re missing another two seasons. But adding in another full season would inch him closer to Cupid Childs (49.9 CHEWS) and on par with HoMErs Tony Phillips (48.4) and Billy Herman (48.6). He’d be very hard to say no to, especially when he now leads 2014 inductee Jeff Kent (46.5).

Eric’s Theoretical Call: In

Lonnie Frey

  • eqWAR: 43.4
  • CHEWS: 38.2
  • War years: 1945
  • Full-seasons average: 4.1
  • New eqWAR: 51.6
  • New CHEWS: 42.7

A bit of stretch in that Frey’s last full season was 100 games in 1946. He went to war as a 33-year-old second baseman, and came back a 35-year old utility man. The two extra seasons boost him from comparisons with Eddie Stanky to comparisons to Johnny Evers, whom we cast aside in the early going.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Charlie Keller

  • eqWAR: 46.7
  • CHEWS: 44.6
  • War years: 1944, two-thirds of 1945
  • Full-seasons average: 6.7
  • New eqWAR: 57.4
  • New CHEWS: 52.6

Well, that changes everything. As is, Keller is a great what-if who is probably the fifth or sixth best player off the bottom of the HoME’s left-field contingent. Give him the credit, however, and he’s now in Sherry Magee and Billy Williams’ neighborhood, well above the in/out line. An issue, of course, is that Keller developed back problems in the 1947 season and had a slipped disk removed. It effectively ended his career. Would he have gotten them sooner while playing? I’d say no. First because being on a merchant marine boat can’t exactly be great for a back that’s going to go out and second because, having had a slipped disk, I know it doesn’t become a problem until it’s a problem. Even so, Keller could have received as little as 4.5 eqWAR credits and still been a very reasonable candidate.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: In

Johnny Pesky

  • eqWAR: 35.0
  • CHEWS: 34.1
  • War years: 1943–1945
  • Full-seasons average: 4.8
  • New eqWAR: 49.4
  • New CHEWS: 42.3

Pesky is a popular guy to theorize about since his career was so short but his two best seasons were excellent. But when we use his full-season average, it includes other less productive and less healthy years. Overall he moves up from Johnny Logan to Vern Stephens. Ironic in that Stephens was a shortstop who benefited by not being called to duty during the war.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Phil Rizzuto

  • eqWAR: 41.3
  • CHEWS: 37.4
  • War years: 1943–1945
  • Full-seasons average: 3.7
  • New eqWAR: 52.8
  • New CHEWS: 42.9

The Yankees and Red Sox were hit especially hard by the draft. The Sox lost their “core four,” the group David Halberstam would immortalize as The Teammates (DiMaggio, Doerr, Pesky, and Ted Williams) and others. The Yanks lost Keller, Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, and Joe Gordon among others. Anyway, Rizzuto, despite a longer real career, wasn’t as good a player as Pesky, and ironically, when we give Scooter three seasons, he comes out just a shade better than Pesky. He vaults from Herman Longesque to Jim Fregosiesque. That’s a bit better than it sounds, since it would put him third off the bottom of HoME shortstops.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Enos Slaughter

  • eqWAR: 59.8
  • CHEWS: 47.6
  • War years: 1951–1952
  • Full-seasons average: 4.2
  • New eqWAR: 72.4
  • New CHEWS: 53.3

I took a long time to push Enos Slaughter out of my active consideration set. He was very, very close for me. But ultimately below the line. Adding 12 eqWAR to his resume makes him a no-brainer in the mode of Andre Dawson or Dewey Evans.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: In

Korean War

Del Crandall

  • eqWAR: 37.4
  • CHEWS: 33.9
  • War years: 1943–1945
  • Full-seasons average: 4.0
  • New eqWAR: 45.4
  • New CHEWS: 38.7

Crandall’s not much known today, but he was a standout defensive catcher known for his leadership skills who had a bat that was sometimes helpful. Tacking on two years of credit makes him look like Jim Sundberg who is a nice comp and several places below the HoME’s in/out line at catcher.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Negro Leaguers

Larry Doby

  • eqWAR: 48.7
  • CHEWS: 43.0
  • Negro League years: 1942–1947
  • War years: 1945
  • Full-seasons average: 4.8
  • New eqWAR: 58.7 (two full years credit) / 60.7 (2.5 years credit)
  • New CHEWS: 48.0 / 49.0

This is complicated. Doby debuted in 1947, integrating the AL, at age 23. He was already a five-year Negro League veteran and a war veteran. In 1947, Cleveland mostly used him as a pinch hitter/runner, but they gave him the centerfield job in 1948, and he popped out a 134 OPS+. Doby had already made it into both East-West All-Star Games in 1946 as a 22 year-old in the Negro Leagues. It seems reasonable, therefore, to give Doby 1946 and 1947 at full-steam. That pushes him up to 48 CHEWS, which is similar to Pete Browning (47.0), George Gore (48.9), and HoMEr Willie Davis (49.2) who is the last man in the door in centerfield. I would say it’s not unreasonable at all to think that Doby might have arrived in 1945, his war year. If we credit him with a half year and call it 2 eqWAR. We went away from Gore and Browning because we felt we had enough 1880s guys. Given how few 1940s/1950s guys we have, Doby would have been a fine alternative.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: In

Jim Gilliam

  • eqWAR: 43.4
  • CHEWS: 36.3
  • Negro League years: 1946–1950
  • Minor league years:1951–1952
  • Full-seasons average: 3.3
  • New eqWAR: 50.0 (2 years credit) / 53.3 (3 years) / 56.6 (4 years)
  • New CHEWS: 39.3 / 40.8 / 42.3

Gilliam was kind of Tony Phillips lite. Same basic skills except for the mid/late-career power: a switch hitter with walks, speed, defensive versatility, and durability but a low batting average. Gilliam wasn’t the defensive whiz that Phillips was either, though he was well above average. In the Negro Leagues, Gilliam played in the 1948, 1949, and 1950 East-West All Star games at ages 18, 19, and 20. In the AAA in 1951 and 1952 he hit a combined .294/.412/.423, and in 1953 at age 24, he won the NL Rookie of the Year. Looking back at that AAA slash line, it’s an awfully accurate precursor to the .272/.362/.380 line he fashioned in Brooklyn in the five years he played there before the Dodgers moved out west. That was good for a 93 OPS+, which happens to match his career mark. In other words, offensively, he appears to have been a finished product when he reached MLB. As with Doby, the key question is when do we hit the go button. Let’s provide three scenarios: ages 20, 21, and 22. As you can see above, none of them gets him into the HoME. The most generous makes him Johnny Evers. If we think, as I wrote previously, that a Phillipsesque degree of versatility could provide additional value to a team, he might sneak in another win or two and climb another rung or two toward Tony Lazzeri or Fred Dunlap. Neither are HoMErs, though. Phillips was on our borderline and needed all the help he could get. That help doesn’t get Gilliam close enough.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Elston Howard

  • eqWAR: 30.8
  • CHEWS: 30.2
  • Negro League years: 1948–1950
  • Minor league years: 1950, 1953–1954
  • War seasons: 1951–1952
  • Full-seasons average: 2.5
  • New eqWAR: 38.3
  • New CHEWS: 34.3

Another messy situation. Let’s just go backwards in time point by point.

  • 1955 (age 26): Howard, a catcher by trade, makes the Yanks and plays part time in the outfield.
  • 1954 (age 25 and 3.6 years younger than his league): Hits .330/.380/.569 in the AAA International League which hit .266/.346/.389. His team hit .284/.364/.435.
  • 1953 (age 24 and 3.0 years younger than his league): After two years in the service, he jumps from A ball to AAA and hits .286/.326/.427, while the rest of the American Association hits .260/.338/.387. His team hit .276/.349/.403.
  • 1951–1952: Military service
  • 1950 (age 21 and 2.9 years younger than his league): Makes the jump from the Negro Leagues to the A-level Central League, batting .283 and slugging .484. The league hit .272 and slugged .394 while his team hit .279/.420.
  • 1948–1950: Played with the KC Monarchs in the Negro American League, hitting, by some reports .283, .270, and .319 from ages 18 to 20.

My best guess with all this would be that Howard was ready for sure by age 24. Given that he hit well after two years off, I’d bet he probably could have held down a job at age 23. It’s not enough. It gets him up to Lance Parrish in my catcher rankings.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

Minnie Minoso

  • eqWAR: 51.5
  • CHEWS: 45.7
  • Negro League years: 1945–1947 (ages 19–21)
  • Minor league years: 1948–1950 (ages 22–24)
  • Full-seasons average: 4.9
  • New eqWAR: 66.1
  • New CHEWS: 52.3

Minoso made the show for good in 1951 at age 25 with a huge bang, racking up an All-Star year and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting and fourth in the MVP. Before that? I’ll line it up like we did for Howard above:

  • 1950 (age 24, 6.4 years younger than the league): In the still AAA PCL, which featured a ton of fresh ex-MLB players, Minoso pounded out a .339/.405/.539 line for San Diego. The league hit .267/.343/.388 and his team hit .272/.351/.416.
  • 1949 (age 23, 6.7 years younger than his league): Again with San Diego, Minnie hit .297/.371/.483 while the league hit .269/.343/.388 and the Padres hit .278/.362/.421.
  • 1948 (age 22, 3 years younger than his league): Minoso jumped in mid-season to the Central League (A-ball) and scorched it in his 11 games and 40 at-bats to the tune of .525 average /.825 slugging. Now I realize that’s a small sample, but that’s simply amazing. The league batted .277 and slugged .401, and his team batted .286 and slugged .432.
  • 1945–1948 (ages 19–22): In the Negro Leagues, Minoso played in the East-West All-Star game in 1947 and 1948 (the latter just before he jumped to the Central League). Stats are sorely lacking for his Negro League seasons, but one source has him at .260 in 1946 and .294 in 1947. While I can’t find a 1948 source, he obviously was good enough to jump into organized baseball and thrive after making his league’s All-Star team.

So here’s what I see. The guy is a fully-formed stud at 25 when he arrives. He was clearly a stud the year before in a tough minor league where he was young for the league. He was well above average in that same league the year prior when he was even younger for the league. He completely dominated low-A and was already a star in the Negro Leagues in 1948 before he jumped. I’m giving him three years. You can see the results above. Taken as they are, those figures put him over the line and on a par with Sherry Magee and Billy Williams in left field. If you want to give him a ramp up that goes 3.0, 4.0, 4.9 eqWAR, I’m fine with that. He’s now a peakier version of Zack Wheat or Bob Johnson, but a little better than both. That’s still over our line.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: In

Don Newcombe

  • eqWAR: 36.0
  • CHEWS: 34.2
  • Negro League years: 1944–1945 (ages 18–19)
  • Minor league years: 1946–1948 (ages 20–22)
  • Full-seasons average: 4.5
  • New eqWAR: 45.0
  • New CHEWS: 39.3

In 1949 Don Newcombe wont the NL Rookie of the Year. He went 17-8, posted an ERA plus of 130, and struck out more men per nine innings than anyone in the league. As a 22-year-old in AA, Don Newcombe went 17-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 189 innings. He gave us 3.95 runs per nine, in a league that scored 4.79 per game. He struck out 6.9 hitters per nine, while the hitters in the league fanned 4.3 times a game. In Nashua the year before that he led the loop in Ks, sported a 2.91 ERA and went 19-6. And before that, he was14-4 with Nashua, racking up 104 Ks in 109 innings and fashioning a 2.21 ERA. The Dodgers slowplayed him as they watched the Jackie Robinson experiment unfold, and he probably would have had a rotation spot a couple years ahead of that. I gave him two years to see what would happen. It lifted him out of the region inhabited by Al Leiter and Lefty Gomez and into the land of Larry Jackson and Brad Radke.

Eric’s Theoretical Call: Out

What Difference Does It Make?

So here’s what I think would be different if we played the credit game. We’d add:

  • Larry Doby
  • Bobby Doerr
  • Charlie Keller
  • Minnie Minoso
  • Sam Rice
  • Enos Slaughter

Which means we’d need to subtract six guys as well. I would nominate Reggie Smith, Sal Bando, Jose Cruz, Roy White, Joe Sewell, and Jeff Kent. Or would I? We are striving for balance across all eras, so hacking off four guys from the 1960s–1970s doesn’t feel very balanced. Maybe instead, we might eliminate Billy Herman, Joe Sewell, Bob Johnson, Willie Keeler, Sal Bando, and Jeff Kent? Or is that too many 1930s guys? So you see, this whole balancing act is easier to play out than to reverse engineer. In that way, I can’t say exactly how our final group would have changed because each decision created a new branch in the decision tree that ultimately leads to the delicately branched group of 215 choices we call the Hall of Miller and Eric. But if we did allow for credit, these are the guys who be the most likely beneficiaries.

—Eric

Discussion

2 thoughts on “What if We’d Given Military-Service and Negro League Credit?

  1. Nice analysis. I hope you guys do move on to include Negro Leaguers in your hall. Somehow a Hall of Fame without Satchel Paige just doesn’t make sense.
    BTW, giving him the extra time does get Sam Rice to the “hallowed” 3000 hit level.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | August 7, 2015, 7:51 am

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