With the results of the Hall of Fame’s Pre-Integration Committee’s votes coming in just a few days, let’s have a look at the ballot they’re voting on. As a quick refresher, the committee has a screening committee made up historians (read: old baseball beat writers) who winnow things down from every player, manager, and executive before Jackie Robinson to just ten. The committee itself meets at the Winter Meetings and votes then.
Miller will take the players, and Eric will handle the off-the-field folks.
Dahlen is the reason to get excited about this ballot. I rank the Cub, Superba, Giant, and Dove as the fourth best shortstop ever to play the game, behind only Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, and Jack Glasscock. Eric has him behind Cal Ripken and ahead of Glasscock. No matter, he’s in elite company. After Wagner and A-Rod, the position is pretty crowded. It’s crowded enough, and I worry enough about early statistics, that I could see a reasonable person rank him as low as #12 in history. That still beats Robin Yount, Lou Boudreau, Pee Wee Reese, Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter, and others. I don’t hesitate at all when I say that Dahlen is the most deserving person on this ballot. His current omission is disgusting, and it’s something I expect the Hall to clear up this year for a guy who was only two votes shy in 2013.
Pitching for six teams, mainly the Indians and Red Sox, from 1927–1941, Ferrell has had it rough. Despite being a better player, his big brother, Rick, is in the Hall while he’s still waiting for his call almost 40 years after his death. The good news for Wes is that he’s in the HoME and Rick isn’t. Some solace, I know. Wes Ferrell absolutely belongs in the Hall. In all fairness to Rick though, he’s not a disgustingly bad call. He’s one of the three dozen best catchers ever, but he’s no Wes, someone who may be among the three dozen best pitchers ever. Wes bests him in MAPES, to 51.7 to 32.8. Wes bests him in CHEWS 53.4 to 32.4. Hell, Wes, the pitcher, pretty much bests him at the plate too. Rick put up a career line of .281/.378/.363 with a 95 OPS+; Wes totaled .280/.351/.446 with a 100 OPS+. Of course, the standard for getting into the Hall shouldn’t be having a better career than Rick Ferrell. But if you’re in the same group that includes the likes of Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, and Jim Bunning, you’re a slam dunk call in our book. It doesn’t seem that Ferrell will get in this year, but maybe he can build a bit of momentum.
Let’s be very clear here. Marty Marion was not anything resembling a great player. Someone likes him though; he’s on this ballot for the second time. A few numbers: He never had an All-Star-level season even though he made seven All-Star teams at shortstop, all for the Cardinals from 1942–1950. His best three seasons, all between 4.3 and 4.7 WAR, were while many of the game’s best players were fighting in WWII. Aside from those war years, he had only one other season with a WAR above 2.9. He’s so far down the list that he didn’t make the cut of the 800ish guys we considered for the HoME. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS scores are easier to run than ours, so BBREF has all of that detail. Marion is 63rd, tied with Cecil Travis, a guy who I rank as the 58th best shortstop ever. Trying to find the positive in this awful nominee, he did have a good glove. And if somehow he received enough votes, he might not be one of the worst ten players in the Hall. But he’d be an outrageously bad choice.
To get a sense of just how bad a choice Marion is, he wasn’t as good as Frank McCormick, a guy who I’ve hardly heard of even though I’ve written about him. Playing mostly for the Reds, McCormick led the NL in hits from 1938–1940. He drove in over 100 runs per year, on average from 1938–1944, so there’s that too. But I rank him 50th among 1B all-time. He’s basically the same guy as Boog Powell, George Scott, Cecil Cooper, and Lu Blue. I’d rather a campaign start for Don Mattingly (which I really don’t want).
Since I rank Stovey as the 13th best hitter not in the HoME, I certainly don’t mind having the 1890s OF/1B on this ballot. The committee must be excited by his Black Ink, where he’s 23rd all-time among hitters, right between Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski. I consider him a 1B with a value almost identical to Harmon Killebrew’s. That puts him just behind John Olerud and Will Clark. There would be far worse choices, including a number of players on this ballot. Still, I can’t quite support Stovey. Luckily for me he probably has no real shot of getting in.
Walters was a fine pitcher who had his best days for the Reds right before the start of WWII, averaging over 7 WAR per year from 1939–1941. He even won the pitching triple crown in 1939. Though he’s on the borderline, Walters is in the HoME. And I think we made the right choice. I rank him right in the middle of a group that includes Kevin Appier, Sandy Koufax, Frank Tanana, Chuck Finley, and Whitey Ford. All but Tanana made the HoME, and we fought a lot over Ford, so we’re not talking about inner-circle guys here. Still, Walters was clearly better than Hall of Famers like Chief Bender, Bob Lemon, Jack Chesbro, and Catfish Hunter. If I had to vote for one pitcher on this ballot, I’d go for Ferrell. That doesn’t mean Walters would be a bad choice. It’s just that Ferrell would be better.
This is the correct move by the committee. We are currently studying managers for our own HoME elections, and the best unenshrined pre-integration managers are the likes of Jim Mutrie, Pat Moran, Charlie Grimm, and Steve O’Neill depending on what era you place the last two in. Among them, only Mutrie looks like a strong candidate, but according to Chris Jaffee’s Evaluating Baseball Managers, Mutrie was more like a business manager than an on-the-field manager. He left those things to guys like Monte Ward. This era is tapped out for managers. Period.
Well, more a pioneer than an executive, a class of persons the Hall has eschewed in recent years, decades, eras, half centuries. John Thorn’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden makes a studious and meticlous argument that Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams has the most reasonable claim as baseball’s chief founding father. If there was an important rules decision in the early game, he was involved and probably leading it. He may well have created the position of shortstop and certainly contributed strongly to its evolution as a member and officer of the famed Knickerbocker club. Later he presided over the first national convention of players and teams and headed its rules committee thereafter, codifying many of the rules that remain in force today and without which our game would be, well, something else and lesser.
Here’s the interesting thing. Until Thorn’s book, no one talked about Doc Adams. Now, suddenly, he’s on the ballot. People obviously listen to John Thorn, baseball’s official historian. They should, he’s one of the best. Candidates need a champion, like Rich Lederer for Bert Blyleven. It helps, when you’re dead more than a century, to have such a respected name behind you. Nice job by the screening committee to get him on the ballot.
The owner who presided over the most resplendent era of Cardinals history, Sam Breadon was a classic self-made American businessman whose initial $2,000 investment in the long-struggling franchise ended up yielding six World Championships. Breadon was the moneyman behind Branch Rickey’s innovative farm system concept, and he helped the general-manager role evolve distinctly from the field manager role by relieving Rickey of his field duties and plopping him exclusively into the front office (whereas the Mahatma had done both prior). Breadon’s partnership with Rickey netted all those titles and a raft of winning seasons. By the time it ruptured in the early 1940s, the aging Breadon had assumed more control. He sold his shares in 1947 for $3 million after more than 25 years topping the standings.
Breadon’s argument for bronze is exactly like Jacob Ruppert’s with fewer titles. The financier with good business sense who hired the right guy (Rickey vs. Ruppert’s Ed Barrow) and had a long, long run of success for about 25 years leading up to World War II. If you believe that’s a worthwhile vote for an executive, then Breadon’s a fine choice. If that’s not your cup of tea, then few owners may meet your qualifications…which may well be a perfectly reasonable position on them. For the Hall of Fame, Breadon probably meets the benchmark if Ruppert’s induction is indicative. He’s not a bad choice at all for an owner on this ballot.
Herrmann served as the de facto commissioner of baseball before the role was created in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. He was the president of the National Baseball Commission for nearly twenty years following the end of the AL/NL war of the early 20th Century. He was also president of the Cincinnati Reds from 1902 to 1927. This feels to me like gold-watch stuff, especially since during Herrmann’s reign the sport was racked with gambling scandals, culminating in the 1919 World Series fix. This is a rather unimaginative selection for the ballot. In fact, other than Breadon, maybe the next guy on this list, and perhaps Al Reach, it’s hard to argue that any other owners in this era merit inclusion on this ballot.
Chris Von der Ahe
A founding owner of the American Association of the 1880s, Von der Ahe’s teams (led by Charlie Comiskey) dominated the league, supported by their owner’s savvy business skills. Von der Ahe sold cheap tickets and made his profits on sales of beer. The flamboyant German-American beer mogul was part Bill Veeck and part George Steinbrenner, and as the team’s success dried up, he resorted to amusement-park-like activities to support the team. A fiery, innovative man, he ended up losing the team just before the turn of the century in a legal battle arising after his ballpark burned down. Like Breadon above, he was a St. Louis financier with savvy innovations, which in his case helped create a winner, sustain an entire league, and achieve near parity with the National League. On the other hand, his last decade in the sport was a total mess. It’s understandable why he’d make the ballot, but I’m not convinced his case is that great. Given how many players from this era have gotten the shaft why would we bother with someone like Von der Ahe or Breadon or Herrmann?
Next time around, we’ll reveal our ideal Pre-Integration Era ballot and show you what the screening committee should have done.
Miller and Eric