For me anyway, 2004 was a pretty big year. I left my home in New England for what I thought and still think will be forever, taking a tenure-track faculty position. I watched my Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years. And I learned that Mets fans were friends, not enemies, because we shared a mutual rival. (I also learned that Yankee fans were pretty okay too once the Red Sox also has something to brag about. Alas, that’ll have to be saved for another day). And that was the year I was introduced to one of my favorite players of the last 20 years, David Wright.
I write this now because I fear Wright’s career may be over. What looked like a Hall of Fame career as recently as 2013 seems like it will fall short by enough that there’s not any real debate. In this post, I want to look at certain points in Wright’s career when there may have been debate, and I want to look at other guys who seemed like sure things only to fall short. In his thirteenth and possibly final season, Wright has limped in at -.2 WAR go far. So until Evan Longoria passes him in a season or three, Wright will remain the 25th best third sacker ever by my numbers.
Where does Wright rank?
For my study, I’m taking every third baseman I’ve ranked, all players from Mike Schmidt through Pinky Higgins to see where Wright ranked at various points through his career.
Through five seasons, Wright ranked seventh, behind Wade Boggs, Eddie Mathews, Home Run Baker, Mike Schmidt, Longoria, and Ned Williamson. Wright’s next three seasons were fairly pedestrian by HoME standards, so he began to lose ground.
Through six years, he fell to ninth as Ken Boyer and Bill Bradley passed him. Boyer is an all-time great, but Bradley really isn’t.
After seven years, George Brett, Jimmy Collins, and Ron Santo moved past too. Wright stood #12 seven seasons into his career. Since three great players passed him, this isn’t that big of a deal.
After another so-so campaign in year eight, only Deacon White moved past among our 3B. Wright stood #13, behind a bunch of HoMErs and ahead of plenty. A couple of good seasons to follow would right the boat and improve his standing.
At 6.4 WAR, Wright’s ninth season was excellent. Still, Scott Rolen jumped ahead, dropping Wright to #14.
His tenth season was his last good one, putting up about 6 WAR in 2013. If we take just the first decade for all of our third basemen, Wright sits at tenth. He passes White, Rolen, Bradley, and Longoria (who’s in only his ninth season now). As a top-ten guy, we were looking at someone who could have fought for inner circle status. But 2014 was a down campaign. And there was no health in 2015 or 2016.
David Wright will not be a HoMEr.
How unusual is his failure?
What I did here is to look at everyone I’ve ranked at every position in their first ten years to see who might fall out of HoME contention after looking so great for a decade.
At catcher, we have Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Buck Ewing, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Thurman Munson, Ivan Rodriguez, Charlie Bennett, Joe Mauer, and Yogi Berra. Of those ten, eight are in, and Pudge and Mauer are going.
Among first basemen, we’re seeing a veritable who’s who at the position. Albert Pujols leads the way, followed by Stan Musial, Roger Connor, Lou Gehrig, Dan Brouthers, Johnny Mize, Jeff Bagwell, George Sisler, Jimmie Foxx, and Ernie Banks. Nine are in, and Albert is going five years after he hangs ‘em up.
Second base brings some players who are more like Wright. The full list contains Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Jackie Robinson, Joe Gordon, Nap Lajoie, Ross Barnes, Robinson Cano, Frankie Frisch, Cupid Childs, and Fred Dunlap. The first eight are either in or going. Then we have two non-HoMErs. In defense of Cupid Childs, he was very close. Overall, he ranks ahead of HoMErs Billy Herman, Tony Phillips, and Jeff Kent. We decided to elect the other three second basemen based on greater need in their era. As for Dunlap, he was an 1880’s star who did his best work for the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association in 1884.
At third, it’s Wright and New Williamson in the top-10 and outside the Hall. Williamson is a bit like Childs in that he could be in if we went straight by our rankings, as he’s one slot ahead of HoMEr Sal Bando, at least for me.
All but one of the best nineteen shortstops are either in or going. The best ten include few surprises: Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Alex Rodriguez, Jack Glasscock, Cal Ripken, Hughie Jennings, Barry Larkin, Joe Tinker, Bill Dahlen, and Lou Boudreau. A-Rod is clearly going, and each of the other nine aside from Hughie Jennings is in. Like Childs and Williamson, Jennings leads some HoMErs at his position. Dave Bancroft is a shade behind but had far more depth to his career, and George Wright was pretty clearly the best player in the game in the 1870’s. Unlike Childs and Williamson, Jennings still has an in as a combination candidate if we choose to go that way.
Left field presents us with another Wright-like player. The full list reads Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Simmons, Joe Jackson, Bobby Veach, Ed Delahanty, Goose Goslin, and Ralph Kiner. Kiner was a seven-time home run champ who could also draw walks. But he did nothing else well, was a miserable fielder, and played in the majors only ten seasons because of a back injury.
Center field can be a young man’s game, so I thought there may be some interlopers. Nope. It’s Willie Mays, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey, Billy Hamilton, Richie Ashburn, Andruw Jones, and Duke Snider. Andruw Jones is the only one of those players who’s not in. And as a guy who I rank eleventh all-time (his defense was that good) at the position, he’s a sure thing to go for us. The only problem will be when. That depends on the BBWAA getting their act together and electing some of the backlog.
In right field it’s Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Elmer Flick, Reggie Jackson, Paul Waner, Ichiro Suzuki, King Kelly, Mel Ott, and Al Kaline. Ichiro is the only one who’s not in. Yes, Ichiro is going, though if he hung out in Japan for one more year before coming to Seattle, he wouldn’t be.
So let’s look at the entire list of top-ten guys at their positions through their first decade in the majors who aren’t either in the HoME or going.
- Cupid Childs: He’s not in, but he could be since he leads three 2B HoMErs by my MAPES ranking system.
- Fred Dunlap: He’s a ton like Wright in that his promising career ended clearly short of the HoME. Coincidentally, like Wright, he ranks #25 at the position.
- Ned Williamson: Like Childs, he could be in. However, we preferred Sal Bando’s era.
- Hughie Jennings: He was one of the greats in the game, but he faded quickly. And like Childs and Williamson, he’s ahead of HoMErs at his position.
- Ralph Kiner: He’s quite a bit like Dunlap and Wright in that they weren’t quite great enough for quite long enough.
That’s it. Of the 80 guys who ranked in the top-ten at their respective positions through the first ten seasons of their careers, 74 are either in the HoME or going. That’s 92.5%. Only the five above and David Wright are out.
I know top-ten is quite an artificial end point. So let’s extend it to twelve. We add Bill Dickey, Roy Campanella, Dick Allen, Frank Thomas, Bobby Grich, Chase Utley, Deacon White, Buddy Bell, Joe Cronin, Art Fletcher, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Sheckard, George Gore, Kenny Lofton, Bobby Bonds, and Andre Dawson. Of those extra sixteen, fourteen are in. The other two are Chase Utley, a guy with an reasonable case that he’s continuing to build, and George Gore, a guy who tops three HoMErs at his position but comes from and over-represented era.
If we look at the best dozen at each position (and say Utley is going), 92.7% are either in the HoME or going. That number highlights just how surprising Wright’s career turn has been.
What if I’m wrong?
Not many things would make me a lot happier than seeing David Wright back on the field adding to his HoME case. And to have a reasonable chance to get in, he’d have to catch Sal Bando among third basemen. Three months ago, I’d have laid odds that would happen. Of course, I’m an unabashed David Wright supporter. As it stands now, he’d need two more seasons of 2.5 and 2.0 WAR to get past Bando. Health willing, David. Health willing.