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Fixing the Hall (or not?): Negro Leagues Representation by the Numbers

How many Negro Leaguers should the Hall of Fame have elected? This is an answerable question. At least kinda. As with all things to do with the Hall and the Negro Leagues, the straightforward answer never turns out to be all that straightforward.

Thing is, though, we ought to know the answer. Parity, equity, these goals feel important in this matter, especially in an era that was supposed to be post-racial but has turned out very much racialized. So, as usual, let’s dig into the numbers, the variables, and the politics to see whether we can come up with an answer that’s more than just “because the Veterans Committee said so.”

Negro Leaguers in the Hall Now

Without going into excruciating detail, here’s what we know about the Negro Leaguers in the Hall of Fame:

  • The Hall has elected 29 Negro Leagues players
    • These players’ careers approximately span the years 1885–1960.
    • Several additional players elected for their Major Leagues exploits got their starts in the Negro Leagues (Aaron, Banks, Campanella, Doby, Mays, and Jackie Robinson), although they were not elected on the basis of those seasons.
  • The Hall has elected 1 Negro Leagues manager.
  • The Hall has elected 5 Negro Leagues pioneers/executives. This includes a white man, J.L. Wilkinson, who owned the famed Kansas City Monarchs. We are counting him as a Negro Leagues man, even though he wasn’t a dark-skinned individual.

Members Elected to the Hall from Organized Baseball for work during the Negro Leagues Era

What about the white players, managers, and pioneers/executives in the Hall? How many white fellows were elected for achievements during the same 75-year span as their Negro Leagues counterparts in the Coop? Here’s the lowdown. I looked at anyone whose career started no earlier than 1882 and no later than 1948. Why did I pick 1948? Because a number of Negro Leagues players of that era played in the minors and majors through the early to mid 1960s. It’s the last batch of fellows whose careers intersected with the Negro Leagues in a meaningful way.

  • 132 players total from John Clarkson and Bid McPhee (starting in 1882) to Roy Campanella, Richie Ashburn, and Robin Roberts (starting in 1948)
  • 12 managers (from Ned Hanlon to Leo Durocher)
  • 18 pioneer/executives (from Al Spalding to George Weiss)

Does it mean anything that the Negro Leagues are represented by 29 players and the majors by 132?

Inductivity

If we’re going to compare the big leagues and the Negro Leagues, we’ll need to know the rates of induction for each. So I counted up all the MLB players whose careers began from 1882–1948.

  • A Play Index search reveals that 12,420 rookie players appeared during this time (7,772 batters and 4,648 pitchers)
    • That means that of all players to kick off their careers from 1882–1948, the Hall inducted 1.06% of them.
  • The smallest number of PA among Hall members was about 5,000, and 358 men who debuted during this time met this criterion. That’s about 4.6% of all the hitters who got started from 1882–1948. Our criteria does exclude a few guys whose primes were in the 1880s and who debuted before 1882, but it’s good enough for what we’re up to.
    • So far, the Hall has honored 95 of these batters, or 26.5% of all hitters with at least 5,000 PA.
  • The smallest number of IP among Hall members was Dizzy Dean’s 1967.33, so let’s call it 1,950 IP. There were 203 pitchers who went 1950+ innings during this era.
    • Cooperstown includes 37 pitchers from this time period, or 18.2% of everyone with 1,950 or more innings pitched.
  • The smallest numbers of games managed by a Hall manager was 1,770, and the smallest number of seasons managed was thirteen. Among the 313 people who made their managerial debut from 1882–1948, 28 managed at least 1,500 games, and none of this subgroup managed fewer than 11 seasons.
    • Cooperstown has pulled the lever on 3.8% of all managers debuting during the period in question.
    • The Hall’s twelve managers represent a whopping 42.9% of all long-time managers of this epoch.
    • However, eight of these 1,500-game managers were inducted as players or execs, so the real electable total is 20, and the real percentage is sixty percent.
  • Overall, the Hall has thus far chosen 19 of its 30 executives and pioneers from those working from 1882–1948. I’m counting Walter O’Malley and Bill Veeck in this group. These 19 men operated during a span of approximately 1,300 team seasons, or an induction rate of 1.5% of all team seasons.

This doesn’t mean that any of these specific percentages are the correct rate of induction. Just the facts, ma’am. But this means we can now look at the Negro Leagues to see whether they have been elected at similar rates.

Proportionate Representation?

Before we do so, however, some ground rules.

  1. We’ll use data from the US Negro Leagues, and include only players that appeared stateside but use their Cuban Leagues and Mexican League stats too.
  2. We won’t count touring games against big leaguers, minor leaguers, or Cubans.
  3. A lot of other information is just too big a pain in the butt to run down, such as locating minor leagues PA/IP for every single guy who crossed over. Maybe someday.

Here’s what we found after some Exceling:

  • The Negro Leagues Database currently includes 835 hitters and 1,063 pitchers that meet the ground rules above for a total of 1,898 players.
    • That means that of all the players to kick off their careers during this time (whom we have data for), the Hall has enshrined 1.52%. That’s very close to the Hall’s rate for organized baseball (1.06% as noted above).
  • The highest total of PAs from this period was Ty Cobb’s 13,099, and 5,000 PA is 38% of that top total. The highest PA total we have on record right now at the Negro Leagues Database is Oscar Charleston’s 5,825, and 38% of it is 1,989 PA. Call it 1,950.
    • Around 110 Negro Leagues hitters in the database crossed that threshold. More will arrive with subsequent updates of the database, but it’s good enough for now. One hundred and ten hitters is about 13% of all the batters. That’s about double the majors’ rate, but maybe that’s not an issue. The Negro Leagues tended to have smaller rosters and no minor leagues system, so it’s possible that in league games, they concentrated a higher percentage of playing time in their regulars.
    • Applying the majors’ 26.5% induction rate, we’d get 29.2 batters. Let’s call each of Dihigo and Rogan ½ pitcher and ½ hitter. In that case, the Hall currently is home to 20 Negro Leagues batters.
  • Using the same idea as with hitters, Cy Young tossed 7,356 innings, and our 1,950 IP threshold above is 26.5% of it. The innings leader at the Negro Leagues Database (with our ground rules noted) is Ramón Bragaña and his 3209.33 frames. Twenty-six and a half percent of that is 850 innings.
    • Another 70 fellows have reached 850 innings.
    • Applying the majors’ 18.2% induction rate gives us 12.7 pitchers. The Hall has actually inducted nine (again, counting Dihigo and Rogan as a total of one pitcher).
  • Cornelius Mack managed an astounding 7,755 games. Our 1,500 cutoff total above is 19.3% of Mack’s total. The highest total currently in the Negro Leagues Database is the 1,542 games that Candy Jim Taylor skippered. 19.3% of that total? Two-hundred ninety-eight games. Let’s call it 300 among friends.
    • So far about 29 managers have 300 recorded games as managers in the Negro Leagues database.
    • Applying the majors’ induction rate of 42.9% of these fellows, it’s 12.4 managers. The Hall’s elected Rube Foster only.
    • But let’s pause a second on this one like we did above. If we eliminate any duplication of managers already enshrined as players, we knock off six names, leaving us with 23 guys, and the Hall’s actual induction rate of 60% yields 13.8 managers.
    • Seems high, what if use the Hall’s 3.8% induction rate among all managers? A total of 194 men managed a game in the Negro Leagues. At 3.8%, that’s 7.4 managers, a more reasonable total, certainly.
  • For the Hall’s five Negro Leagues pioneers/executives, we have a smaller set of team seasons, 701 to be exact.
    • If we apply the same exec induction rate as the majors then we’re looking at 10.6 Negro Leagues pioneers and execs.
    • That said, I’d advocate for cutting that 701 total down a bit. Some of these team seasons consist of less than twenty, less than ten, and sometimes just one or two games. If you said to cut it in half, I’d probably be OK, and we’d already be at the number we’re looking for.

Rounding Up?

Now that we’ve looked at this a little analytically, let’s look at the gaps.

  • Hitters: Missing about 9 hitters
  • Pitchers: Missing about 4 pitchers
  • Managers: Missing about 6 managers
  • Pioneers/Execs: Probably OK as is, one or two more would be fine but not mandatory

If this way of looking at the question makes sense, then the Hall may want to consider adding more Negro Leagues folks. Here’s some suggestions of key names to look into:

  • Batters: Grant Johnson, Heavy Johnson, Dick Lundy, Hurley McNair, Dobie Moore, Alejandro Oms, Quincy Trouppe, Burnis Wright
  • Pitchers: Dave Barnhill, Ramon Bragana, Bill Byrd, Dick Redding, Lazaro Salazar (a two-way great), Roy Welmaker
  • Managers: Frank Duncan, Vic Harris, Dave Malarcher, Felton Snow, Candy Jim Taylor, Frank Warfield
  • Pioneers/Execs: Ed Bolden, Gus Greenlee, Buck O’Neil, Larry Lester (Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy are already Spink Award winners, or I’d list them here)

On the other (non-pitching) Hand

Thing is, though, thanks to Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry, and the rabbit ball, the 1920s and 1930s are the most over-represented era in big league history: Chick Hafey, Pop Haines, Jim Bottomley, Freddie Lindstrom, Travis Jackson, High Pockets Kelly, and Ross Youngs are the chief beneficiaries of the VC’s cronyism. Knock those guys out of the pool, and we shave two points off our induction rate for hitters, dropping the total to 27 instead of 29 hitters. For the pitchers, the induction rate drops to 17.7%, resulting in 12.4 pitchers rather than 12.7.

There are other issues to consider as well. Other than Dick Redding, the pitchers who look like the best candidates outside the Hall aren’t as obviously mistakes of omission as those among the hitters. That’s a far tougher group to pick through than the numerous good position players still at large, and I might, in the Hall’s shoes, be willing to forgo one of those pitchers or two to get more great hitters.

Cap’ns Crunch?

One more word about managers. It’s very hard to say how much a manager influenced his teams in the Negro Leagues. It seems as though some managers, like Candy Jim Taylor, were renowned dugout gurus. In some cases, however, it also seems like some star players managed because it was a promotion of sorts that gave them a little extra money and prestige. It’s hard to know how much they contributed as strategists versus playing middle managers on road trips. In addition, some teams with strong ownership may have had an advantage in player retention, making their field managers look good. This could be the case with Vic Harris (or Jose Mendez for that matter), managers of wealthier and more successful teams.

Let’s zero in on Harris for a second. He managed the amazing dynasty of the Homestead Grays for nearly its entire run, and his best players mostly stayed with the team. It seems unlikely that a poor manager and communicator would have retained such a constellation of talent no matter how deep ownership’s pockets were. The history of the Negro Leagues is rife with stories of players battling managers and owners, skipping out of contracts in midyear, and otherwise creating a wide range of disruptions. The ability of someone like Harris to remain in place for a very long time with relatively little turnover and disruption suggests something very positive about his managerial acumen. As we know, working well with the front office is an important ability for managers to possess, and if Harris worked especially well with owner Cum Posey, he contributed quite a lot to the ongoing success of the Grays franchise.

That said, I can see an important argument for electing fewer managers than the major league rate of induction. Namely, Wilbert Robinson and Bucky Harris were mistake choices from this era. We probably don’t need seven managers. Removing these two duds and applying the resulting 3.195% induction rate pushes the total down to 6.2 managers. In other words five more than we have now. I would push for strong consideration for Harris, and then we’d have to do a lot of research to be sure we’ve got the right candidates. It’s possible that given what we know about Negro Leagues managers, we might want either elect fewer or shift a couple of them over to the pioneer/executive ranks where Bolden and O’Neil have strong credentials.

A Decent Job, Sometimes Well Done

Generally, we can say that the Hall has done a decent job, though it’s progress has been halting. It might, however, benefit from adding a few more people to its current Negro Leagues roster. The Hall of Merit with 31 honorees who would qualify as Negro Leagues careers is closer to the likely magic number for players, if such a number exists, than the Hall is. That is if we think that a fairly close degree of parity is a goal. I would, but others’ opinions may differ.

Thing is, there’s little negative that can result from the Hall increasing its Negro Leagues representation. Only positives, really. The Coop can get carried away with good ideas sometimes, so they need to take a little care. But overall, why not? If they need a little help, we’re on call at any time. But please drop us an email, Mr. Idelson, because we want to help.

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Pioneer/Executive #30, David Neft

Baseball EncyclopediaWhen we started filling the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric, we cast a wide net. We looked at guys who owned and ran teams, sabermetricians, commissioners, coaches, announcers, and more. Like Babe Ruth and Roger Clemens, it was easy to elect Kennesaw Landis and Marvin Miller. And like Roy White and Pud Galvin, it was hard to elect Bob Howsam and Joe Brown. It’s even harder to elect our 30th member.

Let me share a little of what’s gone on behind the scenes. I fought pretty hard for Pud Galvin as one of our final players. Though Eric didn’t love Galvin, he was less passionate about any one player than I was about the 365-game winner. Thus, Galvin was elected.

From 22-24, the HoME elected J.G. Taylor Spink, Sean Forman, and Walter O’Mally. Those were the last three guys I was totally certain about, and it was around that time that I began lobbying for Vin Scully. I think there’s tremendous merit to enshrining the greatest announcer in the game’s history.

Eric was far less excited about Scully. Though he eventually stipulated that Scully was indeed the announcer we’d be most likely to elect, it’s not like the Dodger great contributed to any wins on the field. Others in the HoME either very clearly did or at least debatably did.

Still, Scully lingered on our list of options as we elected Al Campanis, Sam Breadon, Barney Dreyfus, and Bob Howsam. I’d have given him a vote; Eric wasn’t so sure. Then about a month ago, the same thing happened with Scully as with Galvin. I was somewhat more passionate then Eric was, and we agreed to make Vin Scully our 30th inductee.

Then Rob Neyer wrote about David Neft, and we paused.

We un-scheduled our Scully post, and we talked about the idea we’d dismissed Neft and his work on The Baseball Encyclopedia too early.

Eric told us on Monday that, “As the research community used it, found discrepancies, recommended adding this or that, the book could change and grow. So now could any baseball book that relied on a background database. Which eventually gets you to BBREF. The rapid evolution of baseball research, analytics, and publishing were enabled by Neft’s breakthrough thinking.”

Results 30, David NeftI can’t disagree. And I can’t disagree with Eric’s argument that millions of baseball fans around the country would call Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, Mell Allen, or Red Barber the greatest ever. Sure, I think they’re wrong. But I acknowledge that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I realize that art is subjective.

So is entrance to the Hall of Miller and Eric, especially at this level. In the end, Eric’s belief that we should elect David Neft was greater than my belief that we should elect Vin Scully. So congratulations to Neft on becoming the 30th and final member of the Hall of Miller and Eric. And thank you for The Baseball Encyclopedia.

Scully fans can possibly take heart though. The Hall will elect another pioneer or executive soon enough. And that means there will be one more spot in the HoME. Maybe it will go to Vin Scully.

Miller

Vin Scully’s Case for the Hall of Miller and Eric

Vin Scully, 2

Vin Scully, a Dodger from 1950-2016, is the best announcer in the history of baseball. Period.

In 1982, he won the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions from a baseball broadcaster. He is a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. In 1995 he earned a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He owns a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. MLB Network’s Prime 9 named him the greatest baseball broadcaster ever. He received the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award in 2014, an award to recognize historic accomplishments to the game. He’s only the second non-player to win it after Rachel Robinson. American Sportscasters Online named him the best sportscaster ever.

Scully’s case for enshrinement in the HoME rests on an argument for art over science. And at the HoME, science has won every time. It doesn’t matter how beautiful Fernando’s windup was or how smoothly Maz turned two. What matters is the value they brought to their teams. Even in the Pioneer/Executive wing, we’ve worked to measure the value of owners, general managers, and coaches.

If you didn’t have particular value, you did something to change the game. David Neft, as Eric described on Monday, changed the game with his research leading to the first meaningful baseball encyclopedia.

Vin Scully didn’t change the game. His claim is that he was the personification of the art of baseball. And sometimes art should win.

After all, we love baseball because of the art. Nobody ever goes to a game to see Mike Trout put up WAR. They go to root for their favorite team, to sit out in the sun with family and friends, to have a beer and a dog. We listened to Vin Scully for nearly 2/3 of a century because he told the story of baseball better than anyone ever has. He helped us love the game.

“As long as you live, keep smiling because it brightens everybody’s day.”

“Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost, for support, not illumination.”

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be a bridge to the past and to unite generations. The sport of baseball does that, and I am just a part of it.”

“The roar of the crowd has always been the sweetest music. It’s intoxicating.”

“Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”

“Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?”

“To be honest, I’ve never been interested in how many games I’ve done and seen. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody. All I know is I’m eternally grateful for having been allowed to work so many games.”

I grew up with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola on NBC in the mid to late 1980s. I’m grateful to him for helping make me the fan I am today. I was proud to wish him farewell in October. And I am proud to say Scully gets my vote as the 30th and final member of the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Miller

David Neft’s case for the Hall of Miller and Eric

Last week, we shocked ourselves by deciding to postpone the last scheduled election in the Hall of Miller and Eric’s Pioneers/Executives wing. We had between us agreed upon Vin Scully. And on Monday, May 1st, Rob Neyer happened, and we had to ask whether we’d dumped David Neft too quickly.

We like Rob’s work a lot, and he’s a trustworthy researcher and voice with connections all over the baseball world. He was, as most of you know, Bill James’ research assistant prior to launching the ESPN column that pushed sabrmetric thinking into the mainstream (and spawned a love of flannel shirts among analysts). So when he tells us this, we listen:

A world without the Big Mac might not just mean a world without Baseball-Reference.com, it might also mean a world without Bill James, which might mean a world without sabermetrics, a world without Moneyball, a world without the analytics that have transformed so many other sports.

We’d always understood that The Baseball Encyclopedia (aka the Mac or Big Mac) represented a true first in the annals of the game. In fact, it is an annals of the game. It was the first that scrupulously combined meticulously researched consistency with the breadth of categorical completeness we now associate with BBREF or Total Baseball or any compendium online or in print. As Neyer and Mark Armour’s SABR Chadwick Award bio tell us, there were other encyclopedic sources, but they resembled the Big Mac as an IBM Selectric typewriter resembles the Mac I’m using to compose this article. (I see what I did there….) We had, however, underestimated its influence on the game’s analytical revolution when we crossed Neft off of our list months ago.

We might think of the Mac as part of a statistical and analytical timeline that goes like this:

Baseball-Reference.com (Sean Forman)
^
Baseball Prospectus (BP gang)
^
Total Baseball (Pete Palmer and John Thorn)
^
Baseball Abstract, etc. (Bill James)
^
Baseball Encyclopedia (David Neft)
^
The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson)
^
The Sporting News (The Spinks)
^
Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player; Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide, etc. (Henry Chadwick)

Now, that’s a pretty impressive list of annuals, periodicals, and encyclopedias. Each represents an increment of evolution, but the Mac stands out both because the leap it made was so big compared to anything in the 100 years since Chadwick’s first guides and because that large of a leap enabled a decisive quickening of subsequent leaps (especially in combination with the miniaturization of higher computing power).

Of course, that’s just the book itself. David Neft is the guy we’re talking about. In order to be worthy of the Hall of Miller and Eric, we need evidence that he was the force behind the Mac. Consider the people above. While Bill James was the one driving force behind his work and Sean Forman the force behind his, the Baseball Prospectus enclave has been an evolving cast of characters with distributed workloads. It’s much harder give anyone in that group a plaque, nor even all of them, perhaps, because of the collective’s comings and goings.

But Neyer’s article explains clearly that Neft made that 6.5 pound, 1200-page book happen. He worked with biographical research legend Lee Allen, purchased a collection of 19th-century data from another important researcher, John Tattersall, and then put together a staff of 21 people who raked through microfilm and periodicals collections nationwide to gather and validate (with multiple box scores) the data that would comprise the book. That level of work had never been done before on baseball’s statistical history, which prior to 1920 was especially sketchy and prone to inconsistencies. Neft conceived the book, got it funded, and project-managed the whole thing.

That, however, is not the end of it. Neft’s great innovation made every latter day encyclopedic book possible to manufacture and sell at a cost that people might actually be capable of paying. You saw in Neyer’s article that the book retailed for the equivalent of $150 of today’s money. Total Baseball would cost $60 and more in later editions. But without Neft’s forward thinking, they would have been prohibitively expensive to make.

Neft recognized that a book like the Mac required a few things that would make it too costly to produce and sell:

  • Massive typesetting costs in both money and time
  • Massive proofreading costs in the same
  • A truckload of pages because of the overwhelming amount of information
  • A stitched, hardback binding—no mere glue would hold all those pages.

Worse yet, the typesetting costs by themselves carried additional risk for the publisher. if you happened to mistakenly drop Lou Boudreau’s 1938 season from his entry, and it caused a line in someone else’s entry to move to a subsequent page, you’d now have to reflow every single page remaining in the batting records or perhaps the entire book. It’s not as though you can simply edit a player’s season out of existence and be credible. Hundreds of hand-reflowed pages, friends, is a bookmaker’s nightmare because it massively increases typesetting costs and lengthens the production schedule.

But Neft came to the vital realization that typesetting via computer could reduce overall typesetting costs and also make the book relatively easily reflowable. I work in the publishing industry, and my wife is a Production Editor (the person who takes manuscript and turns it into a printable book while keeping a strict budget to ensure profitability). When I asked her about it, she said that without computing technology the book would be possible but so expensive to produce that no one would buy it. And it would take forever to get print-ready.

Why am I going into that level of detail? Of course, because it’s a crucial piece of Neft’s story, but also because it demonstrates why The Baseball Encyclopedia became so important. As the research community used it, found discrepancies, recommended adding this or that, the book could change and grow. So now could any baseball book that relied on a background database. Which eventually gets you to BBREF. The rapid evolution of baseball research, analytics, and publishing were enabled by Neft’s breakthrough thinking. As Armour writes,

It can be said without hyperbole that everything that followed—the creation of SABR, the widespread interest in baseball analysis, fantasy baseball, the popular statistical websites of today—owes a large debt to the work of David Neft and his team for what they did in the 1960s.

So on Friday we will name our final honoree in the pioneer/executive sweepstakes. But first, tune in on Wednesday for Miller’s analysis of the case for Vin Scully, our other finalist.

Making Better Decisions Than Buck Showalter

Big MacNo one said this would be easy. Today is the day we’re supposed to elect the final member of the Pioneer and Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric. During our research we bandied about a hundred or so names, maybe more. And we were about 48 hours from electing Vin Scully. But then we got to talking about this.

It involves three of my favorite things: baseball statistics, fivethirtyeight.com, and Rob Neyer. It also involves David Neft, the guy responsible for “The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball”.

Eric’s basic argument is this: Henry Chadwick led to J.G. Taylor Spink, who led to David Neft, who led to Bill James, who led to Pete Palmer and John Thorn, who led to Sean Forman. Chadwick, Spink, James, and Forman are already in the HoME. Maybe Neft should be too.

Actually, Eric had a stronger argument, which went something like this: Let’s get it right.

So we’re going to take some time, and we’re going to try to get it right. Do you think it should be Neft or Scully? What about Palmer? Thorn? Someone else? Leave a comment. We’re open-minded.

Oh, and in case you already forgot what the title of this post is about.

Miller

Checking Out the Coaches

We’re nearly done electing pioneers/executives to the Hall of Miller and Eric. We’ve previously talked about scouts, noting that they don’t seem to quite rise to the level of contribution we’re looking for. Today, I’ll tell you where we stand on coaches.

Rather than tediously go through coach after coach, we decided to look at four coaches whose reputations represent excellence in the minds of nearly every baseball observer. We examined Johnny Sain, Leo Mazzone, Dave Duncan, and Charley Lau. If any coaches make a big difference to their teams, it’s going to be these guys. Here’s the elevator pitch for each:

  • Johnny Sain: The first modern pitching guru. Coach credited with the turnarounds of numerous hurlers, including Jim Kaat and, most famously, Denny McClain. Celebrated in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four because he believed that pitchers shouldn’t run.
  • Leo Mazzone: The Braves’ longtime master of moundsman. The guy who kept Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and others chugging along at a high level. Famous for rocking with anxiety on the bench and for having his pitchers throw more between starts than other coaches. An acolyte of Sain’s.
  • Dave Duncan: Probably the most well-known turn-around artist ever. He had an approach. Throw strikes, keep it down, and trust your defense. For 30 years that approach turned dumpster fires, once-wuzzes, never-has-beens, and head cases into important contributors such as The Eck, Smoke Stewart, Daryl Kile, and Lamar Hoyt.
  • Charley Lau: The first celebrity hitting coach, gaining national prominence in the 1970s thanks to star pupil George Brett, and an approach that seemed to include the top hand flying of the bat. And he was in Max Dugan Returns as well as this impressive instructional video that every baseball fan should watch.

With our subjects in hand, we simply tracked the performance of any pitcher 27 or older with 400 or more innings prior to meeting one of these guys in their first three years under the coach, and for the rest of their career. Same for batters, only we used 1,000 plate appearances. Our goal was to see whether these gurus were so effective that they had a dramatic effect on their pupils and how lasting the effect was. If so, we would keep studying coaches. If not, not so much. To determine this, we also tracked 20 of the closest comps we could find to test subjects and compared the subject to the controls.

In plain English, if Joe Schmuckface was a 28 year old lefty pitcher with 800 career innings, we found 20 pitchers who at age 28 had similar career totals, and whose ERA+ was similar to control for talent. We freely admit that this isn’t a perfectly scientific study, and also that this kind of work had been done previously by others (especially J.C. Bradbury). We were looking for reasons to keep coaches in the mix for a HoME plaque.

The Scoop on the Gurus

  • Johnny Sain: Sain’s pitchers’ ERA+ were actually worse than the control subjects by two percentage points. They did improve, however, very slightly over time. For the rest of their careers, they were a percentage above the control group. What Sain mostly appears to have accomplished was lengthening pitchers’ careers. En toto, his pitchers threw 36% more innings in year one than the control group, and 126% more innings over the rest of their careers. His pitchers threw more grounders and struck out more than their control groups, but they also walked more guys.
  • Leo Mazzone: Leo’s pitchers’ ERA+ was 37% higher than the control groups in year one under his tutelage. That big edge eroded over time, but still ended up 15% ahead of the controls for the rest of their careers. Like Sain, Mazzone’s pitchers also dramatically outperformed the control groups in terms of career length, starting 87% more games in year one and 228% more during the rest of their career than the control groups. The difference is more dramatic if we look at innings pitched. Like Sain, however, Mazzone’s pitchers gave up more homers and walked more on a per inning basis than the control groups, but they struck out more and got more grounders.
  • Dave Duncan: Duncan shows a similar pattern to the other pitching coaches. Big spike in durability in year one (+74% versus his comps) and a hefty increase in long-term durability as well (+78%). In year one, his pitchers’ performance was 11% better in ERA+ than the comps, and over the rest of their career, 4% better. A little better than Sain, not as strong as Mazzone.
  • Charley Lau: In their first year encountering Lau, his hitters came to bat 16% more often that the control groups and hit for an OPS+ 3% higher. Over the rest of their careers, these same batters grabbed 75% more PAs than the control group and performed at exactly the same 3% above their comps. We didn’t look at George Brett or Hal McRae, probably his most famous students, because they didn’t meet our age or playing time requirements.

It’s pretty clear to us that Leo Mazzone stands out here. He’s the only one of the four where the differences are dramatic and where they persist to the greatest degree. All of these guys improved their players, especially in terms of innings or PAs, which is, of course, correlated to improving overall performance. But except for Mazzone, the improvement among the other coaches was close enough to the controls’ averages that we felt we couldn’t build a strong case that the effects we saw could be isolated only to the coach’s teaching. We ended this experiment at this point and pushed Leo into our group of final candidates.

Back to the Bench

Well, we’re going to spoil things for you. We had a quick hook on Leo. The evidence in the literature on him is mixed. According to Chris Jaffe’s wonderful Evaluating Baseball Managers, Bobby Cox had a relatively quick hook for much of his career, including his time in Atlanta. Is that Cox pushing the bullpen button or Mazzone? If it’s Cox, that may bias the numbers slightly in Mazzone’s favor by saving his tired pitchers some runs. And we just can’t know. But also, we can’t know precisely how much input Mazzone had on veteran pitchers the Braves acquired. If he had a lot of input, that’s probably helpful to his cause, but Cox and John Schuerholz weren’t exactly slouches either. Those early Braves teams were built around great defense. Pendleton, Lemke, Bream, Nixon, Belliard, all good defenders. Giving pitchers the confidence to use their defense is vital, but much of that confidence comes from Schuerholz and Cox assembling a good defense. And around and around we can go.

Look, Bobby Cox won before Leo Mazzone, with Leo Mazzone, and after Leo Mazzone. John Schuerholz won before, with, and after Leo Mazzone. Leo Mazzone did very little with the Orioles for a couple years after leaving the Braves. Which leaves us with the decision to send Leo to the showers. The state of research on the effect of coaching is not nearly so advanced as the many player-based information streaming out of MLB.com’s statcast and websites devoted to analytics. If someone finally cracks the code on coaching, we’re absolutely willing to pull the trigger on Mazzone or anyone else who is proven excellent. But we’re not there yet.

Pioneer/Executive #29, Joe Brown

Pirates, 1972I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t familiar with Joe Brown, the guy who replaced Branch Rickey in Rickey’s last GM position in Pittsburgh in 1955. I don’t believe I had heard of him either before we began this process. But Joe Brown was indeed a great general manager.

He led the Pirates for 21 years, from 1955 through the 1976 season and was the architect of the Pittsburgh dynasty that went to the playoffs five times in six years from 1970-1975. He won the World Series in 1960 and 1971, plus he had a lot of influence on the 1979 winners.

Yes, he arrived with Roberto Clemente, but much of the rest of the 1960 champs were acquired under his watch.

Results 29, Joe BrownHe signed some great amateur free agents like Willie Stargell (57.5 WAR for the Pirates), John Candelaria (35.2), Dave Parker (34.7), Manny Sanguillen (28.2), Al Oliver (27.1), Richie Hebner (22.5), Tony Pena (22.3), Bob Veale (21.2), Kent Tekulve (19.6), Richie Zisk (15.7), Doc Ellis (12.8), and Dave Cash (10.2). He traded for 1960 parts Smoky Burgess, Harvey Haddix, and Don Hoak. He signed 1971 star Bob Robertson and drafted 1971 closer Dave Giusti. And for the 1979 winners, he drafted Don Robinson and traded for Bill Robinson. He hired Danny Murtaugh four times, but he didn’t do a great job overall hiring managers.

Oh, and one more thing. When his successor Pete Peterson was fired early in the 1985 season, he was brought on as the interim GM and oversaw the 1985 amateur draft. That’s when the Pirates signed Barry Bonds (50.1 WAR in Pittsburgh).

Joe Brown is now #29 out of 30 in our Pioneer/Executive wing. Two weeks from now, we’re going to finish things off, at least until the Hall elects another.

Miller

Pioneer/Executive #28, Bob Howsam

big-red-machineSometimes you just happen into greatness. Well, maybe not. But I’d bet that many of us, if we’re being perfectly honest, can attribute some (many?) of our successes in life to one decision that could have gone either way, or one lucky break not necessarily achieved through any of your own doing.

Okay, maybe you can’t, but I certainly can.

So can Bob Howsam. Howsam’s GM career got off to a great start when he took over the St. Louis Cardinals on August 17, 1964. The Cards stood in fifth place, nine games back of the 71-45 Phillies. Of course, Philadelphia went 21-25 the rest of the way, while St. Louis closed at 30-14 to win the NL pennant. Eleven days later, they were World Series champs, having beaten the Yankees four games to three.

Howsam clearly got lucky. The champs were Bing Devine’s team. He’s the one who pulled off the Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio trade. He’s the GM who deserves credit for this title. But Howsam gets it, at least a large part of it. Of course, his next two years in St. Louis, his teams played barely above .500 ball, and he moved on.

Obviously, Bob Howsam isn’t being inducted into the HoME today because of his fortunate Cardinal title. He’s being inducted because he was the architect behind the Big Red Machine. Howsam took the GM job in 1967, and in 1973 he was named President of the club. Though he only lasted until 1977 as GM and 1978 as President, there were some remarkable achievements during that time.

results-28-bob-howsamHis teams were excellent overall, performing at a .559 clip, and he might have even gotten more out of the massively talented teams than he should have expected. From 1970-1981, his teams finished first seven times and second three others, winning the World Series in both 1975 and 1976. He traded for Joe Morgan, George Foster, Tom Seaver, Fred Norman, and Jack Billingham. He drafted Ken Griffey and Dan Dreissen. And he was smart enough to give Sparky Anderson his first big league managerial gig.

Howsam is our shortest-term GM elected to the HoME. But he’s in because he was both a bit lucky (St. Louis) and clearly great (Cincinnati). We now have 28 of 30 in the Pioneer/.Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric. Stay tuned for our next to last entrant in two weeks.

Miller

Results 27, Barney Dreyfuss

barney-dreyfuss-2

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Everyone putting together a Hall of Fame will include Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel, and Marvin Miller. Well, almost everyone. The actual Hall of Fame foolishly won’t elect Miller, and that’s why we’re here. But when we get to the margins, we admit that we elect some debatable guys. That’s what it means to be a boarderliner. Reasonable people might not support Chuck Finley, Jeff Kent, Whitey Herzog, or today’s entrant into the Hall of Miller and Eric, Barney Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss owned the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 until 1932. During that time, he built the mini-dynasty of the century’s first decade. Led by Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, and others, Dreyfuss’ Pirates finished first or second eight times from 1900-1909, losing the first World Series of 1903, and winning their first crown in 1909.

By the start of the next decade, Pittsburgh began to rebuild. Folks like Max Carey, Kiki Cuyler, and Pie Traynor joined the team that was quite strong from 1921 through the last season Dreyfuss led the club, 1932. Since the 1933 team was almost all his, we’ll look at their finishes during those thirteen campaigns. They finished second and third four times each. They lost the World Series to the 1927 Yankees, but won it two years earlier mainly on the backs of their three stars.

results-27-barney-dreyfussOverall, Dreyfuss had a great .562 winning percentage, and he won an impressive 2701 games. He wisely hired Fred Clarke and Bill McKechnie to manage. While it’s true that he signed but sent away the likes of Rube Waddell, Red Faber, Dazzy Vance, Burleigh Grimes, and Joe Cronin, it’s his eye for talent that made the Pirates one of the great franchises of the game for the first third of the 20th century.

And now Barney Dreyfuss is a member of the Hall of Miller and Eric, just like Branch Rickey and Henry Chadwick are. And our 27th entrant in the Pioneer/Executive wing deserves to be there. Only three more to go; the next announcement will be in two weeks.

Miller

Partial Recall!: We sort-of unelect three, will elect three more

Most voter recalls unelect crappy selections. We have to unelect three guys that we’re pleased with then replace them with three others.

Of course, this isn’t quite so simple as yea/nay. Upon reflection, we recognized that we shouldn’t have allowed one person to be honored in more than one wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric. We were being too clever by half, but about six months ago we realized it. Now it’s time to change. Here’s exactly what we’re up to.

We elected three people in both the player and manager wings of the HoME: Cap Anson, Fred Clarke, and Joe Torre. All three highly deserving candidates for both honors. Then we realized that we were no longer truly comparable to the Hall of Fame by three spots because the Hall doesn’t elect individuals to more than one wing. Only, which three spots were we talking about?

Anson, Clarke, and Torre all belonged in both wings without question, so which wing would they be removed from? For Anson and Clarke, the answer seemed simple: They were great managers and even better players. So they stay put as player and are removed from our managerial roster. Joe Torre, on the other hand, rated better and lasted far longer as a manager. He’s moving from player to manager.

This leaves us with two empty spots among our skippers and one hole to fill among the players. There’s a lot of electoral activity going on right now at the HoME, so here’s how we’re going to schedule things.

Friday February 3rd: 2017 player election (3 slots in accordance with the Hall’s 2017 election)

Friday February 24th: Backlog player election (1 slot to make up for Torre’s shuffling over to manager); this player must have retired by 2015, due to the fact that Torre was elected as player before we caught up to the Hall in 2015.

Friday March 10th: Backlog manager election (2 slots to make up for Anson and Clarke being just players); because we caught up the Hall’s managerial elections before the 2017 election, this election will be for pilots eligible through 2016. We should note that because the Today’s Game committee meets roughly biannually, we may consider managers who gained eligibility in 2016 but were not voted upon until 2017.

Friday March 24th: Resumption of our pioneer/executive elections with number 27 (4 slots to catch up to the Hall’s 2017 count!).

Friday April 7th: Pioneer/executive number 28

Friday April 21st: Pioneer/executive number 29

Friday May 5th: Pioneer/executive number 30

And then after that, we’ll be completely caught up, and it’ll all be neat and tidy.

For a day or two.

Then we’ll tell you our plans for the future. Hint: We aren’t going anywhere.

Institutional History

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