Don Newcombe

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Pitcher Favorites J-O; What Would It Take?

Today we continue with our pitcher favorites, showing a higher percentage of players I chose this week than any in the series aside from catcher. That’s okay. I think it’s an interesting mix of guys whose cases you’ve heard, guys who are in, and guys whose cases may be more interesting than you originally thought. And for today’s Don Newcombe entry, we get a special guest appearance by Eric!

I hope you haven’t missed any part of this series, but if you have, here they are. Now, onto the pitchers!

[Catcher], [First Base], [Second Base], [Third Base], [Shortstop], [Left Field], [Center Field], [Right Field], [Pitchers A-H]

The Pitchers, J-O

Tommy John, 1977Tommy John* (CHEWS+ 88, MAPES+ 99): In some ways, I think of John a bit like Armando Galarraga. John will never be forgotten because of the eponymous surgery. In other words, he hardly needs the Hall of Fame for his legacy. Galarraga will be remembered a whole lot more for his sort of perfect game than Lee Richmond, Len Barker, or Phil Humber, guys who actually threw them. But this post isn’t about legacy. Let’s give John 50% more value in 1974, which is about what he’d have if he didn’t hurt his arm. And for 1975, let’s give him the average of the two years before and two after the surgery. Somewhat surprisingly, that only lifts him seven spots. Frankly, John was a fairly mediocre pitcher at that point in his career. From 1971-1976, he was never worth even 2.5 WAR. His excellent seasons were the three before that span and four of the six after it. John had a wonderful career, will never be forgotten, and may actually get into the Hall one day. There isn’t a reasonable twist that would get him into the HoME though.

Addie Joss (CHEWS+ 128, MAPES+ 122): Coincidentally enough, Joss threw the fourth perfect game in baseball history. He also has the best WHIP in ever. And I think he’s the only MLB player in the Hall of Fame without ten years in the majors. Back in 1977, for reasons seemingly related only to Joss, the Hall passed a special resolution waiving the ten-year requirement. If they were going to do that for anyone, I guess he’d be one of those players. Still, they shouldn’t have. Joss was an outstanding pitcher for a time, but his final year was his worst. Had he not developed meningitis, the productive part of his career might have been over anyway. What I did for Joss was to eliminate the tenth and all future seasons for every pitcher I’ve charted. If we did that, Joss would rank 50th. Other interesting Hall of Famers by that standard would be Roy Oswalt, Dwight Gooden, and possibly Carlos Zambrano. The Hall made a poor decision.

Jim Kaat (CHEWS+ 138, MAPES+ 121): Does anyone else have Kaat and John occupy similar brain space? It’s kind of strange they do for me. When I began paying attention to Jim Kaat, 1964the game, John was still a good starter. Kaat was a formerly good starter bouncing around the game as a below-replacement-level reliever. I suppose they’re together for me because of their win totals, 283 for Kaat and three more for John. I remember conversations about the Hall suggesting that their totals were “close enough” to 300 that their elections should come in time. Thankfully, we have learned more about the value of a win.

The first thing I want to experiment with for Kaat’s case is dropping the first two years and last seven years of his career when he was below replacement level. Surprisingly, that lifts him only four spots. I’m not sure I want to do much more, but I look at his record, and I see two seasons of 7+ WAR – when he was 35 and 36! Maybe his arm was crushed from pitching over 2000 innings from 1964-1971. He was hurt or hurting in 1972 and 1973, which shouldn’t be surprising. Let’s say he didn’t figure things out when he was 35, but he did so when he was 33, only we couldn’t see it because he was injured. Let’s give him 7 WAR rather than injuries. Doing that, even if we keep those negative seasons at the start and end of his career, vaults him past 12 HoME pitchers. If we convert only 1973 to 7 WAR, he’d still pass five HoMErs. A ranking of 121st doesn’t seem too impressive, but it might be just one great season away from deserving election.

Jimmy Key (CHEWS+ 105, MAPES+ 115): Key makes this list as one of my favorite pitchers ever to watch work. I think of him as the AL’s version of Tom Glavine – only he pitched a generation earlier, and he didn’t get lots of pitches called strikes that should have been called balls. Admittedly, I have absolutely zero support for the last contention, but it’s the way I choose to see Key. This crafty lefty had an up and down career. That happens for pitchers either when they’re not that good and just find it for a bit, or when they’re not so healthy. Key made 21 starts in 1988, 27 in 1990, and 5 in 1995. As we look at the seasons before those, he was great, if over worked in 1987; he was blah in 1989; and he was very good in 1994. Let’s repeat the 1987 and 1994 seasons the next year, and let’s give him his 1991 season in 1990. If we did those three things, he’d pass ten HoMErs. In other words, if he were healthy, Key may be an easy call. Perhaps you think my manipulation of his 1990 season is inappropriate, which I kinda think. Let’s leave that one alone. He’d still pass eight HoME pitchers. And if we only have him repeat his outstanding 1987 season in 1988, he’d pass five HoME-level pitchers. Were he completely healthy in 1988, it’s quite likely Jimmy Key would be in the HoME.

Mark Langston, 1984Mark Langston (CHEWS+ 83, MAPES+ 98): Earlier in our planning process, Eric was a big fan of Langston’s. While he has since pulled back from his previous support, he still likes Langston, and chances are greater than zero the hard-throwing lefty finds his way into the HoME one day. To find a bit of value for Langston, we can look to his injury-riddled sophomore season and the mediocre one that followed. Langston was great as a rookie but slumped badly in 1985 and didn’t rebound as a star until 1987. If we repeat his rookie campaign the next two years, he’d pass eight HoMErs. If we did it for just one year, he’d still pass six. That’s how close some of these players are and how closely we have to look at players to determine those who most deserve induction.

Sam Leever* (CHEWS+ 211, MAPES+ 161): The Pirate teams of about 110 years ago had some interesting staffs. In 1910, they had Leever, Babe Adams, and Deacon Philippe. The year before and going back to 1906, those three were joined by Vic Willis. Good stuff! They finished second or third every year except for 1909 when they beat the Tigers in seven games to win their first World Series. Leever was about done in 1909 and didn’t pitch in the World Series. During the more impressive part of his career, he was up and down, suggesting to me there were some injury woes. Looking at his BBREF page, it would appear the easiest place to find value for him would be early in his time in Pittsburgh, as he didn’t pitch in the bigs until he was 26, and he didn’t have a real job until he was 27. However, he didn’t begin pitching professionally until two years before that, so there’s no real value to be had there. Nor is there value at the end; he was done when he was done. Still, if he matured early and made it right to the majors, he’d have a nice shot at the HoME. If we repeat his first full year twice right before it, he’d pass seven HoME pitchers. If he only did it once, he’d still be short.

Bob Lemon (CHEWS+ 112, MAPES+ 123): An outstanding hitter with 10.4 career WAR at the dish, Lemon is one of Bob Lemon, 1956the worst pitchers in the Hall when it comes to just pitching. While less than great, he was incredibly solid and incredibly healthy, five times leading the AL in batters faced and complete games, four times leading in innings, and three times leading in starts. Lemon supporters might point to his military service from 1943-1945 as a feather in his cap, but, while admirable, it likely shouldn’t add to his cause since my numbers say he was worth less than one win over the next three years combined. At age 35 in 1956, Lemon was excellent. But he was never good again, developing bone chips in his elbow late in 1957. Let’s say, however, that the bone chips developed earlier in the year. If we drop him 2 WAR per year for his last two, he moves all the way up to #100 on my list, clearly not good enough to get him in though.

Mickey Lolich (CHEWS+ 143, MAPES+ 124): Anyone who strikes out 300+ in a season, as Lolich did in 1971 and only 16 other pitchers have ever done since the mound moved, is just fine by me. Likely by good fortune rather than plan, the Tigers used Lolich less than awfully for a young pitcher. Though he threw 232 innings when he was 23, he never reached 250 until he was 28. Then we went crazy, topping out at 376 innings in his big K season of 1971. His last good year was at 34, and then he was shipped to the Mets. It seems like Lolich pitched hurt in 1966. If we give him the average of ’66 and ’68 in that year, he does jump up to #111, but there’s no other value we can easily find. A solid member of the Hall of Very Good.

Jack Morris, 1984Jack Morris* (CHEWS+ 146, MAPES+ 179): I don’t know which kind friend of mine recommended Morris, but I thank you. (The truth is he was going to appear here anyway). Last year, I took a bite out of the guy erroneously called the pitcher of the 80s. Hint, he wasn’t. And it’s not even close.

Morris was good though. He was a star from 1985-1987. But even in his best 3-year run, where he had three of his four best seasons by pitching WAR, he was only the game’s 10th best pitcher. That’s right, when Morris was at his three-year best, there were still nine guys better. That list includes Teddy Higuera, Bob Welch, and Charlie Leibrandt. No, not one of those pitchers is as good as Morris for his career, but their superior rankings on his list do make clear that Morris was never great. If we add a win to each of the first 14 years of his career, he’s still shy of the lowest ranked HoME starter by MAPES+. In case you’re wondering – and I know you are – I prefer Morris to both Harold Baines and Omar Vizquel.

Jamie Moyer (CHEWS+ 118, MAPES+ 155): Whenever I write about Moyer, I feel compelled to mention that I was psyched when the Red Sox shipped him to Seattle for Darren Bragg at the 1996 deadline. Bragg produced 7.2 WAR the rest of his career, Moyer a slightly better 38.9. Oops! In 1988, Moyer was 25 and posted 3.12 WAR by my numbers. For the next four years, he was either bad or injured. Usually both. If we substitute his 1988 for 1989-1992, he moves all the way up to 113, still shy of the HoME, but pretty impressive.

Joe Nathan, 2005Joe Nathan (CHEWS+ 151, MAPES+ 204): As I’ve recently mentioned elsewhere, I consider Nathan to be the fourth best reliever ever, training only Rivera, Gossage, and Wilhelm. We’re happy with about 2.5 relievers in the HoME right now (Rivera, Gossage, and half of Eckersley). If we added another, it would almost certainly be Wilhelm. If it were two, I think it would be Nathan, as both Eric and I have him about a dozen and a half positions in front of Hoffman. When the Giants shifted Nathan to the pen, he was 28. Had he been healthy and effective for the four years prior, I am confident he’d still be far enough behind Gossage that there’d be no discussion needed. However, it’s possible those four years might have been enough to get him past Wilhelm and into my consideration set every year. Relievers, particularly closers, are a different beast when evaluating for the HoME. I always want to consider the top guy, just in case we decide we’re one closer shy.

Dave McNally* (CHEWS+ unranked, MAPES+ 398): For his first six years in Baltimore, McNally was just another guy, putting up only a shade over 0.7 pitching WAR each year. Then something happened in 1968, the same year Mark Belanger replaced Luis Aparicio full time. Just saying. The less cynical reporter might note that he found his slider in 1968, at least according to SABR biographer Mark Armour. Still, 1968 was his only excellent year. Reasonable comps are guys like Scott Erickson and Ramon Martinez. Adding two wins to each season of his career, he’s still easily short of the HoME, though at that point he’d be in league with Bob Lemon and Mickey Lolich.

Don Newcombe, 1952Don Newcombe* (CHEWS+ 189, MAPES+ 188): Newk won the Rookie of the Year in 1949, finished eighth in the MVP voting, and made the All-Star team. He would’ve earned Cy Young votes if the award was, uh, being awarded. Newcombe picked up MVP support in three of his next four seasons. Then he went nutty on the league in 1956: 27-7, 131 ERA+, league-leading WHIP plus the Cy Young and the MVP. He never, ever earned another award vote. What happened? Well, he drank, and that was an issue. He had only two more good seasons.

Another thing about Newk is that he hit like a position player. He was probably the best hitting pitcher post-Wes Ferrell. If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll notice the chronological math above doesn’t add up. That’s because Newcombe spent 1952 and 1953 playing home games in Uncle Sam’s ball yard. His MLB record puts him in company with guys like Andy Messersmith and John Tudor. So what’s keeping him out of the HoME is all the innings he missed in Korea, right? Not exactly. More like the ones he missed in the Negro Leagues. Newcombe started pitching professionally in 1944 at age 18. The Dodgers plucked him up, and at age 20 and 21, he dominated the New England League. Then he pitched just about as well against the International League in 1948. Then he spent the first month of 1949 back in Montreal. You want Newcombe in your Hall of Fame? All you got to do is give him part of 1946 and all of 1947, 1948, and 1949 in the big leagues at his MLE rate of production.

Roy Oswalt* (CHEWS+ 81, MAPES+ 84): Make no mistake, Roy Oswalt was a great pitcher. In his rookie year of 2001, he made just 20 starts and was still worth 4.7 pitching WAR. The next year, that number jumped to 7.0. And during his 2005-2007 peak, he was the game’s best pitcher aside from Johan Santana. He dropped off after age 29, but he was excellent again at 32, posting 6.0 pitching WAR. He dropped back the next year, and he was done by the time he hit 34. It was back issues at first, and maybe it was back issues for the rest of his time in the majors. If after that 2010 season he dropped just one win per year, he’d be so easily in the HoME, 59th in history. If he dropped two wins per year, he’d be he’d pass four HoME pitchers. Oh, and he’s ahead of five HoME pitchers now! We could elect him tomorrow, and we might just if our rules allowed us to kick guys out of the HoME. As it is, his problem is Andy Pettitte. Eric and I both prefer the ex-Yankee. Oswalt has a shot someday, but it’s going to take some aggressive election action by the Hall so we have spots to fill.

The last installment of pitchers publishes in a week. See you then!



Evaluating More Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part 6

Today we’re toeing the slab once more with three Negro Leagues pitchers, ore maybe more accurately, two Negro Leagues pitchers and an MLB pitcher who got his start in Blackball. If you want to know how we come up with our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues pitchers then by all means set your kitchen timer for five days and read our primer.

José Muñoz

The medium-height righty from La Habana threw a good fastball and a tough scroogie. He spent five seasons stateside in the Negro Leagues, and played 11 seasons in the winter league of his homeland. He had a massive year in 1909 and several good ones around that.

But pitching is a gambling-man’s game. It’s baseball roulette. While we don’t have the specific story, Muñoz’s arm must have given out in a hurry because suddenly in 1913, he stank up the joint, and there’s no record of him after that.

Jose Muñoz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 1902–1913
Destination: NL 1904–1913
Honors: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
1904   23   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2 
1905   24  200  - 1  -0.1   1.9  |   67   0.1  |   2.0 
1906   25  320  - 1  -0.1   3.1  |  107   0.0  |   3.1 
1907   26  320    0   0.0   3.1  |  107   0.0  |   3.2 
1908   27  270   10   1.3   3.8  |   90   0.0  |   3.9 
1909   28  290   41   5.3   8.0  |   97   0.1  |   8.1 
1910   29  220   12   1.4   3.5  |   73   0.0  |   3.6 
1911   30  180    9   1.0   2.8  |   60   0.1  |   2.9 
1912   31  260   14   1.4   4.1  |   87   0.1  |   4.1 
1913   32  180  -29  -3.1  -1.2  |   60   0.1  |  -1.1 
TOTAL     2260   54   7.1  29.4  |  755   1.5  |  30.1
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 166th  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 222nd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 152nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 151st

Good pitcher. Great for a very short time. Not someone likely to draw our vote at the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Don Newcombe

With Newcombe it all comes down to the question of when you think he’d have made the big leagues. He played against top-flight Negro Leagues talent from the age of 18 with that huge fastball of his. In 1946, as a twenty-year-old, Newk pitched in the Dodgers’ chain in Nashua with Roy Campanella as his catcher and co-integrator.

In Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment, he discusses that the Dodgers thought Newcombe needed more seasoning to hone his control, so the sent him back to New Hampshire in 1947, despite allowing only 2.32 runs a game in 1946 (2.21 ERA). Newcombe walked about a batter every other inning In 1947, just as he had in 1946, en route to a 3.79 RA9 (2.91 ERA). They bumped him up to Montreal in the International League, where his control was the same as ever (actually a little worse), and he posted a 3.95 RA9 (3.14 ERA). So they returned him to Montreal in 1949 where he forced their hand with basically the exact same control and slightly better results: 3.18 RA9 and a 2.65 ERA. His control instantly improved upon reaching Flatbush, and he posted excellent seasons for Dem Bums.

Rickey brought along Newcombe more slowly than he brought along Campanella. In fact, Dan Bankhead, not Don Newcombe, was the first African American to throw a pitch for the Dodgers. So it’s an open question, in my mind, whether as a white man Newcombe would have debuted earlier. And also how much earlier? So we present two scenarios below. The first in which Newcombe arrives as an 18-year-old in 1944; the second as a 20-year-old in 1946. As Harry Kalas used to intone: IBM presents, You Make the Call.

Don Newcombe
Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio
Career: 1944–1960
Destination: NL 1944–1960

               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
1944   18   30    1   0.1   0.4  |   10   0.1  |   0.5 
1945   19  100   15   1.6   2.6  |   33   0.2  |   2.8 
1946   20  160   17   2.0   3.6  |   53   0.4  |   4.0 
1947   21  210   32   3.5   5.6  |   70   0.6  |   6.2 
1948   22  210   36   4.0   6.0  |   70   0.6  |   6.6 
1949   23  280   40   4.3   7.1  |   93   0.8  |   7.9
1950   24  267   10   1.0   3.6  |  110   0.7  |   4.3
1951   25  272   11   1.1   3.8  |  114   0.4  |   4.2
1952             MILITARY SERVICE  
1953             MILITARY SERVICE      
1954   28  144  -10  -1.0   0.4  |   55   0.5  |   0.9
1955   29  234    6   0.6   2.9  |  125   2.4  |   5.3
1956   30  268   17   1.9   4.5  |  128   0.9  |   5.4
1957   31  199   12   1.3   3.2  |   86   0.5  |   3.7
1958   32  168  -10  -0.8   0.9  |   73   1.3  |   2.2
1959   33  222   24   2.7   4.8  |  123   1.9  |   6.7
1960   34  137  -14  -1.4  -0.2  |   62   0.2  |   0.0
18-34     2900  187  21.0  49.2  | 1205  11.5  |  60.7
20-34     2770  171  19.2  46.2  | 1162  11.2  |  57.4
Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 87th | 102nd
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th | 72nd
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 50th | 61st 
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 30th | 39th

In both scenarios, the additional heft brings Newcombe from a good pitcher to a contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric (or your favorite Hall). He’s a Wes Ferrell for the 1950s: Very good on the mound, though not great, and an outstanding hitter for a pitcher. Together that combo is electable. At the same time, that three-WAR difference, at the margins, could be the difference between election and dejection for Newk.

OK, maybe not dejection. He doesn’t know about me and Miller, and it’s even less likely he cares about us. But let’s say, instead, that it’s an empathic dejection on the parts of his fans. Newcombe, 91, is still alive. He’s the 44th oldest living major league ballplayer, and among the very oldest living Negro Leaguers.

OK, before we leave Newcombe, two interesting facts.

1) Don Newcombe, a great hitting pitcher, batted lefty despite throwing righty. I don’t recall the last pitcher who batted lefty but threw righty, but I’d reckon it’s much rarer among hurlers simply because if they get hit on their throwing arm or wrist, the damage has more potential to be season or career threatening. It appears via the BBREF Play Index that only 390 northpaws in history hit from the other side. But most interestingly, eight pitchers do so now, but the top three in career PAs are all in the New York Mets’ rotation: Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. As Mel Allen used to say, “Hooooooow, ’bout that.”

2) Newcombe was a big, big guy. 6’4″, 220 lbs big. In 1950 that was kinda huge. When I was growing up, folks talked about six-footers being basketball material. Not so much these days when the high-sixes and sevens dominate the NBA and college ranks. Go on and google images of Newcombe. He’s got a big frame, fairly wide shoulders, and hips that could pull a plow. Here’s two shots that put him in context, one with Jackie and Campy, the other with Willie Mays. Newk was just huge. Here’s another good pic, and this one shows you how amazingly large Luke Easter was. He makes Newcombe seem small!

Juan Padrón

The tall righty (6’0″, 185) complemented a good fastball with good breaking stuff and a dominant changeup. There’s always been a little mystery around him. Twenty years ago James Riley shown him born in “Cuba” with no death date and with no death date but a note that said he’d been reported dead at age 39. Now the Negro Leagues Database reports Padrón’s birth as 1892 in Key West, with a death in 1981 in Grand Rapids at age 89. Big differences.

In fact, Riley also indicates that Padrón debuted in 1909 and pitched in Cuba during the winters of 1909 to 1919. He also says that Padrón could hit. It appears that neither of those three things are true. As the amazing Gary Ashwill points out, Riley somehow conflated the record of Juan Padrón and portions of the record of Luis Padrón.

No difference of opinion exists in one key place: Juan Padrón was an outstanding pitcher. He’s one of the best pitchers I hadn’t heard of before starting this project. Unfortunately, his W-L record doesn’t reflect that excellence because he played with some iffy teams.

Padrón’s record also doesn’t explain much of what happened to him. I can’t either. He pitched at the highest levels from 1915 to 1926, and suddenly, he fell off the map. To be honest, it looks like a classic case of a pitcher’s arm just giving out. He’s cookin’ with gas in 1925 (ERA+ of 170) then disappears after 1926. Riley indicates he began pitching semipro ball a few years later in Michigan, which seems plausible. His arm gave out, a few years later, it comes back a little but not enough to compete at the top level, so he makes his bread where he can. He ended up staying in Michigan.

Juan Padrón
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio: There really aren't any online, the link to Gary's work above is the best
Career: 1915–1926
Destination: NL 1915–1926
Missing data: 1926
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |  PA    WAR  |   WAR
1915   22  220   14   1.7   3.8  |   73  -0.4  |   3.4
1916   23  310   26   3.5   6.4  |  103  -0.5  |   6.0
1917   24  300   18   2.3   5.1  |  100  -0.7  |   4.7 
1918   25  270   15   1.9   4.5  |   90  -0.7  |   4.1 
1919   26  240  - 7  -0.8   1.6  |   80  -0.5  |   1.3 
1920   27  300   16   1.9   4.8  |  100  -0.5  |   4.5 
1921   28  250   30   3.2   5.7  |   83  -0.2  |   5.6 
1922   29  250   41   4.2   6.7  |   83   0.0  |   6.7 
1923   30  240   38   3.9   6.3  |   80  -0.1  |   6.2 
1924   31  270   34   3.7   6.5  |   90  -0.3  |   6.3 
1925   32  260   39   3.9   6.6  |   87   0.0  |   6.6 
1926   33   50    9   0.9   1.4  |   17   0.0  |   1.4 
TOTAL     2960  273  30.2  59.3  |  986  -3.8  |  56.7 

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960) 
Innings pitched: 83rd  
Pitching Wins Above Average: 31st
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 32nd  
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 41st

One whale of a pitcher. In many ways, he’s Hippo Vaughn with an extra All-Star-level season in there. Vaughn is about one All-Star-level year from being a very serious contender for the Hall of Miller and Eric, so Padrón will clearly be a person of considerable interest to us.

* * *

Next week we put ourselves out to pasture. It’s our first step off the infield dirt as we graze on left fielders as we welcome Alejandro Crespo, Vic Harris, and Bill Hoskins to the fold.

Whitey Ford and the Best Pitchers of the 1950s

Whitey Ford, 1956Back when we started this project, or maybe even before that, Eric and I decided that we weren’t going to give extra credit for postseason play since entry into the playoffs has more to do with someone’s teammates than with the player himself. I continue to support that decision, though it’s one with which I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% comfortable. Based on our systems and based on Ford’s usage, I’m no longer confident Ford belongs in the HoME. Ford has six rings with the Yankees. How many of those six titles would New York have won without him? Let’s take things one season at a time.

Ford was a rookie in 1950 when his Yankees beat the Tigers by only three games. Of course, he was worth only 2.5 WAR that season, so they’d still have played in October without him. Ford started Game 4, and he won. The Yankees swept. I’m pretty sure Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, or Eddie Lopat could have won one more game. I believe the Yankees would have won the 1950 World Series without Ford.

After two years in the military, Ford’s next ring came in his next campaign, 1953, when he was worth 3.3 WAR. Since the Bombers won the AL pennant by ten games, making it to the World Series wasn’t at issue.  Again, Ford started the fourth game, behind Johnny Sain, Eddie Lopat, and Vic Raschi. He got through only one inning of that game, helping the Dodgers tie the Series at two games each. The Yankees won two games later. Yeah, they could have won in ’53 without Ford.

In 1956, the Yankees won the pennant by 11 games. Again, they could have made it to the World Series without Ford. This time, however, the Dodgers took the Yankees the distance. Ford got the start in the opener. Again, he was hit hard. This time he allowed five runs in three innings to take the loss. He was back for Game 3, and he was very good, going all the way in a 5-3 win. But that was it for Ford. Tom Sturdivant started Game 4, which Ford couldn’t have been ready for. But he might have been ready the next day and certainly would have been ready in Game 6 or 7. However, his Yankees went with Don Larsen, Bob Turley, and Johnny Kucks. You might remember Larsen’s perfect game. Turley didn’t allow a run through his first nine innings, but he did in the 10th to take the loss. And then Kucks, the guy who relieved Whitey in the opener, pitched a shutout in Game 7. I believe they would have won without Ford in 1956 too.

Moving on to 1958, it was another double digit AL title for the Yankees. Ford wasn’t needed during the regular season. But this World Series again went seven games. Let’s see how our man did. He got the call in the opener against Warren Spahn, and he allowed three runs in seven innings. Spahn allowed the same number of runs, but he did so in ten innings. The Yanks were down one game to none. Down two games to one, Ford was up against Spahn again needing a win. Again, he gave up three runs in seven innings. Spahn threw a shutout. The Yankees had their backs up against the wall. On short rest, Ford again opposed Spahn in Game 6. While Spahn took the loss, Ford wasn’t the reason. He was lifted after recording only four outs, one on a sacrifice bunt, while facing ten batters and leaving the game with the bases loaded. The Yankees won the 1958 World Series in spite of Ford, certainly not because of him.

Ford was the MVP of the 1961 World Series. Surely we’re going to credit him on this one. The juggernaut Yankees won by a relatively narrow eight games. Of course, Ford was worth a tad over 4 wins that year, so they were going to the World Series without him. He was great in two starts, allowing no runs over 14 innings while giving up just six hits and one walk. To be fair though, New York won in five games, scoring 27 runs in those five contests. Ford gets a ton of credit for his shutout in the opener, but it was Jim Coates who pitched four shutout innings in relief of Ford in Game 4. They won that game 7-0, so I don’t think they really needed Ford that day. So here’s where we stand: The Yankees won four games to one. Let’s say Ford wasn’t on the team and they couldn’t win that first game without him. They’d be up 3-2. At that point, they’d need Ralph Terry or Bill Stafford to close things out in one of the last two games. On the season, Terry beat Ford in ERA+, and Stafford crushed him. Plus, they had the often used and excellent Luis Arroyo in the pen. Oh, and they were the 1961 Yankees with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, a great Elston Howard, and a very good Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron. They would have one one of those two games, I think. They would have won the 1961 World Series without Ford.

Ford’s final Series win came in 1962. The Yankees won the pennant by just five games, and Ford was worth 5.0 WAR. The way WAR works, it would seem we’re looking at a tie for the pennant with the Twins. It’s quite possible we’d have been looking at additional innings from Jim Bouton and Rollie Sheldon had Ford been out. Together, they were worth 1.0 WAR. Would they have made up all of the innings Ford pitched? Probably not, and it’s possible the other innings wouldn’t have gone to the right place. Still, I would predict another pennant for the Yankees had Ford not pitched an inning that year. In the World Series, the Yankees beat the Giants in a seven game classic. Ford pitched in games 1, 4, and 6, just as was the norm for aces at that time. He won Game 1, got a no-decision in a Game 4 Yankee win, and lost Game 6. There’s enough here for me to say it would have been really hard on the Yankees without Ford. I think they may very well have lost the 1962 World Series had Ford not been on the team.

So what does this tell me? Well, let me turn that question around. What does it tell you? Leave a note in the comments.

The Series

Explanation and 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s

The Best Pitchers of the 1950s

#10 Johnny Antonelli: In a virtual tie with Bob Rush for this position at 40% of our decade leader, I give the edge to Antonelli because of his performance in the 1954 World Series, winning Game 2 and saving Game 4 as the Giants swept and won their last title for more than half a century. With 126 wins and two seasons of 20+, he had a fine career. To give you an idea of what we’re talking about, I rank him #209, right around John Lackey, Milt Pappas, and Johnny Sain.

#9 Murry Dickson: Worth approaching 44% of our decade leader, Dickson actually led the league in losses three years in a row during this decade, one of which he was an All-Star and one of which he finished 13th in the MVP voting. He was a nice pitcher overall, finishing with 2.8 to 5.0 pitching WAR ten times in his career. The most significant game he pitched had to be Game 7 of the 1946 World Series. He got the start for the Cardinals and threw seven strong innings, leading 3-1 heading into the 8th before it seemed like it was going to fall apart. The Sox led the inning with a single and a double before Dickson was replaced by Harry Brecheen. The Cat didn’t get out of the jam, and the Sox tied it before Pesky held the ball in the bottom of the inning (or he didn’t) to help the Cards to the title.

Don Newcombe, 1957#8 Don Newcombe: The fourth black player to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers was also the fourth in NL history and ninth ever. Newcombe was a nice pitcher who helped Brooklyn to three World Series, but he wasn’t very good once he got there. Overall, he started five games and posted an 0-4 record with an 8.59 ERA over 22 innings. He won the MVP and Cy in 1956 despite only 4.5 pitching WAR. An excellent hitter, he added 0.8 WAR at the plate that year, not a great showing for him. If you’re wondering why he won the awards, look no further than the 27-7 record. Early Wynn or Herb Score might have been a better choice for the Cy. I’d take Willie Mays, Duke Snider, or Hank Aaron for MVP.

#7 Ned Garver: Garver was a much better pitcher than his 129-157 career record would suggest. A couple of ways to look at this are the neutralized pitching numbers at BBREF and my career pitcher rankings. BBREF neutralizes stats to look at what might happen in a neutral environment, which they say is a 100 park factor, a 162-game season, 90% of runs earned, and 688 runs per team. Garver’s record would have been 152-135 in that neutralized world. My numbers rank him as the 158th best pitcher ever, two spots ahead of Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez. By the way, Gomez posted a record of 189-102. Neutralized it would have been 168-124, not a whole lot better than Garver’s. Overall, we have a pitcher with almost 48% of our leader’s value for the decade.

#6 Bob Lemon: Someone over at Baseball Prospectus used to call Gregg Zaun the practically perfect backup catcher. I think of Lemon as the practically perfect #2 starter. He averaged 4.0 pitching WAR per year from 1948-1956. Add some excellent hitting, and we’re looking at about 5.1 WAR per year for nine years. But for the rest of his career, I give him only 2.67 adjusted WAR. He’s Kenny Rogers, not a Hall of Famer. I find it interesting that Lemon managed three full seasons plus stints six other times. Anyway, at 52% of our decade leader, he’s fifth highest, but he falls to sixth because of our next guy.

#5 Whitey Ford: Should he be in the Hall of Fame? Well, given their standards, he should. Should he be in the HoME? I really don’t know given that we don’t really give extra credit for playoff performance. But I will give extra credit here. And Ford was excellent in Yankee losses in 1955, 1957, and 1960. As a result, Ford jumps over Garver and Lemon into the fifth slot despite just 47% of our leader’s total. In the period we’re considering, Ford started 19 games and posted a 10-5 record in 128.2 World Series innings.

#4 Early Wynn: Wynn, a knuckleballer with 57.8% of the value of our decade leader, is one of those four-decade pitchers who always intrigue me. In 1962, at age-42, had a 7-15 record, a 4.46 ERA, an ERA+ of 88, and just 0.3 pitching WAR. Not surprisingly, the White Sox released him, and the 299 game winner didn’t have a job to open the next season. David Fleitz writes in Wynn’s SABR Bio that the righty received several one-day contract offers. He held out for a one-year deal, which he got from the Indians. He won his fifth start for number 300 and was then relegated to the bullpen for the rest of the season, where he pitched quite well before retiring.

#3 Billy Pierce: Pierce doesn’t have a lot of Black Ink, but he does have a career pitching triple crown. The seven-time All-Star was worth 57.7% of the decade leader, just a shade behind Wynn, but I moved him up because a larger percentage of his value was between 1950 and 1959 and because his postseason work, limited as it was, was better. Pierce is a historically underrated pitcher, the best in the AL for the 20 seasons from 1945-1964 by WAR. Overall, I think of him a lot like Cliff Lee, Ron Guidry, or Bob Lemon with hitting included. Pierce is one of those guys about whom our perception might have been different had just one batter gone differently. With two outs in the ninth inning of a June 27, 1958 game, Senators pinch hitter Ed Fitz Gerald came to the plate against Pierce and the White Sox. He doubled, and Pierce lost his perfect game. The next batter, Albie Pearson, was Pierce’s ninth strikeout victim.

#2 Robin Roberts: For whatever reason, I’ve long confused Roberts with Jim Bunning. Bunning was excellent; Roberts one of the 20ish best pitchers ever. I shouldn’t confuse them. On the decade, we’re looking at 86% of the leader’s value. He saw his first Hall of Fame ballot at a time I would have ranked him as the ninth best pitcher ever. Warren Spahn was in his first season on the ballot and made it. Roberts didn’t, garnering fewer votes than Gil Hodges. The next year Mickey Mantle entered the fray, making it in along with Whitey Ford on his second try. Roberts moved from 56% to 61%. Ralph Kiner jumped over Roberts the next year to make it on his 13th try, but Roberts was set up for 1976 election with 72.7%. Yeah, he flew in with almost 87%. Remember, we’re talking about perhaps the ninth best pitcher ever at that time, and it took him four tries. The BBWAA struggles getting things right. That’s nothing new.

#1 Warren Spahn: Even though I think pitcher wins matter almost not at all today, they were once somewhat telling. And Spahn won 20+ a dozen times, once leading the league five straight years. He also had streaks of seven straight years leading in complete games and four straight leading in strikeouts. One of the coolest games he ever pitched – one of the coolest games anyone ever pitched – occurred on July 2, 1963 when Spahn was 42 years old. You’ve heard of the game, I suspect. Spahn matched up against Juan Marichal, the guy ready to take Spahn’s title as the best pitcher in the National League. They both got through three innings without allowing a run. Then six, and nine, and twelve, and fifteen. Marichal got through the 16th, but with one out in the bottom of the inning Willie Mays took Spahn deep to give the Giants a 1-0 victory. Based on my numbers, Spahn put up 63.02 adjusted WAR from 1940-1949 compared to 63.05 for Roberts. Spahn gets the nod because of surrounding seasons. I’m good with that.

In a week, we’ll get to Sandy Koufax and the 1960s. Ooh, there’s gonna be some disappointed Koufax fans.


RIP, Players Falling Off the 1966 Ballot

Novelist George Eliot was once credited with saying, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” That’s why we write these obituaries. Let’s not forget these guys.

After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the HoME, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries. To make our process going forward is a bit easier, we remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration. Their tribute is a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.

There are 744 players on our list for HoME consideration. With fourteen elections complete, we’ve elected 81 and put to rest 227 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. We now have 436 players to consider for our remaining 128 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect a bit more than 29% of the remaining players we’re considering.

And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.

Year   Carried     New      Considered   Elected   Obituaries  Continuing to
         Over    Nominees  this Election                       Next Election
1966      94       26         120          7          26           87
1961      91       24         115          6          15           94
1956      92       32         124          7          26           91
1951      93       27         120          9          19           92
1946      94       26         120          8          19           93
1941      82       29         111          5          12           94
1936      75       29         104          8          14           82
1931      69       17          86          2           9           75
1926      71       25          96          9          18           69
1921      66       27          93          4          18           71
1916      53       31          84          5          13           66
1911      47       20          67          5           9           53
1906      33       28          61          3          11           47
1901       0       54          54          3          18           33

Dead in 1966

Only nine catchers ever participated in more All-Star games than Walker Cooper’s eight. More interesting about Cooper is that he was the first player ever to hit grand slams for five different teams. Sure, Dave Kingman and Dave Winfield have since matched that feat. All that means is you have a good trivia question to use to stump your friends. You’re welcome.

It’s kind of surprising that Lave Cross isn’t in the Hall of Fame. When he retired, he was fifth in hits and runs batted in and third in games and at-bats. As far as third basemen go, he has more putouts, assists, chances, and a higher fielding percentage than anyone at the time he hung ‘em up. Maybe voters failed to take notice because Cross moved around a lot. He played for nine different franchises, in only six different cities though. He suited up for the Philadelphia entry in the National League, American League, American Association, and the Players League. Fifth in hits among all players when he retired, he now stands sixth among 3B, behind Molitor, Brett, Boggs, Brooks, and Chipper. Not bad.

Al DarkKnown as “Swamp Fox” because he once tried to flood the Candlestick Park infield to slow Dodger runners, Alvin Dark was a 1950s National League shortstop who won the 1948 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He might have excelled as a person more than as a player, becoming the first person ever to win the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for exhibiting Gehrig’s character on and off the field. Not that it’s so important, but at different times in his career, Dark was a teammate of Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, and Ernie Banks. And he managed Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield.

Was World War II important? Murry Dickson, a righty starter and winner of 160 games in the bigs, was drafted into the army in 1943. But since his Cardinals were in the World Series and Hitler, I suppose, just stopped killing, Dickson was given a special furlough so he could pitch. And pitch he did! Down 2-0 in the ninth inning of the all-important fifth game, Dickson entered with two on and only one out. He induced a harmless foul pop to the dangerous pitcher, Spud Chandler. He walked Frank Crosetti. And all poor Bud Metheny could do was ground to first. Dickson did it! He preserved the 2-0 deficit, which would become the final. Dickson didn’t pitch again, and the Cards lost. Luckily he got that furlough.

Dom DiMaggio was a Boston Red Sox great who many baseball insiders argue should be in the Hall of Fame.” That’s a line from a YES Network article by Matt Hughes from May. I take no issue with Mr. Hughes himself, whose other work, no doubt, is outstanding. But I don’t think he should be allowed to make such unsupported generalizations. Who are these insiders? If you ask me, a guy who loves DiMaggio and owns an autographed ball of his on which I spent far too much, “The Little Professor” is about the 50th best center fielder in history. Conservatively, a person who wants that many center fielders in the Hall likely wants about 600 players in Cooperstown. Rick Rhoden is tied for #596 in career WAR. Congrats, Rick!

Quick, who drove in the most runs in baseball over the 14 seasons from 1946-1959. If you really thought about it, knowing that it was Stan Musial wouldn’t be such a tough get. Okay then. Who’s second? Somehow, it’s Del Ennis, a corner outfielder who spent most of his career with the Phillies. He hit 20 homers nine times and drove in 100 runs seven times, but he only made three All-Star teams. His one World Series appearance saw just two hits in 15 trips to the plate, as the Yankees swept Ennis and the Phillies in 1950.

Primarily a first baseman for five teams over fifteen years, Jack Fournier was a lefty hitting slugger who won a HR crown in 1924 and finished in the top five in his league five times. He was reputedly a terrible fielder, said to let in as many runs with his glove as he provided with his bat. As a hitter, think Jim Rice. As a fielder, think again about how we evaluate defensive statistics. Michael Humphreys, author of Wizardry, and inventor of Defensive Regression Analysis, finds Fournier to be about average. Perhaps the last two sentences say more about the election of Rice to the Hall than they do about Fournier.

Carl Furillo

Carl Furillo or “The Reading Rifle”, as he was sometimes known, played his entire career for the Dodgers, the first dozen years in Brooklyn and the last three in Los Angeles. He won the 1953 NL batting title and was a solid all-around player with a fine reputation. His career, however, didn’t end positively. He tore a calf muscle in 1960 and was released by the Dodgers. Because it was a baseball injury, he sued, saying the release wasn’t justified. The courts agreed and awarded Furillo $21,000.

George Kell is in the Hall of Fame, and you’re not. But it’s not like Kell has a much better claim to it. He belongs about as much as Bobby Bonilla does. He did make ten All-Star teams, which is nice. Career highlights include winning the 1949 AL batting title so Ted Williams couldn’t win his third triple crown, having his jaw broken by a Joe DiMaggio line drive, and working more than 30 years as a Tiger television broadcaster.

Open heart surgery is sort of common today. For those unfamiliar with the term “open”, well, it actually means that the chest is cut open. That’s what happened to relief great Ellis Kinder in 1968. He died. Do you know why? Because it was 1968 and doctors cut open his chest. Yikes! Not quite as scary, while pitching for the Red Sox in 1947, a seagull flew over Fenway Park and dropped a fish on Kinder. He still got the win, something he did 101 other times during his dozen years in the majors.

Tony LazzeriIt was a fan who gave Tony Lazzeri his nickname, “Poosh ‘Em Up” encouraging the Yankee 2B to get a hit to advance the runners. Lazzeri is remembered for that nickname, for his role with the Murderers’ Row Yankees, and perhaps for his natural cycle, when he hit for the cycle in order. Other highlights include being named to the first All-Star team in 1933, driving in an American League record 11 runs in a 1936 game during which he became the first major leaguer with two grand slams in one game, hitting the second grand slam in World Series history later that year, and scoring the deciding run in the 1937 World Series.

Not to be confused with the already dead lefty pitcher Dutch Leonard, this Dutch Leonard threw from the other side and won 191 games in a career that stretched from 1933-1953. He threw a great knuckleball that allowed him to pitch in the majors until he was 44, but he twice led the AL in losses without ever topping 20 wins. Of note, he won the first game of the July 4, 1939 doubleheader after which Lou Gehrig delivered his famous speech.

Sal Maglie owned the plate when he was on the mound. The righty was known as “The Barber” because he didn’t mind throwing at batters who crowded at the plate. He only reached double figures in wins five times, most notably when he led the NL in ERA in 1950 and wins the next season. As a bit of trivia, he was the pitcher on the mound for the opponents when Don Larsen threw his World Series perfect game in 1956. Maglie gave up five hits that day, including a solo home run to Mickey Mantle in the 2-0 loss.

1951 AL Rookie of the Year, Gil McDougald, is best remembered for hitting the line drive that struck Cleveland pitcher Herb Score in the right eye during a 1957 game. Two years earlier, he was struck in the left ear by batting practice liner by teammate Bob Cerv. Score regained his sight, though he was never the same pitcher; McDougald eventually lost his hearing. He made five All-Star teams during his ten years in the majors, and he reached the World Series eight times. However, he hit just .237 in 215 trips to the plate. His career highlight may have been in Game 6 of the 1958 fall classic. In the tenth inning, McDougald homered against Warren Spahn to help provide the Yankee edge; they ended up winning the seventh game and their 18th World Series.

Don Newcombe won both the MVP and Cy Young Awards for the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers. Because he also won the 1949 NL Rookie of the Year Award, he’s the only player in the game’s history to win each of those three trophies. In the post-season, Newk really struggled. In five World Series starts, he posted a record of 0-4 with an ERA of 8.59. After retiring, Newcombe went to Japan to play for the 1962 Chunichi Dragons – as a first baseman and outfielder who his .262 with 12 homers.

Bobo Newsom was one weird dude. He called nearly everyone, himself included, Bobo.  Perhaps that’s why he played for Robins, Cubs, Browns, Senators, Red Sox, Browns, Tigers, Senators, Dodgers, Browns, Senators, A’s, Senators, Yankees, Giants, Senators, and A’s in that order. He and Jack Powell are the only two pitchers in MLB history with 200+ wins and even more losses. He never led the league in wins, though he won 20 or more three times. However, he led the league in losses on four occasions, losing 20 three times.

Andy PafkoAndy Pafko had a fine career playing all three outfield positions as well as third base. In 17 seasons, he made four All-Star teams and hit 213 homers. He was the left fielder who watched Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World fly over his head. And of note, his is the #1 baseball card in the first set produced by the Topps company in 1952.

A starting pitcher for the Red Sox from 1947-1956, lefty Mel Parnell led the AL in wins and ERA in 1949. He won 123 games, but his greatest contribution to Red Sox lore was dubbing the right field pole in Fenway Park the “Pesky Pole” after weak-hitting shortstop Johnny Pesky homered around the pole to help Parnell to a win.

Phil Rizzuto was a career Yankee, an outstanding defender at shortstop, a seven-time World Series winner, and a colorful broadcaster who had a wonderfully effective Hall of Fame campaign that got him inducted. It shouldn’t have. He’s a reasonable comp for Dave Concepcion, I suppose, which says about all that’s necessary. He won the 1950 AL MVP and made five All-Star teams, but Hold Cow!, his selection makes the 1994 Veterans Committee look like a bunch of huckleberries.

Al Rosen

Al Rosen played only ten seasons – and reached 50 at-bats only seven times – for the Indians from 1947-1956. During that time, he led the AL in both homers and ribbies twice. Were it not for Mickey Vernon’s .337 batting average in 1953, Rosen and his .336 mark would have won the triple crown. Rosen was hitting just .329 with three games left, but he shellacked Tiger pitching to the tune of 9-15 to make it close. His 10.1 WAR that season makes it one for the ages and make Rosen one of only nine AL hitters since 1950 to post as many as 10 WAR.

Bob Rush was a righty pitcher from 1948-1960, mostly for the Cubs. He won 127 games and made a pair of All-Star teams, but his most interesting contribution to baseball history came on the bases. On June 11, 1950, he and Brave starter Warren Spahn stole bases against each other. It was the only time in baseball history that happened other than May 3, 2004 when Jason Marquis and Greg Maddux did the same.

Vern Stephens could hit like very few shortstops ever, and he holds the record for RBI by a SS in a single season, 159 in 1949 for the Red Sox. Looking at our database of shortstops, only Nomar Garciaparra among those not in or going into the HoME had a higher career OPS+ than Vern’s 119. For the 30 years from 1941-1970, he trails only Ernie Banks and Pee Wee Reese in offensive WAR at his position.

Best known for the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, the home run against Ralph Branca that capped the amazing Giant comeback to beat the Dodgers for the 1951 NL pennant, Bobby Thomson, “The Staten Island Scot”, wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He homered 264 times in his 15-year career, made three All-Star teams, and led the NL in triples in 1952. In spite of never reaching even 5% of the vote, Thomson managed to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot for fourteen years.

The 1952 season was an odd one for Virgil Trucks, a righty who spent 17 years in the majors and won 177 games. That season Trucks pitched a pair of no-hitters for the Tigers. And he won only three other games. In fact, Trucks had a record of 3-0 with one no-decision when he pitched at least nine innings without allowing a run. When he allowed a run, he went 2-19. The Tigers repaid him the next season by helping him to win 20 games for the only time in his career.

The career of George Van Haltren spanned 17 seasons, from 1887-1903. He was in the Players League and the American Association, he played with the mound at two distances, and he was around for the formation of the American League, though he never played in it. He’s tied for fourth in outfield assists with Tom Brown, trailing only Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, and Jimmy Ryan.

Mickey Vernon had a fine bat, though he didn’t really have the power we think of from a 1B. In a 20-year career lasting from 1939-1960 and interrupted by military service, the sweet swinging lefty stroked 2495 hits to go with three doubles titles, a pair of batting titles, and seven All-Star games. No slouch at all in the field, Vernon holds the major record for participating in the most double plays – 2044.

That’s our death toll this election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1966 election for more obituaries.


They Weren’t Quite on Time: Negro Leaguers and What-ifs

We recently talked about what-ifs regarding wartime players whose careers were disrupted by military service. Our 1966 election brings our first batch of former Negro Leaguers with substantial Major League careers. Unlike the servicemen, however, whose missing years are complete blanks, we have some (often imperfect) performance data from Negro League and minor league play from which better what-ifs can be drawn.

Our HoME rules explicitly state that we only consider a player’s Major League performance. So this article isn’t an argument for electing these guys, just a stab at what segregation might have cost them. The Halls of Fame and Merit aren’t so limited, and they have elected a number of players whose combined Negro League (and related leagues) and Major League performance make them clearly worth of induction.

The Jackie Robinsons are fully qualified without other information, so they’re not much fun. Nor are the Satchel Paiges and Monte Irvins whose short MLB careers bolster slam-dunk Negro League resumes. The interesting fellows spent a little time in the Negro Leagues and the minor leagues prior to near-HoME big-league careers, the very types for whom a couple-few seasons might actually push them over our in/out line.

By the way: Why consider Negro Leaguers’ minor league records? Because the road to the majors was not always smooth for Negro Leaguers. For many years after integration, there appears to have been an unspoken agreement among MLB teams to limit the number of dark-skinned players to two or three per team at any given moment. Look at the rosters and the transaction records, you’ll see. As a result, guys like Irvin pounded the tar out of the minors waiting for one of those slots to open for him. In other words, in many cases, Negro League stars weren’t in the minors to get seasoning; they were ready.

Roy Campanella

Campanella2_2Case in MLB: Despite three MVPs, Campy is a borderline candidate. His career was also shortened on the back end by his car accident, and three of his ten years were as lousy as those MVP seasons were great.

What’s Missing: Campanella debuted in MLB in 1948 at age twenty-six and was immediately a good to great player. Clearly he would have been a regular or a star at a much younger age. In fact, he had been playing professionally since age fifteen. His minor league numbers from 1946 through mid-1948 are strong, especially for a catcher. In the Negro Leagues before that he had a career .827 OPS in 500 currently known plate appearances from 1937 to 1945. Finally, he played in the Mexican League in 1942 and 1943, when numerous Negro League stars and many American minor leaguers studded its rosters. As a twenty and twenty-one year old, he showed strongly with .860 and .870 OPSes against older players in leagues with .766 and .716 OPSes.

Conclusion: Just a couple or a few years would make a huge difference for Campanella, and with a pre-MLB body of work that indicates he had been ready for the big time for a few years, he’d be in.

Larry Doby

dobyCase in MLB: Seven-time All-Star, led the league in homers and OPS+ twice as well as in runs, RBIs, OBP, SLG, and even hit-by-pitch. Second in MVP voting in 1954. Iffy glove, strong bat, short career with only 11 seasons as a full-timer.

What’s Missing: Doby went straight to the big leagues from the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues. Doby’s 1947 MLB season, when he integrated the AL, consisted of 29 games and 33 PAs. Lester and Clark show a .414 average for Newark that year, however. He was ready to play big-league ball, and in 1948 he was well above average in the AL. In 1946, Doby started (at second base) in both the East-West All-Star Games played that year, and batted in the .300s with big power. Though he played a bit as an eighteen to twenty year old, he then went to war, so it’s unlikely there’s much to know before 1946.

Conclusion: If we simply gave Doby credit for two seasons at his typical rate of value, he’d be on the borderline, kind of like Mike Griffin, George Gore, or Hugh Duffy. Not quite enough to get in. If we see him as more precocious yet, he could slide ahead of them.

Jim Gilliam

jim-gilliamCase in MLB: Stylistically, he’s a lot like Willie Randloph mixed with Tony Phillips, featuring speed, walks, no power, a good glove, defensive versatility, and a value pattern of low peaks but consistent performance. He played fourteen years, won the Rookie of the Year in 1953 at age twenty-four, made a couple All-Star teams and finished in the top six in the MVP voting twice. He’s probably among the top three dozen or so second basemen ever, though he played plenty of third base and left field as well.

What’s missing: Gilliam clearly entered the majors a finished product. In fact, he entered the minors a finished product. At ages twenty-two and twenty-three at AAA, he hit a combined .294/.412/.423, walking 217 times against just 65 strikeouts, leading the league in runs both years (228 total) and stealing 33 bags. And why wouldn’t he have been ready? In the Negro Leagues, Gilliam made the East-West All-Star Game in 1948, 1949, and 1950 from ages nineteen to twenty-one. Stats on late-times Negro League seasons are sketchy, but it’s not difficult to see that his AAA performance supports the idea that he was ready for the major leagues very early.

Conclusion: To get near a vote, Gilliam needs to tack on a lot of value. We might credit him with four years at his average performance. That would push him up to around Tony Lazzeri, or close to the top two dozen at second base. Not good enough, and not close enough that even a rosier outlook would get him near a vote.

Elston Howard

howardCase in MLB: Nine-time All-Star, an MVP award, two other top-ten finishes, two Gold Gloves, and a 108 OPS from the catcher position. His lack of durability suppresses his value, but with 27 WAR, he’s not all that far from the place where catchers become serious candidates.

What’s Missing: Howard spent 1948, 1949, and half of 1950 with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League. As a young player (ages 19–21), he held his own as the NAL wound down (averages of .283, .270, and .319). The Yanks signed him in 1950 and farmed him out to the Central League in the lower minors, where he hit .283 and slugged .484 in a league that hit .271 and slugged .394. Then Uncle Sam signed him to a two-year Army stint. As a twenty-four year old shaking the rust off after two years in the service, he fashioned an OPS in the AAA American Association that was four percent higher than the league and even with his own high-scoring team. Then in 1954, he had a great year in the AAA International League, beating the league-wide OPS by twenty-nine percent and his own league-champion Toronto team by nineteen percent. It seems awfully likely that Howard was a major-league hitter in 1954, though 1953 is not so clear.

Conclusion: One year wouldn’t be enough for Howard to make the jump to HoME worthiness. Because of his military service, we can’t know what his development path would have looked like. With that much obfuscating his record, it’s not reasonable to suggest he’s close enough to even squint and see him as a HoMEr.

Minnie Miñoso

minnie1Case in MLB: Seven-time All-Star, six top-ten MVP finishes, three Gold Gloves, and a second-place finish in the 1951 Rookie of the Year voting. A durable, dynamic player who led his league in hits, doubles, triples (three times), steals (three times), total bases, HBP (ten times). OPS+ of 130, four 100-run seasons, four one-hundred RBI seasons, four twenty-homer seasons. Add to that 50 career WAR, and you’ve got a player very close, but not quite over, the in/out line.

What’s Missing: The Cuban Comet debuted with the Negro League’s New York Cubans in 1946 at age twenty. In 1947 and 1948 he made the East-West All-Star Game, and the latter year demolished the Negro National League. In 1948, he went to the low minors after signing with Cleveland late in the year and hit .525. Not a misprint: .525. In 1949, he played 137 games in the AAA PCL with an .855 OPS in San Diego, a tough hitters park in that league, which only earned him a nine-game cup of coffee. His line was .297/.371/.483, extremely similar to his major league career averages. In 1950, he went back to the Padres and hit .339/.405/.539 for a cool .945 OPS and more than 300 total bases. His 1950 PCL performance is a near duplicate for his 1951 MLB breakout season (.326/.422/.500).

Conclusion: It appears clear that Miñoso was a major-league caliber player in 1949 and 1950, and perhaps in 1948 as well. Give him his average rate of performance for two years, and he’s right on that in/out line, battling the likes of Roy White and Jose Cruz for the last likely slot in left field. Give him 1948, and he pushes about even with Zack Wheat and nudges just inside the HoME. In this case, it makes all the difference.

Don Newcombe

DonNewcombeCase in MLB: Three time twenty-game winner, 1949 Rookie of the Year, 1956 MVP and Cy Young winner, four time All-Star. And, boy, could he hit for a pitcher. Falls well short due to short career (Korean War service and alcoholism not helping).

What’s missing: Clearly, as Rookie of the Year, Newk entered the league fully formed. Despite iffy control, he dominated the minors from age twenty to twenty three with ERAs of 2.21, 2.91, 3.14, and 2.65 and a record of 52-18 (.743 winning percentage). Newcombe spent 1944 and 1945 with the Newark Eagles cutting his teeth as a white player would have in the low minors.

Conclusion: Newcombe collected 39.8 total WAR in ten seasons. If we stretched and said that we’d include all his seasons from age twenty onward, he might be worth another ten to twelve Wins. That puts him in the range of Sandy Koufax and Bob Lemon as well as Chief Bender, Jimmy Key, and Carl Mays. Without an incredible peak, it’s not quite enough to get him in.

Players who debuted in MLB in the 1940s are generally underrepresented in all Halls. The War did that. But so did segregation. We can see that at least two guys with substantial MLB careers were likely robbed of a HoME plaque by segregation. If Miller and I should some time later reconvene for Negro League players, these guys as well as the Paiges, Irvins, and others may get their due from us. There are yet others, such as Luke Easter and Sam Jethroe, whose MLB careers were shorter (and for Easter his Negro League career more sketchily documented) than the guys above, so that we can’t necessarily say one way or another. And then there’s the Bus Clarksons, and Quincy Trouppes who got only a cup of coffee in MLB despite outstanding Negro League and minor league records, and they are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

In the end, our rules don’t give us the opportunity to recognize these players, but it’s good to take a few moments and recognize them in at least this small way. The Negro Leagues are fascinating, and places such as have made more and better data available. Let’s hope Gary Ashwill, Patrick Rock, KJOK, and others can keep the research coming. And coming. And coming, until we know everything we can about these men, their teams and leagues, and how good they really were.


Institutional History

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