As a Red Sox fan, I’ll forever love that 2004 team, which means I’ll forever love Johnny Damon. I was even okay when he went to the Yankees in 2006. And I was very happy when he finished his age-37 season in Tampa with a 109 OPS+ as well as positive value at the plate, on the bases, and avoiding double plays.
One thing that’s guaranteed, however, after someone’s age-37 season comes his age-38 season. And we know that almost all players are done by that age. Damon, coming off a 2.5 WAR season was left without a team until the Indians signed him in mid-April. His first game with Cleveland wasn’t until May 2, and he got off to a very slow start, slashing just .171/.261/.256 through the end of his first month. Things improved a little in June and in July, but it really appeared that Damon was done. As August rolled around, his line was just .222/.281/.329. But the truth is that Damon was getting a little unlucky with just a .239 BABIP, miles below his worst season. Had Damon – again, a 2.5-win player from the previous season – been given a full Spring Training and average luck, he might have had another 90 hits in 2012. That would have brought him to 2859.
Of course, there’s no way 2859 hits gets him to the Hall of Fame. But maybe a reasonable 2012 would have given him a 2013 contract. And with even 100 hits that year, we’d have likely seen a team sign him in 2014 to get him to 3,000 hits. While he wouldn’t have deserved it, I think those hits plus what might have been a top-25 finish in runs scored might have punched his ticket to Cooperstown.
For other greats of the game – some even better than Johnny Damon, if that’s possible – check out past posts in this series.
Andrew McCutchen is closest to the top-40. Then there’s Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury, Lorenzo Cain, and Carlos Gomez. In other words, future HoMErs at the position are Mike Trout, very young, or nonexistent.—Miller
Centerfield isn’t flush with young talent in its prime at this moment. With McCutchen’s fall from superstardom to mere averagedom, the only youngish guy with even half a chance would be Kevin Keirmaier, and he trails Gomez and even Denard Span. But you know what I think? Mookie Betts is probably the best young centerfielder in the game. But since the BoSox are lousy with slick fielding outfielders who could be good centerfielders, he’s “stuck” playing second-center at Fenway.—Eric
Aside from the fact that Mike Griffin was a complete mystery to me before we took up this project, I’d reckon Chet “The Jet” Lemon among our least conventional rankings. Well, sort of. He’s more conventional these days what with the sabrmetric revolution and all that. But anyone born prior to 1980 wouldn’t have thought of him as a borderline Hall guy, and no one born after that ever heard their sports-fan mentors talk about him either. He’s probably an All-Star season away from tiptoeing over the line. On the less positive side, the guy who hit .440 isn’t in our starting lineup, and we rank him behind Wally Berger, a guy who sounds like a 1950s sitcom character actor. Well, it turns out that .440 in 1894 just ain’t that impressive because the whole damn league hit .309 and the league scored about three more runs a game than it has for the last decade of our own times. Also, Kirby Puckett. We didn’t #MeToo him, though I personally don’t savor the idea of letting domestic abusers into our Hall, he did it to himself. Yeah, eye troubles and a Dennis Martinez fastball to the head didn’t help his case, but almost never walking, gaining weight over his career and killing his footspeed didn’t do much to push things along. But he got in on his first ballot, and Jim Edmonds got lost on his. They have facts, we have facts, I guess.—Eric
Willie Wilson! By my numbers, Willie Wilson would be a perfectly unobjectionable Hall of Famer. I can’t imagine anyone outside of the Kansas City area who would look to this ranking as anything other than lunacy though. Wilson wasn’t a good hitter. But forget that 1982 batting title. What Wilson had was amazing legs. He’s the only player in baseball history with at least 100 runs in the glove and 100 on the bases. That might not be as big a deal as I thought when I did the PI search at BBREF. See, only three players ever posted 100 runs on the bases. In addition to Wilson, it’s Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. When we lower the rates to 75 runs in the field and on the bases, we add Ozzie Smith, Max Carey, Luis Aparicio, Kenny Lofton, and Willie Mays. Maybe you know something I don’t, but I don’t believe anyone ever, including the ten guys who gave him Hall votes in 2000, truly advocated for his election. I’m not doing that now, but I couldn’t offer a hearty objection if you did.—Miller
What do you know! We have an actual disagreement here. I think Cy Seymour is very close to the line (99), while Eric has him right on the line of a player we’d even consider (90). Part of this discrepancy is my use of consecutive seasons in my formula. Since Seymour’s peak seasons were consecutive, he propelled his teams to pennants at a level his organizations could count on, at least compared to other players of his ilk. Even if I dumped the consecutive measure, Seymour would only fall to #23 for me. And he’s still #34 for Eric.—Miller
He’s got a negative season due to bad pitching in his rookie year that complicates things. But mostly it’s that all of these guys fall awfully close together. I’ve got Seymour with a seven-year nonconsecutive peak of 39 WAR. I’ve got him at 47 career WAR. That’s not all that different than Larry Doby who is right above him (38/49) or Dale Murphy two slots above him (41/46). In fact it’s quite similar to Wally Berger (40/47). Berger gets some points from me for his high-dose rate of WAR per PA. He started his career late after a long time on the coast, and he pounded out a lot of excellent seasons. Seymour was a little more spread out. Hugh Duffy had a little more career, as did Chet Lemon and Johnny Damon who have similar peaks. Ditto Willie Wilson. It’s all little things, not one thing.
We may also disagree on Lenny Dykstra. In fact, I disagree with myself on him. I love Lenny Dykstra the player. I really don’t care for Dystra the person. So much fun to watch, but such a cad for reals.—Eric
Most of these twenty guys seem to have pretty stable rankings. But I find Brett Butler particularly interesting, so I’m just going to use this space for a brief diversion about him. He belongs to a very small family of hitters whose basic attributes are
Butler hit .290 for his career and walked 1129 times. He stole 558 bases, and his SLG was one point worse than his OBP. Adds up to a speed and OBP heavy 110 OPS+.
Here’s a table full of these guys
NAME PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ SB SB%* Rbaser =========================================================== Brett Butler 9545 .290 .377 .376 110 558 68% 37 Luke Appling 10254 .310 .399 .398 113 179 62% 0 Rich Ashburn 9736 .308 .396 .382 111 284 66% 9 Luis Castillo 7471 .290 .368 .351 92 370 72% 33 Stan Hack 8508 .301 .394 .397 119 165 N/A - 9 Johnny Temple 6036 .284 .363 .351 92 140 74% 1 *or as much as is known
If Quilvio Veras had a better batting average or Willie Randolph had stolen more bases, they’d also be on this list.
Two Hall of Famers, one near Hall of Famer, plus Castillo and Temple. Two of these guys were known for spoiling two-strike pitches. Luke Appling hardly ever struck out and would just flick balls foul forever until he drew his walk or pinged one through the infield. Bill James related a story about Ashburn hitting a lady with a foul ball and hitting her again as she was carted away from the stands. These are pesky little fleas. They could really handle the bat, and they did everything they could do as offensive players to set the table and drive the other team bonkers.
Despite the use of their speed, however, many of them have strangely iffy baserunning numbers. Butler apparently advanced very well on batted balls, but a 68% stolen base rate in the modern game is terrible, especially for a guy with his speed. Same for Luis Castillo. In the 1980s–2010s, rates below break-even could be called why-bother. Rich Ashburn’s appalling low +9 Rbaser is shocking to me. The league stole around 55% to 60% during his times, so that’s still above par, but he must not have been great on advancement. Johnny Temple, what were you doing? Hack and Appling I’ll hold judgement on since BBREF hasn’t inputted all of Retrosheet’s prewar stats, but Appling’s 62% success rate was actually above average. And that’s the weird thing about these guys. For reasons beyond my understanding, they weren’t really great base stealers, and only two of them appear to have been good baserunners when they weren’t stealing…despite the fact that speed is one of their calling cards. It’s a strange little group that’s always puzzled me.—Eric
Next week, it’s Babe Ruth and everyone else as we get started on right field.
[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates (c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]
No position in the Negro Leagues was a stacked with talent as centerfield. Which, when you think about it makes all kinds of sense. In leagues where the most talented players would later turn into outstanding major leaguers, and everyone else ranked from big-league regular to lower-minor-league fodder, the levels of talent and athleticism will vary considerably more than in the pro game we know today. Your best athletes would play shortstop if they threw with their right hand, centerfield if they threw lefty. Centerfielders such as as Willard Brown and Monte Irvin and threw right handed and still ended up in center after a break-in period at shortstop. And with still more good reason. Negro Leagues teams carried many fewer players than teams in organized baseball. They ran on tight budgets, and hauling, feeding, and hoteling a team of men was expensive. The fewer, therefore, the better. That meant that a lot of pitchers played the outfield on their off days. Especially right field. That means you need a centerfielder with excellent range because, hey, pitchers aren’t selected for their fielding ability. So the middle pasture oozed talent, and as we will see now, and again in a few months when we look at other high-profile centerfield candidates, probably no place else in the Negro Leagues did so much talent gather in one place. We refer you to our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leagues batters for all the gory details on how we reframe Negro Leagues performance into an MLB context.
[Updated 4/3/18 with general improvements.]
If Satchel Paige ranks as the most well known and mythologized Negro Leaguer, then James “Cool Papa” Bell probably places second. Besides a cool and memorable nickname, we’ve discussed elsewhere the many tales of his blazing speed. The numbers may not quite support the lore, and that may well be debatable, but what info we have on Bell tells a story of his overall play that may seem a little backward compared to his legend.
Bell hit for a good average (.319 in the Negro Leagues), with walks (.386 OBP), and just enough power to keep the pitchers honest (.109 ISO). It sums up to a 121 OPS+, not bad for your leadoff man and centerfielder. Bell kept himself in great shape throughout his career, almost never missed a game, played for bloody ever, and maintained a high level of play late into the autumn of his playing days. Back to the base running again. What we do know about him shows that he stole 81% more often than his leagues, adjusted for his team’s tendencies to run. That’s very strong, but it is not near to all-time levels. Despite his stats not living up to the legend in terms of steals, we’ve given him a really good speed profile anyway, but nothing like Rickey, Raines, or Willie Wilson.
In the field, however, the data for Bell is all broken up, and it doesn’t jibe with the speedy reputation. The data we’re missing for him generally comes from the heart of his career, ages 23 and 24 then 26 to 28. He appears for the moment like a plus defender as a young player, but from 29 onward, decidedly below average. Without the several years of missing data, it’s problematic to make too hasty a call on that, but we’ve noted that pivot year in our MLEs and showed him as positive through age 28 and negative thereafter.
James "Cool Papa" Bell Negro Leagues Stats | Bio Career: 1922–1946 Destination: NL 1924–1943 Missing data: 1926, 1927, 1929–1931 Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit Year Age Lg Pos PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA WAA Rrep RAR WAR =========================================================================== 1924 21 NL CF 330 4 1 0 -1 - 2 2 0.2 10 12 1.3 1925 22 NL CF 600 12 1 0 -1 - 3 8 0.8 19 27 2.6 1926 23 NL CF 640 15 1 0 -1 - 4 12 1.2 20 32 3.3 1927 24 NL CF 640 17 1 0 -1 - 3 14 1.4 20 34 3.5 1928 25 NL CF 650 22 1 0 -1 - 3 19 1.9 20 40 4.0 1929 26 NL CF 660 17 1 0 -1 - 3 15 1.3 21 35 3.2 1930 27 NL CF 660 16 1 0 -1 - 3 14 1.2 21 34 3.0 1931 28 NL CF 640 14 1 0 -1 - 2 12 1.3 20 32 3.4 1932 29 NL CF 650 14 1 0 -1 - 2 12 1.2 20 32 3.3 1933 30 NL CF 630 9 1 0 -1 - 2 7 0.8 20 27 3.1 1934 31 NL CF 650 11 1 0 -1 - 2 10 1.0 20 30 3.1 1935 32 NL CF 650 12 1 0 -1 - 2 11 1.1 20 31 3.1 1936 33 NL CF 590 0 1 0 -1 - 2 - 2 -0.2 18 17 1.7 1937 34 NL CF 640 12 1 0 -1 - 2 10 1.0 20 30 3.1 1938 35 NL CF 640 16 1 0 -1 - 1 15 1.6 20 35 3.7 1939 36 NL CF 510 16 1 0 -1 - 1 16 1.6 16 31 3.3 1940 37 NL CF 490 16 1 0 -1 - 1 16 1.6 15 31 3.3 1941 38 NL CF 410 8 1 0 -1 - 1 7 0.8 13 20 2.2 1942 39 NL CF 380 6 1 0 -1 - 1 6 0.7 12 18 2.1 1943 40 NL CF 350 8 1 0 -1 0 7 0.8 11 18 2.1 --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 11410 245 22 0 -17 -39 211 21.4 356 567 58.4 Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960) PA: 8th Rbat: 87th WAA: t-104th WAR: 49th
With the information we have now, Bell looks more like Brett Butler or Johnny Damon than he does like an all-time great. That may change. With five years of data missing, and prime years at that, we could well find ourselves revising this MLE upward in times to come. We currently fill in his batting profile with a career-average performance. If as data rolls in his career average lifts because of strong peak-season batting lines, he could well become a much better candidate. Bell probably also suffers by dint of his player type and his times. What I mean is that double-play avoidance could add a couple wins or more to his ledger, a la Damon or Ichiro. But we don’t have his GIDP data, and we aren’t estimating it at this juncture so that our data looks like what his data would look like on BBREF. At a later time, however, we will revisit it as we work through our less well-known Negro Leagues candidates and start narrowing down the blackball backlog.
[Note: Updated 1/14/18 to include 1946 data.]
[Updated 4/3/18 for park-factor correction.]
I’m not sure this MLE is even worth posting. It’s highly provisional, but I’ll share it so that you can see why I’m a little iffy on it.
Think of Willard Brown as Andre Dawson 1.0. He could hit the long ball. Everywhere he went he led the league in homers and/or set season records for them. His nickname was “Home Run.” If he’d come up in the 1980s or 1990s, they’d have called him “Downtown.” You know, you don’t hear people use that word in a baseball context very often any more. Used to be folks would say, “Brown took Paige downtown on a hanging slider” or something like that. Well, slang always changes. Anyway, he had light tower power. He could also run like the wind, and had a decent to good glove with a strong arm. Like Dawson, he also never saw a pitch he didn’t offer at. Walks weren’t his thing. And like Dawson, he lost his speed in mid-career, reducing him to a lesser, below average, player.
The big issue with MLEs for Brown, however, is that much of his career isn’t fully documented. His peak years with the Monarchs after his time in the service aren’t yet on the Negro Leagues Database. His year in the Canadian Border League (1950) is similarly missing from BBREF. God knows where his info and his league’s info are for his 1952 Dominican Summer League play. Well, that and some of his most dominant performances occurred in the Puerto Rican Winter League. For example, hitting 27 homers in a 60 game season. Those leagues haven’t yet made their way into any systematic database. So until we get more info, Brown’s case is open but doesn’t look very good.
Related to this and to his drop-off in play in his thirties is the offensive environments he played in. Brown played a lot in the minor leagues in the 1950s, mostly in the AA Texas League. From age 38—41 he hit 91 homers in 536 games, about 26 per 154 games. Not bad for an oldster. But when you discount for the quality of play at that level, and you do all the other adjustments necessary, his 351 runs created goes down to 234 in translation, lopping off a good third of his hitting value, and basically translating him to a very slightly below average MLB hitter. Which makes sense when you’re a late-thirties player who’s lost his speed and doesn’t walk. It’s precisely what happened to Andre Dawson. But these seasons are contributing to the known career average we use for missing seasons. So at this point, until we have more on his big years in the 1940s, this MLE looks pretty meh. I strongly suspect it will improve with time.
Willard Brown Negro Leagues Stats | Minor League Stats | Bio Career: 1935–1956 Destination: AL 1935–1955 Missing data: 1948-1950, 1952 Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame Year Age Lg Pos PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA WAA Rrep RAR WAR =========================================================================== 1935 20 AL CF 290 14 0 0 2 -1 15 1.4 10 25 2.4 1936 21 AL CF 430 9 1 0 3 -1 12 1.0 15 26 2.3 1937 22 AL CF 630 33 1 0 4 -2 37 3.4 22 58 5.4 1938 22 AL CF 620 29 1 0 4 -1 33 3.0 21 54 4.9 1939 24 AL CF 600 29 1 0 4 -1 33 3.1 21 54 5.0 1940 25 AL CF 580 21 1 0 4 -1 25 2.4 20 45 4.4 1941 26 AL CF 610 18 1 0 3 -1 21 2.1 21 42 4.2 1942 27 AL CF 610 27 1 0 2 -1 29 3.1 21 50 5.4 1943 28 AL CF 610 23 1 0 1 -1 25 2.8 21 46 5.3 1944 29 AL CF MILITARY SERVICE: WORLD WAR II 1945 30 AL CF MILITARY SERVICE: WORLD WAR II 1946 31 AL CF 590 13 1 0 -2 -1 11 1.2 20 31 3.5 1947 32 AL CF 550 7 1 0 -3 -1 4 0.5 19 23 2.6 1948 33 AL CF 600 10 1 0 -4 -1 7 0.7 21 27 2.8 1949 34 AL RF 600 8 1 0 2 -6 5 0.5 21 25 2.6 1950 35 AL RF 600 11 1 0 1 -6 7 0.7 21 28 2.7 1951 36 AL RF 530 9 1 0 0 -5 5 0.5 18 23 2.4 1952 37 AL RF 480 8 1 0 0 -5 4 0.4 16 20 2.3 1953 38 AL RF 410 4 1 0 -1 -4 0 0.0 14 14 1.5 1954 39 AL RF 300 0 0 0 -1 -3 - 3 -0.3 10 7 0.8 1955 40 AL RF 260 - 2 0 0 -1 -3 - 5 -0.5 9 4 0.4 --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 9900 272 16 1 19 -43 265 25.9 338 603 60.9 Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960) PA: 24th Rbat: 69th WAA: 75th WAR: 47th
When we compared Brown to his leagues in stolen bases per opportunity, beginning about age 27, he lost his speed. So you can see that we project him as having average base running for several years and declining fielding numbers in center prior to a switch to right field. He played right late in his playing days in the Texas League.
[Updated 4/3/18 with general improvements.]
As we mentioned when we discussed John Henry Lloyd, Oscar Charleston is one of the four players with the best case as the Greatest Negro Leaguer of All Time. It’s not only that he had a long and very productive career, but as a peak performer, he’s essentially unmatched by any other position player that we’ve looked at so far. Charleston was a lefty thumper who could run, hit, go get the ball, draw walks, throw, and hit the long ball. At the beginning of his career, he played as shallow as anyone dared and stories abound about how he nonetheless caught everything hit behind him. At the plate, the big lefty terrorized the league to the tune of a 179 OPS+. He swiped 313 bags. For good measure he pitched some games too.
Most of all that great work happened by age 32. James Riley noted that Charleston put on weight as his career went along, losing a step or two afield and on the bases. His bat slowed as well. After age 32, he appears to be a shell of the player he was in his twenties, spending more and more time injured or at first base and contributing less and less. In this regard, Junior Griffey is something of a parallel. Griffey’s demise began after age 30, with injury and fitness being issues. He could still hit a little but the legs and glove had become liabilities even when he could take the field.
But Charleston was so good in his twenties and early thirties that we shouldn’t lose that part of the story in the telling. We’re showing 85 translated WAR through age 32. I’m not familiar with any person who scoff at that. Charleston could do it all and did, and the list of players with big-time talent whose bodies give out on them in their thirties is much lengthier than the list of those who don’t.
Oscar Charleston Negro Leagues Stats | Bio Career: 1915–1941 Destination: NL 1915–1936 Missing data: 1929 Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball Hall of Merit Year Age Lg Pos PA Rbat Rbaser Rfield Rpos RAA WAA Rrep RAR WAR ======================================================================== 1915 18 NL CF 10 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.1 1916 19 NL CF 200 6 1 - 1 - 1 5 0.6 6 11 1.4 1917 20 NL CF 310 12 1 - 1 - 2 10 1.2 10 19 2.4 1918 21 NL CF 490 40 1 - 2 - 3 37 4.4 15 53 6.3 1919 22 NL CF 520 38 1 - 2 - 3 35 4.0 16 51 6.1 1920 23 NL CF 590 50 2 - 2 - 3 46 5.1 18 64 7.2 1921 24 NL CF 620 65 2 - 2 - 3 62 6.1 19 81 8.1 1922 25 NL CF 600 75 2 - 2 - 3 71 6.6 19 90 8.4 1923 26 NL CF 610 56 2 - 2 - 3 53 5.0 19 72 7.0 1924 27 NL CF 610 84 2 - 2 - 3 80 7.9 19 99 9.9 1925 28 NL CF 630 44 2 - 2 - 3 40 3.7 20 60 5.7 1926 29 NL LF 610 39 2 1 - 6 36 3.7 19 55 5.7 1927 30 NL LF 610 37 2 1 - 6 34 3.5 19 53 5.4 1928 31 NL LF 630 31 2 1 - 6 28 2.8 20 48 4.8 1929 32 NL LF 610 30 2 1 - 6 27 2.5 19 46 4.2 1930 33 NL 1B 610 - 1 2 1 - 6 - 4 -0.4 19 15 1.3 1931 34 NL 1B 610 18 2 1 - 6 15 1.5 19 34 3.6 1932 35 NL 1B 600 14 2 1 - 6 11 1.1 19 29 3.0 1933 36 NL 1B 600 23 2 1 - 6 20 2.3 19 39 4.4 1934 37 NL 1B 440 13 1 1 - 4 10 1.1 14 24 2.5 1935 38 NL 1B 420 5 1 1 - 3 3 0.3 13 16 1.6 1936 39 NL 1B 240 4 1 0 - 2 3 0.3 7 10 1.0 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 11170 683 31 - 5 -87 623 63.1 348 971 100.0 Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960) PA: 9th Rbat: 11th WAA: 12th WAR: 12th
Yeah, that’ll play.
Charleston’s data on the Negro Leagues Database does not support a positive fielding rating for his centerfield range. I’ve chosen to use a positive, but not too positive, figure here as a nod to his defensive reputation. Particularly because we are missing numerous seasons of his centerfield play during the stretch where we are placing him there. His left field rating is based on even less data, but it and his right field data are both above average. His first base rating comes from 274 career games from age 33 onward where he was a little above average.
In general, this is the C.V. of a Hall level player, for sure.
[Updated 4/3/18 with minor park/league corrections.]
Doby came up as a teenager, played a little in 1942. He started in 1943 and was an immediate sensation, then got called up by Uncle Sam after a handful of games in 1944. Back to the states in 1946, he starred for the Newark Eagles, then early in 1947 signed with the Indians. He never played a minor league game, but the Tribe used him only sparingly in ’47 and mostly for pinch running. Then in 1948, it’s off the races, and from opening day of 1948 he’s one of the best centerfielders in baseball for a decade before he collapsed in his early thirties.
As a little aside, Doby, in a sense, inherited Earl Averill’s role as the great, lefty-swinging All-Star centerfielder for the Indians. Doby played top-level ball from age 18 onward and tailed off badly after age 32. Averill got a very late start to his career and didn’t reach the big leagues until age 27 and starred for the Tribe for years, tailing off at age 37. Fairly similar players:
If you took Doby’s career through age 32 (31 wAA, 47 WAR) and added the rest of Averill’s career from 33 onward (8 WAA, 19 WAR), you’d end up with one hell of a ballplayer: 39 WAA and 66 WAR’s worth. His name might be Duke Snider (35 WAA, 67 WAR) or Kenny Lofton (38 WAA, 68 WAR) or Reggie Smith (35 WAA, 65 WAR) or Billy Hamilton (40 WAA, 63 WAR). Based on their MLB stats alone, neither Doby nor Averill quite makes the Hall of Miller and Eric. Together they’d be among the top 15 to 20 centerfielders ever.
The question for Doby is whether additional understanding of his Negro Leagues data helps enough to get him over the line for the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Larry Doby Negro Leagues Stats | Major League Stats | Bio Career: 1942–1959 Destination: AL 1942–1959 Missing data: 1947 Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Hall of Stats Year Age Lg Pos PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA WAA Rrep RAR WAR =========================================================================== 1942 18 AL CF 10 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 1 0.1 1943 19 AL CF 200 7 0 0 1 0 9 1.0 6 15 1.7 1944 20 AL CF 20 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.1 1 2 0.2 1945 21 AL CF MILITARY SERVICE: WORLD WAR II 1946 22 AL CF 570 33 1 0 4 -1 37 4.0 18 54 6.1 1947 23 AL CF 520 35 1 0 3 -1 39 4.2 16 55 6.0 1948 24 AL CF 499 19 1 3 11 -3 32 3.2 16 47 4.6 1949 25 AL CF 637 22 -1 2 0 -3 20 2.0 20 39 3.8 1950 26 AL CF 609 45 2 2 4 -1 52 4.9 19 71 6.7 1951 27 AL CF 551 40 3 2 4 -1 48 4.8 17 65 6.4 1952 28 AL CF 611 41 3 1 5 -1 49 5.2 19 68 7.1 1953 29 AL CF 617 26 1 3 - 6 -1 23 2.3 19 42 4.3 1954 30 AL CF 630 22 1 2 10 -1 34 3.6 20 54 5.7 1955 31 AL CF 560 16 1 2 0 -1 18 2.0 17 36 3.7 1956 32 AL CF 619 22 2 3 5 -1 31 3.1 19 50 4.9 1957 33 AL CF 477 17 0 1 - 9 -1 7 0.7 15 22 2.2 1958 34 AL CF 276 10 1 0 - 3 -1 7 0.7 8 15 1.5 1959 35 AL RF 124 - 5 -1 1 - 7 -2 -13 -1.3 4 - 9 -1.0 --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 7530 349 16 22 22 -19 393 40.5 235 626 63.9 Hypothetical MLB Career Rankings (1871–1960) PA: 113th Rbat: 42nd WAA: 26th WAR: 36th
With Doby’s 1946 stats now available on the Negro Leagues Database, we see a nice uptick in our initial estimate for 1946. Doby came back from the war swinging. It helps. A lot.
Because Doby needs the help. Even his Negro Leagues play, he’s fighting to reach the borderline. A telling number is 7,530. That’s a pretty small number of plate appearances for a HoMEr, and it hurts his ability to rack up the kind of overall value that would boost his cause up a little.
* * *
Next time out we’ll look at more centerfielders, this time including Pete Hill, Alejandro Oms, Turkey Stearnes, and Cristobal Torriente.
Because they came so close but didn’t pull through last season, the 1948 and 1920 champs have the longest current drought in the game. Known as the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903 through 1914, the Indians are the only team, I believe, whose Rushmore all played the same position. And much to my surprise, they’re the third best team in AL history in winning percentage.
By WAR, the greatest Indian ever is Nap Lajoie. However, he played parts of eight years with AL and NL Philadelphia clubs. Second on the Indian list is Red Sox great Tris Speaker. And fourth is another who played for the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau. Stan Coveleski is fifth on the Indian list, but he played for the A’s, Sens, and Yanks. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome also put up great numbers while in Cleveland, but they both played everywhere. Earl Averill held on with the Tigers and Braves, and Joe Sewell was a Yankee for three years.
Al Rosen is the best hitter in Indian history never to play elsewhere, posting 32.6 WAR over seven full seasons before retiring because of issues with his back and legs. He’s 23rd in Indian history in WAR, but that’s not enough. There were four Cleveland pitchers who topped him, making them the only team without a hitter on their Rushmore.
Bob Feller: Rapid Robert was a hit after joining the Indians at age 17 in 1936. If we replace the three seasons and the one partial season he missed due to WWII with the average of the two years before and the two full years after he left, he moves from 63.6 WAR to an insane 84.4 WAR. That would move him from a tie for 144th with Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams to 53rd, just ahead of Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey. I’m not saying this would have happened, just giving an idea about what might have been.
Bob Lemon: With 48.8 WAR, Lemon is the sixth best Indian ever. Of course, less than 77% of Lemon’s value was on the mound. He was truly an excellent hitter, adding 0.6 WAR to 1.9 WAR every year from 1947-1956 at the plate. From 1948-1950 he averaged six homers and 22 ribbies with a .334 OBP. With just pitching value, there are only two years when he threw like an All-Star. He’s in the Hall, which is quite a surprise given that Hall voters must look at pitcher offense less than I do, and Lemon is only 117th all-time among pitchers, right between Frank Viola and Ron Guidry.
Mel Harder: Eleventh on the all-time Indian WAR chart, Harder was a better pitcher than Lemon, putting up 47.9 WAR on the mound but giving back 4.2 at the dish, for 43.7 total WAR. During his 1932-1935 peak, he trailed only Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean in WAR among hurlers. Expanding things to 1939, and only Lefty Grove also gets past him. We’re looking at a star here.
Addie Joss: With similar star power to Harder, Joss nevertheless is in the Hall. Tied with him on the Indian WAR list with 43.7, Joss and his 160 wins are in the Hall due to a 1.89 career ERA. Even though he played only nine seasons, the 1977 Board of Directors passes a special resolution to waive the ten-year rule for him. There was no good reason for that decision. BBREF neutralizes Joss’ career ERA at 2.88, still a fine number, but c’mon. Imagine 170 wins and a 2.88 ERA in the last fifty years. Such a pitcher would have no chance at the Hall. If he pitched in the run environment of, say, 2004, his ERA would be 3.75. Kevin Brown pitched around that time. He finished with 211 wins and a 3.28 ERA, and he hasn’t sniffed the inside of Cooperstown.
My Indian Rushmore
Nap Lajoie: Yes, he had a significant enough career with the A’s, but he’s Cleveland’s all-time leader in WAR, and he had nine of his ten best years by WAR with the Indians.
Lou Boudreau: I’m not going to hold his short period of time in Boston against him. Speaker played in Boston too, but he had quite a significant career there. Each of Boudreau’s ten best seasons were with Cleveland.
Kenny Lofton: I’m skipping a couple of guys on Cleveland’s all-time WAR list to get to him, namely Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon. My favorite Lofton memory is how he ran the bases like a brilliant madman in the 1995 playoffs, tripling twice and stealing 11 bases in the ALCS and WS.
Tune in next week for a look at the Cincinnati Reds.
What’s stranger – writing obituaries for players who have long been dead or writing obituaries for players who are actually alive? We’re getting to the point that players who we’re metaphorically killing might still be with us in reality.
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. We remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration, so that our process going forward is a bit easier. Their tribute is a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.
There were 733 players we considered for the HoME as we began. With twelve elections complete, we’ve elected 68 and put to rest 186 others (Only 185 of those players really count – last election I wrote an obituary for Ray Chapman, who I confused with Ben Chapman. Ben passes today). As you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below, we now have 480 players to consider for our remaining 141 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect about 29.5% 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 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 1st election 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1956
At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1975, 34 years after his career ended, Earl Averill noted that had he been elected after his death, he made arrangements to keep his name out of the Hall. I don’t know whether that’s interesting because of how ungrateful he was, or how impossible his arrangement was. On a less awful note for the centerfielder who was about as good as Fred Lynn, he broke Dizzy Dean’s toe with a liner in the 1937 All-Star Game. Yep, that’s the more positive of the two things.
Tommy Bond won 40 games in back-to-back seasons in 1877 and 1878. In the first of those years, he also won the pitching triple crown. He is also the first player born in Ireland to play in the majors, and he was the last person living from the National League’s inaugural 1876 season. After throwing more innings than Curt Schilling or Kevin Brown did in their entire careers before the age of 25, Bond wouldn’t win another game in the majors, unless you count the Union Association of 1884 as a major league.
English Broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson once said, “Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what gets you.” Clarkson is right, and Ben Chapman is a testament to this assertion. Chapman was fast. Sort of. He led the AL in stolen bases four times. However, he also led the league in caught stealing four times, three of them when he was also leading the league in steals. That’s the sort of thing that kills you as a player. Chapman is better known for being one who vocally and incessantly opposed the integration of baseball and Jackie Robinson’s presence. That opposition, strangely, may have been a good thing, as is said to have it rallied the Dodgers around Robinson and increased national sympathy for his plight.
Among pitchers with at least 100 wins, nobody since the close of the National Association won at a greater rate than Spud Chandler. For the Yankees, this righty put of a 109-43 mark in a career that spanned 1937-1947. Before he entered the Army in 1944, Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler took home MVP honors in a depleted American League in 1943 when he posted a 20-4 mark and led the circuit with a miniscule 1.64 ERA.
While Chandler was taking home AL honors in 1943, it was Mort Cooper who won the NL MVP one year earlier. The righty starter went 22-7 that season, hurled 10 shutouts and posted a 1.78 ERA. Perhaps his career highlight was the Game Five shutout he threw for his Cardinals against the Browns in the 1944 World Series. Giving up only seven hits and fanning a dozen, Cooper brought the Cards to within a game of the title that they’d win the next day.
Frank Crosetti was a member of the New York Yankees from 1932-1968, the first seventeen of those years as a player and the last twenty as a coach. Crosetti was a decent defender, but his greatest skill was at the plate. The man knew how to get hit by a pitch, leading the AL in that category eight times. Of note, only Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio own more World Series rings as a player.
The skills of Roy Cullenbine weren’t properly appreciated when he played. At age 33 in 1947 he played his final season and smacked 24 home runs to go with 137 walks. With walks in 22 consecutive games that season he topped Ted Williams’ record and still holds the mark today. His OBP from 1941-1947 was .415, yet no team played him after his 1947 release by the Tigers.
On May 24, 1935, Paul Derringer started and led his Reds to a complete game victory over Joe Bowman and the Phillies in the first night game in MLB history. Otherwise, Derringer was a pretty good pitcher, winning 20 games on four occasions on his way to a 223-212 career mark. Derringer wasn’t a great World Series pitcher, compiling a 2-4 record in his career, but in 1940 he was clutch. Trashed by the Tigers in the opener, Derringer came back with a complete game victory in the fourth game. On the mound once again for the deciding seventh game, he faced Bobo Newsom in a pitcher’s duel. The Reds trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh. A pair of doubles, a sacrifice, and a sacrifice fly later, and the Reds took the 2-1 lead that would be the final. Derringer threw another complete game, and his Reds won their first World Series since 1919.
Larry French was a lefty knuckleballer who won 197 games in his 14 years in the show. He made the All-Star team in 1940 and pitched two innings for the National League, setting up for NL “closer,” Carl Hubbell. He allowed only a single to Luke Appling and recorded a pair of strikeouts. He fanned Bob Feller, who struck out in 39% of his career at-bats, and Ray Mack, whose 5.2 career WAR must make him one of the least valuable All-Stars of all time.
Lonny Frey lived to age 99. That was more notable than anything he did during his playing days, really. In fairness, he did make three All-Star teams and win an NL stolen base title for the Reds in 1940. Despite coming to the plate 21 times in the World Series, “Junior” never managed to get a hit.
Some records are a big deal. Cal Ripken played in 2.632 consecutive games, for example. Some records are less of a big deal. Augie Galan in 1935 became the first of three players in the game’s history to play at least 150 games in a season and not hit into a single double play. This record’s significance is mitigated even more by the fact that Galan did hit into a triple play that year.
A career Indian who spent 20 years in Cleveland, Mel Harder never pitched in the World Series. But when the spotlight was brightest, Harder was at his best. During his four All-Star Games, Harder pitched thirteen innings without allowing a run. His best performance was his first, in 1934. After the NL pounded Lefty Grove and Red Ruffing for seven runs in four innings, Harder entered, allowed only a ninth inning double to Billy Herman, and took the win for the AL.
It’s not really such a big deal to hit 20 2B, 3B, and HR in the same season, but it is noteworthy. In 1941 Indian right fielder Jeff Heath became the first American Leaguer to do so. Heath was an impressive and well-rounded hitter, retiring with a 139 OPS+ – Norm Cash, Reggie Jackson, David Ortiz territory. He simply wasn’t healthy enough to put up the kind of numbers needed for the HoME, only four times in fourteen seasons topping 126 games played.
Tommy Henrich could hit. He retired with an OPS+ of 132, which puts him in the company of other sluggers like Rocky Colavito, Juan Gonzalez, and Jose Canseco. The highlight of Henrich’s career, one that saw him win six rings as a member of the New York Yankees had to have been the first game of the 1949 World Series. In a scoreless tie, Henrich took Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe deep for the game’s only run. It was the first walk-off homer in World Series history.
Pinky Higgins hit .292 in a fourteen-year career that saw him make three All-Star teams. He later served as manager and general manager of the Boston Red Sox. But the end of his life wasn’t so rosy. In 1968 Higgins killed one and injured three others in a drunk driving accident. He was sentenced to four years but was paroled after only two months. Two days after his parole, he died of a heart attack.
A campaign to have Ken Keltner inducted into the Hall of Fame led Bill James to develop his Keltner List, a forerunner of our Saberhagen List. In short, James found that Keltner wasn’t Hall material. And though we find that he’s not HoME material either, he’ll forever be known for the two impressive defensive plays he made on balls hit by Joe DiMaggio with “The Yankee Clipper” was vying to extend his hitting streak to 57 games.
Joe Kuhel was a left-handed first baseman who played eighteen years in the majors for the Senators and White Sox, not a cartoon dog. He was known as an excellent defender, but he probably wasn’t. And frankly, he wasn’t much more than average at the plate either. He did hit three triples in a game once, which no player in AL history has topped.
For no good reason, I sometimes confuse Thornton Lee with author Thornton Wilder. Less of a writer and more of a lefty starting pitcher, Lee won 20 games and an ERA title for the White Sox in 1941. He and his son Don hold a record of sorts. They’re the only father and son to each give up a home run to the same player – Ted Williams.
Known as “The Nashville Narcissus,” Red Lucas put in 15 seasons as a National League starting pitcher, winning 157 games along the way. Though a starting pitcher, Lucas’ legacy is as a hitter. David Gassko, in an interesting article at The Hardball Times, calls Lucas the second greatest hitting pitcher of all time. He was such a talented hitter that he retired with the record (now #11) for most pinch hits in a career. No slouch as a pitcher, he led the NL in complete games three times and shutouts once.
Frank McCormick was a giant of a man. That’s exactly how I’d start my story if I were trying to create a modern-day Paul Bunyan, unless that territory has already been covered by this guy. McCormick was actually only 6’4” and a svelte 205 pounds. He made eight All-Star teams and won the 1940 NL MVP, though I can’t really explain why either happened. More positively, he led the NL in hits three consecutive years, which is something only he, Rogers Hornsby, and Ginger Beaumont have done.
A righty starter and occasional reliever, Claude Passeau won 162 games over thirteen seasons. He lost a pair of All-Star Games and struggled mightily in the last World Series game won by the Cubs. However, just three days earlier, he had one of the most brilliant outings in World Series history. In the Game Three, Passeau gave the Cubs a 2-1 advantage when he shut out the Tigers. The only blemishes on his record that day were a second inning single to Rudy York and a sixth inning walk to Bob Swift.
With three All-Star games to his credit and a twenty win season, Schoolboy Rowe was a decent enough pitcher. He won 158 games. The best day of his career had to have been the second game of the 1934 World Series. It was his first of six starts in the Series and his only win. And it was a pretty incredible performance, as the righty went all 12 innings to guide his Tigers over the visiting Cardinals.
From the pages of “it’s all downhill from here”, Senator shortstop Cecil Travis put up five hits in his first major league game at age 19 in 1933. He did accumulate another 1539 hits, and he led the AL in that category in 1941. Plus, he left the game as a .314 career hitter. But a HoME-worthy career, his wasn’t. Hey, he does have a Bronze Star to show for his military service, so not all is lost.
Hal Trosky put up some big numbers in a relatively short career. In ten full(ish) seasons, he reached 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in six times. His career highlight was 1936 when the first baseman his 42 out of the park and drove in a league-leading 162 to go with a .343/.382/.644 line. Pitchers had trouble stopping him, but migraine headaches got the best of him. He was basically done at age 28.
Dixie Walker made five All-Star teams, won a batting title, a triples title, and a RBI title. Still, he remains better known today as a player who, when the Dodgers announced Jackie Robinson would be coming to the majors in 1947, wrote a letter to Branch Rickey asking to be traded. Whether he was only doing what is expected of a guy called “Dixie” who grew up in the segregationist south is up for debate. There’s sufficient evidence that he supported Robinson later, and at least he spoke well of his teammate in public on occasion.
In 1946, the seven-time All-Star, Rudy York became the third player and one of just thirteen in history to hit two grand slams in one game. He was also quite well remembered during the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase in 1998. Until Sosa broke his mark in June of that season by hitting 20 long balls, York held the record with his 18 in the month of August, 1937.
That’s all for now. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1961 election for more obituaries.
One of the tenets of the HoME, which certainly hasn’t applied to the Hall, is that we strive for balance by position and by era. We can debate, as Eric and I have and will, whether balance by era is a relatively equal number of players or if it’s an even distribution in terms of plate appearances and innings pitched. What can’t be argued is that the Hall’s balance makes any sense.
In the past in this series, we’ve looked at individual players and tried to explain how they found their way into the Hall. Today, we’re going to consider some selections of the Hall’s Veterans Committee for the fifteen years starting in 1970. When the Hall makes a mistake with individual players, it’s upsetting. However, when the Hall makes a mistake with a generation of players, it’s even worse.
In a story that’s been told many times, Frankie Frisch, and to a lesser extent Bill Terry, ran the Vets Committee for years, and they helped to enshrine many of their less-than-deserving teammates and other contemporaries. But it wasn’t just Frisch and Terry who helped to over-represent the era. This craziness continued even after Frisch’s death in 1973.
Anyway, rather than play the blame game, let’s check out the chart below and then discuss impact.
Year Player Career Teammates Comparable 1970 Earle Combs 1924-1935 Al Oliver 1970 Jesse Haines 1918-1937 Frisch, 1927-1937 Mike Hampton 1971 Dave Bancroft 1915-1930 Frisch, 1920-1923; Terry, 1923 Bert Campaneris 1971 Chick Hafey 1924-1937 Frisch, 1927-1931 Rico Carty 1971 Harry Hooper 1909-1925 Jack Clark 1971 Rube Marquard 1908-1925 Mike Boddicker 1972 Lefty Gomez 1930-1943 Mark Gubicza 1972 Ross Youngs 1917-1926 Frisch, 1919-1926; Terry, 1923-1926 Bobby Murcer 1973 George Kelly 1915-1932 Frisch, 1919-1926; Terry, 1923-1926 Derrek Lee 1974 Jim Bottomley 1922-1937 Frisch, 1927-1932 Cecil Cooper 1975 Earl Averill 1929-1941 Fred Lynn 1976 Fred Lindstrom 1924-1936 Frisch, 1924-1926; Terry, 1924-1932 Terry Pendleton 1979 Hack Wilson 1923-1934 Frisch, 1923-1925; Terry, 1923-1925 Brady Anderson 1980 Chuck Klein 1928-1944 Ken Singleton 1982 Travis Jackson 1922-1936 Terry, 1923-1936 Nomar Garciaparra 1984 Rick Ferrell 1929-1947 Jason Kendall
What you see above is a bunch of undeserving Hall of Famers, all from about the same era. Quibble if you will about Harry Hooper’s incredible defense. Or maybe you’re a Chuck Klein guy. It doesn’t really matter. The argument here isn’t about individual players for whom you could make a case. Rather, it’s about an era being way over-represented in Cooperstown.
We either see a Hall bloated by a dozen and a half players, or we see a Hall that has misrepresented several different eras in the game’s history.
What would the Hall be like if we subtracted those guys and added Bob Boone, Frank White, Don Money, Greg Luzinski, Amos Otis, Dave Parker, Vida Blue, and Jon Matlack? It would probably be a little better. And the representation across eras would improve.
Take a look at the chart below. It shows the number of Hall of Famers who made plate appearances in a given season. We should expect a relatively even distribution. Maybe the recent years should have fewer representatives because the voters are still sorting out their careers and because AL pitchers basically didn’t hit from 1973-1996. Otherwise, the distribution should be relatively even, right?
There’s nothing close to an even distribution. What you see, I think, is astonishing. Every year from 1923-1937 there are at least 40 Hall of Famers coming to the plate. In no other season in baseball history do we see that many, even though we had integration, expansion, more expansion, even more expansion, and additional groups of players who were scouted. Were players just better from 1923-1937? Hardly.
By adding Vida Blue, Don Money, and company, I’d just be shifting the problem, right? Actually, by one way of looking at things, that’s not even true. A better way to consider distribution, perhaps, is the percentage of trips to the plate each season by Hall of Famers. It can be argued that we shouldn’t see the same raw number of Hall of Famers in a season. Rather, we should be equally likely to see a Hall of Famer playing in an individual game at any point in history.
Let’s look at some select seasons to see the problems the Veterans Committee has caused.
Year Percentage of PA Comments in the Hall 1871 3.19% The first season of the National Association. 1880 10.40% 1890 8.46% 1900 21.59% NL collapsed from 12 to 8, increasing the % of HOFers. 1910 10.28% 1915 7.41% 1920 13.06% The spike is getting started. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1925 20.56% The spike is here and lasts for a decade. 1926 21.78% 1927 22.01% 1928 22.73% 1929 23.97% 1930 21.36% 1931 21.26% 1932 22.32% 1933 23.16% 1934 21.25% ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1940 14.07% The return to normalcy begins. 1945 4.96% The best players are off at war. 1950 12.54% 1955 13.62% 1960 13.40% 1965 10.67% 1970 9.36% 1975 8.10% 1980 7.15% 1985 7.84% 1990 6.33% 1995 3.57% 2000 1.13%
Clearly there’s a tremendous peak from 1925-1934. And if we shifted some of their plate appearances to the 1970s via guys like Bob Boone and Frank White, we would actually improve the historical distribution by plate appearances.
Our historical norm is 8.93%. If we eliminate plate appearances after 1995, which aren’t yet properly represented in the Hall anyway, we see that 11.15% of all plate appearances are enshrined. And if we eliminate our decade from 1925-1934, we see 10.22% of plate appearances in the Hall. That’s the real baseline, 10.22%. And that number is higher than any year after 1968.
Basically, fans in the 20s and 30s were incredibly lucky – they were seeing Hall of Famers twice as frequently as we are. And fans after 1968, well, they haven’t really seen so many great players.
Of course, I jest.
What this means for the construction of the HoME, as we’ve already seen, is that a bunch of guys who played in 1931, for example, aren’t going to make it. We’ve already killed off people like Jesse Haines, Ross Youngs, Earle Combs, Jim Bottomley. And there are more still to come. What this also means, since we plan for the HoME to have the same size population as the Hall, is that players of a more recent vintage will take their place.
No, I’m not talking about Greg Luzinski and Jon Matlack, but I expect plenty from that era to enter the HoME. Who? Well, you’ll have to check back here to find out.