Second base is an awful position for some of those who played in the 1970s and 1980s. Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and Willie Randolph, for example, belong in the Hall of Fame. We think Tony Phillips and Jeff Kent (though he obviously played a bit later) do as well. That’s a lot of rejection of greatness. Today, we’ll see who Eric and I reject and accept with our top-125 lists.
Remember, Eric and I don’t agree on positions for everyone. He places them where they were best, while I prefer where they played most. With that in mind, You’ll find Rod Carew, Julio Franco, and Edgardo Alfonzo here for him. I put Carew at first, Franco at shortstop, and Alfonzo at third. For me, you’ll find Buck Herzog and Bip Roberts. Eric calls Herzog a shortstop and Roberts a left fielder.
Before you get to the lists, make sure you check out the positions we’ve already discussed.
We continue our way around the diamond at third base on Wednesday. We hope to see you then.
Second base has morphed as a position over the years. Before fields were well manicured and bunting for a hit was still a big part of the game, great defense belonged at third more than at second. As the double play became more important, a second sacker adept at making the pivot grew in value. And while sacrifice bunts were still in vogue, it seemed every team need to filed a scrappy second baseman who hit second and was willing to lay one down.
Today you’ll see the first of two weeks of rankings at second. Just as at first, our lists are pretty similar. One of the biggest differences is Eric’s inclusion of Rod Carew at the position at which he was best, while I included him at the position he played most.
If you haven’t yet, please take a look at the first two posts in this series.
One of the real underappreciated superstars of our time, Cano isn’t the player he once was, yet he continues to provide good value to a Mariner team most thought ridiculously overpaid when they gave him ten years and $240 million prior to the 2014 season. With more than 20 WAR over four seasons, Seattle has done quite well thus far. But Cano is 35 this year and still has six years left. This isn’t going to end well. It never was.
There are only 41 majority 2B in history with 1000+ trips to the plate from age-35 on. Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst and Nellie Fox are on that list. They had 2.3 and 2.0 respectively. Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Grich, Craig Biggio, and Willie Randolph were all below 9 WAR total. In fact, only ten 2B ever totaled 10+ WAR from age-35 until the end.
There’s hope though. The best four on the list are Collins, Lajoie, Morgan, and Gehringer, my 2-5 all time. And the profile of those guys suggests Cano could follow a similar path – they all did it mainly with the bat, which is really all Cano has left. Well, kind of. Last year was Cano’s worst at the dish since his rookie offering of 2005. I worry for the M’s that Cano’s decline might be steep and might have started last season. If the bet is on whether or not he passes Bobby Grich for eighth on my list, I’m actually going to take the under. Sorry, Robby. —Miller
Cano is staying right where he is in my view. If I include Jackie Robinson’s MLE value, Cano can’t catch him. If I don’t include MLE figures, Cano will pass Jackie by this or next year and won’t catch Rodney Cline Carew. Well, life isn’t a hotel, so you don’t get everything you want. Cano will have to make do with being the best second baseman to hang it up in the last 35 to 40 years.—Eric
The only pace he’s likely to go is downward on my list. He’d still get my vote because it’s unlikely he can do enough damage to his case, especially on a team that’s too smart to let him suck up playing time if he can’t play anymore.—Eric
Utley is 15th all-time on the list I discussed above in the Cano comment. And he’s done it differently than those guys. Since turning 35, he’s had positive value in the field, on the bases, and avoiding double plays. What he can’t do is hit. The Dodgers signed him for two more years this off-season, which seems insane until you realize it’s for only $2 million total. Just 0.8 WAR over those two seasons will put Utley ahead of Fred Dunlap. I don’t think he can do it. —Miller
If conventional wisdom is equivalent to Hall of Fame support, the answer has to be Bobby Grich. In his one time on the BBWAA ballot, he received exactly 1/10th the support of Maury Wills. Rusty Staub, George Foster, and Vida Blue all more than doubled Grich. Tip of the cap to Willie Randolph in this category too. Even though he’s in both the Hall of Merit and Hall of Stats, there’s not a lot of clamoring for his Cooperstown induction. —Miller
I’m sure I’ve written elsewhere that Chase Utley is the Bobby Grich Lite of the contemporary game. He trades some of Grich’s defense and power for some baserunning, batting average, and DP avoidance. He also got a later start than Grich, so more of his career takes place outside his prime athletic years. But like Grich he does the invisible and less-visible stuff super well, and the glory stuff merely well. And that’s how we have a Hall-level player who will be a Hall afterthought.
Also, let’s give Cupid Childs his due. No one outside the Hall of Merit voters and nerds like us or Adam Darowski ever talks about this guy. No one ever remembered him before the baseball encyclopedias started pubbing. He played when everyone could hit, then he didn’t make it into the time when a lack of hitting ability was glorified as The Deadball Era, and which got a lot of attention from the early Hall voters because they remembered actually watching those guys.—Eric
On one hand, I want to say that it’s on Fred Dunlap. On the other, though I rank him 17th and Eric won’t introduce him in even the first few spots next week, it’s not like either one of us is pushing for his inclusion into the HoME. And we agree that he’s the third or fourth best in his era at his position. So while there’s a difference in our rankings, it’s not like I think Eric’s off in a meaningful way. In fact, I prefer his ranking to mine.—Miller
Let us posit for a moment that a major author’s most popular work is his own but also could highly influence public opinion. In the case of Dick Allen, Bill James’ deeply critical portrait may have done more to influence the public perception of Allen than anything the player had done in decades. At a much simpler and less emotionally charged level, we wonder if he’s done something similar for Ross Barnes.
James argued at length in the New Historical Baseball Abstract that Barnes deserved no place among the game’s 100 best second basemen. His biggest beef was that Barnes was probably the best fair-foul hitter there ever was and dominated the league using the tactic. I’ve played Olde-Tyme baseball, and it truly works. Ross was a righty, and righties stand at the plate with their hands in the vicinity of their right armpit or shoulder. Unless they are Julio Franco or Eric Davis, of course. For the fair-foul hit, as the ball nears the plate, the batter shifts his hands toward the front shoulder then chops downward toward his body, and hard, so that the path of his hands and the bat run just outside his left leg. If done well, the batter is almost catching the ball on its downward descent, and the ball strikes the ground almost at the hitter’s front foot. It smacks the ground in fair territory then bounds along in foul ground, allowing the batter to reach first with relative ease. Obviously this sets up a cat-and-mouse game with the corner infielders, especially the one nearest the batter. That means there’s lots of holes to hit through by swinging away. Since there were few double plays turned before gloves, middle infielders didn’t have to cheat toward the bag. It’s actually a fun way to play the game. Remember to that in Barnes’ time, pitchers threw underhanded and with less speed than they soon would.
Baseball dispatched with the rule in 1877 by declaring that any ball hit fair that went foul before reaching the bag was a foul ball. This kept the flow of the game moving along nicely and made infield play in general more interesting. Bill James contends, “deprived of this [the fair-foul hit], and fighting some injuries, Barnes was out of the league in a few years.” James also relies on the idea that the majors weren’t worthy of the distinction until about 1885. It “seems indefensible to me,” he writes, “to extend the status backward beyond 1876.”
There’s a few places where we disagree with Bill on this.
The major-league distinction: Bill knows more about baseball than Miller and I combined five times over, so maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. His argument is that any old league prior to the mid-1880s could have been major since it was the Wild West of baseball out there. But after baseball outside of Cincinnati went overtly professional in 1871, leading amateur clubs in the east and west (well, west back then was the Great Lakes, the Jackson-Turner thesis was even dreamt of yet) formed the National Association of Base Ball Clubs. Or the NA as Miller and I usually call it. The collapse of the NA led to William Hulbert founding the NL in 1876. Virtually all the best players of the NA immediately went to the NL. Virtually all those players stayed in the NL or the upstart American Association prior to 1885 despite the existence of other professional leagues. For example, in 1886, Joe Start, among the best players nationwide in the 1860s, a stalwart of the NA and early NL, played his last game. Cal McVey, one of the original Cincinnati Reds moved to the NA and the NL and eventually gave up baseball and moved to the west coast in 1880. Cap Anson, Deacon White, Jim O’Rourke, and Ezra Sutton debuted in the NA, moved into the NL and played until someone tore the uniform off their backs. It seems strange to us to summarily simply slap away evidence of a player’s quality as James does with early professional baseball seasons.
This stance shows up again for James in the shortstops section of the New Historical Abstract. To be more precise, it doesn’t show up. James draws up a list 125 players deep and never includes the name George Wright whose career includes more seasons than Barnes and whose reputation in his times outshines Barnes’. At first base, at least Joe Start gets a nod: #107 there, behind Joe Pepitone, Dick Hoblitzell, and Deron Johnson among those close in rank. None of those guys was ever even discussed among the best in the game. Start was considered one of baseball’s great stars in the 1860s. And how then does one rank Start at 107 and not rank George Wright at all? If baseball wasn’t MLB quality prior to the mid 1880s, how can Anson rank 11th at his position, O’Rourke at 37th at his? But then why would Deacon White rank 76th? So we think the distinction might exist, but that it’s a distinction that makes no difference. That means that, for us, Barnes’ entire career is in play.
The rules: James says that Barnes’ case relies on a tactic that was outlawed because the league thought it was “cheap trickery.” By similar reasoning, we could reduce the rank of any and all spitballers. We might also consider reducing anyone’s ranking who played prior to the adoption of the foul-strike rule in the nascent years of the AL/NL era. After all, a hitter could just flick away pitches without penalty, which is kind of a cheap trick too. The rules is the rules until they isn’t the rules. Players will always find innovative ways to create value. Most fans find it “colorful” when King Kelly yells “Kelly in a third” in the middle of a play to catch a pop fly to the bench that the third baseman couldn’t reach. Now that’s trickery. Some observers, including the baseball commish, say that shifting borders on trickery and hurts the integrity of the game. We can only look at what a fellow did in the context he played in. For us that’s the only fair thing to do, though we understand why Bill might feel differently.
“Some injuries”: As reported in his SABR biography, Barnes suffered some type of chronic, debilitating illness. Researcher Robert H. Schaefer suggested in 1999 that it was the ague. Whatever it was, Barnes never, ever returned to anything near his peak. We find it hard to believe that a player would malinger such that he never played effectively again.
Performance after the fair-foul rule change: Barnes did, indeed, fail to ever play at his accustomed level after the rule change. On the other hand, in his comeback attempts in 1879 and 1881, despite losing 150 points of batting average, he nonetheless managed a 104 OPS+ in 650 PAs. That’s not exactly abject failure. His fielding appears to have gone well downhill, however. Overall, WAR sees him as a slightly above average player in both seasons.
Reliance on the fair-foul hit: Maybe the most compelling reason not to dismiss Ross Barnes is that he did not merely rely on trickery. The guy was a complete player. He led the league in walks twice and finished in the top 10 six times, leading the NL in career walks until 1880, and after he hung it up in 1881, he remained second. Barnes led the league in steals once and finished within the top ten four other times as well. From 1871–1875, his 103 steals led the NA…by 29 swipes!. His known stolen base record yields a 79% success rate. Most of all, Barnes could really pick it. At both second base and shortstop, in the NA, where we have play by play records, he saved a total of 53 runs in 265 games. Given that the league as a whole had a very wide range of fielding ability, but that’s pretty impressive. Those 53 runs were second only to Bob Ferguson, whose nickname “Death to Flying Things” describes his fielding prowess. Barnes trailed by just two runs but exceeded the third-place fielder by 15. At his retirement after 1881, Barnes ranked fourth in fielding runs despite missing two and two-thirds seasons due to his illness. Ross Barnes did everything on a ball field well, except stay healthy. And even that last wasn’t true until it suddenly was.
Which is to say that if Bill James’ arguments against Barnes as worthy of a significant ranking represent an important opinion in the baseball world, we disagree with him strongly. We have more in common with the SABR 19th Century committee who named him its 2013 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend.—Eric
Come back in a week for the next 20 second basemen.
Several years ago, I suggested we start a campaign for Bobby Grich. Today, in the spirit of previous posts on Ted Simmons and Keith Hernandez, we continue that campaign. As readers of this series know, the Hall way underrepresents hitters from the 1970s and 1980s. Voters didn’t appreciate the low scoring era. Nor did they correctly appreciate how expansion in the game should have expanded the number of players per season in the Hall.
Bobby Grich was an outstanding defensive second baseman who also sprinkled in games at other infield positions. He began his career at age-21 with the 1972 Orioles, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he became a regular, and in 1973 he displaced Davey Johnson at second base. From there, he was able to work with Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson for a couple of years in what may have been the best defensive infield ever. His best years were absolutely in Baltimore, but the O’s still let him go to California as a free agent after the 1976 season. As an Angel, Grich began to display more power as he enjoyed a nice, slow decline, retiring from the game after the 1986 season.
It’s possible that Grich is the biggest crime among 1970s position players. In Baltimore, he was overshadowed by Brooks Robinson. In California, it was Rod Carew. At second base, it was Joe Morgan. And the guy’s skills are exactly the skills voters have tended to overlook. He played great defense, he got on base a ton despite a mediocre batting average. He only twice reached 20 homers, only twice topped 70 runs batted in, and has almost no black Ink. There was just nothing very pretty.
Grich made just one BBWAA ballot. In 1992 Tom Seaver got in, undeserving Rollie Fingers, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, and Bill Mazeroski were in the next four positions. And Grich received less than half the support of Rusty Staub, George Foster, or Vida Blue.
There are 99 second basemen ever with positive offensive WAR, positive defensive WAR, and 5000 plate appearances. If we look for players with just ten offensive and defensive WAR, we’re down to 25 players. And if we move to 15 of each WAR, it’s just 13 retired guys. Finally, if we eliminate those with an OPS+ below 100, we’re down to just seven (one of whom, by the way, is Lou Whitaker). Grich is first among that group in OPS+. In terms of all-time WAR among 2B, Grich is 8th.
It’s no surprise that he’s a better player than Bill Mazeroski, Nellie Fox, or Red Schoendienst. They’re not even close, and they very clearly don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. But Grich is also far better than Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Evers, Bobby Doerr, Billy Herman, and Bid McPhee too. I would argue that he was better than Craig Biggio and Joe Gordon. And the discussion is on with Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, and Jackie Robinson. That’s right, he’s in league with Rhyno and Jackie. And he’s not in the Hall. Criminal.
Red Schoendienst. I actually picked Schoendienst because he had the best offensive situation of the three guys I was considering (Maz and Fox). His AIR number was 104 compared to 93 for Grich. In other words, he played in a much easier offensive climate. I chose him because even in his far easier environment, he was clearly a worse hitter. Oh, and a worse fielder.
Grich Red =========================== PAs 8220 9224 Hits 1883 2449 Runs 1033 1223 Home Runs 224 84 RBI 864 773 BA .266 .289 OBP .371 .337 SLG .424 .387 OPS+ 125 94 While Red easily wins in BA, OBP and SLG show Grich helped his teams win more. While other numbers are close, it's the offensive context that makes for significant OPS+ separation. ========================================================== Rfield 81 78 DRA 140.6 54.2 The first is the defensive number at BBREF. The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more. Either way, and in DRA, Grich adds to his significant offensive edge. ===================================================================== Actual WAR 70.9 42.3 (C'mon!) My Conversion 77.7 42.5 MAPES 2B Rank 7 35 MAPES is my personal ranking system.
Bobby Grich is a Hall of Famer. He’s eight among second basemen in career WAR. All but three of the top-16 at the position are in the Hall. And the thing those three have in common? You guessed it. They played in the 1970 and 1980s. Grich isn’t close to Red Schoendienst; he was a stud, Red a fine player. But voters misinterpret offensive level in different eras, defensive value in general, and hitters from at least two decades of history.
Next week check out how Buddy Bell has been short changed.
ERIC: They called him “The Fordham Flash” for a reason. He was fast and used that speed to take extra bases and swipe others. It gave him excellent range afield. He had a dollop of power, hit for a good average, was tough to strike out, drew enough walks to keep his OBP up, and played each game with intensity. The kind of guy that today’s sportswriters would swoon over. Like David Eckstein with lots more skill and ability.
ERIC: Bagwell was perhaps the player who best epitomized the shift in MLB from Charlie Lau’s hitting style to a more core-rotational centered approach. Lau wanted players to take an aggressive stride toward the pitcher, which allowed a batter to generate an effective weight shift from the back to the front foot. But if you watch Bagwell, he does something very different. He assumes a very wide, crouched stance with the front foot in the bucket. He lifts that foot, puts it down in line with his back foot, centering his weight rather than transferring it all to the front foot, and then uses the rotational force of his core muscles to generate tremendous force. Bagwell was merely the most extreme example of this technique, but Mark McGwire and to some extent Barry Bonds also used it. I’m no expert, but I strongly suspect that by not striding so much, a batter’s head would move less, helping him see the ball a split second longer, and he wouldn’t have to commit to the ball as quickly, giving him better control of the strike zone. Anyway, it added up to a hell of a lot of offensive production. He was the Johnny Mize of his times, only a little better.
MILLER: He reached double figures in homers eighteen times. No other catcher put up more than sixteen. Mike Piazza and Johnny Bench did so only thirteen times each, Gary Carter twelve.
MILLER: I have to say I’m surprised that he’s not on ESPN’s list. Smoltz is there, and I think conventional wisdom is that Glavine was the superior pitcher. Glavine won 300. Smoltz was relegated to the bullpen for a while post-injury. Perhaps the ESPN folks remember too much of Glavine’s stay in New York?
ERIC: The kind of player who gets lost in the shuffle. He had little power and drew lots of walks. In fact, he’s one of three Hall of Famers whose careers started in the live-ball era whose OBPs are higher than their SLGs (Rich Ashburn and Rick Ferrell are the others). He wasn’t flashy on the bases and played a solid but unspectacular shortstop. He never won an MVP. He was a nice guy who played on a team that never competed seriously for the AL flag during his tenure. He played during a time of deep star power at his position. But he did enough things well and well enough that he racked up impressive career value.
MILLER: Davis got lucky when he was inducted into the Hall in 1998. It could easily have been Jack Glasscock who’s at #72 or Bill Dahlen who’s further up our list. There’s so much right about Bill James book What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame? Perhaps the most significant thing in it is the second word in its original title, The Politics of Glory. Folks who really understand the history of the game just need more political pull.
MILLER: I don’t know what it is about my personality, but I was happier for Piazza this summer than I was Griffey. Griffey was a better player, though not by as much as many think, but he was this sure thing to be inducted. Piazza had to wait, and he never should have. Last post in this series Eric wondered what it would have been like had the Mets drafted Reggie Jackson rather than Steve Chilcott. Well, what might have happened to Piazza if he weren’t drafted in the 62nd round, perhaps as a favor done by Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father?
ERIC: Playing in the deadball era, John Henry Lloyd was often described as “The Black Wagner.” It makes sense since both could really hit, and they were both big boned shortstops. As fielders they were both very good and known for shoveling up a whole mess of dirt as they fielded the ball. Lloyd was also known as “Shovel.” But these comparisons only go so far. Pop Lloyd was not as great a ballplayer as Hans Wagner, and that’s just fine because Honus is one of history’s most amazing ballplayers. Lloyd was merely amazing.
MILLER: There are going to be two chances between now and 2030 for Glasscock to claim his much-deserved Hall of Fame plaque. Smart folks believe Bill Dahlen deserves to go in 2020. I’d be satisfied with a 2030 Glasscock election.
ERIC: You’re very optimistic. But with rapid advances in the science of senescence we should be able to see him elected in 3030.
ERIC: The best centerfielder in MLB between Ty Cobb’s peak and Willie Mays was clearly Joe DiMaggio. But he was not the best centerfielder in baseball at that time. That was probably the Negro Leagues’ Oscar Charleston. This guy, Cristobal Torriente, is DiMaggio’s competition for the #2 slot. The amazing Negro Leagues Database at Seamheads.com shows Torriente as being one of the best players period in the Negro Leagues. Translating Negro League performance is an inexact science, and our placement of Torriente here reflects that inexactness. Still, in those Negro League seasons we have information on, Torriente was a monster. We have 4300 document plate appearances with a .344 average, a .430 OBP, and a .514 slugging percentage. That last figure might not seem impressive until you recall that the ball wasn’t as lively in the Negro Leagues as in the majors, and that Torriente played several years in the deadall era. It was good for a 183 OPS+, which is 6th among all Negro Leaguers we have data for. If you think the Negro Leagues were as good in relation to the majors as AAA is today to MLB, knock 20% off there, and you get a 165 OPS+. Which is about 10 points higher than Joe D’s. Of course reality is not that simple, but it gives you an idea that Torriente was the real deal. He had a good glove, stole a lot of bases, hit like the dickens, and even tossed 374 innings (in some seasons pitched pretty well too). Torriente’s .439 wOBA is 10th all-time among Negro Leaguers in seasons we have data for, and the only person ahead of him whose career started during the deadball era was Oscar Charleston. He was a force.
ERIC: Roy Campanella is a big stretch. If they are counting his Negro League play, maybe it’s not, but he’s got a very short career with some really bad seasons mixed into it. I’m also not wild about Dave Winfield appearing on this list at all. I, personally, see him as not too far above the borderline and certainly not one of the top ten right fielders of all time. He was a poor fielder, dragging down his overall value, despite some Gold Gloves. Cool Papa Bell is generally a favorite among Negro Leaguers, but there’s not much info at the Negro Leagues Database to suggest that his reputation was entirely earned. This feels like a fame selection and not one based on real information.
MILLER: Wait, their list is about fame and not skill? Impossible!
ERIC: And don’t even get me started on the absurdity of Ortiz’s ranking….
Not long ago I looked as some career WAR ties among all players. Today, I’m examining some of the pitcher career WAR ties that I find most interesting. This is a decent little exercise to offer some perspective. Sometimes a player’s aura shines so brightly that we don’t really understand how he rates compared to others. Conversely, some players never received the proper hype, so looking at players with whom they’re tied can clarify how great they were (or are).
At some point in 2009 or so, Eric and I discussed Stephen Strasburg and what he might want to sign off on for his career. Fearing injuries or surprising ineffectiveness, we agreed that Strasburg was somewhat less than even money to have the career of Kerry Wood. Well, seven years later, and I’ll bet you didn’t realize that Strasburg had only 16.9 career WAR (through July 2). Yes, he’s been a bit injured, only once pitching 200 innings. And he’s never been worth over 3.5 wins. That’s less than what Clayton Kershaw has averaged in the last eleven half seasons.
I find it cool that John Wetteland and Mike Timlin are tied. That’s it. Nothing more.
How great was Babe Ruth? He’s tied on the career pitching WAR list with Nelson Briles, Earl Wilson, Jeff Montgomery, and Kyle Lohse. Briles and Lohse led the league in winning percentage once each; Montgomery led once in saves. Coincidentally, like Ruth, Wilson was an excellent hitting pitcher, smacking 35 career home runs. That’s 19 more than Ruth had.
Bruce Sutter is in the Hall of Fame. Al Benton, Tiny Bonham, and Jack Coombs aren’t. Hey, the Hall got it right three out of four times. But let’s be fair to Sutter. Bonham and, to a lesser extent, Benton were WWII greats who wouldn’t have been this good had many stars not been contributing to the war effort. Aside from a spectacular 1910, Coombs wasn’t much of anything, never eclipsing 3.2 WAR. On the other hand, being better than Benton, Bonham, and Coombs doesn’t really qualify someone for the Hall of Fame. At least it shouldn’t.
That Rollie Fingers is tied with Ron Reed isn’t so shocking. It’s that he’s also tied with the likes of Rip Sewell, Kelvim Escobar, and Wilson Alvarez. Fingers was excellent at what he did. And he was a playoff star. But he just wasn’t that valuable overall. I think we almost understand that. Right?
Lee Smith is here, tied with Syl Johnson and Sonny Siebert. No, I’m not making a Hall case for Lee Arthur.
This tie with Sal Maglie is really just a reason to talk about Tim Wakefield. He put up ten seasons of 1.9+ WAR with the Red Sox. Only Roger Clemens can claim as many.
Jesse Haines was a teammate of Frankie Frisch for eleven seasons. Thus, he’s in the Hall of Fame. Freddy Garcia never teamed with Frisch. They’re tied in career WAR, and they’re tied in All-Star type seasons. One.
I’ve already written a bunch about how the Hall failed when inducting Catfish Hunter. Nine years of his career overlapped with those of the great Burt Hooton. They finished their careers with identical WAR totals. They both reached 4-WAR four times. Hunter reached 3-WAR only four times, but Hooton did so on seven occasions. Yes, Hunter had a greater peak, but the guy had only six seasons when he was good (2+ WAR).
Addie Joss played for only nine seasons. He’s in the Hall of Fame largely because of a career ERA of 1.89. Noodles Hahn was almost an exact contemporary in the National League. He pitched for only eight years and posted a career ERA of 2.55. Really, they’re not very different. However, if you like peak, perhaps you’d prefer the six seasons of 6.4+ WAR for Hahn versus one season at that level for Joss.
Through July 2 there’s a tie between Bartolo Colon (48.8, -1.2), Mickey Lolich (48.8, 0.3), and Wes Ferrell (48.8, 12.8). Who would you rather have pitching for you? Well, in the American League from 1973-1996 it wouldn’t matter one bit. But at any other point in baseball history, you’d really want Ferrell. See, the numbers you see are their pitching WAR followed by their hitting WAR. Colon and Lolich are both excellent. Ferrell is a HoMEr, and it’s because of his hitting. On the all-time WAR list, Colon is at #336, Lolich is at #318, and Ferrell is at #163. Pretty incredible.
There are some who consider Three Finger Brown to be one of the all-time greats. Nobody considers Kevin Appier at that level, but he’s tied in career WAR with Brown. Appier was no Roger Clemens. He was no Randy Johnson. He was just a guy who had five seasons at the All-Star level. And he had four more years at 3+ WAR. People are right to make cases for Alan Trammell, Kenny Lofton, and other hitters. But there are pitchers like Appier who also have very strong Hall cases who don’t get similar love.
Okay, there’s no tie at #34. But this gives me an opportunity to talk about one of the most underrated players in the game’s history. Bob Feller is #42. John Smoltz is #39. Carl Hubbell is #36. Jim Palmer is #35. And Rick Reuschel is #34. Rick Reuschel! He had a really strange two-part career. From 1972-1981 he posted 49.8 WAR. From 1982-1984 it was 0.1. And from 1985-1991 it was another 18.3. Let’s just say he was a decent pitcher for those middle three seasons, posting 3 WAR per year. If that were the case, he’d be the #27 ranked pitcher in history by career WAR. Right behind Curt Schilling…
The way I’ve put these posts together, I’ve learned about the players and managers at much the same pace you have. And I looked and looked and looked for someone who I thought was a star both as a player and as a manager. The primer, revealed no such two-way star. I didn’t find one when reviewing candidates 41-80 either. And much to my surprise, there were no star players and managers among our candidates 16-40.
But today is different. Today we meet the only men in history who I think were stars both on the field and in the dugout.
#15 Steve O’Neill (MAPES: 28; ZIMMER: 36; Player Manager Score: 32)
I’m not exactly sure when I became familiar with the existence of Steve O’Neill, but it certainly wasn’t before Eric and I started constructing the HoME. A catcher for 17 seasons from 1911-1928, O’Neill was fifth all-time in games caught 65 years into the history of MLB in 1940. His BBREF page is without Black Ink, and he had almost no Gray Ink either. On the other hand, his MAPES number is a tiny shade better than that of Jason Varitek. O’Neill is about the 50th best catcher ever to play. I’m going to say such a person could be called a star. He’s more well-known and more well-credentialed as a manager. He had a full season with the Red Sox and the Phillies, two with the Indians, and six with the Tigers, totaling 1040 wins overall. It was in Detroit that where he had the most success. In 1942 he took over a team that had finished fifth the previous year. O’Neill didn’t better that ranking in his first year. But in the next four years Detroit wouldn’t finish lower than second, and O’Neill brought them a ring in 1945 with a win over the Cubs. He wasn’t a superstar by any stretch of the imagination, but I think someone could, for the first time in this project, say that we have a guy who was a star player and a star manager.
Hall of Fame critics aren’t big fans of Frisch, the guy perhaps most responsible for polluting the Hall with under-qualified players, usually former teammates. On the other hand, he was an incredible player. He’s the sixth best 2B ever, give or take a position or two. He represented the NL in the first three All-Star Games, and he won two rings as a player. He didn’t have the balance of O’Neill, but he ranks higher thanks to absolute greatness as a player. He put in sixteen seasons as a manager, winning 1138 games for the Cards, Pirates, and Cubs. His best season, not unlike a lot of managers, was his first, when the Cardinals beat the Tigers in the 1934 World Series. While he had only three more finishes better than fourth, he still ranks #14 on our list.
While not the equivalent of Frisch as a player, Terry’s ZIMMER score lets Terry edge the Fordham Flash by this measure. Like Frisch, the last National Leaguer to hit .400 represented the NL in the first three All-Star Games. He wouldn’t likely make the HoME with only 180 players, but he’s deserving of the honor with a HoME the same size as the Hall. His managerial career, while short, was quite impressive. For ten seasons, Terry led the Giants. He won three NL pennants and the 1933 World Series against the Senators.
I was first introduced to Johnson as a kid collecting baseball cards in 1978. I was seven years old, marking checklists with a pen, and trying to figure out how I could have so many Dave Johnson cards but not have any with the number 317. I was completely convinced that Topps made a mistake. Then I got another pack and found this 2B-1B from the Phillies. On the back of the card Topps taught me that Johnson played with both Hank Aaron and Sadahura Oh. Also on the back of the card was the 317 I was looking for. At that point my seven-year-old mind had to try to reconcile that there could be two players with the same names. Man, that was some hard work. The second thing I learned about Johnson was the really cool trivia question that at the time, he, Hank Aaron, and Darrell Evans were the only teammates ever to homer 40 times in the same season. Surprisingly, the four-time All-Star’s next best HR total was 18. I didn’t think about Johnson again for a number of years, I don’t believe. Then came the 1986 World Series. I didn’t know about the Red Sox in 1975, and I really didn’t appreciate what went on in 1978. My introduction to the pain was really 1986. All I thought about Johnson then was that we managed the team I hated. What I learned later is that in spite of never winning another pennant, Johnson was an incredible manager. In fourteen full seasons, he finished first six times, second seven more times, and third once. That record is just about incomparable. For me, Johnson went from enigma, to an agent of evil, to a hero – one of the best managers who ever lived. If he only had a better playing career…
#11 Dusty Baker (MAPES: 29; ZIMMER: 54; Player Manager Score: 38)
I really don’t like to see Dusty Baker this high. But he was a good player and a very successful manager. After cups of coffee in four seasons, Baker became a regular for the Braves at age-23. We think of him as a Dodger, but he also played parts of eight years in Atlanta. He made a pair of All-Star squads, hit 20+ homers six times, and had a 20-20 season. Overall, he borders on being one of the 50 best left fielders ever. That’s star-ish. In the dugout, he lasted for 20 seasons and won 1671 games. While he didn’t win the World Series, he did take the Giants there in 2002. And he made the playoffs six more times for the Cubs and Reds. Overall, he finished first or second eleven times in 20 seasons. Manager of the Year honors don’t necessarily say much, but stinky guys don’t win the three Baker did.
There’s still time for Scioscia to increase his standing on this list, as there’s little reason to think he’s anywhere near done as a manager at age 56. Presumably he has a good rapport with Angel owner Arte Moreno, and he’s become something of an institution staying in Anaheim for sixteen seasons. Seven playoff appearances says something. A World Series title in 2002 says more. He’s 24th all-time in wins, and he’s quite likely pass Earl Weaver and Clark Griffith this year. With five more .500 seasons, he’ll be 15th in all-time wins. That ZIMMER score isn’t stopping at 61. As far as his player score, he gets a nice bump by being a pretty durable backstop for thirteen seasons. Twice an All-Star, Scioscia was known for blocking the plate, something that isn’t even part of the game today. Overall, he’s possibly inside the top-50 catchers ever. Coupled with being one of the 20-30 best managers ever, and you see why he’s in our top-ten.
Not many people had Joe Cronin’s baseball career. Star player, fine manager, long-time general manager, and American League President. As a player, he’s a deserving Hall of Famer, a shortstop with pop who averaged over 104 runs batted in per season from 1930-1940. Eight seasons playing at an All-Star level make him a top-ten shortstop in career value, or at least near so. He was a good manager too, moving from Washington to Boston just as he did as a player. He won a pennant in his first year, 1933, and he won another in 1946, his next to last. In between he finished second with the Red Sox four times, and his 1236 wins in fifteen years is impressive indeed. A bit more balance is needed for a higher score. Maybe someday I’ll try to include executive roles in a ranking like this. If I did, Cronin would likely be closer to the top.
I kind of wanted him in the HoME as a player, and I thought about an argument for him as a manager as well. Add more than a third of a century as the owner of the Senators, and you have someone who I may just prefer to Joe Cronin overall. His BBREF page counts twenty seasons as a pitcher, the top-rated pitcher on this list, but he really only lasted for fourteen seasons. The others are just small parts. He averaged almost 22 wins per year from 1894-1901, which was third best in the bigs over that period. As a manager, he turned a trick many others did too, taking home a pennant in his first year. This was in 1901, before there was a World Series, so there’s not much more he could have done. But that was it, no more pennants in nineteen more years. Still, the 1491 wins are impressive, and he did finish second four more times. I not-so-secretly hoped he’d rank higher on this list, in fact his falling short of both the player wing and the manager wing of the HoME inspired this project. Sorry that I couldn’t do better for you, Clark.
We know that Huggins was a great, HoME-level manager. He ran the Yankee dynasty that went to the World Series six times from 1921-1928, winning three of them. He averaged almost 94 wins per year with the Yankees form 1920-1928. Add in a decent run with the Cardinals prior to that, and Huggins totaled 1413 wins in 17 years. I’ve been using top-50 at a position to equate to star level, and Huggins is right among the best 50 2B ever. Truth be told, I slot him two spots ahead of Bill Mazeroski. He had no power, only nine homers in his career and never reaching 20 doubles, but he certainly knew how to take a walk. He led the AL four times and topped 87 four others in what was really just ten full years. By my numbers, he put up eight seasons of 3+ WAR and one where he was really close. He’s one of the hidden position player gems that the HoME project revealed, at least to me.
This is when we get to the big boys. I think we can say that Chance and the five above him were all great players and great managers. Chance might rank higher on this list, but his managerial career ended at just about the same time his playing career did. And his peak success in the dugout coincided with the last years he was a productive bat. That’s okay. His best years in the dugout were extraordinary. From 1906-1910 he won four pennants and two World Series. In seven seasons managing the Cubs, he won just about 102 games per year. That’s an astonishing mark. And it’s a mark that keeps him on our very short list of managers for the last few such spots in the HoME.
Jennings is really similar to his contemporary, Griffith, in a couple of ways. First, someone could fashion a pro-HoME argument for either of them in either wing. Second, their playing days were both a lot shorter in games than in years. Jennings played for six years with 28 plate appearances; Griffith pitched for five with 16.1 innings. Generally speaking, Griffith is a peak candidate with incredible years in 1895 and 1898. And Jennings is very much a peak candidate, with more than two-thirds of his value coming from 1895 to 1898. Jennings was baseball’s best position player over those four years. Expand things to 1894, and he’s still the best. Like Griffith again, he’s not in the HoME because he couldn’t keep up the great seasons quite long enough. Managing was different for Jennings. He was essentially never a player/manager, and he had a ton of success, especially early for the Tigers. He won pennants in each of his first three seasons, 1907-1909, though he failed to take home the World Series. He also had a 100-win season in 1915, which wasn’t quite enough. Overall, he won 1184 games in parts of 16 seasons. Jennings was an incredibly successful player and an incredibly successful manager. That’s why he’s fifth on our list.
Talk about successful! Clarke is a member of the HoME both as a player and as a manager. For 21 seasons, Clarke manned left field, mostly, for the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates. Though he’s basically without Black Ink, Clarke was an outstanding defender who my numbers say is the sixth best left fielder ever, between Ed Delahanty and Al Simmons. Should you really mistrust defensive numbers and my defensive adjustments, you’d still like Clarke enough to get him in, with a value similar to that of Billy Williams. He also had tremendous success managing, with his playing and managing careers overlapping considerably. He began his career as a skipper for Louisville, ended for Pittsburgh, and really managed for only four years after he was done as a player. The first two years before the World Series, he took the Pirates to NL crowns. He also brought them to the first World Series, a 1903 loss to Bill Dinneen, Cy Young, and the Boston Americans. Clarke finally found the ultimate success when his Pirates won 110 games and the title in 1909. His run to start the century was remarkable, winning more than 95 games per year from 1901-1909. Overall, he took 1602 wins in 19 seasons in the dugout. He was truly great as both a player and as a manager, but there were still three better.
I wouldn’t have thought someone not in the both wings of the HoME would top anyone in both. However, John McGraw was an extremely good player at third base and one of the two or three best managers ever. If anyone was going to do it, it would be a guy like him. I kinda love McGraw as a player, just because he’s so seldom thought of in that role. And I tried to fashion a Hall argument for him. However, he had only eight productive seasons, albeit six when he was excellent. He was a good hitter who could draw walks like few others. From 1897-1901 he had an OBP of .500. Think about that. For five seasons, it was a coin flip as to whether or not McGraw would reach base. As a manager, I rank him second behind Joe McCarthy. He won ten pennants and three World Series. Overall, he managed for 33 years, winning 2763 games with a .586 winning percentage.
When I think about Cap Anson, I think about steroids. Hear me out. Today, many Hall voters – even reasonable ones – choose not to vote for players like Barry Bonds because they used steroids. Even though they weren’t always banned by MLB, for the sake of this argument, let’s just say that they were. If that’s the case, users cheated the game. If that’s the case, users tarnished the record books. We’re on the same page so far, right? Now Cap Anson was a racist, and he was influential. It’s argued that he worked hard to segregate the game. And he succeeded. So I think of steroids when I think of Anson because Anson absolutely cheated the game of tons of talent. He absolutely tarnished the record books by keeping talented players out of the game. I’m not trying to make any tremendous point here. I’m just pointing out something I think about. Anson was an insanely good player. By my count, he had 26 2-win seasons. Nobody else had more than Ty Cobb’s 22. He had 22 3-win seasons. Nobody else had more than Barry Bonds’ 21. (Interesting trio of racists and users there). Aside from 22 games in 1898, his managing career ended when his playing career did. Before that time, his Chicago White Stockings won five NL pennants. And he finished second four more times. It helps when you get to manage one of the game’s best players because you’re that guy. And it also helps when you’re able to water down the competition because of your racist influence.
And finally, we’ve reached the top, the best combination player and manager in baseball history – by a decent margin in my rankings. Joe Torre is a lot like John McGraw, under-appreciated as a player at least in part because he was such a great manager. Torre was different from almost everyone in the game’s history in terms of position. Only nine players ever played 100 games at catcher, first base, and third base. Increase the threshold to 120, and we’re down to six. At 140, we have only four remaining. At 160, it’s just Torre and Keith Moreland. And at 161, it’s just Torre. It’s hard to understand a player who’s so different. Let’s forget Torre’s 1B play for a bit. Only seventeen players ever played in 100 games behind the plate and at third base. Raise the threshold by 20 games, and we’re down to 13. At 140 games, there are just nine. Two more drop out at 160. At 180, it’s just Torre, Johnny Bench, B.J. Surhoff, and Brandon Inge. By 200, Bench is gone. When we get to 377, it’s only Torre. I’m going into a lot of seemingly unimportant data to make a point; Torre was a very different player. And players who are so different can be hard to figure. Only 80 guys can equal his nine All-Star games. And of those non-PED guys who are eligible and not currently still on the ballot, only Bill Freehan and Steve Garvey played in more among those not enshrined as players. Torre makes perfect sense as a Hall of Fame player. But he’s in as a manager, which he obviously should be. While he had a losing record in his other stops, he was pretty amazing in the Bronx. Six pennants, four World Series titles, and nearly 98 wins per season for twelve straight years. He and Fred Clarke are the only two guys in the HoME as a player and as a manager.
Well, that brings this series to a close. Do our answers match? If not, that’s okay. Hope you had as much fun reading as I did researching.
Our hot streak continues. With the elections of Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy in the 1950 group, we’ve now elected four managers to the Hall of Miller and Eric. With only eighteen more to elect, we reach a fairly crowded 1960 ballot. Eight managers, more than in any election since our first, are eligible this time around. Five of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. And three are already in the HoME as players. Of course, only four of our candidates finished their dugout days with a record north of .500. Let’s see who’s contending for a spot in our manager’s wing in 1960.
All of the guys on our list managed during the war. As such, they had to navigate some really odd times in terms of roster construction and competition. Almost all of our managers here had to get accustomed to the role of the manager changing. No longer were they making trades. That job went to the general manager. Guys who could adapt to this change stayed around. Those who didn’t looked for other work. And based on the records below, perhaps some of these guys had to look for other work because they just weren’t so great at their jobs.
Let’s check out our eight candidates.
G> WS Flags Yrs From W L % .500 Won Won ===================================================================================== Frankie Frisch 16 1933-1951 1138 1087 .514 60 1 1 Billy Southworth 13 1929-1951 1044 704 .597 340 2 4 Rogers Hornsby 14 1925-1953 701 812 .463 -111 1 1 Steve O'Neill 14 1935-1954 1040 821 .559 219 1 1 Bucky Harris 29 1924-1956 2158 2219 .493 -61 2 3 Fred Haney 10 1939-1959 629 757 .454 -128 1 2 Charlie Grimm 19 1932-1960 1287 1067 .547 220 0 3 Lou Boudreau 16 1942-1960 1162 1224 .487 -62 1 1
Will anyone from 1960 be elected? Might someone move to our second phase? Results will be revealed on Friday.
A couple of weeks ago, in association with Graham Womack’s work over at Baseball Past and Present, Eric shared with you his 25 most important people in baseball history. And today I have my chance. But first, I love Womack’s idea here. It’s fun. It starts conversations. And that’s exactly why so many of us love the game.
In his post, Eric said that Womack’s deliberately subjective term “most important” meant “lasting impact” for him. I completely concur. Yet Eric and I have pretty different lists. Mine is peppered with more players than his. His contains more pioneers, shall we say. On one hand, without these pioneers, we might not have the game we have today. On the other, it’s not incredibly easy to say that people many fans haven’t heard of have had such a lasting impact. These points are debatable. These lists are so debatable. And that’s why they’re great.
Eric puts three men at the top – Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, and Jackie Robinson. I’d have just two men there – Ruth and Rickey. Don’t misunderstand. Robinson is huge. Robinson is critically important. But I believe there’s a bit of distance between him and the top two. I’ll get to that distance in a moment.
#1 Babe Ruth: He is baseball. Without him, home runs wouldn’t have taken on the life they did. The Yankees wouldn’t have been the Yankees. Hell, baseball wouldn’t be baseball.
#2 Branch Rickey: Add his role in baseball’s integration, plus his role in the establishment of farm systems, plus his role in the establishment of spring training, plus his role the use of statistical analysis, and you have the most important non-player in baseball history.
#3 Henry Chadwick: Surprising and disappointing many, I’m not going with Jackie here. Chadwick created the box score! If you grew up a baseball fan, you grew up pouring through box scores. Even if you don’t know Chadwick, you’ve looked at his work thousands and thousands of times. More than any non-player in baseball’s early days, he helped to popularize the game.
#4 Kenesaw Mountain Landis: I had a very tough call between him and Chadwick. On one hand, were it not for the strong first Commissioner of the game, I don’t know if we’d have a game today. On the other, were it not for love of statistics, I wouldn’t be writing this. Since it’s my list, I’m going with what’s important to me. But without Landis, the game could have lost all credibility at the hands of gamblers. It’s possible he saved the game from extinction.
#5 Jackie Robinson: In most baseball circles it’s sacrilege to suggest that baseball could have gone on without the great #42. Robinson debuted on April 15, 1947. Larry Doby played in the majors less than two months later. Were it not for Robinson, some would say, Doby wouldn’t have existed when he did. And perhaps that true. But I think that the repulsive practice of barring black players from the game was going to end with or without Robinson, probably in 1947 or 1948. Robinson might have been the perfect first player, but I’m not convinced that he’s the only person who could have played that role.
#6 Marvin Miller: For generations of baseball players, he’s the most important ever. Were it not for his leadership, players might still be tied to their teams for life. And they might still be making a pittance relative to the owners. Okay, they’re still making a pittance, but it’s a bigger pittance.
#7 Stephen C. Clark: This is, perhaps, a selfish choice. Clark is the founder of the Baseball Hall of Fame. That’s the reason for this blog and the thing I treasure most about the game.
#8 Bill James: More selfishness? Before Bill James, I didn’t read. I knew how and all; I just didn’t. James made reading fun for me. He made statistics fun for me. Were it not for Bill James, it’s possible I wouldn’t have attended college, and today I’m a college professor. Hmm, maybe he should be higher on my list.
#9 Harry Wright: This is the level at which things get dicey for me. Wright put together the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first fully professional team. He made baseball a business. And he also introduced on-field innovations like backing up plays.
#10 Monte Ward: He was a Hall-level player and was the leader in the construction of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the game’s first labor union. He also formed the Players’ League, a rival major league.
#11 Pete Rose: A baseball pariah and mass autograph signer today, Rose was once the game’s greatest asset. He’s one of the most important players on one of the most important teams ever. Oh yeah, and most hits in history. Plus, through Rose we can talk gambling and Hall exclusion. Those things are important to me.
#12 Peter Seitz: I chose Seitz for this list rather than Oliver Wendell Holmes. Seitz was the arbitrator who overturned baseball’s reserve clause, a decision that ushered in free agency. While Holmes did write the decision that basically said baseball was a game rather than a business, allowing it to exist as a monopoly, he wasn’t the only Supreme Court justice involved in that decision. And since he wasn’t Chief Justice, it’s quite possible the decision to take the case was someone else’s. After Seitz’s decision, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally became free. And ballplayers began to earn their fair share of the game’s profits.
#13 J.G. Taylor Spink: Spink followed Chadwick in promoting the game to the masses through The Sporting News. If baseball weren’t brought to the people by that “Bible of baseball”, it wouldn’t be the game it is today.
#14 Barry Bonds: Let the controversy begin! Like it or not, he’s the game’s all-time leader in its most treasured stat. And he’s an incredibly important figure in the telling of the game’s steroid story.
#15 Roger Bresnahan: He invented and improved on so much of a catcher’s equipment that the term “tools of ignorance” applied much less after his time than before it. Eric’s words here are eloquent. “When you think about it, his ideas, mocked in his day but quickly adopted, have had a positive effect on 13 percent of all big league players (probably 2,000 or more men)…”
#16 Ed Barrow: It’s possible the Yankees never would have become the Yankees without him. Of course, my favorite thing about him is that he managed the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series title.
#17 Frank Robinson: All-time great player, MVP in both leagues, triple crown, and first African American manager ever. I like putting players on this list more than many would. Robinson makes it as a player, a manager, a pioneer, an executive, and an icon.
#18 Frank Jobe: I think they should call it “Frank Jobe surgery”. Tommy John didn’t do much, really. Jobe did. And millions of fans have him to thank for putting their favorite pitchers back together.
#19 Ted Williams: It’s possible he understood hitting as well as anyone ever has. Through Williams, one can tell the story of .400, military service by MLB players, and even recognition of Negro League players by the Hall of Fame.
#20 Frankie Frisch: The Giant and Cardinal has four World Series rings and a Hall of Fame plaque. But the reason he makes this list is the leadership of the Hall’s Veterans Committee during a time they polluted the Coop with cronies and some pretty undeserving players. You can’t tell the story of the Hall without discussion of Frisch.
#21 Curt Flood: Flood is lower on this list than some might suggest. But when he challenged baseball’s reserve clause, he lost his case. He’s on the list because he got the ball rolling though, and there might not be a 10/5 rule without Flood.
#22 Sean Forman: If Bill James ushered in the analytics revolution, it’s Forman’s baseballreference.com that has made it possible. People who understand statistics and mathematics now often understand the game better than baseball insiders. Partly because of Forman, front offices are littered with brainiacs and not grizzled old baseball men.
#23 Cal Ripken Jr.: The man who topped Lou Gehrig’s iron man streak also helped baseball through one of its darkest times, the cancellation of the 1994 World Series due to labor strife. Ripken was a positive and popular player, someone who the fans could look up to as a beacon of excellence when so many others disappointed.
#24 Hank Aaron: Aaron makes my list because of homers, Ruth, race, Bonds, and his ambassadorship to the game. The story of the game can’t be told very well without Aaron.
#25: Abraham G. Mills: And the story of the game wouldn’t be the story of the game without Mills, the guy who led the commission that ridiculously credited Abner Doubleday as the founder of the game. For so many to believe something so wrong for so long makes Mills quite important in my estimation.
That’s my list. What’s yours? Vote here. Voting closes at Sunday at 8 p.m. Pacific Time.
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.
A Time to Kill is more than just a crummy Grisham novel, it’s one of my favorite times of the election cycle at the HoME. It’s the time when can eliminate some players from the ballot. After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the Hall of Miller and Eric, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries.
To make our next round of voting easier, we remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration. They’ll receive 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 (Throughout our process, I’ve cited 778 as the number of players included in our original data set. That number included players not yet eligible. The corrected total reflects only those eligible through the 2013 election). So, after ten elections, we’ve elected 52 and put to rest 141 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. That leaves us with 540 players for our remaining 157 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect just over 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 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 1946
Called “Camera Eye” because he had remarkable strike zone judgment, Max Bishop was a second baseman, primarily for the Philadelphia A’s. Every season in which he came to the plate 500 times or more, he drew 100 walks or more. In fact, he drew walks more frequently than anyone in the game’s history other than Ted Williams. He struggled in post-season play, batting only .182 over three World Series from 1929-1931. Always walking, however, he did post a .316 OBP in those Series. And by the way, Bishop holds the record for most walks in a double header – eight – which he accomplished twice.
If induction into the HoME were based on one game, Jim Bottomley would absolutely be in. On September 16, 1924, “Sunny Jim” had one of the best games in the game’s history. Against the Brooklyn Robins Bottomley singled three times, doubled, and homered twice. Those six hits were good for a record 12 runs batted in, a total that has only been equaled by Mark Whiten in 1993. He’s in the Hall of Fame due in large part to former teammate and Veterans Committee member Frankie Frisch, but a player only about as good as Cecil Cooper just doesn’t cut it in the HoME.
Bill Bradley posted the second highest sacrifice hit total in baseball history when he bunted runners over 60 times in 1908. He trails only Ray Chapman’s 67 in 1917. What does it take to sacrifice 60 times? It takes a pretty healthy player who hits near the top of the order. Bradley played in 148 of 154 games, and though his 1908 doesn’t suggest a hitter with a prime spot in the order, his previous record does. And it also takes an incredibly low scoring environment – teams only scored 3.4 runs per game in the American League in 1908, and hitters compiled just a .239/.294/.304 line as a group.
I say that Donie Bush didn’t spell his name oddly. He spelled it correctly and pronounced it oddly. Think of the stuff used to make pizza plus the largest joint in your body. That’s Donie. He was a shortstop, mostly for the Tigers, from 1908-1923. A slick fielder, in 1914 he set the American League record for most chances by a shortstop and tied Hughie Jennings’ major league record for most putouts in a season at short. He also participated in a record (tied with Bid McPhee) nine triple plays, led the league in walks five times, and laid down the fifth most sacrifice bunts in history.
Jack Clements was the last lefty in the bigs to have a regular gig behind the plate. While he wasn’t a great defender, he held his own. At the plate, he was more impressive in some ways, holding both the single-season and career marks for homers by a catcher until Gabby Hartnett passed him for both.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Art Devlin would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame had he just been a lot better at baseball. But seriously, there’s not a ton of note about the career of this Giant third baseman from Washington, DC. One web site says that all of the other Devlins in major league history have been named “Jim” and another one notes that his second wife died on the same day Babe Ruth did. He did lead the league in steals in 1905 and get hit by more pitches than anyone else in 1907. So I guess there’s that.
Jimmy Dykes played with a lot of great players. That’s something. And he was pretty good himself during his 22 years in the majors with the A’s and White Sox. He played all over the diamond, mostly at 2B and 3B, and is pretty similar in career value to Frank White. Somewhat notably, Dykes was baseball’s first manager with 1000 wins and no pennants.
Duke Farrell was a catcher from 1888-1905 who once caught eight of nine would-be base stealers in a single game. But the thing that might matter most is his uncanny resemblance to Nick Offerman, the actor who portrays Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
Chick Hafey couldn’t see, yet he’s still in the Hall of Fame. Okay, he could see. Just not very well and not very consistently. He had terrible sinus problems, which caused vision issues. Also, he was hit in the head by pitches more than once. In the days before batting helmets, when men were men, and “men” meant “idiots”, beanings could change a lot more than the course of a career. Hafey was a good player, though overrated in his time and overrated historically. He might not have deserved the start in front of Joe Medwick, but he was the NL’s first All-Star left fielder. And he got the 1933 game’s first hit.
Jesse Haines was the first pitcher in World Series history to throw a complete game shutout while hitting a home run in the same game (Bucky Walters being the only other pitcher to do so). In the third game of the 1926 Series, he took Yankee starter Dutch Reuther deep in bottom of the fourth, and he allowed just five hits to the Bombers in the 4-0 victory. He won 20 games on three occasions, and he led the NL in complete games and shutouts in 1927. Sadly, he’s in the Hall of Fame, where he’s almost certainly one of the five worst players.
Babe Herman was a pretty talented lefty throwing right fielder who played most of his 13 seasons in the NL and took home a triples crown in 1932. He’s also responsible, in part, for one of the oddest plays the game has ever seen. Bases loaded with Dodgers. Babe Herman at the plate. He hits a long drive. That ball is in the gap. Hank DeBerry scores from third. And Dazzy Vance rounds the bag and will score easily. Oh, wait. Vance heads back to third. Why’s he going back to third? That’s where Chick Fewster should be. Oh no! It seems Herman isn’t paying attention because he’s chugging into third too. What a mess! Eddie Taylor tagged everyone. Vance was safe, the other two were out. Herman doubled into a double play.
From the files of so similar and yet so different comes Willis Hudlin, a righty starter, almost exclusively for the Indians, who won 158 games and also gave up Babe Ruth’s 500th home run. He’s one of two players in baseball history to attend Oklahoma’s Wagoner High School. The other, whose career overlapped Hudlin’s in 1927, was Chuck Corgan. Hudlin lived until 2002, age 96. Corgan passed away from cancer in 1928, at just age 25.
Travis Jackson didn’t have a Hall of Fame career, but he has a Hall of Fame plaque. The slick fielding shortstop for the New York Giants never led the league in anything, which makes one wonder how he got in. Look for an article on the influence Frankie Frisch had over the Hall’s Veterans Committee coming soon. His World Series performance was pretty bad, posting a .149/.183/.164 line over 74 trips to the plate.
Freddie Lindstrom came up as a young third baseman with the New York Giants. He later moved to the outfield and on to Pirates, Cubs, and Dodgers before ending his career at age 30. He led the NL in hits in 1928 when he may have had his finest season, punctuated by a second place finish in the MVP race to Jim Bottomley. Though he’s only about as deserving as Terry Pendleton, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1976.
Heinie Manush was a left fielder who played for six teams in his seventeen years in the majors. And there were a lot of things he did quite well. He won a batting title in 1926, and he led his league in doubles and hits twice each. But oh, how the game has changed. Picture this: World Series, controversial call at first, umpire Charlie Moran calls Manush out, all hell breaks loose, fans throw bottles on the field, but Manush isn’t ejected. Yet. What got him ejected, you ask? Manush pulled Moran’s bow tie, the kind with an elastic band inside, and he let it snap back. Right out of Vaudeville.
The catcher with the most assists in history is Deacon McGuire. He’s also first in caught stealing, stolen bases allowed, and errors by a catcher. That’s what happens when you play semi-regularly behind the plate from the time you’re 20 until you’re about 42. Longevity begets career marks. When we look at the all-time leaders in games caught, we see almost only backstops whose careers began after WWII, indicating how a physically demanding position today was even more demanding at one time. McGuire had played for a record eleven major league teams until Matt Stairs topped that, but he still owns a record by having played for 29 managers.
There was a time that pretty darned good ballplayers would head to the minor leagues after their major league careers ended. Del Pratt was one such player. A talented second baseman while in the bigs, Pratt was quite durable; he led the AL in games played five times. And after he finished in the majors, he went on to become a player-manager (another thing that happened much more frequently 80+ years ago) for the Waco Cubs. While playing for Waco, Pratt won the Texas League triple crown in 1927.
Pie Traynor is the first player receiving a HoME obituary who was elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In 1948, Traynor received 76.9% of the vote to gain election in his eighth year of eligibility. He received more votes in that election than Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Harry Heilmann and a total of 50 players who are in the Hall of Fame. Traynor led the league in triples once. It’s hard to see what the writers saw in him, but his reputation was certainly that of an all-time great. The reality is that he was about as good as Tim Wallach. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just that he’s not at HoME level.
Best known as the pitcher who allowed Babe Ruth’s 60th home run in 1927 on a ball he claimed went foul, Tom Zachary was a righty starter who pitched for seven teams over nineteen years to win his 186 games. Zachary went undefeated for the 1929 Yankees, posting a 12-0 record. That record remains to this day as the most wins in a single season without a loss. Oddly, the most similar hitter to him in the game’s history by Similarity Scores is also the second most similar pitcher, Dolf Luque.
Rest in peace, all. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1951 election for more obituaries.