How in the world do you decide what pitch to throw? And who decides? It is the manager? The pitcher? The catcher? A bit of all three? We will answer none of those questions below.
We know that sometimes the catcher decides what pitch should be thrown. And if the pitcher has both command and control, maybe the right pitch goes to the right location, and the batter fails. That’s if the catcher/pitcher/manager chooses the right pitch and location. And if the batter also fails. There’s merit to the idea that the best catchers ever are the ones best at calling games, if they’re actually the ones responsible for calling the games. I don’t think we really know who had such responsibility. And there’s no way to really know if they got the most out of their pitchers. There are just so many variables that we can’t control for.
The best receiver in history would have to have all of the physical attributes, and he’d have to be an expert on game theory, someone in league with the world’s best poker players. We just can’t measure that.
I’d like to note two more things before we get started. First, neither one of our numbers puts Johnny Bench on the top of the catcher list. And second, it’s extremely hard to figure out what’s right at this position. We’re trying our best.
Mauer is a made man. Unless he turns in a few -2.0 WAR seasons in a row, he’s over the line for good. The question is whether he can gain ground on the rest of the field. Given recent history, his peak appears locked in, so it’s about chasing down the career value of guys above him on the totem pole. Bill Dickey feels like his top end to me. After my various adjustments, Dickey’s ahead by 9 career WAR, but their peak is exactly the same. Mauer certainly could catch up, though as a thirty-five year old with a history of concussion syndrome, the wear and tear of catching, and an overall long-term decline in performance, especially in power, I’m not sanguine about his odds to hit on that prop. He’ll pass Joe Torre this year, but Charlie Bennett is a pretty far in the distance, let alone Hartnett and Dickey.—Eric
There’s actually quite a bit going on here. After three years when it seemed Mauer was done as a plus hitter, he rebounded nicely last season. On the plus side, his K-rate fell to pre-concussion levels. He also made more hard contact than he had in four years. Maybe he’s back??? I know that’s not the way aging works though. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of data we have on people who have recovered from concussions. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over 138 games, 18 more than his previous four. In terms of wear and tear on his body, perhaps he’s looking better than a few years ago? Then again, the last four years have seen him with a 106 OPS+, while the previous four were at 134. And his 116 from last year isn’t really too impressive. He’s 35 now, and it’s quite possible his surprise 3-win campaign of 2017 was the last year of that quality he’ll ever have. That’s what I’m guessing. If we plug in seasons of 2.2, 1.1 and -0.4 WAR, he gets by Joe Torre, and that’s it. I say he finishes at #12.–Miller
This is one incredibly healthy catcher we’re looking at, a guy who’s played in at least 140 games every year since 2012. What’s more, he’s been worth over 4 wins each season. He’s 31 now. As he ages, the Giants can move him out from behind the plate more and more. If he can maintain last year’s level in 2018 and then decline slowly, he can get to #14. Maintaining a little more value and playing until age 38, he’ll battle Mauer for that #12 spot. I’ll take the more positive run out in this case.–Miller
It has to be Gary Carter, right? Everyone calls Johnny Bench the best MLB catcher ever. Well, everyone except me and Eric. I have to admit to being unsure of how catcher handling should be interpreted, and I think my catcher ratings are less likely to be “correct” than those at any position. I use Max Marchi’s handling numbers, albeit at a reduced rate, which vaults Carter to the top. Somehow, it’s actually not very close.–Miller
We could make a baseball TV comedy show called That 70s Catcher. Bench, Fisk, Simmons, Munson, plus big hunks of Carter’s career. Oh, and Gene Tenace. Gino Fiore Tenace is one of those analytical darlings who walked a lot, hit for power, moved around the diamond a bit, and whose excellence was hidden by baseball’s traditionalist mindset until the last twenty or so years. There’s that and the fact that his career was very short, under 6,000 plate appearances, and that defensively he wasn’t an outstanding backstop. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity to name the twenty best catchers ever, a supermajority of baseball watchers and sports journalists wouldn’t include him. Especially when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Yadier Molina, and a few other more famous catchers rank below him.—Eric
I have Charlie Bennett 28% over the line, while Eric sees him only 13% over. The difference between 10th best and 12th best, however, really isn’t a big deal. Perhaps Johnny Bench is our biggest disagreement? We are in lockstep on #1 and #2 at every other position, so when my #2 is his #5, we might say that it’s a big difference.–Miller
Yes, just about anyone. We use the handling numbers we have, which we think makes sense. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t exist for the first 80 or so years of the game, nor the last six. We’re not guessing. We’re doing the best we can, and we think we’re reasonably close. It’s just that the error bar at catcher is greater than at any position. Far greater, I think.–Miller
You know, Buck Ewing bugs me. I know that some folks in his own time considered him the best player in the game, but the second-best catcher of all time? I’m not so sure. Could be an issue with how I’m extrapolating playing time. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re overcommitted on Ewing. Miller is absolutely correct that among all nine positions on the diamond (ten if you want to consider the DH separately), catcher is the fudgiest. We have all the usual things to account for such as schedule length, league quality, in my case standard deviation, differing defensive systems. Then we also have to introduce a ton more uncertainty because no defensive system captures catchers well, and the developers of those systems will tell you so. No system has successfully figured out how to add framing because framing is dependent on the umpire and the pitcher as well as the catcher. No system has incorporated pitcher handling either. Is plate blocking included in any of them? Where does pitch calling fit into this? Plus we have to account for the negative impact catching has on playing time so that we can bring catchers as close to other positions as possible. It’s not a cluster, not a whack-a-mole, more like those Russian nesting dolls. You’re trying to get down to the smallest doll, but there’s just so many other dolls ahead of it that eventually your hands get crampy from all the twisting apart of the dolls. And they are all wearing masks!—Eric
Next week we’re back with the next 20 catchers. And unless you’ve studied this subject, a bunch of names will be at least a little surprising.
If you were a hitter who debuted in the 1970s, you’ve had a harder time getting into the Hall of Fame than you should have. From 1971-1992, an era that encompasses the careers of almost all of the players in this series, only once did scoring top 4.47 runs per game. And three times it was 3.99 or below. In contrast, the era from 1921-1941 saw scoring higher than 4.47 every single year. Yes, different eras have different levels of offense. And when we use counting stats to make Hall of Fame decisions for hitters, we fail to take into account those lower run environments. Since 1950, five of the eight seasons with the fewest home runs per team were in the 1970s, and half of the bottom-24 occurred from 1971-1984.
You can’t expect huge offensive numbers in that era, but Hall of Fame voters still seem to. It’s that failure, plus the misunderstanding of base on balls, the misunderstanding of defensive value, and the misunderstanding of greatness versus inner circle Hall of Fame talent that has helped keep Ted Simmons and others who debuted in the 1970s out of the Hall.
Ted Simmons is a catcher who played a bit on the corners and some designated hitter. He got started with a cup of coffee at just 19 for the 1968 Cardinals. By 1970, he was sharing time behind the plate with Joe Torre. In 1971, Simmons pushed Torre to third.He was shipped to the Brewers with the next two AL Cy Young winners, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich, in a 1980 deal that brought the Cards four players, including top prospect David Green. It was a terrible trade for the Cardinals. After five years in Milwaukee, he was sent to the Braves in a deal for Rick Cerone. Simmons was all but done at that point, and he ended his career in Atlanta in 1988.
Simmons had power, which is evidenced by his 11th place standing in home runs by someone who played more than 50% of his career at catcher. And he could hit for average too; he’s 14th on a similar list among backstops.
The greatest problem Ted Simmons has is when he debuted. His first full season was 1970. Johnny Bench had his in first full year in 1968, Carlton Fisk in 1972, and Gary Carter in 1975. All three of those catchers were clearly better than Simmons. It’s not easy to get a lot of attention when there are three clearly better players who debuted right around the same time, not to mention the excellent Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Jim Sundberg, and Darrell Porter.
The only time Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot was 1994 when he received just 3.7% of the vote. Far inferior players like Steve Garvey, Rusty Staub, and Dave Concepcion fared better.
To get an idea of Simmons’ greatness, we need to compare him to all catchers, not just his contemporaries. There are only 39 catchers ever with at least 5000 plate appearances, 100 homers, and a .300 on base percentage. If we move those numbers up to 150 homers and a .325 on base clip, we’re down to 23 catchers. And if we move to 200 long balls and a .340 OBP, it’s just a dozen guys. Simmons absolutely did not play during a good offensive era, yet only Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, and Jorge Posada can match him in both HR and OBP. He’s also one of three catchers ever with 200 HR and 400 2B. The other two, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodgiruez are in the Hall.
Simmons has 50.1 career WAR, which is better than six Hall of Famers. To me, he is so clearly superior to Hall mistakes Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. Schalk is 42nd in career WAR among catchers, while Ferrell is 36th. Simmons is 12th. And he’s debatably better than Hall of Famers Roger Bresnahan and Ernie Lombardi.
I’m making Ray Schalk the choice here because he and Simmons both played in eras with depressed offense. In fact, the AIR number at BBREF, which measures the offensive level of the leagues and parks the player played in relative to all-time, is the same 96 for both of them. Let’s look at some stats.
Simmons Schalk ================================ Hits 2472 1345 Runs 1074 579 Home Runs 248 11 RBI 1389 594 OPS+ 118 83 Remember, they played in equally difficult offensive eras. ========================================================== Rfield -33 46 DRA -20.5 -17.1 The first is the defensive number at BBREF. The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more. ===================================================================== Actual WAR 50.1 28.5 My Conversion 54.7 35.5 MAPES C Rank 17 45 MAPES is my personal ranking system.
Have I convinced you that Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame? Maybe not. But I hope I’ve convinced you that if the Hall could have only one of Simmons and Schalk, it should absolutely be Ted Simmons.
Tune in next Monday for the second part of this series, Keith Hernandez.
In the late 20th Century, TBS liked to call the Braves “America’s Team.” Well, they are America’s oldest team with continuous operation since the inaugural 1871 National Association season. And they are tied with the Athletics for America’s most wanderlusting team, having now called three different cities home. They are certainly America’s Atlanta baseball team. Maybe Ted Turner and the gang simply meant that they belonged to America. In which case each of the then 26 or 28 teams could be duly carry this sobriquet. With the Canadian teams expanding the definition to North America, perhaps. But let’s not get technical.
So you’d figure that with such a long history, the Braves’ Mount Rushmore would have the faces of many, many famous “local” heroes. Depending on what local means to whichever city you rooted for them in. Of course there’s Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, John Smoltz, all lifetime members of los Bravos. Where will we chisel all their faces? Que? You say none of those guys played their entire careers for the Boswaunta Brave Red Bean Dove Rustlers? Don’t be ridiculous….
Of course this hypothetical interlocutor I’m jabbering with is right. All of those fellows played elsewhere. If we had a Rushmorian monument for the Braves, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Phil Niekro would grace its face. But they didn’t. In fact, by our rules which require a one-team career, our maximalist relief sculpture would include:
This somehow doesn’t seem befitting whichever version of “America’s Team” you prefer. But here’s something we can do. This is the Mount Rushmore just for the Milwaukee Braves. Anyone who played all their games from 1953 through 1965 as a Brave in Brewtown is eligible. Here’s your winners:
Of course, that’s all the Mays/Mayes out there since Willie, Joe, and Carl are Mayses, not Mays. And we have Jacob May, a young outfielder playing second, Lee Maye at third with all six of his career games there, and Pinky May at shortstop thanks to his one career game there. But these are the tough hypothetical choices we must make. And our co-managers, Eddie Mayo and Mayo Smith, might want something different.
But getting back to the Braves, who would be on my personal Braves Rushmore? Pascual Perez heads this list for sure. He was that rare breed, a zany righty starting pitcher. You never knew whether he might have no-hit stuff, nothin’ stuff, or just might pull some crazy stunt like throwing between his legs to pick off a runner. Of course, there’s Rick Camp whose exploits we mentioned above. I’m also something of a Wally Berger fan. He wasn’t just the only star of the 1930s Bees, he was the sun around which the team revolved. He was the only offense they had, and he was exceptional. Sadly his career ended too early thanks to shoulder woes, but just another All-Star level season or a few more years as a regular might have pushed him into the HoME. Lastly, there’s George Wright. The one who is in the HoME. Entirely forgotten by nearly everyone except the 8,000 or so people in the country who are rabidly in love with baseball’s long and curious history. The first great player in the sense that we identify it today as someone worthy of a plaque. A player with great individual seasons, a great (if in his case short) career, and widespread acclaim as the game’s top-most shelf talent.
A few weeks ago, we announced that we were reconfiguring the Hall of Miller and Eric, sort of. Basically, we decided that since the Hall of Fame didn’t elect the same player in more than one role, even if he’s deserving, we shouldn’t either. So we had to think about our three guys who had been elected twice. What we decided is that Cap Anson and Fred Clarke would remain in the player wing only, and Joe Torre would remain in the manager wing only. Due to the shifting of Torre, we elected Bobby Doerr. And today, due to the shifting of Anson and Clarke, we have to fill the HoME’s manager wing with two more.
When we last chatted about managers, we wrote an obituary for Frank Chance. It was written at that time because there wasn’t enough depth to his managerial career. On the other hand, there certainly was greatness. In his first full year at the helm, 1905, Frank Chance led the Cubs to 116 wins and a World Series defeat against the White Sox. The next two years brought back-to-back championships before a down year of 104 wins and then another trip to the Series. Overall, his years in Chicago brought just shy of 102 wins on average. Later stints in New York and Boston were less successful, but Chance had already established his greatness in the dugout. All told Chance won only 946 games, but his .593 percentage was outstanding. “The Peerless Leader”, however, still has the short career that got him his first obituary. But our election of Clark Griffith as a combination player, manager, and owner helps to inform the Chance election. Chance, as you know, was an excellent first baseman for seventeen seasons. Each of the five seasons in which he played in at least 100 games, he posted at least 4 WAR. And he was at 5+ in four of them. As a player, we think the Hall got it wrong. But as a person in baseball history, Frank Chance certainly belongs in the HoME. Now he’s in.
When we last elected managers to the HoME, Davey Johnson was not yet eligible. But his record reminds me so much of Earl Weaver’s. Take a look:
Johnson: 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd
Weaver: 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 2nd, 7th
Chris Jaffe’s excellent book, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, tells us that Johnson’s managerial characteristics included fandom of the hit and run, reliance of multiple innings out of his relievers, and avoiding issuing intentional walks. In fact, he never once advanced a runner with an intentional pass. Never. He succeeded by bringing the Mets the 1986 title. When he got to his next job for a partial season in Cincinnati, the club finished fifth. Once Johnson got them from the spring, they finished first twice in a row. Then he moved to Baltimore, a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in more than a decade. Johnson brought them there in both of his campaigns. A trip to Los Angeles was less successful, but his final stint, one with the Nationals, saw a return to managerial glory as he brought the Nats to the playoffs for the first time in over 30 years, when they were the Expos. Had the Mets stuck with Johnson, which they almost certainly should have, we might be looking at someone even better than Earl Weaver. Just one team, maybe 2200 wins, and a Hall plaque assured. As it is, the HoME will have to do, and that’s just fine with us.
Well, the HoME’s managerial wing is now up to date. Out next election will come, well, whenever the Hall elects another manager. Here’s hoping it’s Davey Johnson.
We’re at a point now in our discussion of compilers where we’re approaching the elite. Of the eight eligible guys on this list, seven are in the HoME. However, there are only four who are in the Hall, including only the only one not in the HoME (though he’s incredibly close).
So why is this? To me, the answer is very clear and can be understood by looking at this graphic below from fivethirtyeight.com. The Hall has done a very poor job electing players since the 1960s, at least compared to what they did before that. And every one of those in the HoME but not in the Hall played since then. Only one of those in the Hall played since then.
So compliers used to be embraced but they aren’t now? I don’t know about that. What I think is that the Hall standards have gotten more strict.
Today is the fifth in our seven-part series about guys who were good to excellent for a long, long time, many of whom don’t get the credit they deserve. Check out #60-#55, #54-#46, #45-#37, and #36-#28 if you haven’t already.
Criteria to be included on this list include:
So here we have #27 through #19.
5 WAR seasons: 16
1 WAR seasons: 4
Best year: Willie Davis was a stud. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And he makes this list (rather than eclipsing it) only because I use DRA and don’t round. In 1964, Davis put up 7.98 adjusted WAR. He did so with only a dozen homers and 22 walks on the year. That’s because he was phenomenal in every other aspect of the game. And guys who are great at everything are sometimes overlooked. Davis is such a guy.
Commentary: Davis was a great player indeed. He’s a HoMEr, though he never received a single vote for the Hall. He made just two All Star squads. Though known for his glove, it was only Gold three times. The career hits at 2561 are nice but not elite. His Black Ink existed only in triples. It’s no surprise at all that he was overlooked, but he shouldn’t be. My adjustments give him more 3-WAR seasons than Duke Snider. He was worth more than 2-WAR more than Billy Hamilton or Richie Ashburn and as many times as Ken Griffey and Joe DiMaggio.
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: To the surprise of nobody, Hershiser’s best season was 1988. He won the NL Cy that year after pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings to close out the season. His right arm and 7.74 WAR then took the Dodgers past the Mets and then the A’s to win the World Series. All told, he gave up five earned in 42.2 innings that post-season.
Commentary: What people might forget about Hershiser is that his run from 1987-1989 was truly exceptional. I convert those seasons to over 22.4 WAR. Hershiser is also the poster boy for ignoring a pitcher’s win-loss record. In 1986, 1987, and 1989, he was exactly a .500 pitcher each year, once with an ERA+ of 90, once at 131, and once leading the league at 149. On the other hand, his magical 1988 campaign saw that same 149 ERA+ with a 23-8 record. The torn labrum and reconstructive shoulder surgery in 1990 ended his dominance, but his 51.7 bWAR and #63 ranking among all pitchers punched his ticket to the HoME despite just three All Star games and only 204 wins.
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 22
Best year: In 1972 Sutton put up 6.27 WAR with a 19-9 record and an NL-leading nine shutouts. Tough year when you only go 10-9 when not shutting out your opponent.
Commentary: For me, Don Sutton is the epitome of a pitcher never being great for an individual season but still being great for his career as a function of continued goodness. At no point did he win a Cy Young. He never finished second either, and only placed third once. He won 324 games but made just four All-Star teams in 23 years. The only important thing at which Sutton excelled was controlling the strike zone. He never until his final season issued over 2.8 walks per nine. And he led his league in WHIP four times. What’s remarkable about Sutton is his durability. As a rookie with the Dodgers in 1966, he threw 225.2 innings. The only time he fell under 200 again until 1987 was the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. And aside from 1983, he won in double figures every year from 1966-1987, yet he only managed to reach 20 once. He’s exactly what this list is about. He had more seasons of three wins than Juan Marichal had of two. And he had more three-win campaigns than the likes of Stan Coveleski, Dazzy Vance, and Jim Bunning. And if you’re looking for the guy with the best 15th best season ever, Sutton is topped by only 15 pitchers. He was so consistently good.
Just as an aside, on my list of best pitchers in their 15th best season, each of the top-34 are in the Hall or pitched for the Yankees: Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Tommy John, Kevin Brown, Luis Tiant, Jack Quinn, Jack Powell, and Sad Sam Jones. It’s a silly point, I know. But to me, stuff like this is half the fun of baseball research.
5 WAR seasons: 6
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Smith had his best year in 1977 when he posted 6.76 WAR at the age of 32. He made his fifth of seven All-Star teams, led the league in OBP and OPS+, hit over 30 homers for the only time in his career, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. Further, he helped the Dodgers to the World Series where he homered three times in a losing effort against the Yankees.
Commentary: Smith’s problem is like a lot of players on this list. He was a good hitter, a good fielder, and a good baserunner, but he wasn’t great enough at any of it to get the attention he deserves. It’s strange that if we just moved 90% of his value on the bases and in the field to the hitting side of the ledger and deleted the other 10%, he’d be viewed more positively even though he’d be worse. Seriously, following through on that experiment, Smith would be a more valuable hitter than Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, or Derek Jeter. Back in 1988 just three voters thought he was worthy of the Hall, and I can’t really blame them. He’s right on the borderline for me. Then again, he did post five seasons of 5+ WAR. Tony Gwynn and Andre Dawson failed to do that. And he had another five at 4+, which is something Dave Winfield and Harry Heilmann failed to do.
5 WAR seasons: 6
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1920 Rice posted 6.18 converted WAR, the best he ever managed. He was electric that year, hitting .338 and leading baseball with 63 stolen bases (and another 30 caught stealing). Rice was 30 that year and in just his third full season in the majors, suggesting a player who wasn’t destined for Cooperstown, but he made it.
Commentary: Rice is a near clone of Reggie Smith on a year-by-year basis, and he’s another player who added value with the bat, glove, and feet. A career .322 hitter, Rice twice led the league in hits and once in triples. In fact, he’s one of seven players ever to triple 10+ times in a season for a decade consecutively. Historically he’s best known for a controversial 1925 World Series catch. It was called an out, but Rice wouldn’t talk about it throughout his life. It wasn’t until after his death that a note he left indicated that it was indeed a good catch.
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: My conversions, specifically the use of Defensive Regression Analysis, really enhance the profile of Max Carey. He was truly an outstanding center fielder. That’s why his 1917 season is worth a career best 6.66 WAR. With just one homer and a .296 average, it doesn’t look like much. But he did lead the league in steals and post a 126 OPS+ overall.
Commentary: The Hall came calling in 1961, and the HoME also approves. With my conversions, there were three years above 6 WAR, two more over five, three over four, three over three, and still three more over two. He led the league in runs once, triples twice, and stolen bases ten times. The reason Carey hung on as long as he did is because he still had good speed and was able to play some very good defense until the end.
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1999 Jeter posted career highs with 24 homers and 102 runs batted in. Other career highs came in all triple slash categories and OPS+. Yeah, and WAR. Even with sketchy defense, something he’d become known for almost throughout his career, he put up 7.24 WAR in 1999. After the regular season he hit at least .350 in every round of the playoffs, helping the Yankees to their third World Series title in four years.
Commentary: Yes, I’m also surprised to see Jeter on this “compiler” list. I’d have guessed that he had at least one 8 WAR season in him, but as a truly awful defender, that never happened. I don’t offer any extra credit for hitters in the playoffs, but it’s not like I ignore October either. Without it, Jeter is near the line for me, though clearly over it. With it, I won’t hesitate to throw him a vote when he’s eligible. Overall he looks a lot like Joe Sewell with a few extra campaigns of little value. In some kind of joke, the 1996 Rookie of the Year and 14-time All-Star won five Gold Gloves that he absolutely didn’t deserve. In what will be an awesome accomplishment but will devastate this Red Sox fan, I suspect a few years from now he’ll become the Hall’s first unanimous selection.
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1916 Wheat put up his only meaningful Black Ink leading the NL in SLG and TB while putting up 6.95 WAR.
Commentary: While Wheat did have three years above 6 WAR, he had just two other above 4. He builds his Hall and HoME case largely on the seven additional good seasons above 3 WAR. He has more seasons at that level or higher than Ed Delahanty, Billy Williams, Joe Medwick, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell, and others.
5 WAR seasons: 7
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Joe Torre won the 1971 NL MVP, but his best year was five years earlier in 1966 with 7.67 adjusted WAR. That year he smacked a career high 36 home runs while catching 114 games. Only Mike Piazza, Gabby Hartnett, and Javy Lopez have ever done the same as catchers who hit .315. Catchers on this list are hard for me for two reasons. First, I convert catcher WAR so it looks like the WAR of players at other positions. Second, I don’t love my catcher adjustments. No matter how you cut it though, Torre was an excellent player in 1966.
Commentary: So you might know that we’ve recently removed Torre from the HoME’s player wing. To review, that’s not because he’s undeserving; it’s because we’ve decided we want to honor the person rather than the career. And since Torre the person was better as a manager than as a player, we think, he remains in the HoME with that distinction. Of course, we continue to acknowledge that Torre is a HoME-level player. I list him as a catcher since he played more games there than at any other position. And as a catcher, he has more 5-win seasons than Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, or Gabby Hartnett. Nine All-Star games, an MVP, a Gold Glove, an RBI title, and a batting title highlight Torre’s playing career. It’s a shame he didn’t get more Hall attention as a player, but at least he’s acknowledged in upstate New York now.
We’re almost there. Next week it’ll be #18 through #10.
Most voter recalls unelect crappy selections. We have to unelect three guys that we’re pleased with then replace them with three others.
Of course, this isn’t quite so simple as yea/nay. Upon reflection, we recognized that we shouldn’t have allowed one person to be honored in more than one wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric. We were being too clever by half, but about six months ago we realized it. Now it’s time to change. Here’s exactly what we’re up to.
We elected three people in both the player and manager wings of the HoME: Cap Anson, Fred Clarke, and Joe Torre. All three highly deserving candidates for both honors. Then we realized that we were no longer truly comparable to the Hall of Fame by three spots because the Hall doesn’t elect individuals to more than one wing. Only, which three spots were we talking about?
Anson, Clarke, and Torre all belonged in both wings without question, so which wing would they be removed from? For Anson and Clarke, the answer seemed simple: They were great managers and even better players. So they stay put as player and are removed from our managerial roster. Joe Torre, on the other hand, rated better and lasted far longer as a manager. He’s moving from player to manager.
This leaves us with two empty spots among our skippers and one hole to fill among the players. There’s a lot of electoral activity going on right now at the HoME, so here’s how we’re going to schedule things.
Friday February 3rd: 2017 player election (3 slots in accordance with the Hall’s 2017 election)
Friday February 24th: Backlog player election (1 slot to make up for Torre’s shuffling over to manager); this player must have retired by 2015, due to the fact that Torre was elected as player before we caught up to the Hall in 2015.
Friday March 10th: Backlog manager election (2 slots to make up for Anson and Clarke being just players); because we caught up the Hall’s managerial elections before the 2017 election, this election will be for pilots eligible through 2016. We should note that because the Today’s Game committee meets roughly biannually, we may consider managers who gained eligibility in 2016 but were not voted upon until 2017.
Friday March 24th: Resumption of our pioneer/executive elections with number 27 (4 slots to catch up to the Hall’s 2017 count!).
Friday April 7th: Pioneer/executive number 28
Friday April 21st: Pioneer/executive number 29
Friday May 5th: Pioneer/executive number 30
And then after that, we’ll be completely caught up, and it’ll all be neat and tidy.
For a day or two.
Then we’ll tell you our plans for the future. Hint: We aren’t going anywhere.
It’s never too late to start a campaign. Now that we know no players have been elected via the Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game committee, we can turn our attention to the 2017 slate of Modern Baseball candidates. And beyond.
Most of the folks on these committees are either ex-players or ex-journalists who exited the profession before the sabrmetric boom. We can’t count on them to accept, let alone grok, the analytics that people like me and Miller bandy about. So we need to use the stats these folks know well to make our point. The trad stats. Baseball card stats.
In the Politics of Glory, Bill James makes a great point when he says that if a player’s career stats fall right in the belly of a whole bunch of Hall of Famers, then he’s got a solid piece of evidence in his favor. James also says that a strong candidate’s resume would be near or above the average performance of a Hall of Famer at his position. Let’s combine these two ideas. For certain key stats and certain key Veterans Committee candidates, we’ll list out how these outsiders would rank among Hall of Famers. If they consistently rank above the Hall’s average at their position, we can guess they would be really good candidates.
Today, we’ll look at hitters we’ve elected to the Hall of Miller and Eric that the Today’s Game and Modern Baseball eras could consider in the coming years.
Number of Hall of Fame catchers: 15
Ranking to be average or better among Hall catchers: 8th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS =========================================================================== TOTAL 2209 996 2342 344 59 252 1185 779 23 .297 .365 .452 .817 RANK 3 9 2 6 7 6 7 6 14 7 8 11 8 AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH
Torre sits right above the average Hall of Fame catcher. Of course, he’s a plurality catcher, not a 50% catcher, which could give some voters pause. But if they think of him as a catcher, he’s got very competitive numbers.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS =========================================================================== TOTAL 2456 1074 2472 483 47 248 1389 855 21 .285 .348 .437 .785 RANK 2 6 1 1 9 6 2 4 14 8 11 13 12 AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH
The rap on Simmons is defense, not hitting. Because clearly he has the hitting stats of a Hall catcher.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ========================================================================== TOTAL 1423 696 1558 229 32 113 701 438 48 .292 .348 .410 .756 RANK 14 11 13 13 11 11 14 14 8 8 12 13 14 AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH
Yeah, that’ll be a hard sell, won’t it. We think Munson was deserving of our plaque but from a straight numbers perspective, the VC won’t buy it. His defense was good but not good enough to overcome this kind of deficit and lack of playing time in their eyes.
Number of Hall of Fame first basemen: 23 (including Rod Carew, Frank Thomas, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, and Stan Musial)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall first basemen: 12th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2088 1124 2182 426 60 162 1071 1070 98 .296 .384 .436 .821 RANK 15 19 19 13 18 15 21 8 11 17 13 21 20 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Here’s why Hernandez had such a hard time with the BBWAA and why he’ll continue to strike out with the VC. His hitting numbers aren’t superficially amazing like a Bill Terry (.341 average), let alone like the Jimmie Foxxes and Lou Gehrigs. Voters would have to acknowledge that but elect him because he’s the best defensive first basemen ever, while being good enough to hang in the lower reaches of Hall first basemen offensively.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1874 1167 1626 252 6 583 1414 1317 12 .263 .394 .588 .982 RANK 19 18 23 23 24 1 14 8 24 23 9 4 4 AVERAGE RANKING = 13TH
We know that McGwire’s passing over had steroids written all over it. But it’s not impossible that he’d be a tough sell anyway. He’s an amazingly limited player: limited to walks and homers. Good choices those. Anyway, if the steroid taint wears off, I’d expect him to make it purely based on his Harmon Killebrew profile, but he’s not anywhere near the top of this heap.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2831 1663 3020 585 38 569 1835 1353 97 .288 .371 .515 .885 RANK 3 5 5 2 20 2 6 6 11 18 16 9 11 AVERAGE RANKING = 7TH
There are folks out there who think Palmeiro isn’t worthy. He’s just a compiler. It’s hard to be a compiler and stack up stats like these. Rusty Staub? Hal Baines? Compilers. Rafael Palmeiro? Hall of Famer. Except for that steroid problem….
Number of Hall of Fame second basemen: 20 (including Rod Carew and Jackie Robinson)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall second basemen: 11th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2088 1033 1833 320 47 224 864 1087 104 .266 .371 .424 .794 RANK 15 16 18 16 21 6 15 5 15 20 9 15 15 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Grich is like a second-base combination of McGwire and Hernandez. Like McGwire, he excels the most in the two most important offensive categories: homers and walks. Like Hernandez, he was a fabulous defensive player. So voters need to go beyond the traditional stats and see the Gold Glove defender with the powerful, patient bat. Collusion didn’t help him either, but I doubt that’s a talking point for these folks.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2202 1239 2210 316 65 54 687 1243 271 .276 .373 .351 .724 RANK 12 13 15 16 17 16 20 3 11 16 9 20 17 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Willie Randolph is unlikely to gain election. Ever. His offensive profile is too deadball in this era to get a second look, and his defensive excellence probably wouldn’t be enough for most voters. What you also don’t see here is strong base running value. Still, the trad-stats case for Randolph goes like this:
Willie Randolph was a little better hitter than Nellie Fox, and near or maybe better than Fox in the field. If Nellie Fox is a Hall of Famer, then Randolph makes sense too.
That’s a terrible argument, of course. If–then only makes sense when the if player is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Randolph’s argument is much more subtle than that, and Fox is a lower rung Hall member. But it wouldn’t surprise me if a lousy argument like that might be palatable to a VC group.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS =============================================================================== TOTAL 2390 1386 2369 420 65 244 1084 1197 143 .276 .363 .426 .789 RANK 6 11 13 12 17 6 11 3 14 16 12 15 15 AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH
Here’s your most likely guy at second base. Whitaker’s got the power and walks of Grich, a fine glove, and a longer career than both Grich and Randolph to give him a little more clout in the career figures. What he also has is a strong association with Detroit and with Alan Trammell. Since Trammell and Whitaker will likely appear on the ballot together, there’s some narrative to help his case since there could be sentiment toward enshrining them simultaneously. Unless Jack Morris gets in the way.
Number of Hall of Fame third basemen: 13 (including Paul Molitor)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall third basemen: 7th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2019 982 1790 289 38 242 1039 1031 75 .254 .352 .408 .760 RANK 8 11 13 13 14 6 8 7 8 14 10 12 11 AVERAGE RANKING = 10TH
This one’s a tough sell. Bando played his career in a very hard time for hitters, in a ballpark that was very hard for hitters. As a result, his numbers aren’t top-shelf on their surface. There are also differing opinions about his defense with some systems liking him OK and others disliking him. But he won three straight World Series titles and five straight divisions in Oakland when the division meant something. I wouldn’t hold my breath for him.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2405 1151 2514 425 56 201 1106 836 55 .279 .341 .406 .747 RANK 5 8 5 5 13 7 8 8 10 10 13 12 12 AVERAGE RANKING = 9TH
Bell is an even longer shot than Bando. His traditional numbers are better than Sal’s, but he played for a lot of lousy teams and never got to strut his stuff in the playoffs. Like Whitaker, he’s a little below his position’s midline, but unlike Sweet Lou lacks the narrative. In reality, his excellent defense plays a very big role in his sabrmetric campaign, but not much of one in his trad-stats campaign as his defensive value isn’t communicated well even by six straight Gold Gloves. Well, and he’d better hope they don’t count his managerial days against him because he’s probably the worst long-time manager in modern baseball history.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2687 1344 2223 329 36 414 1354 1605 98 .248 .361 .431 .792 RANK 3 6 9 11 14 3 5 1 7 14 10 10 10 AVERAGE RANKING = 8TH
Evans—who virtually no one remembers outside of Detroit, San Francisco, and online sabrmetric hangouts—was quiet and did nothing flashy. But he lasted forever and racked up some impressive career totals in key stats. I don’t believe for a second that the VC would elect him, but you can see here that he’s got some markers that they should love. He also played a good third base and later a decent first base.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2700 1193 2225 328 28 390 1314 1088 32 .248 .329 .421 .750 RANK 3 7 9 11 14 3 6 7 12 14 13 10 12 AVERAGE RANKING = 9TH
I suspect that it’s Nettles who would be first in line among these four hot-corner habitués. His career stats are remarkably similar, damn near identical in many categories to Evans’ (with the exception of SB and walks, and therefore OBP). But Nettles does have a lot of fame and narrative to go with those career totals, and a reputation for Brooksesque defense. Frankly either he or Bell is the most deserving anyway, and given the paucity of third basemen in the Hall of Fame, it’s time the VC looked at guys like Nettles. I think this guy could have a real shot. Probably not next year, though, because those Tigers will get the limelight.
Number of Hall of Fame shortstops: 22 (including Ernie Banks, Monte Ward, and Robin Yount)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall third basemen: 12th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2293 1231 2365 412 55 185 1003 850 236 .285 .352 .415 .767 RANK 11 14 10 9 22 5 10 11 11 11 12 9 13 AVERAGE RANKING = 11TH
In these 13 important trad stats, Alan Trammell would average 11th, which, in turn, would put him above the Hall’s average. The only place he scores poorly is triples, and that’s mostly about his having come along well after triples began to decline in favor of homers. All in all, Trammell’s statistics make good case for his inclusion when compared against other Hall shortstops. I would give him odds second only to Jack Morris for election.
Number of Hall of Fame left fielders: 21 (including Stan Musial, Willie Stargell, Babe Ruth)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall left fielders: 11th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2353 1036 2251 391 94 165 1077 898 317 .284 .354 .420 .774 RANK 9 20 17 15 13 13 16 12 8 19 20 19 20 AVERAGE RANKING = 15TH
Not that Jose Cruz has an ice cube’s chance in hell of even seeing the ballot, but we elected him and the next fellow, so I wanted to be sure to at least include them. As Bill James pointed out years ago, had Jose Cruz played anywhere other than the Astrodome, he’d have been a huge national star. But because its run-suppressing power, his stat line looks kind of pedestrian. Given that and the importance of his defense to a Hall case, he’ll never get a second look.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================ TOTAL 1881 964 1803 300 51 160 758 934 233 .271 .360 .404 .764 RANK 17 21 19 20 21 14 21 11 8 22 19 21 20 AVERAGE RANKING = 18TH
Same story as Cruz except that the suppression of White’s offense was due to a pitcher’s era and, to a lesser extent than Cruz, his home park. Defense again plays a big part of White’s story. I have no illusions about his chances either.
Number of Hall of Fame center fielders: 19 (including Robin Yount and Andre Dawson)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall center fielders: 10th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================= TOTAL 2001 1251 1949 437 25 393 1199 998 67 .284 .376 .527 .903 RANK 10 12 16 6 19 5 9 9 15 17 13 8 10 AVERAGE RANKING = 11TH
As far as leftovers go, this one’s pretty tasty. The BBWAA summarily disposed of Jim Edmonds, but just looking at these numbers it’s easy to see both why they did (fewer than 2000 hits) and why they shouldn’t have (everything else). In addition, Edmonds was a highlight-reel defender. Nice job, voters. Oh, and unless the VC changes, I don’t know how they would arrive at a different decision. I mean, they never elect players anymore anyway!
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2103 1528 2428 383 116 130 781 945 622 .299 .372 .423 .794 RANK 11 9 10 11 11 12 16 11 4 13 13 17 16 AVERAGE RANKING = 12TH
Seriously? One and done? Lofton was one hell a lot better than that. Actually, there’s a little wider perception than just the BBWAA that Lofton’s not Hall material. Like with Rafael, I don’t understand this position. When I put my analytics together, he’s a solid member of any but the most exclusive Halls of Fame. He’s pretty much an average Hall center fielder, especially once you add in positive defensive value and amazing base running value. Trad stats wise, he might have an incrementally better chance in the VC than Edmonds if only because his steals and impressive runs scored totals give him a narrative to hang a vote on.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1987 1123 2020 363 57 314 1092 890 137 .287 .366 .489 .855 RANK 12 16 16 11 17 7 11 11 12 15 15 11 13 AVERAGE RANKING = 13TH
The other Reggie is a very borderline candidate, even for us. He ranks out decently among Hall centerfielders but spent a lot of time in right field, too, where he doesn’t look as great. He was always hurt and that won’t help him either, especially since it hurts his career totals.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1920 1105 1665 285 39 291 964 1224 225 .250 .366 .436 .802 RANK 13 16 18 16 19 7 15 6 10 20 15 15 16 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
The poor Toy Cannon. Like Jose Cruz, his batting stats are just demolished by the Astrodome. But unlike Cruz, he got away from it. To Dodgers Stadium, another well-known pitchers park. As a homer-hitting, high walks, high-steals center fielder, you’d think he’d look pretty good, but the low batting average and park-suppressed slugging percentage are too much context for people to get past. Too bad, they’re missing out on a great player.
Number of Hall of Fame center fielders: 24 (including Andre Dawson and Babe Ruth)
Ranking to be average or better among Hall center fielders: 12th
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 1849 1258 1886 302 66 332 1024 914 461 .268 .353 .471 .824 RANK 19 20 21 21 23 9 19 11 3 24 23 15 18 AVERAGE RANKING = 17TH
Once again, there’s a defense argument to be made here that the VC won’t get into, so Bonds’ chances are pretty slim. The power, walks, and speed combo is might impressive, but they’ll have bigger fish to fry. Like this next guy.
G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB AVG OBP SLG OPS ============================================================================== TOTAL 2606 1470 2446 483 73 385 1384 1391 78 .272 .370 .470 .840 RANK 8 11 17 12 21 9 11 5 24 24 17 15 13 AVERAGE RANKING = 14TH
Evans is a sabrmetric favorite and long underrated by Hall voters of every stripe due to his OBP-heavy profile. But 385 homers isn’t exactly something to sneeze at. His arm was feared around the league and for great reason, so there’s additional value and narrative that voters could pick up on. I like his chances more than Bonds’ and many others on this list.
As we look at these guys and compare them to positional norms, we should also remember something important. These guys have been passed over because their career totals weren’t in no-brainer territory. So they go to the back door to find their way in. But also, remember that the Hall has made a ton of mistakes. Additionally, given its 217 members, the Hall should have roughly 18–20 men per position. None of the players above falls outside that range in terms of their average ranking in these key categories. In fact, only one even falls as low as that range. The rest improve on that figure. Additionally, the Hall electorates have been too tough on centerfield, third base, and catcher. Those positions are way understaffed, and the men mentioned above would be great steps toward recognizing more Hall of Fame caliber players at those needlessly scarce positions.
Next time out, we’ll look at pitchers to see who on the Modern Baseball and Today’s Game ballots might have a shot from an old-school perspective.
For anyone who’s ever undertaken a project like this, you know that electing your own Hall of Fame is hard work, really hard work if you’re trying to do a good job as opposed to just getting it done. And it’s much harder if you don’t just stop after the players have been elected.
For years now, Eric and I have been working on the HoME. For months, we have been working on managers and then pioneers/executives. We’re defining that term rather loosely, already electing Bill James, Marvin Miller, Frank Jobe, and others. And we’ve begun thinking about tweeners, those who have been nearly electable in one category and have something to offer in one or more of the others. Why shouldn’t they be elected too?
Today we’re going to explore just that question. Should we allow career candidates in the HoME even if they don’t eclipse enough people in any individual category?
At least a little, we’re trying to mirror the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall very clearly identifies people as second basemen, managers, pitchers, and executives. There’s no combination designation. Sure, for someone like Red Schoendienst, his plaque discusses his successes as a coach and as a manager. However, it also discusses his road living quarters with Stan Musial, and nobody would suggest he was elected for that reason. Trumping it all. you might argue, the Hall calls Schoendienst a second baseman. We probably want to keep the HoME like the Hall in many ways. Electing combo candidates would make us even less like the Hall.
We’ve already elected people as a player and again as a manager: Cap Anson, Fred Clarke, and Joe Torre. By doing so, we’ve set a precedent saying that these areas are separate. If they weren’t separate, we couldn’t elect someone to two wings. So we can’t both elect someone in combination, which would say that they’re not separate, and still have three people elected to both, which would say that they are. We’d then operate without internal consistency. The very unattractive alternative would be to remove Anson, Clarke, and Torre from one of the HoME wings.
There’s an argument to be made that if we elect a combined candidate, we’d have to somehow equate player WAR (so MAPES and CHEWS) to manager contribution to whatever it is that Bill James, Marvin Miller, and Frank Jobe contributed. I don’t want to say that we can’t do that, but we can’t do that.
Given that we’ve elected not just players, but managers, and now a group loosely resembling pioneers and executives, there seems no longer to be a great case to be made for excluding someone who was an excellent player and also brought something to the table as a manager and/or executive. This argument holds water because we’re not just electing players. If we were, we would focus only on playing, obviously. Once we decided to elect non-players, we necessarily decided that things other than playing matter. Thus, if someone was very good at playing and/or managing and/or something else, a case can now be made to elect him.
The Hall doesn’t have elections for career candidates, at least not in any formal way. It specifically denotes whether a person was elected as a player, manager, umpire, etc. But the whole reason we started this project is that we believe the Hall has been getting it wrong. Just because their rules don’t allow for something doesn’t mean ours shouldn’t. Our rules can and should evolve as we see problems in our system. Just because the Hall struggles in its evolution doesn’t mean we have to.
Out last manager in was Harry Wright. Perhaps he could have been saved for the Pioneer/Executive wing, but we put him in as a manager, at least in part, because we didn’t like our other choices. As far as players, it’s not like Sal Bando, Jeff Kent, Tony Phillips, and Pud Galvin are no-brainers. We could either go – and it appears we may – with ten or more general managers for our final fourteen Pioneer/ Executive slots, or we could look at career candidates who have been passed over. Frank Chance and Clark Griffith had substantial careers beyond the playing field. Some of our last managers out like Lou Piniella, Hughie Jennings, and Charlie Comiskey have some merit in other facets too. Hitters who were reasonably close like Ralph Kiner and Gil Hodges might have some added merit because of their work in the booth and dugout respectively. If we acknowledge we’re electing at the margins anyway and that our calls are far from clear, let’s try to elect the most attractive overall candidates.
At some point we’re going to finish this process, and depending on the way we go, we might end up with Buzzie Bavasi and Joe Brown in the HoME, or we might end up with Frank Chance and Clark Griffith in it. When I look at the totality of our work, trying to evaluate how successful we’ve been, I think I’ll be more proud seeing the likes of Clark Griffith with a plaque.
Well, that’s the thought process such as it is. I’m leaning toward electing combination candidates, but I have a partner who is pretty persuasive. Coming soon, he’s going to talk about how we figure out what to do with Clarke and Comiskey, with Chub Feeney, Charlie Finley, Leo Mazzone, Bob Davids, Paul Kritchell, Mel Allen, and others. I never thought I’d say this, but electing players was easy by comparison.
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.
Now is when the fun gets started. And our final election is a great precursor to what is to follow. For the only time in this first phase, thirteen elections, we’re electing as many as three candidates. Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre will bring our Hall of Miller and Eric to eleven managers. That means we’re exactly half of the way toward filling our skipper wing. For those who need an update, here are our eleven.
Miller Huggins John McGraw Connie Mack Joe McCarthy Casey Stengel Walter Alston Earl Weaver Sparky Anderson Bobby Cox Joe Torre Tony La Russa
To those eleven, we’re going to add eleven more out of the group carried over from our thirteen preliminary elections. Today that group grows by one more, Lou Piniella. That means there are 29 managers who will occupy those eleven precious spots. Here are all 29 who still have a chance.
Jim Mutrie Harry Wright Charlie Comiskey Cap Anson Frank Selee Ned Hanlon Fred Clarke Clark Griffith George Stallings Frank Chance Hughie Jennings Wilbert Robinson Bill Terry Bill McKechnie Billy Southworth Steve O'Neill Bucky Harris Charlie Grimm Al Lopez Leo Durocher Danny Murtaugh Ralph Houk Dick Williams Billy Martin Whitey Herzog Red Schoendienst Tommy Lasorda Frank Robinson Lou Piniella
One of the most successful managers ever, Bobby Cox led the Braves, Blue Jays, and Braves again to a total of 2504 wins in 29 seasons. In every season that finished from 1991-2005 his Braves won the NL East, but they were generally disappointing in the playoffs. Perhaps this is because of how hard Cox pushed his starters. Chris Jaffe points out that Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, in particular, were quite weak on three days of rest but quite strong on regular rest. In any case, you can’t take the five pennants and the 1995 World Series away from Cox. He won 100 games six times, was Manager of the Year four times and in both leagues, and is fourth all-time in wins. He reached the Hall of Fame in 2014 with the two guys below, and he’s an easy call for the HoME as well.
We elected Joe Torre into the HoME in 1983, the first year he was eligible, which brings up an interesting question. Can the same person have more than one HoME plaque? Nobody has two Hall plaques, and combined accomplishments in Cooperstown are listed on existing plaques. We’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about this, and we’re happy with our conclusion that someone can indeed have separate plaques for separate worthy careers. Joe Torre certainly is worthy. With six pennants and World Series titles in 1996, 1999, 1999, and 2000 to go with the fifth most wins ever, it’s clear. If you’re still wondering, he won more games and had a better winning percentage with the Yankees than HoMEr Miller Huggins. And he even won more games as a Yankee than Casey Stengel. Welcome back HoME, Joe.
Tony La Russa managed for 33 years and 5097 games. Those are numbers topped only by Connie Mack. And only Joe Torre topped his 70 playoff wins. He innovated in the pen and by batting his pitcher eighth. Many so-called “purists” didn’t like his frequent pitching changes in order to gain marginal advantages. And old timers didn’t think much of roster construction that took away from pinch hitters, pinch runners, and defensive replacements. La Russa didn’t much care. All he wanted to do was win. Sure, he was a lawyer. Sure, he was a smart baseball man. But he was a bulldog too. He won six pennants and three World Series, including one in 2011, his final year managing. Clearly this winner of 2728 games deserves his HoME plaque.
In two stints totaling twelve years, Cito Gaston led the Toronto Blue Jays. His top seasons were 1992 and 1993 when his Jays won the World Series. Three other times he reached the playoffs, and he won 894 games overall. However, he’s not worthy of a place in the HoME.
Trader Jack McKeon managed five teams over sixteen years and five decades. Oddly, he only managed eight complete seasons though. And he only once made the playoffs, winning the World Series with the 2003 Marlins. He won 1051 games at a .515 clip, but he’s less than HoME quality and won’t have a plaque hanging in that wing.