Man, it feels good to be kinda, sorta back doing this, at least for a little while. On Wednesday we updated the Mount Rushmores in the National League. Today we’ll do the same in the Junior Circuit.
That’s it for your 2018 Rushmore update. In the next few weeks we’re going to update you on the progress (or lack thereof) of active players on their journeys to the HoME.
As we continue with our series of the best pitchers through the decades, I thought I’d focus on Dizzy Dean today. But then I got sidetracked looking into his Hall of Fame voting percentages. Today, many of us (I) get all indignant when our favorites can’t break through the 75% threshold, which, perhaps, we should. But friends, when we do, we forget our history. A failing BBWAA is not a new problem at all.
With the caveat that the voting rules were a bit different back then, I was shocked to see the 1947 Hall of Fame ballot. Al Simmons got six votes his third time out. Jimmie Fox got ten. In their seventh year, Zack Wheat had the support of only 23% of the writers, Bill Terry was under 29%, and Harry Heilmann was just over 40%. Looking at the guys who got in, Frankie Frisch was on his sixth ballot. Same with Mickey Cochrane. Carl Hubbell, on his third ballot, led with 87% of the vote. And on Lefty Grove’s fourth, he snuck in with 76.4% of the vote. That’s right, Hubbell over Grove.
Dizzy didn’t make it in his third try. In fact, it took him until 1953. Now, don’t get me wrong. Dean is no HoMEr. I’m not disappointed it took him some time to get in. I’m just reminded that the problems the Hall and BBWAA have today are nothing new at all.
#10 Larry French: When your career lasts exactly from 1929-1942, it’s not shocking you’d make a list of the top-ten pitchers of the 1930s, even if it’s at only 45% of our decade leader. French was a nice, solid guy, maybe a #2 starter on a decent team. With my conversions, I give him ten seasons of between 3.0 and 5.1 WAR. There are only 54 pitchers in history with at least 3.0 WAR in ten seasons, so that’s something.
#9 Mel Harder: Harder is a lot like French, just with a better peak and a career with only one team, the Cleveland Indians. A cool thing about Harder, in addition to his 46% value compared to our decade leader, is his All-Star performance. He pitched in each game from 1934-1937, winning one and saving two. All told, he threw 13 innings in those four games without allowing a run.
#8 Lon Warneke: The Arkansas Hummingbird checks in at 47% of our decade leader. Truly though, the bottom four guys on this list are interchangeable. Warneke didn’t have a very good World Series in 1932, but you have to say he did just about everything he could in 1935, winning both the opener and the fifth game in a series his Cubs lost 4-2. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they asked him to do a little too much. In relief of Big Bill Lee in Game 3, Warneke entered in a tie game with a man on first. Three batters later, the Tigers led 5-3. Chicago tied it in the ninth but lost the game in the 11th.
#7 Tommy Bridges: Bridges was the winner of the second and deciding sixth game of that World Series, both complete game wins. He’s actually quite a bit like Larry French with just one additional 6-win season. From 1932-1943, a 12-year span, he was baseball’s third best pitcher, behind only Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell. And his value is approximately 48% of the decade leader.
#6 Dizzy Dean: A great player, no doubt, but it says here that Dean is also one of the most overrated pitchers in baseball history. The legend is often greater than the player when the player is struck down in his prime. Think Sandy Koufax, he of only three or four great seasons, but they are his last three or four. And he retired at 31. Jim Brown played only nine seasons in the NFL. And Dizzy Dean was all but done as a great when he was only 27, struck in the foot by an Earl Averill liner in the 1937 All-Star Game. As the greats sometimes do, he tried to come back too early. He put too much pressure on his arm to compensate for the pain in his foot, and, basically, his arm was never the same. He might be a top-five “What if?” guy for me. As for this series, he’s worth about 49% of our leader.
#5 Ted Lyons: Four times in his career, Lyons led the AL in BB/9. However, since the start of the American League, he’s only of only 18 hurlers with at least 2000 IP, an ERA+ of better than 100, and more walks in his career than strikeouts. Unsurprisingly, he’s the only Hall of Famer on that list, though Wes Ferrell should be in too. Though he had his best run from 1925-1927, he makes this list and made the Hall because he was good for a lot of years. And for this decade, he was worth 58% of our leader.
#4 Wes Ferrell: And speaking of Wes Ferrell, he’s better in this decade than Lyons, about 66% of our leader, and yes, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Of course, he belongs there in large part because of his excellence with the bat. Talking value just on offense, without even considering pitching, Ferrell was roughly the equivalent Eric Karros, Joe Pepitone, or Keith Moreland. Looking at WAA, wins above average, we see a better group, which includes the likes of Tommie Agee, Chick Stahl, and Lance Johnson. Yeah, for a pitcher, Ferrell could rake.
#3 Red Ruffing: When I’m writing these posts, I frequently read through a player’s entries at the SABR Bio Project and Wikipedia to get ideas. And sometimes those ideas take me down a rabbit hole. Like this one. ESPN ranked Ruffing as the 9th greatest Yankee in history back in 1999. I was shocked, though I shouldn’t have been. By WAR, Ruffing is 7th, which is essentially the same thing. Mike Mussina was 50th, which disturbed me until I realized the ESPN piece was published in 1999. Checking Mussina’s stats, I was reminded he became a Yankee in 2001 (oops, there must have been an update). Roy White is 17th in Yankee WAR, yet 44th on the list. Willie Randolph is 12th in Yankee WAR, and he’s 33rd on the list. Don Mattingly isn’t among the two dozen most valuable Yankees ever. Still, ESPN ranks him 11th. And they rank DiMaggio ahead of Mantle. But they’re ESPN, than they make awful lists. Ruffing was worth 2/3 of the guy two spots ahead in the 1930s.
#2 Carl Hubbell: King Carl’s career lasted from 1928-1943, almost the exact period that would allow him to find a high ranking on this list. At 71% of our decade leader, he certainly found that ranking. On some levels, I think Hubbell sometimes gets lost in the historical pitcher shuffle. For my money, he’s on the same level as Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, and Juan Marichal. Is he seen that way? The screwballer is the first pitcher to win two MVP Awards. He struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin consecutively in the 1934 All-Star Game. And he has to be one of the only pitchers ever to lead baseball in complete games and saves in the same year. But is he seen as he should be? I don’t know.
#1 Lefty Grove: If you were making predictions at the start of this post, I think you would have gotten the right answer. The Black Ink is almost mind boggling for a pitcher who is likely somewhere between the fifth and eighth best ever. He had nine ERA and ERA+ titles, eight FIP championships, and seven K titles in his first seven seasons. Two of his best seasons were 1930 and 1931, both 10-WAR campaigns, and both seeing him walk away with the pitching triple crown. His best season by WAR was 1936, but he won only 17 games for a mediocre Boston squad. During Grove’s career, there were 32 times a pitcher threw 300 or more innings. Know how many times Grove did it? Zero. He never led his league, and only twice was he second. However, he did finish in the top-6 on eleven occasions. Perhaps he’s another data point suggesting wise pitcher usage will pay off.
Next week it’s the 1940s. And for the first time in this series, I’ll be using BBREF WAR numbers after the 2018 WAR update. I’m hoping the result is more satisfying than it was before the update. Fingers crossed.
Because they came so close but didn’t pull through last season, the 1948 and 1920 champs have the longest current drought in the game. Known as the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903 through 1914, the Indians are the only team, I believe, whose Rushmore all played the same position. And much to my surprise, they’re the third best team in AL history in winning percentage.
By WAR, the greatest Indian ever is Nap Lajoie. However, he played parts of eight years with AL and NL Philadelphia clubs. Second on the Indian list is Red Sox great Tris Speaker. And fourth is another who played for the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau. Stan Coveleski is fifth on the Indian list, but he played for the A’s, Sens, and Yanks. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome also put up great numbers while in Cleveland, but they both played everywhere. Earl Averill held on with the Tigers and Braves, and Joe Sewell was a Yankee for three years.
Al Rosen is the best hitter in Indian history never to play elsewhere, posting 32.6 WAR over seven full seasons before retiring because of issues with his back and legs. He’s 23rd in Indian history in WAR, but that’s not enough. There were four Cleveland pitchers who topped him, making them the only team without a hitter on their Rushmore.
Bob Feller: Rapid Robert was a hit after joining the Indians at age 17 in 1936. If we replace the three seasons and the one partial season he missed due to WWII with the average of the two years before and the two full years after he left, he moves from 63.6 WAR to an insane 84.4 WAR. That would move him from a tie for 144th with Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams to 53rd, just ahead of Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey. I’m not saying this would have happened, just giving an idea about what might have been.
Bob Lemon: With 48.8 WAR, Lemon is the sixth best Indian ever. Of course, less than 77% of Lemon’s value was on the mound. He was truly an excellent hitter, adding 0.6 WAR to 1.9 WAR every year from 1947-1956 at the plate. From 1948-1950 he averaged six homers and 22 ribbies with a .334 OBP. With just pitching value, there are only two years when he threw like an All-Star. He’s in the Hall, which is quite a surprise given that Hall voters must look at pitcher offense less than I do, and Lemon is only 117th all-time among pitchers, right between Frank Viola and Ron Guidry.
Mel Harder: Eleventh on the all-time Indian WAR chart, Harder was a better pitcher than Lemon, putting up 47.9 WAR on the mound but giving back 4.2 at the dish, for 43.7 total WAR. During his 1932-1935 peak, he trailed only Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean in WAR among hurlers. Expanding things to 1939, and only Lefty Grove also gets past him. We’re looking at a star here.
Addie Joss: With similar star power to Harder, Joss nevertheless is in the Hall. Tied with him on the Indian WAR list with 43.7, Joss and his 160 wins are in the Hall due to a 1.89 career ERA. Even though he played only nine seasons, the 1977 Board of Directors passes a special resolution to waive the ten-year rule for him. There was no good reason for that decision. BBREF neutralizes Joss’ career ERA at 2.88, still a fine number, but c’mon. Imagine 170 wins and a 2.88 ERA in the last fifty years. Such a pitcher would have no chance at the Hall. If he pitched in the run environment of, say, 2004, his ERA would be 3.75. Kevin Brown pitched around that time. He finished with 211 wins and a 3.28 ERA, and he hasn’t sniffed the inside of Cooperstown.
My Indian Rushmore
Nap Lajoie: Yes, he had a significant enough career with the A’s, but he’s Cleveland’s all-time leader in WAR, and he had nine of his ten best years by WAR with the Indians.
Lou Boudreau: I’m not going to hold his short period of time in Boston against him. Speaker played in Boston too, but he had quite a significant career there. Each of Boudreau’s ten best seasons were with Cleveland.
Kenny Lofton: I’m skipping a couple of guys on Cleveland’s all-time WAR list to get to him, namely Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon. My favorite Lofton memory is how he ran the bases like a brilliant madman in the 1995 playoffs, tripling twice and stealing 11 bases in the ALCS and WS.
Tune in next week for a look at the Cincinnati Reds.
What’s stranger – writing obituaries for players who have long been dead or writing obituaries for players who are actually alive? We’re getting to the point that players who we’re metaphorically killing might still be with us in reality.
After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the HoME, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries. We remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration, so that our process going forward is a bit easier. Their tribute is a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.
There were 733 players we considered for the HoME as we began. With twelve elections complete, we’ve elected 68 and put to rest 186 others (Only 185 of those players really count – last election I wrote an obituary for Ray Chapman, who I confused with Ben Chapman. Ben passes today). As you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below, we now have 480 players to consider for our remaining 141 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect about 29.5% of the remaining players we’re considering.
And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.
Year Carried New Considered Elected Obituaries Continuing to Over Nominees this Election Next Election 1956 92 32 124 7 26 91 1951 93 27 120 9 19 92 1946 94 26 120 8 19 93 1941 82 29 111 5 12 94 1936 75 29 104 8 14 82 1931 69 17 86 2 9 75 1926 71 25 96 9 18 69 1921 66 27 93 4 18 71 1916 53 31 84 5 13 66 1911 47 20 67 5 9 53 1906 33 28 61 3 11 47 1901 1st election 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1956
At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1975, 34 years after his career ended, Earl Averill noted that had he been elected after his death, he made arrangements to keep his name out of the Hall. I don’t know whether that’s interesting because of how ungrateful he was, or how impossible his arrangement was. On a less awful note for the centerfielder who was about as good as Fred Lynn, he broke Dizzy Dean’s toe with a liner in the 1937 All-Star Game. Yep, that’s the more positive of the two things.
Tommy Bond won 40 games in back-to-back seasons in 1877 and 1878. In the first of those years, he also won the pitching triple crown. He is also the first player born in Ireland to play in the majors, and he was the last person living from the National League’s inaugural 1876 season. After throwing more innings than Curt Schilling or Kevin Brown did in their entire careers before the age of 25, Bond wouldn’t win another game in the majors, unless you count the Union Association of 1884 as a major league.
English Broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson once said, “Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what gets you.” Clarkson is right, and Ben Chapman is a testament to this assertion. Chapman was fast. Sort of. He led the AL in stolen bases four times. However, he also led the league in caught stealing four times, three of them when he was also leading the league in steals. That’s the sort of thing that kills you as a player. Chapman is better known for being one who vocally and incessantly opposed the integration of baseball and Jackie Robinson’s presence. That opposition, strangely, may have been a good thing, as is said to have it rallied the Dodgers around Robinson and increased national sympathy for his plight.
Among pitchers with at least 100 wins, nobody since the close of the National Association won at a greater rate than Spud Chandler. For the Yankees, this righty put of a 109-43 mark in a career that spanned 1937-1947. Before he entered the Army in 1944, Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler took home MVP honors in a depleted American League in 1943 when he posted a 20-4 mark and led the circuit with a miniscule 1.64 ERA.
While Chandler was taking home AL honors in 1943, it was Mort Cooper who won the NL MVP one year earlier. The righty starter went 22-7 that season, hurled 10 shutouts and posted a 1.78 ERA. Perhaps his career highlight was the Game Five shutout he threw for his Cardinals against the Browns in the 1944 World Series. Giving up only seven hits and fanning a dozen, Cooper brought the Cards to within a game of the title that they’d win the next day.
Frank Crosetti was a member of the New York Yankees from 1932-1968, the first seventeen of those years as a player and the last twenty as a coach. Crosetti was a decent defender, but his greatest skill was at the plate. The man knew how to get hit by a pitch, leading the AL in that category eight times. Of note, only Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio own more World Series rings as a player.
The skills of Roy Cullenbine weren’t properly appreciated when he played. At age 33 in 1947 he played his final season and smacked 24 home runs to go with 137 walks. With walks in 22 consecutive games that season he topped Ted Williams’ record and still holds the mark today. His OBP from 1941-1947 was .415, yet no team played him after his 1947 release by the Tigers.
On May 24, 1935, Paul Derringer started and led his Reds to a complete game victory over Joe Bowman and the Phillies in the first night game in MLB history. Otherwise, Derringer was a pretty good pitcher, winning 20 games on four occasions on his way to a 223-212 career mark. Derringer wasn’t a great World Series pitcher, compiling a 2-4 record in his career, but in 1940 he was clutch. Trashed by the Tigers in the opener, Derringer came back with a complete game victory in the fourth game. On the mound once again for the deciding seventh game, he faced Bobo Newsom in a pitcher’s duel. The Reds trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh. A pair of doubles, a sacrifice, and a sacrifice fly later, and the Reds took the 2-1 lead that would be the final. Derringer threw another complete game, and his Reds won their first World Series since 1919.
Larry French was a lefty knuckleballer who won 197 games in his 14 years in the show. He made the All-Star team in 1940 and pitched two innings for the National League, setting up for NL “closer,” Carl Hubbell. He allowed only a single to Luke Appling and recorded a pair of strikeouts. He fanned Bob Feller, who struck out in 39% of his career at-bats, and Ray Mack, whose 5.2 career WAR must make him one of the least valuable All-Stars of all time.
Lonny Frey lived to age 99. That was more notable than anything he did during his playing days, really. In fairness, he did make three All-Star teams and win an NL stolen base title for the Reds in 1940. Despite coming to the plate 21 times in the World Series, “Junior” never managed to get a hit.
Some records are a big deal. Cal Ripken played in 2.632 consecutive games, for example. Some records are less of a big deal. Augie Galan in 1935 became the first of three players in the game’s history to play at least 150 games in a season and not hit into a single double play. This record’s significance is mitigated even more by the fact that Galan did hit into a triple play that year.
A career Indian who spent 20 years in Cleveland, Mel Harder never pitched in the World Series. But when the spotlight was brightest, Harder was at his best. During his four All-Star Games, Harder pitched thirteen innings without allowing a run. His best performance was his first, in 1934. After the NL pounded Lefty Grove and Red Ruffing for seven runs in four innings, Harder entered, allowed only a ninth inning double to Billy Herman, and took the win for the AL.
It’s not really such a big deal to hit 20 2B, 3B, and HR in the same season, but it is noteworthy. In 1941 Indian right fielder Jeff Heath became the first American Leaguer to do so. Heath was an impressive and well-rounded hitter, retiring with a 139 OPS+ – Norm Cash, Reggie Jackson, David Ortiz territory. He simply wasn’t healthy enough to put up the kind of numbers needed for the HoME, only four times in fourteen seasons topping 126 games played.
Tommy Henrich could hit. He retired with an OPS+ of 132, which puts him in the company of other sluggers like Rocky Colavito, Juan Gonzalez, and Jose Canseco. The highlight of Henrich’s career, one that saw him win six rings as a member of the New York Yankees had to have been the first game of the 1949 World Series. In a scoreless tie, Henrich took Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe deep for the game’s only run. It was the first walk-off homer in World Series history.
Pinky Higgins hit .292 in a fourteen-year career that saw him make three All-Star teams. He later served as manager and general manager of the Boston Red Sox. But the end of his life wasn’t so rosy. In 1968 Higgins killed one and injured three others in a drunk driving accident. He was sentenced to four years but was paroled after only two months. Two days after his parole, he died of a heart attack.
A campaign to have Ken Keltner inducted into the Hall of Fame led Bill James to develop his Keltner List, a forerunner of our Saberhagen List. In short, James found that Keltner wasn’t Hall material. And though we find that he’s not HoME material either, he’ll forever be known for the two impressive defensive plays he made on balls hit by Joe DiMaggio with “The Yankee Clipper” was vying to extend his hitting streak to 57 games.
Joe Kuhel was a left-handed first baseman who played eighteen years in the majors for the Senators and White Sox, not a cartoon dog. He was known as an excellent defender, but he probably wasn’t. And frankly, he wasn’t much more than average at the plate either. He did hit three triples in a game once, which no player in AL history has topped.
For no good reason, I sometimes confuse Thornton Lee with author Thornton Wilder. Less of a writer and more of a lefty starting pitcher, Lee won 20 games and an ERA title for the White Sox in 1941. He and his son Don hold a record of sorts. They’re the only father and son to each give up a home run to the same player – Ted Williams.
Known as “The Nashville Narcissus,” Red Lucas put in 15 seasons as a National League starting pitcher, winning 157 games along the way. Though a starting pitcher, Lucas’ legacy is as a hitter. David Gassko, in an interesting article at The Hardball Times, calls Lucas the second greatest hitting pitcher of all time. He was such a talented hitter that he retired with the record (now #11) for most pinch hits in a career. No slouch as a pitcher, he led the NL in complete games three times and shutouts once.
Frank McCormick was a giant of a man. That’s exactly how I’d start my story if I were trying to create a modern-day Paul Bunyan, unless that territory has already been covered by this guy. McCormick was actually only 6’4” and a svelte 205 pounds. He made eight All-Star teams and won the 1940 NL MVP, though I can’t really explain why either happened. More positively, he led the NL in hits three consecutive years, which is something only he, Rogers Hornsby, and Ginger Beaumont have done.
A righty starter and occasional reliever, Claude Passeau won 162 games over thirteen seasons. He lost a pair of All-Star Games and struggled mightily in the last World Series game won by the Cubs. However, just three days earlier, he had one of the most brilliant outings in World Series history. In the Game Three, Passeau gave the Cubs a 2-1 advantage when he shut out the Tigers. The only blemishes on his record that day were a second inning single to Rudy York and a sixth inning walk to Bob Swift.
With three All-Star games to his credit and a twenty win season, Schoolboy Rowe was a decent enough pitcher. He won 158 games. The best day of his career had to have been the second game of the 1934 World Series. It was his first of six starts in the Series and his only win. And it was a pretty incredible performance, as the righty went all 12 innings to guide his Tigers over the visiting Cardinals.
From the pages of “it’s all downhill from here”, Senator shortstop Cecil Travis put up five hits in his first major league game at age 19 in 1933. He did accumulate another 1539 hits, and he led the AL in that category in 1941. Plus, he left the game as a .314 career hitter. But a HoME-worthy career, his wasn’t. Hey, he does have a Bronze Star to show for his military service, so not all is lost.
Hal Trosky put up some big numbers in a relatively short career. In ten full(ish) seasons, he reached 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in six times. His career highlight was 1936 when the first baseman his 42 out of the park and drove in a league-leading 162 to go with a .343/.382/.644 line. Pitchers had trouble stopping him, but migraine headaches got the best of him. He was basically done at age 28.
Dixie Walker made five All-Star teams, won a batting title, a triples title, and a RBI title. Still, he remains better known today as a player who, when the Dodgers announced Jackie Robinson would be coming to the majors in 1947, wrote a letter to Branch Rickey asking to be traded. Whether he was only doing what is expected of a guy called “Dixie” who grew up in the segregationist south is up for debate. There’s sufficient evidence that he supported Robinson later, and at least he spoke well of his teammate in public on occasion.
In 1946, the seven-time All-Star, Rudy York became the third player and one of just thirteen in history to hit two grand slams in one game. He was also quite well remembered during the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase in 1998. Until Sosa broke his mark in June of that season by hitting 20 long balls, York held the record with his 18 in the month of August, 1937.
That’s all for now. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1961 election for more obituaries.