A few days ago I posted some catcher favorites and imagined what it would take for them to get into the HoME. In that post, I asked for your thoughts on players you might like included at other positions. And you shared! Your ideas make this post a bit longer than I expected, but I expect you’ll enjoy the reader suggestions at least as much as those I originally planned to include.
Second basemen will show up as soon as Wednesday, so keep those suggestions coming please!
Will Clark/John Olerud: Throughout every iteration of MAPES, these two have been right next to each other in my rankings. In that way, they’re a little like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, albeit on the wrong side of the line. They’re both so close to said line that just one 4-win season would get either one past Mark McGwire, the last first baseman in the HoME. Don’t think it’s as easy as readjusting games played for the 1994-95 work stoppage. I edit those seasons up to 162 games with injury risk factored in already. For Olerud, he got to the majors early, kind of famously never spending any time in the minors (until he was 36). Plus, he was allowed to play until he was just about done, and he experienced no major injuries that, if avoided, would have given him the necessary value to pass McGwire. Clark also got to the majors early. However, he might not have been done when he hung ‘em up. After all, Clark’s final season was worth 2.1 WAR, and his triple slash was .319/.418/.546. It seems that a desire to cut down on travel and bone chip removal probably convinced him to retire. He certainly could have added a bit of value at the end. And were it not for those pesky bone chips, Clark may have been healthier in 1996 and 1997. If we were to add about 80 games in those years and another 80 at the end, he’d likely be near the 4 WAR needed to catch McGwire.
Gil Hodges (reader suggestion): There was a time, I think, when Hodges had received the most BBWAA votes in history. Maybe he still owns that record. And if so, he could remain in that position at least until another rule changes extends a player’s life on the ballot. He appeared on 15 ballots and only twice received less than 48% of the vote. That’s a lot of votes. As far as Hodges’ theoretical case goes, military service jumps out when looking at his BBREF page, but he only missed ages 20 and 21 and was in the minors at 22. In other words, there’s nothing to see there. When we look at his record, it screams “Orlando Cepeda”, at least to me. That means getting into the Hall would have happened if he were born a few years later (it seems writers have coalesced around players more in later years) or if he had Vet Committees that were a bit friendlier to him. The Hodges/Cepeda comparison is just the type Bill James had in mind when he thought of the second word in his book, The Politics of Glory. As far as the HoME, it’s tougher, yet easier to understand. Pretend his first season wasn’t just one game. Pretend it was worth 8.3 WAR. He’s in! Simple, I know, but not that simple.
Fred McGriff: We all know McGriff’s story. At least to me, it stinks that he’s converting so many votes in his final year on the ballot, when it doesn’t matter, and when he’s still a lesser player than a bunch of unworthy Hall of Famers. Writers are fond of saying that if it weren’t for the mid-90s work stoppages, McGriff would already be in the Hall. Yeah, okay, maybe. But if he were, that would be a sad commentary on the writers – that they think a player is meaningfully better with only seven additional home runs to get to 500. Seriously. The implication if they think he’d already be in the Hall is that more than three times as many writers would vote for him if he hit just seven more home runs. Gosh, I hope not. To get into the HoME, he’d have needed to have done if for longer, which hardly seems possible. He was playing regularly enough at 23 and was done at 39. When he played, he was generally healthy. So basically, he’d have had to play better. To get an idea as to how much better, I took his peak, 1988-1994, and I added a win to each season. That’s seven wins in total, one added to each of his best seven seasons. He’d still be behind Clark and Olerud. If he’d be willing, I’d hire him to be a greeter at the mythical Hall of Very Good.
Norm Cash: Given the 1961 season Cash put up versus the rest of his career, he has to be one of the more unique players ever. With my conversions, that year was worth almost 9 WAR, while he never reached 5.3 in any other season. Darin Erstad, Ken Caminiti, Al Rosen, Rico Petrocelli, Denis Menke, Bernard Gilkey, and maybe Bryce Harper are stars with similar singular sensational seasons and a big drop thereafter. I hate to offer such a simplistic explanation as luck, but Cash was lucky in 1961. Put simply, Cash had a career BABIP of .273, and his second highest ever was .295. In ’61 it was .370. He also had his highest walk rate that year. Is that because pitchers feared the singles? Yes, I mean singles. As a percentage of all of his hits in 1961, his rate of those for extra bases was only the fourth highest of his career. He did have his best HR rate though. While I rank Cash 40th in history at the position, not even another year of about 9 WAR would get him in. Two would though. But that’s an awful lot of luck to ask for.
Don Mattingly: There are Yankee fans who say Mattingly in his prime is the best player they ever saw. I suspect they were all born in 1975 and 1976, only paid attention to the Yankees, and gave up on baseball when they had their first legal drink. At his best, Donnie Baseball was a joy to watch, a doubles machine. But his plate discipline was only good. His power was only good after his 1987 back injury. And that’s enough of the story. Let’s pretend there’s no back injury. Through age 26, he had 25.4 WAR. So I’m going to look at every first baseman within one WAR of Mattingly through that age. There are seven guys. Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, and Keith Hernandez are in the HoME. Will Clark isn’t, but I suspect he could have been. Jake Beckley is right after Clark and Olerud by MAPES+. In other words, he’s very close. And then there’s Stuffy McInnis, 66th at the position. You could say that Mattingly was 6 of 7 to have a HoME-like career without the back injuries. Or maybe it’s only 4 of 7 since Clark and Beckley aren’t actually in. Were it not for the back injuries, there’s a reasonable chance he could have found himself in Cooperstown. In other words, I think Mattingly apologists are likely more correct than McGriff apologists (seven missing homers). That’s not something I’d have said before looking at his career in this way.
Hal Trosky (reader suggestion): A headache is to a migraine as a punch in the stomach is to how Sigourney Weaver would have felt if the Alien ripped her stomach open and climbed in. Maybe analogies aren’t my thing. Anyway, from what I’m told, one can’t understand migraines through their experience with mere headaches. Trosky had migraines. They were so bad that he didn’t play a ton when he was 28, took 29 and 30 off, and was never the same again. When he was on, he was incredible at the dish, averaging over 120 runs batted in for seven seasons from 1934-1940. But to be fair, he wasn’t great when there wasn’t a bat in his hands. In other words, he couldn’t field, which clearly hurts his case. We’re going to do the same thing with Trosky as we did with Mattingly. He had 28.0 WAR through his age-27 season. Basically, he’s Mattingly with 2.6 WAR at 27. And that’s not good. First basemen within a win of his total include HoMErs Jeff Bagwell and Keith Hernandez. However, Ed Konetchy (45th) and Stuffy McInnis (66th) are also on the list. Freddie Freeman is there too, so I’m thinking there’s less than a 50% chance Trosky would have been a HoMEr had he been migraine-free and healthy.
Jim Bottomley: If you’re a regular reader, you might be glad he’s in the Hall of Fame. If he and his ilk weren’t, there’d have been no reason for Eric and me to start this blog. Bottomley played for Veterans Committee stalwart Frankie Frisch from 1927-1932. As the risk of being guilty of a single cause fallacy, that’s why Sunny Jim is in the Hall. Bottomley was pretty good when Frisch joined the Cards in 1927. He was better in 1928. But for the last four years of their time together, he was worth just 2.0 WAR per season. In other words, he was just another guy. To get an idea of how far away he is, I added 2.0 WAR to each one of his first seven seasons. Even then, he’s still be behind Gil Hodges. In other words, he’s not close.
High Pockets Kelly: Ugh! Why am I bothering with another Frisch pick? I’m not. My brain’s not feeling that twisty right now.
Ted Kluszewski (reader suggestion): Not that it matters, but Klu and Pockets were born on the same day. Sunny Jim and I were also born on the same day. And all four of us were born from September 10 – September 16. Another thing, as much as I try, I can’t spell his name right. Big Klu is a big deal because he hit 136 homers from 1953-1955. Of course, he only hit 143 more in over the rest of his career. Thus, if you were born in about 1940, you might remember Kluszewski as great when he really wasn’t, at least not for his career. He’s sort of like a lesser Mattingly for those fans who are 30-35 years older. On his SABR Bio Project page, Paul Ladewski mentions a back injury incurred during a bit of a clubhouse tussle. But let’s be realistic. He only had 30.7 WAR through that season. And he was 32 the next year. Even with health, there was no shot. If we add a five wins to each of his best three seasons, he’d only get past Mark Grace.
Kevin Youkilis (reader suggestion): It’s sort of rare when contemporaneous outstanding players are so similar. I’m thinking Clark and Olerud here, or perhaps Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. It’s rare in large part because just being that great is uncommon. As much as I loved Youk as a key figure on the Red Sox 2007 title team and one of the main reasons they beat the Indians in the ALCS after being down 3-1, he’s a fairly ordinary player. What I mean is a lot of players have had his career shape, whether or not they built value similarly. Youk didn’t reach the majors until he was 25. And with Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller on the corners in Fenway, he wasn’t a regular until he was 27. Guys who aren’t regulars until they’re 27 don’t get into the Hall of Fame unless they throw a knuckeball or have pleasant dinners with Frankie Frisch (or Tony LaRussa?). Also, there are very few Hall of Famers who are essentially done after they turn 32. We’re talking about the land of ordinary players here. During Youk’s five-year peak, 2007-2011, he was the eighth best position player in the game by WAR. That’s nice, certainly the mark of a good player. It’s just not too unusual. If we tack five 5-win seasons onto the end of his career, he’d still be south of 40th at the position. A nice career for sure, but the Greek God of Walks lacked a level of omnipotence needed for HoME enshrinement.
Joe Adcock (reader suggestion): Adcock one of only eighteen players ever to hit four home runs in a game. During that same epic game, he produced a then all-time record with 18 total bases in a single contest. While he’s since been passed by Shawn Green, trivia fans know his name well. As his BBREF page will tell you, he was a nice player, but nothing more. If we add a full 5 WAR to each of Adcock’s best five seasons, he’d rank only 48th at the position, between Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez. For some perspective, I added an All-Star season to his five best seasons, and he’s still not close. For a little more perspective, Mookie Betts has played just five seasons. If we added five wins to each of those seasons, he’d already be HoME level, better than HoMErs Reggie Smith and Sam Rice.
Dave Kingman: As you might know from reading this blog, or even just this particular post, I love baseball trivia. In 1977, Kingman homered for a team in each of baseball’s four divisions. For you kids out there, the Central divisions didn’t exist until 1994. Those under 30 don’t baseball with fewer than six divisions. You have to be about 60+ remember a time where there were just two leagues with no divisions. This stuff matters! We should think about these things to understand those who are a lot younger or older than we are. If you’re frustrated because “old people” drive too slowly, just remember that you desperately want to be old someday. And if you judge young people by their avocado toast or dispassion for what you consider to be important, think about what you were like at 19, and at least try a new food trend. Food trends don’t exist because they taste bad. Know what I mean? Also, if Kingman had a 30 WAR season (no typo), that would be just enough to get him into the HoME.
Any second basemen you want included here? Just let me know. I’ll adjust my plan accordingly.
Today we continue through our journey around the diamond listing the best ever to play the game at each position. Well, actually, we’re still at first base. A week ago, we revealed our top-20 at the position, today it’s 21-40, and in a week we’ll name the top-20 second basemen ever. All rankings are based on Eric’s CHEWS+ and my MAPES+ lists. And we won’t stop until we give you the top-40 at every position and the top-120 pitchers.
Joey Votto: Eric doesn’t address Votto because he did so last week as the 20th ranked guy on his list. For a player with six OBP titles and almost 55 WAR, Votto is criminally underrated. Unfortunately for him, he’s only hit 30 homers twice and only drive in 100 three times. On the other hand, just looking at straight WAR, he’s never had an 8-win season. But I digress. This question is about where he’ll end up. My adjusted numbers gave him 7.47 WAR a year ago. But he will be 34 this year. Imagine a graceful decline of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 WAR. He’d pass seven guys and move into 17th place on my list. But maybe the decline will be even less pronounced, seeing him fall to 6 WAR this year and then age gracefully. He’s now fighting George Sisler for 10th in history. I’m not saying it’ll happen, but it certainly could. —Miller
It’s an easy enough call to say that it’s David Ortiz. After all, conventional wisdom says he’s going to waltz into the Hall. But I think nearly 100% of the writers for vote for Papi will do so noting his specialness or clutchiness or Papiness or all three. Ortiz deserves the Hall based a lot more on Fame than on greatness. And if you’re thinking his playoff greatness puts him over the line, well, maybe it does, though I did contribute a meandering post about the incredible amount of value you’d need to give playoff excellence to get the Sox great over the line. —Miller
It would be easy to spotlight old timers like Harry Stovey or Jack Fournier or even Dolph Camilli here. But there’s two guys on this list where I see divergence. First, no one during his career ever thought that John Olerud was a Hall-caliber player. He got attention when he took a run at .400 early in his career. He got some kudos as the slick-scooping glue that held the Mets’ infield defense together in the Piazza era. He was also known for the piano he carried on his back when he ran the bases. But his case for the Hall is actually pretty damned good thanks to a combination of good hitting and excellent fielding. Then there’s Harm Killebrew. The 500 homers pretty much starts and ends the conversation on him, and, ipso facto, he’s a Hall of Famer. Well, he was an abysmal fielder, a bad baserunner, and hit into a lot of double plays. The entire package isn’t nearly as good as the gaudy homer figures would indicate, and if you only stop at 573, you won’t agree with us.—Eric
Nothing to see here. There’s no meaningful disagreement.
In this group, not especially. So I’d like to take just a moment to talk about how a team might have underrated a player. In 1967, the Reds moved Tony Perez to third base. He’d never played an MLB inning at the hot corner, but during his minor league apprenticeship, he’d played a vast majority of his games there. Arriving in Cincy in 1964, Perez played nothing but first base for three years, and he was slightly below average (-3 runs) in 174 games. The Reds realigned their infield for ’67, moving Perez off first base, pushing incumbent Tommy Helms to second base, putting Pete Rose to pasture in left field, and putting defensively inept left fielder Deron Johnson at first base where he could do less damage (and they were right). In 1966, these players combined for -24 runs. In 1967 they combined for -10. Bob Howsam and Dave Bristol saved themselves at least a win’s worth of runs just by putting their players where their skills made the most sense. Perez was the weakest link at -9 runs in 1967, but over the next four years, he accumulated positive value at third base.
Prior to the 1972 season, the Reds acquired infielder Denis Menke who had at one time played a decent shortstop, but whose glove faltered badly. He could hit a little, and the Reds picked him up in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history.
November 29, 1971: The Houston Astros trade Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke, and Joe Morgan to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May, and Jimmy Stewart.
Morgan alone brought back 58 WAR, with Geronimo returning 13, Menke 4, Billingham 2, and Armbrister none. For their efforts, the Astros got 4 wins from Helms, though they later flipped him for Art Howe who earned 13 WAR with the ‘Stros; 6 from Lee May who they later made part of a trade for Enos Cabell and Rob Andrews; and -1 from Stewart whom they later cut.
For Perez’s part, however, the departure of May and Helms opened holes at first base and second base. Morgan, of course, would man the keystone sack. Who would play first base? They had options on hand. Obviously Perez had played there previously and was fine. Menke might also be stationed there. He had, in fact, been the Astros’ primary first baseman the year before and played there about as well as Perez had in the past. Pete Rose had moved from left field to right field in deference to rising youngster Bernie Carbo. Cabo had been worth 4.4 WAR in 1970, faltered in 1971, and after a slow start was dealt in 1972, pushing Rose back to left. The young Hal McRae got a lot of playing time and might have been an option. George Foster was on the roster but didn’t play much and hit poorly when he did. The Reds chose to stick Menke at third base and slide Perez across the diamond.
I wasn’t there, and I don’t know what all happened, but here’s the thing. Menke was a short timer however you looked at it, and the Reds had more good hitters than the WBA, WBC, and IBF combined. But Perez looked like a first baseman and hit like one, so the move made sense. But in retrospect, leaving Perez be would have given the Reds many more opportunities and made Perez more valuable. During his time at third base, Perez earned 12 positional runs (he did appear other places from time to time). Perez left Cincinnati after 1976, but in those five years, the positional adjustment for third base was three runs a season, or 15 runs over those five years. At first base it was -45 runs. If Perez played every day, the difference between the positions was 60 runs without factoring in defense or anything else. Perez was a good first baseman from 1972–1976 and picked up 17 fielding runs. So the net of his positional adjustment and fielding was -28 runs. Perez could have been a -42 run fielder at third base over that same time and still have earned out at the hot corner.
The worst defender with 50% of his games at third base in that time as Richie Hebner who “earned” -37 runs. Bill Madlock placed with -32 runs. Dave Roberts to show at -30. Bill Melton next at -29, and the only other player over -20 was Paul Schaal at -30. Whether contemporary observers saw it or not, Perez played a good enough third base to have likely avoided that kind of disaster artistry.
And that’s just the BBREF Rfield side of the story. DRA pegs him at 8 runs instead of 17 from 1972–1976, and it likes his defense a lot at third, to the tune of 22 runs from 1967–1971. I understand why Sparky Anderson and Bob Howsam made the move they did. It seemed like a good baseball move based on the understandings of the game in 1972. Looking backwards, though, it’s possible that the difference between Tony Perez first baseman and Tony Perez Hall of Merit third baseman came down simply to a trade, a decision, and 100 years of soon-to-be-obsolete conventional baseball wisdom.—Eric
Mark Teixeira announced last week that he’s going to retire at the end of the year. Probably a good decision since he’s a free agent to be, banged up, and performing at below replacement level. Since he’s now on his way out, he becomes a Hall of Fame candidate. We get to look at his career, twist and turn it, and see if he measures up.
The numbers on the back of Teixeira’s baseball card are impressive enough: 404 homers, 1281 ribbies, and 1087 runs scored. He’s one of only 50 players ever to reach those heights. And among first basemen, there are only thirteen.
But part of Teixeira’s claim to greatness, part of his claim to Hall of Fame inclusion, is his defense. Teixeira has an even 100 Rfield, the number at BBREF that measures defensive value. The only other first baseman in history who can match his baseball card numbers and his BBREF defensive number is Albert Pujols. In fact, there are only seven more players at other positions who have posted those numbers: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, Carl Yastrzemski, Andruw Jones, Cal Ripken, and Adrian Beltre. And if Tex drives in just eight more runs this year, Jones falls off the list.
Based on the previous two paragraphs, it may seem that Teixeira is a pretty rare player. He’s not. If you take the right combinations of categories, you can make lots of guys look sort of elite. When we’re considering electing guys to the Hall, the wise thing to do is look at value – and look at players of similar value.
And when I look at value, I look at my MAPES system, a WAR-based valuation where I substitute out some of BBREF’s defensive ranking for Michael Humphreys’ Defensive Regression Analysis, and give some extra credit to peak and prime value. Let me offer for you a group within roughly 10% by my MAPES system at first base.
#28 Harry Stovey, 44.80
#29 Harmon Killebrew, 44.70
#30 Fred Tenney, 43.85
#31 Frank Chance, 43.50
#32 Tony Perez, 43.32
#33 Mark Teixeira, 42.28 (not including 2016)
#34 Gil Hodges, 42.27
#35 Norm Cash, 41.76
#36 Fred McGriff, 41.45
#37 Orlando Cepeda, 40.50
#38 Ed Konetchy, 40.35
On the basis of his 2016, Joey Votto has joined this group toward the bottom. The same can be said for David Ortiz. Ortiz, of course, is retiring at the end of the year as well. Papi’s going to be a Hall of Famer, probably as soon as he’s eligible, but that’s because post-season heroics and a lack of understanding about greatness derived from things other than hitting. I looked at his Hall case last year in a less than effusive way.
So if we look at this group, adding Ortiz to it but not Votto since we don’t know where he’ll finish out his career, we have eleven guys to compare with Tex. Killebrew, Chance, Perez, and Cepeda are in the Hall. Ortiz is going. Five are in, six out. That said, there are campaigns still afoot for Fred McGriff and Gil Hodges. It might not be the BBWAA, but someone will make a case for Mark Teixeira.
And perhaps those will be the Gill Hodges folks since the two players are nearly identical. Here are their yearly adjusted WAR totals, just looking at the dozen seasons each had with over 0.1 WAR.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Teixeira 7.3 6.6 5.6 5.2 5.1 4.9 4.3 4.2 3.9 3.5 0.9 0.5 Hodges 7.6 6.2 5.9 5.6 5.5 5.0 4.3 3.7 2.8 2.7 1.4 0.5
I’d say chances aren’t very good at all. Teixeira compares to two groups of 1B as I see it. The first group is a bunch who aren’t in the Hall and don’t deserve it. The second group contains guys who are in but don’t deserve to be. Generally speaking, I believe voters today are doing a better job than those in the past. And the words I’ve heard in the past week about Teixeira speak to the fact that he was very good but not quite good enough. And you know what. That’s pretty much the way he should be described.
Mark Teixeira won’t ever get into the Hall of Miller and Eric. To me, he’s nearly indistinguishable from Gil Hodges, and that’s just not good enough. I suspect he’ll never be a Hall of Famer either, but I can’t predict how bodies that doesn’t even exist today will make up their minds in twenty or forty years.
On Friday, we told you what we thought of each candidate on the Golden Era ballot. Today we present the ballot we would have handed the sixteen committee members who vote
this next week on whether to award anyone a plaque—the 10 individuals we thought should be in the scrum. Just one ground rule: We each have to agree on who should be on the ballot. We’ll each also share our make-believe selections for the real ballot and predict the outcome with amazing certainty…at least in our voices.
ERIC: I love to pick on the Hall, but the Golden Era screeners get props this time. They crafted a much better ballot than previous renditions. We noted Friday the wisdom of ditching Allie Reynolds for Billy Pierce, avoiding the manager role (there’s only one good but not necessarily great one left—Danny Murtaugh), and making sure nine players appeared.
MILLER: They did a good job, but they were far from perfect. If we’re going to create the ideal ballot, we’d have to start with Golden Era players already in the HoME.
ERIC: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, and Luis Tiant are on their ballot, and they’ll be on ours too. Three other HoMErs, Willie Davis, Bill Freehan, and Jim “Toy Cannon” Wynn, make six guys on the ballot we draw up.
MILLER: One more guy to add is a player whose record doesn’t jump off the page but whose name does. Curt Flood. The Expansion Era Committee has whiffed a couple of times on Marvin Miller, a slam-dunk Hall of Famer in my book, and the Golden Era Committee should at least partially rectify that mistake by putting Curt Flood on their ballot.
The Cardinals tried to trade Flood after the 1969 season, and he simply refused. To Commissioner Bowie Kuhn he wrote, “After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” That letter and the lawsuit that followed set in motion the actions that ended baseball’s reserve clause and brought about free agency.
Flood was a fine player too, at the level of Hall of Famer Nellie Fox or the beloved Dom DiMaggio. His playing career alone doesn’t merit induction, but the entirety of what he means to the game deserves consideration.
ERIC: Flood was an upstander, and his and Marvin Miller’s plaques are long overdue. I can only assume that management influencers have barred that door. If we had a Hall of Miller and Eric wing for overall contributors, Flood makes it easily. He’s on our ballot.
MILLER: Another guy who should make our ballot is Minnie Miñoso. Your argument on Friday about his time in the minor leagues is compelling. While the hypothetical WAR numbers you offer may be debatable, the couple of years when his race may have kept him out of the bigs still appear on his record. And for the Hall, they should be considered.
ERIC: Two more to go!
MILLER: For our final two ballot slots, I at least want to bring up a few more guys who have value beyond their MLB playing days. NL President Bill White, long time pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, and four guys in the top-100 all-time in games managed—Jim Fregosi (51), Felipe Alou (54), Al Dark (59), and Gil Hodges (92)—all deserve consideration.
ERIC: Dark and Hodges for sure. Dark won the Series, though in the third year of a threepeat. Hodges has the Miracle Mets to his credit. Fregosi and Alou, however, never won a World Series, which seems like a minimum managerial achievement for induction. I suppose Bill White could fit in here. All-Star player, first regular African-American broadcaster for a major sports team, first African-American league President. Firsts are usually important, but these don’t feel quite so crucial to me. And as for Stottlemyre, he gets in line behind Leo Mazzone, Dave Duncan, and a guy from the Golden Era, Johnny Sain.
MILLER: Good point about Sain. But he did too little as a player to make this ballot. And we’re in agreement on dumping Fregosi, Alou, White, and Stottlemyre too.
Before I go into any depth on Dark and Hodges, I want to mention the other players I’m still thinking about:
ERIC: Maybe I’m the grim reaper, but among them, I’d scythe all but Sal Bando, Billy Pierce and Roy White.
MILLER: I think I like Campaneris and Lolich more than you do, though I’d eliminate them too. Just didn’t want to let them go without another word. I’m totally with you on the cuts though.
ERIC: Let’s not forget execs. Boring? Yes. Important? Yes. Eligible? Yes. There’s three guys here who we should be talking about. We also touched on them on Friday. Bob Howsam is already on the ballot. Buzzie Bavasi was on the last Golden go-round. Harry Dalton might take his turn on the next one. Each of their resumes exceeds the typical Hall GM’s.
MILLER: There’s not a shot I’d put any of them on my ballot. The Hall has too many non-MLB players in it already. I don’t want to be responsible for even hypothetically adding more.
I’d like to bring up (and then reject) one more combo candidate—Jim Bouton. The author of Ball Four had an obvious historical impact on the game, and anyone who hasn’t read it should put that book on their 2015 reading list. But he’s not at the level needed to make this ballot.
ERIC: For our final two slots we have a competition between Sal Bando, Billy Pierce, Roy White, and combo candidates Al Dark and Gil Hodges. The key bullet point in favor of each:
MILLER: I want Bando on the ballot. For me, he’s the best of the players listed above. He’s a guy we’re thinking about for the HoME who’s clearly superior to the enshrined Pie Traynor, George Kell, and Freddie Lindstrom. From 1969–1978 the best four AL non-pitchers were Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, and Graig Nettles. Nobody else is anywhere near them. And with a wonderfully solid record of 51+ wins over his best ten seasons, the Golden Era Committee should consider him.
ERIC: Check! That leaves four men for one spot on the ballot: Alvin Dark, Gil Hodges, Billy Pierce, and Roy White.
MILLER: As far as Roy White, I’m not 100% sure about him. Like Bando, there are lesser Hall of Famers at his position—Heinie Manush and Chick Hafey were clearly lesser players. And I feel quite comfortable saying that White was also better than Lou Brock and Jim Rice. Great defenders at offense-first positions sometimes get lost.
ERIC: Then there’s Pierce. I’m pretty sure I like Roy White better than him, though it’s not a certainty. I certainly would call Pierce a top-100 pitcher in MLB’s history, and quite possibly a top-80 pitcher. But I’d have a hard time pushing him into the electable range. He didn’t add anything much after his career.
MILLER: Gil Hodges was a heck of a player, pretty much on the level of Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, or Fred McGriff. Then as a manager he won 660 games and the 1969 World Series with the Miracle Mets.
Alvin Dark was pretty similar to Luis Aparicio, Phil Rizzuto, and Nomar Garciaparra. As a manager, he was more successful than Hodges. He won 994 games and took the 1962 Giants to within a Bobby Richardson defensive gem of winning that World Series. With the 1974 A’s, he got his title. And he was back in the playoffs the next year.
Just as an experiment, I added one season to the playing careers of each of our combo candidates. That season represents their managerial careers. In that season, I awarded them one WAR for each 100 managerial wins and one for the World Series title. Hodges fared well, but in the end he fell a bit short of the Will Clark/John Olerud level. Dark had a much bigger boost, but he had further to go. And even with a season of about 10 WAR, he still didn’t get to the Bert Campaneris level.
ERIC/MILLER: A back-mapping way of looking at the Hodges question: If Gil Hodges is a borderline candidate, how much managerial credit would he need to be one of the ten best contributors of his time who is not elected?
Roy White is his main competition, and in my system Hodges would need about 10–12 more career WAR to catch up. Is this possible for a managerial candidate? He managed 8.75 seasons and would need the equivalent of 1.3 WAR each year to catch up. I have no idea how to equate managers and players, and I suspect that a manager who did everything right could maybe add three to five WAR to his team. More likely fewer. (A bad manager however, could do much, much more damage.) One way to look his actual victories versus the number of victories we’d have expected based on his team’s runs scored and allowed:
1963: + 2
1964: – 2
1965: + 4
1966: + 4
1967: + 6
1968: – 4
1969: + 8
1970: – 5
1971: – 3
All of that credit wouldn’t go to Hodges, of course. But his handling of his roster and in-game decisions contribute to it. In Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, Chris Jaffe suggests that Hodges was a good manager who adapted strategically to poor teams. During his time with the awful expansion Senators, Hodges used his bench and his bullpen more extensively than nearly any manager to get the most out of rotten rosters. With the Mets he continued to platoon heavily, though with Seaver and Koosman, he relied less heavily on his bullpen than in Washington. He was probably the kind of guy you’d want managing a team like this year’s Orioles or Royals. In total, Jaffe reports that Hodges may have contributed +65 runs to his teams, or roughly 6.5 wins. I suspect it is possible that Hodges might have made up the gap, but I don’t have enough certainty that I can advocate for him over White.
As for Dark, he would need 25–30 more career WAR as a manager to get even with White. Despite two World Series appearances, I think Dark is too far away from Hodges, let alone White.
So I think I’m leaning toward Roy White for our last spot.
MILLER: I’m kind of surprised this has gone as smoothly as it has. I really thought I’d want Hodges, but I also prefer White. So here’s our ballot.
The electors each get to select as many as five candidates from the official Golden Era ballot. Here’s how we’d vote on their ballot and on the one we’ve constructed.
MILLER: If on the Golden Era Committee, I’d vote for Allen, Boyer, and Tiant. And, um, um, um, that’s it. If I gave Miñoso the WAR you estimate, he’d rank between Zack Wheat and Joe Kelley for me. And I think there’s sufficient reason to believe that it’s possible Miñoso’s race wasn’t the only thing that held him back. I gotta go with only three.
ERIC: As you could probably predict, I’d take those three and Miñoso. What do you think about the Miller and Eric ballot?
MILLER: That one’s actually easier. I’ll go with Allen, Boyer, Flood, Tiant, and Wynn
ERIC: Boring. Me too.
ERIC: This is where things get more exciting. Or perhaps less so. I’d say Kaat wins election. Three former teammates (Rod Carew, Ozzie Smith, and Bob Watson) are on the committee for the first time, and Kaat needs just two votes. Kaat’s former GM Roland Hemond remains on the committee too.
MILLER: Sadly, I think you’ll be correct. If Kaat gets in, Tommy John won’t be far behind. And lightning rod Jack Morris would appear to be a sure thing. Oh well. They’re all better than Jesse Haines, Rube Marquard, and Bruce Sutter.
I’m looking to our BBWAA discussion coming up in a few weeks.
It’s that time of the election cycle once again, time to pay tribute to the near-immortals, those who won’t ever make it into the HoME. Sifting through players is quite a bit of work, so to make the process easier we remove some from our active consideration set once we realize they’re not HoME-quality. As we have fewer players to consider, we’re better able to elect the right players.
We once had a total of 744 players who have been or will be up for consideration. With twenty-one elections behind us, we’ve elected 110 and put to rest 314 others. We now have 320 players to consider for our 102 remaining spots in the HoME. In other words, we can now elect nearly 32% of our remaining players. Please read more about the dead below and by looking over our RIP category.
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 1981 59 8 67 1 15 51 1980 59 8 67 3 5 59 1979 67 6 73 6 8 59 1978 78 6 84 5 12 67 1977 86 6 92 2 11 79 1976 82 26 108 6 16 86 1971 87 21 108 6 20 82 1966 94 26 120 7 26 87 1961 91 24 115 6 15 94 1956 92 32 124 7 26 91 1951 93 27 120 9 19 92 1946 94 26 120 8 19 93 1941 82 29 111 5 12 94 1936 75 29 104 8 14 82 1931 69 17 86 2 9 75 1926 71 25 96 9 18 69 1921 66 27 93 4 18 71 1916 53 31 84 5 13 66 1911 47 20 67 5 9 53 1906 33 28 61 3 11 47 1901 0 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1981
Owner of one of baseball’s most remarkable outliers of a season in 1961, Norm Cash was a career Tiger and career .271 hitter who hit an AL leading .361 that year. After the fluke of ’61, both his BA and OBP dropped over 100 points. He was a fine player overall with a lot of power, as his 377 career homers show. And his four All-Star games show he was appreciated in his time. One of the highlights of his life was the homer in the second game of the 1968 World Series that the Tigers would go on to win. No doubt the lowlight was in 1986 when he slipped on a dock and drowned at the relatively young age of 51.
Orlando Cepeda had a fine career and an even more impressive Hall of Fame campaign. Yes, he won the Rookie of the Year trophy in 1958, and he took home the MVP hardware in 1967, plus he went to seven All-Star games and hit 379 homers. Yes, Cepeda was very, very good. Of course, Ron Santo was likely the better player in 1967, and he deserved about three All-Star appearances, not seven. Drug arrests and other personal problems, plus a career that wasn’t truly great, make it curious how a guy who the BBWAA liked less than Maury Wills and Harvey Kuenn as late as his fourth year on the ballot could eventually rise to 73.5% and then get in the first time the Veterans got hold of him. Cha Cha will have to settle for that place in New York because he’s not getting in the HoME.
The last player ever to throw a legal spit ball, Burleigh Grimes won 270 during a distinguished 19-year career. The banning of the spitter came about oddly. After the 1919 season, each team was allowed to designate two pitchers to keep throwing the pitch that was considered dangerous. After the 1920 season, the pitch was banned – except for those who were grandfathered in. Grimes was one of those 17 pitchers, and he was the last to retire. More than just the spitter, Grimes won a strikeout title and two wins titles among his five 20-win seasons.
Bill Hands won 20 games for the Cubs in 1969 and 111 overall in a career that finished a single game above .500. He never got to an All-Star game, never led the league in anything good, and never got a single vote for the Hall of Fame. Of course, I’m almost certain he won 111 more games in the majors than you did. So he has that.
Known as “King Kong” because of his penchant for the long ball, Charlie Keller was a lefty swinging left fielder, mostly for the Yankees, from 1939-1952, save a year for military service in 1944. Though no Hall of Famer, five All-Star teams show he was no slouch either. In the third game of the 1939 World Series, Keller became the first rookie to homer twice in a Fall Classic game. Since, Tony Kubek and Willie McGee have matched the feat.
Not receiving the obituary he earned after the 1979 election….Second on the all-time home run list for pitchers behind Wes Ferrell, Indian northpaw, Bob Lemon, thrice led the AL in wins. He was quite durable during his 13 seasons, five times leading the AL in CG, four times in IP, and three times in GS. His best days as a player occurred during the 1948 World Series. He won two games, including the clincher, as the Indians beat the Braves for their only title since 1920. He made it to the Hall in 1976, one of the most disappointing selections by the BBWAA. He’s no HoMEr – not great enough on the mound and couldn’t keep up his level for long enough.
Traded in a package for Bill Hands in 1965, Lindy McDaniel was one of the dominant relievers of his generation. A career that spanned from 1955-1975 saw McDaniel pitch for five teams and take home retroactive saves titles in 1959, 1960, and 1963 (the save wasn’t an official statistic until 1969). He went on a run of 32 straight hitters retired in one stretch for the 1968 Yankees. Included in that stretch was a game that ended in a tie where he pitched seven perfect innings in relief against the Tigers. And in 1973, McDaniel pitched a game for the ages. Entering in the second inning, he went 13 strong innings in relief in a 3-2 win for the Yankees.
A lefty starter, mostly with the Indians, with speed to burn and control he never quite mastered, Sam McDowell won five K titles in six seasons from 1965-1970. Unfortunately, he also “won” five BB titles from 1965-1971. Both 1965 and 1970 were outstanding campaigns during with Sudden Sam reached the 300 K mark. In either of them, he could have won a Cy Young Award, but didn’t. Though his career in Cleveland and his career as an effective pitcher were over after 1971, the Tribe was still able to steal Hall of Fame starter and 1972 Cy Young winner, Gaylord Perry, from the Giants for him in the offseason.
Minnie Minoso was indeed a great player and has more than a decent Hall of Fame case, but much of his case is based on his Negro League performance prior to his tome in the major leagues. As a rule, the HoME doesn’t consider accomplishments outside of MLB. His accomplishments are many – seven All-Star teams, three Gold Gloves, a hits title, three SB titles (with six CS titles), and three 3B titles. But to many, he’s known for his pinch-hitting work, mostly as a publicity stunt, in both 1976 and 1980. With his 1980 appearance, he joined Nick Altrock as the only major leaguers to appear in five decades.
Claude Osteen pitched for six teams over eighteen seasons in the majors, but he’s best known for his 1965-1973 work, during which he was a mainstay in the Dodger rotation. The most important start of his career came in the third game of the 1965 World Series. The Twins had just bested both Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. Osteen and the Dodgers had their backs to the wall, and the winner of 196 career games came through in a big way, shutting out the Twins on five hits. The Dodgers would go on to win the Series 4-3.
The older brother of the king of the spitter, Jim Perry was no slouch himself on the mound. He won 215 games, including a pair of 20-win seasons, and he made it to three All-Star teams. Plus, he beat Gaylord to the Cy Young punch by two years, winning AL honors in 1970. When Gaylord won in 1972, he and Jim became the only brothers ever to win that pitching honor.
As one of the poster boys for the Hall of Very Good, it’s no surprise to see Vada Pinson with an obit. He was spectacular when he was young, making his only All-Star teams in his first two seasons. He also won a Gold Glove, two 2B titles, and a hit title before he turned 23. But by 26, we’d already seen the best of Vada, and he was essentially done by age 28. Despite not really being a great player, and perhaps because of the hot start to his career, he remained on the BBWAA Hall ballot for the full 15 seasons, peaking at 15.7% of the vote in 1988.
Jack Quinn pitched in the majors every year from 1909-1933, save a couple of years for World War I. He won 247 games, and led the AL in saves in both 1931 and 1932, when he was 47 and 48 years of age. He’s the oldest American League player to hit a home run, the oldest to have more than one hit in a season, and the oldest to make a start in the World Series. His best year was likely as a Federal Leaguer, and while incredibly impressive for his longevity, he never put up an All-Star level season in the AL or NL.
Hardy Richardson, or “Old True Blue” as he was sometimes known, has been a tough bugger for us to kill. He was mainly a National League second baseman from 1879-1892, and he was a terrific player. As a member of Buffalo’s Big Four with Dan Brouthers, Deacon White, and Jack Rowe, he’s already seen two of his mates inducted and one killed. Richardson’s best season, and only truly great one, was 1886, his first with the Detroit Wolverines. That season Richardson led the NL in hits and homers while slashing away at .351/.402/.504. If the HoME were to have 300 members, Richardson would likely be among them.
Pitching for Brooklyn from 1907-1916 when they were called the Superbas, the Dodgers, and the Robins, Nap Rucker managed just a 134-134 record in his career. But he was a better pitcher than that. When Rucker wasn’t on the mound, Brooklyn played to a .430 winning percentage. Only Ed Walsh scored a higher percentage of his wins by shutout than Rucker’s 28%. After his playing career ended, he returned to his home in Georgia, became mayor of Roswell in 1935, and was credited with bringing running water to that city.
It’s not exactly a complimentary nickname Hippo Vaughn had. But the 6’4” lefty weighed only 215 pounds. That’s not exactly huge. Vaughn was a talented pitcher, posting the best of his seasons for the Cubs and winning the pitching triple crown in 1918 while also leading the league in innings and strikeouts. It was in 1917, however, that Vaughn delieverd his most noteworthy performance. Pitching for the Cubs at home in Weegham Park against the Reds on March 17, Vaughn hurled nine no-hit innings. The only problem was that Cincinnati hurler Fred Toney did the same. And then in the tenth, Larry Kopf singled for the Reds, and Jim Thorpe (yes, that Jim Thorpe) drove him in. Toney pitched ten no-hit innings. Vaughn could only manage nine while losing baseball’s only double no-hitter.
That’s it for this election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1982 election for more obituaries.
Sometimes I just like to play around with numbers. So what I did was look at my data at each position to see which players had the most MVP-level seasons (8 WAR), the most All-Star-level seasons (5 WAR), and the most seasons at the level of a starter (2 WAR), with my adjustments included, of course. I also wanted to see, pretty unscientifically, whose MVP-level seasons were most surprising. I don’t know that the lists below are necessarily telling of anything, but I do think they’re fun. Aside from the surprising seasons, my favorite numbers are the 2-WAR seasons. There are some players on those lists who can lay claim to being all-time greats even though we don’t necessarily think of them as such.
Best Above Above Rank 2nd 5th at Best Best Pos. C Darrell Porter 6.71 2.65 3.22 25 1B Norm Cash 9.00 3.83 5.07 30 2B Fred Pfeffer 8.30 2.97 4.70 34 3B Al Rosen 9.63 3.15 5.35 35 SS Rico Petrocelli 8.80 4.26 5.80 48 LF Tip O’Neill 8.10 2.97 5.63 57 CF Willie Wilson 9.33 2.60 5.39 26 RF Sammy Sosa 10.07 3.59 4.71 20
Okay, just looking at the numbers, I think we can eliminate Sosa (20), Porter (25), and Wilson (26) as too good historically for us to be so shocked that they had one season that would jump out as even greater. That leaves us with five guys. Among the remaining, Pfeffer is last in the difference between his best and second best seasons, and he’s also last in the difference between his best and fifth best seasons. He’s out too. And let’s dump O’Neill. He put up his season in the AA at a time, well over a century ago, when baseball wasn’t really the baseball we know today.
Let’s look at a chart with just our remaining three candidates.
Best Over Over Rank 2nd 5th at Best Best Pos. 1B Norm Cash 9.00 3.83 5.07 30 3B Al Rosen 9.63 3.15 5.35 35 SS Rico Petrocelli 8.80 4.26 5.80 48
You know what? It seems like a relatively clear call when we see these three players together, and that’s surprising to me. I went into this thinking it was a battle between Cash and Rosen. At their best, all were truly great. But when they weren’t at their best, both Cash and Rosen were better than Petrocelli.
The most frequently incredible players might have been our 8-WAR leaders, Ruth, Mays, and Speaker. We could call our 5-WAR leaders the most frequently great players – Cobb, Speaker, and Ruth. And the most frequently productive players were Anson, Bonds, and Cobb, our 2-WAR guys.
In an upset, the award for the most surprising MVP-level season goes to Rico Petrocelli, Red Sox shortstop from 1969.
You’ve no doubt read your fill about steroids in the last few days and years. I don’t want to add so much to that pain. Rather, want to present a post where I offer a few simple arguments as to why we should basically ignore steroids and other performance enhancing drugs as we evaluate players for the Hall of Fame. Really, what I’m doing is offering arguments I’ve seen used regarding steroids and explaining why they’re insufficient or inaccurate. We know that PEDs aren’t good. But at what level does using count? At what level do we begin to care? Do we only hold it against a player when they’ve been suspended? Or only when we know definitively? Or do we hold it against them if we think they probably used? I have a problem with any of these approaches.
I ask you to read these arguments with your head and not with your gut. After all, performance analysis embraces what we can measure (what we think) rather than what our instincts tell us (what we feel).
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned steroids before the 1971 season. That’s kind of, sort of true. The short explanation is that Congress was getting all worried about Americans smoking pot. Still concerned about placating those in Washington who controlled baseball’s anti-trust protection, Kuhn issued a memo stating that players could be disciplined for failure to comply with federal and state drug laws. Of course, baseball did very little to enforce these rules, going so far as to make any employee who sought help immune from any disciplinary measures.
Even when they tried to suspend players in conjunction with Kuhn’s memo, they failed. When Fergie Jenkins was caught trying to take marijuana, hashish, and cocaine on a flight, he was suspended. But a panel of arbitrators rescinded the penalty, saying it was without just cause.
In 1984, there were some cocaine suspensions. There were some reduced suspensions. And there were some overturned suspensions. Fourteen years after the illegal drug ban by the Commissioner’s office, there was little reason for players to believe that they’d suffer any consequences for illegal drug use, and they certainly wouldn’t suffer consequences if they weren’t arrested. In spite of the 1971 ban, baseball basically didn’t care.
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth banned drugs in 1985. No, that didn’t happen. He established a program where all club employees in the majors and minors would be subject to mandatory drug tests. Two problems existed with this plan. First, it tested for drugs or abuse and amphetamines, but it didn’t test for steroids and other PEDs. Oh, and second, it didn’t test major league players. This ban had nothing at all to do with major league players.
Commissioner Fay Vincent banned steroids in his 1991 memo. No, no he didn’t. The MLB commissioner has as much right to ban steroids as he has the right to ban the testing of cosmetics on animals, the right to make gay marriage legal or illegal, or the right to invade Portugal. Major League Baseball operates in a collective bargaining environment. Steroids weren’t banned because Fay Vincent said so.
Steroids were banned in 2001 when MLB began testing minor leaguers. Again, this isn’t accurate. Minor leaguers aren’t part of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Thus, they’re not subject to collective bargaining. Steroids still weren’t banned from the game in 2001.
In August of 2002, players agreed to “Survey Testing” in 2003. So steroids were banned then. No, they weren’t banned then. And they weren’t banned in 2003. That year was to be used to survey the use of drugs in the game. By agreement, those tests were to remain anonymous, and there was to be no punishment. That’s in the rule – no punishment. Can you think of anything else that’s banned but comes without punishment if you do it anyway? Perhaps members of the BBWAA should consider that when they hold those whose names leaked accountable for something that MLB and the MLBPA said wouldn’t be punished. Forget about the fat that we don’t know if the names leaked are actually those of players who tested positive.
Steroids became illegal in MLB in 2004. This is accurate. Because too high a percentage of players tested positive in the survey year, testing and punishment for positive tests were automatically implemented.
Does non-enforcement make something a non-issue? This is a great question, and it’s one I don’t really know the answer to. BBWAA voters never paid a bit of mind to amphetamine users. Uppers were just part of the culture. Hell, Ball Four author Jim Bouton took abuse from players, management, and writers for opening the locker room to the public. How dare he! If I were a player, my takeaway would be that players should be able to do what they please, and they certainly shouldn’t let outsiders know if they’re violating the rules of the game or laws of the country. And those who cover the game certainly wouldn’t out the players; they’d protect them from scrutiny.
The BBWAA elected Jenkins in his third year of eligibility. They basically announced at that point that they didn’t care about the rules of the game, that they were willing to ignore the memos of Kuhn and Ueberroth. He had 1.75 grams of marijuana? No problem. He had 2.2 grams of hashish? Enjoy! He had 3 grams of cocaine? Welcome to Cooperstown! (By the way, the writers got it right. Jenkins does belong in the Hall).
What’s a player to think? There were almost no drug-related arrests. There were fewer drug-related suspensions. And there was knowledge of PED use and illegal drug use on the part of the BBWAA, but they did nothing to keep the guilty out of the Hall of Fame.
I won’t vote for any PED user. The most basic problem with this position is that we can’t identify every PED user. Even if you say you won’t vote for a PED user, you will. Jose Canseco admitted it with pride. Manny Ramirez was caught and suspended twice. Ryan Braun was caught, suspended twice, and served, well, I’m too confused to continue to care about that case. Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger, was caught, and suspended once. David Ortiz tested positive in the experimental period, maybe; his name was leaked even though it shouldn’t have been. Mark McGwire admitted using but was never suspended. Barry Bonds has been accused and has seen tremendous evidence against him, but that’s it. Mike Piazza may or may not have had bacne, which may or may not have something to do with steroid use. Jeff Bagwell was a big man. Tim Raines used other drugs. Maybe he used steroids too? Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina played with known steroid users. So did Derek Jeter. Where does the speculation end?
We don’t know every single player who used. And as such, if we assume these PEDs actually enhance performance, we’re giving unfair advantages to users who have thus far gotten away with it. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. Just because we don’t have evidence that a particular player used doesn’t mean that he didn’t. Thus, we do more harm than good by punishing anyone. And the position of refusing to vote for any PED user just can’t work.
I won’t vote for anyone who played during the Steroid Era. This position is a solid one in that it gets around the problems posed by the above. However, there are other real issues here. Who played during the Steroid Era? As defined by Ken Gurnick, I think this is anyone played after 1980 who’s not named Jack Morris. And I think we understand that such a position is just silly.
I won’t vote for anyone who failed a test or admitted taking PEDs. The first half of this assertion is more defensible than the second. If a writer chooses not to vote for a player who was caught cheating when there was a specific rule against using certain PEDs in MLB, I’m okay with that, at least as a logician. However, admitting taking PEDs is another story. As I understand it, we want to learn more about the Steroid Era, right? One of the easiest ways to learn about the era is to listen to former players talk about their own PED use. However, if we’re to provide a tremendous disincentive to come forward, such as refusing to vote admitted PED users into the Hall, even those who never failed a test, what we virtually guarantee is that we know less about the era. And we might have players admit PED use only after they’re elected. The horror!
I won’t vote for any cheater: We have a real problem here, right? Whitey Ford absolutely cheated. He admitted to throwing a mudball and doctoring a ball in other ways. Gaylord Perry admitted to throwing a spitball, and he was even ejected from a game for throwing a spitter in 1982. We can’t simply keep players out of the Hall because they cheated. There are far, far too many players over the years who have cheated to gain an edge. If we kept out all of the cheaters, how many players would be left in the Hall?
Drugs are bad. I won’t vote for any drug user. This keeps Roger Clemens out. It also keeps Tim Raines out. However, it also keeps out half of the players in the Coop. Bud Selig himself said that amphetamines have been around the game for seven or eight decades. Willie Mays drank something that may or may not have contained amphetamines. From James S. Hirsch’s, Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, “I don’t know what they put in there, and I never asked a question about anything.” Hank Aaron said he used them. Mickey Mantle used too. Did Babe Ruth inject extract from sheep’s testicles? It seems he did. Pud Galvin used the Brown-Séquard Elixer. That contained dog or guinea pig testicles, or maybe it contained monkey testosterone. I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that he used a drug to enhance his performance, and nobody cared. Mays and Ruth and Galvin were certainly using drugs and they were certainly trying to get an edge. Let’s be consistent, voters.
Amphetamines gave players an edge; PEDs transformed players. This is the argument Bob Costas uses. And frankly, I just don’t understand it. You know why I don’t understand it? It’s poppycock. Both groups cheated. Does he think that because one cheated better they should be punished more? Or is it that he worships the players of his youth much more than he worships players who he covered. As a child, he didn’t see the warts; covering the game, he did. Basically, Costas is guilty of using the word “transformed” to bring about an emotional reaction, not a logical one. He wants us to see Mantle and company as regular people who just popped a pill to feel better, much like we might do with aspirin. He wants us to see Bonds and company as regular people who injected something into their bloodstream or buttocks and suddenly became the equivalent of the Incredible Hulk.
In addition to his other mistakes, he’s committing a post hoc fallacy. He’s assuming that steroids caused the home run explosion just because we believe steroids immediately preceded the home run spike of the 1990s. But Bob, other things contributed too. Like what?
In an e-mail Eric sent to me last year, he outlined many of the reasons. Expansion also occurred in 1993. Researchers such as Dan Rosenheck have suggested that expansion causes massive changes in the spread of performance throughout a league. The best get even better because in an instant there are 25 or more bottom-feeding pitchers in the league who have regular roles. Norm Cash hit .361 in 1961, an expansion year, and never hit .300 again. Jim Gentile that year led the league with 141 ribbies and never reached 90 again. In 1993, Barry Bonds led the NL with 46 homers, and David Justice hit 40. Sosa finished 9th with 33. It was the first year that two players hit 40 homers in the NL since 1987. Three players hit 40 in the AL, which hadn’t happened since 1970. In the 1993 NL, the average team hit 140 homers. The averages for the previous five years were 105, 119, 127, 114, and 107. It’s no coincidence that NL homer rates increased by something like 20% in the year when two teams were added to the NL ONLY.
Then there was another in expansion in 1998. Before the effects of the 1993 expansion wore off, the league added two more teams. The top end of power performances spiked once more—just like in 1993 but in a far, far more dramatic way. Much of the power spike we saw in major league baseball between 1993 and 2009 can be explained by the double expansion. Research suggests that the dilution in the post-expansion standard of play continues for five or more years as teams scurry to secure new sources of talent in response to the increased competition that comes with two additional farm systems and an expansion draft. The first expansion had not yet abated, and MLB teams had not had enough time to reap the benefits of their widened search for talent. The second expansion, therefore, compounded the effect of the first. It’s not coincidental that increasing numbers of Dominicans, Panamanians, Arubans, Australians, Curacoans, Columbians, and Venezuelans began emerging in the mid-late 1990s. MLB entered those markets aggressively in the early 1990s around the first expansion, and many of their prospects ripened around or just after the second expansion. It’s no coincidence that the mid-aughts saw a drop in homers. The talent pool had been widened sufficiently to slake the MLB’s thirst for players. Balance had been restored, and suddenly at decade’s end we are thrust into very similar offensive conditions as 1988–1992.
And that’s not all. There’s the rapid turnover of ballparks, mostly for homer-friendly venues. There’s the near-universal adoption of advanced year-round weight and cross-training techniques. There were advances in medical/training procedures (for instance MRIs) that helped teams keep players on the field. LASIK surgery became widely available. So many homers were flying you’d think the balls were juiced, and maybe they were.
We remember that there was a work stoppage in 1994, and fans stopped going to games. And we all know that Chicks Dig the Long Ball. If I were running baseball and I knew that fans liked home runs, I might try to do something to increase home runs. Expansions? Check. Smaller parks? Check. More weight training? Check. Livelier ball? Well, that’s what researchers at the University of Rhode Island found. MLB wouldn’t admit it, but it was true. They were using a livelier ball.
Oh yes, and steroids. I don’t mean to argue here that steroids gave players no advantage. That’s not the case at all. What I mean to do is argue that players were hardly transformed in the way Costas says. There were numerous small advantages that occurred simultaneously with the double-dip expansion, to create ideal conditions for the biggest offensive explosion since 1930.
Stop imposing your morality on others. Baseball players are human, and human morality is both time-bound and culture-bound. In American culture, it was morally acceptable for a time to own slaves. It was morally acceptable to keep women from being able to vote. In sports, it took Title IX to begin to bring about gender equality in sports. And it took women lying and saying they were men before we believed they could survive running a marathon. Given the United States in 2013, it’s crazy to believe that any of these things were ever accepted. But they were.
Don’t worry. My morality is the same as yours (he wrote sarcastically). I don’t think players should cheat. Steroids cheat non-users. Right? So keep ‘em out. Similarly, the spitball cheats both hitters and non-throwers. Keep them out too. Corked bat? You’ve cheated. You’re out. Some say stealing signs is cheating. And there are cartoonists with BBWAA voting privileges who say Craig Biggio cheated by wearing body armor. You see where I’m going here? (No, I’m not going to discuss why a cartoonist has a Hall vote but John Thorn doesn’t). We can’t keep every cheater out, and most of the anti-PED guys don’t want to anyway.
What about people who don’t cheat but who hurt their teams in other ways. Alcohol is legal in the United States, and it has been throughout most of the game’s history. So it’s legal for players to use alcohol. And it’s legal for players to compete hung over. But is it moral to do so? Should we keep people out of the Hall if their off-field behavior has been detrimental to their teams? Playing hung over hurts your team; playing on PEDs doesn’t. Do you know why we don’t have a problem with alcohol use, even if it hurts player performance? You’ll tell me it’s because drinking is legal. Nope. I say it’s because we drink. And if we do it, it can’t be so wrong. Regular people drink. Liars and scumbags use PEDs.
But Rule 5 says that I should judge morality. Yeah, sure. We all know about Rule 5 by now. “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
I’m wondering now if the rules say anywhere that those things should be equal to on-field performance. If they don’t, a vote against Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens is both overly-moralizing and plain bad logic. And if writers aren’t selectively using this clause to moralize, where’s the support for the greatest human beings the game has ever seen? I don’t know who fits this category, but I hear Dale Murphy was a pretty awesome guy. Perhaps he should have waltzed into the Hall. Shouldn’t we ignore his record and ability since he was a really nice person? That’s the mistake steroid moralists do when they cite this rule. The truth is that we use this clause when it’s convenient. It’s not something that any voter actually tries to measure; they make their decisions first and use the Hall’s rule as a convenient out to justify their moralizing.
By the way, how wonderful was the sportsmanship displayed by Sammy Sosa as he lost to Mark McGwire? How wonderful was McGwire’s treatment of the Maris family? How about Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter? Parents should point to that video and tell their kids to act like that when they’re disappointed on the athletic field. I don’t mean to suggest that Bonds or McGwire or Sosa was the epitome of character and sportsmanship. I only point out one thing they did that showed great character; we can pick and choose where to apply the character clause, apparently.
These writers aren’t ethicists. Nor should they be.
Rob Neyer put is very well when he said, “I still cannot see any distinction, integrity-wise, between using amphetamines in 1980 and using steroids in 2000. In both cases, players were using drugs illegally. In both cases, players were hoping to become better baseball players. In both cases, players were, wittingly or not, hoping to gain edges over players who were not using those same drugs.”
Hmm, if only there were a group of people who we entrust with uncovering wrongdoing (you know, like the media is charged with doing). If there were such a group, maybe we wouldn’t have had a Steroid Era at all. No less a journalist than the great Helen Thomas said about the press that, “if people cannot operate under truth, then the country really loses everything.” Well moralists, baseball didn’t operate under truth during the so-called Steroid Era because those we entrust with uncovering truth (members of the BBWAA, except for the cartoonists) didn’t bother. They completely neglected to do their job, and now many of them act like guardians of something sacred. I say if they didn’t bother guarding when it was happening, they shouldn’t have that right now. Unless they were operating under the logical and morally defensible position that snitches get stitches, right?
Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, and Roger Connor (the ABCs!) played concomitantly from 1880–1896 (17 years). All no-doubt all-time greats. Connor (84) Brouthers (79), and Anson (74) combined for an amazing 237 combined WAR in those 17 years. Are they the best trio of first-base talent in history? [By first base, I mean guys who really were first basemen, not guys who moved there after a while or due to injury. Musial, Perez, Banks, Allen, and Jack Clark aren’t who we’re talking about.]
I’m no databaser, so I eyeballed the career WAR leaderboards to see what trios might compete.
There are probably other groups, or other permutations of these trios that I’ve overlooked in my hasty zip through history, please add any you come up with.
The ABCs dominate their own era in a way no one can even get close to, especially when you see how evenly the performance was distributed among the three of them.
But…the 1880s were an easier time to dominate. Easier than the 1920s. Plus the first Gehrig Group did its work in only 12 years, a significantly higher rate of production than the other threesomes we’ve listed. So we should crown the Twenties Trio as the best cluster.
But…the roaring 1920s was a time of pinball offense, with each league usually having a couple doormat teams among the merely eight in its league, and with zero farm systems to procure and develop talent consistently. Not to mention no relief pitching.
So, there is a reasonable argument that the Bagwell Bunch is the most impressive of the lot: they faced tougher competition—the spread from the best performers to the worst (or standard deviation to our statistically-minded friends), was likely lower than the 1920s and the 1880s. And although offense was way up in the 1990s, those guys face numerous competitive conditions (such as relief pitching) that made out-and-out domination more difficult than in previous eras.