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Walter O’Malley

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Results 25, Al Campanis

al-campanis-magazineA few elections after the enshrinement of Buzzie Bavasi and on the heels of the Walter O’Malley election, today we elect another Dodger, Al Campanis.

Campanis’ Dodgers won 2856 games over two decades in Los Angeles. He went to the playoffs six times and the World Series four times. His Dodgers won the title in 1981, and a squad that was a lot his won again in 1988. While he brought in only about 2/3 of the WAR on that team, he’s responsible for Orel Hershiser, the guy who could be described as the man who most made that title happen.

Speaking of Hershiser, Campanis seemed to have an excellent eye for pitching. His hurlers who posted 15+ WAR for the Dodgers include draftees Hershiser (43.2 WAR) and Bob Welch (33.3). He also bought Fernando Valenzuela (37.3), signed amateur free agent Ramon Martinez (26.2), and traded for Burt Hooton (36.5), Jerry Reuss (20.2), and Andy Messersmith (17.4).

On the hitting side, he drafted Mike Scioscia (26.0) and traded for Pedro Guerrero (32.6), Dusty Baker (19.9), and Reggie Smith (19.3). And we should also give him some of the credit as Scouting Director under Buzzie Bavasi for drafting Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, and others.

There have been plenty of instances where a GM entered a similar initial scenario, that is, getting a position with a very talented team and strong organization, yet blew it. Haywood Sullivan is one. You might say that Herk Robinson was another. Ruben Amaro, of course. Frank Wren. Bill Bavasi. Gord Ash. So even if Campanis’ success is not unique, it’s still his. And it’s less frequent than we might think. Plus, Campanis took it multiple steps from there.

An impressive thing about Campanis is that he succeeded in three different scenarios. He completed the transition from the Drysdale Dodgers to the Garvey Dodgers. He kept the Garvey Dodgers at the top for a very long time. And he transitioned the Garvey Dodgers to the Hershiser Dodgers. And the team never had a lengthy down period under his watch.

Okay, but there’s an elephant in the room, right? Early in the 1987 season, preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Dodger debut, Campanis appeared on Nightline with Ted Koppel. And he made some racist statements. Just listen for yourself.

results-25-al-campanisWhile I make no excuse for Campanis, I do attempt to explain by saying that he was a product of his times, a man born 100 years ago. He was far from perfect. Also, he should have lost his job.

Regarding Campanis’ comments, Steven Goldman put it better than I ever could:

“The important thing to remember is that no one who knew Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis thought he was a racist before he went on TV and revealed himself to be one…. And Campanis wasn’t a racist—not in the rabid stars ‘n’ bars-waving, sheet-wearing sense of the word. He probably didn’t even know he was, until he found out along with everyone else.”

The Dodger first baseman at the time of Campanis’ comments was African American slugger, Franklin Stubbs. Stubbs was drafted by Campanis’ Dodgers in the first round of the 1982 draft. He was coming off a season in which he hit 23 home runs, leading the Dodgers and tied for tenth in the NL. He said of Campanis:

To this day, I don’t think Al was a racist. He probably did more for black and Latin players than most people in this game.”

Racism didn’t go away when Jackie became a Dodger in 1947, when interracial marriage became legal in 1967, when Frank Robinson became manager of the Indians in 1975, or when Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. presidency in 2008. I think we’re getting better. Maybe “less bad” is a more apt term. But incidents like that on Nightline and that which we seem to see on television every week remind us that we have far, far to go.

What Al Campanis said on television in 1987 is likely no worse than 100ish HoMErs have said behind closed doors or have thought. Voting for the HoME is difficult enough without trying to determine who is and is not a racist, or by what societal standards to even consider. And I know I don’t possess the moral authority to even try.

Al Campanis is now the 25th member of the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric. In the next few weeks, we’re going to add another.

Miller

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Results 24, Walter O’Malley

walter-omalley-timeGo west, young man. Manifest Destiny. America was so great that expansion westward was preordained. When Walter O’Malley took the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957, he wasn’t such a young man, but his move to the west absolutely exemplified the idea that baseball was supposed to exist throughout the nation. And when O’Malley and the Dodgers made the move, he convinced the Giants to go with him, and the game was forever changed. More than 628 million fans have gone to ballparks on the west coast since then.

O’Malley was nearly as influential in his hires. He brought on Buzzie Bavasi in 1951 to replace Branch Rickey. Today Bavasi is a member of the HoME. He brought in Walter Alston for the 1954 season, and Alston ran the Dodgers for just about 23 years. Today, Alston is also a HoMEr. After Alston stepped down, O’Mally installed Hall of Famer Tommy LaSorda, and the Dodgers were set in the dugout for nearly 20 more seasons. A fourth incredible O’Malley hire was announcer Vin Scully. Hired in O’Malley’s first year running the team, Scully just retired after 67 years announcing Dodger games. Under O’Malley, the Dodgers were the most stable franchise in the game.

results-24-walter-omalleyAnd they were one of the best. From the 1950 campaign until his 1979 death, the Dodgers went to eleven World Series, winning four of them. After the Dodgers lost seven straight times in the Fall Classic, O’Malley finally brought them their first and only victory in Brooklyn in 1955. Four years later, he won his first of three in Los Angeles.

Walter O’Malley is now a member of the Hall of Miller and Eric. That means there are only four more to go to fill our Pioneer/Executive wing.

Miller

Pioneers and executives: Who are we still considering?

So who’s left among pioneers and execs? About two dozen people for the final five Hall of Miller and Eric plaques, and today I’m going to tell you a little about all of them. I’m also going to give you a status update on how the rest of our pioxec elections will go.

Turns out that we’ve whittled that number down over time from nearly 100 candidates to a quarter of that. The easy part is over. The degrees of difference between the remaining candidates are often either narrow or difficult to compare across divergent roles. Like this:

Executives

  • Team builders (aka: those who fill the role we’ve called General Manager for decades, but thanks to title inflation may have grander names for the role)
  • Team owners (who may also be team builders depending on what era we’re talking about)
  • League executives (Commissioners, League Presidents, etc)

Pioneers

They come in many forms, including HoME members (author and leader of the sabrmetric revolution), J. G. Taylor Spink (publisher), Frank Jobe (surgeon), and many more. In short, anyone whose innovations wrought important, lasting effects on the quality of play. Our remaining pioneers fall into these groups:

  • Coaches
  • Announcers
  • Publishers
  • Organizers

So let’s find out whose left, starting with the more conventional executive candidates.

General Managers

Sandy Alderson

Athletics 1982–1997, Mets 2010–2016
1671-1655, .502, +10 vs expected wins, +11 vs Pythagenpat wins

Special Note: Alderson is eligible for election through our initial 28 pioxec honorees because the electoral rules through 2016 allowed any sitting executive 65 or older to be eligible. Alderson was born very in 1947, so for 2016, he was 68. He will not be eligible again for us until 2018 because for 2017, the rule was changed so that sitting executives must be 70 or older.

Highlights

  • Architect of the Bash Brothers A’s
  • Good postseason record
    • 6 playoff appearances
    • 4 World Series appearances
    • 1 World Series championship
  • Hired Tony LaRussa
  • Important figure in sabrmetric history (hired and mentored Billy Beane and began introducing some player analysis to A’s)
  • Worked in MLB league office
  • CEO of San Diego Padres

Lowlights

  • Winning percentage of .502 is poor for our candidates
  • Poor trader; here are all his trades where either he or his opponent won by 10 or more WAR:

Won

  • 1987 (+16 WAR): Received Dan Rohn and Dennis Eckersley (16) for Brian Ginn, Mark Leone, and Dave Wilder (0)
  • 1989 (+21): Received Rickey Henderson (30) for Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, and Luis Polonia (9)

Lost

  • 1984 (-25): Received Jose Rijo, Tim Birtsas, Eric Plunk, Jay Howell, and Stan Javier (6) for Bert Bradley and Rickey Henderson (31)
  • 1987 (-23): Received Matt Young and Bob Welch (9) for Alfred Griffin, Jay Howell, Kevin Tapani, and Wally Whitehurst (32)
  • 1987 (-14): Received Rick Honeycutt (3) for Tim Belcher (17)
  • 1987 (-37): Received Dave Parker (1) for Tim Birtsas and Jose Rijo (38)
  • 1991 (-13): Received Kevin Campbell (0) for Dave Veres (13)
  • 1996 (-10): Received Allen Battle, Jay Witasick, Bret Wagner, and Carl Dale (-1) for Todd Stottlemyre (9)
  • 1997 (-20): Received Blake Stein, Eric Ludwick, and T.J. Mathews (0) for Mark McGwire (20)

Joe Brown

Pirates 1955–1976, 1985
1816-1625 (.528), +48 vs. expected wins, -5 vs. Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Two World Series titles, and six post-season appearances
  • Architect of Pittsburgh’s 1970s dynasty that went to October five times in six years, with big influence on 1979 world champs
  • Consistently fielded contending teams over a long career
  • Super strong in signing impact amateur free agents, and opened up Latin America (Stargell, Oliver, Sanguillen, Alley, Clendenon, McBean, Stennet, Tekulve, Pena)

Lowlights

  • His taste in managers was pretty meh, overall -5 wins versus their Pythangenpat record
  • His 1960s Pirates took forever to break through despite an enviable core of Clemente, Stargell, Virdon, Mazeroski, Groat, Friend, Law, and Veale
  • 1970s Buccos didn’t win the World Series very often despite frequent October appearances. A series of poor trades in the 1967 offseason may have damaged the team’s ability to keep up with the western powerhouses; the results of those deals brought the team Juan Pizzaro, Maury Wills, and Jim Bunning (5 total WAR) in exchange for Wilbur Wood, Bob Bailey, Woodie Fryman, Don Money, and spare parts (108 total WAR)

Al Campanis

Dodgers 1968–1986
1576-1280, .552, +44 vs. expected wins, +8 vs. Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Third best winning percentage (.552) among post-war candidates
  • Good October resume
    • 6 playoff appearances plus 1980 one-game playoff loss to determine NL West winner vs Houston
    • 4 WS appearances
    • 1 title
  • His teams were virtually always in contention, and not just at the fringes; from 1969 to 1985 they finished 1st five times and 2nd nine times (three times within a single game of first place, once just 3.5 out and another 4.0 out), which is 14 of his 17 full seasons
  • His acquisitions formed the core of the 1988 World Series winners and transitioned from the Garvey Dodgers to the Hershiser Dodgers
  • Before being GM, was scouting director who helped Buzzie Bavasi draft Garvey, Lopes, Cey, and other core contributors to the 1970s–1980s dynasty

Lowlights

  • His racist comments on Nightline got him fired
  • Dodgers’ stupendous organization was in place before his promotion to GM and may have made his task easier than that of most of GMs

Frank Cashen

Orioles 1971–1975, Mets 1980–1991
1342–1177, .533, +27 vs. expected wins, -1 vs. Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Built the lowly Mets into World champs, including drafting Strawberry and Gooden and dealing for Carter, Hernandez, Darling, Fernandez, Cone, HoJo
  • In Baltimore, helped lay foundation for 1979 O’s and 1983 O’s:
    • Drafted Eddie Murray, Mike Flanagan, and Rich Dauer
    • Signed Dennis Martinez
    • Traded for Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez

Lowlights

  • Contributed very little to 1973–1974 AL East winners (just 12% and 13% of their WAR was acquired by him)
  • Was more a caretaker with the Orioles: Singleton trade and Torrez deal happened before his last season there and were only impact moves that affected them during his tenure

Harry Dalton

Orioles 1965–1971, Angels 1971–1977, Brewers 1977–1991
2175-1965, .525, +64 vs. expected wins, +9 vs. Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Good October resume:
    • Made playoffs 4 times
    • Made World Series 5 times
    • Won World Series twice
  • 64 wins vs expected is very strong
  • Hired Earl Weaver
  • Was scouting director for Orioles in early 1960s and literally wrote the book on the Oriole Way, creating important infrastructure for the Oriole dynasty of the late 1960s and 1970s

Lowlights

  • Managers he hired in California and Milwaukee weren’t very good
  • Contributions to Orioles dynasty weren’t especially huge because Lee MacPhail had laid the groundwork. His acquisitions never accumulated more than 40% of the team’s WAR
  • The famed Frank Robinson trade wasn’t really his trade; as Lee MacPhail’s last act as Orioles GM, he set the swap up then left it to Dalton to give the final approval upon taking office
  • Wasn’t very effective in California
  • Contributions to California and Milwaukee playoff teams weren’t very strong either
  • Didn’t have much of a transition plan in Milwaukee once core of Yount, Molitor, Cooper (none of whom he acquired) aged out or left

Barney Dreyfuss

Louisville Colonels 1899–1900, Pirates 1900–1929, 1931
2701-2101, .562, +28 vs. expected, +111 vs. Pythagenpat

Highlights

  • Built the Pirates dynasty of the 1900s and mini-dynasty of the 1920s, the latter a complete rebuild
  • Amazing eye for talent
  • His winning percentage of .562 is third only to Barrow and Schuerholz among GMs we’ve tracked, and he has more wins (2701) than anyone but Rickey (3265) and Griffith (2967)
  • Strong post-season record
    • 6 World Series appearances or pennants (the latter prior to 1903)
    • 4 World Series wins or best-possible championship (prior to 1903)
  • Outstanding taste in managers: Fred Clarke and Bill McKechnie
  • Teams nearly always in contention
  • Key figure in the deadball era who served as league president

Lowlights

  • The complete rebuild for the 1920s likely precipitated by his hanging on to his aging core too long; rebuild didn’t get underway until nearly a decade after 1909’s championship and four years in the wilderness, including a 103 loss (.331 win percentage) year in 1917
  • It was far easier to achieve a high winning percentage 100+ years ago
  • Wins vs. expectation is quite low (28) for a good GM
  • He let go of 920 WAR of value, second only to Branch Rickey who GM’ed about 1500 more games
  • Dreyfuss probably rostered as many good or great players as anyone ever, but he frequently bought them around age 20, they struggled a year or two, and he sold or cut them, then they went on to star elsewhere. These are just those with 20+ WAR after leaving Dreyfuss’ teams:
    • Rube Waddell: 4.4 IN / 53.6 OUT
    • Terry Turner: 0.1 IN / 38.9 OUT
    • Cy Falkenberg: -0.9 IN / 21.6 OUT
    • Hans Lobert: -0.1 IN / 22.7 OUT
    • George McBride: 0.1 IN / 20 OUT
    • Red Faber: 0 IN / 64.9 OUT
    • Sherry Smith: -0.4 IN / 26.7 OUT
    • Dazzy Vance: -0.2 IN / 60.1 OUT
    • High Pockets Kelly: -0.4 IN / 27.2 OUT
    • Burleigh Grimes: 0 IN / 35.9 OUT
    • Joe Cronin: 0.1 IN / 66.3 OUT

Chub Feeney

Giants 1947–1969
1956-1655, .542, +64 vs expected wins, +14 vs Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Winning percentage is very good
  • Strong contributions to important Giants teams:
  • 50% of WAR earned by 1951 World Series team were by players he acquired
  • 1954 champs were 89% his guys
  • 1962 WS team was 100% his guys
  • 1971 playoff squad, two years after his departure, was 84% his guys
  • Nearly always fielded a competitive team
  • Expert at signing your talent with numerous HoME-level talents (Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, Perry, Davenport, Alou brothers, Bonds, Dietz, Hart)
  • Early adopter of integration gave him a strong competitive advantage (Irvin, Thompson)
  • Added Alex Pompez to Giants’ scouting network, opening Caribbean and Negro Leagues to the Giants
  • Hired Leo Durocher
  • NL President after GM career

Con

  • Despite the high winning percentage, his teams only made the World Series 3 times and won just once
  • Beginning in 1958 or 1959, he went on perhaps the worst extended trade fiasco of any GM. He traded away 300 WAR and got back only 83. This likely crippled the long-term chances at a dynasty. While the 1962 Giants made the World Series, they continually played bridesmaid for the rest of the decade, and having some of that value back would have made a huge difference and probably cost him pennants in 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1969

Charlie Finley

Owner A’s 1961–1982
GM 1962–1980
1488-1577, .485, -14 vs expected wins, -17 vs Pythagenpat wins

Highlight

  • Great postseason record
    • 5 Playoff appearances
    • 3 WS appearances
    • 3 WS wins
  • Completely rebuilt A’s from laughing stock franchise into a dynasty using draft and amateur free agents
  • When stars all left after 1976 and 1977, completely destroying the team, his drafting allowed the team to return to the playoffs by 1981
  • Despite low winning percentage, teams were in contention about as often as other GMs we’ve looked at
  • Hired Dick Williams and later Billy Martin

Lowlights

  • Record below .500
  • Poor wins vs expectation (-14)
  • Worst Pythagenpat too (-17)
  • He was by all accounts an asshole penny pincher, which, when free agency arrived, meant all his good players bolted as quickly as possible
  • He fumbled away Catfish by missing an annuity payment

A note
There is some distortion in Finley’s record that we should be aware of. He inherited an absolutely abysmal team, the Arnold Johnson A’s who in the late 1950s routinely dealt all their good players to the Yankees for a few sleeves of peanuts. Prior to Finley’s arrival, the A’s had managed a single winning season since 1950, and it was a .513 year. Since then, they’d played .388 ball, which in 162 notation is 63-99. The A’s won 61 games in Finley’s first year, then 72 and 73 as he learned how to acquire players. He realized that crappy vets wouldn’t help him contend, so he dispensed them and won 57 and 59 games in 1964 and 1965. From there, things progressed as we know. 1961–1965 happened, no denying. But the talent he inherited was that bad, in fact, -40 of his poor wins vs expected come from 1961 to 1965.

Bob Howsam

Cardinals 1964–1967, Reds 1967–1978, 1983–1984
1331-1049, .559, +63 vs expected wins, +44 vs Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • From 1970–1981, Reds finished 1st seven times, 2nd three times, 3rd once, 4th once, and one second and the third were after he was no longer GM
  • Very good Octobers:
    • 5 playoff appearances
    • 4 WS appearances
    • 2 WS wins
  • Outstanding winning percentage
  • Excellent performance against expected Wins (+63 in relatively short career)
  • Hired Sparky Anderson, leading to excellent +44 against pypat
  • Moderate-strong to strong contributions to four October teams:
    • 1973: 59%
    • 1975: 65%
    • 1976: 70%
    • 1979: 90% (he was promoted after 1977)
    • Also, 91% of 1981 team with best overall record in MLB (though split-season format kept them out of playoffs)

Lowlights

  • Short career
  • Had a strong core to begin with, though, he did a good job of transitioning around core departures

Walt Jocketty

Cardinals 1994–2007, Reds 2007–2016
1834-1709, .518, +31 vs expected wins, +6 vs Pthagenpat wins

Special note: Jocketty is eligible for election through our initial 28 pioxec honorees because the electoral rules through 2016 allowed any sitting executive 65 or older to be eligible. Jocketty was born in 1951. He will not be eligible again for us until 2021 because for 2017, the rule was changed so that sitting executives must be 70 or older.

Highlights

  • Good postseason numbers
    • 10 appearances
    • 2 World Series appearances
    • 1 World Series win
  • Long-tailed contributions to Cards playoff teams
    • 2009: 91% of the team’s WAR was earned by players he originally acquired
    • 2011: 65% (World Series champs)
    • 2012: 46%
    • 2013: 34%
    • 2014: 29%
    • 2015: 12%
  • Strong record of transactions in St. Louis
    • Hired Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan
    • Signed or drafted youngsters Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Matt Morris
    • Signed or traded for impact veterans: Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, Scott Rolen, Adam Wainwright, Edgar Renteria

Lowlights

  • Reds have run aground under his watch
  • Overall winning percentage is low among candidates

Lee MacPhail

Orioles 1958–1965, Yankees 1966-1974
1181-1036, .533, +54 vs expected wins, +31 vs Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Accelerated O’s build in late 1950s and early 1960s into a powerhouse
  • Rebuilt the Yankees after their mid-1960s collapse
  • Wins vs expected and Pythagenpat are good for his career lenth
  • May deserve credit for F-Rob trade since he set it up and left it for Dalton to pull the switch on
  • Biggest influence on O’s dynasty:
    • 1966 O’s: 62% WAR from his acquisitions
    • 1969 O’s: 52%
    • 1970 O’s: 60%
    • 1971 O’s: 59%
    • 1973 O’s: 44%
    • 1974 O’s: 35%
  • Well-reputed AL President

Con

  • Relatively short career (shorter than Howsam’s)
  • Never made it to October on his own watch, and had lots of time to do so
  • Both O’s and, especially, Yanks took a long time to gel, and Yanks needed more talent from Gabe Paul to break through

Dick O’Connell

Red Sox 1966–1977
1042-892, .539, +58 vs expected wins, +29 vs Pythagepenpat wins

Highlights

  • Turned a mediocre franchise into a model of scouting/development, leading to two decades of competitiveness…amazing drafter and acquirer of young talent (Boggs, Evans, Rice, Lynn, Gedman, Lee, Hurst, Fisk, Burleson, Stanley)
  • Super strong vs expected wins (+59 in fewer than 2000 games)
  • Hired Dick Williams
  • Contributions to important Sox teams had long tail:
    • 1975 was 94% his
    • 1978 was 74% his
    • 1986 was 57% his
    • 1988 was 40% his
    • 1990 was 15% his
  • His teams were nearly always competitive

Lowlights

  • Short career
  • Just a terrible trader (though he limited the number of trades he made, and he rarely traded a core player)
  • Teams didn’t make October all that often, inability to make better trades probably meant he couldn’t put the team over the top
  • Or, in other words, for a short career candidate, he doesn’t have a lot of trophies to show for it

John Quinn

Braves 1945–1958, Phillies 1958–1972
2147-2126, .502, +20 vs expected wins, -7 vs Pythagenpat wins

Highlights

  • Architect of Spahn-and-Sain Braves
  • Then transitioned them into the Aaron/Mathews/Spahn Braves
  • Turned around struggling Phillies and got them this close to the 1964 World Series
  • Acquired second-most WAR of any GM we’ve studied
  • Did amazing work to acquire young players (Aaron, Mathews, Niekro, Crandall, Logan, Allen, Schmidt, Bowa)
  • Phillies were nearly unintegrated when he arrived, and he got them moving strongly in that direction
  • Acquired Steve Carlton for Phillies
  • Strong and long-tailed contributions to October teams
    • 1948 Braves: 69%
    • 1957 Braves: 87%
    • 1958 Braves: 90%
    • 1959 Braves: 85% (one-game playoff, left Braves after 1958)
    • 1969 Braves: 38%
    • 1976 Phils: 39% (left Phils in midst of 1972)
    • 1977 Phils: 57%
    • 1978 Phils: 64%
    • 1980 Phils: 44%
    • 1981 Phils: 56%
    • 1982 Braves: 19% (yeah, seriously, Phil Niekro)
    • 1983 Phils: 34%

Cons

  • Merely a .502 record
  • He left the Phils’ MLB team in rough shape (the famous Steve Carlton and 24 other guys season)
  • Post-season record is unexceptional
  • He was only +20 against expectations, and that’s not good compared to our others
  • Worse yet is the -7 pypat
  • He hired Fred Haney who mismanaged the Braves in 1959 (after Quinn’s departure) into a tie with LA that led to a play-in game that the Braves lost
  • His Phillies started Dick Allen out in the minors in some southern-based leagues in 1961, a bad idea, and Bill James, for one, claims that this may have negatively affected Allen

League Officials

Bud Selig

Commissioner of MLB 1992–2015

We recently went over his case in some detail, and here’s what we wrote:

MILLER: [Selig] forced interleague play into the game. Yuck! He made the All-Star Game worth something, so the ads say. But the game is actually as unimportant as ever. He expanded the playoffs, which I hated. But then he added the second wild card. That one-game playoff is exciting. And it’s the crapshoot that’s deserved by those who don’t win their division.

But there a huge reason that Selig rises above many others for me. He was placed in a Commissioner position unlike any before him. He wasn’t given the job to look out for the best interests of the game. Rather, he was put in there to make the most money possible for the game’s owners. And that he did. Has there ever been anyone who’s brought as much money into the game as Bud?

ERIC: Money. If that’s the best thing about Bud Selig, then he’s got issues. The reality of baseball as a business has a curious relationship with the Hall of Fame. I don’t recall any plaque that mentions money, revenues, licensing, concessions, or gate receipts. Lots of mentions of winning championships and personal achievements. Some pioneer and executive plaques talk about improvements of the experience for fans or innovations that made the game stronger.

And Selig has some of those innovations. During his tenure, MLB Advanced Media grew and thrived. It now leads all sports in providing a more immersive, interactive online connection with the game. A big plus for baseball overall. Though it’s hard for me to imagine that an octogenarian used-car salesman had much of a hand in creating something steeped in contemporary technology.

But very few of his accomplishments came without a dark side to them. And that dark side was always about one thing…grabbing more money from players, from fans, from taxpayers, from any pocket in sight.

Take the boom in new ballparks. Baseball rebuilt its entire infrastructure during the Bud era. And in municipality after municipality, the commissioner rode into town and talked about how the team would have to move if there wasn’t a new ballpark paid for mostly if not entirely by the city and regional taxpayers. To create leverage for this ruse, Selig had to badmouth his own product and make empty threats about contracting teams. If I ever hear the word “disparity” from him again, I might go postal. All this just before and after expanding the league! If so many viable markets were queued up to embrace a team on the move, why haven’t we seen more interest in relocation or further expansion? The move to Washington made sense, but what huge market has had a hankering for baseball since? To sell these stadia he also made claims about community financial benefits that economists have found dubious.

A nasty undercurrent of dishonesty and dissembling pervaded much of what Selig said in public. His stern position on steroids after years of ignoring them and lapping up the beaucoup bucks from fans who dig homers. Crying poverty while baseball busted the billion-dollar revenue mark and signed players to big contracts. Claiming people loved interleague games when attendance figures suggested otherwise.

Selig also had terrible taste in friends, and his favoritism has led to on-field issues. Jeffrey Loria is among the very worst owners in sports today, and it was Bud who welcomed him to the fold. Loria ran the once proud Expos into the ground before the smoke-and-mirrors deal that gave him the Marlins. In Miami he pulled the same routine until the city capitulated to a stadium deal, despite county voters first rejecting it. Now he runs the team at a profit by sucking off revenue sharing money and chronically underfunding team payroll. All this while acting like a tyrant, churning through managers, and behaving like a petty tyrant.

Then there was Frank McCourt. His purchase of one of the Dodgers, one of baseball’s crown-jewel franchises, in 2004 was almost entirely debt-leveraged. He proved an utter embarrassment to the game and the team in both his very public divorce proceedings, which laid bare how he mismanaged the team, and the over-extravagant lifestyle he led. All this despite the team raising ticket prices each year of his reign to service its debt. There was also a scandal in which a close friend was paid about a quarter of the funds of the McCourt Foundation to be its executive officer. (McCourt himself was required to pay back $100,000 dollars of that money.)

And then there’s the Wilpons. Bud allowed them to carry a debt load much higher than the league’s ownership rules allow. This meant he was supporting beneficiaries of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Bernie was a good friend of the Wilpons, so wink-wink. The Mets, a successful franchise situated in the nation’s largest metro area, had to shed payroll like crazy and are still hamstrung by the Wilpons’ debt issues.

Meanwhile, thanks to the anti-trust exemption, Bud and his cronies have denied Mark Cuban a chance to buy in. He’s been highly successful in other sports, but, you know, he calls a spade a spade, and owners shouldn’t make waves. Just ask model citizens McCourt, Loria, and Wilpon.

Let’s not forget that Selig was one of the hardline owners associated with the 1986–1988 collusion cases. He was at it again in the 2002–2003 collusion case, and probably in the blackballing of Barry Bonds.

The question isn’t whether Bud Selig was good for baseball. On the whole he likely was. But does he rise to the level of a Hall of Famer? No one is Ghandi in the back rooms of baseball, but Selig seemed like either a snake oil salesman or a mere tool of the owners. In the former case, I’m not buying. In the latter case, why would I buy? In any case, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the money argument.

MILLER: I think we’re just going to have to disagree here. Selig was the first baseball Commissioner whose job is was to make the owners money. Did he hold cities hostage? Maybe. But baseball makes them money. Did he build on the backs of the players? Hardly, they’re making millions. Did he hurt the fan? Attendance says he didn’t.

Team Owners

Walter O’Malley

Dodgers 1950–1979

Highlights

  • During his ownership, the Dodgers were a powerhouse:
    • 3 League Championship Series appearances
    • 11 World Series appearances
    • 4 World Series appearances
  • Architect of 40 years of success; articulated a strong vision for success through stability and quality, ultimately known as The Dodger Way, which was essentially vertical integration because the team scouted and developed so much talent that it rarely needed to acquire top-line talent from outside the organization
  • The organization was so strong and stable that in the ten years after Walter’s death, the team went to four more League Championship Series, leading to two more World Series titles
  • Hires included Buzzie Bavasi, Walter Alston, Al Campanis
  • The driving force behind MLB’s move west, which opened the game to more fans, and which also supported subsequent expansion

Lowlights

  • If you’re from Brooklyn, I guess he’s not your favorite

Sam Breadon

Cardinals 1920–1947

Highlights

  • The Ruppert to Rickey’s Barrow
    • 9 NL pennants
    • 6 World Series titles
    • .570 winning percentage during his ownership
  • Created a crown jewel franchise from a laughing stock
  • Promoted Branch Rickey to GM from field manager/GM, which allowed the Mahatma to focus on acquiring talent
  • Put the cards on sound financial footing by dismantling their firetrap ballpark, selling the land for $275,000, signing a lease to play in Sportsman’s Park, all of which allowed the team to pay off its debts and have positive cash flow
  • Went with Rickey’s farm system idea, bankrolling both the purchase of teams and the purchase of players
  • Hired Bill McKechnie, Billy Southworth, Eddie Dyer, and other successful managers

Lowlights

  • Latter-day feuding with Branch Rickey (early 1940s) may have stripped the Cards of their most important off-field asset.

Pioneers

Robert Davids

Highlights

  • Founded in 1971 the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
  • Began rich tradition of providing journal outlets for baseball research, including some of the earliest publications of information on the Negro Leagues
  • Ran SABR out of his home during its earliest days and nurtured its growth
  • SABR has influenced the entire game of baseball thanks to its statistical researches, but it has also influenced how baseball is reported and written about, what topics in baseball are written about, and has supplied the world with numerous authors and, in the last decade or so, has supplied major league baseball with analysts.

Pete Palmer

Highlights

  • Compiler of the most thorough and accurate database of baseball statistics, which serves as the basis for numerous encyclopedias, websites, and research projects
  • Co-author of the seminal sabrmetric classic The Hidden Game of Baseball
  • Co-editor of Total Baseball, the BBREF of its day…on paper
  • Co-publisher Total Sports
  • Creator of Linear Weights statistic, the foundation of the most important analytical stats in use today

John Thorn

Highlights

  • Co-author of the seminal classic in Sabrmetrics The Hidden Game of Baseball
  • Co-editor of Total Baseball, the BBREF of its day…on paper
  • Co-publisher Total Sports
  • Official historian of Major League Baseball

Announcers

Vin Scully

Dodgers, 1950–2016

  • Of course!

Coaches

Dave Duncan
Charlie Lau
Leo Mazzone
Johnny Sain

So, the reality here is that our researches are ongoing, but we’ve narrowed down to these four coaches. We are beginning the process now of looking for any statistical evidence of their effectiveness. That is, easy-to-spot stuff, you know, big flashing red neon lights. Then we have to assess whether they meet the criteria of pioneer, because they sure ain’t execs. But this is actually going to take us a while for reasons we’ll describe at a later date. Which means that we can only elect through our 24th pioneer/executive until we finish the coaches. Which leads us to our status update….

Status Update

Because of the data we need to dig up for the coaches, we are going to take a little break from electing into this wing. For the next several weeks, we hope to entertain and edify you, dear reader, with another kind of status update. This time it’s our annual look at how much active players and managers helped (or hurt) their case for the Hall of Miller and Eric. We’ll go position by position (with pitchers broken into lefty starters, righty starters, and relievers). After that, it’ll be Hall of Fame ballot time, and soon after that, VC results analysis. But we’ll be back cranking on these folks shortly after all that.

 

 

 

 

Eric’s 25 Most Important People in Baseball History

branch rickeyGraham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present has a cool project going on: The 25 Most Important People in Baseball History. I thought I’d share my ballot as a way to encourage others to vote.

Well, there’s 18,000+ players, several hundred managers, all kinds of execs, writers, even fans to choose from, and I needed to choose twenty-five. Graham doesn’t define “Most Important” for us:

Babe Ruth“most important” is a deliberately subjective term and I’m interested to see what direction people go with it.

For me, it’s about impact. Lasting impact. For me, there are three names that stand above all others, and that any baseball fan should know: Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, and Jackie Robinson. Without them, major league baseball as we know it today simply would not exist or would be limping toward its death. Ruth who ushered in the modern mode of play, an offensive-minded game with greater mass appeal. Rickey who is the pivot man in at least three of modern baseball’s most important innovations—the farm system, the use of analytical statistics, and equal opportunity for all races—and who played a role in expansion by his attempt to organize the Continental League. And, of course, Robinson, whose success cemented the status of African Americans (and all other peoples of color) in sports, transcending the game and pointing us toward the civil rights era.

jackie robinsonAfter that to understand the lasting impact a person has on the game, we can look at some of the major themes of baseball’s history. These are the major story arcs since the 1840s. They continue to unwind themselves today. The flashpoints among them constitute game-changing moments. So as we sift through the games’ most important people, they should have some kind of prominent role in short- or long-term movements that have brought us to the present day.

  • Team-building/managing strategies
    Harry Wright was the first manager and was the first great team architect. These roles would eventually split apart in the 1930s and 1940s and have continued to speed away from each other since then.
  • Capital vs. labor
    Monte Ward
    did more than fashion a HoME-worthy career. A smart, smart man, he obtained a legal degree in 1885 from Yale and become an organizer of the Brotherhood of Baseball Players. As its president, he led the player revolt against the reserve clause that resulted in the formation of the Player’s League. That league’s brief existence hastened the downfall of the American Association and left the NL weakened to the degree that a decade later Ban Johnson could form the AL. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s moment was brief but profound. In 1921, he wrote the opinion that granted baseball its legal monopoly. Its antitrust exemption has proven an excellent tool in reaping profits in all kinds of ways and is a lynchpin in MLB’s operations. Of course, the exemption also paved the way for fifty more years of indentured servitude for players. Marvin Miller led the players out of that and into the free agent era. In so doing, he turned baseball’s salary structure and competitive landscape over, leading to the game’s most profitable decades. But first came the courageous stand of Curt Flood. The Flood case ultimately allowed Miller to devise the strategy that led to Peter Seitz’s decision to overturn the reserve clause. That decision is similar to Holmes’ in its far-reaching impact on how the game is operated today.
  • Race and ethnicity
    Rube Foster
    was the Negro Leagues. The brains behind its success and its acknowledged national leader. The Negro Leagues are vitally important to the story of race in baseball, but as a pipeline of talent, they also fed the likes of Robinson, Mays, Aaron, Banks, Doby, Paige, and many others into the league. Foster’s leadership led the way.
  • Equipment, safety, and injury prevention
    Roger Bresnahan
    invented shin guards, improved the catcher’s mask, and introduced other equipment innovations. The ability of catchers today to play as much as they do is a direct result of his inventiveness. We get to see more of them, and they have longer, more productive careers thanks to the Duke of Tralee. When you think about it, his ideas, mocked in his day but quickly adopted, have had a positive effect on 13 percent of all big league players (probably 2,000 or more men), and at the end of their careers, his catching brethren don’t have to have hands that look like your 90 year-old grampa’s. In terms of seeing more of our most talented players, Frank Jobe’s Tommy John surgery has given us the chance to witness hundreds of thousands more innings from players whose careers would have been over in yesteryear.
  • Organization and professionalization
    William Hulbert
    reorganized baseball from a chaotic, player-partnership into an effective, corporately owned, and stable financial structure. This is one of baseball’s and sports’ most important innovations. When Hulbert died shortly thereafter, Al Spalding saw to the game’s care and feeding, held it together after the Brotherhood revolt, and was the power behind the league for decades—and, of course, a publisher of annual baseball guides and the most important producer of baseball equipment in the game’s early decades. Finally, Ban Johnson is the man responsible for our modern two-league structure, and whose insistence on a clean and family-friendly product helped clean out hooliganism from the game.
  • Rules of play
    You probably don’t know Doc Adams’ name, but John Thorn’s book Baseball in the Garden of Eden can tell you all about him. Big takeaway: Adams was there at the beginning, working out the rules, helping to organize the Knickerbocker Club, then leading the National Association of Base Ball Players—the first national-scope league-like entity.
  • The influence of gambling
    Kennesaw Mountain Landis
    —you might not like his position on race, but he got rid of the corruption that threatened to topple the sport and created a clean backdrop for Ruth’s meteoric rise. He actually did restore faith and hope to the game.
  • Coverage, analysis, and documentation of the game
    Henry Chadwick
    created the box score, popularized the game with his Beadle Dime Base-Ball guides, and derived ERA and batting average. Not bad. The Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink award signals Spink’s importance to the game. The owner-editor of the Sporting News (“Baseball’s Bible”) from 1914–1962, he was a mover and shaker in his own right who figured in numerous important episodes in the game’s history, including the settling of the Federal League war. Bill James, of course, ignited the sabermetric revolution that has changed the game both on and off the field. Sean Forman has gone far beyond anyone’s dreams in making baseball-reference.com the source of stats, enabling all kinds of research to be done in minutes that was impossible as recently as the 1990s or that would take years to accomplish. That level of access has ultimately allowed non-baseball people to enter the game’s front offices and make sweeping changes in the way the industry operates.
  • Growth and Expansion
    Walter O’Malley
    led the move to sunny California. His decision decentralized baseball as a primarily Eastern Time Zone phenomenon and allowed the game to grow in other regions. The move has ultimately led to several expansions and booming popularity. I hate to say it, but the man who canceled the World Series, Bud Selig, belongs on this list. This is not a vote for whom I like or respect the most; it’s a vote for who has had the most impact. Revenue sharing, sports-drug testing, playoff expansion, instant replay, and interleague play—like ‘em or hate ‘em they are here to stay and represent important facets of today’s game.

That’s another twenty to add to Ruth, Rickey, and Robinson for twenty-three total. Two more.

A lesser theme in baseball’s history is the ascendency of the Yankees. While Ruth accounts for much of it on the field, much of the rest can probably be laid at Ed Barrow’s feet. Barrow first built the twice-champion Red Sox of the late 1910s. Then, moving to the Bronx after the 1920 season, he took advantage of Sox owner Harry Frazee’s debt problems to build the Yankee roster into a perennial winner, thus starting The Evil Empire. Barrow continued on into the 1940s, overseeing the DiMaggio/Gehrig era as well, so this wasn’t a one-time thing. The Yankees are the game’s most loved and most hated team, and they occupy a special place in history thanks to Barrow.

Another team builder had a different kind of perennial influence. Ned Hanlon built the 1890s Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Superbas into a two-part syndicate dynasty. But as Bill James points out in his Guide to Baseball Managers the players on those teams went on to influence the game like no other team. John McGraw managed 33 years in the majors, Wilbert Robinson nineteen, and Hughie Jennings sixteen. Fielder Jones skippered for ten seasons, Joe Kelley for five seasons, and Bad Bill Dahlen for four. Jack Dunn became famous as the manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles of the teens and twenties…the team that sold Lefty Grove and numerous other players to the majors. Hanlon also managed Miller Huggins for two years. All those guys exerted influence over subsequent generations of outstanding managers, including Stengel, Lopez, and Durocher. You can trace Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and virtually any great contemporary manager’s lineage back to Ned Hanlon’s Orioles.

Here’s my final ballot. After the big three, there’s any number of orders we could settle on. I’m looking for far-reaching, long-lasting, high-impact contributions. Your mileage may vary.

1. Branch Rickey
2. Babe Ruth
3. Jackie Robinson

I could have put Ruth first for creating interest at a time when the game’s gambling problems came to light. But the sheer number and breadth of Rickey’s innovations tipped the scales in his direction.

4. Kennesaw Mountain Landis
5. Walter O’Malley
6. Henry Chadwick

I’m pretty sure these are the next three. I put Landis first because rooting out gambling’s influence and restoring the integrity of any given game was far more important to the survival of the game than anything anyone below him could have accomplished. O’Malley is next because of the extreme importance of his vision and its affect on expansion. Chadwick was “Father Baseball” for a reason.

7. Doc Adams
8. William Hulbert
9. Ban Johnson
10. Marvin Miller
11. Bill James

Another tough group. As a founder of the game, I give Adams precedence and Hulbert’s corporate-ownership innovation is absolutely huge. Johnson and Miller could be swapped, but Johnson’s impact is still felt more than 100 years later, while Miller’s is more recent. James’ is more recent yet and just as widespread as Miller’s.

12. J.G. Taylor Spink
13. Rube Foster
14. Harry Wright

We’re getting into a place where everyone’s slot is up for debate. The Sporting News was almost an arm of Major League Baseball and affected its fanbase deeply. Foster’s role as a league architect trumps Wright’s as a team architect.

15. Peter Seitz
16. Al Spalding
17. Monte Ward

Ward turned the game upside down for a year, Spalding held it together for a decade, but Seitz has had the greatest total impact of the three. I ding him a little for being a one-trick pony, but it’s one hell of a trick.

18. Ed Barrow
19. Bud Selig
20. Roger Bresnahan
21. Ned Hanlon
22. Sean Forman
23. Curt Flood
24. Frank Jobe
25. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Among this final group of eight, we really are drawing straws. Barrow’s success laid the groundwork for almost 100 years of Yankee success. Selig has made numerous, though dubious, innovations…and helped to rob a lot of taxpayers of their money. I thought about putting him last simply because of his friendships with Jeffrey Loria and the Wilpons. Bresnahan has helped catchers for more than 100 years. Hanlon’s reach has been incredibly deep, though of course diluted over time. Forman’s reach is still growing. Flood and Jobe could be anywhere in this group, but Holmes I’m solid on for #25 because of the one-trick thing but also because I’m skeptical about the positive value of the anti-trust exemption.

There are some notable omissions. For example, I only have two men on this list for their playing careers. No Dickey Pearce nor Hank Aaron. I don’t have John McGraw or Connie Mack or Joe McCarthy or Joe Torre or Tony LaRussa on this list. No Bill Veeck or Billy Beane. Maybe I could have considered HOK architects or Hillerich & Bradsby. Negatory on George Wright, Al Reach, Everett Mills. Nor Fred Lieb or Ring Larnder.

There’s one other guy I didn’t touch on that I thought a lot about and is worth a mention.

I’m not entirely sure who had the most impact on bullpens, but their evolution is also a key theme in baseball history. Bill James suggests that McGraw rolled out the first relief specialist, Doc Crandall, but McGraw didn’t really follow up that innovation. Joe McCarthy was the first manager to split his moundsmen into starters and relievers. Herman Franks in 1979 announced that Bruce Sutter would only pitch in save situations. Although the Cubs canned Franks a year later, this innovation has had startling implications. Before this, relief aces could enter in any inning with any score when the manager felt it necessary. Other bullpen roles were therefore only vaguely defined. The sharp redefinition of the ace into the closer created a cascading effect. As closers threw fewer innings in save situations, managers needed a set-up man for the eighth inning. Since most late-inning relievers were righties, skippers soon found they also needed a lefty specialist to get that one big out in the seventh or eighth, enter the LOOGY (lefty one-out guy). Since then bullpens have become increasingly hierarchical, and include seventh-inning specialists and even the ROOGY. All of this spilled out of Franks’ decision to limit Sutter to save situations. Franks was not great, he wasn’t even a good manager. But his impact is still reverberating through baseball today as we see twelve, thirteen, and even fourteen-man pitching staffs.

This has been a fun exercise. Make your own ballot and vote!

—Eric

Institutional History

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