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Yogi Berra

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The Best 125 Catchers Ever

For some time, we’ve told you that we’d be sharing longer lists so you can see where all of your favorites land in the game’s history. So it’s time we welcome you to our top-125, the best players at each position by Eric’s CHEWS+ and my MAPES+. At the end of this series these lists will find a permanent home on our site so that you’ll be able to refer to them whenever you would like.

Before we get there, you may see some surprising inclusions or omissions. Let me explain. Eric places players at the position at which they had the most value. His reasoning can best be seen in a guy like Ernie Banks. Banks is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. That’s clearly based on his time as a shortstop where he had six seasons of 5+ WAR, including four of 7.9+. At first base, he never topped 3.5 WAR, averaging only 1.3 per season over a decade at the position. While Eric’s theory makes total sense, not every player is as easy to understand as Banks. Should we break down each season? What if the guy played 80 games at two positions in the same season? I just use games played with no preference for value. Just games played. It’s simpler. I don’t think either decision is incorrect, but I do want to point out the reason you may not see certain players. For example, you’ll see Deacon White, Jack Rowe, and Mike Napoli on Eric’s list below. For me, White is a third baseman, Rowe is a shortstop, and Napoli is a first baseman.

Here are our complete lists.

Catchers, 125

Stop by again on Friday when we’ll look our similarities and differences at first base.

Miller

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All-Time HoME Leaders, Catcher – 1-20

How in the world do you decide what pitch to throw? And who decides? It is the manager? The pitcher? The catcher? A bit of all three? We will answer none of those questions below.

We know that sometimes the catcher decides what pitch should be thrown. And if the pitcher has both command and control, maybe the right pitch goes to the right location, and the batter fails. That’s if the catcher/pitcher/manager chooses the right pitch and location. And if the batter also fails. There’s merit to the idea that the best catchers ever are the ones best at calling games, if they’re actually the ones responsible for calling the games. I don’t think we really know who had such responsibility. And there’s no way to really know if they got the most out of their pitchers. There are just so many variables that we can’t control for.

The best receiver in history would have to have all of the physical attributes, and he’d have to be an expert on game theory, someone in league with the world’s best poker players. We just can’t measure that.

I’d like to note two more things before we get started. First, neither one of our numbers puts Johnny Bench on the top of the catcher list. And second, it’s extremely hard to figure out what’s right at this position. We’re trying our best.

[MAPES+], [CHEWS+], [1B, 1-20], [1B, 21-40], [2B, 1-20], [2B, 21-40], [3B, 1-20], [3B, 21-40], [SS, 1-20], [SS, 21-40]

Catcher – 1-20

C, 1-20

Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?

Joe Mauer

Mauer is a made man. Unless he turns in a few -2.0 WAR seasons in a row, he’s over the line for good. The question is whether he can gain ground on the rest of the field. Given recent history, his peak appears locked in, so it’s about chasing down the career value of guys above him on the totem pole. Bill Dickey feels like his top end to me. After my various adjustments, Dickey’s ahead by 9 career WAR, but their peak is exactly the same. Mauer certainly could catch up, though as a thirty-five year old with a history of concussion syndrome, the wear and tear of catching, and an overall long-term decline in performance, especially in power, I’m not sanguine about his odds to hit on that prop. He’ll pass Joe Torre this year, but Charlie Bennett is a pretty far in the distance, let alone Hartnett and Dickey.—Eric

There’s actually quite a bit going on here. After three years when it seemed Mauer was done as a plus hitter, he rebounded nicely last season. On the plus side, his K-rate fell to pre-concussion levels. He also made more hard contact than he had in four years. Maybe he’s back??? I know that’s not the way aging works though. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of data we have on people who have recovered from concussions. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over 138 games, 18 more than his previous four. In terms of wear and tear on his body, perhaps he’s looking better than a few years ago? Then again, the last four years have seen him with a 106 OPS+, while the previous four were at 134. And his 116 from last year isn’t really too impressive. He’s 35 now, and it’s quite possible his surprise 3-win campaign of 2017 was the last year of that quality he’ll ever have. That’s what I’m guessing. If we plug in seasons of 2.2, 1.1 and -0.4 WAR, he gets by Joe Torre, and that’s it. I say he finishes at #12.–Miller

Buster Posey

This is one incredibly healthy catcher we’re looking at, a guy who’s played in at least 140 games every year since 2012. What’s more, he’s been worth over 4 wins each season. He’s 31 now. As he ages, the Giants can move him out from behind the plate more and more. If he can maintain last year’s level in 2018 and then decline slowly, he can get to #14. Maintaining a little more value and playing until age 38, he’ll battle Mauer for that #12 spot. I’ll take the more positive run out in this case.–Miller

Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?

It has to be Gary Carter, right? Everyone calls Johnny Bench the best MLB catcher ever. Well, everyone except me and Eric. I have to admit to being unsure of how catcher handling should be interpreted, and I think my catcher ratings are less likely to be “correct” than those at any position. I use Max Marchi’s handling numbers, albeit at a reduced rate, which vaults Carter to the top. Somehow, it’s actually not very close.–Miller

We could make a baseball TV comedy show called That 70s Catcher. Bench, Fisk, Simmons, Munson, plus big hunks of Carter’s career. Oh, and Gene Tenace. Gino Fiore Tenace is one of those analytical darlings who walked a lot, hit for power, moved around the diamond a bit, and whose excellence was hidden by baseball’s traditionalist mindset until the last twenty or so years. There’s that and the fact that his career was very short, under 6,000 plate appearances, and that defensively he wasn’t an outstanding backstop. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity to name the twenty best catchers ever, a supermajority of baseball watchers and sports journalists wouldn’t include him. Especially when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Yadier Molina, and a few other more famous catchers rank below him.—Eric

Where do we disagree with one another the most?

I have Charlie Bennett 28% over the line, while Eric sees him only 13% over. The difference between 10th best and 12th best, however, really isn’t a big deal. Perhaps Johnny Bench is our biggest disagreement? We are in lockstep on #1 and #2 at every other position, so when my #2 is his #5, we might say that it’s a big difference.–Miller

Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate? 

Yes, just about anyone. We use the handling numbers we have, which we think makes sense. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t exist for the first 80 or so years of the game, nor the last six. We’re not guessing. We’re doing the best we can, and we think we’re reasonably close. It’s just that the error bar at catcher is greater than at any position. Far greater, I think.–Miller

You know, Buck Ewing bugs me. I know that some folks in his own time considered him the best player in the game, but the second-best catcher of all time? I’m not so sure. Could be an issue with how I’m extrapolating playing time. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re overcommitted on Ewing. Miller is absolutely correct that among all nine positions on the diamond (ten if you want to consider the DH separately), catcher is the fudgiest. We have all the usual things to account for such as schedule length, league quality, in my case standard deviation, differing defensive systems. Then we also have to introduce a ton more uncertainty because no defensive system captures catchers well, and the developers of those systems will tell you so. No system has successfully figured out how to add framing because framing is dependent on the umpire and the pitcher as well as the catcher. No system has incorporated pitcher handling either. Is plate blocking included in any of them? Where does pitch calling fit into this? Plus we have to account for the negative impact catching has on playing time so that we can bring catchers as close to other positions as possible. It’s not a cluster, not a whack-a-mole, more like those Russian nesting dolls. You’re trying to get down to the smallest doll, but there’s just so many other dolls ahead of it that eventually your hands get crampy from all the twisting apart of the dolls. And they are all wearing masks!—Eric

***

Next week we’re back with the next 20 catchers. And unless you’ve studied this subject, a bunch of names will be at least a little surprising.

Fixing the Hall, Add Ted Simmons

Ted Simmons, 1971If you were a hitter who debuted in the 1970s, you’ve had a harder time getting into the Hall of Fame than you should have. From 1971-1992, an era that encompasses the careers of almost all of the players in this series, only once did scoring top 4.47 runs per game. And three times it was 3.99 or below. In contrast, the era from 1921-1941 saw scoring higher than 4.47 every single year. Yes, different eras have different levels of offense. And when we use counting stats to make Hall of Fame decisions for hitters, we fail to take into account those lower run environments. Since 1950, five of the eight seasons with the fewest home runs per team were in the 1970s, and half of the bottom-24 occurred from 1971-1984.

You can’t expect huge offensive numbers in that era, but Hall of Fame voters still seem to. It’s that failure, plus the misunderstanding of base on balls, the misunderstanding of defensive value, and the misunderstanding of greatness versus inner circle Hall of Fame talent that has helped keep Ted Simmons and others who debuted in the 1970s out of the Hall.

Who He Is

Ted Simmons is a catcher who played a bit on the corners and some designated hitter. He got started with a cup of coffee at just 19 for the 1968 Cardinals. By 1970, he was sharing time behind the plate with Joe Torre. In 1971, Simmons pushed Torre to third.He was shipped to the Brewers with the next two AL Cy Young winners, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich, in a 1980 deal that brought the Cards four players, including top prospect David Green. It was a terrible trade for the Cardinals. After five years in Milwaukee, he was sent to the Braves in a deal for Rick Cerone. Simmons was all but done at that point, and he ended his career in Atlanta in 1988.

Simmons had power, which is evidenced by his 11th place standing in home runs by someone who played more than 50% of his career at catcher. And he could hit for average too; he’s 14th on a similar list among backstops.

Why He’s Not In

The greatest problem Ted Simmons has is when he debuted. His first full season was 1970. Johnny Bench had his in first full year in 1968, Carlton Fisk in 1972, and Gary Carter in 1975. All three of those catchers were clearly better than Simmons. It’s not easy to get a lot of attention when there are three clearly better players who debuted right around the same time, not to mention the excellent Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Jim Sundberg, and Darrell Porter.

How He Fared

The only time Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot was 1994 when he received just 3.7% of the vote. Far inferior players like Steve Garvey, Rusty Staub, and Dave Concepcion fared better.

Some Comparisons

To get an idea of Simmons’ greatness, we need to compare him to all catchers, not just his contemporaries. There are only 39 catchers ever with at least 5000 plate appearances, 100 homers, and a .300 on base percentage. If we move those numbers up to 150 homers and a .325 on base clip, we’re down to 23 catchers. And if we move to 200 long balls and a .340 OBP, it’s just a dozen guys. Simmons absolutely did not play during a good offensive era, yet only Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, and Jorge Posada can match him in both HR and OBP. He’s also one of three catchers ever with 200 HR and 400 2B. The other two, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodgiruez are in the Hall.

Hall of Famers

Simmons has 50.1 career WAR, which is better than six Hall of Famers. To me, he is so clearly superior to Hall mistakes Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. Schalk is 42nd in career WAR among catchers, while Ferrell is 36th. Simmons is 12th. And he’s debatably better than Hall of Famers Roger Bresnahan and Ernie Lombardi.

Ray Schalk, 1915Who to Dump

I’m making Ray Schalk the choice here because he and Simmons both played in eras with depressed offense. In fact, the AIR number at BBREF, which measures the offensive level of the leagues and parks the player played in relative to all-time, is the same 96 for both of them. Let’s look at some stats.

              Simmons     Schalk
================================
Hits           2472        1345
Runs           1074         579
Home Runs       248          11
RBI            1389         594
OPS+            118          83
Remember, they played in equally difficult offensive eras.
==========================================================
Rfield           -33          46
DRA            -20.5       -17.1
The first is the defensive number at BBREF.
The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more.
=====================================================================
Actual WAR      50.1        28.5
My Conversion   54.7        35.5
MAPES C Rank      17          45
MAPES is my personal ranking system.

Have I convinced you that Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame? Maybe not. But I hope I’ve convinced you that if the Hall could have only one of Simmons and Schalk, it should absolutely be Ted Simmons.

Tune in next Monday for the second part of this series, Keith Hernandez.

Miller

The HoME 100: #90-81

Last week we brought you the first decile of The HoME 100. Which is our answer to ESPN’s all-time 100 list. So let’s get right back into it.

#90–81

90. Ed Walsh (ESPN Rank: NR)

ERIC: Next year will the 100th anniversary of his final appearance. He is the career ERA leader, which says much about when he pitched as well as about how well. But don’t get me wrong, he had a monster peak.

89. Bill Dickey (ESPN Rank: NR)

MILLER: He played the same position, for the same team, wearing the same number, and having about equal value to Yogi Berra. Yet one is ranked #42 and the other isn’t on their list. That kinda makes you wonder, or at least it should.

88. Nolan Ryan (ESPN Rank: 50)

ERIC: Nolan Ryan is probably the most overhyped player of my lifetime. Things began to get silly a few years after he and Steve Carlton passed Walter Johnson in the career strikeout rankings. By the early 1990s, he was a Sunday starter who still threw Texas heat. The no-hitters, the 300 wins, the 5,000 strikeouts somehow started making laypeople and complicit media types believe the tall righty was the best pitcher ever. He was voted to the All-Century Team (beating out Sandy Koufax, which is whole nother story). His baseball cards escalated in value. He starred in TV commercials left and right (“I could go another niiiiiiiiiine innings”). The narrative of Nolan Ryan always dwarfed the reality. He threw a ton of innings, struck out a ton of guys, and gave up very few hits. He also owns the career record for walks…by nearly 1000. He’s 15th in hit batsmen. He places second in wild pitches, surrounded by a mix of 19th Century guys throwing to catchers without gear, knuckleballers, and Jack Morris. Which explains, in part, why, despite his no-hit tendencies, he is 283rd all-time in WHIP and tied for 274th in ERA+. The narrative called him, at times, the greatest pitcher ever, the reality was always that Ryan was a Hall of Fame pitcher with a lot of sizzle, a freakishly healthy arm, and some big limitations that kept him from turning into Walter Johnson II.

MILLER: Most overhyped? Yeah, we didn’t live while Koufax and Ford were pitching. For me, it may be Ichiro. Joe Carter?

87. Paul Waner (ESPN Rank: NR)

ERIC: Born on my birthday. That’s enough to merit #87, right? OK, not. So how about this: prior to 1950 he’s essentially tied with Harry Heilmann among MLB right fielders in career WAR at 72 and change. They trail only Sam Crawford (78 WAR) and Mel Ott (106). The next highest after them is Willie Keeler, 18 Wins behind. He and Heilmann are tied for second in career WAA (Wins Above Average) with Crawford falling four behind. Works for me. Why not Heilmann too? Because his glove was worse, and when I include Michael Humphreys’ DRA in my modded out WAR calculations, Heilmann falls behind.

86. Bobby Wallace (ESPN Rank: NR)

MILLER: We’re not going to be a real commercial success when Wallace is just our fourth oldest shortstop. But he deserves a ranking on this list. If you’re not familiar with him, look him up. For me, only Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, George Davis, and Luke Appling can match his eleven 5-WAR seasons among shortstops.

85. Pete Rose (ESPN Rank: 37)

MILLER: From 1963–1971, Rose stole 75 bases. Unfortunately, he was caught 76 times. Yet, he was a +8 on BBREF’s Rbaser number. I must admit that I don’t understand this result. It would seem to me that Rose advanced an uncommon number of times on wild pitches, passed balls, and defensive indifference.

ERIC: He had to get the nickname “Charlie Hustle” from something. For a guy who wasn’t that fast, didn’t have much power, and couldn’t find a position, he did pretty good. Just not as good as the hustle-worshipping media made him out to be.

84. Barry Larkin (ESPN Rank: NR)

ERIC: Maybe he shouldn’t have left ESPN???

83. Bobby Grich (ESPN Rank: NR)

MILLER: He’s this group’s Kevin Brown. I want Lou Whitaker in the Hall as much as any non-Tiger fan. But I want Grich in even more. It’s a shame he didn’t have a Hall-level keystone partner who is also criminally underrated and will keep people discussing him.

82. Reggie Jackson (ESPN Rank: 55)

ERIC: Imagine if the Mets had taken him instead of Steve Chilcott…actually that would have been insufferable for everyone outside of Flushing, so maybe it’s for the best. Reggie looked like a football player from his era (who were humanly proportioned, unlike today’s jacked-up roid raging monster-truck-sized NFLers). He was built thick and broad, and had, in fact, played the pigskin game at the amateur level. He’s remembered today has having a Trump-like personality, which diminishes his on-field play. ESPN ranks him too high thanks to his flair for baseball and interpersonal theatrics, but he certainly deserves to be on any top-100 list.

81. Yogi Berra (ESPN Rank: 42)

ERIC: Given how often the WWLinS shows Sox-Yanks games on Sunday night, maybe it’s no surprise that they like Berra more than us. Also, they probably give more credit for World Series play than we do. Which is fine, of course. What I also suspect, however, is that they have an unrealistic view of Berra’s competition at catcher. As we mentioned earlier, they placed Mike Piazza pretty low. They don’t have Gary Carter or Bill Dickey or Gabby Hartnett or Buck Ewing on their list, where as we do. (We didn’t include Roy Campanella whom they did.) Hey, look, catcher is hard to weigh against other jobs on the diamond. It’s just so different, and because of its physical demands, catching robs players of in-season durability and career length. If you don’t adjust your mental frame of reference around catchers, you shortchange them as a group. We both pay attention to this thanks to this long process we’ve engaged in. ESPN’s expert panel may not have had the benefit of comparing players at one position to another in a longitudinal fashion. Trust us, it changes your thinking.

THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ #90–81

  • Paul Molitor
  • Robin Yount
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Duke Snider
  • John Smoltz
  • Bryce Harper
  • Tim Raines
  • Vlad Guerrero
  • Eddie Collins
  • Don Drysdale

MILLER: I love Bryce Harper. I really do. And he has just three 3-win seasons. That’s the same as, possibly, the game’s worst Hall of Famer, Tommy McCarthy. As with #100–91, ESPN went for famous more than great.

ERIC: I snorted derisively when I saw that one. Stupid pandering. Vlad is a silly overreach as well. He’s a borderline Hall of Miller and Eric candidate, which makes him a downright reasonable Hall of Fame candidate. But the idea that he’s one of the 100 best players ever is pretty absurd. Then again, if their panel of experts included a bunch of BBWAAs, well, that’s the same folks who loved his poor-kid-makes-good narrative and voted him an MVP. His ranking is almost as absurd as ranking Eddie Collins 82nd. Pbbbbbbbbt.

Best Player/Manager, Part III

Great play gets Berra and others only so far by this measure.

Great play gets Berra and others only so far by this measure.

As we continue with our player/manager project today, we review candidates 16-40. If you’ve missed them, check out the primer, where I narrow the list, and next post, where review candidates 41-80. In search of the best combination player and manager ever, we’re going to review 25 guys today. Some were good to great players. Others were good to great managers. However, none were excellent both on the field and in the dugout. So without further ado, here are the next 25 managers on our list.

#40 Lou Piniella (MAPES: 13; ZIMMER: 50; Player Manager Score: 20)

Piniella is the best manager we’ve seen so far on this list who had a playing career of at least 10 MAPES points. He was AL Rookie of the year in 1969, an AL All-Star in 1972, and the owner of two World Series rings. He managed the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, and Cubs to 1835 wins, good for fourteenth in history. The highlight of his run had to be the 1990 World Series upset of the A’s by his Reds. He also made the playoffs four times in Seattle and twice more in Chicago. And he won three Manager of the Year Awards.

#39 Hank Bauer (MAPES: 25; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 21)

Bauer shows more balance than most everyone who has come before him. He was a very solid player and a very solid manager, but great at neither. Bauer played almost his entire career with the Yankees, winning seven rings. That’s most of the reason we think he was better than he really was. He made three All-Star teams and has three seasons of at least 4 WAR, but he wasn’t much to talk about otherwise. His main managerial success came in 1966 when he led the Orioles to the World Series title. Frank Robinson’s triple crown that year didn’t hurt, and the O’s plummeted to 7th place in 1967. Overall, Bauer managed just four full seasons and won 594 games. Still, this overall placing is impressive.

#38 Jimmy Collins (MAPES: 51; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 21)

Collins is one of the games great 3B. He was a solid hitter and a wonderful defender. Only Mike Schmidt, Stott Rolen, Adrian Beltre, and Robin Ventura best his numbers in both batting WAR and fielding WAR, and Collins played 300 fewer games than any of them. Managing was less glorious for Collins, as he led only one team, the Boston Americans from 1901-1906. He won the first World Series in 1903 and may have won again in 1904 had one been played. Overall though, just 455 wins means he can’t be placed any higher on this list.

#37 Yogi Berra (MAPES: 60; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 21)

While Berra is a bit overrated to me as a player (it’s unlikely he’s among the three or four best catchers ever), he was nonetheless an outstanding player. He won three MVP Awards and finished in the top-4 four more times. On top of that, the guy has ten World Series rings. Ten! In the dugout, he took both the 1964 Yankees and the 1973 Mets to the World Series, losing both. With more than his 484 career wins, he’d be a lot higher on our list.

#36 Ozzie Guillen (MAPES: 19; ZIMMER: 25; Player Manager Score: 22)

Raise your hand if you’re surprised to see Ozzie Guillen here. That’s harmonic mean for you. Guillen is really close to equal in his playing and managing career, so he doesn’t take the huge harmonic mean hit that some unbalanced guys do. He was the 1985 AL Rookie of the Year, and he made three All-Star teams as a White Sox shortstop. As a manager, the fiery Guillen gained some value. In 2005 he led the White Sox to their first World Series championship since 1917. And he won 88 games four times in his seven full seasons in Chicago. Overall, his 747 wins (so far) bring him to 36th on our list.

#35 Bob Lemon (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 16; Player Manager Score: 23)

Because he won 20 games on seven occasions and was really popular as a player, Bob Lemon is in the Hall of Fame. He probably shouldn’t be. The seven-time All-Star is without a 6-WAR season and has only two above 4.8. But still, he was one heck of a player compared to most and was a real workhorse for the Indians from 1948-1956. As the result of being a Yankee during the Billy Martin days, he’s also a little overrated as a manager, perhaps. He was in the dugout for three teams over parts of eight years, but he only managed three full campaigns. He had four stints in New York, but none lasted a full season. He managed just 25 games in the 1981 regular season but won a pennant, and he managed just 68 games in the 1978 regular season but won a World Series.

Tris Speaker#34 Tris Speaker (MAPES: 108; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 23)

The all-time leader in doubles and the four-time OBP champ might be the most under-appreciated inner circle Hall of Famer. With defense included, his value is quite similar to Ty Cobb’s. Managing was just his side gig, which is all it needed to be to get him here. He won the World Series in 1920, his first full season running the Indians. He had two more second place finishes and 617 total wins. A member of the Hall’s second class in 1937 is the 34th best combination player manager ever.

#33 Don Mattingly (MAPES: 37; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 24)

This is a score I expect will go up. After 446 wins in five seasons with the Dodgers, Mattingly is no longer running the show out there, but there aren’t too many guys who don’t get another job after making the playoffs three years in a row. Mattingly is a relatively young man, just 54 right now, and it’s not like back problems will curtail this part of his career. On the field, Donnie Baseball was a heck of a hitter when healthy. The six-time All-Star has a batting title, a ribbie title, and three doubles titles to his credit. And he also won the 1985 AL MVP.

#32 Bucky Harris (MAPES: 17; ZIMMER: 41; Player Manager Score: 24)

This is another mistake we thing the Hall made when electing managers. Yes, he’s seventh in career wins and third when he retired, but he posted a losing record. He’s third in career losses. Yes, he led mediocre teams, mostly the Senators, but it’s not like he got a ton out of them more than a typical manager would. His ZIMMER score is so high because he was a plus manager overall, and for a lot of years. Maybe he’s the Rusty Staub of managing? He also gets a nice bonus from World Series wins in 1924, the first year of his career when he was leading the Senators, and 1947, when he was running the Yankees. As a player, he homered nine times in approaching 5000 at-bats. He got hit by a lot of pitches, drew some walks, and could lay down a bunt, but he’s not a guy you wanted up with a man on first and a couple of outs.

#31 Felipe Alou (MAPES: 33; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 24)

I’m not sure if Alou gained more fame as a player or as a manager. He was a three-time All-Star who led the NL in hits a couple of times. And he played seventeen seasons for six teams, so he was at least a little wanted. And he’s the only guy in baseball history to play at least 400 games at first base and at every outfield spot. He found some level of success as a manager too, though he only made the playoffs once in fourteen tries with the Expos and Giants. To be fair, his Expos were leading the NL East when the game shut down in 1994. Still, we can’t count what never happened.

#30 Jimmy Dykes (MAPES: 29; ZIMMER: 21; Player Manager Score: 25)

The first guy to earn 20 points by each of our measures, Dykes was a 22-year infielder for the A’s and White Sox. He wasn’t much with the bat, yet he managed to stick around, probably because of a feel for the game that eventually made him a manager. In that capacity, he never once made the playoffs. He holds the record for most games managed without seeing October at 2962. Still six teams in 21 years thought highly enough of him to give him work. A nice, long career for Dyles makes him the #30 player/manager our list.

#29 Al Dark (MAPES: 35; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 27)

“The Swamp Fox”, as he was known, had an interesting career, playing for five teams in fourteen years while making three All-Star teams. It wasn’t until he was 26 that he got a major league job, and he quickly became an impressive offensive shortstop. But shortstops in their 30s begin to regress pretty quickly, which is exactly what Dark did. In 1962 his Giants lost an epic World Series with the Yankees 1-0 in the seventh game when Willie McCovey’s liner was snagged by Bobby Richardson. Perhaps making up for some bad luck, he won the 1974 World Series with the A’s, the last of their dynasty years, after Dick Williams resigned. Overall he won 994 games in thirteen seasons. Not bad.

#28 Mike Hargrove (MAPES: 27; ZIMMER: 28; Player Manager Score: 27)

Hargrove won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1974, was an All-Star in 1975, and had a productive career as a singles hitter who could draw walks. His profile overall was really interesting. Only nine players ever posted more walks while compiling fewer hits. He’s Miller Huggins or Roy Thomas 70 years later, which isn’t a bad little player. Of course, we want more power from our DH types. As a manager, he was blessed with some incredible talent while in Cleveland. Once they rounded into form in 1995, they won five straight AL Central titles. And they got to the 1995 and 1997 World Series, losing to the Braves and Marlins respectively. The O’s and M’s took him on after that, but after six straight fourth place finishes for the two clubs, he was fired the next year and is likely done in the dugout.

#27 Pete Rose (MAPES: 60; ZIMMER: 17; Player Manager Score: 28)

Given how many he signs, it’s no wonder that Pete Rose has one of the prettiest autographs in baseball. Also, it’s kind of remarkable how many guys on this list have won the Rookie of the Year Award, as Pete did in the NL in 1963. Though I don’t think I’m likely to say anything new here about Pete Rose, with the help of BBREF’s Play Index, I’ll try. While Pete is 75th all-time in triples, only 14 of the 74 guys ahead of him also hit more than his 160 homers. And only three – Willie Davis, Willie Mays, and George Brett – top Rose in 3B, HR, and SB. I don’t know how much his gambling hurt the Reds in the standings, if it did at all. What I do know is that in each of the four years he both started and ended as Cincy’s manager, the Reds finished second. In the first full year he was gone, the Reds beat the A’s in the World Series.

Casey Stengel#26 Casey Stengel (MAPES: 17; ZIMMER: 70; Player Manager Score: 28)

As a manager, we’re talking about an inner-circle HoMER. Ten World Series and seven titles tell that story. Sure, he had oodles of talent. But winning isn’t just a matter of having talent. Ask Mike Hargrove and his four HoME-level hitters in 1999, for example. Stengel was also the first manager of the New York Mets and retired after 25 years in the dugout and 1905 wins, good for eleventh all-time. Stengel had a bit of value as a player too. He led the AL in OBP in 1914, and he won a ring in 1922. It’s clear, however, that Stengel reaches this height as a manager primarily.

#25 Ned Hanlon (MAPES: 23; ZIMMER: 35; Player Manager Score: 28)

Mainly for the Detroit Wolverines, outfielder Ned Hanlon held his own as a player. He drew more than his share of walks, and he ran the bases very effectively. But Hanlon’s greatness was as a manager. He won pennants with the NL’s Baltimore Orioles from 1894-1896. And he did the same with the Brooklyn Superbas of 1899-1900. Though it’s not part of this equation, the most impressive thing about Hanlon is his legacy. Many of the greatest managers ever played for him, including John McGraw, Miller Huggins, Connie Mack, Hughie Jennings, and Wilbert Robinson.

#24 Red Schoendienst (MAPES: 35; ZIMMER: 24; Player Manager Score: 28)

Some people say that when Red Schoendienst was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, it was as a combo candidate. And if you’re going to elect him, that’s the way to do it. A ten-time All-Star at second base, Schoendienst won a SB title, a 3B title, and a H title. His career, while a bit longer, is similar to what we’ve seen so far from Dustin Pedroia. Red was mostly a Cardinal as a player. He was exclusively a Cardinal as a manager. His best season was 1967 when St. Louis won the World Series. He made the playoffs one other time and thrice finished second. Overall I rank him below the Hall level, but Schoendienst’s career deserves celebration.

Mickey Cochrane#23 Mickey Cochrane (MAPES: 56; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 28)

Schoendienst might have been a combo candidate, but as we move up one in our rankings, we see that none yet have been great as both aspects of their career. Cochrane certainly was a great player, winning the MVP for the A’s in 1928 and for the Tigers in 1934. Overall, he’s one of the ten best catchers ever. He only managed for two full seasons and parts of three others, so perhaps his ranking here is high. On the other hand, he led the Tigers to a pennant in 1934 and to a World Series win in 1935. Almost nobody ever had a peak in the dugout like “Black Mike”.

Al Lopez#22 Al Lopez (MAPES: 20; ZIMMER: 52; Player Manager Score: 29)

Not many had more admirable careers than Al Lopez. He’s “only” ninth in games caught right now, but let’s consider who’s ahead of him. His career ended in 1947. Everyone ahead of him played in 1989 or later. No, Lopez wasn’t a great player, though he did make two All-Star teams. What we can assume is that he had a great baseball mind. Otherwise, he wouldn’t likely have been given so much playing time. He displayed that acumen for the game when he was given the chance to manage the Cleveland Indians in 1951. In six years he finished second five times and first once, losing the 1954 World Series to the Giants. From Cleveland, he moved to Chicago where he had five more runner-up finishes. And he took the 1959 team to the Series where they lost to the Dodgers. He had the misfortune of managing teams in the AL when the Yankees were in the midst of their greatest dynasty. Yeah, his was an incredibly admirable career.

Gil Hodges#21 Gil Hodges (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 29)

If Red Schoendienst can make it to the Hall as a combo candidate, perhaps Hodges can too. Hodges was a very, very good player. No, he’s not at HoME level, but he’s in the conversation. I like neat stats, thought I admit they’re not telling. Only 21 players can top Hodges in runs, ribbies, and Gold Gloves. They’re a who’s who among greats of the last 50 years. Of course, that list also includes Torii Hunter, Gary Gaetti, and Steve Garvey. You can put together a lot of weird lists to make your candidate look great. If we include homers in our calculation, we’re down to eleven guys. Anyway, while lists like this are nice, they’re not a reason someone should make the Hall. But what about managerial greatness too? Hodges led some rough teams in Washington. His best finish in five years was sixth place. Then he got another crappy job with the Mets. But a funny thing happened in 1969. You might call it a miracle. I’m not so sure there’s a spot in Cooperstown for Hodges, but I do know he’s a great combination player/manager.

#20 Fielder Jones (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 29)

Jones was a turn-of-the-century outfielder who posted only one All-Star type of season. On the other hand, he’s the only ten-time 4-win player among center fielders outside the HoME. Actually, he and Jake Beckley are the only position players with that distinction. His managing career has been similarly forgotten today. But it was pretty good as well. He won 683 games in ten seasons, and he took home the World Series with the 1906 White Sox. Still though, we’re without a candidate who was an excellent player and an excellent manager.

#19 Billy Southworth (MAPES: 20; ZIMMER: 56; Player Manager Score: 30)

And it seems we’re going to have to look beyond candidate #19 to find one. Southworth was mainly an outfielder for five teams over thirteen seasons from 1913-1929. He was a decent player but certainly no star. He was absolutely a star manager though. His thirteen seasons and 1044 wins helped him get to the HoME. But it’s the four World Series appearances and titles with the 1942 and 1944 Cardinals that got him there. Still, I kind of thought this project would offer for us more guys who were stars both as players and as managers.

#18 Frank Robinson (MAPES: 76; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 30)

While Al Lopez absolutely had an admiral career, I think I’d trade his for Frank Robinson’s. Robinson is one of the least appreciated superstars ever. As Fred McGriff supporters might say, “He hit 586 home runs when that was still a big deal.” He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1956, MVP Awards in both leagues, and the 1966 AL triple crown. As you know, he’s also the first African American manager ever and one of the game’s statesmen. He was never once given a good team when he was managing, not with the Indians, Giants, Orioles, or Expos/Nationals. He took over the O’s in the midst of an 0-21 start in 1988. The next year they won 87 games and finished second in the AL East. The 2001 Expos won 68 games and finished fifth in the NL East. The next year Robinson came in, and they finished second. Maybe he was underrated as a manager too. He got jobs where the team needed stability, not when they were ready to win. It’s very possible that Robinson would be close to the top of this list were he just given some playoff-caliber rosters.

Walter Johnson#17 Walter Johnson (MAPES: 123; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 31)

Speaking of superstars, it’s no surprise that the best pitcher ever ranks this high. I can’t tell you much that’s new about Johnson, I know that. But it’s remarkable that he averaged 26.5 wins per year in the 1910s. Managerially, he wasn’t a lot more than just another guy. But perhaps he could have had a longer career. He managed only five full seasons. Among those seasons, he finished third three times and second once. He won 90+ games three times. Clearly though, he’s not a star as a player and a manager.

#16 Buck Ewing (MAPES: 66; ZIMMER: 21; Player Manager Score: 32)

It’s hard to try to equate the game in 1890, say, to the game today, but that’s precisely what I try to do with MAPES. And MAPES tells me that Ewing is one of three to six best catchers ever. My adjustments put him at the MVP level four times and the All-Star level six more. As a manager he didn’t do quite as much, though he managed a .553 winning percentage and 489 wins over seven seasons.

I know who the best fifteen combination player/managers are, and I think this is a good place to stop this post since the next guy on our list looks to be the first star both on the field and in the dugout. We’ll talk about him and about the fourteen better combos a week from today.

Miller

AL Managers and the Hall

The manager of the '61 Yanks, Ralph Houk, isn't in the Hall. About half of other long-time NYY managers are.

The manager of the ’61 Yanks, Ralph Houk, isn’t in the Hall. About half of other long-time NYY managers are.

When putting together a project like this, you begin to notice some things. And today I have a pretty big one, one that I’m not sure anyone else has ever noticed. The New York Yankees have been a pretty good franchise over the years. I know. Your mind is blown, right?

Okay, maybe not. Still, there are some pretty remarkable things about being a Yankee manager. There are only 24 eligible guys who have ever managed 100 games for the Yankees. Of those two dozen, there are ten Hall of Famers. Not all of them are Hall of Fame managers, of course. But I think it’s pretty remarkable that if you’ve managed 100 games for the Yankees there’s nearly a 42% chance you’re in the Hall of Fame.

Joe McCarthy 1460
Joe Torre 1173
Casey Stengel 1149
Miller Huggins 1067
Clark Griffith 419
Yogi Berra 192
Bucky Harris 191
Frank Chance 117
Bob Lemon 99
Bill Dickey 57

This got me to thinking about other teams. So in today’s post we’re going to review the AL, while we’ll save the NL for next week.

Baltimore Orioles

Earl Weaver, 1978There have been 36 men to manage the Orioles at least 100 games, and seven of them are in the Hall. Earl Weaver leads the way, and he’s joined by Rogers Hornsby, Frank Robinson, George Sisler, Branch Rickey, Bobby Wallace, and Hugh Duffy. Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley also managed 78 games for the O’s in 1937. Stretching things a bit, eligible Orioles who managed at least 78 games have a just over a 22% chance of being Hall of Famers.

Current manager Buck Schowalter is fourth all-time in Oriole wins, training just Weaver, Jimmy McAleer, and Paul Richards. Give him two more seasons, and he’ll trail just Weaver. Maybe he gets in one day?

Boston Red Sox

Boston has had 35 guys manage over 100 games in addition to current manager John Farrell and Cleveland’s active guy, Terry Francona. Joe Cronin is their all-time leader in wins, and he joins Jimmy Collins, Dick Williams, Lou Boudreau, Ed Barrow, Joe McCarthy, Billy Herman, Hugh Duffy, Frank Chance, and Bucky Harris in the Hall. Ten Rex Sox managers of 35 are in the Hall, good for over 28%.

No manager is further over .500 in Red Sox history than 2004 and 2007 champ Terry Francona. But he was really unsuccessful in Philadelphia from 1997-2000, and he’s had decreasing levels of success in his three years in Cleveland. Even with his down year in 2015, he’s going to have averaged over 90 wins his last eleven seasons. Since he’s only 56, he could well have a lot of time left. He’s nearing 1300 wins, and perhaps he can get to 2000. If so, he’ll join nothing but Hall of Famers on the all-time wins list with that many victories.

Chicago White Sox

Bob Lemon, 1978Jimmy Dykes is the all-time Pale Hose leader in wins, but he finished his career under .500. Next on the list is Hall of Famer Al Lopez. He joins Tony LaRussa, Ted Lyons, Eddie Collins, Hugh Duffy, Clark Griffith, Bob Lemon, Ray Schalk, and Johnny Evers in the Hall. If we drop our cut-off to 87, we add Larry Doby. There have been 32 eligible White Sox to manage 87 games, and ten in the Hall. That’s over 31%.

LaRussa had an amazing career, obviously. He’s one of only three managers ever to win at least 400 games with three different teams. Leo Durocher did it with the Dodgers (738), Giants (673), and Cubs (535). Bill McKechnie got there with the Reds (744), Bees (560), and Pirates (409). And LaRussa got there with the Cardinals (1408), A’s (798), and these White Sox (522). With the third most wins all-time, just 35 behind the immortal John McGraw, he’s a very deserving Hall of Famer.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians haven’t exactly had a storied history. They have only six managers ever more than 37 games above .500. Overall they have 35 eligible managers with at least 100 games at the helm. And for not the greatest team, they sport a reasonable seven Hall of Famers, 20%, among the bunch. Lou Boudreau leads the way in wins. He’s followed by Tris Speaker, Al Lopez, Nap Lajoie, Frank Robinson, Walter Johnson, and Joe Gordon.

Among guys who managed more than three games in Cleveland, Mike Hargrove is third in winning percentage and second to Lopez in wins. After leaving Thome, Alomar, Lofton, and Ramirez in Cleveland, the Human Rain Delay really struggled with weak clubs in Baltimore and Seattle. Had he been given similar quality teams in his other two stops, perhaps he’d still be managing and climbing the all-time win list.

Detroit Tigers

Because of a few very long careers, especially those of Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson and Hughie Jennings, the Tigers have only 28 eligible men to have managed 100 games. And they have comparatively few Hall of Famers. Joining Anderson and Jennings are Bucky Harris, Ty Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, and Ed Barrow. Still, that’s over 21%.

Jim Leyland is second in games above .500 and third in wins in Detroit. He won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997 and a couple of pennants with the Tigers. Fifteenth all-time in wins, there’s a chance that he gets into the Hall one day.

Houston Astros

The former Colt .45’s have only been around since 1962. That explains why they have only 13 skippers ever with 100 games. Bill Virdon leads the way with 544 wins, and the only Hall of Famer ever running the Astros was Leo Durocher, who led the team to a 98-95 record in the last month of 1972 and 1973.

Kansas City Royals

Whitey Herzog, 1978Younger than the Astros, Kansas City joined the AL in 1969, and they’ve had only 19 managers ever. Just 15 of them managed 100 games. Three of those guys, Whitey Herzog, Bob Lemon, and Joe Gordon are in the Hall of Fame.

Gordon managed for four teams in five years in the bigs. In only 1959 with the Indians and 1969 with the expansion Royals did he manage an entire season. Wally Bunker, Dick Drago, and closer Moe Drabowsky were his only 10-game winners that year for a team that went 69-93.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

I hate their name. With that out of the way, they’ve had just 20 managers since they got started in 1961. The two who lasted the longest were their first manager, Bill Rigney, and their current leader, Mike Scioscia. Of the 16 to manage 100 games, only Dick Williams is in the Hall.

Mike Scioscia is an interesting case. He’s around 1400 wins, he’s only 56, and he won a World Series title in 2002. Ten more years at 80 wins per campaign gets him just ahead of Sparky Anderson for sixth ever. It would seem he has a great chance of getting to the Hall at some point.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins entered the AL in 1901 as the Washington Senators. Yet, they have had only 30 managers ever. Only 26 are eligible and managed 100 games. Hall of Famers include Bucky Harris, Clark Griffith, Walter Johnson, Joe Cronin, and the current skipper, Paul Molitor.

Their two longest tenured managers, Bucky Harris and Tom Kelly, had losing records. In fact, of their nine managers who lasted at least five seasons, only Ron Gardenhire, Clark Griffith, and Sam Mele had winning records.

Oakland A’s

You may have heard of Connie Mack. He managed the A’s for 50 of the 115 years of their existence. The remaining 65 years have been managed by 29 other guys. Hall of Famers with at least 100 games include Mack, Tony LaRussa, Dick Williams, and Lou Boudreau. That’s four of their 25 eligibles with at least 100 games. Interestingly (or not), two of their three managers with fewer than 100 games are in the Hall, Joe Gordon and Luke Appling. Jeff Newman, a catcher for the A’s and Red Sox from 1976-1984, is the other. He went 2-8 in 1986 right before LaRussa took over. He’d never get another managerial job in the bigs.

Seattle Mariners

Joining the AL in 1977, Seattle has not been a very successful franchise despite having players like Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, and Edgar Martinez. As a result of their failings, they’ve gone through a lot of managers. They’ve had 19 in total, though just 15 have managed 100 games. And only Lou Piniella made it through four complete seasons. Dick Williams is their only Hall of Famer, and Seattle is one of frou AL franchises to employ Williams.

Current manager Lloyd McClendon will end his second season in Seattle sixth on their all-time win list. However, it’s no sure thing he’ll be back in the Pacific Northwest after a disappointing campaign. If he’s rehired and makes it through next year at a decent clip, he’ll trail only Piniella in wins.

Tampa Bay Rays

In their 18 seasons, the Rays have never had a Hall of Fame manager. However, there’s a shot Joe Maddon gets some love one day. And there’s a real shot Lou Piniella gets some consideration. I don’t think the same can be said for Larry Rothschild or Hal McRae. The book has yet to be written on the 37-year-old Kevin Cash.

Texas Rangers

Getting started as the 1963 version of the Washington Senators, you wouldn’t think this team would have gone through so many managers. You’d have thought incorrectly. The Rangers have had 25 managers in their 53 seasons. Only 15 managed a second season. Only Ron Washington, Bobby Valentine, and Johnny Oates managed five full. Only Washington, Oates, and Billy Hunter stand more than six games above .500. And only Ted Williams and Whitey Herzog are in the Hall. Trivially, they’ve had three guys, Eddie Stanky, Del Wilber, and Eddie Yost manage just one game. Only Yost lost.

Toronto Blue Jays

Unlike some other expansion teams, the Blue Jays have had a pretty successful franchise, winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993. Maybe in 2015 too? Time will tell. They’ve had only thirteen managers ever. Only eleven managed 100 games. And only nine are eligible for the Hall. Just Bobby Cox is in.

Conclusions

I was surprised at first when looking at the list of Yankee managers just how many are in the Hall of Fame. But maybe I shouldn’t have been. Sure, there’s a 42% chance you’re a Hall of Famer if you’re eligible and you managed the Yankees for 100+ games. But for a franchise as successful as the Bronx Bombers have been, that’s not a crazy number. The Orioles, Indians, and Tigers are over 20%. The Red Sox are at 28%. And the White Sox are at 31%.

Next week, we’ll look at the National League.

Miller

Roy Campanella Goes Saberhagen

Is it "Time" to put Roy Campanella in the HoME?

Is it “Time” to put Roy Campanella in the HoME?

Roy Campanella made it into the Hall of Fame in 1969 on his fifth try. He never scored less than 57% of the vote, and he was never outside the top-three in the balloting. Basically, Campy was an easy Hall call for the people making the call. So why, after three elections, is the Dodger great not in the HoME? Was his short career too short, or are we just making a mistake?

To answer all of life’s difficult questions, like those above, we’ve developed the Saberhagen List, our answer to Bill James’ Keltner List. It’s a set of questions that helps us sift through the MVP Awards, as well as the emotion of the color barrier and Campanella’s career-ending car accident.

Should Roy Campanella receive our vote? Let’s see.


1.
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have?

His 1951, 1953, and 1955 seasons were all over 5 WAR and were all seasons during which he won the MVP Award. In 1949, he was close to that level. However, catcher WAR isn’t typically as high as non-catcher WAR. Due to the physical strain caused by the position, catchers tend to play in fewer games than other position players – Campanella topped 130 games just twice in his ten years – and they do so with beat up bodies that can’t keep up, on average, with, say, shortstops or right fielders. Further, our defensive numbers behind the plate are less refined than at any other position, so the defensive greatness of catchers could be a bit lost.

Still, we can only deal with what we know. So I prefer to look at seasonal WAR compared to other catchers to help determine how many All-Star level seasons a player had. Let’s look at Campanella’s rank among NL catchers.

Year    Rank
1948     4th 
1949     1st
1950     2nd
1951     1st
1952     1st
1953     1st
1954    19th
1955     1st
1956     9th
1957    10th

By this measure, he’s an All-Star in 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1955. And it’s not ridiculous to think he might have been the best catcher in the NL in 1948 and/or 1950 too.

Straight WAR says it’s three seasons. By position, it’s more like five to seven.


2.
How many MVP-type seasons did he have?

Again, this isn’t easy because we’re looking at a catcher. In our database of catchers, there are only five 8-win seasons in total. And there are only eleven others of over 7 wins. Campanella doesn’t fit into either of those categories, but he’s one of only eleven catchers in history – Johnny Bench, Buck Ewing, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Charlie Bennett, Thurman Munson, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Freehan, and Campy – to have multiple 6-win seasons in his career.

Zero MVP-level seasons, it seems, but three MVP Awards. Let’s look at all fifteen catcher MVPs to see how Campanella’s three stack up against his peers.

Year      Player             WAR
2009      Joe Mauer          7.8
1953      Roy Campanella     7.4
2012      Buster Posey       7.4
1951      Roy Campanella     6.9
1999      Ivan Rodriguez     6.4
1938      Ernie Lombardi     6.1
1954      Yogi Berra         5.6
1955      Roy Campanella     5.6
1976      Thurman Munson     5.3
1963      Elston Howard      5.1
1951      Yogi Berra         4.9
1955      Yogi Berra         4.7
1928      Mickey Cochrane    4.3
1934      Mickey Cochrane    4.2
1926      Bob O’Farrell      3.8

For what it’s worth, his seasons stack up quite well. Even when comparing him to contemporary MVP winner Yogi Berra, Campanella’s seasons appear superior.

Since typical catcher-WAR looks so little like the WAR we’re used to from other Most Valuable Players, let’s look at MVP-level and All-Star-level seasons another way.  For each position, I’ve looked at the top-48 players in our database of players (equivalent to the number of catchers we’re evaluating) and found an average number (make up your own name for my JAWS or CHEWS equivalent) after my adjustments for season length, defense, etc.

C    31.72
1B   46.79
2B   44.20
3B   44.65
SS   44.44
LF   46.47
CF   46.47
RF   46.65

This is actually a nearly ideal result. That is, each position is pretty equal, so I don’t have to do anything too weird to adjust catchers. By this measure, the weakest position aside from catcher is second base. The average catcher has only about 72% the WAR number of the average second baseman. So what I’m going to look at is an adjustment where I give extra credit to catchers.

By doing so, what we see is MVP-level seasons in 1951 and 1953 plus All-Star performance in 1949, 1950, 1952, and 1955.


3. 
Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

This is an answer where logos and pathos conflict. Our romantic view of a color barrier pioneer, beloved player, and tragic figure doesn’t necessarily jibe with the facts.

What’s true is that Campanella was in a car accident in January 1958. Leaving his liquor store in a rental car, he lost control on ice, hit a telephone pole, and was paralyzed from the chest down. Quite obviously, he would never play again. Campanella apologists, or perhaps anyone with a heart, might say that his accident that cut short his career. What’s more accurate, however, is that his career was pretty much over anyway. In three of his final four seasons, he accumulated less than 1 WAR, and in only one of them did he have an OPS+ above 88.

My answer is that he could and did play regularly after passing his prime. His third MVP Award, one that he probably didn’t deserve, came in his final decent season, 1955. He was a regular in 1956 and 1957, albeit not a very good one. After that came the car accident.

Campanella started late because of the color barrier, shone brightly for about seven seasons, and flamed out right afterwards. His car accident kept the Dodgers from having to make a difficult decision; it didn’t shorten the productive part of his career in any meaningful way.


4.
Are his most comparable players in the HoME?

In terms of my equivalent career WAR, where I adjust for shorter schedules and DRA, those with comparable numbers aren’t close. Smokey Burgess, Del Crandall, Walker Cooper, Chief Zimmer, Jack Clements, Sherm Lollar, Deacon McGuire, Rick Ferrell, and Duke Farrell were pretty easy kills. Bob Boone and Javy Lopez are likely to be gone from active consideration the first time we review their cases.

If we look at things another way, he appears far better. Of catchers with at least two 6-WAR seasons, all are in or will receive strong consideration. Of catchers with at least three 5-WAR seasons, all are in or will receive strong consideration. If we consider five-year peak, Campanella is within 2 WAR of Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, and Gabby Hartnett. When we expand it to seven years, he’s still comparable to Hartnett, though he falls behind the rest of the group.


5.
Does the player’s career meet the HoME’s standards?

Of greatness, sort of, yes. Of career value, absolutely not. And this is the vexing question, how to marry peak and career. There is, of course, no right answer.


6.
Was he ever the best player in baseball at his position? Or in his league?

For this question, I sometimes like to look at running, three-year WAR.

1948-1950 -- #2 -- behind Berra
1949-1951 -- #1
1950-1952 -- #2 -- behind Berra
1951-1953 -- #1
1952-1954 -- #2 -- behind Berra
1953-1955 -- #2 -- behind Berra

He was clearly the best catcher in the National League from 1948-1955. And you could argue that he was the best catcher in baseball at times. Taking a larger view, no NL catcher accumulated as many WAR as he did from 1937-1968. That’s a pretty sizable stretch to be better than any other NL catcher.


7.
Did he ever have a reasonable case for being called the best player in baseball? Or in his league?

He wasn’t ever the best by WAR. If fact, in none of his MVP seasons was he even the best offensive contributor on his team.

However, once we adjust catcher WAR, he’s neck-and-neck with Stan Musial in 1951, though still a shade behind Jackie Robinson. And in 1953, he could easily have been called the best position player in the league.


8.
Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Of course. Were it not for the color barrier in MLB, he’d likely have been in the majors seasons earlier, and I wouldn’t be running him through Saberhagen. But the color barrier was there, and at the HoME we only pay attention to what happened on the major league field; we don’t speculate about what might have been.


9.
Did he have a positive impact on pennant races and in post-season series?

He went to the Series five times, and his Dodgers lost four of them. In none of those four was he too great. In 1955, however, he slugged .593 with three doubles and two homes, as Brooklyn beat the Yankees in seven. In the deciding game, he doubled in the fourth and scored the first Dodger run in a 2-0 victory. That Series is a point in his favor, I suppose.


10.
Is he the best eligible player at his position not in the HoME?

Wally Schang and/or Ernie Lombardi might be better. Roger Bresnahan too.


11.
Is he the best eligible candidate not in the HoME?

Not a shot.

Overall, Campanella is going to be a difficult call. I really want to vote for him, yet the rules of the HoME keep me from crediting him for the work he did prior to his 1948 season in Brooklyn. As it is, I rank him #23 among catchers right now and can’t really see him climbing higher than #18. While we could get that many catchers in the HoME, it’s also quite possible that we won’t. If that’s the case, I’m going to have to become more of a peak voter to start supporting Roy Campanella.

Miller

1971 HoME Election Results

It's "Time" to welcome Stan Musial to the HoME.

It’s “Time” to welcome Stan Musial to the HoME.

With our fifteenth election, we offer congratulations to our 1971 inductees, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Richie Ashburn, Duke Snider, and Zack Wheat, the newest members of the Hall of Miller and Eric. Together, they bring our HoME total to 87 of the greatest players in the game’s history. Only 122 more to elect, pending what the BBWAA does next week.

Per our rules, players have to be named on both ballots for induction. Here’s how we voted.

     Miller              Eric
1    Stan Musial         Stan Musial
2    Warren Spahn        Warren Spahn
3    Yogi Berra          Yogi Berra
4    Pud Galvin          Richie Ashburn
5    Richie Ashburn      Duke Snider
6    Duke Snider         Bill Terry
7    Red Faber           Pee Wee Reese
8    Zack Wheat          Urban Shocker
9                        Zack Wheat

Stan Musial: Looking at his Baseball Reference page, Cardinal great “Stan the Man” might as well have been known as “Black Ink”. Musial won a pair of triple slash triple crowns among his seven BA titles, six OBP titles, and six SLG titles. The titles just keep coming: five times in runs, six in hits, eight in doubles, and five in triples. Let’s add three MVP Awards and an incredible 24 All-Star Games. If you call Musial a 1B, he’s one of the best three ever, and if you call him a LF, we could say the same. No matter his position, we’re talking about one of the ten best hitters ever to come to the plate.

Yogi Berra: Famed Yankee catcher and malapropist, Yogi Berra went on an almost unprecedented run where he never finished outside the top-four in MVP voting for seven years from 1950-1956, winning three. An October fixture, Berra holds all-time records for World Series for most games, at-bats, plate appearances, hits, and singles. Perhaps most importantly, he holds the record with ten World Series rings. Nobody has as many. And for baseball’s first century, not a single catcher posted as high a WAR total as Yogi.

Warren Spahn: Aside from Lefty Grove and perhaps Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn is the best left-handed starter in baseball history. He had about three seasons when he was at MVP level and eight others when he was at All-Star level. But it’s his longevity and consistency that make him so great. Thirteen times he won between 20 and 23 games, leading the league on eight of those occasions. He led the league in strikeouts, innings, and shutouts four times each, and in ERA three times. His 363 wins are good for sixth all-time, and they’re more than anyone whose career began in the last 100 years.

Richie Ashburn: He’s one of the ten best center fielders ever. Once again – one of the ten best. Ever. That’s not something people usually think about Richie Ashburn. He has exactly the profile that’s more appreciated today than the 1950s when he played. Willie, Mickey, and “Put Put”? I don’t think so. Ashburn led the NL in hits three times and put up a total of 2574 in his fifteen seasons. But he also drew a ton of walks, four times leading the league in free passes and in OBP when there were plenty of power hitters who pitchers might try to avoid. He was a terrific fielder as well, trailing only Willie Mays in center field putouts. Aside from power, Ashburn was the total package and an easy HoME inductee.

Duke Snider: It’s no shame not being as good as Willie or Mickey. Aside from those two, Cobb, DiMaggio, and Speaker, we’re likely looking at the best hitting center fielder the game has seen. And for eight years during his prime, 1950-1957, Duke was better than anyone in the game other than Stan Musial. From 1953-1956, he may have been the best player in the game, at least with the bat. He had five consecutive years of 40+ homers and finished with 407 in his career. In spite of losing four of the six World Series in which he played, he was able to display his greatness as the only player to homer four times in two different World Series, in 1952 and 1955.

Zack Wheat: The HoME is full of guys like Stan Musial, and it’s also going to be full of the likes of Zack Wheat. As I wrote Wednesday, there was no way not to vote for Wheat. It seems like he’s about the 16th or 17th best ever in left, and he’s among the 120 or so best hitters ever. Though he’s not as exciting as Yogi Berra, he’s deserving. He won the NL batting title in 1918 and the SLG title two years earlier. Perhaps he’d be more appreciated if he didn’t fall just short of 3000 hits, putting up 2884, including a 23rd best 172 triples. Wheat may never have been conventionally great, but good for a long, long time is pretty great in itself.

Solo Votes

Each season, some guys are elected, while others receive votes from only one of us. Below we’ll explain our reasons for such votes.

Miller:
Pud Galvin: This is the tenth time I’ve voted for Pud Galvin. I’ve reconsidered my pitching numbers more than once during this period, but I can’t get Galvin out of the top 30 or so pitchers ever. Aside from a 1884, he’s quite a bit like David Cone or Bret Saberhagen. But 1884 happened, and it was one of the most valuable seasons ever by a pitcher. That year he finished 46-29 for the Buffalo Bisons. All other pitchers on his team combined to go 6-16. Pretty impressive.

Red Faber: To me, he’s the best guy on our ballot named “Urban”. Yes, there are two guys we’re considering by that name. This one was insanely good in 1921 and 1922. Other than that, he was just a good pitcher. Remove those seasons, and we’re looking at someone totally undeserving, like Mark Gubicza or, spoiler alert, this guy. But just like 1884 for Galvin, 1921 and 1922 happened for Faber.

Eric:
Bill Terry: Same as ever. He’s George Sisler part 2 in my book.

Pee Wee Reese: A really fine player on all sides of the ball. Even hit for some pop. Hitting for average was about the only thing he didn’t do well. Also had some outstanding World Series performances. Basically, I see him as actionable because although he ranks toward the end of the shortstop position compared to the number we’ll eventually elect, there’s no scenario where I don’t have him in that group.

Urban Shocker: He’s basically Stan Coveleski all over again. Shocker is somewhere around the 40th best pitcher in my rankings, just below the midline for pitchers, but nowhere near the borderline. An absolutely solid HoMEr for me.

Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.

What Is Positional Balance?

Balance can be a tricky thing.

Balance can be a tricky thing.

Yogi Berra once said something to the effect of 90% of baseball being half mental. And Connie Mack once said that pitching is 75% of baseball. So does that mean that the best players in baseball history are the smartest pitchers, guys like Christy Mathewson (college boy from Bucknell when such a label wasn’t exactly a compliment), Mike Mussina (Stanford economist), and Jeff Musselman (Harvard)?

Not exactly.

The Yogi Berra non-point aside, the Connie Mack proclamation makes me wonder about the construction of the Hall of Miller and Eric. We agreed that the HoME would have the same number of players in it as the Hall. Fair enough. And we agreed to strive for balance across eras and positions. That makes sense too.

We run into a problem, however, when we try to determine the proper pitcher/hitter split. Right now, about 30% of the players in the Hall are pitchers. Connie Mack might suggest an uptick in that number. And baseball history might suggest a lot of things. Let’s explore.

What if we divided the split by roster construction? To get an idea of what that will look like, I’m going to do a very quick study and come up with the approximate roster construction in the majors every 20 years beginning in 1890.

Year   Pitcher%  Hitter%
1890     26%       74%
1910     40%       60%
1930     38%       62%
1950     39%       61%
1970     40%       60%
1990     44%       56%
2010     45%       55%

Before you go too far and start downloading that chart for future use in bar bets and graduate-level research, I must admit that my methods of estimation should be questioned by any good fourth grade math teacher, or for that matter, any good fourth grade math student.

Even so, we see a trend, basically, toward a larger percentage of the roster taken by pitchers over the scores. But we don’t see 30% anywhere. Maybe around 1896? And it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to base Hall or HoME construction around 1896 roster distribution.

So what might make sense? Basing the Hall around value seems appropriate. And if we’re just looking at WAR, about 33% of the top 209 players all-time are pitchers.

But we’re not just looking at distribution by position; we’re also looking at distribution by era. So let’s consider WAR through the ages by a bunch of different measures. I’m going to look at the top-100 players in each era and see how many are pitchers. Per The Baseball Gauge at Seamheads.com,

Era                         Pitcher%   Hitter%
19th Century, 1871-1899       45%        55%
Modern, 1901-present          29%        71%
Dead Ball, 1901-1919          42%        58%
Live Ball, 1920-present       28%        72%
Between Wars, 1919-1941       42%        58%
Integration, 1947-present     29%        71%
Expansion, 1961-present       28%        72%
Free Agency, 1977-present     31%        69%

So what we find here is that the current Hall distribution is similar to the distribution in the modern game, but it’s nothing like the 19th century, the dead ball era, or the time between the wars. Why shouldn’t the representation in the Hall and the HoME represent the value of the era?

Ah, a philosophical question indeed. Let’s just pick a year out of the proverbial hat, say 1892. Eight of the top ten players by WAR were pitchers that year. The same was true in 1891. In 1890, it was nine of the top ten. You get the point. The game was so different in 1892. Pitchers were throwing twice the number of innings as they are now. As a result, they had twice the value. Sort of. But it would be really strange to have a HoME with a bunch of pitchers who threw from 50 feet. Or underhanded.

Let’s look at the above chart a little differently, removing all of the shorter periods of time and just focusing on a start date until the present. After all, we’ve learned that when we focus on a small sample, our results are often skewed.

Era                         Pitcher%   Hitter%
Modern, 1901-present          29%        71%
Live Ball, 1920-present       28%        72%
Integration, 1947-present     29%        71%
Expansion, 1961-present       28%        72%
Free Agency, 1977-present     31%        69%

What we see here looks pretty consistent, and it would yield an expected result. That is, if 30% of the HoME is pitchers, we’re looking at 63 HoME hurlers by the time we’re done. But let’s throw in the fact that 45% of the top-100 19th century players were pitchers. I think it’s reasonable to adjust the number upwards by a couple, maybe to 65 – right in the neighborhood of the Hall’s current composition.

For all of its problems, I’d say the Hall has just about the right balance. And I’d say the HoME should reject Connie Mack’s premise and aim toward a body of about 65 pitchers.

Miller

Institutional History

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