Best of 2015- Yes, there are some long-dead white guys who still belong in the Hall of Fame

Originally published December 7, 2015.

Today, the Veteran’s Committee once again failed to induct anybody. This year, it was the “Pre-Integration Era” panel doing the voting. That in itself is a bit of a problem, as (despite the name) it only focuses on the white portion of the pre-integration days, under the logic that Sol White and other deadball-era Negro Leaguers went in during a special election. This, along with the fact that these guys are long, long dead, have made some people call for the end of this “era” in the Hall of Fame voting.

I can definitely see the reasoning, and it definitely needs to be changed, but the idea that everyone from the ancient days of baseball who is worthy is in the Hall of Fame is flawed. Yes, 95% of fans would have no idea who they are, but that isn’t a reason not to include them.

For example:

  • Doc Adams helped make baseball as we know it…. baseball as we know it. He even created the position of shortstop. Him not being in the Hall of Fame is sad, a result of not having good publicists like Alexander Cartwright had and more research coming into focus over the years after the time where there would have been people who remembered him.
  • Bill Dahlen had a 42-game hit streak, was among the leaders in most offensive categories at his retirement, and was one of the better defensive shortstops of his day.
  • Wes Ferrell, one of the few players on the Pre-Integration Ballot who was entirely in the 20th century, has one of the best JAWS scores by pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, and also has the record for most HRs by a pitcher in a career (non-Babe Ruth category, obviously).
  • Harry Stovey was one of the few players of the 19th century who could be called a power-hitter, hitting 122 career HRs, becoming the first player in history to have 100, and at one point holding the single-season HR mark (with 14).
  • And, finally, there’s Pete Browning. Pete Browning is like my pet overlooked 19th-century ballplayer. Browning’s career .341 batting average is 13th overall, and was one of the greatest hitters of the American Association and the short-lived Players League. Also, he is indirectly responsible for the creation of the Louisville Slugger, as he went to Hillerich and Bradsby for custom-made bats after one of Hillerich’s bats helped him break out of a hitting slump in 1884. Browning, amazingly, didn’t even appear in the latest VC ballot. This- and the fact he isn’t in already- probably came about because his best years came in the American Association and Player’s League, not the National League, and history, as they say, is written by the victors.

 

So, I say get those guys in… and then drastically change how this is done:

  • Make it open to Negro Leaguers as well. Yes, the 2006 inductions did a great job bringing in some of the older Negro League greats from before integration, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t still be considered.
  • Make this committee a less-common occurrence. Have it every six years, instead of every three years. Allow the “Golden Era” and “Expansion Era” votes be more common to make up for the difference.
  • Either make the committee entirely made up of just experts of the era, or have a slightly lower threshold for election.

So, yeah, that’s what I think.

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Yes, there are some long-dead white guys who still belong in the Hall of Fame

Today, the Veteran’s Committee once again failed to induct anybody. This year, it was the “Pre-Integration Era” panel doing the voting. That in itself is a bit of a problem, as (despite the name) it only focuses on the white portion of the pre-integration days, under the logic that Sol White and other deadball-era Negro Leaguers went in during a special election. This, along with the fact that these guys are long, long dead, have made some people call for the end of this “era” in the Hall of Fame voting.

I can definitely see the reasoning, and it definitely needs to be changed, but the idea that everyone from the ancient days of baseball who is worthy is in the Hall of Fame is flawed. Yes, 95% of fans would have no idea who they are, but that isn’t a reason not to include them.

For example:

  • Doc Adams helped make baseball as we know it…. baseball as we know it. He even created the position of shortstop. Him not being in the Hall of Fame is sad, a result of not having good publicists like Alexander Cartwright had and more research coming into focus over the years after the time where there would have been people who remembered him.
  • Bill Dahlen had a 42-game hit streak, was among the leaders in most offensive categories at his retirement, and was one of the better defensive shortstops of his day.
  • Wes Ferrell, one of the few players on the Pre-Integration Ballot who was entirely in the 20th century, has one of the best JAWS scores by pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, and also has the record for most HRs by a pitcher in a career (non-Babe Ruth category, obviously).
  • Harry Stovey was one of the few players of the 19th century who could be called a power-hitter, hitting 122 career HRs, becoming the first player in history to have 100, and at one point holding the single-season HR mark (with 14).
  • And, finally, there’s Pete Browning. Pete Browning is like my pet overlooked 19th-century ballplayer. Browning’s career .341 batting average is 13th overall, and was one of the greatest hitters of the American Association and the short-lived Players League. Also, he is indirectly responsible for the creation of the Louisville Slugger, as he went to Hillerich and Bradsby for custom-made bats after one of Hillerich’s bats helped him break out of a hitting slump in 1884. Browning, amazingly, didn’t even appear in the latest VC ballot. This- and the fact he isn’t in already- probably came about because his best years came in the American Association and Player’s League, not the National League, and history, as they say, is written by the victors.

 

So, I say get those guys in… and then drastically change how this is done:

  • Make it open to Negro Leaguers as well. Yes, the 2006 inductions did a great job bringing in some of the older Negro League greats from before integration, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t still be considered.
  • Make this committee a less-common occurrence. Have it every six years, instead of every three years. Allow the “Golden Era” and “Expansion Era” votes be more common to make up for the difference.
  • Either make the committee entirely made up of just experts of the era, or have a slightly lower threshold for election.

So, yeah, that’s what I think.

The Greatness and Legacy of Yogi Berra

We may know Yogi Berra by his quotes. That’s how I paid tribute to him on Twitter this morning (I woke up inexplicably briefly at like 4:00 this morning before falling back to sleep, explaining how early some of these tweets are):

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But then there is what comes after:

 

Those final facts are often the ones forgotten. Lost amongst the legend of his “Yogi-isms” is the fact that he was one of the greatest catchers of all time, as well as a an esteemed coach and manager (three of his WS titles came not as a player, but as a coach with the Mets and Yankees, and he was the manager of the 1964 Yankees team and 1973 Mets teams that lost their World Series).

He was a Forrest Gump of Baseball, seemingly involved in countless major events connected to baseball from the end of WWII (where Yogi served as a gunner’s mate on a navy ship, including during the D-Day invasion) until his death. He was the soul of Casey Stengel’s Yankees. Jackie Robinson played against him and had perhaps his signature moment- the steal of home in the World Series- off of him (to the end, Yogi claimed Jackie was out). When Don Larson had his perfect game, it was famously Yogi who leaped into his arm, leading Larson to say “Damn, Yogi, you’re heavy.” When Bill Mazeroski hit his walk-off home run, it was Yogi who watched it fly over the left-field fence. When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record, Yogi was on deck. The “Miracle Mets’ had Yogi Berra as a coach.

And, perhaps above all, he was a hell of a player. As Tom Verducci pointed out in his article on Yogi, he never struck out more than 40 times in a season. He and Joe DiMaggio are the only players in history to have 350 home runs or more with fewer than 500 strikeouts. He was by most accounts a defensive catcher and pitch-caller of fine quality- at one point he held the record for consecutive games behind the plate without an error. One does not become a All-Star so many times being merely average.

In the end, perhaps Casey Stengel summed up Berra the best (it’s included in Yogi’s obituary), even though it was 1949 when he said it, very early in Yogi’s career:

“Mr. Berra,” Casey Stengel said, “is a very strange fellow of very remarkable abilities.”

 

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The Greatest HoF Player Managing Career

With Paul Molitor taking over the Twins, there will now be two Hall of Fame players managing in the big leagues (Ryne Sandberg is managing the Phillies). It’s a trend that is becoming more and more rare, a result of the fact that Hall of Famers now are more-or-less set for life. If they are managing or coaching, you can be sure it is for the love of the game and/or a want to pay it back by teaching the next generation.

Back before ballplayers were set for life with salaries, the Hall of Fame player managing was more common, often playing at the same time. Of the five initial members of the Hall of Fame (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson), only Ruth had never managed a single game in the majors, and would until his death dream of doing so.

But, the question we have today is: of managers who are in the Hall of Fame primarily for their playing days, who was the best?

There are many ways of looking at it:

As far as total wins, it’s probably Fred Clarke. Fred Clarke was a great player of the 19th century and early 20th century for Louisville and Pittsburgh, and was elected in 1945 by the Old-Timers Committee. As a manager, he went 1602-1181 on his career.

However, there is one problem. While his primary position he was inducted as was left field, his managerial efforts also were a big reason. He was dubbed the first of the successful “boy-managers” on his plaque, and he was a player-manager at the age of 24! He was still playing when he managed the Pirates to four NL pennants and a World Series title in the 1900s. So, while technically he had the most wins for a manager who was inducted as a player, there is that caveat.

In fact, that caveat exists for a lot of managers who were players. Cap Anson, for example, while inducted as a 1B, was also heralded for his player-managing on his HoF plaque. Joe Cronin also had his managerial days mentioned, as did Hughie Jennings, Lou Boudreau and Frankie Frisch. Interestingly, the player-who-managed with the most wins who had no reference whatsoever to his managerial career on his plaque is… Frank Robinson.

Okay, but wins are one thing. What about the balance between wins and losses? Frank Robinson won 1065 games, to be sure, but he lost 1176.

Well, for qualifying managers (at least 320 games skippered), the manager who was a HoF player with the best winning percentage is Frank Chance, of the famous “Tinkers-To-Evers-To-Chance” poem. While he went in as a 1st basemen, his time as a manager was also very successful, as he had a .593 winning percentage and won four NL pennants and two World Series titles for the Cubs (it was a long time ago). However, like Clarke, Anson, and the like, his managerial career was prominent on his plaque. Mickey Cochrane, who also could qualify for his success as a manager, also had his managerial success noted on his plaque.

As far as I can tell, the player-who-managed with the best winning percentage with no reference whatsoever to his managerial career on his plaque is… King Kelly. Yes, King Kelly, the RF/C/3B who had a 16-year career in the 19th century. He is just barely eligible, because managed 330 games in his career, all as a player-manager. His .539 winning percentage puts him ahead of others such as Gabby Hartnett (.536), Eddie Collins (.521) the earlier-mentioned Cobb (.519) and Bob Lemon (.516). And before you ask, Yogi Berra (a .522 winning percentage) did have some of his managerial feats mentioned on his plaque (his 1964 AL pennant).

So, what does this mean? Does this mean that Molitor and Sandberg are doomed to be slightly-above-average-at-best managers?

Of course not. Hall of Fame players who became managers are a far too small sample size, for one, especially Hall of Fame players who become managers without first being player-managers. And, what’s more, it’s silly to think that how good a ballplayer is on the field can be directly translated into how they will be as a manager, especially when one considers that they are also at the mercy of the players that are provided to them.

Still, it is interesting. And now you know some of the best managers in history who were Hall of Fame ballplayers.

Under the new Baseball HOF eligibility rules, the following players wouldn’t have been voted in

A new set of rules at the HOF makes the 15-year eligibility period only 10 years (players who already are past the 10 years will be grandfathered in). Besides making it that much harder for Tim Raines to get to 75% in time, this also makes one wonder who in the Baseball HOF voted in by the writers would have not been voted in under the new series of rules.

I checked, and these players wouldn’t have made it (of course, many of them may have ended up getting inducted by the Veteran’s Committee):

  • Harry Heilmann
  • Bill Terry
  • Rabbit Maranville
  • Dazzy Vance
  • Gabby Hartnett
  • Red Ruffing
  • Ralph Kiner
  • Bob Lemon
  • Duke Snider
  • Bruce Sutter
  • Jim Rice
  • Bert Blyleven

And now you know…

My hypothetical HoF ballot: The Justifications

So, yesterday I had my hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot. So, here are my justifications for them:

Greg Maddux is the greatest control pitcher of the expansion era, if not any era. He was the best fielding pitcher of his time, if not all time. During the 1996 World Series, after the Braves had won game one, George Steinbrenner more or less demanded to know how Joe Torre was going to get out of this. Torre more or less told him that there was no way they were beating Maddux in Game 2 but after that things would turn around. Steinbrenner, apparently, took this as a legitimate excuse for going down 2-0 in the series. Let that sink in: losing to Greg Maddux was excusable to George Steinbrenner. Maybe I’m botching the retelling of that story a little bit, but not that much. A top-tier Hall of Famer.

Tom Glavine was the Robin to Greg Maddux’s Batman, a 10-time All-Star, 305 game winner, and two-time Cy Young winner who is underrated due to how great Maddux was.

Frank Thomas hit 521 home runs while also hitting .301. He is 14th in career OPS. He’s the Big Hurt, and he’s a Hall of Famer.

Craig Biggio played catcher, he played second, and he played in the outfield. And he was a great hitter who could get on base any way he could- he holds the record for HBP among modern players. Probably could have been a star in any era he played. Should have gone in last year.

Tim Raines may not get in on the “gut feeling” test, but he is, nonetheless, a Hall of Famer in my book. While certainly being a seven-time All-Star help, the big reason is because of how great he was as a leadoff hitter. Not only could he get on base- he was a respectable .294 hitter (and that was lower than it probably should have been because he stuck around a few years too long)- he also was a great base-stealer, 8th all-time.

Mike Piazza was the greatest power-hitting catcher of all time, and yet steroid rumors (none of which have been proven and most of which seem to be innuendo like saying he had an acne problem at one point) have kept him out. He should be in or whatever real evidence there is should be revealed.

Barry Bonds is in because, well, he was a Hall of Famer before he started using steroids in the late 1990s. The steroids merely turned him from a great player to arguably the greatest hitter of all time. Roger Clemens would also be on this list, for similar reasons, if there were more than 10 spots.

Edgar Martinez was the greatest DH-only player of his era. He won two batting titles, had a career .312 average, is 21st in career OBP and 34th in career OPS, and hit probably the most memorable hit in the history of the Seattle Mariners- the double that won the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees and arguably saved the franchise’s future in Seattle.
Should be in the Hall.

Jeff Kent was the 2000 MVP, a five-time all-star, and holds the record for HR by a 2B. Although famously prickly and a subpar fielder, he should definitely have gotten more votes than he did this year, and should one day be in the Hall.

Fred McGriff would be in the Hall of Fame right now if not for the 1994 strike. In the 113 games he had played in that year, he had 34 HRs. Had the season gone on, he would have been able to end his career with 500+ HRs, a steady hitter who never hit more than 40 HRs but constantly was hitting 30 or more. With basically no steroid cloud around him, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

 

Finally, I’d like to note that Jeff Bagwell would also be on the hypothetical ballot, but, again, 10 player limit. And Jack Morris, as great of a performer as he was at his peak, had a career ERA of 3.90, and I don’t believe in “pitching to the score”.