Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Pete Browning

Claim to fame: Browning was one of the first great stars of the game with his career that spanned 1882 to 1894. Among his numerous accomplishments, Browning won three batting titles, hit .402 in 1887, and finished with a career batting average of .341. That lifetime clip is 13th best all-time, and his career OPS+ of 162 is 12th best. Browning even inspired the name for the Louisville Slugger.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Browning never appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America and can be inducted through a section of the Veterans Committee that considers players whose careers began before 1943.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If this column has shown anything in the months since its June 1 debut, it’s that there are many outstanding baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Browning is one who should have been in 60 years ago.

A few weeks ago, I asked if it was time for the Hall of Fame to have another mass induction of old timers. In the early days of Cooperstown, the backlog of old stars was so apparent that an Old Timers Committee was created that enshrined 30 greats between 1939 and 1949, men who played primarily in the early 1900s. It’s hard to say if the committee members deliberately passed on Browning, a notorious hard drinker whose career was relatively short, though they declined to honor a number of 19th century standouts.

It could be argued that the skill level in baseball was sufficiently lower prior to the modern era that few players from those days deserve enshrinement. But 60 years on, there are things now understood in baseball research that I doubt entered the Hall of Fame conversation in the 1930s or ’40s.

Take Browning’s OPS+ ranking of 162, which is his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with his park and league factored in. The stat helps show how vastly superior Browning was to most of his contemporaries, at least offensively. Granted, his non-adjusted career OPS of .869 is nothing to write home about, but it’s not terrible either. In fact, it’s better than many Hall of Famers, including Honus Wagner, Roy Campanella, and George Brett.

OPS+ has been developed and embraced in the last 25 or so years, through John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and other members of the Bill James statistical revolution, and I admit I’m only just starting to grasp its importance. It’s one of many metrics today that make it far easier to rank and compare long-dead baseball greats. Were statistical analysis better understood when the Old Timers Committee was at work, I suspect Browning would be enshrined, though I also think his batting achievements should have been enough for a plaque.

All this being said, it’s not too late to honor a man who died in 1905. Browning is a darling of the baseball research community and was named the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend for 2009 by the Society for American Baseball Research. I think it’s time Browning received broader recognition.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Remembering a good brawl

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Bob Usher is 85 and hasn’t played professional baseball in more than 50 years, but he hasn’t forgotten an infamous moment in Pacific Coast League history. On August 2, 1953, while with the Los Angeles Angels, Usher participated in a legendary brawl.

I met Usher at the 16th annual Pacific Coast League reunion, held Saturday in San Leandro, California. Usher, who lives nearby in San Jose, was one of several PCL veterans in attendance. These men experienced the glory days of the league before the Giants and Dodgers moved to California in 1958, and the PCL became more of a feeder to the majors, rather than a West Coast alternative. Many of the former players still fraternize, though their ranks are thinning.

Usher collected 259 hits over parts of six big league seasons between 1946 and 1957 and spent five years in the PCL in the middle. He told me he played for the Angels in the PCL from 1952-1955, and my mind flashed on Joe Guzzardi’s post about the 1953 brawl. Usher said it was a long story and suggested we sit down. He began:

I’ve been asked to recount the brawl between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars August 2, 1953. It all started earlier than that. Normally when we’d go to a series, we used to play a seven-game series starting on a Tuesday. But since the Angels were playing the Stars, we started on Monday, and the tension grew each game as we proceeded through the series.

Our first brawl was on Friday night. I can’t recall the exact details of how this occurred, but Gene Handley, a third baseman for the Stars and Fred Richards, a first baseman for the Angels got mixed up somehow, and I don’t recall the exact circumstances.

Frank Kelleher, who was an outfielder for the Stars hurt us all week, particularly Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Sunday, he hit a triple, and he scored on a squeeze bunt. That was the fourth inning. In the sixth inning, Kelleher came up again, and Joe Hatten, our left-handed pitcher who used to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers, threw two fastballs inside and finally hit him with a curve ball. Frank walked to the mound, normally they charge today but he walked to the mound and started beating up on Joe Hatten and that emptied the bases.

Both Joe and Frank were ejected, and Ted Beard ran for Kelleher, and I don’t recall how he got to second, he might have stolen second base, but on the next play, Ted with his spikes high came into our third baseman Moe Franklin and hit him in the chest. The umpire Joe Iacovetti called him out at first, but Moe dropped the ball, and he was then called safe. But by that time, both benches had emptied, and for the next hour, there was such a melee on the field that the police captain of Hollywood broke out 50 uniformed policemen to help restore order.

It took over a half hour to do that… We had several people facing off each other in individual fisticuffs. No one was seriously hurt, but I remember coming in from right field, Mel Queen was beating up on our shortstop Bud Hardin who suffered a lower left and was injured that way.

Once the order was restored, the chief of police ordered all the players with the exception of those playing that game into the clubhouse, off of the bench. There’s pictures showing that there are three policemen and a couple ballplayers on the bench, and I’m not sure which bench it was Hollywood or Los Angeles.

The Angels lost 4-1 in the first game. The second game, the Angels won 5-3…. And that’s pretty much about the scenario. I’m not happy to be a part of it, but I was, as part of the melee, and I remember that just like it was yesterday. If anyone is interested in looking up the writeup on the brawl, you can go to www.sportshollywood.com/starsangelsbrawl.html

I asked Usher if he fought anyone, and he replied, “I don’t remember who, but I remember hurting my hand. I must have hit somebody.”

Interestingly, this wasn’t Usher’s most memorable moment as a ballplayer. Here’s a possible winner. In 1948, while at spring training with the Reds, Usher met a terminally ill Babe Ruth. “He had a gravel voice, he came to spring training with a long camel-haired coat on with a matching tan hat, and he signed a ball to me personally, and he passed away that August in ’48,” Usher said. “I got to talk with him, shake his hand. That was one of the biggest thrills I had. I still have his baseball at home.”

Three related posts:

A color photo of Babe Ruth

Memories from a ballplayer who went to spring training with Jackie Robinson in 1947

The unusual estate sale for a past owner of the Sacramento Solons

Double the fun: King Carl Hubbell Leads New York Giants to 1933 World Series Triumph

Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor. Every Saturday, Joe writes “Double the fun,” looking at one memorable doubleheader each week. Today, Joe recounts a few famous performances from Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell.

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Venue: The Polo Grounds

Date: Sunday, July 2, 1933

Teams: St. Louis Cardinals versus New York Giants

Starting Pitchers: Game One: Cardinals—Tex Carlton versus Carl Hubbell, New York; Game two: Dizzy Dean versus Roy Parmelee

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More than 50,000 fans showed up at the old Polo Grounds to watch the eventual World Series champion Giants take on arch rival foes, the St. Louis Cardinals during the Independence Day weekend doubleheader.

Both teams were loaded with future Hall of Famers and otherwise outstanding stars: for the Cards, Pepper Martin, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, Leo Durocher, Rogers Hornsby, pitchers Dean, Carlton, Dazzy Vance and Burleigh Grimes; on the Giants, Mel Ott, premier first baseman and superior manager Bill Terry, Jo Jo Moore, pitchers Hubbell, Parmalee and Freddie Fitzsimmons

At the day’s beginning, the Giants held a 3-1/2 game margin over the second place Cards. But after Hubbell and Parmalee polished off St. Louis 1-0 and 1-0, the Giants pulled away for good.

In the 18-inning, 4:03 opener, Hubbell gave one of his most impressive exhibitions of mound mastery as he bested Carlton and relief pitcher Jesse Haines.

For 12 of the innings, Hubbell dazzled the minimum three batters with his fearsome screwball.

Some observers wrote that Hubbell had more command of his pitches than he did during his 1929 no-hit, 11-0 classic against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

For the first sixteen innings, Hubbell and Carlton matched each other pitch for pitch. But when Carlton gave way for a pinch hitter in the 16th inning, the Giants chipped away at 39-year-old Haines when Moore walked and catcher Gus Mancuso sacrificed him to second. Moore eventually scored on a single by Hughie Critz.

Hubbell’s daily line: IP 18; H 6; ER 0; BB 0; SO 12

After the intermission, the second game began near dusk with a light rain and fog hanging over the Polo Grounds.

Cardinal manager Gabby Street was desperate for a starting pitcher. Street tapped Dean even though he had pitched two evenings ago on Friday and coincidentally shut the Giants out, 1-0. In the Sunday nightcap, Dean hurled another gem but lost this one by the same 1-0 score.

Dean’s combined line for his two starts within three days:

IP 17; H 11; R 1; BB 3; SO 10

After the Giants’ sweep, the teams and their pitchers went in opposite directions. The Cardinals slowly fell out of contention, replaced Street with Frisch and finished in fifth place, 9.5 games off the pace.

Dean had an indifferent 20-18, 3.04 ERA.

King Carl, on the other hand, improved as the year continued. On September 1, Hubbell spun another outstanding game. At Braves Field, Hubbell notched his 20th victory and wrapped up the pennant for the Giants by besting Boston 2-0 over ten flawless innings. Coincidentally, the game was also the first of a doubleheader.

Hubbell’s line:

IP 10; H 4; R 0; BB 1; SO 6

For the season, Hubbell posted a 23-12 record, won the ERA title with a 1.66 mark and was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Then, saving his best for last, Hubbell and the Giants dominated the Washington Senators in the World Series, 4-1.

In Game One, Hubbell allowed two unearned runs while coasting to a 4-2 victory. Then, in the fourth game, on two days rest and over 11 innings, Hubbell gave up only another single unearned run.

For Hubbell’s two World Series appearances:

IP 20; H 13; ER 0; BB 6; S0s 15

During his career, Hubbell went 253-154, ERA 2.98, led the league in games won and ERA three times. Best remembered for his 1934 All-Star Game effort when he struck out in order Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, Hubbell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947.

After he retired as an active player, Hubbell remained with the Giants as the team’s farm director and scout.

In 1988, at age 85, Hubbell died in Scottsdale, Arizona following an automobile accident.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

How the Hall of Fame could honor players who also managed

There are many paths in baseball to the Hall of Fame. A man can be enshrined as a player, a manager, or an owner, among other things. Interestingly, though, candidates who both played and managed don’t have these achievements judged together. Were rules different, a few more men might have plaques.

Currently, a backlog exists of baseball figures who both played and managed well, but perhaps didn’t achieve enough in either arena to earn a plaque. My idea is a hybrid wing of the Hall of Fame, where men could be inducted on the strength of both their playing and managerial careers. It seems reasonable that a man be considered for the sum of his contributions to baseball. This could also help the Hall of Fame honor more managers, since just 25 have been enshrined.

Here are eight men who could be inducted this way:

Charlie Grimm: One of those names I once figured was already in Cooperstown– as a player or a manager. Grimm compiled 2,229 hits and a .290 lifetime batting average in 20 seasons and was a longtime first baseman for the Cubs. He became a player-manager for them near the end of his playing career and ultimately posted a managerial record of 1287-1067 with three National League pennants.

Steve O’Neill: O’Neill had a 17-year career as a catcher and then did his best work as a manager. In 14 years with four clubs, O’Neill was 1040-821 and led the Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship. An ad on O’Neill’s Baseball-Reference.com page says he and Joe McCarthy are the only two managers to never post a losing record.

Jimmy Dykes: Dykes went 1406-1541 managing six clubs and prior to this was a longtime player with 2,256 hits, a .280 lifetime batting average, and two All Star appearances, a memorable baseball character in either capacity.

Gil Hodges: Of the men listed here, the iconic Dodgers first baseman might come closest on playing merit alone, hitting 374 home runs, making eight All Star teams, and being one of the greatest defensive players at his position all-time. I’m including Hodges because when his Hall of Fame case is brought up, people tend to invariably mention him managing the 1969 World Series champion Mets. It’s what inspired this post.

Al Dark: Like Hodges, Dark won a World Series as both a player and a manager, hitting .293 with 20 home runs for the champion Giants in 1954 and leading the A’s to a title 20 years later. In all, Dark had 2,089 hits, a .289 lifetime average, and three All Star appearances as a player, and he went 994-954 as a manager.

Dusty Baker: Baker hit 242 home runs in 19 seasons and has followed with a 17-year managerial career, winning at least 88 games eight times and compiling a 1386-1266 record. He comes nowhere close to the Hall of Fame as a player, and I suspect when he is considered as a manager, two things will doom him: 1) He hasn’t won a World Series; 2) He supposedly wrecked some young pitchers. All of this is unfortunate, because it’s time Cooperstown celebrated a modern black manager.

Felipe Alou: Similar to Baker, Alou had a long, if essentially unspectacular playing career, finishing with 2,101 hits, 206 home runs, and a .286 batting average. Nearly two decades after he retired, Alou resurfaced as the sagacious manager of the Montreal Expos and spent 14 years as a skipper in the majors, going 1033-1021.

Jim Fregosi: Early in his career, Fregosi was among the best shortstops in baseball, making six All Star teams and winning a Gold Glove. His career went downhill after he was traded for Nolan Ryan in December 1971. Fregosi served mostly as a bench player his final seven seasons before retiring in 1978, finishing with 1,726 hits and a .265 career batting average. He later was 1028-1095 as a manager, with one World Series appearance.

Related: A compilation of Cooperstown posts

Any player/Any era: Harmon Killebrew

What he did: Killebrew won six American League home run titles in an eleven-year stretch, on his way to smacking 573 lifetime bombs. He’s been supplanted on the career leader board in recent years by a variety of suspected and admitted steroid users, though Killebrew still at least rates as perhaps the greatest American League slugger of his generation, a perennial home run and RBI champ. With an ability to also hit for average, Killebrew might have been a Triple Crown winner.

Killbrew’s .256 lifetime batting average may be part of what relegates him to second-tier status in discussing all-time great hitters. It’s why Ted Williams kept Killebrew out of his list of the top 20 hitters all-time. Thing is, there are generations where Killbrew’s career batting average could have been much higher.

Era he might have thrived in: 1930s, Cleveland Indians

Why: One of my regular readers suggested teaming Killebrew on these Indians with Earl Averill and Hal Trosky, so I went to the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.

First, here are Killebrew’s actual numbers that he put up in his career with the Senators, Twins, and Royals from 1954-1975:

R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
1283 2086 290 24 573 1584 .256 .376 .509 .884

And here are how Killebrew’s numbers would look if he played every year of his career on a team like the 1936 Cleveland Indians:

R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
1707 2499 348 25 687 2111 .300 .429 .595 1.024

Translation: In his own era, Killebrew was a great slugger and not much else. In the 1930s, he’d have been Cleveland’s version of Hank Greenberg. The only stat Killebrew’s numbers don’t see a dramatic jump with is triples (can’t win ’em all) and he’d rank third all-time for runs batted in, fourth in home runs and seventh in OPS. Killebrew would hit at least 50 home runs seven times and peak at 59 home runs, 182 RBI, and a .327 clip for his converted 1969 season. If his career begins early enough, say 1926, he might not even lose playing time to World War II.

It’s hard to explain why Killebrew’s numbers could vary so much between different eras, though some factors can be ruled out. Killebrew didn’t always lack for support, as he played five years with a young Rod Carew and a healthy Tony Oliva, two great hitting champs. We also can’t blame his ballpark. Killebrew’s park in Minnesota may have favored hitters more than his would-be homes in Cleveland in 1936, League Park and Cleveland Stadium. But I’m guessing the major factor here is that Killebrew played in an age for pitchers, and the 1930s was essentially opposite.

In fact, many ’60s players might have thrived in the 1930s golden era for hitters. Playing his entire career on a team like the ’36 Indians, Frank Howard would have 469 home runs, a .325 career batting average, and a 1.003 OPS. Jimmie Wynn would hit .315, a full 65 points higher than his actual lifetime batting average since he played so often in the Astrodome, which is only just smaller than Delaware. Even Ray Oyler gets in on it, the .175 career hitter (.175!) jumping to a semi-not-terrible .215. Really, it’s almost a wonder these Cleveland clubs didn’t send more players to the Hall of Fame.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Tom Seaver Returns Home to New York– As A Cincinnati Red

Here’s the latest from Wednesday and Saturday contributor Joe Guzzardi.

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In my August 18 post about Lou Piniella, I wrote that during the 1978 season the tumultuous New York Yankees provided me with more entertaining moments than I ever experienced as a baseball fan.

How could I have forgotten about the 1977 New York Mets?

During the summer of ’77, Mets’ ownership staggered the baseball world when, after a long simmering salary dispute between Tom Seaver and owner M. Donald Grant, it traded its future first ballot Hall of Fame pitcher to the Cincinnati Reds for four low-level prospects: pitcher Pat Zachry, second baseman Doug Flynn and outfielders Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.

The “Midnight Massacre” (as the trades became known) plunged the Mets into their darkest era. The team finished last in 1977 and lost 95 or more games in each of the next three seasons under manager Joe Torre, who would be fired after a 41-62 record in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

During the 1970s, I lived in Manhattan. I wasn’t a Mets fan but like all New Yorkers, I followed every movement, allegation and counter-allegation made by Seaver, Grant, and Grant’s pro-management tout, New York Daily News columnist Dick Young.

Seaver had been pleading with the penurious Grant to spend the necessary money on available free agent players to help lift the Mets into contention.

Further infuriating Mets fans Grant, besides dumping Seaver and his salary off to the Reds, made two other deadline trades involving key players.

Grant ordered general manager Joe McDonald to deal the Mets’ top hitter, Dave Kingman, who had also been involved in rancorous contract negotiations, to the San Diego Padres for Bobby Valentine. In a third trade, McDonald acquired utility man Mike Phillips outfielder from the St. Louis Cardinals for Joel Youngblood.

(Fun fact: In 1982, Youngblood made baseball history by getting a hit in two different cities, for two different teams, against two Hall of Fame pitchers. As a Mets in Chicago, he singled off Ferguson Jenkins. Then, traded by the Mets to the Montreal Expos, Youngblood hopped a plane to Philadelphia in time to pinch hit a single off Steve Carlton.)

To Grant’s dismay, Seaver flourished in his new Cincinnati environment. Over the balance of the 1977 season, he went 14-3 to finish his year at 21-6.

Included among Seaver’s wins was what writers dubbed the “Shootout at Shea,” that pitted “Tom Terrific” against his former teammate and friend, Jerry Koosman.

On Sunday, August 21st, a capacity crowd of 46,265 greeted Seaver with chants of “SEA-VER, SEA-VER!” while the stadium organ played “Hello Dolly, we’re so glad to see back where you belong.”

Seaver, who limited the Mets to six hits while striking out 11 in a 5-1 victory, pitched his best; Koosman (8-16), who volunteered for the thankless assignment, struggled and gave up all five runs before being knocked out in the eighth.

After the game, Seaver said, “I’m glad it’s over, very glad. I’m exhausted physically and mentally. It was no fun out there at all.”

Koosman added: “It’s tough to pitch against a superstar. You know you’ve got to be at your best. I was kind of disappointed when it got out of hand. But let’s face it. Tom Seaver is the best pitcher in baseball.”

For the Mets, the post-trade era was a disaster. Attendance at Shea plummeted and the Mets would not have another winning season until 1984.

But time heals all wounds. Seaver returned to the Mets in 1983 for one season and pitched effectively. By then, even though Seaver had a three-year stint with the Chicago White Sox and a final year with the Boston Red Sox, his best years were behind him.

Seaver retired with a 311-205 record with an ERA of 2.86 and 3,640 strikeouts. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1992 with the highest-ever percentage of first place votes for a pitcher.

After his career ended, the Mets retired Seaver’s number 41. In 2008, the Mets invited Seaver to Shea Stadium to throw out the final pitch before the team moved to Citi-Field where he also threw out the Opening Day, 2009 first pitch.

In a recent ESPN poll, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Don Sutton and Carlton voted Seaver their generation’s best pitcher.

Hank Aaron adds that Seaver was the toughest he ever faced.

That says it all! See a video tribute to Seaver’s career here.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Al Oliver

Claim to fame: Quietly, Oliver may have been one of the best hitters of the 1970s and ’80s, amassing 2,743 hits and a .303 lifetime batting average, hitting above .300 eleven of his 18 seasons. Oliver had perhaps his best year in 1982 when he led the National League in hits, doubles, runs batted in, and batting average, was an All Star, and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting. Mostly, though, he was a solid supporting player.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Oliver received 4.3 percent of the vote in 1991, his only year on the writers ballot for Cooperstown. Having last played in 1985, Oliver can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This was originally going to be a column about Harvey Kuenn, Bill Madlock, Tony Oliva, or Mickey Vernon, other great hitters yet to be inducted. When I began examining their stats, I noticed Kuenn and Madlock each have more than 2,000 hits and a career batting average above .300. I decided to find all the players who achieved this.

Not counting active, recently-retired players, and Pete Rose– who is ineligible for Cooperstown– there are 20 men with at least 2,000 hits and a lifetime batting average of .300 or better. A chart alphabetized by first name follows, with leading stats among the group in bold:

Player R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
Al Oliver 1189 2743 529 77 219 1326 .303 .344 .451 .795
Bill Madlock 920 2008 348 34 163 860 .305 .365 .442 .807
Bobby Veach 953 2063 393 147 64 1166 .310 .370 .442 .812
Buddy Myer 1174 2131 353 130 38 850 .303 .389 .406 .795
Deacon White 1140 2067 270 98 24 988 .312 .346 .393 .740
Dixie Walker 1037 2064 376 96 105 1023 .306 .383 .437 .820
Don Mattingly 1007 2153 442 20 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 .830
Ed McKean 1227 2084 272 158 67 1124 .302 .365 .417 .781
Edgar Martinez 1219 2247 514 15 309 1261 .312 .418 .515 .933
George Burns 901 2018 444 72 72 951 .307 .354 .429 .783
Harvey Kuenn 951 2092 356 56 87 671 .303 .357 .408 .765
Jake Daubert 1117 2326 250 165 56 722 .303 .360 .401 .760
Jimmy Ryan 1643 2513 451 157 118 1093 .308 .375 .444 .820
Mark Grace 1179 2445 511 45 173 1146 .303 .383 .442 .825
Patsy Donovan 1321 2256 208 75 16 738 .301 .348 .355 .702
Paul Hines 1217 2133 399 93 57 855 .302 .340 .409 .749
Roberto Alomar 1508 2724 504 80 210 1134 .300 .371 .443 .814
Stan Hack 1239 2193 363 81 57 642 .301 .394 .397 .791
Stuffy McInnis 872 2405 312 101 20 1062 .307 .343 .381 .723
Will Clark 1186 2176 440 47 284 1205 .303 .384 .497 .880


This chart could double as a list of fringe candidates for Cooperstown. The majority of the players could have — and many have had — impassioned cases made for their enshrinement. Depending how one looks at it, Oliver might be most deserving.

Martinez is the group leader for home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and he obliterates the others on the chart with his .933 OPS, fourth-highest among non-inducted players who have been eligible for Cooperstown. With any defensive ability, Martinez would have been a first-ballot inductee, instead of receiving 36.2 percent of the vote in 2009. As it stands, Martinez redefined the value of an excellent designated hitter and should be enshrined eventually.

Oliver has the most hits, doubles, and runs batted in of the group, and in many respects, he’s the antithesis to Martinez. Where Martinez wasn’t an everyday player until he was 27 and assaulted the offensive leader boards like a man making up for lost time, Oliver was a starter at 22 and remained consistent for the better part of two decades. He was perhaps never a star and rarely the best player on his team but generally a solid teammate, good for about 170 hits, 80-100 RBI and a .300 batting average. I suspect he made a lot of guys better.

Oliver’s Web site features testimonials from Andre Dawson, George Foster, Bob Gibson, and Willie Stargell suggesting he should be in Cooperstown. There’s also a quote from baseball researcher Bill James which ends, “It’s an injustice for him to be off the ballot. He shouldn’t be put in that category. It surprises me that he received so little support.” I don’t know if I’m surprised, but I’ll say this: The stated task of the Veterans Committee is to find players overlooked by the writers. To this end, Oliver seems an ideal candidate for them. I’d vote for him if I could.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Looking for a good baseball researcher

I recently got an email from a regular reader worth sharing here. He wrote:

Do you know if anyone has done any research into the effects of the strength of schedule in evaluating teams and how good or how not so good they may be and the effect it has on individual player statistics?

Think of it this way. Teams that play a lot of good clubs should have fewer wins than comparable teams playing teams with losing records. There should be a way of measuring and evaluating this, don’t you think? And to take it even further, it should be possible to rate each hitter and each pitcher vs one another to see who may have their stats either artificially inflated or deflated by the competition level they face. One guys .285/350/450 line may be significatly better than the guy who’s 320/380/535, or the pitcher who’s 12-11 may be better than the guy who went 17-8.

What got me thinking about it is that the key to winning is to play .500 ball against teams with winning records and beat up on the bad teams. With all the strange schedules and uneven matchups, it seems these should, or could be taken into account and measured, say in the same way the pythagorian formula creates simulated win/loss totals.

Look at how the scheduling this year has especially blessed the Reds and the Rangers who’ve feasted on an abundance of rotten teams and been manhandled whenever they’ve played teams with winning records or from competitive divisions. It’s probably part of the reason that Hamilton and Votto have even been mentioned as possible triple crown winners and may even be measurable as to how much it’s added to their counting numbers.

Thoughts? Worthwhile looking into?

I definitely think it merits checking out. I already believe the strength of a player’s team affects his performance. Just a few weeks ago, I ran Nate Colbert’s numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference and noted the large jump he could have experienced playing on a powerhouse from an earlier era than the one he played in. It would logically follow that strength of schedule impacts individual stats, as well. I’m guessing there probably is a way to quantify this, though I’m not sure if I want to be the guy to do it.

Thus, I’m posting something here in hopes a baseball researcher may be up to the challenge. I will happily give full credit here once the results are in. Of course, please let me know if something like this already exists.

Double the fun: Pirates Sweep Three September Doubleheaders In Five Days; Close In On 1960 National League Pennant

Here is the latest edition of Double the fun, a Saturday feature here on famous doubleheaders by Joe Guzzardi.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have baseball’s worst record. As of August 20th,the Pirates with a 40-81 record are three games behind the resurgent Baltimore Orioles and, in the National League, trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by seven.

Accordingly, we Pirate fans revert to our default position. We either look hopefully ahead or comfort ourselves by looking wistfully back.

Earlier this week, the Pirates signed two high school pitching phenoms, Jameson Tallion and Stetson Allie. But since teenage pitching prospects flame out more often than pan out, today we’ll take solace in the Pirate past, specifically the 1960 World Series champs whose 50th anniversary Pittsburgh is celebrating.

My weekly Saturday column is devoted to historic doubleheaders. Today, however, I’ll tell you about three September 1960 double dip sweeps within five days that virtually sewed the pennant up for our intrepid 1960 Corsairs.

On September 18, the Pirates took both ends at Cincinnati against the Reds, 5-3 and 1-0; September 20 in Philadelphia against the Phillies, 7-1 and 3-2 and September 22 at Forbes Field against the Chicago Cubs, 3-2 (11 innings) and 6-1.

By the time the second Cub game ended, the Pirates had eliminated the Milwaukee Braves and reduced to two games their magic number to finish off the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, a late May acquisition from the Cardinals in exchange for promising but expendable second baseman Julian Javier (the Pirates had Bill Mazeroski), pitched brilliantly and won two of the six games.

Mizell’s September 18 first game line: IP 9; H 3; ER 0; BB 2; K 7

September 22 second game versus the Cubs: IP 9; H 6; ER 1; BB 0; K 2

While Vernon Law won the Cy Young and Dick Groat the Most Valuable Player Award, many point to adding Mizell to the starting rotation that also included work horse Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix as the Pirates’ turning point in the  championship season.

When General Manager Joe Brown traded for Mizell, the lefty had struggled in his nine games with the Cardinals posting a 1-3 record and 4.55 ERA.

But Brown was confident that Mizell only needed a change of scenery since over his previous six seasons he had notched a 68-67 record and 3.68 ERA.

Brown, always a shrewd judge of talent, was correct about Mizell. Pitching for the Pirates for only four months, Mizell finished 13-5 with three shutouts and a 3.12 ERA.

Curiously, when the regular season ended, Mizell’s magic vanished forever.

When he started the third World Series game, Mizell was bombed. Lasting only one-third of an inning, Mizell gave up three hits, a walk and four earned runs on the way to a Yankee 10-0 rout.

By pitching two innings of scoreless mop up in the sixth game Yankee humiliation (12-0), Mizell managed to lower his series ERA from108.00 to 15.43.

In 1961, Mizell couldn’t get it back together. He went 7-10 (5.40 ERA). When 1962 started no better, in May the Pirates traded Mizell to the Mets.

Mizell failed to win a game with what would become the worst team in baseball history. When the Mets released him in August, Mizell retired.

Why Mizell had so little success after 1960 remains a mystery. Former Pirate teammate George Witt said Mizell never suffered an arm injury but that “he just seemed to lose his good hard fastball.” Mizell summed when he said: “I can’t attribute it to any one thing—just wear and tear.”

But with Mizell’s retirement came a new career. Mizell entered politics and served three terms as a North Carolina Congressman (1968-1974). Had the Watergate scandal not swept Republicans out of office during the 1974 midterm elections, Mizell might have realized his dream of becoming a United States Senator.

After Congress, Mizell served in various capacities under Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Mizell, who finished his baseball career with a 90-88 record, died in 1999.

Here’s a funny footnote to Mizell’s horrible World Series outing. Played on October 8, the game date was also Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh’s 43rd birthday.

During the pre-game pleasantries, Casey Stengel said to Murtaugh: “I knew you were comin’ but I didn’t bake a cake. I hope you have a good day except between the hours of 2 to 5.” (Author’s note: the game was played from 1:05 to 4:14.)

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

10 great baseball movies that haven't been made

Game of Shadows: With Moneyball in production, one has to wonder what great baseball book may next become a film. My vote is the best work on the Steroid Era which documented the rises and falls of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Marion Jones, while introducing characters like showboating steroid dealer Victor Conte and dumpster-diving IRS agent Jeff Nowitzky. It’s got many elements for a great movie including suspense, tragedy, and a little dark humor. Some may argue steroids in baseball are so five years ago but this movie would be no more dated than one touting Billy Beane as a genius.

Anything about the Negro Leagues: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems there has never been a major studio release about black baseball, which is unfortunate because it offer a wealth of poetic, sometimes heartbreaking stories. There’s Rube Foster, who helped launch a league but died broken, Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest star of black baseball who died in 1947 at 35, disillusioned because he wouldn’t get to break the color barrier in the majors, and many others like them.

The Boys of Summer, Ball Four, Veeck as in Wreck, The Catcher Was a Spy: Ball Four was incendiary in its time, a playing diary of the 1969 season that revealed players as drunks, louts, and racists. There’s more than enough great anecdotes in the more than 400 pages for a screenplay, and with a 40th anniversary edition just released, it would be timely. The Boys of Summer is another personal favorite, glorifying the Brooklyn Dodgers. I haven’t read Veeck as in Wreck or The Catcher Was a Spy, but each illuminates a memorable baseball figure: innovative owner Bill Veeck and sometimes catcher/possible World War II spy Moe Berg.

Something on Pete Rose: The life story of the all-time hits king, barred from baseball for gambling seems like a movie waiting to happen. One possibility is Field of Dreams II, where Rose convinces an Iowa farmer to plow under his corn to build a baseball field so he can come back and play ball. And bet on those games.

The Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s: If ESPN can produce The Bronx is Burning about the New York Yankees of the late 1970s, why doesn’t someone make something on a squad with more World Series titles, a wackier owner, and a more highly-evolved level of dysfunction? Sports Illustrated provided a film treatment, of sorts, with this outstanding article in 1999.

Something by the Frat Pack: When I think of Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and company, I picture a movie about early 20th century baseball, when drunk, rowdy, and profane players scarcely ranked above second-class citizens. I could also see these actors in a project about another raucous club, the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies, since Black seems a clone for John Kruk, Stiller could play talented but neurotic Mitch Williams, and Ferrell, with some suspension of disbelief, could play Darren Daulton.

The Eddie Gaedel Story: This would be a short. Oh, I’m bad.