Guest post: Bill Deane's third annual Hall of Fame forecast

Editor’s note: For the third consecutive year, I’m honored to feature Hall of Fame predictions from Bill Deane, former senior research associate at Cooperstown. Historically, Bill has been highly accurate, nearly calling the ballot in 2013. He finally stumbled a bit last year, though it was an unusual election, one that could have thrown even the most experienced of Hall forecasters for a loop. In a post-mortem, Bill vowed to return, and I’m glad he’s done so. I’m curious to see how Bill’s predictions, compiled in November, fare this year. He has a place at this website as long as he wants it.

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I’ve been predicting Baseball Hall of Fame elections for 34 years now, with an 80% success rate (51-13) in guessing who would or would not make it among candidates receiving between 65-85% of the vote. If there has been one thing predictable about Hall voters, it is how many names each one will check. Though they are permitted ten selections apiece, the typical voter uses considerably fewer than that: six, to be exact. For 27 straight years, 1987-2013, the average number of votes per voter was more than five, but less than seven. Now, that’s consistency.

Then came 2014: the average leaped up to 8.39, some 40% above average. That shattered my crystal baseball, leading to my worst forecast ever. Yes, there was a bumper crop of newcomers on the 2014 ballot, including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, but that’s not the first time that was the case. In 1999, for example, ballot rookies Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Carlton Fisk joined holdovers Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Bert Blyleven, among others, on the slate – yet writers used an average of just 6.74 votes per ballot.

So the question for me is, was the 2014 voting a fluke, or the start of a new trend? I believe the average will remain well above the 1987-2013 standard, but below the 2014 level – I’m guessing about 7.7 votes per voter in 2015. That should allow for two more Cooperstown inductees.

A review of the voting process: Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) do the voting. Late each fall, ballots are distributed to active and retired beat-writers who have been BBWAA members for ten years or more. The ballots, which are to be returned by the end of the year, list candidates in alphabetical order, instructing voters to choose up to ten players. Eligible candidates include men who played in at least ten seasons in the majors, the last of which was not less than five nor more than 15 (reduced from 20 this year) years prior to the election. Any candidate being named on at least 75% of the ballots is elected to the Hall; anyone receiving less than 5% of the vote is dropped from further consideration. The BBWAA honors an average of about two players per year. The 2015 results will be announced on January 6 at 2 PM EST.

More than half of the 35 players who were listed on the 2014 ballot are not on the 2015 version: Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas, who were elected; Jack Morris, who failed in his final attempt; and 14 others (Rafael Palmeiro, Moises Alou, Hideo Nomo, Luis Gonzalez, Eric Gagne, J. T. Snow, Armando Benitez, Jacques Jones, Kenny Rogers, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Todd Jones, Paul LoDuca, and Richie Sexson) who were dropped for failing to reach the 5%-cutoff. These men collected a whopping 1,958 votes in 2014, which conceivably could be redistributed to the new and returning candidates this year. The solid 2015 rookie class – led by three pitchers who combined for nine Cy Young Awards – figures to get the bulk of those, but the 17 returnees are likely to move up in the voting.

Most first-time eligibles are destined for just one try on the writers’ ballot, the consequence of receiving less than 5% of the vote. These include Rich Aurilia (186 homers, .275 average), Aaron Boone (126 HR, .263, plus the 2003 AL pennant-winning homer), Tony Clark (251 HR, .262), Carlos Delgado (473 HR, including four in a game, 1512 RBI, .546 slugging percentage), Jermaine Dye (325 HR, .274, plus a Gold Glove and the 2005 World Series MVP), Darin Erstad (124 HR, .282, and a monster 2000 season, in which he amassed 240 hits and became the first leadoff man ever to knock in 100 runs) , Cliff Floyd (233 HR, .278), Nomar Garciaparra (1997 AL Rookie of the Year Award and two batting titles en route to a .313 career average), Brian Giles (287 HR, .291), Tom Gordon (138-126, 158 saves), Eddie Guardado (187 saves), Troy Percival (358 saves), and Jason Schmidt (130-96, ERA title). Though many of these will get votes, only Delgado, Garciaparra, Percival, Giles, and Dye have even outside chances of making the cut.

Here’s the way I foresee the rest of the election shaping up, with newcomers in bold and predicted percentages in parentheses:
Randy Johnson (94) – A late bloomer who won five Cy Young Awards after his 32nd birthday, The Big Unit finished with a 303-166 won-lost record, 4875 strikeouts (second behind only Nolan Ryan), four ERA titles, a perfect game, and a 20-K performance. Making it easily on his first try, Johnson will stand tall in Cooperstown.

Craig Biggio (79) – An excellent but not dominant player who amassed 3060 hits, 1844 runs, 668 doubles, and 414 stolen bases. He missed election by just two votes in 2014, and should get over the hump on his third try.

Mike Piazza (69) – The best offensive catcher of all time (419 homers, .308 average), Piazza managed to survive steroids rumors and a poor defensive reputation. He’ll get near the doorstep of election this year but fall a bit short.

Jeff Bagwell (60) – Batted .297 with 449 homers and 1529 RBI in just 15 seasons, winning the 1994 NL MVP Award.

Pedro Martinez (57) – Finished 219-100 with 3154 strikeouts against just 760 walks, winning five ERA crowns and three Cy Young Awards.

Tim Raines (52) – Rock was an outstanding player whose credentials (including an 808-146 stolen base record) are starting to be appreciated by voters.

John Smoltz (46) – Despite a modest 213-155 career record and credentials very similar to two-time also-ran Curt Schilling, Smoltzie is getting a lot of buzz as a “future Hall of Famer,” with many expecting him to go in on his first try. I see him making a strong showing, but far short of election. Smoltz had 3084 strikeouts, 154 saves, the 1996 NL Cy Young Award, and a 15-4 record in post-season play.

Roger Clemens (38) – The most-accomplished pitcher of the past century, if not any century, Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and seven ERA crowns while going 354-184 with 4672 strikeouts. His reputation has been skewered by well-documented accusations of steroids and HGH use, though he was acquitted of perjury on the subject.

Barry Bonds (38) – The most accomplished non-pitcher with the possible exception of Babe Ruth, Bonds won a record seven MVP Awards and set all-time marks for career homers (762, including a record 73 in 2001) and walks (2558, a record 668 of them intentional). For good measure, he added 514 stolen bases and eight Gold Glove Awards. But, like Clemens, accusations of his using performance enhancers in the second half of his career, along with his surly relationship with the media, will keep him out of Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.

Curt Schilling (36) – His won-lost record (216-146) is modest by Hall of Fame standards, but he had three second-place Cy Young Award finishes and 3116 strikeouts with a record 4.38 SO:BB ratio. Moreover, he starred for three different World Series teams, the 1993 Phillies, the 2001 D’backs (for whom he shared Series MVP honors), and the 2004 Red Sox (for whom he authored the gutsy “bloody sock” performance).

Lee Smith (32) – Lost his all-time saves record (and his only persuasive Hall of Fame argument) in 2006 to Trevor Hoffman, who in turn lost it to Mariano Rivera in 2011.

Edgar Martinez (28) – Though he didn’t become a big league regular until he was 27, the DH wound up with 2247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 homers, and a .312 average.

Mike Mussina (27) – Moose went 20-9 in his final season to finish at 270-153. Since the current pitching distance was established in 1893, only 12 pitchers have more wins over .500, and just three have a higher career strikeout-to-walk ratio. Mussina made a respectable 20% showing in his first try in 2014.

Alan Trammell (25) – A fine shortstop, overshadowed throughout his career by Cal Ripken and Robin Yount.

Jeff Kent (17) – Kent set the record for most career home runs by a second baseman and won the 2000 NL MVP Award. He finished with 377 homers and a .290 average, and received a decent 15% of the votes in his first attempt.

Fred McGriff (14) – Crime Dog had 493 home runs and 1550 RBI, winning homer titles in each league.

Mark McGwire (13) – Had 583 home runs, a .588 slugging average, and the highest homer percentage of all time, but became the voters’ poster boy for players accused of using PEs. With the new rule cutting eligibility from 15 to ten years, this is Big Mac’s next-to-last try.

Larry Walker (12) – Hit 383 homers and batted .313, winning three batting titles and the 1997 NL MVP Award, though most of his damage was done a mile above sea level.

Don Mattingly (11) – After a half-dozen years as one of the game’s most productive hitters, Mattingly was reduced to mediocrity by back problems. Still, he wound up with credentials eerily similar to 2001 first-ballot inductee Kirby Puckett’s. Mattingly received 28% that same year, but has gone steadily downhill since then; this is his last try on the BBWAA ballot.

Sammy Sosa (8) – Slammed 609 home runs, including three 60-homer seasons and an MVP Award, in a career also tainted by performance-enhancer accusations.

Gary Sheffield (5) – Blasted 509 homers with 1676 RBI and a batting crown. But as an admitted steroids user, he’ll be lucky to make the 5% cut.

Looking ahead toward upcoming elections, in 2016 the leading newcomers will be Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. The following year, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vlad Guerrero will top the rookie list. The 2018 ballot will include Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon, and Jamie Moyer.

Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, and Todd Helton are among those who will become eligible in 2019. And any ten-year veteran who played in 2014, but does not return next season – Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, and Adam Dunn, to name four – will join the 2020 ballot.

Herman Long and the 1936 Veterans Committee vote

The past few Hall of Fame votes by the Baseball Writers Association of America have looked a bit chaotic, with steroid users and a number of other holdover candidates glutting the ballot. By historical standards for Cooperstown, though, the present chaos pales in comparison to some of the early votes when few if any players had been inducted and everyone in baseball history was eligible. Out of this time comes one of the more unusual stories of Hall of Fame voting.

Most modern fans are probably not familiar with Herman Long, who played shortstop in the majors from 1889 to 1904 and died of tuberculosis in 1909. Statistically, there isn’t much to support a Hall of Fame case for Long today, though he was held in high esteem by a number of his contemporaries. Their esteem may have been the reason Long finished eighth in the first Veterans Committee election in 1936, drawing nearly 20 percent of the vote. More unusually, Long never again received even one percent of the Hall of Fame vote.

I read of Long’s unusual showing in the votes a few years ago when Keith Olbermann wrote a blog post on it. Olbermann’s piece, while interesting, didn’t delve too deeply into how Long got as much support as he did without ever receiving it again, so I recently decided to do some more digging. What I found isn’t conclusive, but it sheds a bit more light.

Before we get too far into Long’s story, some background is in order. There were two Hall of Fame votes held in 1936, the first year for elections. A BBWAA vote on players since 1900 resulted in Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner being honored. A special committee of 78 members was set up to vote on players from before 1900, and while Baseball-Reference.com refers to it as the Veterans Committee, it was a one-off meeting that bore little relation to the continuing committee that came into existence in 1953.

The Sporting News noted on January 2, 1936 of the Veterans Committee:

Writers, managers, officials and players who are qualified by first-hand information and personal observations will choose the five who will represent that early period at Cooperstown. The maturity of this committee’s personnel assures careful consideration of all eligibles [sic] and there should be little criticism of their choices.

The initial plan was for the committee to select five pioneers for Cooperstown. But a wide dispersal of votes and some confusion over voting resulted in no players receiving the necessary 75 percent of votes from the committee for induction. Part of the confusion lay in the fact that several players who’d played in the 19th and 20th centuries received votes in both elections. Voters were also requested to vote for five players, but some voted for 10, leading to half points being awarded for the players on those ballots. [There was confusion among the BBWAA, too: Some voters mailed in All Star-style ballots, with one player at each position. These ballots were returned.]

Out of this confusion, Long received 15.5 votes. The election wound up being treated as a nominating vote, with the top 12 finishers advancing for more consideration. All but Long have since been enshrined, with 10 of the 12 getting in Cooperstown within the decade. Here’s a list of the top 12 finishers in the 1936 Veterans Committee election that breaks it down:

  1. Cap Anson: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  2. Buck Ewing: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  3. Wee Willie Keeler: Enshrined in 1939 through the BBWAA
  4. Cy Young: Enshrined in 1937 through the BBWAA
  5. Ed Delahanty: Enshrined in 1945 through the Old Timers Committee
  6. John McGraw: Enshrined in 1937 through the Veterans Committee
  7. Old Hoss Radbourn: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  8. Long: Not enshrined
  9. King Kelly: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  10. Amos Rusie: Enshrined in 1977 through the Veterans Committee
  11. Hughie Jennings: Enshrined in 1945 through the Old Timers Committee
  12. Fred Clarke: Enshrined in 1945 through the Old Timers Committee

So there are two questions before us: 1) How Long did so well in 1936; and 2) Why never again?

It’s hard to know what exactly went on among the 1936 Veterans Committee. I’m not sure who was on it and couldn’t find anything through the Sporting News archives listed on SABR.org. It’s uncertain, too, if Cooperstown keeps records for this. Former Hall of Fame senior research associate Bill Deane told me by phone Saturday that he had to start from scratch in the early 1990s in making a list of committee members from 1953-2001, piecing together results from Hall of Fame yearbooks which begin in 1980 and The Sporting News. I was curious if Deane got any resistance from the Hall of Fame in his research. “I didn’t encounter resistance,” Deane said. “I just encountered ignorance.”

While the specifics of how Long got as many votes as he did in the 1936 election might be lost to history, we can deduce a fair amount. From my research, I suspect longtime Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith may have had some influence on voting. While I don’t know for a fact that Griffith was one of the 78 members of the 1936 Veterans Committee, it’s logical he would have been on it and wielded some influence. After Connie Mack, Griffith might have ranked as the most esteemed figure from 19th century baseball at the time, and the committee’s stated task, after all, was to consider pre-1900 players.

Griffith paid tribute several times to Long, with whom he had a personal connection. The two were teammates on the 1903 New York Highlanders. They also faced one another in the National League of the 1890s, when Long helped the Boston Beaneaters win five pennants. Bill James wrote in his 2001 historical abstract that Griffith named Long to his all-time team in 1914. Two weeks before the Veterans Committee vote was announced in January 1936, Griffith included Long on an all-nineteenth century team. And in 1938, Griffith considered Long for a “most graceful all time baseball team.” Griffith told Grantland Rice:

There’s more of an argument at short. Herman Long was a good one. Hans Wagner was the best of all the shortstops but you’d never ship Hans a medal for grace. Dave Bancroft of the Giants ranks high and Jack Berry [sic] of the Athletics was another.

Griffith isn’t the only baseball person who held Long in high esteem. Wagner narrowly chose Joe Tinker over Long for his all-time squad in March 1936. Wagner and Long have a couple of connections worth noting here. Long was actually the first player nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman.” As others like Olbermann have noted, Wagner was given the nickname in tribute. Long also gave Wagner one of his gloves in 1902, an over-sized glove with a large hole in the middle that became a Wagner trademark.

Long figured into other all-time discussions as well. In 1939, Long was named an alternate for an all-time team voted on by players from 1870-1939. Rice wrote of Long and 1890s Boston Beaneater teammates Fred Tenney, Bobby Lowe and Jimmy Collins as the best infield in baseball history. John Thorn made note of the celebrated Boston infield, too, when I emailed him about Long. Interestingly, Long has the most errors in baseball history, though historian David Nemec told me that in Long’s era, any player who got a hand on a ball but didn’t make an out was charged with an error. Nemec also said that Long had more errors because he got to more balls due to his speed.

Long was celebrated during his lifetime, too. While he was dying of tuberculosis in the summer of 1909, one Kansas newspaper wrote of him as having been regarded as the greatest shortstop in baseball. A 1911 piece in the Arizona Republican, two years after Long’s death, noted:

In every one of the championship years, Herman Long was a prop. Some justice would seem to suggest that much of the credit for the record wins belongs to the memory of Herman Long. Memory, in this instance, is unfortunately accurate, Herman being no longer with those who run the bases and kill the hits. While he lasted, however, there was none beside him, and when he went to Boston from the west he carried with him his wonderful gifts of fielding, of hitting, of base-running and of generalship, and thus became a permanent sensation of which the Boston team and the Boston fans  were justly proud, and in whose achievements sportdom [sic] generally was interested.

It’s odd Long never again figured prominently in a Hall of Fame election after 1936. But as much as anything, Hall of Fame votes are a barometer of opinion and how it shifts over time. By 1943, Wagner spoke of Hughie Jennings as the best shortstop in baseball history. While he said Long and Bobby Wallace were “a couple other dandy old-time shortstops… they didn’t quite come up to Jennings.” Jennings and 20 others were enshrined by a special Old Timers Committee between 1945 and 1946. A 79-year-old Wallace was enshrined by the Veterans Committee in 1953.”I’d rather have Long on my team in his prime than Wallace,” Nemec said. “I’d also rather have him than Hughie Jennings.”

Fellow baseball history blogger Verdun2 has been conducting an experiment over at his site, creating a Hall of Fame based on information available from 1901-1910. “I submit it would be quite different,” he writes of his Hall. Indeed. No one talks much about Herman Long anymore, but if the Hall of Fame had existed when he last played in the majors in 1904 or if the voting process had been better established in the 1930s and ’40s, he might long since have his plaque.

Joe Sewell and the art of not striking out

By various measures, Joe Sewell might rank as the hardest player to strike out in baseball history. The Hall of Famer fanned just 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances lifetime, famous for going full seasons with four or six strikeouts. Lefty Grove, who never struck Sewell out in 96 at-bats, per Retrosheet, called him the toughest batter he ever faced.

I got to wondering recently if Sewell went his entire career without striking out twice in a game. I checked game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, and it’s close: Sewell struck out twice on May 13, 1923 and again on May 26, 1930. Sewell being Sewell, he didn’t strike out the rest of the 1930 season after May 26, finishing the year with three strikeouts in 414 plate appearances.

At the time of the 1930 game, Sewell was getting over a recent end due to illness to an 1,103-game consecutive games streak, second-best in baseball history at the time after Everett Scott according to Sewell’s SABR biography. Interviewed in the 1970s by Society for American Baseball Research founder L. Robert Davids, Sewell said also he was thrown off in the 1930 game by white shirts in the center field bleachers.

One of Sewell’s secrets as a hitter, after all, was his ability to keep his eye on the ball. He also favored contact over power, with just 49 homers lifetime, and he kept a comfortable stance that allowed him to adjust to any pitch.

“I followed the ball all the way,” Sewell said in 1960, while hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians, where he played most of his career. “I could even see it hit the bat. Anyone can– if he concentrates on picking up the ball and not watching the pitcher’s motion.”

That might be a good lesson for today’s hitters. With major leaguers striking out a record 37,441 times in 2014, Sewell’s career strikeout rate looks untouchable. Since 1950, just five players according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool have struck out under 500 times with at least 8,000 plate appearances: Nellie Fox, Jim Gilliam, Bill Buckner, Tony Gwynn and Juan Pierre.

Sewell, who died in 1990, would likely be aghast at today’s strikeout rates. “There’s no excuse for a major league player striking out 100 times a season,” he said in 1960. “Unless, of course, he’s blind.”

A busy few weeks

Dear readers:

I apologize for the sporadic content lately. It’s been a busy past couple of months. I’ve been working longer hours at work and am also in the process of moving to Sacramento to be with the woman I love.

I enjoy maintaining this site and something feels off when I’m not writing regularly here. That said, supporting myself and being there for the people who matter most to me will always take precedence.

The regular posting schedule here is 3-5 articles per week. I will return to this as soon as I can.

I should have a new post up in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading,
Graham

Why the Veterans Committee didn't surprise me today

Voting results for this year’s Veterans Committee were announced today, with no one being voted in. I tweeted beforehand that I didn’t expect any players to be enshrined through the committee, and I can’t say I’m surprised by how voting came out.

Here’s why I wasn’t surprised:

1. There weren’t enough voters on the Veterans Committee: This latest iteration of the committee had 16 members which, given Cooperstown’s history, makes little sense. Some of the worst Veterans Committee selections came when people like Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry wielded great influence over small versions of the committee in the 1970s. Consider that with 75 percent of the vote needed for induction, five voters for this Veterans Committee had the power to keep anyone from being inducted. While I’m not suggesting it happened, it’s not difficult for five people to unite and push their own agenda. It’s a lot more difficult for 50 people to do this, 500 more so.

2. There were too many candidates: Once or twice a year, I organize projects here where I have people vote on a variety of topics, from the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame to the 25 most important people in baseball history. One thing I’ve learned in doing these projects is that candidates tend to get more votes if I put them on the ballot, maybe three or four times as many votes than if they’re just write-in options. There’s something about having a name on a ballot that spurs a voter to think of it. Fewer candidates concentrate the vote totals more. This year’s Veterans Committee ballot featured nine players, with two– Dick Allen and Tony Oliva– falling one vote shy. I assume that if there’d been fewer candidates to choose from, Allen and Oliva might have gotten in.

3. There wasn’t enough incentive to vote for any players right now: This is most important. Give me a minute, and I’ll explain why.

As a fan of a big Hall of Fame, I have no problem with anyone from this Veterans Committee ballot being in the Hall of Fame. Allen is the best player from the 1960s who isn’t enshrined. Oliva is one of the best contact hitters not in. Minnie Minoso and Billy Pierce rank with Allen among the most underrated players in baseball history. Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat are two of the best pitchers not in. Ken Boyer is at least a poor man’s Ron Santo. Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single season stolen base record. And Gil Hodges is a sentimental favorite.

That said, none of these players would rank as inner circle Hall of Famers if enshrined. While they all have their supporters– easier than ever to find in the age of the Internet– these players are mostly a collection of second and third-tier candidates, if that. The Hall of Fame is not glaringly worse for their absence, and some purists might argue they’d dilute the quality of honorees. From the standpoint of a cost benefit analysis, the benefit gained from preserving the exclusivity of the Hall far outweighs the goodwill generated by putting any of these players in, at least for now. Since the early 1980s, the Veterans Committee has tended to vote conservatively for this reason. No one, I’d guess, wants to be blamed for enshrining the next Dave Bancroft.

It’s sad, but it generally takes one of three things, I think, to get people into the Hall of Fame through the Veterans Committee these days:

  1. A good showing on the BBWAA ballot [e.g. Jim Bunning, who rose as high as 74.2 percent of the writers vote]
  2. Years and years of well-publicized rejections from the committee [e.g. Phil Rizzuto, who finally got in Cooperstown in 1994 at age 76]
  3. Sympathy generated by death [e.g. Santo and at least a few others]

That said, even if one of these factors is in play, the Veterans Committee can still generally be counted on to vote skittishly. And that’s unfortunate.

Jim Levey's year in the sun

If Jim Levey isn’t the worst player in baseball history, he isn’t far off. My friend Adam Darowski ranks him 18,401st out of 18,405 players. But even bad players have their days. Alfredo Griffin, Doug Flynn and Neifi Perez all won Gold Glove awards. Ray Oyler had his own fan club in Seattle, having a good enough experience in the city that he lived there until his death. Levey, meanwhile, got an MVP vote in 1932. There’s a good story around how Levey got that vote.

I discovered Levey, a shortstop for the St. Louis Browns while researching Pete Rose and the worst seven-season stretches for players based on Wins Above Average. WAA’s an interesting stat, and Levey shows a side of it I hadn’t thought much about. As reader Marc Rettus has pointed out a few times in the comments here, WAA is a rate stat that rewards players like Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax whose careers ended at or near peak performance levels. WAA penalizes players like Rose, Lou Brock and Rabbit Maranville, to name a few who stuck around past their primes. Then there are the Jim Leveys of the baseball world who started their careers at the statistical bottom and scraped it for a few years before their inevitable quick departures from the majors.

Levey lasted just 440 games through four seasons with the Browns before being banished back to the minors, though it’s worth noting he accumulated his -13.7 WAA at a quicker clip than the all-time leader for this stat, Bill Bergen at -24.4 WAA. For the most part, Levey’s career was just wall-to-wall dreck. His -5.9 WAA in 1933 is worst in baseball history, and he also ranks fourth-worst all-time with -5 WAA in 1931. Levey wasn’t a bad athlete, necessarily, coaching semi-pro basketball during the 1932 offseason and playing in the NFL after his time in the majors. He just didn’t have much success with baseball.

But in 1932, however, things seemingly came together for Levey. Seizing on a suggestion in spring training from manager Bill Killefer to change his right-handed batting stance and hit left-handed against right-handed pitchers, Levey raised his batting average .280, up 71 points from 1931. While sabermetrics shows that Levey’s 1932 season wasn’t good, just relatively less bad than his other work at -2.6 WAA, it seemed like enough of an improvement at the time that he was written of as possibly baseball’s most improved player late in the season.

I couldn’t figure out who gave Levey his MVP vote and if it was meant seriously or as a token gesture. Votes like this sometimes go to veteran players who help traditionally bad teams to unexpected successes; Maranville got these sorts of MVP votes late in his career. But the ’32 Browns finished a distant sixth at 63-91. And even by the statistical measures of the day for voters, Levey looked nothing close to the best player in his league. Jimmie Foxx was American League MVP decisively, hitting .364 with 58 homers and 169 RBIs for an A’s team that won 94 games and finished second.

That being said, I can’t say that I mind coming upon votes like this. It’s nice to see the Jim Leveys of baseball win one every now and again.