Talking to Dale Murphy about Hall of Fame exclusivity

My latest is out for Sporting News. Continuing my recent interview kick, I talked to two-time MVP and Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy.

It was pretty cool to talk to Murphy, who was one of my dad’s favorite players when I was a kid. For someone who I think has a fair shot of eventually going in Cooperstown through the Expansion Era Committee or some other iteration of the Veterans Committee, Murphy’s very accessible. He also ranks as one of the nicest sports figures I’ve interviewed along with Ozzie Smith and Dick Vermeil.

Expect more interviews. I spent 40 minutes on the phone this morning with another well-known player. I’ll share that one next Tuesday.

An interview with Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson

My latest just dropped for Sporting News. I’ve been on an interview kick lately and have another big one out today. I interviewed Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson.

If you’re into the Hall of Fame or care about what goes on there, be sure to read this one.

Talking to Jim Kaat about his Hall of Fame case

My latest Sporting News article just went live. I’ve been on an interview kick as of late, so I talked to Jim Kaat, winningest pitcher of the 1960s who isn’t in.

A link to my piece is here. As always, feedback is welcome.

I have more big interviews on the horizon. Feel free to suggest someone if you’re interested. It’s not too hard to find numbers for players like Kaat, and I’m fairly resourceful about getting people on the phone.

Lou Gehrig's unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America  will announce the results of its annual Hall of Fame vote today, and there’s a chance Ken Griffey Jr. could be the first unanimous selection for the writers ever. So far, with nearly half the ballots known publicly, Griffey has been named on every one.

Many people have speculated that Griffey will lose at least a few votes from wonkish writers who never vote for anyone first ballot, though he’s got a reasonable chance to break Tom Seaver’s record 98.83 percent from 1992. Personally, I still think Griffey has a shot to make it unanimously, though I’ll stop short of predicting it.

Thing is, the BBWAA has had a unanimous selection for more than 75 years. I don’t hear too many people talk about it publicly, but it’s happened.

After Lou Gehrig took ill and immediately retired in 1939, the BBWAA voted unanimously to suspend its usual process and present Gehrig as the sole Hall of Fame candidate that year without a vote. His induction was announced December 8, 1939, less than six months after Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium.

So technically, Gehrig never received 100 percent of the vote in a general election. He was on the ballot before 1939 and didn’t come anywhere close to the necessary 75 percent of the vote for induction from the writers. But post-illness, no writer dared oppose putting him in.

Interestingly, this sentiment hasn’t held since. Roberto Clemente got 92.7 percent of the vote– 393 yes, 29 no, and two abstentions– in a special Hall of Fame election held by the BBWAA in the early months of 1973 after his death on New Years Eve ’72. An AP story I came across this morning noted, “The negative votes largely were a protest against the system and not the man.”

The writers have only been less sentimental since, albeit with weaker candidates. Thurman Munson, Darryl Kile, and Rod Beck have all appeared on the ballot sooner than five years after retirement because of their deaths, and none have come anywhere close to making Cooperstown.

The 25 best players not in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Proud to say the results are out for my Sporting News project on the 25 best players not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

To read the project, go hereBe sure to check through to the end for a list of full voting results and a list of voters. (If you ask me how a player did in voting, I’m not replying.)

Thanks to all 467 people who voted. Voters this year included Larry Dierker, Pete Palmer, and a range of other notable baseball figures.

That said, I’d like to give a special shout out to the eight people who’ve voted all five years I’ve had people voted on the best players not in the Hall of Fame. These voters are: Brendan Bingham, Craig Cornell, Victor Dadras, Wayne Horiuchi, Jason Hunt, Dan McCloskey, Joe Williams, and Vinnie, super reader whose last name I still don’t know and might never know.

As always, feedback and other comments are welcome. I’m already looking forward to next year. At some point, we need to do this as a book.

Ken Griffey Jr. and unanimity

My latest piece for Sporting News went live a little while ago. I wrote about Ken Griffey Jr.’s chances of becoming the first unanimous selection in Hall of Fame history. My friend Ryan Thibodaux keeps track of BBWAA ballots made public. So far, with about 1/4 of ballots known, Griffey’s been named on every one.

Anyhow, feedback and suggestions are as always welcome.

In other news, voting on my project on the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame officially wrapped yesterday afternoon. Thanks to the 468 people who voted, which is close to the number of voters we had combined the previous four years this project has run. Results will be out January 4 at Sporting News, though I’ll definitely note it here and elsewhere.

Delayed thoughts on Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez

I’ve neglected to post here about my latest Sporting News piece, which dropped a few days ago. I wrote about Mike Piazza’s likely Hall of Fame induction this election and whether that could help get Ivan Rodriguez and other Steroid Era candidates enshrined. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, to name two, are starting to look like they could get in from the BBWAA.

Anyhow, my apologies on the delay for posting. Life is pretty busy with the holidays and my project on the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame, which voting will wrap for next Monday.

Talking with Dick Allen's teammates about him

The latest edition of “Cooperstown Chances” is live at Sporting News. I had some fun with this one.

A lot’s been written about Dick Allen over the years, much of it unflattering. Since a lot of old ballplayers have listed phone numbers, I called up six of them to ask them how much of this stuff is accurate.

Anyhow, big thanks to Wilbur Wood, Bill Melton, Carlos May, Don Lock, John Herrnstein, and Ed Roebuck for taking my call. A link to my column is HERE. As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Vote: The 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame

I’m pleased to announce I’m bringing back my project having people vote on the best players not in the Hall of Fame.

An article about my project went live a little while ago at Sporting News. As I wrote there:

  • You must vote for 25 players. Next to each of the 25 players you vote for, put a “Y” or “N” to signify if they belong in the Hall of Fame. Please doublecheck spelling, include first and last names, and include suffixes like Jr. or Sr.
  • Please submit votes HERE. A 200-player ballot can be found HERE.
  • Write-in votes are welcome. Please feel free to write in any player who hasn’t played since 2010. A player need not have played 10 seasons or even in the majors to be eligible here.
  • All votes are due by Dec. 28 at 6 p.m.ET. Results will be unveiled Jan. 4, two days before the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announces the results of its 2016 election.

Regular readers may know we’ve voted four times since 2010 on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. I took last year off from doing the project since it’s a lot of work, and it had reached a point it seemed somewhat stagnant creatively.

With my gig at Sporting News, I thought it might be fun to resurrect my project over there and see how the results compare. I’ve cut the project down to 25 players for a few reasons. First, I wanted more people to vote. Requiring votes for 50 players can be intimidating and off-putting. I’m willing to do it for projects here, since some of the people who frequent this site are highly knowledgeable, but it seemed foolhardy for a major platform like Sporting News.

We’d also reached the point over here where people were copying and pasting the same ballot each year. I want voters engaged. I want people having to make the tougher decisions that a 25-player project calls for.

Anyhow, I look forward to seeing how everyone votes.

How aware were HOF voters of Red Ruffing's 3.80 ERA?

In my Sporting News piece Tuesday on Mike Mussina, I questioned how aware Hall of Fame voters were of Red Ruffing‘s lifetime 3.80 ERA, highest in Cooperstown. My hunch: not much. I suspect this because the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Ruffing into Cooperstown in 1967, two years before the publication of MacMillan’sBaseball Encyclopedia.

As Alan Schwarz explained in his 2004 book The Numbers Game, lifetime stats for older players weren’t widely disseminated before David Neft and his team at Information Concepts, Inc. spent several years rebuilding baseball’s stat records for their landmark 1969 encyclopedia. The 1951 Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, for one, listed just batting averages for hitters and win-loss records for pitchers.

It’s part of the reason that when Ruffing was elected in 1967, he suggested that all 200-game winners, lifetime .300 hitters and 20-year players be automatically enshrined. Such statistics were fairly easy to find. [There was also still some support during the ’60s for the concept of automatic enshrinement, even after the Hall of Fame forbid it in 1956.  The BBWAA simply wasn’t inducting many players in these years.]

Granted, publications at least occasionally published more in-depth stats, most notably perhaps The Sporting News with its “daguerreotypes” that it periodically ran for older players. It carried one for Ruffing on March 4, 1967, two weeks after the BBWAA voted him in, listing his 3.80 ERA as well as a range of other stats.

But I couldn’t find a mention of that 3.80 ERA in the archives at newspapers.com, and I’m curious how many of the 292 Hall of Fame voters in 1967 knew of it. In fact, the bigger issue with Ruffing‘s candidacy, from both newspaper and Sporting News stories that I came across, seems to have been his win-loss record: that he had more wins than just a handful of pitchers enshrined; that he had poor records in his early years with the Boston Red Sox, then a perennial American League doormat; and that he fared better with the powerhouse New York Yankees. The Sporting News also made several mentions of Ruffing‘s fine postseason numbers.

Anyhow, it’s telling to me that several of the pitchers with the highest ERAs in the Hall of Fame got in before 1969. For the ones enshrined in the years immediately following, I’d point out that momentum for induction often takes several years, even decades and that some of these pitchers could have built a critical mass of support before their lifetime ERAs were well-known.

Consider this list of the 10 highest lifetime ERAs in Cooperstown, compiled with the help of Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool:

Player Lifetime ERA Year inducted
 Red Ruffing  3.80  1967
 Ted Lyons 3.67  1955
 Jesse Haines 3.64  1970
 Herb Pennock 3.60 1948
 Waite Hoyt 3.59  1969
 Tom Glavine  3.54  2014
 Early Wynn 3.54  1972
 Burleigh Grimes 3.53 1964
 Dennis Eckersley 3.50 2004
 Robin Roberts 3.41 1976

[Also, and this is mostly for my friend Adam Darowski, I suspect that Wes Ferrell was denied induction more due to character issues than his 4.04 ERA. I can only imagine the precedent that may have been set had Ferrell had a less volatile personality. Jamie Moyer can curse Ferrell’s memory in a few years when his 4.25 ERA gets him quickly turned down by Hall voters.]

Perhaps the BBWAA was willing to look past some things with Ruffing. That March 4, 1967 Sporting News carried another interesting tidbit, noting:

Without [Cleveland Plain Dealer sports editor Hal Lebovitz’s] help, Red couldn’t have been elected this year. Here’s why:

After Ruffing failed to gain enshrinement in 1966, Lebovitz [then president of the BBWAA] discovered certain discrepancies in the ballots. Some ex-players who were no longer eligible were listed. It was rightly reasoned that several of them possibly received votes that might otherwise have gone to Ruffing and others.

So, the BBWAA petitioned the Hall of Fame executive committee for a special election this year. The request was granted and Ruffing received one more opportunity. It was to be his last, until the need for a run-off prolonged the process.

The rest you know.

The BBWAA had voted every other year for the preceding decade, causing a backlog of players comparable to the current ballot, and I had wondered what prompted the shift. I wouldn’t have put money down that Ruffing caused it, but then, the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame have occasionally made up the rules as they’ve gone for players they wish to honor. That’s a post for another time, though.