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:
A good showing on the BBWAA ballot [e.g. Jim Bunning, who rose as high as 74.2 percent of the writers vote]
Years and years of well-publicized rejections from the committee [e.g. Phil Rizzuto, who finally got in Cooperstown in 1994 at age 76]
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.
I was struck perusing Baseball-Reference.com on Saturday to see Pete Rose had -13.7 Wins Above Average over his final seven seasons, 1980 through 1986. It’s long been well-known Rose stuck around a few seasons longer than he maybe should have as he chased the all-time hits record. Rose got 884 hits those final seven seasons, passing Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and finally Ty Cobb on the hits list. But those seasons cost Rose in other ways.
If Rose had retired at 38 after the 1979 season, he’d rank 49th all-time with 42.3 WAA; instead, he’s tied for 130th at 28.6. He’d also be two hits shy of averaging 200 hits a season for his career and likely would have been ushered into the Hall of Fame in 1985, four years before his lifetime ban for betting on baseball. In more ways than maybe any other player in baseball history, Rose’s career and life is a story of not knowing when to quit. Ironically, it’s the same compulsive drive that made him great.
By Wins Above Average, Rose’s final seven seasons rank 29th-worst among position players in modern baseball history. With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are the 29 worst seven-season runs by position players since 1900:
Bill Bergen, -14.3 WAA, 1901-1907
Bill Bergen, -14 WAA, 1902-1908
Bill Bergen, -14.9 WAA, 1903-1909
Bill Bergen, -16 WAA, 1904-1910
Bill Bergen, -16.3 WAA, 1905-1911
Ralph Young, -14 WAA, 1916-1922
Walter Holke, -13.8 WAA, 1918-1924
Walter Holke, -14.7 WAA, 1919-1925
Chick Galloway, -15.3 WAA, 1920-1926
Tommy Thevenow, -13.8 WAA, 1928-1934
Tommy Thevenow, -15.6 WAA, 1929-1935
Tommy Thevenow, -14 WAA, 1930-1936
Doc Cramer, -15.8 WAA, 1936-1942
Doc Cramer, -13.8 WAA, 1937-1943
Ken Reitz, -15 WAA, 1973-1979
Ken Reitz, -16.2 WAA, 1974-1980
Jerry Morales, -15.3 WAA, 1974-1980
Dan Meyer, -14.3 WAA, 1974-1980
Ken Reitz, -15.7 WAA, 1975-1981
Dan Meyer, -15.4 WAA, 1975-1981
Jerry Morales, -14.9 WAA, 1975-1981
Doug Flynn, -15.9 WAA, 1976-1982
Dan Meyer, -14.1 WAA, 1976-1982
Doug Flynn, -17.6 WAA, 1977-1983
Dan Meyer, -14.7 WAA, 1977-1983
Doug Flynn, -17 WAA, 1978-1984
Doug Flynn, -14.7 WAA, 1979-1985
Pete Rose, -13.7 WAA, 1980-1986
Yuniesky Betancourt, -16.7 WAA, 2007-2013
There’s another side to this that I’d be remiss to not mention. For one thing, Rose’s WAA would be higher had he not played first base for the Phillies. According to this page of Baseball-Reference.com, which @LoveSportsFacts showed me on Twitter, WAR sets average offensive production for first basemen at .797 OPS. It’s set at .707 for third base, Rose’s position before he signed with the Phillies in December 1978. Assuming Rose had been able to keep playing the bulk of his innings at third, his .687 OPS from 1980 through 1986 would be close to average for the position. It seems a little unfair to penalize Rose, given that he switched positions to accommodate Mike Schmidt.
Rose’s greatest value may have come in the clubhouse, which makes me wonder why he didn’t manage Philadelphia, which had four skippers during his five seasons in town. Dan Mallon shared a few pages with me via Twitter from the 2013 book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies, which describes Rose’s immediate impact in Philadelphia. This included Rose diverting attention away from Schmidt by grandstanding with the press, “a wonderful salesman for the team almost from the beginning of his tenure.” He also helped build Schmidt and other teammates’ confidence. The book includes a quote from Schmidt, who said of Rose:
In 1980, Pete provided the kind of dynamic leadership that took the pressure off the other players. He was the finest team player I had ever seen. He always had something to say to pump you up, to play harder every game. At the same time, he was the kind of athlete who was boastful and could go out on the field and back it up. That allowed the rest of us to raise our level of play and ultimately go on to win the World Series.
Mallon told me Rose that Schmidt, like Phillies teammates Larry Bowa and the late Tug McGraw and manager Dallas Green have all publicly credited Rose for getting Philadelphia over the hump to win its first World Series in 1980. After all when Rose joined the Phillies as a free agent in December 1978, the team was coming off three consecutive years losing the National League Championship Series. As a player, Rose was worth -2.8 WAA in 1980. Given the outcome that year, the point is moot.
It’s a different story for 1983, where 42-year-old Rose hit .245, was worth -4 Wins Above Average and struggled to keep his starting spot. Nicknamed “The Wheeze Kids” at an MLB-high 31.8 years average age that season, Philadelphia somehow made a pennant run. Rose hit .345 in the playoffs, but the Phillies lost to Baltimore 4-1 in the World Series and released Rose one week later. Roger Angell wrote of it, “It is painful for us to see old players go, and infinitely harder when they prolong the inevitable process.” Bill James wrote in his 1984 abstract, by which point Rose had signed with the Montreal Expos:
Pete’s selfishness in sacrificing the good of his team to forge on in sub-mediocrity after his own goals is, in its own way, what you would expect from a spoiled beauty. It’s a sad way to end a distinguished career, but you’ll do us both a favor if you’ll just pull the plug on it, and let him get his 4,000th hit two years from now in an empty parking garage in a dark corner of the nation, at a far remove from the pennant race.
As someone who writes often about the Hall of Fame, I’m accustomed to readers asking about the worst players in Cooperstown. I generally shy away from writing about this. One of the benefits of independent blogging is the control one has over their writing topics and I generally prefer to focus on more positive subject matter. I’ll admit it, too. As someone who’s grown more in favor of a large Hall of Fame through five years of researching and writing about baseball history through this website, I also am not hugely motivated to decry a few lousy players being in. I’d rather focus on worthy players who aren’t yet enshrined.
That said, as anyone who’s been around this site awhile may know, others here have written about this topic before. Recently with the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, I took another look. I found 20 Hall of Famers who rank for one stat, Wins Above Average as the worst players enshrined. While I wouldn’t suggest any stat offers definitive proof in this regard, the results here struck me. A lot of these players are the usual candidates in these exercises.
Here’s what I found:
Lowest Wins Above Average, Hall of Fame position players
Lloyd Waner, -2.1 WAA in 1,993 games
Tommy McCarthy, 0.2 WAA in 1,273 games
Ray Schalk, 4.5 WAA in 1,762 games
High Pockets Kelly, 4.5 WAA in 1,623 games
Bill Mazeroski, 4.7 WAA in 2,163 games
Rick Ferrell, 5.9 WAA in 1,884 games
Rabbit Maranville, 7.6 WAA in 2,670 games
Lou Brock, 8.2 WAA in 2,616 games
Red Schoendienst, 8.4 WAA in 2,216 games
Jim Bottomley, 9 WAA in 1,991 games
Some of the usual suspects abound here. Bill James, among others, has suggested Tommy McCarthy may be the worst Hall of Famer. People sometimes defend Bill Mazeroski’s selection by saying he did more than hit the winning homer in the 1960 World Series, that he was a great defensive second baseman as well. But he’s one of the worst hitters enshrined. By sabermetrics, Mazeroski’s bat more or less offsets his glove, with Mazeroski saving 147 defensive runs above average but being worth -162 runs below average at the plate. That’s third-worst among Hall of Fame position players behind Maranville at -228 runs below average and Luis Aparicio at -197 runs below average.
Voting shenanigans helped get at least three of the position players above their plaques. The Veterans Committee may have enshrined Rick Ferrell in 1984 after a sympathetic player called several members in hopes of keeping Ferrell from being shut out in votes. I’ve heard Ted Williams and Stan Musial, while on the committee, made a deal for their respective ex-teammates Bobby Doerr and Red Schoendienst to be enshrined. Then there’s High Pockets Kelly, who essentially got in because ex-teammates Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry were members of the 1973 Veterans Committee.
Frisch, notorious for looking down on later-generation players, said Kelly “had a better arm than any of today’s stars.” Another member of the Veterans Committee that voted Kelly in, Waite Hoyt, said Kelly was the first first baseman sent to the outfield to relay throws to home plate. Bad Hall of Famers are sometimes defended as the first of something. Tommy McCarthy is said to have invented the hit and run play. My friend Jacob Pomrenke, a SABR member who researches the Black Sox, said Ray Schalk was the first catcher to backup first and third base on throws.
A few people made this list because of late declines. Lou Brock retired with 3,000 hits and the stolen base record, though he had -6.4 WAA over his final five seasons, dropping him within range here. Same goes for Maranville, who was worth -9.2 WAA over his final 10 seasons, though interestingly, he received MVP votes five of those years. Then there’s Jim Bottomley. It’s been said Branch Rickey had a knack for knowing when to sell off aging players. Bottomley had 15 WAA when Rickey traded the 32-year-old first baseman in December 1932. Bottomley compiled -5.9 WAA thereafter.
Lowest Wins Above Average, Hall of Fame pitchers
Catfish Hunter, 5.8 WAA in 3,449.1 IP
Rollie Fingers, 7 WAA in 1,701.1 IP
Rube Marquard, 8.8 WAA in 3,306.2 IP
Herb Pennock, 9.4 WAA in 3,571.2 IP
Jesse Haines, 10.3 WAA in 3,208.2 IP
Bruce Sutter, 10.8 WAA in 1,042 IP
Burleigh Grimes, 14.2 WAA in 4,180 IP
Red Ruffing, 15.1 WAA in 4,344 IP
Bob Lemon, 15.1 WAA in 2,850 IP
Jack Chesbro, 16 WAA in 2,896.2 IP
It’s interesting to see Catfish Hunter atop this list, as he had an MLB-best 111 wins from 1971 through 1975 with a 2.65 ERA and 294 innings a year on average during that span. Hunter’s heavy workload was his undoing, as it was for many pitchers in the ’70s when usage rates for starters reached their highest point since the Deadball Era. [One example, per the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool: No pitcher has faced 1,200 batters in a season since Charlie Hough in 1987; it happened 63 times during the ’70s.] Hunter’s low WAA is partly because he threw his last pitch at 33. My friend Adam Darowski also said Hunter’s WAA is lower because he had elite defenses in Oakland and New York.
Most of the other starting pitchers here, in fact, were part of marquee teams as well. Herb Pennock and Red Ruffing both pitched extensively for the Murderers Row-era New York Yankees. Jesse Haines was a teammate of Frankie Frisch on the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals and, like Kelly, got into Cooperstown during Frisch’s Veterans Committee tenure. Bob Lemon won 20 games seven of his 13 seasons, though that’s partly because his team, the Cleveland Indians finished second or better seven times during his career.
Rube Marquard was key to the New York Giants during their pennant runs of the early 1910s, though the day the Veterans Committee voted him in might be the darkest in Hall of Fame history. I wrote last week of how the committee, led by Frisch railroaded in Marquard and six other players on January 31, 1971. Marquard wasn’t a former teammate of Frisch but he had no business getting a plaque and his selection reeks of cronyism. Aside from his splendid 1911-13 run, Marquard was rarely more than a journeyman, being worth -1.7 WAA with a 128-149 record his other 15 seasons. His 103 ERA+ is the worst of any Hall of Fame pitcher.
That being said, I’m not in favor of kicking anyone out. I wrote as much in noting the circumstances of Marquard’s enshrinement, saying it’d be cruel to remove anyone from Cooperstown and that there are worse things in life than a few lousy players being enshrined. I sent a link to my piece on to Fox Sports columnist Rob Neyer, hoping he’d pick it up. He did, even mentioning me by name in his piece, though it wasn’t the most flattering note. Rob wrote:
Yes, of course there are worse things in life. There are LOTS AND LOTS of worse things in life. There are worse things in life than someone spitting on the sidewalk. That doesn’t mean we should excuse spitting on the sidewalk.
More to the point, how would it be cruel to kick Rube Marquard out of the Hall of Fame? He died almost 25 years ago. Whatever you might think of our postmortem fates, it seems highly unlikely that today ol’ Rube gives a damn about the Hall of Fame, one way or the other. His grandchildren? Okay, sure. But I really don’t think it’s our place to worry about an old ballplayer’s grandkids, who should be old enough by now to take something like this in stride. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to some procedure that reconsidered long-dead Hall of Famers. Or hell, at the very least, revising their plaques (and their Web pages) when they’re clearly in error.
I like Rob’s idea to revise error-ridden Hall of Fame plaques. He wrote his piece primarily about the errors on Alexander Cartwright’s plaque that perpetuate the myth he’s baseball’s true founder and that he codified its rules. Knowledgeable folks like John Thorn have long since debunked these myths, but so long as they’re hanging in the Hall of Fame and easily accessible on its website, I imagine people will keep laying hold of them. It certainly caused a stir in the comments when readers here recently declined to name Cartwright one of the 25 most important people in baseball history.
I have a harder time supporting removing players from Cooperstown, for a number of reasons. Speaking as someone who’s gotten comments here from relatives of High Pockets Kelly, the Meusel Brothers and others, family members do care and what’s wrong with that? I also think the removals could quickly get out of control. This Los Angeles Times piece in support of the idea reads as if written by someone traipsing through Baseball-Reference.com, picking players at random. I love Baseball-Reference.com, but snap judgments might be the worst thing that website enables, even if I doubt its founder Sean Forman has that intent.
I have two other reasons for not wanting to kick players out of Cooperstown and they’re the same two reasons I’m okay with steroid users eventually being enshrined. First, nothing in life is perfect. I don’t see the point in demanding this of the Hall of Fame. It’s still an awesome museum, one I haven’t been to since childhood and can’t wait to see again. Beyond this, much as I consider the Hall of Fame a celebration of baseball’s greatest players, I see it as a record of its history, all of it. And baseball’s history includes the history of Cooperstown. Letting players who never should have been enshrined keep their plaques serves a valuable purpose. It reminds voters to do better in the future.
A healthy compromise might be to develop an inner circle for the Hall of Fame. I had readers vote on a 50-player inner circle a few years ago that could offer a good start. Cooperstown could even make annual updates, perhaps voted on by fans to stir interest, allowing the inner circle to become progressively greater as more legends are enshrined. If the Hall of Fame wants my help on developing this further, I’ll provide it free of charge.
I wrote a few days ago that the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a great track record of honoring aging players. This was prompted by the Veterans Committee candidacy of Minnie Minoso who, depending on the source, is anywhere from 88 to 92. Even if Minoso’s listed birthday on Baseball-Reference.com of November 29, 1925 is correct, placing him just shy of his 89th birthday, he’d be the oldest living honoree ever for Cooperstown at the time of getting in, if it happens.
1. Elmer Flick at 87 years, 16 days old on January 27, 1963
I’ve written before of Flick, a Deadball Era great nearly traded for a young Ty Cobb in 1907. Detroit lucked out on that one, as Flick contracted a stomach ailment that ended his career in 1910. All but forgotten by Cooperstown thereafter, save for one vote from the BBWAA in 1938, Flick was stunned when the Veterans Committee honored him. As my Twitter friend Vince Guerrieri told me, Flick thought Branch Rickey was fooling when he called to congratulate him. “I can’t believe it,” Flick said. “I had given up all hope. When Sam Crawford was voted in [in 1957], he sent me a letter and said he couldn’t see how he was getting in before me.”
2. Ed Barrow at 85 years, four months and 18 days old on September 28, 1953
Being voted into the Hall of Fame is valedictory. As a reader recently pointed out to me, excluding HOF players serving as coaches, only Connie Mack continued to work at the job that got him into Cooperstown after his induction. Legendary executive Ed Barrow worked for the New York Yankees until he was 77. But by the time the Veterans Committee selected Barrow in 1953, he’d been in ill health for many years and was about two months from dying. Barrow was posthumously inducted in August 1954, one of four Hall of Famers I know of besides Chief Bender, Eppa Rixey and Leon Day to die between being voted in and the next induction ceremony.
3. Rube Marquard at 84 years, three months and 22 days old on January 31, 1971
I hear proponents of a small Hall of Fame talk of kicking honorees out. I imagine they could start with Marquard, who got his plaque partly because he was featured in Lawrence Ritter’s 1966 book, The Glory of Their Times and partly because the Veterans Committee railroaded in seven new members the day it voted Marquard in. January 31, 1971 may rank as one of the most ethically-bankrupt days in Hall of Fame history. It reminds me of the danger when small groups– this iteration of the Veterans Committee had ten members– are given a lot of power. It’s one of the reasons I try to have as many people as I can vote in projects here.
But I think of how happy the news made Marquard, who was on a cruise at the time. He wrote to Ritter, who shared the letter in a preface to a 1984 edition of his classic. Marquard wrote:
I was the happiest and most surprised man in the world when I heard your voice yesterday telling me I was voted into the Hall of Fame. The reason I didn’t say anything for so long was that I couldn’t. I was all choked up and tears were running down my cheeks.
Yesterday evening, a few hours after you called, everybody was dancing and having a good time and suddenly the Captain of the ship stopped the music and said he wanted to make an important announcement. He said they had a very prominent man on board who had just been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His name is Rube Marquard and he is right here dancing with his wife.
Well, all hell broke loose, people yelling and clapping, and the band played ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game.’ I was so happy and Jane just loved it too. When we go to Cooperstown this summer, please come with us and be my guest.
It’s hard, at least for me, to stay angry reading a letter like that. There are worse things in life than a few undeserving people being in the Hall of Fame, especially with all the joy the living ones must have felt when they got that call and later stood on the Cooperstown dais. I’m certainly not in favor of kicking anyone out. It seems cruel. It also seems pointless. Wipe the slate clean on the Hall of Fame and there’d be a lousy honoree within 10-15 years.
4. Happy Chandler at 83 years, seven months and 24 days old on March 10, 1982
Bowie Kuhn may rank as one of the more reviled figures in MLB history, baseball’s commissioner while Marvin Miller was leading the successful charge to take down the reserve clause. Here’s one thing Kuhn got right: leading the campaign to honor Chandler, who was commissioner at the time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. That may seem insignificant, though the man Chandler succeeded, Kenesaw Mountain Landis did much to keep blacks out of the majors.
5. Harry Hooper at 83 years, five months and seven days old on January 31, 1971
Like Marquard, Hooper was interviewed for The Glory of Their Times and got in the day the Veterans Committee gave out plaques like it was going out of business. Hooper might be a slightly more deserving pick, having played in arguably the best defensive outfield of the Deadball Era with Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis on the Boston Red Sox. My friend through the Society for American Baseball Research, Jacob Pomrenke told me a few months ago that one of Hooper’s sons campaigned heavily for his induction.
6. Tommy Connolly at 82 years, eight months and 28 days old on September 28, 1953
Longtime sportswriter Joe Williams wrote of Connolly, a few months before the Veterans Committee tabbed him, as the lone surviving member of the original American League staff. An umpire as well as a teacher and supervisor for other umps, Connolly’s career spanned 60-plus years. He worked the first World Series in 1903, at a time when umpires got $50 a game and paid their own travel expenses.
7. Lee MacPhail at 80 years, four months and six days old on March 3, 1998
Weird fact about MacPhail: The former American League president was on the board of directors for the Hall of Fame nearly a quarter century before he got his plaque. In the interim in 1978, his father Larry MacPhail, a groundbreaking executive was posthumously enshrined.
8. Bobby Wallace at 79 years, 10 months and 24 days old on September 28, 1953
Why Wallace and not his contemporary Bill Dahlen? Statistically, the two Deadball Era infielders are roughly equal: 110 OPS+ for Dahlen, 103 for Wallace; 139 defensive runs saved for Dahlen, 133 for Wallace. For stats that may have meant something to Veterans Committee voters at the time, Dahlen bested Wallace .272 to .268 in batting average, 2,461 to 2,309 in hits and 8,138 to 7,465 in assists, though he had more errors, 975 to 814.
Perhaps the Veterans Committee wanted to honor the living. While Dahlen died in 1950 after several years in retirement, Wallace scouted for the Reds into the early 1950s. Three of the other five men the Veterans Committee selected in 1953 were also still alive. Ironically though, none of the four attended the subsequent induction ceremony in 1954. Ed Barrow and Chief Bender died in the interim, while Wallace and Tommy Connolly were too ill to attend.
9. Dave Bancroft at 79 years, nine months and 11 days old on January 31, 1971
Bancroft’s defenders sometimes speak of him as a defensive wizard. This may be an exaggeration. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Bancroft ranks 30th all-time among shortstops with 93 defensive runs saved above average. Among the 18 non-Hall of Famers ranked in front of him for this stat: Bill Dahlen, Jack Glasscock and Art Fletcher, all of whom had better bats. As has been widely noted, Bancroft’s former teammate Frankie Frisch was on the ten-member Veterans Committee that voted him in, as was Bill Terry.
10. Doug Harvey at 79 years, eight months and 24 days old on December 7, 2009
Harvey’s page at the Hall of Fame website lists him as the ninth umpire enshrined, with Hank O’Day bringing the number to 10 in 2013. “This much is indisputable,” Hal Bodley wrote for USA Today upon Harvey’s retirement in 1992. “Harvey is one of the best umpires the game has seen. He’s a Hall of Famer, period.” It’s a wonder it took another 17 years for Harvey to get his plaque.
With Hall of Fame voting season upon us, a couple of friends from Twitter have incorporated Minnie Minoso into their usernames. The American League and Negro League star is one of 10 nominees being considered by the Veterans Committee. Results will be announced December 8, though I’m not hugely optimistic for Minoso. While I think he belongs and will eventually get in, the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a great track record honoring aging players, with death too often the impetus for a player being enshrined. My fear is that it will take guilt over Minoso’s death for him to get in. It happened with Ron Santo and it’s occurred a number of other times as well.
With the help of Baseball Reference, which has a nifty feature showing birth and death years of all Hall of Fame honorees, I looked at the 20 people who’ve been inducted within three years of death. Hall of Fame candidates have regularly received renewed attention after dying. Arguably, death has even gotten a few people enshrined.
The 20 people inducted within three years of death are as follows:
George Wright, inducted 1937: A baseball pioneer, Wright died August 21, 1937 at age 90 and was selected to the Hall of Fame on December 7 of that year by the Centennial Commission. His brother Harry Wright wasn’t inducted until 1953 by the Veterans Committee.
John McGraw, inducted 1937: The legendary manager died in 1934 and was selected in 1937 by the Veterans Committee, the committee’s only selection until 1953.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis, inducted 1944: The first MLB commissioner was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame on December 10, 1944, just 15 days after his death.
Jimmy Collins, inducted 1945: Bob Stedler, sports editor of the Buffalo [N.Y.] Evening News began a campaign for Buffalo native Collins’ induction two months before his death in March 1943. An AP story on the campaign noted, “In the opinion of Stedler, who has been writing sports for four decades, the comparative youngsters who are now writing baseball and whose votes select the stars for places in [Cooperstown] should have someone call their attention to the merits of a standout whom they never saw.” A special Old Timers Committee enshrined Collins and 20 others between 1945 and 1946.
Roger Bresnahan, inducted 1945: Similar with Collins, the Old Timers Committee selected Bresnahan in January 1945, shortly after his death on December 4, 1944. The Associated Press said both men stood “the best chance to enter the charmed circle this time. Their deaths within the past year have focused fans’ attention on them and their historic diamond exploits.” Bill James noted that Bresnahan’s help in devoloping catcher shin guards also helped get him in Cooperstown.
Herb Pennock, inducted 1948: Pennock received Hall of Fame votes seven years between 1937 and 1947, rising to 53.4 percent of the BBWAA vote in 1947. He was voted into Cooperstown just four weeks after his sudden death at 53 on January 30, 1948. An ace pitcher during the Yankees Murderers Row years, Pennock may rate as one of the least impressive Hall of Fame selections for sabermetrics, with a 106 ERA+ and 44.1 WAR.
Three Finger Brown, inducted 1949: Somehow, the Old Timers Committee missed Brown in its mass of inductions between 1945 and 1946. Shortly after Brown died in February 1948, Grantland Rice wrote, “Certainly, a group of stars that doesn’t carry the names of Mordecai ‘Three Finger’ Brown and Kid Nichols can’t be called complete.” The committee made Brown and Nichols its final two selections in 1949.
Harry Heilmann, inducted 1952: A .342 lifetime hitter, Heilmann figured in 12 Hall of Fame elections between 1937 and 1951, rising to 67.7 percent of the vote in 1951. Usually, anyone who gets at least 60 percent but less than the necessary 75 percent of the vote with the writers will be enshrined not long thereafter. After Heilmann was diagnosed with cancer later in 1951, three newspaper writers organized a push to get him immediately honored by the Veterans Committee. Though that failed, with Heilmann dying on July 9 at 56, the BBWAA inducted him the following year with 86.8 percent of the vote.
Bill Klem, inducted 1953: Perhaps as compensation for not honoring Heilmann, the Veterans Committee selected six people on September 28, 1953, the most people it’s enshrined in one year aside from 1971. Klem, who died in 1951 and ranks as perhaps the most well-known umpire in baseball history, got in. So did ailing, 84-year-old Ed Barrow, the longtime Yankees executive, who would die December 15. It’s worth noting that prior to 1953, the committee had only enshrined one person, McGraw, in 1937 so maybe it was itching to get some deserving candidates in.
Rabbit Maranville, inducted 1954: The Deadball Era shortstop and hero of the 1914 Boston Braves had steadily gained in votes through 13 years of Hall of Fame elections, rising to 62.1 percent of the vote in 1953. Like Heilmann, I think Maranville would have eventually gotten in regardless of his death. That said, Maranville has one of the shortest windows between death and induction of any Hall of Famer. He died January 5, 1954 and was elected by the BBWAA with 82.9 percent of the vote on January 21. Grantland Rice wrote in a column that ran January 15 calling for Maranville’s induction, “[Johnny] Evers is in the Hall of Fame. [Joe] Tinker is in the Hall of Fame. I hope The Rabbit is on his way to the same place. You can’t leave that much heart out and call it a Hall of Fame.”
Eppa Rixey, inducted 1963: Notified of his Hall of Fame induction on January 27, 1963, Rixey died a month later of a heart attack at 71 and was posthumously inducted in August.
Branch Rickey, inducted 1967: Groundbreaking executive, died in 1965.
Will Harridge, inducted 1972: American President 1931-59, died in 1971.
Roberto Clemente, inducted 1973: Died New Years Eve 1972, standard five-year waiting period waved so he could be inducted.
Larry MacPhail, inducted 1978: Among the better general managers in baseball history, died in 1975.
Warren Giles, inducted 1979: National League president 1951-69, died February 7, 1979, selected by the Veterans Committee on March 7 of that year.
Leo Durocher, inducted 1994: It’s a wonder it took Leo the Lip as long as it did to get in Cooperstown. Durocher, who died in 1991, ranks fifth all-time among managers with 2,009 wins and was instrumental in helping a young Willie Mays find his place in baseball. Then again, the Hall of Fame is fairly fickle with managers, with just 23 enshrined.
Leon Day, inducted 1995: Adam Penale told me on Twitter that Day, a star of the Negro League learned of his Hall of Fame selection just six days before his death in March 1995.Day’s SABR bio has more. Reached at his hospital bed, Day said, “I thought this day would never come. I’m feeling pretty good. I’m so happy, I don’t know what to do.” Day was posthumously inducted in the summer.
Bowie Kuhn, inducted 2008: MLB commissioner 1969-84, died in 2007.
Ron Santo, inducted 2012: Joe Posnanski wrote shortly after Santo’s death in December 2010, “The structure and standards of the committee changed so that in the last 10 or more years the Veteran’s Committee has turned into a grumpy bunch of scrooges who seemed to come out once a year for the expressed purpose of not voting for Ron Santo or Marvin Miller.” The sub-committee handling Santo’s era voted him in at its next meeting in December 2011.
I was pleasantly surprised the other day to see former baseball player, ESPN commentator and writer Doug Glanville announced as a candidate to manage the Tampa Bay Rays. I’ve admired Doug’s thoughtful, engaging writing for a long time, maybe a decade. I also have a personal connection to Doug that I haven’t shared here, though I thought the time might be right.
As an independent baseball blogger, I sometimes devise unusual methods to promote my work. In the past, I wrote a weekly column here called “Any player/Any era” where I projected players into different eras than the ones they played in. A couple of years ago, having interacted with Doug once or twice through Twitter, I thought he’d be interested to hear I’d be writing one of these columns on him. Doug was receptive, answering a few questions while I researched the piece. He had nice things to say about the end product, too and within a few months, we were following each other on Twitter.
Around this time, I went through a rough stretch with employment, being unable to consistently pay my bills. I sometimes will stay quiet during such stretches, as they’re embarrassing, though I decided to speak up this time on Twitter. Doug caught site of my tweet as follows:
@grahamdude Ridiculous that you are not employed wherever you want. That means you start up your own biz and end up running the world.
Shortly thereafter, Doug messaged me asking where I’d want to write, if I could do so anywhere. Would if every struggling writer could get one of these messages. I was so excited I called my parents at 6:30 a.m. to tell them. That probably wasn’t my best idea, as parents worry when they get calls from or about their kids so early in the morning. Still, I couldn’t hide how I was feeling.
After thinking about it briefly, I told Doug of a few places I might like to write, including the San Francisco Chronicle. Doug said he’d email the sports editor. While Doug wasn’t the only person who put in a good word for me, he’s part of the reason I wound up freelancing for the Chronicle for about a year. [A collection of my Chronicle stories can be found here, by the way.]
With sabermetrics staking more and more of a place in the baseball world, the job of a manager is changing. For some teams, managing is less these days about devising in-game strategies [front office employees and computers can do that] than it is about managing the various personalities that play for any given team. Managing is about offering encouragement to a collection of mostly 20- and 30-something-year-old players, getting the best out of them, helping them to believe they’re capable of more than they have been heretofore.
Doug did this for me and while I don’t know if that means he’d make a good big league manager, I like to think it does.
Full voting results for this project can be found here. A list of the 262 voters for this project can be found here.
More than 17,000 people have played Major League Baseball. Countless others have contributed to the game from working in front offices to writing about baseball and more. It’s hard to say who matters most, players or everyone else and it’s an age-old debate. Personally, I believe both groups are important. Few people can play at the highest level. And without a range of support, they wouldn’t do so professionally, at least not in a league that generates close to $10 billion annually.
That said, I decided recently to take this debate public. I spent several weeks asking anyone interested to select the 25 most important people in baseball history. I distributed a 190-person reference ballot with write-in candidates welcome and anyone eligible. There wasn’t a set criteria for importance. I prefer that voters for my projects work independently and make their own determinations.
In all, 262 people voted in this project. Here’s how the top 25 came out:
It’s difficult to overstate Babe Ruth’s importance to baseball.
The Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees months after the 1919 World Series. While that Fall Classic is the most infamous example of players rigging games, gambling had long polluted baseball. The 1905, 1914 and 1917 World Series all had rumors of gambler presence.
Baseball needed saviors in 1920. It got Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner and he immediately began banning crooked players. And baseball got its greatest star, perhaps the greatest star of any sport ever.
With Landis acting with autocratic precision and Ruth out-homering entire teams– 14 of 16 in 1920, for instance– baseball quickly transformed, becoming more popular than ever. If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that while no team attracted 1,000,000 fans in a season before 1920, three broke the mark in the ’20s with a number of other teams seeing spikes in attendance.
One can only wonder what might have been without Landis or Ruth– especially Ruth, who was always larger than life, ideally suited to be baseball’s king.
I think voters for this project got it right, though that’s not to take anything away from Robinson. His breaking of baseball’s 63-year color barrier in 1947 is one of the greatest stories of any sport. Robinson then forged a legit Hall of Fame career, with his contributions above stats actually making him a little underrated.
Like Ruth, Robinson transformed baseball for the better. And like Ruth, baseball’s fate hung in the balance with Robinson. Branch Rickey knew when he signed Robinson that the wrong player could set back integration in the majors by 20 years. Robinson’s stoicism as he endured systemic verbal abuse his first two years with the Dodgers paved the way for numerous star black players.
Many people spoke of signing black players between 1884 and 1947. John McGraw had a list of players he wished he could sign. Bill Veeck tried to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942 and stock the team with black stars, but commissioner Landis scuttled his plans.
Perhaps Landis’s death in 1944 and the looming civil rights movement made integration in baseball inevitable. That said, Branch Rickey helped accelerate the process by signing Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in October 1945. Where others spoke, dreamed or quietly accepted the injustice of baseball’s color line, Rickey acted. It didn’t just benefit Robinson. Every black player in the majors before 1970 owes at least part of his career to Rickey.
If helping integrate baseball had been Rickey’s sole contribution, he might make this list. He rates so highly for everything else he did, including: creating baseball’s farm system while general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals; hiring the game’s first sabermetrician, Allan Roth in 1947; and helping spur baseball’s expansion by getting involved in 1959 with a proposed third league, the Continental League.
Much as some people despise Barry Bonds, he encountered nothing of the same vitriol Hank Aaron did in breaking the career home run record. Aaron spent 1973 receiving hate mail as he chased Ruth’s 714 homers. It got so bad that in spring training in 1974, with Aaron still one homer shy of Ruth, the Braves hired Atlanta Police Department detective sergeant Calvin Wardlaw as Aaron’s bodyguard. Aaron, typically low-key, played it down saying, “Ah, he’s a friend of mine and he’s on vacation down here anyway.”
I don’t think baseball has moved as far as it should have since Jackie Robinson’s time. Facts are facts. We have Monte Irvin in the Commissioner’s office and we have Bill Lucas in the front office [of the Atlanta Braves] and that’s all.
There’ve been four managerial changes so far this year and a black man wasn’t considered for any of them. To be absolutely honest about it, I wouldn’t like to manage. But I know other blacks in baseball who would, and could.
Nine days later, the Cleveland Indians named Frank Robinson player-manager.
4. [tie] Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 195 votes out of 262
Kenesaw Mountain Landis is the highest-ranked person here whose impact on baseball was both significantly positive and negative.
On one hand, Landis’ role in excising gambling from the majors after the 1919 World Series cannot be denied. The job of commissioner was created for him, to replace the three-man National Commission. Seventy years after the former federal judge’s death, he remains the standard for commissioners. As longtime baseball writer Fred Lieb noted in his 1977 memoir Baseball As I Have Known It, “None of the men who succeeded him has had anything like the Judge’s czarlike authority and domination.”
That said, Landis may have done more than any man in his lifetime to keep baseball segregated. While it’s no surprise someone named for a Civil War battlefield held bigoted views common to his time, a more progressive commissioner may have allowed Negro League legends like Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell into the majors. The quality of play in the majors suffered for Landis’s racism.
Some people may forget that in the first Hall of Fame election, Ty Cobb finished first with 98.2 percent of the vote. Just four voters failed to select Cobb on their ballots. Early Hall of Fame elections were chaotic, with all players eligible and 30-40 future HOFers generally receiving votes. Still, one must wonder what those Cobb-less ballots looked like.
Cobb’s overwhelming Hall of Fame support was a credit to his much-celebrated 4,191 hits, .367 lifetime batting average [though there is some dispute over these stats] and more. Some fun facts with Cobb include that he won 12 batting titles in a 13-season span, hit .387 for the 1910s and once smacked five home runs in two days after saying he could hit homers if he tried. One newspaper writer noted after Cobb’s home run binge:
All the old fellows in the American League and some of the young ones, too, are crowing raucously and joyously because of the stunts Ty Cobb is doing with the bat. It is the reaction of ball players who have had Babe Ruth’s feats waved before their eyes until they have covertly expressed their annoyance.
7. Marvin Miller, 175 votes out of 262
The Veterans Committee has famously turned down Marvin Miller several times. I’m curious how much longer it takes for Cooperstown to honor the late Miller, who served as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 until 1982. I doubt any person in the past 50 years has done as much to change baseball as Miller, who led the charge to topple the game’s reserve clause in the 1970s. Baseball’s more equitable for his efforts.
8. Bill James, 159 votes out of 262
I’ll admit it. It may look absurd that a former amateur statistician and one-time pork and beans factory night watchman got more votes for this project than many of the men listed below him and plenty more who didn’t make this list. That seems oddly appropriate for paying tribute to Bill James, who’s made a career of spurning conventional baseball wisdom and encouraging people to think differently.
While James’ methods and findings have sometimes been unorthodox, they’ve been used to great effect by teams like the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. James has also inspired countless baseball researchers and writers. Sean Forman, founder of Baseball-Reference.com [who, by the way, finished 47th in voting here] told me via email:
Bill James is the central figure of sabermetrics and always will be just as Shakespeare is the central figure in English Literature. All of the work that preceded him fed into his work and all that follows flows from what he did.
Between being baseball’s most recent .400 hitter, winning two Triple Crowns and writing “The Science of Hitting,” Ted Williams might be the most famous hitter ever. He batted .344 lifetime and was remarkably consistent, offering roughly equal adjusted rates of offensive production for both halves of his career, a 193 OPS+ for his first nine seasons and a 187 OPS+ for his final ten.
Without service in two wars costing him roughly five seasons, Williams also may have broken Ruth’s home run record. I have Williams at 668 homers without military service and I assume Williams would have played longer than 1960 if he’d had a reasonable chance to catch Ruth. After all, the Splendid Splinter had an offer to pinch hit for the Yankees in 1961.
There’s more to Williams’ legacy than hitting, though. In his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966, Williams said, “I hope that some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro League players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.” Negro League inductions began five years later.
The Say Hey Kid’s low rank strikes me, as he’s dominated two of my previous projects. In 2012, Mays got the most votes for a proposed Hall of Fame inner circle. Mays was also selected in 2012 as center fielder for an all-time dream team, besting Ty Cobb by a 4-1 margin in votes. I’m not sure what led to the switch this time, though I didn’t have Mays in a personal top ten list I that posted in September. Perhaps that influenced votes.
So we’re clear, I think Mays or Ruth is the greatest player in baseball history. I go back and forth on this, but it’s clearly a two-man race to me. Robert Creamer said in an interview here in January 2012 that Mays was the best player he covered, noting, “He could rise to a pitch of intensity that was almost unbelievable, creating an excitement that I have never forgotten.” Like Williams, Mays also may have broken Ruth’s home run record without missing time for military service.
But this project is about more than simply being a magnificent player. While I set no parameters, encouraging voters to determine their own criteria for importance, there seems to be a trend of honoring people who made contributions beyond the playing field. It’s hard to find anything Mays did to transcend baseball beyond playing it better than anyone of his era, if not ever.
Reading votes for this project, I was reminded how many people were at least peripherally related to the fight to end baseball’s reserve clause. To name a few, there are Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, at the center of the 1975 arbitration case that led to free agency. There’s Catfish Hunter, who became a free agent because of a contract glitch in 1974, though it’s worth adding his case set no precedent. Then there are lesser-known figures such as New York Giants outfielder Danny Gardella who sued baseball challenging the reserve clause after being barred for jumping to the Mexican League in 1946.
For all the important figures of baseball’s labor movement, though, Curt Flood gets a lion’s share of the attention even if he was unsuccessful in his efforts. Flood’s refusal to report to the Philadelphia Phillies after a trade in December 1969 and his subsequent lawsuit against baseball to challenge its reserve clause effectively ended his career. It’s a common misconception that Flood’s case ended the clause. Flood lost 5-3 in the Supreme Court on June 6, 1972 and the reserve clause and baseball’s exemption to anti-trust laws remained. That said, Flood helped affect change.
While it can be argued that arbitrator Peter Seitz acted independently of Flood’s case when he abrogated the reserve clause in 1975, creating free agency, Flood’s case cast attention. It also had an unexpected benefit for players, as noted in this New York Timespiece: It gave owners false confidence heading into the McNally-Messersmith case.
With Abner Doubleday long since debunked as baseball’s founder and Alexander Cartwright’s status as the game’s true founder dismissed in recent years, there’s a question of who could rank as baseball’s most important 19th century figure and pioneer. The honor could go to Spalding, a Hall of Fame executive, one of baseball’s first star players and a sporting goods magnate.
As John Thorn wrote in Baseball in the Garden of Eden, Spalding also backed the Abraham G. Mills Commission which anointed Doubleday as baseball’s founder in 1908. Thorn wrote:
It has turned out that Spalding and Chadwick– like the calculated exponents of Doubleday and Cartwright– were not mere liars and blowhards. They were conscious architects of legend… They were trying to create a national mythology from baseball, which they identified as America’s secular religion because it seemed to support faith for the faithless and unify them, perhaps in a way that might suit other ends. If in the process of crafting this useful past, certain individuals, events, ball clubs– even competing versions of the game, like those played in New England or Pennsylvania– had to be left along the road in the name of progress, so be it.
As a footnote, Thorn wrote of four people with a better claim to inventing baseball than anyone mentioned thus far: Doc Adams, William H. Tucker, Louis Wadsworth and William R. Wheaton.
14. Dr. Frank Jobe, 110.5 votes out of 262
Not counting Al Spalding or Babe Ruth– or Ted Williams or Ty Cobb, who each pitched briefly in the majors– Jobe got more votes here than any pitcher. In a sense, the doctor who developed Tommy John Surgery in 1974 and, later, reconstructive shoulder surgery is responsible for more wins than anyone. David Schoenfield noted for ESPN.com upon Jobe’s death in March that more than 500 pitchers have had Tommy John Surgery. Jobe isn’t in Cooperstown, though some like Schoenfield think he belongs.
Since its founding in 1876, the National League has faced many competing leagues. Most have quickly disappeared, such as the Union Association of 1884 which had teams that didn’t make it through the season. Ban Johnson established the only competitor that’s lasted, transforming the minor Western League into the American League in 1901. Johnson steered his circuit well enough for it to survive an ensuing war with the National League over the next two years. When peace was settled, he helped institute the World Series.
15. [tie] Cy Young, 108 votes out of 262
With few exceptions, Deadball Era pitchers were done in their mid-30s. Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols and Ed Walsh all last pitched at 36. Chief Bender and Rube Waddell left the majors at 33.
Cy Young, however, pitched until age 44. As such, he holds records for wins, losses, games, innings pitched and a staggering 29,565 batters faced. No active pitcher has faced half as many. There’s a reason the top award for pitchers is named for Cy Young.
The Bill James of 19th century baseball statisticians, Chadwick modernized the box score and invented a number of basic stats, such earned run average, batting average and the RBI. Chadwick has been in the Hall of Fame since 1939, one reason I think James will eventually be enshrined.
The Pittsburgh Pirates plucked Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm system in the rule 5 draft in 1954 after Clemente hit .257 for Montreal. Clemente needed several more years to become a star, hitting .282 with an 89 OPS+ through 1959 for Pittsburgh. A weird thing happened, however, as Clemente aged– he got better as conditions for hitters grew significantly more challenging. After the size of the strike zone was increased in January 1963, causing run totals to plummet, Clemente hit .331 with a 149 OPS+ over his final 10 seasons, winning three of his four batting titles.
Clemente built a reputation beyond hitting, too. A cannon-armed right fielder, he won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves and, according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Clemente’s 205 defensive runs saved are fifth-best in baseball history. Clemente was also a veteran leader for Pittsburgh until his death in a 1972 plane crash. He had been en route to help victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. Appropriately, baseball’s annual humanitarian award is named in Clemente’s honor.
19. [tie] Barry Bonds, 107 votes out of 262
19. [tie] Pete Rose, 107 votes out of 262
It seems fitting that two of the more controversial players in baseball history would wind up tied here. Barry Bonds and Pete Rose are both regulars in another project I do having people vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. For what it’s worth, I predicted recently that Bonds and Rose will both be in Cooperstown within 20 years.
I see a special steroid era committee enshrining all-time home run leader Bonds and a number of other players like Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire who, for better or worse, defined and dominated their era. In addition, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he likely began using performance enhancing drugs. Bonds’ use of steroids obscures that younger version of him. In a sense, Bonds is underrated.
As for all-time hits leader Rose, someone who admitted to betting on games his teams played in is less attractive as a Hall of Fame candidate than a steroid user. But there’s no proof Rose bet on his teams to lose. Rose’s actions, while egregious, aren’t on the same level of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who took $5,000 to help throw the 1919 World Series. Time diminishes outrage, too. I see Rose being inducted by the Veterans Committee shortly after his death.
21. Bud Selig, 105 votes out of 262
Say what you will about Bud Selig who will retire in January after 23 years as baseball commissioner. He’s extremely polarizing and he’s presided over some of baseball’s darkest moments in the past quarter century, notably the 1994 strike and the steroid era.
Some like Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated have laid blame for steroid use in baseball on players, noting that baseball banned steroids in 1991 and that the players union wouldn’t agree to testing until 2004. Selig deserves some share of the blame in my book. Major League Baseball had to have some idea what its players were up to. It was on Selig to blow the whistle, ask for federal help, perhaps from the Drug Enforcement Agency to address baseball’s steroid problem.
Instead, Selig placed profitability first and that, ultimately, relates to what he will be remembered for. As CEO, in effect, of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, Selig has been very successful. Total MLB revenues were around $1.2 billion annually– about $2 billion in 2014 dollars– when Selig became acting commissioner in 1992. Today, MLB revenues are around $9 billion annually. From a pure business standpoint, Bud Selig is the best commissioner in baseball history and it isn’t close. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame soon, this year, maybe next.
A retired scout once asked me to name the most durable pitcher in baseball history. I thought for a moment and suggested Walter Johnson. “Nolan Ryan!” the scout chortled and our conversation was effectively over. I thought more about it later and it occurred to me that the answer had to be Satchel Paige. The legendary hurler debuted in 1926 and was pitching in exhibitions as late as 1969, estimating he won 2,000 games. Counting exhibition play, he might be the only pitcher to strike out Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
He wasn’t the most successful owner, not by a long shot. He might not have been the most creative one either, with Charlie Finley and Chris von der Ahe each giving him a run for this honor. But Bill Veeck was a masterful enough promoter and showman to still be talked about more than 50 years since he did anything of note, aside of course from his role in the infamous Disco Demolition Night of 1979.
Finer moments for Veeck include helping break the American League color barrier in July 1947 by signing Larry Doby, giving Satchel Paige a long overdue shot in the majors, having midget Eddie Gaedel hit, creating the exploding scoreboard and building pennant winners with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.
It’s hard to choose the best manager in baseball history. Joe McCarthy, who never had a losing season, has the top winning percentage at .615. Readers here selected Casey Stengel as manager for the all-time dream project. Tony LaRussa, meanwhile, got the most votes of any write-in candidate in this project with 19. I’ve found a person will get three to four times as many votes, sometimes more, if they’re on the ballot for my projects, so it’s conceivable LaRussa would be the top-ranked manager here if I’d included him.
I don’t know if I see LaRussa getting more votes, though, than McGraw or Mack who’ve had more than a century to build their lore. Mack has nearly 1,000 more credited wins than any manager in baseball history, sitting on the Philadelphia Athletics bench until months before his 88th birthday in 1950. He built [and for economic reasons dismantled] two dynasties, winning nine pennants and five championships. While Mack had few winning teams and was mostly a figurehead after 1932, McGraw stayed competitive throughout his 33 years managing the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles. He had just four losing years, winning 10 pennants and three championships.
Approximately 332 people received at least one vote in this project. Full voting results can be found here.
Thanks again to everyone who voted. Names of the 262 voters are listed here.
The following chart contains 350 names, in alphabetical order of first name: 172 who appeared on a ballot I provided and received at least vote; 18 who appeared on the ballot and didn’t receive any votes; and another 160 people who received write-in votes.
UK-born convert to baseball from cricket. Brooklyn Dodger fan from 1955
Current Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, baseball history buff
SABR member, HighHeatStats and MLB.com
Founder of baseball database, thebaseballgauge.com
SABR member; writes for USA Today, High Heat Stats and http://left-field.blogspot.com/
“Just a stat fan.” Used to compile TV, film and music stats for a music licensing firm
Founder of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance; Cardinals blogger
baseballthinkfactory.org reader, SABR member
Former sports editor, Philadelphia Inquirer
David Lawrence Reed
SABR member, has contributed to the Baseball Research Journal
Occasional blogger at notmadsports.blogspot.com
Has written baseballmusings.com since 2002; former lead researcher for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight
Baseball card collector and St. Louis Cardinal fan
Author of four books of baseball history through University of Nebraska Press
Lifelong fan and baseball history lover. Has been to 37 MLB parks
Writer for itsaboutthemoney.net of ESPN’s Sweetspot network
Douglas E. Heeren
Dr. Meredith Wills
SABR member; astrophysicist with expertise in automated tracking and machine learning, fielding junkie looking forward to working with Statcast data, recognized by the Baseball HOF for winning Stitch N’ Pitch’s 2007 national design contest
Freelance writer and editor; past journalist, college athletic recruiter and, for 25 years, a practicing attorney
Lapsed SABR member, writes homemlb.wordpress.com and participant in the Hall of Merit
SABR member, Ross Barnes HOF advocate
RotoExperts Fantasy Sports Show, SiriusXM 210/87, 7a-10a EST Sat
First off, voting closed Sunday night for my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history. Thanks to the 262 people who voted! I’m excited to share the voting results and will unveil them next Monday. I want to take my time writing between now and then to do this project justice. I’ll try to get a couple regular posts up in the interim, though I’m not promising anything in-depth.
On a related note, as some may know, I do an annual project having people vote on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. I’ve done this project for four years now and it’s always been a December-January thing. I’ve done it at this time because interest in Cooperstown spikes between the time the Veterans Committee announces its inductees in December and when the Baseball Writers Association of America does likewise in January.
That being said, I’ve decided to do something different this year. Because I do not want to burden people who just voted in my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history by asking them to immediately fill out another ballot, I’m pushing my project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame out at least a few months. Ideally, I’d like it to run in late July, when interest in Cooperstown peaks during the annual induction weekend.
I may ask for votes a few months before July, though, as I’m interested in doing the next version of my Hall of Fame project as a book. That’s right. I’m 31, I’ve never written a book, and I know I have one in me. I also think I’ve maybe taken my Hall of Fame project as far as I want to in blog form. I’m eager to explore the creative possibilities that doing my project as a book may allow. I also believe in continuing to give myself challenges and growing. It’s an important part of life, not just for writers.
I’m posting all of this here as an explanation to anyone who was looking forward to voting in a month [eight people have voted all four years of my project; dozens of others have voted two or three years.] I also want to invite anyone interested in helping me plan a book. I know I’m going to need a lot of help for this thing to be a success.
At some point when I have some time, I’d like to undertake some extended research here. I have this theory that for most of baseball’s history, people– fans, team management and writers parroting front office views– have complained that player salaries are too high. Whether it’s $5,000 a season or per inning, depending on the point in baseball history, it seems like someone’s always been around to decry men being remunerated for playing a game.
Bill James in at least a couple of his books has examples of this, stuff like old-timers complaining about players being around to make “a fast buck” in the 1930s. It’s nonsense, of course. Even stars like Joe DiMaggio earned maybe $25,000 a year then, equivalent to around $400,000 today. I suppose it was vastly superior to the wage of the average employee during the Great Depression, but I also doubt they generated anywhere near the revenue the Yankee Clipper did. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of good stories on places like newspapers.com slamming the Yankee Clipper and other stars of baseball history every time they held out or spoke of striking. I’d like to cull some of these stories together here.
I’ll see if I can get to this research sometime this week. Voting on my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history wraps tomorrow and I know I’m going to be busy getting the November 10 results post ready. Still, research like this keeps me going. It’s fun. Also, offering original, insightful research is a core value of this site. It’s not that hard to do, anyhow. We’re in a golden age for research. More historical data and primary source material is being digitized than ever.
For now, I’ll offer a player from 1903, Tom Daly of the Cincinnati Reds who suggested players weren’t being well-paid enough. A couple of things worth noting before we get to an excerpt from the article:
It was written in September 1903, months after the National and American leagues declared an end to the open war that had existed since the junior circuit began play in 1901.
As the article notes, the National League in 1903 had a maximum salary for players of $2,400 per year, about $61,300 in 2013 dollars. It’s why so many players jumped their contracts and went to the American League in 1901 and 1902.
Daly was one of those players, playing with the Chicago White Sox in 1902 and 1903 before finishing the last half of the second season with the Reds. Late in the year, he gave an interview as noted above. Most of the piece is a long quote from Daly, including:
It is only in exceptional cases that a ballplayer’s life in fast company is for more than ten years. If he is to receive only $1,500 or $1,800 a season for giving the best years of his life to the game, what inducement is there for him to play ball?
Interestingly, Daly’s last game in the majors came on September 27, 1903, just a few weeks after he spoke out in this article. Granted he was 37 and in his seventeenth season. All the same, I can’t help but wonder if Daly’s candor accelerated his departure.
“From the archive” is a weekly series here that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.
It ranks as one of the more enduring mysteries in baseball history. The inaugural 1901 season of the American League also marked the debut in the majors of 29-year-old Irv Waldron. While not a star, the 5’5″, 155-pound outfielder hit .311 between the old Milwaukee Brewers [who became the St. Louis Browns in 1902] and Washington Senators, with a 106 OPS+ for the year. And that was it for Waldron. While he played another nine seasons for various minor league teams, he never returned to the majors after 1901.
I’ve written about one-season MLB careers before. What makes Waldron’s unusual is that it didn’t end for the typical reasons– injury or lack of ability. Granted, he finished third in errors by an outfielder, his defense suspect enough to inspire a derisive Chicago Inter Ocean cartoon, at right. But Waldron likely could have gotten more work playing in the majors. Late in the 1901 season, the Boston Beaneaters of the National League expressed interest in signing him for their depleted outfield. Tangentially, one of the Beaneaters stars of 1901 figured in where Waldron played in 1902. More on that in a moment.
To my knowledge, no one’s ever definitively stated the reason for Waldron’s exit from the American League. Seemingly, no one thought to interview him before his death in 1944, with his obituary making no mention of why he left the majors. Waldron has no SABR biography and scant details accompany his stats at Baseball-Reference.com. What’s been written is largely speculative, like this book noting, “His reputation for bone-headed playing must have stayed with him.” The Ultimate Baseball Book classes Waldron “among the most mysterious figures to wear major league uniforms.”
Waldron’s departure was mysterious even at the time. MLB historian and veteran baseball author John Thorn sent me an excerpt from a Febuary 1, 1902 article in Sporting Life that asked of new Washington manager Tom Loftus:
Why has he permitted Sam Dungan and Irving Waldron to slip away and fall into the minor leagues? They hit way over .300 last year why were they not good enough for 1902? The ways of managers are past all explanation, and what’s the use of trying to fathom their ideas?
Loftus’s presence in Washington could hint at why Waldron left. Loftus took over for Jim Manning, who served as both manager and co-owner for Washington in 1901 before selling his controlling shares in the team. The New York Times noted on October 30, 1901 that while several stockholders lobbied Manning to retain control, he sold because of his strained relationship with notoriously imperious American League president Ban Johnson. Instead, Manning and future Hall of Famer Kid Nichols, who anchored the Boston Beaneaters pitching staff in 1901 got joint control of a Western League team, the Kansas City Blue Stockings, with Nichols to serve as manager. In January 1902, Nichols signed a number of players including, on January 19, Waldron.
I mentioned Waldron and Manning’s simultaneous move from Washington to Kansas City to baseball historian David Nemec, who wrote much of the text in The Ultimate Baseball Book. Nemec replied:
I checked my notes after we talked. They confirm everything you found and more. Manning was very popular with many players he managed and Nichols was still at the top of his game. He hated it in Boston and went to KC as part-owner. Although salary figures are unavailable, I suspect Waldron made more in 02 than he did in 01 with Washington. After Nichols left KC to come back to the majors, Waldron left too and went to SF in the fledgling PCL. Probably he followed the money; the PCL even then paid fairly well. Waldron I suspect was a lesser version of Willie Keeler, good contact hitter but one that didn’t walk much despite the small strike zone he presented.
I’ve mentioned before here– and I’m not the first person to say it– that generations ago in baseball, effective players with a glaring flaw or two like Waldron could often earn more in the minors than the majors, with the added bonus of being able to play in western states the majors didn’t extend to before 1958. Indeed, as a longtime reader pointed out to me when I emailed him about it, most of Waldron’s minor league career after 1901 is a series of sojourns through places like San Francisco, Denver and Lincoln, Nebraska.
There’s one other thing worth noting. Early in the 1902 season, with Waldron on his way to hitting .322 for Kansas City, he got an offer to jump to the Louisville Colonels of the American Assocation. George Tebeau who’d managed the previous Western League team in Kansas City in 1901 offered Waldron $350 a month, not far off of the National League maximum annual salary of $2,400. Waldron turned Tebeau down, giving his telegram to Nichols to keep as a memento. In an article on the incident in the April 30, 1902 Topeka Daily Capital, Nichols laughed, “Tebeau has always been anxious to sign Waldron. He was after him in the East at the time that I landed him.”
There may never be a definitive answer to why Waldron didn’t play in the majors after 1901. Short of tracking down one of his descendants through ancestry.com, which I don’t yet have access to, I’m not sure the historical record exists. But one thing is clear– for many years after 1901, Waldron remained in demand as a baseball player.
Someone asked me at work this morning who I see winning Game 7 of the World Series this evening. It’s a tough call. On one hand, I’ve been a Giants’ fan since first grade. Even my girlfriend, a devout A’s fan, hasn’t broken me of this. But I’ll admit my girlfriend and I didn’t make it through all of last night’s game. We’re big fans of the F/X series “Sons of Anarchy” and while the sixth season, which was just added to Netflix, has thus far been relentlessly downtrodden, it was a more appealing option than watching the Royals expand the 8-0 lead they took in the third inning last night.
Based on Tuesday’s game and the fact that no road team has won a World Series Game 7 since 1979, my gut says Kansas City will prevail this evening. And I don’t know if that bothers me too much. While the Giants have two titles from the past five seasons, “Back to the Future” was in theaters the last time the Royals won anything. I always like a good underdog story. But there’s a good thing that could happen if the Giants win tonight: Tim Hudson might cement his Hall of Fame candidacy.
In sabermetric circles, I suspect Hudson already seems destined for Cooperstown. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Hudson’s lifetime 56.9 WAR is second-best among active pitchers, behind Mark Buehrle. Hudson bests Buehrle for FIP, 3.75 to 4.10 and ERA+ as well, 122 to 117. According to the Play Index tool, Hudson is also one of 13 pitchers who have at least 200 wins and a 120 ERA+ but aren’t enshrined. I suspect the majority of these pitchers will be inducted over the next 10-20 years. In alphabetical order, they are:
Kevin Brown, 211 wins, 127 ERA+
Bob Caruthers, 211 wins, 122 ERA+
Eddie Cicotte, 209 wins, 123 ERA+
Roger Clemens, 354 wins, 143 ERA+
Roy Halladay, 203 wins, 131 ERA+
Tim Hudson, 214 wins, 122 ERA+
Randy Johnson, 303 wins, 135 ERA+
Silver King, 203 wins, 121 ERA+
Pedro Martinez, 219 wins, 154 ERA+
Mike Mussina, 270 wins, 123 ERA+
Curt Schilling, 216 wins, 127 ERA+
John Smoltz, 213 wins, 125 ERA+
Will White, 229 wins, 121 ERA+
But sabermetrics has only recently entered into consideration for some Hall of Fame voters [with many other voters still rejecting it] and even by advanced metrics, Hudson doesn’t look anything like the lock Bert Blyleven was for Cooperstown. For WAR and ERA+, Hudson ranks as something like his generation’s version of Billy Pierce, maybe one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball history by sabermetrics but a distant Veterans Committee candidate today. Much as some of my friends in baseball research may protest, I fear Hudson is destined to be historically underrated as well. It’s why I didn’t recently predict Hudson being inducted in the next 20 years.
A memorable outing from Hudson tonight could change this. A memorable postseason performance can make a good but generally not great player a viable Hall of Fame candidate. Just ask Bill Mazeroski or Jack Morris. While much talk in the media today has centered around how much Madison Bumgarner may pitch in relief on three day’s rest, I’d like to think the 39-year-old Hudson has something special in store.
Bill James has a recurring feature in at least a few of his books called “Old Ballplayers Never Die.” The idea is that for almost as long as baseball has existed, former players have lamented the decline in play. For instance, in his 2001 historical abstract, James included an excerpt from an article 1890s standout Bill Joyce wrote for the 1916 Spalding Base BallGuide. Joyce concluded:
“It makes me weep to think of the men of the old days who played the game and the boys of today. It’s positively a shame, and they are getting big money for it, too.”
Conversely, James also notes that for almost as long as baseball has existed, there have been people who would say that the latest version of the game is the greatest. Today’s edition of this column concerns an example of this latter trend, from a 1908 article in the Oakland Tribune. It begins:
“No matter what they tell you about baseball going back and not being as spectacular, etc., as it used to be in the good old days, you just tell them that baseball, as a whole, is a mighty improved game over what it was ten, aye twenty years ago, and you’ll not be more than a mile wrong.”
The article and several accompanying pieces then highlight several stars of the late 19th century. It’s a neat series of articles.
I go back and forth on the question of whether today’s player’s are better or worse. To be blunt, I don’t know if it matters. Every generation of baseball has had players worth celebrating, ones who could perform astonishing feats. Near every generation of baseball has also been vastly different than the one that preceded it. I think that various individual statistical feats that seemingly point to declines or increases in quality of play are more evidence of whatever the current rules and trends are in baseball.
There is, of course, a far broader debate that could be had here. I’ll look into this more another time, though the comments are open.
“From the archive” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.
In his seminal 1994 book The Politics of Glory, later retitled Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Bill James memorably predicted 25 years worth of Hall of Fame inductees. It’s fun to go back now and see where James was spot-on and where he absolutely whiffed [Ruben Sierra, anyone?]
In the same spirit, I spent a few hours today coming up with some predictions of my own. The next 20 years of the Hall of Fame ballot, particularly the next decade look like a mess, but I figured someone ought to make sense of it looking forward.
I’ll preface this by saying I made my picks assuming the Veterans Committee will keep its current election structure, having three sub-committees for different eras that rotate with one sub-committee getting to vote each year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this voting structure is tweaked in the next decade, as Veterans Committee processes change often, though I have no idea what the new voting practice will be. I also think the players I suggested have a good shot of going in regardless of when the Veterans Committee allows them to be voted on.
One other thing– I didn’t mess around predicting managers, executives or Negro League selections [though I’d like to see Buck O’Neil and Double Duty Radcliffe enshrined at some point.] That’s for another post.
Anyhow, without further adieu, here is who I see going into the Hall of Fame over the next 20 years:
2015: Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson in their first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Craig Biggio in his third year of eligibility
2016: Ken Griffey Jr. in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; John Smoltz in his second year of eligibility; Mike Piazza in his fourth year of eligibility; Bill Dahlen through the Veterans Committee
2017: Trevor Hoffman in his second year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Jeff Bagwell in his seventh year of eligibility; Jack Morris through the Veterans Committee
2018: Chipper Jones and Jim Thome in their first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Minnie Minoso through the Veterans Committee
2019: Mariano Rivera in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Curt Schilling in his seventh year of eligibility; Jack Glasscock through the Veterans Committee
2020: Derek Jeter in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Mike Mussina in his seventh year of eligibility; Alan Trammell through the Veterans Committee
2021: Ichiro Suzuki in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Omar Vizquel in his fourth year of eligibility; Dick Allen through the Veterans Committee
2022: Roy Halladay in his fourth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Jim McCormick through the Veterans Committee
2023: Todd Helton in his fifth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Tommy John through the Veterans Committee; a newly-appointed Steroid Era Committee will enshrine strongly-suspected or confirmed PED users whose eligibility with the BBWAA has expired, namely Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. It’s lame it might take another decade to begin to resolve the steroid mess on the Cooperstown ballot, but I don’t see it happening sooner. There isn’t huge incentive to take drastic action, for three reasons:
1. This year’s selections of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas showed that top-tier clean candidates can be enshrined their first year of eligibility even with suspected and admitted steroid users clogging the writers ballot.
2. I don’t see the Hall of Fame and Veterans Committee overstepping the authority it’s granted the BBWAA beyond the Hall’s recent move to shorten the window of eligibility for players on the writers ballot from 15 years to 10.
3. It’s not like players stop being eligible altogether for Cooperstown under current voting rules. It’s perfectly logical that the Hall of Fame will allow more time– as much as it deems necessary and then some– for emotions to settle from this period in baseball history before deciding how to honor it.
2024: Vlad Guerrero in his eighth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Billy Wagner in his ninth year of eligibility; Jim Kaat through the Veterans Committee
2025: Jimmy Rollins in his second year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Andruw Jones in his eighth year of eligibility; Harry Stovey through the Veterans Committee
2026: Albert Pujols in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Tim Raines through the Veterans Committee
2027: Yadier Molina in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Adrian Beltre in his third year of eligibility
2028: Joe Mauer in his third year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Tony Mullane through the Veterans Committee
2029: Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander in their first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Lee Smith through the Veterans Committee
2030: Robinson Cano in his second year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Dustin Pedroia in his third year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Luis Tiant through the Veterans Committee
2031: Jose Reyes and Jered Weaver in their third year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Pete Browning through the Veterans Committee; another meeting of the Steroid Era Committee will enshrine Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Rodriguez and David Ortiz
2032: Andrew McCutchen in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Edgar Martinez through the Veterans Committee
2033: David Wright in his fifth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Pete Rose, in a sympathy vote from the Veterans Committee shortly after his death
2034: Felix Hernandez in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Paul Goldschmidt in his second year of eligibility
Did I miss anyone? Let me know…
Will get in sometime after 2034, but not too long: Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel
Wouldn’t mind seeing these guys go in, but it seems unlikely in this timeframe: Carlos Beltran, Ken Boyer, Will Clark, Jim Edmonds, Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Gil Hodges, Tim Hudson, Jeff Kent, Kenny Lofton, Evan Longoria, Dale Murphy, Graig Nettles, Tony Oliva, Dave Parker, Scott Rolen, Bret Saberhagen, Johan Santana, Ted Simmons, Cecil Travis, Chase Utley, Larry Walker, Smoky Joe Wood
A longtime reader asked me recently which pitcher in baseball history had the most wins without any losses. In using the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool to research the answer to this question– Clay Rapada, who is 8-0 through seven seasons– I came across an obscure pitcher who seemingly wouldn’t rate a mention today.
Ben Shields’ career spanned just 41.1 innings between 1924 and 1931. While he went 4-0 lifetime, which is tied for the fourth-most wins without any losses of any pitcher in baseball history, the remainder of his stats are ghastly: an 8.27 ERA, 5.82 FIP and a projected -4.0 Wins Above Average for a full season’s work. At one point, however, Shields was a top Yankee prospect. If not for a disease that’s long since been eradicated in the western world, Shields might have pitched for the 1927 Murderers Row club.
Shields certainly looked like one of the few bright spots for an otherwise abysmal Yankee club when he joined the team in September 1925. The left-hander had gone 21-14 for Richmond of the Virginia League that season, setting a strikeout record for the circuit. And after pitching a scoreless inning in his season debut for the Bronx Bombers on September 22, Shields proceeded to win his next three appearances, pitching two complete games. But his illness during spring training the following year would forever alter his career.
After Shields came back to the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 1930, there were stories his career had been disrupted because he’d taken a Babe Ruth line drive to the chest during spring training in 1926, suffering internal injuries. I couldn’t find any record of this in perusing newspaper accounts from 1926. The truth appears to be less dramatic, as it often is, with the Yankees shelving Shields for the 1926 season after he contracted tuberculosis. He’s not the only ballplayer to battle the disease, with Christy Mathewson and Rube Waddell both dying from it. Shields overcame it and lived to old age, dying in 1982, though he didn’t pitch professionally in 1927, ’28 or ’29, working as a taxi driver in Richmond.
The Red Sox thought enough of Shields, however, to pay $150 to cover his travel expenses when they worked him out in the winter of 1930. Shields made just three appearances for Boston, allowing 16 hits and 10 earned runs in ten innings, though the Phillies brought him back the following year after he asked manager Burt Shotton for a tryout. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted on March 3, 1931:
Now the Phillies have him– a burly, healthy-looking fellow, whose weight is up to 213 pounds. But the health bug has bitten Ben for fair now. It’s more weight than he wants, and he’s the hardest worker on the Winter Haven lot to boot.
But that isn’t all. After Burt Shotton dismisses his baseball class every day, Shields hies himself to a lake in Winter Haven and rows around in circles for an hour or more. ‘I’m going to get as hard as steel,’ Ben promises.
I admire people like Ben Shields, folks who persevere, thumb their nose at bad fate and work to make their own better destiny. I want to believe the Ben Shieldses of the world can and will succeed with enough hard work. I want to believe because I see a bit of myself in him. But there was nothing Shields could do about the ’31 Phillies, a sixth-place team that allowed the most runs in the National League and played in the notoriously hitter-friendly Baker Bowl. Shields allowed nine runs over four appearances that totaled 5.1 innings and that was it for him as a baseball player.
This is it for Travis Ishikawa. As I watched replays last night of Ishikawa racing around the bases after his three-run homer to win the National League Championship Series, I found myself wondering if he understood that this was his high point, the greatest moment he’ll have as a baseball player, perhaps the greatest moment of his life. I mean this as no disrespect to a player who’s spent seven seasons in the majors and started for another pennant-winning Giants team. But whatever Travis Ishikawa does the rest of his life, this is what he will be remembered for.
Every baseball generation has one or two of these players, known for a game or instant of playoff glory, from Bill Wambsganss and his unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series to Cookie Lavagetto’s double to break up a no-hitter in the ’47 Series to Francisco Cabrera’s bloop to win the 1992 NLCS. [I suspect Wambsganss might be somewhat forgotten; Baseball-Reference.com, which sets sponsorship rates for pages based on traffic, has Wambsganss’s page available for $10. And for good reason. Wambsganss ranks among the worst regulars in baseball history. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool, Wambsganss’s -19.2 Wins Above Average is 10th worst all-time.]
Names like Wambsganss, Lavagetto and Cabrera would be lost to baseball history if not for their moments. Ishikawa is the latest to join this club. There will surely be more to follow.
Aside from Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson or Joe Carter, Bobby Thomson might be the best player defined by an instant of postseason heroics. While never destined for the Hall of Fame on playing merit, even before a career-altering injury in spring training in 1954, Thomson’s lifetime stats at least place him squarely in the Hall of Very Good: 264 homers, 33.1 WAR and three All Star appearances. But whenever Thomson’s name comes up today, it’s always about his Shot Heard Round the World to send the Giants to the 1951 World Series. Already on social media, people have been comparing Ishikawa’s shot to Thomson’s.
For the remaining six decades of his life, people never stopped talking to Bobby Thomson about his home run. The article I posted above offers a retrospective written by Murray Olderman of the Newspaper Enterprise Association 20 years after. And when Thomson died in 2010, the home run headlined his obituary in the New York Times. “I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen,” the Times quoted Thomson saying. “It was a delirious, delicious moment.”
“From the archive” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.
Few baseball fans may know of Rube Ehrhardt. Seemingly, there’s no good reason. Ehrhardt pitched for Brooklyn Robins and Cincinnati Reds from 1924 to 1929, going 22-34 with a 4.15 ERA, sub-par even for the high-scoring age in baseball history. With the exception of 1924, when Ehrhardt’s stellar pitching after a mid-July purchase from a Class C team helped keep Brooklyn in the pennant race until the season’s final days, he had an unremarkable career. Half the battle for Ehrhardt was just getting to the majors, as he didn’t debut until age 29 due to multiple serious injuries and service in World War I. Perhaps it stunted his professional growth.
Ehrhardt has a niche in baseball history, though, as one of five pitchers who threw a shutout in their final game, according to this Baseball Research Journal article and a review of recent seasons I did with the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool.
Three of the other men who threw shutouts in their final game– Lew Krausse Sr. on September 2, 1932, Don Fisher on September 30, 1945 and Brian Denman on October 2, 1982– were young pitchers who barely made a dent in the majors and played in the minors for some time after. The fourth pitcher to hurl a shutout in his last game, one-time All Star Don Wilson on September 28, 1974, died months later at 29 of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ehrhardt is the only member of this group who voluntarily didn’t pitch another professional game after his shutout finale.
Ehrhardt’s baseball career seemingly over after 1930, he pursued various other lines of work the remainder of his life, at different times a car salesman, taproom operator and, for 20 years, an employee in a Chicago-area steel mill. [Long before free agency or baseball’s pension plan, former ballplayers usually had to work after their careers ended. I’ll dive into this more in a future post.] By the time of Ehrhardt’s death at 85 in 1980, I imagine his baseball career was a distant memory for all but those closest to him.
On Monday, I looked at hitters who retired with one of a certain stat. I enjoyed researching and writing that enough that I decided to expand this to pitchers. Via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are six pitchers since 1901 who retired with the most innings pitched in the statistical category they represent:
Randy Hennis, one hit allowed in 9.2 IP: Quietly and without anyone knowing it at the time, Randy Hennis had one of the best final appearances in major league history. A 24-year-old September call-up for the Houston Astros in 1990, Hennis threw a one-hitter over 6.1 shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds on the last day of the season. Hennis got rocked during 1991 spring training, however and that was it for him in the majors.
Juan Pena, one run allowed in 13 IP: Whenever someone talks about a great Boston Red Sox pitcher from 1999, it’s generally Pedro Martinez who had one of the best years ever for a pitcher that season. Seemingly no one ever talks about Juan Pena, who got sent to the disabled list twice in short succession after he went 2-0 with an 0.69 ERA in two starts. Pena never pitched again in the majors, though one can only wonder what might have been. Had Pena pitched 210 innings in 1999 [and not regressed], his stats project to a 742 ERA+ and 12.9 WAR.
Jack Nabors, one win in 269.2 IP: Poor Jack Nabors. There was no hope for the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, who were in the middle of a long rebuilding stretch and went 36-117, boasting three pitchers with at least 20 losses. Nabors was one of them, going 1-20 with a 3.47 ERA, 82 ERA+ and 3.12 FIP. Playing on an A’s team that scored just 447 runs, Nabors received two runs or less of support in 18 of his 30 starts. His only win came April 22 when the A’s scored six runs. Connie Mack said late in the season that Nabors would be back in 1917, though he pitched just twice more in his career.
Rube Vickers, one homer allowed in 458 IP: Some context is in order here. Rube Vickers pitched 317 innings in 1908 without allowing a home run, but there were just 116 hit in all of the American League that year. One team, the Chicago White Sox managed three homers all season, with Hall of Fame pitcher Ed Walsh accounting for one of the bombs. In contrast, the average American League team in 2014 hit 144 home runs.
Kirk Rueter, one shutout in 1,918 IP: With just four complete games, a 4.27 ERA and a career spanning an era that strongly favored hitters, it’s a wonder Kirk Rueter lasted as long as he did. His only shutout is more unbelievable: a one-hit, seven strikeout gem on August 27, 1995. Ironically, it came against the San Francisco Giants, where Rueter would play the majority of his career. Or maybe that’s why the Giants traded for Rueter.
Tom Seaver, one save in 4,783 IP: Decades before relief specialists were common, staff aces pitched with some regularity out of the bullpen. Walter Johnson had 34 saves lifetime. Christy Mathewson, Dizzy Dean and Grover Cleveland Alexander all had at least 30 saves as well. Heck, Lefty Grove led the American League in saves the same season he won 28 games. By Seaver’s era, though, the trend had slowed. Tom Terrific made just nine relief appearances in his career, collecting his only save in the second game of a 1968 doubleheader.