Maury Wills: Barnstorming with Jackie Robinson and Luke Easter

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As regular readers might recall, I spent an hour on the phone in April 2020 with Maury Wills for Sports Illustrated. As often happens with long interviews and subsequent 1,500-word articles, a lot of good stuff wound up on the cutting room floor when I went to write. Among this: Much of what Wills told me about barnstorming with a team, Jackie Robinson’s All Stars in the fall of 1953.

I was reminded of this again this week in finding an autographed baseball at an antique fair from another barnstorming team, Roy Campanella’s All Stars of 1955. In researching the origins of this ball, I learned that Black barnstorming teams were much more common than I thought and it’s motivating me to share a little more of what Wills told me.

In my piece for SI, I talked about how Wills idolized Robinson growing up in Washington D.C., how he was written of as a pitcher (which he’d done a little in the minors) on the barnstorming tour, and how he’d gotten $300 a month for the tour. “I would have barnstormed with him for nothing, but they didn’t know that,” Wills said of Robinson, as I noted for SI.

There’s definitely more to the barnstorming trip than what could fit at the time in my SI article, which went through Wills’ entire career in the majors and minors.

Wills joined the barnstorming club a few years into his professional career with the Dodgers, having played only in the low minors to this point. While Wills would eventually go on to become a star shortstop in Los Angeles, leading the National League in steals six consecutive seasons from 1960 through 1965, he was still years off of even making the majors when he joined Robinson’s team.

Turning 21 in October 1953, Wills was part of an integrated barnstorming team with white players of note like Gil Hodges, Al Rosen, and Ralph Branca and legends of Black baseball such as Luke Easter. “That was the thrill of my life at the time,” Wills said.

Not having a roster in front of me at the time I interviewed Wills, I didn’t ask what it was like for him to play on the barnstorming team with Hodges, Rosen, or Branca. I did ask Wills what Robinson was like in person, with Wills telling me, “He was very aloof. But a nice man. Aloof. He didn’t get involved with any controversy or anything like that.”

My favorite thing that I left on the cutting room floor concerned Wills’ interactions with Easter, something of a tragic figure from baseball history for multiple reasons. First, Easter was barred from the majors until well past his 30th birthday due to the game’s color barrier. Easter would die tragically as well, fatally shot in a payroll robbery in 1979 according to his SABR bio.

By the time Wills got to know him on the barnstorming tour, Easter was a 38-year-old first baseman on the downslope of his brief big-league career after a few years of stardom with Cleveland Indians. “Luke had his own chauffeur with a big Cadillac,” Wills said. “I was a minor leaguer from the Dodgers. We rode on the bus with the opposing team, the Indianapolis Clowns from the old Negro Leagues.”

Stories of Negro League accommodations can be notorious. It was no different with this bus. “The bus was like, oh man, it was bad. But everything was in that bus,” Wills said. “It was like a gymnasium.”

So Wills decided he would ride in Easter’s Cadillac, befriending him and becoming his driver. “That was quite an experience, driving all through the South… and here I was driving Luke Easter around,” Wills told me. “He’s sleeping in the back seat and I’m on that freeway or highway, going through the South at night. Big curves and everything and big trucks on the road, headlights hitting you right in the face, going around curves. But it turned out alright.”

For Wills, it was a small taste of the big life, with several more seasons beckoning in the minors before he could find it for himself.

A Find at the Antique Faire

With infection numbers from the COVID-19 pandemic finally beginning to wane in America, life is starting to get back to normal. One facet of this has been the resumption of the monthly Antique Faire in the city I live, Sacramento. The latest one happened yesterday and led me to a piece of baseball history I’ve spent the last 24 hours swept up in.

For those unacquainted, which is likely most people reading, this fair happens on the second Sunday of each month. Until recent times, it was held under a freeway at the south end of Sacramento’s central city, though construction recently forced it to relocate to the former home of the Sacramento Kings, Sleep Train Arena. At each site, the same thing happens: Vendors set up informal, outdoor booths and members of the public pay a $3 fee at the main entrance to browse.

Initially, my wife Kate and I had gone to the fair yesterday to maybe find a few items for our house. We bought our first place about nine months ago and it still feels like a work in progress. But after a short time at the fair, Kate and I got separated and I found myself at a booth with a few items of sports memorabilia.

I suppose some people collect sports memorabilia voraciously, either to resell or keep in private collections. I’m not this kind of person. But as someone who loves researching and writing about baseball history, I was intrigued the second I saw a dirty autographed baseball in a case at this booth. I asked if I could hold the ball and saw Minnie Minoso’s birth name, Orestes. Turning the ball over, I was stunned to quickly recognize Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe, Joe Black, and Hank Thompson as well.

The seller mentioned that he wanted $300 for the ball, which was more than I wanted to pay. He lowered the price to $200, which seemed very reasonable to me, but still a lot. As I mentioned, I don’t buy a lot of memorabilia. As a full-time freelance writer, I’d rather interview an old ballplayer free of charge (and maybe sell an article out of it) than plunk down hard-fought earnings for something that’ll sit on one of my shelves. I just don’t see the point.

But I also had the feeling that this was an item of special historical significance, something I shouldn’t pass up. I tweeted out the photo above of the seller holding the ball and the immediate response from Twitter was enough that I found an ATM on-site, withdrew $200, and bought myself a ball.

In just over 24 hours since, my task has morphed into trying to figure out where this ball came from. Aside from the six players I listed above, I have identified five others: Jim Gilliam, Bob Trice, Charlie White, Jim Pendleton, and Al Smith. I’m reasonably certain Gene Baker is on the ball as well. One more signature, at bottom below, is too hard to read, though there’s a chance it’s Roy Campanella, Dave Hoskins, or Brooks Lawrence.

The reason I say this is that the 11 players I’ve identified so far and the additional one I’m reasonably certain on all played for Roy Campanella’s All Stars, a 15-player barnstorming team from 1955. (I found a full roster here.) Like Campanella, each man had played in both the Negro Leagues and either the National League or American League. In the time before free agency and television revenue helped increase baseball salaries exponentially, every one of these players could have used an offseason side hustle. Barnstorming was a common way it happened through the 1950s.

In all, the ball has 13 signatures, meaning that two players from the team more than likely didn’t sign it. My gut is that Campy passed on it and that the final signature might be from Hoskins or Lawrence. But it also could have been a random clubhouse person or coach, I’m really not sure. I’m sharing the signature in hopes that someone might know better than me.

I’m curious where the ball came from. The seller told me he found it in a box. The ball doesn’t have a certificate of authenticity and it’s possible some sick soul sat down and devised a very convincing forgery. Still, it seems far too specific to be made up for me and I think a forgery would have a clearly legible signature from Campanella and all 14 other players from the team. The fact that all 13 signatures on the ball are in the same ink color tells me that someone more than likely took a pen and the ball and got signatures from as many players as possible.

After I’ve had a little more time with the ball, I intend to donate it to the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. It’s the kind of item that belongs in a museum and if spending $200 on an impulse purchase at an antique fair helps me do my part, it will have been well worth it.

Analyzing Maury Wills’ impact on baseball through stolen base opportunities

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It’s been awhile since I posted here about landing a big interview, though I scored one recently, getting to spend almost an hour on the phone with 87-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers great Maury Wills. It’s my pleasure to share the write-up, which dropped at Sports Illustrated’s website on Monday.

In the lead-up to the interview, I did a bit of research around Wills’ impact on the game, which has been a source of some debate in the baseball community. The conventional wisdom in baseball has been that Wills brought the steal back into the game in the early 1960s, when he led the league one season after another and broke Ty Cobb’s single-season record in 1962 when he swiped 104 bags.

Some researchers have questioned this, though, bringing up that Hall of Famer and Chicago White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio might deserve the real credit, having begun to swipe more bases in the late 1950s. I’ve seen Willie Mays get some of the credit, too.

Honestly, either crediting Wills entirely or dismissing his impact has seemed an oversimplification to me. So I found another way to look at it.

Searching the ever-reliable, I found that stolen base opportunities are tracked for players from about 1920 on. (For anyone who wants to check it out, it’s in the Advanced Stats section for batting, listed as “Baserunning & Misc. Stats.” Here’s Wills’ section for this.) The importance of analyzing opportunities: I figured if there was a true stolen base revolution, players would be stealing at a higher percentage of their total opportunities.

I wasn’t sure how to get total opportunity numbers for every season, so I found a compromise to create two control groups. I made lists of everyone who stole at least 30 bases from 1947-61 and 1963-77. This way, I figured I’d get the 15 seasons before and the 15 seasons after Wills’ iconic 1962 season, to see how much of a shift occurred.

As a preface to what follows, I’ll note that when Wills stole 104 bases in 1962, he made 117 attempts out of a total of 348 opportunities, giving him an attempt percentage of 33.6 percentage. This might sound inconsequential or wonkish, but it was a markedly higher rate than anyone had done the 15 preceding seasons.

Here are the 20 30-stolen base seasons from 1947 through 1961, organized by attempt percentage:

PlayerYearSBCSAttemptsOpportunitiesAttempt %
Willie Mays195640105017428.7
Luis Aparicio195956136924428.3
Willie Mays195738195720827.4
Luis Aparicio196153136624626.8
Luis Aparicio19605185923824.8
Jackie Robinson194937165324521.6
Maury Wills196050126229720.9
Sam Jethroe19503594421320.7
Bob Dillinger194734134723819.7
Richie Ashburn194832104222318.8
Sam Jethroe19513554022118.1
Bill Bruton195434134726417.8
Minnie Minoso195131104123317.6
Vada Pinson196032124425717.1
Willie Mays19583163722916.2
Jake Wood19613093926314.8
Maury Wills196135155034914.3
Dick Howser19613794633813.6
Pee Wee Reese19523053529012.1
Richie Ashburn19583012424359.7

I’m struck by how rarely players stole in the ’40s and ’50s. Richie Ashburn, for instance, had by far the most opportunities of any player in this group in 1958, but wound up with just 30 steals that year because he attempted steals so infrequently. Even Wills stole at a far lower rate earlier in his career, with his 1960 and ’61 seasons in the middle of the pack here.

Things began to shift in 1962, though. I think one of the big reasons for it is that the Dodgers began to play home games that season in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Wills might have had to start stealing much more out of necessity, with runs far more difficult to come by. The following year, baseball also widened its strike zone, and runs became more scarce throughout the game. I think the tighter run environment coupled with Wills’ success in 1962 might have spurred players or teams to follow his lead.

Here are the 161 30-stolen-base seasons from 1963 through 1977, organized again by attempt percentage:

PlayerYearSBCSAttemptsOpportunitiesAttempt %
Frank Taveras197770188814262
Larry Lintz19763111427060
Maury Wills1965943112523852.5
Lou Brock19741183315129950.5
Cesar Cedeno197356157115047.3
Omar Moreno197753166915444.8
Lou Brock196674189220744.4
Lou Brock196563279020543.9
Cesar Cedeno197457177417243
Freddie Patek197651156616141
Lou Brock197656197518640.3
Dave Nelson197251176816940.2
Cesar Cedeno197550176716740.1
Tommy Harper196973189123039.6
Bill North1976752910426439.4
Mickey Rivers197570148422537.3
Cesar Cedeno197761147520137.3
Joe Morgan197367158222236.9
Claudell Washington197637205715536.8
Bobby Bonds197630154512336.6
Bobby Bonds197741185916236.4
Luis Aparicio196457177420436.3
Cesar Cedeno197658157320236.1
Rodney Scott197733185114235.9
Davey Lopes197663107320535.6
Bert Campaneris196551197019835.4
Freddie Patek197753136618835.1
Larry Lintz19745075716335
Bill North197454268023034.8
Davey Lopes197459187722134.8
Amos Otis19715286017334.7
Bert Campaneris196862228424334.6
Lou Brock197735245917334.1
Don Buford196651227321534
Bobby Tolan197057207722933.6
Frank Taveras197658116920933
Lou Brock197556167221932.9
Lou Brock197370209027432.8
Bert Campaneris197252146620332.5
Don Baylor197652126419732.5
Enos Cabell197742226419832.3
Jose Cardenal196537155216331.9
Dave Collins197632195116031.9
Cesar Cedeno197255217624031.7
Davey Lopes197577128928131.7
Bert Campaneris196652106219931.2
Lou Brock197263188126031.2
Bert Campaneris196755167122831.1
Phil Garner197635134815531
Gene Richards197756126822130.8
Adolfo Phillips196632154715330.7
Joe Morgan19766096922630.5
Rod Carew197649227123430.3
Tommie Agee196644186220630.1
Joe Morgan197258177525030
Pat Kelly196940135317829.8
Bert Campaneris197654126622429.5
Bert Campaneris19696287023929.3
Joe Morgan197458127024029.2
Lou Brock196752187024328.8
Freddie Patek197149146321928.8
Lou Brock196862127425828.7
Bill North197353207325428.7
Jose Cruz197744236723728.3
Al Bumbry197642105218528.1
Don Baylor197532174917627.8
Ron LeFlore197658207828127.8
John Lowenstein197436175319227.6
Dave Nelson197343165921527.4
Jose Cardenal196840185821427.1
Jerry Remy197534215520327.1
Tommy Harper197354146825426.8
Joe Morgan197567107728726.8
Joe Morgan197749105922226.6
Maury Wills196852217327626.4
Maury Wills196453177026626.3
Joe Foy196937155219826.3
Don Baylor19733294115626.3
Freddie Patek197336145019126.2
Lou Brock196443186123625.8
Maury Wills196638246224425.4
Bobby Bonds197343176023925.1
Davey Lopes197747125923525.1
Jerry Remy197741175823225
Bert Campaneris197042105221124.6
Amos Otis197539115020324.6
Lou Brock197164198334024.4
Willie Randolph197637124920124.4
Willie Davis196442135522624.3
Pat Kelly197034165020724.2
Lenny Randle197630154518624.2
Lou Brock196953146727824.1
Maury Wills196940216125424
Pat Kelly19723294117223.8
Bert Campaneris197434154920623.8
Lou Brock197051156627823.7
Jerry Remy197635165121623.6
Enzo Hernandez197437104720223.3
Maury Wills196340195925423.2
Bake McBride19773674318623.1
Lenny Randle197733215423423.1
Sonny Jackson196649146327423
Joe Morgan196949146327423
Bobby Bonds197530174720722.7
Joe Morgan197042135524422.5
Claudell Washington197540155524522.4
Davey Lopes197336165223322.3
Willie Davis197038145223622
Bobby Tolan197242155725922
Freddie Patek19753273917921.8
Don Buford196734215525321.7
Cesar Tovar196945125726321.7
Bobby Bonds19724465023021.7
Mickey Rivers19764375023221.6
Mickey Rivers197430134320121.4
Freddie Patek19723374018821.3
Wilbur Howard197532114320321.2
Bobby Bonds197441115224621.1
Dave Concepcion19753363918521.1
Freddie Patek197433154822921
Willie Davis196836104622220.7
Ron LeFlore197739195828320.5
Luis Aparicio19634064622520.4
Bobby Bonds197048105828420.4
Jim Wynn19654344723320.2
Tommy Harper197038165426720.2
Dave Concepcion19744164723619.9
Bert Campaneris197334104422219.8
Bert Campaneris19713474120919.6
Larry Bowa197439115025619.5
Enos Cabell19763584322219.4
Mitchell Page19774254724319.3
Bill Buckner197431134422919.2
Dan Driessen197731134423019.1
Bobby Bonds19694544925819
Rod Carew197341165730118.9
Tommie Agee197031154624718.6
Jose Cardenal19693664222818.4
Joe Morgan19714084826418.2
Cesar Tovar196835134826817.9
Larry Hisle197631184927417.9
Phil Garner19773294123317.6
Bake McBride197430114123617.4
Jose Cardenal197534124627316.8
Ralph Garr197335114627616.7
Pepe Mangual197533114426816.4
Larry Bowa19763083823616.1
Rod Carew197438165433816
Rod Carew19753594427915.8
Sandy Alomar197139104931715.5
Roy White197631134429015.2
Horace Clarke196933134630615
Larry Bowa19773233524314.4
Sandy Alomar197035124732914.3
Ken Griffey197634114531414.3
Bill North197530124229614.2
Hank Aaron19633153625614.1
Cesar Tovar197030154531914.1
Ralph Garr197130144431214.1
Tommy Harper19653564130413.5
Amos Otis19703323529112

There are other factors to consider of course, such as teams beginning to build cavernous ballparks with artificial playing surfaces in the mid-1960s and ’70s that supported a quick style of baseball.

Bottom line, though, it’s clear that a significant shift in baseball occurred following the 1962 season. To not credit Wills at least somewhat with this shift seems absurd.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Right fielders

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This is the final entry of a nine-part series, based on a poll of 425 respondents. Here are results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemen, second basementhird basemenshortstopsleft fielders, and center fielders.

It’s probably no surprise that in a recent survey I conducted via the website Qualtrics, having 425 respondents vote on the most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame at each position, Ichiro Suzuki proved one of the three top vote recipients along with Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter.

Like Pujols and Jeter, Suzuki looks like a future no-doubt Hall of Famer, arriving from Japan at 27 and quickly becoming baseball’s best contact hitter. While Suzuki faded considerably over the last half of his big league career as he began to approach 40, his first 10 years stateside were a beautiful thing, good for a .331 batting average, an American League Most Valuable Player Award, and an astonishing 2,224 hits.

What’s interesting to me with the following results, though, isn’t so much how Suzuki did, because that’s expected, but how Larry Walker gave him a bit of a run for his money.

Q9 – Rank the following right fielders, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Ichiro Suzuki1.89
Larry Walker3.31
Dwight Evans5.08
Gary Sheffield5.33
Bobby Abreu5.82
Sammy Sosa6.10
Roger Maris6.32
Bobby Bonds6.48
Tony Oliva6.87
Reggie Smith7.78

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

Now that I think of it a little more, I could actually see some people being miffed Walker didn’t overtake Suzuki in the results. By sabermetrics, Walker is the superior candidate for the entirety of his career, with 72.7 WAR and 48.3 Wins Above Average to Suzuki’s 59.3 WAR and 23.8 WAA. Granted, lifetime sabermetrics are a little unfair to Suzuki, since they don’t incorporate useful time he spent as a player in Japan. Even just comparing their age-27 to age-36 seasons, though, Walker comes out on top by advanced stats.

Still, these results seem like a bit of a coup for Walker, who’s entering his tenth and final year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown and needs to jump just over 20 percent for his plaque. (It looks doable, given leaps made by Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, and Mike Mussina in recent years.) A more detailed breakdown of the voting seems to bode pretty well for Walker, too, with the former Colorado Rockies great a consensus second choice and 79.5 percent of voters ranking him among their top four.


Other thoughts: This was another deep position and I wasn’t able to get a few players here that I would’ve liked. The most glaring omission was Dave Parker, who I really should’ve found space for. For older players, Tommy Henrich and Carl Furillo each have their supporters. I also am interested to see how Juan Gonzalez and Joe Carter might’ve done on the ballot, though I suspect they would’ve been near the bottom. They just aren’t good candidates by sabermetrics. In fact, Carter’s case by advanced stats is kind of garish, with -10.8 WAA.

I don’t really know either who those men could’ve displaced. Already, I freed up space on the ballot by having Shoeless Joe Jackson, who split his career between left and right, go on the left field ballot. I suppose if I field this again, Reggie Smith could be on the center field ballot, which was weaker.

A few other things to share here, courtesy of Qualtrics filters:

  • The 48 voters who ranked Roger Maris first or second gave Mark McGwire an average ranking of 5.02 as opposed to his overall ranking of 5.17, not much of a difference. Their responses deviated sharply for Barry Bonds, though, with these voters ranking Bonds 3.9 against his overall average of 2.61.
  • The 43 voters who ranked Bobby Bonds in the top three gave his son an average ranking of 2.60. I wondered if Barry might do worse with voters who ranked his father worse, as if the Bonds name might elicit a certain response in voters or if certain voters skimming quickly might’ve thought they were voting for Barry. Alas, there wasn’t a correlation, with Barry receiving an average ranking of 2.35 from the 152 voters who rated his father 8 or worse here.
  • On one more Walker point, for anyone curious about the non-Walker voter, the 87 respondents who ranked him fifth or worse here gave Suzuki just 50 first-place votes and an average ranking of 2.61. Maris fared second-best with these voters, receiving nine first-place votes and an average ranking of 4.74. Dwight Evans and Bobby Bonds were the next most popular choices for these voters. My free Qualtrics account only allowed 10 questions, so I chose to forego demographic questions. But I’d guess these were probably older voters and that’s where Walker still needs to make up ground on the BBWAA ballot.

That said, this officially wraps up this series. Thanks to everyone who voted and everyone who’s been reading. It’s my hope that this series can spur additional research.

Just getting caught up? Here are results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemen, second basementhird basemenshortstopsleft fielders, and center fielders.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Center fielders

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I recently asked 425 respondents to rank the most-deserving players at each position not in the Hall of Fame, ranging from 1 for most-deserving to 10 for least-deserving. With respect to Carlos Beltran, the results for center field might have surprised me most.

Again, I mean no disrespect to Beltran, who recently wrapped an outstanding career and compares favorably to numerous Hall of Famers. My friend Adam Darowski inducted Beltran into his Hall of Stats and ranks the former Kansas City Royals standout in front of Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson, and Roberto Alomar, among others. Still, I didn’t expect such a clear divide here between Beltran and the other nine center fielders on the ballot.

That said, having previously presented results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemensecond basementhird basemen, shortstops, and left fielders, here’s how voting went for center fielders.

Q8 – Rank the following center fielders, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Carlos Beltran2.34
Andruw Jones4.19
Kenny Lofton4.46
Dale Murphy4.52
Jim Edmonds4.67
Bernie Williams6.32
Curt Flood6.47
Cesar Cedeno6.63
Johnny Damon7.30
Jim Wynn8.10

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

Perhaps Beltran benefits from having a recently-completed body of work. I also wonder if Beltran might’ve dropped a little in the results had I gone with my initial instinct to include Mike Trout as a candidate. I decided against it because Trout’s only in his ninth season. Still, somehow just days past his 28th birthday, Trout’s 71.7 WAR is already better than any man here. It’s also better than Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, or any other center fielder in baseball history through their first nine seasons.

A more detailed breakdown of the voting shows that Beltran wasn’t a consensus first pick. He got the fourth-fewest first-place votes of a position winner after Adrian Beltre (46), Joe Mauer (80), and Lou Whitaker (161), with Andruw Jones and Dale Murphy each siphoning a fair number of votes.


As I’ve been saying repeatedly through these posts, I’m struck again about the parity in the results between Jones, Murphy, and Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds. I wouldn’t really have a problem with any of these men being enshrined. Murphy’s long been a personal favorite. Jones, Lofton, and Edmonds are all underrated and, unfortunately, look destined to be for years to come.

With the help of filters via Qualtrics, here are some more findings:

  • The 65 voters who rated Dale Murphy the top center fielder ranked Roger Clemens behind Curt Schilling, 4.02 to 3.80, and Barry Bonds behind Shoeless Joe Jackson (and Lance Berkman), 4.42 to 2.35 (with 4.34 for Berkman.)
  • Generally, the more favorable a view that a voter held of Curt Flood — a standout center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals before he sacrificed his career challenging the Reserve Clause — the dimmer a view the voter tended to take of Clemens and Bonds. Because of Flood having such an unusually-wide distribution of votes, we can break it down a little further (rounding to the nearest tenth of a percent for Bonds and Clemens’ totals):
  • Meanwhile, Bonds and Clemens fared better with the 282 voters who ranked Beltran, Jones, or Lofton first, with Bonds receiving an average ranking of 1.8 from these voters and Clemens receiving an average ranking from them of 1.84.

Beyond this, there isn’t too much else to say. If I field this survey again in the future, I might swap out Johnny Damon and Jim Wynn for Trout and either Reggie Smith (who was on a packed right field ballot) or Fred Lynn. It’s interesting to see a bit more support up top for Cesar Cedeno and Bernie Williams, though there’s a pretty clear division with them as well.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. We’ll finish up with right field tomorrow.

Just getting caught up? Check out results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemen, second basementhird basemenshortstops, and left fielders.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Left fielders

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I chose this picture deliberately. It’s from my favorite season of Barry Bonds’ career, 1993, when he transformed the San Francisco Giants from a 90-loss team into one that won 103 games. Even though he wasn’t yet 30, Bonds won his third National League Most Valuable Player Award that season and also reached 60 Wins Above Replacement.

There are fans — and still many voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America — who will look at Bonds alleged use of performance enhancing drugs following the 1998 season and conclude it invalidates anything that came before or after. To me, though, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before. And to be honest, I prefer the lithe version of Bonds who could hit for average and power, run, and play lock-down left field.

Today, Bonds heads up a poll sure to irk some readers. Last month, via the survey website Qualtrics, I had 425 respondents vote on 10 players at each position, from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving. Having previously presented results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemensecond basemen, third basemen, and shortstops, today focuses on left fielders.

Q7 – Rank the following left fielders, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Barry Bonds2.61
Shoeless Joe Jackson3.40
Manny Ramirez4.51
Albert Belle4.74
Lance Berkman4.81
Minnie Minoso5.27
Bob Johnson6.44
Charlie Keller6.89
Sherry Magee7.49
Bobby Veach8.85

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

Early on in the voting, Shoeless Joe Jackson was actually beating Bonds by a narrow margin, which seems absurd to me. Conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series seems worse to me than steroid use, but other factors could be helping Jackson’s case. The passage of time and films like “Field of Dreams” and “Eight Men Out” have probably eased public rancor a bit. Other factors are likely at work, too — more about what they might be in a moment.

First, as always, here’s a more detailed breakdown of how people voted:


I’m struck, first of all, to see Bonds and Jackson each so favorably rated. I had expected more ninth and tenth-place votes for each man. Instead, filters via the survey website that I used for this project, Qualtrics, tell me that 187 of 425 voters had Bonds and Jackson in their top two choices. Almost two-thirds of voters included Bonds and Jackson in their top four.

That said, there were some differences worth highlighting between voters who ranked Bonds first and those who preferred Jackson. The 299 respondents who voted Bonds first gave Jackson an average ranking of 3.72. The 74 respondents who voted Jackson first gave Bonds an average ranking of 6.03. There were also 48 respondents who ranked Bonds last, giving Jackson an average ranking of 2.48. I don’t know what this is about. It would seem to me that if voters could forgive Jackson his transgressions, they could do the same for Bonds.

Bonds suffered a little as well with other voters who might seemingly be sympathetic. Among them:

  • The 131 voters who ranked Rose as most-deserving among third basemen were more likely to favor Shoeless Joe, giving Jackson an average ranking of 2.44 against 2.82 for Bonds. Bonds also did slightly worse with these voters than his 2.61 overall average;
  • 269 of the 313 voters who ranked Clemens as most-deserving among pitchers named Bonds the most-deserving left fielder, giving him an average ranking of 1.37. Of the other 44 voters, here’s how the first-place votes went: 31 for Jackson; six for another of my favorite candidates, Minnie Minoso; five for Albert Belle; and two for Charlie Keller.
  • The 202 voters who ranked Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro fourth or better gave Bonds an average ranking of 4.02 and Jackson an average ranking of 3.27.
  • Just three of the 41 voters who thought Curt Schilling the top pitcher overall ranked Jackson ninth or tenth. Twenty-three of these voters ranked Bonds as such. (Granted, Bonds did far better with the 211 voters who ranked Schilling second, with Bonds rating an average of 1.56 with these voters as opposed to 6.59 among those who rated Schilling first.)

Other results aren’t as surprising, such as the 44 voters who rated Keith Hernandez, Steve Garvey, Fred McGriff, Gil Hodges, or Don Mattingly the top first baseman giving Bonds an average ranking of 5.73 and Shoeless Joe an average ranking of 2.30. My free Qualtrics account allowed just 10 questions, so I forewent demographic questions to get the maximum amount of baseball data and thus can’t verify my sense that these were older voters. But it’s clear these are voters who don’t have much use for sabermetrics.

Perhaps there’s a case to be made that, on balance, Jackson is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Bonds. Jackson hit .356, third-best lifetime. Babe Ruth is said to have copied his swing. Jackson also played for a World Series-winning team, the 1917 Chicago White Sox, unlike Bonds. And perhaps those who favor Jackson believe he was innocent of throwing the 1919 World Series, though evidence exists otherwise. I wonder as well if racial bias is hurting Bonds here, though I’m not confident enough of this to make a detailed argument.

Still, I don’t see the case for Jackson over Bonds. Even just comparing both players through their first 13 seasons — the length of Jackson’s career and the number of years Bonds is believed to have played clean — the sabermetric chasm is too wide. After all, Bonds racked up 74.5 Wins Above Average for these seasons, while Jackson was good for 40.2. I generally see 30-40 Wins Above Average as a good benchmark for Hall of Fame candidates I’d enshrine on the basis of sabermetrics. To me at least, a clean Bonds was an arguable Hall of Famer better than Jackson.

That said, thanks again to everyone who’s been reading along. We’ll finish up with center field and right field on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

Just getting caught up? Check out results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemen, second basemen, third basemen and shortstops. Stay tuned in the days to come for results of the other two positions.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Shortstops

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Derek Jeter’s time approaches. In just a few months, the 14-time All Star and New York Yankees great will debut on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot for Cooperstown. The only question at this point, really, is if Jeter can duplicate teammate Mariano Rivera’s unanimous induction with the writers.

Given Jeter’s underwhelming 72.4 WAR lifetime and porous defense according to sabermetrics (-243 defensive runs worse than average, lowest in baseball history), a few writers might withhold votes to make a statement. Still, Jeter will undoubtedly be close, if not unanimous. He nails the Fame part of Hall of Fame as well as few players of his generation.

Unsurprisingly, Jeter also heads up the latest round of results for my survey on the most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame. As a reminder, I recently asked 425 respondents to rank 10 players at each position, from 1 for most-deserving of induction to 10 for least-deserving. Previous results have focused on pitcherscatchersfirst basemensecond basemen, and third basemen. (As a disclaimer, I put Alex Rodriguez at third base for the survey. More about my rationale can be found in the third base results post.)

Here’s how voting for shortstops went.

Q6 – Rank the following shortstops, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Derek Jeter1.63
Dave Concepcion4.03
Nomar Garciaparra4.61
Omar Vizquel4.63
Bill Dahlen4.98
Mark Belanger5.92
Jack Glasscock6.52
Maury Wills6.70
Marty Marion7.63
Cecil Travis8.36

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

Sabermetrically, these might be some of the least-inspiring results in the bunch. Jeter’s long had his detractors. Concepcion, who’s come moderately close on the veterans’ ballot for Cooperstown in recent years, doesn’t have any advanced stats to write home about either. Nor does Vizquel, who’s already crossed 40 percent on the writers’ ballot and looks destined for future induction. Meanwhile, Bill Dahlen, whose case is built around a re-examining of his career on the strength of his 75.4 WAR, is a ways down here.

As always, here’s a more detailed breakdown of how people voted:


A few thoughts based on these numbers:

  • That 391 of 425 voters rated Jeter a 3 or better here is one more sign to me he’ll sail into Cooperstown. But the scattering of lower votes hints to me that Jeter might not be unanimous. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
  • I’m also struck to see the wide chasm in votes between Dahlen and Jack Glasscock, with nearly twice as many voters ranking Dahlen in the top five. By Wins Above Average, which might be a fairer measure for 19th century players than WAR since the seasons were shorter, Dahlen and Glasscock are fairly even players.
  • I’d like to talk to the 10 people who voted Mark Belanger most-deserving of induction. This is a brave claim to stake.
  • Of the 34 respondents who voted Jeter a 4 or worse, Belanger, Concepcion, and Vizquel got the most first-place votes, with eight, seven, and five respectively. Don’t ask me how these things work.
  • Cecil Travis is the only player of the 90 in this survey to receive zero first-place votes. He’s one of my favorite Hall of Fame candidates, essentially sacrificing his career to serve nearly four full seasons in World War II, seeing combat and suffering frostbite on his feet at the Battle of the Bulge. Cooperstown wouldn’t be any worse for his inclusion.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. Tune in tomorrow for the results of left field.

Just getting caught up? Check out results for pitcherscatchersfirst basemen, second basemen, and third basemen. Stay tuned in the days to come for results of the other three positions.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Third basemen

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I don’t know if Adrian Beltre is smart or lucky. What I do know is there’s no way the Beltre in the photo above would’ve made the Hall of Fame playing out his career in Los Angeles, or his subsequent home, Seattle. At the end of 2009, after 12 seasons between both teams, Beltre owned a .270 lifetime batting average, due in part to the Dodgers and Mariners playing in two of the worst hitters’ parks in baseball.

But then Beltre signed with the Red Sox and then, following a brief stint in Boston, the Rangers. Playing in two of baseball’s best hitters’ parks, the rest is, as the saying goes, history. Beltre hit .307 over his final nine seasons, finished with 3,166 hits and 477 home runs, and he’ll more than likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Today, Beltre heads up his position for a survey I fielded recently, asking 425 respondents to rank 10 players at each position, from 1 for most-deserving of induction to 10 for least-deserving. Having previously presented results for pitcherscatchers, first basemen and second basemen, today focuses on third base.

Q5 – Rank the following third basemen, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Adrian Beltre3.07
Miguel Cabrera3.50
Alex Rodriguez3.67
Pete Rose4.55
Dick Allen5.05
Scott Rolen5.63
Graig Nettles7.13
Buddy Bell7.35
Ken Boyer7.39
Darrell Evans7.65

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

As always, lots to unpack here. I’ll start by explaining the presence of a few players in the results. Alex Rodriguez technically played more games at shortstop and racked up more WAR at the position. But he was last an everyday shortstop in 2003 and spent more years as a third baseman. So it seemed more appropriate to me to put him at third base for this. I realized after voting started that it would’ve been interesting to have Rodriguez and Derek Jeter face off at shortstop. Oh well.

I maybe should’ve employed the same logic I used with Rodriguez with Dick Allen, who had a few superb years at third base early in his career before transitioning to first base. Still, space was tight on the ballot for first base so Allen wound up here. As for Pete Rose, who played a bunch of different positions, he had to go somewhere for this project and had some fine years in the mid-1970s at third base.

One interesting and probably unsurprising thing to note about Rose and Rodriguez is that they each drew far more first-place votes than Beltre or second-place finisher for this position, Miguel Cabrera. But Rose and Rodriguez each drew so many ninth and tenth-place votes that it dragged down their averages.

A more detailed breakdown of the voting is as follows:


Via filters from the survey website Qualtrics, we can dig into the numbers a little more. A few fun things to note:

  • The 131 voters who rated Rose first gave Rodriguez an average ranking of 4.82.
  • The 172 voters who rated Rodriguez first gave Rose an average ranking of 5.20.
  • The 113 voters who rated Rose last gave Rodriguez an average ranking of 4.16.
  • The 44 voters who rated Rodriguez last gave Rose an average ranking of 2.77.

I’m struck by the relatively strong showing for Scott Rolen. Perhaps as Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera are inducted in the years to come, Rolen can improve his numbers on the writers’ ballot. Rolen rose to 17.2 percent in his second year on the ballot and has eight more years to attempt an against-the-odds climb to 75 percent.

Other thoughts: There’s a pretty clear divide in the results after Rolen, though it wouldn’t be an awful day for Cooperstown if ever Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, or Darrell Evans is enshrined. I wouldn’t be stunned to see Nettles or Boyer get inducted at some point, but Bell and Evans probably have long-term spots locked down in these sorts of projects.

It’d be nice to get more third basemen on the ballot in the future. Robin Ventura has a reasonably good case sabermetrically. So does Ron Cey. Bill Madlock doesn’t have the advanced stats to bolster his case, but he won four batting titles. Then there’s Clete Boyer, one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball history. At some point, Nolan Arenado might deserve a spot, too.

Anyhow, I’ll share results for shortstop tomorrow. Thanks again to everyone for reading so far.

Just getting caught up? Check out results for pitcherscatchers, first basemen, and second basemen. Stay tuned in the days to come for results of the other four positions.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: Second basemen

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One of the greatest Hall of Fame injustices in recent years, in my book, occurred two years ago with the ballot for the Modern Baseball Era Committee.

While Detroit Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Jack Morris made the ballot and got voted in, their teammate Lou Whitaker wasn’t even up for consideration. Just as Sweet Lou drew only 2.9 percent of the vote his only year on the writers’ ballot in 2001, one of the greatest second basemen in baseball history was once again overlooked.

Times could be changing. With Trammell having made a plug for his former double play partner in his induction speech and Whitaker eligible for consideration again this fall, perhaps he’s due for his moment. But results that follow hint that there still might be some conversation needed around Whitaker’s case.

As a refresher for anyone new, I recently conducted a survey via the website Qualtrics, asking people to rank 10 players at each position, from 1 for most-deserving of induction to 10 for least-deserving. Having previously shared results for pitchers, catchers, and first basemen, it’s my pleasure to now share results for second base.

Q4 – Rank the following second basemen, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Lou Whitaker2.83
Jeff Kent4.05
Bobby Grich4.22
Robinson Cano4.49
Chase Utley4.70
Willie Randolph6.12
Dustin Pedroia6.48
Davey Lopes7.11
Ross Barnes7.18
Frank White7.81

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

There’s a lot to unpack here. Once again, I’m struck by the parity up top after the first position. Jeff Kent has struggled to gain any traction on the writers ballot, rising to 18.1 percent, his best showing thus far, in his sixth and most-recent appearance. It’s striking to see him outpace sabermetric favorite (and one of my personal favorite candidates) Bobby Grich. It’s also interesting to see Grich ranked in front of Chase Utley, his closest comp among ballplayers in recent years.

As for Whitaker, top showing and an average ranking of 2.83 would seemingly be cause for celebration among his supporters. Still, the breakdown of individual voting shows a couple things for Whitaker worth highlighting.


Whitaker got the most first-place votes. But he also got the most second-place votes and wasn’t terribly far off on having the most third-place votes. Granted, some of this is reflective of the caliber of second basemen not enshrined. Still, my sense is that not enough consensus has developed to ensure Whitaker will be enshrined this fall. I’ll be struck if he fails to make the ballot again. But with Whitaker needing 12 of 16 committee votes for induction, I could see him falling in the 7-10 vote range.

Staying on Whitaker for a moment longer, filters via the survey website that I used for this project, Qualtrics, can help us go further into the minds of voters who didn’t rank Whitaker first. The filters show:

  • The 61 voters who ranked Grich first ranked Whitaker 2.66 on average, slightly better actually than Whitaker’s overall ranking of 2.83;
  • The 61 voters who ranked Robinson Cano first ranked Whitaker 4.15 on average;
  • The 60 voters who ranked Kent first ranked Whitaker 4.52 on average.

This suggests to me that voters who appreciate Grich are also likely to appreciate Whitaker, which makes sense since it takes sabermetrics to appreciate each man’s case. What’s interesting to me is that Grich is also eligible with the Modern Era Baseball Committee this fall. I suspect he’ll be left off the ballot, since like Whitaker, he was one-and-done on the writers’ ballot and unlike Whitaker, Grich doesn’t have a recently-inducted teammate advocating publicly for him. In fact, Grich has yet to make a veterans’ ballot. But I wouldn’t be stunned if Grich’s absence from the ballot hurts Whitaker with a voter or two. They’re just too similar of candidates.

Looking at the remainder of the results, it’ll be interesting to see if this is Cano’s high-water mark as a candidate. Same for Dustin Pedroia. Both men look like their days as useful players could be behind them. I’m pleased to see Willie Randolph, another underrated player, doing relatively well in the votes here. Ross Barnes did about as well as an 1870s legend could be expected. As for Davey Lopes and Frank White, I might look to swap them out as candidates if I field this again in the future.

That said, I’ll share the results of third base tomorrow.

Just getting caught up? Check out results for pitcherscatchers, and first basemen. Stay tuned in the days to come for results of the other five positions.

The most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame: First basemen

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It’s my pleasure to present the third round of results, based on a survey of 425 respondents, for my nine-part series on the most-deserving players not in the Hall of Fame. Having covered voting results for pitchers and catchers in the first two posts, today will focus on first basemen.

That said, let’s get right into it.

Q3 – Rank the following first basemen, ranging from 1 for most-deserving of Hall of Fame induction to 10 for least-deserving

PlayerAverage ranking
Albert Pujols1.66
Fred McGriff4.68
Todd Helton5.02
Mark McGwire5.17
Keith Hernandez5.95
Will Clark6.04
Rafael Palmeiro6.28
Don Mattingly6.46
Gil Hodges6.65
Steve Garvey7.09

[From a survey of 425 respondents, fielded via Qualtrics]

Once more, no surprises at the very top of this. In fact, without giving too much away, I’ll note that Pujols got the most first-place votes of any candidate in this survey. Good. Had Pujols stayed in St. Louis following the 2011 season or at least signed with a team with a hitter-friendly ballpark, he might be nearing the all-time home run record now. We’ll never know how much Anaheim took away from his career numbers.

Looking at the other nine first basemen here, there’s again a fair bit of parity. Fred McGriff has some separation in the totals and looks like a probable Today’s Game Era Committee selection. Todd Helton and Mark McGwire might be heading down that track as well, though Helton could get a bump on the writers’ ballot if his former teammate Larry Walker is enshrined in the next few years. I’m less encouraged by the results for the rest of the bunch and wonder if, to some extent, they’re cancelling each other out.

Making this portion of the ballot wasn’t easy, with several very good, if not worthy first basemen waiting to be enshrined. As with pitcher, there were more candidates than could fit here. I moved Dick Allen to third base to free up space. I had to make tough decisions to omit John Olerud and Hal Chase from consideration and I forgot Mickey Vernon, who has his supporters. I contemplated omitting Rafael Palmeiro to save space, but that seemed ludicrous given his career numbers.

That said, here’s a more detailed breakdown on the voting:


A few fun things to note in the voting, courtesy of filters from the survey website Qualtrics which I used to conduct this poll:

  • The 351 voters who rated Pujols first gave Clemens an average rating of 2.15, which was marginally better than his overall rating of 2.44 for this survey. The 74 voters who rated Pujols second or worse gave Clemens an average rating of 3.77.
  • The 223 voters who rated McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro third or better gave Clemens an average rating of 1.14. The 202 voters who rated McGwire or Palmeiro worse than third gave Clemens an average rating of 3.86.
  • The 44 voters who selected Keith Hernandez, Steve Garvey, Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly, or McGriff first gave Pujols an average rating of 4.66. They also gave Clemens an average rating of 5.07. I’ll share their thoughts on Barry Bonds when I post results for left fielders.
  • 15 voters somehow rated Pujols last. I don’t know if they misread the survey and thought 10 was best. Whatever the case, these 15 voters were most likely to rate Will Clark or Garvey tops.

Anyhow, thanks to everyone for reading so far. I’ll be back tomorrow with the results for second base, which I think will make for the most interesting post thus far.

Just getting caught up? Check out results for pitchers and catchers. Stay tuned in the days to come for results of the other six positions.