Halls of different Fame

My friend and occasional contributor here, Rory Paap got his first link from Rob Neyer of ESPN.com on Friday. Neyer had proposed a new addition to Cooperstown he called the Wing of Amazing, “for players who really don’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they weren’t good enough, but did some things that do deserve to be celebrated.” Rory nominated Billy Wagner, writing that he wasn’t sure if the recently-retired closer deserves a regular spot in Cooperstown, but:

What I do know is that a young boy who is born right handed, breaks his arm, learns to throw lefty given the injury, only grows to 5’9″ and yet still manages an average fastball of over 96 miles per hour — from 2002 on, as available from Fangraphs — with incredible control and consistency, is amazing.

For sure. Neyer said he would have to be sure Wagner is “the only pitcher his size who’s ever thrown that hard (and been successful).” That may or may not be true, as 5’6″ 139-pound Bobby Shantz had 152 strikeouts in 1952, and 5’7″ 138-pound Bob Caruthers was one of the top strikeout artists of the American Association of the 1880s. All the same, the general idea got me thinking.

I write about whether people belong in the Hall of Fame every week, and what eight months of doing this has shown me is that there are many more good, if not great players than will probably ever get into Cooperstown. There are also lots of players who made memorable contributions to baseball or are at least worth remembering for some other reason, even if their careers weren’t Hall-worthy.

I like Neyer’s idea, though it’s worth noting: Such a place exists. The Baseball Reliquary in Southern California honors “individuals– from the obscure to the well-known– who have altered the baseball world in ways that supersede statistics.” In fact, stats do not play a role in determining whether a player gets into what Baseball Reliquary calls its Shrine of the Eternals.

Thirty-six people have been en-Shrined thus far, and they range from a one-armed pitcher to a catcher/CIA operative to baseball’s first deaf star, among others. In alphabetical order, the honorees are:

Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Roger Angell, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Steve Dalkowski, Rod Dedeaux, Jim Eisenreich, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Roger Maris, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Pete Rose, Casey Stengel, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck, Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura.

The 2011 ballot is out for this, the 13th annual election that will occur in April, with an induction ceremony to follow the third weekend in July in Pasadena, California. The new ballot has 50 people on it, namely:

Eliot Asinof, Frank C. Bancroft, Steve Blass, Chet Brewer, Charlie Brown, Jefferson Burdick, Glenn Burke, Helen Callaghan, Charles M. Conlon, L. Robert Davids, Dizzy Dean, Ed Delahanty, Bucky Dent, Hector Espino, Donald Fehr, Eddie Feigner, Lisa Fernandez, Rube Foster, Ted Giannoulas, Eddie Grant, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Pete Gray, Ernie Harwell, Charlie Hollocher, Bob Hope (a publicity director, not the famed actor), Dr. Frank Jobe, Charles “Pop” Kelchner, Effa Manley, Conrado Marrero, Dr. Mike Marshall, Tug McGraw, Fred Merkle, Manny Mota, Phil Pote, Vic Power, Curtis Pride, Dan Quisenberry, J.R. Richard, Annie Savoy, Rusty Staub, Chuck Stevens, Luis Tiant, Fay Vincent, Rube Waddell, John Montgomery Ward, David Wells, J.L. Wilkinson, Maury Wills, Wilbur Wood, Don Zimmer

I look forward to casting my ballot, and if anyone reading is interested in voting, please feel free to email me. I’ll forward any requests for ballots on to the executive director of Baseball Reliquary, Terry Cannon.

All this being said, my ballot may include some write-ins. As the Shrine of the Eternals is still relatively new, I’m guessing dozens of worthy candidates haven’t been honored. It was this way with the Hall of Fame for about its first 30 years, up through the mid-1960s when the Veterans Committee finally ran out of non-enshrined players with 300 wins or close to 3,000 hits, men like Tim Keefe and Sam Crawford. Here are 10 of their equivalents for Baseball Reliquary to consider:

Jose Canseco: Call him an opportunist, call him a cheat, call him stupid. No matter, Canseco’s Juiced stands as the most important expose of the Steroid Era next to Game of Shadows and easily the most entertaining. It helped spur Congressional hearings and landmark reforms in baseball. Canseco would be a hit at the induction ceremony, too.

Jim Creighton: Baseball’s first superstar, Creighton shined briefly before he swung so hard in a game in 1862 that he ruptured his appendix and died a few days later at 21.

Charles Victory Faust: Faust arrived at a road game for the New York Giants 100 years ago this spring and announced he would pitch the team to the pennant. It remains one of the oddest stories in baseball history. A fortune teller told Faust he would star for the Giants, and while his play in an informal tryout with John McGraw was laughable, McGraw kept Faust on as a mascot out of superstition. Faust even played in two games. The Giants won the pennant in 1911 but lost in the World Series, and Faust was let go after the season and later institutionalized. He died in an asylum in 1915 at 34. There’s never been anyone else like him in baseball.

Charlie Finley: If Bill Veeck is in this shrine, Finley should be too. Both were innovative owners who built championship clubs in small markets and were master showmen. Where Veeck had exploding scoreboards, midget pinch hitters, and the ambitious but ill-fated Disco Demolition Night, Finley let 59-year-old Satchel Paige pitch in 1965, had his shortstop Bert Campaneris play all nine positions in a game that same year, and offered his players bonuses to grow mustaches. This honor could mean more for the late Finley. Unlike Veeck, Finley isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis: Baseball’s first commissioner, Landis is remembered today as the former federal judge who gave lifetime bans to the eight members of the Chicago White Sox who threw the 1919 World Series. Landis also banned a number of other players and effectively vanquished gambling, a major problem in baseball in the first two decades of the 20th century. He served as commissioner until his death in 1944, and none of the men who’ve had the job since have impacted baseball nearly as much.

Hideo Nomo: Major League Baseball’s first Japanese star, Nomo retired from playing in Japan in the mid-1990s so he could come to the US. His hurricane windup baffled hitters stateside and made Nomo a hit with the Dodgers his first few years before hitters caught on. There’d be no Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or Daisuke Matsuzaka in the majors today had Nomo not paved the way. And even in decline, Nomo remained popular in Japan. I covered one of Nomo’s rehab starts in Triple-A in 2004. I sat near three Japanese reporters in the press box, and they all left shortly after Nomo’s two innings were up.

Lefty O’Doul: Just as there would have been no Ichiro without Nomo, neither man would have had a start in professional Japanese ball if O’Doul hadn’t helped launch it in the 1930s. He went so far as naming the Tokyo Giants and also was an instructor in Japan before and after World War II. I believe O’Doul, like Buck O’Neil, belongs in the Hall of Fame as an ambassador to baseball. And if O’Neil has a spot in the Shrine of the Eternals, O’Doul should too.

Branch Rickey: There’s never been a more important baseball executive than Branch Rickey. The general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates, Rickey invented the farm system for teams to develop their own players, signed the first black player in the modern era, and laid the foundation for success with all three teams he worked for. Bobby Bragan said in his autobiography, “To me, he was one of the greatest baseball minds ever, and I don’t think you’d be wrong if you took out the word ‘baseball.'”

Lawrence Ritter: Spurred by the death of Ty Cobb in 1961, Ritter decided to write a book comprised of interviews with old-time players. Five years and 75,000 miles on his car later, Ritter had The Glory of Their Times, quite possibly the best baseball book anyone’s written and certainly one of my favorites. It could also be the most influential, as four of the interviewed players got into the Hall of Fame in the years following the book’s publication in 1966: Rube Marquard, Stan Coveleski, Harry Hooper, and Goose Goslin.

Ernest Lawrence Thayer: Thayer received $5 in 1888 to write a poem for his college friend William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner. Thayer wasn’t proud of the poem, and it had a small effect, if any at first. Years later, a vaudeville actor incorporated Casey at the Bat into his act, and the rest is history. A century after its original publication, the poem remains popular, and a baseball-themed episode of The Simpsons in 1992 even bore the title, “Homer at the Bat.”

BPP Book Club: 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York

At the beginning of the 20th century, baseball was practiced in the style favored by New York Giants’ manager John McGraw: Play for the single run with a base hit, followed by the hit and run, a sacrifice or a stolen base.

But by 1921, Babe Ruth was in his second season with the New York Yankees, redefining what one ballplayer could do. His 59 home runs was more than eight entire teams in the majors that year, and not only did the long ball he hit so effectively create more runs, more quickly, it also proved to be a fan favorite.

The stage was set for an epic change in baseball strategy and its ruling elite, and this shift has been recreated in Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg’s book, 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York. I give the book five stars out of five. It’s a well-researched, well-documented account of what may be the single most pivotal season in baseball history.

Spatz and Steinberg provide interesting insights into the minds of the hard-driving McGraw and his Yankee counterpart Miller Huggins. Before the season began, McGraw said of his rivals, “Unless we have bad luck, I do not fear any club in the National League.”

Although the Giants got the best of the Yankees in the 1921 first all-New York World Series, capturing the title by 5 games to 3 in the best of nine set, Huggins nevertheless managed the Bombers to the teams’ first six American League pennants and three World Series championships.

Huggins’ slugging Yankees ended the dead ball era forever and catapulted the team into number one status in the New York baseball world ahead of the Giants. Brooklyn, then known as the Robins, was nowhere as far as fans outside of Flatbush were concerned.

Before Huggins took over the Yankees in 1918, he was the player/manager for the St. Louis Cardinals. And prior to taking the helm for the Cards, the 5’4”, 140 pound  Huggins was one of the most skilled second basemen of his era. At various times during his career with the Cardinals and his native Cincinnati, Huggins handled 15 or more chances or figured in three double plays.

Hall of Fame Yankee pitcher Waite Hoyt remembered his former manager: “Huggins was almost like a school master in the dugout. There was no goofing off. You watched the game and you kept track not only of the score and the number of outs, but of the count on the batter.  At any moment Hug might ask you what the situation was.”

By 1923, when Yankee Stadium opened (see video here), the Bombers started on a seven-decade stretch of mostly dominant baseball. Before 1923, the Yankees and the Giants shared the Polo Grounds.

1921 is full of New York’s rich history as well as the colorful sports journalism of the time from reporters like Damon Runyon and Walter Trumbull. As an example of the descriptive prose found in the sports section in those early days, consider this analysis from Trumbull about Game 5: “The Giants ran bases with all the skill of a fat lady with the asthma racing for a street car.”

The book also has 53 illustrations, many never seen before, that colorfully supplement the author’s text and offer one more reason 1921 is a valuable addition to any baseball library.

The Great Friday Link Out III: Eye of the Detroit Tiger

The only thing missing from this week’s link out is Mr. T or another reference to Rocky III.

  • Bill Miller has posted the third installment of the series we’re doing for his blog on good players on awful teams. This week, Bill writes about Rusty Staub, the best thing going on the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969 (who were really, really terrible, even by Expo standards.) The locals referred to Staub as Le Grand Orange.
  • Anyone who enjoys this site or other history-related baseball blogs may like a series about “infamous or controversial historical figures who also had a notable association with baseball.” So far, there have been posts on John Dillinger, Billy Sunday, and a 19th century catcher named Martin Bergen who killed his family and himself. I saw the Bergen story on Baseball Think Factory this week and subsequently read the other two pieces. They’re all outstanding: well-researched, vivid, and well-told.
  • The journalism ethics student in me has loved a recent thread in the baseball blogosphere. For some reason, a lot of people hate Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman. With a passion. I read his book on the ’86 Mets, The Bad Guys Won and don’t know if I see what the hatred is about. Pearlman wrote a recent well-received CNN.com piece about tracking some of his haters down. Apparently, though, there’s more to this story than he told.
  • Devon Young, who blogs about the 1982 Topps baseball set, has a fresh batch of articles up including one about a card he refuses to take out of the protective casing it came in off eBay: A 1982 Pascual Perez error card. Kind of sums up Perez’s whole career.
  • Kevin Graham has changed the name of his site (though not his URL) from DMB World Series Replay to Baseball Revisited and is asking everyone who has him in their blogroll to note the change. I’ll do that, though a part of me is tempted to write, “The Blogger Formerly Known As…”

Any player/Any era: Denny McLain

What he did: I recently got an email from Brendan Bingham suggesting I write something on Denny McLain. Brendan wrote:

Although Denny McLain’s 31 wins is part of the standard description of what made 1968 the “year of the pitcher,” the accomplishment perhaps had little to do with 1968. McLain had a great year, but it would have been great in any era. I have not put McLain’s 1968 numbers through stat converter, but I strongly suspect that if you transport him to another team that won 103 games and outscored its opponents by 180 runs, and if you allow him to start 40 games and pitch more than 300 innings, there would be a good chance that he would win 30, or close to it.

It’s a bold prediction, and I’m happy to test it out. In search of the right team for McLain, I went back more than 100 years, deep into the Deadball Era.

Era he might have thrived in: We’ll trade McLain’s 103-59 Detroit Tigers for an even stronger club. The 1904 New York Giants went 106-47, scored 270 more runs than their opponents, and boasted not one, but two 30-game winners, Joe McGinnity and Christy Matthewson. The two combined for 90 starts and nearly 800 innings pitched, and if McLain subbed for Matthewson, he’d get his 30 wins.

Why: There hasn’t been a 30-game winner since 1968, partly because the perfect storm of circumstances Brendan outlined hasn’t occurred much since then. Since 1980, just two pitchers have made at least 40 starts, Charlie Hough in 1987 and Jim Clancy in 1982, and both played on losing teams. And no pitcher has broken 300 innings in a season since 1980 when Steve Carlton did it on 38 starts for the 91-71 Phillies.

If McLain pitched today, he’d be lucky to win 25 games. Even on the best current clubs, McLain would receive a maximum of 35 starts a season, pitch maybe six or seven innings per outing, and have at least a few wins ruined by relievers. Like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Barry Bonds’ 73-homer season, 30 wins in one year seems improbable today. It’s worth noting, too, that the live ball era has witnessed just three other 30-game winners: Jim Bagby Sr. in 1920, Lefty Grove in 1931, and Dizzy Dean in 1934. There’s a reason for that.

To win 30 games in another era, McLain would need an ironclad team from baseball’s distant past where he and another pitcher would, for all intents and purposes, be the starting rotation. There may be a few teams like this from the Deadball Era, but I’m partial to the 1904 Giants. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com has McLain’s ’68 season translating to 19-14 with a 2.35 ERA for New York, though I think that’s inaccurate. I’m guessing the converter is giving McLain what’s left over after McGinnity and Matthewson, as the numbers roughly parallel New York’s real third starter that year, Dummy Taylor.

Removing McGinnity or Matthewson would be key here, and there’s a temptation to keep Matthewson and make this about him pitching with McLain. But I think this team needs McGinnity, the 33-year-old ace whose 35 wins, 1.61 ERA, and 170 ERA+ were all league bests in 1904. Matthewson went 33-12 with a 2.03 ERA and ERA+ of 133, and McLain posted a better ERA+ in 1968, more shutouts, a better winning percentage, and a comparable number of innings. I wouldn’t sub out Matthewson in 1905 when he went 31-9 with a 1.28 ERA and 230 ERA+ and was the Giants in the World Series, but in 1904, McLain would have been the better young arm.

A legendary manager like John McGraw might have helped McLain, too. Matthewson turned 24 in 1904, the same age as McLain in 1968 and pitched another decade on his way to Cooperstown. McLain had one more good season after 1968 and then began an epic decline in baseball and life. He threw his last pitch at 28 in 1972, had drug problems, and was later imprisoned. There would still be risks for McLain in the Deadball Era. He had ties to gamblers while in the majors and perhaps could have been corrupted in baseball’s early days, when players regularly rigged games. And McGraw couldn’t save everyone, like his pitcher Bugs Raymond who drank himself out of the big leagues at 29 and died the following year.

Whatever the case may be, though, at least in 1904, McLain would surely have been something special.

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

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Remembering Big George Crowe

Although I never lived in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Boston or Milwaukee, one of my early baseball favorites was Big George Crowe, a first baseman for the Reds, Cardinals, and Braves.

My first connection to Crowe, who died on January 18 at 89, came when I was a ten-year-old growing up in Los Angeles avidly collecting baseball cards. Crowe’s 1952 and 1953 Topps cards were the most identifiable and treasured in my collection.

When my family moved to Puerto Rico, I went to dozens of Santurce Cangrejeros winter Caribbean League games. Crowe was a key member of the historic 1954-1955 Crabbers squad that many in baseball claim was the best winter squad ever.

Don Zimmer, a stand out shortstop for the Crabbers, considered Santuce as good as or better than any franchise in the major leagues.

Zimmer attested:

Without a doubt, it was probably the best winter club ever assembled. I mean we had guys like Buzz Clarkson, myself, Ronnie Samford, George Crowe, Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti catching. We had Mays, Thurman and Clemente in the outfield. I mean you’re talking about a big league ball club. Not only that but Herman Franks was an outstanding manager. We could have beaten National League clubs.

The local media referred to the heart of the line-up, Mays, Clemente, Thurman, Clarkson and Crowe, as “Murders Row,” likening them to the famous 1927 New York Yankees.

In addition to the sluggers, on the mound were Ruben Gomez and Sam Jones. Gomez, incredibly, won 179 games over 29 winter league campaigns, all but one of them hurling for the Crabbers.

During his three seasons in Puerto Rico, Crowe hit .337 with 32 home runs and 179 runs batted in.

The Caribbean League allowed only a limited number of “imports,” the word used to describe non-Caribbean-born Americans. But since the Puerto Rican newspapers prominently featured their “off season” summer successes, I could easily follow Crowe’s career.

In 1957 Crowe, at age 36 with the Cincinnati Reds, had his best season. When an injury to Ted Kluszewski gave Crowe a shot at the full time first baseman’s job, he appeared in 133 games, belted 31 home runs and drove in 92 runs placing him sixth and eighth in the league respectively.

Ironically, Crowe was the only Reds starter not selected that year to the All-Star game during infamous ballot stuffing scandal forced the selections of Roy McMillan, Ed Bailey, Gus Bell, Don Hoak, Johnny Temple, Wally Post, and Frank Robinson. Crowe was beaten out by Stan Musial. Nevertheless, Crowe received a degree of revenge the following season when voters selected him as a reserve to the 1958 All-Star team based on his .300 plus batting average for the first half of the season.

Crowe was an outstanding Negro National League star as well as a professional basketball player for the New York Rens and the Los Angeles Red Devils where he teamed with Jackie Robinson. In 1939, Crowe was Indiana’s first Mr. Basketball.

Crowe lived in the Adirondacks until 2006 when he moved to California to join his family. After suffering a stroke in late 2008, Crowe resided in an assisted living facility near Sacramento until his death.

Other recent baseball passings: Art Mahan, Gil McDougald

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Joe Posnanski

Claim to fame: Here’s a trivia question: Who is Charles Dryden? How about Heywood Broun? Frank Graham? As an aspiring sportswriter, I’ve read Dryden, Broun, Graham and other long-dead pioneers of my craft. Dryden even had a cool life story, living as a hobo in the 1800s before going to work as a newspaperman. He once described Deadball Era pitcher Ed Walsh as “the only man in the world who could strut standing still.” To most fans, Dryden, Broun, and Graham would be just names. They have one thing, though, that a current, recognizable sportswriter, Joe Posnanski does not: a spot in the writers wing of the Hall of Fame.

Honoring recipients of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” the wing is a place that I could get lost in but something most fans wouldn’t care seeing on their Cooperstown visit. Honoring Posnanski could boost interest. As a two-time AP sports columnist of the year, current Sports Illustrated writer, and celebrated blogger, Posnanski might be the best sports journalist today. Certainly, I look up to him, and I enjoyed interviewing him. I’m far from the only person Posnanski’s influenced. That’s a common theme among the greatest writers wing honorees from Grantland Rice to Jim Murray to Peter Gammons.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Posnanski is eligible to win the award,  though as he’s in his 40s, it could be awhile. Traditionally, the award has functioned as something of a lifetime achievement honor, given to writers like Murray late in their careers or awarded posthumously. Gammons was one of the youngest honorees when he received the award in 2004 at 59.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Yes, absolutely. I look at Posnanski like I look at Albert Pujols. Each man is so much more skilled than his peers it’s ridiculous, and if either were to retire tomorrow, I would have no problem honoring them. Each has done enough for Cooperstown in my eyes.

Posnanski would have a strong case for the writers wing from his newspaper, Sports Illustrated, and book-writing work, but it’s what he’s done outside his job that seals it for me. Posnanski is a master of the 21st century version of New Journalism, blogging, and as sports writing becomes more and more of an online endeavor, he stands as a great example influencing a generation of young writers. He’s also a great guy, perhaps the best thing of all.

Murray was a role model, too, in his decades with the Los Angeles Times, inspiring countless writers who imitated his witty, acerbic prose. Years before, Graham essentially created the fly-on-the-wall style of sports feature writing. And after Rice died in 1954, Smith wrote, “Perhaps it is not literally true that Grantland Rice put a white collar upon the men of his profession, but not all sportswriters before him were cap-and-sweater guys. He was, however, the sportswriter whose company was sought by presidents and kings.”

At least a few others in the writers wing are, for aspiring writers, little more than good examples of bad examples. I won’t get into names, but they’re the kind of folk who trash blogging, denigrate any kind of different writing really (one less-than-stellar honoree called Ball Four “horseshit,” for instance) and bemoan the decline of newspapers. Every year that they are in the Hall of Fame and Posnanski is not, Cooperstown looks more behind the times.

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

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert BelleBert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe CarterJohn Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

A starting lineup of non-All Stars

A reader emailed me an interesting post this past weekend. John Bowen of DugoutCentral.com offered a lineup of players who were left off their league’s All Star team in a year they thrived. I went a step further with this idea and crafted a lineup of the best players I could find who never made an All Star team. The only requirements were that the players needed to be active sometime since 1933, the year of the first All Star game and have at least one good season.

My batting order is as follows:

1 – Tony Phillips (2B): I considered Rogers Hornsby, perhaps the greatest second baseman ever, who did his best work in the 1920s and was washed up by the time the All Star tradition began in 1933. Phillips would have been more than a token selection, though and looked deserving for his 1993 season, where he hit .313 with a .443 OBP for the Tigers and 1995 when he had 27 home runs and 61 RBI and helped the Angels come within one game of the playoffs.

2 – Lyman Bostock (OF): Bostock’s career ended tragically in September 1978 when he was murdered at 27. But even with just four years in the majors, Bostock had one season that should have gotten him an All Star nod: 1977, where he was finished second in the American League with a .336 batting average and posted an OPS+ of 144, 6.5 WAR, and a .508 slugging percentage, impressive for a contact hitter.

3 – Hal Trosky (1B): Hank Greenberg recounted in The Glory of Their Times, “There are great ballplayers nowadays, of course. But you know, I played in an era of super-great ballplayers, especially first basemen. Just think of the competition I had at first base in the American League: Hal Trosky, Zeke Bonura, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Rudy York.” Trosky and Bonura never were All Stars, and I favor Trosky for peak offensive value. In 1936, he hit .343 with 42 home runs and his MLB-best 162 RBI.

4 – Tim Salmon (OF): Bowen mentioned Salmon in his post, calling him a notoriously slow starter. Nonetheless, Salmon’s final numbers for the ’95 Angels of 34 home runs, 105 RBI and a .330 batting average, not to mention his OPS+ of 165, could have at least gotten him an All Star selection the following year.

5 – Kirk Gibson (OF): Gibson didn’t even make the All Star team in 1988 when he was National League MVP, though he led the league in WAR with 7.3. It seems odd Gibson’s iconic home run in the 1988 World Series wasn’t enough to get him voted onto the 1989 All Star squad.

6 – Hank Thompson (3B): Thompson was part of the first generation of black players in the majors. In those days, only the most popular black players like Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Satchel Paige generally received All Star bids. Less-known blacks with maybe one All Star-caliber season, primarily former Negro Leaguers with relatively short careers in the majors, went unacknowledged. These men included Joe Black, Luke Easter, Sam Jethroe, and Thompson, who stepped up for the Giants in 1953 when Mays was out all year in the army.

7 – Spud Davis (C): Proof that voters were often very wrong in latter day baseball, Davis hit .349 in 1933 and lost out on a catcher spot on the National League squad to Jimmie Wilson, who hit .255 and Woody English, who hit .261. And even if it wasn’t a figment of any voter’s imagination back then, Davis’s WAR in 1933 of 3.7 was better than Wilson and English combined.

8 – Eddie Lake (SS): I figured I could find many players for this list by examining stats that weren’t valued in earlier generations. Lake led the American League with a .412 on-base percentage in 1945, and his WAR of 5.7 and 136 OPS+ topped the AL All Star shortstop selections that year, Vern Stephens, who had better slugging numbers and Lou Boudreau, who got on for being named Lou Boudreau. No All Star game was played in 1945 because of World War II, and Lake never had another season approaching All Star status, retiring in 1950 with a .231 career batting average and a lifetime OPS+ of 91.

9 – Waite Hoyt (P): Many aging, future Hall of Famers never played in an All Star game in the 1930s because their best years were behind them by then, from Rogers Hornsby to Rabbit Maranville to Dazzy Vance. Hoyt is the only Cooperstown member I know of who could have been an All Star selection on playing merit but never was. In 1934, a few years after he bottomed off the Yankees, Hoyt went 15-6 with a 2.93 ERA and 142 ERA+ for the Pirates.

MLB Executives Know What They Are Doing-Huh?

Imagine the following. You are a general manager. Your task is to release one of two players. The first is disappointing but talented, able to play several positions and shine, at least defensively in all of them. The other man can play two positions and is labeled a great defensive player simply because he cannot hit big league pitching. To put it another way, you are the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and you have to choose between Andy LaRoche and Andy Marte.

Ask any owner or general manager, and they’ll tell you: Having a highly competent and knowledgeable GM is key to assembling a successful team. This is what makes LaRoche’s recent release by Pittsburgh, as well as most any other decision the Pirates’ front office has made in the past 15 years, puzzling. Granted, perhaps scouts were wrong when they formerly labeled LaRoche a can’t-miss star. But replacing him with Marte, who is at least as weak offensively and doesn’t even have an opportunity in Pittsburgh as a utility player, seems to make little baseball sense.

The Washington Nationals just splurged on an outfielder who is injury-prone, will be too old in the last few years of his contract to give the Nationals anything close to a $20-million performance, and will probably play center field instead of right. In a few years, Jayson Werth will be a hindrance more than much-needed help. Werth is solid offensively and defensively– he just isn’t a franchise player. The Nationals play in a tough hitter’s park, too, and Werth won’t be surrounded by the same offensive juggernaut as he was with the Phillies. The Nationals, whose farm system is beginning to produce some very interesting position players, need pitching and more pitching to contend. Twenty million dollars buys a lot of good young pitching.

Then there are the Seattle Mariners. Seattle had an idea last winter: If pitching and defense are that important to winning games, let’s see if all pitching and defense can get you into the World Series. Problem was, after Cy Young-winner Felix Hernandez, all that pitching didn’t amount to much, and a player such as Chone Figgins was changed from a Gold Glove third baseman to a fish-out-of-water second baseman, leaving a hole at both positions. Combine the Mariners’ defensive woes with an offense that only Ichiro was able to contribute much to, and the reasons behind the 2010 Mariners 101-loss season become painfully obvious.

Now, Seattle is dangling its star closer, David Aardsma, as bait for a game-changing offensive player. The only pure slugger on the free agent market, Adam Dunn signed with the White Sox. Very few, if any genuine home run threats would consider Seattle anyway– it’s simply too tough to hit the ball out of Safeco Field. The Mariners seem likely to repeat their poor 2010 season again and again.

Major League Baseball is littered with teams who were unsuccessful and will continue to be unsuccessful. But the model of how to run a competitive franchise season after season is there. It shouldn’t be too difficult to see.

Carl Erskine and the Oddest Game in World Series History

During the 1950s decade Carl Erskine, the right-handed starting pitcher who played his entire career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, pitched two of the league’s seven no hitters. Erskine’s gems came on June 19, 1952 against the Chicago Cubs and on May 12, 1956 against the New York Giants.

For curious historians, the others were Vern Bickford, 8-11-1950, Boston Braves over the Dodgers, 7-0; Cliff Chambers, 5-6-1951, Pittsburgh Pirates over the Braves, 3-0; Jim Wilson, 6-12-1954, Milwaukee Braves over the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-0; “Sad” Sam Jones, 5-12-1955, Chicago Cubs over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-0 and Sal Maglie, 9-25-1956, Dodgers over the Phillies, 5-0.

Erskine also pitched nine innings of no hit ball during his 1952 World Series win over the New York Yankees. In what must be one of the most unusual pitching performances of all time, on October 5 1952 Erskine held the Yankees hitless for nine of his eleven inning 6-5 complete game five win.

In the fourth inning, Mickey Mantle reached first base on a bunt single. Then in the fifth, the Yankees erupted for five runs on four more hits including a three run home run by Johnny Mize. From then on, the Yankees got nothing.

Erskine had lost the second game to Vic Raschi. 7-1. In game five, he faced Ewell “the Whip” Blackwell.

Recounting game five to Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer author, he said:

I had first class stuff, not much pain. The curve was sharp. We go into the fifth inning ahead by four runs. Do you remember the date? It was October 5. That was my fifth wedding anniversary. My control slips. A walk, some hits. Mize rips me. I am behind 5-4 and here comes Dressen.

I’m thinking, Oh no. I got good stuff. I look at Dressen coming closer and I think, the numbers are against me: October 5, my fifth wedding anniversary, the fifth inning and I have just given the Yankees five runs. Five must be my unlucky number. Charlie says to give him the ball.

Erskine continued:

You weren’t allowed to talk when he came out. He was afraid you might argue with him into leaving you in, and you had to wait on the mound for the next pitcher, so you wish him luck. Now Charlie has the ball. I’m through. The five runs have done me in. Suddenly Dressen says, ‘Isn’t this your anniversary? Are you gonna take Betty out and celebrate tonight?’

Describing the situation, Erskine recalled:

I can’t believe it. There’s 70,000 people watching, as many as in all of Anderson, Indiana and he’s asking what I’m doing that night! I tell him yes, I was planning to take Betty someplace quiet. To which Dressen replies, ‘Well, then see if you can get this game over before it gets dark!’

With that, Dressen handed the ball back and Erskine who proceeded to get the next 19 batters out, the Dodgers won in 11, he took Betty out to dinner and they celebrated his first World Series victory.

Erskine was one of many Boys of Summer whose careers peaked in Brooklyn but who, by the time they reached Los Angeles, had little left in their tanks. Nevertheless, Erskine had the wonderful opportunity to play on the great Dodgers teams with his mates Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo. More than half the starting line- up is in the Hall of Fame.

“Oisk,” as he was known in Brooklyn, did himself proud. During his 12 season career (six of them pennant winning) from 1948 to 1959, Erskine posted a 122-78 mark with a .621 winning percentage and added two more victories in the 1952 and 1953 World Series—his best two years. In 1952, Erskine went 14-6 (2.70 ERA) and in 1953, 20-6 (3.54)

Erskine has led a admirable post-playing life. His fourth child Jimmy was born with Downs Syndrome; Erskine is active in the Special Olympics and volunteers at his local Hopewell Center for the developmentally disabled. He’s a member of the Baseball Advisory Committee dedicated to helping former players with financial and medical needs.

To commemorate Erskine’s accomplishments both as a Dodger and as a citizen, a 6-foot bronze statue of the pitcher stands in front of the Carl D. Erskine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center in his native Anderson, Indiana. Also, Erskine donated part of his land to the Anderson Community School System to build a new school, appropriately named Erskine Elementary.

Erskine has written two autobiographical books: Tales from the Dodgers’ Dugout: Extra Innings and What I Learned from Jackie Robinson. In Brooklyn, fans can meet on Erskine Street, dedicated in 2002.

The Great Friday Link Out II: The Wrath of Cain

It’s Friday, which means a second week of links is upon us. It’s going to be hard to top my debut of this feature last week when I inadvertently linked to a one-time white rapper turned baseball memorabilia collector. Who knew SABR members could rap? Barring any of the following bloggers secretly being Vanilla Ice (and you never know online…) we should be in for a tamer week.

Without further adieu…

  • The second installment of the “Baseball’s Best of the Worst” feature that Bill Miller and I are doing for his blog is live. I wrote this week’s post, and it’s on Boston Braves outfielder Wally Berger, a superb player on a horrific team if there ever was one.
  • Speaking of Bill’s fine blog (which is in a similar vein to this site) he also had a great post Thursday on some of baseball’s most famously-hyped prospects over the years. Clint Hartung, we hardly knew ye.
  • Fun with old sports cards
  • I generally work hard to provide a decent baseball blog but there are a few I know of, and probably more, that usually dwarf my efforts here. The Platoon Advantage is one. I’m often amazed at the quality, detail, and expertise and how there is seemingly a never-ending supply of good content there. Here’s a Glory of Their Times-style post with a top draft pick discussing life in the minors.
  • Baseball Prospectus looks at bargain free agent veterans. If I was a GM, I’d build the majority of my roster this way. I’d be Brian Sabean (with the exception of this off-season, where former bargain pickups are cashing in to re-up.)
  • A reader alerted me to an interesting thread at Baseball Think Factory on an all non-Hall of Fame team, a topic that’s been gone over here for sure.
  • Shameless self promotion: My recent interview with Josh Wilker rated a mention here.