A Bert Blyleven near miss may have cost Jack Morris a shot at the baseball Hall of Fame

Jon Heyman has arguably been the most prominent advocate for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy among higher-profile baseball writers. Heyman currently works for CBSSports.com and also appears on MLB Network. After Morris did not get 75% of the vote in this year’s election, Heyman tweeted the following:

Time to start pro Jack Morris hall campaign. Guy can’t get break. All-AL SP in dh era hurt by roid guys and ‘net negativity

Heyman has been the de facto campaign manager for Morris over the last few years anyway, so this tweet wasn’t particularly surprising. There is some angst for Morris backers, as he will only be the ballot for one more year. If he isn’t elected in 2014, he will have to wait and hope for the mercy of the Veterans Committee.

I wanted to point out one piece of bad luck that may have really hurt Morris’ chances. This is going to be a little bit involved, and is somewhat speculative. Nevertheless, here goes…

Bill James, from The Politics of Glory:

Writers tend to balance their ballots. A writer, making out a Hall of Fame ballot, normally looks to include one or two starting pitchers, a reliever maybe, a middle infielder or two, a couple of slugging outfielders, a first baseman or third baseman, a catcher. He looks for the best in each little pocket.

This natural tendency of the BBWAA voters has the effect of occasionally causing a “cratering” of certain players’ vote totals. James pointed to Jim Bunning as a good example of this. Bunning received 74.4% of the vote in 1988, just missing election, but in 1989 Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins appeared on the ballot, and Bunning’s support declined. He would have to wait to be elected by the Veterans Committee. (Something similar also happened to Luis Tiant.)

A more recent, if less dramatic, example of writers “choosing” between players at the same position involved Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. Both were relievers, and both drew considerable support from the electorate. However, Sutter appeared on the ballot first (in 1994), six years before Gossage became eligible. In Gossage’s first year of eligibility, the two actually drew similar vote totals (192 for Sutter, 166 for Gossage).

That pattern continued for a few years, then Gossage’s totals began to stall. It appeared the writers were struggling to separate the candidacies of the two relievers, and collectively needed to focus on just one of them. Sutter, with more history on the ballot, continued to draw more votes and was finally elected in 2006, in his thirteenth year of eligibility.

With Sutter out of the way, that cleared the decks for Gossage, who then became the leading candidate among relievers. Gossage had to wait one “extra” year when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. appeared on the ballot, but he was eventually elected in 2008.

By 2008, Bert Blyleven was receiving 61.8% of the vote from the BBWAA and was the top candidate among starting pitchers for enshrinement. It had been a long journey up the ballot for Blyleven, but he was getting closer. In 2009 he finished fourth overall, receiving 62.7% of the vote.

By that time, the next-most-supported pitcher was Jack Morris. This had been the case since Jim Kaat’s final year on the ballot in 2003. In 2009, Morris got 44% of the vote.

In 2010, Blyleven came very, very close to being elected. He was only five votes short of election. Morris moved up to 52.3% of the vote, fourth overall, third among those not elected (Andre Dawson got the nod that year).

Blyleven finally made it in 2011, gaining election. And Morris?

Well, he stalled a bit, at 53.5%. Blyleven’s breakthrough probably cost Morris some momentum, as writers who might have been inclined to vote for just one starting pitcher may have chosen to select Blyleven, then in his fourteenth year on the ballot and on the precipice.

With Blyleven finally off the ballot, Morris became the top choice among starting pitchers on the ballot. He received 66.7% of the vote in 2012, a sizable improvement from 2011.

However, in 2013, his fourteenth year on the ballot, he stalled again, just like practically all the other ballot holdovers, as the writers tried (and seemingly failed) to come to grips with “the steroid era”. Morris now has one more shot, and it won’t be easy for him to gain election. He has to have a historically large jump in support despite being joined on the ballot by several starting pitchers with much better credentials (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina).

Here is where I speculate…

I think Blyleven just missing out in 2010 really hurt Morris’ chances. If Blyleven had been elected that year, it would have given Morris a clear field, in terms of viable starting pitching candidates.

Instead of only getting 53.5% of the vote in 2011, I think it’s likely Morris would have had vote totals similar to what he eventually got in 2012 — and if he had been sitting at 66.7% after 2011, then I think he would have had a very good chance of joining Barry Larkin in Cooperstown in 2012.

As I stated earlier, Blyleven missed election in 2010 by only five votes.

There were writers who voted for Blyleven and Morris that year. There were some who obviously just voted for Blyleven (and some who voted for neither).

There were a few, though, who voted for Morris and not Blyleven, despite Blyleven having demonstrably superior statistical credentials in both standard and sabermetric pitching categories (including wins, ERA, strikeouts, shutouts, innings pitched, ERA+, and WHIP). Blyleven also had a better overall postseason record than Morris, the latter’s outstanding performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series notwithstanding.

I wonder if any of those writers who voted for Morris but not Blyleven have ever considered the possibility that by not voting for Blyleven in 2010, they may have cost Morris a later shot at election.

One of those writers, by the way, was Jon Heyman

If I had a Baseball Hall of Fame vote

There are 26 players on the 2010 BBWAA ballot, and like almost everyone else in the world, I have an opinion on who deserves enshrinement.  My opinion isn’t any better than anyone else’s, of course, but I felt like making a post on the subject, and here it is…

For the ballot holdovers, I’m going to basically copy/paste what I said when I posted about last year’s ballot.  I will bold those players whose candidacies I favor.

Harold Baines:  He played forever, but if I’m going to support the candidacy of a DH-type he needs to put up a little more than a career 120 OPS+.  Baines led the AL in slugging in 1984.  That’s the only time he ever led the league in a significant statistical category.  That’s not exactly dominant.

Bert Blyleven:  He’s up to 62.7% of the vote.  Every year he picks up a few (just a few) votes, and it does appear that the bulk of the BBWAA membership has come around on his candidacy, which is good, although he is running out of time.  I understand the problem with trying to evaluate him (he surely has one of the more unusual pitching careers in MLB history), but if you’re still not sold on him, just consider all those shutouts.  He had 60 of them, which is ninth all time, and he’s going to stay in the top 10 for many, many years to come.

Andre Dawson:  He got 67% of the vote last year and is going to get in eventually, possibly this year (he may just miss the 75% mark).  I support his candidacy, despite the .323 OBP.  I think people sometimes evaluate him as a corner outfielder and forget he won four of his eight Gold Gloves as a centerfielder.  He’s a very close case, but he also gets bonus points on the character issue and for having a cool nickname.  When he was active, I think the majority of baseball fans thought of him as a future Hall of Famer.  Of course, you could also say that about Steve Garvey…

Don Mattingly:  Some of the people supporting his candidacy have been known to argue that if Kirby Puckett is in the Hall, so should Mattingly, because their batting statistics are similar.  Of course, they never seem to mention that Puckett was a centerfielder and Mattingly a first baseman.  Comparing a first baseman’s batting stats to those of a borderline Hall of Fame centerfielder is not the way to get your man in the Hall.

Mark McGwire:  I would vote for him.  The rules were the same for him as they were for everyone else, which is to say, there were no rules.  You have to evaluate him by the era in which he played.  In that era, he’s a Hall of Famer.  There are those who think even without the steroids issue, he’s not of Hall of Fame caliber.  Those people are wrong.  (In Mike Nadel’s case, he apparently didn’t bother considering McGwire’s walk totals.  This is like looking at McGwire’s career with one eye shut.)

Jack Morris:  One game doesn’t make up for a career ERA+ of 105.  He was a workhorse, but he was never an elite pitcher.  That said, he seems to be gaining support.  Alas.  There are even voters (including SI’s Jon Heyman) who have voted for Morris and not Blyleven, which is ludicrous.

Dale Murphy:  Like Dawson, a lot of people forget that Murphy played the majority of his career as a centerfielder, including the bulk of the six-year period (1982-87) during which he was arguably the best player in baseball.  Murphy’s career was short, which hurts him, and the argument against him is that his peak wasn’t long enough to offset that.  I think it’s close.

There is something else about Murphy that doesn’t get discussed much, but I think needs to be.  Murphy was a Superstation Star, perhaps the first.  Everyone around the country could follow the Braves via TBS, even when they were bad, as they were through much of Murphy’s time with the club.  Because of that, along with his reputation as an individual of high character, Murphy has to be one of the most popular players of his era, and maybe of any era.

Personally, I think it’s possible that the success (and in some cases, existence) of programs like East Cobb Baseball can be traced to kids following and being inspired by the Braves, and the main, if not only, reason to follow the Braves in the mid-to-late 1980s was Dale Murphy.  It’s worthy of study, at least.  I believe that type of influence on the game should be recognized.

Dave Parker:  There is a five-year doughnut hole in his career which is basically going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.  It’s nobody’s fault but his.  “Cobra” was an outstanding nickname, though.

Tim Raines:  Raines got less than 25% of the vote in the last balloting, same as the year before, in part because he played his best years in Montreal, the Witness Protection Program of baseball, and in part because he is compared to Rickey Henderson.  That’s a tough comparison for just about anybody, so Raines loses out.  Never mind the fact that Raines was better than Lou Brock, who is already in the Hall.

Raines was a truly great player, and belongs in Cooperstown.  I think he will eventually get there, but it’s going to take a while.  I’m hopeful the BBWAA votes him in sometime in the next decade.  I’m not confident that it will happen, however.

Lee Smith:  Trying to define a Hall of Fame relief pitcher is difficult.  Of the relievers already enshrined, I would rate all of them above Smith except maybe Bruce Sutter, who is a questionable selection to say the least.  On the other hand, among other eligibles and active pitchers, I would only rate Mariano Rivera as being clearly ahead of Smith.  Ultimately, I can’t support Smith’s candidacy, mainly because he never “seemed” like a Hall of Famer to me.  I reserve the right to reconsider…

Alan Trammell:  The biggest injustice in the balloting the last few years, easily, is Trammell not even being close to election.  His problems are at least twofold:  he played at the same time as Cal Ripken Jr., essentially, and then after his career ended the ARod-Nomar-Jeter triumvarite appeared on the scene, closely followed by Miguel Tejada.

He suffers in comparison to Ripken, and his batting stats don’t measure up to the new wave of shortstops that followed him.  He also got jobbed of the 1987 MVP award, which would have helped his case (he did win the World Series MVP award in 1984).  In the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James rated him the 9th-best shortstop of all time, which struck me as a reasonable placement.  The 9th-best shortstop of all time belongs in the Hall.

There are 15 first-timers on the ballot.  Lightning round for most of them:

Kevin Appier:  not a Hall of Famer, but a very nice career.  He was excellent for many years in Kansas City (1993 in particular, when he finished third in the Cy Young Award balloting).

Ellis Burks:  his most-similar comp is Moises Alou, which seems reasonable.  Burks, like Appier, had a long, productive career.  He scored an amazing 142 runs in 1996 for the Rockies.

Andres Galarraga:  like Appier and Burks, not a Hall of Famer but a very good player; an inspirational one, in fact.  He finished his career with 399 home runs — and also finished with a .499 slugging percentage.  In 1996-97 for Colorado, he drove in a combined 290 runs (a fair number of them scored by Burks).

Pat Hentgen:  like Burks and Galarraga, he had a great year in 1996, winning the Cy.  The rest of his career didn’t quite measure up, though.

Mike Jackson:  if you thought he hung around forever, he did — 1005 career games.

Eric Karros:  Mike Piazza’s buddy was a consistent RBI man but didn’t really hit that well for a first baseman, all things considered.  Still, 11 straight years as the regular 1B for the Dodgers is a very good run.  What did he do in 1996?  Led the NL in grounding into double plays.

Ray Lankford:  probably better than you think he was, but not really that exceptional.  A strikeout machine.

Edgar Martinez:  boy, he could hit.  Ultimately, his career wasn’t quite long enough/dominant enough for me to support the candidacy of a DH.  His most similar comp is Will Clark, but Clark was also a fine first baseman, while Martinez offers nothing in terms of defense.  Clark fell off the ballot after one year.  I think Martinez will not; he’ll be like fellow DH Harold Baines in that respect, although I do think he is a better candidate than Baines.

Shane Reynolds:  basically a league-average pitcher who threw about 1800 career innings.  There is a lot of value in that, but not a Hall of Fame case, obviously.

David Segui:  he’s the worst player on the ballot.

Robin Ventura:  one of the great college hitters ever, and he had a really nice MLB career too.  He’s probably one of the 20 best third basemen of all time, but that’s not quite Hall of Fame territory.  His most similar comp is the Penguin, Ron Cey.

Todd Zeile:  he wore the uniform for 11 different teams (and was part of six trades), mostly playing third base after debuting as a catcher.  He was a good player and a solid citizen.

And those newbies on the ballot who would get my vote…

Roberto Alomar:  a slick-fielding second baseman who could hit, and a perennial All-Star with a sterling postseason record?  Sign me up!  I’ll look past the spitting incident and the fact his career cratered with the Mets.  He’s an easy choice.

Barry Larkin:  you know, he’s really just like Alan Trammell except Larkin got his MVP, while Trammell was robbed of his.  The only negative was a tendency to miss time every year with injuries.  Still, a 116+ OPS from a good-fielding shortstop (3 Gold Gloves) is Hall of Fame material.

Fred McGriff:  that’s right, I’m backing The Crime Dog.  His eerily consistent home run totals are in part a by-product of his prime occurring shortly before the offensive explosion in the majors.  He was a key player for winning teams; his performance after being traded to Atlanta ignited the Braves’ great pennant drive in 1993 (and maybe the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium press box).

He has no truly similar comps, but the two players who are most similar to him (per Similarity Scores) are Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, which is not bad at all.  (His 10 “most similar to” list is very impressive as a whole.)  Throw in the fantastic Tom Emanski endorsement, and you’ve got a Hall of Famer.  I think the hat on his plaque should definitely be the one from the Emanski commercial.

So on my ballot, I would have Alomar, Larkin, McGriff, Blyleven, Dawson, McGwire, Murphy, Raines, and Trammell.  That’s nine guys, which is a lot, but I see no need to be unnecessarily stingy.

Who do I think will actually be elected this year?  Possibly nobody, but I think that there is a chance for Alomar and Dawson to make it.  Blyleven and Larkin will probably draw strong support as well.  The others?  Well, I think they are in for a long wait, if they ever make it at all.

The next baseball Hall of Famer and…the Pittsburgh Steelers

Neil Best of Newsday had a blog post on Monday about Luis Tiant and the new ESPN documentary about Tiant, The Lost Son of Havana.  Best asked Tiant about not being a member of the baseball Hall of Fame and got an “I don’t care, except I really care” response from the former pitcher.  This got me thinking about the Hall, but not really about Tiant (a very good pitcher in his day, but not quite Hall-worthy, although he certainly has the right to wonder how Catfish Hunter got in and he didn’t).  Of course, it doesn’t take much for me to riff about the Hall, as anyone who peruses this blog can tell (just a few examples:  here, here, and here).

Anyway, I took a quick look (not for the first time) at potential eligibles for next year’s ballot.  First, here are the returnees and the percentage of votes they got in the last election:

Andre Dawson (67.0%); Bert Blyleven (62.7%); Lee Smith (44.5%); Jack Morris (44.0%); Tim Raines (22.6%); Mark McGwire (21.9%); Alan Trammell (17.4%); Dave Parker (15.0%); Don Mattingly (11.9%); Dale Murphy (11.5%); Harold Baines (5.9%)

The list of newly eligible players likely to appear on the ballot:

Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Dave Burba, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McLemore, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Fernando Vina, Todd Zeile

Last January I wrote that “… the only one of those players with a shot [at getting elected next year] is Dawson.  He’s going to get in eventually, but I’m not sure if his support will jump from 67% to 75%+ in one year.”

Well, I still think Andre Dawson is the only one with a shot at making it next year, but I now believe that he’s got a very good chance.  Why?  Because I have come up with a theory about the baseball Hall of Fame that revolves around…Lynn Swann.

Lynn Swann was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his 14th year of eligibility.  It was (and is) a controversial selection, as there was (and is) considerable disagreement about whether or not he deserved enshrinement.  Swann was famous in his day, and played for a well-known franchise.  The casual fan probably rated Swann higher than many who followed (or studied) the sport with more intensity.  This is due in part to Swann not having A) a particularly long career, and B) an overwhelming statistical record.

Now, does that description in the preceding paragraph remind you of a certain baseball player recently elected to Cooperstown?  Jim Rice, maybe?

Rice was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his 15th year of eligibility.  It was (and is) a controversial selection.  Rice, like Swann, was famous in his day, played for a prominent club, did not have a long career, and has a Hall of Fame argument that is more about visceral reaction than bottom-line accounting.

In 2001, Lynn Swann got his bust in Canton.  The very next year, his teammate and fellow wide receiver, the outstanding (but lower-profile) John Stallworth, was elected.  Stallworth, it has been said, had to wait for his own enshrinement because Swann’s candidacy essentially stood in the way.  Once Swann finally made it over the line, however, the voters apparently came to the conclusion that you couldn’t have a Hall of Fame with Lynn Swann in it that didn’t also include John Stallworth, because Stallworth was at least as good as Swann, if not better.

In 2009, Jim Rice finally has his plaque in Cooperstown, and who do we find leading the list of returning candidates?  Andre Dawson, who like Rice was an outfielder who debuted in the mid-1970s, and who arguably was just as good a player as Rice, if not better.  Like Stallworth, Dawson was a star, but not as big a star as Rice or Swann were at their respective peaks (although Dawson did win an MVP with the Cubs, his best years were spent in Montreal, more or less hidden from many casual fans and a few sportswriters).

Now, there are good arguments to be made that Dawson is not a Hall of Fame player, with his career .323 OBP foremost among them.  This is not unlike Stallworth, whose career totals, while solid, do not scream “automatic Hall of Famer”.  However, Jim Rice is now in the Hall.  Dawson, to most observers, was at worst equal to Rice, and was probably better (particularly if you account for defense — Dawson played over 1000 games in center field and won eight Gold Gloves).

Stallworth went to Alabama A&M.  Dawson went to Florida A&M.  Both A&Ms, both HBCUs — I think my little theory should get a bonus for that…

There is a difference when it becomes time to tally Hall of Fame votes, though.  Canton’s legends are determined by a relatively small group of less than 50 voters.  Last year 539 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) cast ballots for the baseball Hall.  It’s generally easier to reach a consensus among smaller groups, especially since the pro football voters actually meet and discuss candidates as a group, as opposed to the baseball voters (who mail in their ballots).

Despite this, I think the “Rice is in, so Dawson has to be in” point of view will still take hold, at least enough to sway the additional 8% of the electorate Dawson needs for enshrinement.  It helps that there is no “lock” among the new candidates, although Larkin, Alomar, and McGriff will all draw significant support (as might Edgar Martinez).

Next year will be Dawson’s ninth year on the BBWAA ballot.  Stallworth was elected to pro football’s Hall after being named a finalist for the eighth time.

I’m rooting for The Hawk to make it.

In defense of Rabbit Maranville’s Hall of Fame plaque

A few weeks ago I was reading a column by Chicago-based sportswriter Rick Telander, who as a longtime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) gets a Hall of Fame vote every year.  This was his (presumably) annual column about his vote.  One of the benefits of being a BBWAA member is that every year you get an easy column by just writing about your ballot.

Telander’s column is a bit of a ramble.  He whines about steroids, decides he’s getting old, and also mentions the “grandeur” of the Hall.  He writes:

When you go to Cooperstown, there is not a player enshrined (other than maybe Rabbit Maranville) who doesn’t blow your socks off.

There it is again.  Somebody who doesn’t understand why Rabbit Maranville is enshrined in Cooperstown.

It’s not like Telander’s the only one.  I remember reading an article on the Hall of Fame back in 1989 by Steve Wulf, then writing for Sports Illustrated.  While leading up to a paragraph about Abner Graves (!), Wulf wrote:

Some are more deserving than others, but once you walk into the Hall of Fame Gallery—the wing that holds the famous bronze plaques—you know you are in a place of worship, and you could never begrudge a man his place there. You might wish that Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn, Leo Durocher, Roger Maris, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, etc., could be there too, but you wouldn’t wish to unscrew Rabbit Maranville’s plaque to make room for another, even if Maranville did hit just .258 lifetime.

Besides, there’s no sense in trying to read the minds of the baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame candidates (in the first election, in 1936, 11 of them left Ruth off their ballots). And there’s no benefit in chastising the veterans’ committee, which, in trying to undo past injustices, has perhaps relaxed the standards a bit; Jake Beckley may not be a household name, but that’s not to say his name doesn’t belong here. No, the overwhelming feeling you get in that splendid room is one of gratitude. Thanks, fellas, for filling up the afternoons and evenings of so many, for bringing them to their feet, for the memories.

The story was accompanied by a picture of Maranville’s plaque.  I don’t remember the caption under the photo, but I am fairly sure it was something along the lines of “he only hit .258 and shouldn’t really be in the Hall, but don’t sweat it”.

Re-reading that passage, I think it’s interesting that of Wulf’s list of players “you might wish” would also be enshrined, all of them have now been elected except for Maris and Santo.  (Poor Santo.  A quarter-century of being the woulda-coulda-shoulda guy when it comes to the Hall.)

The thing that kills me, though, is that he says that while Jake Beckley “may not be a household name” that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong in the Hall, even though he mentions Beckley while mildly criticizing the Veterans Committee.  He says that and then talks about Maranville as something of a lesser pick than Beckley, despite the fact that Maranville wasn’t a VC pick — he was elected by the BBWAA.  It’s obvious that Wulf doesn’t know anything about Maranville either, other than his .258 career batting average.

Wulf was only three years old when Maranville was elected to the Hall (in 1954).  Still, a little research wouldn’t have hurt any.  Of course today finding out about past players is much easier than it was in 1989, so Telander has even less of an excuse.  The thing is, though, Maranville still comes up on lists of “least deserving” or “not deserving” Hall of Famers, even among people who follow the sport fairly closely.  At first glance he looks like a guy who didn’t hit for average, had little power, and just hung around a long time.  All of that is true, and yet…

Maranville debuted in the majors in 1912, for the Boston Braves.  He was 20 years old and appeared in 26 games that season.  In 1913, he became the everyday shortstop for the Braves, batting .247 in 143 games, with two homers.  His OPS+ that season was 83, right around his career average (82).  Not impressive, at first glance…but then you realize that in 1913, at the age of 21 and playing his first full season in the major leagues, Maranville finished third in the MVP voting, just ahead of the great Christy Mathewson (who won 25 games that year with a 2.06 ERA).  So how does a guy batting .247 with no power finish so high in the MVP voting?

Well, he was a great defensive shortstop, and a great defensive shortstop can be tremendously valuable, especially if he can hit just a little (and it’s arguable that such a player had more value in the Dead Ball era than at any other time in baseball history).  This was the first of several years in which Maranville fared very well in the MVP voting without obvious offensive numbers to justify it.  That in itself probably is a good indication of just how good a fielder Maranville was.

Another indication, of course, is just how long a career he had.  Maranville had a 23-year career in the majors, playing a total of 2670 games, all but four of which were as a middle infielder (80% of those appearances came as a shortstop).  Maranville held the record for chances for a shortstop for decades and still holds the record for putouts by a shortstop.  At age 41, Maranville batted .218 in 143 games, with no homers (OPS+ of 60)…and finished in a tie for 12th in the MVP voting, ahead of Frankie Frisch (who batted .303 that year with an OPS+ of 111).

Maranville was the runner-up in the MVP voting in 1914 to his middle infield partner, Johnny Evers, as the “Miracle Braves” won the pennant and swept the World Series.  Maranville batted cleanup on that team.  He also finished seventh in the voting in 1924 (OPS+ of 86) and had two other top-10 finishes.

From 1915 through 1923, there was no MVP award for the National League.  It just so happens that Maranville’s seven best offensive seasons (in terms of OPS+) came during that stretch.  I think it’s likely that he would have finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting (if not the top 5) in most, if not all, of those seasons.  If you add, say, five top 10 and two Top 20  finishes (which is probably a bit conservative) to his already impressive MVP history, you would have a player who in his career compiled ten seasons in which he finished in the Top 10 of the MVP voting and another five seasons in the Top 20.

I compared that to some of the players on his “most similar batters” list, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.  Ozzie Smith finished second in the ’87 MVP voting (he probably should have won it; that was a weird year) and had three other Top 20 finishes.  Luis Aparacio had two top 10 finishes and four other finishes in the top 20.  Like Smith and Maranville, Aparacio was also an MVP runner-up, in 1959.

Tangent:  the top of the 1959 AL MVP vote mirrored the top of the 1914 NL MVP vote.  For both, the top three finishers played for the pennant winner, and the order was second baseman (Nellie Fox/Evers), shortstop (Aparicio/Maranville), and pitcher (Early Wynn/”Seattle Bill” James).  Also, the fourth place finisher both times was an outfielder.  The 1959 outfielder was Rocky Colavito, who played in 1841 career games.  The 1914 outfielder was George Burns, who played in 1853 career games.

Next on Maranville’s most-similar list is Omar Vizquel, who has one Top 20 MVP finish in his entire career.  Part of why I’m posting about Maranville is that I suspect Maranville’s name is going to pop up more and more as people continue discussing the Hall of Fame candidacy of Vizquel.  They are going to be compared, and my hope is that folks are able to start understanding Maranville’s career a little better.

Nellie Fox follows Vizquel on the comp list, and here finally we have a player who shares Maranville’s propensity for getting MVP votes.  Fox finished in the top 10 six times (as mentioned above, winning in 1959) and had three other Top 20 finishes.  Fox was elected by the Veterans Committee after narrowly missing election by the BBWAA; really, the writers should have elected him.  He’s not as big a miss by them as Arky Vaughan or Johnny Mize, but it was still a mistake.

One other player on the similar-list to note:  Dave Concepcion had two Top 10 MVP finishes and another in the Top 20.

I realize that the MVP voting is not the end-all and be-all.  There is a danger that you can compound a mistake by referencing an error of the past (i.e. the 1987 AL MVP vote, which still haunts Alan Trammell).  Still, when you have a player whose statistical batting line does not immediately suggest greatness, it’s worth it to check the historical record.  In the case of Maranville, in his time he was obviously considered to be something special.  Generally speaking, the MVP voting tends to favor offensive-minded players (especially HR-RBI guys).  This is why a comparison to Maranville’s peers is appropriate; I think most people consider Ozzie Smith to have been a great player, but other than one season he never did very well in the MVP race.  Yet despite the historical tendency by MVP voters to not recognize defensive specialists, Maranville still did well.

Of course, there was another thing about him that probably is reflected in his MVP voting — he was famous, for he was a great player who also happened to be a clown of the highest order.

There are many, many Maranville stories, and a lot of them are actually true.  If you needed a player to wax another player’s bat with soap, or swallow a goldfish, or jump into a hotel pool fully clothed, or offer a pair of eyeglasses to an umpire after a bad call, Maranville was your man.  If you needed a player to go drinking with Jim Thorpe, and swing through tree branches screeching like Tarzan, or to be dangled outside the 15th floor of a Manhattan hotel by Thorpe (with one arm), Maranville was your man.  If you needed a player to paint iodine streaks on a hapless ump, or to throw buckets of ice at fellow train passengers (which he did as a player-manager), or trick a teammate into thinking he had accidentally killed him, Maranville was your man.

Maranville once got a hit off Carl Mays by making him laugh so hard he couldn’t maintain his control.  He was in the dugout during the infamous Babe Herman-three men on third base play; when Wilbert Robinson asked Maranville what had happened, Maranville said, “There’s three men on third and if they hang on long enough I’ll go down and make a quartet out of it.”

Once during a pitcher-vs.-batter fight, Maranville distracted everyone, including the fans, by going into the first base coach’s box during the fracas and pantomiming a fight against himself, pretending to knock himself out.  (Judge Landis thanked him later for that one.)  Entertaining the crowd during a slow part of the game with various pantomime activities was one of his specialties.

When Maranville caught a popup, he usually caught it by holding his glove open at his navel, allowing the ball to strike him in the chest, and having it roll down his shirt into his glove.  He called it his “vest pocket catch”.

Bill James (not the Boston Braves hurler), in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, refers to Maranville having a “Marx Brothers life”, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  He was probably on Chico’s level, but definitely ahead of Zeppo.

Maranville was elected by the BBWAA in 1954, shortly after his death.  The fact he had recently died had little to no impact on his election; he had risen in the balloting gradually over the preceding decade, finishing tenth in 1949, ninth in 1950 and 1951, seventh in 1952, and fifth in 1953.  Two players were elected in 1953, meaning that Maranville was in the top three of those on the ballot who had not been elected, along with Bill Dickey and Bill Terry.  All three of those players were elected in 1954.  Maranville actually jumped ahead of Dickey and Terry in the voting to finish first overall that year.  Keep in mind that the Hall had only been around for a few years and there were many outstanding players on the ballot.  Nineteen of the top 20 vote-getters from 1954 are now in the Hall (the exception is Hank Gowdy).

After his career in organized baseball was over Maranville helped run youth baseball programs in Detroit and New York.  One of the kids he taught was Whitey Ford.

Anyway, to sum up:  Maranville wasn’t a great hitter, but he was a great player.  His specialty was in preventing runs as opposed to producing them, and this was recognized by his contemporaries.  He was considered something of a clutch hitter (although I tend to find most claims of being “clutch” not involving George Brett to be somewhat dubious).  He had an incredibly long career, and he was enormously popular.  Thinking of him as just being a .258 hitter is small-minded, to say the least.

I’m not saying he was the greatest player who ever lived.  All I’m saying is that if you’re a writer and you’re trying to reference a player who doesn’t belong in the Hall, Maranville is not the right guy to name.  Look, you want suggestions?  Try Chick Hafey or George Kelly, or Rube Marquard if you need a pitcher (don’t get him confused with Rube Waddell, though).  You’ll be safe criticizing those selections — unless a member of one of their families is reading your column.

Just leave Maranville’s plaque alone…

Next year’s Hall of Fame disaster scenario: a party in Cooperstown with no guests of honor

Today, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the former with near unanimity and the latter with a fair share of controversy.  With their election, along with the earlier selection of Joe Gordon by the Veterans Committee, there will now be 289 members of the Hall, 201 of whom were elected based on their playing careers.  The wait for Hall of Fame player #202 may be a while…

First of all, there won’t be any players elected next year by the Veterans Committee, because the committee won’t vote again on players eligible for selection by the VC until 2010 (and that’s just for post-World War II eligibles; the pre-World War II players won’t be up for consideration again until 2013).  That means that the only players who can be elected next year will be those on the BBWAA ballot.  The players on this year’s ballot who will return to the ballot next year (with this year’s voting percentage in parenthesis):

Andre Dawson (67.0%); Bert Blyleven (62.7%); Lee Smith (44.5%); Jack Morris (44.0%); Tim Raines (22.6%); Mark McGwire (21.9%); Alan Trammell (17.4%); Dave Parker (15.0%); Don Mattingly (11.9%); Dale Murphy (11.5%); Harold Baines (5.9%)

Now, here is a list of players who next year will be eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the first time and are likely to be on the list (courtesy of the Hall of Fame website):

Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Dave Burba, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McLemore, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Fernando Vina, Todd Zeile

There are several serious candidates for the Hall on the list on newly-eligibles, most prominently Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff.  I could also see some support (greater than 5% of the vote, at least) for Andres Galarraga and Robin Ventura.  However, none of those players is a “lock”.  I think the best candidate of the group is probably Alomar, and I would expect him to get a lot of votes — but I would be surprised if he received more than, say, 60% in his debut on the ballot.

That means that if anyone is to be elected, it has to be someone from the “holdover” group, and I think the only one of those players with a shot is Dawson.  He’s going to get in eventually, but I’m not sure if his support will jump from 67% to 75%+ in one year, especially since he’s not that close to his final year of eligibility, as was the case with Rice this year (who managed a 4% increase in his vote total from last year to this year).  At 63% of the vote, and with his support essentially unchanged from last year, Blyleven’s chances of being elected next year are remote.

Compounding the chances for the holdovers and the newly-eligible players is that there is a surplus of serious-but-not-automatic candidates who will almost certainly split up the vote.  Over the last two elections, an average BBWAA ballot has listed 5.35 names (last year) and 5.38 names (this year), historically low vote totals.  I don’t see that changing much, and so the “competition” for votes (a ludicrous concept, but unfortunately applicable in this situation) will likely depress individual vote totals across the board.  I think the only player with a shot next year is Dawson (unless I am seriously underestimating Alomar’s chances), and I don’t know if Dawson can make that big a leap in the voting.  I tend to think he won’t.

The last time the BBWAA failed to elect anyone was 1996 (Phil Niekro came closest; he was elected the following year).  However, in 1996 the Veterans Committee elected Jim Bunning, along with Negro Leagues star Bill Foster.  Earl Weaver and Ned Hanlon were also elected that year (as managers), so the traditional ceremony at Cooperstown had two living honorees (Bunning and Weaver).  At least one player has been elected by either the writers or the VC every year since 1960.

The committee that selects Hall of Fame managers, umpires, and executives does vote next year.  I think there will be some pressure on that committee to select somebody (Whitey Herzog?  Doug Harvey?) because that’s probably the avenue most likely to produce an enshrinee in 2009.  It won’t result in a player being elected, but it would be better than nothing.  Induction weekend is a boon to the local economy.  No enshrinee = no boon.

Cooperstown has already lost the annual Hall of Fame Game, which has been discontinued.  It may be time for the folks at the Hall to think of another attraction for next year (an Old-Timer’s game?) in case  its showcase event has no one to showcase.

To be a Hall of Famer — the 2008 ballots (Part 3)

In the first two parts of this series, I took a look at the pre-1942 nominees ballot and the post-1943 ballot.  Part 3 covers the BBWAA vote, which this year features only 23 players.  First, a brief summation of the results of the first two elections…

Boo.

However, in the case of the post-1943 ballot it’s a “I’m not surprised” booing situation, because it is by no means shocking that no one was elected.  The natural tendency of some of the Hall of Famers to favor exclusivity in admitting new members to their club, plus the restrictions on voting (the you-can-only-vote-for-up-to-four rule) combined to make it practically impossible for any candidate to get the required 75% of the vote.  Ron Santo came closest, with 39 of the 48 votes he needed, but that’s not really that close.  Santo’s reaction was predictable, as he would like a return to the system that elected Bill Mazeroski.  Of course, it was the election of Mazeroski that led to the current system.

At this point, it seems doubtful to me that Santo will ever get elected, at least in his lifetime.  The same is true of all the other men on the ballot, with the exception of Joe Torre, who will presumably be enshrined whenever he decides to quit managing.  As I’ve stated before, the failure of the VC to already elect Torre shows a complete disregard by the voters of the Hall’s own rules for considering nominees.

The pre-1942 committee did elect someone, Joe Gordon.  I have no problem at all with Gordon’s election, as he is a solid choice.  I am concerned that the voters came very close to electing Allie Reynolds, who in my opinion was one of the weaker choices on the ballot, and that the most qualified of the nominees, Bill Dahlen, got less than three votes.

Since it appears that the committee is not inclined to support the candidacy of any player who started his career prior to 1920, perhaps the Hall should consider a special committee (similar to the Negro Leagues Committee from 2006) for those players, to wrap up that era and make it easier on the VC to focus on post-Dead Ball era players.

On to the BBWAA ballot…

Harold Baines:  He played forever, but if I’m going to support the candidacy of a DH-type he needs to put up a little more than a career 120 OPS+.  Baines led the AL in slugging in 1984.  That’s the only time he ever led the league in a significant statistical category.

Jay Bell:  I don’t think he will get 5% of the vote (you need 5%+ to remain on the ballot), but he was a good player for quite a long time — underrated, really.  What I remember most about him was there was a two-year stretch where Jim Leyland would have Bell sac-bunt in the first inning whenever the leadoff man reached base.  I mean he did this every time.  I never understood that.

Bert Blyleven:  He’s up to almost 62% in the balloting, so he’s probably going to get elected in the next few years.  It appears that the bulk of the BBWAA membership has come around on his candidacy, which is good.  I understand the problem with trying to evaluate him (I think he has one of the more unusual pitching careers in MLB history), so I’m not going to criticize the writers for not electing him yet.  If you’re still not sold on him, just consider all those shutouts.  He’s ninth all time, and he’s going to stay in the top 10 for many, many years to come.

David Cone:  The “hired gun” is on the ballot for the first time.  He might get to 5% and hang around for another year, although he’s not going to get in the Hall unless some future Veterans Committee elects him.  I think he would be getting a lot more votes if he hadn’t moved around so much, and if he had managed to get to 200 wins.  His closest comp is Dwight Gooden, which is interesting, although I think Cone had a better overall career than Doc.  Gooden, incidentally, got 3.3% of the vote in 2006 and fell off the ballot.

Andre Dawson:  He’s up to almost 66% in the balloting and is going to get in.  I support his candidacy, despite the .323 OBP.  I think people sometimes evaluate him as a corner outfielder and forget he won four of his eight Gold Gloves as a centerfielder.  He’s a very close case, but he also gets bonus points on the character issue and for having a cool nickname.  When he was active, I think the majority of baseball fans thought of him as a future Hall of Famer.  Of course, you could also say that about Steve Garvey…

Ron Gant:  He’s not a Hall of Famer, obviously, but he did finish in the top 6 in the MVP voting twice, which I bet would surprise some people.  Gil Hodges never finished in the top 6 of the MVP voting.

Mark Grace:  It wouldn’t surprise me if some Veterans Committee of the future elected him, since Mickey Vernon got serious consideration by this year’s VC, and Grace was a similar player.  That’s not saying it would be a good decision, of course.

Rickey Henderson:  Everyone awaits with great anticipation his enshrinement speech.

Tommy John:  This is his last year on the ballot.  I go back and forth on his candidacy, to be honest…he was a very good pitcher for a long time, but for me his playing career tends to be a borderline-no situation.  Then you have the operation that bears his name, for which some people give him extra credit, while others quite reasonably suggest that the credit belongs to Frank Jobe.  However, it’s also true that the rehabilitation (obviously unprecedented at that time) came through John’s hard work (and was mostly developed by him, apparently), and that aspect of the surgery and recovery may be underappreciated.

If he were elected, it would in part be as a pioneer, which means no one else could really compare his career to John’s as a way of saying “if him then me” when it comes to the Hall.  I think that works in his favor.  He’s not going to be elected this year, but a future VC is going to seriously consider him, and rightfully so.

Don Mattingly:  Some of the people supporting his candidacy have been known to argue that if Kirby Puckett is in the Hall, so should Mattingly, because their batting statistics are similar.  Of course, they never seem to mention that Puckett was a centerfielder and Mattingly a first baseman.  Comparing a first baseman’s batting stats to those of a borderline Hall of Fame centerfielder is not the way to get your man in the Hall.

Mark McGwire:  I would vote for him.  The rules were the same for him as they were for everyone else, which is to say, there were no rules.  You have to evaluate him by the era in which he played.  In that era, he’s a Hall of Famer.

Jack Morris:  One game doesn’t make up for a career ERA+ of 105.  He was a workhorse, but he was never an elite pitcher.  Guys like Tommy John and Bert Blyleven (just to name two pitchers also on the ballot) pitched a lot longer and were more effective.

Dale Murphy:  Like Dawson, a lot of people forget that Murphy played the majority of his career as a centerfielder, including the bulk of the six-year period (1982-87) during which he was arguably the best player in baseball.  Murphy’s career was short, which hurts him, and the argument against him is that his peak wasn’t long enough to offset that.  I think it’s close.

There is something else about Murphy that doesn’t get discussed much, but I think is worth mentioning.  Murphy was a Superstation Star, perhaps the first.  Everyone around the country could follow the Braves via TBS, even when they were bad, as they were through much of Murphy’s time with the club.  Because of that, along with his reputation as an individual of high character, Murphy has to be one of the most popular players of his era, and maybe of any era.

Personally, I think it’s possible that the success (and in some cases, existence) of programs like East Cobb Baseball can be traced to kids following and being inspired by the Braves, and the main, if not only, reason to follow the Braves in the mid-to-late 1980s was Dale Murphy.  It’s worthy of study, at least.  That type of influence on the game should be recognized.

Jesse Orosco:  He was his league’s oldest player in each of his last five seasons.

Dave Parker:  There is a five-year doughnut hole in his career which is basically going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.  It’s nobody’s fault but his, though.

Dan Plesac:  I’m not familiar with his TV work, but I understand it’s good, so I’m looking forward to seeing him on the new MLB Network.

Tim Raines:  Raines got less than 25% of the vote his first time around with the writers, in part because he played his best years in Montreal, the Witness Protection Program of baseball, and in part because he is compared to Rickey Henderson.  That’s a tough comparison for just about anybody, so Raines loses out.  Never mind the fact that Raines was better than Lou Brock, who is already in the Hall.  Raines was a truly great player, and belongs in Cooperstown.  I think he will eventually get there, but it’s going to take a while.  I’m hopeful the BBWAA votes him in sometime in the next decade.

Jim Rice:  In my opinion, he would already be in the Hall if he hadn’t annoyed enough writers (or carried a rep as being difficult) so that a significant percentage of them won’t vote for him out of spite, as opposed to not voting for him because his career is borderline for a Hall of Famer.  I am inclined to support his candidacy, because I think his peak was very high, higher than some saber-stats would suggest.  I don’t feel that strongly about it, though, which evidently differentiates me from a lot of folks in the online baseball community, some of whom think the world will end if Rice is elected.  It won’t, trust me.  Now if Mo Vaughn is elected, all bets are off…

Incidentally, I am less sure than most about Rice’s election this year being an inevitability.  I think it will be very close.

Lee Smith:  Trying to define a Hall of Fame relief pitcher is difficult.  Of the relievers already enshrined, I would rate all of them above Smith except maybe Bruce Sutter, who is a questionable selection to say the least.  On the other hand, among other eligibles and active pitchers, I would only rate Mariano Rivera as being clearly ahead of Smith.  Ultimately, I can’t support Smith’s candidacy, mainly because he never “seemed” like a Hall of Famer to me.  I reserve the right to reconsider…

Alan Trammell:  The biggest injustice in the balloting the last few years, easily, is Trammell not even being close to election.  His problems are at least twofold:  he played at the same time as Cal Ripken Jr., essentially, and then after his career ended the ARod-Nomar-Jeter triumvarite appeared on the scene, closely followed by Miguel Tejada.

He suffers in comparison to Ripken, and his batting stats don’t measure up to the new wave of shortstops that followed him.  He also got jobbed of the 1987 MVP award, which would have helped his case (he did win the World Series MVP award in 1984).  In the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James rated him the 9th-best shortstop of all time, which struck me as a reasonable placement.  In the last BBWAA election, the 9th-best shortstop of all time got 18.2% of the vote.

The 10th-best shortstop, according to James, is Pee Wee Reese.  Curiously, Reese was not elected by the BBWAA, but by the Veterans Committee.  The BBWAA also failed to elect another great shortstop, Arky Vaughn.  This doesn’t bode well for Trammell’s chances on the BBWAA ballot, not to mention those of Barry Larkin, who becomes eligible for election next year.

Greg Vaughn:  What I remember most about Vaughn is in that magical year of 1998, before everyone decided 1998 didn’t really happen (although royalty checks for several books about that season were cashed anyway), he hit 50 home runs and got a place in a really good article by Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated.  Smith decided to go watch the great home run chase, and got super-lucky, because in three consecutive games he attended games in which Vaughn, McGwire (in the same game), Ken Griffey Jr., and Sammy Sosa all homered.

Mo Vaughn:  He’s not going to make the Hall of Fame, but at least he has Albert Belle’s MVP award.

Matt Williams:  Would he have hit 62 homers in 1994?  We’ll never know.  Could he have stayed at shortstop and put up similar offensive numbers?  We’ll never know.

I don’t have a vote, but if I did, my ballot:  Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Mark McGwire, Jim Rice.

What I expect:  Rickey and probably Rice will make it.

To be a Hall of Famer — the 2008 ballots (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this 3-part series, I took a look at the candidates from the ballot for players who began play in 1942 or earlier.  In this post, I’m going to discuss the ballot for players who began play in 1943 or later (and who have been retired for at least 21 years).  Part 3 will concern the BBWAA ballot.

In the case of this ballot, it’s very important to understand the process of selecting (or not selecting) players for enshrinement.  The reason the procedures were changed (for the umpteenth time) after the last Veterans Committee election was due to the fact that no one was getting elected.    The powers that be at the Hall weren’t happy about that, so the process was streamlined.  Only Hall of Fame players and managers will vote for the players on this ballot (previously, Spink and Frick winners also voted).  That cuts the list of potential voters down to 64 (from 80+).

To be elected, a candidate has to be named on 75% of the returned ballots.  Assuming all 64 ballots were submitted, that would mean a candidate would have to be listed on 48 ballots.

The good news for candidates this year is that that the final ballot has been cut to 10.  In the last election, for example, voters had to choose from among 27 players.  This time a winnowing-out process by a pair of different committees reduced the field of candidates to 21, and from there the living Hall of Famers submitted preliminary ballots, resulting in further reducing that number to 10.  It would seem easier for the voters to develop a consensus resulting in at least one player being elected when the number of candidates is limited.

There is one catch, though, and it’s a significant one.

Voters can vote for up to four candidates.  They can’t vote for more than four.  That strikes me as potentially disastrous, if the goal is to elect somebody.  In last year’s election, when no candidate got 75% of the vote, the average ballot contained 5.96 names.

Let’s say, for example, that in the last election a voter cast a ballot listing Tony Oliva, Dick Allen, Jim Kaat, Maury Wills, Gil Hodges, Joe Torre, Vada Pinson, and Ron Santo.  Well, this time around all eight of those guys are on the ballot again, but the voter would only be able to vote for four of them.  If he decides that his “top four” are Oliva, Allen, Kaat, and Wills, that’s one less vote for the other four (including Santo, who came closest to election last time).  The elector’s vote would essentially count against the Hodges-Torre-Pinson-Santo group.

Ron Santo got 57 votes in the last election (out of a possible 82).  There is no guarantee that all 57 of those voters considered him to be one of their top four candidates.  The same is true for the other candidates, of course, including the three other players to receive greater than 50% of the vote in the last election (Kaat, Hodges, and Oliva).

I think by limiting the electors to four choices, the Hall risks another shutout.

All ten of the nominees appeared on the ballot for the prior election.  In fact, the top six vote-getters in that election are on this ballot, along with the 8th-place finisher (Pinson), 11th-place finisher (Tiant), 13th-place finisher (Al Oliver), and 17th-place finisher (Allen).  The most surprising omission may be Don Newcombe, who did not even make the list of 21 candidates on the preliminary ballot (Newcombe finished 7th in the last election, with just over 20% of the vote).  Other players from the ballot for the last election who did not make the “semi-finals” despite being eligible were Curt Flood, Sparky Lyle, and Bobby Bonds.

Roger Maris, Minnie Minoso, Ken Boyer, Mickey Lolich, Thurman Munson, and Rocky Colavito were on last year’s ballot and made this year’s preliminary ballot, but did not make the final 10.  The players who were on the preliminary ballot who did not appear on the ballot for the last election were Steve Garvey, Bert Campaneris, Mike Cuellar, Ted Kluszewski, and Lee May.

Okay, on to the ten candidates.  I’m going to start by stating that there is one guy on this list who absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame, more so than any of the other players, and I think the electors should draw some criticism for not already electing him.  I’m talking, of course, about Joe Torre.

Maybe you thought I was going to say Ron Santo, and I’ll get to him (he belongs in the Hall too)  — but to me, the one guy who you just have to vote for if you are an elector is Torre.  Let’s go to the rules for election for the post-1943 candidates.  Rule number 6-B, to be precise:

Those whose careers entailed involvement as both players and managers/executives/umpires will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of Baseball…

So when the electors are considering Torre, they are to take into account his complete contribution to the game, which includes his borderline Hall of Fame career as a player AND his no-questions-asked Hall of Fame career as a manager.  If the electors are supposed to vote based on his entire career in baseball, is there any doubt that they should be voting for him?

Of course, that was also true in the last election, and in the last election Joe Torre received less than 32% of the vote.  Basically, two out of every three voters disregarded his managerial career.  (For all I know, all of them did, and the guys who voted for him did so because they thought just as a player he was Hall-worthy.)

I realize there might be some hesitation from some of the voters who are unsure whether to consider his managerial career (particularly when he’s still active).  I would tell them that from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t matter if Torre goes into the Hall classified as a “player” or a “manager” — there is no real distinction, a point proven by the fact that both managers and players are voting in this election.  This is something that Joe Morgan or one of the other leaders among the Hall of Famers probably needs to emphasize to his fellow voters.

What is a bit contradictory to this is the possibility that the voters are applying managerial credit to Gil Hodges and not Torre.  At least, that could be the explanation for the continuing support for Hodges’ candidacy (61% in the last election).  It probably isn’t the full explanation, however.

Hodges is most likely getting credit as a player/manager/icon.  As a player, he is similar to a raft of non-Famer first basemen, like Boog Powell and Norm Cash (or Tino Martinez, perhaps an apt modern comparison).  The difference is Hodges’ status as a beloved symbol of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  After all, nobody ever wrote a book called Praying for Roy Sievers.

I would like to support Hodges’ candidacy.  I respect the consistent support he received from a large portion of the BBWAA during his time on that ballot (in his final year, he received 63.4% of the vote).  He was obviously an impressive man.  The facts are, though, that his playing career doesn’t measure up, and his managerial career, tragically, isn’t long enough to compensate.

Ron Santo is (at worst) one of the seven greatest third basemen of all time.  You could argue he’s as high as fifth-best.  If you go by the rankings in Bill James’ New Historical Baseball Abstract (which ranks him sixth), the seventh-best second baseman of all time is Ryne Sandberg.  The seventh-best shortstop is Ozzie Smith.  The seventh-best first baseman is Harmon Killebrew.The seventh-best catcher is Bill Dickey.  The seventh-best center fielder is Junior Griffey.  You get the idea…

Now, that doesn’t mean that the position of third base is as strong historically (in terms of number of great players) as those other positions.  Maybe it isn’t.  It’s certainly an undervalued position as far as Hall of Famers go.  Despite the relative paucity of players at that position in the Hall, however, Santo would rank in the upper half of third basemen so honored.  However, in his final year on the BBWAA ballot, Santo only received 43.1% of the vote.

He hasn’t been elected because of the era in which he played (depressing offensive stats across the board), general confusion over how to evaluate third basemen, and the fact that the Cubs never made postseason play during his career, despite having three current Hall of Famers on the roster with Santo for much of that time.  As far as the too-many-Famers-already argument, I think it’s inherently lame.  It’s not like there is a quota on how many Hall of Famers can be on a team at any given time.  The fact the Cubs could not get over the hump during that period (or any other over the last 100 years) is just a testament to the fact that having a collection of great players isn’t enough.  You generally have to be solid across the board to be a championship team.  The strength-of-the-chain-is-only-its-weakest-link concept applies in baseball, because in 162 games, that weak link is going to eventually be exploited.

Santo also played his entire career with Type 1 diabetes, which even today would be very impressive.  Perhaps he should get some consideration for that as well.  His case doesn’t really need it, though.

Vada Pinson is a guy who doesn’t really compare to any other player, which in a way is a point in his favor.  His similarity scores list Steve Finley as his best comp, but Pinson was better than Finley.  Bill James wrote in one of his books that Pinson was as a player essentially at the halfway point between Roberto Clemente and Willie Davis (who are both in his similarity score list as well).  James reported in the New Historical Abstract that Pinson was actually two years older than was believed (he was 23 in 1959, not 21).  This in part explains why he never rose to the heights expected of him after his first three seasons in the National League.  He still managed to fashion an outstanding career.  I’m not quite sure he has Hall of Fame numbers, but you could make a very good case for him.  It should be pointed out that for about two-thirds of his career, he was a center fielder.  Pinson spent 15 years on the BBWAA ballot; he never received more than 15.7% of the vote.

Pinson was probably a better player than Al Oliver, though.  Oliver could hit (.303 lifetime average) but didn’t walk much.  Oliver played centerfield for about a third of his career, first base for about a third, and left field/DH for the remainder.  He compares to Steve Garvey; Oliver was a better hitter and maybe a better all-around player (it depends on how good a fielder you think Garvey was).  Oliver was only on the BBWAA ballot once, in 1991.  He received 19 votes (4.9%) and was dropped from future ballots.

Dick Allen never received more than 18.9% of the vote from the BBWAA electorate, despite very fine career batting totals (career OPS+:  156), albeit in a relatively short career.

Of course, that doesn’t begin to tell the Dick Allen story.  I don’t think any player’s Hall of Fame case is quite as polarizing as that of Allen.  His numbers are generally outstanding, but he never seemed to improve his teams, short-term or long-term.  Despite his hitting prowess, he got traded frequently, almost always for lesser players (including Jim Essian twice).  He missed a lot of games during the heart of his career due to injuries, was suspended for following the ponies at the expense of a doubleheader in 1969, and walked out on the White Sox with two weeks to play in 1974, when Chicago was still involved in a pennant race.  He was, in short, disruptive.

My sense is that people who don’t remember Allen (the majority of baseball fans) are more supportive of Allen’s candidacy than people who were on the scene, so to speak (although there are exceptions).  Allen received 11 votes (13.4%) in the most recent Veterans Committee election.  I’m guessing that he gets a similar percentage this time.

Maury Wills isn’t the most popular guy around, either.  Wills finished fifth in the last Veterans Committee election (receiving 40.2% of the vote).  That’s a similar percentage to what Wills got in the 1981 BBWAA vote.  The next year, his vote total dropped by almost half (163 votes to 91); he never approached his high-water mark in votes again.

Wills stole 104 bases in 1962 — you may have read about it — and his Hall of Fame candidacy has fed off that one year.  That’s about all it can feed on, because once you get past 104, you’re left with a leadoff hitter who didn’t walk and had no power, and who was a decent but not great defensive shortstop.  Plus, if Gil Hodges and Joe Torre are getting credit for their managerial careers, surely Wills has to get negative credit for his.

There are two pitchers on the ballot.  Jim Kaat won 16 Gold Gloves and 283 games in a long career that was extended several years by his conversion into a reliever.  He later became a respected broadcaster.  Kaat was a very good pitcher for a long time, but here I think the expression “compiler” does apply somewhat.  I’ve seen other players saddled with that unfairly (Bert Blyleven, for example), but Kaat does seem to fit the bill.  Kaat never received as much as 30% of the vote in 15 BBWAA elections, but he received a surprising 63.4% of the vote in the last Veterans Committee election, suggesting that he may indeed have a Cooperstown plaque in his future.  If that happens, it won’t be a tragedy.  Kaat is quite close to the border, and a case could be made he crosses over it.

Luis Tiant received just over 18.3% of the vote in that particular election, in line with the vote in his final BBWAA ballot.  Tiant actually got over 30% of the BBWAA vote in his first go-round, in 1988, but the ballot was swamped with distinctly better pitchers the next year, and Tiant’s vote total crashed, never to recover to its initial level.

Tiant had a career ERA+ of 114 in just under 3500 innings.  His closest Similarity Scores comp is Catfish Hunter, only you could make a good argument that Tiant was better than Hunter.  That’s something for Tiant backers to emphasize, since Hunter was actually elected by the BBWAA, and not the Veterans Committee.  Very rarely has the BBWAA elected a borderline candidate (most of those get put in the Hall by the VC).  However, Jim Hunter is one of the exceptions to the rule.

He’s yet another guy who is quite close.  I think he’s just on the wrong side of the line, but the line is really hazy.  Being somewhat famous will help El Tiante’s cause.

Tony Oliva, on the other hand, isn’t famous.  That probably has hurt his cause a bit.  For whatever reason, I get the impression he may be the least known (to the general public and/or casual baseball fan) of the ten nominees; it’s either him or Pinson.  That’s too bad, because he was quite a player.  In his rookie season he led the league in hits; in his second season he was the runner-up for league MVP.  He was named to the All-Star team in his first eight seasons.  He led the league in batting three times, in slugging once, in doubles four times, and added another runner-up finish in the MVP voting in 1970.  For eight years, he was on a no-doubter Hall of Fame track.

He had bad knees, though, and his career went downhill after 1971.  He played in only 10 games in 1972, and finished his career as a DH.  In that role, however, he was not nearly as productive as he had been as a regular position player.  Oliva basically had eight great seasons and three other seasons as a league-average batting DH.  That’s not enough for a lot of people, including the majority of BBWAA voters (his vote totals peaked at 47.3% in 1988).  Interestingly, he seems to have a solid base of support from the Hall of Famers.  Oliva got 57.3% of the vote in the last VC election.  I have a sneaking suspicion that he could be surprisingly close to election this time around.

If I were voting, Torre and Santo would get my vote.  I would seriously consider Kaat, Tiant, Pinson, and Oliva.  As to what I think will actually happen, I think there is a decent chance that no one is elected again.  If anyone is elected, it’s going to be Santo.  We’ll find out on December 8.