The Hall of Fame and Warfare

On a comment to an earlier post brettkiser (who has a blog worth checking out–do so) asked my opinion on two players who lost time to World War II. He wanted to know if I thought they were Hall of Fame worthy. I’ll answer that in a moment, but want to make a couple of points first.

I think Hall of Fame voters and people who study the institution need to understand that World War II, Korea, and to a lesser extent for Americans World War I took players away from baseball for what were considered at the time “greater causes”. Whether or not you agree these wars, or any wars, are worth fighting isn’t the issue here. The issue is the effect on the players. Their numbers are going to be lower than players who do not lose 1-4 years to a war (see Hank Greenberg as perhaps the greatest example). That should be both understood and considered when picking a man for enshrining at Cooperstown. That being said, the idea of “so how much did he lose to the war?” is something that cannot be answered. Maybe a man losing 3 years to a war lost a huge number of positive statistics, but maybe if he had been playing in 1943, he would have been sculled on the first pitch he saw, developed eye problems, and never played again, thus losing any numbers he put up after 1945. We can’t know.

Having said all that, here’s a look at how the Second World War effected a handful of players (some already Hall of Famers):

Johnny Pesky-lost all of 43-45. I don’t think he was destined for the Hall anyway. His hitting numbers aren’t special and he was no Marty Marion with the glove.

Dom DiMaggio-lost all of 43-45. Maybe the hardest choice (and one of brettkiser”s 2 questions).  Missed hitting 300 by two points, led the league in triples once, in runs twice, and stolen bases once (with all of 15, the lowest number to ever lead either league). To get in contemporaniously with his teammates, he had three real problems: he missed 300 (a stat that really matters in 1950s Hall voting), he wasn’t as good as his brother, he wasn’t the best player on his team (Ted Williams was). He may have been the best Center Fielder (but see Richie Ashburn). I think he had no chance in his era, but the Veteran’s Committee (who steadfastly refuses to elect anyone–JERKS) should look at him closely. I’d vote for him, but I wouldn’t put him at the head of the ballot.

Tommy Henrich-lost all of 43-45. Yankees stalwart in Right Field. Major player on a bunch of pennant winners and was still pretty good when he got back from the war. Probably the third best outfielder on his team (DiMaggio and Keller), so not going to get much support at the time. I like him, but don’t know that I’d vote for him.

Cecil Travis-lost all of 42-44 and the 2nd of brettkiser’s questions. Heck of a player for an obscure team, Washington, that no one cared about (see a comment earlier on Harlond Clift for another of those). Hit 314 with little power and not much speed. Led league in hits once. I like the average, but there’s not much else going for him. I’m a little surprised he didn’t get a lot more support in the 1950s and 1960s when the voters seemed to worry a lot more about batting average. I think I’d vote for him, but could be talked out of it.

Mickey Vernon-lost all of 44-45. Teammate of  Travis at Washington, led league in doubles twice, won two batting titles, hit 280. Like him better than Travis, but  don’t see him in the Hall anytime soon. As with Travis I could vote for him, or be talked out of it..

Warren Spahn-lost all of 43-45. OK, he’s in the Hall, but did you know he came up in 1942 and had exactly zero wins prior to heading off to war? Give him those 3 years and he might have got around 400 wins (or blown his arm out in 1943 and ended up ith none at all. See what I mean by speculation?)

Terry Moore-lost all of 43-45. Cardinal Center Fielder on the 1942 World’s Champions. Good solid career and someone who might have made it if his numbers hadn’t been hurt by the war. He’s the guy I have most trouble with here, because I like what I see, I just don’t think its good enough to stand up to Hall of Fame standards.

Hugh Casey and Larry French-both lost all of 43-45. Were mainstays of the Dodgers teams that won in 1941 and were competitive later. French had 197 wins, went off to war and never won another game. Had he gotten 200 wins he might have made it, but had more hits than innings pitched and his walk/strikout ratio wasn’t very good. He’s not in and I don’t think the war kept him out. As for Casey, he was basically a reliever in an era where nobody cared about relievers. He’s not in and I don’t think the war is why. Personally, wouldn’t vote for either.

Gil Hodges-lost all of 44-45. Let me start by saying I’d vote for Hodges anyway and think the Veteran’s Committee is being silly for not putting him in. I’m not sure how much the war effected his numbers. He was up in 43 (he went 0 for 2), then went off to war. In 1946 he was in the minors, so I don’t know that he lost much by going off to war. Had he been given 44 and/or 45 in the minors maybe he’s up in 46 and do well (or maybe not).

There are others, people like Pete Reiser, and Early Wynn (who only lost 1 year and still made the Hall) who could be considered, but this list will do for now.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “The Hall of Fame and Warfare”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Hey, Great title for a blog post, and interesting topic for discussion. Personally, I’m not sure any player who lost service time to war has been penalized by HOF voters for the years they missed. Dom DiMaggio might be the best player in the bunch who didn’t get in, but I don’t think he quite makes the cut as a HOF’er.
    Another question to consider is, how did warfare effect the relative quality of play in MLB during the war years? In other words, is there a correlation between baseball’s various “Golden Year” periods, and peace and prosperity? Or did the quality of play remain consistent throughout the twentieth century, regardless of our involvement in over-seas wars?
    By the way, Pete Reiser didn’t need to engage in the Battle of the Bulge to short-circuit his MLB career. He only required the center field wall at Ebbett’s Field to do that!
    Look forward to reading your next post.
    Bill Miller (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com

  2. verdun2 Says:

    You make a good point about Reiser, who still lost 3 years to the war. Wonder how much better his career would be today because of the padding on the wall. They ought to call those things “Reiser’s”.
    v

Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: