Making the Right Choices for Cooperstown

Sometimes I look at the list of Hall of Famers and wonder how a particular player got to Cooperstown. Some choices are obvious, some silly, some merely puzzling. Then I look at when he was elected and sometimes the choice doesn’t seem so bad in the context of the time the player was elected. Let me give you two examples.

Eppa Rixey

Left handed pitcher Eppa Rixey began his Major League career in 1912 and completed it in 1933. He won 266 games, had a .515 winning percentage, an ERA of 3.15, and struck out 1350 men. He also gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He missed 1918 because of World War I, and took a loss in the 1915 World Series when he pitched the last six innings of game five for Philadelphia. He died in February 1963 and made the Hall of Fame the same year. Ignoring the fact that his death may have influenced the Veteran’s Committee to look at him more closely, his career isn’t bad, but doesn’t look all that special. As a Left-handed pitcher he did well, but here’s a list of all the left-handers who have more wins than Rixey: Spahn, Carlton, Plank, Johnson, Glavine, Grove, John, Kaat, and Moyer. Here’s that same list in 1963: Spahn, Plank, Grove. And note, further, that both Plank and Grove spent most of their big league career in the American League (Grove spent all of his). So in 1963, Eppa Rixey was the second winningest left-handed pitcher in National League history, with much more well-known Carl Hubbell 12 wins back in third. If you know that, then the Rixey choice doesn’t seem quite so bad. The Veteran’s Committee chose the winningest left-hander in National League history prior to about 1960 (didn’t bother to look up when Spahn won his 267th game), a period of 84 years, to enshrine in Cooperstown. So again, Rixey doesn’t look as odd to 1963 fans as he does to modern fans when it comes to the Hall of Fame (and remember that Spahn is still active in 1963 so he’s not yet 97 games up on Rixey).

Max Carey

Max Carey was a base stealing specialist, mostly for Pittsburgh, from 1910 to 1929. He hit .285, slugged .385, scored 1545 runs, had no power, and stole 738 bases. He was part of the 1925 World Series winning team. His best stolen base year was 1922 when he stole 51 and was caught only twice (He actually stole more bases a couple of times, but never with that success rate). He made the Hall of Fame in 1961. Currently Carey ranks seventh in stolen bases since 1898 (when they changed the stolen base run to its current form). OK, maybe that alone would get him a ticket to Cooperstown (although it hasn’t helped either Tim Raines or Vince Coleman, two of the players above him), but it was different in 1961. In that year he was third behind only Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins, both career American Leaguers. So again we find that the player in question is the all-time leader in a category (stolen bases) in the National League at the time he is chosen for the Hall of Fame. That makes the choice look better then than now, when Lou Brock is now the NL’s stolen base king.

This is not a plea for either man to be in the Hall of Fame. Maybe neither should be, or maybe only Carey should be.  Maybe being the all-time leader in something in one league isn’t a free pass to the Hall. But if you think neither looks overly qualified when you read over their stats, remember that both, particularly Rixey, looked a lot better in the early 1960s than they do in the 21st Century.

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2 Responses to “Making the Right Choices for Cooperstown”

  1. William Miller Says:

    You raise a great point regarding how the reputations of Hall of Famers change over time. Pie Traynor, for example, was as recently as the mid-1970’s, considered one of the top three third basemen of all-time. Since then, his rep has dropped to the extent that now he might just break the top twenty.
    One has to wonder, then, how recent inductees such as Andre Dawson and Jim Rice will be remembered (if at all) 75 years from now.
    As always, a great post, Bill

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Thanks for the read, Bill.
    You make a great point about Traynor. I did a post on him way back (4 January 2010) and he’s a very good third example of what I’m talking about. He makes the HoF in 1948, well before Schmidt, Brett, Robinson, or Mathews comes up. I might have chosen Baker as the best 3rd baseman prior to 1950, but Traynor wasn’t a bad choice then. Now, as you point out, it’s just plain silly.
    Not sure about Rice and Dawson in 75 years. I know I won’t be around to worry about it. 😦
    v

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