The Thin Red Line

Gee Walker

Gee Walker

As most of you know, I’m very pleased that Deacon White finally made the Hall of Fame. But did you look at who actually got in this time? You have a player who got the first hit in the history of the National Association, the first truly professional baseball league; an executive; and an umpire. Good for all of them. But if you look closely at the nominees for the period 1876-1946 you’ll see we are beginning to approach the thin red line of 1920-1946 players.

The thin red line is my phrase (it’s actually a British military phrase from the Crimean War)I use to denote the line beyond which you are beginning to elect players to the Hall of Fame who don’t deserve to be enshrined. Some (including me) might remark that in a couple of cases we’ve already slid below the line.  But the players in Cooperstown are already there and I can’t see taking anyone out.

Take a look at the players from the 1920-1946 era that were just nominated for Cooperstown: Marty Marion, Bucky Walters, Wes Ferrell. Are they truly the best players from the era not in the Hall of Fame? Maybe they are. I could make a case for them (and I could make a similar case for others). I could also make a case for keeping each out of Cooperstown (and could make similar cases for others). And that makes them “thin red line” candidates. Here’s a full team (eight position players and three pitchers) whose career is primarily in the 1920-46 era:

infield (first around to third): Hal Trosky, Marty McManus, Marty Marion, Harland Clift

outfield: Ken Williams, Gee Walker, Bob Johnson

catcher: Wally Schang (who actually plays quite a lot in the 19 teens)

pitchers: Wes Ferrell, Bucky Walters, Paul Derringer

Not a bad team, right? Put them all together and you’re going to win a lot of games.

But is this a team of Hall of Fame quality players? Maybe yes, maybe no. I wouldn’t be overly upset if any of them were elected, but it also wouldn’t bother me if none of them were chosen. They epitomize the “thin red line” of the Hall of Fame. Let them in and I might reply “OK, I guess”. Keep them out and I might reply “OK, I guess.”

My point in all this is that it appears the Hall of Fame has finally mined the 1920-1946 era of all the truly qualified players. What’s left are guys that are marginal at best and the idea of “marginal Hall of Famers” is really kind of silly, isn’t it? But my concern is that the Hall is desperate to hold the big ceremony every summer and to do that you must have someone to enshrine. If the writer’s don’t elect anyone (and with the weird ballot this year they might not) then the veteran’s committee nominees become critical. I’m afraid the Hall may put pressure on the Veteran’s Committee (a much smaller group) to “Put in someone, anyone, so we can at least get Deacon White’s great great grandchildren here to celebrate.”  And if that happens then every time we get to the 1876-1946 era the players from the 1920-46 period will be players that touch the “thin red line” of the Hall. That means we’ll be getting 19th  Century and Deadball Era players or marginal 1920s, 1930s, 1940s players making the Hall. The first two are fine by me, there are certainly enough decent 19th Century and Deadball players worth considering. But the latter worries me. We don’t need to lower the red line any further.

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8 Responses to “The Thin Red Line”

  1. W.k. kortas Says:

    I think you make an excellent point here–if anything, the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties are all over-represented in Cooperstown. If I had to pick on player out of this group for a plaque, it would probably be Bob Johnson–but he’s essentially simply a more consistent Brian Giles, and that doesn’t scream immortality.

  2. William Miller Says:

    Hey Kortas, I was a big Brian Giles fan! But I do understand where you’re coming from. Meanwhile, there are MANY deserving players from the ’70’ and ’80’s who are continually overlooked for God knows what reason. And, Verdun, I think you are exactly right that the BBWAA, by being overly cautious this year, might be shooting itself in the foot because by (perhaps) inducting no one, the Vets will be more likely to nominate someone probably less deserving.
    Nice post,
    Bill

  3. William Miller Says:

    You’ve probably seen this painting before. Was always one of my favorite war paintings. My dad is a serious anglophile:

    • verdun2 Says:

      Bill
      When I clicked to approve your comment, the link to the pix didn’t download. Not aware of what I did wrong, but if you want, try adding the link again.
      v

      • William Miller Says:

        Ah, sod it all! Well, you’d probably already know the painting if you saw it, the “Thin Red Line at Balaclava.” The 93rd Highlanders are staring down the enemy cavalry. I’m sure you could Google Image it, if you wanted to.
        Anyway, Happy New Year,
        Bill

      • verdun2 Says:

        The Wikipedia page at “The Thin Red Line” has a couple of pix for anyone interested in the origin of the phrase or a picture of the action. BTW it’s the same battle as “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.
        v

  4. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Which Brian Giles are you referring to, W.K. and Bill? You might not even be referring to the same one! There were two of ’em! And they couldn’t have been more different!

    Glen

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