Archive for November, 2014

2015 Veteran’s Ballot: The infield

November 5, 2014

In early December the Veteran’s Committee (1946-72 version) will vote on a list of 10 candidates for the Hall of Fame. You can find the list on a post below. The members are allowed to vote for up to five candidates each, with any candidate gaining 12 or more votes being elected for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Over three ruminations I’m going to give you my take on those nominees. I know you just can’t wait to read my thoughts, but you’ll just have to wait for all three. As a disclaimer, let me remind you that I am older than most of the people reading this, so I remember everyone of these players. I saw each of them play so I have a very distinct memory of each and that memory colors my view of them. Don’t forget that when reading what’s below.

First, the infielders in alphabetical order.

Dick Allen

Dick Allen

Dick Allen came up as a third baseman, but ended up spending more time at first than at third. He played from 1963 into 1977 winning the Rookie of the Year Award (1964), and MVP (1972) and making seven All Star teams. He hit .292, had an OPS of 912 and an OPS+ of 156. He led the league in walks, RBIs, triples, and walks once, in homers and strikeouts twice. His highest WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) was 8.8 in both his Rookie of the Year and MVP campaigns. Sounds like a surefire Hall of Famer, right? But Allen was a terrible fielder who took plays off, did an “ole” on more than one ball, and played in such a way he made Harmon Killebrew look like a capable third baseman (in his defense he was new to third). Unlike Killebrew he frequently seemed to not be either trying or paying attention. He wrote obscenities to the fans in the dirt around third, threatened to boycott the 1976 postseason if one of his buddies, who’d had a bad year, didn’t make the postseason squad. The buddy, Tony Taylor, to his credit declined to take advantage of the blackmail, and Allen eventually backed down (and Taylor was designated a coach for the postseason series). Allen got into fights with teammates and in the midst of the 1974 season announced his retirement (he had a lingering injury), but ended up being traded. A couple of times during his career he simply disappeared from the team for a while. In other words he was a great player who was a terrible teammate and a general pain. A lot of those make the Hall of Fame, but a lot don’t.

Kenny Boyer

Kenny Boyer

Ken Boyer was the best of three brothers who played in the 1950s and 1960s. He played third base for the Cardinals between 1955 and 1965, winning an MVP and a World Series in 1964. He made seven All Star teams. He later played for the Mets, White Sox, and Dodgers. For a career he hit .287 with an OPS of .810 and an OPS+ of 116. In 1961 he had his highest WAR at 7.9. He was considered a superior third baseman and spent three years managing the Cardinals (with one winning season). He died in 1982. Unlike Allen, he was generally well-liked and respected by fans and teammates.

Gil Hodges

Gil Hodges

Gil Hodges was one of the more famous players on one of the more famous teams ever, the 1950s Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers. He came to the majors in 1943 as a catcher. After two years out for World War II, he caught on in 1947 as a first baseman and remained in the big leagues through 1963, spending all but his final two years with the Dodgers. He became a New York Mets player in 1962 and thus became a member of another storied team, the 1962 “Amazin’ Mets”.  He retired after 11 games in 1963. For a career he hit .273 with and OPS of .846 and an OPS+ of 120. His top WAR was 6.2 in 1954 and he made eight All Star teams. After retirement, he went into coaching, managing first the Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers), then his former team the Mets. He became newly famous when he led the 1969 “Miracle Mets” to a World Series victory. He was not a natural first baseman, but by the middle of  his career was considered an adequate fielder and became something of a quiet team leader. Having watched the Dodgers pitching woes through the 1950s, he became, when he took over as manager of the Mets, one of the first practitioners of the five man rotation. He died in 1972.

Maury Wills

Maury Wills

Maury Wills is sometimes credited with the revival of the stolen base in baseball. That’s an exaggeration, but he was one of the sports finest base runners. He arrived with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959. Late in that season (he was already 26) he took over shortstop and became one of the rarest of all players, a rookie shortstop whose team won the World Series. He remained Dodgers shortstop through 1966, winning the 1962 MVP award, participating in two further World Series triumphs (1963 and 1965) and one loss (1966). Along the way he set the record for stolen bases (post 1898 definition) with 104 in 1962 (the first time anyone passed 100 stolen bases). He made the All Star team five times and led the National League in triples once and stolen bases six times (and in caught stealing seven with a high of 31 in 1965). After declining to go to Japan for a postseason exhibition trip, he was traded to Pittsburgh where his career fell off. He spent two years in Pittsburgh, part of a season in Montreal, then came back to Los Angeles for the final three and a half years of his career. He retired after the 1972 season. For a career he hit .281 with an OPS of .661 and an OPS+ of 88. His WAR peaked at 6.0 in 1962. He had 586 stolen bases to go with 208 caught stealing (a .738 success rate). After retirement he coached some, being particularly used as a running coach before taking over the managerial job with the Seattle Mariners in late 1980. He was fired early in 1981 with a combined 26-56 record. It wasn’t much of a team, but the general consensus was that Wills wasn’t much of a manager. There are mixed stories about how well he got along with his teammates, but according to the recent book on Sandy Koufax the 1960s Dodgers were a divided team and Wills seems to have fit in nicely with one group and not the other. Later his son, Bump, played a few years with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs.

So my take? Remember I’ve only got five votes and only two of them go here: Boyer and Hodges. Wills exploits are nice but the Dodgers win in the 1960s because they have Koufax and Drysdale and no one else does. And Dick Allen was a fine player, although for only a short period of time, but his divisiveness caused more problems than a lot of teams thought he was worth. That’s not a ringing endorsement for a Hall of Famer. I’ll pass until next time, maybe.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1909

November 3, 2014

And now the monthly update of My Own Little Hall of Fame. Drum roll, please, for the Class of 1909.

"Big Ed" Delahanty

“Big Ed” Delahanty

Edward Delahanty starred in the Major League from 1888 until his untimely death in 1903. Playing mostly for Philadelphia in the National League and later for Washington in the American League he led his league in hitting twice, with a .410 average being his career high. He also led his league in home runs and hits once each, in triples twice, and in doubles five times. His career .346 average is among the highest in Major League history.

Frank Grant

Frank Grant

Noted colored second baseman Frank Grant was a stalwart of numerous integrated Minor League teams in the era of the 1880s and 1890s. He later played for a number of colored teams. An excellent fielder he also became a superior hitter over a 20 year career.

And now the commentary:

1. “Colored”? As I said when I added Bud Fowler to the Hall, I’m not comfortable with the word, but a look at contemporary articles in magazines and newspapers shows that “colored” was far and away the most commonly used word in the 1909 era. I was reminded by my wife that the “C” in NAACP is for “colored” and then recalled the NAACP was founded in 1909. So apparently it was accepted by the local black community as the best they were going to get. Later, about 1920, I’ll begin to replace it with “Negro” as Rube Foster did.

2. You did notice that Frank Grant was “colored” didn’t you? Yeah, I did. And, yeah, I know that there is no chance a 1909 Hall of Fame was going to elect a black man to its list of greats. Where I live, he wouldn’t have been able to enter the building in 1909 unless he was the janitor. But it’s my Hall and Frank Grant is one of the two best black everyday ball players of the 19th Century (with Fowler) and I think he deserves to be included. I’m currently mulling over whether George Stovey, the acknowledged best black pitcher of the age, should be enshrined or not. Will let you know.

3. With Delahanty dead from an accident in 1903, why didn’t you elect him in 1904? Well, I felt as if an accidental death was not sufficient cause to put a man in my Hall. Lots of players died in accidents, some while still playing. To me it just isn’t the same as a major disease (Lou Gehrig, Addie Joss) or loss in war (Eddie Grant). Having said that, Delahanty was a shoo-in when 1909 came around.

4. Just two this time? Yep. Again, there are a lot of really fine players eligible, but they are, in my opinion, “really fine”, not “great”. When I finish the year with next month’s list (1910) I’ll post just who I’m considering. Hopefully, you’ll see what my problem is when adding more. And Frank Grant is in as a contributor, not a player. I also have this funny feeling that I’m adding too many too soon and feel as if the 1909 writers might have brought things to something just short of a standstill at about this point (the 1930s writer’s certainly did).

5. It’s still difficult to find what are now common stats. For instance the Reach Guide still doesn’t have either RBIs or caught stealing. It does, and I find this strange, list the pitchers in order of winning percentage, not wins (with another list doing it in innings pitched order). It’s not a bad thing, we just don’t do it that way now.