Monday, April 16, 2012

All-Time Teams #3: Baltimore Orioles

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

The Baltimore Orioles were one of the eight original American League teams when the junior circuit began play in 1901. Of course, you may know those Orioles became the New York Highlanders and later the Yankees.

The Orioles we know today were also an AL flagship franchise, but were called the Milwaukee Brewers in their first year of existence. One year later, they moved to St. Louis and were the Browns for more than half a century, before settling in Baltimore in 1954.

The toughest decision in selecting an all-time team for this franchise was at first base, as I was surprised I gave so much consideration to George Sisler, before relegating him to the bench in favor of Eddie Murray. Of course this won't be the last time I have to deal with the dilemma of two Hall of Famers at the same position.

Franchise History
Baltimore Orioles (1954- )
St. Louis Browns (1902-1953)
Milwaukee Brewers (1901)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Chris Hoiles (1989-1998)
1B - Eddie Murray* (1977-1988, 1996)
2B - Bobby Grich (1970-1976)
SS - Cal Ripken* (1981-2001)
3B - Brooks Robinson* (1955-1977)
LF - Ken Williams (1918-1927)
CF - Paul Blair (1964-1976)
RF - Frank Robinson* (1966-1971)

Jim Palmer* (1965-1967, 1969-1984)
Mike Mussina (1991-2000)
Urban Shocker (1918-1924)
Dave McNally (1962-1974)
Mike Cuellar (1969-1976)

Gregg Olson (1988-1993)

C - Rick Dempsey (1976-1986)
1B - George Sisler* (1915-1922, 1924-1927)
1B - Boog Powell (1961-1974)
IF - Bobby Wallace* (1902-1916)
3B - Harlond Clift (1934-1943)
OF - Ken Singleton (1975-1984)
OF - Brady Anderson (1988-2001)

Hoyt Wilhelm* (1958-1962)
Jack Powell (1902-1903, 1905-1912)
Stu Miller (1963-1967)
Ned Garver (1948-1952)

Earl Weaver* (1968-1982, 1985-1986)

I guess it's not such a good sign for the current version of this team that there's not a single active player on this squad.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

It's not really cut and dried what cap would be depicted on a Bobby Grich Hall of Fame plaque. He played longer with the Angels and accumulated greater counting stats there, but according to WAR he had five of his seven best years in Baltimore. A big part of that was his defense, which was much better in his younger years. Still, for my purposes, I'm considering him as an Angel.

So, it basically comes down to Shocker, Singleton or Powell. The latter two had nice careers, but Urban Shocker is the only borderline Hall of Fame candidate here.

Urban Shocker in St. Louis Browns uniform
If not for a late start and an early end to his career, I feel quite certain Shocker would've had an excellent Hall of Fame case. In fact, despite these factors, you could definitely make an argument.

Although he's a pitcher and they're position players, Shocker's case is pretty similar to that of Kirby Puckett and Thurman Munson. You'll see why shortly.

Because I haven't done extensive research on him—although I'm interested enough to be considering it—I don't know why Shocker didn't appear in the majors until he was more than halfway between his 25th and 26th birthdays in 1916. One account says he wasn't converted to a pitcher until his first years in the minors, at age 22. So, he probably just wasn't major league ready, although in two full years at the class B level (the modern equivalent of long-A), he was dominant to the tune of a 2.07 ERA over 540 innings. The following year he was even better—at AA, which back then was the highest level of the minors—posting a 1.31 ERA in 185 IP, proving to his original club, the Yankees, that he was a major league quality pitcher.

He was still underutilized by the Yankees in 1917 and then subsequently traded to the Browns following that season. With St. Louis, from 1918-1924, he would go 126-80 with a 3.19 ERA (127 ERA+), including a run of four consecutive 20-win seasons (1920-1923, 91-51 W-L, 132 ERA+). If the Cy Young award had existed back then, he would have surely been one of the top two or three candidates in three of those four years.

Following a sub-par—for him—but still solid, season in 1924, he was traded back to the Yankees. There he would become a key member of two American League championship teams (1926 & 1927) and, of course, the World Series champs of 1927. He would also team with future Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock to form a pretty impressive rotation, although it's debatable whether those two guys are actually more deserving than he.

Shocker pitched briefly in 1928, then walked away from the game barely past his prime at 37. He played his final game on May 30. On September 9, he died of a congenital heart condition.

It was later learned that, due to the heart condition, he'd been unable to sleep lying down for two years. Suffice it to say, his health had to have an effect on the later years of his career and certainly played a role is his premature retirement.

In 12 years in the big leagues, Shocker was worth 47 Wins Above Replacement, 50 if you count his offensive production. 4 WAR per year over a 15-year career makes a pitcher a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. But, of course, he didn't last 15 years, although it was partly due to non-baseball factors, just as with Puckett (who's in the Hall, but not necessarily deserving) and Munson (who's not in the Hall, but probably more deserving than Puckett).

Here's where Shocker ranks among his contemporaries—other pitchers whose careers overlapped his by at least five years—based on cumulative WAR from pitching (an asterisk * denotes a Hall of Famer):
  1. Walter Johnson* - 127.7
  2. Pete Alexander* - 104.9
  3. Ted Lyons* - 58.8
  4. Dazzy Vance* - 56.4
  5. Red Faber* - 55.2
  6. Stan Coveleski* - 54.0
  7. Eppa Rixey* - 51.2
  8. Eddie Cicotte - 49.7
  9. Jack Quinn - 49.7
  10. Waite Hoyt* - 47.0
  11. Urban Shocker - 47.0
  12. Babe Adams - 45.2
  13. Wilbur Cooper - 43.7
  14. Eddie Rommel - 42.1
  15. Bob Shawkey - 40.4
  16. Dolf Luque - 40.2
  17. Carl Mays - 39.6
  18. Hippo Vaughn - 37.9
  19. Burleigh Grimes* - 37.2
  20. Herb Pennock* - 36.9
As you can see, he ranks 11th, with eight Hall of Famers higher and two lower on the list. But really, only Johnson and Alexander were clearly better, with the others simply playing longer. In fact, at third on the list, it took Lyons seven additional years to accumulate 12 more WAR.

So, is Shocker really a deserving Hall of Famer on the outside looking in? Not necessarily, but it seems to me he could just as easily be in rather than not. Hopefully, I'll have the time to take a further look at Shocker's life and career in a future post.

Next Up: Boston Red Sox

1 comment:

  1. Eddie Murray ahead of George Sisler shows a great bias towards contemporary players.