Thursday, July 18, 2013

Personal Hall of Fame, Part 1: 19th Century

A few months ago, there was much discussion on Twitter and via email between myself, Adam Darowski of the Hall of Stats, Bryan O'Connor of the Replacement Level Baseball Blog and Ross Carey of the Replacement Level Podcast (no relation to Bryan) about our "personal Halls of Fame." I use the quotation marks because I've always thought it kind of a silly exercise to name a personal Hall of Fame. But, then I realized "silly exercise" (there I go with those quotes again) pretty much describes most of what I write about. Besides, if you're going to have an opinion on what current candidates should and shouldn't be inducted, you have to have a basic definition of a Hall of Famer. What better way to reach that end than to characterize every player in history as either worthy of the honor or not. 

As I've worked through this exercise, which has included a lot of back-and-forth between Adam, Bryan, Ross and myself, my opinion of how big the Hall should be has evolved to some extent. 

There's always been this idea that some folks are small Hall guys (believing the Hall was meant to include only players of the caliber of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson) while others are big Hall supporters. I've always considered myself more or less in the latter camp based on the fact there are so many non-Hall of Famers I support. 

Then, I realized there are probably as many or more players in the Hall who don't belong as players outside the Hall who do. In fact, when my three aforementioned fellow bloggers and I initially shared the first drafts of our personal Halls, all of us chose fewer players than have been honored by the actual Hall. 

We've all since tweaked our lists, in my case based on the influence of my fellow Hall fanatics, but also because I needed to take a closer look at a bunch of guys before making final determinations. I'm glad I did, because in the end, I realized my personal Hall was basically identical in size to the one in Cooperstown—just with a somewhat different mix of players—and, to me, that feels about right. 

So, consider me a "Just right" Hall guy, because the current size of the Hall of Fame is pretty much exactly as it should be, in my opinion. 

Now that I've explained that, this will be the first in a series of posts where I'll be revealing my personal Hall in the form of five separate All-Era teams, plus a group of more recent players I'm lumping into what I consider an in-progress era. The idea behind doing it this way is to make sure there's sufficient representation for each position in each era.

My personal Hall consists exclusively of players (no executives, pioneers or umpires) based on their careers in Major League Baseball only. In the future, I hope to incorporate Negro Leaguers as well as pioneers and players whose careers pre-dated and/or overlapped with the beginning of the Major League era, but I'm not quite there yet. I don't, however, have much interest in determining what does and doesn't constitute a Hall of Fame executive or umpire.

The rules I apply to my All-Time Teams posts are not in play here, but some of the basic philosophies behind those rules are. That is, the size of the teams will vary depending on the length of the era and, of course, the worthiness of the candidates. However, there will be at least a starter and, with possible exception, a backup at each position for each all-era team. 

Also, inclusion on a specific all-era team is based on the era in which each player's star shined the brightest—although in marginal cases, I've assigned some players based on where they fit best—but their entire careers provide the basis for selection, rather than just time spent in a specific era. 

Got all that? Good. Let's get started.

An * denotes an actual Hall of Famer.

All-19th Century Team/Personal Hall Inductees (1871-1899)

C - Buck Ewing* (1880-1897)
1B - Cap Anson* (1871-1897)
2B - Bid McPhee* (1882-1899)
SS - George Davis* (1890-1909)
3B - John McGraw (1891-1906)
LF - Ed Delahanty* (1888-1903)
CF - Billy Hamilton* (1888-1901)
RF - King Kelly* (1878-1893)
P - Cy Young* (1890-1911)
P - Kid Nichols* (1890-1906)
P - John Clarkson* (1882-1894)

I should point out the distinction between starters and reserves is really meaningless. I just thought it would be interesting to present the players in this all-era teams format. To be really clear, this is not an attempt to add a tiered structure to my fictitious institution. 

In the early part of this era, a two-man starting rotation would suffice, but since the two best 19th century pitchers (Young and Nichols) began their careers near the end of the century, a three-man rotation seems more appropriate.

C - Charlie Bennett (1878-1893)
1B - Dan Brouthers* (1879-1904)
1B - Roger Connor* (1880-1897)
1B - Jake Beckley* (1888-1907)
2B - Ross Barnes (1871-1877, 1879, 1881)
SS - Jack Glasscock (1879-1895)
SS - Hughie Jennings* (1891-1903, 1907, 1909-10, 1912, 1918)
3B/C - Deacon White* (1871-1890)
LF - Jesse Burkett* (1890-1905)
LF/1B - Harry Stovey (1880-1893)
CF/LF - Jim O'Rourke* (1872-1904)
CF/LF - Pete Browning (1882-1894)
RF - Willie Keeler* (1892-1910)
RF - Sam Thompson* (1885-1898, 1906)
P - Tim Keefe* (1880-1893)
P - Amos Rusie* (1889-1901)
P - Old Hoss Radbourn* (1880-1891)
P - Pud Galvin* (1875, 1879-1892
P - Al Spalding (1871-1878)
P - Clark Griffith (1891, 1893-1907, 1909, 1912-14)

There are seven guys here who are not in the Hall of Fame as players. That includes John McGraw, who's in as a manager, but seriously deserves the honor for his playing career, seeing as he's the best pre-1900 third baseman (not including Deacon White, who played more games at third, but who I consider more of a catcher because his best years were there). 

Speaking of catchers, Charlie Bennett gets added to my Hall. By all accounts, he was one of the best defensive catchers of the 19th century. Add to that a career OPS+ of 119 and the fact he was the all-time leader in games caught through 1896 and we have a player whose career was sold short by the actual Hall.

Bid McPhee is the only 19th-century second baseman in the real Hall of Fame. I've added Ross Barnes, who had a short but dominant career and is probably the greatest position player in the history of the National Association. The quality of the league that preceded the National League is sometimes called into question, but I think honoring its greatest player—who continued his dominance through the NL's inaugural season, before illness derailed his career—is defensible.

My justification for Al Spalding is similar. He was the National Association's greatest pitcher and added one fantastic season in the NL before re-directing his baseball efforts to the front office. He's in the Hall of Fame as an executive, but I'm honoring him for his role as one of the two greatest players of professional baseball's formative years.

By sabermetric standards, Pete Browning and Harry Stovey probably fall a little short, but it's more because of their lack of longevity than peak performance. The latter is what earns both these outfielders a place in my Hall. 

What jumps out at me about Browning, besides a 163 career OPS+, are his 27.2 wins above average (WAA) over 5315 plate appearances (a low total that's partially due to a short career, but the era's shorter seasons played a big role too). By comparison, Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner—another player whose candidacy is based on peak rather than longevity—was good for 25.8 WAA over 6256 plate appearances, and it took 7831 PA for Kirby Puckett to reach 25.3 WAA.

Stovey's batting record is covered in black ink, having led the league in home runs five times, triples and runs four times, total bases three times, and slugging and stolen bases twice. By Bill James' Black Ink test, Stovey scores more than twice as high as the average Hall of Famer (56 to 27). In an era that metrics like WAR have a tougher time measuring a player's true value, dominating the league in the way Stovey did just shouts Hall of Famer to me.

Jack Glasscock is kind of a fringe sabermetric darling—to the extent that he gets a lot of support from those of us who care about the 19th century—but the historians like him as well, many of whom consider him the greatest defensive shortstop of his era. The latter point is reinforced by advanced defensive metrics, although he actually ranks second to Germany Smith among 19th century shortstops in WAR fielding runs. Additionally, he was also an offensive player on par with Alan Trammell, as his career 112 OPS+ attests.

I'm not going to explain my justification for every actual Hall of Famer I've decided isn't worthy of the honor, but I have no problem omitting Tommy McCarthy. Hugh Duffy, Joe Kelley and Monte Ward were tougher calls, but let's just say they fall a little short, in my opinion. Mickey Welch is the only casualty among pitchers, while his status as one of only five pitchers to reach 300 wins before 1900 perhaps shows I do not hold sacred such milestones.


  1. Of course, I'm curious where we disagree. :)

    You have one player in that I don't have: Hughie Jennings. I've just never been convinced. Anything in particular I should look at?

    I have more 19th century players in my Hall, though. I included Joe Start, Paul Hines, Monte Ward, and Bob Caruthers. I also have Bill Dahlen and Clark Griffith in. You don't list them, but I'm assuming that you'd included Dahlen, so he's probably on the deadball list. I'd consider Griffith 19th century, so I'm assuming you're not including him.

    I can see reasons for not including each of them and I'll admit that in some cases I might have let overall contributions tip the scale (in the cases of Ward and Griffith).

    There's also the fact that Start, Hines, and Ward all starred for the Providence Grays, who I kind of love.

    1. The interesting thing about Hughie Jennings is his inclusion is more based on Bryan's influence than anything. I'm coming around on players who had great peaks, and looking at Jennings' peak, it's pretty clear to me he was the most talented shortstop of the era. Overall, I rate Davis higher, because longevity counts too, but Jennings is one of only 7 shortstops in history with 4 seasons of 7 WAR or greater. The others are Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Ernie Banks, Lou Boudreau and Arky Vaughan.

    2. Also, yes I bumped Bill Dahlen to the deadball era. I don't mind giving that away.

      Start's a guy who might get in when I try to incorporate pre-NL considerations.

      Hines got serious consideration, but basically lost out to Browning.

      I'm not as compelled by Ward as you are. His offensive numbers are below average and I don't think he adds enough as a pitcher.

      I love Caruthers, but I think he falls a tad short.

      Griffith suffers from my my effort to not overdo it with 19th century pitchers. I basically don't think he stands out enough vs. some of the other pitchers I also left off. Pud Galvin probably doesn't either, but 6000 IP in the 19th century (when so many pitchers burned out so quickly) is quite an accomplishment.

    3. Allow me to analyze right from the comments field of your blog…

      The Jennings discussion reminds me of how I recently came around on some high peak pitchers based on Bryan's Hall (Wilbur Wood, Smoky Joe Wood, Dwight Gooden). I wrote about it here:

      I searched for pitchers with a 10 WAR season outside the Hall. Your comment about Jennings' 7 WAR seasons caught my eye, so let's take a look…

      To me, a vote for Hughie Jennings is a vote for Nomar Garciaparra. I just double checked and Nomar is indeed Hughie's #1 comp on the Hall of Stats. Basically, all of Hughie's value is condensed to five seasons. Nomar's was six.

      So, Hughie's four years with 7+ WAR… only 26 eligible players in history have more. That's fewer than I thought. Limit that to non-Hall of Famers and it's Bonds and Shoeless Joe. Bagwell is tied with Jennings at 4. Only Grich, Wynn, and Allen have three. That's kind of crazy.

      Nomar only reached 7 WAR twice, but he reached 6 WAR six times. That's actually even more rare for non-HOFs. Bonds obviously did it, but Shoeless Joe didn't even do it. Ken Boyer matched Nomar with 6. Bagwell, Edgar, Trammell, and Grich join Jackson with 5.

      If you include Hall of Famers, still only 24 eligible players EVER have more 6 WAR seasons than Nomar.

      This is starting to make me think that Jennings, Nomar, and Ken Boyer are all Hall of Fame-worthy. I was sold on Boyer already, but not the other two.

      Let's look at higher peaks than 7 WAR for non-HOFs.

      Most 8 WAR seasons, eligible non-HOF:
      Bonds 11
      Allen 2
      Jackson 2
      Snuffy Stirnweiss 2

      LOL @ Snuffy. He was worth 8.4 and 8.6 WAR in '44 and '45 (during WWII). Everyone came back and he was worth 7.9 WAR the rest of his career (from age 27-33).

      9 WAR
      Bonds 8
      Jackson 2
      Sosa, Walker, Biggio, Darrell Evans, Petrocelli, Cash, Rosen, and Terry Turner have one each.

      Turner's 1906 includes 34 fielding runs (and just 15 fielding runs). He was a good player (and good fielder, totaling 102 fielding runs). But I have reason to be skeptical about that season's WAR.

      Petrocelli and Rosen actually had years of 10 WAR. Each was an excellent player with a career year. Both seem like legit 10 WAR seasons.

    4. Re: Jennings vs. Nomar, we'll definitely have to take a long look at Nomar when his time comes, but two things Jennings have going for him are we never saw him play and he's in the actual Hall of Fame.

      I think you're with me on this, but my standards are a little tougher for non-Hall of Famers than existing Hall of Famers, especially when it comes to guys I haven't seen play. I think. I haven't really bothered to try to quantify that.

      I just think he was the best SS of the 1890s, then his career was derailed by head injuries. Although, I suppose, he may have only himself to blame considering all the HBPs.

      And he's in the Hall of Merit. :)

    5. So, Jennings was inducted in 1945. That helps, in my opinion. For the guys we didn't see, I like to see that they were very quickly added to the Hall by people who saw them.

      However, it seems his induction had a lot to do with his managerial career. His peak certainly was a huge part of it, but the management career was a factor that may have pushed him over the edge.

      I'm still not sure how to handle those guys in my Personal Hall. But I'm getting closer on Jennings.

  2. I love this team presentation. It would be cool to designate time spans and have us all come up with our 25 man HOF rosters from that period.

  3. How ironic that I influenced you to add another 19th-century player to your hall. I'm not anti-Jennings, but he's not in my hall. I'm glad Adam came around on Wilbur, Doc, and Smoky Joe though. And I love this format too. Looking forward to the rest.