Thursday, August 29, 2013

Personal Hall of Fame, Part 4: Post-Integration Era

This is the fourth in a series of six posts where I'm revealing my personal Hall of Fame one era at a time.

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

My personal Hall consists exclusively of players (no managers, executives, pioneers or umpires) based on their careers in Major League Baseball only.

For a more complete explanation of this series, and for my 19th Century inductees, please see Part 1. For my Deadball era inductees, please see Part 2. For my Live Ball era inductees, check out Part 3.

An * denotes an actual Hall of Famer.

All-Post-Integration Era Team/Personal Hall Inductees

C - Yogi Berra* (1946-1963, 1965)
1B (RF/LF) - Stan Musial(1941-1944, 1946-1963)
2B - Jackie Robinson(1947-1956)
SS (1B) - Ernie Banks* (1953-1971)
3B - Eddie Mathews* (1952-1968)
LF - Ted Williams* (1939-1942, 1946-1960)
CF - Willie Mays* (1951-1952, 1954-1973)
RF - Hank Aaron* (1954-1976)
SP - Warren Spahn* (1942, 1946-1965)
SP - Bob Gibson* (1959-1975)
SP - Gaylord Perry* (1962-1983)
SP - Fergie Jenkins* (1965-1983)
SP - Robin Roberts* (1948-1966)

C - Roy Campanella* (1948-1957)
C/1B/3B - Joe Torre (1960-1977)
C - Bill Freehan (1961, 1963-1976)
1B - Willie McCovey* (1959-1980)
1B/3B - Dick Allen (1963-1977)
1B/3B - Harmon Killebrew* (1954-1975)
2B - Bobby Doerr* (1937-1944, 1946-1951)
2B - Nellie Fox* (1947-1965)
SS - Pee Wee Reese* (1940-1942, 1946-1958)
SS - Luis Aparicio* (1956-1973)
3B - Brooks Robinson* (1955-1977)
3B - Ron Santo* (1960-1974)
3B - Ken Boyer (1955-1969)
3B - Sal Bando (1966-1981)
LF/1B - Carl Yastrzemski* (1961-1983)
LF/RF/3B/2B/1B - Pete Rose (1963-1986)
LF - Billy Williams* (1959-1976)
LF - Ralph Kiner* (1946-1955)
LF - Minnie Miñoso (1949, 1951-1964, 1976, 1980)
CF - Mickey Mantle* (1951-1968)
CF - Duke Snider* (1947-1964)
CF - Richie Ashburn* (1948-1962)
CF - Larry Doby* (1947-1959)
CF - Jim Wynn (1963-1977)
RF - Frank Robinson* (1956-1976)
RF - Roberto Clemente* (1955-1972)
RF - Al Kaline* (1953-1974)
RF - Enos Slaughter* (1938-1942, 1946-1959)
SP - Sandy Koufax* (1955-1966)
SP - Juan Marichal* (1960-1975)
SP - Jim Bunning* (1955-1971)
SP - Don Drysdale* (1956-1969)
SP - Whitey Ford* (1950, 1953-1967)
SP - Early Wynn* (1939, 1941-1944, 1946-1963)
RP - Hoyt Wilhelm* (1952-1972)

Catcher and Third Base are easily the most under-represented positions in the real Hall of Fame, with only 13 inductees each (this counts Paul Molitor at 3B and doesn't include Negro Leaguers). By comparison, there are 21 first basemen and 23 right fielders. 

Classifying each player at one specific position can be a little misleading, since there are quite a few who don't fit so nicely into these categories. For instance, Ernie Banks is considered a first baseman by the Hall, but it was clearly his time as a shortstop that earned him the honor. Also, I don't feel as though each position needs to be evenly represented, but my Hall has a little more balance and it's definitely not by accident.

For this era, my Hall adds two deserving catchersJoe Torre who, coincidentally also spent significant time at third; and Bill Freehanplus two more third basemenKen Boyer and Sal Bandoin addition to Dick Allen, who easily could be classified as either a first or a third baseman, and outfielders Minnie Miñoso and Jim Wynn. 

While Torre played less than half his career games behind the plate, he provided exceptional offense (129 OPS+) for the position—and quite good for any other—over a career that spanned 8802 plate appearances. Only a few players with Hall Ratings higher than Torre's 112 are not in my personal Hall, and none of them were catchers. 

Freehan was probably the best defensive catcher of this era—well, perhaps Johnny Bench was, but we'll see him later, of courseand he was no slouch at the plate either (112 OPS+). I don't love using all-star selections as an argument, mainly because it's a mid-year award but also because subjective honors can be hit-or-miss. But, I don't completely ignore subjectivity and Freehan's 10 consecutive all-star appearances (and 11 of 12) are backed up by objective measures, so he's in.

Boyer and Bando are nearly identical in overall value (118 Hall Rating), but arrive at it in different ways. Boyer was a great glove man (5 Gold Gloves, 73 fielding runs) whose 116 OPS+ gets a bigger boost from batting average and power than patience at the plate. 

Bando was a good glove man, but wasn't going to win any Gold Gloves playing in an American League that included Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell. However, he was an under-rated offensive performer in a pitchers' era, to the tune of a 119 OPS+ that tells us more than his triple slash of .254/.352/.408. 

Without perspective, the arguments for Bando and Boyer aren't overwhelmingly convincing, but perhaps this list of the 118 greatest position players of all-time (min. 5000 PA) in terms of WAR as a percentage of plate appearances will do a better job. Boyer is at #71 and Bando #78, but more importantly, they're surrounded by some pretty serious Hall of Fame caliber company. Neither of them are at the short-career end of the spectrum either. 

There are a few possible theories as to why Dick Allen isn't in the Hall of Fame. He peaked early and flamed out at a fairly young age, so his career is a little on the short side. That peak occurred in a pitchers' era, so his counting numbers take an additional hit, and some voters have never been able to reconcile era adjustments in their narrow minds. Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, he was very unpopular

I don't care about the latter, and I'm luckier than the voters of 15-30 years ago in that advanced metrics help considerably with era adjustments. Finally, and definitely most importantly, his OPS+ of 156 ranks 19th all-time, and here he is surrounded by Hall of Fame caliber playersChet Lemon notwithstanding, although he's closer than you thinkon this list of guys with 7000 to 8000 career plate appearances and 50 or more WAR.

For my all-time White Sox post, I wrote that I considered Minnie Miñoso a borderline candidate for the Hall. I've since decided he's on the yes side of that line, mainly because of his excellent peak (50 WAR from 1951-1960) and the fact that, although his post-peak years didn't add much to his case, segregation deprived him of the chance to make up for it in his pre-peak years.

The additions of Miñoso and Wynn make this the first era with six players at a particular position. In fact, I bumped Bobby Doerr from the Live Ball era to avoid a similar situation. Both of them are late additions, but I feel comfortable that the eras which come after the game was integrated are more highly represented. With 47 inductees for an era that spans 26 years (1.8 per year), that tops the previous two eras, which were both in the 1.55-1.6 range. 

Actually, I had Wynn in, then I was going to leave him out and then I was talked back into it. He had so many factors working against him during his career that it's no wonder he's one of the most under-rated players of all-time. He played in a pitcher's era and played his home games (and quite a few of his away games, since he almost exclusively played for NL West teams) in the Astrodome and Chavez Ravine, two of the most well-known pitcher-friendly ballparks. He also walked a lot, a skill that most under-appreciated hitters have in common.

Also, my justification is Wynn's straddling eras more than the other guys, with only Mays and Mantle still relevant as of the start of his career. Quite arguably, he was the best center fielder in the game during the period where this era overlaps with the next. 

Last, but certainly not least, among non-Hall of Famers I'm inducting is Pete Rose. As with Joe Jackson, there's really not much justification necessary except to reiterate I'm ignoring eligibility restrictions. Plus, as punishments go, it's pretty safe to say Rose has paid his due. 

The list of Hall of Famers from this era who didn't make my cut (listed in descending order by Hall Rating) is much shorter than the previous era: Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Lemon, Lou Brock, George Kell, Red Schoendienst, Catfish Hunter, and Bill Mazeroski

Monday, August 26, 2013

Outside the box: WAR replacing traditional stats

Here's a post I wrote a couple weeks ago, my second for USA Today Sports Weekly.

In this one, without actually trying to explain what WAR is, since that was done previously by one of my colleagues, I try to show how useful it is in comparing players with entirely different skill sets.

I hope I succeeded.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Personal Hall of Fame, Part 3: Live Ball Era

This is the third in a series of six posts where I'm revealing my personal Hall of Fame one era at a time.

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

My personal Hall consists exclusively of players (no managers, executives, pioneers or umpires) based on their careers in Major League Baseball only.

For a more complete explanation of this series, and for my 19th century inductees, please see Part 1. For my Deadball era inductees, please see Part 2.

An * denotes an actual Hall of Famer.

All-Live Ball Era Team/Personal Hall Inductees

C - Mickey Cochrane* (1925-1937)
1B - Lou Gehrig* (1923-1939)
2B - Rogers Hornsby* (1915-1937)
SS - Arky Vaughan* (1932-1948)
3B - Stan Hack (1932-1947)
LF - Al Simmons* (1924-1944)
CF - Joe DiMaggio* (1936-1951)
RF - Babe Ruth* (1914-1935)
P - Lefty Grove* (1925-1941)
P - Bob Feller* (1936-1956)
P - Carl Hubbell* (1928-1943)
P - Dazzy Vance* (1915-1935)
P - Hal Newhouser* (1939-1955)

C - Bill Dickey* (1928-1946)
C - Gabby Hartnett* (1922-1941)
C - Ernie Lombardi* (1931-1947)
1B - Jimmie Foxx* (1925-1945)
1B - Johnny Mize* (1936-1953)
1B - Hank Greenberg* (1930-1947)
1B - Bill Terry* (1923-1936)
2B - Charlie Gehringer* (1924-1942)
2B/3B - Frankie Frisch* (1919-1937)
2B - Joe Gordon* (1938-1950)
2B - Billy Herman* (1931-1943, 1946-1947)
SS -  Luke Appling* (1930-1943, 1945-1950)
SS - Lou Boudreau* (1938-1952)
SS - Joe Cronin* (1926-1945)
3B - Pie Traynor* (1920-1935, 1937)
LF - Goose Goslin* (1921-1938)
LF -
Joe Medwick* (1932-1948)

CF - Earl Averill* (1929-1941)
RF - Mel Ott* (1926-1947)
RF - Paul Waner* (1926-1945)
RF - Harry Heilmann* (1914, 1916-1930, 1932)
P - Stan Coveleski* (1912, 1916-1928)
P - Ted Lyons* (1923-1942, 1946)
P - Red Faber* (1914-1933)
P - Wes Ferrell (1927-1941)
P - Urban Shocker (1916-1928)
P - Dizzy Dean* (1930, 1932-1941, 1947)
P - Red Ruffing* (1924-1942, 1945-1947)

P - Eppa Rixey* (1912-1917, 1919-1933)

There are 42 players here representing a 27-year era. If we project that over the 137-year history of Major League Baseball I'm basing this exercise on (1871 through 2007, since the latter would be the cutoff for current Hall of Fame eligibility), we get 213 players, or five more than the current Hall. Of these 42 personal Hall inductees, surprisingly only three are not in the actual Hall. More on that in a moment. 

Despite the prevailing sentiment of the day that Pie Traynor was the greatest third baseman in baseball history through 1950, Stan Hack was really the best at the position in this era. Under-appreciated to some extent because of the glorification of batting average and the lack of perspective regarding OBP in his day, Hack nevertheless hit .301 for his career and got on base at a .394 clip, primarily as a leadoff hitter. He also led the league in stolen bases twice and finished second three times, albeit in an era when steals were way down, and ranks third (to Frank Baker and Jimmy Collins) among third basemen in pre-1950 WAR.

A quick note on Traynor, since he will likely be my most controversial selection among the advanced-metrics-minded crew I run with on the Internet. I just can't discount his lofty reputation as a brilliant defensive third baseman who was also a good, if slightly over-rated, hitter by the standards of his day. He was also inducted into the Hall of Fame when his career was fresh on voters minds, and on an extremely competitive 1948 ballot. While I don't agree he was the best at his position on the other side of Eddie Mathews, I find it difficult to bump him out of the pre-1950 top six. That's the short version of why I still consider him a Hall of Famer, despite the fact most like-minded folks don't.

There are only seven pitchers in history who can boast six or more 20-win seasons before age 30: Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts and Wes Ferrell. Three of the seven are first-ballot Hall of Famers. Another three made it by their fourth year of eligibility. And then there's Ferrell, who didn't enjoy much success after his 30th birthday, but whose Hall of Fame case is lifted just above the borderline by his success as a hitter (38 HR and a career .280/.351/.446 triple slash, good for a 100 OPS+).

If not for a late start and an early end to his career, I'm convinced Urban Shocker would be in the Hall of Fame today. The early end came after an 18-6, 2.84 ERA (137 ERA+) season, due to a congenital heart condition that made it impossible for him to sleep lying down during the last few years of his life and undoubtedly affected his ability to perform on the field. During his prime, he strung together four consecutive 20-win seasons and a .641 winning percentage for the St. Louis Browns, a team that did manage to put together one contending season in that time frame. Despite these factors working against him during his career, Shocker performed to a level that exceeds my Hall of Fame borderline.

Ferrell's 111 and Shocker's 110 Hall Ratings place them right behind Don Sutton and ahead of 19 of the 57 Hall of Fame starting pitchers. But since I'm not talking about whether or not they should be in the current Hall, but rather are they worthy of a Hall re-populated from scratch, what's more important is I rank them ahead of Dizzy Dean, Red Ruffing and Eppa Rixey, the latter being right at my Hall of Fame floor for pitchers.

Hall of Famers from this era who didn't make my cut are Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Dave Bancroft, Joe Sewell, Edd Roush, Tony Lazzeri, Travis Jackson, Kiki Cuyler, Chuck Klein, Sam Rice, Herb Pennock, Heinie Manush, Hack Wilson, Lefty Gomez, Earle Combs, Jim Bottomley, Ross Youngs, Jesse Haines, Chick Hafey, Rick Ferrell, Freddie Lindstrom, George Kelly and Lloyd Waner. Those at the beginning of the list were closer than those near the end, but none of them were truly painful decisions. The latter two I once named to a short list of the five most over-rated players in baseball history

That's 23 Hall of Famers from just one era who aren't in my personal Hall. Those are some tough standards, right? Well, if we add the 39 I chose to induct, we get 62 Hall of Famers representing a 27-year period. I'd say the answer is this era is way over-represented in Cooperstown.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Good Night, Captain

I headed down the street on the afternoon of August 2, 1979 to hang out with my friends, as I would do pretty much every day during the summer. At this time of year, the primary activity would be a two-on-two game of baseball—or maybe I should call it tennis ball—in the street.

On this particular day, I showed up at the home of my friend Victor, who broke the news to me Thurman Munson had just died in a plane crash. At first, I didn't believe him, for a couple of reasons. For one, he was not a Yankees fan, and secondly, this was the type of joke that was not beneath him to tell. I may have been considered an easy target as well, I'll admit.

I went inside his house to ask his mother and turn on the television. Both sources confirmed the devastating news. This was far from the saddest news I'd ever heard—both my grandmothers died when I was nine—but, as a 12-year old not wanting to cry in front of my friend, I struggled to hold back tears.

Just prior to the 1976 season, Munson was named the first captain of the Yankees since Lou Gehrig retired in 1939. As much as Derek Jeter currently embodies the qualities that make him stand out as one who is truly worthy of the honor, so did Munson. In fact, although a few of my favorite players—Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry—also held that role, in my opinion there are only four men in history worthy of the Yankee captaincy: Gehrig, Munson, Jeter and Don Mattingly.

In considering the previous statement, I asked my dad who would have been the most likely candidate to hold such a post between the Gehrig and Munson years. His feeling was either Yogi Berra or Phil Rizzuto would have been the top choices, but neither seemed to possess quite the leadership ability as the aforementioned four.

Until Darryl Kile died of a coronary blockage during the 2002 season, Munson remained the last active player to lose his life during the regular season, so the moving tributes paid to him in the games that followed still stand as indelible memories to me.

On August 3, in the first game following his death, the Yankees starters took the field to begin the game. All of them, except catcher Jerry Narron, that is. Following a prayer, a moment of silence, and Robert Merrill's rendition of "America the Beautiful," the Yankee Stadium crowd burst into a ten-minute standing ovation. Narron remained in the dugout for the entire time, as television cameras focused on his teammates' reactions, and his empty position—or, should I say, the spot vacated by Munson—behind home plate.

Three days later, the entire team attended Munson's funeral in Canton, Ohio, then flew back to New York to play in that night's game. Bobby Murcer, after delivering a eulogy that afternoon, drove in all five runs—including a three-run homer and walk-off two-run single in the 9th—in a 5-4 Yankees victory.

Coming off back-to-back World Series victories, the Yankees' 1979 performance had come back down to earth even prior to Munson's death, although at 58-48 (.547), the season was hardly a lost cause. It may be coincidence the team would have to wait until 1996—Jeter’s rookie season—to climb back atop the baseball world. But, then again, it might not be.

Regardless, 34 years later, Thurman is still deeply missed.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Deacon & Joe

I chronicled much of this year's Hall of Fame weekend on Twitter, so some of this is a repeat of what I've already commented on, but I thought I'd touch on a few highlights here.

But first, to get one of the common questions out of the way. Yes, I go to Cooperstown for the induction festivities every year, even if they're not inducting anyone. The latter point, though, is strictly hypothetical. There's never been a year since I've been attending that no one was inducted. Even though the writers whiffed on a talented list of candidates—as my friend Joe said, there were as many as 20 players you could make at least a reasonable case for—the Veterans Committee voted in three new Hall of Famers: former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert (whose tenure started the franchise's run as the most successful in the history of all sports), turn-of-the-century umpire Hank O'Day, and 19th century catcher/third baseman Deacon White. 

The weekend's turnout was much smaller than usual, which I had mixed emotions about. On one hand, the crowds were so much more manageable than in any of my previous 25 Hall of Fame weekends, which was nice. But, of course, that doesn't bode well for Cooperstown's economy. Fortunately for local merchants and for the Hall of Fame itself, after one down year, things should get back to normal for at least the next three years. 

We stayed at a great B&B, which happens to be one of the only places in town that doesn't double their rates for this particular weekend. As a potential added bonus, their regulars whose room we took over might be discontinuing their annual tradition, potentially opening up a spot for us. That is, if Little Chuck didn't frighten them off, or if they aren't sore I accidentally stole their umbrella (I'll return it). 

Late Saturday afternoon's ceremony honoring Ford C. Frick Award winner Tom Cheek and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Paul Hagen also included a tribute to Dr. Frank Jobe, the ground-breaking surgeon who performed UCL construction surgery on Tommy John (who became the surgery's popular namesake) in 1974. 

Also honored during Saturday's ceremony was Thomas Tull, the producer of "42." Tull, who also produced "Man of Steel" and the "Dark Knight" movies provided a memorable quote in which he declared Jackie Robinson the greatest superhero in any of his films.

Later, during the parade of Hall of Famers on Cooperstown's Main Street, Eddie Murray instantly became my favorite former player when he pointed to and acknowledged LC, saying "there's a cute little guy." Not that it hasn't been said many times before. 

Eddie Murray acknowledging my son (you'll have to take my word)

Rain dampened an induction ceremony that was already fighting an uphill battle for a reasonable turnout, but it didn't ruin perhaps the best moment in induction ceremony history. 

As you may know, I've been making the trip to Cooperstown with two old friends of mine, Joe Williams and his wife Carol, since 1987. Over the last several years, Joe has worked tirelessly as the chairman of SABR's Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project. In doing so, he has been a strong advocate for the Hall of Fame candidacy of Deacon White, and has maintained correspondence with several ancestors of White. 

One of those, of course, is Deacon's great grandson, Jerry Watkins, who delivered White's Hall of Fame induction speech. When Joe met with Watkins this weekend, Jerry indicated his intention to make mention of Joe in his speech. Joe's humble reaction was to say he really should give credit to Peter Morris, an influential SABR researcher, historian, and, most importantly, member of the Hall's Pre-Integration Era Committee that voted to induct White. 

Despite his lack of self-promotion, Joe's work (as well as that of Morris) was acknowledged by Watkins and it was a big moment for him. Needless to say, Joe has come a long way since I first introduced him to SABR via a 1987 book called The National Pastime

Because of the lack of a marquee name on the induction slate, the Hall decided it was a good time to formally induct 12 players who never got a proper induction ceremony due to World War II. 10 of these players were from the class of 1945, while the other two were elected during a period when Hall activity was minimal: Lou Gehrig (1939) and Rogers Hornsby (1942). 

Most important to me, though, was a player from the class of '45 whom I've written about here several times. Dan Brouthers died in 1932, four years before the Hall's inaugural class was chosen and 13 before his own election, but the Dutchess County native's brilliant career was finally officially honored