Friday, May 14, 2010

Baseball's Top 10 Should-Be Hall-of-Famers

For this list, I am using certain items from Baseball-Reference.com. That website is your friend, whether you know it yet or not. They use a "Hall of Fame Monitor," to show which active players are likely to reach the Hall, "likely" being 100; "Hall of Fame Standards," with the "Average Hall-of-Famer" being at 50; and a statistical comparison to show the 10 players the player most closely resembles in terms of career statistics.

10. Don Newcombe. The fact that he's a lifelong resident of New Jersey (grew up in Elizabeth, and has lived most of his adult life in Woodbridge) is nice, but has nothing to do with his qualifications. Unlike a lot of the early black players, racism didn't keep him out long enough to cost him his prime, as he was 23 years old when he debuted.

But injuries and alcoholism ended his career at 34, and the Korean War cost him the seasons in which he turned 26 and 27, and half of the season when he turned 28, ruining what could have been his 3 best seasons. (Shocking: The Dodgers won the Pennant in 1952 and '53 without him -- imagine them facing the Yankees in those World Series with him. Though it's worth noting the Yanks were, themselves, without Whitey Ford due to the same war in '52, and won anyway.)

In the 3 seasons before that, his first 3, he won 56 games; in his first 2 after that, he won 47 -- he went 47-12! In 1955, he won 20 games and hit 7 home runs, a feat topped only by Wes Ferrell (twice, I'll get to him shortly) and Newk's Dodger teammate Don Drysdale.

Cy Young died the following off-season, and the Cy Young Award was established to honor the pitcher (first in all of the majors, then in 1967 in each League) judged to be most valuable to his team, a reflection of the idea that, not playing every day, pitchers didn't deserve the MVP. Newk ended up winning the first Cy Young, and the MVP anyway, with 27 wins, a total topped only once since and matched only 2 other times.

He had a lifetime batting average of .271, a .705 OPS (though only an 85 OPS+, still amazing for a pitcher), and hit 51 extra-base hits including 15 home runs. He won 149 games despite missing almost 3 prime seasons, with career stats of a .623 winning percentage and a 1.203 WHIP. In his first 6 seasons, the Dodgers finished 1st or 2nd every year; in each of his first 5 full seasons, the Dodgers either won the Pennant or lost it on the final day.

The knock on Newk was that he wasn't a big-game pitcher. In 1949, as a rookie, he started Game 1 of the World Series and held the Yankees scoreless for 8 innings, but Allie Reynolds held the Dodgers scoreless for 9 and Tommy Henrich homered off Newk in the bottom of the 9th to win it. On the final day in 1950, he held the Phillies off for 9 innings, before giving up Dick Sisler's Pennant-winning homer in the 10th.

In the final game of the 1951 Playoff, he threw his 264th through 272nd innings of the season, complained that he was tired in the 270th, was told by teammate Jackie Robinson (who didn't want people to see a black man complain of fatigue), "You keep pitching until your fucking arm falls off," and was finally relieved in the 9th while still holding a 4-2 lead in the Polo Grounds. (Ralph Branca was brought in, and you know what happened: The Giants won the Pennant.) Newk gave it his all in big games; that his opponents were often the better team isn't his fault.

Finally, allowance should be made that, while he was just 23 when he reached the majors, he did pitch in the Negro Leagues, and quite well, helping the Newark Eagles win the 1946 Negro World Series.

HOF Monitor: 78, which means he should not be in. HOF Standards: 28, which means he should not be in. 10 Most Similar: Roy Halladay (active but may make it), Ray Kremer (No, but a case could be made that he should be in), Tim Hudson (active, probably won;t make it), Dizzy Dean (Yes), Schoolboy Rowe (No, a little short), Dennis Leonard (No), Newk's Dodger teammate Preacher Roe (No), Nig Cuppy (No), Rip Sewell (No), Mike Garcia (No).

9. Wes Ferrell. In his first 4 full seasons, he won 91 games -- all before his 25th birthday. He won 21 at 21, 25 at 22, 22 at 23 and 23 at 24. That was from 1929 to 1932, one of the biggest periods ever for hitters, rather than the Dead Ball Era or the 1960s. And it was for a Cleveland Indians team that really didn't contend while he was there. Acquired by Tom Yawkey in his bid to buy championships for the Boston Red Sox, he rode better support to add 2 more 20-win seasons, and finished with 193 wins and a .601 winning percentage.
Rick Ferrell, a catcher who is in the Hall of Fame,
but probably shouldn't be; and his brother, Wes Ferrell;
a pitcher who isn't in the Hall of Fame, but should be

And he was a really good hitter, too: In 1931, he won 22 games and hit 9 home runs. In 1935, he won 25 and hit 7. His lifetime batting average was .280, he had a .797 OPS, and OPS+ of exactly 100 (How many pitchers hit as well as the average hitter of their time?), and had 107 extra-base hits, including 38 home runs, more than any player whose primary position was pitcher. (This, of course, excludes former pitcher Babe Ruth.)

So why is he not in the Hall? Well, an injury meant that his last productive season was at age 30, and he last pitched in the majors at at 33, and then came World War II. His career ERA was 4.04. Granted, that was, as I said, in the power-happy 1930s, and his career ERA+ was 117, meaning he was 17 percent better than the average pitcher of his time. But his career WHIP was also high, 1.481. And he also gave up a lot of home runs, including a league-leading 25 in 1937. His brother Rick Ferrell, a fine defensive catcher, is in the Hall. Wes deserves it more.

HOF Monitor: 75, which means he shouldn't be in. HOF Standards: 22, which means he shouldn't be in. 10 Most Similar: None of them are in. It doesn't matter: I think he should be in.

8. Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat and Vic Raschi. Individually, these pitchers might not deserve election. But Reynolds had 182 wins and a career winning percentage of .630; Lopat, 166 and .597; Raschi, who due to World War II didn't reach the majors until he was 27 and retired due to injury at 36, 132 and .667. But as a unit, from 1949 to 1953, they led the Yankees to 5 consecutive World Championships.

Being elected as a unit was done for the 1906 to 1910 Chicago Cubs double-play trio of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. Tinker was the 2nd-best shortstop of his time behind Honus Wagner, maybe the 3rd-best behind also George Davis. Evers was the 2nd-best 2nd baseman of his time, behind Nap Lajoie. Chance was a good 1st baseman, but it's mainly as a manager that he deserves his place in Cooperstown. Evers? Maybe. Tinker? Not by himself. If it could be done for Tinker-Evers-Chance, why not the Yankee Big 3?

HOF Monitor: Reynolds 110, which means he should be in; Raschi 82 and Lopat 64, which means they should not. HOF Standards: Reynolds 33, Lopat 27, Raschi 25, which means they fall short. 10 Most Similar: Only Reynolds has anyone in his Top 10 who are in, but those are his Top 2: Lefty Gomez and Bob Lemon.

7. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Individually, each half of the 1977 to 1995 Detroit Tiger double-play pair is a step short of the Hall of Fame. Together, which is how they're remembered anyway, they deserve it. And while they never had a 1st baseman as good as Chance -- Cecil Fielder had a booming bat, but he was not a good glove man -- Trammell was better than Tinker, and Whitaker was better than Evers. Put them in.
Lou Whitaker (left) and Alan Trammell

HOF Monitor: Trammell 118, which means he should be in; Whitaker 92, which means he falls a little short. HOF Standards: Whitaker 43, Trammell 40, which means they both fall a little short. 

Trammell's 10 Most Similar: Barry Larkin (Became eligible this year and will probably get in), Edgar Renteria (No), Jay Bell (No), Whitaker, Ray Durham (No), Tony Fernandez (No), B.J. Surhoff (No), Ryne Sandberg (Yes), Pee Wee Reese (Yes), Julio Franco (No).

Whitaker's 10 Most Similar: Sandberg (Yes), Trammell, Roberto Alomar (newly eligible this year, a lot of people say Yes but I say No), Buddy Bell (No), Joe Morgan (Yes), Joe Torre (No, falls a little short as far as his playing is concerned), Durham (No), Brian Downing (No), Larkin, Franco.

6. Ted Simmons. You have to judge the stats of catchers, who play the hardest defensive position, a little differently from those of outfielders and 1st basemen. His lifetime batting average is .285, his OPS .785, his OPS+ 117, and he hit 248 home runs despite his position and playing most of his home games at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

As the man who sponsors his Baseball-Reference.com page points out, compared to other HOF catchers of the last half-century, "The Mighty Simba" had more career RBIs than Johnny Bench, scored more runs than Gary Carter, and had more hits than Yogi Berra or Carlton Fisk. He had 3 seasons of 100 or more RBIs, and just missed 4 other times. He played in 8 All-Star Games.
He led the Milwaukee Brewers to their 1st 2 postseason appearances, in 1981 and '82 -- until 2008 their only postseason appearances -- but, ironically, ran into his former Cardinal teammates in his only World Series appearance, and still almost won it for the Brew Crew, hitting 2 home runs in that 7-game thriller. (In another irony, the Series MVP was his replacement as Cardinal catcher, Darrell Porter.) He never won a Gold Glove, but that was because he played in the same league at the same time as Bench and Carter, and then Fisk.

From the ages of 22 to 33, he was one of the most productive catchers ever, was still a productive regular at 35, and still a productive pinch-hitter at 37 -- pretty good considering he caught 1,771 games in his career, more than all but 4 players before him.

HOF Monitor: 124, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 44, which means he falls a little short. 10 Most Similar: Trammell (No, but should be), Joe Torre (No, falls a little short as far as his playing is concerned), Fisk (Yes), Carter (Yes), Whitaker (No, but should be), Miguel Tejada (active, and the steroid cloud will probably keep him out), Larkin (became eligible this year and should get in), Joe Cronin (Yes), Berra (Yes), Sandberg (Yes).

5. Tommy John. He used a blazing fastball to win 124 games for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers -- which would be a fine career for most pitchers. Then he wrecked his elbow. Then he had surgery, a pioneering procedure that now bears his name. Then, after sitting out the 1975 season, he became a sinkerballer, and won 164 games for the Dodgers, New York Yankees, California Angels and Oakland Athletics -- winning more games after the surgery that could have ended his career (had it gone wrong) than he did before it.
Think about this: Due to an injury, Dizzy Dean won "only" 150 games, and he's in the Hall of Fame. Due to an injury, Sandy Koufax won "only" 165 games, and he's in the Hall of Fame. Though, to be fair, from 1933 to 1937, Dean was one of the top 3 pitchers on the planet along with Carl Hubbell and Satchel Paige; from 1961 to 1966, Koufax was one of the top 5 pitchers on the planet at the time and from 1963 to 1966 was one of the top 5 pitchers who has ever lived. TJ was only occasionally (1973-74, 1977-80) one of the top 5 or even one of the top 10 pitchers on the planet.

But he won more games after his potentially career-ending injury than Dean did in his entire career, and almost as many as Koufax won in his entire career. He was durable, too: He made his 1st major league appearance on September 6, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was President; and his last on May 25, 1989, when George H.W. Bush was President. Total wins: 288, the closest any post-1900 pitcher comes to 300 major league wins -- long considered a benchmark for Cooperstown -- without making it. His .555 career winning percentage also opens eyes.

HOF Monitor: 111, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 44, which means he falls a little short. 10 Most Similar: Jim Kaat (No, but should be), Robin Roberts (Yes), Bert Blyleven (No, but should be), Fergie Jenkins (Yes), Early Wynn (Yes), Burleigh Grimes (Yes), Tom Glavine (No, but will be), Tony Mullane (No), Don Sutton (Yes), Eppa Rixey (Yes).

4. Jim Kaat. He won 283 games and 16 Gold Gloves. He was the ace of the Minnesota Twins' 1st Pennant, and was a key member of a St. Louis Cardinals' World Championship -- 17 years later. In between, he helped the Philadelphia Phillies to 3 postseason berths. He won 18 games at age 23, and 20 at age 36. He won his 1st game in Dwight D. Eisenhower's 2nd term, and his last in Ronald Reagan's 1st term. And he was a terrific broadcaster. And as both a player and a broadcaster, "Kitty" was a man of sterling character. Put him in.
HOF Monitor: 130, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 44, which means he falls a little short. 10 Most Similar: John (No, but should be), Roberts (Yes), Jenkins (Yes), Rixey (Yes), Blyleven (No, but should be), Wynn (Yes), Grimes (Yes), Frank Tanana (No), Red Ruffing (Yes), Ted Lyons (Yes).

3. Bert Blyleven. He won 20 games, 9 of them shutouts, at age 22, and went 17-5 at age 38. He won 287 games despite pitching most of his career for mediocre teams. True, he had 250 losses to go with his 287 wins, but he did so much pitching in the cold, homer-happy Metropolitan Stadium, and for those awful Cleveland Indian teams.

And his career winning percentage of .534 is a bit higher than Nolan Ryan's .526. His career ERA is 3.31, lower than those of such current or likely HOFers as John Smoltz, Fergie Jenkins, Lefty Gomez, Phil Niekro, Roy Halladay, Robin Roberts and Curt Schilling. His career WHIP is 1.198 -- that's under 1.2 for a career lasting 22 seasons. He struck out 3,701 batters in his career, 3rd all-time when he retired. (Remember when Walter Johnson's record of 3,508 seemed impossible to reach? I do.)

He won World Series, and World Series games, in both leagues, with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979 and the Minnesota Twins in 1987. He also pitched for the Twins in the 1970 ALCS, meaning he pitched for the same team in postseason play at age 19 and at age 36. He is generally regarded as having the best curveball of his era. Considering all that, there's no good reason not to let him in.
Not even the Pirates' Jimmy Carter era uniforms.

Side note: This has nothing to do with their qualifications, but as they're both high on the Should Be In List, I thought it was noteworthy: Blyleven was born in the Netherlands, while Kaat is of Dutch ancestry, born in Zeeland, Michigan. Michigan is loaded with Dutch town names. I wonder how Kitty and Bert would have fared in soccer. Though neither seemed to have a "Total Football"-type approach to pitching.

HOF Monitor: 120, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 50, which means he should be in. 10 Most Similar: Sutton, Perry, Jenkins, John, Roberts, Tom Seaver, Kaat, Wynn, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton -- all but John and Kaat in, and they should be, too.

2. Ron Santo. The best 3rd baseman of his generation is generally considered to be Brooks Robinson. Santo was almost as good a fielder, and was a better hitter. They don't combine achievements for playing and broadcasting. If they did, Santo would be in already, and you could add Joe Nuxhall, Herb Score, Steve Blass, Larry Dierker, Bobby Murcer, and, of course, Kaat.
HOF Monitor: 88, which means he falls short. HOF Standards: 41, which means he falls short. 10 Most Similar: None are in: Dale Murphy, Ken Boyer, Gary Gaetti, Ruben Sierra, Chili Davis, Bobby Bonilla, Brian Downing, Graig Nettles, Ron Cey and Robin Ventura. Keep in mind, though, that Murphy, Sierra, Davis and Downing were mostly outfielders, and the rest were Santo's fellow 3rd basemen; and a good case can be made for Nettles, and a very good one for Boyer, whom Santo replaced as the best 3rd baseman in the National League.

1. Gil Hodges. They don't combine playing and managing. If they did, this would be, to mix my sports metaphors, a slam dunk. After all, he managed the New York Mets to a World Championship. True, so did Davey Johnson, and no one recommends him for the Hall. Then again, Johnson was lucky: While he also managed L.A. and Baltimore to postseason play, he only won that 1 Pennant. We'll never know what else Gil could have done as a manager: He died right before the '72 season, and the Mets won the '73 Pennant.

But what a player: A 120 OPS+, 370 home runs, 10th all-time when he retired, and he did not play in a homer-happy era; and the best-fielding 1st baseman of his generation. He belongs.

HOF Monitor: 83, which means he falls a little short. HOF Standards: 32, which means he falls a little short. Keep in mind, though, this measures only hitting, not fielding. 10 Most Similar: Norm Cash, George Foster, Tino Martinez, Jack Clark, Boog Powell, Rocky Colavito, Lee May, Joe Adcock, Willie Horton, Andruw Jones. Jones is still active, and will end up as the likeliest HOFer of these. But Colavito might also belong, and Foster, Powell and Clark sure looked like they would end up in before tailing off.

No matter: Gil Hodges belongs.

Update: Through 2016, of these men I nominated, only 2 have gotten in: Santo and Blyleven.

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