Friday, November 04, 2011

The Golden Era Ballot

Rarely in life are there second chances to right a wrong committed in the past. That in a nutshell is the purpose of the Hall of Fame having a committee tasked with reconsidering players (and managers, executives, etc) who have missed making it to the Hall of Fame based on the voting by sportswriters. In the recent past, this committee has been tasked to review players from certain eras in baseball history. This year, the committee will make recommendations on players and others from the period from 1947 to 1972. The full ballot and story can be found here. The purpose of this post is to help the committee with their responsibility. Are any of these players worthy of the Hall of Fame?

Let's take a look:

Ron Santo: Santo is a patron saint of Chicago Cubs baseball. While he was on the ballot after his playing days, he had none of the buzz-worthy numbers people were looking for. He didn't reach 3,000 hits. He didn't hit .300 for his career. He didn't hit 500 homers. Part of Santo's problem is that he only played fifteen years and was out of baseball by the age of 34. But did he pack enough into those fifteen years to merit the ultimate prize? For this Fan, the answer is yes. Santo was an elite third baseman. He did compile 342 homers. Santo led the league in walks four times including 96 walks during the infamous Year of the Pitcher in 1968. For his career, he averaged 25 homers, 96 RBI and 80 walks per 162 games played. He has a lifetime OPS+ of 125 with 66.4 of accumulated rWAR. Santo finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times and had two other top twenty votes. And he was a nine time All Star. Third base is somewhat under-represented in the Hall of Fame. Good ones are hard to find. Santo was a great one. Between his playing days and his beloved run as a Cubs broadcaster, Santo needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

Gil Hodges: Hodges played longer than Ron Santo and a couple of his younger years were cut off by the war. But his playing stats don't add up to Santo's despite the extra time. He has less career rWAR than Santo, less career RBI, about the same number of homers. He was a seven time All Star and figured in eight top twenty MVP votes. You could add in points for his managerial stint which includes the World Series title with the Mets in 1969. He was loved by his players but otherwise, his managerial record is far from impressive (.467 winning percentage). Hodges finished below 50 for his career in rWAR (44) and as a first baseman/outfielder, his career doesn't make it for this writer. Hodges never lead the league in any category besides games played and strikeouts.

Ken Boyer: Boyer was one of the best fielding third basemen to play the game. And Boyer did win an MVP Award for the Cardinals in 1964, the same season remembered for the thrilling, seven-game World Series against the Yankees. Boyer hit two homers in that World Series, his only post season appearance. But was he good enough for the Hall of Fame? He was great for his first nine years, all with the Cardinals. He was an All Star in seven of those seasons and six times finished in the top twenty for MVP votes. But unfortunately, after 1964, Boyer fell off a cliff. He played five more seasons after 1964, but they were no where near where he was from 1964 and before. Because of that sharp decline, he has less career numbers for his 15 years than Santo and unfortunately fails to pass muster for this writer's Hall of Fame meter. Boyer also managed the Cardinals for three seasons with a uninspiring .466 winning percentage.

Minnie Minoso: Minoso is a very interesting player. He is best remembered for playing in major league games when he was 50 and 54 years old (in mostly a publicity stunt). He is also remembered for his personality and the warmth he brought to the game. Minoso was a seven time All Star and six times finished in the top twenty in MVP voting. He was known for his speed and led the league in triples three times and stolen bases three times. But he also led the league in being thrown out stealing six times and his total stolen base percentage is not pretty at all. But still, Minoso built an excellent career. His career average of .298 and career OBP of .389 are superb. But like Boyer, Minoso hit the age of 34 and his skills simply vaporized. A very good outfielder, his total of 52.4 rWAR leaves him just short of this writer's Hall pass.

Tony Oliva: Another player from Cuba like Minosa, Tony Oliva was a superstar from 1964 to 1971. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 and for the next eight years was one of the best players in the sport. Unfortunately, he played in an era before the sports medicine we have now and devastating leg injuries finished him as an elite player after 1971. He hobbled around as a DH for several years but was never the force he was before the injuries. Sadly, the three-time batting champ with a 132 career OPS+ finished with only 42.4 career rWAR and out of contention for Hall of Fame honors.

Jim Kaat: There has to be a place in Cooperstown for a guy like Jim Kaat. He won 283 major league games as a pitcher. He didn't buzz the ball by batters like Koufax or Clemens. He was a finesse pitcher who baffled batters for 25 years. Because he wasn't a strikeout pitcher, his career rWAR is low and under 50, but geez, he started over 30 games in a season twelve times, threw 31 shutouts and finished 180 of his starts. He was also a good hitter with 16 career homers and won the Gold Glove sixteen times. Since his playing days, he's been a wonderful ambassador for the sport. This Fan would love to see Jim Kaat in the Hall of Fame.

Luis Tiant: Another player from Cuba, Tiant has a tantalizing career line. Unlike Kaat, Tiant did know how to strike batters out, especially early in his career. He had two seasons where he finished under 2.00 in ERA (1968 and 1972). He completed 187 games in his career and threw 49 shutouts. He reinvented himself after his fastball was gone and was still an effective pitcher late into his career. Tiant was a perfect 3-0 in the post season with a 2.86 ERA and won 229 big league games with a .571 winning percentage despite the fact that he once went 9-20 for a terrible Indians team. He only gave up 7.9 hits per nine innings for his career and finished with a WHIP of 1.199. His 60.1 career rWAR makes him a Hall of Fame pitcher in this writer's book.

Allie Reynolds: Reynolds had a really short career with only twelve full seasons. He won 182 games against only 107 losses, good for an amazing .630 winning percentage. But the bulk of that was with those amazing Yankee teams of the 1950s. He was the right-handed Andy Pettitte of his day. His WHIP of 1.386 is not impressive, nor is his career rWAR total of 29.  He did throw 36 shutouts and added in 49 saves, but even so, he only really had one great season and falls way short of Hall of Fame consideration.


Charles Simone said...

Great post. Santo is as big a no-doubter (to me) than has ever been on a Veterans Committee ballot.

I noticed you said "this Fan would love to see Jim Kaat in the Hall of Fame," but you didn't say you think he should. Was that on purpose? Personally, I don't think he's worthy.

Minoso, Tiant and Boyer are borderline cases, in my opinion. I lean towards saying yes on Minoso, but no on Tiant and Boyer.

Minoso's career gets a little special consideration because segregation held him back in the beginning. He did make it to the majors full-time at age 25, and was instantly a star. Who knows what he could have done if he'd had a couple more years at the beginning? This may have made up for the fact his career fizzled a little early.

When these "what ifs" are due to circumstances beyond the player's control (such as segregation), I give the benefit of the doubt to the player. That bumps up Minoso just enough, in my book, to be a Hall of Famer.

Jonathan C. Mitchell said...

Great post! I am torn, as more a small-hall guy, on Minoso because he started his career a little late thanks to the color barrier. But once he came to the Majors he excelled nearly across the board.