Congratulations to Andre Dawson on election to the Hall of Fame. More on that later. With today’s announcement of this year’s Hall of Fame, I want to write about one of the most outrageous failures by the narrow-minded baseball writers who choose their favorite players for the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame should include the greatest players at each position. And you can’t come up with an accurate list of the greatest catchers ever that doesn’t include Thurman Munson.
I should state at the outset that I am not arguing for any breaks for Munson based on his shortened career. He would have accumulated greater offensive statistics if he hadn’t died in a 1979 plane crash. But the Munson argument for the Hall of Fame is not based on what might have been. He belongs in the Hall of Fame based on the career he had.
Compare Munson to the 13 catchers in the Hall of Fame:
- 6th in batting average, .292
- 10th in homers, 113
- 12th in RBI, 701
- .300 seasons (100 games or more), 4th,5
- 100-RBI seasons, 5th, 3
- Seasons hitting .300 with 100 RBI, second only to Bill Dickey, 3
- Seasons catching 120 or more games, 5th, 8
- Most Valuable Player awards, fourth (behind Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Johnny Bench, tied with Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi), 1
Even with his shortened career, Munson clearly belongs with this group, better than most by several important measures. In addition to being an MVP (most of the Hall of Fame catchers weren’t), he was a Rookie of the Year and a three-time Gold Glover.
Hall of Fame voters (only in baseball) ignore post-season performance (or they would have to let more Yankees in), but no catcher can match Munson’s .373 career World Series batting average (in three Series) or his .357 overall post-season batting average.
When he played, Munson was regarded as the equal, if not the superior, of Carlton Fisk, a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Munson made more All-Star games (seven) than Fisk (six) while they were both playing. Fisk only won one Gold Glove and never finished higher than third in the MVP voting.
Bench was clearly superior in his MVP years of 1970 to 1972, but in 1976, when Bench was still in his prime, Munson outperformed him so clearly in the World Series (a sweep by Bench’s Big Red Machine) that Sparky Anderson had to defiantly (and inaccurately) proclaim Bench to still be the best.
Bench won an amazing 10 Gold Gloves. But was he really a better catcher than Munson? Munson threw out a higher percentage of base stealers, 44 percent to 43 percent.
Fisk and Bench hit more homers, but Munson’s career average was more than 20 points higher than either of his peers. Any way you cut it, compared with the automatic Hall of Famers of his era, Munson was regarded as a peer.
You could argue that Munson didn’t play long enough to make the Hall of Fame, but two other Hall of Famers had careers that were similarly shortened: Mickey Cochrane hit in the head by a pitch and Campanella paralyzed in an auto accident. Cochrane played 1,482 games, Munson 1,423 and Campanella 1,215.
Cochrane’s career hit total was less than a hundred more than Munson’s, his homer total just six more. Adjust their batting numbers to the eras they played in and their careers were nearly identical. Campanella is harder to compare: Munson hit for higher average, Campy with more power. Munson had more hits and runs, Campy more homers and RBI. Each was an MVP (Campy three times), each a leader of a championship team.
How does Munson stack up at handling pitchers? He caught 20-win seasons by Fritz Peterson, Catfish Hunter, Ron Guidry, Ed Figueroa and Tommy John and Cy Young seasons by Guidry and Sparky Lyle. Comparing with peers, Fisk caught only one Cy Young season (LaMarr Hoyt) and Bench never caught one. Bench caught a 20-win season by Jim Merritt and part of a 20-win season by Tom Seaver, who was traded to the Reds during the season (I should note that Munson died during John’s 20-win season). Fisk caught 20-win seasons by Luis Tiant (three times), Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt and Rich Dotson. Given that Bench and Fisk had longer careers, Munson was at least as good a handler of pitchers, probably better.
Munson never got close to the Hall of Fame for two reasons: Yankee-hating baseball writers don’t set aside their biases and judge Yankees on their merits and baseball writers punish surly players who don’t curry the favor of sports writers.
Hall of Fame voting is crazy. Andre Dawson did not achieve anything more in the past year than he had the previous eight times he was on the ballot. He’s still retired. He belongs in the Hall and the process that makes a great player like him wait through nine ballots is farcical.