Remembering Ernie Banks and why he’s in the Hall of Fame

24 01 2015

RIP, Mr. Cub.

Though I was a Yankee fan as a child, my mother was a Cub fan and we made annual visits to her mother in Chicago that usually included games at Wrigley Field, where Ernie Banks was probably more beloved than any baseball player anywhere.

I think my first five or six major league ballgames were all at Wrigley, all cheering on Ernie and the Cubs. If he wasn’t my favorite non-Yankee in my youth, he was in the top five or six (maybe with Maury Wills, Luis Aparicio, Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax).

So everything I say here is with deep fondness for Ernie Banks and with absolute agreement that he belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But the truth is, Ernie was on the decline by the time I started watching him in the 1960s. If we got to a game in 1961 (I think our first game was in 1962, but I could be wrong), we might have seen him play shortstop. He played 104 games at shortstop in ’61 but moved to first base by 1962.

Banks makes an interesting contrast to Roger Maris, one of my Yankee heroes of that era, and to Don Mattingly, a Yankee of another era. Neither of them has made it into the Hall of Fame. Banks rightfully entered Cooperstown on the first ballot with 84 percent of the vote.

But the difference wasn’t that Banks soared higher in baseball greatness. His prime was remarkably similar to the primes of Maris and Mattingly. He didn’t make it to Cooperstown on those six years that he was one of the very best players in baseball, winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards when Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were also in their primes. He made it to Cooperstown by following that sensational prime with a decade as a pretty good first baseman. Maris and Mattingly had great years that compared to Banks’ prime, but Hall of Fame voters reward longevity, and neither Maris nor Mattingly could match Banks’ stretch as a pretty good player.

Each had a really awesome stretch (six years for Banks and Mattingly, five for Maris) when he was one of the best hitters in baseball, and each had a significant decline after that stretch, age 29 for Banks, 28 for Mattingly and 27 for Maris.

Let’s compare the primes of these three players:

Home runs

Banks certainly had the most consistent home run production during his prime, belting 40 or more homers in five out of six seasons, and leading the league with 47 homers in 1958 and 41 in 1960. In that spectacular six-year run, he hit 248 homers.

Maris, of course, way surpassed Banks for peak homer performance with his record 61-homer season in 1961. That was his only season with more than 40 homers, though he had 39 in 1960. In his five-year prime, he hit 177 homers, an average of six fewer homers a year than Banks.

Mattingly was nowhere near the home run hitter that Maris or Banks were, peaking at 35 homers in 1985 and having two other 30-homer seasons. With only 160 homers, he was nowhere near Banks or Maris for prime homer performance.

For homers, Banks had a clear but slight prime advantage over Maris and a big advantage over Mattingly. Banks played all his prime years in the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field. But Maris moved to Yankee Stadium and its “short porch” in right field in 1960, two years into this prime stretch that we’re examining.

Runs batted in

Banks topped 100 RBI five of the six years of his prime, leading the league with 129 in 1958 and 143 in 1959.

Mattingly also topped 100 five of his six prime years, leading the league with 145 in 1985. Banks had just a few more RBI for his prime, 693 to 684.

Maris had three seasons with 100 or more RBI and led the league with 112 in 1960 and 141 in 1962, a similar peak to Banks, but not as sustained.

Batting average

Banks topped .300 twice in his prime, .313 in 1958 and .304 in 1959. Maris never hit .300. Mattingly hit better than .300 throughout his prime, leading the league with .343 in 1984 and hitting .352 in 1986 (but losing the batting crown to Wade Boggs).

Mattingly had a huge advantage here, hitting .325 for his prime, compared to .294 for Banks and .263 for Maris.

Hits

Mattingly topped 200 hits three times. Banks peaked at 193 in 1959, Maris at 159 in 1961.

Runs

Maris had the best single-season run total, with 132 in 1961, but that was his only 100-run season. Mattingly scored 117 runs in 1986 and 107 in 1985. Banks scored 119 in 1958 and 113 in 1957.

Walks

Maris had as many walks in his five-year prime as Banks had in his six years, 354. Banks topped out at 71 walks in 1960, while Maris had 94 walks in 1961. Mattingly had 293 walks in his prime, with a peak of 56 in 1985.

Interestingly, Banks led the league in intentional walks in 1959 (20) and 1960 (28), while Maris (hitting in front of Mickey Mantle) famously had no intentional passes in his 61-homer 1961 season. So Maris had significantly more discipline at the plate.

Banks’ relative lack of plate discipline shows up in career on-base percentages: Though Banks had a higher batting average than Maris, .274 to .263, Maris had a higher on-base percentage, .345 to .330. Mattingly, with a much higher career batting average, .307, blew them both away with on-base percentage, .358. In their primes, Maris and Banks had similar peak OBP, .374 for Banks in 1959 and .372 for Maris in 1961. But Mattingly again was easily the best, with three seasons better than either of the others’ peak, including .394 in 1986.

Strikeouts

Maris averaged 70 strikeouts per season for his prime, compared to 75 for Banks. Mattingly was one of the toughest great hitters ever to strike out, averaging just 34 K’s per season in his prime.

Sacrifice flies

Mattingly led the league with 15 sac flies in 1985 and twice had 10 in a season. Banks reached 10 only once, in 1962, after his prime. In fact, Mattingly had as many sac flies, 96, in his 14-year career as Banks had in his 19-year career. Maris’ best sac-fly total was seven in 1961.

Leading leagues

Beyond his two times leading the league each in homers, RBI and intentional walks, Banks led the league once each in slugging (.614), total bases (379) and at-bats (617), all in 1959. He also led the league in games played six times, 1954-55 and ’57-60.

In addition to leading the league in homers in 1961 and RBI in 1960-61, Maris led the league in runs (132) and total bases (366) in 1961 and slugging (.581) in 1960.

Mattingly led his league in batting in 1984 and RBI in 1985, in hits in 1984 (207) and 1986 (238), in doubles in 1984 (44), ’85 (48) and ’86  (53), in total bases (370) and sacrifice flies (15) in ’85 and in at-bats (742), slugging (.573), OPS (.967), OPS+ (161) and total bases (388) in ’86.

Maris led the league in various achievements in two seasons, while Banks and Mattingly each had three consecutive seasons leading the league in important stats, 1958-60 for Banks and 1984-86 for Mattingly. But Mattingly had more titles in more different categories.

Awards

Banks and Maris were back-to-back MVPs, Banks in 1958-59 and Maris in 1960-61. Mattingly was MVP in 1985 and was second with an even better year in 1986, topped by Roger Clemens in a rare year (anti-Yankee bias surfacing there) when MVP voters favored a pitcher over a dominant hitter.

Banks and Maris each won one Gold Glove. Mattingly won nine.

Summarizing their primes

Mattingly clearly had at least a comparable prime to Banks. He had a bigger advantage in batting average, hits, strikeouts and sacrifice flies than Banks’ average in homers and walks. They were almost dead even in RBI. Mattingly led the league more times in more stats. Banks got one more MVP, but Mattingly had way more Gold Gloves. I’d say advantage Mattingly, but it’s a slight one.

Maris is clearly comparable, but didn’t have quite the prime of either Banks or Mattingly. His 1961 was better than either of their best years (though Banks in ’58 and Mattingly in ’86 were close).

Post-season


Banks may be the best player never to play in the post-season. Of course, playoffs started late in his career, and his 1969 Cubs collapsed to make way for the Miracle Mets.

Mattingly also never made it to the World Series. The 1994 strike robbed him of his first shot at post-season play. He finally made the playoffs in his final season, 1995. He went out in style, hitting .417 with a homer and 6 RBI against the Mariners. But the Yankees lost the series.

Maris played for seven league champions and three world champions. He hit only .217 in World Series play, but had 6 homers, 18 RBI and 26 runs scored. His .385 average, with 10 hits, a homer and 7 RBI, certainly helped the 1967 Cardinals to their World Series win. But he was hitless in 5 at-bats when the 1963 Dodgers swept the Yankees.

Because of the anti-Yankee bias of Hall of Fame voters, post-season play and championships count for nothing in Hall of Fame selection, unlike the heavy role they play in football and basketball Hall of Fame voting. But for whatever they count, Maris’ prime contributed to two World Series titles for the Yankees and another league championship. And he played in four more World Series, including a championship, after his prime.

Personality

Banks was one of the most charming players in baseball history and certainly benefited from his personality when it came to Hall of Fame voting, though he didn’t need it.

By contrast, Maris was surly to sports writers during his chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record, and the sports writers, who control the keys to Cooperstown, never forgave him.

Mattingly was well-liked, like Banks given a nickname, Donnie Baseball, that reflected his fondness among players and the media.

After the prime

All three of the players had significant declines after the primes we have just examined.

In the last 12 years of Banks’ career, he was seldom more than an average first baseman. He topped 100 RBI three times (never with more than 106). He topped 30 homers twice, despite playing in a homer-friendly park. He never hit .300 or scored 100 runs or led the league in anything. He made five more All-Star teams, but that was more on reputation than current performance.

Banks was the National League’s best shortstop of the 1950s. But he was in the middle of the pack of National League’s first basemen in the 1960s. Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Bill White all were better than Banks most years of the decade. Dick Allen, Lee May, Felipe Alou and Donn Clendenon had seasons when they were better than Banks. (If you’re wondering, Willie Stargell didn’t move full-time to first base until after Banks retired.)

You wouldn’t possibly look at Banks’ stats for the 1960s, the whole decade, and think those were the achievements of a Hall of Famer, though he played 130 or more games every year. (He was a part-time player his last two seasons, 1970 and ’71.)

But Hall of Fame voters love longevity. By playing a lot in the 1960s, Banks was able to pass the magic 500-homer mark in 1970, which assured Hall of Fame election until steroid use cheapened the mark decades later. Banks’s decade as a pretty good player pushed his hits total past 2,500, his RBI past 1,600 and his runs past 1,300. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But Maris and Mattingly each had a serious injury that caused a more severe decline after their similar primes to Banks. Maris played 130 games in only one season (1964) after his prime. He had only a couple seasons with more than 20 homers. He played only six mediocre seasons after his prime and didn’t approach career totals we associate with the Hall of Fame.

Mattingly didn’t decline as sharply as Maris. He played in more than 130 games three seasons after his prime, topping 150 games in 1991 and 1992. But a back injury severely curtailed his production. He never topped 20 homers after his prime and only made it into the teens twice. His RBI peak after his prime was 86 (in ’92 and ’93). He only hit .300 once (.304 in ’94). He never reached 200 hits again, his post-prime peak at 184 in ’92 (still better than all but one season in Banks’ career).

Mattingly never made an All-Star team after his prime. Like Banks, he had slipped from elite to middling. But, while Banks was middling for a full decade, full-time every season, Mattingly was middling for only six seasons, two of them notably curtailed by injuries.

Mattingly retired in 1995 with comparable career averages to Banks: way better at batting average (.307 to .274), clearly better at on-base percentage (.358 to .300), clearly behind in slugging (.500 to .471) and dead-even at OPS (.830). But Banks’ extra years as a middling player pushed all his career totals higher than Mattingly’s. While Banks had hung on long enough to reach the 500-homer mark, Mattingly was way short of any magic threshold. Once on pace to break Pete Rose’s hit record, he retired at just 2,153 hits.

Cubs vs. Yankees

Another interesting contrast in Hall of Fame voting is to look at the Yankees and Cubs of the 1960s.

The Yankees won five league championships and two World Series in the 1960s, and they have three players from that decade in the Hall of Fame: Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, who was past his prime.

The Cubs finished tenth, ninth, eighth twice, seventh three times (twice in an eight-team league), third twice and second in the Eastern Division in 1969 (still third-best record in their league). They were 133 games under .500 for the decade.

And they had four Hall of Famers: Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins (plus Lou Brock, though he made it to Cooperstown based on his play for the St. Louis Cardinals after the Cubs foolishly traded him away for Ernie Broglio).

I’m not saying any of the Cubs don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. They do. But Santo’s case for Cooperstown is not as strong as Maris’. And Williams wasn’t notably better than the Yankees’ Bernie Williams (and, if you count post-season play, Bernie soars past Billy). Jenkins had a comparable career to Tommy John, except for that surgery thing that made John far more famous than Jenkins.

Hall of Fame voting has smiled much more kindly on the Cubs than on the Yankees.

Farewell to Ernie

Beyond my usual Hall of Fame points, I was glad to see lots of love for Ernie Banks last night on social media and in professional media. He was a sure-thing Hall of Famer. He was always a favorite of mine, and I treasure the memories of those early visits to Wrigley Field.

Source note: All statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





Young Randy Johnson never projected as a Hall of Famer

7 01 2015

Next time you read a statistical projection of a player’s chances of making the Hall of Fame, think of Randy Johnson, especially if a young player projects as having no chance.

Johnson made it to Cooperstown on the first ballot, leading the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class announced Tuesday. And when Johnson was age 28, two years older than Clayton Kershaw is now and the same age as Félix Hernández is today, the Big Unit was just a Big Bust. No one would have projected him for the Hall of Fame.

Kershaw and Hernández have combined for four Cy Young Awards. By age 28, Johnson didn’t have a career winning record yet or a season of 15 wins. His power was always frightening, but he had led the league in walks three times and strikeouts only once. The most optimistic computer projection or pitching coach couldn’t possibly have forecast him as a five-time Cy Young winner and first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Johnson didn’t make it to the majors until he was 24, and the first five years of his career he was mostly an oddity, a skinny 6-foot-10 freak with more potential than performance.

The Expos gave up on him after three wins, scattered over 10 starts and two seasons. He made an All-Star team for the Mariners in 1990, at age 26, but his 14-11 record that year wasn’t as notable as his league-leading 120 walks.

The walk total grew worse, to a peak of 152 in 1991 and improving only to 144 in 1992. That year, he actually led the league in strikeouts for the first time, too, with 241. And in hit batters, 18.

The Mariners didn’t have a bull mascot for The Big Unit to hit, but at age 28, Johnson was still basically Nuke LaLoosh, but hurling his wild pitches at the big-league level.

Two other power pitchers remembered for their slow starts, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, bloomed notably younger than Johnson. Both broke into the big leagues at age 19 and were in full-stride by their mid-20s.

Ryan didn’t reach 10 wins in any of his first four seasons, but he had three strikeout titles, two 20-win seasons and three no-hitters by the end of the 1974 season, when he was 27.

Koufax, whose first six years were unremarkable, won his first strikeout title at age 25 and his first Cy Young Award and two no-hitters by the time he was 27.

Both were on their way to Cooperstown at an age when Johnson was still trying to find home plate. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankees on the ballot: Who makes the Hall of Fame? Who gets screwed again?

5 12 2014

Ten former Yankees are on two different Hall of Fame ballots for consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown next summer.

Nine Yankees are among the 34 players on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for election by sports writers and one former Yankee is on the Golden Era ballot for election by a special committee considering players whose primary contributions came between 1947 and 1972.

You won’t think of most of these players as primarily Yankees. All but one played most of their careers for other teams. Here are my thoughts on those players and their chances to make the Hall of Fame (this year or ever):

Sure bet

Randy Johnson

Easy, automatic selection. He’d be in as either a 300-game winner or a five-time Cy Young Award winner (four in a row) or as No. 2 all time on the strikeout list with 4,875. As all three, Johnson is a first-ballot slam-dunk. I think Pedro Martinez was a little better pitcher, and he’s probably a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (a stupid distinction) this year, too. But the voters love longevity and Johnson put up bigger career numbers. He’s the more certain first-ballot guy.

It’s hard to overstate how good Johnson was. He led the league in strikeouts nine times, winning percentage, ERA and complete games four times each and innings pitched, shutouts and hit batters twice (and each of those hit batters felt it).

I’ve noted before that pitchers’ wins are a more useful stat than the hypothetical stat of WAR (wins above replacement). But I acknowledged then that wins are a flawed statistic (every stat is flawed). Johnson certainly illustrates the flaws. He won 20 games only three times and only twice in his Cy Young years. But 18-2, 17-9 and 19-7 are damn good won-loss records and that’s what he had the three years he won the Cy Young without winning 20. He led his league in strikeouts each of those years and in ERA two of those years and shutouts the other year.

Johnson’s two years with the Yankees were unremarkable: 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA and 211 strikeouts and 17-11, 5.00 and 172. The Yankees faced him at his best in the 2001 World Series (three wins, one of them in relief, two runs given up in 17 innings, a shutout and 19 strikeouts). But he was on the decline when the Yankees traded for him four years later. At that point, he was just trying to make it to 300 wins. He did that in 2009 as a Giant.

Tainted by PED scandal

Roger Clemens


When and if the Hall of Fame voters ever decide to elect players tainted by suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens should go in first. He and Barry Bonds are far and away the greatest players being kept out of Cooperstown because of PED suspicions. Clemens also was actually acquitted of perjury (allegedly lying to Congress when he denied using PED’s), so the jury that heard the case against him didn’t find it convincing. But I doubt this is the year he gets in.

And I don’t much care. I might vote for him if I had a vote, because I believe you’re innocent until proven guilty, and he wasn’t. But I don’t think Andy Pettitte misunderstood Clemens. I think he probably juiced and I will save the outrage of this blog for players I think are more deserving.

Gary Sheffield


I think even if his era and he himself had not been tainted by PED scandals, Sheffield might have taken several years to make it to the Hall of Fame. He hit 509 homers and topping 500 used to ensure enshrinement. Beyond the homers, looking at his career statistically by itself, he belongs in Cooperstown:

  • With 1,636 runs, he was 38th all-time, and most of those around him on the leaders list are in Cooperstown or sure to be: He ranks just ahead of Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Eddie Murray, Paul Waner and Al Kaline. He had seven seasons over 100 runs.
  • With 1,676 RBI, he’s in similar company, 26th all-time, just ahead of Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Ernie Banks. He had eight seasons over 100 RBI.
  • With 2,689, he’s not in as elite company, 66th all-time, but still just ahead of Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio, Max Carey and Nellie Fox, none of whom had Sheffield’s power.
  • With 1,475 walks, he’s 21st all-time, just ahead of Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx and Eddie Mathews. He had four seasons over 100 walks.
  • Sheffield hit .292, well within Hall of Fame range, and led the National League in batting at .300 with the Padres in 1992. He also led the league in on-base percentage and OPS with the Marlins in 1996.
  • He was a nine-time All-Star.

Statistically, you can’t make a case that Sheffield wasn’t a Hall of Famer. But he was a long way from the best power hitter of his time, and I think he’d have waited on the ballot for several years, even if it wasn’t for his implication in the PED scandals. Among his contemporaries, Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, Frank Thomas, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were more feared sluggers. And he doesn’t particularly stand out from some others: Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff. The guy who was the 10th to 12th-best slugger of his time doesn’t necessarily make the Hall of Fame, and if he does, he waits a while. Sheffield played in a time of great offense, and he might have had to wait a while for Cooperstown even without being tainted by the drug scandals.

He’ll have to wait a while even when/if the Hall starts admitting the juicers. And, if the standard is whether voters think he’d have been a Hall of Famer without cheating, Sheffield might not make it.

Getting screwed (still)

Don Mattingly

Mattingly illustrates better than anyone (with the possible exception of Ron Guidry) the Hall of Fame’s two strongest biases (after the bias against those suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs): against Yankees and in favor of longevity.

I have already made the case for Mattingly twice here: Showing that his career was almost identical to first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett and that by most measures he outperformed the Hall-of-Famers of his era. He should be in the Hall of Fame already, but this is his only year on the baseball writers’ ballot and he got only 8 percent of the vote last year. He has no chance this year. I think he could be a strong candidate for Expansion Era Committee selection eventually, but perhaps not as long as the baseball writers control the selection of candidates for those committees’ ballots.

Lee Smith

Here are the career achievements of four relief pitchers whose careers overlapped by six years: 1980-85:

Pitcher A: 341 career saves in 17 seasons, three years leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 6.9 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games, 1 Cy Young, 1 MVP.

Pitcher B: 478 career saves in 18 seasons, four seasons leading his league in saves, 11 seasons over 30 saves, 8.7 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games.

Pitcher C: 310 career saves in 22 seasons, three seasons leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 7.5 strikeouts/9 innings, nine All-Star games.

Pitcher D: 300 career saves in 12 seasons, five seasons leading his league in saves, four seasons over 30 saves, 7.9 strikeouts/9 innings, six All-Star games.

Perhaps you can identify the four pitchers. What you cannot do is say why one of them isn’t in the Hall of Fame. You especially can’t say why the one with the most saves, most 30-save seasons and most strikeouts per 9 innings isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Smith, of course, is Pitcher B, the only one of the four not in the Hall of Fame. A is Rollie Fingers, B is Goose Gossage and C is Bruce Sutter. The only other reliever of their time in the Hall of Fame is Dennis Eckersley, who defies comparison with his career as a starter (with a 20-win season), then a reliever. (If there’s a comparison, it’s John Smoltz, also likely to get in on the first-ballot this year.) For the record, though, Smith bested Eck in career saves, 30-save seasons, strikeouts per nine innings, seasons leading the league in saves and All-Star selections.

You can make a case that Smith was better than any of those pitchers, but you also could make the case that they were better than him. That’s the point: He was their peer in every respect. If they’re in the Hall of Fame, Smith should be.

I probably can’t claim it’s anti-Yankee bias that keeps Smith out of Cooperstown, because few people remember him as a Yankee. With only eight games for New York (in 1993; he saved three games), he probably has the lowest percentage of his career in pinstripes of any great player who played for the Yankees.

Clearly Smith should be in the Hall of Fame. With only 29 percent of the vote last year and only three years left on the writers’ ballot, his best shot will be through the Expansion Era Committee.

Tim Raines

Can you name a comparable player to Raines who’s not in the Hall of Fame? Who else in the top five in any major career statistical is waiting to get into Cooperstown without a gambling ban or suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs?

Throw in four seasons leading the league in steals, a batting championship and two years leading the league in runs. Raines absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame (and mostly for achievements before reaching the Yankees; he gave them three part-time years but contributed to their 1996 and ’98 championships). In baseball discussions during their primes, he was always paired with Rickey Henderson. How did one of them become a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and the other one can’t get in?

Raines does have a possible added factor in his consideration: his use of cocaine. He testified during the Pittsburgh drug trials that he used to slide headfirst to avoid breaking the cocaine vials in his back pocket.

But cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug, and I can’t think of another person blocked from the Hall of Fame because of cocaine use. Lots of players — Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry — appeared to be on the path to the Hall of Fame, but derailed their careers with cocaine abuse. None of those players reached a level of career achievement where everyone makes it to the Hall of Fame. And Hall voters have honored multiple players tainted by stories of recreational drug use: Orlando Cepeda, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Willie Stargell.

The only players who have more stolen bases than Raines’ 808 are Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb, all in the Hall of Fame.

Next on the stolen-base list behind Raines is Vince Coleman at 752. But stealing bases was virtually Coleman’s only skill. He hit .264, was only an All-Star twice and only scored 100 runs twice (and never led his league in runs scored).

Raines is much more like the four players ahead of him than like Coleman. Let’s set aside Hamilton, who played in the 1800’s, when baseball was much different, including counting as a stolen base when you went from first to third on a single. And let’s set aside Cobb, who was one of the greatest hitters of all time and still has the career record for batting average.

Comparing Raines as a hitter to Brock, he had better career averages at batting, on-base percentage (a leadoff hitter’s job) and slugging (and, of course, OPS): .294, .385, .425, .810 for Raines, .293, .343, .410, .753. Brock never led the league in a single batting category. Raines led the league in batting (.334) and on-base percentage (.413) in 1986 and doubles (38) in 1984. Brock was more durable, though, playing full-time long enough to reach 3,000 hits (Raines was a part-time player after 1992 and retired with 2,605 hits).

Runs combine hitting and running, and Brock had a slight advantage there. Each led his league twice. Brock topped 100 runs seven times and Raines had six 100-run seasons. Brock had slightly more career runs (in 100 more career games), 1,610 to 1,571.

Brock stole more bases, 938, and led his league in steals more times, eight, but Brock was largely a volume base-stealer. Raines was really a more successful base stealer, safe on 85 percent of his steals, compared to 75 percent for Brock. Even with all his stolen bases, Raines never led his league in times caught stealing. Brock led his league seven times. Raines’ worst season, he was caught 16 times. Brock topped that 10 times, getting caught 33 times in 1974, when he set the single-season record with 118 steals. In fact, Brock’s lead of Raines by 130 stolen bases is actually smaller than his caught-stealing lead, 307-146.

Defensively Raines was way better: He had a higher fielding percentage, .988 to .957. Brock had slightly more putouts, assists and double plays, but he played almost 400 more outfield games. But Raines committed only 54 errors. Brock made 196.

Raines was the player in baseball history most similar to Brock. And you can argue that he was a better hitter, base stealer and fielder. How is one guy in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the other isn’t there yet?

The comparison to Henderson is not as favorable for Raines. Henderson never won a batting or doubles title, but he led his league in hits in 1981 and on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1990 (his MVP year, an achievement Raines never matched).

For career averages, Raines had the advantage in batting (.294 to .279) and slugging (.425 to .419), but Henderson led in on-base percentage (.401 to .385) and OPS (.820 to .810). Henderson was a better homerun hitter (297 to 170) and drove in more runs (1,115 to 980).

One of a leadoff hitter’s most important jobs is getting on base, and Henderson led his league in walks four times, topped 100 walks seven times and set the record with 2,190 career walks (he’s second now to Barry Bonds). Raines had a respectable 1,330 career walks but never led his league and never topped 100 in a season.

In runs, Henderson blew Raines (and everyone in baseball history) away, setting the career record (still) with 2,295, leading his league five times and topping 100 runs 13 times.

Henderson stole 1,406 career bases, a record that’s safe for at least 15 years. He stole a record (still) 130 in 1982, one of three years that he topped 100, and he led his league in steals 12 times. He was the greatest base-stealer of all time. Raines was a better percentage stealer, 85 to 81.

So Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and significantly better than Raines. But Raines was the most similar player in baseball history to two first-ballot Hall of Famers. He should be in.

Maybe someday

Mike Mussina

USA Today’s Ted Berg predicts Mussina will make the Hall of Fame eventually. He’s been on the ballot two years and got 20 percent of the vote last year.

With 270 wins, he’s in Hall of Fame territory, four wins or fewer ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Bob Feller and Eppa Rixey. But Mussina also is one win ahead of Jamie Moyer, who has no shot at Cooperstown. Moose is way better than Moyer and his winning percentage was more than 100 points higher than Rixey’s. But he’s nowhere near Palmer’s or Feller’s league.

Berg says, “Time and context will smile on Mussina’s counting numbers and reward his consistency.” He may be right. I’m skeptical, but I’m horrible at predicting Hall of Fame elections. Just considering Yankee pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, I’d say Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds all belong there before Mussina. He’s about even with David Cone, Cone having soared to greater heights but Moose being more consistent. The Hall of Fame rewards longevity and consistency, so he could get in.

I don’t think he’ll ever make it to Cooperstown, but he probably could have. For the first 17 years of his career, he was a model of consistency, never winning 20 games in a season but winning 19 twice, 18 three times and 17 twice. He never won fewer than 11 games.

Moose won 20 for the only time in his 18th and final year, 2008, at age 39. It’s hard to believe he didn’t have another 30 wins in him if he’d wanted to pitch another three years (possibly two). If he had made it to 300 wins, he’d be automatic. But you have to admire a guy who goes out on top, and that might help him in Hall of Fame voting.

Two things we don’t know yet about Hall of Fame could affect Moose’s chances of election:

  1. We don’t know how long the baseball writers will keep the PED-era stars out of the Hall of Fame. Will they have to wait a few years to get in, or will the writers just never vote any of them in?
  2. If they don’t vote the drug-tainted players in, will they just vote in fewer players from that era, or will some of the marginal players from that era, who used to wait for veterans committee votes, get voted in by the writers. It’s hard to imagine Moose making the Hall of Fame with all the players tainted by PED’s on the ballot. But if those guys aren’t getting in, Moose could be an attractive candidate in some year when the crop of first-time candidates is a little thin. I suspect he’ll be an Expansion Era Committee selection someday.

Luis Tiant

El Tiante is the only ex-Yankee on the Golden Era ballot (the writers keep Roger Maris out of the Hall of Fame by controlling access to the era ballots). His 229 wins don’t carry him into automatic territory (or the writers would have voted him in), but they certainly are Cooperstown-worthy. He ranks a few wins ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter, but tied with Sad Sam Jones, who never made the Hall of Fame and never topped 1 percent in the writers’ vote. He’s also 10 wins behind David Wells and 11 behind Frank Tanana, neither of whom is likely to get a Cooperstown plaque.

The Tiant case is strong: four 20-win seasons, two ERA championships (under 2.00 both times), led his league in shutouts three times. If post-season performance counted for anything (it doesn’t, or they’d have to let more Yankees in), his 3-0 record in his only post-season, including two complete-game 1975 World Series wins (one of them a shutout) over the Big Red Machine would push him over the top.

His Yankee years were insignificant, a 13-8 showing at age 38 and 8-9 the next year in 1979-80.

Comparing Tiant to Hunter shows why he has fallen short of the Hall of Fame so far. Catfish won his 224 games in 15 years, while Tiant played 19. Catfish won 20 games five years in a row and won a Cy Young Award (Tiant’s highest finish was fourth).

Tiant was more comparable to Bunning, who won 20 games only once (he had four 19-win seasons) and had a career winning percentage 22 points lower than Tiant. Bunning never led his league in ERA, but led twice in shutouts and three times in strikeouts.

All-Star selections aren’t a strong part of Tiant’s case: He was selected three times and Catfish had eight selections and Bunning seven.

Tiant was a fierce competitor who probably was regarded as a Hall of Famer by the batters he faced in a career that stretched from 1964 to 1982. He played in an era of great pitchers: Hunter and Bunning are among 17 pitchers who were Tiant contemporaries who are already in Cooperstown. Guidry’s another who belongs there, ahead of Tiant.

It’s clear that Tiant was more comparable to Hunter and Bunning than to Jones, Wells and Tanana. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I’m not outraged if he doesn’t make it.

If the Golden Era Committee just picks one or two players, I would expect Tony Oliva and/or Maury Wills to go ahead of Tiant. But maybe, like the Expansion Era Committee went with three managers (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox) last year, the Golden Era Committee will choose three Cubans this year: Oliva, Tiant and Minnie Minoso. I tend to think Tiant will continue to wait.

No chance

Aaron Boone

Boone has no shot at the Hall of Fame. This will be his only year on the ballot. He gave Yankee fans a great memory in 2003, but he has no Hall of Fame qualifications: barely 1,000 career hits, never hit .300 or 30 homers or 100 RBI, never won a Gold Glove. He had a respectable 12-year career and made an All-Star team for the Reds in 2003 (before being traded to the Yankees.

Boone was actually only the third-best baseball player in his family. Brother Bret has no Hall of Fame chance either, but he had three 100-RBI seasons for the Mariners. He was third in the MVP race in 2001, hitting .331 with 206 hits, 37 homers and a league-leading 141 RBI. He was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover. But he also was named as a PED user in Jose Canseco’s book (he denied the allegation). Bret Boone didn’t approach Hall of Fame consideration, but had a better career than Aaron.

Their father, Bob, a four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove catcher who’s third all-time in games caught, might catch the fancy of an era committee someday and make it to the Hall of Fame.

Bob’s father, Ray Boone, was also an All-Star (twice) and led the American League with 116 RBI in 1955. But he also was far short of Hall of Fame levels.

They are one of baseball’s best families ever (does any other family have four All-Stars?). But I doubt they’ll have any Hall of Famers, certainly not Aaron.

Tom Gordon


As I noted last month, Flash was one of the best pitchers ever at relieving and starting. But only Eck and Smoltz of that group will make the Hall of Fame (Allie Reynolds should, but he’s unique because he started and relieved in the same season for a few years, never becoming a full-time reliever). Gordon is back in the pack with Wilbur Wood, Dave Righetti and Derek Lowe, probably a bit behind them.

Gordon has a better case than Aaron Boone, with three All-Star selections and one season leading the American League in saves (1998 with 46). He delivered on a then-record 54 consecutive save opportunities. But neither 138 career wins nor 158 career saves is anywhere near Hall of Fame territory, so he doesn’t get enough benefit from having pitched well in both roles to have a shot at Cooperstown.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, facts in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com or the Baseball Hall of Fame website.





Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly’s best years compare well to new Hall of Famers

9 01 2014
Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Congratulations to Greg MadduxTom Glavine and Frank Thomas on their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

All three were elected on the first ballot and rightly so (to the extent that the screwed-up Hall of Fame selection processes have created this stupid first-ballot-election category).

Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly will probably never make it into the Hall of Fame, but you can see that they belong there when you compare them to this year’s Hall of Famers. They aren’t better, especially when you factor longevity, which has become unduly important in Hall of Fame voting. When you measure players at their best, though, Guidry and Mattingly clearly were comparable to this year’s Hall of Famers.

I wish I could make the same case I did three years ago, comparing Ron Guidry to Maddux or Glavine as I did when Bert Blyleven made the Hall of Fame. (Guidry was significantly better than Blyleven except for longevity.) Read the rest of this entry »





Joe Torre should have made the Hall of Fame as a player

15 12 2013


Catching up on off-season Yankee news:

Joe Torre is a Hall of Famer — finally

I actually intended to write a post sometime this year making the case for Joe Torre‘s election to the Hall of Fame. But the Expansion Era Committee chose Torre to enter the Hall of Fame this year, along with his managing peers Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.

All three managers are clear Hall of Famers, ranking third (LaRussa), fourth (Cox) and fifth (Torre) on the all-time wins list for managers.

Torre was a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame as a player and probably should have been chosen on that basis, regardless of his performance as a manager. He and Elston Howard were the best catchers of the 1960s and most people who were best of their era at a position are in Cooperstown. He was a nine-time All-Star and most eligible players who’ve made that many All-Star teams are in the Hall. He also was MVP in 1971 (after moving to third base), leading the league in batting, RBI and hits.

No Hall of Fame catcher topped Torre’s career figures in all of the triple-crown categories (.297, 252 HR, 1185 RBI) as well as his 2,342 hits, and each of those figures ranks in the top half of all Hall of Fame catchers. Among third basemen, only George Brett topped Torre in all four categories, and his totals again measure up as a Hall of Famer compared to the third basemen in Cooperstown. And he won a Gold Glove as a catcher, so he wasn’t being kept out of Cooperstown because of defensive deficiencies (though he wasn’t good defensively at third). Read the rest of this entry »





Wrapping up the 2013 season: Congrats to Red Sox, Mo, Pettitte

2 11 2013

Reflections on the 2013 season:

Hat tip to the Red Sox!

Something that Red Sox fans and Yankee haters don’t understand is that Yankee fans (most of us anyway, in my experience) don’t hate the Red Sox the way that Red Sox fans and Yankee haters hate the Yankees.

Yes, when the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, I hate them and revel in every win against them (and felt pain at this year’s losses). But when they’re not playing each other, the Red Sox are among my favorite non-Yankee teams. And certainly this year, when they played classy after last year’s debacle and all of the nation was feeling “Boston strong,” I enjoyed watching the Red Sox play and win. (I think sports get exaggerated as healing for a city, but I got caught up in the Yankees’ near-win after 9/11, and I was glad to see Boston have this to feel good about.)

I’m a cancer survivor who enjoys the success of Jon Lester. I’ve always enjoyed watching David Ortiz play (well, maybe not always; 2004 wasn’t so enjoyable) and enjoyed both his post-Marathon exhortation and his post-season hitting (and walking) binge this year.

If the Hall of Fame ever starts admitting players who’ve been tainted in the performance-enhancing-drugs scandals, I’ll probably be cheering for Big Papi to get his place in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame needs some DH’s and Papi might deserve to be the first pure DH to win enshrinement.

Of course, the Red Sox hired a good manager and acquired some good players, but mostly I think this year established once and for all that Bobby Valentine is a horrible manager.

Farewell to Mo!

I’ve blogged before about why Mariano Rivera is one of the most unique baseball players ever and why he’s one of the most incomparable pro athletes ever in any sport.

I might not take note again of Mo’s retirement except for the post by ESPN’s Jim Caple (I considered not linking to it here because it was pure click-bait, but I believe in linking, so I did) that twisted and selectively used stats to pretend that Rivera and closers in general are overrated.

I presume Caple was not watching the post-season, where Koji Uehara was the biggest reason that the Red Sox beat the Tigers to make it to the World Series.

Here’s how important closers are (and specifically how important Rivera was): The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s had a strong offense, including certain Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. They had three certain Hall of Fame starting pitchers in their prime (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) and some other pretty good pitchers and players.

The Yankees of that period had Derek Jeter, a certain Hall of Famer in his prime, and some pretty good players and some pretty good pitchers (Roger Clemens would be a sure Hall of Famer if not tainted with suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs). But they didn’t have anything as fearsome as that Braves rotation. Except for Mo. The Braves had weak closers (until Smoltz moved to the bullpen, when the team was on the wane). And the Braves won one World Series to four for Rivera in the same stretch (and another later, when Mo was still going strong and the Braves’ starters had scattered).

ESPN should have higher standards than publishing ignorant click-bait nonsense.

Farewell to Andy Pettitte

I noted the first time he retired that Pettitte had a strong case for being a Hall of Famer but wouldn’t make it. In his return to the game, he added a few wins, but he still won’t make it. He has more post-season wins than anyone and a better career than quite a few Hall of Fame pitchers. But he’s borderline as a Hall of Fame candidate, even if he wasn’t tainted by use of human growth hormone. I reserve my Hall of Fame outrage for those who absolutely belong in Cooperstown.

But as a Yankee fan, I remember Pettitte’s 15 years in pinstripes fondly. He always pitched with grit and class.

Good riddance to A-Rod

When the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, I said I’d rather have Soriano over the next seven seasons (the time remaining on A-Rod’s 10-year contract). Well, A-Rod won two Most Valuable Player awards for the Yankees and finally contributed to a World Series championship in 2009 after (and before) several post-season disappointments.

The Yankees won four World Series and played in six in the 10 years before A-Rod arrived. They made it to one World Series on his his watch. He also had two drug scandals. That’s not a successful tenure, not for one of baseball’s best-ever players on the most successful sports franchise ever.

One of A-Rod’s most memorable moments as a Yankee was a fight he didn’t even start, when Jason Varitek of the Red Sox followed A-Rod down the first-base line after Bronson Arroyo hit A-Rod, probably on purpose. A-Rod didn’t charge the mound, but he was jawing at Arroyo on his way to first base, as many hitters do after being hit. Varitek was certainly OK to stay between the hitter and the pitcher in that situation, but if there’s going to be a fight here, the guy who got hit by the pitch should start it.

Amazingly, Varitek hit A-Rod with both hands while still wearing his catcher’s mask and helmet. It was perhaps the most cowardly punch in the history of baseball fights. Can you imagine the outrage if Jorge Posada, protected by his catching gear, had taken a swing at Big Papi (or even Manny Ramirez)? But because a guy who was widely liked was swinging at the most-hated player on the most-hated team, Varitek was lauded for his grittiness and his leadership. It showed as clearly as anything how universal the A-Rod hatred was.

And the dust-up with Arroyo had an equally bizarre second chapter: In Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, A-Rod hit a weak grounder with Jeter on first base and one out, with the Red Sox leading 4-2. Arroyo fielded and was reaching to tag A-Rod near first base. A-Rod swatted the ball away and was called safe and Jeter raced home to make it a one-run game.

But after Terry Francona argued, the umpires conferred and reversed the call, invoking a weird rule I’ve never seen cited before or since: You can’t knock the ball out of a guy’s glove with your hand. Base runners always try to kick the ball loose and you can knock the everloving crap out of a catcher (think Pete Rose) to knock the ball loose, but you can’t swat it. So A-Rod would have been fine to run right through Arroyo, but not swat his glove.

But it was A-Rod. And the Red Sox were about to sweep the Yankees on their way to breaking their supposed Curse. So there was no outrage about the stupid rule.

I tried to be sympathetic to A-Rod. If he hadn’t cheated — again — I might have at least had mixed feelings about him. But I  wish the Yankees had never made that trade. I wish they had not extended his contract. I presume and hope we’ve seen the last of A-Rod in pinstripes. I was glad to see Soriano return as A-Rod’s Yankee career was wrapping up.

Jeter’s coming back

I was giving some thought to a blog post wondering whether four such great players as A-Rod, Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter had wrapped up their careers the same year with the same team before. If A-Rod’s really done, it’s still a valid question. Might be a valid question anyway to ask just about Rivera and Pettitte. But Jeter‘s not done yet.

I’m not sure how I feel about him signing for another year. I’d like to see him return to his 2012 form. I’d like to see him get another crack at the post-season. I’d like to see him make a run at 4,000 career hits. But I’m doubtful that any of that is possible.

When the 2012 season ended, Jeter had an outside shot at Pete Rose’s all-time hit record. But his long return from injury this year, followed by new injuries, makes me think his career’s about over. If he has another good year or two in him, I’ll be glad to see him back. If he comes back to struggle, I won’t like watching that.

Shake off the tough calls

I hated the way Game 3 of the World Series ended: with umpire Jim Joyce giving a run to the Cardinals that they didn’t earn. I think Joyce made the wrong call. I think even as the obstruction rule is written, it was Allen Craig’s step toward second base that put Will Middlebrooks in his path. Middlebrooks was nowhere between third base and home, so Joyce should not have called obstruction. While Craig didn’t seek out Middlebrooks to get the call, the fact that Joyce called it could result in runners deliberately colliding with fielders who aren’t in their way, trying to get bogus obstruction calls.

Baseball should rewrite that rule to specify that incidental contact with a fielder who’s not between the bases is not obstruction.

Even if that was the right call, it was bizarre and tough, an unfair outcome to the Red Sox (though the catcher never should have thrown the ball).

But champions shake off the bad calls and the tough calls, as I’ve noted before here (and as the Yankees didn’t do after that Arroyo-A-Rod call in 2004). Game 3 was the last game the Red Sox lost. Of course, they wouldn’t necessarily have won the game if Joyce hadn’t given the Cardinals the winning run. The game would have gone into extra innings, and it was anyone’s game. But if the Red Sox had won that game and the next two, their fans wouldn’t have had that wonderful celebration in Fenway.

Losers whine forever about bad calls. Champions overcome them.

2013 in review

Given their injuries, the Yankees made a decent showing. They hung in there in April and May, took over first place with a strong run in June and July, then faded in August. Even though they remained in the wild card chase well into September, they never looked like a champion.

I enjoyed three Yankee games, watching them play in Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards and Target Field. I got to see two Rivera saves and Sabathia’s 200th win.

 

Looking ahead to 2014

If Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson return healthy and in top form, and if the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano, they should be good next year. But how likely is that? They have some decent (but not great) starting pitching, and Dave Robertson might be ready to step into the closer role. But mostly 2015 feels like a rebuilding year to me.

I’d like to see the rebuilding come from a strong farm system. The dynasty of the ’90s was built heavily on homegrown talent: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams.

But I’m not aware of that kind of talent in the minors now. I expect some trades and free-agency signings. Optimism doesn’t abound.





Tommy John belongs in the Hall of Fame as a member, not a special guest with his surgeon

26 07 2013

Tommy John, photo linked from mlbreports.com

The Hall of Fame is recognizing Tommy John’s undeniable fame Saturday, but not by inducting him as a member. What could more clearly illustrate how farcical Hall of Fame selection has become?

John will be honored with the surgeon who pioneered Tommy John surgery, Dr. Frank Jobe. That’s fine, and certainly Jobe deserves to be honored by the Hall of Fame. But, as I’ve noted here before, Tommy John deserves to be a full-fledged Hall of Famer based on his pitching career but especially based on his role as the trailblazer who showed about 500 other pitchers the way back from an injury that used to end careers. It’s called Tommy John surgery, for crying out loud!

But let’s set aside the surgery for a while. Tommy John is a clear Hall of Famer based on his credentials, however you examine the record:

With the exception of Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of Cooperstown because of allegations about performance-enhancing drugs, every eligible pitcher who played in the 20th Century with as many wins as Tommy John is in the Hall of Fame (and more than 30 pitchers with fewer wins than John are in the Hall of Fame). Read the rest of this entry »








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