Yankees who pitched no-hitters: Don Larsen, Allie Reynolds …

14 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Ten Yankees have pitched 11 no-hitters. I’ll review them here, in order of importance:

Don Larsen

Larsen had a mostly unremarkable career for the Yankees and seven other teams. He never won more than 11 games in a season (but he lost 21). He only made it to double figures in wins twice, though he made it to double figures in losses three times. He finished 14 seasons with a losing record, 81-91.

But for one Monday, October 8, in Game Five of the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen was better than any pitcher ever. In a World Series, you face a team that knows how to get on base, how to score runs. That’s how they make it to the championship level, and no other pitcher has ever pitched a no-hitter in World Series play. But Larsen pitched a perfect game.

Facing a lineup that included four future Hall of Famers — Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese — Larsen didn’t allow a base runner. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers

13 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

The Yankees have had an extraordinary number of pitchers, it seems to me, who have succeeded both in starting and relieving roles.

The two most successful pitchers in both roles were not Yankees: Dennis Eckersley, a 20-game winner before becoming a Hall of Fame and MVP closer, and John Smoltz, a Cy Young Award-winning starter before cementing his Hall of Fame bid by becoming a dominant closer.

As I explained earlier in this series on Yankee starting pitchers, Allie Reynolds should join them in the Hall of Fame for his career, which combined starting and relieving excellence in the same season again and again and even within multiple World Series.

Read the earlier post for the full case to include Reynolds in the Hall of Fame, but this tidbit explains how he succeeded in the dual roles: In 1951, Reynolds led the American League with seven shutouts and had twice that many relief appearances, also posting six saves.

No Yankee (no pitcher in major league history, for that matter) matched Reynolds’ dual starting/relieving mastery within seasons, but others have succeeded notably in both roles:

Dave Righetti

Rags was a promising Yankee starter of the 1980s. He won Rookie of the Year with an 8-4 record in the strike-shortened 1981 season and posted a solid 14-8 record in his third year in the rotation, 1983. He pitched exclusively as a starter that year, completing seven games and pitching two shutouts. One of those shutouts was a July 4 no-hitter against the Red Sox. (More on that game in a separate post on Yankee no-hitters.)

Righetti seemed on his way to a successful starting career.

However, the departure of Goose Gossage after the 1983 season left the Yankees without a closer, so manager Yogi Berra tried Righetti in the role. He was a perfect fit. Rags saved 31 games in 1984, 29 in 1985 and then set the major league record with 46 in 1986. In seven years as the Yankee closer, he saved 224 games, never fewer than 25 in a season. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat

30 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Five Yankee starting pitchers have strong cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but probably not strong enough for most of them.

Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David ConeLuis Tiant and Jim Kaat were among the greatest pitchers of their times, but fall short of the standards that normally get pitchers into Cooperstown.

In earlier posts in this series, I dealt with the Yankee Hall of Famers, 300-game winners who pitched for the Yankees and three Yankee starters who belong in the Hall of Fame.

These pitchers are a notch below the others. I won’t argue if an Era Committee someday welcomes one of these pitchers to Cooperstown, and they probably belong there, but I’d be surprised if they all make it and won’t campaign for any of them.

Mike Mussina


Moose passed on a shot at ensuring his spot at Cooperstown, retiring at the top of his game after 18 years. He had his only 20-win season in his final year, winning exactly 20 at age 39 and retiring with 270 wins.

Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of the Hall of Fame only because of suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs, is the only 300-game winner who’s not in Cooperstown. You can’t be sure that a pitcher entering his 40s has 30 more wins in him. But a healthy and durable pitcher who wins 20 in his late 30s probably can win 30 more over two or three more years.

But Moose stuck with his announced retirement. And it’s hard to picture the Hall of Fame voters embracing a 270-game winner with only one 20-win season.

Moose’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty similar to Bert Blyleven‘s or Don Sutton‘s (except that Sutton stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins). Like them, he never won a Cy Young Award or had a really great season. But he had a lot of good seasons. Nine times Mussina was in the top six in the Cy Young voting, but the closest he came was second, to unanimous-choice Pedro Martinez in 1999.

In 10 years with the Orioles and eight with New York, Mussina led the American League once in wins, once in winning percentage and once in shutouts. He also led the league once in innings pitched and twice in starts. But never in ERA or strikeouts.

Moose finished higher in Cy Young voting more often than either Sutton or Blyleven. He was a league leader about as many times as Blyleven and more times than Sutton. And both also had just one 20-win season.

Mussina was an All-Star five times, the same as Sutton, and Blyleven made only two All-Star games. Moose won seven Gold Gloves and neither of the others ever did.

Sutton never won less than 50 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and was elected his fifth year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold with 82 percent. His 324 wins ensured his election and he made it relatively quickly.

Blyleven started out getting in the teens in the voting, but his percentages gradually increased, reaching 80 percent in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot.

Mussina started out faring better in Hall of Fame voting than Blyleven, getting 20 percent his first year and 25 percent this year, his second on the ballot. Blyleven didn’t reach that level until his fifth year on the ballot.

I can see Moose making the Hall of Fame in his final years on the writers’ ballot, as Blyleven did, or being an eventual Era Committee choice. He’s definitely comparable to Hall of Famers, but he’s a borderline candidate, and I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong in the Hall of Fame before him.

For several Yankees, a big part of my case for putting them in the Hall of Fame is their excellence in the post-season and World Series play. Mussina was average in October, 7-8 in post-season and 1-1 in World Series play.

But the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about post-season play and they do tend to smile on those who play well for long careers. So Moose has a shot.

If Bleacher Report’s rankings reflect Hall voting, Mussina has a good shot. He rank 35th all-time on the list, ahead of about half of the starters in the Hall of Fame. That’s higher than I would rank him.

Andy Pettitte

The Hall of Fame voters’ disdain for post-season performance is the reason Andy Pettitte probably wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, even if his reputation hadn’t been tainted by his admitted use of human growth hormone.

Pettitte won 256 games, usually enough to get a pitcher into Cooperstown. Of the nine pitchers with more wins than Pettitte who are not in the Hall of Fame, four were Yankees: Mussina, Roger ClemensTommy John and Jim Kaat (only briefly a Yankee; more on him shortly).

And no one in history has more post-season wins than Pettitte’s 19. Only John Smoltz has more post-season strikeouts. Pettitte was the anchor of the starting rotation for a dynasty that won four World Series in five years and another nine years later. In addition to his October prowess, he led the Yankees in wins and innings pitched in two of their championship years an in innings in a third.

As with Bernie Williams, Pettitte will be hurt by how differently baseball’s Hall of Fame voters regard championships (which is because of their anti-Yankee bias). You simply can’t name a football or basketball player who was as important to a championship dynasty as Pettitte who isn’t in his sport’s Hall of Fame.

But, as I noted the first time he retired, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and Yankees who are borderline simply don’t get in. Add his drug involvement, even though he was one of the few PED users who readily admitted his use, and I don’t think he has much of a shot at Cooperstown.

He retired in 2013 and has to wait another three years before he can be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

David Cone

Of course, if Pettitte’s 19-11 post-season record isn’t going to help him get into the Hall of Fame, Cone’s 8-3 record won’t do the trick either. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot, getting just 3.9 percent of the vote.

But here’s why there’s some hope for Cone, Pettitte and Mussina to make it to Cooperstown eventually: They were among the best dozen or so pitchers of their time, and that many pitchers from an era usually make the Hall of Fame.

I assigned Hall of Fame pitchers to decades, giving multiple decades to some pitchers if they achieved some Hall of Fame credentials in that decade. For instance, Nolan Ryan didn’t achieve much with the 1968 or ’69 Mets, so he doesn’t count as one of the Hall of Famers from the ’60s. He had great decades in the ’70s and ’80s, so of course he counts there. He pitched only four years of the ’90s, and didn’t win many games then. But he won the last of his 11 strikeout crowns in 1990 at age 43. He pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters in the 1990s, not to mention placing his famous headlock on Robin Ventura in 1993, his final year, at age 46. So I count Ryan as a Hall of Famer from the last three of his four decades.

Five different decades had a dozen or more Hall of Famers: the 1900s, Teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’60s and ’70s.

The 1980s, ’90s and beyond will get more Hall of Famers as time goes ons. The low numbers of Hall of Famers from the 1930s (9), ’40s (7) and ’50s (8) may reflect careers shortened by service in World War II or lives lost in the war.

The 1990s have already produced six Hall of Fame starting pitchers: Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Clemens makes seven pitchers from the era who were clearly better than this Yankee trio, though we don’t know when, if ever, Hall of Fame voters will decide they have meted out enough punishment to Clemens and other greats whose fame includes suspicion of drug use.

If the ’90s are going to get a dozen starting pitchers into the Hall of Fame, you really can’t get there without Mussina, Pettitte and Cone, even if Clemens gets there eventually.

Jack Morris and Curt Schilling were arguably better than the Yankee trio, but neither won as many games as Mussina or Pettitte. Schilling and Cone tied for the lowest ERAs of the group, 3.46. Mussina and Pettitte had lower ERAs than Morris’s 3.90.

Cone was the only Cy Young Award winner in the bunch, though Schilling finished second three times and Pettitte once (he was screwed in 1996). Counting the times they led their leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts or strikeouts, Schilling and Cone each had five, Morris four, Mussina three and Pettitte one.

Morris and Schilling both were great in the post-season (let’s pretend a moment that that matters in Hall of Fame selection), but Pettitte won more post-season games than both of them combined. Schilling’s 11-2 October record is stellar, but Cone’s 8-3 is better than Morris’s 7-4.

Moving into the 2000s, when each of the Yankee trio had great years, as did Clemens and the five of the six Hall of Famers from the ’90s (all but Ryan), and Roy Halladay is a contender. His 203 wins usually wouldn’t be enough to make Cooperstown, but he’s a two-time Cy Young winner who led his leagues six times in the key categories mentioned above. His 3-2 record in the post-season includes a no-hitter.

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, other star pitchers of this century either had injury-shortened careers (Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana) or are too early in their careers to project their Hall of Fame chances (David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) or appear likely to fall short of Hall of Fame standards (CC Sabathia, whom I’ll discuss in a later post in this series). None of the best Hall of Fame prospects of this century overlapped significantly with the three Yankees under consideration here.

Other pitchers of the 1990s and early 2000s with some sort of Hall of Fame credentials don’t match up well with Mussina, Pettitte and Cone. Jamie Moyer pitched forever and won 269 games, just one behind Mussina. He won 20 twice, led the league in winning percentage once and was in the top six Cy Young vote-getters three times. Just one comparison: Moose was in the top six nine times, Pettitte and Cone five each. Moyer was an All-Star once, compared to five times each for Cone and Moose and three for Pettitte. Moyer does hold one major league record: most home runs allowed.

Other leading pitchers of their era include a bunch who spent time with the Yankees (and will be discussed later in this series): Doug Drabek, Jack McDowellBartolo Colón, Jimmy KeyDenny NeagleDavid Wells, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia. A bunch of non-Yankees also were among the best pitchers of the time: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Pat Hentgen, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Kevin Appier.

Though some of those are still pitching, none of them has a Hall of Fame case as strong as Mussina, Pettitte or Cone. Except for Clemens, Schilling, Morris, Halladay, and the Hall of Famers, the best contemporaries lag behind this Yankee trio (usually behind two, sometimes all three) in most if not all of these measures: career wins, ERA, strikeouts, 20-win seasons, leading the league, All-Star appearances, Cy Young voting, post-season performance.

By any criteria you want to choose, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone were among the best pitchers of their time.

So if Hall of Fame selection of pitchers from the 1900s and early 2000s results in a dozen starters (including Clemens; I’ll settle for 11 Hall of Famers if he never makes it), the group will be Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez and five of these six pitchers: Schilling, Morris, Halladay, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone.

I suspect, given the Hall of Fame voters’ bias for longevity, that Moose has the best shot of the Yankees. I think Cone was the best pitcher of the three. Pettitte might pay a price for his drug use.

I expect at least one will make it eventually, and I’ll be surprised if all three do.

Luis Tiant

Tiant was a Yankee only briefly and late in his career, winning 13 and eight games for them in 1979 and ’80.

He was best known as the ace of the 1970s Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Reds in seven games and lost the AL East title to the Yankees in a one-game playoff (he didn’t pitch that game; Mike Torrez was the starter). But he had great seasons for the Indians, too.

El Tiante was a character and a gamer. Here’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame:

  • He won 229 games, more than Jim BunningDon Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, or Sandy Koufax, contemporaries of Tiant who made the Hall of Fame.
  • He won 20 games four times, more than contemporaries Bert Blyleven, Bunning, Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Koufax, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton.
  • Tiant led his league in ERA twice (1968 and 1972), both times with ERAs under 2.00. Blyleven, Bunning, Steve Carlton, Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Hunter, Ferguson JenkinsJuan Marichal, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts and Sutton were players whose careers overlapped with Tiant’s who didn’t lead their leagues twice in ERA. Ford, Jim Palmer and Ryan matched Tiant’s two ERA crowns.
  • Tiant led his league in shutouts twice. Contemporaries Carlton, Drysdale, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Sutton led their leagues only once in shutouts or never posted the most shutouts. Blyleven, Bunning, Ford, Marichal, Palmer, Ryan and Tom Seaver matched Tiant with two shutout titles.
  • He was 3-0 in post-season play, undefeated in the 1975 post-season with a playoff win over the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland A’s and two wins over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series. Bunning, Marichal, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Ryan didn’t match Tiant’s three post-season wins (some also played most of their careers before league playoff started). Drysdale and Seaver were 3-3 in the post-season, (Drysdale all in the World Series). Other contemporaries in the Hall of Fame had more post-season wins than Tiant, but weren’t undefeated.

You can’t examine the careers of Tiant and his contemporaries and say he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown along with them. But he’s not there.

Here’s why Tiant won’t be in the Hall of Fame: He wasn’t in the top dozen pitchers of his time. Tiant’s great years fell in the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s and ’70s already have 17 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (the 16 named above, plus Warren Spahn, who bested Tiant and most of his contemporaries in all the categories I examined).

I don’t think those pitchers were all better than Tiant, but 17 of Tiant’s contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve argued that Ron Guidry and Tommy John should be there, too. Guidry probably won’t make it, but John probably will. And you could make about a strong a case for Mickey Lolich (not as strong as for Tiant, I think, but similar).

Tiant pitched in an era of great pitchers, and maybe a few more will make it. Red Sox tend to fare well in Hall of Fame selection, but Tiant never got more than 31 percent of the writers’ vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never makes it to Cooperstown.

But man, I enjoyed watching him pitch, and I’ll cheer him on if a Golden Era or Expansion Era Committee ever lets him in. The dividing line between the eras is 1973, about halfway through Tiant’s career. The Golden Era Committee rejected him last year.

(I’ll deal with Tiant again next week in a post about racial discrimination in Hall of Fame elections.)

Jim Kaat

Here’s a fun fact: Since Kaat pitched parts of two seasons for the Yankees in his 40s, the three post-19th-century pitchers with the most wins who aren’t in the Hall of Fame were all Yankees. Roger Clemens won 354 (I don’t have to explain again why he’s not in the Hall of Fame, do I?). Tommy John, who, of course, belongs in Cooperstown, won 288. And Kaat is next at 283.

Add three 20-win seasons for Kaat and 16 Gold Gloves (a record broken by Greg Maddux) and Kaat has a strong case, but the Golden Era Committee rejected him along with Tiant last year anyway. Two of his 20-win seasons came in 1974-75, so he could possibly get Expansion Era consideration, too.

Another fun fact: Kaat’s career spanned four decades, starting in 1959 with the Washington Senators and ending in 1983 with the Cardinals. Tiant’s whole career fit within Kaat’s. I won’t try to figure out how many more Hall of Famers he overlapped with than Tiant, but Early Wynn comes to mind.

I value peak performance more than longevity, so I’d favor Tiant if only one of them ever makes the Hall of Fame. Voters favor longevity, though, so I think Kaat might have the better shot.

Both men are long shots for the Hall of Fame. Here’s how I’d order the chances of the men in this post for making Cooperstown:

  1. Mussina
  2. Kaat
  3. Tiant
  4. Pettitte
  5. Cone

All are better than some in the Hall of Fame, and anti-Yankee bias is probably no factor in Kaat and Tiant’s cases. But I’ll be surprised if more than one or two make the Hall of Fame, shocked if they all do.

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.





Yankee starting pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame: Reynolds, John and Guidry

28 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Three Yankee starting pitchers who aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame should be there: Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds.

Roger Clemens also belongs there based on his achievements, but is being kept out of Cooperstown because of suspicion that he used performance-enhancing drugs. I dealt with Clemens in the 300-game-winners installment of this series on Yankee starting pitchers, so I won’t address him here.

I have detailed multiple times why John and Guidry belong in the Hall of Fame, so I will just summarize those arguments and link to earlier posts at the end of this one. Here I’ll primarily make the case for Reynolds, whom I touched on just briefly in 2013.

Allie Reynolds

Allie Reynolds' autograph on a baseball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. Yes, that's Mickey Mantle's autograph to the right. Also outfielder Gene Woodling and pitcher Bob Kuzava.

Allie Reynolds’ autograph on a baseball my wife’s uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. Yes, that’s Mickey Mantle’s autograph to the right. Also outfielder Gene Woodling and pitcher Bob Kuzava. The ball now belongs to my son Mike.

One of the reasons Reynolds isn’t in the Hall of Fame is the longtime disdain of the Baseball Writers Association of America members for giving any consideration to post-season performance. Their anti-Yankee bias would collapse if they gave any weight to World Series success in Hall of Fame selection. But they cling fiercely to that bias, so championships and post-season performance, which count greatly for selection to the football or basketball halls, mean nothing in selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Golden Era Committee ballot included Reynolds in 2011, but he was snubbed by a committee that chose Ron Santo (who never played in a World Series).

Reynolds was arguably the best pitcher ever in World Series play. The only pitchers with as many World Series wins as Reynolds are Whitey Ford with 10 and Red Ruffing and Bob Gibson, tied with Reynolds at seven. Ford also lost eight games, so his actual dominance doesn’t match that of Reynolds, Ruffing and Gibson, who were all 7-2.

Bob Gibson's autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Bob Gibson’s autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Gibson’s 1.82 ERA was better than Ruffing’s 2.63 or Reynolds’ 2.79, and Gibson’s 92 strikeouts beat the 62 for Reynolds and 61 for Ruffing. I would argue that Gibson was the greatest starting pitcher in World Series play, edging out Reynolds.

But here’s what Reynolds did that none of those pitchers did: He saved four World Series games, too, giving him a key role in 11 wins. 

The greatest streak by any team ever in baseball history was the Yankees’ run of five straight world championships from 1949 to 1953. And the greatest pitcher of that greatest dynasty was Allie Reynolds. Here’s what he did in the regular season and World Series during that run: Read the rest of this entry »





Farewell to Yogi Berra: A Hall of Fame character (and player)

23 09 2015
My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

You can think of a few baseball players and athletes who were as great as Yogi Berra at their sports. But I can’t think of another athlete nearly as great as Yogi who was known more for his character and humor than for his play on the field.

RIP, Yogi. I never saw you play, but admired you from the first things I learned about you as a young Yankee fan.

I love this opening of Mike Stewart’s Associated Press obituary:

The lovable legend of Yogi Berra, that ain’t ever gonna be over.

The Hall of Fame catcher renowned as much for his dizzying malapropisms as his unmatched 10 World Series championships with the New York Yankees, died Tuesday. He was 90.

Berra, who filled baseball’s record book as well as “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” died of natural causes at his home in New Jersey, according to Dave Kaplan, the director of the Yogi Berra Museum.

And this ending to the obit is classic Yogi, too: Read the rest of this entry »





Yankee starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame: Ford, Gomez, Ruffing, Pennock, Hoyt, Chesbro

22 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Six starting pitchers who threw mostly for the Yankees have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Whitey Ford

One of my prized autographs

One of my prized autographs

Whitey probably doesn’t rank high enough on lists of greatest pitchers ever.

You don’t have to win 300 to rank high among the best pitchers ever. Sandy Koufax didn’t make it to 200 wins, and some consider him the best ever. Others who didn’t make it to 300 who rank high on best-ever lists include Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Pedro Martinez, Juan Marichal and Jim Palmer. Of course Satchel Paige belongs on any greatest-pitchers list, and he pitched 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues before being allowed to pitch in the majors.

But you’ll seldom find the winningest pitcher in World Series history, and the pitcher with the third-highest career winning percentage, on anyone’s top-20 list.

The highest ranking I could find for Ford among all-time pitchers was 17th by Bleacher ReportFansided ranks Whitey 20th all-time and Ranker.com places him 21st, Bill James 22nd, The Baseball Page 25thHardball Times 36th (Red Ruffing ranks 21st on this list) and Ford didn’t get a mention in ESPN’s Hall of 100 (which includes more than pitchers).

If Cy Young Awards had been given out by league for his full career, Ford might have won three of the trophies. He won the Cy Young for all of baseball in 1961 and lost to Koufax in 1963. If one award had been given out for each league (that started in 1967), Ford and Camilo Pascual would have dueled for the American League honors in ’63. Ford led the league in wins, winning percentage, starts and innings pitched. Pascual was second in wins and led the league in strikeouts and complete games (Ford was fourth and sixth in those categories). Pascual ranked third and Ford seventh in ERA. ERA champ Gary Peters won 19 and tied Ford for fourth in strikeouts, but probably wouldn’t have contested Ford and Pascual for the Cy Young.

Yankee bias in voting wasn’t as strong then as now (Elston Howard was the fourth straight Yankee that year to win the MVP; only four times have Yankees won MVPs in the 51 seasons since, though they have won 12 American League pennants in that time). I think Pascual had a strong case, but Ford should have edged him for the 1963 AL Cy Young Award.

Voting for an AL Cy Young Award in 1955 also would have been close. Ford led the league with 18 wins and 18 complete games and was second in winning percentage and ERA and fourth in strikeouts. He threw back-to-back one-hitters. ERA champ Billy Pierce won only 15 games and strikeout leader Herb Score won 16. Bob Lemon and Frank Sullivan tied Ford with 18 wins, but neither of them pitched better than Ford in other important statistical measures. That’s probably another AL Cy Young Ford would have had (the award started the next year).

Ford also might have won a fourth Cy Young Award in 1956, when he finished third and was the only AL pitcher to receive votes for the award, won by the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Ford won 19 games that year and led the league in ERA (2.47), winning percentage. I think Score, with 20 wins, second to Ford in ERA and leading the league in strikeouts and shutouts, would have won the Cy Young if the AL had one, but it might have been close. (It’s worth noting that Ford also had a save that year, making his sole relief appearance on June 20 against the Tigers, bailing Johnny Kucks out of an eighth-inning jam, leading 4-1 with two men on.)

After a stellar 9-1 rookie season in 1950, Ford served two years in the military before returning to go 18-6 in 1953. Another two years and perhaps 25-30 more wins might have pushed him higher on the all-time-best lists, but still would have left him well short of 300.

It seems odd to say that the Yankees’ best pitcher ever was underrated, but Ford truly was.

Lefty Gomez


Gomez illustrated three leading biases of the baseball writers who control the keys to Cooperstown: They’re biased against the Yankees and in favor of longevity and they place no value on post-season performance (or they’d have to let more Yankees in).

Gomez peaked at 46 percent of the writers’ votes, but finally made the Hall of Fame in 1972 on a Veteran’s Committee selection. As with Bernie Williams, you simply can’t imagine a football or basketball player who played as critical a role on a championship dynasty not making the Hall of Fame. But Lefty had to wait a long time.

Here are his Hall of Fame credentials:

  • A 6-0 record in World Series play. That’s tied for fifth in career World Series wins, and no one ahead of him or tied with him is undefeated. He might have won more World Series games (or finally lost one), but his Yankees swept three World Series.
  • He anchored the Yankee pitching staff for a dynasty that won six world championships, including four in a row from 1936 to 1939, a record at the time.
  • Four 20-win seasons (each with 11 or fewer losses).
  • In 1934, he led the league with 26 wins, an .839 winning percentage, 2.33 ERA, 25 complete games, six shutouts, 281.2 innings pitched and 158 strikeouts. He was third in the MVP voting and certainly would have won a Cy Young Award if the prize went back that far.
  • He won pitching’s “Triple Crown” again in 1937, leading the league with 21 wins, a 2.33 ERA and 194 strikeouts. He definitely would have been a two-time Cy Young winner.
  • He led the league twice more in shutouts and one more time each in strikeouts and winning percentage, leading the league in some key stat in five different seasons.
  • He’s 25th all-time in winning percentage, at .649.
  • He was a seven-time All-Star.

So why did Gomez wait so long to get into the Hall of Fame? Well, beyond the Yankee thing, he played only 14 seasons, winning only 189 games (very few pitchers get into the Hall of Fame with less than 200). Of the Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer than 200 wins, only Koufax, at .655, had a better winning percentage.

If any Yankee starter was a better pitcher than Ford, it was Gomez.

Red Ruffing

Hall of Fame election rules were different in Ruffing’s day. He made it to Cooperstown in 1967 on his 15th time on the writers’ ballot, in a run-off election (which I hadn’t heard of before).

A Ruffing/Gomez comparison illustrates the writers’ preference for longevity over peak performance. Ruffing pitched 22 years and won 273 games, amassing substantially higher career totals than Gomez in wins, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts.

But Gomez was the better pitcher. Ruffing actually lost 20 games in two different seasons with the Red Sox, before blossoming as a Yankee. Gomez’s career winning percentage was 101 points higher, his ERA nearly half a run lower. Each had four 20-win seasons, but Gomez led the league in wins twice, to only once for Ruffing. Gomez peaked at 26 wins, Ruffing at 21. Ruffing never led the league in winning percentage or ERA. He led the league once each in strikeouts and shutouts (Gomez led in both three times). The only notable category where Ruffing led the league that Gomez never did was in home runs allowed.

Except for longevity, Gomez was the better pitcher in every respect. But he didn’t go into the Hall of Fame until five years after Ruffing.

Don’t get me wrong: Ruffing was a great pitcher and a bona fide Hall of Famer. He won 20 or 21 games for each of those four straight championship teams. He would have been a contender if they’d had a Cy Young Award in 1938 (so would Gomez), but young Bob Feller probably would have won.

Gomez and Ruffing have to be the best 1-2 starting punch over a sustained period in Yankee history, maybe baseball history. From 1931 to ’39, they averaged a combined 36 wins a year and topped 40 three times. In that stretch, they were 11-1 in World Series play and won five world championships.

For comparison, Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine (who both went into Cooperstown on the first ballot) averaged a combined 35 wins a year their best nine years together and topped 40 twice. They were 4-4 in World Series play in that stretch and won one championship.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale averaged 35 wins a year over their best nine years together and topped 40 three times. They were 7-6 in World Series play and won three championships.

Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity were teammates in a time of much higher win totals, but they didn’t pitch together for nine years, and won one World Series.

Who else was a better 1-2 punch for longer than Ruffing and Gomez? Their long waits to get into the Hall of Fame were perhaps the first examples of the anti-Yankee bias in voting.

Herb Pennock

Gomez and Ruffing played in the prime of Lou Gehrig, the twilight of Babe Ruth and the dawning of Joe DiMaggio‘s career. Their own greatness might have been discounted because of they greatness of their teammates. Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt faced a similar situation, pitching in the prime of Ruth, Gehrig and the Murderer’s Row Yankees.

Pennock and Hoyt were great, but not as dominant as Gomez and Ruffing. Pennock and Hoyt were helped much more by their team than the later duo and didn’t stand out as much as pitchers.

Pennock had 241 wins, about midway between Gomez and Ruffing. But he won 20 games only twice and rarely led the league in anything: winning percentage (.760) in 1923 and shutouts (5) in 1928. He never would have been a lock for the Cy Young Award and seldom a contender.

I wouldn’t be outraged if Pennock hadn’t made the Hall of Fame. Among retired Yankee pitchers, Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds certainly have stronger cases to be in Cooperstown, maybe Andy Pettitte and David Cone, too.

But Pennock was elected to Cooperstown in 1948, 11 years after becoming eligible.

Waite Hoyt

The difference between Hall of Fame selection for Hoyt and Pennock is as baffling as the difference between Gomez and Ruffing, but for different reasons. Instead of the clearly better pitcher having to wait longer, you have two nearly identical pitchers. Pennock was elected by the writers, while Hoyt had to wait (pardon the pun) 20 years longer, entering the Hall in 1969, elected by the Veteran’s Committee. He never got more than 19 percent of the writers’ vote.

It’s not as baffling as the fact that Kirby Puckett and Don Mattingly had nearly identical careers, but one is a Hall of Famer and the other will probably never get in (unless he makes it as a manager). But it’s close.

Here’s how close to identical Pennock and Hoyt were:

  • Pennock won 241 games, Hoyt 239.
  • Pennock started 419 games, Hoyt 425.
  • Each won 20 games in a season twice.
  • Each won 16 to 19 games in a season five times.
  • Pennock’s ERA was 3.60, Hoyt’s 3.59.
  • Pennock struck out 1,226 batters, Hoyt 1,207.
  • Pennock pitched 11 years for the Yankees, Hoyt 10. They both pitched by far their best years for the Yankees and overlapped from 1923 to 1930.
  • Each also pitched for the Red Sox and A’s. (Hoyt also pitched for the Giants, Dodgers, Pirates and Tigers.)
  • Pennock pitched 3,572 innings, Hoyt 3,762.
  • Pennock pitched 22 seasons, Hoyt 21.
  • Pennock pitched for four World Series champions, Hoyt for three.
  • Each led the league once in winning percentage and shutouts (Hoyt also led once in wins).
  • They were even similar batters, Pennock .191 with 103 RBI and Hoyt .198 with 100 RBI.

I’m not going to do as much research on this as I did in proclaiming Gomez and Ruffing the most dominant pitching duo, but I feel pretty confident saying their careers were closer to identical than any other pair of Hall of Fame teammate pitchers. Maybe more similar than any other pretty good pitchers.

A few numbers had bigger gaps than the ones listed above, but were still pretty close: Hoyt lost 20 more games, 182 to 162. Pennock also had the advantage in shutouts, 35-26, and complete games, 249-226. Pennock was probably a shade better, but you simply can’t find a reason that one guy got into Cooperstown 20 years after the other.

Ratings systems that I checked put Hoyt ahead of Pennock, 95 to 123 in the MLB EloRater and 94 to 92 in Hall of Fame Monitor and 118th to 143rd among starting pitchers in JAWS.

Pennock’s biggest advantage over Hoyt was in World Series play, where he was 5-0 and Hoyt 6-4. But if World Series play mattered, why was Gomez waiting so long to get into Cooperstown?

Hall of Fame voting is just strange and unexplainable. In fact, Hoyt and Pennock may be the exceptions to the consistent anti-Yankee bias in Hall of Fame voting. They certainly had better careers than some pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and similar pitchers of their day made it to Cooperstown. But they might be the best (only) examples of Yankees who made it into the Hall of Fame based on the strength of their teammates.

Still, I think they belong in Cooperstown. They were the best pitchers of a team often regarded as the best ever. Several dynasties with fewer championships than the Yankees of their days sent a pitcher or two to the Hall of Fame. (More on that in a later installment of this series.) Murderer’s Row deserved a couple pitchers there.

Jack Chesbro

I’m not sure Jack Chesbro belongs in a discussion of Yankee Hall of Famers. His last year, 1909, they were actually the New York Highlanders. And he predates the first of the championship dynasties.

But let’s give the old guy his due: Chesbro was one hell of a pitcher, back when pitchers threw one hell of a lot.

Check out this line for his 1904 season: He led the league with 41 wins, a .774 winning percentage (only 12 losses), 51 starts, 55 games (the guy started 51 times and still came out of the bullpen!), 48 complete games and 454 2/3 innings pitched. Those totals for wins, starts and complete games are the best figures for any pitcher since 1900. And innings pitched are second only to Ed Walsh. And Chesbro had a 1.82 ERA that year. Pitchers were dominant back then, but that was ridiculous. He won 15 more games than anyone else in the league.

His other best seasons were with the Pirates.

Of course, you can’t pitch like that forever. He retired after 11 seasons with a record of 198-132.

No question that guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Bob Lemon

Lem did all his pitching for the Cleveland Indians, so he doesn’t really belong in this list. But he’s a Hall of Fame pitcher who managed the Yankees to the 1978 World Series championship, so I thought he deserved a mention.

Read about other Yankee Hall of Famers

These pitchers, of course, are not all the Yankee starters in the Hall of Fame. Coming posts will review the Yankees’ 300-game pitchers (all of whom threw primarily for other teams) and other Hall of Famers who made it to Cooperstown mostly on their pitching for other teams.

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Style note: The Hall of Fame has had various committees and rules through the years to elect players who were passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as umpires, managers, executives and other baseball pioneers. I am referring to them all in this series as the Veterans Committee unless the specific context demands reference to specific committee such as the current era committees or the Special Committee on Negro Leagues. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.

 





A champion like Bernie Williams would be a sure Hall of Famer in football or basketball

13 01 2013

If Baseball Hall of Fame selection worked the way the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame selections work, Bernie Williams would be heading for Cooperstown someday. Instead, he dropped off next year’s ballot, getting only 3 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America last week.

The most comparable NFL teams to the Bernie’s Yankees were the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s and ’90s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s.

I’ll leave the 49ers out of this consideration for a couple reasons:

  1. Their titles were more spread out, four titles in nine years, five titles in 14 years. With a wider spread of years, they had more turnover of players. In fact, they have two quarterbacks from that era, Joe Montana and Steve Young, in the Hall of Fame.
  2. More of their players remain in Hall of Fame consideration. Charles Haley is a finalist this year. Maybe Roger Craig, John Taylor, Ken Norton or Randy Cross will make it someday, too. So it’s harder to say how many 49ers will eventually make it to Canton. (Montana, Young, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott,  and Fred Dean are already in the Hall of Fame, along with Coach Bill Walsh and three players who made most of their case for the Hall of Fame with other teams, Deion Sanders, Rickey Jackson and Richard Dent).

Instead, we’ll examine the Steelers and Packers. The Yankees won four championships in five years (and made two more World Series in the next three years). The Steelers won four championships in six years. The Packers won five championships in seven years (and played for the title the year before winning their first championship). So all three teams won at least four championships over six years. These were some of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

Here are the Steelers from that era in the Hall of Fame: Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster (plus Coach Chuck Noll). That’s nine players, or 41 percent of the 22 starters (with only one full-time placekicker and no full-time punters in the Hall of Fame, we don’t need to count them). That’s close to a complete list, but some people still are campaigning for L.C. Greenwood.

Here are the Packers from that era in the Hall of Fame: Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Willie Wood, plus legendary Coach Vince Lombardi. That’s 10 of 22, and Dave Robinson is a finalist this year who could make it 50 percent of the starters. And don’t count out Jerry Kramer, a five-time All-Pro who threw maybe the most famous block in NFL history.

Let’s say that the eight daily position players, the designated hitter, the five starters and the bullpen ace are equivalent to the starters on the football team, 15 people playing roles that give you a shot at the Hall of Fame. So if the Baseball Hall of Fame selections worked the way that the Pro Football Hall of Fame does, 40 to 50 percent would mean six to eight Yankees from the 1990s would make the Hall of Fame. Read the rest of this entry »