The 5 best right fielders in Yankee history

12 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: right field.

Right field is another position where the Yankees have been loaded with talent throughout their history. They didn’t have the string of long standout tenures that New York had in center field or catcher, but the excellence and depth has probably been stronger in right than any position other than those two.

1, Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth leads both my left field and right field lists. I was surprised by the left-field choice, but I knew from the time I started thinking about this series that he was the automatic and only choice in right field. He played 1,132 games for the Yankees in right field and it was his primary position every year for the Yankees except 1921, ’22 and ’26.

Ruth led the league in homers eight times as a right fielder, including the 60-homer season in 1927. Throw in five times of his seven times leading the league in runs scored, two of his four RBI titles and his only batting title, and Ruth’s right-field years far surpass everyone else who played the position for the Yankees. And I’m not done: He led the league nine times in walks, seven times in on-base percentage, seven times in slugging and eight times in OPS playing primarily in right field.

Ruth is arguably the best player in the history of the game still today. His single-season and career home run records finally fell, but he still holds the records for career slugging and OPS. He changed the game like no one else has, swinging for the fences and introducing the long ball to baseball.

Not only did he dominate his league in hitting like no one before or since, but he was a standout pitcher for the Red Sox before his dominant hitting moved him to the outfield. While some people have both pitched and played an every-day position in the majors, do one else has even been good at both roles, and Ruth was great. The likely second-best player to do that was Lefty O’Doul, who won only one game. Ruth had back-to-back 20-win seasons and led the American League in ERA and shutouts. Is there any other baseball niche, however small, with a more dramatic gulf between the best ever and the second-best?

The only reasons to diminish Ruth’s achievements are that he played before baseball integrated, so he didn’t play against the nation’s or world’s best players, and he hit long before relief specialists made late-inning at-bats more difficult.

Throw in that he was an extraordinary character, and that he actually played a fair amount in left field, and I feel completely comfortable listing Ruth at the top of my lists for both right field and left field. I’m making lists at each position, not making an all-time Yankee team. And Ruth tops the lists at each position.

2, Roger Maris

EPSON MFP image

My Roger Maris card

Roger Maris wins the second spot over two Hall of Famers who played right field for the Yankees in their prime. As I’ve noted again and again, Maris belongs in the Hall of Fame. But his placement here is based on performance, not bias. None of the right fielders below him on this list won a single MVP award, let alone back-to-back awards, as Maris did in 1960-61. None of them set a single major record, let alone held one for 37 years.

Maris led his league as a Yankee in homers, RBI (twice), slugging, runs and total bases. Neither of the Hall of Famers behind him on this list led his league in a major stat more than once for the Yankees.

No one else on this list had an HBO movie about his career highlight (Billy Crystal’s 61* is about Maris’ successful chase of Ruth’s single-season home run record).

The next two right fielders got the Cooperstown moments that Maris deserved and still has not received. But Maris was better than either as a right fielder for the Yankees. But he has to be second here to Ruth. While he broke one of The Babe’s cherished records, he didn’t match Ruth’s incredible career for the Yankees.

3, Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson gave the Yankees five strong years in right field, leading the league with 41 homers in 1980 and driving in 100 or more runs twice.

He was pretty even with the No. 4 right fielder in regular-season offensive production. But he wins the No. 3 slot based on his post-season play: 2 homers (three in the clinching game), 8 RBI, 9 hits, 10 runs and the MVP award in the 1977 World Series. He slacked off to 2 homers and 8 more RBI on 9-for-23 hitting in 1978. Jackson hit .300 or better for the Yankees in five post-season series and hit 12 homers. Jackson truly earned his “Mr. October” nickname, and I almost moved him past Maris based on post-season performance. But Maris had a sizable advantage in regular-season play as a Yankee.

4, Dave Winfield

Dave Winfield, like Reggie, played five years in right field for the Yankees (plus three in left). Winfield won three Gold Gloves and topped 100 runs four of his right-field years. He was an All-Star every year. His .340 batting average in 1984 was second to teammate Don Mattingly in the American League.

It wasn’t Winfield’s fault the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs after his disappointing World Series in 1981. I was glad to see him finally get a World Series ring (and drove in three runs) with the Blue Jays in 1992.

5, Paul O’Neill

Paul O’Neill played fewer games for the Yankees than Tommy Henrich and Hank Bauer: 1,406 for Bauer, 1,284 for Henrich, 1,254 for O’Neill. You could go with any of the three here. All three played the vast majority of their games in right field.

Henrich has the advantage in All-Star appearances: five (to four for O’Neill and three for Bauer). I give the nod to O’Neill because he was the best hitter: four straight seasons with 100 or more RBI (Henrich had one, Bauer none); a batting championship, .359 in 1994 (one of his six straight .300 seasons, more than Henrich and Bauer combined); 185 Yankee homers (to 183 for Henrich and 158 for Bauer), 1,426 Yankee hits (to 1,326 for Bauer and 1,297 for Henrich).

O’Neill was as solid in the post-season as Henrich and Bauer, though Bauer led the group in championship contributions, playing a role in seven World Series titles to four each for O’Neill and Henrich.

As good as Henrich and Bauer were, I think O’Neill is the clear choice here. And that’s not even counting his Seinfeld appearance.

The rest

Hank Bauer's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Hank Bauer’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Henrich lost three prime years to military service during World War II. Bauer was a stalwart for the Yankees dynasty of the 1950s, but also contributed to the ’60s dynasty, going to the Kansas City A’s in December 1959 in a seven-player trade that brought Maris to the Yankees.

Hall of Famer Willie Keeler deserves mention here. But he was a Highlander, not a Yankee, and his best years were in the National League, before joining New York at age 31.

Gary Sheffield was an All-Star two years in right field, and finished second for the 2004 MVP, but he only played two full years for the Yankees.

Ichiro Suzuki, a certain Hall of Famer, was past his prime when he joined the Yankees in right field in 2012, but turned in two-plus solid seasons.

Nick Swisher gave the Yankees four strong years in right, including the 2009 championship season.

Lou Piniella played 277 games in right field, but it was never his primary position.

Other right-field traditions

The Yankees clearly have the strongest tradition in right field. The Tigers also have three Hall of Famers in right (Al Kaline, Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann) and the Pirates have two (Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner) plus an MVP (Dave Parker). But no one can match the Yankees’ traditions of greatness here.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for right fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Ruth, Jackson, Winfield) or belongs there (Maris), that carries considerable weight with me.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. Maris didn’t play right for the Yankees as long as O’Neill, Henrich or Bauer, but his back-to-back MVP seasons pushed him well ahead of them.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Ruth, Maris and Jackson all did and that helped them seal the top three spots. And, if the performance measures among O’Neill, Henrich and Bauer had been dead even, the Seinfeld appearance might have broken the tie for O’Neill.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, and no one on this list played exclusively for the Yankees (this list and DH will be the only teams without any Yankee lifers). Henrich played only for the Yankees, but the others played long enough or well enough that they all ranked ahead of him.

Time at the position is important, too. Winfield might have passed Jackson if he hadn’t played three seasons in left field.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Those were important positive factors for everyone on this list except Winfield.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, Jackson’s years with the A’s and Angels, Winfield’s years with the Padres and Blue Jays or O’Neill’s years with the Reds might have broken a tie.

Special moments matter, too. Ruth, Maris and Jackson all got credit for those.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee right fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 





The 5 best left fielders in Yankee history

8 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positions Today: left field.

Left field has been a place to visit more than a place to stay for the Yankees. I list the five best, but they won’t necessarily be the five you were thinking of. And the discussions of criteria and the outfielders who didn’t make the list may be more interesting than the five best (at least beyond number one).

This position could not be a sharper contrast between the Yankees and the Red Sox, who had Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice) defending the Green Monster from 1940 to 1986, each of them owning the position and playing more than 1,500 games in left (Williams and Yaz each topped 1,900).

The only Yankee Hall of Famer on this list actually played more at another position and will be a surprise to many here (he doesn’t even make either of the left-fielder lists I linked at the end of this post). But I don’t bar players from being on the top-5 list at multiple positions. Lots of other Yankee Hall of Famers played left field, but not long enough or well enough to make this list. More on them later.

1, Babe Ruth (really)

I was surprised to learn that Babe Ruth actually played 1,048 career games in left field (almost as many as the 1,132 games he played in right). He played 891 left-field games for the Yankees. Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t have complete breakdowns of his offensive performance by position.

He started 132 of his 152 games in 1921 in left, and he led the league that year in homers (59), RBI (168), runs (177), walks (145), on-base percentage (.512), slugging (,846), OPS (1.359) and total bases (457). His .378 batting average was third in the league. No Yankee left fielder ever had a better season.

In 1926, Ruth played 82 games in left field, 68 in right and two at first base. No need for all the numbers, but he led the American League in the same stats that year, too. In his epic 60-homer season of 1927, Ruth played more in right field than left, but still played 56 games in left.

I actually had this list completed and looked Ruth up to list first in the section of Hall of Famers who didn’t make the list, presuming he played a few games here. But when I noticed how many games he played, I had to figure out where he belonged. And he belongs at the top. Even though left field wasn’t his primary position, he played enough to nail down the top spot here. No Yankee left fielder ever played better.

2, Charlie Keller

Charlie Keller played left field for 874 games, scattered over 13 seasons, all with the Yankees. I almost didn’t give “King Kong” this slot because he played over 100 games in left only four seasons. But I favor peak performance over longevity, and Keller’s peak was strong and his longevity looks stronger on closer examination. After splitting time between left and right his first two seasons (including the first of five All-Star selections in 1940), Keller became the starter in 1941. He was the left-field starter except for missing the 1944 season and most of 1945 to military service until a slipped disc sidelined him after only 45 games in 1947. (He still made the All-Star team that year.) He never returned to his star form after back surgery. For an eight-year stretch, he was playing important time in left field for the Yankees, except when in the military. He’s one of only two Yankees to command the position that long.

Keller’s performance in those eight seasons was stellar: three 100-RBI seasons, three 100-run seasons and three 30-homer seasons, scattered over five seasons. He led the American League in walks in 1940 and ’43.

In four World Series (three of them as champions), he hit .306 with five homers and 18 RBI in 19 games.

3, Roy White

Roy White was the Yankees’ longest-serving left fielder by far, 1,521 games at the position. He played left field from 1966 to 1979, spending his whole career with the Yankees. Nine of those seasons, he played more than 100 games, including starting every game in left in 1973.

In the rankings by other bloggers at the end of this post, White ranks first in one and eighth in another, an indication of how difficult it is to rank the Yankees’ left fielders. I think third reflects his longevity as well as the consistent quality of his play.

His patience through some grim Yankee seasons was rewarded with championship seasons three of his final four years (World Series championships in 1977-78 and an A.L. championship in ’76). White played well in the post-season, particularly the 1978 World Series, when he hit .333 (8-for-24) with nine runs scored, a homer, four RBI and two stolen bases. If Bucky Dent hadn’t been so hot, White might have been the Series MVP.

White was good, but not great, with the bat and the glove and on the basepaths. I gave Keller the edge because he had more great seasons, but White had more good seasons. He never hit .300 for a full season, but four times hit in the .290s and had a .271 career average. He never hit more than 22 homers, but hit 10 or more in eight seasons and had 160 for his career. He was in double figures in stolen bases every full season he played, with a peak of 31 in 1976 and 233 for his career. He never reached 100 RBI in a season, but had nine seasons of 50 or more, peaking at 94 in 1970 (one of his two All-Star seasons). He led the league with 104 runs scored in 1976 (one of two 100-run seasons) and in walks with 99 in 1972. Never spectacular, but solid for more than a decade.

4, Hideki Matsui

As noted above, I generally favor peak performance over longevity, and Hideki Matsui was a better hitter than White, with four 100-RBI seasons and a high of 31 homers, three 100-run seasons and two .300 seasons. But White’s huge advantage on the basepaths and in longevity gave him the edge for No. 2. Matsui was a Yankee just seven years, to 15 for White, and started in left field only four of those years.

If his 2009 World Series MVP performance had come as the left fielder instead of the DH, I might have pushed Matsui up a notch, but he’ll have to settle for third place. Johnny Damon played left field, even in the three games in Philadelphia (Matsui pinch-hit in all three games).

5, Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel played left field more than any other position, 626 games for the Yankees. But he alternated between left and right, and never actually played 100 games in left in any single season. But he was a heck of a hitter, playing lots and regularly in left. In 1925, when he played 88 games in left, 44 in right and 27 at third base, Meusel led the American League with 33 homers and 134 RBI (one of five 100-RBI seasons). His batting average in 10 Yankee seasons was .311, and left field was his primary position seven of those seasons.

As you’ll see shortly, greater Yankees played in left field, but they didn’t play there as long or as well as Meusel, even though he wasn’t anchored in left.

Other Hall of Fame Yankee left fielders

In addition to The Babe, at least seven Hall of Famers played left field for the Yankees, but all are known better for playing at other positions and/or for other teams:

Dave Winfield played in left his first three seasons as a Yankee, 1981-3. He was No. 5 on this list until I learned how much Babe played in left. Winfield was an All-Star all three left-field seasons and topped 100 RBI in both full seasons (’81 was shortened by a strike). He also won two Gold Gloves. I could have moved Winfield ahead of Meusel based on playing much more in left all three seasons than Meusel played in any season. But Meusel played almost 300 more games in left and played better in the post-season. And Winfield’s best Yankee years came in right field.

I presumed Rickey Henderson would be in the top five and maybe even top the list. But I was surprised to see that he played only one full season in left for the Yankees. I was remembering incorrectly that his center field hitch was pretty short. But it was the full 1985 and ’86 seasons. And ’85 was easily Henderson’s best season as a Yankee.

Joe DiMaggio played more games in left field (64) than center (55) his rookie year, before becoming the Yankees’ regular center fielder.

Mickey Mantle ballMickey Mantle played left field mostly in 1965.

Earle Combs, another center fielder, played 215 games in left.

Yogi Berra played 148 games in left, 81 of them in 1961, when it was his primary position.

Enos Slaughter earned his Hall of Fame perch in his years with the St. Louis Cardinals (playing mostly right field). But late in his career, he played 100 games in left for the Yankees, spread across four seasons playing part-time.

By the way, I checked and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and should-be Hall of Famer Roger Maris played left field for the A’s but never for the Yankees.

I’m going to guess that Willie Keeler appeared in left field sometime, though Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t break down his outfield appearances by position. The Hall of Fame lists right field as his primary position. The Yankees were the Highlanders then, and I’m focusing on actual Yankees here.

The rest

Two Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame also played left field:

Also playing left field (almost 50 games) for the 1990s Yankees was Darryl Strawberry, a former National League home run leader who appeared headed for Cooperstown before cocaine addiction sidetracked his career.

I was thinking Johnny Damon might have a shot at the fifth spot on the list, but he played mostly center for the Yankees. His only full-time season in left for the Yankees was 2009, a good season, but not good enough to move him onto the list. I think Damon’s shot at Cooperstown rested on reaching 3,000 hits, but he retired at 2,769.

Brett Gardner could push his way onto this list in a few years. He’s been the Yankees’ primary left fielder for four seasons (plus 2013 in center) and his hitting is improving. He led the league with 49 steals in 2011, but he isn’t the hitter Meusel was.

I thought Lou Piniella might make the fifth spot on this list (he’s fifth on both of the lists linked at the end of this post). But as I did my research, I found that he never started 100 games in left field in a season.

Gene Woodling's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling started 100 or more games in left field four straight championship years for the Yankees (1950-53), but he never played more than 125 games for the Yankees, never hit 20 homers or drove in 70 runs. He hit .300 a couple times and led the league with a .429 on-base percentage in 1953. On longevity, he deserves consideration for the fifth spot, but he was never a full-time player. He was one of Casey Stengel’s platoon players.

David Justice played only 59 games in left for the Yankees.

Chad Curtis hit two homers in the 1998 World Series, but didn’t play left field long enough or well enough (except in that World Series) to push his way onto the list, even with my bias in favor of post-season play.

Chuck Knoblauch moved to left field after his defensive troubles at second base started.

Even Jose Canseco played four games in left for the Yankees. And a lot of Yankee left fielders played way more than that, but I’m not going to list them all here.

Other left-field traditions

As I noted at the top, the Red Sox had three straight Hall of Fame left fielders covering most of four-plus decades, except the breaks for Williams’ military service. Throw in Manny Ramirez and Mike Greenwell, and the Red Sox clearly have the best tradition in left field.

The St. Louis Cardinals (Joe Medwick, Stan Musial for 929 games, Lou Brock), Pittsburgh Pirates (Fred Clarke, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell) and Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush and 471 games of Harmon Killebrew) also had three Hall of Fame left fielders. The A’s have two (Henderson and Al Simmons). The Yankees’ left-field tradition might rank somewhere between fifth and seventh, if not lower.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for left fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Ruth) or belongs there (Howard and Raines), that carries considerable weight with me. If Howard had played left primarily or Raines had played for the Yankees in his prime, they would have made the list, probably second place.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s why Ruth and Keller, who didn’t play as long in left as White, ranked ahead of him. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. All the other left fielders together didn’t lead the league in important stats as Yankees as many times as Ruth did.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Ruth did and that counted for him, too.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Keller and White stand out not just for their strong careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Time at the position is important, too. Winfield missed the list because he played only three seasons in left field. Look for him on my right field list.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Winfield made one post-season for the Yankees and hit 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series. George Steinbrenner’s “Mr. May” shot was cruel and unwarranted, but all the people on the list played well in the post-season and contributed to Yankee championships.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, if Winfield or Henderson had been tied with someone, their years with the Padres, Blue Jays, A’s, etc. would have pushed them ahead.

Special moments matter, too. Ruth had a few of those.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee left fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Christopher J151515

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





Baseball Hall of Fame president is wrong about how ‘very selective’ Cooperstown voting has been

1 02 2016

Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson is in denial about the history of the Hall and the players it has honored.

In an interview last month with Graham Womack for Sporting News, Idelson said:

A lot of fans, I believe, don’t realize that only one percent of those that played the game have a plaque in Cooperstown. So it’s very selective and very difficult to earn election.

Note that 1 percent figure; we’re going to come back to it. In the same interview, Idelson defended the Hall of Fame’s use of a Pre-Integration Era Committee that every three years schedules consideration of “major league” (which means white) players from before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Consideration of Negro League players from the same era stopped in 2006. The Hall of Fame includes 29 Negro League players and more than 120 white players whose careers were all or mostly played before 1947.

That 1 percent figure is bogus, even if it’s accurate. “Of those who have played the game” includes everyone active in the past five years, when baseball has 30 teams, and none of those players is yet eligible for Hall of Fame voting. I don’t know the history of roster size in baseball, either for most of the season or when rosters can expand in September. But more than 50 players appeared for the Yankees in 2015 and 2005, compared with 40 each in 1965 and 1955, so the recent years, because of roster size and league expansion, have more players than seasons in the distant past, when all the players have been retired long enough to be eligible for Cooperstown consideration.

And the measure of how “selective” the Hall of Fame is or how difficult it is to “earn” election is not Ken Griffey Jr., this year’s first-ballot Hall of Famer, or Mike Piazza, elected this year on his fourth year on the writers’ ballot. The players who wait decades for their Cooperstown moments are the true measure of how “selective” the Hall is: Veterans Committee choices like Deacon White, a 19th-Century player elected in 2013; Ron Santo, elected in 2012; Joe Gordon in 2009.

No player who played in 1990 has yet been eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee. So “those that played the game” includes thousands (a quarter-century’s worth of players) not eligible yet for that second-chance consideration that determines how selective the Hall of Fame truly is. That makes the 1-percent figure grossly misleading. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team

10 01 2016

Each year when the Baseball Hall of Fame votes come out, I applaud for the new Hall of Famers (Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza this year). But then I quickly turn to the players who didn’t make it.

Who came tantalizingly close (Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines this year)? Who fell short in his final year on the writers’ ballot (Alan Trammell this year)? How close is someone with just one more year left on the ballot (Raines close, Lee Smith too far from the 75-percent threshold for election)? Who moved closer to election, likely to make it in a few years (Curt Schilling)?

I’ve always been fascinated by the bizarre and inconsistent (or consistently biased) decisions about borderline contenders made by Hall of Fame voters — the Baseball Writers Association of America and the various Veterans Committees that have decided on players not chosen by the writers.

My most frequent topic on this blog is Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame. But I’m going to roll around baseball in this post to recognize Cooperstown contenders from other teams.

Of course, I’m more convinced by the arguments for the Yankees. And, if a guy’s not in the Hall of Fame, the arguments aren’t persuasive yet to the voters. The best players discussed here are less than automatic. No Griffey, Derek Jeter or Greg Maddux in the group.

In addition, I won’t deal with the all-time greats who are being kept out of Cooperstown because of gambling or drug scandals: Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens. I dealt with them in last week’s post suggesting a Scoundrels Committee to decide how to deal with the great players who are tainted by scandal. I will, though, address the borderline players tainted by drug suspicions: Those whose numbers once would have made them certain Hall of Famers, but they became borderline either because of inflation of power figures during their careers or because of speculation about how much drugs inflated their own numbers.

This look at borderline players around the league will show that the anti-Yankee bias in selection is huge. I will go team by team and mention all the borderline contenders. I doubt I’ll leave out anyone with a real shot at Cooperstown, but your round-up of borderline contenders certainly won’t be identical to mine.

With a few exceptions, I won’t dwell much on the case for a particular candidate, but will look for articles or blog posts where other writers have made the case and link to them. I won’t bother linking to articles about suspicions of performance-enhancing drugs. I presume you remember the accusations, whispers, etc. in those cases.

Some players will show up under multiple teams. I won’t try to name contenders in all the teams where they played, but will mention some on teams where they made notable contributions.

Here’s what I consider a borderline candidate: anyone who doesn’t make the Hall of Fame in his first five years on the writers’ ballot, but whose career achievements resemble at least some Hall of Famers. The time on the writers’ ballot was shortened in 2014 from 15 years to 10 (though three players approaching 15 years were grandfathered in, giving Trammell, Smith and a few others another year or two).

The second path to the Hall of Fame, if the writers didn’t vote you in, used to be called the Old-Timers’ Committee, then the Veterans Committee. Now committees in rotating years consider retired players (and managers and other contributors) from three eras, pre-integration (before 1947), the “Golden Era” (1947-72) and the Expansion Era (post-1972, which is an odd cut-off point, given that baseball expanded in 1961, ’62, ’69 and ’76, but not in ’72. I presume after a while the Expansion Era will be broken into two eras, though I doubt they will call the second one the Steroid Era. I don’t expect the era committees to last long. I anticipate yet another overhaul in the Veterans Committee structure.

For purposes of this post, I consider a player a borderline candidate if he’s likely to have sports writers (or bloggers such as me) making a case someday that he should get consideration by a Veterans Committee.

I give no consideration here to Pre-Integration Era candidates. As I explained in my series on continued racial discrimination in the Baseball Hall of Fame, that era already has too many borderline candidates already in the Hall of Fame. Maybe some who didn’t make it are better than some who did, but those who didn’t aren’t as deserving as dozens of post-integration players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

Baseball closed the door in 2006 on further selections from the Negro Leagues. Unless a Scoundrels Committee opens the door for players banned for gambling, which shouldn’t allow much, if anyone, beyond Shoeless Joe Jackson, we should be done with Hall of Fame selections of white guys from the Segregation Era.

I’ll address contenders from the Golden Era (doesn’t the choice of that name say a lot about the people filling the Hall of Fame?) and Expansion Era, both of which have strong contenders for consideration in the coming years. But don’t expect the committees to let many players in. The 2014 Golden Era Committee whiffed on naming any of its 10 finalists to the Hall as did last year’s Pre-Integration Era Committee (rightly).

The 2014 Expansion Era Committee’s 12 ballot choices in 2014 included only six players. The committee elected only three managers: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre (though Torre’s achievements as manager and player could be weighed together, and he was a worthy candidate as a player, lasting 15 years on the writers’ ballot, but didn’t get in, a perfect example of a borderline contender).

I won’t deal with managers here, but that might be a topic for a future post.

American League East

Boston Red Sox

Hall of Fame voters love the Red Sox, so Schilling will make it to Cooperstown eventually, but I’ll address him more as a Diamondback.

Luis Tiant (who gave the Yankees a couple decent years toward the end of his career) was one of the candidates rejected in 2014 by the Golden Era Committee.

Some Red Sox fans contend that Dwight Evans should be in the Hall of Fame (a point I discussed last year with Jim Brady), and I really liked Evans. But there are several Yankees (and players from other teams) with stronger cases for Cooperstown. He blossomed unusually late in his career. I think he has a better shot, though, than Reggie Smith, an earlier Boston outfielder who’s definitely in the borderline category.

Red Sox fans won’t think of Bill Buckner as a borderline Hall of Famer, and he just lasted one year on the ballot. More on him in the Dodgers section.

Fred Lynn appeared bound for the Hall of Fame, starting his career with nine straight All-Star seasons. But he flamed out and Hall of Fame voters place an inordinate value on longevity. He has no chance.

Baltimore Orioles

Rafael Palmeiro is remembered better for his defiant assurance to Congress that he never used performance-enhancing drugs, and then failing a drug test, than for his play on the field. It’s interesting that Clemens was prosecuted for lying to Congress, based on the testimony of an admitted drug dealer, but Palmeiro wasn’t prosecuted based on physical evidence. Did the prosecutors think he thought after his testimony that maybe it was time to try performance-enhancing drugs?

Palmeiro is one of those players who moves from automatic to barely borderline, based on drug suspicions. Along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez, Palmeiro’s one of only four players to pass 500 homers and 3,000 hits, but he played in an era of such performance enhancement that he made only four All-Star teams. Whatever stats he achieved, he was just one of the juicers.

Fun fact about Palmeiro: He won a Gold Glove in 1999 after playing only 28 games at first base and DH’ing 128 times. He’ll have to settle for that as the biggest honor he won but didn’t deserve.

Even after voters start allowing a few drug users in, if they ever do, I doubt Palmeiro will make it. If voters start allowing juicers into Cooperstown, it will be based on speculation of how great they were before they juiced or would have been without juicing. Palmeiro might be the easiest guy to dismiss his Hall of Fame numbers as completely a result of drugs.

For clean players, the Orioles have several pitchers who came up just short of normal Hall of Fame standards, most notably Mike Mussina (also a Yankee), Dennis MartinezDave McNally and Mike Cuellar.

Hall of Fame voters love longevity, so Moose definitely has a shot (he polled in the low 20 percents his first two years on the ballot and was up to 43 percent this year). I’d be surprised if either McNally or Cuellar makes it, but not outraged. They were great pitchers, but played in an era of many greater pitchers, and neither achieved the longevity that Hall voters demand (that’s an even stronger bias than the voters’ anti-Yankee bent).

Bobby Grich had a nice career, but was only on the Hall of Fame ballot for a year. He has no shot. Boog Powell won an MVP, but didn’t hit enough homers (339) to make the Hall of Fame as a one-dimensional slugger.

Toronto Blue Jays

Joe Carter probably won’t make the Hall of Fame but probably should. A guy with ten 100-RBI seasons and a World Series-winning homer has a shot at winning support someday from a Veterans Committee. I watched him play in the minors with the Iowa Cubs (he went to the Indians in the Rick Sutcliffe trade), and was a fan his whole career.

Fred McGriff ended seven homers short of 500, which at one time was a sure ticket to Cooperstown. I don’t recall that anyone ever suggested the Crime Dog was a juicer, but he played in an era when homers were devalued. It definitely hurts him that he didn’t quite make it to 500. He hasn’t reached even 25 percent of the writers’ vote yet (21 percent this year). Carlos Delgado finished 20 homers behind McGriff in an era of inflated slugging numbers. He was off the ballot in a year. John Olerud is even a longer-shot Blue Jay first baseman, who didn’t get even 1 percent of the vote his only year on the ballot. But the Blue Jays have had an impressive list of borderline candidates at first base.

This is one of three teams where Jack Morris should get a mention, but his Hall of Fame pitch is based mostly on his years with the Tigers and Twins, so I’ll address it more there.

I don’t see David Wells or David Cone making the Hall of Fame, but both had years with the Blue Jays and Yankees that push them into the borderline territory.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays have hardly been playing long enough to have any players awaiting the call from Cooperstown, but Jose Canseco had his last All-Star season in St. Petersburg. And Palmeiro might get the call before Canseco, whose great play was too short-lived. And he gets no credit for admitting his drug use, because he snitched on so many other players.

A.L. Central

Kansas City Royals

Bret Saberhagen's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Bret Saberhagen’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

I love Bret Saberhagen, and few multiple Cy Young winners don’t make the Hall of Fame, but he really had only one other great year. You need a tragic end to your career to get in the Hall of Fame with just 167 wins. (Dizzy Dean won 150, Sandy Koufax 165.) Sabes became just an average pitcher, or worse, most of the final decade of his career.

Cone, won his Cy Young in Kansas City, probably has a bit better shot at the Hall of Fame, but he’s not likely to get there, even with a 20-win season and a perfect game for the Yankees.

Frank White was a great fielder, but substantially less a hitter than two other contemporaries at second base: Willie Randolph (a Yankee for whom I don’t make a Hall of Fame case) and Lou Whitaker (more on him later). White will have to settle for his eight Gold Gloves and the Royals Hall of Fame.

Dan Quisenberry is a long shot for selection by an Expansion Era Committee someday. He made the 2014 ballot, but didn’t win election. He was baseball’s best reliever for a six-year stretch (when Hall of Fame relievers Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage were in their primes). But voters normally demand a longer career than Quiz had.

Minnesota Twins

Morris absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he’ll get there someday. He peaked at two-thirds of the writers’ votes (75 percent are required), and players who get that close with the writers always get in eventually. I bet he gets in on his first chance under the Expansion Era Committee.

He maybe pitched the best World Series game ever, a 10-inning shutout duel over John Smoltz that looms bigger in a way than Don Larsen’s perfect game because it was in Game Seven.

Morris is the easiest eventual Hall of Famer to project among those who were passed over by the writers.

Jim Kaat actually might as strong a case for the Hall of Fame as Morris. With 283 wins, he has a record of longevity that normally gets pitchers into Cooperstown.

Bert Blyleven was a contemporary of Kaat’s with just four more wins (Kaat’s wins slowed down when he moved to the bullpen for his final five seasons, robbing him of the chance to reach 300 wins). Blyleven was a borderline candidate who made the Hall of Fame on his 14th year on the ballot. But Kaat had more 20-win seasons and Blyleven never won a Gold Glove. Kaat won 16 Gold Gloves, which was a record until Greg Maddux broke it.

The Golden Era Committee rejected Kaat in 2014, but two of his 20-win seasons came in the Expansion Era, so he might get a shot with another committee.

Tony Oliva, a three-time batting champion and eight-time All-Star, didn’t play long enough to reach the career totals Hall of Fame voters like. He was one of the 10 candidates rejected by the Golden Era Committee in 2014. I showed last year how much better he was than several white outfielders in the Hall of Fame.

Frank Viola and Kent Hrbek had some great seasons with the Twins, but neither played long enough or played at his peak long enough to have a valid case for Cooperstown.

Cleveland Indians

I mentioned Tiant in the Red Sox section, but he pitched well for the Indians, too, including winning the 1968 ERA title.

Kenny Lofton‘s primary claim to the Hall of Fame is as a base stealer. He ranks 15th all-time with 622 steals. But steals rarely get a player into the Hall of Fame. Six of the players ahead of Lofton on the list aren’t in Cooperstown yet. Raines, fifth on the list, will probably make it, but gets his last shot on the writers’ ballot next year. Bert Campaneris, just ahead of Lofton on the list with 649 steals, led the league seven times (to five for Lofton) and Willie Wilson and Vince Coleman, outfielders whose careers overlapped with Lofton, had more steals and neither lasted a year on the writers’ ballot. Same as Lofton. None of them will be honored at Cooperstown.

Carter probably has a stronger shot than fellow Cleveland outfielders Albert Belle or Rocky Colavito. I’ll discuss Julio Franco with the Rangers. But I don’t see any Indians likely to move across the Hall of Fame border.

Chicago White Sox

Three White Sox, Minnie MiñosoBilly Pierce and Dick Allen, were among the 10 players by the 2014 Golden Era Committee. Miñoso belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I think he’ll make it someday.

Allen had some great years, including an MVP season for the White Sox, but his career numbers didn’t reach automatic Hall of Fame standards. I think some African American and Latino players of his time perhaps got unfair reputations as malcontents, but Allen got one, and that holds you back when you’re a borderline contender. Allen had a similar career to Ron Santo (a White Sox teammate in 1974), and Sant0’s in the Hall of Fame. In my series on racial discrimination in Hall of Fame selections, I showed how Allen was easily as good as or better than white first and third basemen who made the Hall of Fame as borderline candidates.

Harold Baines came up 134 hits short of 3,000, which would have ensured him Hall of Fame selection. Instead, the anti-DH bias was too powerful to overcome. He lasted just four years on the ballot. If Edgar Martinez can’t get into Cooperstown, Baines doesn’t have a shot.

Kaat had two of his 20-win seasons for the White Sox.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have one of the biggest fields of valid Hall of Fame contenders.

Of course, Morris had more of his great years for the Tigers than any other team.

Frank Tanana won almost as many games as Morris, but has no shot at the Hall of Fame. More on him in the Angels section.

Trammell and Lou Whitaker were the absolute best offense/defense shortstop/second base combo of their time.

My Cal Ripken autograph

My Cal Ripken autograph

Barry Larkin, who overlapped careers with Trammell for 11 years, made it into the Hall of Fame his third year on the ballot. Neither was the best shortstop of their time; that was Cal Ripken Jr. But Trammell and Larkin had highly similar careers (Trammell had more hits, RBI and Gold Gloves, and other numbers were very close). Larkin was probably better, but you simply can’t explain why the writers elected Larkin in his third year on the ballot and never gave Trammell even 50 percent of the vote in 15 years on the ballot.

Whitaker was the best second baseman of his time in the American League. Ryne Sandberg was better in the National League. But you simply can’t defend the fact that neither of the Tiger infielders is in the Hall of Fame. I expect some Expansion Era Committee to admit them together one day.

Mickey Lolich, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Harvey Kuenn and Colavito are Tigers of the 1960s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration but unlikely to make it.

If you don’t remember the 1960s, you probably think Freehan is a stretch, but he and Yankee Elston Howard were the best American League catchers of their time. And best catchers of an era usually make it.  I don’t think any catchers between Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench will make it to Cooperstown (not counting Joe Torre, who was enshrined as a manager and the only N.L. catcher comparable to Freehan and Howard). But you can make a case for Freehan. He wasn’t much of an offensive player, but he was about as good as Rick Ferrell, a Hall of Fame catcher elected mostly for his defense. I could find only one eligible person with more All-Star selections than Freehan (11) who’s not in the Hall of Fame, except those being kept out for gambling or drugs.

Gary Sheffield played for eight teams, including two years with the Tigers. I discuss his Hall of Fame chances under the Marlins.

Darrell Evans got 414 homers. You used to be automatic if you made it to 500, but you needed other qualifications if you were in the 400s and Evans didn’t have strong enough other qualifications. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot.

Cecil Fielder, who later played for the Yankees, had a four-year stretch for the Tigers where he appeared Cooperstown bound. But he ended well short of Hall of Fame career standards and didn’t get even 1 percent of the vote his only year on the ballot.

Kirk Gibson doesn’t have Hall of Fame stats, but he has Hall of Fame fame. Though often injured (the reason his stats fell short), he was one of the most feared hitters of his time. And damn, he hit two of the most famous World Series homers, off Hall of Fame relievers Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley.

They should rename the place the Hall of Stats if they’re not going to admit a player of Gibson’s actual fame (and I don’t think they ever will).

A.L. West

Oakland A’s

JuicedDave Stewart was a dominant pitcher, winning 20 games four years in a row, and pitching in three straight World Series (he was 10-6 in post-season play). But he lacked the longevity that Hall of Fame voters demand, winning only 168 games.

Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco are being kept out of the Hall because of PED’s. Vida Blue fell short of usual Hall of Fame standards because his cocaine addiction curtailed his career.

If the Baseball Hall of Fame rewarded cornerstone players on championship dynasties the way that the basketball and football halls do, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi and Ken Holtzman might get into Cooperstown, but they mostly didn’t play long enough to compile the career stats the Baseball Hall demands. Campy might have the best shot to get in someday.

California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels

Angels Hall of Famers tend to have long careers that include several great seasons in Anaheim but long stretches with other teams as well: Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew (and someday Albert Pujols).

Their best borderline Hall of Fame contender, Don Baylor, would fit that mold, too. He falls a little short of Hall of Fame standards as a player (even not accounting for the anti-DH bias and the anti-Yankee bias he faces for three solid years in New York). And he’s well short of Hall of Fame standards for a manager, despite a Manager of the Year award in 1995. But Expansion Era Committee rules allow consideration of both careers together. With his managing career added to his playing career, and with admiration for the eight times he led his league in being hit by pitches, I could see Baylor finally making it to Cooperstown, though I don’t expect it.

He hit an 11th-inning grand-slam homer for the Yankees in old Comiskey Park (that I called as he came to the plate) to beat the White Sox, 12-6, in 1983 in one of the best games I ever saw live.

Bobby Grich, as I mentioned in the Orioles section, has no chance. Same with Frank Tanana, though he won 240 games. He never won 20 games and didn’t get a vote his only year on the ballot. Chuck Finley made it to 200 wins on the nose, but had no other notable qualifications and didn’t even get 1 percent of the vote his only year on the ballot.

Oddly, I don’t see anyone from the 2002 Angels championship team with a shot at the Hall of Fame. World champions without Hall of Famers, as I noted last year, are rare.

Texas Rangers

I think Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Canseco have no chance at the Hall of Fame unless drug-tainted players start getting consideration, and they might not even make it then. Several juicers will be ahead of them in line. Ivan Rodriguez, also a steroid user from that team, was clearly the best defensive catcher of his generation and a good offensive player, and gets his first shot on the writers’ ballot next year. If voters start letting PED users into Cooperstown, or if a Scoundrels Committee brings some order to consideration of players tainted by scandal, he would probably be in the second or third wave of players accepted. He definitely has the best chance of the drug-tainted Rangers (other than Alex Rodriguez, who’s still playing, but will go into the Bonds-Clemens category of all-time greats who may get a break someday because they were so great before they were thought to start juicing).

As much as the Hall of Fame loves longevity, it does take more than that to get into Cooperstown. Franco played until he was 48 and played 23 seasons. But only three of those were All-Star years, all with the Rangers, including a batting championship in 1991. But he still didn’t get any votes his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Kevin Brown, Kenny RogersBuddy Bell and Al Oliver had respectable careers, but I don’t see any of them making the Hall of Fame.

Seattle Mariners

Edgar Martinez is the most obvious borderline Hall of Fame candidate from Seattle. But he faces a strong bias of Hall of Fame voters: their disdain for the designated hitter.

Martinez’s .312 batting average is Hall of Fame quality, with 2,247 hits and 309 homers. He got 43 percent of the vote from the writers this year, far short of the 75 percent he needs for election. He has just three years left on the writers’ ballot, and I expect his best shot will be with a Veterans Committee. I expect after years of bias, a committee someday will want to recognize one of the best DH’s ever.

Houston Astros

I think Bagwell will make the Hall of Fame, probably next year (he was tantalizingly close this year, his sixth eligible year, with 71.6 percent). He never was actually accused of using steroids, but suspicion that he might have has kept his Hall of Fame vote totals down. Bagwell was hurt by having his best year cut short by the 1994 strike. He had a shot to catch Roger Maris‘ record of 61 homers before McGwire did four years later.

Rusty Staub has no chance. He was on the writers’ ballot six years without reaching 10 percent of the vote. At 2,716 hits, you might think initially that he could have hung on another 2-3 years to make it to 3,000 hits and punch his Cooperstown ticket. But he topped 100 hits only once in his last seven years and got only 12 hits in 1985, his last year. Staub wrung every hit out of his career that he could, and it wasn’t enough.

Jim Wynn, Jose Cruz and Joe Niekro had nice careers, but didn’t reach Hall of Fame standards.

National League East

New York Mets

Two of the Mets’ best borderline Hall of Famers started their careers appearing to be locks for Cooperstown. The difference between baseball’s drug users of the 1980s and those of the 1990s and 21st Century was that cocaine and other recreational drugs eventually ruined performance, rather than enhancing it.

Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry ended their careers as borderline Hall of Fame contenders (Gooden closer to the border), based on their stats. But based on their wasted potential, they really have no shot at ever getting in. A borderline candidate needs some voters to give him a break, and players who wasted this much potential will not get breaks. (Of course, Gooden and Strawberry count as borderline contenders for both the Yankees and the Mets, but their Yankee years were toward the end, when they were trying to salvage their careers.)

Keith Hernandez is kind of in the same category, though he didn’t soar as high or fall as far. His appearance on Seinfeld is a favorable post-career contrast to Gooden’s and Strawberry’s prison terms. But Hernandez doesn’t have as strong a Hall of Fame case as Don Mattingly, who’s not in the Hall, so I don’t ever expect to see him in Cooperstown.

Jerry Koosman won 222 games, so that makes him a borderline Hall of Fame contender. But he had none of the other qualifications that a pitcher in the low 200s needs, and lasted just a year on the ballot.

Thankfully, Dave Kingman (a Yankee for eight games in 1977) hit only 442 homers. If he had made it to 500 before the PED era, he might have made the Hall of Fame, and such a one-dimensional player really doesn’t belong there. He didn’t get even 1 percent of the writers’ votes his only year on the ballot.

Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves

With the 1950s underrepresented in the Hall of Fame and today’s old-timer selection structured by eras, Lew Burdette is a top contender to receive the Golden Era Committee’s nod someday. He’d be another Yankee in the Hall of Fame, too, having pitched two games for the 1950 Yankees before being traded to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain.

Dale Murphy never reached 25 percent of the writers’ vote, but he’s a prime candidate for the Expansion Era Committee. Three of the best hitters of the 1980s — Murphy, Gibson and Mattingly — aren’t in the Hall of Fame. I think Mike Schmidt was the only hitter of the 1980s who was more feared by pitchers and managers than these three. George Brett and Eddie Murray were similarly feared. Murphy, with back-to-back MVP awards in 1982 and ’83, five Gold Gloves, two titles each in homers and RBI, might have a better shot than Gibson or Mattingly to make the Hall of Fame.

Sheffield is unlikely to make the Hall of Fame, but the Braves were one of several teams he starred for. I discussed Darrell Evans with the Tigers, but he contributed to the Braves, too. Bob Elliott lasted three years on the ballot. I don’t think he’ll get Golden Era Committee consideration. David Justice and Terry Pendleton had some good years for the 1990s Braves, but barely reached the borderline area. Neither got a second year on the writers’ ballot.

Philadelphia Phillies

My Steve Carlton autograph

My Steve Carlton autograph

The Phillies’ almost-dynasty that won five division titles and a World Series from 1976 to 1983 included three first-ballot Hall of Famers, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Joe Morgan (though Morgan was a Phillie only in 1983 and was elected mostly for his achievements on the Reds). Pete Rose would have been a fourth certain Hall of Famer from those Phillie champs if he hadn’t gambled.

Those Phillies don’t have a strong cast of borderline Hall of Fame contenders, though. Kaat, as I noted earlier, will probably make Cooperstown someday. He pitched for the ’76-’79 Phillies, but never won more than 12 games (and that was a losing season for a division champion). If Kaat is elected, it will be for longevity and for his excellence with the Twins and White Sox.

I discussed Dick Allen, a Phillies star from the 1960s, in the White Sox section. If he makes the Hall of Fame, it will be for his White Sox years and his contributions to the 1960s Phillies. But he returned for mediocre 1975-76 seasons toward the end of his career.

Greg Luzinski was a one-dimensional slugger who had four straight All-Star seasons for the Phillies in the ’70s. But he fell well short of Hall of Fame career standards and lasted only one year on the ballot.

Tug McGraw was a closer for two World Series teams, the 1973 Mets and the 1980 Phillies, but he didn’t last a year on the Hall of Fame ballot. His son may make the Country Music Hall of Fame someday, but Daddy’s not making it to Cooperstown.

That Phillies team had four multiple Gold Glove winners (in addition to Schmidt and Kaat and not counting Morgan, who won his with the Reds). Bob BooneLarry Bowa, Garry Maddox and Manny Trillo combined for 20 Gold Gloves, but only Boone lasted more than one year on the ballot, and he fell off after five, without ever getting 10 percent of the vote.

Maybe Boone is a long shot for Cooperstown, with a similar career to Rick Ferrell, a weak-hitting defensive standout who played a long time and made it to the Hall of Fame. Boone can’t get much extra credit for his mediocre managing career, and you don’t get extra credit for sons who were good players (but also not Hall of Famers).

Boone was, at best, the fifth-best catcher of his time. Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter are all in the Hall of Fame. Thurman Munson was a better catcher and belongs in the Hall of Fame, but won’t make it. Ted Simmons wasn’t as good defensively as Boone and caught almost 500 fewer games (he eventually moved to first base and DH). But Simmons was a much better hitter than Boone and played longer (21 seasons vs. 19).

It’s hard to make a case that a guy who was the fifth or sixth best catcher of his time belongs in the Hall of Fame, especially if players ahead of him aren’t there yet. But Hall voters love longevity, and since Ferrell made it, you can’t say Boone won’t. I’d be surprised, though.

Schilling is the only star from the 1993 World Series team with a shot at the Hall of Fame, but I’ll deal with him under the Diamondbacks.

The stars of the 2008-9 Phillies haven’t reached Hall of Fame consideration yet.

Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos

Raines, as I discussed yesterday, might be poised to make the Hall of Fame next year. If not, he’ll be an easy call for an Expansion Era Committee.

Dennis Martinez pitched long enough to rack up 245 wins without ever topping 16 in a season. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot.

Florida/Miami Marlins

Sheffield and Kevin Brown of the 1997 Marlins championship team (both also were Yankees) have little shot at the Hall of Fame.

Sheffield passed 500 homers, which used to mean automatic enshrinement. But Sheffield is seventh on the list of known PED users (and likely to be passed in April by David Ortiz) in career homers. He’s not going to see Cooperstown, except as a tourist.

Brown, who pitched for six teams, including the Yankees, didn’t have a great enough prime or pitch long enough to make it to the Hall of Fame.

None of the stars from the 2003 champs are eligible yet for Hall of Fame consideration.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are a pretty good team on which to be a borderline Hall of Famer (understanding that just being borderline means most of the candidates from any team don’t get in, or wait a long time).

Roger Maris' autograph, with some St. Louis Cardinals teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Roger Maris’ autograph, with some St. Louis Cardinals teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Both the Cubs and Yankees had an outfielder who had an incredible season in which he set an all-time power record that stood for decades. Each led his league in RBI twice. The Cub led his league in homers more times, but the Yankee had more career homers. The Yankee won two MVP awards; the Cub never did. Both had shortened careers and didn’t reach the career totals that normally get you into the Hall of Fame. Hack Wilson, the Cub, was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee 45 years after his career ended. Roger Maris, the Yankee, is still not in the Hall of Fame 48 years after his career ended.

The 1960s Cubs never won anything. They finished tenth once, ninth once, eighth twice and seventh three times before having their second winning record in 1967 (one of the seventh-place teams finished 82-80). The Cubs finished third in 1967 and ’68. The first year of division play, they had an epic collapse and finished second to the New York Mets. It wasn’t the worst decade a team ever had, and they certainly improved toward the end, but it was an awful decade.

That team had four Hall of Famers playing in their primes, all for four or more years of that decade: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins.

That total doesn’t count Lou Brock, whom the Cubs stupidly traded to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio in one of baseball’s worst trades ever, before he blossomed into a star (but everyone saw him as a great prospect). And it doesn’t count Robin Roberts, who made his last nine starts for the 1966 Cubs at age 39. And it doesn’t count Richie Ashburn, who had a decent 1960 season for the Cubs at age 33 in 1960 but was pretty bad in 1961 before spending his last year with the hapless 1962 Mets.

Four Hall of Famers played some of their best years with the Cubs of the 1960s. Banks was an automatic Hall of Famer, elected his first year on the ballot. Williams, elected in his sixth year on the ballot, and Jenkins, elected in his third year, were certain Hall of Famers, but Santo was clearly borderline.

And let me be clear: I loved the Cubs in the 1960s. They were my second-favorite team behind the Yankees. My mother grew up in Chicago and we visited my grandmother there several summers, always taking in a Cubs game. Wrigley Field was the first ballpark I visited, and I saw 6-8 games there before I visited my second park. I will weep tears of joy for Mom if the Cubs ever win a World Series.

But I’m talking facts here, not emotion. In that same decade, the Yankees played in five consecutive World Series, winning two of them and taking two more to seven games. That Yankees team had three Hall of Famers: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.

The next decade (and the first couple years of the 1980s), the Yankees had a similar stretch, playing in four World Series in six years and winning two, plus winning a fifth division title. That Yankees team had three Hall of Famers, too: Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, both of whom were elected to Cooperstown more for their achievements with the Oakland A’s, and Goose Gossage, who played seven of his 22 years in New York. I don’t count Gaylord Perry, who made eight starts for the 1980 Yankees.

I was glad to see Santo elected to the Hall of Fame. I liked his consistency as a player and loved his goofy enthusiasm as a broadcaster. I admired his courage in living with severe diabetes. But Santo was the definition of a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

From those Yankees teams of the 1960s and ’70s, Maris, Elston HowardRon Guidry, Munson, Tommy John, Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles were either comparable or clearly better Hall of Fame candidates than Santo. Nettles, in fact, was also a multiple-Gold-Glove third baseman with more homers than Santo in overlapping careers, and a home run title, which Santo never won.

I don’t count Kaat and Tiant, who were borderline Hall of Fame contenders on those Yankee teams, because their Hall of Fame credentials were achieved with other teams.

Santo had the good fortune of playing on a team whose borderline candidates have a better shot at making the Hall of Fame. Everyone loves the Cubbies.

Bruce Sutter and teammate Willie Hernandez were among the Cubs who signed this ball, which my father gave my mother in the 1970s. Hernandez matched Sutter with a Cy Young Award and also was an MVP.

My Bruce Sutter autograph.

This makes it mysterious that Lee Smith, who played eight of his 18 years with the Cubs, has topped 50 percent only once in his 13 years on the writers’ ballot. Writers don’t know what to do with great relievers. Bruce Sutter (Cub on the right side of the Hall of Fame borderline) was elected in his 13th year on the ballot, Goose Gossage (also a Cub, but not for prime years, as Sutter and Smith were) in his ninth year, Rollie Fingers in his second, Dennis Eckersley in his first. (Eck also was a Cub, but as a starter; and his bullpen career was nowhere near borderline.)

All were contemporaries of Smith, and maybe it will be tough to get five relievers from the same era into Cooperstown. But it was the era when closers became dominant and valuable, and, as I documented in yesterday’s post, Smith was as good as any of them, maybe better than some already in Cooperstown.

Smith is unlikely to get elected next year in his final year on the writers’ ballot. But he should be an easy call for a Veterans Committee. He’ll eventually illustrate my point about Cubs having a good shot as borderline Hall of Fame candidates, but he’s already taken longer than he should.

Sammy Sosa is the only other ex-Cub of note I can think of with a shot at the Hall of Fame, and he’s in the PED group. He’s so closely linked with McGwire that I think they might go in together if either of them ever gets a Cooperstown moment.

My Rick Reuschel autograph.

My Rick Reuschel autograph

I address Buckner under the Dodgers, though he spend eight years each with the Dodgers and Cubs. Mark Grace has no chance and didn’t get a second year on the ballot. Rick Reuschel (a Yankee briefly in 1981) won 214 games but doesn’t have enough other Hall of Fame credentials. He didn’t get even 1 percent of the writers’ vote his only year on the ballot.

St. Louis Cardinals

McGwire‘s shot at the Hall of Fame depends on two things:

  1. Whether Hall of Fame voters ever forgive any PED users at all. Unless they do, he has no shot.
  2. If voters speculate about the careers players would have had without juicing, McGwire probably loses out. Clemens and Barry Bonds appeared headed to sure Hall of Fame induction before juicing, so they could make it someday. But McGwire had leveled off after a couple strong early years, so he’s not going to Cooperstown unless voters eventually forgive drug use entirely and just honor the careers that players had.

Curt FloodCurt Flood should be a Hall of Famer. He had seven straight Gold Gloves, two 200-hit seasons and six seasons hitting better than .300 when he refused to accept a trade to the Phillies. That’s an unfinished Hall of Fame career, but a worthy start. His courage in challenging baseball’s control of players’ careers started baseball down the path to free agency. He should be in Cooperstown for the combination of what he did on the field and what he tried to do in the courtroom. Flood is another example (like Maris and Gibson) of the Hall of Fame voters’ stubborn refusal to consider a player’s actual fame at all.

Flood was a better centerfielder than Jim Edmonds, who did play a full career without topping 2,000 hits or 400 homers. He was on the ballot for the first time this year, not even reaching the 5 percent level needed to stay on the ballot. Willie McGee, another Cardinal centerfielder, lasted two years on the ballot and won’t make the Hall of Fame.

Ken Boyer is the very definition of a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. He played only 15 years, not long enough to cross the performance thresholds than ensure enshrinement. But he was one of the best third basemen of his day, not quite Brooks Robinson or Eddie Mathews, but comparable to Santo, who eventually made it. Boyer was an MVP (for a World Series champ), an RBI champ, a five-time Gold Glove winner and six-time All-Star. But he was rejected in 2014 by the Golden Era Committee. Santo and Boyer both played 15-year careers, with closely similar career numbers across the board. Santo’s career totals are a little better, Boyer’s peak a little better, with post-season success Santo never had a shot at. But Hall of Fame voters value career totals more than peak and don’t value post-season at all. Still, I see Boyer getting in someday.

Ted Simmons wasn’t a good enough catcher or batter to make the Hall of Fame. Longevity might have given him a long shot, but he got only one year on the writers’ ballot. As an indication of how Hall of Fame voters love Cardinals, he actually made the 2014 Expansion Era ballot over several more worthy candidates, but he didn’t get elected.

Tim McCarver is a more famous Cardinals catcher, who won the Hall of Fame’s Ford Frick Award in 2012, despite being perhaps the most annoying, inane broadcaster in baseball history. Despite some longevity as a catcher (a 21-year career spanning four decades), McCarver has no shot at making the Hall of Fame as a player. But the Frick Award reflects the Hall of Fame’s consistent preference for longevity over quality. Simmons had eight All-Star seasons to only two for McCarver, and Simmons’ batting achievements far surpassed McCarver.

I dealt with Hernandez under the Mets, Lee Smith under the Cubs and Reggie Smith under the Dodgers.

Cincinnati Reds

Among borderline Reds contenders, Davey Concepcion may have the best shot, as the greatest shortstop of his era, but he fell short on the 2013 Expansion Era ballot. Ted Kluszewski, Vada Pinson, Ken Griffey Sr. (who spent a few years as a Yankee), George Foster, Randy Myers and perhaps a few more, if they were even borderline, clearly fell on the wrong side of the border.

Lou Piniella had a respectable career as a player (playing his best years for the Yankees) and an even better career as a manager (winning a World Series with the Reds). I’d call him not even a borderline contender for the Hall of Fame as a player, but definitely borderline as a manager. Given the Expansion Era Committee’s ability to consider combined careers, he has a shot.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I wouldn’t complain if Dick Groat someday is a Golden Era Committee selection to the Hall of Fame, but I don’t expect him to get in.

Roy Face lasted 15 years on the writers’ ballot, so I suppose he might make it one day, if the Golden Era Committee starts considering relievers of that time. His 18-1 season in 1959 is his best credential and probably not enough to get him in.

As I noted last year, Oliver and Matty Aloe compare well to white outfielders of the 1920s in the Hall of Fame, but neither has a shot at the Hall of Fame now.

The Pirates’ best two other borderline candidates may be kept out because of recreational drug use:

  • Bill Madlock won four batting titles and hit .305 for his career, which would put him in Cooperstown for sure, even though he fell short of the long-career totals normally required. But he was involved in the Pirates’ drug scandal of the 1980s. I compared him to white borderline Hall of Famers in October. He was better than them, but I doubt he’ll ever get his Cooperstown moment.
  • Dave Parker is more in the category of Gooden and Strawberry, a player who appeared Cooperstown-bound early in his career, but declined as he became addicted to cocaine and fell short of the usual statistical standards. He ended up closer to Hall of Fame standards than Strawberry and about as close as Gooden. But in all cases, their deliberate waste of potential will keep them from ever getting the good-will bump that sometimes pushes a player like Santo onto the Cooperstown side of the border. I was surprised that Parker even made the 2013 Expansion Era Committee ballot, but he didn’t come close to election.

And, if you think a player who receives less than 10 percent of the writers’ vote isn’t really a borderline Hall of Fame contender, consider the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski. He didn’t top 10 percent until his sixth year on the ballot and peaked at 42 percent his final year on the writers’ ballot. But he was elected in 2001 by the Veterans Committee.

Milwaukee Brewers

I discuss Sheffield elsewhere, but the Brewers were the first of his many teams.

I mentioned Simmons in the Cardinals section.

Cecil Cooper is the only other Brewer I can think of with a shot at Cooperstown. But it’s a long shot. He received no votes his only year on the ballot.

N.L. West

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers contend with the Tigers for second place behind the Yankees among Hall of Fame contenders.

From their 1950s champions, Gil Hodges got Golden Era Committee consideration in 2014, but was rejected. Especially given the explicit instructions that a managerial career can be considered along with the playing career, the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets and a slugging and fielding star of the 1950s Dodgers who was an eight-time All-Star might finally make it into the Hall of Fame.

The Gold Glove started in 1957, a decade into his career, or Hodges might have won 10-12 in a row, rather than just the first three. But first-base Gold Gloves mean nothing for Hall of Fame selection. Hernandez won 11 and Mattingly nine, and neither is in Cooperstown. In fact, Eddie Murray (with three) is the only first-base Gold Glover in the Hall of Fame.

From the 1960s Dodgers champions, Maury Wills never got the credit he deserved from Cooperstown for transforming the game by the way he stole bases (I compared him last year to white borderline shortstops in the Hall of Fame, and he belongs). Luis Aparicio and Lou Brock are in the Hall of Fame heavily for their base-stealing, but Wills had a more profound effect on how the game was played. He’s one of the most outrageous non-Yankee examples of the Hall of Fame voters’ adamant bias against players who didn’t achieve some elusive standard of longevity and the voters’ stubborn ignoring of actual fame and impact on the game over dry and selective analysis of numbers. He was on the 2014 Golden Era Committee ballot, so he’s getting consideration. But the committee rejected all 10 candidates.

I doubt that Tommy Davis, a two-time RBI champ and offensive star of the Dodgers’ 1960s dynasty, makes it to Cooperstown. He wouldn’t be an awful Veterans Committee choice someday, but Wills and the others turned down in 2014 were better.

Tommy John deserves his place in Cooperstown as much for his Dodger play as for the great seasons he gave the Yankees. And his comeback from Tommy John surgery was as a Dodger. But he was snubbed by the Expansion Era Committee in 2014. He’s gracious enough, though, to visit the Hall of Fame as a guest.

In the same era, it’s kind of surprising, considering the hype they received when they played, that no one from the Dodgers’ fabled infield that stayed together through the 1970s has made it to Cooperstown, and most aren’t even borderline contenders. Bill Russell (three times an All-Star) wasn’t even close to a borderline Hall of Famer. Ron Cey (six straight All-Star selections) and Davey Lopes (four straight) were perhaps within sight of the borderline, but neither has a reasonable case for Cooperstown. Steve Garvey (10 All-Star selections, including eight in a row) appears likely to be a choice someday, but he fell short on the 2014 Expansion Era Committee ballot.

With 2,715 hits, Buckner, a Dodger outfielder in the 1970s, came tantalizingly close to the magical 3,000-hit mark that assures election for players without drug or gambling issues. But he really had no shot at 3,000. Buckner retired at age 40 after the 1990 season, but had only eight hits that year. He hadn’t topped 100 hits since 1987, so he really wasn’t within reach.

Buckner finished in the territory where some players make the Hall of Fame, but others don’t. Lou Gehrig had only six more hits than Buckner, but he had the record for grand slams and that consecutive game streak. And a Triple Crown. Just four hits behind Buckner in all-time hits is Billy Williams, who, like Buckner, won a batting championship for the Cubs. Williams and Gehrig both hit more than 400 homers, more than twice as many as Buckner.

Rusty Staub, just one hit ahead of Buckner, and Dave Parker, three hits behind, are more comparable to Buckner, and neither is in the Hall of Fame.

Buckner hit .289, drove in 100 runs three times, topped 200 hits twice, won a batting championship, all credentials that push him solidly into the borderline area, but not across the line. He was an All-Star only once. It’s not the World Series groundball that’s keeping Buckner out of the Hall of Fame.

Reggie Smith is another borderline contender from the 1970s Dodgers, but didn’t get even 1 percent of the vote his only year on the ballot.

More recently, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser were two of the best pitchers of the 1980s, but haven’t come close in Hall of Fame voting.

Even with six All-Star selections and a Cy Young Award, Valenzuela won only 173 games, not enough to meet the Hall’s longevity standard, unless tragedy cuts your career short. He lasted only two years on the ballot. But he was incredibly good for several years and Fernandomania was a level of fame that I could see an Expansion Era Committee rewarding someday. But, as I’ve noted in the cases of Roger Maris, Tommy John and Kirk Gibson, Hall of Fame voters rarely care about actual fame.

Hershiser also won a Cy Young and also spent only two years on the Hall of Fame ballot. But he won 204 games and broke Don Drysdale’s scoreless-innings streak. I think Hershiser has a better shot than Fernando of winning an Expansion Era Committee nod someday.

I discussed Kirk Gibson under the Tigers, but his most famous moment, and his MVP trophy, came as a Dodger.

The Dodgers are yet another team where Sheffield merits a mention.

San Francisco Giants

Hall of Fame voters have been kind to Giants through the years. The most notable Giant contenders are both named Bonds.

Barry Bonds, like Clemens and Rose, doesn’t belong in this discussion of borderline contenders. Read about him in the Scoundrels Committee post.

Bobby Bonds is absolutely a borderline contender, though. He played only 14 seasons (one as a Yankee) and never reached Hall of Fame standards for career stats. But he was the best (until his son came along) at combining power with speed.

His five seasons combining 30 steals with 30 homers were three more than the centerfielder he succeeded and could otherwise never measure up to, Willie Mays. And those don’t include two seasons when Bonds hit 26 homers and stole more than 40 bases. Barry Bonds is the only player who has matched his father’s five 30-30 seasons.

With 461 career steals, Bobby Bonds is only 51st all-time, which won’t get you into Cooperstown. But no one in the top 50 in stolen bases had over 300 homers (except Barry). Bobby Bonds had 332.

I would not be surprised if a Veterans Committee someday recognized Bobby Bonds’ combination of speed and power, matched only by his son.

Other borderline Giants have little shot at the Hall of Fame. I’d be surprised if Jeff KentKuenn, Chili Davis or Darrell Evans ever get elected. Will Clark and Jack Clark didn’t really approach Hall of Fame standards for first basemen. In their own era, Mattingly and Hernandez were clearly better, and neither of them is in Cooperstown yet. Bobby Murcer, the Yankee centerfielder traded for Bobby Bonds in 1974, was an All-Star for the Giants and reached borderline territory, but lasted only a year on the writers’ ballot.

San Diego Padres

For an expansion team that’s played in only two World Series, the Padres have an amazing number of no-doubt Hall of Famers. Only Tony Gwynn played his whole career in San Diego, but a slew of Hall of Famers played significant years for the Padres: Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Gaylord PerryRickey Henderson, Roberto Alomar, Willie McCovey. There wasn’t a cameo in the bunch. Perry won a Cy Young for the Padres. All but Henderson and McCovey were All-Stars as Padres. Henderson stole 66 bases in less than two full seasons and McCovey had two 20-homer seasons, both past their primes, but still contributing.

By contrast, the Royals were an expansion team the same year, have had a more successful history (winning two World Series, playing in four and winning more division titles). But the Royals have only George Brett in the Hall of Fame, plus end-of-career bows from Perry (four wins for KC), Harmon Killebrew (14 homers) and Orlando Cepeda (one homer).

Despite all their certain Hall of Famers, the Padres have few borderline contenders. Randy Jones won a Cy Young in 1976 and finished second the year before, but he pitched only 10 years and finished with a record of 100-123. He got no votes and won’t get future consideration.

Ken Caminiti won an MVP (even Gwynn never did that; Caminiti is the only Padre MVP), but his career fell far short of Cooperstown standards (didn’t reach 2,000 hits, 300 homers or 1,000 RBI). And if he were close, his drug use would keep him from getting in.

As noted earlier, Kevin Brown and Sheffield have little or no Hall of Fame shot.

Nettles should be in the Hall, but mostly for his Yankee play, and I doubt he’ll ever make it. Garvey, a member of that 1984 Padres World Series team along with Nettles and Gossage, is probably the borderline Padre with the best shot at eventual enshrinement.

Trevor Hoffman was on the ballot for the first time this year and got 67.3 percent of the writers’ vote. He’s not borderline. In another year or two, he’ll add to the ranks of sure-thing Hall of Famers from the Padres.

Colorado Rockies

Despite (or perhaps because of) Coors Field’s friendly effects on batting statistics, no Rockies are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And I don’t think that’s likely to change for a while. Larry Walker had a similar career to Orlando Cepeda, a Veterans Committee selection. But Walker hasn’t reached 25 percent in the writers’ vote in his five years on the ballot (15.5 percent this year). I don’t think his stats will ever have the value for Hall of Fame voters that Cepeda’s did. I don’t think Walker was ever suspected as a steroid user, but he played in that era, and offensive stats from the 1990s simply don’t carry as much weight as similar stats from other eras. Add a second discount for the Coors Field effect, and I don’t think Walker will make it. But a three-time batting champ who also had a homer crown, seven Gold Gloves and an MVP could be attractive someday to an Veterans Committee.

Andres Galarraga actually surpassed Walker in career homers, hits and RBI (though he had lower batting, on-base and slugging averages). Galarraga led the league once in batting and homers and twice in RBI and won two Gold Gloves. And he returned from cancer treatment to become an All-Star again. I could argue that he should have as good a shot at the Hall of Fame as Walker, but his achievements also received the Coors Field discount, and he lasted only one year on the ballot.

Todd Helton might be the first Rockie to make the Hall of Fame. But he’ll be a borderline contender at best, and I don’t see him overcoming the Coors Field discount on borderline stats.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Luis Gonzalez racked up some good numbers, but they didn’t stand out in an era of inflated power numbers. He didn’t reach 1 percent of the writers’ vote his only year on the ballot.

Schilling whined that his conservative political views were keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. That’s ridiculous, of course. Baseball writers don’t tend to care a lot about politics, and I bet many who do are conservative (as are many of the ballplayers they elect to the Hall of Fame). Steve Carlton was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a loony conspiracy theorist political extremist. Also a much better pitcher than Schilling.

Schilling is the classic profile of a pitcher who’s certain to make the Hall of Fame but has to spend a few years on the ballot. His 216 wins are low for a Hall of Famer, just seven wins more than Don Drysdale, who was elected in his 10th year on the ballot.

Schilling won 20 games three times and Drysdale did it twice. But Drysdale won a Cy Young Award and Schilling never did. Schilling finished second three times, twice to teammate Randy Johnson. Drysdale also pitched in tandem with a much greater teammate.

Schilling has been on the ballot only four years, reaching his highest level, 52.3 percent this year. Someday, he will make the Hall of Fame. His post-season prowess (11-2, co-MVP of the 2001 World Series, plus the “bloody sock” game) will count in his selection more than post-season performance will ever count for a Yankee.

But he’ll have to wait. And here’s why:

  • Pitchers with careers like his always have to wait.
  • Politics aside, Schilling is widely regarded as a jerk, so no one’s going to vote for him earlier than they would have for Drysdale or a similar pitcher.
  • As non-baseball negative matters go, his government-funded business failure, bordering on a scam and certainly countering his political bombast, is a way bigger deal than his conservative politics, but probably a tiny factor, if at all.
  • Schilling’s work as an ESPN commentator doesn’t help him one bit. Every time he opens his mouth or tweets, he reminds you of his arrogance, without impressing you one whit with his knowledge. That shouldn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but it’s not going to hurry things up.
  • And, let’s be honest, Schilling isn’t just conservative, he’s a bigot and an extremist.

On the other hand, people of all political beliefs, certainly every father, cheered how Schilling stood up for his daughter. His outspoken nature is part of the package with Schilling and it’s not all working against him, if that counts at all, in Hall of Fame voting.

Yes, Schilling will certainly have his day at Cooperstown. But you have to be a Diamondbacks, Phillies or Red Sox fan to be bothered that he’ll have to wait a few years.

Yankees’ borderline candidates

The Tigers have 13 borderline candidates who haven’t made the Hall of Fame: Sheffield, Morris, Fielder, Gibson, Trammell, Whitaker, Evans, Tanana, Lolich, Cash, Freehan, Kuenn and Colavito.

The Dodgers are one behind with a dozen: Sheffield, Gibson, Kevin Brown, Hershiser, Valenzuela, Tommy John, Garvey, Buckner, Reggie Smith, Tommy Davis, Wills and Hodges. If you think Lopes or Cey are borderline, the Dodgers might be tied or ahead, but I don’t count them.

I’m not saying those 23 borderline contenders (Gibson and Sheffield played for both) will make it. I’d be surprised if more than seven make it. (I’d guess Morris, Trammell, Whitaker, John, Garvey, Wills and Hodges. Maybe Hershiser.) Borderline contenders don’t make it more often than they do, and take a long time to get there.

My Thurman Munson card

My Thurman Munson card

We can argue whether this is an illustration of the fact that the Yankees have produced (or acquired) more great players than other teams, or whether it’s evidence of anti-Yankee bias. It’s probably both. But the Yankees have more valid borderline Hall of Fame contenders than the Tigers and Dodgers combined:

  • Bernie Williams, Mattingly, John, Ron Guidry, MunsonNettlesMaris, Elston Howard and Allie Reynolds all have solid Hall of Fame cases. They were among the best of their eras at their positions, match up well with contemporaries in the Hall of Fame and/or others at their positions in the Hall of Fame. And at least John, Maris and Reynolds have unique achievements that add to their fame. All but Mattingly have championship credentials and extensive post-season play (and Donnie Baseball excelled in his only post-season series). These nine Yankees absolutely belong in Cooperstown (and at least two or three will make it eventually).
  • My Dodger and Tiger lists included players like Sheffield, Brown, Gibson, Morris and Evans whose Hall of Fame credentials included achievements with other teams. So the Yankee list needs to include at least Sheffield, Brown, Mussina, Wells, ConeRaines, Gooden, Strawberry, Baylor, Tiant and Bobby Bonds. This group is more borderline than those above, but I expect two or three will make it to Cooperstown eventually. Raines looks almost certain. Mussina probably has the next-best shot.

That brings us to 20 borderline Yankee Hall of Fame candidates, but we’re not done yet.

We need to count Yankees who clearly fell short of Hall of Fame standards, but had careers comparable to the borderline contenders I named from other teams: Fielder, Ken Griffey Sr., Lyle, RogersRandolphMurcer, Mel Stottlemyre.

If Piniella ever makes Cooperstown on his combined managing and playing careers, both included important years as a Yankee. He would go in more as a manager than a player, so I’m not counting him here, but he deserves mention.

Even if you dispute a few of these choices (and if you do that, the Dodger and Tiger totals could start dropping, too, as we’d eliminate their most marginal contenders), the Yankees have about 25 or more borderline candidates.

I don’t count Lee Smith, Kaat or Burdette, whose Yankee appearances were just cameos.

If the Yankees had way more Hall of Famers than any other team, this huge lead in borderline contenders might just reflect their huge lead in world championships, the fact that they’ve been the best team in history by far and have had more great players than anyone else.

But you know what? The Yankees don’t even have the most Hall of Famers. Only 19 Hall of Fame players were primarily Yankees, fewer than their 27 world championships (more than double any other team’s total). The list of Hall of Famers linked above will also include seven Yankee managers and executives. The Giants, with eight world championships (three of them too recent to have any players in the Hall of Fame) have 19 Hall of Fame players from their time in New York and another five from San Francisco. And several other teams are in the teens, much closer to the Yankees in Hall of Fame players than in world championships.

Few things are more predictable than which borderline Hall of Fame contenders will finally get their calls from Cooperstown, but I feel confident saying this: Contenders who didn’t play home games in Yankee Stadium will continue to fare better than those who did.

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

Who’d I miss? Borderline Hall of Fame candidates are about as subjective as anything you can discuss in baseball. Whom did I miss here?

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. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.





Yankee starting pitchers with the greatest teammates: Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez

17 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez didn’t spend long with the Yankees (or many teams). But they pitched well for New York. And they have two of the most amazing groups of teammates of any players in major league history.

This is perhaps the oddest post in this series, but it’s a topic that has fascinated me for years: the coincidence of players’ intersecting careers. And since two of the players with the most awesome collections of teammates in baseball history were briefly starting pitchers for the Yankees, I couldn’t resist. I think these two might have the best teammate collections. Or two of the best three.

Bullet Joe Bush

New York Yankees

Bullet Joe Bush

Wikimedia photo

Bush pitched three solid years for the Yankees, going 26-7 in 1922, 19-15 in ’23 and 17-16 in ’24. His Yankee teammates included Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle CombsHome Run Baker, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

The Yankees were managed by yet another Hall of Famer, Miller Huggins.

Another Yankee teammate, Lefty O’Doul, might have made the Hall of Fame if he had started out playing the outfield. He was a fellow pitcher of Bush’s with the Yankees at age 25, but O’Doul was an unremarkable pitcher, going 1-1 and getting only one start in four years with the Yankees and Red Sox. He finally made it back to the majors as an outfielder in 1928 at age 31 and won two batting titles, hitting .398 in 1929 and .368 in 1932. His .349 career batting average is the fourth-highest of all time, behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby (both Bush teammates, as you’ll see shortly) and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

O’Doul might be second to Babe Ruth among players who both pitched and played other positions in the major leagues. Which tells you how great Ruth was. O’Doul was an awful pitcher who revived his career by moving to the outfield. Ruth was a Hall of Fame pitcher who was such a great hitter they had to play him every day.

Philadelphia A’s (second time)

In his final year, Bush was lucky to play with the most amazing collection of offensive talent I’ve found in any team, the 1928 Philadelphia A’s (I wrote a story on this team for Baseball Digest back in the 1980s). Unfortunately, most of this talent wasn’t in its prime, so the A’s finished second that year, behind the Yankees. But these were Bush’s Hall of Fame teammates that year: Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Al Simmons and Lefty Grove. (Speaker, along with Cobb, Hornsby and O’Doul makes four of the top six all-time leading batters who played with Bush. Throw in Ruth and Bush played with five of the top 10.) Read the rest of this entry »





Nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers: Catfish, Babe, Gator, Whitey …

16 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

The Yankees’ starting pitchers through the years have had some fun nicknames.

I’m mostly going to concentrate on nicknames here. I’ve linked to other posts, where you can read of the accomplishments of most of these pitchers. But I summarize the career briefly if a pitcher didn’t merit mention elsewhere.

Sorry, nicknames based in your given name don’t count. For instance, if I could pitch and had pitched for the Yankees (if only …), I’d need something better than Steve or Stevie (given name Stephen) to make this list. I’m pretty sure fans and/or teammates could have found a nickname playing with my last name. Especially the way I no doubt would have pitched.

Here, in the order I like the monikers, are my favorite nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers:

Catfish


Have to start here, of course. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the story of Charlie Finley giving Catfish Hunter his nickname, but it’s a good story. Given name was Jim. I covered his Yankee career in a post on Hall of Famers.

Babe, Bambino

Babe Ruth started only four games as a pitcher for the Yankees, but the Babe had one of the best nicknames in the history of baseball (with an Italian sub-nickname that got attached to a curse), so I gotta include him here. Real name: George Herman Ruth. Read the rest of this entry »





Hall of Fame’s ‘Pre-Integration Era’ Committee perpetuates segregation

5 10 2015

Jackie Robinson ended segregation in major league baseball, but not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame has a Pre-Integration Committee that considers only white players and contributors from long ago for honors in Cooperstown. But the Hall no longer has a Negro League Committee to consider the stars excluded from “major” league baseball. Those two facts revive and perpetuate the exclusion of a bigoted era that is a shame to the sport and our nation.

I hope this result is unintentional (as many actions with racist results were and are), but that doesn’t make it excusable.

The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues elected the final 17 Negro Leaguers to Cooperstown in 2006. (Outrageously, the committee omitted Buck O’Neil; I suggest reading Joe Posnanski‘s The Soul of Baseball to fully appreciate why O’Neil belongs in the Hall of Fame and how he handled this snub with extraordinary class and grace.)

The end of the Negro League selections might be understandable, if that had been the end of consideration for all pre-1947 major leaguers as well. But the Hall of Fame continues selections through a Pre-Integration Era Committee (whose rules say it considers only “major league” players, managers, umpires and executives).

The Hall of Fame announced its Pre-Integration Era Committee ballot today, including six players (Bill Dahlen, Wes FerrellMarty Marion, Frank McCormickHarry Stovey and Bucky Walters). One of the four nominated for off-field contributions was Doc Adams, who was a great 19th-Century shortstop, in addition to a baseball pioneer. The others on the ballot are executives Sam Breadon, Garry Herrmann and Chris von der Ahe. If the committee elects any of them, none will be alive to enjoy the honor. The committee’s choices, if any, will be announced Dec. 7 at the Major League Baseball winter meeting.

More than half of the 244 total players in the Hall of Fame, 126, are white players who played all or most of their careers before Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. That compares to 29 players elected from the Negro Leagues. Add 25 African Americans who played primarily or exclusively in the major leagues and eight Latino Hall of Famers, and the players from the Segregation Era outnumber minority Hall of Fame players more than 2 to 1. (I’m not going to accept Pre-Integration as the name of this era; I’ll try out some more honest names in this post.)

Adding still more players from the Bigotry Era cheapens the Hall of Fame in two ways:

  1. Whatever their achievements, the “major league” hitters before 1947 didn’t have to face Satchel Paige, probably the best pitcher of his time, and other Negro League pitching stars. And the “major league” pitchers didn’t have to face some of the best hitters of their time, such as Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell. So all of the career statistics and other achievements in baseball before 1947 should be discounted.
  2. At all levels of Hall of Fame selection — the Baseball Writers Association of America voting and second-chance elections by various Veterans Committees — standards were not as demanding of players before integration as they have been since.

Lots of players from recent decades who will never make the Hall of Fame had better careers than players from the 1920s and ’30s who are already in Cooperstown (especially the cronies and teammates of Frankie Frisch, who spent six generous years on the Veteran’s Committee).

Last year the Golden Era Committee, considering players whose prime years fell between 1947 to 1972, rejected all 10 players on the ballot. African American Dick Allen and dark-skinned Cuban Tony Oliva each came up one vote short of election, receiving 11 of 16 votes (75 percent of the vote is required). Other minority players rejected by the Golden Era Committee were Maury Wills, Minnie Miñoso and Luis Tiant.

Each of those players clearly measured up to or surpassed multiple counterparts from the Jim Crow Era who are in the Hall of Fame:

Tony Oliva and Minnie Miñoso

Compare Oliva and Miñoso, both dark-skinned Cuban outfielders who couldn’t have played in the majors before 1947, with six outfielders from the Birth of a Nation Era: Kiki Cuyler, Chick HafeyHarry Hooper, Heinie Manush, Zack Wheat and Ross Youngs. (I focused on 20th-Century players, since 19th-Century statistics are so hard to compare to other eras. And I’m looking only at borderline players who made the Hall of Fame, not automatic selections such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.)

Like Miñoso and Oliva, none of these outfielders from the Back of the Bus Era reached either of the statistical thresholds that ensured Hall of Fame selection prior to the scandals about use of performance-enhancing drugs: 3,000 hits or 500 homers. None of them came close to winning election by the baseball writers: Cuyler, at 34 percent, came the closest of the white players. Hooper and Manush never got even 10 percent of the writers’ vote. Oliva peaked at 47 percent of the writers’ vote and Miñoso peaked at 21 percent, better than all but Cuyler, Wheat and Youngs.

Injuries shortened Oliva’s career. He played 15 seasons, all for the Twins, well below his peak the last five seasons. Miñoso was a Negro League All-Star before reaching the “majors” full-time at age 25. So both Cuban players didn’t have high career totals in the “majors”: 1,917 hits, 220 homers and 947 RBI for Oliva, 1,963 hits, 186 homers, 1,023 RBI and 205 stolen bases for Miñoso.

But both Cubans had more hits than Youngs or Hafey and more RBI than those two players and Hooper. Miñoso and Oliva hit more homers than any of the white players we’re comparing (most of whom played after Babe Ruth popularized the home run and slugging soared). Only Hooper and Cuyler stole more bases than Miñoso (Wheat matched him with 205).

Though the whites played in a time of inflated batting averages (helps not facing pitchers like Paige and Tiant), one or both Cubans had higher batting averages than Hooper, and higher on-base and/or slugging averages than all the white outfielders and one or both of the Cubans had higher OPS numbers than Hooper, Youngs and Wheat.

So in terms of offensive averages and career totals, Miñoso and Oliva were clearly in the same territory as these Hall of Fame outfielders from the Amos ‘n Andy Era.

But when you look at peak performance measures, the Cubans stand out from their white counterparts. Hafey, Manush and Wheat each won one batting championship, while Oliva won three. Manush was the only one of the white outfielders to lead his league in hits (he did it twice). Miñoso led his league in hits once and Oliva led the league five times. Cuyler, Youngs and Manush combined to lead their leagues in doubles four times, the same number as Oliva did by himself. Miñoso did it once. Miñoso led his league three times each in triples and stolen bases. Manush and Cuyler each led their leagues once in triples. Cuyler outdid Miñoso with four league stolen-base titles (easier to do in an all-white league), but none of the other white outfielders led his league in steals. Most of the white outfielders couldn’t match Oliva’s achievements of leading his league in runs and slugging once each.

Miñoso led his league in being hit by pitches an incredible 10 times.

And keep in mind, Oliva and Miñoso were leading integrated leagues of the very best baseball players. All the others led whites-only leagues.

Simply put, at least a half-dozen outfielders from the Lynch Mob era who were comparable or inferior to Oliva and Miñoso are in the Hall of Fame.

Dick Allen

Allen played 807 games at first base, 652 games at third and 256 in the outfield in a career in which his best seasons were played for the White Sox and Phillies. So I will compare him here to eight Jazz Player Era first and third basemen: Jake Bottomley, Frank Chance, George “High Pockets” Kelly, Bill Terry, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Jimmy CollinsFreddie Lindstrom and Pie Traynor. Traynor and Terry were elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers and the rest were chosen by Veterans Committees. (Though I included two players elected by the writers in this comparison, I did not include a few first basemen who were automatic selections.)

Maybe you don’t think of these (Allen’s career totals) as Hall of Fame numbers: 1,099 runs, 1,848 hits, 351 homers, 1,119 RBI and 133 stolen bases. But they used to be. Allen hit more homers than any of those eight Hall of Famers. Traynor was the only player to exceed Allen’s totals in the other four stats, and Bottomley surpassed Allen in runs, hits and RBI. The other five Hall of Famers didn’t match Allen’s totals in most of the five stats I chose (and stolen bases were not Allen’s sweet spot by any stretch; I threw that stat in because these others played in a time of lots of stolen bases, but only half of them stole more than Allen). Lindstrom and Kelly didn’t match Allen in any of the five offensive stats.

Allen played in an era of lower batting averages, so all eight of these Hall of Famers passed his respectable .292 average. But the other percentages all go in Allen’s favor: Only Chance and Terry topped his .378 on-base percentage, and Allen beat all eight of the white Hall of Famers with his .534 slugging percentage and .912 OPS.

So by most of these important career statistics, Allen was easily better than most, if not all, of these corner infielders in the Hall of Fame, including two elected by the writers.

Placing players in the context of their times, Allen led his league four times in OPS, three times in slugging, twice each in homers and on-base percentage and once each in runs, triples, RBI and walks.

Even the two players who were elected by the writers didn’t dominate their all-white leagues offensively as much as Allen dominated integrated leagues. Terry led his league once each in batting, hits, runs and triples. Traynor led his league once in triples.

Baker and Bottomley came the closest of these white corner infielders to matching Allen’s total of 15 league titles in offensive categories, but their combined total just reached 14.

You simply can’t make a case for excluding Allen, an MVP, Rookie of the Year and seven-time All-Star, from a Hall of Fame that includes these eight players at the same positions from the Plessy vs. Ferguson Era.

Maury Wills

I’ll compare Wills to shortstops from the Separate But Unequal Era elected to Cooperstown by Veterans Committees (highest percentage of writers’ vote in parentheses): Dave Bancroft (16), Travis Jackson (7), Joe Sewell (9), Joe Tinker (20), Arky Vaughan (29) and Bobby Wallace (3). Wills, by the way, peaked at 41 percent of the writers’ vote, higher than any of them.

Let’s start with some basic facts. None of those shortstops:

  • Broke an important all-time record (Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen-base record of 96 in 1962)
  • Won an MVP award (Wills was the 1962 MVP).
  • Led his league six straight seasons in stolen bases (Wills led 1960-65).
  • Ranks 20th in career stolen bases (Wills stole 586, more than the combined totals of Tinker and Wallace, the leading two white shortstops).
  • Changed the game the way Wills did, accelerating the increase of stolen bases through much of baseball.

Without question, Wills has a niche in baseball fame and achievement that none of these white shortstops can match. They would have to have remarkably better career achievements in other areas to justify their being in the Hall of Fame and Wills being excluded.

So let’s compare their other career stats: None of these players was a power hitter, so we’ll compare Wills to these six shortstops in four areas: runs, hits, batting average and games played at shortstop. None of the six surpassed Wills in all four categories. In runs, batting average and games at shortstop, he’s right in the middle, ahead of three and behind three. Only Sewell and Wallace had more career hits than Wills’ 2,134.

So like Oliva, Miñoso and Allen, Wills has as strong a case for the Hall of Fame, if not stronger, than a bunch of his peers from the Stepin Fetchit Era.

(Wills is the only player we’re discussing here that I saw play live. My mother took us to see the Dodgers play at Wrigley Field in 1963. We got to see Don Drysdale pitch, and the Cubs tagged Wills out on a hidden-ball play.)

Luis Tiant

Since there are 76 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, I’m going to narrow the comparison here by matching Tiant up to the six Hall of Fame pitchers from the No Coloreds Era who are the closest above and below his 229 career wins (their wins follow their names): Herb Pennock (241), Mordecai Brown (239), Waite Hoyt (237), Stan Coveleski (215), Chief Bender (212) and Jesse Haines (210).

By how I chose the list, all are peers of Tiant in career wins, half a little ahead of him and half a little behind. Tiant, with 31 percent of the writers’ vote, did better than four of the other starters. Pennock was the only one of the seven elected by the writers, topping the 75 percent threshold on his eighth year on the ballot. Bender got 45 percent in his best year, Brown 27, Hoyt 19, Coveleski 13 and Haines 8.

Four of these white Hall of Famers had higher winning percentages than Tiant. Haines matched Tiant’s .571 and Hoyt was a few points lower. But in other measures, Tiant holds his own with these Hall of Famers or surpasses them:

  • Tiant had more career strikeouts than any of the six.
  • Only Brown had more career shutouts than Tiant’s 49.
  • Only Coveleski and Brown had more 20-win seasons than Tiant’s four (and none of the others matched Tiant here).
  • Three of the six had higher ERAs than Tiant’s 3.30 and three were lower.
  • Tiant led his league twice in ERA and three times in shutouts. Coveleski was the only one of the six Hall of Famers to lead his all-white league more times in key pitching stats (ERA and shutouts twice each, winning percentage and strikeouts once each).

Why honor a shamed era?

All five of the black players rejected by last year’s Golden Era Committee — three Cubans and two African Americans — were clearly at least as good as and probably better than comparable Whites Only Era players who are in the Hall of Fame.

So why in the world does the Hall of Fame continue to give any consideration to pre-1947 candidates at all? If you haven’t made it into the Hall of Fame 70 years after the peak of your career, you aren’t going to make it and you probably shouldn’t. And if you do make it, you won’t be alive to enjoy it.

Unless a decision on Pete Rose opens the door for players banned for gambling, which shouldn’t allow much, if anyone, beyond Shoeless Joe Jackson, we should be done with Hall of Fame selections of white guys who played before 1947.

Doc Adams, Bill Dahlen and Wes Ferrell are long since dead. Maybe they deserved their Cooperstown moments as much as Frisch’s cronies did, but most players with similar careers to theirs never make the Hall of Fame.

No need to give them posthumous glory when their Shameful Era was so over-honored anyway.

Next: This is the first in a series of posts I am writing about racial disparities in selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Tomorrow I will look at the African American and Latino players elected to the Hall of Fame.

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.

Yankee note: This blog usually writes about Yankees. This week I am taking a broader look at continued racial discrimination in baseball, so I didn’t want to disrupt to note Yankee connections in the body of the post. But I’ll note them here: Pennock and Hoyt were mainstays of the 1920s Yankee pitching rotation. Tiant and Coveleski played briefly for the Yankees, both past their primes. Sewell played three years at third base for the Yankees at the end of his career. Schang and Baker played a few years for the Yankees.

Starting pitcher series. I have paused my series on Yankee starting pitchers this week for this series on continuing racial discrimination in election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The series on pitchers will resume next week.

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

Correction invitation: I wrote this blog post a few months ago late at night, 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 selections, that’s fine, too.

Thanks to newspaper partners

I offered a shorter (less stats-geeky) version of this post to some newspapers. Thanks to the newspapers who are planning to publishing the in print, online or both (I will add links as I receive them):

If you’d like to receive the newspaper version to use as a column, email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.