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

22 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

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

Whitey Ford

One of my prized autographs

One of my prized autographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefty Gomez


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

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

Here are his Hall of Fame credentials:

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

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

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

Red Ruffing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herb Pennock

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

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

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

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

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

Waite Hoyt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Chesbro

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

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

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

His other best seasons were with the Pirates.

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

No question that guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Bob Lemon

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

Read about other Yankee Hall of Famers

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

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

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

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

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

 





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

24 01 2015

RIP, Mr. Cub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s compare the primes of these three players:

Home runs

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

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

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

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

Runs batted in

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

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

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

Batting average

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

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

Hits

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

Runs

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

Walks

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

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

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

Strikeouts

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

Sacrifice flies

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

Leading leagues

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

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

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

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

Awards

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

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

Summarizing their primes

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

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

Post-season


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

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

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

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

Personality

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

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

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

After the prime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs vs. Yankees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell to Ernie

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

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





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

13 01 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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