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.

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Is Salvador Pérez (or any other current Royal) bound for the Hall of Fame? Too early to say, but …

29 11 2015
My Derek Jeter rookie card

My Derek Jeter rookie card

I remember my amusement in 1998 when sports writers and broadcasters expressed wonder at the Yankees’ dominance without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime.

In retrospect, everyone sees what I thought was pretty clear then: Derek Jeter, 24, and Mariano Rivera, 29, were early in careers that would make each a Hall of Fame lock if they stayed healthy and kept playing well. Each was completing just his third full year, so it was early to proclaim either bound for Cooperstown. But they were moving swiftly along the Hall of Fame path.

I wasn’t blogging at the time, so I scoffed only privately at the suggestion that this was a great team bereft of Hall of Famers. I might have bored a few friends or family members with my seemingly premature predictions of Cooperstown enshrinement. Now, Jeter and Rivera are universally seen as certain first-ballot winners.

In ’98, both were already playing like Hall of Famers. Rivera completed the second of 11 seasons with an ERA under 2.00. Jeter had the first of eight seasons with 200 or more hits. Looking back, we can say absolutely that those Yankees had two of the best ever at their roles, playing in their primes.

So what can we project now about the Kansas City Royals of the past two years? Do they have any players on a path that’s likely to end in Cooperstown?

During the World Series, my friend Jim Brady, a Mets fan who later would be named ESPN’s new Public Editor, said no:

We were arguing at the time, after the Mets fell behind 2-0, over whether the 2015 Royals were better than the 1986 Red Sox, which also fell behind the Mets 2-0 in a World Series. Of course, the Royals quickly won that argument for me.

They can’t win this argument so quickly. I will be surprised if this Royals team doesn’t have at least one Hall of Famer eventually. I expect two. Three wouldn’t surprise me. Four would be only a minor surprise. But we’re decades from knowing (we were at least a decade in ’98 from knowing whether I was right about Jeter and Rivera).

And it’s not just Jim. Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sports writers, wrote a similar piece to the stuff we were reading in 1998 about the Yankees, saying of this year’s Royals and Mets:

You would have to say there’s a good chance neither of these teams will have anybody elected to the Hall of Fame.

Before I address whether the current Royals can get any (or as many as three) Hall of Famers, I should note one thing Jim and I clarified in subsequent tweets. He was counting Roger Clemens as one of the ’86 Red Sox’ three Hall of Famers (along with Wade Boggs and Jim Rice). Clemens was a Hall of Fame talent having his best year in ’86. But he’s not in Cooperstown because of suspicions about use of performance-enhancing drugs a decade or so later. We agree that you have to count Clemens as a Hall of Famer in measuring the quality of these two teams, whether he gets eventual recognition or not. You would certainly include Pete Rose along with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Pérez in recognizing the all-time-great talent on the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, even though Rose is barred from Cooperstown consideration for betting on baseball when he was a manager in the 1980s.

The fun of the next decade or so will be seeing what becomes of today’s budding stars (from this KC team as well as other promising teams such as this year’s Mets, Cubs, Astros and Blue Jays and the recent Giants dynasty). We can’t know which budding stars will fizzle because the league figures them out or they don’t work hard enough; which will piss away their talent on drugs or other mistakes of life; which will, as Jim noted, surge later in their careers to the level of Hall of Fame consideration; which surged to brief stardom at the right time to be part of a great team but were not that great overall; which will turn a strong start into a Hall of Fame career.

I’ll start with my 2015 predictions (guesses really) for the current Royals, then examine the chances of various team members. First, I must agree that no one on the Royals is anywhere near Hall of Fame consideration. All of these projections are based on rising stars playing at or above their current level of play for another decade or more:

  • Catcher Salvador Pérez is a probable Hall of Famer.
  • I expect at least one, but not all three, of relief pitcher Wade Davis, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and first baseman Eric Hosmer to reach the Hall of Fame.
  • Third baseman Mike Moustakas and starting pitcher Yordano Ventura are unlikely Hall of Famers, but they are young, their careers are off to strong starts, and neither is out of reach if he continues an upward career path.
  • Alex Gordon is a long shot, having a good career but well short of Hall of Fame standards. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is younger than Gordon but less accomplished. Both need the career surge that Brady said all the Royals would need.
  • No other Royals have any chance, based on what we’ve seen so far, to make the Hall of Fame.

Salvador Pérez

Brady was specifically dismissive of my claim that Pérez was substantially better by 2015 than ’86 Boston catcher Rich Gedman, a good catcher who made two All-Star teams in a 13-year career and didn’t receive any Hall of Fame votes.

I made the point in October that Pérez is far better than the ’86 Gedman, and won’t repeat the argument today, but will instead expand the comparison to the Mets’ ’86 catcher, Gary Carter, who is in the Hall of Fame.

At age 25 (this year for Pérez, 1985 for Gedman, 1979 for Carter), the three catchers were clearly peers with solid starts to their careers:

  • Each was already an All-Star.
  • Each was strong behind the plate.
  • Pérez had played five seasons, the other two six.
  • All had two to four seasons catching 100 games or more.
  • Each had topped 20 homers in a season (Carter reaching 31).
  • They had similar batting averages, ranging from .267 to .279.
  • Same with slugging percentages, ranging from .431 to .450.
  • Their career doubles totals were tightly bunched, ranging from 102 to 110.

If they all turned 25 in the same season, which one would you say was bound for the Hall of Fame? The one with the highest slugging percentage (Gedman)? The one with the most homers and RBI (Carter)? The one with the highest batting average (Pérez)?

We know what happened to Carter after age 25: He played 13 more seasons, 100 or more games in 10 of them. Nine of those seasons he was as an All-Star. At age 32, his eighth-inning sacrifice fly sent Game Six of the ’86 World Series into extra innings and his two-out, 10th-inning single, trailing 5-3, started the rally that and Mets fans remember so fondly (and Red Sox fans so bitterly). Carter wound up in Cooperstown in 2003, his sixth year on the ballot.

We know what happened to Gedman after age 25: He became a platoon player, then a backup, and played in more than 100 games only the season he was 26 (1986).

We don’t know what will happen to Pérez after age 25.

Carter probably had the best career of the three by age 25. He started at age 21 and had played more than 100 games more than either Gedman or Pérez. So all of Carter’s career totals were better. But when they played full seasons, all three catchers’ performances were comparable, but not yet dominant. None of them had a 100-RBI season (Carter, with 84, had the highest total). Carter also had the best season for homers, 31. Gedman and Carter both tied for the most runs in a season by 86. Pérez had the most hits in a season, 150, and the highest season batting average, .292.

Gedman made one All-Star team by age 25, Carter two and Pérez three. Carter didn’t win the first of his three Gold Gloves until he was 26. Pérez won his third this season. Gedman never won a Gold Glove.

You could argue, as Jim does, that Gedman was better than Pérez: His on-base and slugging percentages were higher, and his batting average just a point lower. But it’s a weak argument. Though Gedman had six seasons in the big leagues by age 25, to only five for Pérez, the Royal catcher became a full-time player faster and played more games, getting more hits, runs, RBI and homers.

I’d project Pérez to have a career more like Carter than Gedman. But you never know until the career unfolds.

Carter was a fun comparison because the Royals were playing the Mets in this year’s World Series and because of Jim’s and my banter about the ’86 Mets and Red Sox. But to truly understand Pérez’s chances, let’s compare him to all Hall of Fame catchers by age 25.

First, we can dismiss the six catchers elected to the Hall of Fame by Veterans Committees, because Pérez is far better at age 25 than any of them:

  • Roger Bresnahan didn’t play more than 116 games in any season by age 25. Pérez already has three seasons catching 137 or more games. In his full 17-year career, Bresnahan didn’t match Pérez’s career bests already for hits, homers and RBI in a season. And both have career batting averages of .279. Only once did Bresnahan catch 139 games in a season, a figure Pérez has already surpassed twice.
  • Ray Schalk played more than Bresnahan by age 25, but his most games caught in a season by then were 139. But again, he doesn’t even approach Pérez’s offensive performance. Here’s a fun fact: Pérez is really slow, with just two career steals (though he’s never been caught). Schalk stole 15 bases at age 22 in 1915, but he was thrown out 18 times. So Pérez probably hurt his team less on the bases.
  • Ernie Lombardi didn’t play more than 132 games in a season his whole career, and he didn’t reach that level until age 26. He played only three seasons by age 25, and none of his offensive totals approached Pérez’s, though his batting average was better.
  • Rick Ferrell also had played only three seasons by age 25. But take his whole career, and he never matched Pérez’s single-season bests for hits, homers and RBI. His most games caught in a season were 137 at age 27 in 1933.
  • Buck Ewing and Deacon White were 19th-century catchers whose achievements by age 25 don’t nearly match up with Pérez’s, but they are hardly comparable because of shorter seasons. Ewing caught no more than 80 games in a season by that age, White no more than 56.

Because Negro League seasons and stats were not comparable to major league, I also won’t compare Pérez to the early careers of Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey or Louis Santop. Roy Campanella, who had a Hall of Fame career in the majors, also doesn’t compare, because he started in the Negro Leagues and didn’t reach the “majors” until age 26.

For a more detailed comparison of Pérez to Hall of Fame catchers, I compared him to the seven catchers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America who played in the majors by age 25: Carter, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett. And I threw in Mike Piazza, who got 70 percent of the writers’ vote last year and looks likely to make it in the next year or two.

I ranked those nine catchers, including Pérez, by career stats by age 25. The comparisons are pretty fair. Pérez, Berra, Dickey, Fisk and Hartnett all came up to the majors at age 21. Cochrane was 22 and Piazza 23 when they made the big leagues. Bench was 19 and Carter 20. Pérez ranks third among the nine in career hits and doubles by age 25, behind only Carter and Bench. He’s fourth in homers and fifth in RBI. He’s sixth in runs and batting average, last in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Most of the Hall of Fame catchers played before the Gold Gloves started in 1957, and some before the All-Star game started in 1933. But only Bench, with six All-Star games and six Gold Gloves by age 25, had more of either than Pérez, with three of each. In fact, Bench, with 10 Gold Gloves, is the only Hall of Fame catcher with more for his career than Pérez has already. Carter won three in his whole career and Fisk and Piazza never won one. (The other Hall of Fame catchers played all or most of their careers before Gold Gloves were awarded.)

Bench won two MVP awards by age 25 and Cochrane won one. Piazza and Fisk were Rookies of the Year. Pérez did not win either of those awards, but is the only one of the group to be a World Series MVP by age 25 (Bench won that award in 1976 at age 28).

Clearly Pérez belongs in that group and is well on the way to the Hall of Fame if he continues to play well and stay healthy for another decade. He needs no surge, just time.

Iván Rodríguez deserves mention here. Because of his steroid use, he may not make the Hall of Fame or may wait a long time before voters figure out whether or when to elect suspected users of performance-enhancing drugs. But he, like Bench, had six All-Star appearances, six Gold Gloves and superior offensive numbers to Pérez by age 25.

Among active catchers, Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are probably the other catchers with the best shots at Cooperstown. Mauer caught 139 games at age 25, the most he has caught in a season. But he won two batting titles and was a two-time All-Star by age 25. Molina won his first Gold Glove (of eight in a row) at age 25. His offensive numbers all lagged well behind Pérez. Posey was Rookie of the Year at age 23, but his numbers were still well below Pérez by age 24. But his MVP season at 25, with a batting championship and his first All-Star appearance pulled him even with, if not ahead of, Pérez by 25.

Other great catchers who have not made it to the Hall of Fame — Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada, Walker Cooper, Sherm Lollar, Lance Parrish and Bob Boone — were nowhere near as good as Pérez at age 25. Elston Howard, starting his career late because of military service and racial discrimination, didn’t play in the “major” leagues until age 26. Joe Torre, Ted Simmons and Bill Freehan started their careers similarly to Pérez, clearly somewhat better in Torre’s case.

However you compare Pérez to Hall of Famers or the best contemporary catchers or the best catchers by age 25, he holds his own, better than most, but not the best. It’s way too early to stamp his ticket to Cooperstown, but he’s absolutely one of the best 25-year-old catchers in baseball history and well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

Wade Davis


It’s hard to find a Hall of Fame reliever who’s comparable to Davis. Five Hall of Famers were relievers all or nearly all of their careers: Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers. John Smoltz was probably a Hall of Famer just as a starter, but his three years as a dominant closer following Tommy John surgery made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Dennis Eckersley is in the Hall of Fame as a reliever, but, like Davis, began his career as a starter. Eck had a better starting career than Davis, pitching a solid decade-plus as a starter and winning 20 games in 1978. Davis was a mediocre starter for three seasons, so that’s a clear advantage for Eck.

But in their late blooming as relievers, Davis has five significant advantages over Eck:

  1. Davis moved to the Royals’ bullpen at age 28, four years younger than Eck was when he became a reliever.
  2. Davis moved to the closer role at age 29, three years younger than Eck.
  3. Davis was immediately dominant as a reliever and as a closer. Eck had a decent first year in the bullpen in 1987 at age 32, but he didn’t become a dominant closer until he was 33.
  4. Davis’ first two seasons as a reliever were more dominant than all but one season of Eck’s career. Davis has not matched the brilliant 0.61 ERA that Eck posted in 1990, but his ERAs of 1.00 in 2014 and 0.94 in 2015 are better than any other Eck seasons. Eck also never matched the 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings that Davis got in 2014.
  5. Eck had a 3.00 ERA in 28 post-season appearances. His most famous post-season pitch was the homer that Kirk Gibson hit, barely able to hobble around the base path. Davis’ post-season ERA in 23 appearances is 0.84. And he hasn’t given up a run in seven World Series games. Eck was 0-2 with a 5.79 World Series ERA in six games.

A Rivera-Davis comparison also is noteworthy. Rivera didn’t become a big leaguer until age 25, a dominant reliever until 26 or a closer until age 27. He was ahead of Davis at age 29, but Rivera never had full-season ERAs as low as Davis’ for the past two years. If a starter-turned-reliever is ahead of Eckersley and not far behind Rivera, he certainly has a shot at the Hall of Fame.

I place Pérez ahead of Davis as a Hall of Fame prospect because he is further along the Hall of Fame path earlier in his career. But Davis is more dominant, and I could see him appearing the Royals’ strongest Cooperstown prospect after a full year or two as closer.

Also, relievers such as Willie Hernandez, Eric Gagne, Sparky Lyle, Royal Dan Quisenberry, Lee Smith, Bobby Thigpen and Dave Righetti appeared much closer to the Hall of Fame at age 29 than Davis does, and none of them has reached the Hall of Fame. Few catchers ever were as good as Pérez by age 25, and they’re almost all in Cooperstown, if eligible.

Eric Hosmer

Hosmer, who turned 26 during the post-season, doesn’t compare as well to all Hall of Fame first basemen at the same age as Pérez does to the greatest catchers.

But Hosmer compares well to some Hall of Fame first basemen. He ended the regular season at age 25 with substantially more runs, hits, homers and RBI by than Tony Pérez at the same age, and he already has three Gold Gloves, an honor Pérez never won. Willie McCovey didn’t start playing like a Hall of Famer until age 25, when he won the first of his three home run titles, with 44 in 1963. Willie Stargell also started hitting like a Hall of Famer at age 25, his first season with 100 RBI. Through age 24, Hosmer was definitely better than McCovey and Stargell.

On the other hand, first basemen Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez were all MVPs by age 25 and Hosmer hasn’t come close.

Returning to Jim Brady’s comparison to the ’86 Red Sox, let’s compare Hosmer to Dwight Evans. They don’t play the same position, but both are Gold Glove defenders at positions where championship teams need offensive production. And Jim mentioned them both in tweets, Hosmer dismissively and Evans as a Hall of Fame contender:

We do agree that Dwight Evans was a Hall of Fame contender. But he wasn’t close in the writers’ voting, lasting just three years on the ballot and peaking at 10 percent of the vote.

Evans was one of the best defensive right fielders ever. Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline and certain Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki are the only right fielders with more Gold Gloves than Evans’ eight.

Hosmer is a long way from eight Gold Gloves. But he already has three, two more than Evans did at 25.

But Evans isn’t one of those rare defensive specialists who make the Hall of Fame with weak offensive credentials. He wasn’t fully developed yet as a hitter at age 25 (probably like many of the Royals). Still, Evans ended his career with 2,446 hits, 385 homers and 1,384 RBI. If Veterans Committees eventually start adding older players of his era to the Hall of Fame, I think he’s got a reasonable case.

But at age 25, Hosmer is way closer to Cooperstown.

Do you remember the “barring career surge” in Jim’s dismissal of the Royals’ chances of landing anyone in the Hall of Fame, like such a surge is an outlandish possibility? Well, Evans gets discussed as a Hall of Fame contender only because of his career surge.

Evans came up to the majors at 20, Hosmer at 21. But Hosmer became a full-time player immediately, playing over 150 games three of his first five seasons, while Evans only once topped 140. Because Hosmer has played 728 games and Evans had played in only 617, comparisons of career totals aren’t fair (and Hosmer wins them all).

So let’s compare their best figures for any full season through age 25, to see who was blossoming more into a star:

  • Batting average: Hosmer .302, Evans .287
  • On-base: Tied at .363
  • Slugging: Hosmer .465, Evans .456
  • Homers: Hosmer 19, Evans 17
  • RBI: Hosmer 93, Evans 70
  • Hits: Hosmer 188, Evans 130
  • Runs: Hosmer 98, Evans 61
  • Doubles: Hosmer 35, Evans 34
  • Walks: Hosmer 61, Evans 57

No one would have forecast Evans as a Hall of Fame contender at age 25. Maybe Hosmer won’t become one. He’s a long way from Cooperstown. That he got a quicker start on the Cooperstown path than Evans, Tony Pérez, McCovey and Stargell, but lags behind Mattingly, Garvey and Hernandez tells you how impossible it is to project Hall of Famers, especially at first base or the outfield, this early in the career.

A catcher doesn’t have to hit career milestones such as 3,000 hits or 500 homers, or put up strings of batting or home run titles to make the Hall of Fame. Outfielders and first basemen need titles or milestones to make the Hall of Fame without a long wait, if ever.

Hosmer clearly has a shot, but he has further to go than Salvador Pérez and is not yet as dominant as Davis.

Johnny Cueto


Starting pitcher might be the toughest position for which to project Hall of Famers. As I noted when Randy Johnson was elected, no one would have projected him for Cooperstown at 29, Cueto‘s age this year. Cueto also is well ahead of Phil Niekro at the same age, but probably not likely to pitch to age 48, like Niekro did.

With a strikeout title last year and two years in the top four for the National League Cy Young, Cueto has a solid start to his career. But he needs to pitch better in his 30s than in his 20s, and that’s unlikely.

Mike Moustakas

I think Moose is a long shot for Cooperstown. Hall of Fame third basemen such as George Brett, Mike SchmidtBrooks Robinson and Eddie Mathews were all much more accomplished by age 26, Moose’s age this year.

But Moose, who broke in at age 22, was more accomplished by age 24 than Boggs, who was a rookie at that age and played only 104 games. Boggs, another of those ’86 Red Sox, won the first of his five batting titles at age 25 and had two 200-hit seasons by age 26, so I’d place him ahead of Moose on the path to Cooperstown at that age. But not that far ahead. Boggs had been an All-Star twice at age 26. Moose was an All-Star for the first time. They’re not comparable as hitters, because Moose hits for power and Boggs was so great at getting on base. But Moose is a far better fielder. And the point is that Boggs was a long way from Cooperstown at age 26. He had almost 2,500 hits still in his future, as well as four more batting championships and 10 All-Star seasons.

Paul Molitor, like Moose, had only one All-Star appearance by age 26, and also didn’t look like he was heading to the Hall of Fame. Moose had better power numbers, Molitor more hits and runs.

Moose has a solid start to his career. Each of those Hall of Fame third basemen made it to Cooperstown primarily for his accomplishments after age 26. Too early to say whether he can match their full careers.

Yordano Ventura

Ventura is only 24, has pitched just two full seasons and has lots of promise. It would be crazy to say he’s headed for Cooperstown, or that he has no shot. He’s a long shot because every player is a long shot this early in his career. He has no Hall of Fame credentials, but he has the talent to have a Hall of Fame career.

He’s not afraid to pitch inside. Like Clemens, he hit nine batters the season he was 24.

Alcides Escobar

I don’t think Escobar will make the Hall of Fame. He’s 28 and just made his first All-Star game and won his first Gold Glove this year. Ozzie Smith had four Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances by age 28. But Escobar is far superior offensively at this point in his career. Barry Larkin also had four All-Star appearances by age 28 and was a better hitter (though he hadn’t won a Gold Glove yet). Luis Aparicio had five All-Star seasons and seven straight stolen-base titles by age 28. Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr. and Jeter all were much further down the Cooperstown path at age 28.

At three years older than Perez and Hosmer and two years older than Moose, Escobar does need a career surge to make the Hall of Fame. But he has time.

Alex Gordon

Gordon‘s 31, and I don’t think he’s making the Hall of Fame. Though he has three All-Star seasons and four Gold Gloves, he hasn’t had the kind of offensive performance that gets outfielders into Cooperstown. No seasons with 200 hits, 30 homers or 100 RBI. Only one season hitting over .300. He needs a better career after age 31, and to play for a long time, to have a shot.

Lorenzo Cain

Cain had his first All-Star season this year at age 29. I can think of no Hall of Fame outfielder who had the kind of late-career surge Cain would need to make it to Cooperstown. Hall of Fame outfielders all become stars younger than Cain did.

Most prospects don’t make the Hall of Fame

Any Royals fan knows that making the Hall of Fame is difficult and unlikely. The franchise has been playing baseball since 1969 and Brett is the only person who played primarily for the Royals to make the Hall of Fame. The Mets have played even longer, since 1962, with only Tom Seaver in the Hall of Fame primarily as a Met (Carter played 12 years for the Montreal Expos, only five for the Mets).

Bret Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards by age 25 and lasted just one year on the baseball writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.

Frank White won eight Gold Gloves but lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot.

Willie Wilson stole 668 bases (12th all-time) and added a batting championship, five seasons leading the league in triples, a Gold Glove and 13 inside-the-park homers. And he lasted only a year on the writers’ ballot.

Steve Busby pitched two no-hitters and had 59 career wins by age 25, and finished his career with 70 wins.

Dan Quisenberry led the American League in saves five out of six seasons and hasn’t made the Hall of Fame. He’s come closest to joining Brett in the Hall of Fame, lasting just a year on the writers’ ballot but getting consideration on the 2013 Expansion Era ballot.

Those ’86 Mets that beat the Red Sox Jim and I were discussing had only one Hall of Famer, Carter.

But two members of that team looked like sure Hall of Famers in 1986: Dwight Gooden, a 21-year-old three-time All-Star, and Darryl Strawberry, a 24-year-old three-time All-Star. Their stories of drug addiction, wasted potential and prison time are well-known, so I won’t bother with them here.

Accurately predicting or dismissing enshrinement for great (or even promising) young players is impossible.

But here’s my call: By 2045, Perez and Davis will have joined Brett in the Hall of Fame. One other 2015 Royal will join them eventually, most likely Hosmer. But the third Hall of Fame Royal (fourth counting Brett), if ever, will be a selection of whatever veterans committees make Hall of Fame selections decades from now.

In a separate post tomorrow, I’ll show how rare Brett’s Royals were in having just one Hall of Famer, and how exceeding rare it is for a team to win a World Series with no Hall of Famers.

I don’t fault anyone who thinks I’m overly optimistic for these Royals, but I was right about Jeter and Rivera and I’m similarly confident now.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, all statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.





Were the 1986 Red Sox better than the 2015 Royals?

30 10 2015

My good friend Jim Brady’s Mets are having a better season than my favorite team, the Yankees. But my second-favorite team, the Royals, are having a better season (so far; it’s long from over) than Jim’s Mets.

As the Royals were surging to Wednesday night’s victory (with my son Mike in the crowd), I remembered that both the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets won after trailing those World Series 2-0 (and the 1981 Yankees lost in six games after taking a 2-0 lead). I was thinking I’d note those facts in a semi-gracious Twitter message to Jim after the game. But then I saw Jim had noted one of those historic facts himself:

Well, it ain’t over, we agree on that. I quoted Yogi Berra, former Yankee legend and Mets manager, on that topic in a post just Wednesday.

I’m hoping for a sweep (son Tom, who will be in New York for Game Four, shares that hope). But I love the ebb and flow of a World Series. I’ll love a seven-game Series, too, especially if the Royals win.

But, in the trash-talking spirit of good friends sharing sports fun and the fact-checking practice of this blog, I couldn’t let Jim get away with that “better team” BS:

Jim dropped some nice names and I responded:

Red Sox fan Matt DeRienzo (Red Sox fans are still paying attention to baseball?), a mutual friend, weighed in:

I probably should have declared victory when Jim tried to compare the Red Sox’ star right fielder to a Royals pinch-runner and fifth outfielder:

But a drug being used for my stem-cell harvest woke me up in the middle of the night Wednesday. And I really wondered which team was better, the 1986 Red Sox or the 2015 Royals. Jim, Matt and I all were reacting from emotion, memory, loyalty and hope, not research. So I thought I’d see who really was better. I ended up doing way more research than I originally anticipated. And way more writing. (On another blog, I posted in the middle of the night about writing under the influence of drugs this week.)

I won’t bother with comparing the 1986 and 2015 Mets, but I welcome Jim to do that in a guest post, if he’d like. I doubt the comparison would boost his confidence. I don’t expect Jim to do a guest post (he’s a busy man and not using my drugs), so I’ll entertain offers from other Mets fans, baseball-research geeks or insomniacs who would like to do a guest post comparing the two Met teams. Update: Jim did respond on Twitter to this post. I shared some of those tweets in a follow-up post on friendly baseball arguments.

But I know a team that swept the Cubs in four games can win this World Series in six. Or seven. This is a good Mets team (reminds me a lot of last year’s Royals), and I’m not over-confident.

And if the Mets win, I’ll blame this whole post on the drugs.

Comparison by position

Position-by-position breakdowns are never the best way to compare baseball teams, but sportswriters and fans do that, so I’ll start here:

Catcher

Boston’s Rich Gedman was an All-Star twice, including the 1986 season. He never won a Gold Glove. The Royals’ Salvador Pérez is 25, a year younger than Gedman was in ’86. But Pérez has already had a better career in five years (just three full-time) than Gedman had in 13 years (just three of them playing more than 100 games). Pérez has three All-Star appearances, including this year, and two Gold Gloves. And he hit better this year than Gedman in ’86 in every significant offensive category.

Big advantage for the Royals.

First base

Jim really dropped Buckner‘s name here? (OK, I can see why a Mets fan would drop Buckner’s name a lot; it’s not like you’d want to claim Mookie Wilson drove in the winning run.) Well, Eric Hosmer did have a key error at first base in Game One, but it was on a tough hop, not an easy ground ball between the legs. And Hosmer atoned that night with the winning RBI in the 14th inning.

Buckner might have had a better career than Hosmer will. Billy Buck was a former batting champion who would retire with 2,715 hits. But Buckner never won a Gold Glove in 22 major league seasons. Hosmer should win his third this year. Red Sox fans’ continuing complaint about Game Six in ’86 is that manager John McNamara should have sent Dave Stapleton in to play defense for Buckner in the 9th inning. No one ever goes in as a defensive replacement for Hosmer. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales played only nine games at first this year.

Offensively, Hosmer had a better year in ’15 than Buckner in ’86, measured by runs, hits and batting average. They both hit 18 homers. Buckner had an edge in RBI that season, 102 to 93. But, as I noted Wednesday, Hosmer has more post-season RBI than George Brett. Hosmer drove in as many runs in the first two games of this World Series as Buckner drove in during the whole 1986 14-game post-season, four.

Clear win for the Royals at first base.

I will concede this point to Matt and Jim: The Red Sox had stronger depth at first base. Stapleton closed out all three Red Sox wins in 1986.

If you like (or can’t yet forgive) Buckner, and don’t want to wade through this analysis, scroll to the end for a couple of fun anecdotes.

Second base

Marty Barrett sizzled in the 1986 post-season, winning the ALCS MVP and getting 13 World Series hits, tying a record he still shares. He would have been the World Series MVP if Buckner had fielded that grounder. So I’ll give the Red Sox an edge here.

But Ben Zobrist is a two-time All-Star whose career has already surpassed Barrett’s (10 years each, but Zobrist is still going strong). Zobrist in ’15 and Barrett in ’86 were comparable. This is close, but I value post-season play highly, so Barrett wins.

Shortstop

We’ll blame Twitter’s 140-character limit for Jim’s and Matt’s failure to mention Spike Owen, who started all seven games for the Red Sox in ’86. Alcides Escobar is an All-Star this year (Owen never was in 13 seasons). Escobar was the ALCS MVP and is well on his way to being the World Series MVP. (Obligatory acknowledgment here that the Series is far from over.)

Third base 

OK, Jim, I gotta give you Wade Boggs, a Hall of Famer who led the league in ’86 in batting, on-base percentage and walks, on top of getting 207 hits. (Since this is a blog that’s usually about the Yankees, I’ll add that he wasn’t a World Series champion until 1996.)

But this isn’t as big a win as Jim probably thinks. Mike Moustakas hit more homers and drove in more runs this year than Boggs in ’86 (admittedly, Boggs was a leadoff hitter). In the first two games of this Series, Moose is hitting .444 and slugging .944 with two RBI. Boggs hit .290 and slugged .371 in the ’86 Series with three RBI in seven games. Moose also is a better fielder.

I give Boggs the nod here for his career and the great season he had in ’86, and because I’d really have to be trolling Jim and Matt here to argue that Moose is better than a Hall of Famer in his prime. But I think I’d rather have Moose in my lineup in October. And I say that with fond memories of Boggs riding a horse in October.

Left field

The Red Sox have another Hall of Famer here, Jim Rice, an All-Star for the eighth and final time in ’86. He hit 20 homers, drove in 110 and hit .324. Those numbers are all better than Alex Gordon‘s numbers for this season (13, 48, .271, but he was injured and played only 110 games). Rice was 33 in 1986, at the end of his prime. Gordon is 31, just two years younger and still in the prime of a career that includes three All-Star appearances so far.

Argue for Rice if you want, Matt and Jim, but Gordon wins this. He’s a four-time Gold Glove winner. Rice never won one, and this Series is certainly showing how important defense is. As strong as Rice’s advantage in the regular season was, Gordon is better in October. Rice got a respectable nine hits in the ’86 Series, but no homers and no RBI, hitting just two slots behind Barrett, who was on base 18 times in the seven games. Gordo has three RBI already in this Series. And I’m pretty sure Jim (and all Mets fans) remember his homer:

Center field

Dave Henderson is remembered for his game-winning homer in the 1986 ALCS, and he continued his hot hitting with 10 World Series hits and two more homers. He was a good player, better in the post-season than the regular season, but he was never a great player. He made one All-Star team in his 14-year career.

Lorenzo Cain, born in 1986, made his first All-Star game this year and will probably win his first Gold Glove (Henderson never did). Cain has emerged the past couple years as a great player, especially in October. Like Henderson, he propelled his team to the World Series with a great play to win the ALCS.

Here’s an illustration of why Cain is better in ’15 than Henderson in ’86: Henderson was known for his power, not his speed. Cain is known for his speed, not his power. He stole 56 bases the past two years, more than the 50 Henderson stole in his career. But in the 1986 regular season, Henderson hit 15 homers. Cain had 16 this year.

Clear advantage for the Royals.

Right field 

I’ll give the Red Sox the advantage here, but it’s closer than Jim thinks.

Dwight Evans had a solid offensive year in ’86 (26 homers, 97 RBI), but he was nearing the end of his prime at age 34. Álex Ríos is past his prime, also 34, and his prime was not as good as Evans’ (but he’s made two All-Star games, as many as Evans had in ’86; Evans made his third two years later).

But Ríos is hitting .308 this post-season, with 13 hits and three RBI in 13 games. Evans got 14 hits and three RBI in 14 post-season games in 1986.

The right field comparison is not just Evans vs. Ríos. Evans played every inning in the 1986 Series. But rookie Paulo Orlando replaces Ríos in right field regularly in the late innings, playing in nine of the Royals’ 13 post-season games. He’s added three more hits and another RBI, along with excellent fielding and base running (he’s also used as a pinch runner). So the Royals have gotten more offensive production from their right fielders this post-season than the Red Sox did in 1986.

Evans was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, so I’m not going to suggest that any Royal ever was as strong defensively in right field. But the Royals have played well in right. And I bet Orlando covers more ground.

Evans gets a slight clear advantage here based on his full season and my respect for his career. But in October, the Red Sox didn’t outplay the Royals in right field.

Jarrod Dyson, the player Jim compared to Evans, had two at-bats as designated hitter after pinch-running Tuesday night. He has not played an inning in right field in this World Series. Update: I initially called this a “slight” advantage here, but “clear” later on when I summarized the match-ups. I changed that in this section. For more discussion of Jim’s and my debate about Evans and Ríos, see my follow-up post.

Designated hitter

Speaking of DH, Don Baylor was one of the best ever at that role. He should be on anyone’s top-10 list of best DH’s ever, and he’s certainly on mine. (I have fond memories of watching him play for the Yankees, including two grand slams, one against the Royals.) In his 19-year career, Baylor had well more than double the career figures of Royals DH Kendrys Morales in nine years by any important measure.

But we’re talking ’86 vs. ’15, not career vs. career. Both were excellent DH’s in those years, but Morales beat Baylor in batting average (.290 to .238), on-base percentage (.362 to .344), slugging (.485 to .439), RBI (106-94), hits (165-139), doubles (41-24) and even triples (2-1). Baylor beat Morales in homers (31-22), runs (93-81) and walks (62-58). Morales was clearly the better hitter in the two seasons, and that’s about all DH’s do.

Well, not quite. They also run the bases. Baylor stole 285 bases for his career and 52 in one season when he was young. In the ’86-’15 comparison, Baylor stole three bases and Morales stole none. But Baylor was caught stealing five times and Morales never attempted a steal. Dyson or Orlando will pinch-run for Morales if he gets on base in a situation where the Royals need speed to deliver a run. The ’86 Baylor was a bigger liability than Morales on the base paths.

As clutch as Baylor was, Morales’ hitting with two outs and men on base has been amazing this year:

Here’s where the ’15 Morales blows away the ’86 Baylor: in the post-season, and that’s what this whole post is about anyway. Morales has four homers and 10 RBI this October (none in the World Series yet, and he’s just 1-for-7). Baylor had 1 homer and three RBI in the ’86 post-season.

I respect and like Baylor too much to call this a huge advantage for the Royals, but it’s a clear advantage.

Starting pitchers

I’ll introduce the World Series rotations, then I’ll compare:

  • Roger Clemens, 23 that season, was younger than any of the Royal starters this year. And better. He was the MVP with the best season of his career and one of the best ever by any pitcher. The big numbers: 24-4, 2.48 (both leading the league), 238 strikeouts. The Royals have never had a pitching season that good, even Bret Saberhagen‘s Cy Young seasons. I don’t think any current Royal pitcher will ever match Clemens’ ’86 season. And, of course, he had one of the best pitching careers in history (not going to detour into the performance-enhancing drugs here). More on Clemens later.
  • Bruce Hurst, 28, was a good pitcher for the season (13-8, 2.99, 167) and for his career (145-113, 3.92, 1,689). He was an All-Star in 1987 and finished fifth in the 1988 Cy Young voting. And he was on a roll in the ’86 post-season, going 3-0 in five starts, including 2-0 in three starts against the Mets, Games One, Five and Seven. If he hadn’t blown a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, he could have beaten out Barrett as the Series MVP. (More on Game Seven later, too.)
  • Oil Can Boyd (given name Dennis) had perhaps his best season in ’86 (16-10, 3.78, 129). But he had a mediocre 10-year career (78-77, 4.04, 799). He started Game Three and gave up six of the runs in a 7-1 loss. In the tweet early in this post, Matt remembered Oil Can fondly, and I do, too. But Matt will not recall that tweet fondly after reading this post. (Don’t delete it, Matt; I already screen-grabbed.)
  • Al Nipper, 27, Boston’s Game Four starter in ’86, didn’t have either as good a nickname or as good a career as Oil Can. He was 10-12, posting a losing record for a team that finished 29 games over .500. I checked to see if some sort of injury forced the Red Sox to pitch him in the World Series, but he got 26 starts during the season, one more than Hurst. He was the No. 4 starter. He just sucked, with a 5.38 ERA. He had a seven-year career, with a 46-50 record and a 4.52 ERA.

OK, let’s look at the Royals’ starting rotation. Of course, career numbers are all works in progress.

  • Edinson Vólquez, 32, the Royals’ Game One starter, was 13-9 this year, with a 3.55 ERA and 155 strikeouts. In an 11-year career, he’s been an All-Star once and is 79-68, 4.29, 1,090. He left Game One after six strong innings, tied 3-3. I addressed the ethics of media reports announcing the death of Vólquez’s father in a post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary.
  • Johnny Cueto, born in 1986, was an All-Star and 20-game winner last year, finishing second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young vote. He won 19 games and finished fourth in 2012 (losing to R.A. Dickey, who amazingly isn’t part of the Mets’ powerful rotation three years later). Cueto was 11-13 this year (4-7 after the Royals got him from the Reds in a trade). As in the regular season, Cueto has been inconsistent in October. In Game Two against the Astros, Cueto settled down after a rocky start and left the game tied 4-4 after six innings. A run in the seventh inning delivered the win for the Royals. Cueto retired his final 19 batters in eliminating the Astros from the Division Series, 7-2. Then he gave up eight runs without getting an out in the third inning against the Blue Jays in Game Four of the ALCS. Then he pitched a two-hitter Wednesday night, the first World Series complete game by an American Leaguer since Jack Morris in 1991.
  • Yordano Ventura, 24, scheduled to start Game Three tonight, has 27 wins in his first two seasons as a Royal, going 13-8, 4.08 and 156 this year. He gave up only three hits in seven shutout innings last year as a rookie in Game Six to tie the World Series. He hasn’t won yet this post-season. He lost Game One to the Astros in the Division Series and would have lost Game Four, but a late-inning comeback bailed him out. He gave up six runs in two starts against the Blue Jays, but got no decisions. The Royals won both games.
  • Chris Young, 36, who won Game One Tuesday after taking over in the 12th inning, is still scheduled to start Game Four Saturday in New York. He had one of his best seasons this year. Young has battled various injuries in 11 seasons for five teams, including the Mets (for whom he was only 5-9 in two seasons). He’s been good when he could pitch, 76-58 for his career. He was an All-Star for the Padres in 2007, but this year was only his fourth season with double-digit wins. He was 11-6, 3.08, with 83 strikeouts in 18 starts and 16 relief appearance this year, his first season as a Royal and his only year with much bullpen work. He pitched well against the Astros in relief and in a start against the Blue Jays, with no decisions or saves.

Barring developments such as extra innings and injuries, I’d expect Vólquez, Cueto and Ventura to pitch Games 5-7 if needed. (Vólquez is expected to be return from his father’s funeral in time for Game Five.)

So here’s how the pitching rotations compare:

  • No one on the Royals matches or even approaches Clemens, either for career or for the regular season leading up to the World Series.
  • No one on the Royals was as bad a pitcher for the season or career as Nipper. I’m usually dismissive of WAR as a valuable stat, but I’ll use it here: Nipper’s ’86 WAR was -0.9 in ’86. The Red Sox’ Game Four starter wasn’t even a replacement-level pitcher (that’s the R in replacement). Young’s WAR this year was 2.5.
  • No Red Sox pitcher other than Clemens had Cueto’s potential to dominate a game. You can’t count on that domination, but he’s already delivered magnificently once in this Series, plus a deciding game earlier in the post-season.
  • Hurst’s and Boyd’s ’86 seasons were pretty similar to Vólquez’s and Ventura’s ’15 performances.
  • It’s too early to say whether a Royal will match Hurst’s two-win performance. But Young and Cueto certainly could.
  • The Red Sox had no one comparable to Young, either in mixing starting and relief during the regular season or in starting after a relief appearance in the World Series. He’s a far better pitcher than Nipper, and I’d take him over Boyd.
  • Speaking of Boyd: The Mets torched him for four runs in Game Three of the ’86 World Series, starting their comeback. McNamara stuck with him and he pitched five scoreless innings before giving up two more runs. The Mets won 7-1 and dominated the Series from there. Boyd is the reason that Jim has confidence in this year’s Mets, but I can’t fathom why Matt would cite him positively in a comparison with this year’s Royals. Usually your Game Three starter pitches in Game Seven. But a rain delay between Games Six and Seven allowed McNamara to pitch Hurst, his hot starter, on three days’ rest in Game Seven. Matt, you don’t win an argument by citing a guy your manager didn’t trust to pitch Game Seven. Whatever happens to Ventura Friday, Yost will have confidence in him for Game Seven. Boyd was 26 in 1986. And he never pitched as well again. Few things are as unpredictable in sports as the futures of young pitchers. By the time “Bull Durham” was released just two years later, it was already laughable for Nuke LaLoosh to call Oil Can one of the “great ones.”
  • Matt’s proud memory of Hurst also overlooks or forgets Game Seven. As heart-breaking as Game Six was for Red Sox fans, Boston staked Hurst to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. They were back in control of the Series. Hurst had a lead and an opportunity to become the 13th pitcher to win three games in a single World Series. After five shutout innings, the Mets tied the game against Hurst. That’s not an embarrassment or a bad game. He left the game in the same circumstance as Vólquez did Tuesday. One guy’s teammates won the game after he left, the other guy’s teammates lost it.
  • Finally, while recognizing Clemens’ greatness (the flaws, we think came later), he wasn’t as special in October. He was 12-8 for his career in the post-season: a good record, but not dominant. He did leave Game Six in ’86 as the apparent winner, leading 3-2 after seven innings. Playing in the National League park, McNamara pinch-hit for Clemens in the top of the eighth inning.
  • Clemens wins almost any comparison to the current Royals, but not this one: Cueto pitched a complete-game two-hitter in the World Series, just a shade better than a couple of Clemens gems for the Yankees. But better.

Summing up the matchup of starting pitchers, Clemens is a clear winner at the top of the rotation and Young is the clear winner in the four slot. At the second and third spots, both Royals are at least as good as Hurst and better than Boyd. I think starting pitching is probably a push, but I’ll be generous and give the Red Sox a microscopic edge based on Clemens.

One interesting fact about the 1986 Red Sox pitching staff: I haven’t mentioned Boston’s only starter that year who’s in the Hall of Fame: the Mets’ all-time best pitcher, Tom Seaver. Like many great players, Seaver tried to wring every last drop from his career. He started the season 2-6 for the White Sox, then was traded June 29 to the Red Sox for Steve Lyons. (More on Lyons later.)

He finished the season and his career 5-7 for the Red Sox, but an injury kept him from pitching in the post-season.

Bullpen

I was at Carl Yastrzemski‘s Hall of Fame induction ceremony (will have to blog about that someday) in 1989, three years after the ’86 World Series. The lawn outside the museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., a short drive from New England, was packed with Red Sox fans. Yaz gave a gracious speech, thanking his many coaches, managers and teammates he had played with. When he mentioned Bob Stanley‘s name, boos rippled through the crowd. Stanley’s wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in Game Six in ’86 and moved Ray Knight into scoring position for the Buckner error.

Stanley had a respectable 13-year career for Boston, saving 132 regular-season games and Game Two in ’86. He deserved better from the Cooperstown crowd.

Calvin Schiraldi (who was a Met the previous year) had a worse World Series out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in ’86, getting the losses in the final two games (Yaz, who retired in 1983, didn’t drop Schiraldi’s name at Cooperstown). He gave up the tying run in the eighth to squander Clemens’ lead. For some reason, McNamara left him in not only to start the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead, but didn’t bring in Stanley until Schiraldi had given up a run and put the tying and winning runs on base on consecutive one-out singles.

Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the past two years have been better than Schiraldi and Stanley ever were. And the Royals have better bullpen depth, too. This may be the best bullpen ever (and I’m literally writing those words wearing my Mariano Rivera jersey). Davis had a 1.00 ERA last year for the whole season, then improved it this year to 0.94. His career post-season ERA in 29 innings and 21 games is even better, 0.92. And his career World Series ERA in six innings over five games is 0.00. Herrera’s post-season ERA in 25 innings over 20 games is 1.44.

And the Royals have great bullpen depth, too, even after the injury to last year’s closer, Greg Holland, moved Davis from his eighth-inning role to closer.

The bullpen mismatch between the ’86 Red Sox and ’15 Royals was colossal, not just in the gap in quality, but in the importance to the Series (even though this Series is just two games old and one of them was a complete game).

Bench

I didn’t examine the game box scores in any detail, but on a quick glance at the ’86 Series summary, I don’t see any bench use by McNamara, except using Stapleton and pinch hitting for Owen and pitchers in the National League park (Mike Greenwell was 0-for-3 in four plate appearances, Stapleton and Tony Armas both 0-for-1).  Ed Romero, Owen’s backup, played in three games, going 0-for-1. So the only positive contribution from the Red Sox bench in ’86 was from Stapleton. And he was on the bench when it counted most. Armas was on the decline and Greenwell hadn’t played enough yet to qualify ’86 as his rookie season.

The Royals’ bench, on the other hand, is always in play. Orlando singled and moved to third in the 12th inning. Even though he was stranded, delaying the victory a couple of innings, Orlando had more offensive impact in that one game than the Red Sox’ bench in the whole ’86 series. Orlando scored two runs against Toronto and hit six triples and seven homers as a role player this season.

Dyson pinch-ran for Morales in Game One, but was stranded. He stayed in the game as DH and lined out to deep right-center in the 11th and flew out again in the 12th. He’s a dangerous pinch-runner: He averaged more than 30 steals the past four seasons without ever playing more than 120 games.

Orlando and Dyson surpass anyone the Red Sox had on their bench in ’86. I expect both to contribute to victories.

Manager

I think Royal Manager Ned Yost bunts too much and should have challenged the bad call at first base Wednesday night. (Replays showed Hosmer’s foot returning to first base before the runner arrived, and that play allowed the only Met run to score.) I’m not sure about Yost’s heavy use of defensive shifts. They clearly hurt Tuesday, but helped Wednesday.

But somehow Yost is a hell of a manager. He handles the pitching staff, the lineup and substitutions artfully. And his teams execute masterfully.

Yost is not remembered fondly in Milwaukee, where he had a losing record in six seasons. And he still doesn’t have a winning regular-season record for the Royals (468-469 in six seasons). But the last two seasons, especially in October, Yost has made the right moves. Or he makes the wrong moves work.

Just one example of Yost’s effective use of his pitching staff: Cueto is 5-1 at Kaufman Stadium, including the stellar post-season wins, since joining the Royals. So Yost pitched him in Game Two, meaning he won’t pitch on the road this Series. The first part of that worked spectacularly, and I like his chances at home in Game Six.

And Yost is just magical in his management of the bullpen.

My memories of details of McNamara’s managing in ’86 are less clear. McNamara was manager of the year, but I think Yost will probably win the award this year, so I don’t see an advantage there. Yost has led his team to two World Series in 12 years managing, and 1986 was the only time for McNamara. Like Yost, McNamara had a losing record as a manager (1,160-1,233).

The rain delay helped McNamara avoid using Oil Can a second time, but I don’t think he managed his pitching staff as well, especially the bullpen. And I’m pretty sure Royals fans won’t be cursing any Yost moves 29 years later, the way Red Sox fans respond if you ask why he didn’t send Stapleton in to close out Game Six at first base.

Position-by-position summary

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Absolute ass-kicking: Royals in the bullpen and shortstop
  • Clear advantage: Royals at catcher, first base, center field, DH, bench and manager; Red Sox at second base, third base, right field.
  • Slim advantage: Royals in left field; Red Sox at starting rotation

That’s nine advantages for the Royals, four for the Red Sox. And the Royals’ advantages are bigger.

Other measures

If you can remember a few hours ago when you started reading this, I admitted that position-by-position was not necessarily the best way to measure teams against each other. It’s not like basketball, with the shortstop pitching to the shortstop or anything like that. So here are some other ways to measure these teams (somewhat shorter, I promise):

Batting order

Both managers used set lineups, but the switching between league rules resulted in some changes so let’s compare AL lineups, then look at the pitchers:

  1. Boggs vs. Escobar. Esky led off the Series with an inside-the-park homer and has a triple, single three runs and three RBI in the first two games. He’s already matched Boggs’ run and RBI totals for the ’86 Series and, if the Series goes long enough, Escobar looks likely to beat Boggs’ nine hits (which included three doubles). Based on actual hitting in the Series, Escobar’s almost certain to win this on hitting and he’s much more dangerous once he gets on base. But Boggs, one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball history and certainly one of the top five leadoff hitters, did walk four times in the Series. Escobar walked 26 times all year, just once in the post-season. I think Escobar will end up with a better Series than Boggs. But for now, the Hall of Famer barely gets the edge here.
  2. The second basemen both batted second, so Barrett beats Zobrist again.
  3. Buckner hit .188 in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for Cain.
  4. Hosmer has four RBI already, including a game-winner. Rice didn’t drive in a run in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for the Royals. Actually a huge advantage in the Series, but I knocked it down a notch out of respect for the better regular season and Hall of Fame career.
  5. DH vs. DH. Morales already beat Baylor slightly.
  6. I love Moose, and he might end up having a better Series. But Evans hit .308 with two homers and nine RBI in the ’86 Series. And he had a better regular season. Clear advantage for Boston.
  7. Gordon matched Gedman’s ’86 World Series totals for runs, homers and run production (1) in the ninth inning of Game One. Royals in a landslide.
  8. Henderson had a good ’86 World Series, but Pérez had a better regular season and is off to a good World Series start. Slight advantage for the Royals.
  9. Spike Owen (and pinch-hitters) vs. Ríos. Clear advantage for the Royals.
  10. Pitchers and pinch-hitters. As noted, the Red Sox pinch hitters went hitless (including one New York at-bat by Baylor, whom I didn’t mention in the bench analysis). The Red Sox pitchers also were hitless. The Royals can’t do worse, and they have good pinch hitters. And you can count on seeing Morales more than once in three New York games. (That Baylor pinch-hit just once in four New York games adds to the Yost advantage over McNamara.) Clear advantage for the Royals.

The lineup breakdown:

  • Royals: Huge advantage at 7. Clear advantages at 3, 4, 9 and pitcher. Slight advantage at 8
  • Red Sox: Clear advantage at 2. Slight advantages at 1 and 5.

Again, the Royals had more and bigger advantages. They hold their own at the top of the order and dominate 6-9.

Season record

The Royals ran away with their division, winning by 12 games with a 95-67 record. The Red Sox must have had a rainout they didn’t make up. They were 95-66, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Dead even here.

Base running

This Royals’ advantage is almost as big as the bullpen blowout. Cain’s dash home from first on a single won the ALCS clincher over Toronto. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer started off the Royals’ World Series.

Fun speed fact No. 1: Both teams were caught stealing 34 times in the regular seasons we’re examining. The Royals stole 104 bases and the Red Sox just 41. Was Boston the worst base-stealing team ever to make a World Series?

Fun speed fact No. 2: The Royals legged out 42 triples in the regular season, twice as many as the Red Sox.

Fun speed fact No. 3: The Red Sox didn’t attempt a stolen base in the entire 1986 World Series (McNamara gets a little credit there for not sending them). The Royals have stolen four bases this post-season and been caught twice.

Team batting and pitching stats

The Red Sox scored 794 runs, hit 144 homers, batted .271, slugged .415, with a .346 on-base percentage. Those numbers were all better than the Royals (724, 139, .269, .412 .322).

Both teams’ pitchers actually gave up more homers (169 for Boston, 155 for KC) than their hitters slugged. Boston pitchers gave up 696 runs. Their team ERA was 3.93 and they struck out 1,033 batters. The Royals were better across the board: 641 runs, 3.73 ERA, 1,160 K’s.

Clearly the home ballparks account for the differences in both sets of stats.

Defense

The Buckner play aside, I don’t recall the Red Sox being bad at defense. But they had no Gold Glove winners in 1986. Two players on their team did combine for 10 career Gold Gloves:

  • Evans won eight Gold Gloves, but he won his last one in ’85.
  • I had forgotten that Wade Boggs won two Gold Gloves late in his career with the Yankees. That surprised me. He was a good fielder, staying at third base his whole career. His 107 games at DH were scattered over 12 seasons. But he wasn’t a great fielder.

And that’s all the Gold Gloves that the members of the 1986 Red Sox will ever win. The Royals, of course, are still playing, most of them quite young. And they already have three Gold Glove winners and eight total fielding trophies. If only two of the six contenders win this year, they will already match the career Gold Glove total of the ’86 Red Sox.:

  • Gordon, 31, has four Gold Gloves. If he doesn’t win his fifth this year, it will because of his time on the disabled list, not because his defense is declining.
  • Pérez, 25, already has two Gold Gloves and is a lock to win his third this year.
  • Hosmer, 26, has two and appears sure to get his third, too.
  • Escobar, 28, is a Gold Glove contender.
  • Cain, 29, got the attention and reputation that help win Gold Gloves with his sensational defense in the 2015 post-season.
  • Moutakas, 27, has been outstanding defensively in the post-season and also a contender for his first Gold Glove.

At six positions, the Royals have Gold Glove winners or contenders who could break through this year and win for several years to come. I don’t think all six would win. But I expect four and wouldn’t be surprised by more.

Right field and second base are strong, too, even though those players won’t contend for Gold Gloves. I wonder where the Royals stack up among the best defensive teams ever. I won’t do the research on that, but defense is another blowout for the ’15 Royals.

Context of their times

The Red Sox made the World Series in 1986 for the first time in 11 years. And they wouldn’t play in another for 18 more years. The Red Sox finished fifth in a seven-team division the years before and after their World Series run. As teams on a roll go, the Red Sox were no better than the 10th-best championship team of the 1980s. They reached one World Series that decade and lost it. These teams of the ’80s played in more World Series than the Red Sox and won at least one (counting appearances in the late ’70s or early ’90s if a team made a World Series in the ’80s):

  1. The Twins won World Series in ’87 and ’91.
  2. The Dodgers won World Series in ’81 and ’88.
  3. The A’s won the ’89 World Series and lost in ’88 and ’90.
  4. The Cardinals won the ’82 World Series and lost in ’85 and ’87.
  5. The Royals won the ’85 World Series and lost in ’80.
  6. The Phillies won in ’82 and lost in ’83.
  7. The Orioles won in ’83 and lost in ’79.

Two teams won their only World Series appearances of the ’80s:

  1. The Mets, of course, in ’86.
  2. The Tigers in ’84.

As  you might expect of a Yankee fan, I value championships highly. But I could entertain an argument that a Red Sox team that lost in seven games was more formidable than a one-time World Series winner if the loser had several other division titles and near misses.

But the Red Sox don’t prevail over either of these teams on that basis either. They won their division in ’88, too, and, since I counted 1990 for the A’s and ’91 for the Twins, let’s give the Red Sox ’90, too. But they were swept both years.

The Mets returned to the playoffs in 1988 as well, losing a seven-game series to the Dodgers. The Mets won 11 post-season games in the ’80s (four over the Red Sox, of course).

The Red Sox also don’t stack up to the Tigers of the ’80s. The playoffs were only best-of-five in 1984, so the Tigers didn’t have a chance to win as many games in their division-title years as the Red Sox did in their three post-season appearances.

But the Tigers swept the Royals in three games in 1984, then blew out the Padres in five in the World Series. Detroit won only one game against the Twins in the 1987 ALCS. But their 1980s post-season record was 8-5. The Red Sox post-season record in the ’80s was 7-13.

The Red Sox did have a better decade, I think, than the other four teams that lost their only World Series appearances of the ’80s: ’81 Yankees, ’82 Brewers, ’84 Padres and ’89 Giants.

Of course, we can’t do a full-decade analysis of the Royals, and counting records of early rounds of playoffs would be fair against other teams of this decade, but not against the ’86 Red Sox.

The Royals are not (yet) the best team of this decade. They certainly have not passed the Giants (three-time winners and likely the team of the decade) and Cardinals, who won a World Series and lost one. But Kansas City is closing fast on St. Louis: The Cardinals have been in 58 post-season games this decade and won 30, but the Royals have a much higher winning percentage, with a 20-8 record.

If the Royals win this World Series, they clearly move ahead of the Red Sox, who won in 2013 but haven’t played in another Series this decade, and the Rangers, who lost two World Series.

With a World Series win, the Royals are the third-best team of this unfolding decade and gaining on the Cardinals. With a loss, they’d be no worse than fourth.

Here are ways the Royals of this decade have already blown past the Red Sox of the ’80s (leaving out the extra early rounds of playoffs), with four years of the decade remaining:

  1. They’ve made it to a second World Series.
  2. They have a 13-6 record in World Series and LCS play, both more wins than Boston in the ’80s and a far better winning percentage.
  3. They didn’t blow a World Series that they were in position to win. When they lost, they fought back to win Game Six and fell just 90 feet short of tying Game Seven.

In the context of their times, the Royals are already ahead, with plenty of time to pull away this week and beyond.

Organizational strength

Both franchises built their World Series teams similarly, developing a core of homegrown talent from their farm systems, adding key free agents and making shrewd trades in the off-season and during their championship runs (Henderson, Zobrist and Cueto all joined their teams mid-season in their World Series years).

Admission to my sons: I was wrong about Zobrist. I minimized this trade as not being that big a deal at the time, when General Manager Dayton Moore traded for Zobrist in July. He’s been valuable down the stretch and in the post-season. Moore’s personnel moves created the wonderfully balanced team I’ve described at such length here.

But here’s the biggest organizational difference: The only two Latino players who played for the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, Romero and Armas, came up with other teams. I don’t know why the Red Sox weren’t developing major league talent from Latin America in the ’80s (if you do, please fill me in). Even the Latino superstars of recent Boston history, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, started with other teams.

Key players on this Royals team came through scouting, signing and developing players from the Caribbean and South America: Pérez from Venezuela, Ventura and Herrera from the Dominican Republic and Orlando from Brazil. I’d be surprised if the Royals’ diversity wasn’t also attractive to the Latino free agents they’ve signed: Vólquez from the Dominican Republic, Morales from Cuba, Ríos from Cuba, Omar Infante (who hit a big homer in last year’s World Series) and reliever Franklin Morales from Venezuela. Escobar, also from Venezuela, came to Kansas City from Milwaukee in a 2010 trade for Cy Young winner Zach Greinke.

That diversity from so many sources might be a factor as well (along with money) in whether the Royals can sign Cueto, a Domincan free agent.

Home-field advantage

Both the ’85 Royals and ’86 Mets fell behind 2-0 at home. They faced the tough task of going on the road and winning two games just to stay alive. But they also got to close out the Series at home. The ’15 Mets have  more remaining games at home than those teams, which is an advantage of sorts. But I’m not sure that it’s a bigger advantage than being up 2-0 and knowing that if you stumble on the road, you’re coming home with a chance to close.

Hall of Famers

Well, the Red Sox win this one. Boggs and Rice are already in Cooperstown. If voters ever forgive players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens will join them. Evans might be attractive to a Veterans Committee someday.

The Royals, of course, won’t have anyone eligible for the Hall of Fame for years, so we can only speculate. Gordon at 31 and Cueto at 29 have strong starts to their careers, nine and eight years in. I think Cueto has a better shot than Gordon, but both have to have more good years ahead of them than they’ve already played. Neither is halfway to Cooperstown, and I doubt either will make it.

Cain blossomed too late to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

At first glance, you might think that Davis, 30, moved from promising starter to dominant reliever too late in his career to make it to Cooperstown. Dennis Eckersley was a better starter than Davis and for longer. But Eck’s in the Hall of Fame for his relief work. And Davis is two years younger than Eck was when he moved to the bullpen.

Pérez, Escobar, Hosmer, Moustakas and Herrera are all 28 or younger, with strong and promising starts to their careers. It’s too early to predict how their careers will unfold. I’d guess Pérez and Hosmer have the best shots at Cooperstown.

I’m confident one of these Royals will make it. I predict that two will, and more wouldn’t surprise me.

I remember in 1998, when the Yankees won 114 games and spurred best-ever talk, sport broadcasters and writers marveled that they were doing it without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime. Less than 20 years later, everyone knows what I was saying then: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were certain Hall of Famers beginning their primes. We could look back on some of these Royals the same way.

All we can say about Hall of Famers on these Royals is that they are two behind the ’86 Red Sox, with potential to close that gap.

What have I missed?

Every way I can think to measure this, except people already in the Hall of Fame, the 2015 Royals are equal or superior to the 1986 Red Sox. Tell me, Jim and Matt (or any other Mets or Red Sox fans), where am I wrong? Can you make a better case for the Red Sox than those late-night tweets?

Steve Fehr: How can you compare?

I told Steve Fehr, a Royal fan and former colleague who prompted my post about Don Denkinger’s bad call, that I was working on this post. He had seen my Twitter exchange with Jim and emailed me about how incomparable the ’15 Royals are:

The Royals are so different from any team we’ve seen recently that comparisons are silly in the first place. Who do you compare them to? I can’t think of a team quite like this, even the 1976-85 Royals who were similar in tailoring their game to their stadium.  If we win this, there will be a lot of articles to that effect: the most unusual (and lovable) champion of recent times (who on Mets is as lovable as Sal Perez, America’s Catcher?).

’86 Red Sox footnotes

If you’re a Red Sox fan (or even a Met fan) who has endured to the end of this post, I must reward you with a few fun nuggets, a couple on the man you remember most from the ’86 Series and one from a guy who left Boston during the ’86 season (in the Seaver trade, as you may recall from many words ago).

Bill Buckner 1

We are the socksMy brother Dan was a pastor in Boston in 1986. He planned his sermon and Scripture earlier in the week and settled in Saturday evening to watch Game Six. Dan vividly recalls the next morning:

The entire congregation was the most depressed congregation I’ve ever seen (and remember, Game Seven was to be played later that day, but everyone knew it was over) — everything was flat.

Dan sat and listened as the worship leader and congregation read responsively from Psalm 19. No one noticed this passage but Dan:

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

Sometimes pastor has to lead a congregation in healing. Dan continues:

I got up immediately after and said with great intensity and passion, ‘The Word of God has spoken to my heart today: “O Lord, who can understand his errors!”‘  Everyone laughed a cathartic laugh, and after that we could have church!

I don’t think the healing started by that laughter was finished until 2004, but this is (usually) a Yankee blog, so enough about that.

And since Dan helped out on this post, I should include a plug for his latest book, We Are the Socks. I asked Dan if he had a misspelling in the title, but it relates to an anecdote about footwear.

Buckner 2

The bad knees that hindered Buckner in the field in ’86 didn’t force him into retirement because he could still hit. He played part-time for the Royals in 1989 and ’89, mostly at DH but also at first. After a double in 1988, Manager John Wathan sent Jamie Quirk, a backup catcher who stole one base in six attempts that year, in to pinch-run for Buckner. The fiercely competitive Buckner threw up his hands in disbelief when he saw who was running for him and later told reporters it was “the most embarrassing moment of my career.”

The item, of course, made the Boston newspapers. I thought the headline I remembered was the Herald-American, but the only online mention I could find of the story says it was the Globe; if you have it, I’d love to add a visual and clarify the newspaper. Bonus points if you know the copy editor’s name. Home run if you were the copy editor. But this was the headline:

We Can Think Of Another

Steve Lyons

Lyons is kind of a goofball who spent a few years doing those annoying in-game interviews from the stands for Fox Sports. In the only such interview that I can recall enjoying, he interviewed Bucky Dent during one of those Yankees-Red Sox games of the late ’90s or early 2000s and asked something like: “I’m sure a lot of Red Sox fans don’t know your actual middle name. What is it?”

Bucky deadpanned: “Earl.”

Source note: Statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.