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

1 02 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Does pitching really win championships? Yes, but …

21 10 2015

This concludes my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This series started with an observation that the Yankees haven’t had many all-time great starters, but have won more world championships than any other team. I raised the question then about how could that be, if pitching actually wins championships?

I’ve covered notable pitchers in a variety of posts since then: Yankees in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who had great careers but won’t make the Hall of Fame, and so on.

But I still haven’t thoroughly examined the question that started this discussion. So that’s where I’ll wrap it up. The Yankees have won so many championships without all-time great starting pitchers for a variety of reasons:

  • Pitching does win championships, but so do other factors. Yankee champion teams were often better at those factors than at starting pitching.
  • Pitching does win championships, but even an all-time great starting pitcher pitches only every few days. Depth of a rotation might be more important to winning a championship than having an all-time great as your No. 1 starter.
  • Pitching does win championships, but starting pitching is not all of pitching. Yankee closers rank higher on all-time-best lists than Yankee starters.
  • Managing, especially management of the pitching staff, wins championships.
  • Yankee starting pitchers have actually been pretty great. If not for the Hall of Fame biases against Yankees (and against longevity), Yankees would easily have more pitchers in the Hall of Fame than any other team.

I’ll elaborate on these points in order: Read the rest of this entry »





The Yankees’ 50 best starting pitchers

19 10 2015

As we approach the end of my series on Yankee starting pitchers, I have ranked the pitchers I regard as the 50 best Yankee starters.

I will explain my selection criteria after the list, but I don’t elaborate on the choices individually in the list. Links are to earlier posts in which I address those pitchers (most of them in this series): Read the rest of this entry »





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

17 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

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

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

Bullet Joe Bush

New York Yankees

Bullet Joe Bush

Wikimedia photo

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia A’s (second time)

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





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

5 10 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Oliva and Minnie Miñoso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dick Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maury Wills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Tiant

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

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

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

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

Why honor a shamed era?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to newspaper partners

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

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





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

22 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

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

Whitey Ford

One of my prized autographs

One of my prized autographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefty Gomez


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

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

Here are his Hall of Fame credentials:

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

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

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

Red Ruffing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herb Pennock

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

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

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

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

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

Waite Hoyt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Chesbro

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

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

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

His other best seasons were with the Pirates.

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

No question that guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Bob Lemon

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

Read about other Yankee Hall of Famers

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

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

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

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

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

 





Kevin Youkilis joins a long line of Red Sox heroes who’ve become Yankees

12 02 2013

Youk!

Yes, if pitchers and catchers have reported, it won’t be long before we’ll see Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes and Yankee fans will be cheering (again) this year for an old Red Sox fan favorite. Youk signed a one-year deal to play for the Yankees, probably playing third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from surgery (and longer, if the Yankees can unload A-Rod or get out of his contract).

It will be difficult for Red Sox fans to see Youkilis in pinstripes, and no doubt the cheers at Fenway will really be “Booo!” and not “Youk!” now. But Red Sox fans have become used to seeing old favorites playing for the Yankees (and vice versa).

In baseball’s most storied rivalry, lots of players, including some all-time greats, have gone over to the Dark Side, whichever side you consider to be dark. You probably could find similar connections between any pair of longtime teams, but the players who have played on both sides of this rivalry stand out somehow.

You could put together a pretty good team of players who’ve worked both sides of the rivalry, so I have. Read the rest of this entry »