Tim Raines finally makes the Hall of Fame; other Yankees fall short

18 01 2017

Ex-Yankee Tim Raines was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Wednesday, as I predicted last year. He joined Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez as candidates elected this year by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

He was elected primarily on his hitting and base-running prowess with the Montreal Expos and Chicago White Sox, though he was a part-time left fielder and designated hitter for the 1996-98 Yankees.

Other Yankees with strong cases for the Hall of Fame were rejected by the writers, including Jorge Posada, who lasted only a year on the ballot.

Raines should have been a lock for the Hall of Fame. It was ridiculous that he had to wait until his final year on the writers’ ballot to win their support. He was the second-best leadoff hitter and base stealer of his time, behind only Rickey Henderson, and one of the best of all-time. And he was clearly one of the best left fielders of his time as well.

I don’t think anti-Yankee bias played a big role in his long wait for induction. Perhaps his involvement in the cocaine scandals of the 1980s played a bigger role than it should have (he played clean for many years after admitting his drug use).

Thoughts on other ex-Yankees being denied admission to Cooperstown:

Roger Clemens

Clemens got 54 percent of the writers’ votes. Election requires 75 percent (Raines got 86 percent). Clearly Clemens and Barry Bonds (also 54 percent) are being punished by many writers for their alleged involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. It’s interesting, though, that they are still being denied admission while suspected PED abusers such as Bagwell and Rodriguez have been elected. Rodriguez, in fact, was elected in his first year of eligibility, despite having nowhere near the credentials of Bonds, a seven-time MVP, and Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner.

I wouldn’t predict what it will take for Clemens and Bonds to win election. I can’t justify excluding them from a Hall of Fame that includes Bagwell and Rodriguez.

Mike Mussina

With 52 percent of the vote, Mussina crept 9 percentage points closer to election in his fourth year on the ballot. I expect him to be voted in by the baseball writers someday (you get 10 years, provided you keep getting enough votes to remain on the ballot), though I can think of four ex-Yankee starting pitchers who belong there ahead of him: Tommy John, Ron Guidry, Allie Reynolds and Andy Pettitte.

Lee Smith

Smith got 34 percent of the vote in his last year on the ballot. He perhaps best illustrates the continuing racial bias in Hall of Fame voting. As I’ve noted before, four relief pitchers who were contemporaries of his are in Cooperstown with similar achievements: Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley. Except for Hall of Fame voting, you can’t think of a meaningful way to rank the career achievements of those five pitchers in which he would rank fifth.

I think Smith will be elected many years from now by a Veterans Committee. He was a Yankee only briefly, and Yankee bias appears not to be a factor in his exclusion.

Gary Sheffield

At 13 percent and tainted by PED suspicion, Sheffield appears unlikely to reach Cooperstown. He’ll get at least a fourth year on the writers’ ballot, though.

Jorge Posada

As I noted when Posada retired, he achieved more than most of the catchers already in the Hall of Fame. Still, I thought he’d have a tough time making it into Cooperstown.

Deadspin’s Tom Scocca expressed puzzlement that Posada was a one-year washout, especially given his championship contributions. Actually, the baseball writers have never valued championship contributions or post-season play. If they started doing that, they’d need to wipe away their anti-Yankee bias. And that will never happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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 »





World Series champs nearly always feature Hall of Famers

30 11 2015

As I pondered the Hall of Fame prospects of young members of the Kansas City Royals 2015 World Series champions, I wondered how rare it would be for a world champion to have no Hall of Famers.

While any young star faces long odds of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame, quick research showed that a World Series winner without anyone making it to Cooperstown is also exceedingly rare.

I just went back to 1947 in answering my question, because, as I noted in an October post, Hall of Fame standards were much lower before baseball integrated.

So I will note year by year the starters and other important contributors of world champions who eventually became Hall of Famers. While I won’t speculate on whether players appeared bound for Cooperstown at the time (the point of yesterday’s post), I will note their ages at the time they won. If a player is in the Hall of Fame, but primarily for his play with another team, I will note that.

Joe DiMaggio autograph

My Joe DiMaggio autograph

1947

Champion: New York Yankees. Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra, 22; Phil Rizzuto, 29; Joe DiMaggio, 32.

1948

Champion: Cleveland Indians. Hall of Famers: Larry Doby, 24; Bob Lemon, 27; Bob Feller, 29; Lou Boudreau, 30; Joe Gordon, 33.

1949-53

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mickey Mantle, ’51-3, 19-21; Whitey Ford, ’50 and ’53, 21 and 24; Berra, all years, 24-28; Rizzuto, all years, 31-5; DiMaggio, ’49-’51, 34-6. Johnny Mize, a member of all five Yankee teams, was not a full-time starter most of these seasons. He joined the Yankees at age 36 and is in the Hall of Fame primarily for his slugging for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants.

1954

Champion: New York Giants. Hall of Famers: Willie Mays, 23; Hoyt Wilhelm, 31; Monte Irvin, 35.

1955

Champion: Brooklyn Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Duke Snider, 28; Roy Campanella, 31; Jackie Robinson, 36; Pee Wee Reese, 36.

A ball autographed by "Larry Berra," before he started signing "Yogi."

A ball autographed by “Larry Berra,” before he started signing “Yogi.”

1956

Champion: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mantle, 24; Ford, 27; Berra, 31. Rizzuto, 38, was a part-time player, as was Enos Slaughter, 40, elected to the Hall of Fame primarily as a St. Louis Cardinal.

1957

Champion: Milwaukee Braves. Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, 23; Eddie Mathews, 25; Red Schoendienst, 34; Warren Spahn, 36.

Whitey signed this ball "Ed. Ford" before his better-known nickname stuck.

Whitey signed this ball “Ed. Ford” before his better-known nickname stuck.

1958

Champion: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mantle, 26; Ford, 29; Berra, 33; Slaughter, 42.

1959

Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Don Drysdale, 22; Sandy Koufax, 23; Snider, 32.

1960

Champion: Pittsburgh Pirates. Hall of Famers: Bill Mazeroski, 23; Roberto Clemente, 25.

My Mantle autograph

My Mantle autograph

1961-2

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mantle, 29-30; Ford, 32-3; Berra, 36-7.

1963

Champions: Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Drysdale, 26, and Koufax, 27.

1964

Champions: St. Louis Cardinals. Hall of Famers: Lou Brock, 25; Bob Gibson, 28.

1965

Champions: Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Drysdale, 28, and Koufax, 29.

1966

Champions: Baltimore Orioles. Hall of Famers: Jim Palmer, 20; Brooks Robinson, 29; Frank Robinson, 30, and Luis Aparicio, 32.

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

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

1967

Champions: St. Louis Cardinals. Hall of Famers: Steve Carlton, 22; Brock, 28; Orlando Cepeda, 29; Gibson, 31.

1968

Champion: Detroit Tigers. Hall of Famers: Al Kaline, 32; and Mathews (a part-time player in his final year at age 36). Since yesterday’s post was about Hall of Fame projections, I should note here that 24-year-old Denny McLain, who won 31 games that year and won the Cy Young and MVP awards, looked like a lock for Cooperstown, but didn’t make it.

1969

Champion: New York Mets. Hall of Famers: Nolan Ryan, 22, and Tom Seaver, 24.

1970

Champion: Orioles. Hall of Famers: Palmer, 24, and the Robinsons, 33 and 34.

1971

Champion: Pirates. Hall of Famers: Willie Stargell, 31; Mazeroski (playing part-time at 34); Clemente, 36.

1972-4

Champions: Oakland A’s. Hall of Famers: Rollie Fingers, 25-7; Catfish Hunter, 26-8; Reggie Jackson, 26-8. I don’t count Cepeda, who had just three at-bats for the ’72 A’s and didn’t play in the post-season.

1975-6

Champions: Cincinnati Reds. Johnny Bench, 27-8; Joe Morgan, 31-2; Tony Pérez, 33-4. Pete Rose, 34-5, would be in the Hall of Fame, but he accepted a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games.

1977-8

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Jackson and Hunter, both 31-2; and Goose Gossage, 26 (’78 only).

1979

Champions: Pirates. Hall of Famers: Bert Blyleven, 28, and Stargell, 39. Dave Parker of this team probably deserves mention with Denny McLain as a player who appeared on his way to the Hall of Fame. Cocaine use sidetracked Parker’s career.

My Steve Carlton autograph

My Steve Carlton autograph

1980

Champions: Philadelphia Phillies. Hall of Famers: Mike Schmidt, 30; Carlton, 35. Rose, 39, was also on this team.

1981

Champions: Dodgers. No Hall of Famers yet. Steve Garvey probably has the best shot of making it someday.

1982

Champions: Cardinals. Hall of Famers: Ozzie Smith, 27, and Bruce Sutter, 29.

1983

My Ripken autograph

My Ripken autograph

Champions: Orioles. Hall of Famers: Cal Ripken Jr., 22; Eddie Murray, 27; Palmer, pitching part-time at age 37.

1984

Champion: Tigers. No Hall of Famers yet. Jack Morris, 29, probably has the best shot.

1985

Champion: Kansas City Royals. Hall of Famer: George Brett, 32.

1986

Champion: Mets. Hall of Famer: Gary Carter, 32. As noted in yesterday’s post, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, 24, of this team appeared headed for the Hall of Fame before drug use stalled their careers.

1987

Champion: Minnesota Twins. Hall of Famer: Kirby Puckett, 27, and Blyleven, 36. Carlton, 42, pitched nine games for the Twins that year, but not in the post-season.

1988

Champion: Dodgers. Hall of Famer: Don Sutton, 43, was in his last year. He pitched only 16 games, none in the post-season. Of major contributors on this team, Orel Hershiser, 29, and Kirk Gibson, 31, may have the best shots at reaching Cooperstown someday.

1989

Champion: Oakland A’s. Hall of Famer: Rickey Henderson, 30, and Dennis Eckersley, 34. This is the first champion where performance-enhancing drugs are keeping a player out of the Hall of Fame (Mark McGwire, 25, for sure, possibly Jose Canseco, 24).

1990

Champion: Reds. Hall of Famer: Barry Larkin, 26.

1991

Champion: Twins. Hall of Famer: Puckett, 31.

1992-3

Champions: Toronto Blue Jays. Hall of Famers: Roberto Alomar, 24-5; Henderson, 34 (just on ’93 Jays); Paul Molitor, 36 (also just in ’93); Dave Winfield, 40 (only in ’92).

1995

Remember, baseball had no champion in ’94 because of a strike. Champions: Atlanta Braves. Hall of Famers: John Smoltz, 28; Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 29. Chipper Jones, 24, appears to be a certain Hall of Famer, but retired in 2012, so he won’t be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until the 2018 election.

My Derek Jeter rookie card

My Derek Jeter rookie card

1996

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famer: Wade Boggs, 38. Derek Jeter, 22, and Mariano Rivera, 26, appear certain to reach Cooperstown when they become eligible for election: 2019 for Rivera and 2020 for Jeter. Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada are less likely to make the Hall of Fame, and will be on the ballot in 2019 (Pettitte) and next year (Posada).

1997

Champion: Florida Marlins. No Hall of Famers. Gary Sheffield is another player whose Hall of Fame chances are hurt by PED use.

1998-2000

Champions: Yankees. Again, Jeter, 24-6, and Rivera, 28-30, are certain Hall of Famers. Roger Clemens, 36-7, pitched for the ’99-2000 Yankees, but suspicion of PED use is keeping him out of Cooperstown. Tim Raines, 38, a ’98 Yankee, got 55 percent of the baseball writers’ vote last year and almost certainly will make the Hall of Fame someday, but mostly for his play for the Montreal Expos.

2001

Champion: Arizona Diamondbacks. Hall of Famer: Randy Johnson. Curt Schilling will certainly join him. He got 39 percent of the writers’ vote last year, his third year on the ballot.

2002

Champion: Anaheim Angels. No Hall of Famers and no likely prospects.

2003

Champion: Florida Marlins. Miguel Cabrera, 20, is a Triple-Crown winner and two-time MVP. He’s still playing and only 32 years old but certain to make the Hall of Fame if he stays free of scandal. Iván Rodríguez would be a certain Hall of Famer if not for allegations that he used PEDs.

2004

Champion: Boston Red Sox. Hall of Famer: Pedro Martínez, and Schilling will follow. David Ortiz, who’s still playing, would be an automatic selection if not for his failed drug test. Manny Ramírez won’t be on the Hall of Fame ballot until 2017, but drug issues are likely to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, too.

2005

Champion: Chicago White Sox. Hall of Famer: Frank Thomas, a part-time DH at 37.

2006

Champion: Cardinals. No Hall of Famers yet, but Albert Pujols, a three-time MVP, is a lock if he can avoid scandal.

2007

Champion: Red Sox. This seems a good place to stop this exercise. No star of the ’07 Red Sox, or any subsequent champion, is already in the Hall of Fame, and most aren’t even eligible yet. I’ve already addressed Schilling, Ortiz and Ramírez. While I projected the Hall of Fame chances of the 2015 Royals, I’m not interested in doing that for the young stars of other recent teams.

What does this mean?

Obviously, the numbers or Hall of Famers on some of these teams, especially the more recent ones, will grow, as Morris, Raines, Schilling and others eventually get elected.

But already the vast world-champion teams have multiple Hall of Famers. In a 60-year stretch, only five teams don’t have Hall of Famers yet. From 1947 to 1980, the 1960 Pirates and ’68 Tigers were the only World Series champions without at least two Hall of Famers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

All of the champions with no Hall of Famers or even just one played since 1980, so many of their best players aren’t even eligible for Hall of Fame consideration yet (or are being kept out of Cooperstown because of drug suspicions). Few of the contenders who aren’t automatic Hall of Famers have had second chances yet through the Expansion Era Committee.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, I expect at least two players from the 2015 Royals to join the Hall of Fame. If I’m wrong, they will be one of few exceptions among World Series champions.

Source note: Players’ ages are taken from the Baseball-Reference.com team rosters for the championship years.





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.





Comparing Yankees to other teams in starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame

20 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Six pitchers might seem like a lot of Hall of Famers, and it is.

The Yankees have six starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame who pitched primarily for New York. But if great pitching wins championships, a team with 27 champions ought to have more than six pitchers in the Hall of Fame who primarily pitched for that team (keep in mind that Jack Chesbro, one of the six, pitched for the New York Highlanders before any of the Yankee championships).

Though I’m focused on starters here and only counting them, I also should note that the Yankees were the primary team of Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage. And Mariano Rivera is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, presuming his reputation remains unscathed the next few years.

But the starting pitcher is the most important player in every game and a team can’t win a championship without solid starting pitching. And you can’t win a bunch of championships without a bunch of great starting pitchers.

Let’s see how other teams stack up: Read the rest of this entry »





Yogi Berra was the best of the greatest catcher tradition of any team

26 09 2015

Wednesday I paid tribute to the amazing career, life and wit of Yogi Berra, who died at age 90. Today I want to honor Berra again by explaining how he anchored a team with, by far, the greatest tradition of catching excellence.

Hall of Fame catchers

Let’s start by comparing teams’ Hall of Fame catchers: Berra and Bill Dickey make the Yankees one of only four teams with two catchers in the Hall of Fame:

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

Setting aside other Yankee catchers who belong in the Hall of Fame (more on that later), Berra was elected to Cooperstown in his second year of eligibility. Dickey was elected in his ninth year on the ballot. They make the Yankees the only team with two catchers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

They give the Yankees 26 seasons with Hall of Famers doing most of the catching (15 from Dickey and 11 from Berra, who was an outfielder and backup catcher his final four years). Dickey and Berra gave the Yankees Hall of Fame catchers (at least in a part-time role) for a nearly unbroken string from 1929 to 1963.

Dickey spent the 1944-5 seasons in the Navy during World War II, returning in 1946. He caught only 54 games during that season, becoming a player-manager after manager Joe McCarthy resigned, and turning the catching responsibilities over mostly to Aaron Robinson. But Berra debuted that season, catching seven games. In 1947, Robinson caught 74 games and was an All-Star, but the torch was being passed. Berra caught 51 games that season and 71 the next, splitting time that year with Gus Niarhos, then nailed down the full-time job in 1949.

Bill Dickey's autograph on a baseball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium for autographs in the 1950s.

Bill Dickey’s autograph on a baseball my wife’s uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium for autographs in the 1950s.

Between them, Dickey and Berra caught more than 3,400 games for the Yankees (1,708 for Dickey, 1,697 for Berra) from 1928 to 1963, a 36-season span broken only by Dickey’s Navy service. Both men also managed and coached the Yankees (Dickey, in fact, coached Berra in catching skills).

Berra, with 305 homers as a catcher, is fourth in career homers at the position, and Dickey, with 200, is 13th. Berra leads all catchers in career RBI (1,430) and Dickey is eighth at 1,209. Dickey is second to Mickey Cochrane in batting average at .313. They rank fourth and sixth in slugging at .486 (Dickey) and .482 (Berra).

Dickey had 11 All-Star seasons (the game wasn’t played his first four full seasons), Yogi 15 straight All-Star seasons. And, of course, both won strings of championships: 10 World Series titles (five in a row) for Berra and seven (four in a row) for Dickey.

Dickey played his full career for the Yankees. Berra played his last four games (two at catcher) as a player-manager for the Mets in 1965.

Let’s compare the Yankees to the other teams with two Hall of Fame catchers:

Reds

Bench was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but Lombardi never got more than 16 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1986, 39 years after his career ended.

They combined for 23 years as the Reds’ primary catchers (13 for Bench, who moved to third base his final three years 10 for Lombardi, who also played for three other teams), and 18 All-Star seasons (13 for Bench) as Reds catchers. All those numbers fall short of the Berra-Dickey numbers. Bench, with 1,742 games caught, was a little ahead of the Yankees, but Lombardi played only 1,203 games for the Reds.

Bench was third all-time in homers as a catcher, with 327, and third in RBI, and Lombardi was third (behind Dickey) in batting average. But the Reds didn’t have near the combined high rankings of the Yankee pair.

The Reds won two championships in Bench’s time and one in Lombardi’s, but that’s not even half Dickey’s championship total.

Bench measured up to either of the Yankee catchers, but Lombardi didn’t, and the pair certainly lags behind Berra-Dickey duo. And that’s as close as any team’s pair of Hall of Famers comes.

Personal note: My only trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame was in 1989 for Bench’s induction, keeping a promise to my son, Mike, a huge Bench fan. Someday I’ll write a post about that trip.

Red Sox

Fisk was elected by the writers in his second year on the ballot, same as Berra. Ferrell never got even 1 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to Cooperstown in 1984, 37 years after his career ended.

Fisk was the Red Sox’ primary catcher for eight seasons, seven All-Star seasons. Ferrell was the Red Sox’ primary catcher only four seasons, three of them as an All-Star. In other words, their Red Sox seasons combined nearly matched Dickey or Berra alone.

White Sox

Fisk played more years with the White Sox, nine years as their primary catcher, but only four All-Star seasons. Schalk, who played before the All-Star Game, played 13 seasons as the White Sox’ primary catcher. He peaked at 45 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1955, 26 years after his career ended.

Fisk is second in career homers by a catcher and ranks high in other batting categories, but with his career split almost evenly between the two Sox teams, he didn’t do nearly as much for either team as Dickey and Berra did for the Yankees. And Schalk doesn’t rank anywhere among the best-hitting catchers.

Dodgers

Campy’s career was shortened on the front end by racial segregation and on the back end by an auto accident that paralyzed him. In between, he gave the Dodgers 10 years as their primary catcher, eight of them in a row as an All-Star. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his fifth year on the writers’ ballot.

Piazza played five years as the Dodgers’ primary catcher, all of them as an All-Star. He played more for the Mets. He set the record for career homers by a catcher and ranks high in other categories, but most of that hitting wasn’t for the Dodgers. He got 70 percent of the writers’ vote this year, and I expect him to be elected to the Hall of Fame in another year or two.

Campy’s and Piazza’s combined contributions perhaps exceeded Berra’s or Dickey’s but don’t approach the Yankees’ combined achievements.

Giants

Bresnahan played seven seasons for the Giants early in the 20th Century. He caught 974 career games, only once topping 100 games behind the plate in a season.

Ewing was a 19th-century player who never caught 100 games in a season. He also pitched, played the outfield and played every infield position. He caught 636 games in 14 seasons, 11 of them for the Giants.

The Giants’ Hall of Fame catchers don’t nearly compare to Berra and Dickey.

Mets

If we’re going to count Piazza as a likely Hall of Famer, we should note he’ll give the Mets two catchers in Cooperstown. Gary Carter played mostly for the Expos, but caught five years for the Mets, four of them as an All-Star. Add them to Piazza’s eight years for the Mets (six as an All-Star) and their combined Met careers don’t match Dickey or Yogi alone.

By Hall of Famers, the Yankees have a clear advantage in catching tradition over any other team.

Hilldale Daisies/Giants

Hall of Famer Biz Mackey succeeded Hall of Famer Louis Santop for the Negro League team known as the Hilldale Daisies in Santop’s time and Hilldale Giants in Mackey’s. While their Hall of Fame profiles list Hilldale as each catcher’s primary team, Mackey also played for the Philadelphia Stars, Newark Eagles, Indianapolis ABCs and the Baltimore/Washington Elite Giants and Santop also played for the Fort Worth Wonders, Philadelphia Giants, New York Lincoln Giants and Chicago American Giants.

MVP catchers

Three teams got three MVP awards from their Hall of Famers:

  • Berra was MVP in 1951, ’54 and ’55, giving the Yankees three. Dickey never won an MVP.
  • Campy won MVP awards in 1951, ’53 and ’55. Piazza was never an MVP.
  • Bench won two MVP awards and Lombardi one, to give the Reds three MVPs for their catchers.

However, the Yankees had two more MVP catchers: Elston Howard in 1963 and Thurman Munson in 1976. No Red or Dodger pitcher who isn’t in the Hall of Fame won an MVP, so the Yankees have the most MVP awards won by catchers, with five.

Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane won MVP awards for the A’s and Tigers, but neither team had another Hall of Fame or MVP catcher. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett also won an MVP, but he’s the only Cub catcher to win either honor. (More on Cochrane and Hartnett later.)

The other catchers to win MVP awards are not yet eligible for Hall of Fame voting, Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers in 1999, Joe Mauer of the Twins in 2009 and Buster Posey of the Giants in 2012.

Adding Posey to the Giants’ combo of Ewing and Bresnahan, they still fall further behind the Yankees’ MVP and Hall of Fame catchers: Berra, Dickey, Howard and Munson. More on the Twins’ and Rangers’ other catchers later.

I’ve already noted that Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame and will make the case in a future post for Howard. But just adding Hall of Famers and MVPs, the Yankees had either a Hall of Famer or a past or future MVP or both behind the plate, at least part-time every year from 1928 to 1979, except for 1968 (the gap between Howard and Munson) and those two years Dickey was in the Navy. Add another 16 All-Star seasons (nine for Howard, seven for Munson) to the 26 for Berra and Dickey, a total of 42 All-Star seasons by four catchers over a 52-year stretch. No team comes close to that.

Borderline Hall of Famers

Beyond the four I’ve already mentioned, Wally Schang (five prime years a Yankee) has stronger case for the Hall of Fame than Schalk from the same era (higher batting, on-base and slugging averages, more homers, hits, runs and RBI.

Jorge Posada had a better career than several Hall of Fame catchers (he hasn’t been retired five years yet, so we don’t know how he’ll do with the writers, but I’m not optimistic). Still, he added another five All-Star season to the Yankees’ total.

No other team had five catchers with five or more All-Star selections. And I can’t think of another franchise with five catchers who had 10-year (or more) runs with the team.

All-Star catchers

Russell Martin spent only two years as a Yankee, but was an All-Star in 2011. Mike Stanley was an All-Star in 1995. Aaron Robinson was an All-Star Berra’s rookie season, 1947. We’re up to 50 All-Star seasons for Yankee catchers.

Other notable Yankee catchers

  • Ralph Houk, one of many Yankee autographs from the 1950s my wife's uncle collected on two baseballs that now belong to my sons.

    Ralph Houk, one of many Yankee autographs from the 1950s my wife’s uncle collected on two baseballs that now belong to my sons.

    Ralph Houk spent eight years as Berra’s backup, but is more notable for his 20-year managing career, including 11 years with the Yankees, winning the 1961-2 World Series. He had a 1,619-1,531 record, never finishing first again after losing the 1963 World Series. Still, he ranks 18th all-time in wins.

  • As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, Johnny Blanchard joined Howard and Berra in 1961 in hitting 20+ homers, all sharing time behind the plate for the Yankees.
  • Joe Girardi spent four years catching for the Yankees, starting for the 1996 champions before Posada won the starting role. Of course, Girardi has been managing the Yankees since 2008.
  • Rick Cerone caught seven seasons for the Yankees, just two years catching more than 100 games.
  • Rick Dempsey was a Yankee backup catcher before becoming the Orioles’ starter for nearly a decade.
  • Jake Gibbs was more notable as an All-America quarterback for Mississippi than his 10 years as a Yankee catcher (backing up, except for that brief gap between Howard and Munson).
  • Rodriguez caught 31 games for the 2008 Yankees.

Other teams’ catching traditions

None of the teams with two Hall of Famers has enough other catching excellence to push them close to the Yankees. The Dodgers had John Roseboro starting for 10 years (three as an All-Star), Mike Scioscia for a decade and two All-Star selections and Steve Yeager for 14 years without an All-Star appearance (he caught 100 games only five times), plus Martin for five years, including his first two All-Star games. They might have the second-best tradition.

The Giants got a few All-Star seasons from Wes Westrum (two), Benito Santiago (one, plus for with the Padres), Bob Brenly (one), Dick Dietz (one) and Tom Haller (two, plus an All-Star year for the Dodgers). When you add Posey to the two Hall of Famers, the Giants could pass the Dodgers soon, if they haven’t already. But those Hall of Famers are pretty marginal, and the Giants are nowhere near the Yankees.

Other teams with two Hall of Famers had other notable catchers, but nothing approaching the Yankees’ consistency:

  • Howard spent his final two seasons with the Red Sox and Jason Varitek had three All-Star seasons in his 15-year career in Boston.
  • Johnny Edwards was a three-time All-Star catcher for the Reds before Bench arrived.

Other teams without two Hall of Fame catchers had decent catching traditions:

Tigers

Mickey Cochrane is the only Tiger catcher in the Hall of Fame, but he’s in the argument for best catcher ever, so he deserves mention here. Add some excellent catching years from:

  • Bill Freehan (13 seasons as the primary catcher, including 11 All-Star seasons).
  • Lance Parrish (eight seasons starting for the Tigers, six as an All-Star).
  • Four All-Star seasons by Rodriguez.
  • The best four-year stretch of Mickey Tettleton‘s career, including one as an All-Star.
  • Rudy York was a five-time All-Star for the Yankees, but only one year as a catcher.

The Tigers might pass some of the teams with two Hall of Famers, but not approach the Yankees’ overall greatness at catcher.

Braves

The Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves have had some excellent catchers, even if none made the Hall of Fame as a player.

Del Crandall was an eight-time All-Star behind the plate for the Milwaukee Braves.

He was followed by Joe Torre, in Cooperstown for his managing career (primarily his Yankee championships). Torre was an All-Star catcher five straight years for the Braves. (In a game at Wrigley Field in the 1960s, I saw Torre make a Charlie Brown-style error on a popup, parking under it for a seemingly easy out, only to have it bounce out of his catcher’s mitt.) Nonetheless, he won a Gold Glove.

McCann also was a six-time All-Star for the Braves before joining the Yankees.

Other notable Braves catchers include 1971 Rookie of the Year Earl Williams, three-time All-Star Javy Lopez, two-time All-Star Bruce Benedict, one-time All-Stars Ozzie Virgil (he was on my fantasy team in the 1980s), Greg Olson and Johnny Estrada.

The Braves might have a stronger tradition at catcher than some of the teams with Hall of Fame catchers, but they don’t approach the Yankees’ continued excellence at the position.

Cardinals

The Cardinals also have a strong catching tradition without a Hall of Famer. Walker Cooper, who peaked at 14 percent of the writers’ vote for the Hall of Fame, had his first three All-Star seasons (of 10) as a Cardinal. (Cooper also was an All-Star for the Giants, Reds and Braves.)

Tim McCarver gets overrated as a catcher because of his long broadcasting career (I couldn’t stand him) and because he was part of a Cardinals team that won two World Series and played in a third over a five-year stretch. He played 21 years and was an All-Star twice, but he was a mediocre hitter, with a .271 average and only 95 homers. Still, he’s the only catcher I can think of who led his league in triples, with 13 in 1966. He spent seven years as the Cardinals’ primary catcher, including both All-Star seasons.

Ted Simmons, who overlapped with McCarver, was a better catcher, spending a decade behind the plate for the Cardinals, including six All-Star seasons. Neither Simmons nor McCarver lasted more than a year on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.

Darrell Porter wasn’t an All-Star for the Cardinals (he was for the Brewers and Royals), but he was the 1982 World Series MVP. Tony Peña caught four years for the Cardinals, one as an All-Star. Yadier Molina has seven straight All-Star seasons for the Cardinals.

Like the Braves, the Cardinals could surpass some of the teams with Hall of Fame catchers, but they’re nowhere close to the Yankees.

A’s

Cochrane played longer for the A’s than for the Tigers, and Terry Steinbach was a three-time All-Star, but I can’t think of another A’s catcher worth discussing here.

Cubs

The Cubs’ fall-off after Hartnett is pretty dramatic. Probably Jody Davis (six years, two as an All-Star) or Randy Hundley (one All-Star season) would be their second-best catcher.

Rangers

Rodriguez was the best defensive catcher of his time and a good hitter, too. Add him to Jim Sundberg, a two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove, and the Rangers have one of the strongest traditions of any expansion team.

Senators/Twins

Ferrell played eight seasons for the first Senators, which later moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. Mauer has given the Twins six All-Star seasons, but hasn’t caught 100 games since 2010. Butch Wynegar, an All-Star only his first two years, is the only other notable Twins or Senators catcher I can think of. Wynegar started for the Yankees in 1984-85.

Pirates

The Pirates have had several good catchers: the best five-year run of Peña’s career (four seasons as an All-Star); an eight-year run (with three All-Star seasons) by Manny Sanguillen; four All-Star seasons (in six years) for Smoky Burgess; three All-Star seasons in Jason Kendall‘s nine-year run. But not a great catcher in the bunch.

Phillies

Bob Boone was probably the best of a batch of good-fielding, weak-hitting Phillies catchers. He spent nine years in Philadelphia, including their first World Series title. Three time he was a an All-Star for the Phillies, and he ranks third in most games at catcher, behind Rodriguez and Fisk. But the greatest pitcher Boone caught, Steve Carlton, actually preferred pitching to McCarver, who extended his career by being Carlton’s personal catcher.

Carlos Ruiz has given the Phillies a solid decade behind the plate (a record four no-hitters caught), but only one All-Star appearance and a weak bat. Mike Lieberthal played longer (but not as long as a starter), with two All-Star appearances.

Homestead Grays

Of course, the Negro Leagues disbanded a decade or so after the “major” leagues integrated, so any Negro League catching tradition ended more than half a century ago. They are at a similar disadvantage comparing to the Yankees as any of the expansion teams. But, since I’m discussing the greatest catchers ever, I want to mention that Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest catcher ever, played for the Homestead Grays.

No one’s close

The Orioles/Browns and Indians barely have any catchers worth mentioning here. And I’ve already mentioned the most notable expansion catching traditions. The Yankees have been the best and it’s not even close.

Yogi didn’t start the Yankees’ catching tradition. That started with Dickey, unless you want to go back to Schang. Simply put, no other team approaches that half-century of almost unbroken greatness from Dickey to Berra to Howard to Munson. The 1980s and early ’90s were a significant gap, but Posada’s decade-plus of excellence ran up the score on every other franchise when it came to catching excellence.

And of them all, Yogi was the best.

Ranking the best Yankee catchers

Update: I initially wrote this without ranking the Yankee catchers. But I’m starting the 2016 season with a series ranking the the top five Yankees at each position. Since this post covered the Yankee catchers, except for the rankings, I’m adding rankings:

  1. Berra
  2. Dickey
  3. Munson
  4. Howard
  5. Posada

Berra and Dickey are easy calls. The other three spots were tougher and could have been shuffled differently. Howard and Munson were MVPs. I gave Munson the advantage based on three straight seasons hitting .300 with 100 or more RBI (Howard never drove in 100 runs), more games caught and his stellar .357 post-season hitting (Howard hit .246). Posada played longer than Munson and Howard, and had better career hitting numbers. But they edged him, in my view, on peak performance, All-Star selections, defense and World Series hitting.

Notes

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 refer to them all 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.

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

Correction invitation: I welcome you to point out any errors I missed in my fact-checking: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Starting pitchers: My series on Yankee starting pitchers will resume Monday with a post on Yankee pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame. Other posts in the series:

 





Jorge Posada has been better than most Hall of Fame catchers

19 10 2011

The opening night of the World Series seems like a good time to consider Jorge Posada‘s case for his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Posada, starting catcher for four World Series champions, belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think he will get there. As Yankee catchers go, he doesn’t have as strong a case as Thurman Munson. Just as the baseball writers kept Munson out, they will keep Posada out.

Of the “core four” Yankees from Posada’s time, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are automatic Hall of Famers whose credentials are so strong they overcome the anti-Yankee bias. Posada is more like Andy Pettitte, worthy of the Hall of Fame, but likely to fall short.

Posada has not retired yet, but it’s likely we’ve seen most, if not all, of his outstanding years, so I think we can evaluate him as a Hall of Fame contender.

For catchers, you have to throw out the milestones that play into consideration for players at other positions. No catcher has hit 500 homers or 3,000 hits. (You can’t count Craig Biggio, who moved to second base before he had 500 hits). So it’s more an assessment of the total package that matters. You really have to measure a catcher against his contemporaries and/or against other Hall of Famers.

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