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.





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 »





Other notable Yankee starting pitchers: Al Downing, Don Gullett, Jim Beattie …

18 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This is the potpourri installment in this series. These guys didn’t make the Hall of Fame, win 300 games (or even 200), don’t have a strong case for the Hall of Fame (or even a long shot), didn’t win a Cy Young Award, pitch a no-hitter, win 20 games, have a great nickname or have a relative in the big leagues. But they made notable contributions to Yankee teams. Or maybe they got a lot of attention despite not making much contribution. Or maybe I just found them interesting.

Al Downing

Downing had five straight seasons in double figures in wins for the Yankees, including an All-Star appearance in 1967. His best season, 20-9 and third place in the Cy Young voting, came in 1971 for the Dodgers. All in all, he had a successful career, 123-107.

But Downing is best remembered for a pitch he served up to Hank Aaron in 1974, the 715th homer of Hammerin’ Hank’s career, breaking Babe Ruth’s career record.

Don Gullett

Gullett was one of the Yankees’ first big-name free-agent pitchers. You can’t call him a bust, because he contributed to their 1977 championship with a solid 14-4 season. But a shoulder injury the next year ended his career at age 27.

Jim Beattie

Jim Beattie had a more successful career as a baseball executive than as a pitcher. Still, he got 35 starts (only nine wins) for the Yankees in 1978-79. But he won an ALCS game over the Royals and pitched a complete-game World Series win over the Dodgers.

I argued in a post about Guidry’s performance that year that Beattie was the R in WAR, a replacement player against whom another pitcher’s hypothetical wins are measured. (I’m not a fan of hypothetical stats.)

The rookie-year post-season wins were the highlights of a replacement-player career. Beattie finished 52-87, with losing seasons (for the Mariners) in his only two years with double-digit wins.

He held various front-office jobs, including general manager, with the Orioles, Expos and Mariners.

Well-timed career peaks

Beattie was one of several Yankee starting pitchers with unremarkable careers who timed their best years or best games perfectly to contribute to championships:

  • Bill Stafford pitched only eight years and retired with a 43-40 record. But he was 14-9 back-to-back years for the 1961-62 World Series champions, mostly as a starter. He pitched five shutouts those two seasons and pitched a complete game to beat the Giants, 3-2 in Game Three of the 1962 World Series.
  • Rollie Sheldon‘s career was even less distinguished than Stafford’s but also well-timed. He was 11-5 as a rookie in 1961, mostly as a starter, with two shutouts. That was the high mark of a five-year, 38-36 career. He was far down enough on the Yankees’ staff that he appeared only twice in the World Series, both in relief roles in 1964.
  • Art Ditmar had his best year, 15-9, for the 1960 Yankees. He pitched horribly in the World Series, though, starting and losing Game One and Game Five to the Pirates, not making it out of the second inning in either game. He also was 13-9 for the 1959 Yankees, the high points of a 72-77, nine-year career.
  • Tom Sturdivant had only two seasons in his career with double figures in wins. But they were 16-win seasons for the 1956-7 Yankees. He won Game Four of the ’56 World Series, pitching a complete game. He won 59 career games, pitching mostly in mop-up relief toward the end of his 10-year career.
  • Johnny Kucks won 18 at age 23 for the 1956 Yankees, topping the season with a Game Seven shutout over the Dodgers to clinch the world championship. And he never won more than eight games again in a six-year career, retiring at 54-56.
  • Tommy Byrne had only three notable years in a 13-year career. He was 15-7 for the 1949 Yankees (the first of a record five straight world champions) and 15-9 and an All-Star the next year. After some mediocre seasons with the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox, he returned to the Yankees. In 1955, Byrne led the league in winning percentage, going 16-5 for a team that won the American League but lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. He was 1-1 in six World Series appearances.
  • Atley Donald pitched his full eight-year career for the Yankees, half of it during World War II. His 13-3 year for the 1939 world champions, leading the league in winning percentage, might have been his best season, but his 3.71 ERA was nothing special. He had two other seasons with double-digit wins and retired 65-33. He lost Game Four of the 1942 World Series.
  • Tom Gorman signed this ball right above the autograph of his manager, Casey Stengel. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

    Tom Gorman signed this ball right above the autograph of his manager, Casey Stengel. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

    Tom Gorman had a promising rookie season for the Yankees in 1952, going 6-2, with half of his wins coming in his six starts, including a 5-0 shutout over the Red Sox. He lasted just three seasons with the Yankees before going to Kansas City. He relieved more than he started, but never excelled at either pursuit. He had an eight-year career, finishing 36-36 with 33 starts (seven for the Yankees) and 44 saves. But he autographed a ball for my wife’s uncle, so I gotta include him, right?

  • Marius Russo pitched six seasons, all for the Yankees. He won 14 games twice, earning an All-Star selection in 1941. He also won 2-1 complete games in the 1941 and ’43 World Series.
  • Johnny Broaca mysteriously left the Yankees (possibly because of a crumbling marriage) early in his fourth season, 1937. He pitched 22 games, mostly in relief, for the 1939 Indians and then was done with baseball at age 29. But his three full seasons for the Yankees were notable: 12-9, 15-7 and 12-7 in 1934-36. He never pitched in a World Series.

Asian pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ fourth Japanese starter, is finishing his second strong season with the Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees a nice three-year run, going 38-33. Earlier Japanese free agents Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu were disappointments. Irabu was a fifth starter on the 1998-99 championship teams, but got only one start in the post-season either year (and the Red Sox pounded him for eight runs in less than five innings of relief).

Chien-Ming Wang, from Taiwan, had a spectacular start for the Yankees, with back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006-7. At age 26, he was second in the Cy Young Award voting to Johan Santana, tied for the league lead in wins.

He should have won 20 that year. On Father’s Day, playing the Nationals in old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, he took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. I was in the ballpark with my family, cheering Wang on to victory. Mariano Rivera had pitched the previous two nights, getting a win and a loss, and Joe Torre didn’t want to go to him again. Torre felt more confident in Wang, who had given up only four hits, than his other relievers, such as Kyle Farnsworth or Scott Proctor. It was Wang’s game to lose. And he did. Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off homer.

A foot injury in 2008 started a succession of health issues for Wang and he never returned to his early form.

You can’t be disappointed with a pitcher who gave you two great seasons. But you can’t help wishing for more.

Other tantalizing pitchers

It wouldn’t be fair to call Phil Hughes a disappointment. He gave the Yankees an 18-8 All-Star season in 2010 and a solid 16-13 season two years later. I hoped for more, and I’m sure he did, too. But he wasn’t a bust as a Yankee.

A.J. Burnett had a losing record, 34-35, in three years as a Yankee. But he won Game Five of the 2009 World Series, the last time we won a championship. I’ll take that.

Javier Vazquez was an All-Star in a 14-10 2004 season, and actually beat the Red Sox before that series turned around. I didn’t want to trade him (at age 27) for 40-year-old Randy Johnson. He did have more good years left in him than Johnson, but I’m not sure he ever got as good as an aging Johnson. He finished his career 165-160, and his return to the Yankees was forgettable, 10-10 in 2010.

Cory Lidle

Lidle was an average pitcher who made only nine starts for the Yankees after joining them in a 2006 trade-deadline deal. He died just four days after the season ended, when a small plane he was flying crashed into a Manhattan building.

Mike Kekich

I already mentioned the Fritz Peterson/Mike Kekich wife swap in the post on 20-game winners (which Peterson was). But that bit of 1970s culture is worth another mention here. As a pitcher, Kekich was otherwise forgettable, 39-51 for his career with just two 10-win seasons, both with the Yankees. (And note that Peterson commented on that post. Wonder if I can get a Kekich comment here?)

Hank Borowy

Players whose best years came during World War II never get much credit, and probably for valid reasons. Many of the best major leaguers were off in the military.

Borowy started his career in 1942 with the Yankees. He went 15-4, 14-9 and 17-12, with one All-Star selection, then won 21 games in 1945, splitting the year between the Yankees and Cubs. He never won more than 12 games in a season when the nation wasn’t at war.

He won a game for the Yankees in the 1943 World Series and went 2-2 for the Cubs in 1945, their most recent World Series appearance.

Tim Leary

Leary merits mention only briefly. He did not pitch well or long for the Yankees, but his nine wins for the last-place Yankees in 1990 were the most of any starter in perhaps the worst rotation the Yankees ever sent to the mound. He led the league with 19 losses, too. He wasn’t the more famous Timothy Leary of an earlier generation.

Gave up too soon

Several pitchers who broke in with the Yankees went on to greater things elsewhere, often traded for older, established players (some of them past their primes):

  • Larry Gura gave the Yankees two inconsequential years, and they traded him for inconsequential catcher Fran Healy after the 1975 season, at age 27. Gura developed into a strong starter for the Royals, winning 111 games in 10 years. Twice he won 18, and he had a reputation as a “Yankee killer,” but he was only 2-2 against New York in four playoff series.
  • One of these things is not like the others. Mickey Mantle's a Hall of Famer. Allie Reynolds should be. Gene Woodling was an All-Star. Bob Kuzava was just a big-leaguer. My wife's uncle got all their autographs on this ball, belonging to my son Mike.

    One of these things is not like the others. Mickey Mantle’s a Hall of Famer. Allie Reynolds should be. Gene Woodling was an All-Star. Bob Kuzava was just a big-leaguer. My wife’s uncle got all their autographs on this ball, belonging to my son Mike.

    Stan Bahnsen was Rookie of the Year as a Yankee, going 17-12 in 1968. After four solid seasons, the Yankees traded him to the White Sox for Rich McKinney, an inconsequential infielder who got only 26 of his 199 career hits for the Yankees. Bahnsen would get 91 more wins in his career, including 21 for the White Sox in 1972.

  • Bob Porterfield started just 22 games for the Yankees before being traded in 1951 to the Senators at age 27 along with two other players for Bob Kuzava, a pitcher who made little difference for the Yankees in four years, but was kind enough to sign an autograph for my wife’s uncle. Porterfield led the American League two years later with 22 wins, 24 complete games and nine shutouts for the fifth-place Senators. Could the Yankees’ dynasty of the 1950s have been even better if they’d hung onto Porterfield.

Just passing through

Some pitchers didn’t spend long with the Yankees, but made notable contributions. Or improved after leaving:

  • Bill Gullickson pitched only eight games for the Yankees before moving on as a free agent. After playing two years in Japan, he returned to the majors and became a 20-game winner for the Tigers in 1991.
  • Doyle Alexander had two unremarkable hitches with the Yankees, winning just 11 games and losing the 1976 World Series opener. He won 194 games in a respectable career, three times reaching 17 wins. But he stands as one of the ultimate cautionary tales about trading a promising prospect for a wily veteran. On Aug. 12, 1987, the Braves traded him to the Tigers, who were in a pennant race and hoping for a big post-season. Alexander delivered a brilliant stretch run, going 9-0 and finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting, even though he only had 11 American League starts. He did lose two ALCS starts to the Twins, though. And that prospect the Tigers gave up, John Smoltz, turned out to be a Hall of Famer for the Braves.
  • Pat Dobson won 20 games for the Orioles in 1971 (one of four Oriole starters with 20 or more that year) and 19 for the Yankees in 1974. Those were the high points of an 11-year career with a losing record, 122-129. He spent three years with the Yankees, one of five teams he played for.
  • Jack Quinn started his career with the New York Highlanders and later joined the Yankees. He played seven of his 23 seasons and won 81 of his 247 games for New York. His two-year stint in the Federal League, 1914-15, presented quite a contrast, winning 26 games his first year and losing 22 the second.

Ed Whitson

Yankee fans don’t remember Whitson fondly. He epitomized George Steinbrenner‘s willingness to overpay for an overrated free agent. Whitson had a respectable year, but nothing special, for the Padres in 1984, going 14-8. He beat the Cubs in a playoff game, but didn’t make it out of the first inning in a World Series start against the Tigers.

That was his best season at age 29. Realistically, the 10-8 season he gave the Yankees in ’85 was at least as likely a next season as matching 14-8 or even improving it. Whitson lasted less than two years with the Yankees and had an undistinguished but respectable career, going 126-123 in 15 years.

Other disappointments

I am certain I have (mercifully) forgotten some of the pitchers who disappointed Yankee fans. Whitson is one of many who played their best years before arriving in New York (and in some cases after they left, too):

  • Denny Neagle was a 20-game winner for the Braves and 124-game winner for his career, but went 7-7 in a forgettable turn for the 2000 Yankees. He took both losses in the ALCS against the Mariners.
  • Freddy Garcia was a two-time All-Star and an ERA champ for the Mariners in the early 2000s. But he was a pretty average pitcher when he joined the Yankees in 2011 at age 34. He gave New York seasons of 12-8 and 7-6.
  • Carl Pavano was a bigger free-agent bust than Whitson, signing with the Yankees at age 29, following an 18-8 season for the Marlins. He won just nine games in three injury-plagued seasons in New York. He started and stank in the worst Yankee game I ever watched (maybe the worst anyone ever watched).
  • Jaret Wright signed with the Yankees at age 29. His 15-8 season for the Braves the year before was one of only three decent seasons he’d had in the majors. He went 5-5 and 11-7 in two forgettable seasons for the Yankees and retired without reaching 100 wins.
  • Richard Dotson won 22 games for the White Sox in 1983, 10 more than he won for the Yankees five years later, his only full season in New York.
  • John Candelaria was a 20-game winner for the Pirates in 1977, 11 years before becoming a Yankee. He gave New York a decent 13-7 year before moving on.
  • Jose Contreras was 31 when he joined the Yankees as a free agent from Cuba. He evoked memories of El Duque, but didn’t reach Hernandez’s level of excellence (and perhaps the Yankees gave up on him too quickly). After Contreras went 7-2 in 2003, the Yankees traded him, with an 8-5 record, at the 2004 trading deadline, for Estaban Loaiza. Contreras had two strong years for the White Sox but didn’t win 100 major league games. Loaiza, who had won 21 games for the White Sox in 2003, won only one for the Yankees before leaving as a free agent in the off-season.
  • Ken Holtzman, a 20-game winner who was part of the dominant A’s rotation of the early 1970s and pitched two no-hitters for the Cubs, had little left when he joined the Yankees in 1976. He won just 12 games in three years.
  • Andy Messersmith was a 20-game winner for the Angels and Dodgers, and won 130 career games, but was 0-3 for the 1978 Yankees.
  • Sam McDowell had a great first half to a Hall of Fame career, leading the American League in strikeouts five times in his 20s, including two 300-K seasons. He also had a 20-win season and an ERA crown. At age 29, after six All-Star selections in seven years, the Indians traded McDowell to the Giants for 32-year-old Gaylord Perry. Few would have guessed that Perry had 180 wins and two Cy Youngs in his future, and McDowell had only 19 wins left in him. “Sudden Sam” joined the Yankees at age 30, midway through the 1973 season. He was 6-14 in less than two seasons in New York and retired after the 1975 season.
  • Steve Barber won 20 games in 1963, one of two All-Star seasons in his seven years with the Orioles. He didn’t have much left when he joined the Yankees at age 29 in 1967. He won only 12 games in less than two seasons for New York. He never had another good year and retired in 1974 at 121-106.
  • Bob Friend was another former 20-game winner who joined the Yankees at the end of his career. He was a three-time All-Star who won 191 games for the Pirates, but he had nine losing seasons, twice leading the National League in losses. He retired with a losing record, 197-230.
  • Wes Ferrell gets some Hall of Fame love and will get some consideration this year by the Hall’s Pre-Integration Era Committee. But at least a half-dozen Yankee pitchers belong in the Hall of Fame before he does. He did win 20-games six times, but in an era of lots of 20-game winners. (In four of those seasons, he was one of five 20-game winners in the eight-team American League.) By the time he joined the Yankees in 1938 at age 30, he had nothing left. He won three games in parts of two seasons and retired at age 33 with a 194-128 record. He was a good hitter, though, belting 38 homers and batting .280 for his career.
  • How could a pitcher of the 1920s win 20 games four straight years for the St. Louis Browns and never do it after joining the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees? Well, Urban Shocker did. He had three strong seasons for the Yankees, 12-12, 19-11 and 18-6 in 1925-7. His only World Series decision was a 1926 loss.
  • Dutch Ruether was another pitcher on the Murderers’ Row Yankees who didn’t live up to his performance with other teams. Ruether won 21 games for the 1922 Dodgers. He was a respectable 13-6 in 26 starts for the 1927 Yankees, his final season at age 33. Ruether also lost a 1926 World Series game.
  • Kenny Rogers, Brown, Gaylord Perry and Randy Johnson belong on this list of disappointments (all acquired when past their primes), but I dealt with them in other installments in this series.

Bill Zuber

Zuber was hardly a notable Yankee starter, though he did start 40 games for the Yankees and went 18-23 in four years in New York, mostly during World War II. Zuber’s 11 years in the majors were unremarkable, finishing with a 43-42 record and only six saves (except with the Yankees, he pitched mostly in relief). He never won more than nine games in a season and retired with an ERA of 4.28.

So why do I mention Zuber here at all? Because I ate in his restaurant in Homestead, Iowa, back in 1978. And news clippings and photos around the restaurant paid tribute to Zuber’s Yankee career. Yeah, he wasn’t a much of a major leaguer, and he might not make the top 200, 300 or even 400 Yankee pitchers (I won’t bother to rank them that deep). But he pitched in the big leagues, for the Yankees even. And that’s worth bragging about on the walls of your restaurant for the rest of your life.

Too soon to say

I like what I’ve seen of Nathan Eovaldi, Michael PinedaIvan Nova and Luis Severino (ranging in age from 21 to 28), but I hope their best days as Yankees lie ahead. Maybe I’ll update sometime (perhaps this October) with more on one or all of them.

I wouldn’t mind if they develop, along with Tanaka and/or CC Sabathia, if he has anything left, into the best Yankee rotation ever. But they’re not there yet.

Who else?

I’ve written about dozens of Yankees in this series. Did I miss anyone you consider notable? Do you have memories or tidbits to add about any of the pitchers I’ve discussed here?

Also in this series

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.





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

16 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

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

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

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

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

Catfish


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

Babe, Bambino

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





Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards

1 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Yankee pitchers have won the Cy Young Award only five times. But past or future Yankees have won 20 Cy Young Awards.

In other sports, winners of major individual awards often come from championship teams. But that’s less common in baseball, where the writers who decide the award winners have a strong bias against the Yankees, the team that has won the most championships.

In the 60 years that the Cy Young Award has existed, the Yankees have won 11 World Series and eight more American League championships, but only five Cy Youngs. In the 50 years that Cy Youngs have been awarded by league, the Yankees have won seven World Series and four more league championships, but only three Cy Youngs.

By contrast, check out other American League teams’ performance in championships and Cy Young voting:

  • The Red Sox and Orioles each have won three world championships and three more A.L. crowns and six Cy Youngs in that same period.
  • The Tigers have won two World Series, two more A.L. titles and five Cy Youngs.
  • The A’s have won four World Series, two more A.L. championships and five Cy Youngs.
  • The Royals have won one World Series, two more league titles and four Cy Youngs.
  • The Twins have four Cy Youngs, two World Series wins and one other A.L. title.
  • The Indians have won four Cy Youngs despite making it to just two World Series and winning neither.

I suspect this is a result of a combination of factors: anti-Yankee bias by the baseball writers who choose award winners; exaggeration of the importance of starting pitching in winning championships; the fact that the Yankees have tended to be greater at offensive positions than starting pitching; the longtime strength of Yankee bullpens and the fact that relievers seldom win the Cy Young.

Yankees win their Cy Youngs before they don pinstripes or after the Yankees let them get away. Roger Clemens did both, winning three for the Red Sox and two for the Blue Jays before becoming a Yankee and winning another. He won his seventh after leaving the Yankees to become an Astro. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat

30 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Five Yankee starting pitchers have strong cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but probably not strong enough for most of them.

Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David ConeLuis Tiant and Jim Kaat were among the greatest pitchers of their times, but fall short of the standards that normally get pitchers into Cooperstown.

In earlier posts in this series, I dealt with the Yankee Hall of Famers, 300-game winners who pitched for the Yankees and three Yankee starters who belong in the Hall of Fame.

These pitchers are a notch below the others. I won’t argue if an Era Committee someday welcomes one of these pitchers to Cooperstown, and they probably belong there, but I’d be surprised if they all make it and won’t campaign for any of them.

Mike Mussina


Moose passed on a shot at ensuring his spot at Cooperstown, retiring at the top of his game after 18 years. He had his only 20-win season in his final year, winning exactly 20 at age 39 and retiring with 270 wins.

Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of the Hall of Fame only because of suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs, is the only 300-game winner who’s not in Cooperstown. You can’t be sure that a pitcher entering his 40s has 30 more wins in him. But a healthy and durable pitcher who wins 20 in his late 30s probably can win 30 more over two or three more years.

But Moose stuck with his announced retirement. And it’s hard to picture the Hall of Fame voters embracing a 270-game winner with only one 20-win season.

Moose’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty similar to Bert Blyleven‘s or Don Sutton‘s (except that Sutton stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins). Like them, he never won a Cy Young Award or had a really great season. But he had a lot of good seasons. Nine times Mussina was in the top six in the Cy Young voting, but the closest he came was second, to unanimous-choice Pedro Martinez in 1999.

In 10 years with the Orioles and eight with New York, Mussina led the American League once in wins, once in winning percentage and once in shutouts. He also led the league once in innings pitched and twice in starts. But never in ERA or strikeouts.

Moose finished higher in Cy Young voting more often than either Sutton or Blyleven. He was a league leader about as many times as Blyleven and more times than Sutton. And both also had just one 20-win season.

Mussina was an All-Star five times, the same as Sutton, and Blyleven made only two All-Star games. Moose won seven Gold Gloves and neither of the others ever did.

Sutton never won less than 50 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and was elected his fifth year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold with 82 percent. His 324 wins ensured his election and he made it relatively quickly.

Blyleven started out getting in the teens in the voting, but his percentages gradually increased, reaching 80 percent in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot.

Mussina started out faring better in Hall of Fame voting than Blyleven, getting 20 percent his first year and 25 percent this year, his second on the ballot. Blyleven didn’t reach that level until his fifth year on the ballot.

I can see Moose making the Hall of Fame in his final years on the writers’ ballot, as Blyleven did, or being an eventual Era Committee choice. He’s definitely comparable to Hall of Famers, but he’s a borderline candidate, and I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong in the Hall of Fame before him.

For several Yankees, a big part of my case for putting them in the Hall of Fame is their excellence in the post-season and World Series play. Mussina was average in October, 7-8 in post-season and 1-1 in World Series play.

But the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about post-season play and they do tend to smile on those who play well for long careers. So Moose has a shot.

If Bleacher Report’s rankings reflect Hall voting, Mussina has a good shot. He rank 35th all-time on the list, ahead of about half of the starters in the Hall of Fame. That’s higher than I would rank him.

Andy Pettitte

The Hall of Fame voters’ disdain for post-season performance is the reason Andy Pettitte probably wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, even if his reputation hadn’t been tainted by his admitted use of human growth hormone.

Pettitte won 256 games, usually enough to get a pitcher into Cooperstown. Of the nine pitchers with more wins than Pettitte who are not in the Hall of Fame, four were Yankees: Mussina, Roger ClemensTommy John and Jim Kaat (only briefly a Yankee; more on him shortly).

And no one in history has more post-season wins than Pettitte’s 19. Only John Smoltz has more post-season strikeouts. Pettitte was the anchor of the starting rotation for a dynasty that won four World Series in five years and another nine years later. In addition to his October prowess, he led the Yankees in wins and innings pitched in two of their championship years an in innings in a third.

As with Bernie Williams, Pettitte will be hurt by how differently baseball’s Hall of Fame voters regard championships (which is because of their anti-Yankee bias). You simply can’t name a football or basketball player who was as important to a championship dynasty as Pettitte who isn’t in his sport’s Hall of Fame.

But, as I noted the first time he retired, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and Yankees who are borderline simply don’t get in. Add his drug involvement, even though he was one of the few PED users who readily admitted his use, and I don’t think he has much of a shot at Cooperstown.

He retired in 2013 and has to wait another three years before he can be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

David Cone

Of course, if Pettitte’s 19-11 post-season record isn’t going to help him get into the Hall of Fame, Cone’s 8-3 record won’t do the trick either. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot, getting just 3.9 percent of the vote.

But here’s why there’s some hope for Cone, Pettitte and Mussina to make it to Cooperstown eventually: They were among the best dozen or so pitchers of their time, and that many pitchers from an era usually make the Hall of Fame.

I assigned Hall of Fame pitchers to decades, giving multiple decades to some pitchers if they achieved some Hall of Fame credentials in that decade. For instance, Nolan Ryan didn’t achieve much with the 1968 or ’69 Mets, so he doesn’t count as one of the Hall of Famers from the ’60s. He had great decades in the ’70s and ’80s, so of course he counts there. He pitched only four years of the ’90s, and didn’t win many games then. But he won the last of his 11 strikeout crowns in 1990 at age 43. He pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters in the 1990s, not to mention placing his famous headlock on Robin Ventura in 1993, his final year, at age 46. So I count Ryan as a Hall of Famer from the last three of his four decades.

Five different decades had a dozen or more Hall of Famers: the 1900s, Teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’60s and ’70s.

The 1980s, ’90s and beyond will get more Hall of Famers as time goes ons. The low numbers of Hall of Famers from the 1930s (9), ’40s (7) and ’50s (8) may reflect careers shortened by service in World War II or lives lost in the war.

The 1990s have already produced six Hall of Fame starting pitchers: Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Clemens makes seven pitchers from the era who were clearly better than this Yankee trio, though we don’t know when, if ever, Hall of Fame voters will decide they have meted out enough punishment to Clemens and other greats whose fame includes suspicion of drug use.

If the ’90s are going to get a dozen starting pitchers into the Hall of Fame, you really can’t get there without Mussina, Pettitte and Cone, even if Clemens gets there eventually.

Jack Morris and Curt Schilling were arguably better than the Yankee trio, but neither won as many games as Mussina or Pettitte. Schilling and Cone tied for the lowest ERAs of the group, 3.46. Mussina and Pettitte had lower ERAs than Morris’s 3.90.

Cone was the only Cy Young Award winner in the bunch, though Schilling finished second three times and Pettitte once (he was screwed in 1996). Counting the times they led their leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts or strikeouts, Schilling and Cone each had five, Morris four, Mussina three and Pettitte one.

Morris and Schilling both were great in the post-season (let’s pretend a moment that that matters in Hall of Fame selection), but Pettitte won more post-season games than both of them combined. Schilling’s 11-2 October record is stellar, but Cone’s 8-3 is better than Morris’s 7-4.

Moving into the 2000s, when each of the Yankee trio had great years, as did Clemens and the five of the six Hall of Famers from the ’90s (all but Ryan), and Roy Halladay is a contender. His 203 wins usually wouldn’t be enough to make Cooperstown, but he’s a two-time Cy Young winner who led his leagues six times in the key categories mentioned above. His 3-2 record in the post-season includes a no-hitter.

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, other star pitchers of this century either had injury-shortened careers (Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana) or are too early in their careers to project their Hall of Fame chances (David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) or appear likely to fall short of Hall of Fame standards (CC Sabathia, whom I’ll discuss in a later post in this series). None of the best Hall of Fame prospects of this century overlapped significantly with the three Yankees under consideration here.

Other pitchers of the 1990s and early 2000s with some sort of Hall of Fame credentials don’t match up well with Mussina, Pettitte and Cone. Jamie Moyer pitched forever and won 269 games, just one behind Mussina. He won 20 twice, led the league in winning percentage once and was in the top six Cy Young vote-getters three times. Just one comparison: Moose was in the top six nine times, Pettitte and Cone five each. Moyer was an All-Star once, compared to five times each for Cone and Moose and three for Pettitte. Moyer does hold one major league record: most home runs allowed.

Other leading pitchers of their era include a bunch who spent time with the Yankees (and will be discussed later in this series): Doug Drabek, Jack McDowellBartolo Colón, Jimmy KeyDenny NeagleDavid Wells, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia. A bunch of non-Yankees also were among the best pitchers of the time: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Pat Hentgen, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Kevin Appier.

Though some of those are still pitching, none of them has a Hall of Fame case as strong as Mussina, Pettitte or Cone. Except for Clemens, Schilling, Morris, Halladay, and the Hall of Famers, the best contemporaries lag behind this Yankee trio (usually behind two, sometimes all three) in most if not all of these measures: career wins, ERA, strikeouts, 20-win seasons, leading the league, All-Star appearances, Cy Young voting, post-season performance.

By any criteria you want to choose, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone were among the best pitchers of their time.

So if Hall of Fame selection of pitchers from the 1900s and early 2000s results in a dozen starters (including Clemens; I’ll settle for 11 Hall of Famers if he never makes it), the group will be Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez and five of these six pitchers: Schilling, Morris, Halladay, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone.

I suspect, given the Hall of Fame voters’ bias for longevity, that Moose has the best shot of the Yankees. I think Cone was the best pitcher of the three. Pettitte might pay a price for his drug use.

I expect at least one will make it eventually, and I’ll be surprised if all three do.

Luis Tiant

Tiant was a Yankee only briefly and late in his career, winning 13 and eight games for them in 1979 and ’80.

He was best known as the ace of the 1970s Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Reds in seven games and lost the AL East title to the Yankees in a one-game playoff (he didn’t pitch that game; Mike Torrez was the starter). But he had great seasons for the Indians, too.

El Tiante was a character and a gamer. Here’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame:

  • He won 229 games, more than Jim BunningDon Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, or Sandy Koufax, contemporaries of Tiant who made the Hall of Fame.
  • He won 20 games four times, more than contemporaries Bert Blyleven, Bunning, Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Koufax, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton.
  • Tiant led his league in ERA twice (1968 and 1972), both times with ERAs under 2.00. Blyleven, Bunning, Steve Carlton, Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Hunter, Ferguson JenkinsJuan Marichal, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts and Sutton were players whose careers overlapped with Tiant’s who didn’t lead their leagues twice in ERA. Ford, Jim Palmer and Ryan matched Tiant’s two ERA crowns.
  • Tiant led his league in shutouts twice. Contemporaries Carlton, Drysdale, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Sutton led their leagues only once in shutouts or never posted the most shutouts. Blyleven, Bunning, Ford, Marichal, Palmer, Ryan and Tom Seaver matched Tiant with two shutout titles.
  • He was 3-0 in post-season play, undefeated in the 1975 post-season with a playoff win over the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland A’s and two wins over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series. Bunning, Marichal, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Ryan didn’t match Tiant’s three post-season wins (some also played most of their careers before league playoff started). Drysdale and Seaver were 3-3 in the post-season, (Drysdale all in the World Series). Other contemporaries in the Hall of Fame had more post-season wins than Tiant, but weren’t undefeated.

You can’t examine the careers of Tiant and his contemporaries and say he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown along with them. But he’s not there.

Here’s why Tiant won’t be in the Hall of Fame: He wasn’t in the top dozen pitchers of his time. Tiant’s great years fell in the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s and ’70s already have 17 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (the 16 named above, plus Warren Spahn, who bested Tiant and most of his contemporaries in all the categories I examined).

I don’t think those pitchers were all better than Tiant, but 17 of Tiant’s contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve argued that Ron Guidry and Tommy John should be there, too. Guidry probably won’t make it, but John probably will. And you could make about a strong a case for Mickey Lolich (not as strong as for Tiant, I think, but similar).

Tiant pitched in an era of great pitchers, and maybe a few more will make it. Red Sox tend to fare well in Hall of Fame selection, but Tiant never got more than 31 percent of the writers’ vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never makes it to Cooperstown.

But man, I enjoyed watching him pitch, and I’ll cheer him on if a Golden Era or Expansion Era Committee ever lets him in. The dividing line between the eras is 1973, about halfway through Tiant’s career. The Golden Era Committee rejected him last year.

(I’ll deal with Tiant again next week in a post about racial discrimination in Hall of Fame elections.)

Jim Kaat

Here’s a fun fact: Since Kaat pitched parts of two seasons for the Yankees in his 40s, the three post-19th-century pitchers with the most wins who aren’t in the Hall of Fame were all Yankees. Roger Clemens won 354 (I don’t have to explain again why he’s not in the Hall of Fame, do I?). Tommy John, who, of course, belongs in Cooperstown, won 288. And Kaat is next at 283.

Add three 20-win seasons for Kaat and 16 Gold Gloves (a record broken by Greg Maddux) and Kaat has a strong case, but the Golden Era Committee rejected him along with Tiant last year anyway. Two of his 20-win seasons came in 1974-75, so he could possibly get Expansion Era consideration, too.

Another fun fact: Kaat’s career spanned four decades, starting in 1959 with the Washington Senators and ending in 1983 with the Cardinals. Tiant’s whole career fit within Kaat’s. I won’t try to figure out how many more Hall of Famers he overlapped with than Tiant, but Early Wynn comes to mind.

I value peak performance more than longevity, so I’d favor Tiant if only one of them ever makes the Hall of Fame. Voters favor longevity, though, so I think Kaat might have the better shot.

Both men are long shots for the Hall of Fame. Here’s how I’d order the chances of the men in this post for making Cooperstown:

  1. Mussina
  2. Kaat
  3. Tiant
  4. Pettitte
  5. Cone

All are better than some in the Hall of Fame, and anti-Yankee bias is probably no factor in Kaat and Tiant’s cases. But I’ll be surprised if more than one or two make the Hall of Fame, shocked if they all do.

Also in this series

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.





Yankees’ 300-game winners: Clemens, Niekro, Perry, Johnson

24 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Yankees’ 300-game winners: You’d think that the winningest team in baseball history would have been the primary team of at least one of the 24 300-game winners in baseball history. You wouldn’t even be close.

Four 300-game winners played in pinstripes, but none of them won even 100 games for New York:

Roger Clemens

Clemens led the way in this group of four in both total wins (354) and Yankee wins (83). I saw him pitch live for the Yankees and Red Sox, both in Royals Stadium (though it might have been renamed Kaufman Stadium when I saw him with the Yankees).

Of course, Clemens would be an automatic Hall of Famer if not for suspicion about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. If Hall of Fame voters ever let PED-tainted stars enter Cooperstown, Clemens will be one of the first, based on his career play, his great career before his apparent drug use started and his acquittal on charges of lying about drug use. Read the rest of this entry »





Young Randy Johnson never projected as a Hall of Famer

7 01 2015

Next time you read a statistical projection of a player’s chances of making the Hall of Fame, think of Randy Johnson, especially if a young player projects as having no chance.

Johnson made it to Cooperstown on the first ballot, leading the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class announced Tuesday. And when Johnson was age 28, two years older than Clayton Kershaw is now and the same age as Félix Hernández is today, the Big Unit was just a Big Bust. No one would have projected him for the Hall of Fame.

Kershaw and Hernández have combined for four Cy Young Awards. By age 28, Johnson didn’t have a career winning record yet or a season of 15 wins. His power was always frightening, but he had led the league in walks three times and strikeouts only once. The most optimistic computer projection or pitching coach couldn’t possibly have forecast him as a five-time Cy Young winner and first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Johnson didn’t make it to the majors until he was 24, and the first five years of his career he was mostly an oddity, a skinny 6-foot-10 freak with more potential than performance.

The Expos gave up on him after three wins, scattered over 10 starts and two seasons. He made an All-Star team for the Mariners in 1990, at age 26, but his 14-11 record that year wasn’t as notable as his league-leading 120 walks.

The walk total grew worse, to a peak of 152 in 1991 and improving only to 144 in 1992. That year, he actually led the league in strikeouts for the first time, too, with 241. And in hit batters, 18.

The Mariners didn’t have a bull mascot for The Big Unit to hit, but at age 28, Johnson was still basically Nuke LaLoosh, but hurling his wild pitches at the big-league level.

Two other power pitchers remembered for their slow starts, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, bloomed notably younger than Johnson. Both broke into the big leagues at age 19 and were in full-stride by their mid-20s.

Ryan didn’t reach 10 wins in any of his first four seasons, but he had three strikeout titles, two 20-win seasons and three no-hitters by the end of the 1974 season, when he was 27.

Koufax, whose first six years were unremarkable, won his first strikeout title at age 25 and his first Cy Young Award and two no-hitters by the time he was 27.

Both were on their way to Cooperstown at an age when Johnson was still trying to find home plate. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankees on the ballot: Who makes the Hall of Fame? Who gets screwed again?

5 12 2014

Ten former Yankees are on two different Hall of Fame ballots for consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown next summer.

Nine Yankees are among the 34 players on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for election by sports writers and one former Yankee is on the Golden Era ballot for election by a special committee considering players whose primary contributions came between 1947 and 1972.

You won’t think of most of these players as primarily Yankees. All but one played most of their careers for other teams. Here are my thoughts on those players and their chances to make the Hall of Fame (this year or ever):

Sure bet

Randy Johnson

Easy, automatic selection. He’d be in as either a 300-game winner or a five-time Cy Young Award winner (four in a row) or as No. 2 all time on the strikeout list with 4,875. As all three, Johnson is a first-ballot slam-dunk. I think Pedro Martinez was a little better pitcher, and he’s probably a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (a stupid distinction) this year, too. But the voters love longevity and Johnson put up bigger career numbers. He’s the more certain first-ballot guy.

It’s hard to overstate how good Johnson was. He led the league in strikeouts nine times, winning percentage, ERA and complete games four times each and innings pitched, shutouts and hit batters twice (and each of those hit batters felt it).

I’ve noted before that pitchers’ wins are a more useful stat than the hypothetical stat of WAR (wins above replacement). But I acknowledged then that wins are a flawed statistic (every stat is flawed). Johnson certainly illustrates the flaws. He won 20 games only three times and only twice in his Cy Young years. But 18-2, 17-9 and 19-7 are damn good won-loss records and that’s what he had the three years he won the Cy Young without winning 20. He led his league in strikeouts each of those years and in ERA two of those years and shutouts the other year.

Johnson’s two years with the Yankees were unremarkable: 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA and 211 strikeouts and 17-11, 5.00 and 172. The Yankees faced him at his best in the 2001 World Series (three wins, one of them in relief, two runs given up in 17 innings, a shutout and 19 strikeouts). But he was on the decline when the Yankees traded for him four years later. At that point, he was just trying to make it to 300 wins. He did that in 2009 as a Giant.

Tainted by PED scandal

Roger Clemens


When and if the Hall of Fame voters ever decide to elect players tainted by suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens should go in first. He and Barry Bonds are far and away the greatest players being kept out of Cooperstown because of PED suspicions. Clemens also was actually acquitted of perjury (allegedly lying to Congress when he denied using PED’s), so the jury that heard the case against him didn’t find it convincing. But I doubt this is the year he gets in.

And I don’t much care. I might vote for him if I had a vote, because I believe you’re innocent until proven guilty, and he wasn’t. But I don’t think Andy Pettitte misunderstood Clemens. I think he probably juiced and I will save the outrage of this blog for players I think are more deserving.

Gary Sheffield


I think even if his era and he himself had not been tainted by PED scandals, Sheffield might have taken several years to make it to the Hall of Fame. He hit 509 homers and topping 500 used to ensure enshrinement. Beyond the homers, looking at his career statistically by itself, he belongs in Cooperstown:

  • With 1,636 runs, he was 38th all-time, and most of those around him on the leaders list are in Cooperstown or sure to be: He ranks just ahead of Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Eddie Murray, Paul Waner and Al Kaline. He had seven seasons over 100 runs.
  • With 1,676 RBI, he’s in similar company, 26th all-time, just ahead of Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Ernie Banks. He had eight seasons over 100 RBI.
  • With 2,689, he’s not in as elite company, 66th all-time, but still just ahead of Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio, Max Carey and Nellie Fox, none of whom had Sheffield’s power.
  • With 1,475 walks, he’s 21st all-time, just ahead of Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx and Eddie Mathews. He had four seasons over 100 walks.
  • Sheffield hit .292, well within Hall of Fame range, and led the National League in batting at .300 with the Padres in 1992. He also led the league in on-base percentage and OPS with the Marlins in 1996.
  • He was a nine-time All-Star.

Statistically, you can’t make a case that Sheffield wasn’t a Hall of Famer. But he was a long way from the best power hitter of his time, and I think he’d have waited on the ballot for several years, even if it wasn’t for his implication in the PED scandals. Among his contemporaries, Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, Frank Thomas, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were more feared sluggers. And he doesn’t particularly stand out from some others: Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff. The guy who was the 10th to 12th-best slugger of his time doesn’t necessarily make the Hall of Fame, and if he does, he waits a while. Sheffield played in a time of great offense, and he might have had to wait a while for Cooperstown even without being tainted by the drug scandals.

He’ll have to wait a while even when/if the Hall starts admitting the juicers. And, if the standard is whether voters think he’d have been a Hall of Famer without cheating, Sheffield might not make it.

Getting screwed (still)

Don Mattingly

Mattingly illustrates better than anyone (with the possible exception of Ron Guidry) the Hall of Fame’s two strongest biases (after the bias against those suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs): against Yankees and in favor of longevity.

I have already made the case for Mattingly twice here: Showing that his career was almost identical to first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett and that by most measures he outperformed the Hall-of-Famers of his era. He should be in the Hall of Fame already, but this is his only year on the baseball writers’ ballot and he got only 8 percent of the vote last year. He has no chance this year. I think he could be a strong candidate for Expansion Era Committee selection eventually, but perhaps not as long as the baseball writers control the selection of candidates for those committees’ ballots.

Lee Smith

Here are the career achievements of four relief pitchers whose careers overlapped by six years: 1980-85:

Pitcher A: 341 career saves in 17 seasons, three years leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 6.9 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games, 1 Cy Young, 1 MVP.

Pitcher B: 478 career saves in 18 seasons, four seasons leading his league in saves, 11 seasons over 30 saves, 8.7 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games.

Pitcher C: 310 career saves in 22 seasons, three seasons leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 7.5 strikeouts/9 innings, nine All-Star games.

Pitcher D: 300 career saves in 12 seasons, five seasons leading his league in saves, four seasons over 30 saves, 7.9 strikeouts/9 innings, six All-Star games.

Perhaps you can identify the four pitchers. What you cannot do is say why one of them isn’t in the Hall of Fame. You especially can’t say why the one with the most saves, most 30-save seasons and most strikeouts per 9 innings isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Smith, of course, is Pitcher B, the only one of the four not in the Hall of Fame. A is Rollie Fingers, B is Goose Gossage and C is Bruce Sutter. The only other reliever of their time in the Hall of Fame is Dennis Eckersley, who defies comparison with his career as a starter (with a 20-win season), then a reliever. (If there’s a comparison, it’s John Smoltz, also likely to get in on the first-ballot this year.) For the record, though, Smith bested Eck in career saves, 30-save seasons, strikeouts per nine innings, seasons leading the league in saves and All-Star selections.

You can make a case that Smith was better than any of those pitchers, but you also could make the case that they were better than him. That’s the point: He was their peer in every respect. If they’re in the Hall of Fame, Smith should be.

I probably can’t claim it’s anti-Yankee bias that keeps Smith out of Cooperstown, because few people remember him as a Yankee. With only eight games for New York (in 1993; he saved three games), he probably has the lowest percentage of his career in pinstripes of any great player who played for the Yankees.

Clearly Smith should be in the Hall of Fame. With only 29 percent of the vote last year and only three years left on the writers’ ballot, his best shot will be through the Expansion Era Committee.

Tim Raines

Can you name a comparable player to Raines who’s not in the Hall of Fame? Who else in the top five in any major career statistical is waiting to get into Cooperstown without a gambling ban or suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs?

Throw in four seasons leading the league in steals, a batting championship and two years leading the league in runs. Raines absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame (and mostly for achievements before reaching the Yankees; he gave them three part-time years but contributed to their 1996 and ’98 championships). In baseball discussions during their primes, he was always paired with Rickey Henderson. How did one of them become a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and the other one can’t get in?

Raines does have a possible added factor in his consideration: his use of cocaine. He testified during the Pittsburgh drug trials that he used to slide headfirst to avoid breaking the cocaine vials in his back pocket.

But cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug, and I can’t think of another person blocked from the Hall of Fame because of cocaine use. Lots of players — Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry — appeared to be on the path to the Hall of Fame, but derailed their careers with cocaine abuse. None of those players reached a level of career achievement where everyone makes it to the Hall of Fame. And Hall voters have honored multiple players tainted by stories of recreational drug use: Orlando Cepeda, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Willie Stargell.

The only players who have more stolen bases than Raines’ 808 are Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb, all in the Hall of Fame.

Next on the stolen-base list behind Raines is Vince Coleman at 752. But stealing bases was virtually Coleman’s only skill. He hit .264, was only an All-Star twice and only scored 100 runs twice (and never led his league in runs scored).

Raines is much more like the four players ahead of him than like Coleman. Let’s set aside Hamilton, who played in the 1800’s, when baseball was much different, including counting as a stolen base when you went from first to third on a single. And let’s set aside Cobb, who was one of the greatest hitters of all time and still has the career record for batting average.

Comparing Raines as a hitter to Brock, he had better career averages at batting, on-base percentage (a leadoff hitter’s job) and slugging (and, of course, OPS): .294, .385, .425, .810 for Raines, .293, .343, .410, .753. Brock never led the league in a single batting category. Raines led the league in batting (.334) and on-base percentage (.413) in 1986 and doubles (38) in 1984. Brock was more durable, though, playing full-time long enough to reach 3,000 hits (Raines was a part-time player after 1992 and retired with 2,605 hits).

Runs combine hitting and running, and Brock had a slight advantage there. Each led his league twice. Brock topped 100 runs seven times and Raines had six 100-run seasons. Brock had slightly more career runs (in 100 more career games), 1,610 to 1,571.

Brock stole more bases, 938, and led his league in steals more times, eight, but Brock was largely a volume base-stealer. Raines was really a more successful base stealer, safe on 85 percent of his steals, compared to 75 percent for Brock. Even with all his stolen bases, Raines never led his league in times caught stealing. Brock led his league seven times. Raines’ worst season, he was caught 16 times. Brock topped that 10 times, getting caught 33 times in 1974, when he set the single-season record with 118 steals. In fact, Brock’s lead of Raines by 130 stolen bases is actually smaller than his caught-stealing lead, 307-146.

Defensively Raines was way better: He had a higher fielding percentage, .988 to .957. Brock had slightly more putouts, assists and double plays, but he played almost 400 more outfield games. But Raines committed only 54 errors. Brock made 196.

Raines was the player in baseball history most similar to Brock. And you can argue that he was a better hitter, base stealer and fielder. How is one guy in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the other isn’t there yet?

The comparison to Henderson is not as favorable for Raines. Henderson never won a batting or doubles title, but he led his league in hits in 1981 and on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1990 (his MVP year, an achievement Raines never matched).

For career averages, Raines had the advantage in batting (.294 to .279) and slugging (.425 to .419), but Henderson led in on-base percentage (.401 to .385) and OPS (.820 to .810). Henderson was a better homerun hitter (297 to 170) and drove in more runs (1,115 to 980).

One of a leadoff hitter’s most important jobs is getting on base, and Henderson led his league in walks four times, topped 100 walks seven times and set the record with 2,190 career walks (he’s second now to Barry Bonds). Raines had a respectable 1,330 career walks but never led his league and never topped 100 in a season.

In runs, Henderson blew Raines (and everyone in baseball history) away, setting the career record (still) with 2,295, leading his league five times and topping 100 runs 13 times.

Henderson stole 1,406 career bases, a record that’s safe for at least 15 years. He stole a record (still) 130 in 1982, one of three years that he topped 100, and he led his league in steals 12 times. He was the greatest base-stealer of all time. Raines was a better percentage stealer, 85 to 81.

So Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and significantly better than Raines. But Raines was the most similar player in baseball history to two first-ballot Hall of Famers. He should be in.

Maybe someday

Mike Mussina

USA Today’s Ted Berg predicts Mussina will make the Hall of Fame eventually. He’s been on the ballot two years and got 20 percent of the vote last year.

With 270 wins, he’s in Hall of Fame territory, four wins or fewer ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Bob Feller and Eppa Rixey. But Mussina also is one win ahead of Jamie Moyer, who has no shot at Cooperstown. Moose is way better than Moyer and his winning percentage was more than 100 points higher than Rixey’s. But he’s nowhere near Palmer’s or Feller’s league.

Berg says, “Time and context will smile on Mussina’s counting numbers and reward his consistency.” He may be right. I’m skeptical, but I’m horrible at predicting Hall of Fame elections. Just considering Yankee pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, I’d say Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds all belong there before Mussina. He’s about even with David Cone, Cone having soared to greater heights but Moose being more consistent. The Hall of Fame rewards longevity and consistency, so he could get in.

I don’t think he’ll ever make it to Cooperstown, but he probably could have. For the first 17 years of his career, he was a model of consistency, never winning 20 games in a season but winning 19 twice, 18 three times and 17 twice. He never won fewer than 11 games.

Moose won 20 for the only time in his 18th and final year, 2008, at age 39. It’s hard to believe he didn’t have another 30 wins in him if he’d wanted to pitch another three years (possibly two). If he had made it to 300 wins, he’d be automatic. But you have to admire a guy who goes out on top, and that might help him in Hall of Fame voting.

Two things we don’t know yet about Hall of Fame could affect Moose’s chances of election:

  1. We don’t know how long the baseball writers will keep the PED-era stars out of the Hall of Fame. Will they have to wait a few years to get in, or will the writers just never vote any of them in?
  2. If they don’t vote the drug-tainted players in, will they just vote in fewer players from that era, or will some of the marginal players from that era, who used to wait for veterans committee votes, get voted in by the writers. It’s hard to imagine Moose making the Hall of Fame with all the players tainted by PED’s on the ballot. But if those guys aren’t getting in, Moose could be an attractive candidate in some year when the crop of first-time candidates is a little thin. I suspect he’ll be an Expansion Era Committee selection someday.

Luis Tiant

El Tiante is the only ex-Yankee on the Golden Era ballot (the writers keep Roger Maris out of the Hall of Fame by controlling access to the era ballots). His 229 wins don’t carry him into automatic territory (or the writers would have voted him in), but they certainly are Cooperstown-worthy. He ranks a few wins ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter, but tied with Sad Sam Jones, who never made the Hall of Fame and never topped 1 percent in the writers’ vote. He’s also 10 wins behind David Wells and 11 behind Frank Tanana, neither of whom is likely to get a Cooperstown plaque.

The Tiant case is strong: four 20-win seasons, two ERA championships (under 2.00 both times), led his league in shutouts three times. If post-season performance counted for anything (it doesn’t, or they’d have to let more Yankees in), his 3-0 record in his only post-season, including two complete-game 1975 World Series wins (one of them a shutout) over the Big Red Machine would push him over the top.

His Yankee years were insignificant, a 13-8 showing at age 38 and 8-9 the next year in 1979-80.

Comparing Tiant to Hunter shows why he has fallen short of the Hall of Fame so far. Catfish won his 224 games in 15 years, while Tiant played 19. Catfish won 20 games five years in a row and won a Cy Young Award (Tiant’s highest finish was fourth).

Tiant was more comparable to Bunning, who won 20 games only once (he had four 19-win seasons) and had a career winning percentage 22 points lower than Tiant. Bunning never led his league in ERA, but led twice in shutouts and three times in strikeouts.

All-Star selections aren’t a strong part of Tiant’s case: He was selected three times and Catfish had eight selections and Bunning seven.

Tiant was a fierce competitor who probably was regarded as a Hall of Famer by the batters he faced in a career that stretched from 1964 to 1982. He played in an era of great pitchers: Hunter and Bunning are among 17 pitchers who were Tiant contemporaries who are already in Cooperstown. Guidry’s another who belongs there, ahead of Tiant.

It’s clear that Tiant was more comparable to Hunter and Bunning than to Jones, Wells and Tanana. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I’m not outraged if he doesn’t make it.

If the Golden Era Committee just picks one or two players, I would expect Tony Oliva and/or Maury Wills to go ahead of Tiant. But maybe, like the Expansion Era Committee went with three managers (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox) last year, the Golden Era Committee will choose three Cubans this year: Oliva, Tiant and Minnie Minoso. I tend to think Tiant will continue to wait.

No chance

Aaron Boone

Boone has no shot at the Hall of Fame. This will be his only year on the ballot. He gave Yankee fans a great memory in 2003, but he has no Hall of Fame qualifications: barely 1,000 career hits, never hit .300 or 30 homers or 100 RBI, never won a Gold Glove. He had a respectable 12-year career and made an All-Star team for the Reds in 2003 (before being traded to the Yankees.

Boone was actually only the third-best baseball player in his family. Brother Bret has no Hall of Fame chance either, but he had three 100-RBI seasons for the Mariners. He was third in the MVP race in 2001, hitting .331 with 206 hits, 37 homers and a league-leading 141 RBI. He was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover. But he also was named as a PED user in Jose Canseco’s book (he denied the allegation). Bret Boone didn’t approach Hall of Fame consideration, but had a better career than Aaron.

Their father, Bob, a four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove catcher who’s third all-time in games caught, might catch the fancy of an era committee someday and make it to the Hall of Fame.

Bob’s father, Ray Boone, was also an All-Star (twice) and led the American League with 116 RBI in 1955. But he also was far short of Hall of Fame levels.

They are one of baseball’s best families ever (does any other family have four All-Stars?). But I doubt they’ll have any Hall of Famers, certainly not Aaron.

Tom Gordon


As I noted last month, Flash was one of the best pitchers ever at relieving and starting. But only Eck and Smoltz of that group will make the Hall of Fame (Allie Reynolds should, but he’s unique because he started and relieved in the same season for a few years, never becoming a full-time reliever). Gordon is back in the pack with Wilbur Wood, Dave Righetti and Derek Lowe, probably a bit behind them.

Gordon has a better case than Aaron Boone, with three All-Star selections and one season leading the American League in saves (1998 with 46). He delivered on a then-record 54 consecutive save opportunities. But neither 138 career wins nor 158 career saves is anywhere near Hall of Fame territory, so he doesn’t get enough benefit from having pitched well in both roles to have a shot at Cooperstown.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, facts in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com or the Baseball Hall of Fame website.