College student campaigns to get Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame

2 01 2017
Colin McCann in his Roger Maris jersey visiting the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, N.D., in 2015.

Colin McCann in his Roger Maris jersey visiting the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, N.D., in 2015. Photo used with permission.

I’ve known for a while about the Facebook page, Roger Maris Belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the related petition drive campaigning for Maris to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

I guess I expected it was the work of another Baby Boomer who fell in love with Maris as a boy in 1961, as I did. If I mention Maris to college students, only the hard-core baseball fans even know who Maris is. But it turns out the young man leading the campaign is younger than Maris was when he broke Babe Ruth’s record 55 years ago.

My Roger Maris blanket, a gift from his wife, Patricia.

My Roger Maris blanket, a gift from his wife, Patricia.

I connected with Colin McCann after posting a link about my gift from Patricia Maris on the Maris page, figuring fans of the page might be interested in my post. McCann and I exchanged supportive messages and he said something about a class and I thought he was teaching. But then it was clear that he was a student. Slow to catch on, I figured he was what higher education calls a “non-traditional student,” an old guy like me who’s taking classes. But no, Colin McCann is a 21-year-old college student, fighting for a man who earned his baseball fame before McCann was born. He’s a Twins fan seeking recognition for a star whose greatest achievement came the year the Senators moved to Minnesota.

A feature on the youth in Rosemount Town Pages says his interest in Maris stems from a gift his parents gave him in eighth grade, the Billy Crystal move 61*, an excellent movie that illustrates Maris’s fame. McCann was surprised and appalled to learn that Maris wasn’t recognized in Cooperstown, so he started his campaign. In addition to creating the Facebook page, which has more than 3,200 likes, McCann has launched an online petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures.

The passion has driven McCann to visit Maris’s grave and museum in Fargo, N.D., and even the slugger’s off-season home in Raytown, Mo.

My pancreatic cancer has spread to my liver, making it doubtful that I will survive this year. But I’m pleased to see a young fan taking up the cause for Maris, whose next shot at Hall of Fame election will be in 2020.

Colin McCann visiting Roger Maris's grave in 2015. Photo used with permission.

Colin McCann visiting Roger Maris’s grave in 2015. Photo used with permission.





A wonderful gift from the widow of Roger Maris

27 10 2016
The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

Patricia Maris, the widow of Roger Maris, sent me a blanket as a gift this week. I am overwhelmed.

I’ll explain, but it will take a while: This story starts more than 55 years ago.

I don’t remember being at all aware of baseball from 1957 to 1960, when my father was stationed in England in the U.S. Air Force. My strongest childhood memories of England are of Mrs. Shaw, the retired school teacher next door who tutored me and taught me to read, using Janet and John books.

We moved to Utah when I was 5, and I was reading at the fourth-grade level, already launched on a lifetime as a nerd who loved to read and pursued passions single-mindedly. One of my first such passions was geography. My parents bought me some flash cards of the states to amuse me on that long drive west from New Jersey, where we landed in the United States, to our new home in Utah. I memorized the shapes and capitals of the states. I asked Mom or Dad which state I was born in. Dad was stationed then at Sampson Air Force Base in the Finger Lakes region of New York. So that became my favorite card and my favorite state.

Soon baseball became another passion for this intent, focused nerd. We didn’t have a television yet (my parents didn’t cave in on that indulgence until after the JFK assassination in 1963). But Mom listened to the 1960 World Series on the radio. A lifelong Cubs fan (yeah, more on that later), Mom rooted for the National League team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. But New York was my state and New York became my team.

So my early baseball heroes were Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford, who had historically great performances in that World Series. And the season’s Most Valuable Player, Roger Maris, played pretty well, too, and I started liking him as well. But Bill Mazeroski broke my young heart. Read the rest of this entry »





Baseball Hall of Fame changes its absurd (and racist) ‘Era Committees’

25 07 2016

The Baseball Hall of Fame has improved the ridiculous structure of its Veterans Committees and corrected the egregious racism that was part of the old structure.

The three rotating committees used the last several years will now become four committees, with more frequent consideration by the committees that review more recent players. In a significant development, the revised process will allow consideration again for Negro League players and contributors.

The three Eras Committees the Hall of Fame has been using could hardly be more absurd. Each had its own nonsensical aspects:

  • The Pre-Integration Era Committee, as I noted last year, perpetuated segregation in baseball by having one committee that could consider only white players. Consideration of Negro League players of the Hall of Fame ended in 2006, and the rules for the Pre-Integration Era Committee said that it could consider only “major league” players (and coaches, umpire and executives) whose primary contributions came prior to 1947, and that meant whites only.
  • The Golden Era Committee considered players (and others) whose primary contributions fell from 1947 to 1972. Who the hell proclaimed this the “Golden Era” of baseball? Not Cincinnati Reds fans, whose team’s golden era was just getting started in 1972. Not fans of the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks or other teams that didn’t even exist in 1972. Not fans of the Philadelphia Phillies, who won their only championships after the supposed Golden Era. Hey, my childhood fell during this supposed Golden Era. In other circumstances, I might argue that this was the golden era (the Yankees won 10 World Series in the era). Isn’t whenever you grew up the “golden era” of anything? But in designating eras for Hall of Fame consideration, it’s laughable, as though players elected from this era are automatically greater, more golden, than the others. And, you know what ended the Golden Era? Let’s see, what changed about baseball in 1973? That’s when they adopted the designated hitter rule, which self-anointed purists think ruined baseball. Because it’s so much fun to watch pitchers hit.
  • The Expansion Era Committee considered players and contributors whose greatest contributions came since 1973. But what the hell did 1973 have to do with expansion? It’s the Designated Hitter Era (even though the committee hasn’t admitted anyone who was primarily a DH; the only DH in the Hall, Frank Thomas, was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and the Hall calls him a first baseman, even though he played more games at DH). Baseball expanded in 1961 and 1962, adding two teams each year, then in 1969, adding four. So a majority of the expansion teams, eight of 14, were added before the so-called “Expansion Era” of the Hall of Fame’s absurd Era Committees.

The committees rotated, each considering players every three years. Last year the Pre-Integration Era Committee didn’t elect anyone for induction this year.

Now we’ll have four committees: Read the rest of this entry »





The 5 best right fielders in Yankee history

12 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: right field.

Right field is another position where the Yankees have been loaded with talent throughout their history. They didn’t have the string of long standout tenures that New York had in center field or catcher, but the excellence and depth has probably been stronger in right than any position other than those two.

1, Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth leads both my left field and right field lists. I was surprised by the left-field choice, but I knew from the time I started thinking about this series that he was the automatic and only choice in right field. He played 1,132 games for the Yankees in right field and it was his primary position every year for the Yankees except 1921, ’22 and ’26.

Ruth led the league in homers eight times as a right fielder, including the 60-homer season in 1927. Throw in five times of his seven times leading the league in runs scored, two of his four RBI titles and his only batting title, and Ruth’s right-field years far surpass everyone else who played the position for the Yankees. And I’m not done: He led the league nine times in walks, seven times in on-base percentage, seven times in slugging and eight times in OPS playing primarily in right field.

Ruth is arguably the best player in the history of the game still today. His single-season and career home run records finally fell, but he still holds the records for career slugging and OPS. He changed the game like no one else has, swinging for the fences and introducing the long ball to baseball.

Not only did he dominate his league in hitting like no one before or since, but he was a standout pitcher for the Red Sox before his dominant hitting moved him to the outfield. While some people have both pitched and played an every-day position in the majors, do one else has even been good at both roles, and Ruth was great. The likely second-best player to do that was Lefty O’Doul, who won only one game. Ruth had back-to-back 20-win seasons and led the American League in ERA and shutouts. Is there any other baseball niche, however small, with a more dramatic gulf between the best ever and the second-best?

The only reasons to diminish Ruth’s achievements are that he played before baseball integrated, so he didn’t play against the nation’s or world’s best players, and he hit long before relief specialists made late-inning at-bats more difficult.

Throw in that he was an extraordinary character, and that he actually played a fair amount in left field, and I feel completely comfortable listing Ruth at the top of my lists for both right field and left field. I’m making lists at each position, not making an all-time Yankee team. And Ruth tops the lists at each position.

2, Roger Maris

EPSON MFP image

My Roger Maris card

Roger Maris wins the second spot over two Hall of Famers who played right field for the Yankees in their prime. As I’ve noted again and again, Maris belongs in the Hall of Fame. But his placement here is based on performance, not bias. None of the right fielders below him on this list won a single MVP award, let alone back-to-back awards, as Maris did in 1960-61. None of them set a single major record, let alone held one for 37 years.

Maris led his league as a Yankee in homers, RBI (twice), slugging, runs and total bases. Neither of the Hall of Famers behind him on this list led his league in a major stat more than once for the Yankees.

No one else on this list had an HBO movie about his career highlight (Billy Crystal’s 61* is about Maris’ successful chase of Ruth’s single-season home run record).

The next two right fielders got the Cooperstown moments that Maris deserved and still has not received. But Maris was better than either as a right fielder for the Yankees. But he has to be second here to Ruth. While he broke one of The Babe’s cherished records, he didn’t match Ruth’s incredible career for the Yankees.

3, Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson gave the Yankees five strong years in right field, leading the league with 41 homers in 1980 and driving in 100 or more runs twice.

He was pretty even with the No. 4 right fielder in regular-season offensive production. But he wins the No. 3 slot based on his post-season play: 2 homers (three in the clinching game), 8 RBI, 9 hits, 10 runs and the MVP award in the 1977 World Series. He slacked off to 2 homers and 8 more RBI on 9-for-23 hitting in 1978. Jackson hit .300 or better for the Yankees in five post-season series and hit 12 homers. Jackson truly earned his “Mr. October” nickname, and I almost moved him past Maris based on post-season performance. But Maris had a sizable advantage in regular-season play as a Yankee.

4, Dave Winfield

Dave Winfield, like Reggie, played five years in right field for the Yankees (plus three in left). Winfield won three Gold Gloves and topped 100 runs four of his right-field years. He was an All-Star every year. His .340 batting average in 1984 was second to teammate Don Mattingly in the American League.

It wasn’t Winfield’s fault the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs after his disappointing World Series in 1981. I was glad to see him finally get a World Series ring (and drove in three runs) with the Blue Jays in 1992.

5, Paul O’Neill

Paul O’Neill played fewer games for the Yankees than Tommy Henrich and Hank Bauer: 1,406 for Bauer, 1,284 for Henrich, 1,254 for O’Neill. You could go with any of the three here. All three played the vast majority of their games in right field.

Henrich has the advantage in All-Star appearances: five (to four for O’Neill and three for Bauer). I give the nod to O’Neill because he was the best hitter: four straight seasons with 100 or more RBI (Henrich had one, Bauer none); a batting championship, .359 in 1994 (one of his six straight .300 seasons, more than Henrich and Bauer combined); 185 Yankee homers (to 183 for Henrich and 158 for Bauer), 1,426 Yankee hits (to 1,326 for Bauer and 1,297 for Henrich).

O’Neill was as solid in the post-season as Henrich and Bauer, though Bauer led the group in championship contributions, playing a role in seven World Series titles to four each for O’Neill and Henrich.

As good as Henrich and Bauer were, I think O’Neill is the clear choice here. And that’s not even counting his Seinfeld appearance.

The rest

Hank Bauer's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Hank Bauer’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Henrich lost three prime years to military service during World War II. Bauer was a stalwart for the Yankees dynasty of the 1950s, but also contributed to the ’60s dynasty, going to the Kansas City A’s in December 1959 in a seven-player trade that brought Maris to the Yankees.

Hall of Famer Willie Keeler deserves mention here. But he was a Highlander, not a Yankee, and his best years were in the National League, before joining New York at age 31.

Gary Sheffield was an All-Star two years in right field, and finished second for the 2004 MVP, but he only played two full years for the Yankees.

Ichiro Suzuki, a certain Hall of Famer, was past his prime when he joined the Yankees in right field in 2012, but turned in two-plus solid seasons.

Nick Swisher gave the Yankees four strong years in right, including the 2009 championship season.

Lou Piniella played 277 games in right field, but it was never his primary position.

Other right-field traditions

The Yankees clearly have the strongest tradition in right field. The Tigers also have three Hall of Famers in right (Al Kaline, Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann) and the Pirates have two (Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner) plus an MVP (Dave Parker). But no one can match the Yankees’ traditions of greatness here.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for right fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Ruth, Jackson, Winfield) or belongs there (Maris), that carries considerable weight with me.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. Maris didn’t play right for the Yankees as long as O’Neill, Henrich or Bauer, but his back-to-back MVP seasons pushed him well ahead of them.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Ruth, Maris and Jackson all did and that helped them seal the top three spots. And, if the performance measures among O’Neill, Henrich and Bauer had been dead even, the Seinfeld appearance might have broken the tie for O’Neill.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, and no one on this list played exclusively for the Yankees (this list and DH will be the only teams without any Yankee lifers). Henrich played only for the Yankees, but the others played long enough or well enough that they all ranked ahead of him.

Time at the position is important, too. Winfield might have passed Jackson if he hadn’t played three seasons in left field.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Those were important positive factors for everyone on this list except Winfield.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, Jackson’s years with the A’s and Angels, Winfield’s years with the Padres and Blue Jays or O’Neill’s years with the Reds might have broken a tie.

Special moments matter, too. Ruth, Maris and Jackson all got credit for those.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee right fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Source note

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

 





The 5 best center fielders in Yankee history

11 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: center field.

Center field might rival or surpass catcher as the position with the strongest Yankee tradition.

1, Mickey Mantle

The MickThis is why center field might be even stronger than catcher: You don’t have a clear No. 1. As great as Bill Dickey was, Yogi Berra was the clear top choice at catcher, what with his three MVP awards and all his World Series records. But both Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio won three MVP awards. Both are Hall of Famers (as are Berra and Dickey).

So what counts more? DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Mantle’s Triple Crown? DiMaggio’s .325 career batting average or Mantle’s 536 career homers? DiMaggio led the league twice each in homers, RBI and batting average (just not in the same season). Mantle led four times in homers but once each (in the Triple Crown year, obviously) in RBI and batting. Each was such an icon, he was mentioned in song lyrics and pitched products on TV (I’ve embedded songs and commercials in the YouTube videos at the end of this post).

Each was a leading sports celebrity of his time, DiMaggio renowned for his grace on the field and his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, Mantle famed for his tape-measure homers, country-boy personality and carousing.

In the 1940s, baseball fans debated whether DiMaggio or Ted Williams was the best player, and in the ’50s and early ’60s, the debate was over Mantle and Willie Mays. Clearly both Yankees belong on any list of best baseball players ever.

Part of measuring Mantle vs. DiMaggio is weighing what they didn’t do: How do you account for all of Mantle’s injuries or for DiMaggio missing three prime years to military service during World War II?

Mickey Mantle ballHere’s the statistical case to choose Mantle for the top spot:

  • He played more games in center: 1,742 to 1,634.
  • Mantle hit more homers: 536 to 361.
  • Mantle got more hits, 2,415 to 2,214.
  • Mantle got more walks, 1,733 to 790 (some of these advantages are narrow enough to be explained by Mantle’s longer career, but not that one).
  • Mantle led the league in walks five times (DiMaggio never did).
  • Mantle led the league twice in intentional walks (the stat was not kept during DiMaggio’s career or for the first four years of Mantle’s).
  • Mantle scored more runs, 1,676 to 1,390.
  • Mantle led the league five times in runs scored (DiMaggio led the league once).
  • Mantle led the league three times in on-base percentage (DiMaggio never did) and had a higher career OBP, .421 to .398.
  • Mantle led the league four times in slugging (DiMaggio did it twice).
  • Mantle led the league six times in OPS (four times topping 1.000). DiMaggio never led the league in OPS, but their career figures were identical, .977.
  • Mantle hit for more total bases, 4,511 to 3,948. Each led the league in total bases three times.
  • Mantle stole more bases: 153 to 30. Six seasons Mantle was in double figures for steals, a feat DiMaggio never accomplished.
  • Mantle was faster down the first-base line, grounding into 113 career double plays in his longer career to 130 for DiMaggio (and the stat wasn’t kept his first three seasons). Mantle only twice topped 10 double plays in a season, and DiMaggio did it eight times.

The Quality of CourageDiMaggio has fewer but significant statistical advantages:

  • He drove in more runs, 1,537 to 1,509, though all those walks, especially the intentional ones, explain that difference.
  • DiMaggio slugged higher for his career, .579 to .557
  • DiMaggio struck out only 369 times to 1,710 for Mantle, who led the league in strikeouts five times.
  • DiMaggio doubled more times, 389 to 344.
  • DiMaggio tripled more times, 131 to 72 (each led his league in triples once).
  • DiMaggio topped 200 hits twice. Mantle never did (again, the walks help explain that).

For Mantle’s peak, from 1954 to 1962, he was better than DiMaggio. But Mantle’s final four years, 1965-68, really dragged down his career averages. DiMaggio’s only subpar year was his final season, 1951, the year their careers overlapped.

They both were incredible based on post-season play and championship contributions, which count heavily in my rankings. But here’s where I see Mantle with an advantage:

  • DiMaggio won nine World Series and played in a 10th. Mantle won seven World Series and played in a 10th.
  • Both of their batting averages were a bit down facing the National League’s best teams: DiMaggio hitting .271 in the World Series and Mantle hitting .257.
  • World Series pitchers walked Mantle a lot, 43 times vs. 19 for DiMaggio. That gave Mantle an OBP of .374, compared to .338 for DiMaggio.
  • Mantle also slugged more in October, .535 vs. .422. That gave him a huge OPS advantage in the World Series, .908 to .760.
  • Mantle had 40 World Series RBI, 10 more than DiMaggio.
  • Mantle scored more World Series runs, 42 to 27.
  • Mantle got more World Series hits, 59 to 54.
  • Mantle did play more games in the World Series than DiMaggio, 65 to 51. That advantage explains some of those differences in career totals, but Mantle’s higher averages (except in batting) don’t reflect playing time.
  • And even with more World Series games, Mantle grounded into only two double plays, compared to six for DiMaggio.

Here’s the big difference that sealed the advantage for Mantle in my view: He hit 18 World Series homers, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. DiMaggio hit eight homers, seventh all-time, but nowhere close to Mantle, who still holds the record. He holds the World Series records for homers, RBI, runs scored, walks and total bases. No one did more to help his teams win World Series than Mantle. His name appears 15 times in the rankings of World Series batting leaders, compared to nine for DiMaggio, who doesn’t hold any records.

I have to admit a bias here: Mantle was a childhood hero and I’ve read three books he “wrote” (ghost writers were clearly involved) as well as two biographies. If this were a dead-even tie, my childhood bias would give it to Mantle. But I think he wins on the basis of superior power and speed, especially in the World Series.

Mantle co-starred with Maris in perhaps the worst baseball movie (maybe the worst movie) of all-time. Even as a young boy idolizing both players, I could barely stand to watch “Safe at Home.”

I admired The Mick’s late-life admission that he was an alcoholic, a philanderer and a horrible role model. But I didn’t know any of that when I was a little boy. I just knew he was incredible to watch play. I only saw him on TV, not in real life. But it was watching Mantle play, and studying his stats on baseball cards, that launched me on a life as a Yankee fan and baseball-stats geek.

2, Joe DiMaggio

My autographed Joe DiMaggio card

My autographed Joe DiMaggio card

OK, I’ve already pretty much told you all the reasons DiMaggio was pretty close to Mantle’s equal. If World War II hadn’t interrupted DiMaggio’s career in his prime, his career totals might have passed Mantle’s in many respects.

While DiMaggio didn’t self-destruct with alcohol the way that Mantle did, Richard Ben Cramer’s outstanding biography depicts DiMaggio as a cheap, arrogant, controlling jerk. Mantle was a lousy husband and father, and those are two of the most important roles any man can play. But I’m pretty sure I’d prefer Mantle as a friend or as a ballplayer to encounter by chance in boyhood or as an adult. I think he was a nicer person, for all his many failings.

One of the most famous DiMaggio stories illustrates. Before I repeat it, I should admit my longtime suspicion that the story might be apocryphal: During their 1954 honeymoon in Japan, the Army asked Monroe to make a side trip to Korea to entertain the troops. When she returned to him, telling him about the warm welcome from the troops, she supposedly said, “You never heard such cheering,” and he responded, “Yes, I have.”

Well, if it’s true, he was a jerk to his new wife. Yes, he, too, had enjoyed the cheers of adoring crowds. But they each knew whom they were marrying. And only a jerk would try to one-up his wife’s enjoyment of entertaining the troops.

But, damn, he could play!

3, Bernie Williams

The consideration for the third spot shows how ridiculous Hall of Fame selection has become. Earle Combs is a Hall of Famer, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1970. Bernie Williams lasted just two years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for the Hall of Fame. He’s a long shot, I suppose, for Veterans Committee selection someday. But he’s easily the better center fielder and he ranks third on this list.

Williams played 1,856 games in center for the Yankees, more than Mantle or DiMaggio (or Combs, who played 1,157). Bernie beat Combs in career totals for homers (287-58), RBI (1,257-633), hits (2,336-1,866), runs (1,366-1,186) and stolen bases (147-98). Combs had a better batting average (.325-.298), but that’s mostly explained by playing in an era of inflated batting averages. Williams led the American League in hitting (.339 in 1998) and Combs never did that. Their OPS figures were nearly identical (.859-.858 in favor of Combs), reflecting a higher OBP for Combs and better slugging for Williams.

Combs had slightly better averages in the post-season, but Williams played in an era where reaching the World Series required two earlier rounds of October play. He holds the record for career post-season RBI and ranks second in career runs, hits, homers, doubles and total bases.

Combs contributed to three World Series champions and one more A.L. champ. Williams played key roles in four world championships and two more A.L. champions.

I noted before that Williams would be a certain Hall of Famer if he’d contributed similarly to a football or basketball dynasty. The fact that Combs is in the Hall of Fame and Williams appears to have little shot of reaching it illustrates the changing Hall of Fame election standards for players since integration and the consistent anti-Yankee bias. But neither of those is a factor in this list, so Williams gets the third slot.

4, Earle Combs

Combs’ last year was 1935 and DiMaggio’s rookie year was 1936. Neither was in center field full-time those years, but they both played there. That gave the Yankees a Hall of Fame center fielder every year (except when DiMaggio was in the military) from 1924 to 1966, Mantle’s last year in the outfield.

5, Rickey Henderson

I was not expecting Rickey Henderson to make this list and was expecting him to rank high on the left-field list.

But his 1985 season, leading the American League with 146 runs scored and 80 stolen bases, was probably the second or third best season of his Hall of Fame career. He hit .314 that year, slugged 24 homers and walked 99 times. He played only in center field that season and it was his primary position the next two years, too. That was a better season than either Williams or Combs ever had. They rank ahead of him because of their lengthy tenures in center, and their post-season play, not because they were better.

Henderson’s second year in center field for New York, 1986, was nearly as good, again leading the league in runs (130) and stolen bases (87).

The rest

I expected Bobby MurcerMickey Rivers, Johnny Damon or Curtis Granderson to take the fifth spot on this list, before my research reminded me that Henderson had played primarily in center for the Yankees.

Murcer was an All-Star all four years he played center for the Yankees, but never as outstanding offensively as Henderson. Rivers played well for the Yankees but left in his fourth year and also didn’t approach Henderson’s offensive value. Damon played less time in center for the Yankees than Henderson and not as well. Granderson started three years in center and led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119) in 2011, as well as hitting 41 homers. I wouldn’t argue if you want to give Granderson the fifth slot, but I give the nod to Henderson.

Bobby Bonds also deserves mention: He played only one season, 1975, as New York’s center fielder, but he hit 32 homers and stole 30 bases, one of his five 30-30 seasons.

Roberto Kelly played four seasons for the Yankees in center, one as an All-Star, but wasn’t good enough to challenge Henderson for the fifth spot. His contribution to the dynasty of the 1990s was that the Yankees traded Kelly for Paul O’Neill at a time when Kelly was probably the better player and O’Neill was a couple years older. But O’Neill had more good years remaining.

Other center field traditions

The Yankees win this position easily. The Cleveland Indians had three Hall of Fame center fielders: Tris Speaker, Earl Averill and Larry Doby. But they weren’t as good as the Yankee center fielders and combined for 30 seasons in center for Cleveland, barely more than Mantle and DiMaggio combined.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for center fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Mantle, DiMaggio, Combs and Henderson) or belongs there (Williams), that carries considerable weight with me. His Cooperstown enshrinement helped Henderson nail down the fifth slot.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s another reason Henderson won the fifth slot over players who spent longer in center for the Yankees. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. Mantle and DiMaggio matched MVP awards, but Mantle led the league more, helping him win the top spot.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Mantle and DiMaggio did and that counted for them (watch those videos at the end of this post).

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Henderson couldn’t jump ahead of Williams and Combs, who spent their full careers with the Yankees. And Henderson doesn’t get credit for his great years with the A’s and other teams.

Time at the position is important, too. Henderson’s move to left field after 1986 almost cost him the final spot on this list.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. They were a big part of Williams’ advantage over Combs.

If two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. This factor was part of Henderson’s advantage over the other contenders for the final spot on the list.

Special moments matter, too. Mantle and DiMaggio had a lot of those, as did Williams.

Who was the best?

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee center fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Ryan Hatch, NJ.com

WasWatching, best seasons by Yankee center fielders

Source note

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

Mantle and DiMaggio videos





The 5 best left fielders in Yankee history

8 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positions Today: left field.

Left field has been a place to visit more than a place to stay for the Yankees. I list the five best, but they won’t necessarily be the five you were thinking of. And the discussions of criteria and the outfielders who didn’t make the list may be more interesting than the five best (at least beyond number one).

This position could not be a sharper contrast between the Yankees and the Red Sox, who had Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice) defending the Green Monster from 1940 to 1986, each of them owning the position and playing more than 1,500 games in left (Williams and Yaz each topped 1,900).

The only Yankee Hall of Famer on this list actually played more at another position and will be a surprise to many here (he doesn’t even make either of the left-fielder lists I linked at the end of this post). But I don’t bar players from being on the top-5 list at multiple positions. Lots of other Yankee Hall of Famers played left field, but not long enough or well enough to make this list. More on them later.

1, Babe Ruth (really)

I was surprised to learn that Babe Ruth actually played 1,048 career games in left field (almost as many as the 1,132 games he played in right). He played 891 left-field games for the Yankees. Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t have complete breakdowns of his offensive performance by position.

He started 132 of his 152 games in 1921 in left, and he led the league that year in homers (59), RBI (168), runs (177), walks (145), on-base percentage (.512), slugging (,846), OPS (1.359) and total bases (457). His .378 batting average was third in the league. No Yankee left fielder ever had a better season.

In 1926, Ruth played 82 games in left field, 68 in right and two at first base. No need for all the numbers, but he led the American League in the same stats that year, too. In his epic 60-homer season of 1927, Ruth played more in right field than left, but still played 56 games in left.

I actually had this list completed and looked Ruth up to list first in the section of Hall of Famers who didn’t make the list, presuming he played a few games here. But when I noticed how many games he played, I had to figure out where he belonged. And he belongs at the top. Even though left field wasn’t his primary position, he played enough to nail down the top spot here. No Yankee left fielder ever played better.

2, Charlie Keller

Charlie Keller played left field for 874 games, scattered over 13 seasons, all with the Yankees. I almost didn’t give “King Kong” this slot because he played over 100 games in left only four seasons. But I favor peak performance over longevity, and Keller’s peak was strong and his longevity looks stronger on closer examination. After splitting time between left and right his first two seasons (including the first of five All-Star selections in 1940), Keller became the starter in 1941. He was the left-field starter except for missing the 1944 season and most of 1945 to military service until a slipped disc sidelined him after only 45 games in 1947. (He still made the All-Star team that year.) He never returned to his star form after back surgery. For an eight-year stretch, he was playing important time in left field for the Yankees, except when in the military. He’s one of only two Yankees to command the position that long.

Keller’s performance in those eight seasons was stellar: three 100-RBI seasons, three 100-run seasons and three 30-homer seasons, scattered over five seasons. He led the American League in walks in 1940 and ’43.

In four World Series (three of them as champions), he hit .306 with five homers and 18 RBI in 19 games.

3, Roy White

Roy White was the Yankees’ longest-serving left fielder by far, 1,521 games at the position. He played left field from 1966 to 1979, spending his whole career with the Yankees. Nine of those seasons, he played more than 100 games, including starting every game in left in 1973.

In the rankings by other bloggers at the end of this post, White ranks first in one and eighth in another, an indication of how difficult it is to rank the Yankees’ left fielders. I think third reflects his longevity as well as the consistent quality of his play.

His patience through some grim Yankee seasons was rewarded with championship seasons three of his final four years (World Series championships in 1977-78 and an A.L. championship in ’76). White played well in the post-season, particularly the 1978 World Series, when he hit .333 (8-for-24) with nine runs scored, a homer, four RBI and two stolen bases. If Bucky Dent hadn’t been so hot, White might have been the Series MVP.

White was good, but not great, with the bat and the glove and on the basepaths. I gave Keller the edge because he had more great seasons, but White had more good seasons. He never hit .300 for a full season, but four times hit in the .290s and had a .271 career average. He never hit more than 22 homers, but hit 10 or more in eight seasons and had 160 for his career. He was in double figures in stolen bases every full season he played, with a peak of 31 in 1976 and 233 for his career. He never reached 100 RBI in a season, but had nine seasons of 50 or more, peaking at 94 in 1970 (one of his two All-Star seasons). He led the league with 104 runs scored in 1976 (one of two 100-run seasons) and in walks with 99 in 1972. Never spectacular, but solid for more than a decade.

4, Hideki Matsui

As noted above, I generally favor peak performance over longevity, and Hideki Matsui was a better hitter than White, with four 100-RBI seasons and a high of 31 homers, three 100-run seasons and two .300 seasons. But White’s huge advantage on the basepaths and in longevity gave him the edge for No. 2. Matsui was a Yankee just seven years, to 15 for White, and started in left field only four of those years.

If his 2009 World Series MVP performance had come as the left fielder instead of the DH, I might have pushed Matsui up a notch, but he’ll have to settle for third place. Johnny Damon played left field, even in the three games in Philadelphia (Matsui pinch-hit in all three games).

5, Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel played left field more than any other position, 626 games for the Yankees. But he alternated between left and right, and never actually played 100 games in left in any single season. But he was a heck of a hitter, playing lots and regularly in left. In 1925, when he played 88 games in left, 44 in right and 27 at third base, Meusel led the American League with 33 homers and 134 RBI (one of five 100-RBI seasons). His batting average in 10 Yankee seasons was .311, and left field was his primary position seven of those seasons.

As you’ll see shortly, greater Yankees played in left field, but they didn’t play there as long or as well as Meusel, even though he wasn’t anchored in left.

Other Hall of Fame Yankee left fielders

In addition to The Babe, at least seven Hall of Famers played left field for the Yankees, but all are known better for playing at other positions and/or for other teams:

Dave Winfield played in left his first three seasons as a Yankee, 1981-3. He was No. 5 on this list until I learned how much Babe played in left. Winfield was an All-Star all three left-field seasons and topped 100 RBI in both full seasons (’81 was shortened by a strike). He also won two Gold Gloves. I could have moved Winfield ahead of Meusel based on playing much more in left all three seasons than Meusel played in any season. But Meusel played almost 300 more games in left and played better in the post-season. And Winfield’s best Yankee years came in right field.

I presumed Rickey Henderson would be in the top five and maybe even top the list. But I was surprised to see that he played only one full season in left for the Yankees. I was remembering incorrectly that his center field hitch was pretty short. But it was the full 1985 and ’86 seasons. And ’85 was easily Henderson’s best season as a Yankee.

Joe DiMaggio played more games in left field (64) than center (55) his rookie year, before becoming the Yankees’ regular center fielder.

Mickey Mantle ballMickey Mantle played left field mostly in 1965.

Earle Combs, another center fielder, played 215 games in left.

Yogi Berra played 148 games in left, 81 of them in 1961, when it was his primary position.

Enos Slaughter earned his Hall of Fame perch in his years with the St. Louis Cardinals (playing mostly right field). But late in his career, he played 100 games in left for the Yankees, spread across four seasons playing part-time.

By the way, I checked and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and should-be Hall of Famer Roger Maris played left field for the A’s but never for the Yankees.

I’m going to guess that Willie Keeler appeared in left field sometime, though Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t break down his outfield appearances by position. The Hall of Fame lists right field as his primary position. The Yankees were the Highlanders then, and I’m focusing on actual Yankees here.

The rest

Two Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame also played left field:

Also playing left field (almost 50 games) for the 1990s Yankees was Darryl Strawberry, a former National League home run leader who appeared headed for Cooperstown before cocaine addiction sidetracked his career.

I was thinking Johnny Damon might have a shot at the fifth spot on the list, but he played mostly center for the Yankees. His only full-time season in left for the Yankees was 2009, a good season, but not good enough to move him onto the list. I think Damon’s shot at Cooperstown rested on reaching 3,000 hits, but he retired at 2,769.

Brett Gardner could push his way onto this list in a few years. He’s been the Yankees’ primary left fielder for four seasons (plus 2013 in center) and his hitting is improving. He led the league with 49 steals in 2011, but he isn’t the hitter Meusel was.

I thought Lou Piniella might make the fifth spot on this list (he’s fifth on both of the lists linked at the end of this post). But as I did my research, I found that he never started 100 games in left field in a season.

Gene Woodling's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling started 100 or more games in left field four straight championship years for the Yankees (1950-53), but he never played more than 125 games for the Yankees, never hit 20 homers or drove in 70 runs. He hit .300 a couple times and led the league with a .429 on-base percentage in 1953. On longevity, he deserves consideration for the fifth spot, but he was never a full-time player. He was one of Casey Stengel’s platoon players.

David Justice played only 59 games in left for the Yankees.

Chad Curtis hit two homers in the 1998 World Series, but didn’t play left field long enough or well enough (except in that World Series) to push his way onto the list, even with my bias in favor of post-season play.

Chuck Knoblauch moved to left field after his defensive troubles at second base started.

Even Jose Canseco played four games in left for the Yankees. And a lot of Yankee left fielders played way more than that, but I’m not going to list them all here.

Other left-field traditions

As I noted at the top, the Red Sox had three straight Hall of Fame left fielders covering most of four-plus decades, except the breaks for Williams’ military service. Throw in Manny Ramirez and Mike Greenwell, and the Red Sox clearly have the best tradition in left field.

The St. Louis Cardinals (Joe Medwick, Stan Musial for 929 games, Lou Brock), Pittsburgh Pirates (Fred Clarke, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell) and Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush and 471 games of Harmon Killebrew) also had three Hall of Fame left fielders. The A’s have two (Henderson and Al Simmons). The Yankees’ left-field tradition might rank somewhere between fifth and seventh, if not lower.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for left fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Ruth) or belongs there (Howard and Raines), that carries considerable weight with me. If Howard had played left primarily or Raines had played for the Yankees in his prime, they would have made the list, probably second place.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s why Ruth and Keller, who didn’t play as long in left as White, ranked ahead of him. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. All the other left fielders together didn’t lead the league in important stats as Yankees as many times as Ruth did.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Ruth did and that counted for him, too.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Keller and White stand out not just for their strong careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Time at the position is important, too. Winfield missed the list because he played only three seasons in left field. Look for him on my right field list.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Winfield made one post-season for the Yankees and hit 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series. George Steinbrenner’s “Mr. May” shot was cruel and unwarranted, but all the people on the list played well in the post-season and contributed to Yankee championships.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, if Winfield or Henderson had been tied with someone, their years with the Padres, Blue Jays, A’s, etc. would have pushed them ahead.

Special moments matter, too. Ruth had a few of those.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee left fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Christopher J151515

Source note

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





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 »