The Hall of Merit (Cont.)
There are a few people in the Hall who are not in the Merit who could inspire some controversy. These include: Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Red Schoendienst, Luis Aparicio, Lou Brock, Kirby Puckett, Hack Wilson, Dizzy Dean and Catfish Hunter.
But let's take a closer look at players who are in the Merit but not in the Hall. There are 56 of them, but we'll break them down. Eighteen of the 56 are from the 19th century. And while I'm sure there's a good discussion to have about the various merits of Joe Start, Jimmy Sheckard and Lip Pike, I'm thinking that this is probably not the place for that discussion.
So that leaves us with 38. Of those, five are Negro Leaguers. We'll put those aside, too. We'll save our Alejandro Oms talk for later. That leaves us with 33, but three of those -- Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and Mark McGwire -- are not in the Hall for reasons that have little to do with their baseball performance. We've had those discussions a million times already.
OK, so here are the remaining 30 players in the Hall of Merit who are not in Hall of Fame.
CATCHERS: Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre
The Merit believes that 1960s and '70s catchers have been underrated by the Hall of Fame. Torre -- who will get in as a manager, anyway -- never got more than 22% of the vote.
Simmons got 3.7% of the vote his one time on the ballot. The knock on Simmons seemed to be that he was viewed as a lousy defensive catcher. But looking back on it, he probably was not a lousy defensive catcher. And he could really hit -- his 117 OPS+ was as good as Carlton Fisk's and better than Gary Carter's. I think the big problem for Simmons was that he had his best year in St. Louis when the Cardinals weren't very good, and he just didn't have a big support group working for him.
Freehan got a measly two votes, one less than Lindy McDaniel. You know, there's a myth out there -- or anyway, I think it's mostly a myth -- about some sort of East Coast bias when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But I do wonder: Is there some sort of DETROIT bias in the Hall of Fame.
Here's what I mean: From 1967 through '72, the Detroit Tigers won a World Series and a division championship. They won 90-plus games four times. They were obviously very good. But the only Hall of Fame semi-regular on those teams was the aging Al Kaline, who was obviously still great but never played more than 133 games in any season. And it's not like those teams did not have Hall of Fame candidates. Norm Cash punched up a 139 OPS+ in a 2,000-plus game career -- in fact, Cash has the highest OPS+ of any eligible non-Hall of Famer with 2,000 game (Edgar Martinez, though, will probably pass him this year). Cash got almost no Hall of Fame support -- six votes his one time on the ballot.
There was Freehan, too -- brilliant defensive catcher who could hit. Bill James ranked him the 12th best catcher all-time in the New Historical Abstract. No Hall of Fame support.
Mickey Lolich does not seem like a slam dunk Hall of Fame candidate, but he did win 217 games, he was legendary in the 1968 World Series, and in 1971 he threw an absurd 376 innings, which is more than any pitcher had thrown since the Deadball Era (the next year Wilbur Wood would throw 376 2/3 innings to top him). Lolich at least stayed on the ballot for a while, but after an early 25% peak he faded badly and got just 5.2% in his final year.
OK. Now, from 1983 through '88, the Tigers won a World Series and a division title, and won 87 or more games five times. They were obviously very good. There is not one player on those teams who is in the Hall of Fame or is likely to get there any time soon (unless the Jack Morris wave starts to crest).
And we all know that the Tigers had some excellent players, Hall of Fame-caliber players. We'll talk about a couple of them in a minute -- Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker are both in the Hall of Merit. I don't support Morris' Hall of Fame case, but he did win 250 games and pitch a phenomenal World Series Game 7 in 1991 after moving to Minnesota.
My point is: Do the voters have something against Detroit?
FIRST BASEMEN: Will Clark, Keith Hernandez
Clark punched up a 137 OPS+ in a 1,976-game career and he was known for being pretty slick with the glove. But he only managed to stay on the ballot for one year.
Hernandez did stay on the ballot for a few years, but never quite garnered 11% of the vote. I always thought Hernandez and Don Mattingly had similar Hall of Fame cases, but so far no Mattingly in the Hall of Merit.
SECOND BASEMEN: Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, Lou Whitaker
Grich has been a cause celebre for the statistically inclined -- great glove at second base, an on-base machines and career 125 OPS+ in 2,000 games. He was on the ballot for just one year. The Hall of Fame voters have, traditionally, voted down those players with low batting averages, even if their on-base percentages (like Grich's) were quite high. Grich hit lousy in the postseason... maybe that hurt him.
Randolph got one year on the ballot -- he hit with no power at all, but he was a good defender and he walked a lot. Randolph is probably a good example to bring up whenever someone brings up New York bias in the Hall of Fame voting. He has been quite under-appreciated in his career despite being a key player one of the most overhyped teams in baseball history, those Bronx Zoo Yankees.
Whitaker is probably the biggest blunder the BBWAA has made in the last decade -- good fielder who got on base, hit with some power, scored runs. He got just 15 votes and fell off the ballot before the conversation could get started. This is part of that Detroit thing. As is his famed double play partner...
SHORTSTOP: Alan Trammell
Still on the ballot but gains no momentum despite a terrific career as both a hitter and a fielder. I've written this before -- Trammell at his best was about as good as Cal Ripken at his best. Ripken, of course, was sturdier -- good for 10 to 20 more games a year -- and that pushes things to Ripken. But as far as quality on the field, I'd put Trammell's 1987 season -- .343/.402/.551 with 109 runs, 105 RBIs, 28 homers, 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts -- up against Ripken's brilliant 1991 season. And Trammell had four or five other seasons that were almost as good.
THIRD BASEMEN: Dick Allen, Darrell Evans, Heinie Groh, Stan Hack, Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Ron Santo
Clearly, the Hall of Merit voters believe that third base is the most undervalued position by the Hall of Famer voters. I'd probably agree with that. Allen is one of the great hitters of the second half of the 20th century, and he's one of the more controversial characters, and he has been the topic of a million arguments -- he was on the ballot for the full 15 years but never gained any momentum and never got even 20%.
Evans -- like Grich -- is a stat-head favorite. We like those unappreciated guys. Evans hit only .248 for his career, which might explain why he stayed on the ballot for only one year. But he walked 100 times in a season five times -- twice he led the league in walks -- and he is still one of only four third basemen to hit 400 homers.
Groh had his best year during the Deadball Era and he was supposed to be a dazzling defensive player -- yet he got very little Hall of Fame support, which is surprising because his time period is quite well represented in the Hall.
Hack might be even more surprising. He was something of a rarity -- a fast third baseman who led off. He scored 100 runs seven times, led the league in stolen bases twice and walked 80 or more times just about every year. There are two Hall of Fame third basemen who overlapped his career -- George Kell and Pie Traynor, but four if you count Joe Sewell and Travis Jackson, who played third late in their careers -- and you could argue convincingly that Hack was better than any of them.
Nettles is another guy whom the New York hype did not help. He played defense like Brooks Robinson and hit with ferocious power -- he banged 390 home runs. Only Reggie Jackson hit more American League homers in the 1970s than Nettles. He was on the ballot for four years.
The Santo exclusion from the Hall remains one of the most puzzling. Maybe people don't like him. I don't know. I have no idea how a third baseman who won five Gold Gloves and who ALWAYS hit 25-30 home runs, ALWAYS drove in 100, ALWAYS walked 90 times, could be left out of the Hall of Fame. Bill James called him the sixth best third baseman ever, and I think that's about right. Santo did have Wrigley Field to help him, and he probably wasn't that great a defensive third basemen despite the Gold Gloves. It still seems ridiculous that he's not in the Hall.
Boyer's case is sort of a poor-man's Santo -- I think he was a better glove, one of the great third base defenders ever (even if not quite as good defensively as his brother Clete). He wasn't quite good for 25-30 homers, but he'd hit you 22 to 28. He'd drive in 90 and score 95 year after year. And he won the '64 MVP, and was widely admired. His Hall of Fame case never quite took off -- those third basemen have tough times.
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