July 20, 2011
The Lineup Card
The Top 13 Veterans Committee Selections That Weren't THAT Bad
1. Arky Vaughan (Inducted 1985; Career 79.5 WARP)
Vaughan joined the Pirates as a 20-year-old shortstop in 1932 and promptly hit for a 114 OPS+. Over the remainder of his 14 seasons in the majors, he'd only drop below that number twice, finishing with a 136 OPS+ for his career (which ranks him second or third all-time among shortstops—depending on whether or not you count A-Rod). While clearly having tremendous value at the plate, Vaughan was no slouch in the field either. He definitely wasn't an Ozzie Smith, but he also wasn't a Derek Jeter; most systems seem to rate him about average with the glove.
Vaughan's 1935 is something magnificent to behold. As a shortstop, he led the league with a 190 OPS+. Yet, as a harbinger of things to come, the writers neglected to reward Vaughan. He finished third in the MVP voting behind Gabby Hartnett and Dizzy Dean despite playing better than both. In 1938, he again finished third behind an undeserving catcher (Ernie Lombardi) and pitcher (Bill "I'm not the Spaceman" Lee)—although Mel Ott had a pretty good argument as the best player and finished in fourth place.
Vaughan's career took a turn for the weird in his later years. Coming off a fairly productive 1941 season that contained its fair share of injuries, the Pirates traded Vaughan to the Dodgers for some roster filler that never amounted to much. Moving to Brooklyn meant joining Leo Durocher, who apparently rubbed Vaughan the wrong way—not that surprising a statement considering who we're talking about. After an extended argument with Durocher in 1943, Vaughan decided he'd rather not return to the team if Durocher were there. He sat out three seasons until Durocher was suspended and then returned to the Dodgers as a part-time outfielder and pinch hitter for two more seasons.
Sadly, Vaughan passed away at the age of 40, drowning when his fishing boat capsized in California. When he finally came up for consideration for the Hall of Fame, he received a single vote in his first season. He never managed to receive more than 29% of the vote from the writers and wasn't picked by the Veterans Committee until 1985. 32 years from eligibility to election is a long time to wait for a player who could arguably be the second best shortstop ever (as Bill James named him in The New Historical Abstract). —Dan Turkenkopf
2. George Davis (Inducted 1998; Career 78.8 WARP)
Looking at Davis’s defensive numbers, however, it doesn’t appear that he was a whiz with the leather. Over a career spanning 20 seasons, he only added about 13 wins on defense, leaving him as a slightly above average fielder, at best. His real value came with the wood. His worst full season offensively was the second-to-last of his career when he batted .217/.298/.255. Keep in mind this was the dead-ball era, though, so the league average that year was only .239/.294/.304. His peak lasted 15 seasons—excepting 1903 when he played only four games because of contract issues—and oh, what a peak it was. From 1893 to 1907, Davis added over 80 wins to his teams—an average of over five wins per season.
And intangibles? He had those too. In 1906, he led the Chicago White Sox offense to a World Series victory with an OPS of .846. The league average OPS that year was .621. Off the field? He once ran into a burning building, saved two women and a child from the fire, and then played in a game that night.
Any way you look at it, George Davis is worthy of enshrinement in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. This is one the Veteran’s Committee got right. —Chris St. John
3. Johnny Mize (Inducted 1981; Career 70.3 WARP)
Writers of a sabermetric slant are usually quick to forgive high strikeout totals among sluggers—and for good reason—but Mize was adept at both making contact often and making that contact count. The lefty slugger racked up 359 home runs and struck out just 524 times; for comparative purposes, Adam Dunn, who—believe it or not, White Sox fans—has gone deep 363 times, has 1756 strikeouts to his name. Among players with at least 350 home runs, Mize’s strikeout rate ranks as the fourth-lowest of all time, behind only Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Stan Musial. He also holds the distinction of having the only 50-homer season with fewer than 50 strikeouts in history (1947, when he led the NL with 51 dingers and fanned only 42 times).
Mize lost three prime WWII-era seasons while serving in the Navy without seeing combat, and based on how much he had left upon his return—his age-33 season in 1946 was the most productive of his career on a per-plate-appearance basis—it’s possible to extrapolate him fairly close to the 500-homer club, which might have led to an earlier enshrinement. In the last leg of his career, Mize was a part-time, injury-prone player, but he won five World Series in as many seasons with the Yankees and remained productive at the plate, launching 25 home runs in a mere 274 at-bats in 1950. BP’s man-of-many-baseball-books Steven Goldman dug up this bit of rhyme by Dan Parker of the New York Daily Mirror dating from late in the Big Cat’s career:
Your arm is gone, your legs likewise
Although his superficial counting stats pale in comparison to those of inferior hitters from subsequent offensive eras, Mize passes even the most rigorous advanced-stat sniff test, confirming that his 1981 induction was long overdue. —Ben Lindbergh
But it wasn’t until Richie Ashburn stepped into the broadcast booth in 1967 that he became a favorite of the younger generation of Phillies fans that grew up idolizing Mike Schmidt instead of Del Ennis. After 27 years in the booth with Ashburn, Harry Kalas recalled that “His Whiteness” was “a joy to be around.” Today, the adjacent broadcast booths are named the Ashburn Broadcast Booth and the Kalas Broadcast Booth, respectively.—Tommy Bennett
5. Billy Hamilton (Inducted 1961; Career 62.8 WARP)
“Sliding Billy,” as he was known (I guess), played the majority of his career in the 19th century during a time when the competition was suspect and the obnoxiously speedy could offer obnoxious production with just a little hand-eye coordination. I understand why a 19th century speedster with a good hit tool would be insignificant in my mind, and after looking at the numbers in proper context, I’m beginning to see why people might disagree with his inclusion in this exclusive club. But after noticing that “Sliding Billy” was only 5’6’’ 165, I’m now ready to champion his career. That’s all it takes. If you are listed at 5’6’’—which usually means you are under 5’5’’—I’m going to back your play.
Hamilton wasn’t just a novelty, however. Over his 14 year career, the Altuve-sized outfielder had a knack for reaching base, drawing over three times more walks than strikeouts, stealing over 900 bases, and scoring almost 1700 runs. Regardless of the era, if you can provide that kind of production from such a small package, you are going to win fans. —Jason Parks
6. Joe Gordon (Inducted 2009; Career 62.0 WARP)
He could also hit the ball a country mile, a fact that was disguised by the configuration of Yankee Stadium, which was designed to favor Babe Ruth and make right-handed hitters weep. Repeating a comparison that Bill James made in his book The Politics of Glory, examining the home-road splits of Gordon and his precise contemporary Doerr are instructive: Gordon hit .256/.345/.447 at home, Doerr .315/.396/.533. On the road, Gordon hit .279/.367/.482, Doerr .261/.327/.389. Despite the handicap, as well as losing two seasons to wartime service, Gordon trails only Ryne Sandberg, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Morgan in total home runs among Hall of Fame second basemen and leads the group in home runs per plate appearance. Add to this that he was a leader on a series of historic teams and you have an all-time great.
There is an oft-told story about Gordon. His manager, Joe McCarthy, was conversing with some reporters, and he decided to make a point about professionalism. He called Gordon over. “Joe,” said McCarthy, “what’s your batting average?”
“I don’t know,” answered Gordon.
“What are you fielding?” was the next question.
“I don’t know.”
McCarthy dismissed Gordon and turned to his audience. “That’s what I like,” he said. “All he does is come to beat you.” Gordon played on five Yankees pennant winners and when they were done with him, he went to Cleveland and teamed with Lou Boudreau to push them to their last championship to date. His career wasn’t long, but it was as impactful as any. —Steven Goldman
7. Pee Wee Reese (Inducted 1984; Career 59.9 WARP)
Reese is remembered for more than just his numbers, though. The Kentucky native was a catalyst of baseball integration, famously standing up for Robinson early in his career. Despite his southern roots, he refused to sign the infamous anti-Robinson petition that circulated among the ranks during spring training in 1947. Then, playing in Cincinnati, where the Crosley Field crowd hurled epithets and even death threats at Robinson, Reese showed his solidarity by putting his arm around his teammate's shoulders. A statue preserving that moment of friendship and defiance stands in front of Brooklyn's KeySpan Park, serving as a reminder of Reese and Robinson's bravery. —Jay Jaffe
8. Sam Crawford (Inducted 1957; Career 57.7 WARP)
Crawford’s career batting average of .309 is the 113th best all-time, his hold on the top spot of the triples list will likely never be broken, he led the American League in runs batted in three times, and he finished in the top 15 on the MVP ballot four different times. Additionally, for a ten year span from 1905-1915, Crawford finished in the top ten in total bases, hits, RBI, extra base hits, and slugging percentage. That kind of sustained premier production is typically the linchpin of any Hall of Famer’s vitae, but it took Wahoo Sam 40 years to gain enshrinement into Cooperstown. Part of the issue is that he was teammates with one of the best hitters in history, Ty Cobb, from late 1905 until the end of his playing career. Perhaps Crawford would have been held in higher esteem had he not been playing alongside the Georgia Peach.
At age 20, his closest statistical comparison was Jason Hewyard, at 21 it was Hank Aaron, at 23 it was Goose Goslin, and at age 25 and 26, it was Carl Crawford. All ten of his closest comps at baseball-reference.com are members of the Hall of Fame, and Crawford is 63rd all-time in terms of Wins Above Replacement at 76.6. That is a higher total than Pete Rose, Paul Molitor, Paul Waner, Derek Jeter, Jim Thome, and the man who eventually replaced him in right field and beat him to the Hall of Fame, Harry Heilmann. Bert Blyleven’s well-publicized yearly Hall Of Fame snub took only 15 years to end; Crawford’s took an additional 25, but the Veteran’s Committee got it right in 1958. —Jason Collette
9. Zack Wheat (Inducted 1959; Career 50.8 WARP)
Wheat finished in the NL’s top five in total bases eight times and was described as the game’s most graceful outfielder. When he retired in 1929—after spending his last year as a professional playing for Minneapolis of the American Association—Wheat was 10th on the all-time hit list with 2,884 and ninth in total bases with 4,100. If not for recurring ankle problems, he likely would have amassed the additional 116 hits he needed to reach 3,000.
Though he has since been eclipsed on many of the all-time lists, Wheat’s standing in Dodgers history is still strong. He remains the club leader in hits (2,804), games (2,322), total bases (4,003), doubles (464) and triples (171). —Jeff Euston
10. Goose Goslin (Inducted 1968; Career 44.1 WARP)
When it came to playing the games, Goslin profiled as an excellent hitter. During a five-year stretch from 1924-1928, Goslin hit .348/.413/.544 and averaged 15 home runs per season. That gave him the sixth-best OPS amongst players with at least 800 plate appearances during the span, trailing only Babe Ruth, Roger Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Harry Heilmann, and Paul Waner—all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Goslin would also excel at the plate outside of that terrific five-year stretch and finished his 18-season career with a slash line of .316/.387/.500 with 248 home runs.
While Goslin’s defensive reputation was spotty early in his career, most of the advanced defensive metrics suggest he improved quickly and finished as a plus fielder. Factor that in with his offensive displays, and Goslin has a legitimate case as one of the top 10 players from 1920 to 1940. With the Veterans Committee voting in inferior players—albeit great ones in their own right—it was only a matter of time before Goslin got the call, and justice was served in 1968 when he was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame. —R.J. Anderson
11. Kiki Cuyler (Inducted 1968; Career 38.6 WARP)
12. Phil Rizzuto (Inducted 1994; Career 36.3 WARP)
Rizzuto finished his career with 1588 hits and a whopping 38 home runs, but he's in the Hall of Fame. And you know what? I'm totally cool with it. When I was young, before I even bought a Bill James Baseball Abstract, I knew who Phil Rizzuto was. I knew from flipping through the Baseball Encyclopedia (baseballreference.com in book form; I swear to God kids, it really existed) that he was the shortstop of the Yankees who seemingly had a preseason invite to the World Series every year of his career. Sure, I would never have known who he was if he was the shortstop for the Chicago White Sox during those years, but he was a Yankee, and that meant far more attention. That's life; deal with it
The fact that I knew who Phil Rizzuto was before I knew the formula for runs created (I can still recite it from memory) or kissed a girl? That's fame, and that's what the Hall of Fame is about. I know I'm on my little island by myself, and I don't care. The Hall of Fame is about just that; it's not supposed to be some sort of meritocracy, and it doesn't exist to justify the way you, me, or anyone else values baseball performance in terms of runs and wins gained or prevented. It's here to celebrate the history of the game and its place in American culture, and when it comes right down to it, George Costanza was never going to lose a key chain with Bert Blyleven on it. —Kevin Goldstein
A seven-time all-star in the majors, Doby’s career in the Negro Leagues helped to make up for his relatively short major league career. Yet, it is hardly necessary to mention this; when it comes to Doby, you can’t ignore the “narrative.” Just 11 weeks behind Jackie Robinson to the majors, it was Doby who was the first player to win both a Negro Leagues and a World Series title, the first to homer in a World Series, and the first African American to lead his league in home runs, RBI, or slugging percentage. In 1978, he became the second African American manager, following Frank Robinson. While Doby may fall a bit short by JAWS standards, his impact on the game can’t be ignored. Robinson might have opened the door for Doby, but Doby helped to ensure that it was kept open. —Mike Ferrin