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January 8, 2014

The Lineup Card

Seven Pioneers Worthy of Hall of Fame Induction

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Dr. Frank Jobe
I am proud to be a part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Membership Program, as the Hall of Fame is such an exceptional segment of our great sport. I would like to see our game expand its honors to include some of the tremendous medical personnel who have made a significant contribution, and suggest that Dr. Frank Jobe should be the first to have a plaque in Cooperstown.

Dr. Jobe, who served as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Team Physician for 40 years, was recognized a year ago as part of the Induction Weekend for his tremendous impact on the sport, but I believe a pioneer of his magnitude should be honored further. Dr. Jobe’s September 25, 1974 reconstruction of Tommy John’s ulnar collateral ligament using a tendon graft, known as “Tommy John Surgery” today, is arguably the most significant medical development in baseball medicine history.

Tommy John Surgery has saved the careers of thousands of pitchers and players over the last 40 years, and, incredibly, approximately one-third of Major League pitchers in 2013 underwent the procedure sometime during their athletic career. Dr. Jobe continued to refine baseball medicine throughout his career, conducting extensive research and cultivating brilliant orthopedic professionals in his Jobe Fellow Program that have and will positively affect generations of athletes.

It was an incredible honor to work with Dr. Jobe on a daily basis during my tenure as the Dodgers’ general manager. Always willing to share his expertise and so well respected by players, he had a huge impact on my decision making and our medical staff had an amazing resource with his golden advice. Dr. Jobe is the most humble successful person whom I have ever met, a complete gentleman despite his exceptional accomplishments.

Baseball’s training staffs are immensely valuable. Working the longest hours in the organization, they have extraordinary impact on your club and their passion for keeping our sport’s athletes healthy is stunning. I have been incredibly lucky to work with a couple of today’s great Head Trainers in Herm Schneider and Rick Griffin, and believe me, they have big WAR numbers.

I suggest that the Hall of Fame’s membership expands slightly to include some of the elite medical professionals who give us the chance to enjoy our game’s amazingly talented athletes’ performances.

The greatest of all baseball medicine pioneers, Dr. Frank Jobe, should lead off. —Dan Evans

2. Minnie Minoso
Minoso had an opportunity to become enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2005, as he was selected to be on a special ballot that sought to elect Negro League players. A total of 17 players and executives were elected from that ballot, but the Cuban Minoso was not among them.

Minoso was a pioneer for reasons tied closely to race. He suffered through the indignities that come with having English be your second language and persevered through all of them. Minoso is cited here as the first black Latino to play in the Major Leagues. When you consider the players that have followed him I think it’s irresponsible to not include a pioneer and trailblazer like Minnie Minoso in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Minoso existed in two worlds where the lines between black and latin blend together to form a package that is often misunderstood. Afro-Latinos are a bit of a touchy subject. Back in 2010, Torii Hunter famously and bluntly said that black Latinos are imposters: “They’re not us. They’re imposters." That perception sticks with me particularly when it comes to Minnie, who was often denied service at restaurants that served his fellow Latino teammate Luis Aparicio.

We can argue all we want about the injustices the ballot has done to players like Bonds, Blyleven, etc. For me the real injustice regarding the Hall is that Minnie Minoso has not been adequately recognized for his achievements and accomplishments. He deserves to be in. —Mauricio Rubio

3. Dave Smith of Retrosheet
If you are reading Baseball Prospectus and you don't know who Dave Smith is, you need to find out right now. And lobby your favorite BBWAA member to vote him into the Hall of Fame. I'm serious. Dave Smith is the man who brought the world Retrosheet, which makes detailed play-by-play data on nearly all the games played in MLB over the last few decades available for free to anyone who wants it. You could have the same database that I use on your computer within about 20 minutes, if you are so inclined. In fairness (and Dave would be the first to point this out), he's building on the work of others, both those who came before him and those who work with him at Retrosheet. If we are in the middle of a big data revolution in baseball (and everything else), it was Dave who was the first to make a big, rich data set available to the public. If you read articles by people who like #GoryMath, all of them, this author included, owe at least part of their "career" to Retrosheet. For that, I vote that he gets a little plaque in rural New York with his name on it. —Russell A. Carleton

4. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey
Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, may be an unconventional pick, but now that I've fully immersed myself in the social phenomenon that is his creation, I can't imagine a baseball season without it. Were it not for Twitter, how would I immediately know when a broadcaster halfway across the country said something silly? How would I be absolutely certain that one national reporter confirmed something a millisecond before another? How would I know when something incredible happened in a game without the simultaneous "wows," "OMGs," and "Xander!s?"

Yes, in a world with baseball but without Twitter, I might have been so foolish as to vote for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame, or unwise as to the power of the #mysteryteam, or so oblivious as to leave the Mups unlit. I might not care that Yoenis Cespedes held a barbeque. I might not like Brandon McCarthy as much. I may never have witnessed some of the great intellectual battles of my time.

So perhaps when Mr. Dorsey founded Twitter way back in 2006, he didn't realize that it would lead to thousands of its users thinking of new ways to insult Brian McCann in fewer than 140 characters, but I'm sure that if he was following Baseball Twitter this October, he was proud. And for changing how the game is watched, criticized, analyzed, mocked, debated, and above all else, enjoyed, he deserves a spot in Cooperstown with a succinct, witty, grammatically incorrect plaque. —Ben Carsley

5. Charlie Finley
This especially controversial Hall of Fame year brings to mind another controversial former nominee who ought to be in the Hall and isn’t: former Oakland A’s owner Charlie O. Finley, who was on the “Golden Era” ballot a couple of years ago but didn’t make it in. On purely competitive merits, there’s no real objection to Finley: His early-‘70’s Oakland A’s were a juggernaut, winning five straight division titles and three straight World Series with some of the era’s greatest players; and he was apparently a perspicacious judge of talent, known to have originally scouted Rickey Henderson and Tony LaRussa. Nor is Finley lacking in pure fame.

The issue with Finley is similar to the PED issue in this way: It’s about the keepers of the Hall asking themselves whether infamy is an enshrinable kind of fame (and, more challengingly, what constitutes “infamy”). Finley’s innovations and unruliness make Bill Veeck look like Connie Mack. They run from the game-changing—he was perhaps the key force in the American League adopting the designated hitter—to the harebrained. Finley introduced the mechanical rabbit—surprisingly, not a sex accessory—which rose up out of the infield dirt in foul territory and delivered new baseballs to plate umpires, relieving them of the hip-bag burden. (The rabbit was soon outroduced. But it was succeeded by an automated home-plate duster—Finley showing the crowd his ass, basically, so the umps wouldn’t have to.)

The list of Finley’s innovations (execrations, if you prefer) is very, very long. A sample:

  • the Athletics’ green-and-gold uniforms and white shoes, then unconscionable, now iconic;
  • the use of orange baseballs;
  • his offer of $300 to his A’s to grow playoff mustaches, which gave us Rollie Fingers’ famous handlebar look and, kind of, this;
  • Finley’s advocacy for putting active players in the Hall of Fame, which might have mooted this year’s fraught ballot;
  • ball girls, including one named Debbi Fields, who went from being a cookie to baking them, pretty successfully;
  • his early adoption of the freewheeling possibilities offered by free agency.

The latter practice led to one of baseball’s most (in)famous court cases, in which Finley sued Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball. He lost, but “his lawsuit,” which essentially granted the Commissioner “best interests of baseball” executive authority, “is widely recognized as one of the most famous, influential and precedent-setting sports-related cases in the history of American jurisprudence,” according to Finley’s Wikipedia page.

It’s possible to have a great impact by negative example, agitating in such a way that the establishment further entrenches itself against you, thus becoming more of what it is. Some of baseball’s castle was built to keep Finley from ruling it. Miser, blowhard, radical, risk-taker, enemy-maker, he was “a force of nature and bad taste,” as music critic Robert Christgau wrote of Billy Joel. But Finley is both better and worse than Joel: he expanded the permissible by changing the rules (rather than playing within them, as Joel did), and he more closely resembles another bad-tastemonger, this one avowed: Larry Flynt. (“All I’m guilty of is bad taste!” he insists in Milos Forman’s biopic. Flynt, too, starred in a high-profile lawsuit.) We can say what we like about such impious impresarios, but to deny their importance to their industry is insecure foolishness. They not only saw where we were going, they helped get us there. That’s the sort of undeniably Hall-worthy prescience that gave Finley one of his greatest foresights: In 1973, he hired an 11-year-old youngster named Stanley Burrell to be his “eyes and ears” (aka “Executive Vice President”). Burrell gained far more fame later on in the music business under a different name. Reggie Jackson claims to have given him the nickname in honor of Hank Aaron, whom Jackson said Burrell resembled. —Adam Sobsey

6. Pumpsie Green
Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. He was the first, but not the last. From 1947 through 1955, baseball teams integrated one by one. Larry Doby became the first African-American player in the American League when he joined the Cleveland Indians three months after Robinson got called up by the Dodgers. Hank Thompson joined the St. Louis Browns two weeks later. Two years later Monte Irvin joined the New York Giants, the same day Hank Thompson—the same Hank Thompson—did. Then came Sam Jethroe, Minnie Minoso, Bob Trice, Ernie Banks, Curt Roberts, Tom Alston, Nino Escalera, Chuck Harmon, Carlos Paula, Elston Howard, John Kennedy, and Ozzie Virgil; each a trailblazer for his team.

That brings us up to June 6, 1958. Fifteen of the 16 major-league teams had integrated. Only the Boston Red Sox remained. On July 21, 1959, one year, one month, and two weeks after Ozzie Virgil integrated the Tigers, Boston was down 2-1 to the Chicago White Sox. Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, Vic Wertz singled. In came a pinch-runner.

With that pinch-runner, the movement begun 12 years earlier by Jackie Robinson was complete. Pumpsie Green was that pinch-runner, and by stepping on first base, he became both the first African-American player to play for the Boston Red Sox, and the last African-American player to integrate a Major League Baseball team.

Playing Jackie Robinson meant baseball was taking a chance, starting a movement, trying to right a wrong. Playing Pumpsie Green meant that the movement had succeeded. Jackie Robinson was the first. Pumpsie Green was the last first. —Matthew Kory

7. Bill James
Bill James did not “invent” scientific analysis of baseball any more than Alexander Cartwright “invented” the game itself. But like with Cartwright and modern baseball, imagining the subject without James’s contributions is impossible.

The first major figure in baseball statistics was Henry Chadwick, an Englishman who brought cricket-style record keeping into the game as the first way of tallying who did what. The kinds of statistics Chadwick and his contemporaries included in the first baseball box scores—runs, hits, at-bats, etc.—formed the basis of player comparisons for decades and decades, and still have an instantly recognizable quality.

Bill James decided that kind of familiarity everyone had with simple statistics was an encumbrance. He saw parents and coaches telling young players and fans about using batting average to judge the ability of a hitter and thought they might as well be perpetuating a myth about Santa Claus. So he went to work, re-examining almost everything in the game’s history to search for patterns hidden in plain sight. That approach has been met with resistance, especially when it was completely novel. But enough time has passed that we see just how James’s ideas have improved baseball analysis, and baseball itself.

More often than not, James’s contributions have uprooted the work not of traditional scouting but of poor statistics. Any infield scout could tell you that Derek Jeter’s range is below average. But going by fielding percentage, long the most dominant fielding statistic, you would have a much foggier idea of Jeter’s defensive value than by looking at range factor, one of James’s many creations. Ever more advanced fielding metrics are surfacing, but none of them will improve measurement more than range factor did over fielding percentage.

For James, the hard work he put in resulted in a consulting position with the Boston Red Sox in 2003—a position he still holds. Since then, the formerly cursed team has won three World Series titles. How’s that for pioneering? —Dan Rozenson

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame

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