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August 26, 2008

You Could Look It Up

A Guide to the New Veterans Committee Ballot, Part 1

by Steven Goldman and Clay Davenport

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On Monday, the Hall of Fame released its list of 10 finalists for the Veterans Committee ballot in the category of players who began their careers before 1943. The list will be voted on December 12, with players needing to appear on three-quarters of 12 ballots to achieve enshrinement. Below, part one of a two-part voting guide to the candidates, arranged in chronological order.

Deacon White
Playing Career:1871-1890 (with the Cleveland Forest Citys of the National Association beginning 1868)
Position: Third base, catcher, and a bit of everything else.
Not to be confused with: Deacon McGuire, a catcher from 1884-1912.
Career rates: .312/.346/.392, .281 EqA
Translated rates: .310/.369/.461
WARP3 Peak/Career: 10.6 (1876)/110.1 (105th all time, and fifth among catchers, trailing only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, and Carlton Fisk.)
In a nutshell: A strong hitter for a catcher, and a famously abstemious man.
Your easy argument for: A good bat, one of the best when it came to the brutal art of bare-handed catching, and a pioneer who picked up the game from Civil War veterans. White eventually figured out that he would be a more effective catcher if he could move right up behind the batter instead of receiving the ball on the bounce somewhere in the next county, so he patched together some protective gear and got in close.
Your easy argument against: The game this guy played was so long ago and far away that we're not really able to pass judgment on it. For gosh sakes, when this guy had his best season, Ulysses Grant was president, George Armstrong Custer was a national martyr, and the Republican Party was about to turn the South over to segregationists in return for a win in a disputed presidential election. What the heck did anyone know about anything, let alone baseball?

A star who won multiple league championships (the World Series was as yet undreamt of), White was an early advocate for players' rights. When he and teammate Jack Rowe were sold by the Detroit Wolverines to the Pittsburgh Allegheny club in 1888, they refused to report, instead buying the Buffalo franchise of the International League. They figured they would play for themselves, but the reserve clause got in the way. "White may have been elected president of the Buffalo club or president of the United States," said the Detroit club president, "but that won't enable him to play ball in Buffalo. He'll play ball in Pittsburgh or get off the earth." That sounds an awful lot like a threat, and White was eventually forced to give in and report, but he did finish up his career playing for Buffalo in the short-lived Players League.

Bad Bill Dahlen
Playing Career: 1891-1911
Position: Shortstop
Not to be confused with: Babe Dahlgren, Bad Bad Leroy Brown.
Career rates: .272/.358/.382, .267 EqA
Translated rates: .248/.341/.431
WARP3 Peak/Career: 10.4 (1896), 127.9 (64th all time, ninth among shortstops)
In a nutshell: A top fielder, Dahlen also had great power for a shortstop of the day, notwithstanding low batting averages and his intentionally getting thrown out of a lot of ballgames. Imagine a version of Khalil Greene with the patience to take 75 walks a year and a really difficult attitude.
Your easy argument for: Dahlen gets lost in the shadow of his National League contemporary Honus Wagner, but along with the Flying Dutchman he was one of the few two-way shortstops of the period. In Dahlen's first two seasons with the New York Giants, the club won 106 and 105 games, picking up two pennants and a World Series win. Manager John McGraw identified Dahlen as the reason why, and spent the rest of his life saying that trading for Dahlen (with two players and $6,000 going to Brooklyn) had been the best move of his career.
Your easy argument against: He was "Bad" for a reason, and not just because he made a record 975 errors at short. We can chalk that up to tremendous range and tiny gloves. No, Dahlen was bad because he liked to drink and he liked the horses, and if there was a good race on or a bottle calling, he might pick a fight with an umpire so he could get tossed and head for the track. You don't see Derek Jeter doing that.

After his playing career ended, Dahlen went back to Brooklyn and was the club's last manager before Wilbert Robinson's 18 years at the helm. Dahlen's teams were indifferent, reflecting his managerial temperament. At the end of the 1913 season, his fourth, it was widely rumored that Dahlen would not be coming back. As Dahlen left the park one day, a beat writer tried to get his attention. "Well, Bill," he said, "I hear you're losing your job." "I dunno," Dahlen grumbled, "but you ain't gonna get it, you slob." Those might have been his last words as a professional.

Sherry Magee
Playing Career: 1904-1919
Position: Left field
Not to be confused with: Lee Magee, Fibber McGee and Molly
Career rates: .291/.364/.427, .296 EqA
Translated rates: .290/.367/.536
WARP3 Peak/Career: 10.2 (1907), 87.8 (248th all time, 27th among left fielders)
In a nutshell: Though it was the Deadball Era, Sherry was a slugger (and in more ways than one).
Your easy argument for: Among players who had a minimum of 5,500 plate appearances between 1904-1919, Magee ranked fourth in isolated power (.135), trailing only Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Sam Crawford. He ranked sixth in slugging percentage, behind the aforementioned trio plus Honus Wagner and Home Run Baker. He also ranked second in RBI, fourth in home runs, fifth in stolen bases, 10th in on-base percentage, and 11th in batting average during this period.
Your easy argument against: He was an attitude case both on and off the field, a Mel Hall-like hazer of young players who sometimes was actually spanked by team captain Kid Gleason (you don't see Derek Jeter doing that, either). Statistically, he was a poor fielder, though his reputation was good, and although he was a very good hitter, he played in a favorable park (the Baker Bowl) and still didn't put up numbers in the same class as those contemporary stars enshrined ahead of him. A shoulder injury-and park effects, after a trade to the Boston Braves-ended his productivity at the age of 30.

Magee is best remembered for personally stopping the Phillies' 1911 pennant charge dead in its tracks (the Phillies were going through a rare competitive phase). Roughly midway through the season, the Phils were in a tight, five-way race with the Cubs, Giants, Pirates, and Cardinals. Just three games separated the fifth-place team (the Cards) from the front-running Cubs. The Phillies were just a half-game out, and two back in the loss column. They were already struggling with some injury problems, particularly in the outfield, where starting right fielder Silent John Titus was out for the season with a leg he broke sliding into Roger Bresnahan's famously innovative shin guards. When Magee kayoed umpire Bill Finneran while arguing a called third strike, breaking the arbiter's nose, he provoked a suspension that would rob the club of its other corner outfielder. The National League initially suspended Magee for the rest of the season. After the Phillies pleaded hardship, the suspension was reduced to time served, by then five weeks. Though Magee hit well after coming back, the club had gone 13-16 in his absence and they were out of the race.

Carl Mays
Playing Career: 1915-1929
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
Not to be confused with: Willie Mays, Ray Chapman
Career Record, ERA: 207-126 (.622), 2.92
Translated Record, ERA: 154-148 (.510), 4.50
WARP3 Peak/Career: 8.6 (1921), 65.8 (511th overall, 118th among starting pitchers)
In a nutshell: A hard-throwing submariner who (by all accounts accidentally) killed Ray Chapman with a pitch, and who might have thrown a World Series game.
Your easy argument for: He was a five-time 20-game winner who pitched for some great Red Sox and Yankees teams. The Chapman thing is a red herring as it wasn't his fault.
Your easy argument against: It was an accident, but he was a jerk anyway. Teammates and managers didn't like him. He walked off of the Red Sox in the middle of a game in 1919, forcing a trade to the Yankees that nearly resulted in the American League tearing itself to pieces in court. Also, check out what those translations do to him-he was good without being dominant, a pitch-to-contact guy who got by with a whole lot of help from his defense.

There is a common misconception that the majors' only fatality as the result of a beaning was what kept Mays from receiving a plaque. The veteran baseball writer Fred Lieb, who knew Mays quite well, wrote in his book, Baseball as I Have Known It that "Mays… felt that only the death of Chapman in 1920 kept Carl out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a member of the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee for over a decade, I know that this is not so. Carl Mays's name has frequently come before the committee, but no one has ever brought up the Chapman tragedy as a reason why Carl should not be in the Cooperstown shrine. Rather, the question mark has often been his performance in the Series of 1921."

Despite the Black Sox scandal being quite fresh in the minds of the public and ballplayers alike, there were persistent rumors, now more or less forgotten, that gamblers had become involved with the outcome of the of the 1921 Yankees-Giants Series. Mays had shut out the Giants in Game One, and was cruising along with another shutout in Game Four, leading1-0 going into the Giants' turn at bat in the top of the eighth. Suddenly, Mays fell apart, the Giants scoring three runs in the frame. Pitchers lose it all the time, but what made Yankees' manager Miller Huggins and others suspicious was that just before the key hit (a triple by Irish Meusel), Huggins had signaled from the bench for a fastball, but Mays disregarded him and threw Meusel a slow breaking pitch with little on it.

Said Huggins shortly before his death, "Any ballplayers that played for me… could come to me if he were in need and I would give him a helping hand. I made only two exceptions, Carl Mays and Joe Bush. If they were in the gutter, I'd kick them."

Wes Ferrell
Playing Career: 1927-1941
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
Not to be confused with: Rick Ferrell, Will Ferrell, feral cats
Career Record, ERA: 193-128 (.601), 4.04
Translated Record, ERA: 177-125 (.586), 4.07
WARP3 Peak/Career: 13.2 (1935), 80.4 (317 overall, 69th among starting pitchers)
In a nutshell: One of the best-hitting pitchers of all time, and dominant on the mound during a tough era for pitchers (and mighty cranky about it).
Your easy argument for: He's all about peak value, and when he was good he was very, very good. And he was the best-hitting pitcher of all time as well.
Your easy argument against: Six good seasons is not enough, and that's just too damned bad. Even in the context of the offensive inflation of the 1930s, the ERA seems way high.

Coincidentally, Ferrell was covered in some detail in this column's August 12 installment. Suffice it to say that Ferrell was a six-time 20-game winner, but heavy usage pretty much ended his best years at 28. He was also a .280/.351/.446 career hitter with 38 career home runs, including two seasons of seven round-trippers, and one of nine. Even if his ERA is a bit high, the offense compensates for a few of those runs allowed.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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