|Tuesday, February 25
Santo's Hall credentials tough to overlook
By Rob Neyer
The last time I wrote about the new Veterans Committee, back in the middle of December, I devoted most of the column writing about who would be elected, and a very small part of the column about who should be elected. Today, I'm going to reverse those, writing mostly about who should go in, with just a brief mention of who I think will go in (and yes, I realize now that I should have written December's column today and today's column in December, but nobody's perfect).
Who's going to be elected? As I wrote a year or so ago, I think it's quite possible that nobody will make it, in which case they'll change the rules to ensure that somebody makes it next time. So all I'm going to predict is that Ron Santo will get more votes than anybody else, and that Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva and Joe Torre will garner significant support, too.
The argument for Santo is simpler than you might think, given his failure to be elected to the Hall of Fame before now.
1. He was a better hitter than a number of Hall of Fame third basemen, including Pie Traynor, Jimmy Collins and Brooks Robinson.
2. He was a fine defensive player who won five Gold Gloves.
I'll admit, I used to think that Santo's career length worked against him, but it turns out that he's No. 8 on the all-time list for games played at third base. So you've got a good defensive player who ranks among the best at his position in terms of hitting and career length. Doesn't that sound like a Hall of Famer to you? I honestly don't have any idea why he didn't draw more support from the BBWAA's Hall of Fame voters -- come to think of it, that would be an interesting research project -- but Santo's absence from the Hall certainly doesn't make any sense, and it's time for that state of affairs to end.
Minoso isn't going to get elected, because not enough voters saw him play. But Minoso almost certainly does belong in the Hall of Fame. It's hard to say exactly when he'd have first played regularly in the major leagues if not for the color line, but it stands to reason that it would have happened before he was 28.
But instead, it did happen when he was 28. Minoso spent a couple of seasons in the Negro National League, then graduated to so-called "Organized Baseball" with a couple of fine seasons in the Pacific Coast League. And then in 1951, he finally got his shot, with the White Sox. When he was 28.
Minoso's career "rate stats" are outstanding: .389 OBP, .459 slugging percentage. He was exceedingly durable, especially for a player who led his league in HBP no fewer than 10 times. But he finished his career with "only" 1,963 hits, which of course isn't a lot for a Hall of Fame outfielder who wasn't a big power hitter.
It's fairly safe to assume, though, that if Minoso had grown up in Georgia with pale skin rather than in Cuba with dark skin, he'd have reached the major leagues three or four years before he did. Let's be conservative, and give Minoso four more seasons. He was good for approximately 175 hits per season, and 175 times four is 700 hits. Add 700 to 1,963, and you get 2,663 hits.
There are, to be sure, players with more than 2,663 hits who aren't in the Hall of Fame. But I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody with 2,663 hits and Minoso's broad base of skills who hasn't been elected or won't be. Bill James rates Minoso as the 10th-greatest left fielder ever, and I think that's just about right.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Ferrell and Mays, because they have absolutely no chance of getting elected and, to be honest, there are days when I'm not completely convinced myself. Today, though, I'm writing in support of both old-time pitchers.
Ferrell's 4.04 career ERA doesn't look like much, until you notice that he did much of his pitching in hitter's ballparks and that he did all of his pitching in a hitter's era. Oh, and he was maybe the greatest-hitting pitcher ever, which helped him post a .601 career winning percentage (193-128). Give him a small dollop of extra credit for his 31 career pinch-hits, and he looks like a Hall of Famer to me.
Mays never got much support from the writers, and it's hard to say exactly why. It might be because he threw the pitch that killed Ray Chapman. It might be because he was suspected of trying less than his hardest in Game 4 of the 1921 World Series. But it's obviously ridiculous to vilify Mays for head-hunting when Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale are lionized for the same, and Mays was cleared of the World Series accusation by none other than Judge Landis himself. So it seems to me that his 208 wins and .623 career winning percentage should be enough to get him elected.
Those are the four players on the ballot for whom I would vote. Below are the half-dozen players for whom I would not vote, but who I think will draw significant support from the voters.
1. Gil Hodges: He was a fine player, but he was only the sixth- or seventh-best player on his team (granted, it was a very good team) and never finished higher than seventh in National League MVP balloting. As a player, he's somewhere in the neighborhood with Mickey Vernon, Boog Powell and Norm Cash, except he wasn't quite as good as those non-Hall of Famers. And no, you can't put Hodges in the Hall because of the 1969 Mets, because 1) by that logic, Dusty Baker's got a better case, and 2) Hodges also managed the ninth-place 1968 Mets, the third-place 1970 Mets, and the third-place 1971 Mets (not to mention the Washington Senators for five lousy seasons).
2. Thurman Munson: He died a long time ago, so we're no longer required to sugar-coat his career. His power numbers were way down in his last two seasons, his career slugging percentage was .410, and his numbers weren't likely to improve as he aged, not with him suffering from knee and back problems. It's tragic that he didn't get that chance, but if he had, we wouldn't be talking about him as a Hall of Famer. He was a great player along the lines of Bill Freehan and Elston Howard -- but, of course, neither Freehan nor Howard are in the Hall.
3. Roger Maris: He ranks, with Munson and Don Mattingly, among Yankees fans' favorite causes celebre, and all three have points in their favor. Maris's argument, however, is the weakest. Essentially, it comes down to this: Maris enjoyed two great seasons (1960 and '61), two excellent seasons (1962 and '64), and three good seasons (1958, '59, and '67). When you're considering, for the Hall of Fame, a player who spent only a dozen seasons in the major leagues, you have to find something extenuating. For example, a late start due to segregation (Jackie Robinson) or stupid executives (Edgar Martinez, perhaps). Or an early end due to something unrelated to a player's physical abilities (Thurman Munson). Or a number of great seasons within those dozen seasons (Earl Averill). Maris' advocates can't claim any of these. To deserve a plaque in the Hall of Fame, you have to be either great for a few years or very good for many years. And Maris was neither.
4. Maury Wills: Same thing. He was great for a few years and good for a number of years, and in fact he enjoyed more quality years than Maris. But even giving him credit for playing in a pitcher's ballpark (Dodger Stadium) in a pitcher's era (the 1960s), he still doesn't meet the reasonable standards outlined above.
5. Tony Oliva: He was an excellent player for eight seasons, after which his knee problems reduced him to a shell of his former self. If Oliva's eight good seasons included three or four of MVP caliber, I could see the argument for him being in the Hall of Fame. But there were only a couple of those seasons, so I think he falls a bit short. And no, I don't think the bad knee counts as "extenuating."
6. Joe Torre: He is often listed as a catcher, because he played more games (903) at that position than any other. On the other hand, he spent significantly more time at other positions -- first base and third base -- than he did as a catcher. Still, Torre has a pretty good case and would have a better one if his last great season hadn't come when he was still only 31. I reserve the right to change my mind, but at this moment I can't support Torre's candidacy -- as a player. If it's any solace to you, Torre's going to make the Hall for his managing if he doesn't first make it for his hitting.
If you've made it this far, I've got a bonus Hall of Fame candidate for you. After years of waffling on Dick Allen, I've finally decided to take the plunge and stump for his candidacy.
Yes, he could be a real pain in the rear end. And yes, he was a pretty crummy fielder. But for 11 seasons, 1964 through 1974, he was one of the most devastating hitters on the planet. Think of Albert Belle -- the production, if not the attitude -- then double it, and you've got a pretty good idea about Dick Allen's career. He was so devastating with the stick, in fact, that I've concluded that a Hall of Fame without him just doesn't make as much sense as it should.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season and irregularly in the offseason. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.