Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, December 28, 2014

3 Obscure Players Who Deserve Closer Scrutiny for the Baseball Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is in the thick of its annual season. The 2015 ballot was recently released and the Golden Era Committee did not elect any new members to the hallowed museum. There is no tried and true formula to determine who is worthy and who is not, and there will always be arguments about those who have been passed over. However, some are so far back in the rearview mirror that their obscurity generally prevents them from eliciting the support other similar candidates might receive.

Here are three largely forgotten players who deserve closer scrutiny when it comes to their respective case for the Hall of Fame.

Jim McCormick, Pitcher/Outfielder: The Glasgow, Scotland-born right-hander last threw a major league pitch when Grover Cleveland was still in office, so his obscurity is understandable. At 5’10” and 215 pounds, he was built more like a stevedore than a hurler, but he sure could pitch. In his 10-year major league career (1878-1887), he was a combined 265-214 with a 2.43 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 33 shutouts. Of his 485 career starts, he failed to complete just 19 of them.

During the 19th century, pitchers were used about as often and indiscriminately as a favorite bat, so their numbers dwarf anything one might expect to see today. For instance, McCormick’s arguably best season came in 1880 with the Cleveland Blues in the National League, as he went 45-28 with a 1.85 ERA in 74 starts. He not only led the league in wins and starts but also innings with a whopping 657.2.

Naturally, playing in the dead ball era means McCormick’s statistics were achieved under much different circumstance. Nevertheless, he was a dominant performer whose production in comparison to his peers is still very distinguishable today. He led the league in wins, ERA and innings pitched twice, and complete games three times. His 118 ERA+ is the same as Hall-of-Famers Bert Blyleven, Tom Glavine and Ted Lyons. It also bests Hall-of-Famers like Nolan Ryan, Dennis Eckersley and Waite Hoyt. Additionally, McCormick’s career WAR of 75.5 ranks as the 27th-best mark for pitchers of all time.

McCormick’s resume as a part-time outfielder does little to boost his Hall-of-Fame case, as he was a below average hitter, batting just .236. However, he did own one of America’s first sports bars with a teammate (in Paterson, New Jersey).

Having passed away in 1918, McCormick never even knew about the Hall of Fame, which first opened in 1936. Pitching in a different era under much different circumstances should not veil his greatness. As one of the best pitchers to ever step on a mound, he clearly deserves enshrinement so he can be brought back to the common baseball memory.

Bill Dahlen, Shortstop: A reputation for enjoying adult beverages didn’t stop the right-handed hitter from having one of the longest and most productive careers in baseball history. Over 21 years (1891-1911) spent with four National League teams (Chicago Colts, Brooklyn Superbas/Dodgers, New York Giants and Boston Braves). He accumulated a .272 batting average, 84 home runs, 1,234 RBIs, 548 stolen bases, 2,461 hits and 1,590 runs scored in 2,463 games.

In 1894, he had a 42 game hit streak. Upon that ending, he promptly went out and rang up another 28 game streak to give him at least one hit in 70 of 71 games—putting him in the same stratosphere as Joe DiMaggio when it comes to hitting streaks.

Playing in an era when shortstops were generally known for their gloves, and any offense was an added bonus, Dahlen excelled in both regards. He was an elite defender who is still among the most proficient to ever play the position. When he retired he was first all-time in games played and among the leaders in a number of other categories.

Incredibly, “Bad” Bill Dahlen is 46th all-time in WAR for position players with 75.2, just ahead of Sam Crawford and Johnny Bench. The only players to play the majority of their career at shortstop who rank ahead of him are Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., George Davis and Ozzie Smith.

A good bet as to what helped relegate Dahlen to his banishment to obscurity is that he was viewed as extremely moody and surly throughout his career. A passage in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract gives an idea of how the shortstop was regarded:

"Shortstop Dahlen… was a heavy-set, moody, surly man, seemingly lazy and indifferent, who kept mostly to himself, glowering into space like a sick cat. But the seeming indifference, said [manager John] McGraw years later, “made him an iceberg on the field, keeping others cool in the tightest situation.” – John Devaney, Sport Magazine, October, 1963.

Dahlen also lived quite a bit harder than many of his peers, enjoying horse racing and drinking to the point that it nearly took his baseball career. He gave up drinking for a time to get back in baseball’s good graces but relapsed following his retirement from the diamond—to the point that he was nearly destitute. It was McGraw who helped get him back on his feet, including giving him a job as a night watchman at the Polo Grounds.

There is a very reasonable argument to be made that Dahlen has a much better resume than a number of those who entered the Hall of Fame through the ballot system. It’s a shame that such a significant contributor to an earlier era is still on the outside waiting for his ticket to be punched.

Bob Johnson, Outfielder: “Indian” Bob Johnson, who claimed one-quarter Cherokee lineage, was given the type of nickname bestowed on just about every player with Native American heritage during his time. He compiled one of the most consistently impressive resumes during his 13-year major league career, yet is virtually forgotten today.

Playing primarily for the Philadelphia Athletics between 1933 and 1945, the right-handed hitting leftfielder hit a combined .286 with a .393 OBP, 288 home runs, 2,051 hits and 1,283 RBIs. He hit at least .290 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs in each of his first seven seasons and made seven All Star teams. Additionally his 139 career OPS+ is tied with Reggie Jackson for 81st all-time, and is better than many other Hall-of-Famers, including Carl Yastrzemski (130), George Brett (138) and Billy Williams (133). Shockingly, the two years (1948 and 1956) that he was on the Hall-of-Fame ballot, he failed to get even one percent of the vote.

There are three likely factors that have contributed to Johnson slipping into the shadows. First, his counting statistics are not quite as high as one might expect from a player with his resume because he didn’t break into the majors until he was 27. An extra four of five of his typical seasons would have made his case much tougher to ignore.

Johnson also toiled in relative baseball purgatory throughout his career. The Athletics were putrid during his time with the team, finishing last or second-to-last in eight of those 10 seasons.

Some might also discount Johnson’s production as being a product of hitter-friendly Shibe Park. While the park may have played to the hitters, it was definitely no band box, as evidence by its measurements of 334 down the left-field line, 331 feet down the right-field line and an exhausting 468 feet to center during the time he played. He did hit .302 with 149 home runs in 747 career games in Philadelphia home games, but his .293 average with 139 homers in 1,116 games in other venues is hardly anything to sneeze at.

Baseball has always had the silent toilers who produce year in and year out, yet see other players receive greater attention because of the market they play in or their ability to be better at self-promotion. Johnson seems to be a classic example of this. In a 1985 article for the National Pastime ("For the Hall of Fame: Twelve Good Men"), Bob Carroll observed. "Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it can also make certain ballplayers nigh unto invisible. Indian Bob Johnson never had one of those super seasons that make everyone sit up and whistle. While phenoms came, collected their MVP trophies, and faded, he just kept plodding along hitting .300, with a couple dozen homers and a hundred ribbies year after a guy punching a time clock." (Bill James, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? (Fireside, 1995).

Part of the beauty of the Hall of Fame is that there is no perfect set of inductees. The museum will always spark debate about the worthiness of candidates. That doesn’t mean that such conversations and arguments shouldn’t take place, as it keeps the spirit of the game and the players in a perpetual stream of consciousness. Fortunately, no doors at the Hall are truly closed forever, and perhaps one day McCormick, Dahlen and Johnson will have plaques commemorating their careers on the premises. 

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dwight Gooden Goes Back to the Future: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of December 21, 2014

2014 is nearly in the books. Outside of the mad dash that is the remainder of the holiday season, another year is done for all intents and purposes. It was another great 12 months for baseball, as the game continues to be as popular as ever before. Whatever you celebrate (or don’t), have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season.
Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Former Los Angeles Angels first-round pick Ryan Bolden was killed in a fight over candy this week. The former outfielder was the 40th overall selection in the 2010 draft. His career ended following the 2013 season due to injuries and a lack of progress in his development. In 112 career minor league games (all at the rookie league level), he hit a combined .164 with three home runs and 26 RBIs. Bolden was 23.

*Another passing to report in 86-year-old Herb Plews. A former infielder who played parts of four seasons with the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox (1956-59), the right-handed batter hit a combined .262 with four homers and 82 RBIs in 346 games. Originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1950, a military stint interrupted his playing career. Read more about his career and life in this official SABR biography written by Bill Nowlin.

*Sean Lahman of the Democrat & Chronicle has an interesting piece about the 1960 Rochester Red Wings, the last American team to play in Cuba before the U.S. embargo went into place. At the time, tensions were so high that their departure from the country was more like something from a movie plot than a standard short flight back to mainland. More than 50 years later, they retain their place in history, but perhaps not for much longer given the shifting political climate.

*Speaking of baseball and communism, the two have had connections in the past. Historian John Thorne at the MLB Our Game blog does his typical bang-up job in researching how communist party leaders of the past viewed America’s Pastime, including their belief that it was used as a device of distraction by capitalism to divert the attention of workers from their “miserable conditions.”

*Dwight Gooden was simultaneously one of the best and one of the most flawed players in baseball history. He won 194 career games in 16 major league seasons, captured the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year and 1985 National League Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, the incredibly talented right-hander was also troubled with drug, alcohol and other off-field problems that prevented him from putting together a Hall-of-Fame resume. Now in retirement, he has his life in full control and is able to look back on the follies of his youth. He recently penned a letter to a younger version of himself that was published in The Players’ Tribune. His decades of maturation and reflection are visible to all to see, and a good reminder of how well he has become since his days as a nearly untouchable flame thrower for the New York Mets.

*Arm woes have halted or ended the burgeoning careers of many a pitcher. Although the medical advancements of Tommy John surgery have allowed many professionals to come back from previously catastrophic damage, there is still great debate over how hurlers, especially those still in school or college, should be handled when it comes to workload. The Boston Globe’s Obnoxious Sports Fan looks at the efforts being made to treat arms right, and how the reluctance to take these precautions prematurely ended many careers of varying degrees of promise.

*There are many celebrities who claim membership in the fan bases of baseball teams. One of the most well known is comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his beloved Mets. He is as knowledgeable as any fan about the franchise, and much funnier than any other. This clip from him sitting in the broadcast booth during a 2010 game is a little glimpse of how he mixes his humor with love of the game.

*There are also some baseball players who style themselves as comedians. Check out this clip of Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson telling one of his favorite jokes on a 1980s television show The Funniest Joke I Ever Heard while he was a member of the California Angels.

*One way baseball has attracted fans has been through the attachment of people to baseball cards. Being able to have the picture, statistics and bright colors of logos and uniforms in the palm of one’s hand has often been more than enough to develop undying allegiance. Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic has written a cultural history of baseball cards and how their popularity has shifted over time in this country. This is an especially interesting read given the recent passing of card pioneer Sy Berger, who is credited with developing the first “modern” baseball card with the Topps Company.

*Looking for any last-minute holiday gift ideas for the baseball fans in your life (or yourself)? Freddie Fitzsimmons: A Baseball Life by Peter J. De Kever may be just what you need. Fitzsimmons, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher, who had a 20-year major league career with the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, had more than enough interesting stories from his time in baseball to be worthy of a biography.

*Finally, some amazing footage of the batting practice/pre-game warm-ups at the old Polo Grounds in New York for the 1934 MLB All Star Game. With rosters chock-full of future Hall-of-Famers who played before the era of television, actually getting to see them bat and throw is a rare treat.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joe DiMaggio Selling Christmas Coffee Makers: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of December 14, 2014

Although the major league baseball offseason is in full swing, there are plenty of other things keeping the game in the news. That’s one of its best traits, as there is always something of interest or value that fans can discover or rediscover on a regular basis. There is simply no other sport that can engage the senses on so many levels. At least that’s my take…

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*The Baseball Golden Era Ballot voting has come and gone, and there will be no new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame from this body in 2015. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva each came within one vote of being elected, while Jim Kaat, Maury Wills and Minnie Minoso narrowly missed as well.

As usual, there was varying amounts of outrage on the behalf of the ten candidates. The simple fact is that while they were all excellent players and contributors to the game, none of them were slam dunk choices. If they were, most would not have been elected from the writers’ ballot. That being said, this kind of process and debate is good for the game and keeping people interested in its history.

*More regarding the Hall of Fame. There has never been a player inducted with 100 percent of the votes from the writer’s ballot. This even includes the likes of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Sports Cheat Sheet’s Eric Schall has compiled a list of the top-10 vote getters by percentage of all members of the Hall of Fame. Hint; they probably aren’t who you think.

*With the holidays nearly upon us, the shopping season produces a vast quantity of advertisements to hawk gift ideas. Check out this 1977 Christmas Mr. Coffee commercial starring Joe DiMaggio. If even a fraction of those who grew up idolizing the “Yankee Clipper” bought one of his coffee machines, the company must have had a very merry holiday season.

*Louisville Slugger bats are synonymous with baseball. An incredible number of players have used them for decades, and they are truly part of the fabric of the game. This video gives a succinct history of the company and how they have evolved over the years.

*Actor and director Penny Marshall (of Laverne and Shirley fame) will be bringing an important baseball story to the silver screen. It was recently announced she will be directing a biopic of Effa Manley appropriately titled Effa. The first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Manley was a groundbreaking owner in the Negro Leagues who trail blazed not only for herself and women in the game but for her players.

*With 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts in his career, former left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson was one of the most dominant hurlers in the history of the game. He is on the 2015 writer’s ballot and it will be a major surprise if he is not a shoo-in for induction next summer. That being said, baseball is far from being what defines him. ESPN’s E:60 recently had a great feature showing what the lanky southpaw is up to these days, as he seems to have seamlessly transitioned into the next phase of his life.

*Chuck Connors gained his greatest fame as a Hollywood actor, becoming known for such roles as the Rifleman and as a slave owner in the epic television miniseries Roots. Before that, he was a fine athlete, playing professional basketball and baseball. Here is a photo of him during training with the Brooklyn Dodgers, demonstrating a proper sliding technique.

In 66 games with the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs (1949 & 1951) he hit a combined .238 with two home runs, so he definitely made a wise career choice!

*A huge collection of baseball memorabilia has been discovered at Birmingham’s old Rickwood Field, the oldest active ballpark in the country. This trove of artifacts, autographs and other amazing items (including a pair of Reggie Jackson’s cleats) is being put up for auction, and the public will be able to take away a piece of history that had been tucked away for years.

*The Baseball History Daily has dug up another lost gem of a story. In 1883, Providence Grays outfielder Cliff Carroll decided to water down fan Jimmy Murphy after taking a drink from a hose during a game. The drenched crank was so incensed that he retrieved a gun and took a potshot at the player. You’ll have to read the whole entry to find out what happened in this crazy encounter.

*Outfielder Mark Gilbert had a major league career that lasted all of seven games with the 1985 Chicago White Sox. Although he had six hits and four walks in 26 plate appearances, his playing career was over by the time he was 29. Fortunately, it looks like he has moved on nicely. USA Today reported last fall how the now 58-year-old was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the United States’ ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Just recently, that appointment was confirmed by the Senate, making him the first former major leaguer to hold such a post.

*Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Fame outfielder Al Kaline turns 80 later in the week. The Detroit News’ Tom Gage wrote a profile of the legend and looks back on his outstanding career that lasted 22 years as a player and is still going strong with his role as an adviser with the same team that made him a bonus baby signing in 1953. "Al continues to be involved in all of our major meetings and discussions," Tigers' president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said of the legend, who does what he loves and loves what he does. It’s great to see he is still involved, and many warm wishes for that to continue for years to come.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10 Thoughts on Jon Lester Leaving the Boston Red Sox

Red Sox Nation is in full-fledged mourning with the news that longtime team-favorite, pitcher Jon Lester, has elected to join the Chicago Cubs on a lucrative free-agent contract. A lot has already been written and talked about on the matter but here are a few of my thoughts.

1.       The Boston Red Sox clearly have enough money so that they could have signed Lester if they wanted. It looks like it probably came down to the team setting a limit on the years and/or dollars they were willing to go, and tapped out when that was exceeded.

2.       Lester should not receive an iota of flak for his decision. Neither should the Red Sox. Baseball is a business and both parties made the choices they respectively thought best for themselves.

3.       In parts of nine seasons in Boston, Lester won 110 regular season games; was a big part of two World Series-winning squads; was a widely-respected teammate and community member; and kicked cancer’s butt. You can’t beat that resume.

4.       Leaving Boston doesn’t tarnish Lester’s team legacy in any way. He came, he saw, he conquered, he left.

5.       Never understood why so many fans felt Lester would potentially pass up the biggest deal to return to Boston. I am sure he enjoyed his time in the area and the fan support, but at the end of the day he worked incredibly hard to get to the point where he could command a bidding frenzy.

6.       Like any person with a career, Lester had the right and a responsibility to himself to weigh factors like compensation, future goals and opportunity.

7.       Just because the Red Sox weren’t willing to spend whatever it took to sign Lester doesn’t mean they won’t spend as much or more to bring in another ace (Max Scherzer?). Like most teams, they likely have a value assigned to available players, and Lester may not have been tops on that list.

8.       If they can pry him loose, Cole Hamels is a much better deal. The Phillies’ southpaw is due to make $94 million over the next four seasons while Lester will make $155 million over the next six. Even with prospects/players Boston would have to give up to obtain Hamels, the savings would be huge on a pitcher who has traditionally provided similar production.

9.       I bet fans will likely be surprised with how well the Boston starting rotation comes together when it is all said and done. The team has already demonstrated it is working to build a 2015 contender and there are still plenty of good arms out there to be had.

10.   I wish Lester all the best with his new team. He is certainly one of the classier guys to don a Red Sox uniform, and he will be missed.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rambling On Podcast: Discussing MLB’s Golden Era Hall of Fame Ballot

Check out the current edition of the Rambling On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss the MLB Golden Era Hall of Fame Ballot. Who should get in and who shouldn't? ! No players were selected this year, and though we didn't have votes we certainly have opinions. Check out what we would have done.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mantle, Mays and Klinger From M*A*S*H: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of December 7, 2014

Baseball lasts through the years not just because of the championships and the statistics, but also because of the memories. The game has produced so many enthralling stories that it will remain its own significant chapter in the story of America. The best way this is all preserved is by historians of the game, and this group lost a titan with the recent passing of Dick Bresciani.

In a 40-plus-year career with the Boston Red Sox, Bresciani worked in public relations and ultimately became the official team historian. So exhaustive was his knowledge of the team that club CEO Larry Luchino described him as their “intuitional memory.” He was always willing to lend a hand or a thought to a historian in need (including yours truly), and while he will be truly missed, he created a legacy that will continue for years to come.

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*It’s usually not a good sign if fans of a team are well-acquainted with the names of their base coaches, as that can be indicative of their maverick style in managing base runners. From 1997-2000, Wendell Kim manned the third base coaching box for the Red Sox. While he had an aggressive style that led to some dubbing him “Wave-‘em-Home Wendell,” he became a wildly popular figure because of his visceral love and passion for the game. In addition to his stint with the Sox, he had a lengthy career coaching and managing with various franchises (particularly in the minors).

 Sally Tippett Rains of the StL Sports Page reports that Kim is sadly in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. The first Korean-American to don a major league uniform, it’s bitter irony that the man who brought countless good memories to so many is being robbed of his own. All the best to him and his family.

*Slugger Babe Ruth gained fame belting home runs for the New York Yankees, earning him the distinction of highest-paid player in the game during much of his career. However, it was nowhere near what players are paid today. As a result he was consistently involved in ventures designed to capitalize on his fame, including touring the Vaudeville circuit and doing various speeches, skits and other buffoonery. This picture shows the Babe on such a tour. Although this is much different than what would be expected of modern players, it was an excellent way for fans around the country to see the famous player when attending games wasn’t a possibility and televisions were yet to be invented.

*Did you know that major league teams have scored 25 or more runs in a game 26 times throughout history? If random stats like that interest you, this page of rare feats might interest you. It’s a treasure trove of tidbits about some of the landmark accomplishments in baseball.

*Dick Allen was a polarizing figure during his 15-year major league career. Playing from 1963-77 with five teams (his greatest success was with the St. Louis Cardinals), the right-handed slugger hit .292 with 351 home runs. However, he also gained a reputation for being a complicated presence. This was often because of his refusal as a black player to kowtow to those who might belittle him or treat him as lesser than during a time when baseball was still figuring out integration. Bill James once called him the second-most controversial figure in baseball history behind Rogers Hornsby.

Allen has a resume that makes him a viable candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he fell off the ballot in 1997 after failing to get the requisite number of votes during his maximum 15 years under consideration. He is now under consideration for induction by the Golden Era Committee and may get to see his plaque in Cooperstown after all. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has a terrific piece on the proud and talented former player.

*What more could you want from a commercial than Klinger from M*A*S*H and the singing duo of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in bonnets? To find out what I mean, check out this vintage Blue Bonnet Margarine commercial.

*Charles “Whammy” Douglas was a right-handed pitcher who went 3-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 11 games with the 1957 Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he played minor league ball for ten seasons that was his only taste of the majors. The numbers he produced are nice but nothing special, until you take into consideration that he pitched with a glass eye.

Dylan Howlett of the Carrboro Commons has a piece detailing the career and life of Douglas, who sadly passed away in November at the age of 79. It’s a glimpse of a lesser known player from baseball history with his own very unique story, going from when he lost his sight in a school yard fight as an 11-year-old, to his feats on the diamond, including winning 27 games for the 1954 Brunswick Pirates.

*Former New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui once hit a home run a very long way. The tater in question came when he was playing professional ball in Japan. The majestic drive hit off the ceiling of the Tokyo Dome but still had enough to clear the wall by plenty. Seriously, you have to see it.

*The New York Post’s Larry Getlen has an interesting snippet regarding sports announcer Al Michael’s recent memoire You Can’t Make This Up concerning his former partner Howard Cosell and an off-color remark he once made to a teary Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda about his deceased friend, Ken Boyer.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Reviewing the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was recently released. As usual, it’s loaded with candidates for enshrinement next year in Cooperstown for their contributions and achievements in baseball. Some have more compelling cases than others, but they all had distinguished careers and made their mark on the game in some way.

Let’s do a quick rundown of all 34 of this year’s candidates and review whether or not I believe they belong in the Hall:

Aaron Boone, Third Baseman: A .263 batting average and 126 home runs over 12 seasons just won’t cut it. At least he’ll always have 2003.

Alan Trammell, Shortstop: One of the best at his position while he played, he was never a true superstar for me. His .285 batting average, 2,365 hits and four Gold Gloves are more indicative of his very good but not great status.

Barry Bonds, Outfielder: If you are going to keep Bonds, one of the five-best players in baseball history, out of the Hall of Fame because of his transgressions, you’d better start pulling out a number of inductees who were involved in even more questionable things.

Brian Giles, Outfielder: His .291 batting average, .400 OBP, 287 home runs and 136 OPS+ in 15 seasons look very impressive until realizing they came during baseball’s PED/offensive explosion era. He was never more than a second-tier star during his career (two All-Star Games), so he isn’t a Hall-of-Famer.

Carlos Delgado, First Baseman: 473 home runs in 17 years, but see McGriff, Fred.

Cliff Floyd, Outfielder: Injuries severely stunted his chances at the Hall, as he averaged just 95 games per season during his 17-year career. His .278 batting average and 233 home runs during that time are a good indication of the huge numbers he could have posted if he was on the field more.

Craig Biggio, Catcher/Second Baseman/Outfielder: Although he retired less than a decade ago, many seem to have forgotten what a great player Biggio was. With 3,060 hits, 668 doubles and 414 stolen bases, he should be a shoo-in.

Curt Schilling, Pitcher: The right hander accumulated impressive marks of 216 wins, a 3.36 ERA, 3,116 strikeouts and three World Series rings during his 20-year career. His 80.7 WAR is the 20th best mark of any pitcher in history, and his numbers might be even better if not for missing significant time with injuries over the years.

Darin Erstad, Outfielder: Other than 2000, when he hit .355 with 240 hits, 25 home runs and 28 stolen bases, Erstad was decidedly average (or perhaps even a tick below). This is borne out by his 93 career OPS+ and WAR of 32.3—which gets a major boost from his excellent glove.

Don Mattingly, First Baseman: There wasn’t a better player in baseball during the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, his peak lasted only a handful of seasons because of back troubles that sapped his production.

Eddie Guardado, Pitcher: “Every Day Eddie” may have been reliable out of the pen to the tune of 908 games over a 17-year career; he just wasn’t an all-time great. At 46-61 with a 1.32 WHIP and just 187 saves there would be some explaining to do if he made it over a number of much more qualified relievers who have not yet gained admission.

Edgar Martinez, Designated Hitter: His career marks of a .312 batting average, .418 OBP and 309 home runs in 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners are Hall worthy. Some may point to having played the majority of his career as a DH as a reason to keep him out, but keep in mind that his 68.3 WAR is 75th all-time among hitters.

Fred McGriff, First Baseman: Ironically, the Crime Dog was criminally underrated during his career. Unfortunately, despite 493 home runs and his consistent good numbers, he falls a notch or two short of immortal status.

Gary Sheffield, Outfielder: The right-handed batter hit .292 with 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI and a .393 OBP over 22 seasons. His name appearing on the Mitchell Report will probably work against him, but there is little doubt he belongs in the Hall.

Jason Schmidt, Pitcher: The right-hander was 130-96 with a 3.96 ERA over 14 seasons, all spent in the National League. If you take out his 2003-04 seasons when he placed second and fourth respectively in the Cy Young race, his record was just 95-84.

Jeff Bagwell, First Baseman: One of the best players of all-time, I have already argued in support of Bagwell’s candidacy. Coming up short on previous ballots makes little sense given his resume.

Jeff Kent, Second Baseman: How can you deny a good-fielding player from his position that put up a .290 batting average with 377 home runs, 560 doubles and 1,518 RBIs in 17 seasons? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Jermaine Dye, Outfielder: An accumulator who had a .274 batting average with 325 home runs and 1,072 RBIs in 14 seasons, he falls into the Brian Giles category. If he hadn’t retired at the age of 35 and had played a while longer and padded his stats, it would have been interesting to review his case.

John Smoltz, Pitcher: Often seen as the third starter on an Atlanta Braves staff that had future Hall-of-Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz actually had the best stuff of the trio. Only injuries prevented him from having significantly greater numbers than his already excellent totals of 213 wins, a 3.33 ERA and 154 saves. He should be a no-brainer.

Larry Walker, Outfielder: The left-handed hitter had an amazing .313/.400/.565 slash with 383 home runs during his career. However, he was plagued by injuries and had his stat line buffed dramatically by the .381/.462/.710 slash he had in 597 career games at hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado. I wouldn’t object to him being elected but also wouldn’t put up much of an argument if he wasn’t.

Lee Smith, Pitcher: The mammoth right-hander is third all-time with 478 saves. However, his 3.03 ERA, 1.26 WHIP are just not the lockdown numbers you’d expect of a Hall-of-Famer.

Mark McGwire, First Baseman: Like it or not, the slugger defined an entire era of baseball. His 583 home runs and .982 OPS should be more than enough to earn enshrinement for the first man to hit 70 home runs in a single season.

Mike Mussina, Pitcher: With 270 victories and a 3.68 ERA, the right-hander fits comfortably in with the second-tier of Hall-of-Fame pitchers like Don Sutton and Catfish Hunter. With 11 seasons of 15 or more wins, there are few hurlers with as consistent a resume as Mussina.

Mike Piazza, Catcher: Piazza’s .308 batting average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs make him one of the two or three best offensive catchers in baseball history. PED rumors and innuendo are the only things that could be possible barriers on his way to Cooperstown—fair or not.

Nomar Garciaparra, Shortstop: The uber athlete was a pure hitter, as evidenced by his .313 career batting average. Unfortunately, averaging just over 100 games played over his 14 seasons prevented him from reaching his Hall-of-Fame potential.

Pedro Martinez, Pitcher: He was the most dominant pitcher in baseball in the past 50 years, and possibly had the best overall stuff of any pitcher ever. Where is any logical argument to keep him out?

Randy Johnson, Pitcher: The “Big Unit” was nearly as dominant as Pedro, but undoubtedly more intimidating. This 1993 at-bat John Kruk had against the lefty tells you all you need to know about how hitters felt when facing him.

Rich Aurilia, Shortstop: A career 99 OPS+ and one All Star nod in 15 seasons. No disrespect to this solid player, but there can be no other answer than no.

Roger Clemens, Pitcher: The pitching equivalent of McGwire, except with an even stronger resume. His 354 wins and seven Cy Young Awards, which largely occurred during the “PED Era,” should be recognized even with his own PED connections.

Sammy Sosa, Outfielder: Despite 609 home runs, which rank eighth all-time, his resume seems strangely lackluster. That’s not just because he is another PED-linked player, but because his largely one-dimensional style of play. Another player I could argue for or against without much conviction either way.

Tim Raines, Outfielder: This great leadoff hitter has never gotten his due. 2,605 hits, 808 stolen bases and a .385 OBP doesn’t leave him far behind Rickey Henderson in terms of being among the best of all time at what they did.

Tom Gordon, Pitcher: With 138 wins, 158 saves and a 3.96 ERA, “Flash” was the poor man’s John Smoltz. Unfortunately, that won’t gain him entry to the Hall.

Tony Clark, First Baseman: The massive slugger was plagued by injuries throughout his career. When he did play, he posted solid, yet unspectacular numbers, resulting in a .262 batting average, 251 home runs and one All Star appearance in 15 seasons.

Troy Percival, Pitcher: A personal favorite, the converted minor league catcher became a flame-throwing closer. His 358 saves rank ninth all time, but his 3.17 ERA is a bit more pedestrian. Not a Hall-of-Famer, but certainly a first ballot guy for the Hall of the Very Good.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Was Joe DiMaggio Overrated?: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 30, 2014

Best wishes to those who celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully nobody was done in by that extra slice of pie or sneaking another spoonful of stuffing before it hit the fridge. The moment Americans woke up from their food-induced comas, the holiday shopping season commenced. Neatly wrapped presents are not the only things being bought, as baseball teams are in a mad dash to scoop up the remaining free agents before they are outfoxed or outbid by another.

The Boston Red Sox made a major impact by locking down perhaps the two best available hitters on the market in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Signing just one of them would have been mildly surprising, but inking both was a shock to the baseball world. Looking to keep pace in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays countered by landing star third baseman Josh Donaldson in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. If this past week is any indication, the remainder of the offseason promises to be full of a lot more surprises!

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*Former pitcher Luis Tiant recently turned 74. The flamboyant right-hander won 229 games during a 19-year major league career spent with six teams—but his greatest success came with the Red Sox. This picture is a classic representation of “El Tiante,” relaxing in a whirlpool after a game, and presumably after one of his victories—perhaps one of his 49 career shutouts.

*Another former player who had a recent birthday is the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, who would have been 100 years old on November 25th. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder passed away in 1999 and is widely considered to be one of the most respected, if not best players of all time. In 13 years with the Yankees (he missed three full years due to military service), he hit .325 with 361 home runs. However, not all buy into the hype. Baseball historian John Thorn believes “Joltin’ Joe” may be somewhat overrated with the narrative taking over the actual results. He certainly isn’t denigrating him by any means, but rather pointing out that the nostalgic light he has been cast in over time has perhaps exaggerated the way he is remembered and placed among the greats of the game.

*Speaking of former Yankees greats, check out these two video clips of Babe Ruth that were recently uncovered. One is footage of him playing on an All Star team in Japan in 1927, while the other is of one of his at-bats during a 1929 game against the Washington Senators. It’s a fantastic find, and one can only hope that more continue to surface to allow modern fans to have a better understanding and appreciation of these players from bygone eras.

*The folks at Baseball History Daily have dug up yet another gem. Bobby Eager played for nearly a decade as a backup catcher in minor leagues in California in the early 1900s. His skill as a receiver was modest, as evidenced by his .213 career batting average. However, he was popular with fans and later found a niche as an occasional sports columnist with the San Jose News. Some examples of his work were dug up and can be enjoyed again by new generations.

*Don Zimmer spent over 60 years in professional baseball as a player, coach and manager. Sadly, he passed away earlier this year but his legacy lives on as someone who impacted many during his time in the game. Jean Mackin of WMUR News reports how Zim was recently honored in Windham, New Hampshire for his special connection with the town. He and his family were deeply involved with the Windham Endowment for Community Advancement, a local nonprofit organization. It’s nice to see that the baseball legend used his success as a platform to spread goodwill and assistance to others- a legacy and impact that will likely be felt even longer than what he did on the field.

*This incredible piece by The Sporting News’ Tim Hagerty tells the tragic story of B.F. Hicks, a player for a town ball team just outside of Pittsburgh who made a fatal catch in the outfield during a 1906 game.

Hicks was a railroad worker who also enjoyed playing baseball with his coworkers. During the fateful game described in the article, he went back to catch deep drive off the bat of an opposing player. The field they were playing on bordered a rail line, and as the backpedaling fielder caught the ball, he stumbled on to the tracks and was instantly killed by an oncoming train. Although he lost his life, amazingly he still had the ball nestled in his glove when horrified onlookers rushed up to his lifeless body. Although the story sounds like a tall tale, it appears to be true. However, the only known report of the incident appeared in the 1907 Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide.

*Hall-of-Fame debating season is upon us once again, as the 2015 ballot was just announced. 17 newbies are making their first appearance, including legendary pitchers Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, who should both be shoo-ins when the votes are tallied late next year.

Forbes’ Tom Van Riper has compiled a list of who he believes are the 20 biggest Hall-of-Fame snubs. Every baseball fan more or less has a list in their head of those they believe are deserving but have not yet gotten their call to the Hall. Take a peek and see how much (or little) you agree with him.

*Following up on the Hall-of-Fame debate,’s Matt Snyder compares Martinez with Sandy Koufax, one of the most dominant pitchers in history. What he finds may or may not surprise you.

*Finally, some interesting footage of former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner being honored by fans later in his life. The right-handed hitter was one of the best players in the history of the game, but little visual evidence remains from his career because he was retired before the end of World War I. It is unknown when this celebration took place, but the best guess would be sometime in the 1930s.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ramble On Podcast: What to Make of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval Signing with the Boston Red Sox

Check out the current edition of the Ramble On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss the recent acquisition of free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval by the Boston Red Sox. We also debate whether or not we think Jon Lester makes a return to Beantown.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate!

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pokey Reese Perseveres: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 23, 2014

Baseball free agency kicked off in high gear with catcher Russell Martin inking a lucrative long-term deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The signing not only indicates that the Jays are in it to win it in 2015, but that there should be plenty of cash flowing around over the next few months. It used to be that only a few select teams would be serious spenders, but these days there is much more parity when it comes to who dips into the available talent pool.

Now, let’s move on to the notes for the week.

*Unbelievably, former pitcher Dwight “Doc” Gooden recently turned 50. A teenaged phenom who came up with the New York Mets in the mid-1980s, the right-hander had an excellent career, but one that was stunted because of off-field issues. The Studious Metsimus Blog takes a look at how he was able to persevere despite his troubles.

At the age of 20, Gooden was an incredible 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA with the Mets in 1985, winning the Cy Young. While he had other strong seasons, he never approached that level of dominance again. His career spanned 16 years with five teams, and he accumulated a 194-112 record and 3.51 ERA. However, given his struggles with substance abuse, the way he finished out strongly (including winning the 2000 World Series with the New York Yankees in his final season) is a testament to his redemption.

*Sadly, it seems every week there is at least one death of a current or former ballplayer to report. Most recently, Ray Sadecki passed away at the age of 73. During an 18-year major league career that spanned 1960-1977 with six different teams, the left-handed pitcher was a combined 135-131 with a 3.78 ERA. His best season came in 1964, as he went 20-11 with a 3.68 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. That culminated in him winning one of his two starts in that year’s World Series, as his team edged the New York Yankees four games to three.

Sadecki was perhaps best known for being traded in 1966 by the Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants straight up for slugging future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda, who at the time was at the peak of his career.

*Moe Berg was a nondescript journeyman backup catcher for 15 major league seasons from 1923-1939. He hit just .243 with six home runs during that time in just a total of 1,813 at-bats. He was better known for his intellect, multiple Ivy League degrees and later his reputation as an international spy. That’s right; he was literally an international man of mystery in addition to his work on the baseball diamond. This podcast is an hour of all things Moe Berg for anyone wanting to know about this fascinating character from the game’s past.

*During an eight-year major league career, infielder Pokey Reese was best known for his cool name and super slick glove. He hit a combined .248 with 44 home runs, 271 RBIs, 144 stolen bases and two Gold Glove Awards for the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, his last game as a big leaguer was the clinching Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, as the Red Sox took home their first championship in 86 years.

Despite his commendable career, nothing has come easy for Reese, who has experienced a good deal of tragedy. Now ten years removed from a major league roster, he is the subject of an excellent profile by The State’s Neil White.

*Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor was recently hired as the newest manager of the Minnesota Twins. Prior to that, he was one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen—no thanks to the umpires. Following a disputed call in 1995, he was ejected by Al Clark, who filed the following mandatory report detailing the incident. It’s quite an interesting read, but if you really like it, you can actually buy it through an auction. It’s never too early to be on the lookout for holiday gift ideas!

*A hat tip to @RonJuckett for the following tidbit. A recent piece in Golf Digest by W.G. Ramirez details golfer Jeff Flagg winning the 2014 World Long Drive Championship at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. What brings this back to baseball is that prior to smashing drives down the fairways, he was crushing balls as a professional ballplayer.

Flagg was a 2008 27th-round draft choice of the New York Mets. He played a total of five seasons as a first baseman in the minors and with independent league teams, hitting a combined .247 with 58 home runs. His best season was his last, as he hit .248 with 20 homers and 83 RBIs in 96 games for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League in 2012.

*Here’s a really classic black and white photo of Mickey Mantle at old Yankee Stadium.
*And here are some photos of old baseball stadiums back when they were in their glory. It is worth a watch, especially for anyone who reminisces about the “good old days.”

*The 125th anniversary of the formation of the Players League, an attempt at a player-run professional baseball league that folded after its lone season of 1890, just passed. Deadspin’s W.M. Akers nails a profile of the efforts of players, led by shortstop and lawyer John Montgomery Ward, to create something that would allow them to play the game professionally, but not under the thumb of penny-pinching owners.

Ward, who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, is one of the most interesting yet relatively unknown figures in baseball history. In addition to being an outstanding player, he was also an intellect and social figure (even marrying a Broadway actress). In 1885 he founded the Brotherhood of American Base Ball Players, in an attempt to unionize players. Although it eventually petered out, it was a genesis for the powerful MLB players’ union that operates today.

*Slugger Dick Allen was known for his prodigious power, cracking 351 home runs in a 15-year major league career. The right-handed hitter could park them no matter where he was playing. What made his feats all the more impressive was the tree trunk-esque bats he swung. This short video clip is of Allen describing the 42-ounce lumber he would bring to the plate. The kind of torque it takes to turn around a 90+ MPH fastball is one thing, but it is another thing entirely altogether when doing it with such a heavy cudgel.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew