HOF Candidates: 80-76
Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 80: Jimmy Wynn Score: 29.81 "The first time a sportswriter saw James Sherman Wynn hit a curveball 450 feet out over the Astrodome, he looked at the dimensions of the home run, and then the dimensions of the home run hitter, and immediately thought of pocket battleships, toy bulldogs, snub-nosed revolvers -- and came up with the compromise descriptive metaphor, 'The Toy Cannon.'" -- Jim Murray, 1975
Jimmy Wynn had big ideas. His father, Joe, was a driven ballplayer himself. He continued to play in Cincinnati sandlot leagues even as he approached 50, and he raised his son not to be an ordinary baseball player but, instead, a superstar. With Joe pushing him, Jimmy Wynn never even had the slightest temptation to moderate expectations just because he grew to be 5-foot-9 or so and was often compared to a fire hydrant. "I was always athletic, even back to kindergarten," he told reporters. "And I never felt my size was a handicap to being a power hitter, and it hasn't."
That's why one of my favorite Jimmy Wynn quotes comes from 1970, when he was asked his goals.
"What do I want?" he said. "Well, first to be able to help this team win a pennant for the Houston fans who've been so good. Then, I'd like to be the first Houston player to make $100,000. And yes, the Triple Crown."
That's right: Jimmy Wynn -- a lifetime .250 hitter who never hit .285 in a season, much less .300, much less what it would take to win a batting title -- fully wanted to win the Triple Crown. And as he talked about, he listed off the other players he thought had a chance at winning a Triple Crown -- he included Dick Allen, Willie McCovey, Henry Aaron and maybe Tony Perez.
"I don't think Lee May hits for good enough average," he said. "And Pete Rose doesn't hit enough long balls."
Lee May's lifetime batting average was 17 points HIGHER than Wynn's, but the point is -- the guy thought big. All the time. He might not have been a high batting average kind of hitter, but he saw in himself the possibilities to hit .350. He always saw in himself the possibilities. And that's why he had a 56-WAR career.
Wynn and Joe Morgan roomed together for seven years in Houston -- it's quite astonishing that two terrific players with such eerily similar strengths would room together. Morgan said they learned from each other, and you can see that. They were both small players with power (Wynn had more) speed (Morgan had more) and extraordinary patience. They both hit for relatively low averages, but they walked a bunch.
They were both also viewed as underachievers while in Houston.
Morgan was able to change the story entirely when he was traded to the Reds. From 1972 to '76, Morgan was about as good as anyone in the last half-century, and he breezed into the Hall of Fame.
Wynn was also traded to a contender, the Dodgers, and he did have one sensational season, 1974, when he hit .271/.387/.497, a 151 OPS+, 32 homers, 108 RBIs, 104 runs, a 7.7 WAR. Nobody could see it at the time because batting average so overpowered everything else, but he had a better year than his teammate, Steve Garvey, who won the MVP award. Wynn declined some in 1975 (though he still managed a .400 OBP because of 110 walks) and declined more in 1976 with the Braves (127 walks -- he always could walk) and then he was done.
No. 79: Bob Boone Score: 29.95 "Bob Boone does not deal well with idiots, which is inconvenient because Bob Boone happens to believe there are more than a few idiots running around."
I wrote those words in 1997, when Boone was managing the Kansas City Royals. Well, hey, he was a handful. Every conversation with Bob -- even the most casual kind -- felt like a job interview with a hiring manager who clearly had put a big red X on your resume before you ever walked in the room.
"Soon," he told me once, "people are going to figure out I know what I'm doing."
"Well," I said, "as you know, there are a lot of people in Kansas City who don't like you."
"They'll like me if we win," he said.
They undoubtedly would have liked him if that had happened, but it didn't, and he was fired at the All-Star break. Later, he managed the Reds for two and a half seasons and got fired again.
Bob had, in my mind, 75 percent of what was needed to be a great manager. He's a baseball genius, I do believe that. When you've caught 2,200 games -- and Bob Boone was one of the greatest defensive catchers ever -- you learn some things. I've heard him give some master class thoughts on all kinds of baseball things -- the pitcher-hitter battle, the rhythms of the game, the psyche of ballplayers, etc.
So what was missing?
Well, two things. One: His teams stunk. There's just not a lot you can do about that. The best player on those Reds teams was probably Elmer Dessens. The best player on those Royals teams was probably a fading Kevin Appier. Bob tried to manage his way through that -- he ran so many lineups out there that the Kansas City Star created a special box in the paper to keep track -- but, realistically, he was going to lose.
But there was something else. Being a manager requires a delicate balance. You have to be in charge. But you also have to bring out the best in people. You have to be smart. But you also have to be willing to adapt. Bob was better at some things than others.
No. 78: Rick Reuschel Score: 30.12 No matter how many times you see it, that career 68 WAR of Rick Reuschel (same for both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, even though they calculate WAR differently) looks like a misprint.
So I've written about this before: When I was young, baseball card dealers separated cards into four separate boxes*:
Box 1: Hall of Famers
Box 2: Stars (or superstars)
Box 3: Minor stars
Box 4: Commons
*There's actually a fifth box -- rookie cards -- and some dealers also had a box for specialty cards, but those aren't relevant to this discussion.
Because I was a rabid card collector for a while, I still think of players being in one of those boxes. What's funny is that there was never an OFFICIAL designation. Each dealer separated the players in his or her own way. Sure, there were a few universal choices (George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Rod Carew, Tom Seaver, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, etc.) but with other players, you would see fluctuation -- and the fluctuations always said more about the dealer than the player.
[caption id="attachment_24357" align="aligncenter" width="479"] Reuschel's 68 WAR seems like a misprint to most people.[/caption]
For instance, a dealer might put Joe Morgan or Gaylord Perry in the minor stars. This might indicate the dealer was looser in standards or sloppier in organizing their cards.
Some dealers would put Kirk Gibson or Harold Baines in their superstars' box, and we'd be like: "Come on, I'm not paying superstar prices for those guys."
But here's the point: I never once saw Rick Reuschel in ANYTHING but a commons box. Not even the most tight-fisted dealer would try to get minor-star prices for Reuschel. He was just: common.
Only, he wasn't common. Reuschel did get some love in his time; he did make three All-Star teams and twice finished third in the Cy Young voting. But he was viewed as just a guy -- it's interesting, if you look at his Top 5 Baseball Reference comps, you can see the kind of player he was perceived as being:
No. 1: Jim Perry No. 2: Jerry Reuss No. 3: Claude Osteen No. 4: Larry Jackson No. 5: Mickey Lolich
Yes, that's right, good pitchers, not great pitchers. You would find all five of those guys in the commons box. (With the occasional exception of Lolich, who was sometimes pulled out as a minor star.) Reuschel seems to fit here.
But then you look at their career WAR and realize he doesn't fit here at all:
Reuschel: 68.3 J. Perry: 38.6 Reuss: 33.0 Osteen: 37.1 Jackson: 52.7 Lolich: 48.2
So what if you group him with his WAR compatriots. Well, that looks like this:
Reuschel: 68.3 Amos Rusie (Hall of Famer): 68.2 Kevin Brown: 68.4 Red Faber (Hall of Famer) 68.5 Don Sutton (Hall of Famer): 68.5 Jim Palmer (Hall of Famer): 68.0 Carl Hubbell (Hall of Famer) 68,7
And, honestly, it doesn't feel quite right to put him there, either. This is Rick Reuschel, a pitcher without a country.
No. 77: Vada Pinson Score: 30.26 From 1959 to 1961, Vada Pinson hit .315, slugged .495, and averaged 200 hits, 113 runs, 39 doubles, 10 triples, 19 homers and 25 stolen bases per season. He made four All-Star Games (remember they used to have two All-Star Games a year), won a Gold Glove and finished third in the MVP balloting, getting beaten by his teammate Frank Robinson in a vote that, looking back, could have gone either way.* He was 22 years old.
*Aaron and Mays were better than both of them, as you might expect, but the Reds surprisingly won the pennant and, in those days, that usually meant getting the MVP too.
Pinson never made another All-Star team, never won another Gold Glove, and was too rarely brought up in any other context other than to lament his untapped potential. He finished with 2,757 hits, which allowed him to stay on the ballot for 15 years, but in the end he just never got Hall of Fame momentum.
No. 76: Rocky Colavito Score: 30.45 I have a memory, but I'm not sure it's real. I believe that I once saw Rocky Colavito -- this was when he was coaching for the Tribe -- stand at home plate before a game and throw the ball over the outfield fence. I have a very clear and vivid memory of seeing him do it.
But you know how memory is: It's very possible that someone else, maybe even my dad, told me about seeing the Rock do that, and I inserted that into my personal memory.
The Rock was a larger-than-life figure in Cleveland when I was growing up -- even before Terry Pluto wrote The Curse of Rocky Colavito. I remember being stunned to learn that he was not in the Hall of Fame. In my world, he was Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and Frank Robinson.
From 1956 to 1966, Colavito hit 358 home runs -- only Mays, Aaron, Mantle, and Robinson hit more (Rock hit more than Banks, Mathews and Killebrew). He was celebrated as a dazzling right fielder because of that impossibly strong arm (and he WAS a great right fielder until he turned 30 or so). He hit as many as 45 homers, scored as many as 129 runs, drove in as many as 140 runs, and he's not in the Hall of Fame because, like Dale Murphy and Nomar Garciaparra and Jesse Barfield and Curt Flood, he was basically done at 31.