HOF Candidates: 95-91
Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 95: Willie Davis Score: 23.86 There's a lost generation of players in the 1960s who, because they didn't put up the sorts of numbers that people had grown used to seeing from young stars, were saddled with that awful word: disappointment. You know the names -- Vada Pinson, Frank Howard, Norm Cash, Tommy Davis; it's somewhat true of Dick Allen and Jimmy Wynn and Jim Gentile and even Roger Maris.
Willie Davis was a 6-foot-2, 180-pound prodigy; he seemed utterly built to play baseball. At a high schooler, he pitched, but mostly he ran track. He ran 100 yards in 9.5 seconds. He also set a national record by broad-jumping 25 feet, 6 inches -- he did this even though, he admitted, he never even practiced the event.
The Dodgers signed him for what one newspaper writer called "milkshake money" (it was actually $5,000). The newspapers reported that they taught him how to hit left-handed. If so, they certainly taught him well. At 19, he went to Reno and hit .365 with 40 doubles, 16 triples, 15 homers, and 33 stolen bases. He was quickly promoted to Class AAA Spokane, where he was even better, hitting .346 with 43 doubles, 12 homers, 30 stolen bases and a mind-blowing 26 triples. He came to the big leagues for a month and crushed it, launching skyscraping dreams. One writer wondered when he would lead the league in four different categories.
The base expectation was he would win a batting title. He never did. The expectation was that he might hit .400. He never hit better than .311. The expectation was that he would win at least one MVP award, perhaps several. He never even finished in the top 15 in the voting.
"Whom the Gods wish to destroy," the English writer Cyril Connolly wrote, "they first call promising."
People judged Willie Davis on what he was not and plainly missed what he was -- a breathtaking outfielder who hit with some power and stole 400 bases despite playing in the worst-hitting stadium in the worst-hitting decade in memory.
For his career, Davis hit .279/.311/.412 -- his main flaw as a hitter was he almost never walked.
But if you neutralize those numbers -- that is, try to put Davis into a more neutral hitting environment - they jump to .291/.323/.429, which looks pretty decent for a Gold Glove centerfielder. All of his numbers jump about 10 percent if you could change his time and place. That could have changed everything about the perception -- he might have stuck around for a run at 3,000 hits, he might have made more All-Star teams (he made two), he might have gotten more respect.
But you don't get to change your time and place. Willie Davis had a 60 WAR career despite a low on-base percentage which could put him in the Hall of Fame neighborhood. But it doesn't. No one talks about him as a Hall of Famer. He got zero votes in his one year on the ballot. Many, alas, have never heard of him.
No. 94: John Franco Score: 24.57 Franco ... Jesse Orosco ... Sparky Lyle ... Bob Stanley ... Randy Myers ... Doug Jones ... Kent Tekulve ... I imagine K-Rod and Jonathan Papelbon will go on this list too ... these are pitchers who put up impressive careers as closers or late-inning relievers but it's entirely unclear what that should mean in the Hall of Fame context.
Franco, in particular. holds the record for most saves by a left-handed closer, just ahead of Billy Wagner:
Franco, 424 saves
Randy Myers, 347
Dave Righetti, 242
Sparky Lyle, 238
Franco was fun to watch -- or torturous, I suppose, from a different vantage point -- because he was not going to ever do it the easy way. He was going to peck, peck, nibble, peck, fastball down and away, change-up out of the zone, change-up out of the zone, fastball in, change-up out of the zone.
Of his 424 saves, he gave up a baserunner in 273 of them.
In 69 of his saves, he gave up at least one hit AND at least one walk. That's a record.
In 54 of his saves, he gave up at least THREE base runners. That's also a record.
But he somehow would get the save time and again. He was a New Yorker through and through -- grew up in Brooklyn, starred at St. John's, found his greatest success with the Mets -- and what made him so appealing, I think, is that he often seemed the archetypal New York con artist surviving on wits, guile and pure chutzpah.
No. 93: Gene Tenace Score: 25.02 On Oct. 21, 1972, at Riverfront Stadium, a woman stood in line to buy a standing-room ticket when she distinctly heard a man say this:
"If Gene Tenace hits a home run today, he won't walk out of this ballpark."
The woman was obviously a bit freaked out ... because the threat seemed real. Gene Tenace had, practically overnight, become the talk of baseball. Nobody had expected it. Tenace was 26 years old and had been a part-time player his entire big-league career. The coolest thing he had accomplished up to that week was playing all nine positions in a 1967 minor league game while with the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League.
Gene had been roughly raised by his father, Fiore, to be a ballplayer. Fiore was a Navy man, a ditch-digger and a truck driver, a blue-collar son of immigrants who had played a little semi-professional baseball. He would scream at his son so violently -- "He would especially cuss Gene out if he didn't swing at a third strike," Gene's mother Ethel told The New York Times' Ira Berkow -- that Gene developed ulcers at 13 and had to be home-schooled for a year.
"Gene would just stand there and take it," Ethel went on. "I remember tears would run down his cheeks. 'Didn't I tell you to swing at a third strike? How come you didn't swing?' ... Gene didn't say anything except, 'I don't know.'"
There are so many of those father-son stories in baseball. In any case, Gene Tenace kicked around the game until late in the 1972 season, when he was 25 years old and was given the everyday catcher's job because Dave Duncan just wasn't hitting (he hit .163 in August). Tenace didn't hit much better, and then in the ALCS against Detroit, he went 1 for 17. Nobody was too excited about him starting in the World Series against the Reds.
[caption id="attachment_24323" align="aligncenter" width="410"] Tenace was an unlikely MVP in the '72 Series.[/caption]
But, in the end, Dick Williams stuck with Tenace. In Game 1, Gene came up with a man on in the second inning. He homered. The Reds tied the game, and Tenace came up in the fifth. He homered again, and the A's won 3-2.
In Game 4, with the game scoreless, Tenace came up in the fifth. He homered.
In Game 5, with the A's down a run, Tenace came up with two on. He homered for the fourth time in five games.
It was remarkable. Nobody knew then that Tenace was actually a really good player. From 1973 to '80, he would put up about 40 wins above replacement by becoming a three-true-outcome force -- he twice led the league in walks, he struck out a bunch, he had low averages and he hit quite a few home runs: 29 in 1975, when he made his only All-Star team.
So before Game 6, a woman overheard that man threatening to kill Tenace if he homered, and she told the police. In short order, they arrested a 32-year-old Louisville man named Elwood King, who had a loaded pistol and a bottle of whiskey.
Tenace did not homer that game or the next ... but in Game 7, his RBI single in the first inning gave the A's an early lead. Then, in the sixth, with the score tied, he broke things open with an RBI double (and his pinch-runner scored what would be the game-clinching run). That was his World Series.
But the last word goes to Mike Epstein, who went 0 for 16 in the World Series. "No one would even bother shooting me," he said.
No. 92: Mark Teixeira Score: 25.62 It's striking how similar Mark Teixeira's career is to Gil Hodges'. They were both power-hitting first basemen with reputations as great defenders.
Hodges got 8,102 plate appearances, Teixeira 8,029.
Total bases: Hodges 3,422, Teixeira 3,533.
Hodges scored 1,105 runs and drove in 1,274.
Teixeira scored 1,099 runs and drove in 1,298
Hodges had a 120 OPS+, Tex had a 126 OPS+.
Hodges won three Gold Gloves and would undoubtedly have won several more had the Gold Glove been invented earlier.
Tex won five Gold Gloves and many thought he deserved a couple more.
By WAR, Tex has a modest advantage, 51.8 to 44.9.
But Hodges' Hall of Fame case has more intangible oomph because he played for those Boys of Summer Dodgers -- he played in seven World Series -- and he managed the Miracle Mets before dying too young.
Anyway, it seemed kind of interesting.
No. 91: Davey Lopes Score: 25.62 I think my favorite Davey Lopes' statistic is that in 1985, at the age of 40, he stole 47 bases and was caught just four times. That's ridiculous. Somehow, somewhere, Davey Lopes had become a Zen Master of the stolen base. He learned the secret. He was the One.
Lopes was a brilliantly fast and apparently raw baseball talent when the Dodgers drafted him in the second round out of Washburn University in Topeka back in 1968. He played in the minors for five years -- playing numerous different positions along the way -- and didn't really get a chance in the big leagues until he was 28. He got one third-place vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting of 1973, which offers us a chance to look back at that rookie class, which was really something.
Winner: Gary Matthews, Sarge, finished with a 118 OPS+, 234 homers, 30 WAR.
Second: Steve Rogers, five-time All-Star, 158 wins, second in Cy Young voting in 1982, 45 WAR.
Third: Bob Boone, seven-time Gold Glover, one of greatest defensive catchers ever, 27 WAR.
(tied): Dan Driessen, 150 homers, 150 stolen bases, junior member of Big Red Machine, 21 WAR.
(tie) Elias Sosa: 12-year career, 601 games pitched, 9 WAR.
(tie) Roy Cey: six-time All-Star, 54 WAR, more on him coming.
And then Davey Lopes. So that's pretty good.
In 1975, at age 30, Lopes had a terrific season, scoring 108 runs, stealing a league-best 77 bases and playing above-average defense. The next year, he was hurt, but he still stole an NL-best 63 bases.
Then he began adding power to his game. In 1978, he hit a career-high 17 home runs. In 1979, he topped that by hitting 28 homers, and he also walked 97 times.
All the while, he was a terrific base stealer. But in his late 30s, when he presumably began to slow down, he ascended to the mountaintop.
At age 38, he stole 22 of 26 bases.
At age 39, he stole all 15 bases he attempted.
At age 40, as mentioned, he stole 47 out of 51.
This is insane, That's 84 out of 92 bases, 91.3%, for a man at 40. In all, Lopes stole 111 bases after age 38, and only Rickey Henderson (an amazing 220) and Otis Nixon (111) stole that many. But neither one of them or anyone else was even close to Lopes' stolen base percentage as an old player.
Highest stolen base percentages after age 38 (min. 25 SBs)
Lopes, 111 of 128, 86.7%
Joe Morgan, 50 of 59, 84.7%
Kenny Lofton, 77 of 92, 83.7%
Otis Nixon, 122 of 148, 82.4%
Paul Molitor, 50 of 62, 80.6%
Gary Sheffield, 33 of 41, 80.5%
Rickey Henderson, 220 of 275, 80%
Ichiro Suzuki, 86 of 108, 79.6%
Willie Mays, 39 of 49, 79.5%
Craig Biggio, 25 of 33, 75.8%