The Golden Era Ballot

Have to say — I love this year’s Golden Era Ballot for the Hall of Fame. Last year’s Expansion Era ballot, in retrospect, was a bit of a disappointment. What I mean is that several of the candidates — Garvey, John, Parker, Concepcion, Marvin Miller — were a bit like reruns. Their cases already had been argued again and again. A powerful and fairly overwhelming consensus had been reached: Their careers fell short of the Hall.

In some cases (particularly Marvin Miller) I strongly disagree with the consensus But there are many consensuses that I disagree with; that doesn’t mean it changes.Looking back, last year’s ballot was set up for three managers (Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre) to sail in without any hard questions holding up their enshrinement. And that’s what happened. In the end, i think the Hall of Fame is better for it. But it wasn’t an especially good process.

In case you haven’t seen it, Bill James offers a dramatically different way to vote in Hall of Famers, and I’ll have a lot to say about it next week sometime. Bill’s is a completely different way to do things. And whether you like his ideas or not, his process opens up a lot of fascinating questions about the Hall of Fame process, especially with these Veteran’s Committees. Anyway, more on Bill’s thoughts later. This year’s Golden Era ballot is generally wonderful in a way that the Expansion Era ballot was not. By that I mean it has a bunch of players — Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Luis Tiant, Billy Pierce jin particular — who have NOT had their cases heard for a long time. I mean, every year for fifteen years people banged around Dave Parker and Steve Garvey — not just the BBWAA writers but baseball fans across the country. By the time they showed up on the Expansion Era ballot, the vast majority agreed they were not Hall of Famers.

But Dick Allen — his case was not especially well debated by the BBWAA. There have been a few skirmish arguments about him, but nothing on center stage. Same thing with: Tony Oliva and Ken Boyer and Luis Tiant and Minnie Minoso and Maury Wills. Decades have gone by since their careers were looked at it in a fresh way. Maybe that’s just the time. Dave Parker or Steve Garvey might be interesting cases again in 10 or 20 years..

The Veteran’s Committee will announce their choice(s) Monday at the Winter Meetings in San Diego — I’m heading out West right now, writing this on the plane. I will be fascinated to see what they come up with.

In the meantime, here’s my not-so-quick rundown of the 10 candidates:

* * *

Dick Allen Comparable Hall of Famers: Home Run Baker, Harmon Killebrew, Orlando Cepeda, Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice.

Dick Allen has an intricate Hall of Fame case, which probably makes sense because Allen was an intricate personality. Consider just one fact: From the end of the 1969 season through the 1975 season, Allen was traded five times. Five. He was traded to St. Louis in the famous Curt Flood deal, and less than a year later the Cardinals dumped him for Ted Sizemore. The Dodgers sent him to Chicago for Tommy John, he won an MVP award, but was still traded three years later to Atlanta for that well-traveled Player to be Named Later. The Braves shipped him back to Philadelphia six months later for Barry Bonnell, Jim Essian and 150K in cash.

Now: Why did teams keep trading away Dick Allen? This seems to be at the center of the Dick Allen career debate. Was Allen a strong African-American figure treated unfairly because of prejudices of the time? Undoubtedly. Was Allen a hard character who irritated the heck out of certain people? Undoubtedly. Was Dick Allen a fantastic hitter who intimidated even the best pitchers of his day? Yes. Was Allen a poor and sometimes uninterested defender who rarely played 150 games in a season. Yes to that too.

This is what being on the border of the Hall of Fame means. I remember years ago, someone was telling a Royals executive: “If Mark Grudzielanek could draw a walk, he would be one of the elite second baseman in the game.” The exec nodded and said, “Yeah, if Mark Grudzielanek could draw a walk, we couldn’t afford him.”

So it goes with Dick Allen. If Dick Allen could have stayed healthy and successful for four or five more years, he would have been elected first ballot. If he had been a Gold Glove defender in addition to that powerful bat, he would have been elected first ballot. If he had been an inspirational leader of great teams, he would have been elected first ballot. You could even argue that if he had played in a better offensive time, his numbers would have pushed him over some Hall of Fame standards (like 400 homers) and his career would have been viewed a bit differently.

But he just wasn’t any of those things. So, we are left with a case of an obviously spectacular hitter (his 156 OPS+ ranks Top 20 all time) with a short and controversial career.

By the way: I actually don’t think the controversial part is why Allen was bumped from the ballot so quickly. I’m sure SOME voters took that into consideration. But in a larger sense — he did not reach 2,000 hits, did not hit .400 home runs, did not hit .300, and he had fewer career RBIs than Greg Luzinski, Willie Horton and Vic Wertz.

Look at this comparison:

Dick Allen: .292/.378/.534, 351 homers, 1119 RBIs, 1099 runs, led league in homers twice, RBIs once.

Frank Howard: .273/.352/.499, 382 homers, 1119 RBIs, 864 runs, led league in homers twice, RBIs once.

Frank Howard went on the ballot in 1979. He was a very popular figure, a very nice man, he led the champion 1963 Dodgers in homers, he was a beloved star in Washington, and he had his numbers suppressed by his time and place even more than Allen. Here is how their numbers neutralize:

Allen: .307/.396/.561, 378 homers,1,261 RBIs, 1,238 runs. Howard: .292/.373/.531, 421 homers, 1,305 RBIs, 1,009 runs.

Point is, Howard went on the ballot in 1979 with a case not unlike Dick Allen’s — subtract a little bit of offense balanced by subtracting a little bit of offensiveness — and Howard got SIX votes. Six. He has never been considered again. Dick Allen went on the ballot four years later and he got 14 votes. Then he was put back on the ballot and never quite got 20%.

So, no, I don’t think it was necessarily Allen’s personality that made him fall short. I think his career numbers just didn’t get him there for the BBWAA. Now, this committee takes a fresh look at his career, and the case is as borderline as ever. I’d vote Dick Allen into the Hall of Fame. But I’m a Big Hall person — I think the Hall of Fame is WAY too bogged down with players from the early part of the 20th Century who were not as good as Dick Allen. In my big Hall of Fame he’s in. In your smaller Hall of Fame, he might fall short. That’s what borderline Hall of Famer means.

* * *

Ken Boyer

Comparable Hall of Famers: Ron Santo, Lou Boudreau, Ryne Sandberg.

Brilliant defensive third baseman without classically great offensive numbers have never done well in the BBWAA Hall of Fame voting. Boyer, Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell all have somewhat similar Hall of Fame cases and all three have fallen well short. Nettles is definitely a guy I’d like to see get another look.

Boyer won the MVP award in 1964 — it was probably his third or fourth best year, but he led the league in RBIs and the Cardinals came from way back so the narrative carried the day. It was his last good year.

Boyer from 1958 to 1961 hit .313/.378/.525, won and deserved the Gold Glove ever year. He played only slightly below that remarkable level the two years before that and three years after. So, for nine years, Ken Boyer played at what I think is clearly a Hall of Fame level. Trouble for him was that he didn’t add much to his case in his other six seasons in the big leagues. First ballot Hall of Famers with 3,000 hits or 500 homers tend to have several productive but not especially good seasons. Boyer just didn’t have enough of those years to get BBWAA approval.

As a Big Hall proponent, I think Boyer is a Hall of Famer — I have him ahead of Allen on my list, which I will include at the end.

* * *

Gil Hodges

Comparable Hall of Famers: Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Jim Bottomley, Frank Chance.

My buddy Vac is one of Hodges’ most enthusiastic supporters, and so I’ve heard Hodges’ case backward and forward, and I appreciate it. Great power hitter. Beloved figured for the Boys of Summer Dodgers. Superb defensive first baseman who would have racked up a bunch of Gold Gloves if they had existed. Manager of the 1969 Mets.

He’s a BBWAA outlier — he received 60% of the Baseball Writers’ vote with seven years left on the ballot; that seemed to make him a sure choice. But, for some reason, his momentum just stopped right there. It seems that the 60% he received in 1976 was the culmination of emotion built up from Hodges’ untimely death in 1972 and the release of Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer” that same year. The momentum peaked in 1976, stayed there for the next few years, and then the last-gasp push the last year on the ballot could not get him to the 75% line.

I think Hodges’ number argument for the Hall of Fame falls short. There are too many first basemen not in the Hall of Fame who I think have significantly better statistical cases: Jeff Bagwell (of course); Rafael Palmeiro; Mark McGwire; Keith Hernandez; Will Clark and Fred McGriff to name only a few. I think Don Mattingly’s case is awfully similar to Hodges too. Hodges hit .273/.359/.487 with 370 homers, and he played in a very good offensive time and a bandbox of a ballpark — he hit 210 of his 370 homers at home.

So, Hodges case to me is an emotional one. He was one of the most adored players in baseball history. He managed the Miracle Mets. He represented the game with class and dignity. His election would make the Hall of Fame a better place.

* * *

Bob Howsam

Comparable Hall of Famers: George Weiss, Lee MacPhail, Bill Veeck, Pat Gillick.

Architect of the Big Red Machine. I wrote about him a lot in The Machine and have the greatest of admiration of him. He fits in to the Hall, but I don’t think he should be on this ballot with players. This is like putting a great podcast on the Oscars ballot. It’s good on its own; Howsam can’t be compared with players. This was the problem I had last year with the managers.

* * *

Jim Kaat

Comparable Hall of Famers: Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Bob Lemon.

Bill James once made the point that if you could just move around a few Kaat’s wins, you could create a Hall of Fame career. Bill did this by simply taking away four victories from various years, and adding two each to 1962 and 1965. By doing that, Kaat would have had five 20-win seasons instead of three, and he might have gotten more consideration when he got on the ballot.

I would argue something else: If Jim Kaat had retired after the 1977 season instead of pitching ifive more years as a swing-man and reliever, I think he would have his plaque in the Hall of Fame right now.

Here’s my argument:

Kaat came on the ballot in 1989. Nobody was looking at WAR or JAWS or any kind of advanced pitching stats. Wins carried the day — wins and Cy Young Awards. Kaat’s case was that he won 283 games, a good case historically. Up to that point, every single pitcher since 1900 with 275 or more wins was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. Well, there weren’t that many pitchers who had come on the ballot who had that many wins.

1. Walter Johnson (first ballot) 2. Warren Spahn (first ballot) 3. Christy Mathewson (first ballot) 4. Robin Roberts (fourth ballot) 5. Early Wynn (fourth ballot) 6. Lefty Grove (sort of first ballot — balloting different then) 7. Eddie Plank (sort of 6th ballot — voted on by Old Timer’s committee) 8. Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander (sort of third ballot)

So, Kaat’s case of 283 wins (not to mention a bajillion Gold Gloves) seemed to make him a pretty solid bet to get into the Hall. The trouble was that something happened in 1989 that is very similar to what has happened with hitters on the Hall of Fame ballots the last few years: There was an avalanche of pitchers with A LOT of wins and Cy Youngs:

1989: Gaylord Perry (314 wins, 2 CYs), Fergie Jenkins (284 wins, 1 CY), Jim Kaat (283 wins) 1990: Jim Palmer (268 wins, 3 CYs) 1992: Tom Seaver (311 wins, 3 CYs) 1993: Phil Niekro (318 wins) 1994: Steve Carlton (329 wins, 4 CYs), Don Sutton (324 wins) 1995: Tommy John (288 wins)

Kitty never had a chance. He happened to come on the ballot at exactly the wrong time … the BBWAA voters throughout history have had trouble dealing with an influx of too many qualified Hall of Famers. Even some of the 300 games winners did not go into the Hall right away.

The thing about Kaat is that if his career had followed a normal trajectory — that is, if he had not been good enough to keep getting big league jobs until he turned 44 — he might have retired after his rough 1977 season. At that point, his numbers would have looked like so:

254-212, 3.39 ERA, 2,289 Ks, 945 walks, 16 Gold Gloves, three 20-wins seasons.

So he wouldn’t have given up much in statistics. But he would have gone on the ballot in 1983 — and he would have been far and away the best first-year pitcher on that ballot. That year, 1983, was the year the BBWAA finally voted in Juan Marichal — it took three years largely because Marichal did not have 250 career wins. Kaat, of course, did have 250.

How would Kaat have done on the ballot? Well, he would have been compared with Marichal and Don Drysdale (209 wins) and Jim Bunning (224 wins). I’m not arguing that Kaat was as good a pitcher as those three — I’m just saying he had more wins than any of them and wins were a HUGE point for Hall of Fame voters then.

The next year, Drysdale got elected — and the best new pitcher on the ballot was probably Wilbur Wood with his 164 wins. Again, it would have been a pretty wide open ballot for a Jim Kaat with 254 career victories.

Catfish Hunter came on the ballot in 1985 — and the voters immediately ADORED him. Hunter, by most measures, was about the same pitcher as Kaat. He happened to play in better ballparks for better teams, but just compare their numbers:

Kaat (through 1977): 253-212, 3.39 ERA, 2,289 Ks, 945 walks, 3.37 FIP, 110 ERA+. Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 2,012 Ks, 954 walks, 3.66 FIP, 104 ERA+.

They both won 25 games in their best seasons but the timing gives you an idea of the two careers. When Hunter won 25 games in 1974, he won the Cy Young Award and pitched for a team that finished with the AL’s second-best record and won its third World Series in a row.

When Kaat won 25 games in 1966, there was only one Cy Young Award for both leagues — and that happened to be the year that the National League’s Sandy Koufax went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 Ks. He would have been the runaway winer if the AL had its own Cy Young. His team also finished with the AL’s second-best record, but only one team went to the postseason then.

Anyway, the voters loved Hunter. In part, he was a lovable character. Also: There just weren’t any new and interesting pitchers on the ballot. So they gave Hunter 54% of the vote his first year. No legit Hall of Fame candidates came on the ballot in 1986 (Jack Billingham was probably the best) and Hunter’s percentage skyrocketed to 68%. Same thing in 1987, no worthy Hall candidates joined the ballot (Steve Stone was the best new one) and Hunter got elected.

That is FIVE YEARS that Kitty could have been on the ballot with little-to-no competition. I think he would have been elected.

That is not to say that Jim Kaat SHOULD have retired in 1977. It is only to show how capricious Hall of Fame voting can be.

* * *

Minnie Minoso

Comparable Hall of Famers: Larry Doby, Kirby Puckett, Enos Slaughter, Lou Brock.

People on the Hall of Fame bubble generally fall into two groups:

— Players who played at a Hall of Fame level but had relatively short careers. — Players who had long and productive careers but may not have had a Hall of Fame peak.

The second category would include hitters like Harold Baines, Al Oliver, Vada Pinson, Rusty Staub and so on — maybe Fred McGriff is in this category — and in general, people do not get very excited about their cases. They will always have supporters, but the passion for players who compile impressive numbers but never quite captured the imagination as GREAT players tend not to spark much passion.

But the players who clearly WERE great players but not for very long — they have INTENSE followings. And this is especially true of a player like Minnie Minoso, whose career was shortened for the worst reasons. He began in the Negro Leagues and who did not get his real chance in the big leagues until he was 25, when he promptly hit .326/.422/.500 and led the league in triples, stolen bases and scored 112 runs.

Minoso played 11 full seasons in the Major Leagues. In those 11 seasons, he hit .305/.395/.471, scored 100 runs five times, drove in 100 runs three more, led the league in stolen bases and triples three times each, won Gold Gloves three of the first four years they were handed out, could have won the MVP award in 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 and probably should have won it in 1954.

The Top 5 players in WAR in the American League in the 1950s: 1. Mickey Mantle, 51.0 2. Ted Williams, 35.3 3. Minnie Minoso, 29.5 4. Yogi Berra, 29.1 5. Larry Doby, 25.8

That was the kind of player Minnie Minoso was in his day. And beloved. One of the most beloved players in the game’s history.

Was the career long enough? This is so often the question, though in Minoso’s case it is particularly poignant because of the time when he played. He was the first dark-skinned Latin player to make the All-Star team, and the first black player of any nationality to play in Chicago — which was one of the epicenters of black American culture in the 1950s. What would have been the progression of Minoso’s career had he been born even 10 years later? What kind of player would he have been had he not been forced to deal with the racism of the day?

To me Minoso’s case, like Doby’s case, is much larger than baseball. But on any level — emotional, statistical, historical — Minnie Minoso belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

* * *

Tony Oliva

Comparable Hall of Famers: Chuck Klein, Kiki Cuyler, Sam Rice, Heinie Manush.

One of my father’s favorite-ever players — Dad used to get excited whenever I got a Tony Oliva baseball card. Oliva’s case is plain — he was one of the best hitters in the game’s history. From 1964-191, Oliva hit .313 and slugged .508, he won three batting titles, led the league in doubles four times, in hits five times and in runs and slugging once. He ripped some of the most vicious line drives of his time or any other,

We have that question again: Was he great for long enough? He got fewer than 7,000 plate appearances in the big leagues.

With Oliva, though, I’d ask it in a slightly different way: What if he’d had exactly the same career only 40 years earlier. Oliva’s numbers — .304/.343/.476 — were certainly bridled by the time when he played. If he had played in the 1920s and 1930s, his numbers suddenly look a lot different:

Oliva’s numbers set against 1929 baseline: .331/.381/.518 with 239 homers, 1,101 RBIs, 1,014 runs. Chuck Klein: .320/.379/.543 with 300 homers, 1,201 RBIs, 1,168 runs. Hack Wilson: .307/.395/.545 with 244 homers, 1,063 RBIs, 884 rus. Earle Combs: .325/.397/..462 with 58 homers, 632 RBIs, 1,186 runs. Chick Havey: .317/.372/.526 with 164 homers, 833 RBIs, 777 runs.

He seems to match up with some of the other Hall of Famers … of course, I could argue pretty persuasively hat none of those four belongs in the Hall of Fame. I guess my point is that in another time Oliva, even in a short career, might have put up numbers so eye-popping that the Hall of Fame would have called. But the combination of a short career and an era dominated by pitching hurt his cause.

* * *

Billy Pierce

Comparable Hall of Famers: Hal Newhouser, Catfish Hunter, Bob Lemon, Whitey Ford.

Pierce is exactly my favorite kind of candidate — most of us had no idea that he was so good. He got almost zero support from the BBWAA at the same time that they were voting in Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. Pierce was about as good a pitcher as either one.

Pierce was a slight lefty with a hot fastball. He was probably the best pitcher in the American League in both 1953 and 1955. Nobody really knew it then because Pierce won 18 games the first of those years and just 15 the second and because the White Sox used him as a starter-reliever Swiss army knife. His 1955 season is representative— he made 26 starts (completing 16 of them), made seven relief appearances (which included three saves), and in September he pitched two shutouts and finished two games on two day’s rest. He led the league that year in ERA and WHiP.

The next three years, he led the American League in complete games. In two of those years, he won The Sporting News pitcher of the year, which was sort of the Cy Young of its time.

In all, Pierce went 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA and 119 ERA-plus. He and Kaat have similar cases, I think — Kaat has the wins and longevity, Pierce was I think bit better in his prime.

* * *

Luis Tiant

Comparable Hall of Famers: Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal.

All the stuff I wrote about Jim Kaat’s poor Hall of Fame timing is true of Tiant too. Had he retired three years earlier, I think he would have had an excellent chance to reach the Hall. As it was, he got wiped out by the pitching barrage. Incidentally, I think you can say the same thing these days about guys like Tim Raines and Fred McGriff getting buried by the hitting barrage.

But with Tiant, there’s something else — few players in baseball history have so vividly had two separate careers. Tiant’s first career was as ferocious power pitcher for Cleveland. It was a bit hard to imagine when you saw the roly-poly version of El Tiante twisting and gyrating in Boston. But Luis Tiant from 1964-68 threw as hard as anybody. He had an almost unbelievable season in 1968, when he went 21-9 with a league leading 1.60 ERA, 264 strikeouts, 73 walks and an 0.866 WHIP.

He gave up a ridiculous 5.3 hits per nine innings that season. Let’s talk about that for a second — 5.3 hits per nine innings is the second-lowest total for a season since 1900. OK? The only pitcher who gave up fewer hits per nine in a season was Nolan Ryan in 1972 — and Ryan walked 157 batters that season.

That 5.3 hits per nine is a touch less than Pedro in 2000, less than Sandy Koufax in 1965, less than Bob Gibson in 1968. Tiant was as close to unhittable in 1968 as any pitcher ever.

Of course, that WAS 1968, the year of the pitcher, so his season sort of was lost. Denny McLain won 31 games and so swept the Cy Young voting though Tiant really had a more spectacular year. Bob Gibson had the 1.14 ERA, 10 American League pitchers had ERAs better than 2.50, Tiant was kind of lost in the crowd. And remember, Tiant was alone in America then — he could not return to his native Cuba and could not see or talk to his family, including his father Luis Sr. who had been a star pitcher in the Negro Leagues.

That year sort of ended Tiant’s first career. He got hurt in 1969, led the league with 20 losses, was traded to Minnesota, dealt with more injuries, and actually got released. The Braves signed him … and released him. Then Boston signed him and the second version of Luis Tiant, the great El Tiante, was born.

He was a whole different pitcher, a whirlwind of arm angles and delivery changes and a variety of magical pitches. His fastball still moved (though not as fast), and to that he added a curveball, a slider, another kind of curveball, a palm-ball, a knuckleball, a variation of the forkball, a sinker, a side-armed something or other, and a bunch of pitches that didn’t exactly have names because even El Tiante himself wasn’t quite sure what they were supposed to do. They got hitters out, that’s all.

In 1972, having just been released twice and with the Red Sox on the verge of making it three he went 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA, and allowed just seven homers all year. Since Deadball, only seven pitchers — Koufax, Pedro, Maddux, Clemens, Newhouser, Kershaw and Tiant — have had multiple seasons with a sub-2.00 ERA.

He then averaged 20-wins over the next four seasons. In 1974, he lost the Cy Young Award to the man who always seemed to beat him to the punch — Catfish Hunter.

Tiant really made his name nationally during the World Series in 1975 when he pithed three times against the Big Red Machine, completed two of the three, pitched a shutout and was reunited with his father. But for whatever reason, Tiant was not viewed the same way a Catfish Hunter or Jim Palmer or other comparable pitchers.

It has been pointed out that Tiant’s career numbers are remarkably similar to Hunter’s:

Tiant: 229-172, 3.30 ERA, 2,416 Ks, 1,104 walks, 114 ERA+. Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 2,012 Ks, 954 walks, 104 ERA+.

Tiant was the better pitcher in my view, and it’s not very close. Hunter just had great timing. Look at his home-road splits:

Home: 129-79, 2.70 ERA, .238 batting average on balls in play. Road: 95-87, 3.92 ERA, .253 batting average on balls in play.

He pitched in a great ballpark for great teams pretty much his whole career.

Tiant’s splits:

Home: 121-77, 3.23 ERA, .265 average on balls in play. Road: 108-95, 3.38 ERA, .266 average on balls in play.

Tiant pitched for some good teams, and he pitched a lot of games at Fenway Park when that really was a crazy hitters park. Hunter’s career WAR is 36.6, his career WAA (Wins Above Average) is just 5.8. Tiant’s WAR is 66.6 and WAA is 34.5. Like I say … not close.

Hunter is the obvious comparison because they were both right-handed pitchers, they pitched at the same time, they came on the ballot just three years apart — but it was a key three years. Hunter sailed into the Hall. Tiant started off strong and then hit the wave of pitchers and fell into voting oblivion.

But you don’t need to focus Tiant’s case on Hunter. By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Tiant is the 10th most qualified pitcher not in the Hall of Fame.

1. Roger Clemens (special case) 2. Randy Johnson (going in this year) 3. Pedro Martinez (going in this year) 4. Curt Schilling 5. Mike Mussina 6. Wes Ferrell 7. Roy Halladay (not yet eligible) 8. Rick Reuschel 9. Kevin Brown 10. Tiant

Let’s not talk about the Top five because they’re all still on the ballot, and Halladay is yet to come. Wes Ferrell was a great player; about a fifth of his value comes from his hitting. Rich Reuschel is probably the most under-appreciated pitcher in baseball history, Kevin Brown is close to that. I would argue Tiant was the best pitcher of the group and the most qualified 20th Century pitcher not on the ballot and not in the Hall of Fame.

* * *

Maury Wills

Comparable Hall of Famers: Rabbit Maranville, Johnny Evers, Phil Rizzuto.

Well, to be fair, nobody is really comparable to Wills because the Hall of Fame argument is that he changed the game — that he brought the stolen base back into the game as a weapon. People have argued about this, but the Hall of Fame draws simple declaratives. Bruce Sutter is essentially in the Hall because he popularized the split-fingered fastball. Candy Cummings is in the Hall because he supposedly invented the curveball. Larry MacPhail is in the Hall because he presumably dreamed up night baseball. None of these things is necessarily true, in the larger sense — the split-fingered baseball has a long and storied history, Cummings almost certainly did not invent the curve, the Negro Leagues was playing night baseball long before the Reds did it.

But baseball works well as a story, and Wills did steal 104 bases for the 1962 Dodgers who won 102 games. He won the MVP and there was certainly a buzz about the evolution of baseball. Before Wills came along, no National Leaguer had stolen 50 bases in a season Max Carey almost 40 years earlier. After Wills stole 104, four other National Leaguers would steal 50 bases in a over the next decade.

Of course you could really argue it was Lou Brock — who stole 50 or more bases a dozen times — who showed what was possible on the bases. Brock, though, humble man he is, likes to give that credit to Wills.

In any case, Wills was a good defensive shortstop, he led the league in stolen bases six times, he hit .281 for his career, which was good for a shortstop in his time. On the other side, he didn’t walk much, his career OPS+ was 88,and he only scored 100 runs twice which isn’t great for a player people called a superior leadoff hitter. To me Wills Hall of Fame case is not a statistical on but an emotional one … that he changed the game for the better.

* * *

And the order I would put them in:

1. Minnie Minoso 2. Luis Tiant 3. Ken Boyer 4. Dick Allen 5. Jim Kaat 6. Gil Hodges 7. Billy Pierce 8. Tony Oliva 9. Maury Wills

Not applicable: Bob Howsam. I don’t think he should be on this kind of ballot; impossible to compare him with the players.

If I was given an unlimited number of votes, I would probably vote for for the Top 6 … but, like I say, I’m a big Hall guy. The players I REALLY think deserve it are Minoso and Tiant.