The Hall of Fame candidates: 100-96
|Joe Posnanski||Feb 22, 2019|
Before we begin with the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates as you voted for them*, several of you have asked how I did the scoring for this list.
*I originally was going to do the whole list at one time, and then I was going to do the list 25 at a time, then I was going to list 10 at a time. But then, realizing that I have something to say about each player on the list, I'm going to release them five at a time. More reading for you! I might turn this into a little e-book when we're done, let's see how that plays out.
The scoring is pretty simple. I asked people to rate each Hall of a Fame candidates as:
A. Hall of Famer
B. 75% Hall of Famer
C. 50% Hall of Famer
D. 25% Hall of Famer
(Later, as you will see, I did something similar with actual Hall of Famers: I had people rate them as: (A) Inner Circle HOF; (B) Solid HOF; (C) Borderline HOF; (D) Not HOF).
The calculations were easy from there. I basically gave them three points for A, 2 points for B, 1 point for C and 0 points for D. Then, I divided the score by three to make 100 the highest score possible. I actually used a slightly different and pointlessly more complicated method, but that's the essence of it.
So if everyone votes a player (A) Hall of Famer, that person gets a 100.*
If everyone votes a player (D) 25% Hall of Famer, that person gets a 0.
*Or as our youngest daughter says for a perfect quiz: "I got an a hundred."
One finer point: I instructed voters to choose D if they have never heard of the player. There are those who disagree with this, who think that it's a lot different to know a player is not a Hall of Famer and not know the player at all. I get that.
But I would argue differently. The idea here is to measure GUT FEELING. And when it comes to that, I don't think there's much difference between "He's not a Hall of Famer" and "Never heard of him." I know people overplay that word fame in "Hall of Fame," but I think that if a player is so non-famous that baseball fans have never even heard of him -- and this is particularly true of recent players, which covers most of the people on this list -- it's hard to make a compelling GUT FEELING Hall of Fame case.
Of course, part of the goal here at JoeBlogs is to write about those players. And maybe we can change a few minds along the way. But it's hard to change anyone's GUT FEELING.
Anyway, we're off and running -- here are the first five on our list of the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates:
No. 100: King Kong Keller Score: 18.31 I feel sure that it was the nickname that even got him into the Top 100 -- but that's OK, he earned the nickname. Charlie Keller was only about 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11, but he was country strong, farm strong and he had a ferocious temper. It was an inward temper -- Keller was, by all accounts, a very nice man -- but it was fierce as he turned on himself whenever he failed on the field.
Through his age 30 season, Keller was hitting .292/.414/.530 and was one of the five best players in the American League more or less every year (and he missed a year and a half for World War II). The young Keller could do everything -- he could run, play defense, hit, hit for power, he was absolutely on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
As Bill James has written: "Charlie Keller, had he not been injured, would have been one of the greatest power hitters in the history of baseball."
In 1947, he badly hurt his back while caught in a rundown, and though he tried to stick it out, he never again played 85 games in a season. He was released by the Yankees and then the Tigers. Keller's top comp is Josh Hamilton, which seems pretty good. Hamilton did not have as many good seasons as Keller, but when he was at his best, he was as good as anybody.
No. 99: Stan Hack Score: 18.79 You probably know this: Before Brooks Robinson and Eddie Matthews came along, the common thinking among baseball scholars was that Pie Traynor was the greatest third baseman in baseball history. There were those who thought him the best even AFTER Brooksie and Mathews; he was rated 70th in SABR's "Best Players of the 20th Century" list. It would be hard to overstate how good people thought Traynor was; he was the 19th player elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
Stan Hack was absolutely a better player than Pie Traynor, and he got absolutely no Hall of Fame support. This was a pure misreading of the context of their careers.
Traynor hit .320 for his career, had speed (he led the league in triples one year), he was an RBI man and was viewed in his time as a brilliant defensive third baseman.
Hack hit .301 for his career, has speed (he twice led the league in stolen bases), he was a run-scoring machine and was viewed in his time as a good third baseman.
[caption id="attachment_24304" align="aligncenter" width="413"] Hack never got his due.[/caption]
Because Traynor's average was higher, the defensive reputation was greater and RBIs always trumped runs scored in those days, Hack was thus cast as a sort of poor man's Traynor. But in reality, Hack was better offensively. Traynor played in the craziest time in baseball history for batting averages. His .320 average sounds incredible now, but it was not THAT great for his time (he finished Top 5 in batting average only once -- and it wasn't even in his best season). He was a great defender, but he also made a lot of errors, and his defensive numbers don't hold up that well. And he didn't walk much.
Traynor's career WAR is 36.3.
Hack, even with his lower career average, finished Top 5 in batting average three times (though once during World War II). Plus, he walked a lot, so his career on-base percentage is more than 30 points better than Traynor's.
And while he never came close to driving in 100 runs, which hurt him in the comparison (Traynor did it seven times), that's because Hack was a leadoff hitter, and he scored 100 runs seven times. Traynor better fit the IMAGE people had of a third baseman as an RBI-producing type of player. In general, baseball people have never quite known how to evaluate players who didn't fit into a particular kind of box.
Hack actually ranks better as a defender by the numbers, and though that may or may not be true, the difference between them defensively certainly didn't make up for Hack's rather large advantage as a hitter.
Hack's career WAR is 52.6.
Hack's Hall of Fame case NOW doesn't particularly inspire enthusiasm. There are numerous third basemen who have more compelling cases and more WAR. But Hack was a victim of circumstance. He should have gotten much of the love that went Pie Traynor's way.
No. 98: Jim Fregosi Score: 19.95 Fregosi was one of those baseball managers that, honestly, I never thought about as a player. This is probably because by the time I became aware of him in the mid-1970s, he was basically the baseball card you didn't want to get. He was, by then, a part-time player.
But in his Angels heyday, Fregosi was quite a force. He was a superb defensive shortstop who hit with power. His numbers were badly suppressed by time and ballpark -- a look at his neutralized batting numbers shows a true superstar.
Look at these neutralized numbers:
1963 (age 21): .300/.339/.444, 31 doubles, 13 triples, 10 homers
1964 (age 22): .297/.391/.498, 24 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers
1965 (age 23): .290/.351/.424, 20 doubles, 7 triples, 16 homers
And so on. Put that on top of Gold Glove shortstop defense ... you're talking Barry Larkin-type of baseball. But Fregosi had his last great season at age 28 (he finished second in the league in WAR that year to Yaz) and it was also his last good season and it was also his last complete season. Fregosi got four votes in his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot, but with two more true Fregosi seasons, he would have had a compelling case.
No. 97: Billy Pierce Score: 21.40 Pierce was plausibly the best pitcher in the American League in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1957 and had the best WAR in the league overall that decade ... but I'm not 100 percent sure what all that means. On the surface, that would suggest real Hall of Fame credentials, and there are fierce Billy Pierce advocates for the Hall.
On the other hand, the American League in the 1950s was not overflowing with Hall of Fame arms. Take a look at the best pitchers in the league, year-by-year, by FanGraphs WAR:
1950: Ned Garver (1 HOF vote) 1951: Mike Garcia (0 HOF votes) 1952: Bobby Shantz (Topped out at 2.3% of HOF vote) 1953: Pierce 1954: Garcia 1955: Pierce 1956: Herb Score (on path to greatness before injuries) 1957: Frank Sullivan (0 HOF votes) 1958: Billy O'Dell (0 HOF votes) 1959: Camilo Pascual (3 HOF votes)
There were three Hall of Famers pitching in the AL at the time (Whitey Ford, though his best years were in the 1960s, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn), but mostly the stars of the time were good-but-not-great pitchers like the above, along with Virgil Trucks and Ellis Kinder and Frank Lary and Mel Parnell and the like.
Jack Morris got a lot of credit for having the most wins in the 1980s. Well, Pierce really was the best American League pitcher of the 1950s, and it isn't really all that close. It's an open question if being the best pitcher in a bit of a down time for pitchers makes someone a Hall of Famer. I could argue it both ways.
No. 96: Juan Gonzalez Score: 21.82 If you were to judge Juan Gonzalez against the historical norms of baseball -- that is to say the norms before he started mashing -- he would have been legendary.
Most 40-homer seasons to 1993: 1. Babe Ruth, 11 2. Harmon Killebrew, 8 (tie) Hank Aaron, 8 4. Willie Mays, 6 5. Ernie Banks, 5 (tie) Duke Snider, 5 (tie) Jimmie Foxx, 5 (tie) Lou Gehrig, 5
That's it, all the players who hit 40-plus homers five times in their career, all Hall of Famers, all upper level Hall of Famers. Juan Gonzalez hit 40-plus homers five times. He won two MVP awards. He's 15th all-time in slugging percentage and 14th in homers per at-bat. If you took his career and placed it in just about any decade before his own, you probably would be talking about a Hall of Famer ... even with him playing his last full season at age 31.
But, alas, he played in the 1990s, when those kinds of seasons didn't even stand out from the crowd. He hit .314 with 47 homers and 144 RBIs in his first MVP season and hit .318 with 50 doubles, 45 homers, and 157 RBIs in his second, impossibly great numbers ... and yet he didn't deserve either MVP award. If the same vote were held today, with people's sharpened understanding of stats, he would not have gotten even a single first-place vote in either season.
These are the shifting sands of time.
In 2004, the Kansas City Royals signed Gonzalez -- this was a year after he hit .294 with 24 homers in just 82 games with Cleveland. It seemed like a worthwhile gamble. It was not. In my career, I have only seen one player who was LESS happy to be playing Major League Baseball, and that was Jeff King, a different Royal, who retired 21 games into the 1999 season and went back to his ranch in Montana.
But King did it the right way ... he made an announcement and left.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, after 33 uninspiring games, tweaked something or other and just didn't come back. It was the longest day-to-day injury in baseball history. He showed up the next year in Cleveland, tweaked something else, but made it back to the point that he was actually activated for one game.
"Supposedly for me, I'm healthy right now," he told the press before that game, not inspiring a great deal of confidence.
That game he hit a grounder to first, reaggravated whatever he had tweaked while running to first, and never played again.