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We kicked off the annual Hall of Fame season with a look at the ballot for the Contemporary Era Committee for Managers, Executives and Umpires. A couple of things I didn’t say in the newsletter:
That’s a terrible name. I understand the Hall of Fame had to revise the old Veterans Committee, and their many attempts to do so have all fallen a bit flat and periodically have needed to be revamped or tweaked. I applaud that effort, and I’m hopeful that this latest iteration will stick because it seems to be the most sensible one they’ve had in a while. But man, that name is a mouthful.
While I stand behind my assessment that both Jim Leyland and Bill White should be elected, I confess that neither of them really wows me and I’d be completely unmoved if they were passed over. As I said in the piece, Leyland’s case is extremely borderline, and with more exciting managerial candidates like Terry Francona and Dusty Baker becoming eligible soon, I can’t really muster much energy for Leyland. And while Bill White had a distinguished and varied career that touched on many different aspects of baseball, I think there are better candidates that fit that description. From just the Contemporary Era, I think Felipe Alou is more worthy, or maybe even Charlie Manuel with his managing, coaching, and playing days in Japan. I mentioned Don Zimmer in the piece and I think his case is a bit better, too. The same could be said for Roger Craig.
Monday was the 107th birthday of the great Leon Day, who was not only a pitcher who led the league in wins, complete games, shutouts, saves, and strikeouts at different points, but was also a career .313 hitter who could play second base or center field equally well. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II with the 818th Amphibious Truck Company, landing on Utah Beach in Normandy six days after D-Day. He was belatedly elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, and has the distinction of having the only plaque in Cooperstown in which the hat depicted isn’t from a major league or Negro Leagues team. Day’s cap on his plaque is for the Aguadilla Sharks of the Puerto Rican Winter League, most likely because his likeness was based on a photograph from his time with that team.
When we’re big fans of something or someone, we often lose our perspectives about them and say silly things. There was an example of that on Twitter recently, in which a big Dave Parker fan decided that the best way to sing his praises was to compare him to Edgar Martinez. In Tuesday’s newsletter, I pointed out the errors of his ways.
Tuesday was Ken Keltner’s birthday, also his 107th, just like Leon Day. He had a nice career that is mostly known for two things. First, Keltner famously made two good backhanded plays on hard hit balls by Joe DiMaggio as he tried to extend his hitting streak to 57 games in 1941. Out both times, DiMaggio went hitless and the streak stopped at 56.
Also, for a while there was a push to get Keltner elected to the Hall of Fame, and while there’s no serious case for his election, the effort made Bill James stop and think about his career enough to develop what he now calls The Keltner List. It’s a subjective tool of yes/no questions to help clarify your thinking about a player’s a career. There’s no “score” or “scale”, it’s just a method of organizing the career in your mind so you can make a decision about studying the player more or not. The questions are pretty straightforward, and you can find them in Chapter 21 of James’ book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?
Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?
Was he the best player on his team?
Was he the best player in baseball (or in the league) at his position?
Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Do the players numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Is there evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
This was not only Fernando Valenzuela’s 63rd birthday, but it was also the anniversary of Ron Guidry winning the 1978 AL Cy Young Award. These were two guys who had pretty similar careers, as well as pretty similar fates as each fell short of the Hall of Fame without ever getting as much as 10% of the votes cast.
Personally, I think Guidry was a bit better, and his best seasons were better than Valenzuela’s best. That’s how the Hall of Fame voters saw it, too, giving Guidry nine shots on the ballot before he finally dropped below the 5% needed to remain, while Valenzuela fell off after just two ballots. I think that’s about right, but both of them had excellent careers that are worth thinking back on when occasions like Wednesday’s anniversaries bring them back into focus.
In my Wednesday newsletter I explored just how terrible the Red Sox were during the first amateur free agent draft in 1965. A lot of teams did poorly in that first year, and many have been been in years since then, too, but the Red Sox stood out for the overall scope of their terrible selections.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about what a mistake it was for the major leagues to pretend that the quality of baseball being played during the World War II years should count exactly the same as all other seasons. I stand by that assessment, because too much of the top baseball talent simply wasn’t playing in those leagues during the war. However, it wouldn’t be fair to lump all of the players from those years into one big “replacement level” category, because some of them were excellent players. One of them was Bill Nicholson of the Cubs, and I decided to write about him in my Thursday newsletter.
It’s not every day that a guy with 3,000 hits and 700 homers is traded, but Thursday marked the anniversary of the only time that’s happened. In fact, there are only two players to whom it could have happened. Henry Aaron and Albert Pujols are the only players to reach both of those thresholds.Pujols reached 700 homers in his final season then immediately retired, so there wasn’t much chance for him to be traded. But Henry Aaron wasn’t done playing after he passed both marks. The Braves traded him to the Brewers on this date in 1974, barely six months after he broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run mark, allowing Aaron to finish his major league career in Milwaukee where it began. Which was nice for him, I guess, but I always thought he looked odd in a Brewers uniform.
This would have been Bob Welch’s 67th birthday, but sadly he passed away in 2014 after breaking his neck in a fall at his home. Speaking of pitchers from the 70s and 80s worth remembering, his career fits pretty neatly alongside those of Guidry and Valenzuela.
I’d still give the edge to Guidry, but Bob Welch was a really solid pitcher for a long time. None of these guys belong in the Hall of Fame (Welch got just one vote in his only year on the ballot), but if you had a rotation full of Ron Guidrys and Fernando Valenzuelas and Bob Welches, your team would go pretty far each year.
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