Thursday, November 7, 2013
Veterans ballot missing one top candidate
By David Schoenfield
The Veterans Committee portion of the Hall of Fame induction process doesn't generate the same uproar as the Baseball Writers vote does. But the people it elects are still full-fledged members of Cooperstown, with their little plaques right there next to Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. Last year, the Veterans Committee elected an owner, an umpire and a player -- all of whom had been dead since 1939.
This year, the committee is looking at what it calls the Expansion Era ballot, for candidates whose greatest contributions came in 1973 and later. The last time the VC looked at this era, in 2011, only executive Pat Gillick was elected. This year's ballot will likely produce more Hall of Famers; sadly, however, none are likely to be players. The 12 finalists who the 16-man committee (and it's all men, no women) will consider includes six players and six others. You need 12 of 16 votes to get elected. Let's take a closer look.
The managers: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Joe Torre
Joe Torre twice beat Bobby Cox in the World Series, but they should share Hall of Fame honors next summer.
Even by the historically lax standards of the Veterans Committee, Cox, La Russa and Torre are obvious Hall of Fame managers, and I suspect all three will get in. Cox is fourth on the all-time wins list and made 16 playoff appearances with the Blue Jays and Braves, although he won just one World Series. Cox finished 503 wins above .500 -- the only managers with a higher total are John McGraw and Joe McCarthy. You can hold the the only-one-title against Cox, but Whitey Herzog made it in 2010 with just one title, fewer wins and a worse winning percentage. La Russa is third on the all-time wins list and has three World Series titles. Torre had a borderline Hall of Fame career as a player; include his four championships as a manager and he's the third lock.
Martin is the interesting candidate, but he has no chance to get in with this group also on the ballot. Martin is 35th on the wins list and won just one title. What we do know about him, however, is that he was arguably the best turn-around artist in managerial history. Now, part of that was because nobody could stand to have him as their manager for more than five minutes, so he got a lot of opportunities. But consider:
Took over the Twins in 1969 and they improved from 79 to 97 wins and won the AL West. (Fired after the season, in part for getting in a fight with one of his pitchers.)
Took over the Tigers in 1971 and they improved from 79 to 91 wins. In 1972, they won the AL East. (Fired in 1973 after ordering his pitchers to throw spitballs in protest of Gaylord Perry allegedly doing so for Cleveland.)
Took over Rangers in September of 1973. The club improved from 57-105 to 84-78 in 1974. (Fired in 1975 after some a confrontation with owner Brad Corbett.)
Took over the Yankees late in 1975. Club improved from 83 wins to 97 in '76 and won its first pennant since 1964. In 1977, the Yankees won the World Series. (Resigned in 1978 after fighting with Reggie Jackson during a game and rumors that George Steinbrenner tried to trade Martin to the White Sox.)
After managing the Yankees again for part of the 1979 season, he took over the A's in 1980. They had lost 108 games in 1979. They won 83 and then made the playoffs in the strike season of 1981. (Fired after losing 94 games in 1982.)
Then came all the ridiculousness with the Yankees in the '80s. Still, it's an impressive track record, although it came at a cost: Martin overworked his pitchers (most notably with a young staff in Oakland that soon fell apart) and none of the teams he managed sustained any long-term success. In the end, I can't really advocate for him for the Hall of Fame; not enough career wins, only one title and his other issues (drinking and brawling) that might have affected his teams. Plus: We have enough managers in already, with three more on the way.
The owner: George Steinbrenner
The Boss was on the last Expansion Era ballot and received fewer than eight votes. He was a bully, banned from baseball for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, and ran the franchise into the ground in the late '80s and early '90s (only to see it revived during his banishment). His team also won six World Series titles (and a seventh after he had given up day-to-day operations to his sons), and there's no denying he was one of the most famous people in the sport during his reign. I'll pass, but I suppose there's an argument to put him in.
The union guy: Marvin Miller
Miller fell one vote short of election last time around. Since then, he passed away and you almost feel as though the time to honor the man was missed. He's no doubt one of the most important figures in baseball history; the union leader who helped free the players from the reserve clause and enter the era of free agency. Does that make him a Hall of Famer? Nobody ever paid a penny to watch Marvin Miller in action. But if you can vote in Bowie Kuhn, you should put in Marvin Miller. FYI: There are four executives on the committee (Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, Dave Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf), so if they all vote against him, the other 12 (which includes six Hall of Fame players) have to vote for him.
The glove: Dave Concepcion
Concepcion received eight votes in 2010, so he is the highest returning player candidate. With a career WAR of 40.0, he doesn't have a strong statistical argument. There is also another shortstop candidate with obviously better credentials: Alan Trammell, who is still on the BBWAA ballot. Concepcion's case basically comes down to being part of the Big Red Machine, although he was a nine-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves. The Reds already have one marginal Hall of Famer in Tony Perez; I don't think we need another.
The strong jaw: Steve Garvey
He was also on the last ballot and received fewer than eight votes. Career WAR of 37.6, only one season above 5.0. His case is that he was regarded as very valuable while active -- he won an MVP Award and finished second another year and sixth three other times. It's kind of a Jim Rice argument. Won't get in and shouldn't, as even his peak only lasted seven years. Keith Hernandez would be a better candidate to discuss at first base.
The guy they named the surgery after: Tommy John
Three pitching lines:
John: 288-231, 3.34 ERA, 111 ERA+, 62.3 WAR
Bert Blyleven: 287-250, 3.31 ERA, 118 ERA+, 96.5 WAR
Jack Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 43.8 WAR
Three pitchers with similar career win-loss records, but vastly different values by Wins Above Replacement. All three got about 20 percent of the vote their first years on the BBWAA ballot. Blyleven stayed there for a long time until the statistical argument became clear that he deserved Cooperstown; score one for the statheads. Morris has slowly climbed closer to 75 percent and may get in this year; score one for the old schoolers. John never really moved from his initial 22 percent.
By WAR, John is in the gray area; a good candidate but not a strong one. The argument against him is that he pitched forever but was never great. His peak WAR season was 5.6 and he had four years above 5.0. But just four others above 3.0. A lot of 2.4 and 1.5 kinds of seasons. Good No. 3 starter who was durable but rarely an ace. I wouldn't vote for him, although Blyleven's election in 2011 may help him.
The Cobra: Dave Parker
Dave Parker won two batting titles and an MVP Award, but is he a Hall of Famer?
Parker is new to the ballot, with Al Oliver, Rusty Staub, Ron Guidry and Vida Blue getting bumped off. Parker has some interesting career numbers: .290 average, 339 home runs, 1,439 RBIs, more than 2,700 hits. He won an MVP Award in 1978 and deserved it. He had a very high peak from 1975 to 1979, but then wasted several years and wasn't really contributing much after that despite his high RBI totals.
Is Parker the best outfielder not in the Hall of Fame? Clearly not. Even leaving off all the players still on the BBWAA ballot, there's another right fielder I would have preferred to see on this ballot: the criminally underrated Dwight Evans.
Evans is sort of the opposite of Parker. Parker had his best years in his 20s; Evans in his 30s. Parker never walked; Evans built a lot of value by walking (708 more career walks). Parker got fat; Evans stayed in tremendous shape. Parker ended up wasting a lot of his ability; Evans got the most out of his.
By career WAR, it's not close: Parker 40.0, Evans 66.7. Let's get Dewey on the ballot next time.
The submariner: Dan Quisenberry
Happy to see him get recognized. His career wasn't really so different from Bruce Sutter's, except Sutter had more facial hair and "invented" a pitch. Consider Quisenberry's run in Cy Young voting: fifth, no votes (1.73 ERA, though), third, second, second, third. He also finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting in four of those seasons. That said ... voters of that era dramatically overrated relief pitchers, even though they were pitching a lot more innings than today. But for a six-year run, he was as good as anybody.
The catcher: Ted Simmons
He's back after receiving fewer than eight votes, as well. I've always been a fan of Simmons' candidacy, which is admittedly borderline. One of the better hitting catchers, with a .285 career average (hit above .300 seven times), 248 home runs and 1,389 RBIs. He played second fiddle to Johnny Bench in the National League in the 1970s but, hey, not everybody can be Johnny Bench.
Two of the people on the committee are Paul Molitor, Simmons' teammate with the Brewers, and Whitey Herzog, who traded Simmons from the Cardinals to the Brewers after the two feuded and Simmons' defense had started declining. So I could see Molitor arguing for Simmons and Herzog against Simmons.
Either way, it probably doesn't matter, as Simmons' chances of getting in are slim.
The results will be announced at the winter meetings in December. I predict Cox, La Russa and Torre get in, with Miller, John and Concepcion falling a little short. I'd include Miller on my vote along with the three managers, while regretfully not voting for Simmons. (With Mike Piazza around, he's not the best catcher eligible for induction.)