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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, January 13, 2003
The Veterans Committee
With the ballots due this week, Marc checks to see which Veterans Committee possibilities are deserving.
A week or so ago, I offered an overview of the new Veterans Committee process along with some suggestions as to who the new committee might be likely to elect. Here?s a different question: Who should they elect? Given the recent popularity here of Bill James? Keltner List, let?s see who rises to the top of the veteran?s ballot based on the Keltner List. This will necessarily be a fairly superficial look at many of the 26 players on the ballot, but we?ll look a little closer at those who seem to stand out.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
Thirteen of the 26 players on the veterans ballot can make some sort of case for being the best player in baseball, if only for a moment, by virtue of some type of award received. For ten of them?Allen, Boyer, Gordon, Howard, Marion, Maris, Munson, Newcombe, Torre and Wills?it was an MVP award. Only Maris won two. For two of them, Bonds and Oliva, it was a Sporting News Player of the Year award. Oliva won two of those. All of the MVPs won this award, too?Maris, again, twice. Then there?s the odd case of Allie Reynolds who won both the Sid Mercer player of the year award and the Hickok Belt as America?s best professional athlete in 1951.
Two more players distinguished themselves by leading their league in Win Shares and Total Player Rating?Ferrell in 1935 and Santo in 1967 led in both, while Santo also led in TPR in 1966. Allen also led in WS in 1964 and 1972, Oliva in 1965 and Torre in 1971.
Trying to take a slightly longer view, I figured out what player had had the highest peak WS value over the previous three and five-year periods. By this standard, only Bobby Bonds was ever "the best," based on his performance over the period from 1969-71.
Maris in 1961 and Wills in 1962 swept all the major awards?MVP, Sporting News Player of the Year, Mercer award, AP and Hickok pro athletes of the year. Neither led his league in WS, but no other player on the ballot ever dominated the awards scene to this extent.
Only Allen, Maris, Oliva and Santo won any of these various awards in more than one season, Maris in 1960 and ?61, Allen in ?64 and ?72, Oliva in ?65 and ?71, Santo in ?66 and ?67. These three probably have the strongest case as "the best player in baseball" at some time during their careers.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
A surprising number of the 15 players discussed above are not even rated as the best player on his own team in his award-winning season(s), at least by WS. The only ones who are are Ferrell in 1935, Boyer in 1964, Allen in 1964 and 1972, Oliva in 1965, Santo in 1967, Torre in 1971 and Bonds in 1973. Maris and Wills, so dominant on the awards scene, are therefore the most conspicuous by their absence from this list.
On the other side of the coin, Allen led his teams in WS on eight different occasions. Next is Boyer at six. A pair of new faces?Colavito and Minoso?enter our anaysis with five each. Bonds, Lolich, Kluszewski and Santo led their teams three times each, Ferrell, Oliva, Pinson, Torre and Williams led their teams twice each.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Bill James named six of the 26 players on the veteran?s ballot to one of his all-decade teams in the New Historical Abstract. Those are Bonds, Flood, Gordon, Marion, Santo and Wills. Flood and Marion were named to his Gold Glove teams, however, not his all-around All-Star team.
Many if not most of the others were the best at their position for a time but not long enough to be remembered as such for the longer term. Howard, Maris, Munson and Oliva played and/or peaked too briefly. Others were overshadowed?Boyer by Santo, Minoso by Ted Williams, Pinson by Mays and Mantle, Colavito by Kaline, and so on. Of these, Boyer was clearly regarded as the best 3B before Santo and Brooks. Others?Allen and Torre?are not well enough identified with a specific position.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
The obvious leaders here are Yankees Howard, Gordon, Maris, Meusel and Reynolds and Dodger Hodges. Howard played in ten World Series and was a key contributor to the Yankees? pennants of 1961-64. The others all played in six or seven series. Hodges was a key contributor to five of the seven Dodgers? pennants in question, Maris perhaps as few as three of his seven pennant-winners (two with the Cardinals). Gordon was absolutely essential to six pennant-winning teams (one Indians team), Reynolds was a solid contributor six times and Meusel five of six times.
In sum, Howard and Gordon are the standouts on this dimension, but many, many others also are remembered for their play in dramatic pennant races and post-season games?Flood, Lolich, Marion, Mays, Munson, Newcombe and Wills.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
What makes many of these players Veterans Committee candidates is their failure to do exactly this. Only Boyer, Hodges, Pinson, Santo and Torre played as many as 2000 games. Yet Boyer?s performance declined precipitously after his MVP season, his tenth major league season at age 33, in 1964. Hodges declined more gradually but was hardly a star after the move to LA at age 34. Pinson?s decline began at age 30 though he was able to play semi-regularly through age 37. Santo?s decline was gradual but irreversible from age 28 through 34. Torre played effectively through age 34, then declined rapidly.
So the answer is that none of these players had an all-star caliber season after about age34. And these are the best of the position players.
The pitchers did better. Ferrell declined rapidly after age 29, and Newcombe declined rapidly after his MVP season at age 30 though he had one comeback season at 33. But Lolich and Mays pitched effectively through about their 36th year. Reynolds pitched well through age 39, largely because he even so pitched but 2500 innings in his career.
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Probably not. On TPR, Santo is third among the eligible but not elected behind Dahlen and Grich. On career WS, Allen trails Mullane, Darrell Evans, Staub, Sherry Magee, Whitaker, Dwight Evans, Sandberg and Van Haltren. On peak WS (adding the three and five year peaks together), however, Allen may be the highest rated player not in the Hall. He leads every player on the BBWAA ballot at this time by a wide margin, at any rate. On Black Ink, Gray Ink, HoF Monitor and HoF Standards, Rice and Blyleven lead everyone on the veteran?s ballot.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
The sad and embarrassing truth is that not one of these 26 players can possibly be justified by their comps. Only Mays, Pinson and Wills have as many as three of their top ten comps in the HoF. Mays? are all Veterans Committee choices, while Pinson?s include Clemente and Goslin, and Wills? incude Johnny Evers. All things considered, Pinson is the big winner, if you can call it that, in this category, with two BBWAA HoF comps, one Veterans Committee comp, and two more BBWAA comps by age for a total of five; plus, his number one comp is Roberto Clemente.
The only other comps elected to the HoF by the BBWAA include two of Reynolds??Lefty Gomez and Bob Lemon?and one of Newcombe?s?Dizzy Dean. Even if you include "back door" HoF comps, only Torre also has two.
Fourteen of the 26 have no HoF comps at all?four have none even if you include their comps by age.
8. Do the player?s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
As a shortcut, I like to just add Black Ink + Gray Ink + HoF Monitor + HoF Standards together. An average HoFer scores 27 on Black Ink, 144 on Gray and 50 on HoF Standards. The threshold for HoFers on the Monitor is 100. Add them up and you get 321. This would define a slightly below average HoFer or, I would suggest, a solid, above average Veterans Committee selection.
Only Oliva (330 points) and Allen (324) meet this standard of a slightly below average HoFer or an above average Veterans Committee selection. Minoso is close at 320, but only Lolich also makes 300 (exactly, in his case). Santo is next at 287.
On this measure, none of these players is anywhere near the best player not in the HoF. Jim Rice, for example, scores 429 and Bert Blyleven 415.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Many would argue that all of the foregoing measures shortchange defense, and I couldn?t dispute that. So let?s look at defense. In key defensive positions, Flood, Gordon, Howard, Marion and Pinson rank A- or better under WS. No corner player earns an A- or better, but even if they did it would not add appreciably to their standing.
The only player for whom any other argument can be advanced against this question is Minnie Minoso who, as you know, was kept out of the major leagues as a younger man by the color line. It is likely his statistical record would be improved, probably substantially, had that not been the case.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
Among the catchers, even with Carter going in, Munson or Torre is probably the best but only until Ted Simmons becomes eligible again. With Eddie Murray going in, Allen is almost surely the top first baseman though the pending candidacy of Bagwell, McGwire and perhaps Thomas dimishes Allen?s standing.
Gordon ranks behind Sandberg and Grich at second, and Wills and Marion are well down the list of shortstops. Santo is the top third baseman until Boggs becomes eligible, and Boyer also ranks behind Molitor and Deacon White, who didn?t make the ballot of 200 much less of 26.
The best of the outfielders, Minoso and Oliva, rate below Dawson and Rice, and the rest also trail Sherry Magee, Pete Browning, Dave Parker and and Dale Murphy.
The pitchers trail Blyleven and Kaat, at a minimum, and probably 19th century rivals like Caruthers and Mullane.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Gordon, Minoso and Oliva each finished in the top ten of MVP voting on five occasions. Gordon won in 1942, Oliva never and Minoso never though Tony O won the Sporting News Player of the Year award twice.
Boyer, Colavito, Santo and Wills each finished in the top ten MVP voting four times. Boyer and Wills won MVP awards, Santo led the league in WS once but Colavito was never awarded any kind of Player of the Year recognition.
Allen, Hodges, Howard, Kluszewski, Marion and Munson were among the top ten three times each, and Bonds, Ferrell, Lolich, Maris, Marshall, Newcombe, Pinson, Reynolds and Torre twice. Flood finished fourth in 1968.
Other than those who won MVP awards, of all of these only Ferrell, Kluszewski, Oliva and Reynolds finished second and none of them could be described as having come "close" to winning in that year.
On the other extreme, Mays, Meusel and K. Williams were never among the top ten.
Allen, Bonds and Santo earned 30+ WS four times each, while Colavito, Ferrell, Maris, Oliva and Pinson did so twice each. Boyer, Gordon, Howard, Kluszewski, Mays, Minoso, Torre, K. Williams and Wills did so once each.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Gordon, Howard, Santo and Torre were named to nine All-Star teams each, though Howard played in only five. The other three played in eight.
Hodges, Marion and Oliva were named eight times, and played six, five and six times, respectively. Allen, Boyer, Minoso and Munson were named seven times, Colavito six times, Reynolds and Wills five times. Kluszewski, Maris and Newcombe were named four times, Bonds, Flood and Lolich three times, Ferrell, Marshall and Pinson twice. Mays, Meusel and K. Williams played before there was an All-Star game.
James has suggested that 20 WS is the equivalent of an all-star season, so in fairness we should note that Mays had eight such seasons, Ferrell (part of whose career pre-dates the All-Star game) five, Williams four and Meusel three.
On this measure, Bonds and Minoso lead with ten such seasons each, though Bonds paradoxically was named to only three All-Star teams. Allen and Hodges had nine such seasons; Boyer, Mays, Oliva, Pinson and Santo eight, though Pinson also was snubbed with just two actual All-Star game appearances. Colavito, Flood, Gordon and Torre had seven such seasons. Reynolds and Marion bring up the rear with just one and two such seasons, respectively, and yet they were named to five and eight All-Star teams.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
This is the one question among these 15 that is really impossible to answer. In every case, yes, if he had the right teammates and no if he did not.
Those who clearly were the best players on their teams were K. Williams in the 1920s, Ferrell in 1935, Klu and Minoso in the 1950s, Boyer, Colavito and Pinson in the early 1960s, Allen from 1964 to 1972, Oliva in the late 1960s, Santo on and off throughout the 1960s, Torre in 1971 and Bonds and Lolich in the early 1970s.
And the fact is that only Boyer?s team won a pennant when he was the best player on his team. That, again, is why these are Veterans Committee candidates.
14. 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?
Bonds remains a poster-child of a new, free-swinging era and Kluszewski the poster-child for biceps in baseball. Maris was the first to break Ruth?s home run record, and Wills (along with Luis Aparicio) brought back the stolen base.
But the real answer here is yes, Curt Flood changed the game in very substantial ways that I need not spell out for you here.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Allen, Marshall, Mays and Wills were not well liked for various reasons, the merits of which would be a whole different thread that I don?t want to start here. A few, Hodges perhaps most notably, enjoyed reputations as fine gentlemen. The rest are somewhere in the mushy middle.
It has been suggested that questions #1 and 6 are the only ones that really matter in HoF voting. In the case of the veteran?s ballot, a clear "yes" cannot be said of any player in answer to these questions. So the hair-splitting of the rest of the Keltner List becomes more helpful here than with the BBWAA ballot.
So, taking all of the questions and answers into account, it seems clear that Santo, Allen, Minoso, Gordon, Boyer, Oliva, Pinson, Flood and Bonds are the best candidates on the veteran?s ballot. Each of these players can appeal to eight or more of the above to make their case, with Santo able to appeal to the most areas of analysis?ten.
On WS, Santo was arguably the best player in MLB in ?66 and ?67, at which time he was also the best player on his team and at his position. He played more than 2000 games and may be the best eligible player not in the HoF, overall and at his position. He had several MVP-type and many All-Star caliber seasons. If he was the best player on his team, it could at least contend for a pennant.
No other player on the veteran?s ballot can put quite so many items on the plus side of his case, though if you set aside Allen?s demerits on the so-called character issue he might even rank ahead of Santo. I don?t wish to debate the merits of the demerits, only to point out that they have surely hurt Allen?s historical ranking and may hurt him on this ballot. But if you set that aside, he is probably the top-rated player on the ballot on questions #2, 6 and 10.
Minoso probably benefits even more than Allen from this analysis, in the sense that everybody knows about Allen?s positives and negatives and has made up his mind. Minoso?s accomplishments have, in contrast, been somewhat forgotten. His late start diminishes his career numbers and the shadow of Ted Williams diminishes his peak. But he benefits the most from consideration of question #9, and scores highly on his MVP-type and All-Star type seasons and comps.
Gordon, having retired 50 years ago, also benefits from the close scrutiny of the Keltner List. He scores highly among second basemen, for his pennant race and post-season performances, and for his MVP season. Boyer scores well for his longtime leadership of the Cardinals team, including a team that won a World Championship. Oliva has the best comps and a good record in MVP voting.
Pinson?s comps are better than most, Flood stands out on defense and for his stand against the reserve clause, and Bonds at his position and for his then unusual power/speed combo.
Torre, Wills, Colavito, Lolich and Reynolds can make claims against several of the categories but lack a real high point to hang their hat on. Hodges ranks highly on certain elements but perhaps not enough of them.
On the other side of the coin, one could argue that the BBWAA has done its job correctly in determining that none of these 26 players is a HoFer. It is shocking how few of them were ever even the best player on his own team, and how few of them led his team to a pennant. Few of them could play beyond his prime, and their comps, as a whole, stink.
But I would hope that some combination of Santo, Allen, Minoso and Gordon is selected.
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