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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
What stathead can resist the combination of walks, homers, and breakfast cereal?
The best thing about examining players on the Hall of Fame ballot who are not obvious Hall-of-Famers is that you develop an appreciation for some of these players. Mickey Tettleton is one of those players.
Let?s go to the Keltner List.
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?
No, though Sparky Anderson once suggested that perhaps he was the best-looking player in baseball.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
He was the best player on the 1991-1992 Tigers, edging out Cecil Fielder and Lou Whitaker, and was one of the three best players on his teams many times.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Tettleton was the best catcher in the majors in 1991 and was second to Darren Daulton in 1992. He was the best catcher in the American League in 1989, 1991, and 1992. In 1993, though he had the best bat of any catcher-types, his playing time was split pretty evenly between catching and playing first base and the outfield. Between the heydays Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk and those of Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez, Tettleton and Daulton were the best catchers in baseball.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Not too many. Tettleton was traded from the A?s to the Orioles one year before Oakland got good, played for two bad Orioles team and one pretty good one, moved onto a mediocre Tigers team, and finished his career with a Rangers team that was peaking just as he began to decline.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
He didn?t, but I think he could have. Tettleton suffered a knee injury in 1997 at age 36, spent a couple of months on the DL, and decided to call it a career. He was still pretty productive the year before, and probably could have contributed the following season. I suppose it could be argued that most of his productive seasons occurred when he was past his prime ages of 26-28, which would make the answer to this question a big fat "yes."
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No. He might be the best baseball player in history of Oklahoma who is not in the Hall of Fame.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Baseball-reference.com lists Gene Tenace as the player most comparable to Tettleton. Like Tettleton, Tenace was a low-average hitter who walked a lot and had pop in his bat. Tenace is not in the Hall. Neither of the two have any Hall-of-Famers on their "most comparable" list.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
No. According to the HOF Standards test, Tettleton scores 29 points (average HOFer ~50); according to the HOF Monitor, he scores just 17 points (likely HOFer > 100).
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
For the first four years of Tettleton?s career, he was basically a defensive back-up catcher for the Oakland A?s who was never able to break through for more than 283 at-bats. (From 1985 to 1987, he got exactly 211 at-bats each season. What are the odds?) Part of the problem was that even though Tettleton hit, he was plagued with a series of injuries (pinched nerves, infected foot, strained groin) that cut into his playing time, and eventually got him cut from the team.
By the time Baltimore gave him a chance to play everyday and found out that Tettleton could really hit, he was already 28 years old. Between 1989 and 1995, Tettleton averaged a 134 OPS+, a switch-hitting catcher who could hit for power from both sides and draw 100 walks a year in a very tough offensive era. His six-year run is among the most impressive for post-WWII catchers, comparable to the best stretches Hall-of-Famers like Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench, as well as contemporaries like Gary Carter. Stats from baseball-reference.com and the Baseball Prospectus site:
It should be noted that while Berra, Bench and Carter were all almost exclusively catchers, Tettleton was moved to first base and the outfield in 1993. He still caught over 50 games in 1993 and 1994, but caught just three games in 1995, and none there on out. (Ironically, once he started hitting balls out of stadiums and his teams started to DH when he wasn?t catching, Tettleton?s defensive reputation took a hit. The man who came up as a defensive replacement became known as a poor defensive backstop.)
One could argue the metric chosen to compare these guys, but there?s no arguing that Mickey Tettleton was an awfully good hitting catcher for a good long stretch. Tettleton ended up hitting 245 homers over his career, but just 33 in his first three seasons. Had he managed more playing time in Oakland, Tettleton could perhaps have been just the sixth catcher to had hit 300 homers.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
No. Gary Carter is.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Mickey Tettleton never finished in the top 10 in MVP balloting. That seems a little strange, given that he was in many respects the best catcher in the league several times. The low offensive numbers of the era masked Tettleton?s offensive accomplishments, and Tettleton?s very real contributions in terms of walks and on-base percentage were overshadowed by his poor batting average and his yearly 130-odd strikeouts. Aside from Fruit Loop references and some long homers, the limelight ducked Mickey Tettleton.
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?
Tettleton was selected All-Star teams in 1989 and 1994. The Sporting News named him to the AL All-Star team after the 1989, 1991, and 1992 seasons. Unfortunately for Tettleton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Carlton Fisk and Lance Parrish kept getting voted in by the fans and managers.
When a player who, statistically, seems to be head-and-shoulders above his competition yet was ignored by his peers, we have to wonder why. Was Tettleton?s defense so horrible? During Tettleton?s offensive run, Alomar, Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago and Terry Steinbach all made All-Star teams based in large part on their throwing arms and defensive reputations. Tettleton did not have a great throwing arm, and while he was generally considered a good receiver by his pitchers, he caught for some horrible pitching staffs. Rightly or not, that hurt his defensive reputation greatly; during the end of his tenure in Detroit, the Tigers used Tettleton at first base and the outfield to save his knees and bat, and brought in Chad Kreuter to take his place behind the plate.
Is catcher defense so important that a greatly inferior offensive player should be selected ahead of Tettleton for All-Star teams? I?m inclined to say not; it was a mistake to overlook Tettleton. That being said, players who don?t get votes for All-Star teams generally don?t get votes for the Hall of Fame, either.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Perhaps. In his four seasons in Detroit, the Tigers led the league in runs scored twice, and came in second and third the other two seasons, but were constantly sabotaged by one of the worst pitching staffs of the era. Mickey Tettleton was a good player, and sometimes a very good one, but never had the transcendent season that marks many Hall of Fame careers.
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?
Mickey Tettleton introduced a popular children?s cereal as an important source of power production as well as a nutritious part of a complete breakfast.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Everything I?ve ever read about Tettleton described him as a really nice guy.
To get into the Hall of Fame, a guy has to a great player at their position, and would have to maintain that production for a long time. Mickey Tettleton, for a good six seasons put up Hall-of-Fame numbers as a catcher. However, outside of his peak seasons, there?s really not much to look at. Whereas a true Hall-of-Famer like Berra or Bench have multiple big seasons outside of their peak years, Tettleton?s got five half-seasons of non-production in his first five years.
What if Tettleton?s career hadn?t gotten off to such a crummy start? What if he had played in an era where offensive numbers were more eye-catching? What if he hadn?t suffered that knee injury in 1997? It?s likely that Mickey Tettleton would be a more viable candidate for the Hall of Fame had he just gotten a few breaks. Heck, with better heath and in a more successful organization, maybe Tettleton would have become a superstar, a shoo-in for the Hall. Of course, that?s true for dozens of players who aren?t serious Hall of Fame candidates, and nobody votes on "what ifs." I?m more inclined to believe that Tettleton got about as far as his talent and skills could take him. He deserved more attention while he played, but he doesn?t deserve to be in the Hall.
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