Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Primate Studies > Discussion
Primate Studies
— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Mickey Tettleton

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:

 

Tettleton

AGE

YEAR

TEAM

G

AB

BA

OBA

SLG

Adjusted EQA

OPS+

28

1989

BAL

117

411

.258

.369

.509

.319

149

29

1990

BAL

135

444

.223

.376

.381

.296

116

30

1991

DET

154

501

.263

.387

.491

.320

141

31

1992

DET

157

525

.238

.379

.469

.314

136

32

1993

DET

152

522

.245

.372

.492

.304

132

33

1994

DET

107

339

.248

.419

.463

.314

128

Berra

AGE

YEAR

TEAM

G

AB

BA

OBA

SLG

Adjusted EQA

OPS+

26

1951

NYY

141

547

.294

.350

.492

.294

130

27

1952

NYY

142

534

.273

.358

.478

.300

137

28

1953

NYY

137

503

.296

.363

.523

.303

140

29

1954

NYY

151

584

.307

.367

.488

.302

136

30

1955

NYY

147

541

.272

.349

.470

.287

121

31

1956

NYY

140

521

.298

.378

.534

.306

142

Bench

AGE

YEAR

TEAM

G

AB

BA

OBA

SLG

Adjusted EQA

OPS+

22

1970

CIN

158

605

.293

.345

.587

.303

145

23

1971

CIN

149

562

.238

.299

.423

.270

105

24

1972

CIN

147

538

.270

.379

.541

.329

166

25

1973

CIN

152

557

.253

.345

.429

.286

119

26

1974

CIN

160

621

.280

.363

.507

.308

143

27

1975

CIN

142

530

.283

.359

.519

.308

140

Carter

AGE

YEAR

TEAM

G

AB

BA

OBA

SLG

Adjusted EQA

26

1980

MON

154

549

.264

.331

.486

.289

126

27

1981

MON

100

374

.251

.312

.444

.270

112

28

1982

MON

154

557

.293

.381

.510

.314

146

29

1983

MON

145

541

.270

.336

.444

.284

116

30

1984

MON

159

596

.294

.366

.487

.306

143

31

1985

NYN

149

555

.281

.365

.488

.306

139

 

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.

Summary

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.

Los Angeles El Hombre de Anaheim Posted: January 01, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Related News:

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Scott Posted: January 01, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#607928)
Neat article. You're right, it is fun to read about very good players like Tettleton -- the fact that they're not really HOF'rs is why we never usually get to read about them.

I'd just add that it doesn't seem unfair to Tettleton that he had four seasons where he played half-time. Here are his OPS's for those four seasons, 1985-88, when he played 70-90 games a year:

1985: .695
1986: .714
1987: .614
1988: .754

For the first three years, he wasn't a slugger whose production screamed for more playing time. He wasn't the Erubiel Durazo of the 1980s.

And he wasn't unfairly ignored because of his low BAs. Even by OPS, our favorite metric, his 1988 production reached a new plateau, and he was made a regular the next year. That's fair for a bad defensive player.

He's a good player, but I agree with your ultimate conclusion that he proba bly went as far as his talents could take him. Tettleton was a late bloomer, as these numbers show, and that explains his late arrival as a regular.

In a way it makes him more admirable. When a player reaches his peak at 28-32, that tells you he's not coasting on physical skills -- it tells you he's learned a few things, even as his physical condition plateaus or declines. He's the opposite of a Ruben Sierra, who had HOF-level physical gifts and (setting aside his recent comeback) never learned a damn thing.

If I'm right and Tettleton was a hard/smart worker, then it's all the more bewildering that he stayed a terrible defensive catcher. Isn't at least some of that a learned skill?
   2. Robinson Cano Plate Like Home Posted: January 01, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#607930)
I'm not sure Tettleton wasn't the best player on the 89 Orioles (Ripkens notwithstanding), or that Whitaker wasn't the better player in 91-92.
   3. Charles Saeger Posted: January 01, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#607931)
Tettleton may well have been better than Ripken in 1989, but Ripken had the MVP votes.

However, Tettleton was better than Whitaker at that time. He hit about the same, but he played more, mostly because Whitaker couldn't hit lefties with a tennis racket at that time.
   4. Dan Szymborski Posted: January 01, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#607934)
While 1987 was truly terrible, those low OPS numbers the other 3 seasons really only pale in comparison to today's expectations. In the mid-80s in the Oakland Coliseum, those numbers are actually quite good for a catcher.

The OPS+ is 98 for '85, 100 in '86, and 113 in '88.

Fast-forward to 2002 and a catcher with exactly league-average offense in the Coliseum (nobody paid me naming rights) would correspond to a significantly prettier 337/433 with that 1988 performance getting into the 350/450 range.
   5. Dan Szymborski Posted: January 01, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#607943)
During the little 1988-1991 era, in the AL, you essentially have a DH league averaging 4.3 runs per game which puts it pretty much on par with the 1970s.

Once you adjust for the DH, the 1988-1992 era was a worse environment for runs than any pre-DH era with the notable exception of the late 60s/early 70s. The years just before 1987 a little higher in the offense department, about on par with the 50s.

In the NL, only 3 seasons since the dead-ball era (1963, 1967 and 1968) featured less run-scoring than the 3.88 runs per game the NL featured in 1988 and 1992 with the 3.94 runs per game in 1989 being among the lowest.


   6. User unknown in local recipient table (Craig B) Posted: January 01, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#607953)
Great job, David. But I have to take issue with

He might be the best baseball player in history of Oklahoma who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Although both Waners are in the Hall, Allie Reynolds and Bob Johnson are not. (Bob Johnson wasn't as good as Paul Waner, but he was five time the player Lloyd was).

   7. Los Angeles El Hombre de Anaheim Posted: January 02, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607975)
I'm surprised there wasn't mention of Mickey's batting stance, one of the odder ones I remember. He'd stand slightly open with his bat pointing almost straight back, held rather limply in his hands. It looked very passive up there - until he jerked the ball into the second deck.

I'm surprised, too, since I still have a post-it note stuck on my monitor that was supposed to remind me to mention his approach at the plate. How embarassing. That funky stance was a big reason he struck out so much - his swing was so necessarily big because he held the bat back so far, he probably had to start early and so missed on a lot of breaking pitches. (But woe be to the curveball that hung aound a little too long. BOOM.) Because of this, he wouldn't swing at anything he didn't think he could put into orbit, he took a lot of close pitches for balls as well as strikes. Honestly, I've never seen anyone take so many called third strikes.

If you see Bobby Murcer, you can tell him that Mickey Tettleton was a better ballplayer than he was.
   8. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 02, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607978)
Honestly, I've never seen anyone take so many called third strikes.

Late-career Rickey Henderson.

If you see Bobby Murcer, you can tell him that Mickey Tettleton was a better ballplayer than he was.

Reminds me of a story of a Chicago ballplayer (sorry, can't remember who) who was asked by Al Capone for an autograph for his nephew. He signed, and the next morning found himself in Commissioner Landis' office, begin told "No more autographs for Al Capone!"

He replied, "that's fine, sir, but I think you should be the one to tell him."
   9. Flynn Posted: January 02, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607982)
fracas, I *think* that was Eddie Collins.
   10. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: January 02, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#607983)
Ah, here it is. NHBA page 374:

Al Capone was at Wrigley Field one day, called Gabby [Hartnett] over to his box and asked him to sign an autograph for Capone's nephew. Gabby signed, and a photographer took a picture of the two together. When the picture appeared in the paper Judge Landis called Hartnett in and ordered him not to sign anything else for Scarface. "Judge," said Hartnett, "if that's your rule, it's okay by me. But I'm not explaining it to him. Next time you see him, you explain it to him."

See, I knew this anecdote was relevant to our discussion of HOF catchers. (That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)
   11. TFB Posted: January 06, 2003 at 02:17 AM (#608066)
Not to be a gossip, but the NY Times reports that Darren Daulton was arrested for DUI. Weird that I haven't thought about him for years and then he pops up on my web browsing twice in one week.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
The Id of SugarBear Blanks
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Syndicate

Page rendered in 0.4979 seconds
47 querie(s) executed