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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Re-Thinking Roy Campanella

progrockfan has done a project on Roy Campanella. So here’s a thread for him to present it and we can discuss it.

JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 26, 2018 at 02:57 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:13 PM (#5800526)
Re-Thinking Roy Campanella

Greetings all! I’d like to promote a fresh discussion of Roy Campanella and his historical ranking among the great catchers.

The HoM all-time vote ranked Campy tenth among catchers, well outside the inner circle. If the vote were held again today, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez would likely push him down to twelfth. @Kiko Sakata has summarized what seems to be the HoM consensus, grouping Campy with four other players he describes as “fairly solid mid-tier Hall-of-Famers/Meriters”.

I see Campy as an inner-circle catcher, in the same elite class as Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra (and like them, a distinct step below Josh Gibson). I believe the disconnect between the HoM’s assessment and mine stems from a variety of factors, including:

* An underestimation of Campy’s power in the generally superb MLEs performed by @Dr. Chaleeko and @Chris Cobb;

* An underestimation of the dominance of Campy’s defense at all levels of play; and

* An underestimation of both his games-played totals and the quality of his play in pre-MLB baseball.

Throughout the analyses that follow I’ll make reference to “HoM catchers”; by this I mean the eighteen MLB catchers in the HoM. Occasionally I’ll refer to “HoM live-ball catchers”; this smaller comparison set is sometimes necessitated by missing data – and in the case of Deacon White, by the completely different nature of the game when he was active (he caught without protective equipment and bare-handed the incoming pitches; can you imagine how he would have coped with the likes of Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson?). Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey and Gabby Hartnett all have significant advanced fielding data from 1930 onwards, and are included in various comparisons by considering just the post-1930 portions of their careers.
   2. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:13 PM (#5800527)
The Inner-Circle Case for Roy Campanella
Part 1: Power

Roy Campanella’s MLB power hitting was historic. He established new career records for slugging percentage (.500) and isolated power (.224) by a catcher; in sixty-one years since, only Mike Piazza has surpassed either mark. He still holds three of the top twelve single-season slugging marks by a catcher. He set the single-season record for catcher’s home runs with 40 in 1953 (a record that stood for forty-three years) and set the career record for catchers with 17.38 at bats per home run (again, a figure surpassed only by Piazza).

Campy was clearly an elite power-hitting catcher – but his MLEs paint precisely the opposite picture. Compared with other HoM live-ball catchers, Campy’s MLEs, as a stand-alone player, would rank dead last in slugging, at .397 (Chris Cobb’s MLEs) or .391 (Dr. Chaleeko’s).

The first underlying issue with Campy’s MLEs is a consistent and severe under-translation of his pre-MLB power numbers. For example, in 1943 he finished second in the MxL in home runs (one behind the league leader) and fifth in doubles, with a batting average eighteen points above league average – but his MLE slugging is translated to .376 (Chaleeko) or .375 (Cobb).

The second issue stems, I believe, from the inferior NgL data sets available at the time the translations were performed thirteen years ago. Consider 1944: Today’s data indicates that Campy slugged .585 in NgL play to Josh Gibson’s .595 – but Campy is credited with MLE slugging of .411 (Chaleeko) or .419 (Cobb) to Gibson’s .556 (Chaleeko and Cobb).

Combining his current MLEs with Campy’s actual MLB totals drags his all-time rank in slugging among catchers from third down to twelfth (Cobb) or fifteenth (Chaleeko). This has no doubt contributed to his low all-time ranking as perceived by HoM voters.

Player                             AB     H    TB   Slg
Josh Gibson (MLE Cobb)           6627  2165  3941  .595
Mike Piazza                      6911  2127  3768  .545
Roy Campanella 
(actual MLB)      4205  1161  2101  .500
Roy Campanella 
(actual NgL)       765   252   377  .493
Gabby Hartnett                   6432  1912  3144  .489
Bill Dickey                      6300  1969  3062  .486
Yogi Berra                       7555  2150  3643  .482
Mickey Cochrane                  5169  1652  2470  .478
Johnny Bench                     7658  2048  3644  .476
Ivan Rodriguez                   9592  2844  4451  .464
Carlton Fisk                     8756  2356  3999  .457
Buck Ewing                       5363  1625  2444  .456
Roy Campanella 
(MLB MLE Cobb)  7777  2120  3518  .452
Joe Torre                        7874  2342  3560  .452
Cal McVey                        2513   869  1123  .447
Roy Campanella 
(MLB MLE DrC8303  2266  3702  .446
Joe Carter                       7971  2092  3497  .439
Ted Simmons                      8680  2472  3793  .437
Bill Freehan                     6073  1591  2502  .412
Roy Campanella 
(MLE Cobb)        3572   959  1417  .397
Deacon White                     6624  2067  2605  .393
Biz Mackey 
(MLE Cobb)            8275  2493  3249  .393
Roy Campanella 
(MLE DrC)       4098  1105  1601  .391
Charlie Bennett                  3821   978  1480  .387
Roger Bresnahan                  4481  1252  1690  .377
Biz Mackey 
(MLE DrC)           7036  1631  2515  .357
Quincy Trouppe 
(MLE DrC)       7195  1668  2568  .357

Considering the problem from another angle: From 1949 to 1956, all of Campy’s actual MLB ISOs are higher than any of his projected MLE ISOs. Only in Campy’s final MLB season did he post an ISO lower than his highest projected MLE ISO.

Year  League       ISO
1953  Actual MLB  .299
1950  Actual MLB  .270
1951  Actual MLB  .265
1955  Actual MLB  .265
1949  Actual MLB  .211
1954  Actual MLB  .194
1952  Actual MLB  .184
1956  Actual MLB  .175
1941  MLE 
(NgL)   .167
1940  MLE 
(NgL)   .146
1957  Actual MLB  .145
1947  MLE 
(IL)    .128
1943  MLE 
(MxL)   .124
1944  MLE 
(NgL)   .122
1945  MLE 
(NgL)   .117
1946  MLE 
(NENL)  .113
1939  MLE 
(NgL)   .110
1942  MLE 
(NgL)   .104

Existing MLEs suggest that Campy hit at dead-ball power levels in all pre-MLB contexts, then suddenly transformed into a record-breaking slugger in MLB. I submit that this conclusion fails the P-value test.

I believe that Campy’s MLEs should be re-performed with significant adjustments to the translation of power, and that his place in history should be re-evaluated accordingly. (There’s additional potential evidence for the necessity for re-translation: the bottom-rung rankings – literally at the very bottom, below all dead-ball catchers in the consideration set – of Biz Mackey and Quincy Trouppe in Dr. Chaleeko’s MLEs, which may indicate a generalised problem with NgL power translations.)

Availability of verified NgL data has improved tremendously in the thirteen years since the HoM‘s MLEs were performed; this new data will obviously have a significant impact.

This is a rare instance (unique, perhaps) in which presentation of MLEs as traditional statistics – particularly with regards to extra-base hits – might prove crucial to historical evaluation. If we find, for instance, that Campy, with his phenomenal defense (addressed next), is projected to challenge for a place near the top in catcher home runs – as I strongly suspect he would – well, that might make an impact, I think, on voters’ views.

To aid in the re-translation of Campy’s MLEs, here are some previously un-posted statistics from his time in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League:

1946               G    AB    R    H   2B   3B  HR  RBI   Avg    Slg    ISO    TB  XBH  SB
Campy             12    53   11    19    3   2   2   13  .358   .604   .245    32    7   0
VPBL              30  4396  657  1166  162  39  45  553  .265   .351   .085  1541  246  89
VPBL minus Campy  30  4343  646  1147  159  37  43  540  .264   .347   .083  1509  239  89
Campy vs
VPBL                                          +.094  +.257  +.162

1947-48            G    AB    R    H   2B   3B  HR  RBI   Avg    Slg    ISO    TB  XBH  SB
Campy            *40   134   31   45   12    1   5   21  .336   .552   .216   74    18   8
VPBL              39  5253  783  1401  222  43  69  651  .267   .365   .098  1916  334  24
VPBL minus Campy  39  5119  752  1356  210  42  64  630  .265   .360   .095  1842  316  16
Campy vs
VPBL                                          +.071  +.192  +.121
This anomaly in player vsteam games played is likely attributable to a rained-out game
   3. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:14 PM (#5800528)
The Inner-Circle Case for Roy Campanell
Part 2: Defense and Durability

In the HoM Yogi Berra thread, Dr. Chaleeko gave his “reductive view of catcher defense in today's game”, which I think merits quoting at length:
“– A lot of catcher assists (non-SB ones that is) are discretionary, throwing guys out on bunts or on dinkers. The catcher waves off the pitcher and takes the throw.
– Catcher putouts have very little meaning. Mostly they are strikeouts or high popups around the plate.
– Plate blocking is important, but it comes up about once a month.
– The variation of pitcher-handling and game-calling a game has been pretty thoroughly debunked by Keith Woolner (and probably others too), and catcher ERA is a poor measure of working with pitchers.
– WP and PB are much rarer today than ever and are extremely dependent on the repertoire of the pitching staff.
There are two things that today's catcher must be good at: gunning down runners and catching a lot of innings despite getting dinged up a bit. […] The real difference in catchers is in their arms and their footwork.”
Taking Dr. Chaleeko’s criteria for catcher excellence point by point, let’s start with “gunning down runners”. Campy holds the all-time career record for caught-stealing percentage at 57.4%.

@Gary A argues that the advantages conferred by this may be illusory. Comparing Campy from 1948-57 with I-Rod from 1991-2000, Gary finds that Campy was 42% better than the league average of his time, facing 420 attempts, whereas I-Rod was 77% better than his league, facing 738 attempts. In raw terms, that’s 241 baserunner kills for Campy vs. 340 for I-Rod.

Extended analysis undermines this argument. If we accept the crude but handy formulation that a steal is worth 0.3 runs and a caught stealing is worth –0.6 runs, then Campy’s arm saved his team 90.9 runs versus I-Rod’s 84.6. The average run-scoring environment from 1948-58 was 4.48 runs per game, and from 1991-2000 it was 4.76 – making each run saved about 6% more valuable in Campy’s time than in I-Rod’s.

Also, Campy was wiping out more than half of all baserunners attempting to steal against him, year after year, a fact that was perfectly well known while he was active; this suppressed the number of attempted steals and hit-and-runs opposing managers were willing to try against him – and this deterrent effect, in and of itself, had game-altering defensive value. Campy faced 34% fewer base-stealing attempts than the league average, vs. 32% for I-Rod – another advantage for Campy.

Further, an arm of such strength and accuracy confers other defensive advantages, such as an increased risk of pickoffs and the smaller leads risked by baserunners in consequence, which in turn suppresses opponents’ stealing and scoring opportunities. Phil Rizzuto, wiped out twice by Campy in Game 4 of the 1949 World Series, remarked: “I was never picked off third base in my career, and Campanella made it look easy.”

Clearly, the defensive advantage of Campy’s reputation and 57.4% caught-stealing rate is no illusion of context. The opinion expressed several times in the Campanella thread, summarised best by @OCF’s comment: “he was a fine defensive catcher – in an age when people didn't steal bases, which limits the value”, does not in fact obtain. His historically unparalleled ability to gun down baserunners did in fact have historically unparalleled game-winning value.

Dr. Chaleeko’s second criterion concerns durability – and again, Campy stands virtually without peer. He and Yogi Berra set parallel ML records by catching 100+ games in nine consecutive seasons. Campy caught 76.3% of his team’s total games, a mark that easily broke Mickey Cochrane’s record of 72.9% and still ranks third today. He also displayed tremendous durability on a game-to-game basis: he ranks #1 among HoM live-ball catchers with 8.56 innings caught per appearance, and #2 in completing 90.6% of his games caught.

Campy is therefore a superb exemplar – one of the very best all-time – of “catching a lot of innings despite getting dinged up a bit”.

Dr. Chaleeko’s third criterion is footwork. It’s striking, when reading contemporary accounts of Campy’s defense, how consistently commentators mention not only his arm, but also his gracefulness and economy of motion, his dexterity and nimbleness afoot. Mickey Cochrane praised Campy’s “remarkable agility, his powerful throwing arm, and the disdainful confidence with which he pegged to any base at any time, never fearful of throwing the ball away”. Life magazine described him as “quick despite his casual air”; Time as “an athlete of grace” who “never makes an unnecessary move”. “More than one observer,” wrote Tom Meany in The Artful Dodgers, “has likened [his] quickness to that of a cat. He can pounce on bunts placed far out in front of the plate and he gets his throws away with no lost motion.”

Campy therefore ranks at or near the top in all three of Dr. Chaleeko’s criteria for modern catcher defense – and there’s substantial favorable evidence beyond those criteria.

Range factor contains too many illusions to paint an accurate season-by-season picture of catcher defense: strikeouts are credited as catcher putouts; assist totals increase as catchers on bad teams face more stolen-base attempts; and the size of home-park foul territory influences a catcher’s opportunities to record outs via popups. However, range factor does have consistent predictive career value, which I’ve not seen mentioned in discussions of catcher defense.

In the HoM thread on election results for the all-time greatest catchers, @ronw breaks HoM MLB catchers into three groups by the quality of their defense, as perceived by Win Shares and FRAA1:

Excellent – Johnny Bench, Charlie Bennett, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Buck Ewing, Gabby Hartnett.

Great – Roy Campanella, Mickey Cochrane, Carlton Fisk, Bill Freehan, Deacon White. (ronw adds the caveat that Campanella and Cochrane have excellent rates, but poor FRAA1 ratings due to short career length; I’ll expand on Campy’s true career length in the next section.)

Poor – Roger Bresnahan, Cal McVey, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre.

Adding I-Rod to the Excellent group and Piazza to the Poor group for completeness, the following trend is observable in seasonal range factor leaderboards:

* All eight catchers in the Excellent group, and all five catchers in the Great group, led their league in range factor at least once, and

* None of the five catchers in the Poor group ever led their league in range factor.

Sustained dominance in range factor also has consistent predictive value. Every live-ball catcher who led his league in range factor four times or more was a superior defender: Campanella, Cochrane, Dickey, Johnny Edwards, Jerry Grote, Bill Killefer, Yadier Molina and John Roseboro.

In sum, in the live-ball era there is a reliable predictive correlation between high seasonal range factors and excellent catcher defense. Not all great defensive catchers have consistently high range factors – but live-ball catchers with consistently high range factors are always rated as great defensive catchers.

Like his caught-stealing rate, Campy’s dominance of seasonal range factor is historically unparalleled. He led the league in range factor per game eight consecutive years (1948-55) and nine times overall (add 1957), and in range factor per nine innings seven consecutive years (1948-54) and eight times overall (add 1957). All of these figures stand as all-time records at catcher – this despite the fact that 1948 was Campy’s 12th year in organized baseball, but his first in a league that recorded sufficient defensive statistics to allow calculation of range factors.

In each of Campy’s ML seasons, Brooklyn pitchers led the National League in strikeouts – a strong bias in his favor. However, Brooklyn’s run of consecutive league-leading strikeout totals began the year Campy took over catching duties, and so, as Bill James observes, some small measure of credit should be accorded to the catcher’s pitch-calling and -framing. (This is especially true in the case of Campy, who had a sterling reputation as a handler of pitchers; as Carl Erskine remarked, “If you shook off Campy, you had to explain it to Walter Alston.”)

It should also be noted that other catchers have had similar strikeout-heavy pitching-staff advantages at various points in history, but none, in a hundred and forty years of play, has matched Campy’s prolonged dominance in range factor behind the plate.

Consistent with excellent range, Campy had a reputation for very soft hands. He “allows very few passed balls,” said Life in 1953; “a high pitch does not even make Campy rise out of [his] crouch.” This is borne out by the numbers. Among HoM catchers, Campy ranks fourth in passed ball prevention with just .0473 per game and .0498 per nine innings, and fifth in wild pitch prevention with .1851 per game and .1946 per nine innings. He is one of four HoM live-ball catchers to never lead his league in passed balls; in fact, he never finished higher than third in MLB passed balls or wild pitches in any season, despite routinely leading his league – often by multi-hundred inning margins – in innings caught.

At least one form of extended analysis shows Campy as #1 in all-time defense. Bill James’s Defensive Winning Percentage takes many variable factors into account, including, for catchers, team strikeouts and walks, catcher assists, runners thrown out, errors, passed balls, and stolen bases allowed. James writes:
“We have Campanella rated, as a defensive player, at 55-6, a winning percentage of .896. I believe that’s the fourth- or fifth-highest percentage I’ve ever seen [at any position]… The mean Winning Percentage for [the 109 catchers who have caught 1,000+ games since 1900] is .681, with a Standard Deviation of .070. There are two catchers in history who are 2 standard deviations above the norm...: Roy Campanella and Yadier Molina.”
There is, in sum, a multi-faceted, evidence-based argument that Roy Campanella was the greatest defensive catcher in baseball history.

Still, for the sake of this analysis, let’s err on the side of conservatism and place him somewhere in the top five. I don’t see how any lower ranking is possible.

So: historic slugging, historic durability, historic defense – but wait… there’s more.
   4. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:14 PM (#5800529)
The Inner-Circle Case for Roy Campanella
Part 3: Contemporary Reputation and the Great Intangible – Segregation

(Part 3 is split for length.)

Campy was a star everywhere he played (or should I say, everywhere he was allowed to play) for a span of sixteen years:

* 1941: NgNL All-Star
* 1942: NgNL All-Star*
* 1943: MxL All-Star
* 1944: NgNL All-Star
* 1945: NgNL All-Star
* 1946: NENL MVP
* 1947: IL MVP
* 1948: (split season between AAA and MLB)
* 1949: NL All-Star
* 1950: NL All-Star
* 1951: NL All-Star, NL MVP
* 1952: NL All-Star
* 1953: NL All-Star, NL MVP
* 1954: NL All-Star
* 1955: NL All-Star, NL MVP
* 1956: NL All-Star

* Yes, 1942 – see below.

Every audience that saw him play thought he was one of the very best around, for a very long time.

A large proportion of this reputation hinged on the contemporary view of his defense. In 1947 Campy’s highest placement on any IL offensive leaderboard was 14th place in RBI. 14th place, finishing behind two of his own teammates, is hardly an argument-starter for MVP. It was Campy’s defense, not his hitting, that stood him above the rest of the league in the eyes of the voters. Buffalo’s manager Paul Richards, himself a former top-notch MLB defensive catcher, singled out the .273-hitting Campanella as “the best catcher in the business, major or minor leagues.”

Campy’s MLB impact was sensational. Ty Cobb said, “Campanella will be remembered longer than any catcher in baseball history… When they look for players to put in the Hall of Fame, they’ll have to start with Roy Campanella.” Tris Speaker said, “Of all the men playing baseball today, the one they will talk about the most twenty or thirty years from now will be Campanella.” Some HoM posters have questioned whether Campy deserved various of his three NL MVPs. When debating their season-by-season merit, posters should recognize that voters of the time were weighing not only a catcher hitting .300-30-100 for a pennant-winning team, but also what many of them considered the finest defensive catching they’d ever seen.

The adversity underpinning Campy’s stardom in the minors and majors cannot be overstated. He produced at historic levels under pressure as intense as any ballplayer has ever faced. In 1946 Campy and Don Newcombe co-integrated the New England League (with Campy winning the MVP); throughout the 1947 season he was the only black player in the International League (and won the MVP); when he was finally promoted to the Majors in 1948, he was just the sixth black player to appear there in the 20th century – and then, following Branch Rickey’s pre-arranged plan, he was ‘demoted’ to the American Association specifically to integrate the final segregated Triple-A circuit.

It must be understood that racially-motivated manoeuvring cost Campy significant playing time in both the NgL and MLB, and that this lost time is unjustly hampering his legacy. It should also be understood that Campy was clearly ready not just to play in, but to star in, the Majors by 1941 at the latest.

Campy was a prodigy of a type rarely seen in any era, playing with a semi-pro team of fourteen-to-twenty year olds at age thirteen due to his precocious size and ability. He debuted with the independent Bacarach Giants in 1937 at age fifteen, almost immediately jumped to the NgNL’s Washington (later Baltimore) Elite Giants where he served as backup catcher for two years, and took over as starter halfway through the 1939 season at age seventeen. The Elites went just 12-13 before Campy took over full-time catching duties, but 13-8 after, earning a spot in the playoffs; in the deciding playoff series against the Homestead Grays Campy hit .353 with a homer and six RBIs to help the Elites win their only NgL title.

Prior to the 1941 East-West Game, the NgAL squad schemed to take advantage of the nineteen-year-old’s supposed rawness by running wild on the basepaths. Campy gunned down lead runner Tommy Sampson on an attempted sacrifice bunt in the second, threw out Howard Cleveland attempting to steal in the fifth, and threw out Jimmy Crutchfield attempting to steal in the ninth. This defensive display, which earned him game MVP honors, captured the attention of interested parties outside NgL circles.

In July 1942 (not 1943 as is generally reported; the corrected timeline shows that Campy was viewed as prospective MLB material by qualified observers at age twenty), Nat Lowe, sports editor of the Communist, pro-integration Daily Worker, convinced Pirates owner William Benswanger to defy the color line and offer Campy and pitcher Dave Barnhill a tryout. It’s possible that Lowe also told Barnhill that Phillies owner Jerry Nugent would offer a tryout. Under pressure from other owners, all offers for prospective tryouts were quickly rescinded – but not before Campy, expecting at minimum a spot on a minor league roster, had jumped ship on the Baltimore Elite Giants. He missed games, and was then suspended briefly for league-jumping upon his return to the Elites. Surely this utterly unique situation, caused entirely by segregation, calls for MLE playing-time compensation.

A few weeks later he was suspended by the NgNL again, for playing in an NgAL exhibition game for a then-substantial fee of $200 – $15 more than he was later to earn for each full month at Nashua – without permission. He was fined $250 and summarily removed from his place, already awarded by the owners (the ‘fan vote’ of the time being a sham), on the roster of the 1942 East-West All-Star game. The search for playing time and money was an absolute necessity for most black players in this era; this suspension, while issued for a rules violation, was brought about by the economically straitened circumstances forced on Campy by segregation. Once again, in my view, this singular situation calls for MLE adjustment.
   5. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:15 PM (#5800532)
Part 3 (continued)

Infuriated and broke, Campy jumped to the Mexican League’s Monterey Industrials for the remainder of 1942 and nearly all of 1943. The Elites had to waive the $250 fine, which Campy refused to pay, to re-secure his services for 1944 – and it was worth it. Sportswriter Rollo Wilson wrote: “This year I rate [Campanella] over Gibson, because his game has advanced while Josh’s has declined.” Homestead Grays owner Cum Posey confirmed this assessment: “We placed Campanella over Gibson… Even with Gibson in perfect shape, it is a close race between him and Campanella.”

It’s possible that Campy, not Jackie Robinson, would have been chosen by Branch Rickey to break the ML color barrier if he had only said ‘Yes’ to Branch Rickey. (Walter O’Malley confirmed, “It got down to two men, Jackie and Roy Campanella”; Dodgers scout Clyde Sukeforth added, “We were all in on scouting Campanella, you couldn’t go wrong there… There was never any question about his ability”). Having been burned by Benswanger and Nugent, Campy turned down a direct offer from Rickey because he was convinced Rickey wanted his services for a new, segregated team, the rumored ‘Brown Dodgers’. Later in life Campy said, “I felt bad. Not that Jackie had signed, it didn’t matter to me who was number one. I felt bad that I had said no to Mr. Rickey” – but at the time, when told by Jackie Robinson that Rickey had signed him to play for Montreal, Campy exclaimed (as quoted by Dick Young): “Well, I’ll be darned. What a dumb boy I am.”

(I’m willing to bet that the language used by Campy was a bit more, um, mature than Mr. Young dared to reproduce in 1952. This quote stands in stark contrast to another Campanella line, too good not to pass on. After Rex Barney blew a potential no-hitter by shaking off his signals, Campy snarled at him, as quoted by Barney himself: “Don't you ever shake me off again. You know I'm smarter than you are. And I've always been smarter than you are. And I'll always be smarter than you are. Pitchers don't know a ####### thing. That's why they have catchers.”)

Campy served his time in the minors not for seasoning, but specifically to integrate the leagues to which he was assigned. As Nashua’s skipper Walter Alston remembered: “Roy of course was better than a Class B player. But he knew why he was there. He was part of Rickey’s plan to begin integrating baseball. He knew he was going to start something important.” Campy’s two minor league MVP years should absolutely be regarded as equivalent to All Star-caliber Major League seasons.

Part of Campy’s 1948 season, too, was lost to Major League play through Rickey’s color-line manipulations. The Dodgers brought Campy to spring training (Joe Posnanski describes him, at this moment, as “already, certainly, the best catcher in the world”) and put him on the bench, then in the outfield, and then at third base – anywhere but catcher. Rickey had explicitly forbidden Leo Durocher to play Campy at catcher for fear that the quality of his play would lead to fan demands that he play the full season with the Dodgers, thereby hindering Rickey’s plan for Campy to integrate the American Association.

Campy’s appearance in the Dodgers’ opener on April 20 was the first ever by a black catcher in ML play; in his sole plate appearance that day, the Giants’ Ken Trinkle welcomed him, Jackie Robinson-style, by drilling him in the ribs. After seeing play in just three of Brooklyn’s first eight games, Campy was ‘sent down’ to the all-white American Association. Sick of the machinations and badly wanting his long-deferred roster spot in the Majors, Campy groused at the move – “I ain’t no pioneer, I’m a ballplayer”, he said – but he did as he was asked, and lit up the AAA circut with .325–.432–.715 hitting in 35 games. Sixty-one games in, with the Dodgers floundering at 27-34, Campy was ‘promoted’, and proceeded to gun down 67% of opposing baserunners over the remainder of the year. So immediate and visceral was the impact of his defense that he received MVP votes while playing in just 83 MLB games. As with 1946 and 1947, 1948 should absolutely be regarded as equivalent to an All-Star-caliber Major League season.

While clearly necessary for the advancement of integration in baseball, Rickey’s social engineering project likely cost Brooklyn a spot in the World Series. As with the 1939 Elite Giants, Campy’s second-half presence transformed Baltimore’s fortunes: following his promotion the Dodgers went 57-36: 50-23 in games he started at catcher, 7-13 in games he didn’t. It seems probable that Campy’s presence over the course of the full season would have brought home the pennant.

Campy integrated the American Association, co-integrated the New England League, and served for a full year as the lone black face of the International League. With Don Newcombe he formed the first all-black battery in MLB history. In 1946, when Walter Aston was ejected from a Nashua game, Campy became the first black man to manage white players at any level of organized baseball (and won the game for Nashua by selecting Newcombe as a surprise pinch hitter).

Campy was every inch as much of a pioneer as Jackie Robinson, and should be acknowledged, remembered, and honored as such. “Robinson proved he could play on the biggest stage”, writes Bryan Soderholm-Difatte, “...but the success and progression of Campanella and Newcombe in the minor leagues was just as important in the long run – for the Dodgers, for baseball, even for America.” As Martin Luther King told Don Newcombe: “You'll never know what you and Jackie and Roy did to make it possible to do my job.”

But let’s be clear: Campy’s level of play, in all facets of the game, doesn’t require additional ‘pioneer credit’ for him to be recognized as an inner-circle Hall of Famer – and an inner-circle Hall of Meriter. What he does need, I contend, is proper credit for what he actually was from 1941 through 1948: the best catcher at any level of baseball.
   6. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:15 PM (#5800533)

So, if he’s top five (at minimum) in defense, and near the top in power, and set new standards for catcher durability, and had All-Star seasons across a span of sixteen years, and won five MVPs at the various levels of play he was allowed to access… well then, does Campy belong in tenth place, or twelfth, in the all-time HoM catcher rankings?

I can see an argument for second place, behind only Gibson, but I personally see third as correct, behind Berra (my MLB pick: durability, underrated defense, superior plate selectivity, and clockwork year-to-year offensive consistency that neither Bench nor Campy could match – plus ten rings) or Bench (who I suspect many of you would select, though Campy had superior power and, at minimum, comparable defense).

What do you say? I await your comments. Thanks for reading.
   7. progrockfan Posted: December 26, 2018 at 03:16 PM (#5800534)
A personal postscript

I’ve read about, and studied the statistics of, many hundreds of ballplayers since my youth – but Roy Campanella is the player I most regret not having seen in person. Such a big man, and yet so light on his feet! The stories about his fielding bring to my mind’s eye an infinitely more athletic version of Oliver Hardy, who could dance a tarantella with Stan Laurel as though gravity did not obtain.

My grandfather was also a powerful, strapping man, 6’5’’ and 270 pounds. He was an independent-league star in the early ‘40s, striking out 14 batters per game and averaging .310 with the bat. He signed with Cleveland, but when Pearl Harbor came he walked into the Navy without a second thought, walking out twenty-nine years later as director of naval recruiting for the Midwestern United States. He pitched for the legendary Great Lakes team in 1942, and struck out Ted Williams in an inter-service game. (If any of you know of a source for statistics or box scores for this team, I’ll be forever in your debt.)

Many times I spoke about baseball with this gentle giant of a man, who saw them all from Cobb to Trout. (The greatest player he ever saw: Willie Mays; the greatest pitcher: Bob Gibson.) We spent happy afternoons together in the Comiskey and Wrigley bleachers, and saw some minor wonderments: Dave Winfield’s 1000th extra-base hit (a crushing shot into the left-center bleachers), Tom Seaver’s 3500th strikeout (with Carlton Fisk giving Seaver a joyous hug), and, on a visit to Minnesota, a joyous Yankee-killing Kent Hrbek grand slam (the loudest crowd noise I will ever hear). The love of baseball that flowed from him found its way into my blood, and stays with me today.

Grandpa died in January 2016, and I never got to ask him about Roy Campanella. I wish I had. Rest in peace, Grandpa.
   8. Michael J. Binkley's anxiety closet Posted: December 26, 2018 at 10:47 PM (#5800585)
Great work, progrockfan (and as an aside, prog was always my favorite genre of music as well).

As to where I have Campanella, I have him 5th - this includes credit for his Negro League play and adjust for his pitch-framing. Gibson, of course, is a clear #1. Fisk, Piazza and Carter are in a mini-tier at 2, 3 & 4 and Campy is in a tier by himself at 5. Bench and Berra are a little lower at 6 & 7 and Rodriguez is the last catcher in my inner-circle, a clear 8th though.

Fisk, Piazza, Carter and Campy all jump ahead of the "traditional" top-2 MLB catchers due to their pitch-framing stats, from both Max Marchi and those at Baseball Prospectus.

What I don't understand regarding Campy, is that despite the high range-factor numbers and the league-leading CS percentages, TZ rates him as barely above-average defensively and DRA actually has him as slightly below-average. If these numbers ever get adjusted upward, he could easily make it to #2 behind Gibson.
   9. depletion Posted: December 27, 2018 at 08:13 PM (#5800759)
".325–.432–.715 hitting in 35 games."
I assume the American Association got the point.
Great work progrock.
   10. Mike Webber Posted: December 27, 2018 at 10:27 PM (#5800784)
For example, in 1943 he finished second in the MxL in home runs (one behind the league leader) and fifth in doubles, with a batting average eighteen points above league average – but his MLE slugging is translated to .376 (Chaleeko) or .375 (Cobb).

Are these stats available on line?
   11. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2018 at 10:28 PM (#5800785)
This may be the most interesting player profile I've ever read on BTF, and I've been here going back to when it was Clutch Hits. Great work, progrockfan, even if I'm more of a jazz and R&B fan myself.

Dr. Chaleeko’s third criterion is footwork. It’s striking, when reading contemporary accounts of Campy’s defense, how consistently commentators mention not only his arm, but also his gracefulness and economy of motion, his dexterity and nimbleness afoot. Mickey Cochrane praised Campy’s “remarkable agility, his powerful throwing arm, and the disdainful confidence with which he pegged to any base at any time, never fearful of throwing the ball away”. Life magazine described him as “quick despite his casual air”; Time as “an athlete of grace” who “never makes an unnecessary move”. “More than one observer,” wrote Tom Meany in The Artful Dodgers, “has likened [his] quickness to that of a cat. He can pounce on bunts placed far out in front of the plate and he gets his throws away with no lost motion.”

There's nothing I can really add to this, but there's another aspect of Campy's footwork worth noting: His bunting ability.

And here we have an actual video example of this, in the bottom of the 4th inning of game 7 of the 1952 World Series, when first Jackie Robinson and then Campanella laid down perfect back-to-back bunts to put runners on 1st and 2nd. In the You Tube complete kinescope of that game, Campy comes up to bat at the 52:01 mark, just as Stengel's about to visit the mound after Duke Snider's single and Jackie's bunt, and the bunt is at 53:55, but in fact the whole game is worth watching from start to finish.
   12. Rob_Wood Posted: December 27, 2018 at 11:39 PM (#5800800)
I used to tell people that I was second to none in my admiration for Roy Campanella. I guess I can no longer say that.
   13. Rally Posted: December 29, 2018 at 08:38 PM (#5801120)
I looked over the catcher defensive stats used to calculate Campanella's runs saved. I did those numbers almost a decade ago for and later provided them to baseball reference. This was several computers ago, so I had to search an old backup drive to figure out what was going on.

Before 1953 I did not have the data that we see now on bbref, as best as I can tell his season ratings of +1,+2, etc. are only based on preventing errors and passed balls. Since we now have those plus SB/CS/WP, we can do a lot better. I compared his rates for those stats to the league average and get these defensive ratings for 1948-1952:

1948 +5
1949 +5
1950 +10
1951 +6
1952 +7

That's 3 extra wins above what is currently on BBref. I can't do anything to quantify his pitch calling or framing.
   14. Howie Menckel Posted: December 30, 2018 at 12:52 AM (#5801162)
good thread
   15. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 30, 2018 at 03:07 AM (#5801165)
In the chart in #2, I'm going to assume that Joe Carter's playing nickname was "Gary."

As for #1 through #7, rug-making artisans would intentionally drop a single stitch because only Allah is perfect.
   16. KJOK Posted: December 31, 2018 at 02:17 AM (#5801296)

Are these stats available on line?

No, but they will be (hopefully) in 2019.

   17. KJOK Posted: December 31, 2018 at 02:32 AM (#5801297)
And this is some nice work PROGROCKFAN. I have actually been researching 1940s Mexican League stats this week, hope to have time in the next few days to look at this closer. Also, maybe Dr. Chaleeko will stop by soon with some comments. I do know that Monterrey had a neutral park factor for Campanella, so that shouldn't be causing any unusual distortions.

   18. TR_Sullivan Posted: December 31, 2018 at 11:53 AM (#5801353)
Having followed Ivan Rodriguez from the Minor Leagues to the Hall of Fame, I have attempted to study the greatest catchers in history....certainly in no way close to the fascinating analytical study presented by progrockfan above. It was always my assessment that Bench, Campanella and Berra were the three best MLB catchers.... I didn't realize there was some doubt on where Campanella stood....
   19. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 31, 2018 at 01:14 PM (#5801378)
For 1943 I use a very roughly estimated 3-yrleqr PF of 0.98.

The reality isn’t currently knowable because I be never seen info about what parks the Mexican Leauge teams played in, how often teams switched parks and weather the park dimensions were changed. MTY played as a slight pitcher’s park until 1945. Then it bounced between slight hitter’s park and a strong hitter’s park until 1954. While a change in venues is possible, the composition of the league changed frequently with lesser teams coming and going around the stable and successful franchises. My estimate is 50% current year (1943), 16.67% previous year (1942), 16.67% two years old (1941), and a “regression” element of 16.67 designed to drag the PF back toward the mean. Each year’s PF is based on team RS and RA v the league R/G with a corrective based on the number of teams in the league.
   20. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 31, 2018 at 01:28 PM (#5801386)

Very thoughtful!

Couple things to note
1) I have since reworked my MLEs. I no longer translate component stats. One of the great things about WAR is that it uses runs (batting, fielding, running, GIDPing), and therefore, all we need to do is translate a player’s RAA in any of those areas rather than translate component stats. If you visit the Negro Leagues section at the Hall of Miller and Eric (I’m Eric), you’ll find my latest MLEs for him.

2) Since my observations on defense those many years ago, WiMAX Marchi’s studies of pitcher handling have emerged. And, yes, Campy is one of the greats in that regard. In my HOM ranking system, I build that information into my rankings, tho I take it at half strength JIC.

3) Since Campy was shaped like Hack Wilson merged with Popeye, he ran poorly and was a righty hittter. He was a GIDP “leader,” and that definitely needs to be considered as part of his evaluation.

4) generally, however, I agree that when putting everything together, Campy is among history’s greatest catchers. Absolutely top ten, possibly top five. Probably not top four. Gibson, Bench, Carter, Ewing, Piazza, I-Rod are very stiff competition. But I value him above the Dickey/Hartnett/Cochrane group for sure.
   21. progrockfan Posted: January 04, 2019 at 10:40 AM (#5802383)
Excellent post, Doctor.

Here's how I personally rank the great catchers. Among the catchers you named, I think four require a bit of discussion: Carter, Ewing, Piazza and Rodriguez.

Buck Ewing is, for me, the toughest of the bunch. It's quite clear that contemporaries regarded him as not just the best catcher, but the best player in baseball for a good stretch of his career. Also, his throwing arm was routinely talked about in the same sort of way that Allied pilots first described German jet fighters: "I was just cruising along, and WHOOOSH!" If we are to consider all eras equally, we cannot disregard this very strong anecdotal evidence in his favor.

On the other hand, he caught just 734 games; while consistently above league average as a hitter, he was never (insofar as I can determine, 1883 notwithstanding) among the top five hitters in baseball; and levels of pre-1910 competition were much, much lower than today - substantially lower even than 1920.

Ewing ranks well above short-career Joe Mauer for me - even though Mauer strikes me as likely a superior receiver and a much superior hitter - solely on the strength of his contemporary reputation. In fact, I'm guessing I rank Ewing higher than many voters would. Certainly I rank him higher than Bill James does. But I don't rank him high enough to crack the Inner Circle.

Mike Piazza was clearly the best hitter to play at catcher not named Josh Gibson (who I see, just as clearly, as the best). I note the pitch-framing data mentioned by @Michael J. Binkley - and it doesn't surprise me; Piazza always struck me as a smart guy, and I have no doubt he studied the game carefully. That's a point in favor of his defense.

But Piazza was so very bad at throwing out baserunners - and, one must assume, therefore equally bad at throwing out bunters, and at preventing the baserunner from advancing on sac bunts, and at constraining the hit-and-run - that I cannot take him seriously as a great, or even good, defensive player.

Piazza therefore ranks above the Cochrane-Dickey-Hartnett trio on the basis of his hitting, but below the Bench-Berra-Campanella trio because they could hit too, and run rings around Piazza on D.

Ivan Rodriguez has kind of the same problem as Piazza in cracking the Inner Circle, but in reverse. His defense was truly otherwordly; but he never once so much as cracked the top 10 in offensive WAR. Even Ozzie Smith managed that!

I see I-Rod as the fourth member of the Cochrane-Dickey-Hartnett group. His tremendous longevity and outstanding D ensures that no lower ranking is possible.

Gary Carter I see as a 100% worthy HoMer, but below the standard of the players discussed here. His sub-.800 OPS and 115 OPS+ drag down the impact of his superb defense and amazing longevity.

HOWEVER: This is not a fixed opinion. I could possibly be persuaded to rank him with Cochrane-Dickey-Hartnett-Rodriguez. 2000+ games caught and 298 home runs from the catcher slot are pretty good argument starters.

(Although it's not a HoM qualifier, I also like his GWRBI in his final at-bat. Take that, Derek Jeter!)

So, here's how I rank 'em at present:

Tier 1 (Inner Circle)
1. Josh Gibson

Tier 2 (Inner Circle)
2. Yogi Berra
3. Roy Campanella
4. Johnny Bench

Tier 2.5 (on the cusp of the Inner Circle)
5. Mike Piazza
6. Buck Ewing

Tier 3 (in the upper reaches of the HoM)
7. Mickey Cochrane
8. Ivan Rodriguez
9. Gabby Hartnett
10. Bill Dickey
11. Joe Mauer (when eligible)

That's how I see it anyway. Your thoughts and criticisms are most welcome.
   22. progrockfan Posted: January 04, 2019 at 11:02 AM (#5802400)
Oh - and - P.S.: I really do need to know more about Biz Mackey. He might just make my Tier 3 also.
   23. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: January 04, 2019 at 11:44 AM (#5802415)
Ivan Rodriguez has kind of the same problem as Piazza in cracking the Inner Circle, but in reverse. His defense was truly otherwordly; but he never once so much as cracked the top 10 in offensive WAR. Even Ozzie Smith managed that!

Whatever the causes, Pudge's problem was that his offensive peak arrived too late and departed too soon. From 1998 through 2004, from age 26 through 32, he put up a very respectable .901 OPS and 129 OPS+. His problem is that before 1998 his OPS+ was 101, and after 2004 it was 85.
   24. Tom and Shivs couples counselor Posted: January 04, 2019 at 11:53 AM (#5802423)
21--really glad to see the Joe Mauer reference. Thanks!!!!!!
   25. Rally Posted: January 04, 2019 at 11:55 AM (#5802426)
Carter's 115 OPS+ is just a function of him sticking around after his skills eroded. If he retired on top after the 1986 WS he would have a 124 OPS+, 66 WAR, retiring after his age 32 season.

Johnny Bench only played 3 more years past age 32, but mostly as a part time 1b/3b. Through age 32 he's at 129 OPS+, finished at 124.

Bench is definitely ahead of Carter in any case but Carter sticking around after his skills eroded makes the gap look bigger.

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