Bill Skowron is a delightful and generous man, and Gil McDougald was a versatile player and is an inspiring person, and Hank Bauer was an underrated star and a gifted manager. And they’re also on one of baseball’s seemingly most glamorous Top 10 stat lists, while really serving only to prove how misleading stat lists can be.
Skowron, McDougald, and Bauer are among baseball’s all-time Top 10 World Series Home Run Hitters.
I am the first guy to say a reliance on numbers, especially in the Hall of Fame voting, is erroneous and even contemptible. Nevertheless, several statistical comparisons are so overwhelming as to be jaw-dropping, and reinforce the notion that all those who have yet tried their hands at selecting the immortals – Baseball Writers, Special Committees, Veterans’ Committees, Veterans/Members Committees, Negro League Research Committees – have all botched the job.
Ignoring the rest of the 2009/2010 ballot results (ok, not totally ignoring them: I told you Roberto Alomar’s last three seasons would cost him election), I remain absolutely fascinated by where Bert Blyleven fits into the history of the game and the minds of the electors.
Look at this. Which one of these is the only Hall of Famer in the group?
Category Blyleven John Kaat Roberts
WINS 287 288 283 286
LOSSES 250 231 237 245
ERA 3.31 3.34 3.45 3.41
K 3701 2245 2461 2357
WALKS 1322 1259 1083 902
20 WINS 1 3 3 6
LCS 3-0 4-1 0-1 N/A
WORLD SERIES 2-1 2-1 1-2 0-1
FULL YEARS 22 23 24 19
Do you see any rhyme or reason to this? In Wins, Losses, and ERA, Blyleven and Robin Roberts are virtual matches. Roberts has 420 fewer walks, but Blyleven has 1344 more strikeouts. At the peripherals, Blyleven acquitted himself well on the post-season stages, but Roberts reeled off six 20-win seasons (and consecutively, no less) to the Dutchman’s one.
And save for those 20-win seasons and the issue of longevity, John and Kaat are near statistical matches to Roberts.
Roberts is in the Hall. The others are not.
Below is another amazing comparison. We’ll keep the players names out of it (except to note that they debuted in consecutive seasons; this is not some 19th Century guy versus Bob Gibson) until after you compare their numbers. One pitcher is in; the other has never garnered significant support:
Category HOF Pitcher Forgotten Pitcher
WINS 224 229
LOSSES 166 172
ERA 3.26 3.30
K 2012 2416
WALKS 954 1104
20 WINS 5 4
LCS 4-3 1-0
WORLD SERIES 5-3 &nb
FULL SEASONS 15 17
Well this is crazier than Bert Blyleven/Tommy John/Jim Kaat/Robin Roberts. These men are identical. One of them was about 20% more a strikeout/walks guy. The other was on far more playoff and World Series teams (and yet, significantly, only won 9 of 15 decisions).
The Hall of Famer is Catfish Hunter, and the “other guy” is Luis Tiant.
One more, which has some remarkable comps in the Won/Lost numbers and then fades off as the other statistics roll out. But it again illustrates how the theoretical gulfs between Hall of Famers and obscure, never-supported candidates, can be (and again, these men broke in within a little under two years of each other):
Category HOF Pitcher Forgotten Pitcher
WINS 209 209
LOSSES 166 164
ERA 2.95 3.40
K 2486 1728
WALKS 855 858
20 WINS 2 0
LCS N/A 0-0
WORLD SERIES 3-3 N/A
FULL SEASONS 14 16
If I didn’t tell you this (or you didn’t read it where I did, in The Bill James Historical Abstract, you’d have no way of guessing.
The Hall of Famer, remarkably, is Don Drysdale. The other is Milt Pappas, who, if remembered at all, is remembered for being traded for Frank Robinson.
I think this inundation of stats suggests a couple of things. Foremost, it says that Bert Blyleven isn’t just a Hall of Famer – he’s an obvious one, and that Tommy John and Jim Kaat are, too – and Tiant almost certainly is (I’m not sure about Milt Pappas, but it sure is impressive that he duplicated Don Drysdale’s won-lost record with less of a fastball and on inferior teams). You can say the paucity of post-season work for Luis Tiant compared to Catfish Hunter is to some degree Tiant’s fault – but the same measure is not applied to Robin Roberts. You can point out that Drysdale is doubtless given some credit for the sudden, dramatic end to his career due to injury at the age of 33 – and yet it seems as if John and Tiant are not being credited with similar injuries (Tiant was 17-30 and traded or released three times between ’69 and ’71; John didn’t pitch once between July 17, 1974, and Opening Day, 1976). More over, John and Tiant came back from their injuries and certainly aren’t getting credit for that.
Ultimately for all the voters’ talk about longevity and consistency, the Hall of Fame is about building a reputation and doing it quickly. Robin Roberts is in the Hall of Fame because by the time of his 29th birthday he had produced six straight 20-win seasons (never mind that he would pitch eleven more seasons without another one). Catfish Hunter pitched in six of the seven World Series between 1972 and 1978. And Blyleven and John and Kaat all face the same bizarre slur that dogged Don Sutton for years – they just “hung around.” Isn’t “hung around” a less pleasant way of describing longevity and consistency?
It is a shame that we don’t have something akin to the system in Japan. They have a two-tiered Hall. One is based on simple statistical thresholds. The other is more subjective. Theirs is an odd two-headed beast, but it underscores the fact that as important and as far outside the bounds of mortality Cooperstown is – these endlessly bizarre vote outcomes prove that all we have is the subjective.
Things like this are precisely why I stray from the norm, and don’t put a great deal of stock into Halls of Fame, or similar awards. They have too much to do with politics and personal opinions (which are never logical), and I value logic and talent above personal opinions.
One need go no further than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to see Exhibits A-Z of what I mean. Too many deserving acts are overlooked in the voting because the people doing the voting are biased against those acts. Never mind the fact that these acts may have sold hundreds of millions of recordings worldwide; all that matters to the Hall is how many biased critics voted for those artists.
So I personally view any sort of Hall of Fame as being like a museum: It’s interesting to learn about those who have been honored, but it’s just as interesting to learn about those who have not.
Great post. Milt Pappas does not belong in the Hall of Fame — nor does Don Drysdale, and I say this as a Dodger fan who grew up in the 60’s.
Let me offer a completely impractical, slightly whimsical take on the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame should a true pantheon of achievement — a place of immortals. Membership should be offered ONLY to people who changed the game, like Ruth, or who inspired life-changing hero worship, like Koufax, DiMaggio, Ripken and Mantle. This would also include “game changers” like Branch Rickey and Marvin Miller.
There should a place for Lifetime Achievement (see above). There should be a place for Single Shining Moment (Bobby Thompson, Don Larsen, Harvey Haddix). There should be a place Mythic Folk Heroes (Bill Veeck, Charles “Victory” Faust, “Moonlight” Graham, Mark Fidyrich, Steve Dalkowski, Lester Rodney, Joe Bauman, etc.)
In short, the Lifetime Achievement part should be very, very hard to get into (Immortals only), but the Hall itself should celebrate every aspect of the game — including the heartbreak (Haddix, Bill Bevens, Ralph Branca, and of course Mr. Merkle)
I know, I know. The chances of this happening are roughly the same as Fox News discovering that Yassir Arafat faked his own death so he could become an Israeli fighter pilot. Oh well….
I am getting a kick out of the whimsy, but I must disagree about including Bill Veeck with the whimsical ones. The guy ran successful teams in Cleveland and Chicago and kept alive two other teams, and was very innovative as an owner–and, we tend to forget, integrated the AL with Larry Doby in the same season that Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson up to the NL.
I also would like to make my case for Don Drysdale. First, we tend to overrate the teams he played on. He was a rookie on the ’56 NL champion Dodgers. The ’59 team may have been the worst world champions ever. He had a great 1962, but that was as Koufax came to the fore, and back then managers gamed their rotations a lot more, leaving Drysdale to face Gibson and Marichal and the like because the other teams didn’t want to expend their best against Koufax. In 1967 and 1968, the Dodgers were bad–8th and 7th, respectively. So I am a little more sympathetic on his won-lost record. To put it another way, not only because of the inside pitching, other teams feared Drysdale in a way I don’t think they feared Milt Pappas, to use the comparable here.
The beauty of and problem with the Hall of Fame is that there will always be these debates. It’s like Bill Mazeroski getting in. No, his numbers don’t rank. But people I respect think he may have invented playing second base. Pee Wee Reese? Forget the Boys of Summer without him. Phil Rizzuto? This may get bleeped out, but Arthur Daley of The Times once asked DiMaggio if the Yankees could win without him in the lineup and Joe said, “We can win without the Big Dago. We can’t win without the Little Dago.” The intangibles have to be a factor. That’s why I don’t automatically reject Jack Morris just on the numbers.
Remember: in the first Hall of Fame class, Cy Young didn’t get in, but Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson did. Argue about THAT one!
Very interesting column that leads to one of my obsessions, Keith. Take Catfish’s numbers and Drysdale’s numbers and compare them to those compiled by Jerry Koosman, a terrific, and always underrated pitcher.
Koosman was a member of a pitching staff that included Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, two Hall of Fame members and 300-game winners, to be sure. However, back in the day, he was always thought of as being on a level with them. Ask Seaver or ryan (or the Baltimore Orioles, for that matter).
Great post Keith! I have been passionate about this for way too long. The exclusion of Mssrs. Blyleven, John and Kaat have never made any sense to me at all. The only other pitcher in the 280 win group is HOFer Fergie Jenkins. With Roberts these five all compare favorably and only the most convoluted logic could be applied to argue differently. It seems to me that anyone over the 250 win threshold should be a lock. Even Ted Lyons (260-230) or especially Eppa Rixey (266-251) seem much more marginal after the passing of the years. Where does someone like Dennis Martinez fit in? Morris, I would argue, deserves enshrinement only partly due to his late career big game achievements. Which brings me to Luis Tiant. Another travesty considering the clutch performances, ERA titles not to mention showmanship! A truly mythic figure in New England and elsewhere. I would have liked to see a graph comparing Tiant to HOFer Jim Bunning! And one more glaring snub from long ago is Carl Mays, who in his era (like Drysdale or Gibson) was, with good reason, probably the most feared hurler in the game. His career stats are almost identical to Chief Bender’s (albeit ten years later) and was good enough to maintain his success into the clean ball era of the 1920’s, an era that he had so much to do with initiating. It may sound a bit fanciful, but without the Ray Chapman incident there may never have been a Babe Ruth (or at least to that great scale)! I wish we could stop debating and start celebrating the elections of these (and other) deserving star players!
Big D definitely deserved to be in the HOF based on following:
Cy Young in ’62
9 All-Star games
3 World Championships
Won more than 20 twice (Pappas won 17 once)
Strikeout/walk ratio about 3:1
And was the most feared pitcher of the ’60’s (yeah, he hit 154 guys , oh by the way.) He is always mentioned with Koufax, Marichal and Gibson.
And I actually saw him pitch. He was a mean throwing, hard throwing SOB.
And besides, he is a way better broadcaster (at least he was objective) than you could ever dream of being.
Bwittig, I have political views. Like Keith, I am here to discuss baseball.
I do agree with you completely about Drysdale’s pitching, though, so maybe we can come together about certain things. As for his broadcasting … let’s say after his years with the Dodgers, Rick Monday has made him look a lot better.
Carl Mays presents an interesting case. Fred Lieb’s wonderful memoir, Baseball As I Have Known It, talks about him and a few oddities–his great record, his poor pitching performance in only a couple of innings in the World Series that fostered suspicion in some quarters, and how Miller Huggins despised him. But, yes, sadly, there always will be his association with Chapman.
This is probably the only time I remember agreeing with Mr. Olbermann. I usually switch channels when he comes on. Since this was in print I kept on reading and was pleasantly suprised by his article. I felt the same way he did about the most recent “old timers” vote and the failure to elect Danny Murtaugh. Murtaugh’s numbers are clearly better than many H of F managers and he was the first to field an all minority team. But when you come from a small market like Pittsburgh you’re just not going to get the recognition.
Keith, overall I agree with your premise in that there sometimes is no rhyme or reason how players get into the Hall. Many of the men in there are truly “Hall of Famers” and some had good press. The one player who isn’t in the Hall that is a genuine injustice is Luis Tiant. If anyone who pitched is in the Hall as a journeyman ball player Tiant ought to be the one. I just reviewed his record and as I remembered from over 30 years ago he is a genuine Hall of Famer.
What do you suppose? Lack of press? Lack of attention? How is it that Roberts is in and Tiant isn’t? I suppose it is too late now but that is a genuine injustice to a fine man. He’s in the Sox Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Hall of Fame. Come on! No Baseball Hall of Fame for a real Hall of Famer?
Good piece, Kieth. Keep them coming.
Everyone’s mentioned terrific pitchers from the ’60s, but maybe the bigger statistical anomaly, or injustice, is that no starter who debuted after 1967 (Seaver) has a plaque yet. Between 1955 and 1967, no fewer than fourteen starters debuted who were eventually enshrined. In the following thirteen year period (1968-1980), not one HOF starter entered the major leagues. Zippo (assuming Eck was a hybrid SP/RP).
I’m not saying there should be quotas for each era, or that the distribution of positional talent is equal over time, but it seems to me that instead of arguing who was the fifteenth or sixteenth worthiest enshrinee of one era, voters should be figuring out who the very best starters were from the subsequent era – and honoring them. Even if some of their traditional statistical benchmarks dont quite add up. Whether it’s Blyleven, Morris, Guidry or Saberhagen (or someone else), the BBWAA should recognize that the game evolved and statistical HOF thresholds should reflect that evolution. SOMEBODY was the best pitcher to debut between 1968 and 1982. That’s a sixth of a century. Figure out who it is, and honor them.
Mr. Olbermann, this is the first time I have come across your blog. I have enjoyed reading your entries, especially this one. It appears you are certainly passionate about baseball.
Whenever I think of the Hall of Fame and its incompetence, I think of Bert Blyleven. Let’s remember that Pedro Martinez likely won’t reach 300 wins in his career; however, he is most likely going to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer!
I wish voters would realize it is not Blyleven’s fault he failed to reach 300 wins. Blyleven suffered losses in 99 quality starts in his career; 15 of them were 1-0 losses!
Feel free to check out this entry I wrote about Blyleven a while back. I think you will appreciate the approach I took in pitting him head-to-head against Nolan Ryan.