13 Lefty Gomez: He won a pair of pitching triple crowns, went 6-0 in World Series play, and remains the only pitcher to win three all star games. He’s a category C Hall of Famer based on accomplishments, but at the same time his career wasn’t long and he wasn’t durable within the individual seasons compared to the best of his peers. He was one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball (-4.7 war on bbr), and while his 189-102 record is impressive, the Yankees had a .628 winning percentage between 1930 and 1942. The average Yankee pitcher, given 291 decisions, would have been 183-108. Considering his offensive record, it’s possible that Gomez was actually hurting the Yankees overall. That doesn’t make him a bad pitcher, since after all we are talking about one of the most dominant teams ever, but it does call into question just how “great” he really was. Lefty himself famously said “I’d rather be lucky than good”. He was both, but I lean a bit towards the lucky side.
Yaknow, I always thought of Gomez as a crafty little lefty. What was I thinking? He was 6-2, and a power pitcher. It’s funny how we get images in our heads.
12 Chuck Klein- It’s not just that he had huge home/road splits. It’s that those huge home/road splits gave the illusion that he was a great player when he was barely an average player. He hit .266 with 9 homers on the road in his MVP 1932, .280 with 8 homers on the road in his triple crown 1933. Bill once said “take 20 hits a year for the park”, but the number ain’t 20, it’s 40. Klein, from 1929-1933, had 659 hits at home, 459 on the road. He had 131 homers at home between 1928 (when he came up) and 1934 (when he was traded to the Cubs) to 60 on the road. His 1928-30 road numbers look really good – until you remember what the NL hit between 1928 and 1930. Wally Berger was a better player, but to be consistent Klein was the better award show guest. Klein’s triple crown isn’t being taken away, so he’s a legitimate lower level GOR candidate, and a decent VC type Hall of Fame selection.
11 Bob Johnson- He was never a serious MVP candidate, having almost no black ink and most of his gray ink in the lower half of the top ten. He was a fairly regular all star game participant, though, and he was durable and consistent. Those attributes, or accomplishments, define Bill’s category C. Not the best, but one of the best for a long time. Johnson didn’t really play a long time, though. His career was only thirteen years, and the last four of them were wartime years. A category C type of player with a relatively short career, he lands in the morass of D level candidates waiting their turn. I certainly wouldn’t be bothered if the Hall of Fame gave him a plaque. They gave plaques to a bunch of his peers, many of whom weren’t as good as he was.
10 Tommy Bridges- Always described as a skinny, wiry guy much like Ron Guidry was always described, and from the South like Guidry. His full name was Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges. He was right handed, but other than that I think of him as being similar to Guidry. He lived by his big curve (and spitball according to some, wink wink) but he had a good fastball as well. He was a power pitcher. Maybe a better comp would be Bert Blyleven. Bridges wasn’t nearly as durable, and his career wasn’t nearly as long, but he was of a similar style. Through 1980 Blyleven had tossed 2841 innings (Bridges 2877), with 51 war and a 126 era+ (Bridges 48 war, 126 era+). Blyleven had another decade left in him, so he’s in the Hall of Fame. Bridges fell into the morass, where Guidry will join him in a few years.
10 Ted Lyons- I was checking his home/road numbers, since he pitched in Comiskey his entire career, and they are fairly normal. He got some advantage, 3.52 era at home to 3.81 on the road, but that’s a fairly normal split, isn’t it? His 118 career era+ is a legitimate representation of the quality of his work.
I haven’t given Lyons much of a look, dismissing him as one of those batting practice types because of his low strikeout totals. Chitown Ron pointed out that he rarely struck anyone out in last year’s election, and I ran off at the mouth without looking. What I said wasn’t all wrong, but it wasn’t all that right, either. It wasn’t all that weird to strike out fewer than three per nine in the 1920s, but Lyons was an extreme finesse pitcher even by 1920s standards. As I’ve said several times, I’m personally not a big fan of the batting practice types that sprung up in the wake of the spitball ban. Lyons was probably the best of the type, though, as well as one of the most extreme. He wasn’t a late inclusion by a sentimental VC, either. He was elected by the BBWAA. I think he’s a very solid category C, and a legitimate GOR candidate. Sorry Ted, for ignoring you. My bad.
9 Roy Cullenbine- Should we say that his supporters are “Bawling for Cullenbine”? No, I guess not…
9 Newt Allen- Unlike a lot the NeL players, we have a lot of atbats/hits data on Allen. I sort of respect that, though I don’t trust the walks or extra base hits data much. How good he was depends a lot on how good his defense was, whether his extra base hits were undercounted (I assume they were, based on some of the smaller samples), and how many walks he drew every year (again, I think they were undercounted in many years based on some of the individual totals). As a hitter I think he was a Wally Backman type, which isn’t meant to be an insult. Backman, in his best years, was a very effective leadoff hitter. Had he played at that level for fifteen years he would have been a serious Hall of Fame candidate. As a fielder, I have no idea how good Newt was, though I assume he was much better than Backman was. His reputation was very good. Overall I feel comfortable saying that Allen is a NeL D type at least, and maybe a low C. Without more data, that’s about as far as I can go.
9 Stan Hack- I think we are going to elect him this year, and that’s fine with me. His picture on bbr is interesting. He looks like he’s wearing makeup, and he reminds me of Tony Curtis a little.
9 Billy Herman- Through 1940 (age 30) he had played 1333 games, with a range factor of 6.25 (league average 5.75), fpct of .968 (league average .965), a .310 batting average and over 1700 hits. He lost roughly 300 hits to The War, which would have given him over 2600 career.
9 Ernie Lombardi- I hear he was slow and had a big nose. I hear that about Fran Drescher a lot, too.
9 Red Ruffing- His winning percentage for the Yankees was .651; the rest of the Yankees during his time with them, .652. Like Left Gomez, he suffers in these kinds of comparisons in part because of the dominance of his teammates, and like Gomez he probably deserves more credit than a Yankee hater like me gives him. Still, it’s hard to call him great with a 110 era+ and a record that was actually below his teammates, even with his Yankee teammates.
He was missing four toes on his left foot, from a mining accident when he was a teenager. My first thought was “how good a pitcher would he have been with ten toes?” I found the answer in his SABR biography: Not as good as he eventually was. Had he not lost his toes, he most likely would have gone to the majors as an outfielder. Even if he had switched to the mound before coming to the majors, his lack of speed (because of the missing toes) was the only reason the Red Sox didn’t move him to the outfield in the late 1920s.
Would have have been a Hall of Famer with ten toes? I have no idea how to answer that, but I kind of think he would have had a shot. He was a really good hitter as a pitcher with six toes and no speed. He finished his career second to Wes Ferrell in career homeruns by a pitcher, with 34. Also, there is a decent chance he would have made it to 300 wins had he not been drafted despite his advanced age, status as married with dependents, and of course the missing toes. He ended up spending two and a half years pitching for the Army instead.
8 Ray Brown- I have a terrible time figuring out what I think of Brown’s career. At times I think he’s underrated, but then I think he’s another guy, like Ruffing and Gomez, whose record was more of a reflection of his teammates than his own excellence. I’ve kept him in my top ten for a few years, but I have no idea if I’m slighting him by voting him too low, or slighting guys like Lyons, Faber and Gomez by not voting for them above him.
8 Joe Medwick- He had a pronounced home/road split, .920-.817 over his career, but .817 is pretty good. Ernie Lombardi, who was an almost exact contemporary, finished his career at .818. He belongs in the Roberto Clemente/Vladdie Guerrero/Andre Dawson family of hitters; right handed hitters who swung at everything yet maintained a high batting average, with medium to high power levels. Al Simmons would be another one. Medwick may not have been quite as good as those guys, but he was a solid Hall of Famer.
I looked for some footage of Medwick hitting, and came across footage of Frankie Frisch and Mickey Cochrane before the 1934 World Series began, wishing each other luck in front of the cameras. Cochrane sounded sort of like Gary Cooper with a stammer, while Frisch sounded like Jimmy Cagney.
8 Hilton Smith- If I were to go strictly by the available stats I’d have Hilton well above the other NeL pitching candidates. The anecdotal record doesn’t agree with this, though, and the stats are spotty and miles from complete. He goes in the hat with the rest of ‘em.
6 Leon Day- He probably deserves to be ranked ahead of Ray Brown. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as the 12th NeL player, while Brown wasn’t elected until 2006.
6 Bill Byrd- He was the last pitcher to legally throw a spitball, retiring at the end of the 1947 season. Roy Campanella, his teammate in 1945, was probably the last Hall of Famer to catch one. A legal one, anyway.
6 Joe Gordon- He famously won an MVP despite leading the league in strikeouts and hitting into double plays in 1942, so he has an image as a guy who struck out a lot and hit into a lot of double plays. Truth is; he never struck out more than 80 times in a season other than 1942, when he struck out 95 times. He hit into a double play every 41 plate appearances over his career, a rate similar to that of Henry Aaron or Joe Dimaggio. Given the two years he missed for WWII and an average home park, he would have hit well over 300 homers – and held the record for second basemen until Ryne Sandberg came along.
6 Bucky Walters- He probably should be in the real Hall of Fame. He had the most winshares of any pitcher between 1935 and 1949, and he was selected, retroactively for three Cy Young awards (1939, 1940 and 1944) by several respected entities, including Total Baseball, Stats Inc. and some guy named Bill James. He was selected as the Gold Glove pitcher of the 1940s by Stats, and he outpolled several future Hall of Famers during his BBWAA period, including Arky Vaughn 8 times and Bobby Doerr 9 times. He isn’t, mostly because he fell short of 200 wins and played through the War. Strangely enough, he was classified 1-A yet was never drafted, even to play on some Army base team like most major leaguers did. He ended up nearly getting killed in the Battle of the Bulge while doing USO tours, so being drafted might have caused him to see LESS action. Oh, and he was a professional basketball player too. He played in the Eastern League, which later became the NBA.
5 Bobby Doerr- With McPhail’s passing the other day, he is now the oldest living Hall of Famer at 94. One of his grandkids drinks at my bar.
4 Lou Boudreau- It was like he made a deal with the Devil, wasn’t it? He was such a good, solid, consistent player before 1948. He blew up in 1948, then within a couple of years he was on his last legs. I think his most impressive statistical accomplishment was leading the AL in fielding percentage ten times in a row.
4 Charlie Keller- He didn’t actually stop playing for several years after his back went out; apparently his career struggled to get down the drain through all that hair clogging it. He had no platoon split at all, or home/road split to speak of. If anything, he hit slightly better on the road overall, though he hit 107 of his 189 career homeruns in Yankee Stadium.
3 Ray Dandridge- He’s becoming the victim of NeL fatigue, I think. Every indicator for him is positive towards being a gold glove quality defender, and towards a durable player who would have hit for high averages in any league he played in. We discount his power, but even there he can safely be projected to have hit 10-20 homers a year, based on his numbers in white organized ball in his late 30s. I don’t know for sure, and because I don’t know for sure I can’t get too carried away advocating for him, but we’ve elected players with more questionable credentials before, who had far fewer verifiable examples of positive evidence. As much as I believe we elected some questionably qualified NeL players, I don’t think Dandridge would be one of them. I think he’s legit.
3 Dom DiMaggio- His bbr picture looks like a cross between John Turturro and Radar O’Reilly. I don’t think he’s a strong Hall of Fame candidate, even with the extra three years. His numbers, considering that he was hitting in Fenway, just aren’t all that impressive. He would have to be Richie Ashburn in the field to be a serious candidate, and maybe he was.
3 Bob Elliott- I looked up his home/road homerun splits, thinking that his homerun spike between 1946 and 1947 was largely a park effect. Sure enough, he hit 14 homeruns at home in his Pirate career, 29 on the road. He had hit all five of his 1946 homeruns on the road. 1947, in Boston, he hit .349 at home compared to .287 on the road – but he hit 15 of his 22 homeruns on the road. He hit 108 homeruns for the Braves; 36 at home, 72 on the road. He finished up with 63 career homeruns at home, 107 on the road.
3 Dutch Leonard- I’m not feeling hidden Hall of Famer, he was too inconsistent and he didn’t strike anyone out. His records seem to be too dependent on his defense, and how far the fences were from home plate. I’d put him in a group with Tommy Bridges, below the upper D level candidates.
3 Eddie Stanky- Stanky grew up in Philadelphia, home of the A’s and their walk drawing secondbaseman, Maxie Bishop. I’ve looked around some, trying to find a reference to Stanky idolzing Bishop or something, but I’ve come up empty so far. They were listed as the same height, nearly the same weight, and they did the same things on the baseball field. They couldn’t possibly have been any different as people, though. Stanky was the biggest redass since Johnny Evers, while Bishop was sometimes criticized for his lack of enthusiasm for the game.
2 Johnny Pesky- He finished third and fourth in the MVP balloting, respectively, after his first two major league seasons. He led the AL in hits each of his first three major league seasons. Through 1950, when he was 31, he had averaged 186 hits, 112 runs, 80 walks and a .316 batting average in six seasons. He remained in the game for another six decades after he retired, passing away just a couple of months ago at the age of 93. That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The 1942 Red Sox double play combination was still alive as of August, 2012. Trammell and Whitaker, you have another 36 years to go so make sure you get your prostates checked.
2 Allie Reynolds- He finished a single vote short of election by the VC in 2009, after peaking at 33.6% in the BBWAA elections. I would guess that it’s only a matter of time until he gets his plaque. He isn’t the most deserving candidate on the outside, but he’ll be a worthy Hall of Famer.