The First Pitch
This essay was born of countless hours spent in cars, ballparks, and motel rooms. We discussed criteria, personalities, history, eras, statistics. On our most recent Shrine pilgrimage—Jesse’s third, Abby’s fifth—we read every plaque, and carried data sheets to help us vote yea or nay.
Certainly, there will be value added for the intangibles. (The late Mr. Stargell’s inestimable team leadership, for example, which Abby witnessed as a 1970s Pittsburgh baseball reporter.) But by and large we hold by a fairly rigid performance yardstick, along with tough numerical standards.
Simply put, we have but two categories for Hall of Fame status. First, a player needs a decade or more of sustained excellence, with five of those years amounting to absolute dominance and/or a redefinition of the game and/or a position. Think Sandy Koufax or Ozzie Smith. Second, a player needs to reach a lifetime achievement plateau: 500 home runs, for example, or 300 wins.
By contrast, those who will not be invited, indeed, disinvited, are the perfectly adequate players who do not dominate the sport, or do not have exemplary careers, but are merely very good over a long period of time. Does twenty home runs a year for twenty years add up to a plaque? No. Simply put, the Hall of Fame is for the great. Period.
The Major Disagreement
One of the intangibles about which we disagree—and fairly vehemently—is winning. Abby places a much higher premium on it than does Jesse. As you will see, Tony Perez is a notable bone of contention. (As is Jack Morris, but Jesse banks his ire here.) Jesse sees Perez and his lack of ever leading the league in any offensive stat for his entire career as the very definition of the disinvited set. Abby sees the same Perez as the undisputed leader of the Big Red Machine and believes him worthy. See below for more.
To put it plainly, we have argued long and loud about said players, and others. Long and loud. By the grace of Heaven, we are still talking to each other.
Like good politicians, we love to take credit. Long before baseball supported his candidacy, we wanted Bill Veeck enshrined. Ditto Ned Hanlon. Tritto Walter O’Malley. They began as long shots, and we were mighty gratified when the baseball world caught up with our advanced thinking.
So for this list, we picked only controversial players, or those unaccountably overlooked. We do not, for example, espouse enshrining shoo-in Mike Piazza, whose numbers (.308 BA, 2,127 hits, 407 home runs, ten-time silver slugger, ten-time all-star) speak for themselves. Or should. Or will, as soon as the writers wake up. As his votes increase every year—they were 69.9% last year, a mere 5% off the mark—the scribes mercifully seem to be struggling from their slumbers.
Ditto Jeff Bagwell.
Our yeas also do not include personal favorites who are on the radar, but so far away that voting for them would be laughable. Larry Walker, with that sweet, sweet swing. Or Jimmy Edmonds, an astonishing centerfielder whom we saw hit some of his 393 home runs and make impossible catches with equal flair. Wonderful players. Memorable. But hardly great.
No, of course we can't take away their plaques and the postcards, but these mediocre and/or one-dimensional players and Veterans Committee cronies simply don't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentences as such true paragons as Mays, DiMaggio, or Dickey. Our nays were good, some were very good, but not great. Never great. They never remade the game or defined the age or dominated the field of play.
Certainly, there are more than ten in Cooperstown who cause us to cringe, and whom we voted out, but we needed to limit our ire, and our editors’ patience.
Both lists are in alphabetical order.
Ten Who Belong in the Hall
1) Gus Greenlee
He was big, noticeably big, 6’ 3” and more than 200 pounds, and was generally found chomping a cigar and barking orders at a small army of numbers runners, bootleggers, and champion baseball players.
He was William Augustus “Gus” Greenlee, owned the greatest team in Negro Leagues history, and built the first African-American-owned and -operated ballpark.
Driving a taxi—and selling Prohibition-era bootleg liquor —he graduated to selling daily numbers. By 1930 the man known as Mr. Big bought a sandlot baseball team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Using his enormous gambling revenues—estimated as high as $25,000 daily—Greenlee signed the era’s brightest Negro League stars, future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and others. After 1931, when his team was denied use of Forbes Field dressing rooms, he built Greenlee Field. Opened at a reported cost of $100,000, Greenlee’s 7,500-seat park hosted perennial champions, 1932-36.
To help ensure revenues, Greenlee organized the Negro National League in 1933 and initiated the East-West Classic, a Chicago-based all-star game.
In 1937 when Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo decided to import championship baseball, he raided the Crawfords. With much of Greenlee’s talent gone, the Crawford’s last two years, 1937-38, were poor indeed. In December 1938 Greenlee tore down his ballpark and sold the franchise to Toledo the following season.
Denied a berth in the Hall because of his gambling association, Greenlee should be enshrined for pure guts and vision alone.
2) Keith Hernandez
He's forever remembered as the man who took away the bunt.
As the finest-fielding first baseman in baseball history, Keith Hernandez split time between the Cardinals and Mets. In seventeen years, 1974-90, he played in more than 2,000 games, recording more than 2,000 hits, ending with a .296 BA, all in the very good category. So were his five All-Star berths, seven seasons topping .300, including '79 when his .344 led the league and he shared MVP honors with Pirates’ Willie Stargell.
In the post-season, Hernandez appeared in the Fall Classic three times, emerging as a two-time champion (Cards ’82, Mets ’86.)
Those numbers, however, do not tell the tale. It’s Hernandez’s eleven consecutive Gold Gloves, the most in history. His impossible .994 Fielding Pct. His perch in the top three in put-outs ten times, including leading the league four times. Leading the league in assists five times (and the top three a dozen times) and double plays turned six times. It all adds up to a rock-solid record at first, and according to Baseball Reference’s Zone Runs Saved metric, the very best fielding first baseman in history.
All that to the naught. Hernandez lasted but nine years on the Hall of Fame ballot, never receiving as much as 11% of the vote. When he tumbled off the radar, people complained that he did not bring sufficient power to his position, and that he was tainted by the 1980s cocaine trials.
Both objections fail to account for Hernandez's real worth, which was formidable.
It is now up to the Veterans Committee to enshrine him. We recommend that they do.
3) “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
If the United States Congress can't fix this mess, how can we?
In a purely symbolic gesture, for it has neither jurisdiction nor standing, sixteen years ago Congress passed a resolution enjoining Major League Baseball to reinstate Jackson, thereby making him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
To date, nothing has happened.
To no one's surprise.
It's hardly news that Joe Jackson was used as an example of new Commissioner Landis’ power and his stiff-necked lunacy. Granted, there was a Black Sox Scandal. Granted, Windy Citiers Swede Risberg, Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil, and others, deliberately threw 1919 World Series games. Did Shoeless Joe? No. His five runs, 12 hits, one tater, and .375 BA, belie the accusation. As does his flawless fielding, which included tossing out a Red runner at the plate.
That's a man playing like he’s throwing ballgames?
What's closer to the heart of the narrative is that Major League Baseball needed scapegoats and fall guys. And the newly crowned commish needed to establish his authority, ceded to him by cowardly owners who were unwilling and unable to clean up the game.
Landis’ claim is that Jackson knew and didn't rat out his teammates.
Did he know? Sure, why not? In 1919 on-site gambling was rampant. With loose money everywhere it's absurd to call Joe Jackson on it.
He knew and didn’t rat out his teammates? Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn't understand team sports.
What's more, Joe Jackson was an easy target. An illiterate, poor Southern white playing in the North, he was the odd man out of Eight Men Out.
The greater truth is that Joe Jackson defined baseball excellence. With a fine swing copied by Babe Ruth, Jackson, who played 1908-20, secured the third-highest all-time BA, .356. Leading the junior circuit twice in hits, runner-up three times to Ty Cobb in the batting race (including 1911, when his .408 was topped by Cobb's .420), a member of the highly exclusive .400 club, Joe Jackson belongs in Cooperstown.
It's time to right the wrong.
4) Edgar Martinez
OK, we’ll admit it. We don't like the DH. We never liked the DH. We will never like the DH.
But baseball created the DH and now baseball needs to honor it.
When Edgar Martinez was called upon to produce, he produced. Yowsah! did he produce, walloping the old pelota at a .312 clip. Playing 2,055 games across eighteen seasons for Seattle from ’87 to ’04, Edgar cleared 7,000 at bats, 2,200 hits, 300 homeruns, and 1250 RBI. He led the American League twice in hitting, .343 and .356, and finished in the top ten in hits and BA seven times; incredibly, his average, when he played 100 games or more a year, never dipped below .300 until age 40 (and then it was .294). A six-time All-Star who even has an award named for him—league's best DH (which he won five times)—astoundingly his Hall balloting never topped 37%.
The very definition of a professional hitter, and we don’t say that in a pejorative manner, he deserves to be honored.
5) Marvin Miller
The baseball establishment carried on as if he were the end of the world. He wasn't. He was only the beginning.
Labor leader Marvin Miller had an enormous, long-term impact on the game, as much, we would argue, as any executive in baseball history. On his watch free agency—and all that implies for building (and dismantling) franchises—along with escalating salaries became standard baseball fare.
Despite the owners’ cries of doom, those changes also resulted in unprecedented revenues and record attendance.
On the players’ side of the ledger—remember, there wasn't supposed to be one; it was the owners' game, and they held players as indentured servants—it has meant unprecedented control of their own careers.
Reigning from 1966-82, Miller capitalized on both the Curt Flood case (when the star Cardinal outfielder successfully challenged the reserve clause) and the Catfish Hunter case (when it was ruled that A’s owner Charles O. Finley violated the Hall of Fame pitcher’s rights) to redefine baseball as a game of players, not as a product using players. Bringing such classic labor tools as strikes and collective bargaining, his actions resulted in greater bargaining power, increased medical benefits and pension funds, aside from the kind of player movement that shifted competitive balance around the leagues in highly unprecedented ways.
Predictably, Miller did not receive sufficient Veterans Committee votes in ’03, ’07, and ’14. He will be eligible again in two years.
6) Jack Morris
World Series, Game Seven. Late '80s, early '90s. All the money's on the table. Who do you want on the mound?
Jack Morris, hands down.
Winning. Give him the ball when the game is on the line and watch him control the field. Watch him take it. That's Jack Morris, the most dominant money pitcher of the '80s and '90s.
Playing 18 years, 1977-94, primarily for the Tigers and the Twins, the five-time All-Star led the league twice in wins, taking 254 lifetime. Notching 2,478 strikeouts, Morris won more games (162) and threw more innings than any other '80s pitcher. All told, he won thirty-six more games than any other pitcher during his career.
Then there's the post-season. In '84, that great Tigers year, Morris took one playoff W and two complete World Series victories without a loss. With the Jays in the '91 Fall Classic, he racked up another brace of World Series Dubyas to go with his 1.17 era. Whupping that great Atlanta team, Morris copped MVP honors, too.
The naysayers (count Jesse among them) will tell you he never won a Cy Young and had a high lifetime ERA, a husky 3.90. No matter. He dominated when he had to.
In 15 years of Hall eligibility, he went from a ridiculously low 19.6% to an oh-so-close 67.7% two years ago only to slide off the ballot last year.
Now in the hands of the Veterans Committee, it's time to give this winner his niche.
7) Buck O’Neill
Permit us to speak freely. Are you serious? This absolute paragon of baseball prowess, pride, passion, longevity and love has no place in Cooperstown?
What else does a guy have to do get enshrined?
Sure, we love the huge Class of 2006, when seventeen Negro Leaguers were inducted after years of obscurity. And we have no argument with any of them. Cum Posey and Biz Mackey and Mule Suttles, sure. But Jud Wilson, Sol White, and Pete Hill before Buck O’Neill?
SABRmetricians aside, no way.
Like Edgar Martinez, a non-Hall man for whom an award was named, two years later Buck O’Neill received his own consolation prize, the Buck O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award for 70-odd years as a player, manager, scout, and glorious spokesman.
The classic, and classy, Kansas City Monarch won one Negro League batting title, played in two Negro League All Star games, and saw action in three Negro League World Series.
For the Cubs, he not only signed Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock, but also served as the major leagues first African-American coach. And as the living memory of the Negro Leagues, he was deep and decent, authoritative and avuncular.
If Buck O'Neill and his spirit, skills, and intangibles are not enough for Cooperstown, we don't know who is.
8) PEDs Pack
As we previously argued in Zisk #24, the PED players— Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa—should breeze across Lake Glimmerglass. Especially since the Veterans Committee voted in managers Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre, all of whom managed PEDs players at one time or another. And somehow, miraculously, never noticed.
To review briefly:
Barry Bonds retired as the all-time home run king, 762, MVP champ seven times over, notched more than 2,900 hits, plus his many other milestones.
Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young awards, back-to-back pitching Triple Crowns, two World Series titles across 12 postseasons, and 354 games.
Mark McGwire, two spots behind Sosa, belted 583 home runs, many of the tape-measure variety, and absolutely positively brought baseball back from the dead in 1998.
Rafael Palmeiro is one of four players to combine at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
Sammy Sosa stands as one of only eight men with 600 career home runs, and like McGwire absolutely positively brought baseball back from the dead in 1998.
As we said, hitting a pitched baseball requires remarkable eye-hand coordination. Impeccable timing. Great strength. PEDs don't help any of those. They may power the ball farther, but PEDs can't bulk a banjo hitter into a belter.
You still have to hit ’em. You still have to be an incredible athlete to do so.
Enough double standards. Enough pious cant about cheating and promises broken.
These guys did the work. They deserve the pay.
9) Tim Raines
Yes, Tim Raines’ plaque may seem like a matter of time, what with his being the darling of the SABRmetricians. After all, his status as a major offensive weapon seems unassailable: 23 years, more than 2,500 games, 1,500 runs, 2,600 hits (missing the 3,000 plateau because he walked so frequently), 800 stolen bases, .294 lifetime BA. This seven-time All-Star took four stolen base crowns and one batting title, playing largely in Montreal, where good pitches were few and far between. Clearly, he was one of the brightest stars of his era.
Should be a lock, no?
Well, no. Because he stands in the shadow of two greater players, Rickey Henderson and Tony Gwynn, and shares some of the cocaine taint, Raines is easily passed over. While his Hall votes have largely crept up over the years, from a 2009 low of 22% to topping out at 55% in 2015, his eligibility was cut to just three more years.
Let's not wait for the Veterans Committee, with its dubious yardsticks. Time to take care of Timmy now.
10) Pete Rose
Who could ever forget him? Peter Edward Rose led the National League in head-first slides, and lewd, libidinous, licentiousness lip. Offensive, in more ways than one, acerbic, self-serving, he was arguably the most memorable player of his era. No one who ever ran, forget walking, between the white lines ever played harder, gave more, pushed himself beyond what others would do. A model overachiever, he was a winner who inspired others to win.
Did he flaunt his off-field life? You betcha, but so did plenty of others. Start with Babe Ruth, progress to Mickey Mantle, and work your way forward.
Was he a tax cheat who went to prison? Sadly, yes.
Was he a degenerate gambler who bet on baseball? No doubt about it. And in so doing, he broke baseball's one inviolable rule. Should he be punished for it? Yes. Forever? No way.
Now it's time to lift the ban.
Why? First, all that happened off the field. Not a single shred of evidence has ever been presented that Rose’s betting ever affected either his performance or his conduct as a manager.
Second, in a world awash in for-profit fantasy leagues and Las Vegas-style betting, Commissioner Landis’ stentorian gambling strictures seem as antique as horse-drawn trolleys.
As does Bart Giamatti's high-fallutin’ rhetoric. Giamatti, Yale president and Renaissance scholar of international renown, was really the wrong man for the job. By transforming the Rose gambling case into a morality play, he convicted Number Fourteen before the evidence was in. Playing to a higher morality, Giamatti forgot that baseball is not really about the return to a lost Eden, but the sweaty pursuit of balls and strikes, hits and runs.
Which is where Rose excelled like none other. Hunched over plate, running out walks as if his life depended on it, playing every ball as if it were the last out of the World Series, the weight of Rose's achievement is overwhelming. With grit and gristle, dirt and determination, Charlie Hustle chased Ty Cobb all his life. When he finally hung it up, the one-man record book had played two dozen years, stood first all-time in games (3,562), plate appearances (15,890), at-bats (14,053), hits (4,256; including leading the league seven times). Excelling at multiple positions, 1963-86, largely with the Reds, he hit .303, including three titles (.335, .338, .345), topped .300 13 times, and tied a record with a 44-game hitting streak. A seventeen-time All-Star, one-time MVP, he hit .321 in the post-season, appeared in six World Series, including three victories, ’75 (when he copped MVP honors) and ’76 with Cincy, and ’80 with the Phils, for that franchise's first-ever World title.
An integral cog in Big Red Machine, the great National League team of ’70s, Rose was a great, endlessly entertaining, endlessly encouraging player who made everyone around him play better.
It’s time for Cooperstown to throw open its doors.
Ten Who Don't
1) Richie Ashburn
Fer openers, Abby has to reveal that the lightning-fast Phillies outfielder was one of his heroes growing up, and that a real baseball thrill was meeting Signor Ashburn when Abby covered the Pirates and Ashburn was a Brotherly Love radio man.
That aside, yes, Richie Ashburn had a fine, even memorable career. Over fifteen seasons, 1948-62, he copped a pair of batting titles, finished second three times, batted over .300 nine times. But in an era of other National League centerfielders like Duke Snider and Willie Mays, this lifetime .308 hitter, with his solid 2,574 hits, just doesn't rate enshrinement.
Richie Ashburn was very, very good. Just not great.
2) Frank “Home Run” Baker
There's no accounting for luck—or a great nickname.
There were plenty of bright stars in turn-of-the-last-century baseball—when hitting and running was the game —but Frank Baker wasn't one of them. Playing thirteen years over 1908-22, the A’s third baseman tallied 96 career round-trippers. Good, impressive, even, but hardly great.
In ‘09, he walloped a whopping four taters. In '10 it was a tenuous two. Oh, he did hit .409 in that Fall Classic, propelling the Philadelphias over the Cubs in five games. But that's not why he's enshrined.
Credit due, Baker did indeed have a couple of solid smacks at the right time, hitting 11 in ’11. Then the moniker: in that World Series, he belted game-winning homers in Game 2 off Hall of Famer Rube Marquard and Game 3 off Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.
Some unsung scribe tagged him “Home Run,” and it stuck.
Baker may have led the Junior Circuit in home runs the following two years, 1912-13, and played on another World Champ, but after that he petered out.
In his last years, as a Yankee, he averaged a nearly invisible eight home runs a season.
Just in time to see the ball itself change—and George Ruth ascend.
“Home Run” Baker was all moniker, no mashing. The Babe invented clout.
3) Jim Bunning
Maybe graduating to Congress, and being a fine father of nine, counts for something. But certainly not a berth in Cooperstown.
For Jim Bunning nothing else did, either. Playing for 17 years, 1955-71, in Detroit, primarily, and Philadelphia, with cups of coffee for the Pirates and Dodgers, Jim Bunning amassed 224-184 record. Good, but not show-stopping.
Sure, he threw 1,000 k in both leagues, 2,855 in all, second, when he retired, only to the Big Train himself. And he tossed the first 20th-century NL perfecto, along with an AL no-hitter. But he won 20 only once. And 19 four times more.
While consistency and longevity should count for something, dominating counts for more, and Bunning simply didn't.
4) Orlando Cepeda
He was the Baby Bull, a big firstbaseman who got big hits—just not enough of them.
Playing 1958-74, he was toughest in his early years, San Francisco Rookie of the Year in ’58 (.312/25/96) and Home Run King (46 in '61). A '62 team leader (35 HR, 114 RBI), when the Giants faced the Yankees in the Fall Classic, he played some good ball until a knee injury hobbled him three years later.
Resurrected in St. Louis, Cepeda copped MVP honors in '67, hitting .325 with 25 homers and a league-leading 111 RBI. The Cards took the World title that year, and Cepeda wore his only ring, but lost to the Tigers the next.
After that, his knees shot, the once-mighty Cepeda hobbled through the rest of his career: 379 homers, 1,365 RBI, .297 BA.
Good, very good. But simply not the dominance, the numbers, the career that merit Cooperstown.
5) Stanley Coveleski
Of all the Cooperstown mysteries, Stanley Coveleski is the murkiest.
As in, why are we even having this conversation?
Dipping his toe in major league waters in 1912, Covey came to stay in '16. Playing a full eleven seasons, with pieces of three more, while he did enjoy five 20-win seasons, four with Cleveland, he never led the league in wins, or much of anything else, except ERA twice and percentage once.
Part of the Tribe’s 1920 World Series squad, Coveleski was 24-14 during the campaign, then won three complete-games in the Fall. His October era: 0.67.
Five years later, as a Senator facing the Pirates, he was not so sharp, losing two games.
By the time he limped through two last years with the Yankees, Coveleski finished with 215 wins and a 2.89 ERA.
Game over, no?
No. It took a mere forty-one years for the Veterans Committee to convince itself that Covey deserved a plaque. Why? Not clear. They should have let it go. Stan Coveleski had some very good years, but not ten great years, five of true dominance. For Cooperstown, his overall numbers, and his money wins, are simply not there. Color us dumbfounded.
6) Bobby Doerr
Close your eyes.
Imagine Red Sox second sacker Bobby Doerr.
Now imagine him as a St. Louis Brown.
Now try to imagine him in the Hall of Fame.
Need we restate the obvious? Doerr's enshrinement was Veterans Committee cronyism at its worst.
After all, if one is a lifelong pal of Mr. Theodore Ballgame himself, in the minors and the majors, what other credentials does one need?
Certainly not those on the ground. Bobby Doerr, 1937-51, was a fine middle infielder, leading the Junior Circuit in double plays five times, put outs four times, assists three times. At the dish, he topped 2,000 hits, batted .288 lifetime, belted 223 taters, third-highest all-time for his position when he retired.
So, okay, Signor Doerr was a fine, sure-handed second-sacker. But 'fess up. If he played for aforementioned Browns, or Indians, would anyone remember him?
Much less visit his plaque every summer?
7) Walter “Rabbit” Maranville
When a Hall of Fame plaque leads with the numbers of games that a player had—the redoubtable Mr. Rabbit played 2,153 of them, 1912-35, grinding out 23 grueling seasons—you know he’s skating, well, on no ice at all.
A shortstop in the dead-, live-, and juicedball eras, Maranville did record 2,605 hits and played on the ’14 Miracle Braves. But a long career and a lone fluke title are not sufficient for Cooperstown.
Bouncing around the National League (after Boston he did time in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Brooklyn, and St. Louis), Rabbit Maranville’s best season batting average was an anemic .267, at a time when men hit .400. A lifetime .258 hitter, he never recorded more than 198 safeties in a season. Most years, he averaged about 150 hits, and just hung on.
For a guy who never topped 30% of the baseball writers' votes, he was magically anointed by the Veterans Committee eight years after his eligibility.
Rabbit should hang out. Of the Hall.
Personal footnote: When Abby pitched, he, too, carried the same nickname. His tag, given to him by his dear and lifelong friend, and stellar leftfielder, the Red Rover, came because it took this Rabbit about eight days to reach first on a clean single.
8) Tony Perez
We have been arguing about this for fifteen years, and will likely argue for another fifteen.
Abby believes Perez is a Hall of Famer. Jesse doesn't.
Abby: Let’s review the bidding. Perez played twenty-three years, 1964-86, but his key years were 1964-76 as the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine.
Sure, he played with major stars, Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and (should be) Pete Rose. And squads of fine position players. But, with all due respect to Reggie Jackson, Tony Perez really was the straw that stirred the drink. As powerful an RBI man as baseball has ever seen, he was the very definition of a winner.
Of his 1,652 career RBI, Perez notched 954 in the '70s, second only to teammate Bench. Indeed, by ’67 Perez had established himself as a big stick, topping 90 RBI for 12 straight years, including hitting 100 six times.
So key to the Reds’ success was the seven-time All-Star, that when the Reds let him go after '76, Abby said they wouldn't win again. They didn’t.
Reason enough to keep him in the Hall.
Jesse: Hitting twenty homers nine times is good, not great. For a supposed big RBI first baseman, 379 home runs is puny.
Abby: He also appeared in five World Series, hitting three round-trippers in '75 against the Red Sox. And he hit the first-ever home run in Three Rivers Stadium.
Jesse: Put Perez on the Cubs and you’d never hear from him.
Fade to Black.
9) Joe Tinker/Johnny Evers/Frank Chance
Certainly we love the power of a good poem—its magic, its majesty.
Just not when it comes to the Hall of Fame.
Which is how Tinker to Evers to Chance made it.
New Yorker Franklin P. Adams’ “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” with its oft-repeated double play refrain, entered the public consciousness 105 years ago and never departed.
Which is what the three of them should do from the Hall of Fame.
Joe Tinker was a serviceable shortstop on the great Cubs teams of ’06-’07-’08-’10, but nothing more than that. Playing for a dozen years, he hit an eye-popping .262 lifetime.
In 1906, when the Cubs won 116 games, second sacker Johnny Evers hit all of .255. A fine fielder, he, too, contributed to the Cubs’ championship teams, and later to the 1914 Miracle Braves, hitting .438 in the World Series. Seeing action in parts of five additional seasons, Evers hit .270 lifetime.
First baseman Frank Chance stole bases, plenty of them, enough to lead the National League in ’03 (67) and '06 (57). In the field, he notched a solid .983 fielding percentage. Retiring after ’14, he had a respectable .296 BA, 1,273 hits, 401 stolen bases.
Need we say more? The three were good players, who spent four years at the heart of a championship ballclub. And they were immortalized in print. But no more than that.
They hardly established excellence, set unbreakable records, dominated the field, or set new baseball standards.
They were just very good, and very good isn't good enough.
10) Tom Yawkey
Team ownership is, or should be, about leadership. About steering the fortunes of a team, and the course of major league baseball, for the good.
Tom Yawkey was mediocre at the first, dead last at the second.
As the last team owner to integrate—fourteen long years after Jackie Robinson—his Red Sox were the polar opposite of a winner. In more than forty years under Yawkey, 1933-76, the Bostons took a whole three pennants (1946, '67, '75) and no championships.
Yawkey is lauded by many for signing and retaining top talent, Joe Cronin and Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr. And he is cited for his many second-place finishes. And for flying his players around the country instead of taking them by train.
To our way of thinking, finishing out of the money, and running a franchise like a whites-only country club, are grounds for opprobrium not approbation.
Abby Mendelson is a writer and educator in Pittsburgh whose books include histories of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh neighborhoods and houses of worship, among others.
Jesse Mendelson, his son, is a healthcare consultant in Washington, D.C., skilled baseball historian like his dad, and highly successful fantasy player.