Cooperstown calling champion players

In 1986, the late Ernie Lombardi gained entrance into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. This was not only a nice achievement for him, but it was also a remarkable achievement for his best team, the 1940 Reds.

That team won the world championship, but until Lombardi entered Cooperstown, not a single member of that club had gained baseball immortality. In fact, at that point, the 1940 Reds were the only pre-1970s world championship team with none of its players inducted in Cooperstown. As of now, all champions from 1903 to 1980 have at least one player in Cooperstown.

It took 46 years between their Fall Classic success and Lombardi’s induction. That was, and still is, the longest wait any team has had between its world championship and a team member entering Cooperstown.

On the one hand, this makes sense. The best teams are supposed to have the best players, after all. And Hall of Famers are the best players. Then again, some guys get into Cooperstown in part because of their teammates. Put Herb Pennock on the St. Louis Browns back in the day, and he wouldn’t have a nice shiny plaque for himself.

How many of these championship squads need a borderline or mistake of an induction to be represented in Cooperstown? Let’s find out.

The main years: 1903-80

Well, it turns out almost none of them do. In fact, they almost all have a no-doubt-about-it immortal represent them in Cooperstown. Check out the Yankees, for instance. Each of their blizzard of rings has featured one of these six players on the team: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and Derek Jeter. The first five are in Cooperstown, and Jeter will sail in easily.

And it’s not just the Yankees, either. Every single world champion from 1951 to 1980 has a first-ballot immortal representing it in Cooperstown. Every single one. In fact, the only reason the streak doesn’t stretch even further back is due to a change in Hall of Fame voting over time.

Until the late 1950s, a player became eligible for enshrinement after just one year retirement, though no one got elected that quickly. Thus, Joe DiMaggio, retired in 1951, won election in 1955 (quicker than would be possible nowadays) but still wasn’t a first-ballot guy.

Almost all of the world champions had a BBWAA-elected immortal. Some champions with a Veterans Committee guy had a clearly deserving Hall of Famer. For example, Mordecai Brown from the 1907-08 Cubs champions went in via the VC, but that’s only because he stopped playing 20 years before the Hall began, and there was a monster backlog for the BBWAA to sift through.

Let’s look at a handful of champions from 1903 to 190 that lack an inarguable Hall of Famer.

The 1919 Reds are one of the only teams to need the VC to get one of its players in. Specifically, the VC voted in center fielder Edd Roush in 1962. That’s 43 years after the title; only Lombardi’s 1940 team had to wait longer.

And of course, that 1919 Reds lineup has always had a mark against it. It’s the team that won because its opponents threw the World Series. The 1919 Black Sox featured Eddie Collins among others, and they would’ve had no trouble going on.

Roush was put in by the VC, but he’s a guy the BBWAA guided towards the Hall. In his final year on their ballot, he got over half the writers’ vote. In one of my all-time favorite facts, aside from players still currently on the BBWAA ballot, only one guy who ever received over half the votes from the BBWAA is not currently in Cooperstown: Gil Hodges. All the rest are in. Many, like Roush, went in via the VC, but once a majority of the writers supports a guy, he’s going in.

That team also had third baseman Heinie Groh and aging outfielder Sherry Magee, and both of them are Hall of Fame-caliber players. Groh is probably the most deserving inductee on the team, but until recent decades, the Hall of Fame rarely elected third basemen.

Ernie Lombardi is the only inductee from the 1940 Reds, and he isn’t exactly an inarguable Hall of Famer. It’s interesting because they really were a heck of a team. They won the pennant the year before in 1939. In 1940 they not only won the pennant, but they won it by 12 games. Not bad.

Aside from Lombardi, there’s almost no one on the team who generated any Hall of Fame support. They had aging center fielder Wally Berger, but he had only two at-bats. Besides, the BBWAA never even gave him one percent of the vote.

The 1940 Reds also had some good pitchers, most notably Paul Derringer and Bucky Walters. Derringer maxxed at six percent from the writers, and Walters at 24 percent. The writers liked Walters even more than they liked Lombardi, who topped out at 16 percent with them.

However, the most popular 1940 Red with the BBWAA was someone else entirely: Johnny Vander Meer, who got nearly 30 percent at his height. Vander Meer was something of a novelty item on the ballot, as his support stemmed more from throwing back-to-back no-hitters than his entire career.

Two other world champions needs to be mentioned because, though they each had a player elected by the BBWAA, neither is a slum-dunk candidate. The 1914 Miracle Braves have two Hall of Famers. The BBWAA elected shortstop Rabbit Maranville, and the VC put in his middle infield mate, second baseman Johnny Evers.

Both have cases that can be made for or against them. Maranville is one of the worst offensive players in the Hall, but he’s also one of the greatest gloves ever. And he was a great glove for a very long time.

Evers doesn’t have the numbers, but he’s part of baseball’s greatest riddle: How were those 1906-10 Cubs teams so good? They have the record that still stands for most wins in a one-year period, two-year stretch, and three-, four-, and five-year marks as well. Yet, they only have one player in Cooperstown that everyone agrees belongs, pitcher Mordecai Brown.

Really? They only had that one guy? Well, it’s worth noting that those Cubs won with run prevention and had one of the greatest defenses of all time. Maybe Tinker, Evers, and Chance do all belong, maybe not, but there is an argument.

The 1925 Pirate champions have a trio of Hall of Famers – Pie Traynor, Max Carey, and Kiki Cuyler – but some critics question the placement of all three. Third baseman Traynor was widely hailed back when batting average was king, but his offense was only average. He had no power, no walks, and no steals. He was a nice defensive third baseman and a good hitter, but he’s an all-time great sabermetric whipping boy.

Carey is a clone of Roush, a center fielder who once topped 50 percent in the BBWAA vote before the VC put him in. Cuyler is the least impressive of the trio of 1925 Pirate immortals, but his BBWAA vote did peak at 34 percent.

At any rate, the 1914, 1919, 1925, and 1940 world champions are the only ones from the 1903-80 time frame to lack a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Given the BBWAA support of Roush, Traynor, and Maranville, the 1940 Reds are the only team that had a guy inducted due to his playing for a team previously not represented in Cooperstown.

The modern years: 1981-1996

Let’s look at the years 1981 to 1996. The 1981 Dodgers are the oldest team not to have a Hall of Fame player on their roster, while the 1996 Yankees are the most recent team to have an inductee. (An aging Wade Boggs played for the 1996 champions).

In this period, three teams currently lack a Hall of Famer: the 1981 Dodgers, 1984 Tigers, and 1995 Braves. The Braves certainly will get some once Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz become eligible.

The 1988 Dodgers sort of have one. Don Sutton played on that team but actually was cut in midseason. None of the men who played for LA in the postseason is in. None of them is likely to get in. Only two players on the team aside from Sutton ever cracked five percent on the BBWAA ballot: Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela. In both cases, they fell of the ballot in their second year of contention due to lack of support.

Still, those Dodgers can claim Don Sutton, and he is in Cooperstown.

The 1981 Dodgers have no Sutton. He played for the team from 1966 to 1980, only to leave via free agency, and didn’t come back until the very end of his career. Only two players on that team ever topped five percent of the vote: a young Valenzuela and veteran first baseman Steve Garvey.

Unlike Valenzuela, Garvey had some legitimate support, peaking at over 40 percent. However, his support cratered—along with his public image—in the light of numerous child paternity suits. Normally, that would not be that big a deal, but Garvey had always presented himself as the squeakiest of the squeaky clean. His support fell by half over the years.

It’s been 31 years since those Dodgers won a world title. Among teams that have won it all since Cooperstown debuted in 1936, only the 1980 Reds have had a longer wait, and the wait doesn’t look to end any time soon.

The third-longest wait among post-1936 champions belongs to the 1984 Tigers. They had several guys fall off the BBWAA right away—most notably Lou Whitaker, who deserved better.

Two 1984 Tiger players, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, are still on the ballot and still drawing decent support. Both actually set new personal bests in 2012, Trammell at 37 percent and Morris at 67 percent. Neither is likely to get in via the BBWAA, though Morris has an outside shot next year. Regardless, Morris has an excellent chance to win election via the VC. That won’t make those of us in sabermetric-land happy, but it’s going to happen.

The 1981 Dodgers are the only team from this period who may not get an eventual Hall of Famer.

The current era: 1997-2011

OK, so what about the 15 most recent champions? Currently, none have anyone elected, but many will.

The Yankee champions have Jeter and Mariano Rivera. So you don’t need to worry about 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009.

Randy Johnson was on the 2001 Diamondbacks and Pedro Martinez on the 2004 Red Sox. They have easy paths to immortality. The 2006 and 2011 Cardinals have Albert Pujols. Yeah, he’s good. The 2005 White Sox have Frank Thomas. Like Sutton, he didn’t play for the team in the postseason (Thomas was injured), but he still was there.

That just leaves the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2007 Red Sox, 2008 Phillies, and 2010 Giants.

Under normal circumstances the 1997 Marlins, 2003 Marlins, and 2007 Red Sox would be no-brainers. But these aren’t normal circumstances.

The ’97 Marlins have 500-homer man Gary Sheffield, and the Red Sox have all-time great slugger Manny Ramirez. Yeah, but Manny has tested positive, and Sheffield is associated with Bonds. The 2003 Marlins have Ivan Rodriguez, who has also fallen under PED suspicion.

No one knows what the future holds, but in the current environment, I can’t see Sheffield or Ramirez getting in and am uncertain on Rodriquez. That said, the 2007 Red Sox still have Curt Schilling, who likely will get in. The 2003 Marlins have Miguel Cabrera, who so far has played like a Hall of Famer.

The 1997 Marlins really have no chance aside from Sheffield, though. Their only other serious candidate is Kevin Brown, who already fell off the BBWAA ballot after failing to get five percent of the vote in his first year. Who know what’ll happen down the road for Sheffield. Lombardi got in after 46 years. Will Sheffield still be a pariah by 2043?

The 2010 Giants are too early to tell. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are great talents, but it’s too early for them.

Something similar is true for the 2008 Phillies. They’ve been so loaded with talent over the last few years that I assume someone would be a no-doubter, but no one is quite that well qualified right now. Their biggest names and best talents are Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Jaime Moyer, and Brad Lidge. Can you spot a guaranteed Hall of Famer there? Some have chances, but none is a lock. It depends what the future holds for the guys in the midst of their careers.

That leaves the 2002 Angels. From the point of view of the Hall of Fame, I’m saving the least for last. Their biggest-name position players are Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, and Tim Salmon. Those guys have no chance. Glaus had a chance if he’d stayed healthy, but he didn’t.

Their most prominent pitchers are John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez. Lackey really needs to turn his career around to even pretend to have a chance. Rodriguez set an all-time single-season save record in 2008 but has declined since then. He’s the only guy on the 2002 Angels with a chance to top five percent of the BBWAA vote, let alone enter Cooperstown.

Why the change?

All the above leads to a question, though. Back in the day, virtually every champion had not only a Hall of Famer, but an inarguable Hall of Famer. Even the 1940 Reds had three guys get over 15 percent of the BBWAA vote. None did that with the 1981 Dodgers, and none might do that for the 1997 Marlins or 2002 Angels.

So, why the change?

There’s an obvious answer: playoff expansion. The 1997 Marlins and 2002 Angels were both wild card winners. Back in the day, they never would’ve made it to the World Series, let alone won it.

For that matter, the 1981 Dodgers went to that year’s weird three-round postseason caused by the strike. They actually won fewer games that year than the division-rival Reds, but LA advanced to October while the Reds did not.

That makes the 1984 Tigers’ inability to get a player into Cooperstown that much more striking. They had the best record in baseball in 1984 and led the league in most runs scored and fewest runs allowed. You would think they’d have someone in by now.

I’d also add this: Back before expansion, there were only eight teams per league, so it made it more likely that almost all teams would have a really strong player. Now there are 14 to 16 teams per league, so there are fewer slam-dunk Hall of Famers per club.

The 1981 Dodgers, 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, and possibly even the 2008 Phillies have an excellent chance to be forever skunked by Cooperstown, though.

Among players anyway. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda is in, Angels skipper Mike Scioscia is a good bet to go in, and ex-Marlin leader Jim Leyland has a chance. Looking back, Hall of Famer skipper Bill McKechnie helmed both the 1925 Pirates and the 1940 Reds. The only reason 1919 Reds manager Pat Moran isn’t in Cooperstown is because he drank himself to death to soon.

It certainly makes sense that the champions without the most obvious talent would be the ones with great managers.

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Comments

  1. Paul G. said...

    Not to turn this into a Pie Traynor debate, but while his batting average does make him look a lot better than he really was I still think he deserves the Hall of Fame.  I’m going from memory here (if I’m wrong, I’ll update), but I remember looking at Bill James’s top 100 list of third basemen in the New Abstract.  Pie is ranked #15, fairly low for a legitimate Hall of Famer.  However, when Traynor retired he would have been ranked #2 behind Home Run Baker.  Is there a place for the second best third sacker from 1876-1935?

  2. David said...

    It’s not like he was just #2 until 1935.  I don’t really know that anyone better came along until Eddie Mathews (maybe Stan Hack – but still, top 3 ain’t bad).  That’s a LOT of baseball history, so yeah, there’s an excuse there.

  3. Zubin said...

    What about those pre-1903 championship teams?

    The 1885-1886 Browns are without a HoFer unles you count Comiskey.  I guess that’s another reason to put Bob Caruthers in.

    Also, if there are twice as many teams now than in 1930, shouldn’t players start getting inducted at twice the rate they have before?

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