Is It The NL/AL Hall of Fame or….

Baseball is changing. First, major league baseball came to its senses and allowed those of African-American descent to take the field. After that, there was an increased Latin presence. Now we’re seeing the best the Far East has to offer. Who knows what the future holds? Might we see an significant influx from Eastern Europe or Australia?

It’s all good.

Along a related line—why is Josh Gibson enshrined in Cooperstown but Sadaharu Oh not?

Sadaharu Oh’s stats:

Yr   Ag  Tm Lg  G    AB    R   H   2B 3B  HR  RBI   BB    K  AVG  OBP  SLG   
1959 20 YOM CL  94  193   18   31   7  1   7   25   24   72 .161 .253 .316   
1960 21 YOM CL 130  426   49  115  19  3  17   71   67  101 .270 .369 .448 
1961 22 YOM CL 127  396   50  100  25  6  13   53   64   72 .253 .357 .444  
1962 23 YOM CL 134  497   79  135  28  2  38   85   72   99 .272 .364 .565  
1963 24 YOM CL 140  478  111  146  30  5  40  106  123   64 .305 .448 .640  
1964 25 YOM CL 140  472  110  151  24  0  55  119  119   81 .320 .457 .720  
1965 26 YOM CL 135  428  104  138  19  1  42  104  138   58 .322 .488 .666  
1966 27 YOM CL 129  396  111  123  14  1  48  116  142   51 .311 .493 .715  
1967 28 YOM CL 133  426   94  139  22  3  47  108  130   65 .326 .484 .723  
1968 29 YOM CL 131  442  107  144  28  0  49  119  121   72 .326 .471 .722  
1969 30 YOM CL 130  452  112  156  24  0  44  103  111   61 .345 .474 .690  
1970 31 YOM CL 129  425   97  138  24  0  47   93  119   48 .325 .472 .713  
1971 32 YOM CL 130  434   92  120  18  2  39  101  121   65 .276 .434 .597  
1972 33 YOM CL 130  456  104  135  19  0  48  120  108   43 .296 .431 .654  
1973 34 YOM CL 130  428  111  152  18  0  51  114  124   41 .355 .500 .755  
1974 35 YOM CL 130  385  105  128  18  0  49  107  158   44 .332 .527 .761  
1975 36 YOM CL 128  393   77  112  14  0  33   96  123   62 .285 .455 .573  
1976 37 YOM CL 122  400   99  130  11  1  49  123  125   45 .325 .486 .725  
1977 38 YOM CL 130  432  114  140  15  0  50  124  126   37 .324 .477 .706  
1978 39 YOM CL 130  440   91  132  20  0  39  118  114   43 .300 .444 .611  
1979 40 YOM CL 120  407   73  116  15  0  33   81   89   48 .285 .413 .565  
1980 41 YOM CL 129  444   59  105  10  0  30   84   72   47 .236 .343 .462  
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
TOTALS        2831 9250 1967 2786 422 25 868 2170 2390 1319 .301 .445 .634  

Oh was a nine-time MVP. Like Gibson, he never played a game in MLB. Unlike Gibson, Oh’s numbers and accomplishments are on the public record.

This really isn’t about Oh or Gibson, it’s about recognizing baseball’s best wherever and whenever they played. Obviously there were other recognized “major leagues” that have players enshrined in Cooperstown: The Federal League, the American Association, the Players League, the Union Association and the National Association. However, it’s not as cut and dried as that.

Baseball, like a diamond, has many facets due to changes in society, as we outlined in the opening. Before the reserve clause was redefined after Messersmith/McNally, it was actually possible to be paid better in what were considered “minor leagues” than it was in the majors. Gus Zernial related that when the A’s wanted him to come on board, they asked him to take a pay cut. Of note, the Pacific Coast League seriously considered requesting major league status due to the high quality of play in the league.

Some players in the PCL might have had terrific major league careers, but opted to stay put for whatever reasons. Others, had they played after Ron Blomberg, might have had careers like Edgar Martinez—or better.

If Martinez takes a place in baseball’s hallowed Hall, why not a player who could’ve had an equally good career had circumstances been different? Here’s a quick list of some minor league greats:

BATTERS	          YEARS	   AB	 AVG 	  R	  H	 2B	 3B	 HR 	 RBI
Buzz Arlett	1918-37	  8001	.341	1610	2726	598	107	432	1786
Ike Boone	         1920-37	  6807	.370	1362	2521	477	128	215	1334
Bunny Brief	1910-28	  8945	.331	1776	2963	594	152	340	1776
Nick Cullop	1920-44	  8571	.312	1607	2670	523	147	420	1857
Ox Eckhardt	1925-40	  7563	.367	1275	2773	455	146	 66	1037
Hector Espino     1960-84	  8605	.337	1597	2898	403	 49	484	1678
Ray French	1914-41	 12174	.267	1769	3254	590	129	 46	1029
Spencer Harris    1921-48	 11377	.318	2287	3617	743	150	258	1769
Joe Hauser	1918-42	  6426	.299	1430	1923	340	116	399	1353
Smead Jolley      1922-41	  8298	.366	1455	3037	612	 75	334	1593
Jigger Statz      1920-42	 10657	.315	1996	3356	595	137	 66	1044
Perry Werden      1884-08	  6233	.341	1214	2124	392	 87	169	 n/a

Some were anti-Mazeroskis: Tremendous bats, leaden gloves. Some hit very well when they were given playing time in the bigs: Smead Jolley had a 112 OPS+ in less than 2,000 AB; Buzz Arlett a 138 OPS+ in his only major league season (418 AB). Arlett also won more than 100 games as a pitcher before arm miseries in 1923 made him a full time outfielder.

Ike Boone had a 121 OPS+ in parts of eight ML seasons. Joe Hauser couldn’t stay healthy whenever he reached the majors but still was good for a 118 OPS+ in a bit over 2,000 AB.

Hector Espino’s career (1960-84) overlaps the DH era, but Espino simply didn’t care to play in the majors. Espino holds the minor league career home run record with 484; all but three of those were hit in Mexico. At the end of the 1964 Mexican League season, the 25-year-old first baseman, who had led the league with 46 homers and a .371 batting average, was sold by Monterrey to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Jacksonville farm club. He hit .300 with those three homers in 100 at-bats and was invited to spring training by the Cards for 1965, but he never reported and was eventually returned to Monterrey.

I’m not advocating the above for the Hall of Fame, but simply showing why a more comprehensive search for all-time greats might be warranted.

Switching gears, suppose Ichiro Suzuki plays only eight major league seasons. So far he’s a .330 ML hitter, owns two batting titles, has won six Gold Gloves, was a Rookie of the Year and an MVP, averaged 226 hits a season and owns the single season record for base hits. Do his .353/.435/.522, three NPB MVPs, seven batting titles and seven Gold Gloves count for nothing when evaluating his Hall of Fame worthiness?

For that matter, they’ve inducted Negro League stars, but why do they ignore players like Minnie Minoso, who built up part of his impressive résumé in the Negro Leagues?

A lot of tremendous players had amazing careers that, for one reason or another (lack of skill excluded), never got them significant major league time. Should they be exempted from baseball’s highest honor simply because the circumstances of history didn’t shake out in their favor? Or is Cooperstown only for players who happened to be born in the right time and place?

Josh Gibson might have hit 900 homers. Sadaharu Oh has 858 fully documented HR. Why is Gibson recognized? Because he played some baseball in the United States? Because he wasn’t allowed to play in MLB? What if Oh wasn’t allowed either? Is Cooperstown about greatness or geography?

Don’t forget, the best players pre-1947 didn’t play against the very best talent either. I’m not saying that the NPB, the CL, the old PCL, the NNL etc, should be given the same weight as the major leagues when evaluating candidates, What I am saying is that they should be part of equation. Is the baseball Hall of Fame about honoring the best players of selected leagues or about the best players to play the game, period?

Major league baseball is evolving and expanding. Our attempts at honoring the game’s very best should evolve with it.

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