The 2014 Hall of Fame VC ballot

About two weeks ago, the baseball Hall of Fame announced the candidates that the Veterans Committee will get to look over for possible induction in 2014.

This VC isn’t the VC that existed for most of the 21st century. For about a decade, the VC was this Superfriends League of Justice type committee featuring all living Hall of Famers, as well as the writers and broadcasters honored by the Hall of Fame.

That group failed to induct anyone. Ever. So a few years ago, it was broken up and replaced with a three-headed VC. They vote on candidates in a three-year cycle. One year they’ll consider retired individuals from the way back when, then the next year they look at guys from middle-ways back, and then the next year the most recent period they can consider.

2014 happens to be a year for the VC to give a gander to the most recent era, essentially players from the 1970s and 1980s and retired non-players who made their mark over the last 40 years. The VC will have a dozen names to consider when they meet: Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony LaRussa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, and Joe Torre.

A few preliminary thoughts. First, only half of the names are players. Well, that’s understandable given the circumstances. After all, only the VC can elect non-players. Second, and more importantly, we just had a flock of prominent managers retire since the last time the VC looked at the more recent guys, and the game’s most well-known owner died.

I wonder why they choose the six players they did. A 16-person review panel came up with the candidates, and they could pick anyone who: 1) wasn’t in Cooperstown already, 2) made most of their contributions from 1973 onward, 3) retired by 1993 or earlier, and 4) wasn’t Pete Rose. And they decided the best candidates were Concepcion, Garvey, John, Parker, Quisenberry, and Simmons. Let’s look at that decision-making for a second.

If you believe in Wins Above Replacement, this isn’t a particularly inspiring group. There are six non-Hall of Famers with at least 60 WAR from 1973-93 who retired in time for this election, but none of them is on the ballot: Dwight Evans, Willie Randolph, Rick Reuschel, Buddy Bell, Bobby Grich, and Keith Hernandez. To be fair, John has over 60 career WAR, but about half of it was from prior to 1973.

Most of the guys up for induction are nowhere near that level. Concepcion, Parker, and Garvey are all around 40 career WAR, Quisenberry is just under 25 WAR, while Ted Simmons comes close at 50.2 WAR. By this stat, only John belongs.

Okay, but WAR isn’t a be-all, end-all. No stat is.

What made these guys the six players selected then? Well, here’s another way of looking at it: among players eligible for discussion in this year’s VC vote, who did the best in the BBWAA voting?

Well, the six players with the best high scores would be Garvey, John, Luis Tiant, Parker, Dale Murphy, and Concepcion. Yeah, that’s four of the six right there. And one of the two others, Tiant, arguably belongs in the 1947-72 crowd, not the 1973-onward crowd. That just leaves Murphy on the outside looking in. So the VC is taking its lead from the BBWAA. That’s typically what happens.

In that regard, the surprise inclusions are Simmons and Quisenberry, who both received fewer than five percent of the votes in their BBWAA ballot debuts and thus fells off the ballot.

Okay then, let’s look over the candidacies for this year’s VC ballot. We’ll start with the off-field guys.

Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre

I guess I could handle them all individually. Certainly, they all deserve that. But their cases are so strong it’s hardly worth spending much time on them.

How about this: the five winningest managers of all time are Connie Mack, John McGraw, LaRussa, Cox, and Torre. Yeah, not bad. They’re all among the 15 managers to end their careers 300 or more games over .500.

Obviously, they had talent. No one wins without talent. But they made the most out of it. Whether it was the way Cox and longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzone oversaw an impressive number of pitching revivals, the manner in which Torre got the most out of his teams in October, or the way LaRussa earned his reputation as the consummate manager, they all did great jobs.

All have their critics, but then again, it’s impossible to evaluate managers as effectively as we do players. The best way I know is called the Birnbaum Database, and it’s the tool I used to anchor my book around. The heart of it is comparing how all players did in a given season to their performance in surrounding seasons, and seeing who over/underachieved the most. By that standard, LaRussa is one of the two or three best managers in history, Cox is in the top ten, and Torre about 20th.

They are all no-brainer candidates, heavily overqualified by Cooperstown’s standards.

Billy Martin

There is one other manager on the list, longtime AL skipper Martin. He is the ultimate “win now” manager. As Bill James noted in his book on managers, more than any other manager, Martin had the ability to improve a team immediately upon arrival.

The 1969 Twins, his first club, won 18 more games than the year before. The Tigers improved by 12 wins when he took over. The Rangers improved by 27 wins in his first full season there. The A’s improved by 29 games. The Yankees also generally improved when he came there. Overall, it’s a record like none other.

But there was a downside. Martin wasn’t built for the long haul. He improved the Twins greatly in 1969, and his reward was a pink slip by Opening Day 1970. He couldn’t control himself and had gotten into a fight with one of his players during the year.

Despite his great initial success, Martin never lasted 500 games with a team before getting fired. Nine times hired, and only twice did he last 400 games.

Most infamously, he rode a young and talented A’s staff to the breaking point in the early 1980s. The 1980 staff completed 94 games, the most by any staff since Pearl Harbor. The 1981 A’s completed 60 games, more than any team since then, which is especially impressive given that they only played two-thirds of a regular season that year. And all of the young pitchers blew their arms out. By 1982, the team was terrible. That was Martin’s only time lasting three full seasons on the job.

That said, winning now is a reasonable strategy. Flags fly forever, as they say. But this is the ultimate problem for Martin: what flags? He took four franchises to the postseason: Minnesota, Detroit, New York, and Oakland. Three lost early in the playoffs. Only the Yankees won a pennant, capturing two flags and one ring under Martin.

That’s a nice job, but for a manager who is only about winning now, you need a better postseason haul than that. Martin was a talented manager, but he looks to me like someone on the outside looking in.

George Steinbrenner

From Martin, to his old boss. The good news about Steinbrenner: under his watch, the Yankees won seven world titles and 11 pennants. Yeah, that’s impressive. Whatever one thinks of his ego and personality, he clearly was committed to winning.

The bad news about Steinnbrenner. First, he was banned from the game. Twice. I’m not a fan of the Hall of Fame having a character clause for its inductees, but it does exist, and being the only owner in recent decades (ever?) to receive two season-long bans should be noted.

But that isn’t my real concern with Steinbrenner. No, it’s this: the team was better off when he wasn’t too involved. Steinbrenner was more hands-on in 1980s. He always wanted a winner and demanded immediate results. So the club made a series of short-sighted trades, most famously the Jay Buhner deal. They stayed strong but went over a decade without making it to the postseason.

When Steinbrenner received his second banning in the early 1990s, he took a step back, and his baseball guys were able to design the 1990s dynasty. And that’s the club that is central to Steinbrenner’s Hall of Fame case.

I’m a “big Hall” guy by nature, and I wouldn’t protest if Steinbrenner made it in, but he’s probably just miss my personal (and fictional) Hall.

Marvin Miller

This is one of the biggest slam-dunk decisions out there. You can make a good argument that no one else has done as much to transform the game over the last 60 years as Miller.

The fact that Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame and Miler isn’t is ludicrous. Actually, just the fact that Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame is ludicrous.

Now, for the players.

Dan Quisenberry

By WAR, he’s the worst candidate, but that’s never been how I’ve viewed Quisenberry. Forget sabermetrics and rationale analysis for a second. Let’s talk about my childhood memories.

You know the image that Bruce Sutter apparently has in the minds of the BBWAA? That’s the place Quisenberry has in my mind. I’m not quite old enough to remember Sutter’s prime. He was around when I was a kid, but I missed his late-1970s glory years that put him in Cooperstown.

But I remember Quiz. As a kid, he seemed to be the ultimate closer. He’d lead the league in saves while throwing around 130 innings and posting a stellar ERA. Growing up, he is what I measured all closers against, and they all came up wanting.

But he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown. Quisenberry had a great six-year prime, but that’s about it. Cooperstown takes more than that.

Steve Garvey

I hate Steve Garvey. There is nothing at all analytical about that. I was a nine-year-old Cubs fan in 1984 when he had that monster day in Game Four of the NLCS, capping it off with a heartbreaking walk-off homer for the Padres against the Cubs. I’ve hated him ever since.

The fun part about hating Garvey is that nearly everyone agrees with you. It’s hardly a Cubs-fan-only thing. He committed the worst sin a man can do in America. No, not cheating on his wife. The sports world is lousy with those guys. No, Garvey was a hypocrite. He portrayed himself as Captain Squeaky Clean when he wasn’t.

Bringing it back to baseball, Garvey also was overrated. He was a solid player, sure, but is this guy a Hall of Famer? He had good power, but not great power. He hit for a nice average, but not a great average. He could field his position well but had one of the worst throwing arms in history. He played every day, but since when did 2,332 games get a guy into Cooperstown? He’s a first baseman with a career .329 on-base percentage.

On merit, he doesn’t deserve to be in Cooperstown, which is great, because I’d hate to support Steve Garvey.

Dave Parker

Cobra is an intriguing case. He had a fantastic run for the Pirates in the 1970s. He could hit for average and power at a time when few did. He won the 1978 MVP by hitting 30 homers and driving in 117 runs while leading the league in batting average. Yeah, that’s nice.

Then he did too many drugs and suffered for it in his early 30s. From 1980 to 1984, he belted just 60 homers while posting an on-base percentage of .319 and amassing just 3.3 WAR. That ain’t getting it done.

Parker recovered and even made the All-Star team three more times. He’s an interesting what-if. Had Parker stayed clean, how good would the middle of his career have been? How much higher would his overall value have been?

But these words—if, have been—these are not the words you use to describe someone who belongs in Cooperstown. Parker is on the outside, looking in.

Keith Hernandez

This is an unusual case in that it rests heavily on how much value his glove provided at first base. For example, WAR lists him at 60.1 wins for his career but just 45.6 wins offensively. That’s a pretty nice defensive bump for a shortstop, and Hernandez was a first baseman!

Maybe that’s why I have trouble wrapping my brain around his candidacy. He just strikes me as a very good player. He’s better than Garvey, but he’s closer to Garvey than to the Hall of Fame for me.

The more I look at Hernandez, the more I think I’m missing something with him. But it never looks like I’m missing enough to come around and support him.

Hernandez is an easy player to underrate. Defensive value at first base is almost always brushed away. Hernandez didn’t have impressive power—just 162 homers—but he hit tons of doubles, and around 10 homers a year is worth something. He was not only a .300 hitter, but one who drew plenty of walks, as well. Add it all together, and Hernandez is a very well-rounded player.

But he just screams “Hall of Very Good” to me. Maybe if his career was longer. Or if his peak were higher. But as is? Nah.

Tommy John

I’ve always loved long-lasting pitchers. And with 26 seasons over 27 years, John certainly was long-lasting. With 288 wins and 4,710 innings pitched, if you like counting stats, there is plenty to love with John. No wonder he is WAR’s favorite player on the ballot. Plus, he had a nice prime, with three 20-win seasons in four years.

And, of course, John isn’t just the numbers, but he has a nice extra hook, his surgery. Dr. Frank Jobe did the work, but John was the one willing to undergo an experimental surgery, and it’s one that has transformed the game.

There is a downside to John. While he has 288 wins, he also has 231 losses, for an uninspiring .555 career winning percentage. Mind you, that came despite better-than-average support from his teammates at the plate and in the field. John really needed that help in the field. As a low-strikeout finesse pitcher, John leaned more on his fielders than just about anyone else.

There is a case against John, but overall the case for him is too strong, especially when you add in the surgery. He’d get my support.

Ted Simmons

On Sept. 5, 2007, Ivan Rodriguez doubled to right in the fourth inning in a game against the White Sox. That was career hit No. 2,473 for him, giving him the most base knocks of any player who spent most of his career behind the plate. Until that moment, the record holder was Simmons.

So while Simmons no longer holds the title, it’s still a nice achievement to be the leader in hits among all catchers from 1871 to 2006. A 136-year window is nothing to sneeze at.

And Simmons wasn’t just about batting average. Six times he had 20-some homers. He also legged out 483 doubles (also second only to I-Rod among catchers). He was one of the best-hitting catchers between Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza. Also, he lasted forever, playing in nearly 2,500 games.

In terms of offensive value, Simmons is fantastic, especially for a catcher. But his problem is that people expect defense from their catchers. That was his weak spot, as he never was that great behind the plate. He also came up at a bad time for a catcher lacking strong defensive skills. In the 1970s and 1980s, stolen bases were at a post-Deadball Era high, exposing Simmons’ main limitation.

But his bat was just too much. The fact that he got fewer than five percent of the vote in his first time on the BBWAA ballot was an indictment of the BBWAA, not Simmons. He deserves to be in. His offensive contributions outweighed his defensive limitations.

Summing up

So I’d say that LaRussa, Cox, Torre, Miller, John, and Simmons deserve induction.

Yeah, but a voter can only vote for five guys. I’d probably leave Simmons off. Actually, this would highlight the biggest problem with Cooperstown lately. It is at its worst when it comes to trying to induct recent players. They’ll put in off-field figures and long-dead players but not the players we can remember.

That’s a problem with my fictional ballot, but as it happens, the off-field figures really are that strong in this crowd.

References & Resources
Stats come from Baseball-Reference.com.

The Hall of Fame voting info comes from a database I put together years ago.

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Comments

  1. Chris J. said...

    Bob – My God!  I forgot to write about Concepcion!  D’OH!

    About him: great glove, and in an era when that really mattered (the turf years really put a premium on defense).  He hit fairly well for a SS for his era.  The era adjustment makes him a viable borderline candidate, but I’d vote no.

  2. TJ said...

    I think Tommy John has a case for consideration as well, but can we drop the “TJ Surgery” reason for induction, please? It’s not like Tommy John did the surgery on himself…

  3. Mike Green said...

    I am with AWeb.  How much do the best managers add to their clubs?  My instinct is no more than 3 wins a year.  GMs play a more important role, in my view. So, for instance, if I was to divide up the overall managerial credit for the Braves’ long-running success, it would be Schuerholz 70%, Cox 15%, Mazzone 15%. In my view, Cox was a good steady manager who had the benefit of working for probably the best GM in the game.

    That said, Torre is in a different class. He’s a marginal candidate as a player, and once you add in his managerial contributions, he is a no-brainer.

  4. Alex Bensky said...

    It’s not clear to me precisely how the periods are divided. So it may not be relevant to this article, but by Baseball Reference’s reckoning, Lou Whitaker has over 74 WAR.

  5. Chris J. said...

    “I am with AWeb.  How much do the best managers add to their clubs?  My instinct is no more than 3 wins a year.”

    Well, LaRussa, Cox & Torre all lasted well over 20 years on the job, and none of these players aside from maybe Tommy John were worth 60 wins, so even if you’re right, the three managers can still be the best candidates.

  6. Ian R. said...

    I like the look at Hernandez’ case for the Hall, but he’s not on this ballot – which you evidently know, as he was included in your list of 60 WAR guys who aren’t on the ballot. Concepcion is.

    @Alex – Lou Whitaker retired in 1994. In order to be eligible for this ballot, a player needs to have been retired for 21 years, so he’s not quite eligible. That’s unfortunate, since he’s a fantastically deserving candidate, but perhaps we’ll see him come up for consideration next time around.

    I also think including Simmons in that ‘uninspiring’ group because of his relatively low WAR is a bit unfair. WAR tends to underrate catchers because of their lower playing time; his 50 career mark is more or less equivalent to the 60 baseline for other positions.

  7. Chris J. said...

    Ian – I think you just figured out what I did wrong.  I listed the guys, then looked up the guys not on—and then confused them. That’s why I left off Concepcion & included Hernandez.  I knew I had 12 guys—I just botched one up.

    Damn that’s a stupid mistake.  Sorry about that.

  8. Tom Simon said...

    Don’t forget that Joe Torre was an excellent player, too.  In my mind that puts him ahead of Cox and LaRussa.

  9. aweb said...

    I’d be fine with not electing any of the managers. Long careers or not, did any of them have the on field influence of even the bottom-rung players on this list? I tend to doubt it, and it’s crazy that people have to choose between them.

    Managers should be inducted separately, in a pile with owners and umpires. Being the manager for winning teams is the historical standard for managers, but it’s really just a self-fulfilling thing – good franchises tend to stay good, and keep the manager, or only hire previous “proven winners”. Players don’t get inducted based on team wins (not directly anyway, I’ve never even seen the all-time winningest player list, I assume it’s long-term Yankees and a list of most games played)…

  10. bucdaddy said...

    But it’s a Hall of FAME. Was George Steinbrenner famous? He might have been the most famous owner in any sport, ever. Famous enough to be a sitcom character and everyone knew who the character referred to.

    Just saying.

  11. Bill McKinley said...

    If you’ve watched Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa manage, you know what a manager does for a club, even if you have a hard time quantifying it….

  12. Hank G. said...

    But these words—if, have been—these are not the words you use to describe someone who belongs in Cooperstown.

    Mickey Mantle. Babe Ruth. Dizzy Dean. Sandy Koufax.

    So while Simmons no longer holds the title, it’s still a nice achievement to be the leader in hits among all catchers from 1871 to 2006. A 136-year window is nothing to sneeze at.

    Well, no he wasn’t the leader for all that time. He broke someone’s record who was the catching leader in hits before Simmons.

  13. Hank G. said...

    But it’s a Hall of FAME.

    Once again, a hall of fame’s purpose is not to honor famous people. If it were, it would be superfluous.

    A hall of fame’s purpose is to bestow fame on deserving people. Yes, many people inducted are already famous, at least in their time. But there are many players in the Baseball Hall of Fame who would be forgotten if not for the HOF.

  14. Mike Green said...

    “Well, LaRussa, Cox & Torre all lasted well over 20 years on the job, and none of these players aside from maybe Tommy John were worth 60 wins, so even if you’re right, the three managers can still be the best candidates.”

    They could be, but they aren’t.  Torre, as I said, is a terrific candidate because of the combination of playing and managing.  LaRussa is an arguable candidate, for the reasons in your article (you can make a case that he is one of the top 2-3 managers of all time). It might indeed be that he was worth 3 wins a year.  As for Cox, it’s tough to argue that he was worth 2 wins per year.  Schuerholz ought to be a no-brainer when the time comes, though.

  15. Brian Corbett said...

    Your assessment for Tommy John’s candidancy is the only one I would disagree with. As you indicated his counting stats are impressive at first glance including his total WAR value. So the glare in the rear view mirror is just enough to catch your attention, However on further examination his individual contribution just does not support an election to the Hall.

    Best to look at the other starting pitchers who were his peers at the time. If you assume for a moment that John’s career should fall in the pre 1973 bunch, than I would place Sam Mcdowell’s record ahead of his. If not for injury and personal problems, “Sudden Sam” would probably have gone on to craft a remarkable career, even so, his peak value was impressive, and far out shown anything John was able to muster. Luis Tiant also suffered from the injury bug, so the majority of his career fell in the post 1973 group. Tiant had a better WAR/IP average value than John. From 1973 on, both Rick Reuschel and Jerry Koosman posted better career and peak values, than did John

    In summary I have them ranked on the all time starter list as follows:

    McDowell (51)
    Reuschel (58)
    Tiant (71)
    Koosman (85)
    John (109)

    All said,…IMHO, none of these folks belong in the HOF

  16. bucdaddy said...

    I like Dave Parker as a guy, but as a Pirates fan, his inability to stay on the field and his relative ineffectiveness when he was, from 1980-83, possibly due to his drug use, possibly cost the team at least one division championship, and therefore sours me on his candidacy.

    I’m glad he got his head straight and went on to productive seasons and a productive after-baseball life, even if it wasn’t for the Bucs. He’s one of the best all-around players I’ve ever seen, but I won’t forgive him 1983.

  17. David P Stokes said...

    If I had a ballot, I’d definately vote for Miller, Cox, LaRussa, and Torre.  I think those 4 are no-brainers.  For my fifth vote, I think I’d go with Simmons, but I’m not sure.  I can see a reasonable argument for going with a few of the other candidates instead, or just voting for 4 instead of 5.

  18. bucdaddy said...

    I would just like to point out that if these six ex-players from just one era who were bypassed by the BBWAA the first time around are now deemed Hall-worthy, maybe the BBWAA is doing a crappy job of picking HoFers and should relinquish the job (or have it taken away and given) to someone or many someones who might do better. Just to start with: Bill James and many other SABR oriented people working in MLB, broadcasters, and former GMs, managers and players. And it’s not like there aren’t any knowledgeable fans.

    That wouldn’t be my first solution to the Hall’s problems, though. The first would be to allow each candidate to be voted on individually, in or out, rather than thrown into a pool and be forced to compete with dozens of other players for a finite number of votes. That, and the 15-year dragout which even then doesn’t eliminate everybody just seems beyond ridiculous. Who designed this election structure, Putin?

  19. Jerome Solberg said...

    As for Tommy John and credit (or lack therof) for the surgery.  Mr. John did not perform the surgery, but he did collaborate with Dr. Jobe on the rehabilitation program.  New medical procedures are often the result of a collaboration between patient and doctor – “What was so great about it? It was great to have a patient like Tommy John, someone who understood what we were doing”

    http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/Tommy-John-surgery-Dr-Frank-Jobe-changed-baseball-gave-new-life-to-pitchers-022012

  20. Frank said...

    Chris,

    As you’re the “manager guy”, having written a book and all, what’s your take on Steroid Era managers being in the hall? The BBWAA has, to this point, come out against the players who they suspect from that era belonging in the hall.

    Should the managers be held to the same standard as the players, or should they be judged differently? For better or worse, Torre’s and LaRussa’s greatest success came while managing players tainted by steroids (McGwire, Canseco, Clemens, Giambi, Arod and Pettitte come instantly to mind).

    Curious what everyone thinks about this.

    P.S. I think that the list of player candidates is a joke.

  21. Mike said...

    That Simmons fell off the ballot is a strong condemnation of the BBWAA.  (along with Whitaker and many others)  He was too good not to deserve more consideration.

  22. bucdaddy said...

    Mike,

    Minnie Minoso, Vada Pinson, Rusty Staub and Mickey Lolich got more votes on that ballot than Simmons did. So I’d say you’re right.

    Something that just occurred to me: I’m going to just guess that most voters pay and devote less attention the further they go down the ballot. Kind of like how while a race for president might get you into the voters’ booth, and that it’s clear by then who you’re going to vote for, by the time you get down to the county assessor and the county commission, you’re probably not as sure—hell, you might not even know who the candidates are—and it’s just let’s pick one and get out of here.

    Probably the Hall voters know before the ballots arrive who the top two or three, the really Hall-worthy, guys are, but by the time it gets down to filling in the ninth and 10th slots, if they even get that far, it’s more of a pick ‘em and let’s be done than it is a deliberate snub of a guy like Simmons.

    At least I hope so. Because any other reason or excuse would be pretty lame.

    The other issue I’ll bring up (as I have many times before) is that the way the voting process is constructed, every vote for someone else is a vote you can’t give Simmons. So on a good ballot, some good guys aren’t going to make the cut, just because there aren’t enough votes yo go around. This is absurd. And it would be easy enough to fix: Just drop the 10-player limit. You wouldn’t even have to change the ballot. Just let every player stand on his own merits. Rather than picking 10 guys out of a pile, consider each player individually, and mark the ballot accordingly. Then tote up the votes for each player and induct everybody with 75%.

    I dunno, though, whether that would actually make much difference, if any. I don’t know that many, even most, voters bother filling in all 10 slots now. It just seems to me to be much fairer. Rather than having Simba in a pile of players, none of whom have anything to do with each others’ candidacy, and forcing them to compete for a finite number of votes, let each one stand for himself.

    My $.02, but they haven’t listened to me so far.

  23. Dave Cornutt said...

    About Cox: Don’t forget that it was he, as the Braves’ GM, who kicked off the process of rebuilding the franchise in the late ‘80s.  A lot of people don’t realize what terrible shape the Braves franchise was in when Cox took the GM job in 1986.  He made major changes in the front office, and he started the process of rebuilding the farm system and scouting department that Schurholz finished.  It was Cox who executed the Smoltz-for-Alexander trade, and made the decision to draft Chipper Jones over the more-highly-regarded-at-the-time Todd Van Poppel.  If you regard his Hall candidacy as borderline based on his managerial career, I think his stint as GM should put him over the top.

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