100th birthday: Arky Vaughan

A hundred years ago today, one of the greatest and most underrated infielders of all-time was born: former Pirates shortstop Arky Vaughan.

He was a terrific player who could hit for average and draw walks, had some decent mid-ranger power, and even once led the league in stolen bases. Oh, and he did it all while playing shortstop, the diamond’s most important defensive position. There’s a reason why Bill James listed him as the second greatest shortstop of all-time in his New Historical Abstract (behind fellow Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner).

Yet despite that, and despite playing in the era most over-represented in Cooperstown, Vaughan didn’t join the Hall of Fame until 1985, over 30 years after his death.

Let’s look at it this way. Vaughan’s greatest season came in 1935. That year, he led the league in batting average (.385),walks (97), OBP (.491), SLG (.607), OPS (1098), OPS+ (190), WAR (9.1), Runs Created (147) and several other sabermetric stats.

Well, 47 men who played in 1935 are currently in Cooperstown. Two of those guys are in as managers (Leo Durocher and Al Lopez) and a third as an umpire (Jocko Conlan) but that still leaves 44 players from that year in Cooperstown. Here’s when the 44 guys who played in 1935 made their way into Cooperstown. Please note where Vaughan’s 1985 induction ranks among them:

1936 Babe Ruth
1939 Lou Gehrig
1942 Rogers Hornsby
1947 Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove
1948 Pie Traynor
1949 Charlie Gehringer
1951 Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx
1952 Paul Waner
1953 Al Simmons, Dizzy Dean
1954 Bill Terry, Bill Dickey, Rabbit Maranville
1955 Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance
1956 Hank Greenberg, Joe Cronin
1964 Luke Appling, Heinie Manush
1967 Red Ruffing, Lloyd Waner
1968 Joe Medwick, Goose Goslin, Kiki Cuyler
1969 Waite Hoyt
1970 Earle Combs, Jesse Haines
1971 Chick Hafey
1972 Lefty Gomez
1974 Jim Bottomley
1975 Billy Herman, Earl Averill
1976 Freddie Lindstrom
1980 Chuck Klein
1982 Travis Jackson
1984 Rick Ferrell
1985 Arky Vaughan
1986 Ernie Lombardi
1991 Tony Lazzeri

Of the 44 Hall of Famers from 1935, Vaughan was No. 42 to get his plaque.

There are three groups of Hall of Famers. Through 1956, everyone is a Baseball Writers Association of America selection. That’s the first group. It’s a really solid bunch, with only Pie Traynor drawing raspberries from sabermetric circles.

The second goes from 1964-76, when the Veterans Committee put a bunch of guys in (and the BBWAA elected Appling and Ruffing, the last 1935-ers to go via the writers). While there are some good picks here (see Goslin, Goose), many of these are among the all-time worst picks in Veterans Committee history.

The third chunk is the final 1935 dribbles from the Veterans Committee. After 1976, its members waited four years to elect another 1935 guy, and they put in only six more from 1980-91, when they finally stopped. Some of these guys are bad jokes (Travis Jackson and especially Rick Ferrell).

Vaughan is better than anyone else is the third group, probably better than anyone in the second group, and better than several in the first group.

So why did he have to wait?

A few thoughts: First, he died really young—in 1952 at age 40. Public visibility helps a candidacy and he wasn’t visible at all.

Second, Vaughan had a short career. In part it’s because he missed three years due to World War II, but he also played only 129 games after it. Effectively, his career ended at age 31, so he has well under 2,000 games. That makes it trickier as well.

Third, being well-rounded may have hurt. If a guy has all his talent in one area of the game, it’s easier to notice because his homers or batting average or glove is so impressive that it sticks out. Vaughan’s overall value is great, but no single stat makes you go “Wow!” And you need a wow factor when you’ve got a shorter career.

Fourth, when Vaughan played (and for long after), walks were underrated as a stat. Well, Vaughan thrice led the league in walks drawn. That glanced off people’s skulls. It’s worth noting the best player from the 1930s not in Cooperstown, Stan Hack, also drew plenty of walks.

Vaughan was also overshadowed by his teammate Pie Traynor. Vaughan was a better player, but all of Traynor’s value was in his batting average, so it was easier to notice him.

Thus Vaughan fell by the wayside. His Hall of Fame support peaked at just over 15 percent in 1967, trailing people like Mel Harder, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Vander Meer and Marty Marion. All were fine players, but none were nearly as good as Vaughan.

Still, Vaughan did eventually enter Cooperstown and his plaque still stands there. Happy 100th, Arky.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.


1,000 days since Miguel Tejada gets his 2,000th career hit.

1,000 days since last game in the career of Jason Isringhausen.

1,000 days since Torii Hunter of the Angels smashes three home runs in one game.

2,000 days since the Cardinals retire Bruce Sutter’s number.

5,000 days since Ken Griffey Jr. enjoys his three doubles per game.

5,000 days since Toronto signs free agent Tony Phillips.

8,000 days since Carlos Baerga makes his big league debut.

9,000 days since the Twins retire Rod Carew’s number.

9,000 days since Wade Boggs has his worst single-game WPA of his career: -0.392 WPA. He goes 0-for-6 with a pair of Ks as the A’s beat his Red Sox, 5-3.

25,000 days since Paul Derringer wins his 200th game, giving him a career record of 200-188.

25,000 days since the White Sox purchase Johnny Dickshot from Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League.

25,000 days since the big league debut of George Kell.

40,000 days since Ed Delahanty bops his 100th career home run. He’s the eighth man to reach that level.


1893 Billy Southworth, Hall of Fame manager, is born.

1893 Lefty Williams, Black Sox pitcher, is born.

1900 Brooklyn purchases Gus Weyhing from St. Louis.

1900 Jack Chesbro is assigned by Louisville to Pittsburgh. Louisville’s team no longer exists in the NL.

1900 Iron Man Joe McGinnity is assigned by Baltimore to Brooklyn as the old Baltimore team doesn’t exist any more.

1921 The Cardinals sign Rogers Hornsby to the richest contract in NL history: Three years at $18,500 a year.

1927 White Sox outfielder Johnny Mostil tries to kill himself by slashing himself with a razor. He’d been having an affair with the wife of teammate Red Faber, and Faber had just found out about it.

1927 Jackie Jensen is born.

1932 Ron Kline, pitcher, is born.

1934 Jim Landis, outfielder, is born.

1942 Bert Campaneris, shortstop, is born.

1943 The Phillies trade outfielder Lloyd Waner and another player to the Dodgers for Babe Dahlgren.

1946 The Mexican League offers Ted Williams $500,000 to jump there. He’ll turn it down.

1947 In a spring training game, Leo Durocher sort of implies that Yankees co-owner Larry MacPhail has mobsters in his box at their team’s stadium. This will help lead to Durocher’s year-long suspension in 1947.

1963 Terry Mulholland, pitcher, is born.

1965 Benito Santiago, catcher, is born.

1979 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn declares that all reporters—male and female—will have equal access to all big league locker rooms.

1987 The Cubs sign free agent right fielder Andre Dawson.

1987 Zeke Bonura, 1930s bad-fielding first baseman, dies.

1988 The A’s sign free agent Tony Phillips.

1994 John Kruk is diagnosed with testicular cancer.

1995 MLB awards expansion franchises to groups in Arizona and St. Petersburg.

2010 Willie Davis, outfielder, dies at age 69.

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  1. diskojoe said...

    “Banana Nose” Zeke Bonura was one of the many of the 1930-1941 era White Sox players that Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story) mentioned on his radio show on WOR.

  2. David said...

    Any Ugly Dickshot reference is a good one.

    I would stand by James’s rating of Vaughan, if we consider A-Rod a 3B.  If A-Rod is a SS, I’d put him ahead, but if not, I’d put Vaughan behind only Wagner.

  3. bucdaddy said...

    Fifth: That plenty of people who saw Arky play also saw Wagner play, a few years earlier, and could rightly (but unfortunately) say, “Hmph, he’s OK but he ain’t no Hans Wagner. Wagner woulda had that one.” Likely even in Pittsburgh, or especially in Pittsburgh, he would always have been seen as second fiddle. (Also there was no TV to show them how good Arky was comparable to all the other shortstops in baseball, and he probably didn’t make the newsreels too often.)

    Think of a more modern equivalent (though not a perfect one, but …), a guy like Bobby Murcer, a perfectly good, occasionally outstanding ballplayer for a decade who was never going to be as good as Mickey Mantle. He’s largely forgotten now, when for a lot of teams he would have been among the best CF those franchises ever had.

    Guy never had a chance.

  4. Odell said...

    Jason Isringhausen unretired last year and pitched 53 games for the Mets.  He’s currently in camp with the Angels.

  5. Steve I said...

    They seem extremely consistent, scoring at 970 by the James’ Similarity Score method.

  6. Steve I said...

    Another more modern (though not perfect) equivalent: Williams followed by Yastrzemski (followed by Rice) in Boston’s left field.  Of course those guys followed each other immediately, while there was a little gap between Wagner and Vaughan.

  7. bucdaddy said...

    Steve I,

    Yep, the numbers are almost identical, right down the line: 1 run, 1 walk, 5 hits, 7 total bases. I notice he hit a bunch more doubles (22) on the road but evened things up a bit by hitting 26 more triples at home.

    Thanks for running the similarity score, that’s pretty close.

    I had noticed this in looking to see if he was hurt by Forbes much, even hitting lefthanded. I’d have to say he wasn’t.

  8. Steve I said...

    Since I had the SimScore spreadsheet open, I decided to run Mel Ott (since he has the largest home/road HR split of all the 500-homer guys) and Chuck Klein (just a guess that he has the largest home/road splits of an HoF’er).  Ott 831 (somewhat similar), Klein 744 (not similar).  Klein really was two different guys, at home, and on the road.

    It’s interesting but not really surprising that Ott’s home/road 2B/HR splits are nearly identically inverse: 182/306 for doubles, 323/188 for homers, 37/63%, and 63/37%

  9. Steve I said...

    Just a note on Pie: sure, we’ve now seen Mathews and Robinson and Santo and Schmidt and Brett, and his BA was over-valued, but who at the time was better regarded?  I seem to remember John McGraw calling him the best third baseman he’d ever seen.  And it’s like Stengel said about catchers: You have to have one, or everything is a passed ball.

    You’ve got to have a third baseman, and you can’t necessarily wait 10 or 20 or 30 years to find one.

  10. Chris J. said...

    Steve – I’m pretty sympathetic to Pie for the reasons you give.

    That said, you don’t have to wait 10-30 years to find another one.  There’s Stan Hack in that same era.  And Heine Groh in the generation before.  There’s at least two NL third baseman from way back better than the guy that’s in.

  11. David said...

    Agreed, Brian E.

    I was going to say the same about Baker and McGraw.

    Also, @Steve I., I recall Bill James once saying that the Polo Grounds didn’t really make Mel Ott a much better hitter; they just made him a better home run hitter.  The Polo Grounds were apparently not a great hitters’ park, just a great home run park, so Ott’s value wasn’t wrapped up in his home park alone.  It makes sense, I guess, when you think about it.

  12. BW said...

    Arky Vaughan attended the same high school (Fullerton [California]) High School as another HOF member, Walter Johnson.

  13. Mark said...

    Re the great Pie.  There is something wrong with the metrics for defensive WAR when the thirdbaseman who was considered by the finest baseball minds of his era to be a brilliant fielder has a negative defensive war.

  14. bucdaddy said...

    A lot of baseball minds, fine or otherwise, thought Jeter was a great fielder.

    I wonder how many contemporary observers looked at Traynor and thought, “Hits well, nice guy, must be a good fielder too.” When I was a boy, Traynor was a fixture on “Studio Wrestling,” a Pittsburgh show hosted by Bill Cardille that was a much milder precursor to WWE and the like. Bruno Sammartino was the big star. Anyway, Pie would get up between bouts and shill for a furnace company called American Heating. The tagline was “Who can? Ameri-can!” He seemed ancient to me, and I guess he was, probably close to 70. Anyway, he was popular enough to get endorsement deals 40 years after his playing days, he was probably popular enough for people to overlook whatever fielding misadventures he might have had.

  15. Steve I said...

    It just occurred to me: it would be interesting to see if the Polo Grounds were uncommonly high in inside-the-park HR.  Chris, you have a new assignment.  grin

  16. Brian E said...

    Maybe.  But as I pointed out, DRA, which is a much better metric for defensive stats in the pre-Play by Play era than Total Zone (which Baseball Reference’s WAR uses), thinks Traynor was a very good, if not great, fielder.  So there certainly isn’t consensus among the advanced metrics that he was a poor fielder.  (Not something that can be said about Jeter, who is basically panned by every system under the sun.)

  17. Brian E said...

    There’s no question Hack was a better hitter than Traynor, due to Hack’s superior plate discipline, but it’s not clear to me that he was a better player.  It depends on how you view them defensively.  rWAR has Hack substantially ahead, but it has him as an average fielder over the course of his career and Traynor as a sub-par one, so Traynor loses ground defensively too.  If, OTOH, you have Hack as a below average fielder and Traynor as a very good one, it’s possible for Traynor to come out as close to or better than Hack.

    For instance, DRA has Hack at -57 runs for his career and Traynor at +92.  I’m more inclined to trust that than TZ, which is pretty unreliable in the pre-Retrosheet era.  So taking those defensive numbers and substituting them into rWAR with the short hand of 10 runs per win, Traynor ends up about a win better than Hack over the course of their careers.  (Of course, that’s career value and doesn’t take into account things like peak.)

    To quote Michael Humphreys’ book Wizardy:

    “Pie Traynor was for decades almost universally regarded by baseball fans as the greatest ever third baseman, mainly because his career batting average was .320 and he was believed to be a good fielder, which he in fact was. Bill James argued for many years, however, that Stan Hack was actually a much better overall player because he drew more walks and had a much higher on-base percentage, especially relative to his peers. Without going through a season-by-season analysis, it is clear that Traynor’s approximately 150-run advantage on defense more than makes up for Hack’s advantage on offense.”

    Groh versus Traynor again comes down to how you view them defensively, as on offense they were pretty close in career wins, with Groh a little bit better.  Again taking rWAR but swapping out TZ with DRA, they end up basically even, with Traynor about half a win ahead in career value. 

    I think all three should be in the HOF, honestly.  There’s really not enough 3Bs in, but if that seems like too many 3Bs from the 30s/40s, well, more room can always be made by kicking out Freddie Lindstorm. 

    As good as they were, none were really all-time greats though. The pre-WWII 3B that blows Traynor away is really Home Run Baker.  His career and peak hitting is such that there’s no way Traynor can make up that ground on defense, even if Baker was a poor defender (DRA has him at -11 runs).

    You can also make the argument for John McGraw being better.  He had quite the hitting peak in the 1890s.

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