By Glen Sparks
Pitcher Johnny Allen featured a fastball, a curveball and a temper. New York Yankees trainer Earle “Doc” Painter once said, “He expects to win every time he pitches, and if he doesn’t win, he may turn on anybody.”
Fortunately, Allen did a lot of winning, especially early in his 13-year career. He put up some snazzy won-loss marks. In his rookie season of 1932, the right-hander went 17-4 (.810 winning percentage) for the Yanks. The following year, he finished 15-7 (.682).
Allen put together a 20-10 season (.667) for the Cleveland Indians in 1936 and a 15-1 campaign (.938) in 1937 for the Tribe. Through his first seven seasons, he was 99-38. The native of Thomasville, N.C., retired with a 142-75 (.654) career mark.
Now, the hurler did get some help. His New York teammates included the original bash brothers, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Allen didn’t worry about losing 1-0 or 2-1. He could give up some runs and still win.
In fact, after recording a solid ERA of 3.70 in his rookie campaign (ERA+ 110), he posted a tepid 4.39 number in his sophomore year (ERA+ 89). Of course, Allen fans can point out that the pitcher finished with a 3.44 ERA in ’36 (149 ERA+, second in the American League) and a 2.55 ERA in 37 (176 ERA+, third in the A.L.). So, yes, Johnny Allen could pitch.
He could also throw a fit. Allen’s “sour attitude” led the Yanks to trade him following the 1935 season despite going 50-19 in four seasons with the Bronx Bombers. He didn’t work and play with others.
Allen was at his most stubborn on June 7, 1938, pitching against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. Boston’s Jimmie Foxx ripped a two-run home run in the first inning, one of 534 dingers that “Double X” would hit in his great career.
When the inning ended, Boston’s player/manager Joe Cronin walked out to umpire-in-chief Bill McGowan. Those tattered sleeves on the sweatshirt Allen is wearing underneath his jersey are a distraction to the batter, Cronin said. (Apparently, they didn’t bother Foxx.) McGowan agreed; he told Allen to get rid of the sweatshirt.
Allen left the mound and headed to the clubhouse. But, he didn’t go in there to change. He went in there to simmer. He had no intention of changing. Indians Manager Ossie Vitt fined Allen $250 and put in Bill Zuber to pitch.
Later, Allen said Cronin only complained as a gag. He also said McGowan was out to get him. “Whenever McGowan works a game I pitch, there’s always been a lot of petty, sniveling stuff going on.” McGowan, for his part, said he read the rulebook word-for-word to Allen. No tattered sleeves allowed.
The following season, during the 1938 All-Star break, Allen suffered an arm injury. He was 12-1 at the time, but he went just 2-7 the rest of the way with an ugly 6.29 ERA. In the final six years of his career, Allen pitched for Cleveland, the St. Louis Browns, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. He went a combined 43-37 and once attacked an umpire on May 27, 1943, in Forbes Field. Of all the loose cannons in the baseball world, Johnny Allen was among the loosest.
Allen left baseball to get into the real estate business in Florida. He also became a part-time minor-league umpire, much to the shock and delight of some sportswriters. One guy wrote that Allen in an ump’s uniform looked “about as much at home as a camel in a camel’s-hair coat.”
The temperamental pitcher/umpire died March 29, 1959, at the age of 54. His famous sweatshirt, tattered indeed, is part of the permanent collection at Cooperstown. Allen sold it to Higbee’s, a Cleveland department store, for something between $50 and $600. The store wanted to put the quickly famous garment on display in a window. “This is the shirt that cost Johnny Allen $250,” a sign read. Higbee’s donated the sweatshirt to the Hall of Fame in the offseason.
McGowan, elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1992, said he fined Allen $250, that in addition to the club fine. The umpire said later that Allen sold the sweatshirt for $600, on the high end of the estimates. “So,” McGowan concluded, “he made $100 on the deal.”
By Glen Sparks
Chicago has lost another baseball legend. White Sox outfielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, one of the game’s most-complete players throughout the 1950s, died Sunday at the age of 89. Minoso’s death came just weeks after the passing of Cubs great Ernie Banks.
Banks was famous for his smile, humor and enthusiasm while playing for the north side Cubs. Minoso was the south side version of that. He played 12 of his 17-year career with the White Sox. Former teammate Billy Pierce said, “I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly.”
The baseball stats say Minoso hit .298 with a robust .389 on-base percentage. Bill James, one of baseball’s top analysts, rated Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder of all-time in 2001. I wrote a post in December about Minoso’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. He was one of 10 so-called Golden Era nominees up for induction. Minnie got eight votes. He, like everyone else, needed 12. No one got elected.
By Glen Sparks
Edd Roush gave his Hall of Fame speech–finally–at age 69. Getting into Cooperstown wasn’t easy for the outfielder, who played 18 seasons and retired with a .323 batting average.
Roush first made it onto the ballot in 1936. He garnered just 0.9 percent of the vote. Less than one percent. This for a guy who not only hit .323 lifetime, but who also led the National League in batting in 1917 (.341) and 1919 (.321) for the Cincinnati Reds.
The Oakland City, Ind., product played with the Reds for 12 of his 18 seasons. In 1918, he topped the N.L. in slugging percentage (.455), OPS (.823) and OPS+ (151).
Roush retired with 2,376 hits, 1,099 runs scored, 339 doubles, 182 triples and an OPS+ of 126. He finished in the top 10 in batting average nine times and oWAR seven times. He hit at least .339 for six straight seasons, 1920-25. The 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pounder wielded a humongous 48-ounce bat, one of the biggest in history. In addition, some players and managers rated him the top defensive center fielder of the Dead Ball era.
It still wasn’t enough for the baseball writers. Roush’s vote percentage didn’t even hit double digits until 1947 (15.5). He got 14 percent the following season but dipped below 10 percent the following three years. The best showing for Roush on the regular ballot was in 1960, in his final year of eligibility, when he garnered 54.3 percent of the vote, or 20.7 percent less than what he needed. It looked like Roush would be shut out of Cooperstown.
The Veterans Committee, though, selected him for enshrinement two years later. What took so long–31 years after retiring—for Roush to make it to the Hall of Fame? Let’s take a closer look at his career.
One argument against Roush is that he missed a lot of games. He played for the money (imagine that!), and he admitted it. He showed up late for spring training, in part because he wanted to spend more time with his family, and his contract disputes weren’t always settled by opening day. Did some Hall of Fame voters remember this, and recall Roush as a malcontent? The press leaned heavily toward the ownership’s viewpoint in those days.
Some New York voters probably remembered Roush’s uneasy days early in his career with the Giants. Supposedly, Roush despised both the Big Apple and Giants Manager John McGraw, who frequently cussed at and chewed out his players. “That didn’t go with me,” Roush is quoted in a Society for American Baseball Research article written by Jim Sandoval. Things got so bad in upper Manhattan that McGraw shipped Roush to Cincinnati. Did the writers think that Roush couldn’t handle discipline?
Interestingly, McGraw—not quite through with Roush–reacquired the outfielder after the 1926 season. Roush probably wasn’t happy. McGraw probably didn’t care. The skipper told Roush, according to the Sandoval article, “You’re either going to play for me, or you’re not going to play at all.” (One can imagine Roush rolling his eyes and thinking to himself, “Here we go again.”)
Anyway, Roush hit .304 for the Giants in 1927 and .324 in 1929, with an injury-riddled 1928 (46 games played) wrapped in between. As a 37-year-old in 1930, Roush put up the Gone Fishin’ sign. He held out the entire season. (This was just a few months after the Great Crash of ’29, remember. Presumably, a bulk of Roush’s financial portfolio was in cash.)
In 1931, Roush returned to Cincinnati and to the Reds. He batted .271 in 101 games and called it quits. He coached for one season-1938—but he ran the Montgomery County, Ind., cemetery for 35 years and also served as president of a local bank for quite some time. And, the guy who held out from spring training so many times went down to Florida in March most years to talk baseball with Reds players like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.
Roush was most similar to players like Pie Traynor, Dixie Walker, Willie McGee, Joe Kelley and Paul Hines, some Hall of Famers, some not. He retired with just 14 Black Ink points (The average amount for a Hall of Famer is 27.) and 127 Grey Ink points (The average HOFer has 144.). Roush is rated the 36th best center-fielder of all-time, according to JAWS (Jaffe War Score System), a formula developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe. JAWS relies heavily on WAR performance; Roush’s career WAR was 45.2 with a seven-year peak of 31.5. His JAWS career score was 38.3, ahead of Hall of Famers such as Hack Wilson 37.3 and Hugh Duffy (36.9) but behind plenty of non-Hall of Famers (Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Vada Pinson and Fred Lynn among others).
Roush lived another 25 years after being named to the Hall of Fame. He threw out the first pitch at the last game at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, June 24, 1970. Joe Morgan called Roush “the best of us all.”
By Glen Sparks
Ted Williams set his goal about as high as a ballplayer might dare set one. He wanted to be the best hitter in the history of the game. He wrote that very thing on the first page of his 1969 autobiography My Turn at Bat.
Teddy Ballgame, elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Jan. 20, 1966, wanted people to walk down the street, look at him and say to a friend, a spouse or anyone else, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.”
Williams, born Aug. 30, 1918, in San Diego, tried his best to make that happen. He headed to the North Park Playground just about every day as a boy. He’d get together with the other neighborhood kids and play Big League (groundball past the pitcher was a single, hit the ball above the bar and it was a double, etc.) We’d play Big League by the hour, Williams wrote. Then, Ted might take a break for some orange juice, freshly squeezed, and he’d play more Big League, until long after it was time to go home, begrudgingly.
Home life was a mess for young Ted. His mom, May, worked as a soldier for the Salvation Army, mostly in Tijuana, Mexico. She was gone all day and some nights. Ted’s dad, Sam, ran a photo shop in downtown San Diego, taking pictures of Navy sailors and their gals. Young Ted Williams devoted his life to baseball.
He starred at Herbert Hoover High School and for the San Diego Padres, then of the Pacific Coast League. Eddie Collins, general manager of the Boston Red Sox and a Hall of Famer, first saw Williams while on a scouting trip in southern California to watch another young player, Bobby Doerr of Los Angeles.
Collins didn’t make a big deal out of spotting the Splendid Splinter. Sometimes, you just see a natural. And nothing ever looked more natural than Ted Williams swinging a baseball bat. Collins said, “It wasn’t hard to find Ted Williams. He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows.”
Williams debuted with the Red Sox in 1939. Too bad, they didn’t start handing out the Rookie of the Year award until 1947. Because Williams would have won that honor in ’39, no contest. The lefty batter slammed 31 home runs, drove in 145 (first in the American League) and hit.327 with an OPS of 1.045 (OPS+ 160). He finished fourth in the MVP race.
Two years later, in that legendary year of 1941,Ted Williams hit .406. Another pretty good player, the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio, batted safety in 56 straight games and took home the MVP award. Who should have won? DiMaggio put up a WAR of 9.1, Williams put up a 10.9. The Yanks and Joe D, though, won the A.L. pennant, finishing 17 games ahead of the Red Sox and Teddy Ballgame. (Interesting note: DiMaggio batted .408 during the streak, but Williams hit .412. Williams also had a higher OPS during that span, 1.224 to 1.180).
Following another big year in 1942 (Triple Crown winner, runner-up to the Yankees’ Joe Gordon for MVP), Williams left baseball for the next three seasons. Lt. Ted Williams, U.S. Marine Corps aviator, trained pilots for combat during World War II.
Back with Boston in 1946, Williams finally won the MVP. He was runner-up in ’47 (another Triple Crown year), third in ’48 and first again in 1949. During the first inning of the 1950 All-Star Game, Williams banged up his elbow, crashing into the Comiskey Park wall while making a catch. The Red Sox great said he never again felt “swishy” at the plate.
Boston’s clean-up hitter left for Korea in 1952. At his final game before heading out, the Red Sox held Ted Williams Day at Fenway Park. The team gave him a Cadillac and a memory book signed by 400,000 adoring fans. Williams stepped to a microphone and told the crowd: “This is the greatest day in my life,” and he thought that he might never play again.
It was close. Marine Corps Capt. Ted Williams flew 39 combat missions and crash landed once in his Panther Jet. Enemy flak hit his aircraft Feb. 16, 1953, 15 miles from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. What could he do? He could ditch into the Yellow Sea, but it was nearly frozen and full of ice chunks. He could eject, but he was 6-feet-3 and thought he might tear off his legs. His plane on fire, smoke blowing out from the back, Williams hit the runway at his landing strip; he slid for 9,000 feet. Williams thought the plane might explode. It did not; it ran out of fuel.
The Kid, as some people called him, played baseball for nearly another decade. He retired after the final game of 1960, when on a cloudy, rainy day at Fenway, he belted a home run in his final at-bat. Williams didn’t tip his cap that day. He hadn’t done that for quite some time. Fickle fans and a nasty press were to blame, he said. Red Sox fan and famed writer John Updike didn’t let the snub bother him. He wrote an article for The New Yorker about Williams’ final game, Hub Fans Big Kid Adieu. Updike offered a reasonable alibi: “Gods don’t answer letters.”
Williams left his playing days with a sublime set of numbers. He smashed 521 home runs, drove in 1,839 runs and batted .344. His batting average is the highest of any player who spent his entire career in the live-ball era (post-1920). He posted a .482 on-base percentage, the best ever, and a .634 slugging percentage, the second-best ever (Ruth: 690).
Boston’s No. 9 put up a career OPS of 1.1155, No. 2 all-time (Ruth: 1.1636). He retired with an OPS+ of 190, also No. 2 all-time (Ruth: 206). Williams played on 19 All-Star teams and finished in the Top 5 in the MVP vote nine times.
Who was the greatest hitter who ever lived? If it wasn’t the Babe, it was Teddy Ballgame of San Diego, Calif., and the Boston Red Sox.
By Glen Sparks
(This post is dedicated to every fan who has a favorite player still needs a few more votes to make it into Cooperstown.)
Really, it seems amazing that it took so long for Johnny Mize to make it into the Hall of Fame.
Mize, born on this date in 1913, hit 359 home runs, drove in 1,337 runs and batted .312 over a 15-year career. He led the National League in home runs and slugging percentage four times each. The Big Cat, as they liked to call him, finished first in RBI three times and in batting average, triples and runs scored one time apiece. Mize walked enough to retire with a .397 on-base percentage.
He did all this while missing three prime seasons due to World War II. Mize remains the only player to hit more than 50 home runs (51 in 1947 for the New York Giants) and strike out fewer than 50 times (42) in one season.
The first baseman from rural Demorest, Ga., retired after the 1953 season. He stood at No. 6 on the all-time home run list when he left the game.
And then he waited.
He got a measly 16.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in his first year on the ballot, 1960. The following year, his vote dropped to 8.8 percent. He got 26.9 percent in 1962. Was he building momentum for that coveted plaque in Cooperstown? Nope. He dipped to 26.8 percent in 1963. (Hall of Famers need 75 percent.)
Mize, who was the first person to hit three home runs in a game six times, and whose 43 home runs was a Cardinal record for a single season until Mark McGwire blasted 70 n 1998, never could muster much support from the writers. His vote peaked at 43.6 percent in 1971. He went off the ballot after getting just 41.3 percent of the vote in 1973.
What was wrong? Mize made 10 All-Star teams; he finished as the MVP runner-up in 1939 and 1949 for the Cardinals.
Was it that nickname? The Big Cat? Does that explain anything?
The origin of the “Big Cat” moniker is shrouded in contradiction. Mize said Cardinal infielder Joe Orengo came up with the name after Mize dug some throws out of the dirt. Like, “Hey, you look like a Big Cat doing that.”
The problem with the story is that no one thought Mize was much of a defensive first baseman. The manager put Mize in there to hit. Bob Broeg, the late, legendary writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the name goes back to the way Mize would “stalk” around the first-base bag, like a cat. Apparently, not always reaching his prey, i.e., the baseball.
Jerry Grillo wrote an article in 2011 about Mize. He includes speculation on Broeg’s part that Mize’s poor defense kept him out of the Hall of Fame for so long. But, Mize was a slugging first baseman. Did writers put that much emphasis on his glovework?
Maybe Mize didn’t put up enough “good” years to wrap around his “great” years. He hit at least 40 home runs three times, but he dropped off after that. (He did lead the N.L. with 28 dingers in 1939, and he topped the league in slugging percentage three times when he hit fewer than 30 homers.)
Mize probably lost at least 75 home runs due to World War II (maybe much more) and more than 300 RBI. He hit 26 home runs for the Giants in 1942, left for the Army, slammed 22 homers in 101 games in 1946 and then belted his career-high 51.
The Veterans Committee finally voted Mize into the Hall of Fame in 1981. Grillo includes this great Mize quote from induction day: “Years ago, the writers were telling me that I’d make the Hall Fame, so I kind of prepared a speech. But somewhere along in the 28 years, it got lost.”
It’s a shame that Mize didn’t get to give that speech sooner. He finished with 71 WAR points, more than, among others, Harmon Killebrew (60.3), who blasted 573 home runs, Willie McCovey (64.4), who hit 521 home runs, and Eddie Murray (68.3)), who knocked out 504. Murray and McCovey were first-ballot Hall of Famers; Killebrew was elected in his fourth year.
Bill James, author of the Historical Baseball Abstract, rated Mize as the sixth-best first baseman of all time in 2003, ahead of Killebrew, Hank Greenberg, McCovey and Tony Perez, all Hall of Famers. James also writes that Mize was “probably the best all-around player in the National League in 1940 and 1947, and the second-best in 1937, 1939 and 1948, third best in 1942.”
This might surprise some people:
Batting average: .302
On-base percentage: .384
Slugging percentage: .557
Batting average: .305
On-base percentage: .374
Slugging percentage: .555
Batting average: .312
On-base percentage: .397
Slugging percentage: .563
No, I am not making the argument that Mize was a better player than Mays or Aaron, two of the all-time all-timers. Mays and Aaron did much more on the baseball field than Mize, who had the advantage of playing ball during a great hitters’ era. The WAR points aren’t close. Mays finished with 156.2 and Aaron with 142.6, both totals more than double Mize’s.
It does seem clear, though, that the Big Cat, no matter how he got that name, is a worthy Hall of Famer.
By Glen Sparks
Congratulations to the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Writers Association voted in pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and infielder Craig Biggio. The pitchers were elected in their first year on the ballot, while Biggio made it on his third try.
This was the first time that the writers have elected three pitchers in the same year and the first time since 1955 that they have elected four players from the same ballot. (Who were those four players? The answer is at the end of the article.)
Johnson led the way with 97.3 percent of the vote. Martinez got 91.1 percent, followed by Smoltz with 82.9 percent and Biggio with 82.7. Candidates need 75 percent of the vote for induction. Mike Piazza missed out with 69.9 percent. Jeff Bagwell, with 55.7 percent, also came up short. Tim Raines (55 percent) was the only other candidate to get at least 50 percent of the vote.
The 2015 Hall of Fame ceremony will be held July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
(The four players elected to the Class of 1955 were Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance.)
By Glen Sparks
Jim Kaat almost made it into the Hall of Fame. Or, maybe he wasn’t that close after all.
The former pitcher needed 12 votes among the 16 members of the Golden Era committee; he got 10. Kaat was a near miss, right? He came up just two votes short. But, as he notes in his recent blog post, it’s a bit more complicated than that. (You can read my original post about Kaat and his Hall of Fame qualifications.)
Kaat is a big fan of horse racing, he explains. So, he understands something about narrowing the field. At least three of the committee members had very little chance of voting him into Cooperstown, he writes. All three were Golden Era members who never saw Kaat play or did not see him in his prime. (Kaat doesn’t call out the three by name, but he does drop some biographical hints. You can make a decent guess that the trio consisted of Elias Sports Bureau executive Steve Hirdt, writer Tracy Ringolsby and Royals owner David Glass.)
If that was the case, he needed 12 of the remaining 13 votes to go his way, or 92 percent. He got 77 percent (10 of 13), or just more than the 75 percent required for induction.
Kaat makes a few other solid points in his post. And, let me add that he does not come across as bitter at all. He thanks his friends and fans for their support. Also, he wasn’t exactly sweating out the suspense at home, waiting for a call from the Hall of Fame. He was sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office.
Anyway, Kaat suggests that the Golden Era committee—a group put together to look at players and executives who made their mark in baseball from 1947 to 1972—be made up of people who actually saw the nominated players perform. … I support this up to a point. Committee members should know about the superstars and the bench jockeys of the era, yes. Whether they know them by living through that time or by studying the game’s history is less important. And we’re going to need baseball historians—not eyewitnesses—to right any wrongs from a previous era.
Kaat also supports reconvening the committee if a particular player falls a vote or two short. Maybe point that out and call for a re-vote. … I like this idea. Look, you can’t put together a committee and torture the members by forcing them to watch reruns of The Golden Girls until someone gets 12 votes. You can, however, keep the debate going if a candidate has strong support.
The induction process is hard. You have 16 committee members, and each member has a maximum of four votes. So, that’s 64 votes to go around. So, yes, it’s hard, it’s supposed to be hard, and every player had his chance on the first go-round of voting, some of them for 15 years.
Hard, yes. Should it be nearly impossible, though? The Golden Era committee met one other time, in 2010 (with a different set of committee members). That time, of the 10 candidates, only Ron Santo got it. So, the committee is 1 for 20.
Why not bump up the size of the committee from 16 to 24 or 32? That would make it difficult for just a few committee members to hold up a player from induction. Also, change the maximum number of votes that each committee member can cast from four to six. That would increase the maximum number of votes from 64 to 96, maybe loosening up things a bit. Really, why even go through the bother of nominating players for the ballot, debating their merit and then voting “yea” or “neh” if “neh” always rules the day?
Kaat was a bulldog of a pitcher. He threw a ton of innings (4,530.1), and he won a lot of games (283). Did he take the ball when his arm was sore, when a pitcher from today’s game might beg off from a start? I bet he did. Did he play in an era when a good rubdown was all a trainer could offer? I think so. Will Kaat get another chance at going into the Hall of Fame? I hope so.
By Glen Sparks
Well, that was a big bunch of nothing.
The Golden Era committee, charged with looking into the Hall of Fame cases of 10 nominees, elected no one. Sluggers Dick Allen and Tony Oliva came the closest. They both got 11 of the required 12 votes from the 16-member group.
I’m surprised the committee pitched a shutout. I figured Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso would get in. Maybe Allen and Oliva. And I thought Ken Boyer and Luis Tiant had a chance. I was less certain about the two Dodgers, Gil Hodges and Maury Wills, or about Billy Pierce and Dick Howsam.
Kaat got 10 votes, Wills got nine and Minoso eight. No other candidate earned more than three votes. So, half the players didn’t even get 25 percent of the vote. That seems a bit stingy.
In her announcement Monday that no Golden Era candidate would be going to Cooperstown, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Bryant Clark said, “The results today are a reminder that election to the Hall of Fame is incredibly difficult and the highest honor an individual can receive in baseball.”
A committee member could vote for a maximum of four players. That means there were only a possible 64 votes total. The process is supposed to be tough, Clark said. Only one percent of the approximately 18,000 players who have made it to the majors is in the Hall of Fame.
I get that, but the Hall of Fame voters decided long ago that it would vote in more than just the elite of the elite. You don’t need to be Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron to get into the Hall of Fame. You can be Bill Mazeroski, “High Pockets” Kelly, “Catfish” Hunter and Jim Rice. And, that’s fine. Unless you only want 20 or 30 guys in the Hall of Fame.
My question is this: How does Catfish Hunter get in with 76.3 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot, but Luis Tiant can’t muster four votes from the Golden Era committee? Tiant has the edge over Catfish in several important categories. Similarly, if Ron Santo is in, why isn’t Ken Boyer? If Willie Stargell is in, why isn’t Dick Allen? And, so on.
Pat Gillick, one of the Golden Era committee members, said there was plenty of spirited debate before the voting Sunday at the Baseball winter meetings in San Diego. “I think there were very, very healthy conversations on each candidate –the pros and and cons–and most of the conversation yesterday was on the very, very positive of these candidates,” Gillick said. “It’s just unfortunate that one or two didn’t get in.”
The 16-person Golden Era Committee consisted of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.
Most of the players on this year’s Golden Era ballot will be on the ballot again in 2017. The Golden Era is made up of players and executives who made most of their contributions from 1947-72. Like the other committees, it meets every three years.
Last year, the Expansion Era committee, which looks at candidates who made their mark after 1972, elected managers Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. Next year, the Pre-Integration committee will meet.
(I hope you enjoyed my articles about the candidates. I plan to write several more posts about the Hall of Fame, and I will be making a few tweaks to the articles I have posted. Also, my Tony Oliva post will be getting a fairly extensive reworking in the next few days. Please, check back.)
By Glen Sparks
If only his knee hadn’t hurt so bad.
The pitchers, he could handle. Every year during his prime, Tony Oliva began his assault on fastballs and breaking balls in spring training. He kept it up throughout the summer and into the start of a chilly fall. No, the men on the mound–lefties, righties, starters, relievers–were never the problem.
That right knee did in Oliva. He had surgery on the knee in 1966 and again the following year. In 1971, he tore it up something fierce, hauling in a line drive hit by the A’s Joe Rudi. The pain never went away. On July 5, 1972, doctors removed 100 pieces of cartilage from one banged-up knee.
Rod Carew, the Hall of Fame infielder, wrote about Oliva in his book Carew, “I roomed with a guy with bad knees for years and used to listen to his cry like a baby at night. I’d be asleep and sometimes I’d hear Tony moaning and groaning. … He’d get up during the night and go down to get ice, wandering all over the hotel trying to find ice to put on his knee.”
We’ll find out Monday if Oliva can overcome his tortured knee. He is one of the 10 Golden Era candidates being considered for the Hall of Fame. Like everyone else on the ballot, he needs 75 percent of the vote to get in.
Give Oliva two healthy knees for his entire career, and he might already be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Oliva played 15 years in the big leagues, all of them with the Minnesota Twins. He batted .304 (.353 on-base percentage, 476 slugging percentage, .830 OPS and 131 OPS+) and hit 220 home runs. He drove in 947 runs. Oliva led the American League in hits five times, doubles four times and runs scored once. The Cuban-born ballplayer won three batting titles.
His torrid hitting lasted eight seasons. He was the first Cuban player named Rookie of the Year (1964) and the first player, Latin or otherwise, to win a batting title in his first two seasons. Phil Elderkin of Christian Science Monitor wrote an article about Oliva for Baseball Digest. He began the article this way: “Watching Tony Oliva hit a baseball is like hearing Caruso sing, Paderewski play the piano, or Heifetz draw a string across a bow.”
Besides winning the Rookie of the Year Award in ’64, Oliva also finished second in the MVP voting. He was MVP runner-up in 1965 and 1970. Finally, Oliva played on eight All-Star teams (1964-71) and finished with 43.0 WAR points, with highs of 7.0 in 1970 and 6.8 in 1964.
Bill James rated Oliva as the No. 21 right-fielder of all-time in his Historical Baseball Abstract, published in 2003. He is ranked just a few spots behind Hall of Famer Andre Dawson (No. 19) and ahead of players like Dwight Evans (No. 22) and Roger Maris (No. 28), who sometimes get mentioned in a decent Hall of Fame debate.
James wrote several pages about Oliva in his book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? Most telling, in James’ opinion, except for a healthy Frank Robinson (a first-ballot Hall of Fame) “I think (Oliva) was clearly the American League’s best right fielder, when healthy, from 1964 through 1971.”
If it weren’t for that balky right knee…
Oliva retired following the 1975 season, helped in part those last few seasons by the designated hitter rule. He has worked for decades as a coach and in community relations for the Twins. One of the players he helped develop was Kirby Puckett, whose stats are similar to Oliva’s. Puckett was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, in his first year of eligibility. Here is a look at Kirby’s stats:
Batting Average: .318
On-base percentage: .360
Slugging percentage: .477
Home runs: 207
Kirby was selected to 10 All-Star teams. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1984 and finished in the top three in the MVP voting three times. He also won six Gold Gloves and, maybe most importantly, was the most prominent player on two World Series champion teams.
Of course, as mentioned, Oliva finished second in the MVP race in 1965, a year the Twins won the pennant and lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. He also put up big years in 1969 and ’70 when the Twins won division titles.
In his 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Oliva enjoyed decent, but not overwhelming, support. He received at least 30 percent of the vote a dozen times with a high of 47.3 percent in 1988.
The Twins unveiled a Tony Oliva statue at Target Field on April 8, 2011. Minnesota fans still cheer for one of the popular players in team history. A dozen fans started the VoteTonyO campaign in 2011 with the goal of getting Oliva into the Hall of Fame. They have written thousands of letters to Cooperstown inductees, making a pitch for their favorite right-fielder.
“Tony Oliva means so much to baseball, to his fans, to people everywhere,” according to the web site. “Every child he makes smile, every hand he shakes, every photo he poses for, and every autograph he signs brings joy to someone’s life.”
By Glen Sparks
Minnie Minoso patterned his game after a fellow Cuban. Martin Dihigo hit for power, hit for average and ran hard. Oh, he could pitch, too. In 1938, Dihigo batted .387 in the Mexican League and went 18-2 with a 0.90 ERA on the mound.
Dihigo was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1977. Minoso, from Perico, outside Havana, has a chance to join his boyhood idol in Cooperstown. He is one of 10 Golden Era candidates up for induction. Like the other candidates, he needs 12 of the 16 committee members to vote for him. The Hall of Fame will announce any new members on Dec. 8.
Minoso hit for some power (186 home runs in 17 seasons, at least 20 home runs four times) and a solid average (.298 lifetime, at least .300 nine times). He could run (205 lifetime steals. He led the American League in thefts three times.), and he could drive in runs (1,023 career RBI, four seasons with at least 100). … No word on whether he could pitch.
Minoso made nine All-Star teams, with both the Indians and White Sox, and finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. He also had a high pain threshold. Minoso led the league in getting hit by a pitch 10 times. He took a bruising for the team.
Once, Minoso was hit by a pitch and slammed a home run in the same at-bat. He had turned into a pitch that plunked him. No, stay right here, the ump said. Minnie had made no attempt to get out of the way, according to the man whose opinion matters most in such things. No problem. A few pitches later, Minoso drilled a home run.
The delighted star crossed home plate. He looked at the ump. “Give me my first base the first time,” Minoso said.
The opposing pitcher and catcher probably agreed.
Minoso topped the A.L. in hits one time, doubles one time and triples three times. Oh, and he scored at least 100 runs in a season four times. So, how did one of the best all-around players of the 1950s do in the Hall of Fame voting? Not well at all. In 15 years on the ballot, Minoso topped 20 percent just two times. … Huh?
Bill James uses a stat called “age similarity” score. He compares one player with an already retired player when they were the same age. (For example, the most similar player to Mike Tout at age 22 was Mickey Mantle.) The most similar player to Minoso from age 28 through age 36 was Enos Slaughter, the long-time St. Louis Cardinal.
Slaughter was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1985. Generally, Slaughter got pretty strong support every year, receiving at least 40 percent of the vote nine times.
Slaughter hit 169 home runs in a 19-year career. He drove in 1,304 runs and batted .300. He had 2,383 hits, scored 1,247 runs and had 71 steals. Slaughter made 10 All-Star teams and finished once in the second in MVP and twice third.
Here is a little bit more about Slaughter and Minoso:
The stats look fairly similar. Minoso’s numbers suffered a bit because he spent a few years in the Negro Leagues when he should have been playing in the Major Leagues. Minoso, the so-called Cuban Comet, didn’t play a full big league season until he was 25. “Country” Slaughter was already an established star at that age. Slaughter also missed three important 27-29 seasons while serving in World War II.
Minoso, now 89, waited several years ago for a call from the Hall of Fame. A committee had been set up to look at overlooked players from black baseball. Many thought Minoso, who starred for the New York Cubans before going to the Majors, would be elected for enshrinement. That call never came.
Many people today remember Minoso for how he retired. Or, more precisely, how he didn’t retire. He left the White Sox after 1964 to go to the Mexican League as a player-manager. He was “El Charro Negro,” the Black Cowboy.
In 1976, Minoso went back to the Majors and to White Sox as a coach. The big club activated him in September, and he went 1-8 at the age of 50. He also pinch-hit twice in 1980 for the White Sox, going 0-2. He is major league baseball’s only five-decade player, appearing in a game in the 1940s, ’50, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (His streak didn’t end there. In 1993, at the age of 67, Minoso grounded out as a member of the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He drew a walk for the Saints in 2003, an 87-year-old ballplayer. Minoso is a seven-decade man.)
Minoso still lives in Chicago. They call him Mr. White Sox on the South Side. He a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the Hispanic Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in Exile and the Mexican Professional Baseball of Fame. Is this going to be the year that Minoso makes it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.?