Ansons and Griffeys and Bells (Oh My)

So, the BR Hall of Fame thing has gotten fun, hasn’t it? Obviously, you never want to take anything like this too seriously — or seriously at all — but it has provided a very strong sense of just how high 75% is as a voting percentage.

Look at just a few of the players who have failed to get 75% so far:

Cap Anson: Maybe the greatest player of the 19th Century.

Paul Molitor: 3,000 hits, .306 lifetime average.

Eddie Murray: 3,000 hits, 500 homers.

Al Simmons: Lifetime .334 hitter with more than 2,900 hits; Bill James ranked him the seventh best left fielder ever.

Duke Snider: Legendary center fielder of the Brooklyn Dodgers, last part of Willie, Mickey and the Duke song.

Dave Winfield: 3,000 hits, seven Gold Gloves, started in eight All-Star Games.

Billy Williams: One of sweetest swinging players in baseball history.

Phil Niekro: 300 wins.

Gaylord Perry: 300 wins, Cy Young Award in each league.

Old Hoss Radbourn: 300 wins, but that’s not a as a big a deal when you have FIFTY NINE of them in one season, as Old Hoss did in 1884 with the Providence Grays.

Robin Roberts: Led league in wins, complete games, innings pitched four straight years in 1950s; Bill James ranked him the 16th best pitcher of All-Time.

And so on. This does not even include the players tainted by steroids. There are obviously different reasons different players failed to get the vote — but that’s the overriding truth of 75%, that it only takes a small hole to sink the whole boat. If you are a great player without enough name recognition (Al Simmons?) that could be enough to sink you. If you have a black mark that could sink you (spitballs and Gaylord Perry)? Did Eddie Murray’s lack of an MVP Award knock him off? Are people just unaware of Hoyt Wilhelm?

Or was it none of those things — was it just that it’s a silly little Internet poll and people don’t take such things seriously enough to study?

Don’t know. But I still find it all pretty fascinating. And I must admit that perhaps the most fascinating part so far for me has been the voting sagas of Cap Anson and Cool Papa Bell. I mentioned Anson above and wrote a bit about him last week — he was not only one of the dominant players of his time, he is one of the most important figures in baseball history. As Bill James has written, while many people say Babe Ruth’s remarkable home run power in the 1920s “saved” baseball after the Black Sox scandal, Bill finds little factual basis for it. Baseball’s popularity at the time was immense and was not realistically threatened by the scandal. People may have lost some trust in baseball but that’s a different thing — and Babe Ruth didn’t have anything to do with fixing that.

BUT baseball was in serious trouble in 1879. The indianapolis Blues and Milwaukee Braves had just folded. The National League added the Syracuse Stars and Troy Trojans and Cleveland Blues and Buffalo Bisons, none of whom would last very long. There was a real question if America had an appetite for professional baseball then. And Anson, with his charisma, his baseball skills, his organizational skills and his persistent hunger to legitimize and promote professional baseball, changed the game. He was a virulent racist, that part everyone knows. But he was a powerful engine for baseball in those dodgy, early days. He did not get enough votes.

Then there’s Cool Papa Bell. I ADORE Cool Papa Bell. It is one of my great regrets that I never met him — he died in 1991, a few years before I became established as a sportswriter. I have asked countless people through the years to tell Cool Papa Bell stories — just a couple of months ago, I got Lou Brock to tell a couple (Cool Papa had worked with Brock on his base stealing). I have little doubt in my mind that Cool Papa Bell was the fastest ballplayer of his day. Bill James has said he was like Brock, probably a touch better, and he would have been a 3,000-hit man. The author and historian James Riley says he was once clocked at 12 seconds around the bases and he once stole 175 bases in a 200-game season (including many exhibitions). It is known that in 1946, when he was 43 years old, he hit better than .400 in the Negro Leagues, and .430 in the Mexican League.

So — awesome, right? Yes, awesome. But here’s the thing: The last round of voting as an absolute bloodbath with a lot of players long acknowledged as Hall of Fame legends not getting in — it’s clear that the standards for this kind of vote are different and higher. And Cool Papa Bell sailed in with more than 80% of the vote. Nobody who voted saw Cool Papa Bell play. Nobody really knows his entire statistical record — his Baseball Reference numbers (which were gathered by a Hall of Fame study several years ago) show him as a .316/.363/.420 hitter with 132 stolen bases in more than 3,600 plate appearance (which should translate to roughly 900 or 1,000 games). Those numbers are NOT Hall of Fame worthy, not even close.

Now, I believe — and most people I know who study Negro League baseball believe — that those numbers do not come close to reflecting Cool Papa Bell’s impact or his performance in the Negro Leagues. BUT, that said, those are the numbers gathered. The numbers at Seamheads are less involved and almost exactly the same. What we have on Cool Papa Bell are some questionable numbers, legendary stories, and maybe a hope that we have — a hope that it’s true. And that was good enough to get him into the BR Hall of Fame while players like Eddie Murray could not.

As mentioned, I don’t know what it means — or if it means anything at all. I voted for Cap Anson and Cool Papa Bell — without any hesitation at all. I voted Anson because he was a great baseball player. I voted Cool Papa because, well, I think of Buck O’Neil and what he used to say whenever someone would ask him: How fast WAS Cool Papa Bell anyway? Buck would smile and say: “Faster than that.”

Oh … and of course the Ken Griffey in the new poll is Ken Griffey Jr. I stopped referring to him as Ken Griffey Jr. sometime in the 1990s when it became clear that it made a lot more sense to refer to his father, a fine ballplayer, as Ken Griffey Sr.

40 thoughts on “Ansons and Griffeys and Bells (Oh My)

  1. Joe

    I find it stunning that Biggio has almost as many votes are Roy Campanella. Biggio was a compiler and while I admire that he moved from catcher to second to center (great flexibility, that. Or perhaps the Astros had him in the wrong position to begin with) I simply don’t think his case for the HOF is that strong. And on top of that, they let him wear that body armor. I hated that stuff.
    Dark Side of the Mood

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    1. Stephen

      “Compiler” has become an epithet that I ignore. It has no standard. What one individual means when he throws that out is different than what many others will mean. I say get specific on what you believe a player’s value was and don’t use “compiler” to end a discussion (or your own contemplation).

      There is space in a Hall for players who over stayed their usefulness. Pete Rose overstayed for vanity, Brooks because he went broke, Ernie (I dunno) because people liked having him around. Given the totality of what each did on the field, each is Hall worthy (though I’m okay with Pete’s disqualification).

      Biggio? Biggio played an extra season. How do you expect players to realize they’re done?

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    2. Dinky

      Compiling stats playing two of the most debilitating and defensively important positions on the field is amazing. If Biggio was a corner outfielder, I might not have voted for him because he was “merely” a compiler, but doing so while giving the Astros dependable performance for years at critical positions (often batting leadoff) is not compiling: it is a sustained standard of excellence.

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    3. Which Hunt

      I mean Biggio was excellent, right? Hall of Fame worthy? I dunno. I’m really ambivalent in his case. I feel like a case could be made that i could get behind, 3000 hits and second base isn’t it….
      The guy just doesn’t excite the ol’ HallGut for me. Someone, please make the case so my damn stupid gut doesn’t win this argument. 3000 hits just is not my milestone.

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  2. Number Three

    I disqualify myself immediately as the owner of a (replica wool) Cool Papa Bell Homestead Grays jersey, which I wear to Nats games when it’s cool enough . . . (opening day, end of September if we’re lucky). But c’mon. His peers (including no-doubt HOFfers) counted him among the best they’d ever seen. He played a long time. To think that he wasn’t HOF worthy would be to say that Buck O’Neil was not a good judge of talent, and I wouldn’t want to say that.

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    1. Rob Smith

      The point was that nobody on this thread saw him play or knows his stats. Basically, we’ve all heard stories that he was fast and good…. and he had a “cool” name & that was enough… while several no-doubters weren’t voted in because people didn’t recognize their names and wouldn’t bother to take a minute to check out baseball-reference.com.

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    2. Dinky

      I never saw Bell play, but I’ve read enough about him to vote for him. I can understand how somebody might not vote for him from ignorance, even though I disagree. But when a class act like Eddie Murray, the second best switch hitter of all time, with every award except the MVP, with 500 homers at a time when everybody with 500 was going in the HOF (before steroids) and with 3000 hits, doesn’t get in, I have to wonder if there might not be some racial bias. I mean, his first 12 seasons in the majors he had an OPS+ of 120, his career OPS+ was 129 over 21 seasons, he had 8 top 10 finishes in MVP voting, 3 gold gloves, was a Rookie of the Year, had a peak of five straight years with OPS+ of 149 or better and finished 14th best of all time in times on base; we’re talking a great player. First ballot HoFer with 85% of the votes. I think the B in BR may be meant sarcastically.

      I had to change my vote on Griffey once I read that it was Jr. I think the Jr. is important.

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    3. Brett Alan

      Yeah, if I hadn’t happened to notice the “Griffeys” in the title of this post, I would have voted against “Ken Griffey”, and I’m half-tempted to do so anyway. Jeremy on Sports Night is very clear that “Ken Griffey” is the father in the episode Celebrities, and the authority of Sports Night always carries the day as far as I’m concerned.

      (The quote: JENNY: How many home runs did Ken Griffey hit in ’97?
      JEREMY: Ken Griffey wasn’t playing baseball in ’97, but his son Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56.)

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  3. Atom

    Biggio was a…compler??

    This implies that was maybe better than average every year or something, but never great. Wrong, wrong, wrong wrong wrong.
    One thing there are very few of in baseball history are power hitting 2nd baseman with .900 OPS, good defense, no double plays and lots of steals. If you don’t understand the defensive spectrum and compare everyone to left fielders…yeah, it’s not that amazing. But compare him to other 2nd baseman….he was one of the best in history. At his peak, between 1993-1998, he ranked 4th in WAR in all of baseball, ahead of Frank Thomas the peak of Albert Belle. Isn’t that what we think of as most HOFers? A guy who has 6 or 7 years as one of baseball’s elite followed by another 7 or 8 of being pretty good?

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    1. stephen

      I think the fact that he only had a total of 9.0 WAR over his last *eight* seasons is why people view him as a compiler. I’m not saying either one of you are wrong, but that’s pretty much why he’s viewed that way. Average-to-pretty good his first 3 seasons, followed by 9 great ones, followed by 8 seasons of pretty average-to-bad seasons.

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    2. Rob Smith

      You pretty much have to look at the peak as a 8-10 year period. Except for legendary players like Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, that’s what most HOFers have. We really shouldn’t look at the end when a lot of players compile some extra hits and HRs vs. some players who were done at 34 or 35. Look at Dick Allen. One of the greatest sluggers of all time. He had his peak period, but then he was pretty much done. But if you look at his lifetime OPS (.912) and OPS+ (156), he stands out as a great player. If you look at the 351 HRs he “compiled”, it’s not as impressive… just because he couldn’t hang out for another 5 years and hit another 75-100 HRs and hit .250 (about what Biggio did), he’s not in the HOF.

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  4. Devon Young

    I love the passion for the game that’s shown on this blog… by Poz & the commenters. It’s showing up in the voting and it’s very interesting to watch & it gives pause for thought. Awesome.

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  5. invitro

    C’mon Joe, Cool Papa sailed in because of his nickname. Everyone who has followed baseball for any length of time knows that name.

    Also, the Negro Leaguers are 4 for 4. Readers seem to be disfavoring MLB pre-WW2 players, but not NLB players from the same time.

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    1. FranT

      I agree. Cool Papa Bell has way better name recognition than a Dead Ball player like Cap Anson. Most baseball fans have heard mythical stories about Cool Papa (e.g., reaching second base on a bunt) at about the same time they heard stories about legends like Satchel Paige (pitches with names like Jump Ball) and Josh Gibson (hitting a homer out of the old Yankee Stadium). The amazing stories about some of the Negro League players give them a huge bump in their Q ratings.

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    2. Sam

      If you go by “Cool Papa” I want you in my HOF. End of story. I don’t care if you hit under the Mendoza line with lousy defense. Cool Papa=HOFer.

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  6. Rich Horton

    One thing I hate about Biggio is the HBPs. And that they were garnered by what I consider cheating — wearing body armor and letting himself get hit. (I admit, that’s one of those things that you like when your guy does it, but still.)

    The single thing that umpires should do to most improve the game is call the HBP properly — it’s not an HBP if a credible effort was not made to avoid it. (And it’s a STRIKE if the ball is in the strike zone!) As for body armor, if you’re wearing it, there should be no such thing as an HBP.

    And you know, as a second baseman, well, he was a pretty good catcher. Or something. I mean, not quite Miguel Cabrera territory as far as position moves go, but he wasn’t going to win any Gold Gloves. Oh, wait a minute. He did win four Gold Gloves … well, so did Derek Jeter, didn’t he? (OK Jeter won 5 …)

    All that aside — very good peak, and terrible end to his career. The last makes him look like a compiler — like an Early Wynn, I suppose — but the peak makes him a borderline Hall of Famer. By no means a no-brainer, though.

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    1. Kermit Ackley

      Respectfully, you’re nuts.

      I encourage you to go to your local batting cage and see how many 80 mph pitches you can successfully lean into.

      Then I want you to go home, apply ice and write an apology letter to Biggio for even suggesting that he cheated in any sense of the word.

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    2. Rich Horton

      So, you think that Biggio (and the many batters who do the same today) was doing his best to avoid all the pitches that hit him? I don’t think you were watching the same game I was. Either that, or these guys are terrible athletes, and can’t do something most hitters do fairly easily.

      Sure it hurts. A lot, though noticeably not enough to require immediate application of ice, nor enough to prevent the player from continuing (in most cases). Biggio, I don’t doubt, felt that he was helping his team (and he was, of course) by allowing borderline pitches to hit him, and that he was man enough, if you will, to take the pain — to “take one for the team”. And I have no doubt he doesn’t consider it cheating because the way the game has been called makes it seem part of the game.

      Maybe it evolved from a batting style that emphasized diving over the plate … but it became a strategy, abetted by the body armor.

      None of this applies to anything above the neck, to be sure.

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    3. Rob Smith

      Rose used to stand there and take balls off the shoulder without moving too. It was annoying as hell… but that’s the way the game is called. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ump rule that a player made no attempt to move out of the way of the pitch. I did see, once in Little League, a player duck his head forward over the plate… and the pitch turned out to be a curveball & hit him in the helmet. The ump rightly called it a strike. The ball was probably travelling 40 mph and the kid wasn’t hurt…. so it was funny as hell and caused a bit of a commotion.

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    4. Wilbur

      Ron Hunt was famous for getting hit by pitches, going nuts in 1971(?) with over 50. Other players before him were known for taking a HPB happily, if less than gleefully; Eddie Stanky, Solly Hemus come to mind.

      I remember the first time I became aware of the rule about requiring an effort to avoid being hit by a pitch: in 1968 the big sports story at one point in the season was Don Drysdale chasing the record for consecutive scoreless innings. In the late innings of a game late in the streak, their archrivals the Giants had the bases loaded. The batter – I believe it was Jack Hiatt or Dick Dietz – was hit by a pitch. The umpire ruled he had not made an effort to get out of the way of the pitch. The Giants, as expected, went bat-shit crazy, with several ensuing ejections. Drysdale got out of of the inning and went on to get the record.

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    5. Dinky

      It was Dick Dietz. And Dietz’s team mate, Ron Hunt, had this to say about the call:

      “He stood there like a post,” Dietz’s former Giant teammate Ron Hunt recalled Wednesday. “It was a high slider, and he didn’t make an attempt.”

      Yes, it is rarely called. It is even less rarely called these days as more and more batters dive towards home plate as the pitch comes in, making it almost impossible to avoid.

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  7. Damon Rutherford

    “Obviously, you never want to take anything like this too seriously — or seriously at all — but it has provided a very strong sense of just how high 75% is as a voting percentage.”

    And/or it has provided evidence for how not so B the BRs really are. And if one is not going to take it at least somewhat seriously, why even bother *doing* it?

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  8. johnstjc

    i would suggest a link to players baseball reference pages with their names…i just look at the names and go by guts…i’ve been with the crowd other than arky vaughn and lout boudreau…if their were links i’d take a little more time on people other than the obvious ones

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  9. invitro

    Can someone give me a sabermetric overview of Campanella as a HoFer? I have always believed he was one of the top, say, five catchers of all time. I did not know much else other that he had a rather short MLB career, due to segregation, and was one of the first black players. I knew he was and is one of the most beloved players of the 1950s.

    Now I see his career numbers are quite low: 34 WAR in 10 seasons. And his peak isn’t all that great either, with only 2 top ten WAR seasons.

    He won 3 MVPs in 5 years, which I had forgotten. He played in 5 World Series, all against the Yankees, and didn’t hit much other than 4 HRs.

    hallofstats.com has him as the #26 catcher of all-time, after Lance Parrish.

    Even if we gave him four seasons of a 4 WAR at the start of his career, he moves up to only about #10. Similar to Mickey Cochrane.

    Surprisingly to me, he wasn’t voted in the HoF quickly. He got 57% in his first eligible year, and got in 5 years after that.

    Anyway… what’s the sabermetric take on his career?

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    1. Rob Smith

      Fisk – .269/.341/.457 117 OPS+, 376 HRs, 8756 ABs
      Bench – .267/.342/.476, 126 OPS+, 389 HRs, 7658 ABs
      Carter – .262/.335/.439, 115 OPS+, 324 HRs, 7971 ABs
      Campanella – .276/.360/.500, 123 OPS+, 242 HRs, 4205 ABs

      Campanella’s slash lines are better than all of the above, his OPS+ is better than all but Bench and his HRs per AB is better than all.

      Throw in the 3 MVPs…. and you have a HOFer. Not to mention that Campy lost 3-5 years on the front end of his career because of segregation.

      WAR is tough to use when a player has a 10 year career and others have careers twice as long.

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    2. Dinky

      Campanella started later than he might have because of segregation. He was one of the players considered to break the barrier, but the Dodgers chose Robinson instead. He didn’t come up until age 26, and his career was shortened at the end by a horrendous car crash that put him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life.

      I agree with Rob Smith completely: 3 MVPS was a lot. I mean, he won his first MVP in 1951, when the Giants won the pennant. In the entire history of baseball before steroids, nobody ever won more than 3 MVPs. And yes, he had to deal with lots of the same stuff Robinson had to deal with when he came up.

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    3. invitro

      I have no doubt that he’s a HoFer, at least if you have 200 players in the HoF.

      You don’t mention defense. I trust dWAR the most of any defensive metric (should I not?), so let’s look at that for these players, for the ages 26-35 only, to eliminate the career-length problem. And oWAR while I’m at it, as I personally trust that more than OPS:

      age 26-35 oWAR dWAR WAR
      Fisk 37.0 8.5 38.1
      Bench 35.5 8.9 39.6
      Carter 35.5 16.2 44.6
      Campanella 33.7 5.7 34.2

      I trust his ranking here more than in your list. Also, you don’t have some heavy hitters in your list… here they are and a bunch more catchers:

      age 26-35 oWAR dWAR WAR
      Piazza 50.9 0.2 45.3
      Berra 41.1 7.8 43.6
      IRodriguez 35.5 13.1 41.6
      Cochrane 38.7 3.1 38.9

      He doesn’t seem to match up here either, not even with Cochrane. Here are some more, WAR only:

      age 26-35 oWAR dWAR WAR
      Tenace 42.4
      Posada 39.7
      Dickey 37.9
      Bennett 35.0
      Lombardi 33.7
      Hartnett 33.4
      Ewing 33.4
      Torre 32.9
      Munson 32.5
      Simmons 29.0
      Bresnahan 28.8
      Ferrell 21.4
      Schalk 12.3

      This would seem to put him in a group with Bennett/Lombardi/Hartnett/Ewing/Torre/Munson, around #10. Then there’s World Series & playoff performance to consider.

      And the three MVPs. He was 7th, 7th and 10th in the NL in WAR those three years. I am willing to believe that the MVPs were poorly chosen and should be at least somewhat discounted. I am also willing to believe that WAR is missing something for those years, at least if I knew what it was. Campanella and Berra seem to be far ahead of all other catchers of their generation, and maybe this is worth a lot.

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  10. Wilbur

    The Good Kid (Lou Boudreau) deserves more than 44%, if nothing else in sympathy for being Denny McLain’s father-in-law.

    He conducted the pregame radio interview for Cubs radio for many years, and had an interesting manner of introducing each guest: he would refer to them as “Fine gentleman” as in “Our guest today is WWillie Stargell, left fielder for the Pirates and fine gentleman.” I found it a softening, genteel touch to an often coarse business.

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  11. Richard S.

    Following the voting in this series, I’m finding that there appears to be a bias – a bias FOR “power”, either in batting or pitching. “Chicks dig the long ball”, went the ad’s tagline, and indeed, sluggers are getting more respect in the voting. How else to explain the current figures for players like Luke Appling, Lou Boudreau, and Luis Aparicio? Not a one of them was ever known as a slugger. They hit less than 200 career home runs – COMBINED. But they were all either fine hitters or great defenders and earned their HOF enshrinement. The archetype here is Bill Mazeroski. Known for one fortuitous home run, it is often forgotten that he is one of the best defensive players ever, regardless of position. Until we can come up with a good statistical metric for defense, we are going to have a lot of these.

    It applies to pitchers as well. Ryan, Clemens, Feller, Gibson – all power pitchers, all first rank in anyone’s HOF. But what about someone like Gaylord Perry, who instead of a blazing fastball used a variety of pitching tricks to keep the opposition guessing, and collected over 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. Perry’s career totals compare favorably with those of Tom Seaver; so if Seaver is selected…

    Reply
    1. Rob Smith

      People are objecting to Perry’s spitter…. Which is currently considered cheating, but was once thought of as gamesmanship. A lot of greasing and cutting the ball went on until MLB started throwing balls out if they had a tiny nick on them. Umps inspect the balls frequently too. See how easy it is to clean things up if they put their minds to it

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    2. Damon Rutherford

      Following the voting in this series, I’m finding that there appears to be a bias – a bias FOR “power”, either in batting or pitching.

      Concur. And I would also maintain there’s a bias for era as well, given more recent players are receiving considerably more votes than equitable counterparts from long ago.

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  12. paul

    Interesting that the same people who rail against voting for MVP circa 2012-2013 cite MVP voting 60 years ago as definitive evidence of a player’s value . . .

    We trust it when it confirms what we want to believe, but scorn it otherwise . . .

    Look, I love Buck O’Neill too. Do I have to accept his opinions as a definitive statement on all issues regarding pre-1947 baseball?

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