By In 100 Greatest, Baseball

No. 73: Arky Vaughan

Somewhere in my files, I have this dead project I once worked on. The idea was to break up the players in the Hall of Fame into different ranks. That’s not original, I realize, except that these levels had almost nothing to do with how good the player was, how many home runs he hit, how many strikeouts he had. These levels were based entirely on recognition.

That is to say:

1 star Hall of Famer: A complete non-baseball fan would have heard of him.
2 star Hall of Famer: A nominal baseball fan would have heard of him.
3 star Hall of Famer: A moderate baseball fan would have heard of him.
4 star Hall of Famer: An intense baseball fan would have heard of him.
5 star Hall of Famer: Only Keith Olbermann has heard of him.

I have different people in mind to determine each level. At level one, for instance, was my late grandfather who every morning would proudly get the newspaper, carefully remove the sports section and then stuff it into a garbage can. I cannot be sure, but I suspect my grandfather had heard of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig (mostly because of the disease). It is not entirely out of the question, though, that even these three eluded his sphere of knowledge. My grandfather was a brilliant man who read constantly and in five languages. He worked relentlessly to know as little as he could about sports.

At Level 2, I had my wife, Margo, who likes baseball — she actually took a history of baseball class in college one year and got a solid B — but does not particularly follow the details. She would not know, for instance, that Houston is now in the American League or who that young baseball player is in the Subway commercials (“Mike Trout? Is he good?”). But she will surprise you now and again with something picked up along the way about Walter Johnson or Rod Carew and she has a working knowledge of most of the big players. She could probably name 30 or 40 Hall of Famers if pressed, maybe even a few more. She has already made her opinion known that I rated Tony Gwynn way too low.

At Level 3, I used my buddy Pop Warner who is a baseball fan and can speak with some authority about pretty much ever great players of our lifetimes, which would encompass the past 40 or so years. Before that, he would have certain knowledge of some of the bigger names — Feller, Williams, DiMaggio, Mantle, Foxx, Greenberg, Cobb, Paige, Walter Johnson etc. — but might not know some great players like Paul Waner or Harry Heilmann or Eddie Plank. I don’t have those files anywhere nearby, but I think I figured that there were 60 some players Pop would be able to say something about, another 25 or 30 he might be able to recognize as baseball players, and the rest, well, no chance.

For the record:

There are 165 everyday players in the Hall of Fame.
There are 72 pitchers.
There are 27 executives.
There are 21 managers, four pioneers and 10 umpires.

So even my buddy Pops would not come close to knowing HALF the people in the Hall of Fame. If you took out the executives, pioneers, managers, Negro Leaguers and the pre-1900 guys he probably STILL wouldn’t know half.

Level 4 would be my buddy Vac, who has written a couple of fantastic historical sports books, heavy on the baseball, and he has a great sense of baseball history. He would have a working knowledge of 150-plus people in the Hall and at least a passing knowledge on two or three dozen more. I still think i could stump him on 30 or 40 Hall of Famers though.

Anyway, this was the fun way I was going to break down the Hall of Fame. And, there WAS some logic to the way the players sorted out. Sure, there were a few players who were probably more famous than they were excellent, and a few players who were more excellent than they were famous. But mostly it made sense.

Except for one. One player really broke the experiment. That was Arky Vaughan. Obviously my grandfather never heard of him. My wife certainly never heard of him. I’d say here’s a pretty good chance Pop Warner never heard of him either. I’d say you would have to be at least a Level 4 fan to be able to say anything of substance about Vaughan, and there’s even a chance some Level 4 fans would only shrug if asked about him.

And that’s amazing. Because Arky Vaughan was a truly great player who lived a fascinating life with a tragic end. He should be one of the most famous men to ever play baseball — there could be a movie about his life. But the story just didn’t go that way for Arky Vaughan. From what anyone can tell, he didn’t mind.

* * *

Joseph Floyd Vaughan was born in Arkansas — earning him the Arky nickname that stayed with him all his life — but his family moved to California when he was just seven months old. His father Robert farmed and then found a job working for Standard Oil; it seems Robert took this job so that his children could go to a good school in Fullerton. Unlike so many of the fathers of players listed in the Top 100, Robert Vaughan was neither a strict disciplinarian who did not want a son to play baseball nor an authoritarian figure who made sure the son practiced for nine hours every day. He was a doting father who loved baseball and wanted Arky and his two brothers to play sports and enjoy life.

Vaughan was an athletic phenom — he, like so many other great baseball players also earned a football scholarship — but baseball was his love. He was a player you only needed to see once to appreciate. This trait played into his future. Pittsburgh scout Art Griggs, who owned and managed the Wichita minor league team, was vacationing in Los Angeles, like usual, when he got a tip about a Fullerton baseball star with a hugely promising future. That player was not Vaughan. It was a catcher named Willard Hershberger, who would also play in the Major Leagues and his end is one of baseball’s most tragic stories.*

*Another classmate of Vaughan’s as a freshman and sophomore was an unathletic but enthusiastic baseball fan named Richard Nixon. Years later, when he was President, Nixon would put together all-time baseball teams for the American and National Leagues, and Vaughan was his all-time National League shortstop from 1925-1945. He recalled then playing Pee Wee football with Vaughan.

Griggs had no idea who Arky Vaughan even was. Meanwhile a Yankees scout, Vinegar Bill Essick (the scout who convinced the Yankees to sign DiMaggio), already knew all about Vaughan and was heading to Fullerton to sign him for New York. He seemed destined to become a Yankee — where he unquestionably would have become infinitely more famous.

Then, fate stepped in. Vinegar Bill stopped somewhere to see another player, and Griggs went straight to Fullerton. Griggs was immediately so taken with Vaughan that he forgot all about Hershberger and signed Vaughan to play for his Wichita team. Essick showed up a day or two later, furious to find he was beaten to his man. He signed Hershberger as a consolation prize. A year later, based on Essick’s pleading, the Yankees Pittsburgh offered $40,000 for Vaughan. The Pirates, who may or may not have known what they had, turned down the deal figuring that if the Yankees wanted him that badly, he might be pretty good.

Vaughan spent one year in Wichita. He hit .338 with 16 triples and 21 homers. One year later, at age 20, he was the Pirates every day shortstop.

He hit right away in the big leagues, batting .318 as a rookie. His defense, however, was another story. He committed 46 errors his rookie year and 46 more his second season. In those days, counting errors was pretty much the only way anyone judged a players defense, and Vaughan would always be error-prone (topping out with 52 errors as a 28-year-old). This led people to believe he was a dreadful shortstop, a reputation that unquestionably marred the way people judged his career.

This is a shame because other numbers suggest he was actually not dreadful. His first year, the Pirates brought back all-time great Honus Wagner to teach Vaughan how to play shortstop — which leads to a great baseball story. Wagner worked with Vaughan, and after a while someone asked Arky how it was going. “I’m not sure,” Vaughan said. “When I asked Mr. Wagner what to do, he said, ‘You just run in fast, grab the ball and throw to first base ahead of the runner. But he didn’t tell me how.”

Vaughan figured it out. He was a marvelous athlete who had good range, a strong arm and he turned the double play aggressively. He would lead the national league in assists, putouts and double plays at different times in his career. Defensive WAR rates him an above-average shortstop over his career. Bill James rates him about average or perhaps a tick above.

As a hitter, by any standard, he was magnificent. Vaughan’s second year, he hit .314 and led the league in triples. The next three years were otherworldly. He led the league in on-base percentage all three seasons. He scored at least 108 runs each year, The stretch included his amazing 1935 season, one the best seasons ever for any shortstop, when he hit .385/.491/.607. He was the first shortstop to slug .600 in a full season. He had 63 extra base hits. He certainly should have been MVP. But the Pirates were not a pennant factor, and the award went to Chicago catcher Gabby Hartnett.

Vaughan was very difficult to strike out. He walked more than anyone in the league. He had only one year where he hit less than .300. He was astonishingly fast, which is easy to miss because nobody stole bases in the National League in the 1930s (Vaughan actually led the league in steals with 20 when he was 31 years old). He led the league in triples three times and in runs scored three times.

“He could fly around the bases,” Rip Sewell said of him, and teammate Paul Waner said he never saw a player faster from first to home than Vaughan. Through age 29, Vaughan was hitting .324 with a .414 on-base percentage and more than 1,700 hits. That’s more hits, in case you are wondering, than Pete Rose, Derek Jeter or Stan Musial had through their age 29 seasons. He was the best hitting shortstop since Wagner. And then his story took some odd turns.

After the 1941 seasons, the Pirates rather suddenly traded Vaughan to Brooklyn for four non-entities that included a 37-year-old pitcher nicknamed Hot Potato and a a 34-year-old backup catcher named Babe Phelps, who people called Blimp. It’s never great when you already have a strong baseball nickname like “Babe” and people still insist on calling you “Blimp”* The trade was apparently the work of Pittsburgh manager Frankie Frisch, who was already annoying all his players with his “In my day, we had real ballplayers” style. He and the quiet Vaughan did not get along and it seems Frisch engineered the deal.

*To be fair, Blimp had been a very good player. He hit .310 and made three All-Star teams in his career. He was done when the trade was made, though. He played one year in Pittsburgh and retired.

As it turns out, though, the Frisch-Vaughan relationship was practically a Bogie-Bacall love affair compared to how Vaughan and Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher would get along. Those two loathed each other more or less from the start. To be fair, almost nobody liked Durocher. Billy Herman would say the turning point was in 1943 when Durocher suspended pitcher Bobo Newsom and ripped him in the paper. Vaughan read the interview and was outraged. He stormed into Durocher’s office and asked Leo the Lip if he had given the interview. Durocher said that he had.

“Take this uniform,” Herman quotes Vaughan saying, as he threw his uniform into Durocher’s face, “and shove it up your ass. … If you would lie about Bobo, you would lie about me and everybody else. I’m not playing for you.” And with that, Vaughan stormed out. The whole team admired Vaughan so much (and hated Durocher so much) that they actually went on strike briefly. Dodgers GM Branch Rickey had to plead with them to come back and play. The others did return for the game. Vaughan did not.

It seems likely that a lot of animosity had already built up between Vaughan and Durocher — Leo tended to do that to people. Vaughan had a good 1943 season. He hit .305, led the league in stolen bases and runs, but he’d had enough. The next year, he simply stayed home in California and took care of the family ranch while World War II raged on. He never did give his reasons — Vaughan was a famously quiet man — but people always assumed he left the game because of Durocher. His son, Bob, thought otherwise. He believed there were personal reasons that went beyond baseball. Bob once asked his father who was the best manager he ever played for. “Durocher,” Arky said quietly.

In any case, Vaughan did not return to baseball until 1947 (noticeably AFTER Durocher had been suspended from baseball for associating with gamblers) and, of course, that was the year Jackie Robinson crossed the color line. And while other teammates like Pee Wee Reese have been celebrated for their role in supporting Robinson, Vaughan played his usual quiet and unnoticed role.

“He was one fellow who went out of his way to be nice to me when I was a rookie,” Robinson would say. “I needed it.”

Vaughan hit .325 in a part-time role that season and got one double and a walk in three plate appearances in his first and only World Series. The next year he hit .244 in a part-time role and he left the game for the final time and headed home to his ranch and his family. He was just 36 years old when he retired. Well, he played one year for the San Francisco Seals — and hit .288 in 97 games. There were occasional efforts to lure him back to the Majors in a part-time role, but he never returned.

Four years later, Vaughan and a friend were fishing on a lake with an ill-fated name — Lost Lake — when a storm swept in and the boat capsized. The water was ice cold and the one eye-witness said that Vaughan went back to help his friend. About 10 yards from shore, both men submerged and never returned to the surface. Arky Vaughan was 40 years old.

He was a taciturn man, not unfriendly but silent. He certainly did not crave attention, and he was not someone who offered interesting quotes to reporters. He played on mostly mediocre Pirates teams, his errors overshadowed his defensive strengths, his relatively short career blunted his magnificent offensive numbers. He also did not have any interest in promoting himself. He just wanted to raise his family, go fishing and work on the ranch. Red Smith once called him “Baseball’s most superbly forgotten man.”

When Arky Vaughan finally was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1985 — about 30 years too late — there was talk swirling around of another baseball strike so the mood was dampened. Vaughan went into the Hall of Fame with all-time stolen base leader Lou Brock, knuckleball wizard Hoyt Wilhelm and the gritty Enos Slaughter. Vaughan was probably a better player than any of them, but he was the fourth person mentioned in every story, if he was mentioned at all.

The Hall of Fame did put out commemorative envelopes, though, to honor Arky Vaughan. On there, they had his photograph and some of his marvelous statistics. It would have been perfect, really. Only thing: They misspelled his name.

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69 Responses to No. 73: Arky Vaughan

  1. beearl says:

    Odd…I don’t feel like an insider at all, but I’ve always known about Arky Vaughan. He always comes up in the discussion of the greatest SS of all-time.

    PS – He actually played in the PCL for one last year at 37 for the Seals. Then he walked away.

  2. Dave says:

    During WWII for the entertainment of the troops, he also played on teams that traveled to Army Bases to play against teams from those bases. My uncle had the pleasure of playing against him.

  3. ehray says:

    I am a 62 year old 3 star Hall of Famer who as been around long enough to have seen some great ballplayers. I had heard the name Arky Vaughn at some point, but couldn’t tell you who he played for or when. The historical aspects of sport and the personalities of athletes has always interested me more than numbers. Thus, your thoughtful and insightful profile has enriched my baseball knowledge and inspired me to learn more about this fine man/player. I’m certain members of his family will be very appreciative of your piece which creates a greater awareness of an unfortunately “forgotten” man.

  4. John Franco says:

    I’m probably a 4-star hall of fame “voter” and I love Arky. I still have a hard time considering anyone else as the #2 shortstop in history (behind Wagner, of course). His short career probably leaves him a little short of that mark but it’s a shame he’s never gotten more recognition.

  5. johnq11 says:

    Easily one of the most underrated players in MLB history. I never heard anything about him until I started reading some of Bill James’ material. It’s strange too because this a guy who played into the late 1940’s, not a 1870’s-1890’s type of player.

    • Karyn says:

      Way back when Neyer was still writing for the Worldwide Leader, he ran through his top-five or top-ten picks all time at each position. He waxed on about Arky Vaughan, which is how I came to know about him.

    • mrgjg says:

      Yea, SS with 136 OPS+ don’t grow on trees. The really perplexing thing about Arky is that during his playing days he was recognized as a star. All-Star game every year, got some MVP votes, albeit not as many as he should have, but he was noticed as a great player even before the advent of the uber-stats.
      Then 5 yrs. after he retires, it’s like Arky who? He gets the same amount of votes on the HOF ballot as Hub Pruett. Go figure.

      • johnq11 says:

        I think WW2 and his early death had something to do with that. And then the Yankees dominated 1930’s baseball and playing in PIttsburgh in the 1930’s was like Siberia. It is odd the way Pie Traynor was celebrated all those years and how Vaughn was essentially marginalized.

        I think that was Vaughn’s problem in that they greatly overrated Traynor’s ability and the collateral damage was Vaughn. Traynor was triumphed and Vaughn was forgotten.

        Then the myth grew with Traynor in that he was the greatest 3b in history. In reality he was probably around the 50th and nowhere near a HOF in the first place. Think Travis Fryman, Jeff Cirillo or Don Money.

        Is there any position in baseball history more mis-remembered or mis-represented in the HOF than 3b.

        Electing Freddie Lindstrom was like elected Melvin Mora. I already mentioned Traynor.

        Electing George Kell was like electing Bill Madlock or Carney Lansford.

        Jimmy Collins was essentially Robin Ventura or Ron Cey.

        Meanwhile you have guys like Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Kenny Boyer, Buddy Bell on the outside.

        Scott Rolen should be a no doubt HOF, will probably be one and done.

        Adrian Beltre should be a no doubt HOF, will probably have a hard time.

        • mrgjg says:

          You might be right about Rolen, but I think Beltre is getting in. He’s still producing at peak level and he has a lot of milestone numbers in his sights; one of the benefits of starting so young.
          I also think that the saberstats are becoming more excepted by some of the newer guys as well as some of the more intellectually curious old timers, like our very own Joe Pos.
          It’s going to be hard to keep a guy out of the Hall with an 80+ WAR. That is some rarefied air. Even if he doesn’t get to 3000 hits he’ll certainly get to 400 HR and that with his GG fielding will be hard to overlook.
          The irony is, he’s really a glove guy, but his career numbers are going to make him look like a better hitter then he really was which is fine with me if it gets him in the HOF.

          • johnq11 says:

            It’s really a shame about Rolen because he’s been a great player and no one in the mainstream really cares and they’ve mostly ignored him.

            Beltre is one of those guys where the mainstream baseball guys suddenly said, “Wow look at those numbers.” He has a decent shot at 3000 hits and 450 HR maybe 500.

            Yeah, you’re right about Beltre being a “glove” guy. He probably deserved about 8 gold gloves.

            You’re right in a way that the longer we go, the more saber friendly the ballot becomes because the writers are younger and not to be too blunt, but the older anti-saber writers die off.

            To me the “lifetime” ballot is crazy IMO. Seriously there’s guys who still get a vote who haven’t written about baseball in 30 years. Then you get guys with lifetime votes from some small defunct paper in Columbus Ohio or some other small town.

          • mrgjg says:

            Like the three guys who haven’t written about baseball in decades, and in fact are employed by a golfers magazine, yet they still get a vote for baseballs most hallowed award.

        • tombando says:

          I knew some cretin would come outta the woodwork and blast Pie here… Right no one needs a .320 hitting, gold glover who knocks in 100 runs 7 times. We only need the guy who played beside him for 6 years w the identical stats save for a prettier walk total. Gee. If anything Pie should be here not Arky. But hey you got your narrative itch to adhere to, right?

          • denopac says:

            They played together for four years, not six, and a 136 OPS+ for a shortstop blows away a 107 OPS+ for a third baseman. Of course Traynor’s RBI totals for those four years had absolutely nothing to do with Vaughan’s .375/.388/.431/.491(!) OBPs (Traynor batting cleanup behind Vaughan in the three hole).

          • johnq11 says:

            cretin? WTF?

            How was Pie Traynor a “gold glover” considering he retired in 1937 and the first gold glove wasn’t given out until 1957???

            There’s no truth that Traynor was a great fielder. If anything modern metrics show he was average at best. His “great fielding” status is entirely based on myth.

            Yeah he hit .320 but he played during the greatest offensive era in baseball history. You have to take those offensive numbers from that time period with a grain of salt. He played in a league where the Entire National League batted .300 (1930). 33 players hit .300 that year and qualified for the batting title. Traynor hit .366 and finished 7th.

            His .366 average in 1930 is equivalent to a .309 average for the 2013 Pirates.

            Plus he played in a good hitter’s park. Even at that he had no power. He only hit 58 HR in his career. He never walked so his on base percentage was relatively low.

            Neutralized his batting average is .307. His neutralized slash stats are: .307/.349/.418. For an average fielding 3b?? A .767 neutralized OPS?

            Even his regular OPS isn’t even .800, it’s .797. For an average fielding 3b? Those are Jeff Cirillo’s numbers (.795).

            He never finished in the top in OPS nor On-Base percentage. He finished in the top ten in slugging once.

            Even batting average, which was his strong suit, he finished in the top 10 six times but he never finished higher than 5th.

          • Brian says:

            johnq11, what “modern metrics” are you using to determine that Traynor was an average fielder? If it’s the stats on Baseball Reference, well, the version of TotalZone that’s used for the pre-Retrosheet era (about 1950 and before) is total garbage. It’s a version of Adjusted Range Factor, and I don’t think even the guys who run that site would defend it too much.

            DRA, on the other hand, which is much more of a “modern metric” than any adjusted range factor, has Traynor at 95.4 runs above average for his career, compared to TZ’s -32. 95.4 runs above average would put him around 15th all time for 3B career fielding value, so there’s really no case for him being just an average fielding 3rd baseman, once you stop relying on crappy metrics.

            Traynor was overrated, and even a proper evaluation of his defense leaves him as a borderline HoFer, because he simply didn’t hit as well as people at the time thought he did. But he was certainly better than Travis Fryman, or the 50th best 3B.

      • Cliff Blau says:

        What’s even odder is that he didn’t get any HOF votes until five years after he retired, although the waiting period was only one year then.

  6. ceolaf says:

    I’m from the DC area, so Cal Ripken (Jr) was the greatest baseball around. By far. And there were some pretty horrible O’s teams in there on which Cal was the only reliable reason to pay attention.

    Perhaps that is why I’ve long knows about Arky Vaughn.

    Trying to rank Ripken among all time short stops — in the age before ARod and Jeter (and Nomar) –, the list was pretty short. This was before Larkin, too. Of course, Trammell was always underrated.

    Before Omar Visquel. And Robin Yount wasn’t in Cal’s class, either.

    So, the list was pretty short.

    What was it? Honus Wagner, Arky Vaugn, Ernie Banks (maybe). Ozzie Smith got some credit. Cal fit in there somewhere. Third. Second. Maybe first.

    So, we had to know about Arky Vaugn to make the case.

    (Man, we’ve have a lot of great shortstops in the last 30 years. Wow.)

    • mrgjg says:

      “Before Omar Visquel. And Robin Yount wasn’t in Cal’s class, either”.

      I guess that would depend on how broadly you define class. Yount was at least in his class as a hitter and in fact had the higher OPS+ 115-112 and higher oWar 82.3-77.3 in less PA. Your whole argument comes down to how much faith you have in defensive stats.
      After Ripkens 1991 MVP year, he really wasn’t much of an offensive force. He had a 97 OPS+ in his last 5791 PA.
      I’m not ripping (no pun intended) Ripken, he was a great player, but so was Yount.

      • Yount gets remembered for his hitting, but it was his fielding that got him to the majors straight out of high school. He had enormous hands and even as a teenager was the best fielder in the Milwaukee system, so they slotted him in to learn how to hit in the big leagues. He was just starting to win gold gloves (probably a year later than he deserved his first one) when he blew out his shoulder and relocated to center field to reduce the strain on him. Ripken had a more reliable glove than Yount, but Yount had much better range at shortstop (5.13 to 4.73 RF/9 at shortstop). Ripken was a great player, but anybody who even considers him #1 all time at shortstop is voting with his heart, not his head.

  7. Michael Green says:

    Knowing my Dodger history PRETTY well, I was very familiar with Vaughan. For what it’s worth, as I recall reading about it, when the story appeared in which Durocher ripped Newsom, Leo first claimed he hadn’t said those things. The reporter, Tim Cohane, confronted Durocher and showed that he had said it. THEN the players revolted.

  8. Andy says:

    Here are my predictions of Joe’s final top 72, by position, in no particular order:

    Catchers (7): Bench, Josh Gibson, Berra, Fisk, Campanella, Piazza
    (just missed: Carter, I. Rodriguez, Cochrane, Dickey)

    IB (6): Gehrig, Foxx, Ott, Pujols, Bagwell, Thomas
    (just missed: Killibrew, Murray, McCovey, Stargell, Thome, Sisler)

    2B (7): Hornsby, Morgan, Collins, Robinson, Carew, Lajoie, Gehringer

    SS (6): Wagner, Ripken, Jeter, A-Rod, Banks, Ozzie Smith
    (just missed: Yount, Appling, Boudreau, Cronin, Trammel)

    3B (6): Schmidt, Matthews, Brett, Boggs, Chiper Jones, Brooks Robinson

    OF (20): Ruth, Mays, Cobb, Oscar Charleston, Aaron, Bonds, Musial, Ted Williams, Mantle, Speaker, Frank Robinson, Clemente, DiMaggio, Rickey Henderson, Kaline, Snider, Yastrzemski, Griffey Jr., Rose, Reggie Jackson,
    (just missed: Al Simmons, Monte Irvin, Winfield, Manny Ramirez, Sam Crawford, Minoso, Kiner, Harry Heilmann, Keeler, Goslin)

    P: (20): Young, Walter Johnson, Matheson, Grove, Feller, Spahn, Seaver, Clemens, Carlton, Koufax, Maddux, Niekro, Grover Alexander, Hubbell, Paige, Gibson, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Eddie Plank
    (just missed: Marichal, Ford, Palmer, Jenkins, Blyleven, Halladay, Kid Nichols)

    Negro League players I didn’t know how to rank: Turkey Stearns, Pop Lloyd, Mule Settles, Willie Wells, Martin Dhingo, Ray Dandrige

    • Andrew says:

      Interesting. Most of these are probably true, but I think Joe will likely throw in a few more non-MLB/Negro League players (e.g. Sadaharu Oh) and 19th Century players (e.g. Cap Anson). And I’d feel pretty confident that Trammel and Blyleven will both make it in, along with a few others not included here (and Ozzie Smith has already been listed).

      • Azure Ray says:

        Yount and Pudge Rodriguez both gotta be in the Top 100.

        • Andy says:

          I struggled with both of them. Who would you delete in order to include them?

          • Pat says:

            Piazza seems an obvious guess. Wouldn’t really be surprised to see Eddie Plank miss out. Suspect a lot of the Negro Leaguers (unranked) in your list will be absent. Guy like Hubbell, I think he’s top 100, but if he’s not here yet… is he top 72? Come to think of it—Duke Snider. And Campanella makes me wonder whether Joe will consider him one of the most essential players of all time, or a career-35 WAR forgettable phenom. Also wonder about Niekro, but that’s probably me thinking Joe is more idiosyncratic than he really is.

            Think Killibrew and MBManny are on the inside rather than the outside.

          • Nick says:

            I feel like there are plenty of people to delete that already were in the list. Maybe a couple negro leaguers? Although I know zilch about them.

          • Pat says:

            … oh, and “whom” would you delete, you Grammar-Untermenschen.

    • MikeG says:

      Not a bad list, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Joe continues. Just one quibble: Met Ott was an OF, not a 1B.

    • ResumeMan says:

      BTW you get one extra pick – Joe already did Ozzie.

    • Lawhamel says:

      I think Biz Mackie is a Negro Leaguer who would deserve some consideration, for sure. Taught Campanella how to catch, and was supposedly the best defensive catcher in NL history as well as an offensive force. Might be one of the most underrated players ever. Cristobal Torriente, is another who might get some consideration – great Negro Leaguer/Cuban player.

      I think all of the Negro League guys you list, except maybe Ray Dandridge, are guys who might get some consideration. John Beckwith, Jud Wilson are a few others.

    • invitro says:

      Someone mentioned that Ozzie was already in. Also, you list just 6 catchers, and you list just 19 pitchers, so you get three more picks. I tried my luck, and got only four differences:

      Also in: IRod, Anson, McCovey, Yount, Blyleven, Oh, Lloyd.
      But not these: Banks, Snider, Hubbell, Plank.

      What fun!

  9. I know about Arky Vaughn but only because I read the Historical Abstract cover-to-cover. One interesting exercise for some of your readers might be try out’s quiz on the baseball Hall of Fame ( It unfortunately removed the year-by-year breakdown which the quiz more approachable. I’ve gotten all 236 a few times, but usually get in the 220’s. They post a results page ( where you could actually get a statistical feel for the HOFers. Unsurprisingly, the least know are all the “Frankie Frisch-Bill Terry” group like Bancroft, Haines, Hafey and some of the Negro Leaguers.

    • Mike says:

      That’s a cool quiz. The time (20 minutes) is what makes it hard. I got 117. Never would’ve crossed the 200 line, no matter how much time (Negro leagues, especially), but without a time limit, would’ve gotten close to 200.

  10. bobburpee says:

    I have known about Arky for years because of other great baseball writers. I had always assumed the gap in the statistical record was war related. The real reason is even better.

  11. Dave says:

    How do you know Arky Vaughan is underrated historically? No one knows how to spell his name. Even, ironically, in the comments section here – despite the fact that Vaughan’s name is spelled correctly in Joe’s post AND the fact that Joe made a point about a notable misspelling of his name – two commenters have managed to spell his name wrong. Not just once, but throughout their entire posts.

  12. Dave42 says:

    Bill Simmons had written about a 5-tiered HOF a while back. I love the idea because of the arguments it would generate as well as perhaps letting people lighten up about letting the Jack Morris / Jim Rice type guy in as you can still differentiate between a Ty Cobb, a Tom Seaver, a Rod Carew and a Don Sutton.

  13. Rick R says:

    I think Vaughan suffers from what may be called Frisch Fatigue. So many players from the 1930’s were elected to the Hall because of the gaudy batting averages of the time that Vaughan just got lumped in with those guys, all those second tier HOFers like Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, Chuck Klein, Heinie Manush and Kiki Cuyler. For instance, in 1934, Vaughan hit .333, which is excellent, but was still behind Gehrig, Waner, Gehringer, Terry, Manush, Simmons, Greenberg, Cuyler and Foxx (all Hall of Famers) and some guy named Vosmik (how is he not in the Hall?). Outside of his eye-popping year of 1935, his stats don’t jump out at you like you think they would, given the era.

    Of course, unlike some of his peers, Vaughan’s numbers did hold up under scrutiny. For one thing, he did it as a shortstop, which makes him especially valuable. Secondly, he also walked a lot, so his OBP was phenomenal and he scored buckets of runs. He was the real deal.

    I found out about Arky Vaughan from Bill James, though you’ve certainly fleshed out his career, and the man. Once again, thanks Joe.

  14. Tom Wright says:

    “there could be a movie about his life”

    Sounds like you found your next writing project

  15. Blahblahblah says:

    Strat-o-matic introduced me to Arky. His HoF card is a thing of beauty

  16. buddaley says:

    It has been a while since I read BIll Werber’s memoirs, so I have forgotten the details, but Werber claimed that Durocher was a thief. I am quite sure he asserted that Babe Ruth caught him stealing something from his locker and almost killed him.

    Werber also claimed that Durocher had a habit of trying to steal girl friends away from other ball players. He ascribed this to Durocher’s lack of any moral foundation or sense of loyalty to teammates.

    Thing is, Werber and Durocher were never on the Yankees at the same time. Durocher’s last year there was 1929 and Werber appeared for a few games in 1930. Perhaps he heard stories when he arrived. In any case, his opinion of Durocher was very low.

  17. Just for the heck of it, I looked up Lost Lake, because I had been there once, but didn’t really remember why I was there or anything about it. Apparently it was created from underground water from an earthquake fissure. There are no tributaries feeding into it at all, and the water is deep and extremely cold year round. In addition, there are weeds or some kind of undergrowth in which people can become entangled. As a result, it’s been quite the place for drowning tragedies over the years. Reading Joe’s story I had to wonder how grown men drowned just off shore. Well, the combination of cold water, which contracts lung capacity and can induce a panic response, and add to that the potential for getting ensnared in the undergrowth, and you have the perfect conditions for a drowning…..which apparently is a frequent occurrence at Lost Lake.

  18. Pat says:

    By the way, just to point out the obvious, but every shortstop appearing on the list after this will prompt some number of comments along the line of “really? you think he’s better than Arky Vaughn?!?”

    Well, there will be two–and only two—for whom that question will be just silly.

    • buddaley says:

      It’s interesting. Will Alex Rodriguez appear as a shortstop or as a third baseman. In terms of longevity, he has been each for 10 years although he still has 30 more plate appearances as a shortstop.

      Alex is currently about 15 WAR behind Honus (at BB-Ref). It is impossible to know if his production, had he stayed at shortstop, would have remained what it was as a third baseman. Perhaps his fielding would have deteriorated more quickly. Perhaps the rigors of the position would have eroded his hitting earlier.

      But, given the positional adjustment made for shortstops (vs. third baseman), it is at least possible that he would have been closer to Honus in WAR. In his shortstop years he had already accumulated 63.5 WAR, and that includes his first two partial seasons when he had negative WAR. That is really just 8 seasons, an average of 8 WAR per season. He was just 28 when that season ended, and he started getting less credit for positional adjustment.

      • Andy says:

        I had the same issue with Ernie Banks but in my comment above predicting the rest of Joe’s rankings, I listed both Banks and A-Rod as shortstops. Banks won two MVPs as a SS and placed in the top 6 four other times as a SS (all in a 7-year stretch). On the other hand, Banks played about 100 more games as a 1B than a SS.

        • buddaley says:

          Banks is a no doubt HOFer in my mind, but I place Rodriguez way higher than him in these kinds of rankings. I think Wagner will be higher than Rodriguez, and I have no argument with that, but I think it might be close, and at one time thought Rodriguez might surpass him. I still think he might have had he remained at shortstop. A remarkable player we have been fortunate to see play.

          In fact, current fans (1993-2013) can legitimately argue they have seen the greatest constellation of players of any era:

          4 of the 10 greatest pitchers all-time: Clemens, Maddux, Randy, Pedro
          #2 player all-time: Bonds
          Top two shortstop and third baseman all-time: Alex Rodriguez
          Top 5 (maybe 3, maybe best) catcher all-time: Piazza
          Top 5 center fielder all-time”: Griffey
          Top 2 first baseman all-time: Pujols
          Top 2 DHs all-time: Edgar, Ortiz

          We are talking inner-inner circle, creme de la creme. And I have left out Frank Thomas!

  19. puckpaul11 says:

    Interesting on your predictive list above that you include Pujols but not Bonds. Its really hard to believe Pujols stats are real. How to treat these players is very difficult. Bonds had some good stats before his head and body tripled in size.

  20. Trent Phloog says:

    Merry Christmas, Joe! I hope you, Margo, Elizabeth and Katie are having a wonderful holiday. This blog — and this series in particular — is such a great present for all of us. A million thanks!

  21. buddaley says:

    The unforgivable sin of the past 20 years is the hyping of the PED hysteria, turning what has been at most a misdemeanor into evidence of moral turpitude, criminal activity and serious cheating. The result has not only been the besmirching of magnificent players and performances, the tarring of reputations and violations of people’s rights but a nasty vindictiveness that disallows the joy this baseball era should have created, replacing it with snark and sniping and self-righteous prudery in place of appreciation and gratitude.

    Legions of players tried to improve their performance by using modern chemistry and the most advanced and exhaustive (and I imagine exhausting) training regimens. The exact impact of the chemicals is speculative. It almost certainly aided some-to some extent-and did little or nothing for others. There were many other probable factors in the offensive explosion. In any case, what they did, while certainly in a gray area of legality and ethics, was entirely within the tradition of any enterprise. It may have deserved investigation and even penalties, but no more and should simply have been resolved and the sport moved on.

    The crime is in the hyping. We should stop and appreciate the greatness we have witnessed.

    • puckpaul11 says:

      That is utterly ridiculous. When a player takes chemicals and then performance increases beyond imaginable levels, how can you ignore and, even more so, honor that? How can you say that the impact of the chemicals was “speculative” in transforming performance? One of the beautiful aspects of baseball is that over time numbers tell the truth….the use of this stuff made the numbers of the perpetrators a lie. I think it’s a disgrace to those who knowingly did so. if their reputations are ruined, too bad for them. They get to keep their money so i am sure they are happy. Complaining about it is the unforgivable sin?! Baseball is surviving just fine.

      • Karyn says:

        There have always been cheats in baseball–many are celebrated as merry pranksters, rather than roundly condemned. Gaylord Perry has already been discussed here, just as one example.

        Until 2003, steroids weren’t against the rules of baseball any more than amphetamines were. And tons of guys took those for decades, including many stars and HOFers.

        Some work has been done suggesting that steroids don’t actually help as much as perceived, and the surge in offense in the late 90s was due to other factors.

        Lastly, many players who have no link at all to steroids have been whispered about, accused, and harmed by baseless rumors. Bagwell, Piazza, Biggio, et al. The speculation and witch hunt are poisonous, and harm the game more than any PED ever did.

        • buddaley says:

          I want to be clear that I agree with everything you say, but want to add that the focus of my post here is that the hysterics have cast a pall over the enjoyment of a glorious epoch in baseball.

          When I think back to the deadball era, I can easily get misty about Wagner and Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Eddie Collins. I can easily ignore the character of Cobb and marvel at his unique excellence, and the era provides me the mythology based in fact that makes the love of baseball so strong.

          Of course, were I small minded, evil minded, nasty and petty, I could easily focus on the vicious brawling, the hoodlums like McGraw, the gambling and cheating that was rampant, and any reciting of the history must include those stories, but the glories of the game should not be sullied as if the achievements were phony. We have to be honest and acknowledge the evils, but our memories should not obsess over them.

          It would be just as easy to do the same for the 1960s-70s. Do fans really want to focus on the greenies, red juice and all the rest of the chemicals that got out of condition players on the field rather than marveling at Gibson and Koufax, Mays and Aaron. Do we think the crap they smeared on Koufax’s arm was benign?

          But that is what we have seen done to the recent history. The misdemeanors of these players are even more petty than those of earlier generations, and they were done to become better players. I certainly do not ascribe altruistic motives to them; they wanted to earn more. But their hard work and sacrifice, their rigorous workouts unlike anything of earlier generations, were also part of the story. Unlike the Mantles and Ruths and Hack Wilsons, they did not cheat their bosses and fans by playing hungover or drunk.

          But the hysteria has obscured the greatness of Bonds, Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and the rest. Instead of focusing on the marvels of play, we have demeaned and degraded the stars and centered discussion of the game on the negative. Instead of enjoying the game, we insist on being sour, condemnation replacing adulation.

          It has been decided that PEDs should be outlawed in baseball. I think that’s silly, but it is now the rule and if disobeyed requires penalties. Fine, penalize the players caught in a legitimate fashion and move on. Once the penalty is served, the issue is closed. Prior to the negotiated agreement, although there was a commissioner’s edict, there was no enforcement. In fact, if anything, there was tacit and even active encouragement by management.

          Enough, Get over it and appreciate what we have witnessed, gloriously gifted and dedicated athletes, some of the greatest players in the history of the game.

        • As with almost any medicines, the response to steroids can vary widely from person to person. Some people had no benefit at all, and probably stopped taking them. But Sammy Sosa went from an average outfielder to HOF level and Barry Bonds went from Tier 3 to Tier 1. in the argument for best player of all time. I completely agree that many if not most ball players would try almost anything that they thought would improve their game if they thought it would not get caught, and since steroids weren’t even banned, what was the disincentive?

          It’s time to stop believing that the great players of the past were pristine and never bent any rules to get an edge (those same people probably believe the NCAA cares more about student athletes than the revenue they generate) and start admitting the truth: when wealth is on the line, almost everyone will bend the rules. Let’s vote them in to the HOF, since both hitters and pitchers were facing juicers, use era based comparisons, and get on with our lives. I will never stop appreciating (say) ARod for what he did, even though I’m sure he was juiced every day of his MLB career, and I hate that great players like Piazza and Bagwell are tainted even though they were never caught (and thus possibly never used).

  22. puckpaul11 says:

    i do appreciate gloriously gifted and dedicated athletes, that is why i watch ice hockey. i AM over it, it seems that you are not. i just don’t care that much, but i won’t celebrate the achievements of the cheaters. lots of others to cheer for. And as the joke goes for us Mets fans, i have seen what PED’s can do, and unfortunately there are some it can’t help, inasmuch as PED’s turned all of Rey Ordonez’s singles into fly ball outs.

  23. Andy says:

    I appreciate the thoughtful comments on both sides of the PEDs debate above. But the fact that they were made is what I hate most about the introduction of PEDs into the game. That is, almost every column relating to the HOF or the ranking of players eventually devolves into a debate about PEDs rather than about the players themselves. I would so much rather hear from Joe’s brilliant readers about whether, for instance, Yount or McCovey should be included in a top 100 list instead of, say, Piazza or Chipper Jones. Instead, we discuss greenies vs. PEDs. Understandable given the times but, in my view, unfortunate.

    • invitro says:

      Alrighty then… do you think there’s any doubt that Chipper or Piazza will be in? 🙂

      • Andy says:

        I think they both will be in but, then again, what do I know? Since I made my predictions, Joe’s next two selections — #72 McCovey and #71 Irvin — were players that I had on my “just missed” list. I thought Joe was going to rely more on WAR and other stats and less on the story of their careers. Now trying to guess who from my list won’t make it — Niekro, Hubbell, Carew, Plank? And whether others on my “just missed” list will be in — like Palmer, Marichal, Killebrew, Stargell.

  24. I really like this series, but I have begun to skip the comments wrt PEDs because nobody has anything new to say. Some people hate that it happened, some people don’t care. Why do people think posting their personal opinion (with absolutely no new data, insights, or ideas) is remotely interesting?

  25. Chad Meisgeier says:

    Wow. I know who Vaughan is. I didn’t know much of the back story. Another great segment. Also, interesting followup info on the lake from bellweather. Good stuff.

    I do not have Vaughan in my top 100.

    At No. 73, I would put Richie Ashburn.

  26. Donovan Partridge says:

    I appreciate everyone who acknowledged my great grandpas achievements it means alot to me.

  27. Your stuff is amazingly interesting.
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