One of the offshoots of the Hall of Fame and its discussions are the way we treat players from great teams. We see this during the season every all-star break. The great teams get more all-star teams than the average or bad teams. It makes perfect sense. Good teams are good because they have good players. However, there is a logical extreme there and the same is true with Hall of Famers and great teams.
The aforementioned book, “Baseball’s Greatest Dynasties” lists the dynasties of the 20th century and there is considerable representation for shortstops in the Hall of Fame including:
1906 Chicago Cubs- Joe Tinker
1953 New York Yankees- Phil Rizzuto
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers- Pee Wee Reese
1998 New York Yankees- Derek Jeter
It doesn’t seem like an exhaustive list, but there is another list of guys that the pundits think should be in the Hall of Fame from the list of fifteen teams listed in the book. If we admitted all of those guys then more than half of the teams would have a Hall of Fame shortstop. Throughout his landmark book (“Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame”), Bill James demonstrated that throughout most of history you could find ten percent of the game populated with Hall of Famers. So, half of any listing of teams with a Hall of Famer at a certain position seems out of whack.
We saw the same phenomenon with Gil Hodges and others. Good players can put up great numbers on occasion and when they do it at the right time you can have a dynasty. So, the question is whether someone that puts up great numbers is truly great or whether they benefit from historical serendipity. The index can help us with that, but it ultimately only takes us so far. Many of these players were historically good and they may have had leadership skills that are impossible to quantify. So, let’s see where we stand.
We start with the most obvious player. Marty Marion stands out because he is seemingly overmatched. However, he was prominently mentioned in James’ book. He is a truly great example of the “if…then” fallacy. If Phil Rizzuto is a Hall of Famer then why not Marion? Well, if we follow that logic to its logical extreme we might end up with Rafael Landestoy enshrined in Cooperstown.
Of course, Marion deserves better than that. It’s the main reason why we are even mentioning him here. He was a very talented fielder and a decent enough hitter for a shortstop, but his career comes up short for one reason or another (longevity). The fact that he was a prominent member of the dominant Cardinals team in the 1940s does cloud the question some, but I could handpick a player on every championship that was historically good, but played great at the right time.
The rest of the list comes out reasonably enough on the career value scale, but they are noticeably worse than the BBWAA standard. How does history play into the countenance of greatness? Should good players on great teams get a nod? There are quality arguments on both sides of this discussion. The index does not directly answer that question. It provides evidence that gets weighed in such an argument. Right or wrong, the BBWAA has established a reasonably consistent standard we can measure. These don’t meet it, but it doesn’t mean they should be out.
Marion’s case is easy enough. His peak value and career value are nearly identical. So, he basically lasted ten or eleven seasons. If he had played 15 full seasons it might have been a different story. The same is true of Maury Wills, but his story isn’t quite so neat. He did not make his debut until he was 27. We are left wondering why. The question is whether he was a victim of institutional racism or just a bad break of playing for a historically great franchise. The facts show he was signed into the Brooklyn system when he was 18 but hit .300 or better in only three of his nine seasons of the minors.
Lack of success in the minors shouldn’t be a disqualifier, but it is hardly evidence of any nefarious dealings either. Perhaps in the modern age he could have left as a minor league free agent and caught on somewhere else in the big leagues two or three years sooner. Perhaps a lot of things. Players are ultimately judged against their contemporaries. Everyone had to survive under the same rules in 1950s baseball.
The top three could be considered Hall of Fame worthy if we didn’t know anything about career value. The trouble is that three or four win players are not particularly special over the course of a decade. The upshot is that those numbers could be due to a shorter peak or simply a lack of dominance. That of course assumes that we put a whole lot of credence into these index numbers in the first place.
In the interest of being as even-handed as possible we can also look at how each player was viewed by the baseball media at the time of their careers. We could run through the whole list, but we will compare Vern Stephens and Marty Marion to their contemporaries that are in the Hall of Fame with something we will call MVP points. Others have used similar formulas, so I can’t claim credit, but we will award ten points for MVPs, five for finishing in the top five, three for top ten finishes, and one for top 25 finishes.
|Top 25||Top 10||Top 5||MVP||Points|
|Pee Wee Reese||4||7||1||0||30|
The fact that Boudreau and Rizzuto won MVPs is a big deal when it comes to their Hall of Fame fitness. Of course, whether those awards were all deserved is up to debate. This methodology isn’t about what it deserved. It is about what the voters thought of the players then matters. It matters because the same group votes for the Hall of Fame. Few deny the qualifications of Reese or Boudreau, so it is interesting to find Stephens ahead of someone like Rizzuto.
Two of these men did not serve their country during World War II They are the two that are not currently in the Hall of Fame. It is impossible to say whether that is the definitive reason why they are not in, but the three in the Hall of Famer were given leeway as to the lack of adequacy of their numbers. No single test is necessarily worth more than another, but seeing the only BBWAA elected shortstop on top of the list adds some value to this test.
As we have done in the past, we will also look at the offensive and fielding numbers for these players. There is always a context and these numbers often serve to add to the index the context we need to evaluate their Hall of Fame qualifications. Their index scores indicate that none of these players should be in, but their careers deserve too much respect to just simply leave it at that.
Which of these was not like the other? Naturally, offensive production is only part of the equation. How much of the equation depends on the eye of the beholder. Many look at shortstops through a different prism. The question is whether a below average offensive player should be in the Hall of Fame. Statistics like OPS+, wRC+, and offensive winning percentage aren’t broken down by position. So, shortstops are compared to first basemen and outfielders. Obviously, not all of these players might be below average as the numbers appear. They are closer to average amongst the shortstop universe. Therefore, it might be more instructive to ask if average hitters should get in the Hall of Fame. We won’t know until we take a look at the defensive numbers.
Here we get the smorgasbord of numbers that all mean something different. The comparisons with average clearly favor Marion and when you compare him with the replacement level player you get the same result. Unfortunately, his career was a little too short to dominate across the board. Considering his career spanned only a little more than a decade, leading the league in defensive win shares four times is quite an accomplishment.
The reverse is also true. Stephens looks like a mediocre defensive shortstop overall, but he won the same number of win share Gold Gloves. So, we can surmise when Stephens was at his best he was nearly as good as the rest of them. When we add in the offense when he was also at his very best we probably get a superior player. That is reflected in the peak value numbers that we saw earlier.
The others are in the in between zone. They are better than average defensively and charitably could be called average offensively. So, they are above average players looking to get into the Hall of Fame. If you do that long enough I suppose there is a case to be made, but for these guys I’m not seeing it. Dynasties need good players to make a go of it. They need solid players too. Saying they are not Hall of Fame worthy shouldn’t be seen as an insult.