Personal Hall of Fame – Part 3

Seven more dudes for you entertainment. Two of them have really silly names.

Jeff Bagwell — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Will be on his sixth ballot in 2016)

One of the things that surprises me most is the relative lack of success of the Houston Astros of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. They had, among other valuable hitters, one Hall of Famer in Craig Biggio, one guy who (spoilers!) I think is a pretty obvious Hall of Famer in Jeff Bagwell, and another guy, Lance Berkman, who certainly deserves to be discussed. While they made it to the playoffs six times in Bagwell’s career, they were shuffled out pretty quickly the first four times in the LDS. It wasn’t until Bagwell’s last two seasons that they even won a series, and Bagwell was mostly done for their World Series run in 2005.

Of their alliterative stars, Bagwell was probably the best as well as the best first baseman of his era, assuming you don’t think of Albert Pujols as his contemporary (which is silly since their careers only over lap for five seasons). Bagwell had over 400 of both doubles and dingers on his career and was .003 batting average points from being a career .300/.400/.500 hitter. He was also a superlative defender at first base and had decent speed in his prime, compiling over 200 stolen bags. For a first baseman, he was a very good all around player.

This isn’t to say his record is perfect. His career was somewhat shorted by arthritis problems, which left him with only 14 full seasons, not including his mostly irrelevant 2005 campaign. Furthermore, his power stats are not as gaudy as you would expect from a ‘90s first baseman. He hit 40 home runs in a season three times. If you frame his career in a certain way, you could argue he isn’t a Hall of Famer. But that’s pretty stupid. He played the majority of his career at the Astrodome, which was an awful field to hit in. In his first season in the friendlier Minute Maid Park, he hit a career best 47 dingers. Also, his best season at the plate, 1994, was cut short by strike, when he had compiled 39 home runs. He would later receive his one MVP award for that shortened season. Finally, there is the whole PED thing, which is somehow the least stupid argument against Bagwell (although not on its own merits, but on the lolworthiness of the others). But there is no evidence other than his muscles looking big, which is to say, there is no evidence. To make a long story short, Bagwell is clearly well across the Hall of Fame line, and he’s a definite choice.

Verdict: IN

Gary Carter — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 2003 on the sixth ballot)

Catchers are a hard group to judge when I comes to the Hall of Fame, due to the general brevity of their careers. Luckily, Gary Carter is not difficult because he was so good. Starting in 1977 he had a decade long period of dominance with the Expos and the Mets, culminating in a World Championship in 1986. Let’s compare that decade some other great catchers, shall we:

Gary Carter 1977-1986 — .274/.347/.474; 128 wRC+; 58.9 fWAR (second to Mike Schmidt)

Johnny Bench 1968-1977 — .270/.345/.488; 130 wRC+; 60.4 fWAR (second to Joe Morgan)

Yogi Berra 1950-1959 — .287/.356/.490; 129 wRC+; 50.8 fWAR (sixth, behind Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial, among others)

Joe Mauer 2005-2014 — .319/.402/.457; 131 wRC+; 43.6 fWAR (seventh, behind Chase Utley and Albert Pujols, among others)

I find that single year overlap between Bench and Carter pretty fun. But what’s even more fun is that there is perfect space between Berra and Bench from 1959-1968 for one more decade of dominance from a great catcher, with exactly one year overlap for each. Who was that ‘great’ catcher? Joe Torre lead the league with 34.9 fWAR, but he only really played eight seasons.

Offensively, they all seem quite in tune. Those wRC+ stats line up so perfectly it’s hard to believe. But when you add in Carter’s good defense and durability, he gets awfully close to Bench. Now, Bench had some decent season outside of that peak, while Carter, for the most part, did not. But he has a good claim as the second best catcher of all time. By all accounts, Gary Carter was just as good of a person as a catcher as well.

Verdict: IN

Kiki Cuyler— In the Hall of Fame: YES (Veteran’s Committee, 1968)

Kiki Cuyler was, from what I can gather, pronounced in such a way that the first three syllables were pronounced identically, rhyming with ‘fly.’ That is about as stupid as it gets. As for him as a player, he was an outfielder, mainly for the Pirates and the Cubs, whose career stretched through most of the 1920s and ‘30s. Defensively, he played all three outfield slots, but it seems he was not particularly good in center. As for his bat, it was good, sometimes even great. He wasn’t much of a power threat, although he did break into double digit dingers a few times. Cuyler did maintain a high batting average, finishing his career at .321 lifetime. Kiki was also a decent threat on the basepaths during his prime.

Does it add up to a Hall of Famer? I’m not really feeling it. His prime from 1924-1931 is a nice little stretch, and 1925 is a rather impressive season (.357/.423/.598, with a career high 18 dingers; good for 7.5 fWAR). But he was essentially a contact driven outfielder in an era full of them. I think he’s worse than Earl Averill, who I waitlisted last time. Is he a bad choice? I don’t think so. But his case is not convincing.

Verdict: NOPE

Bill Dahlen — In the Hall of Fame: NO (On the Pre-Integration Ballot for 2016)

‘Bad’ Bill Dahlen is one of those players you wonder how he isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet. While he played the majority of his career in the 1890s, he did play all the way until 1909. He was a fantastic defensive shortstop. It just doesn’t make sense until you look at his career .272 batting average and realize that the early voters didn’t give him a second look. Which is a shame because he was a great player.

In addition to his glove, Dahlen was also a pretty decent batter. In his early days he hit for reasonably good power for his time period, once hitting 15 home runs in one season (as I said, decent for his era). Furthermore, he actually could be a good contact hitter, twice batting .350. His career average is largely brought down by his poor decline phase, where he was pretty much miserable at the plate, although the glove was still exceptional. But what really pushes Dahlen ahead is his very long career. When he retired, he had played more professional games than anyone in history. Now, he only held this record for five years, but still, he was a brilliant defender for a long time. Plus he could hit pretty well. Seems like a Hall of Famer to me. He’ll probably be in Cooperstown as well in a couple of months.

Verdict: IN

Bob Feller— In the Hall of Fame: YES (elected in 1962 on the first ballot)

Previously, I have said that Walter Johnson was the likely fastest pitcher ever. One of his competitors for that title was renowned strikeout artist Bob Feller. Feller led the league in strikeouts seven times, and probably would have led it four more times had he not missed nearly four seasons to World War II. Feller first came up as a seventeen-year-old in 1936 with the Indians and struck out over 76 batters in 62 innings. That would be extremely good by modern standards. By 1936 standards, that is absurd. League average then was 3.36 K/9. In 2015, it was 7.76. So in order to be as K-Prolific as Feller was compared to his peers in modern baseball, you would have to strike out batters three times as often, which is basically striking out everyone by modern standards.

But while Feller was certainly the champion of strikeouts, he did have flaws. He walked batters at a high rate, particularly in is pre-war years. After he came back from the war, he only had a few more great seasons left in him, although his 1946 was a season for the ages. He was practically unhittable, throwing 371 innings with a 2.18 ERA and a 2.16 FIP. This was his first full season back from service the USS Alabama. But after that he became more hittable. The strikeouts began to decline and unlike contemporary Warren Spahn, Feller was unable to fully transition into a finesse pitcher when his stuff was gone. While he pitched until 1956, he wasn’t much more than an average pitcher after 1948.

That being said his career as is certainly fantastic. Three or four spectacular seasons plus another five or so pretty good ones. Add in the fact he lost 4 years of his prime to the Navy and he skyrockets from solid Hall of Famer to the innermost circles of the Hall. Yeah, pretty easy choice her

Verdict: YES

Urban Shocker — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Received little support from both the BBWAA and the various Veteran’s Committees)

Urban Shocker was a star pitcher who split his time between the Yankees and the St. Louis Browns in the late 1910s and 1920s. He also had a long career as a Final Fantasy enemy.* Shocker was at his best while with the Browns, putting up a few really good seasons. From 1921-1923 he had an argument as the best pitcher in baseball, leading the league in strikeouts in 1922 and having the best BB/9 rate in both ’22 and ’23. It was a really good stretch.

*Disclaimer — He did not.

That being said his career was relatively short. He didn’t become a permanent starter until 1918, his age 27 season, and that was shortened by World War I. And while he had the makings of a solid decline phase, poor health pushed him out of the game in 1928, and eventually kill him within a year. So is he worthy of enshrinement? Compared to Stan Coveleski, his contemporary, who is probably the worst pure pitcher currently in my version of the Hall, he doesn’t match up to well in terms of his peak or his whole career. I really like that stretch in the early twenties though, and his short career was not necessarily due to ineffectiveness. He has an interesting case, but it’s certainly flawed. I’d rather wait and see how he compares to other pitchers who make up the lower level of my personal Hall before deciding either way.

Verdict: Holding Tank

Hoyt Wilhelm — In the Hall of Fame: YES (elected in 1985 on the eighth ballot)

Hoyt Wilhelm was an old player. Lou Brock was elected to Cooperstown the same year as Wilhelm, but he was 19 years younger. His career lasted twenty years, but he didn’t break into the majors until he was 29.  He was the oldest player in baseball for eight seasons.

Wilhelm is also the first reliever to come up, so I figure I’d better go over my opinion on relievers in the Hall. I do think that there should be guys who were primarily relievers in the Hall of Fame. While it is true that most relievers are failed starters, there are plenty of failed starters who do not make good relievers. Furthermore, relief pitchers generally do not have long periods of effectiveness, so those that do are special and deserve recognition. That being said, the bar for relievers ought to be higher than that of other positions due to the position being of less importance.

So back to Wilhelm. He was one of the first ‘ace relievers’ pitching from 1952 through until 1972, mostly in relief. He bounced around the league a lot, but most of his success came with the Giants, Orioles, and White Sox. Wilhelm was a knuckleballer from the start, and his rookie campaign was rather good, leading the league in appearance and throwing over 150 innings with a 2.43 ERA for the Giants. He settled into his role as a reliever until 1958 when the Indians and the Orioles tried him as a starter. He threw a no-hitter for Baltimore that season and led the league with a 2.19 ERA the following year as a starter. But after that he returned to the bullpen and pitched well for another decade plus. He finished his career with over 2200 innings which is more than Johan Santana or Roy Oswalt, and isn’t too far off from Sandy Koufax.

So what’s it all come to? Wilhelm is not easy to compare to modern relievers as his inning total was much higher. That being said, he was a pioneer in being among the first relievers to be regarded as an asset and not just a mop-up guy. Furthermore while he was effective as a reliever for a long time, his brief stint as a starter in Baltimore proves he could do it at a high level. All in all, Wilhelm might have been the most valuable reliever ever, and thus worthy of going in.

Verdict: IN

So that’s all for now. Next time we get another old player, a forgotten old timer and five more fun players!

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