More players to rate? More players to rate.
Wade Boggs — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 2005 on the first ballot)
Sometimes in baseball, a player comes along who is literally only good at one thing, but is good enough at it to stick around for a while. Normally, that thing is dingers (Mark Trumbo, Dave Kingman, and the patron saint of these guys, Ralph Kiner), but it can be speed (modern Billy Hamilton). Wade Boggs was really only particularly good at getting on base. Yeah his defense was probably better than it looked, but Boggs was really good at getting on base in as many ways as possible. He was among the greatest contact hitters of the post-war era, but unlike Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn, Boggs was also a most patient hitter, regularly putting up gaudy walk totals. That being said, he was not a power hitter at all, expect for his 1987 season where he hit 24 dingers. Boggs was also not a real threat on the basepaths, finishing his career with all of 24 stolen bases.
Yeah, it’s pretty clear he’s a Hall of Famer, and you don’t need me to tell you that. So instead, we’re going to do a fun challenge. In 1988, Boggs put up an 8.6 fWAR. However, he stole only two bases, hit only five home runs, and his defense was not significantly above average (Fangraphs has it at 2.6 runs above average). So here are our parameters—we must find the best non-Boggs season, by fWAR, from someone who had five or less in home runs, steals, and defensive value. No pitchers obviously. I have no clue where it’s going.
- The first season to have less than five home runs is Eddie Collins’ 1909 season where he hit three. Put up 10 fWAR anyway, but had 67 stolen bases and 11.1 in defense. That season ranked 51st.
- Ranked 86th is Rogers Hornsby’s 1917 where he only had 8 dingers and 17 steals. Plenty of defense though, but this is the best candidate I’ve found yet.
- In 114th is Joe Jackson’s 1912 season. No defensive value and only 3 dingers, but 35 steals disqualify it. His fWAR was 9.1.
- Boggs’ 1988 ranks 165th.
- Ignoring the defensive component, Lou Boudreau’s 1944 season is in range with 3 home runs and 11 steals. Plenty of defense still. Rank: 216th
- 1950 Eddie Stanky is the first below 10 in both dingers and steals with 8 and 9 respectively. Tons of defense still. Rank: 314th
- In 347th place is Arky Vaughn’s 1936: 9 HR; 6 SB; 7.6 Def. Getting close.
- 350th is Lou Boudreau again, this time in 1943. He meets both the home run and stolen base requirements, with only three dingers and four steals. But, he had fantastic defense at shortstop that year. fWAR: 7.5
- Joe Cronin in 1933 is the second player to get the home runs and the stolen bases (exactly 5 of each). Defense is still too good though. Rank: 395th
- Okay, we almost made it with Paul Waner’s 1928. Below average defense, 6 dingers, 6 stolen bases. fWAR: 7.1. Rank: 484th. Waner’s 1936 is also only 2 steals away, and that ranks 495th.
- Phil Cavaretta (who?) had 5 stolen bases to go with below average defense and… 6 home runs in 1945. That ranks as the 831st season at 6.3 fWAR.
- Disgustingly close is Tris Speaker’s 1921, with 3 dingers, 2 steals and only 6.8 defense. Ranks 859th.
- Not anywhere close, but Charlie Gehringer’s 1930 is the 1000th ranked season. He is well outside our parameters in all three categories.
- Through 1500 player-seasons now. A few close calls, primarily involving Boudreau, Stanky, Pete Rose, Luke Appling, or Boggs himself. No hits though. fWAR at this level is about 5.4.
Finally, I found the answer. Billy Herman, 1943. Two home runs; four stolen bases; -3.0 Def; 4.9 fWAR. Rank: 2103rd. Herman hit .330 that year, which basically makes up most of his value. Then, just a short bit later is Ferris Fain’s 1952, ranking 2111th, which also meets the parameters.
I think Fain is a bit more like a Wade Boggs season, and he has the same fWAR, so consider this a tie.
Oh yeah, Hall of Fame.
Harmon Killebrew — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 1984 on the fourth ballot)
“Killer,” as he was so ironically called, spent the vast majority of his career with the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins franchise playing from 1954-1975. He led the league in dingers six times and hit forty or more eight times. Killebrew was no contact hitter, but his patience garnered him good OBPs. He was a notoriously awful defender at third base and almost competent at first, although by all accounts he tried very hard to be a better defender. He also notably enjoyed washing dishes, but I don’t think that contributes to his Hall record. But really his value comes from the dingers, 573 in all. When he retired that was good for fifth all time behind Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson.
Killebrew went into the Hall of Fame rather easily, cruising in on the fourth ballot. I do have some qualms with his case, though. His career is deceptively brief—he was a bonus baby, so the first five years of his career were mostly irrelevant, and he declined pretty hard and fast at the end of his career. That combined with his poor defense and contact skills bumps him down considerably. That being said, dingers are awesome, and it’s not like he was Dave Kingman or anything at everything else. He’s not a no-doubt guy, but he’s well above the line.
Kenny Lofton — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Received 3.2% of the vote in 2013)
Kenny Lofton never spent more than a season with any team aside from the Indians. In fact, he was traded midseason three times. That being said, he was a superlative leadoff man and centerfielder for much of his career. From 1992-1996, his first five full seasons, Lofton stole at least 54 bases a year, and hit over .310 every season except for 1992. It’s also worth noting that his two lowest steal totals came in the strike shortened years of 1994 and 1995. In the three full seasons he stole 66, 70, and 75 bases. Speaking of the strike, Lofton might have lost his best season in 1994. He had already stolen 60 bases and was hitting .349/.412/.536. Add in his fantastic defense, and you get an MVP type season. In 112 games he compiled 6.6 fWAR and 7.2 bWAR. Prorate that out to, say, 162 games, and that comes out to 9.5 fWAR and 10.4 bWAR. Oh yeah, and 86 stolen bases. Now, that isn’t exactly good baseball science, but Lofton was looking at a nine win season that year. Overall, Lofton was a great leadoff type, and probably the best player on those ‘90s Cleveland offenses, which is really saying something.
So is he a Hall of Famer? He is certainly on the borderline. Going into this I felt yes. Part of the way through the legwork I was leaning towards no. Now I’m not too sure. He was clearly no Rickey, but I think he compares decently to Tim Raines or Richie Ashburn. I think I’m going to hold off on Lofton until I evaluate some more speed and defense type guys.
Verdict: Holding Tank
Sherry Magee — In the Hall of Fame: NO (received little support from BBWAA, received 25% on his most recent VC ballot appearance in 2008)
Sherry Magee was the five tool star left-fielder for the Phillies in the first two decades of the 20th century. He had good power for his era, hitting 15 dingers in both 1911 and 1914, and was a prolific base-stealer, finishing his career with 441 stolen bases. He had quite a few destructive seasons at the plate, including a 1910 campaign in which he hit .331/.445/.507, good for a 168 wRC+. Aside from his offensive prowess, Magee is also known for an incident where he assaulted an umpire, leading to a lengthy suspension.
Magee is one of the few productive offensive players from his era that did not make it into the Hall of Fame. I suspect this is because he only managed a .291 batting average which is a blip below what Hall voters used to look for. Of the players I’ve looked at so far, I think he is closest to Earl Averill, who played a couple of decades later, but was still an earlier outfielder. Averill was certainly a better defender, but his offensive numbers when adjusted for his era aren’t significantly better or worse than Magee. Magee’s career was a bit longer and he was better on the basepaths as well. So I think I’ll group him with Averill and postpone a decision until we have a few more candidates under our belt.
Verdict: Holding Tank
Minnie Miñoso — In the Hall of Fame: NO (spent 15 years on BBWAA ballot, peaking at 21.1% in 1988, has been close by VC a couple of times)
Minnie Miñoso was a pioneer, the first black Cuban in the majors and the first black player to play of the White Sox. He was also an extremely good player. While he was first called up by the Indians in 1949, it wasn’t until 1951, after being traded to Chicago that he established himself as a player, by means of a .326/.422/.500 batting line, good for 5.5 fWAR. Miñoso basically just repeated that line for the next ten years. He spent the vast majority of his career in left field, where he was generally average, and he typically would steal 15-20 bases a year, which was pretty good for the ‘50s. That being said, there is nothing that immediately pops out at you as outstanding. Combined with his shorter career (He played 17 seasons, but about five of those were only cups of coffee or token appearances), he doesn’t look much like a Hall of Famer.
That being said, he has a compelling case when you add in his status as a pioneer. He lost at least a couple of decent seasons due to segregation. Miñoso was the eighth black player to play in the majors (not including 19th century weirdness), and the first ever in Chicago. I think that the Chicago part is notable—the only integrated teams before that were the Dodgers, Giants, Braves, and Indians (the St. Louis Browns also were briefly integrated as a publicity stunt). None of those teams played in cities that were otherwise particularly important in African-American history. I think if you give him points both for missed time and for being a major player in integration, Miñoso clears the line, although not by much.
Ryne Sandberg — In the Hall of Fame: YES (2005 on third ballot)
For Ryne Sandberg’s first two full seasons, 1982 and ’83, he was, essentially a glove first second baseman. And then, as it is well known, n 1984 Sandberg hit two late-inning dingers against Bruce Sutter which launched him into an MVP year. And thus a star was born… sort of. While his 1984 seasons was certainly MVP caliber, and 1985 was quite good as well, he then rattled of a few rather middling seasons. Through 1988 Sandberg had hit only .284/.339/.430 for his career. Now he was a good fielder at second, and he put up good baserunning numbers. He was a perfectly good player, but not anywhere near the Hall of Fame. Then, for the next four years, he regained his MVP caliber bat and hit .298/.365/.513.
The Hall voters quickly came around on Sandberg, but I’m not overly enamored with his career. He only really had six seasons where his bat was really wonderful, and he also had a rather short career. A significant amount of his argument is that he was a superlative defender at second base. He got plenty of Gold Gloves, but his defensive numbers are in many seasons just good and not great. That being said, he did have some great defensive seasons, and I’m not overly beholden to defensive numbers from the ‘80s. I think Sandberg is closer to the cutoff than many believe, but I still think he was good enough to go in.
Ross Youngs — In the Hall of Fame: YES (1972 by Veteran’s Committee)
Ross Youngs has one of the shortest careers of anyone in Cooperstown primarily for their playing career. He only played in ten seasons (1917-1926) and that first one was only seven games. So if he had such a short career, he must have been exceptional right? Well, not exactly.
Youngs played all ten season of his career with the New York Giants. Youngs was a great contact hitter, and also walked at a decent rate, making him an OBP machine. His best season was likely 1920, when he hit .351/.427/.477 with 18 steals, good for 6.8 fWAR. His 1924 campaign was similarly quite good, and every season in between was all-star caliber as well. Youngs played right field, and I can’t find much evidence to say he was anything other than average or slightly above average there. But overall, after 1924, Youngs had the makings of a Hall of Fame career. However, it would be over soon. Sometime in 1925 Youngs would contract Bright’s Disease, which would prematurely end his playing career and his life. Youngs leave the Giants in 1926 due to his illness and succumb to it in 1927.
Why is Youngs in the Hall of Fame? Well the easy answer is that former teammate Frankie Frisch dominated the Veteran’s Committee for about a decade and ensure that any above average teammate would get enshrined. Furthermore, the circumstances of Youngs’ death as well as the high praise he received from manager John McGraw (he was one of McGraw’s favorites) made his case compelling to other VC voters. I think it’s a disfavor to Youngs to group him in with the rest of Frisch’s cronies, as I think he could have had a Hall of Fame career had it not been for his illness, considering his final healthy season was one of his best and he was only 27 at the time. That being said, he probably should not be enshrined. He was a very good hitter, but rarely crossed into the great hitter threshold. I like Youngs a lot, but he’s simply not on par with other Hall of Fame candidates.