Luke Appling — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected by BBWAA in 1964)
Luke Appling was both one of the greatest shortstops of all time and one of the greatest White Sox of all time. He spent all 20 seasons of his career on the South Side and was pretty great for most of them. Appling first came up for a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1930, but he didn’t establish himself as an effective player really until 1933, when he hit .322/.379/.443. It was the first of many seasons where Appling hit .300. Appling would hit at least .300 every year until 1949 with the exceptions of 1942 and 1944, the latter of which was due to military service. He led the league in batting twice, in 1936 and 1943. Appling had a remarkable approach at the plate, mastering the art of fouling pitches. His career OBP of .399 is actually a point higher than his career slugging percent at .398.
Overall, what makes Appling a compelling candidate is his remarkable longevity as an All-Star level player. Appling never really had a decline phase; he was basically just as effective at age 42 in 1949 as he had been in his prime. Combined with a couple of MVP level seasons, Appling had quite a wonderful career. While he lacked much power at all, despite his famed home run of Warren Spahn at age 75 in the 1982 Old Timers game, he was effective at pretty much every other area a shortstop could be. He’s possibly one of the five greatest shortstops of all time, and thus an easy choice.
Frank Chance — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected by Old-Timers Committee in 1946)
Frank Chance was the third member of the “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” infield, playing first base to Joe Tinker’s shortstop and Johnny Evers’ second base. Chance also served as the manager of the Cubs’ dynasty of the first decade of the twentieth century, earning him the nickname ‘Peerless Leader,’ which I must admit is a pretty cool title. Chance was also a pretty good hitter. From 1903-08, Chance hit .306/.404/.410, good for a 146 wRC+, which ranked fourth in baseball for that time period. In the same timeframe, Chance stole 266 bases, which was second only to Honus Wagner. It was a pretty wonderful stretch, during which the Cubs won three pennants and two championships. Chance had taken over as manager in 1905, so he was doing double duty for one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history.
Of course, there is a big problem, which is playing time. Even in that peak stretch, Chance was not starting everyday due in part to both his duties as manager as well as minor ailments. Furthermore, both before and after that stretch, Chance was mostly a part time player. For his career he only had 5099 plate appearances. Kirby Puckett had 1800 more plate appearances. Nomar Garciaparra was more than 1000 ahead of Chance, and he had a really short career. Of course, seasons were a bit shorter back then, but either way his career is really short. I really like his peak, but it’s not enough on its own to make him a Hall of Fame player. That said, if I ever get around to expanding the scope of my personal Hall to include managers, Chance is a pretty easy choice. But until then, he’ll have to wait, despite being dead.
Charlie Keller — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Peaked at 6.1% of the vote in 1972)
Charlie Keller is remarkably similar to Frank Chance, in that they both had brief, excellent peaks and accomplished little outside them. Like Chance, Keller dealt with myriad injuries that kept him out of a dozen or so games a year, but unlike Chance, Keller missed a year and a half to service in World War II.
Keller spent most of his short career as the left fielder for the Yankees. He made his mark as a rookie in 1939, hitting .334/.447/.500 in 490 PAs. Over the next few seasons, Keller was in the argument for best player in baseball. He was a capable power hitter and put up huge OBP numbers based on his high walk rate. Keller would miss all of 1944 and most of 1945 to military service, but upon his return in ’45, he continued his high level of production for 44 games, and played pretty well in 1946 as well. However, after that he never again was a full time player, and was not particularly productive when he did get opportunities.
On a rate basis, Keller looks like a Hall of Famer. His career batting line of .286/.410/.518 is truly great. But he had less plate appearances than Frank Chance. Now, he did miss about 1000 plate appearances due to the war, but that still only puts him at 5600 for his career. And while his peak was good, it’s not enough for a short career guy. While he did play more than Al Rosen, Rosen was better at his peak, and I brushed him off pretty quickly. As far as I see it, Keller can be grouped with Chance, Rosen, and maybe Ross Youngs as well as guys who had the talent to be Hall of Famers, but didn’t have the opportunity to show it.
Joe Medwick — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected by BBWAA in 1968)
‘Ducky,’ as he was known, was a prominent slugger who played left field, most notably for the Cardinals, in the thirties and forties. To the modern fan, Medwick is best known for being the last player to win the National League Triple Crown. That season was 1937, and Medwick didn’t just lead the league in home runs, RBI and batting average. He also led it in doubles, runs, slugging, OPS, and total bases. He did only manage fourth in OBP, so I guess nobody’s perfect. But that ’37 was really amazing.
Outside of that season, Medwick was still pretty good. His 1935 and ’36 seasons were literally identical. In 1935 he hit .353/.386/.576. In 1936 it was .351/.387/.577. I always love finding little things like that. Medwick was generally a pretty good hitter from 1933-41, although he faded fairly quickly after that. I see him as pretty similar to Earl Averill, his contemporary in Cleveland. Averill was a better fielder in center than Medwick was in left, but Medwick was a useful player for a bit longer and a better hitter at his peak as well. Al Simmons is an interesting comparison as well, although Simmons was somewhat better at just about everything. I would say Medwick is just above the line where I feel safe inducting him at this point. With the possible exception of Minnie Miñoso, Medwick is probably the worst outfielder in my Hall so far. He’s definitely on the lower end of the Hall, but his career looks pretty good to me.
Barry Larkin — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 2012 on the third ballot)
Barry Larkin was the effective, yet often injured, shortstop for the Reds in the nineties. Larkin was a nine-time All-Star and won an MVP in the strike shortened 1995 seasons, although it was not Larkin’s best season, nor was he the best player in the NL. Overall, Larkin offered a bit of everything. He was a good defender at shortstop and he stole a lot of bases. Power wasn’t his forte, although he did manage a 30-30 season in 1996. Otherwise, he never hit more than 20 dingers. His batting average and OBP were both very good. I do really like that 1996 season when he hit 33 homers, stole 36 bases and hit .298/.410/.567.
Larkin’s biggest problem, however, was staying on the field. In his 19 seasons, he only managed 600 PAs in six of them. To be fair, he likely would have reached that mark in ‘94 and ’95 had it not been for the strike, but even including those years, Larkin would still be under 50% for his career. Missing thirty or so games a year turns a lot of his seasons from really great to pretty good. That said, Larkin compares favorably to Alan Trammell. Larkin was more consistent than Trammell on a year to year basis, and generally a bit better of a hitter. Now Trammell was a better fielder, but I find it hard to say he was better than Larkin. Larkin seems like a pretty solid choice.
Tim Raines — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Will be on his ninth ballot in 2016)
‘Rock’ Raines was the second best leadoff hitter of the eighties, behind only the immortal Rickey Henderson. Raines played the best years of his career in the baseball Siberia of Montreal. He was a brilliant base stealer, stealing 50 or more eleven times, and leading the NL four times. His 807 career stolen bases trails only Rickey, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton (the old one), and Ty Cobb. Raines also excelled at getting on base, with a career .385 OBP. Raines wasn’t a superb contact guy, but he did lead the NL in 1986 with a mark of .334. Generally, his batting average hovered between .280 and .310. Raines wasn’t much of a home run hitter, but he did have good doubles power. Despite his speed, his defense in left field left plenty to be desired. Raines had a stretch from 1983-87 when he was truly elite. He received MVP votes in each year, averaged 71 stolen bases, and hit .318/.406/.467. Of course, Rickey basically did the same thing during that stretch with better defense.
Raines spent a decade plus with the Expos, before moving to the White Sox in 1991. While he was a productive starter for a couple of seasons there, Raines transitioned into a part time player. His defense was really bad by that point and the speed had mostly evaporated, but his on base skills were still top notch. Overall, Raines may have been the second best player of his archetype ever. The problem is that he played in the shadow of the best, Rickey Henderson. Rickey was pretty much better at everything. That said, I inducted Rickey without a thought. While Raines is considerably worse than Rickey he seems like a pretty good candidate. His defense is the only thing that gives me pause, but I think the OBP and baserunning make up for it, even if it is odd that such a speedy guy could be so bad in left.
Robin Roberts — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 1976 on the fourth ballot)
Robin Roberts was a work horse. Every year from 1951-55 he led the majors in innings pitched. Overall, Roberts pitched 1633.1 innings in that stretch. Warren Spahn, who was second, pitched 238 fewer innings. And they were good innings. He was a pretty good strikeout pitcher, leading the league twice. He was very good at avoiding walks as well, posting the lowest walk ratio four times. In some ways he was a super durable version of Curt Schilling. However, Roberts built his career on just one pitch—his fastball. While this would make him home run prone, as evidenced by the 505 home runs he allowed in his career, second only to the great Jamie Moyer, he made up for it by avoiding walks so well.
Of course all those innings take a toll. After that five year stretch, Roberts settled down significantly. His Phillies became bad and he became average. For the rest of his career, he would normally maintain an ERA around 4.00, although he would dip into the low threes now and then, including a bit of a revival with the Orioles in the sixties. But Roberts is a pretty easy choice. He had a stretch of five years where he might have been the best pitcher in baseball each year, and he was still solid after that.
Frank Tanana — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Did not receive a single vote in his one ballot appearance in 1999)
So before I get into Tanana’s career, let’s have a bit of fun. Tanana did not receive a single Hall of Fame vote. Of course, his one year was a loaded ballot, with Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Dale Murphy all appearing for the first time as well. I would guess that Tanana is among the best players to never receive a vote, but let’s go back through the years anyway to see who the best players that got shafted.
2015: Brian Giles
2014: No one, but maybe you like Ray Durham or Todd Jones
2013: Reggie Sanders
2012: Brian Jordan
2011: No one noteworthy
2010: Ray Lankford
2009: Ron Gant or Greg Vaughn
2008: Jose Rijo and Brady Anderson were the only two guys not to get votes, and Jose Rijo got one in 2001. So Brady Anderson.
2007: Devon White
2006: Nothing worth your while
2005: Only Otis Nixon and Mark Langston to pick from
2003: Mickey Tettleton
2002: Robby Thompson
2001: Andy Van Slyke
2000: Hubie Brooks is the only choice. I choose no one.
1997-98: No One
1996: No one good.
1995: Doyle Alexander or Manny Trillo
1994: Bobby Horner
1993: Darrel Porter, Hal McRae, and Cecil Cooper
I’ll stop with a good year there. I would say Tanana is the best of the bunch by a good margin. I didn’t get to 1983, but Jim Wynn didn’t get any votes that year, and he was probably better than Tanana.
Frank Tanana is sort of like Luis Tiant in that he had a career split by a major injury, but he was even more extreme. In the seventies with the Angels, he was a fireballer, sometimes hitting triple digits on the radar gun. He led the league in strikeouts in 1975 and ERA in 1977. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 1975 and third in 1976. For a three year stretch there, only Tom Seaver was better. Of course, the wheels would come off, and Tanana would be sidelined with a shoulder injury in 1979 that would drastically change his career. Tanana became a junkballer and stuck around as an average-ish pitcher for another decade plus, pitching for the Rangers, Tigers, and a couple of other teams.
While he was a pretty good pitcher, I don’t think Tanana is really Hall of Fame material. His career is superficially similar to both Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat, but a step down from both. He didn’t rebound from his injury nearly as well as Tiant and he was never quite as good as Kaat at the whole old guy pitcher thing. He does get to be the ace of the no-votes staff, but that’s about the best I can say for him.