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Perspectives: 6 Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

by Paul Semendinger

December 6, 2021

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Wow. Six! The Hall of Fame has six new members.

The following players were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday:

Gil Hodges

Jim Kaat

Minnie Minoso

Tony Oliva

Bud Fowler and

Buck O’Neil

The following are my thoughts on each…

Gil Hodges – Hodges was a Brooklyn Dodger legend. Very smart baseball people have been clamoring for Hodges to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame for decades. In addition to being a legendary “Boy of Summer,” Hodges was the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets. That helps his case. I think it was only a matter of time before Hodges was elected. The push for him to be elected each time was very strong. To me this was a preordained eventuality. If it didn’t happen this time, the next time his name came up, or the time after, he’d get in.

Hodges, though, isn’t a strong candidate outside of the push he gets for being a beloved Dodger and Mets manager. If he was a greater player than the sum of the parts, I’ll accept that, but I think his candidacy falls a bit short even when comparing all aspects of his candidacy.

In all-time WAR, Hodges ranks 442nd all-time. He’s tied at that spot (with just 43.9 career WAR) with Alvin Dark and Charlie Keller among position players. Brett Gardner (44.3) has a higher lifetime WAR than Hodges. WAR is not the final authority on a player’s worth. There are flaws in any statistic, but it still provides a very real sense of how that player stacks up to others. I’m not sold on the notion that the 442nd best player in baseball history deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Elections like this should open the door, very wide for some Yankees legends who all rank above Hodges including Thurman Munson (382nd, with a WAR of 46.1) and Graig Nettles (122nd, with a WAR of 67.9).

As a first baseman, Hodges ranks 41st all-time in WAR. Just behind him is Don Mattingly (42.4) who is 45th. And this is where it gets messy. Keith Hernandez isn’t in the Hall. His lifetime WAR is 60.1. John Olerud, Will Clark, Fred McGriff, Norm Cash, Mark Teixeira, Jason Giambi, Mark Grace, Carlos Delgado, and others all rank above Hodges, just at first base. If Hodges is a Hall of Famers, then they also deserve serious consideration.

If Hodges gets extra points for managing the Mets in 1969, that’s also a little circumspect. Hodges was a manager for 9 seasons with the Senators and the Mets. His overall managerial record was 660-753 (.467). He brought his team to the post season just once. If he gets points for getting the Mets to the World Series (with a 100 win season) and winning the championship in 1969, shouldn’t he also lose points for following that up with the same talented team and winning just 83 games in each of the next two seasons?

Don Mattingly never won a World Series, but as a manager his record is better at 820-857 (.489). As a manager, Hodges had one first place finish, two third place finishes, and the rest of the time, he was in the second division. Mattingly has had three first place finishes, three second place finishes, and two third place finishes.

Of the ten most similar players to Hodges, none are in the Hall of Fame. Of the ten players most similar to Mattingly, two are in the Hall of Fame.

Hodges won three Gold Gloves. Mattingly won nine.

Hodges never won an MVP. Mattingly won one.

I knew Hodges would get in one day. The mythology surrounding him and the “Boys of Summer” helped his election. Being the manager of the Miracle Mets also helped a great deal. These made Hodges seem greater than the sum total of the parts.

When borderline candidates get it, it only opens the door for more borderline candidates. I believe Hodges’ election opens the door for Donnie Baseball. It should.

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Jim Kaat – I wrote extensively about Jim Kaat here. I wrote that Kat has a compelling case, but I felt he was just short. With Jim Kaat getting in, I think Tommy John also has to get in. John was a better pitcher than Kaat.

There are a lot of reasons that Kaat belongs. His election, though greatly strengthens Tommy John’s candidacy.

I am happy for Jim Kaat, who is still alive. I am glad he gets to enjoy this honor.

Tommy John’s next opportunity will come, I believe in 2023. That has to be a slam dunk. It has to be. It’s time for Tommy John to be in the Hall of Fame.

***

Minnie Minoso – A few years ago a friend of mine argued that Minoso belongs in the Hall. I hadn’t really ever looked at Minnie Minoso’s total body of work and my initial reaction was doubt. Minoso was, to me, the old guy who played a few times as a publicity stunt. But before I argued against him, I wanted to do my research. And once I did, I saw that Minnie Minoso has a GREAT Case.

Minoso had a 53.8 lifetime WAR, but of note, he didn’t reach the Major Leagues for good until he was 25-years-old. The color barrier kept Minoso from reaching the big leagues sooner.

Minoso had novelty appearances in 1976 and 1980. Those brought his lifetime batting average to .299. Without those appearances, his lifetime average was .2996 (or .300).

Minoso was a 13-time All-Star.

Players raked just around Minnie Minoso (in lifetime WAR) and who are in the Hall of Fame are: Tony Perez, Sam Rice, Willie Keeler, Harry Hooper, Joe Medwick, and Joe Sewell.

Minoso should have been elected a long time ago. He deserves to be in. He is now in. This should have happened when he was alive and could have enjoyed this honor.

Tony Oliva – I am happy for Oliva who is also still living. I am glad when players who reach the Hall of Fame get to enjoy the honor while they are living.

That being said, Tony Oliva falls way short by my standards. Yes, he was an amazing hitter, for a time, but he was not one of the greats of the game. His 43.0 WAR ranks 463rd all-time. He ranks below Gil Hodges without the extra push for being a manager (and a member of two legendary teams).

Tony Oliva was a star for eight seasons. Then he broke down. It’s always sad when that happens, but the same thing happened to Don Mattingly. I’ll resist the urge to compare their careers, but I’ll just note that once one person gets credit for “what might have been” it opens the doors very wide for others. Mattingly is just one classic case. Thurman Munson is another.

Among the ten most similar players to Tony Oliva, none are in the Hall of Fame.

Oliva ranks 34th all-time in WAR among right fielders. Among players who were Yankees who rank higher, just as right fielders, and who are not in the Hall of Fame (I’m choosing former Yankees just because this is a Yankees site) are Jack Clark, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonds, and Bobby Abreu.

Known, mostly, as a great hitter, Oliva didn’t even reach 2,000 lifetime hits (ending with 1,917). He had only 220 homers and 947 runs batted in. His lifetime batting average was .304

I didn’t see Oliva play, but I did see Al Oliver, a very similar player. Oliver was also a lefty batter who also was a great hitter. Oliver actually just outranks Oliva in WAR at 43.6. Oliver’s career numbers are very very similar to Oliva’s: .303/219/1,326.

Oliva was an All-Star eight times, Oliver was an All-Star seven times. With Oliva in, the case for Al Oliver just became very strong. I don’t think many people consider Al Oliver a Hall of Famer…or they didn’t until just now.

Of course, there’s the idea that Oliva won three batting titles. That is very impressive. Bill Madlock won four. He’s not in the Hall of Fame (and shouldn’t be).

Tony Oliva was one of those players who was great for a short time, but his overall body of work falls short of Hall of Fame status.

Bud Fowler – Bud Fowler was a true early legend of the game. I encourage our readers to visit his SABR Biography page. This paragraph alone makes the case for Bud Fowler:

John Fowler was one of the true pioneers of American baseball… In black baseball history, he is the pioneer. His resume includes a long list of firsts. He is the first acknowledged African-American professional player — way back in 1878 before there were any black teams of consequence. He was the first to play on integrated teams, typically the only dark face on the roster; in fact, he preferred white clubs because they fielded the best nines and offered the stiffest competition through much of his career. As such, he was the first significant black player in the United States.

Buck O’Neil – The crime is that Buck O’Neil, also a true legend of the game in so so so so many ways, and one of the greatest human beings (by all accounts) in baseball’s long history, didn’t get this honor while he was still living. Buck O’Neil belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame a long time ago.

I made the case that as a pioneer, Lefty O’Doul deserves similar consideration one day.

The Hall of Fame rights a wrong by allowing Buck O’Neil into its hallowed halls.

#JimKaat #HallofFame #GilHodges #TonyOliva #BudFowler #BaseballHallofFame #BuckONeil

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