by Paul Semendinger
December 1, 2023
Note: This article appeared in the newsletter for the IBWAA on November 29, 2023 and is reprinted here.
Under 25 WAR And The Hall Of Fame? No Way, But...
My son shared an interesting question with me the other day. He asked what players who accumulated a career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) under 25 could be (or even should be) considered for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame?
At first glance, the answer might be, "None of them," but when one looks a little more closely, a few names emerge as possibilities.
What follows are some players who had less than 25 WAR, per Baseball Reference (bWAR), in their career, but for whom a Hall of Fame case can be made:
Catcher: Deacon McGuire (24.5 bWAR) We begin with a player who was a star in his day and who played forever, 26 years, as a catcher from 1884 to 1912. McGuire set many baseball records for catchers because of his durability, and some of his records (career assists and caught stealings) remain intact to this day. His lifetime .278 batting average as a catcher is also notable. McGuire deserved inclusion in the Hall of Fame long ago.
First Base: Vic Power (15.3 bWAR) Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez get a lot of press for being the best fielding first basemen of all time, but Power also had a claim to that title. In his career, he won seven Gold Gloves. He was an All-Star six times. His lifetime batting average of .284 was solid. Power also did not reach the Major Leagues until he was 26 years old; he was kept in the New York Yankees’ Minor League system until he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1953. Had Power been brought up sooner, he would have been the first African American to play for the Yankees – and his career would have been even more impressive.
Second Base: Carlos Baerga (19.6 bWAR) This position proved difficult. Baerga had a 14-year career in which he batted .291, and he twice won the Silver Slugger. He was also a three-time All-Star. (Truthfully the best candidate for second base, if he turns out to be the great manager that many expect him to be, is Craig Counsell, but if that ever happens, it is decades away.)
Shortstop: Frankie Crosetti (24.4 bWAR) No player/coach has been part of more World Championship teams than Crosetti, who played from 1932-1948 and was a key player in seven World Series championships. Crosetti coached the Yankees from 1947-1968 and was part of nine more World Championship teams. In Crosetti’s day, a solid defensive shortstop was essential to winning, and he was that, even if he didn't hit all that much. Also, the day will come when great coaches get their due in the Hall of Fame, and Crosetti was also a great coach for a long time – he also coached the Seattle Pilots and the Minnesota Twins.
Third Base: Bobby Brown (6.7 bWAR) It was difficult to find a third baseman who fit this criteria who belongs in the Hall of Fame. The best I could come up with was Brown, who played during the era when the Yankees always won and then after his career served as president of the American League.
Left Field: Hideki Matsui (21.2 bWAR) The list of Japanese power hitters who made the transition to being stars in the United States begins with Matsui. In his Japan/USA combined career, Matsui blasted 508 home runs. He was a leader on many pennant-winning teams for the Yankees and was the 2009 World Series Most Valuable Player. Matsui is a unique player in baseball history – a much greater player than his career 21.2 bWAR indicates.
Center Field: Doc Cramer (13.1 bWAR) Cramer had a 20-year Major League career. Over the span of 2,239 games, he batted .296. Cramer was an All-Star five different times, batted over .300 in eight seasons, led the league in at-bats in seven seasons, and was a standout defensive player.
Right Field: Pepper Martin (21.9 bWAR) When I went through this exercise, I was shocked when I saw this name and learned Martin wasn't in the Hall of Fame. He was a spark plug on the old St. Louis Cardinals Gashouse Gang Teams. Martin batted .298 for his career and was a four-time All-Star. He played an instrumental role in two World Series (and his lifetime World Series batting average is .418).
Starting Pitcher: Spud Chandler (24.3 bWAR) Of pitchers with at least 100 decisions, Chandler is the Yankees’ all-time leader in winning percentage (.717). In his career, Spud had a record of 109-43 with a 2.84 ERA. He won the MVP in 1943. Chandler was on six World Series champions and was a four-time All-Star, twice leading the American League in ERA.
Relief Pitcher: Jesse Orosco (23.2 bWAR) While there were some positions where it was a big challenge to find a player who has even an outside Hall of Fame case, there were a number of great candidates in this category. I chose Orosco, but Dan Quisenberry (24.6 bWAR), John Franco (23.4), Sparky Lyle (23.2), and Tug McGraw (21.8) also deserve some consideration. In the end, I chose Orosco because he holds the record for the most games pitched in baseball history ... and it isn't even close.
Orosco pitched in 1,252 career games. That is 74 games, or more than a season's worth of games, over runner-up Mike Stanton. Orosco was a two-time All-Star and he was the closer on the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. Kenley Jansen is the active leader in baseball right now with 817 games pitched. He is 435 games behind Orosco. Amazing!
WAR is an industry standard for so much when discussing greatness in baseball today, but it is not the be-all and end-all. This list shows that there are some worthy candidates for the Hall of Fame who did not accumulate a lot of WAR in their careers.
Paul Semendinger runs the Yankees site Start Spreading the News. He still pitches for two baseball teams and greatly dislikes waiting for baseball season during the long winter. Paul has authored numerous books including From Compton to the Bronx (with Roy White), Scattering the Ashes, and The Least Among Them. His next book, 365.2, comes out in March.