The Hall of Fame Expansion Era ballot: A consumer's guide, part I

Part one of a two-part guide to the 12 players, managers, and executives on the hotseat in this winter's election, from Dave Concepcion to Joe Torre.

The Hall of Fame today released its Expansion Era Committee ballot, the latest iteration of the voting system that replaced the old, much-derided Veterans Committee, which did so much to correct oversights by the Baseball Writers Association of America but at the cost of giving plaques to a large number of mediocrities. In addition to considering players who have been inactive for at least 21 seasons, the 16-member Committee will also consider managers and executives. On order to receive a spot on the wall, candidates must poll 75 percent or more. Your guide to the candidates, part one:

Dave Concepcion, SS: Concepcion played 19 seasons in the bigs, all with the Reds, and joined with Joe Morgan to form the double-play combination of the Big Red Machine team that reached four World Series during the 1970s, winning in 1975 and 1976. A five-time Gold Glover, Concepcion was an above-average hitter for a shortstop of the time until his early 30s. His bat fell off a cliff at that point -- he hit .251/.314/.318 after his last six seasons -- but he kept playing, partially because there was a perception that he still had something to offer on defense, partially because in the Pete Rose neverending-farewell years the team was more about veterans padding out their stats than trying to win.

Concepcion was a very good player and by WAR one of the 20-best shortstops in history, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he should be a Hall of Famer -- everything that was said about Concepcion could also be said about Bert Campaneris: played forever, good glove with a decent bat for a shortstop of the day, was a key player on a great team, plus unlike Concepcion, who has no black ink whatsoever on his baseball card, Campy led his league in stolen bases six times. No one is rushing to put Campaneris in, though, probably because the Mustache Gang is far less romanticized than the Big Red Machine. There is also the additional incongruity of enshrining Concepcion while Alan Trammell, a vastly superior player, languishes on the BBWAA ballot.


Bobby Cox (Jamie Squire)

Bobby Cox, manager: One of the most successful managers of all time, Cox's teams made more postseason appearances than any manager in history. He won five pennants and only converted one of them, something that will be held against him by some but the long record of excellence with which he's associated -- he oversaw the Blue Jays' transition from expansion team to division winner, then did the same with the Braves -- should more than trump his lack of winning rings. His wins total trails only that of Connie Mack, who had an ownership stake in his team that allowed him to manage well into senescence, John McGraw (ditto, though in his case he was maintained despite ill health and irascibility), and Tony La Russa. In his early years, Cox was an inveterate creator of platoons, pairing Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg, Ernie Whitt and Buck Martinez, and Jeff Treadway and Mark Lemke, just to name a few of his many combinations. In later years, as bullpens expanded to eat all available roster space, he played a more standard lineup. By then, though, he had one of the best pitching staffs of all time and had a little more latitude in terms of scoring.

Cox is 72 years old and if he's going to go in -- and there is no reason why he should not be enshrined -- might as well get on with it; he should get to enjoy the honor for as long as he can.

Steve Garvey (Getty Images)

Steve Garvey, 1B: The photogenic centerpiece of five World Series teams (though just one winner), Garvey combined durability -- he set the National League record for consecutive games played (1207 from September 3, 1975 to July 29, 1983, at which point a broken thumb finally sat him down) -- and the ability to hit a high-contact .310 in a good lineup meant a ton of hits and RBIs. From 1974 through 1980 he hit .311/.348/.480 with 200 hits in six of the seven seasons (he totaled 192 in the one year he missed, offsetting the shortfall with a career-high 33 home runs). As the good-not-great OBP and slugging figures suggest, Garvey was averse to taking ball four, accepting just 366 unintentional passes in a 19-season career, and for the most part wasn't a big slugger, averaging 31 doubles and 19 home runs per 162 games played. He fell off hard after his age-31 season, hitting just .277/.309/.411 in the 877 games remaining to him.

Wins Above Replacement sees Garvey as the 24th-best postwar first baseman. Like Concepcion he was a key part of a very good team, but not the best player (that was probably Ron Cey, while Davey Lopes was nearly as good), and he had relatively little value on the back end of his career. If you're looking for glove and batting average combos to round out the Hall of Fame, the line starts with Keith Hernandez and John Olerud, both of whom got on base more often, double up Garvey on winning rings, and were superior defensive players -- not that Garvey was bad, but with Hernandez we're talking about possibly the best ever at the position).

Tommy John, LHP: John, who gave his name to the pioneering surgery that allowed him to pitch for 26 seasons, was the ultimate groundball machine of his day, inducing batter after batter to hit the ball on the ground with his sinking fastball. John kept pitching until his velocity was a mere rumor, but because he didn't walk anyone and was impossible for hitters to lift he continued to be effective. One intriguing question from his last years, when he returned to the Yankees, is how disproportionately he suffered for playing in front of a team that was incapable of finding a major-league quality shortstop. By 1988 the Yankees were among the worst teams in the American League at turning balls in play into outs and in 1989 they fell to last. No doubt the aging John was giving up some hard-hit balls that not even Ozzie Smith could have stopped from scooting through the infield, but FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) suggests that the Yankees were ill-suited to accentuate John's positives; John's cumulative ERA for his second Yankees stint was 4.26, but his FIP is 3.90, suggesting that the team's gloves did him a disservice, particularly in his last seasons. For those who like wins, John won 288 games, and if you want to drive a wins guy crazy, just try getting him to explain why 288 is somehow dramatically different than 300 in terms of historical importance. It's not; it's one of those arbitrary figures that we subscribe to because it was on the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. Oh, you say it wasn't ordained by the Almighty? Then why do we -- ? Oh, never mind.

WAR does a good job of screening out the junk here, ranking the player on a value basis rather than on the arbitrary basis of wins. Ol' TJ ranks as the 26th-best pitcher of the postwar era in terms of career value, landing between Dennis Eckersley and Juan Marichal. His peak was relatively low -- although he had three 20-win seasons (to fall back on the old idiom), with the exception of the 1.98 ERA he put up in the pitcher's year of 1968, his ERAs were usually somewhere around 20 percent better than league average, 11 percent for his career. That's still very good, but not the stuff of a dominating ace -- he was more like an exceptionally consistent and long-lived No. 2. That's arguably a Hall of Famer on roughly the same basis Andy Pettitte might be thought of one, and like the latter-day Yankees left-hander, John has a solid postseason resume as well, with a 2.65 ERA in 14 games.

Tony La Russa makes another pitching change. (Dilip Vishwanat )

Tony La Russa, manager: The second of four managerial heavyweights on the ballot, La Russa won everywhere he went, picking up a division title with a surprisingly dominant White Sox team in 1983. Although that club proved to be a one-off, it had the hallmarks of La Russa's restless need to experiment -- he went with a bullpen by committee, invigorated the offense by moving catcher Carlton Fisk to the second spot in the batting order, and sometimes played left-handed thrower Mike Squires at third base. Moving to the A's he won consecutive pennants from 1988 to 1990, winning a championship in 1989. Solving his problems with both veterans and young players, he presided over three consecutive Rookie of the Year award winners (Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Walt Weiss), established Dave Stewart, previously a fringe pitcher, as a staff ace, and shifted Eckersley to the bullpen with incredible results. With the Cardinals he took a team Joe Torre had been unable to reorganize in the aftermath of the Whitey Herzog years and helped turn it into a consistent winner, picking up three more pennants and another two championships.

Always controversial for his many innovations, some of which, such as making constant pitching changes in search of match-ups, were not only counterproductive when emulated by baseball as a whole but took a game with an already-leisurely pace and threatened to make it so slow as to frustrate even its most devoted adherents, La Russa was nonetheless one of the most successful managers of all time. He managed an incredible 33 seasons, the same number as John McGraw, despite not owning his own club. He has the third-most wins all time, third-most playoff appearances (14, trailing Joe Torre -- more on him below -- and Cox), and his three championships places him in a four-way tie for sixth on the all-time list, trailing Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, Joe McCarthy, Connie Mack, and Walt Alston, as well as likely Hall of Famer Torre.

By any objective standard, La Russa is a Hall of Famer. He's 69 years old; he's going to go in, so might as well get it done with so he can enjoy it for however much time on the planet is remaining to him.

Billy Martin, manager: Unlike the three other managers on the ballot, Martin didn't have great longevity. He was repeatedly out of work and died while driving drunk (this is disputed but seems to be the case) at the age of 61, putting an end to his run of Yankees reincarnations at five. He won just one pennant and one World Series. However, he had something going for him that almost no other manager can claim: He was a turnaround expert, the one manager who clearly could take over a bad team and make it better. He couldn't do it for long because he would ask his players for the utmost devotion, get it, then spend his off hours boozing and getting into drunken fights, on more than one occasion with his own players or front office personnel. Players would see that he was a hypocritical hypocrite, a man who didn't practice what he preached. From there it was a short distance to the loss of the clubhouse and then the loss of the team.

Goodness, though, the short term was wonderful. Earl Weaver said the secret of Billy Martin's style was that he didn't have a style. He just took what he had and made it better. He pitched his starting pitchers to the breaking point, installed an unpredictable running game, sometimes picked lineups out of a hat for the heck of it, instigated beanball wars, and feuded with every umpire on the circuit, and suddenly teams that shouldn't have worked gelled. In the following table, Martin's teams are in bold:

W

L

PCT

AL Finish

1968 Minnesota Twins

79

83

.488

7th

1969 Twins

97

65

.599

1st

1970 Detroit Tigers

79

83

.488

4th

1971 Tigers

91

71

.562

2nd

1973 Texas Rangers

48

92

.343

6th

1973 Rangers

9

14

.352

6th

1974 Rangers

84

76

.525

2nd

1975 New York Yankees

53

51

.510

3rd

1975 Yankees

30

26

.536

3rd

1976 Yankees

97

62

.610

1st

1979 New York Yankees

34

31

.523

4th

1979 Yankees

55

40

.579

4th

1979 Oakland A's

54

108

.333

7th

1980 A's

83

79

.512

2nd

1982 New York Yankees

79

83

.488

5th

1983 Yankees

91

71

.562

3rd

1984 New York Yankees

87

75

.537

3rd

1985 New York Yankees

6

10

.375

7th

1985 Yankees

91

54

.626

2nd

1987 New York Yankees

89

73

.549

4th

1988 Yankees

40

28

.588

2nd

Martin was a man capable of great generosity and great hatred. Sober and away from the ballfield, he was well-regarded as a raconteur, always in demand as an after-dinner speaker. As Casey Stengel's protégé, he truly did love being manager of the Yankees. He also was conniving, manipulative, and respected no one. Of all the managers in the history of the game, he was probably the least equipped to cope with the constant mindf--k that was working for George Steinbrenner, but in fairness to that owner, he didn't show that he could work for anyone else either. Did he have Hall of Fame ability? Yes. Did he have Hall of Fame results? In some ways he had the best results of all time; there is no one else like him. Is he a Hall of Famer? Normally you might say that a manager's off-field behavior is irrelevant to what he did in the dugout, but with Martin his off-field behavior limited his on-field utility. You can't separate the two.

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