On Tuesday, the Hall of Fame released its its Expansion Era Committee ballot, its latest effort to supplement the activities of the BBWAA by reconsidering players that august body might have missed on their first 15 tries. There are 12 men on the ballot, players, managers, and executives. I reviewed the first half-dozen here.
Marvin Miller, MLBPA: The man who ushered baseball into the modern era of labor relations and created the strongest union in sports, Miller is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer by the standards of an organization which has made room for the likes of Tom Yawkey and could conceivably enshrine George Steinbrenner. In other words, most of the guys who went into the Hall of Fame for wearing a tie rather than a jersey inflicted more than their share of misery, whereas Miller's impact was largely progressive and beneficial. Miller died about a year ago at the age of 95; getting in doesn't do him a heck of a lot of good at this point, but it would help the gallery achieve a gesture towards the years of inequity that the owners forced on the players and the debt the game owes him by liberalizing its labor market. The free movement of players has done a great deal to aid competitive balance in the sport and bring championships to teams that would never had had them otherwise. Miller's candidacy was always the subject of spite, both from management types and even some sportswriters who didn't approve of what he was doing. It's time to put the controversies of the past where they belong and celebrate a ceaseless advocate of players getting a fair share of the game's bounties.
Dave Parker, OF: Parker has something in common with the two previous players we've profiled, Concepcion and Garvey: His 20s were great but he was a weak echo of himself in his 30s. When the Cobra came up he was quick and powerful, with a line-drive swing that produced doubles, triples, and home runs. To this he added a cannon arm in right field. By the age of 28 he had won two batting titles, an MVP award, and a World Series ring. His career rates stood at .317/.370/.521. Then came drugs, weight gain, and a rapid decline in skills. With the exception of 1985, when he hit .312/.365/.551 with a league-leading 125 RBI for the Reds, he was no longer very productive at bat and his range in the field had disappeared. From 1980 through the end of his career, a span of almost 1,600 games, he hit .275/.322/.444, no great shakes for a right fielder, particularly a Hall of Fame right fielder.
Baseball-Reference WAR calculates Parker was worth 40 wins above replacement in his career. Of that total, about 33 came by age 28. As with so many players, Parker was a Hall of Famer for awhile, but he couldn't make it last.
Dan Quisenberry, RHP: A sidearmer, Quisenberry once said that he found a delivery in his flaw. Quiz, who passed away in 1998 at the too-young age of 45, was turned into a closer by one of the few managers who would have had the bravery to use a sidearmer in that spot, Whitey Herzog. The results were tremendous, with the righty throwing over 100 innings five times, leading the league in saves an equal number of years, and setting a since-broken single-season record with 45 saves in 1983. Quisenberry didn't get any strikeouts, but he was a master at inducing grounders and he never walked anybody -- his career rate of 1.4 walks per nine is inflated by the 70 free passes his managers asked him to issue. Take those out and he walked just two more batters in a 12-year career than the Astros' Lucas Harrell walked his year alone.
Quisenberry's peak was relatively brief, lasting just a half-dozen seasons; Herzog had moved on, and his successors didn't have the same liberal view of talent that he did. When you throw 98 mph, teams are willing to overlook your having an off year. When you throw like a softball pitcher, they make a move the moment you slip. Quisenberry was an intelligent, funny player and one of the best late-inning pitchers of his era -- in his record-setting year of 1983, 51 of Quisenberry's 69 appearances lasted longer than one inning, on several occasions going more than two and as many as 5.1. That's a fireman, not a closer. They don't make ‘em like that anymore, unfortunately.
You might be tempted to say that Quisenberry had too few high-impact years to qualify for the Hall of Fame, but his career is almost identical to his National League Hall of Fame contemporary Bruce Sutter's. Quis threw 1,043 innings with a 2.76 ERA, Sutter 1,042 innings with a 2.83 ERA. The difference, insofar as I can tell, is that Sutter had more saves (300 vs. 244) and won a Cy Young Award. Those seem like superficial difference, but consistency has never been Hall voters' strongest suit.
Ted Simmons, C: The Cardinals' first-round draft pick (10th overall) of the 1967 draft, Simmons had the misfortune to come up with the Cardinals during one of the few soft periods in their history, the years after their 1967-1968 pennants and before the great Whitey Herzog teams of the 1980s. In fact, one of Herzog's first moves upon reaching St. Louis was trading Simmons, so there was a tacit suggestion that somehow he was part of the problem. That was deeply unfair. Simmons was a very good player whose biggest sin was bad timing. A true switch-hitter who had almost identical stats from both sides of the plate, Simmons hit .298/.366/.459 as a Cardinal (during a low-offense era), starting as many as 151 games behind the plate (for some reason, managers almost completely discarded the idea of resting their catchers during the 1970s, and players like Simmons, Johnny Bench, and Thurman Munson paid the price).
Traded to the Brewers, Simmons helped Bud Selig's team reach its only World Series. Naturally, the competition was Herzog's Cardinals, who ran the bases with characteristic abandon. Simmons caught only three of 10 basestealers, cementing the notion that he had a bad arm. At that time, stolen base statistics for catchers were not commonly available. We can now see that although Simmons had some defensive shortcomings (Zander Hollander's 1976 Complete Handbook of Baseball called him "only an adequate catcher") throwing out runners was not a problem until late in his career.
Like many older catchers, Simmons was able to hang on due to the perception of veteran sang-froid, and his last five years didn't do his career averages any favors. Still, he ranks high on all the catcher career lists, including games caught (14th), hits (2nd), home runs (10th), and RBI (second). His career OPS of 809 ranks seventh among postwar catchers (minimum 5,000 plate appearances at the position), and his career OPS+ of 118 ranks ninth for the same period. He made eight all-star teams. His only real failings were his lack of a championship or an MVP award, both of which were out of his control.
George Steinbrenner (Getty Images)
George Steinbrenner, owner: As stated above, if Tom Yawkey is in the Hall of Fame then almost anyone can go in. Should Steinbrenner be enshrined as one of the greatest owners in history? He was committed to winning (except during collusion, in which he clearly collaborated), rewarded players with high salaries (then continually bitched about it, and, in the case of Dave Winfield, hounded him to the point that Steinbrenner was banned from baseball), kept the Yankees in the Bronx (although he continually threatened to take them elsewhere), and engaged in many charitable endeavors (while treating his employees terribly).
Steinbrenner was terribly lucky to have Gabe Paul and Billy Martin at the outset of his ownership and Gene Michael at the end, when Steinbrenner, after years of failing to win via his methods, finally let the team develop a few players of its own and keep them. He derived the wrong message from his 1976-1978 pennants: (A) That you could assemble a pennant-winning team out of veteran free agents; you can, but you're vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. For example, if there are no free agent starting pitchers, then you don't have a good rotation -- and for most of the 1980s, the Yankees didn't (this is the same problem that has afflicted the Yankees repeatedly over the last 10 years, leading to the acquisition of pitchers like Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, and Carl Pavano at suboptimal times in their careers, and for suboptimal prices), and (B) That you could bully players and managers and somehow cajole them into winning.
Steinbrenner wanted very much to win, but so did almost everyone ever to be associated with baseball. That didn't make him special. He reinvested in his team, but he also had the most lucrative franchise in baseball. (He should receive credit for being smart enough to buy in when the team was low and for reinvigorating the Yankees brand after the dour CBS years, but the brand predated him, and if hadn't seen the value in it, someone else would have. He also showed baseball the value of Regional Sports Networks, but again, that was the brand speaking, not him; all he had to do was acquiesce.) The pennant drought that he ended in 1976 had lasted 11 years. The one he presided over beginning in 1982 lasted longer. As a human being, he was a mixed bag at best, but that's not really relevant here -- the Ty Cobb rules apply -- so the main question is, was he a Hall of Fame baseball man? Did he have a positive impact on the product on the field?
The answer there is that he spent well but all too often not wisely. Consider as a contrast early Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, who was finally added to the Hall of Fame gallery last year. We can boil his ownership to one simple moment: In 1932, the farm system was a new idea, created by Branch Rickey in St. Louis as a way to counter the big cash payments the New York teams could afford to make to minor league operators in return for their best talent. Ruppert asked his general manager, Edward Barrow, if the Yankees should emulate Rickey's Cardinals and begin acquiring minor league teams. Barrow said no. Ruppert ignored him, buying the Newark Bears team as the first link in his chain. He now had the best of all worlds, low-cost talent from the farm, and plenty of money left over to buy the occasional player who was the property of an independent operator (like Joe DiMaggio).
If there was a comparable moment of insight in Steinbrenner's career, we have yet to hear about it.
Joe Torre, manager etc: There is no one on this year's ballot more qualified to enter the Hall of Fame than Joe Torre. The rules for election include the possibility of enshrining "Those whose careers entailed involvement in multiple categories" for "their overall contribution to the game of Baseball." That's Torre in a nutshell. He was very nearly a Hall of Famer as a player, hitting .297/.365/.452 at a time when no one hit. He won a batting title and an MVP award (both 1971). Like Simmons, he had bad timing, spending his career with the Braves, Cardinals, and Mets at the wrong times in their history, joining all three just after they had been good and were about to settle into a long stay in the second division. As such, he never did get to play in the postseason.
The other knock on Torre was his defense. Though he won a Gold Glove in 1965, he wasn't thought of as a good catcher (throwing doesn't seem to have been a problem), and when the Cardinals drafted Simmons they bumped Torre over to first and then third base, which were just ways of keeping his bat in the lineup. If you class him as a catcher, Torre's 129 career OPS+ ranks fourth all time behind Mike Piazza, Joe Mauer, and Gene Tenace, and he is also fourth in career hits. When it came time to vote for him, though, he was neither fish nor fowl and so the voters didn't quite know what to do with him.
Were Torre not to have had that career, his managerial career would still be enough to get him in. He made 15 postseason appearances, the second-most all time to Bobby Cox. He won more World Series than anyone except Walt Alston (who is tied with him), Connie Mack, Joe McCarthy, and Casey Stengel. Torre did not necessarily acquit himself well in his managerial stints prior to joining the Yankees for the 1996 season -- this is the guy who signed off on trading Brett Butler and made Rafael Ramirez his leadoff hitter. Fine. He deserves that knock, as he does any you might care to give for his indifferent, almost helpless stint in St. Louis. He was also occasionally lost when it came to making in-game decisions.
Having acknowledged Torre's faults, we must also accept that being a successful manager often means finding a situation that is suited to the manager's idiosyncratic talents. Unlike all of his predecessors of the Steinbrenner years, Torre was self-possessed enough to know that engaging the self-styled Boss was a mug's game. He was able to keep the stresses of dealing with the man out of the press and away from his team (with the exception of the rare "fat pussy toad" eruption before Steinbrenner subsided into senility). That was all he had to do. That was enough.