Author Archive

Despite Stardom and Swagger, Dave Parker is Still Short of Cooperstown

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Dave Parker
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Dave Parker 40.1 37.4 38.7
Avg. HOF RF 71.5 42.1 56.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2712 339 .290/.339/.471 121
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

A five-tool player whose power, ability to hit for average, and strong, accurate throwing arm all stood out – particularly in the Pirates’ seemingly endless and always eye-catching assortment of black-and-yellow uniform combinations — Dave Parker was once considered the game’s best all-around player. In his first five full seasons (1975-79), he amassed a World Series ring, regular season and All-Star MVP awards, two batting titles, two league leads in slugging percentage, and three Gold Gloves, not to mention tremendous swagger, a great nickname (“The Cobra”), and a high regard for himself. “Take Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente and match their first five years up against mine, and they don’t compare with me,” he told Roy Blount in a 1979 Sports Illustrated cover story.

Parker, who had debuted with the Pirates just seven months after Clemente’s death and assumed full-time duty as the team’s right fielder a season and a half later, once appeared to be on course to join the Puerto Rican legend in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, cocaine, poor conditioning, and injuries threw him off course, and while he recovered well enough to make three All-Star teams, play a supporting role on another World Series winner, accrue hefty career totals and play past the age of 40, his game lost multiple dimensions as he aged. Hall of Fame voters greeted his case with a yawn; he debuted with just 17.5% on the 1997 ballot, peaked at 24.5% the next year, and while he remained eligible for the full 15 seasons, only one other time did he top 20%. He made appearances on both the 2014 Expansion Era ballot as well as the ’18 Modern Baseball one, but even after going public with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, he didn’t come close to election. Aside from the precedent set by Harold Baines‘ election last year — a small committee can throw us a wild card now and then — there’s little reason to believe his fate will be different this time. Read the rest of this entry »


Despite Early Demise, Thurman Munson is Hallworthy

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Thurman Munson
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Thurman Munson 46.1 37.0 41.6
Avg. HOF C 54.3 35.1 44.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
1558 113 .292.346/.410 116
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

In a span of just over 10 years, Thurman Munson hit just about every high note a ballplayer could. A first-round draft pick in 1968, he made his major league debut the following summer, and won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1970. He made his first of seven All-Star teams in 1971, won the first of three Gold Gloves in ’74, and claimed AL MVP honors in ’76 while helping the Yankees to their first pennant in 12 years. They lost that year’s World Series to the Reds, but won back-to-back championships over the Dodgers in 1977 and ’78. Through it all, Munson stood out as an exceptional two-way player, a natural leader and a fiery competitor. He was tough and durable, with a gruff disposition towards the media and certain teammates, but a soft underbelly. As Gabe Paul, the Yankees’ general manager from 1973-77, said of him, “Thurman Munson is a nice guy who doesn’t want anybody to know it.”

Less than a year after the Yankees won the 1978 World Series, it was over — not just Munson’s stellar career but his life. Munson had taken up flying in the spring of 1978, earning his pilot’s license and flying home to his wife and three children in Canton, Ohio on his off days. On August 2, 1979, while practicing takeoffs and landings at the the Canton-Akron airport, Munson crashed his Cessna Citation twin engine jet — which he had purchased less than a month prior — 870 feet short of the runway after approaching at too steep an angle. His two passengers, one of them a flight instructor, escaped, but Munson, who was wearing his safety belt but not his shoulder harness, was paralyzed from the neck down. The wreckage was engulfed in flames before he could be rescued. He was less than two months past his 32nd birthday.

Unlike Roberto Clemente in 1973 and Roy Halladay in 2019, Munson was not posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame at the first opportunity. In fact, he never came close, debuting on the 1981 ballot (via a rule that waived the otherwise-mandatory five-year waiting period, adopted in the wake of Clemente’s death) with 15.5% of the vote and lingering for the full 15 years without again reaching 10%. His candidacy was further ignored when he was on the ballots of the expanded Veterans Committee in 2003, ’05, and ’07, but like Lou Whitaker and Dwight Evans, he’s finally getting his chance this year via the smaller committee format. His career is ripe for reevaluation. While his counting stats are understandably short given his premature death, his WAR totals — specifically his number eight ranking in seven-year peak and his number 12 ranking in JAWS — suggest that he would be a good fit for Cooperstown, particularly at an underrepresented position. Read the rest of this entry »


Ted Simmons’ Election to the Hall of Fame is Overdue

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. It is adapted from a longer version included in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Ted Simmons
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Ted Simmons 50.3 34.8 42.6
Avg. HOF C 54.3 35.1 44.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2472 248 .285/.348/.437 118
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Ted Simmons was one of baseball’s true iconoclasts. He denounced the Vietnam War, wore his hair long, nearly became a test case for the Reserve Clause, and was as conversant in 18th century fireplace utensils (yes, really) as he was the tools of ignorance and the curveballs of opposing pitchers. Oh, and he could switch-hit well enough to rank among the position’s best offensively. With eight All-Star appearances, he was hardly unheralded, but Simmons nonetheless tended to get lost among the bounty of great catchers from the 1970s. Seven of the top 16 in the JAWS rankings hail from that decade, including three of the top four, namely Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk. Simmons wasn’t quite their equal, but he ranks 10th, just ahead of Modern Baseball ballot-mate Thurman Munson (12th), with Gene Tenace (13th) and Bill Freehan (16th) not far behind.

Such a concentration of top-tier players at a single position in a given time period is hardly unprecedented, even among those already enshrined. Using the Hall’s own definition of activity — at least one game played in a given season — five enshrined catchers were active every year from 1929-37 except ’30. Every other position except third base (which like catcher, has just 15 enshrinees, the lowest at any position besides relievers) has stretches with six or seven active players, with the seven left fielders from 1975-76 the largest of the recent concentrations. Read the rest of this entry »


Lou Whitaker Belongs in Cooperstown

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. It is adapted from a longer version included in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Lou Whitaker
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Lou Whitaker 75.1 37.9 56.5
Avg. HOF 2B 69.4 44.4 56.9
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2369 244 .276/.363/.426 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Lou Whitaker made baseball look easy. No less a writer than Roger Angell marveled over his “ball-bearing smoothness afield and remarkable hand-speed at bat.” But to some, the ease with which the game came to the Tigers’ longtime second baseman suggested that he lacked effort, hard work, or passion for the game, and it didn’t help that Whitaker wasn’t one for self-promotion. He let his performance do the talking, and for the better part of his 19 seasons in the majors, that performance spoke volumes. A top-of-the-lineup spark plug and an outstanding defender, he paired with Alan Trammell to form the longest-running double-play combination in history. He earned All-Star honors five times and won three Gold Gloves along the way, solid totals that nonetheless undersell his contributions.

Whitaker retired one year before Trammell did, and thus reached the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot a year earlier. Shockingly, a player hailed as a potential Hall of Famer during his career received just 2.9% in 2001, which ruled him out from further consideration by the writers and prevented his inclusion on Veterans Committee or Expansion Era Committee ballots during the remaining 14 years that he could have been on the writers’ ballot. Trammell wasn’t elected by the BBWAA either, but after spending 15 years on the ballot, he and longtime Tigers teammate Jack Morris were tabbed by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in 2018, the first living ex-players elected to the Hall by any small-committee process since 2001. Their eligibility raised Whitaker’s profile, and this year, for the first time, he’s on a committee ballot as well. That doesn’t guarantee his election, but based upon the weight of his accomplishments, the honor is long overdue.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tommy John’s Career Was More Than Just a Surgical Procedure

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Tommy John
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Tommy John 61.5 34.6 48.0
Avg. HOF SP 73.2 49.9 61.5
W-L SO ERA ERA+
288-231 2,245 3.34 111
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Tommy John spent 26 seasons pitching in the majors from 1963-74 and then 1976-89, more than any player besides Nolan Ryan, but his level of fame stems as much from the year that cleaves that span as it does from his work on the mound. As the recipient of the most famous sports medicine procedure of all time, the elbow ligament replacement surgery performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in late 1974 that now bears his name, John endured an arduous year-long rehab process before returning to pitch as well as ever, a recovery that gave hope to generations of injured pitchers whose careers might otherwise have ended. Tommy John surgery has somewhat obscured the pitcher’s on-field accomplishments, however.

A sinkerballer who relied upon his command and control to limit hard contact, John didn’t overpower hitters; the epitome of the “crafty lefty,” he was so good at his craft that he arrived on the major league scene at age 20 and made his final appearance three days after his 46th birthday. He made three All-Star teams and was a key starter on five clubs that reached the postseason and three that won pennants, though he wound up on the losing end of the World Series each time.

Born in 1943 in Terre Haute, Indiana, John excelled in basketball as well as baseball in high school, so much so that the rangy, 6-foot-3 teenager was recruited by legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, and had over 50 basketball scholarship offers but just one for baseball (few colleges gave those out in those days). Reliant on a curveball learned from former Phillies minor leaguer Arley Andrews, a friend of his father, he pitched to a 28-2 record in high school despite his lack of top-notch fastball, signing with the Indians out of high school in 1961, four years before the introduction of the amateur draft. Read the rest of this entry »


Injury-Shortened Primes Consign Mattingly and Murphy to Modern Baseball Ballot Also-Rans

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Don Mattingly

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Don Mattingly
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Don Mattingly 42.4 35.7 39.1
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,153 222 .307.358/.471 127
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

See here for a more in-depth profile dating to Mattingly’s time on the BBWAA ballot.

Don Mattingly was the golden child of the Great Yankees Dark Age. He debuted in September 1982, the year after the team finished a stretch of four World Series appearances in six seasons, and retired in 1995, having finally reached the postseason but nonetheless departing a year too early for their run of six pennants and four titles in eight years. A lefty-swinging first baseman with a sweet stroke, “Donnie Baseball” was both an outstanding hitter and a slick fielder at his peak. He made six straight All-Star teams from 1984-89, and won a batting title, an MVP award, and nine Gold Gloves. Alas, a back injury sapped his power, not only shortening his peak but also bringing his career to a premature end at age 34.

Born in 1961 in Evansville, Indiana, Mattingly was not only naturally talented when it came to baseball, but was also ambidextrous. In Little League, he switch-pitched occasionally, throwing three innings righty and three more lefty. By the time of the 1979 draft, he had committed to attend Indiana State University on a scholarship, but the Yankees chose him in the 19th round, and he surprised his family by deciding to sign for a $23,000 bonus. Early in his minor league tenure, his lack of speed and power concerned the organization to the point that they considered moving him to second base because of his ability to throw right-handed. Even so, Mattingly clearly demonstrated he could hit, topping .300 at every stop in the minors with good plate discipline and outstanding contact skills, even if he never exceeded 10 homers. Read the rest of this entry »


Steve Garvey is Modern Baseball Ballot’s Ballast

This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Steve Garvey
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Steve Garvey 38.1 28.8 33.4
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,599 272 .294/.329/.446 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From his matinee-idol good looks as he filled out his red, white, and Dodger blue uniform to the round-numbered triple-crown stats on the back of his baseball card, Steve Garvey looked like a Hall of Famer in the making for much of his 19-year playing career (1969-87). A remarkably consistent and durable player, he had a clockwork ability to rap out 200 hits, bat .300 with 20 homers, and drive in 100 runs, all while maintaining perfectly-coiffed hair and never missing a game. He holds the NL record for consecutive games played (1,207 from September 3, 1975, to July 29, 1983), a streak that’s still the majors’ fourth-longest after those of Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Gehrig, and Everett Scott. He was the most heralded member of the Dodgers’ legendary Longest-Running Infield alongside second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell, and third baseman Ron Cey, earning All-Star honors in each of the eight full seasons (1974-81) the unit was together while helping the team to four pennants and a championship. After moving on from Los Angeles, Garvey made two more All-Star teams while helping the Padres to their first pennant.

As the most popular player on my favorite childhood team, and the one who seemed to shine most brightly on the biggest stages, Garvey felt larger than life. An Adidas poster of him standing upon what was supposed to be the moon, captioned, “The harder you hit it, the further it goes,” hung on the wall of my younger brother’s bedroom. Yet when I began reading Bill James in the early 1980s, I was struck by the extent to which the new numbers took Garvey down a peg, though to be fair, he’d entered his mid-30s already beginning his decline, postseason heroics aside. Likewise, when I began writing about the Hall of Fame in early 2002, Garvey’s lack of traction on the ballot in his nine previous tries stood out. While I don’t think particularly highly of his chances or his case, I felt it was worth expanding beyond the two or three paragraphs I’ve devoted to him countless times over the years (he was on the writers’ ballot through 2007, and this is his fourth committee appearance).

Born in Tampa, Florida in 1948, Garvey connected with the Dodgers when he was just seven years old. In 1956, his father Joe, a Greyhound bus driver, was assigned to drive charter buses for the defending world champions at their Vero Beach spring training base, and arranged for his son to serve as a bat boy for the team, a position he occupied for the next six springs. Garvey idolized first baseman Gil Hodges and dreamed of playing for Los Angeles. Though small for a high school athlete (5-foot-7, 165 pounds; he would grow to 5-foot-10, 192 pounds), he excelled at baseball and football. Bypassing a chance to join the Twins after being drafted in the third round in 1966, he drew a scholarship to Michigan State University. Read the rest of this entry »


Whitaker, Evans, and Munson Get Long-Overdue Turns on Modern Baseball Ballot

“What about Whitaker?” That question, which has been on my mind for nearly two decades, came to the fore two years ago when longtime Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, both of whom spent 15 often contentious and sometimes agonizing years on the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame ballot, were finally elected to the Hall by the Modern Baseball Era Committee. With five All-Star selections, three Gold Gloves, and a central role on the Tigers’ 1984 championship squad, Lou Whitaker had accumulated similarly strong credentials to Trammell while forming the other half of the longest-running double play combo in major league history, one that did a fair bit to prop up Morris’ wobbly candidacy. Yet Whitaker, who ranks 13th in JAWS among second basemen, did not get his 15 years on the writers’ ballot because in his 2001 debut — the last Hall of Fame election cycle that I did not cover, but a pivotal one in many ways — he failed to receive at least 5% of the vote from the BBWAA and thus fell off the ballot. Like so many other candidates who have suffered such a fate, he had never received a second look from a small-committee process. Until now.

Whitaker is one of 10 candidates on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, which was announced on Monday and which covers players and other figures who made their greatest contributions to the game during the 1970-87 timeframe. He’s not the only one emerging from limbo, either. This marks the first small-committee appearance for longtime Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans, an eight-time Gold Glove winner who lasted just three cycles on the ballot (1997-99) and peaked at 10.4%, and for late Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, a former MVP who lasted 15 years on the ballot (1981-95) but only in his debut year broke double digits. Munson was virtually ignored on the 2003, ’05, and ’07 ballots voted upon by an expanded Veterans Committee consisting of all living Hall of Famers (and assorted stragglers), receiving just 12 votes out of a possible 243 across those three cycles.

The other seven candidates — former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Marvin Miller, and ex-players Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, and Ted Simmons — have each been considered before, some of them multiple times via the 2018 Modern Baseball ballot and its predecessors, the ’11 and ’14 Expansion Era Committee ballots. Indeed, while this slate includes candidates long overdue for a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, a good chunk of ballot space is occupied by candidates who have repeatedly failed to gain much traction with the voters and who fare poorly via JAWS. The extent to which they have crowded out better candidates has been frustrating. Read the rest of this entry »


Howie Kendrick Carves His Niche in Postseason History

By the time he stepped to the plate with one out in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s Game 7, Howie Kendrick had already collected his share of postseason heroics, key hits that stood out even on a team featuring an MVP candidate and a precociously disciplined slugger, not to mention two bona fide aces and a $140 million third starter-turned-reliever. Exactly three weeks earlier, the 36-year-old utilityman-turned-designated hitter had swatted a 10th-inning grand slam in the fifth and deciding game of the Division Series, felling the 106-win Dodgers. His 5-for-14, four-RBI showing against the Cardinals earned him NLCS MVP honors, and he’d lucked into a bases-loaded infield single in the rally that swung Game 2 of the World Series. The best was yet to come.

With Houston’s lead freshly cut to 2-1 by Anthony Rendon’s home run, and starter Zack Greinke — who had been brilliant and stifling through six innings — suddenly exiting after walking Juan Soto, Kendrick etched himself into World Series lore by slicing an 0-1 changeup from Will Harris down the line and off the screen attached to the right field foul pole.

Read the rest of this entry »


Rendon’s Signature Swing Lifts 2019 World Series

Though the final score was once again lopsided, Tuesday night’s Game 6 was this World Series’ most entertaining game since the opener, even if much of it pivoted upon lengthy debates of rules both written (the seventh-inning interference call against Trea Turner) and unwritten (the bat-carrying homers of Alex Bregman and Juan Soto). Beyond those controversies, Stephen Strasburg‘s 8.1 innings and Anthony Rendon’s pair of late-inning hits headlined the Nationals’ winning effort. The latter also helped rescue what has been something of a dull World Series from some ignominious distinctions.

Rendon’s two-run seventh-inning homer off Will Harris did not swing the lead; the fifth-inning homers of Adam Eaton and Soto off Justin Verlander did that job. Rendon’s blow did divert attention away from the scrutiny over Turner’s path to first base after hitting a dribbler to pitcher Brad Peacock, as well as the long on-field delay for what was actually ruled an un-reviewable judgment call. Instead of having runners at second and third with no outs, the Nationals had a runner on first and one out, and boy, were they — and just about everybody outside of Houston — extremely pissed. The tension ratcheted up a few notches when Eaton, the next batter after Turner, popped up to third base on the first pitch from Harris. Two pitches later, Rendon pulverized a cutter that Harris left in the middle of the plate; that’s a 2019 postseason-high 43.4 degree launch angle for you aficionados of such matters:

The ball-don’t-lie homer stretched the Nationals’ lead to 5-2, and while it produced some mutterings about how the lead should have been 6-2 had the umpires not screwed up the call (as well as some terrible puns), such gripes get filed in the category of what Yankees play-by-play voice Michael Kay calls “the fallacy of the predetermined outcome” — the assumption that the inning would have unfolded in exactly the same manner as it did with that one change; we can’t know how Harris, Eaton, and Rendon would have approached their respective tasks in the parallel universe where two runners were on base. Nationals manager Davey Martinez was still hot enough to get run even after the inning finished. Read the rest of this entry »