Joe Start and the Personal Hall of Fame

Jul 18, 2013 by Adam Darowski

When I recently launched my Personal Hall of Fame, I stuck to the current Hall size (208). I noted that I hoped my fellow bloggers would help convince me about a few more players.

Ross Carey did that when announcing his Personal Hall. Ross didn’t change my mind about a particular player, per se. Rather, it was his outlook. Ross originally was planning to have a smaller Hall but then reconsidered, saying:

But since then I’ve been wondering if I did it all wrong. If I let an ingrained bias of what the Hall should or shouldn’t be affect my decision making process too much. What if the Hall of Fame of was bigger instead of smaller? Would that really be such a bad thing?

There are a lot of players on my borderline. Why should I keep so many of them out? It’s much more fun to celebrate players, in my opinion. For that reason, I’m letting some in.

First, I’m starting with a player who wasn’t even on my borderline before. But the more I research him, the more convinced I am that he belongs. It’s Joe Start.

Start’s player page shows that he was active from 1871 (the start of the National Association) until 1886. Over that time, he compiled 1,417 hits in 1,070 games, 150.7 batting runs, and a Hall Rating of 77.

However, in 1871 Start was already a 28 year old veteran of a dozen seasons. He spent much of that time as one of the top players on one of the top teams in the country. None of this is included in his official Major League stat line or Hall Rating. But it all happened.

A post on the Baseball Fever forums educated me about Start’s dominance in baseball’s formative years. I suggest you check it out. For me, it’s no longer a question of whether he belongs.

Start is in.

Next, let’s continue with the players I said I was on the fence about.

I can’t keep Sammy Sosa out anymore. He’s been my top rated player on the outside. I’ve said that we were praising Sosa for saving baseball in 1998 and now we’re punishing him for it. That seems wrong. I’ve held out long enough.

Sosa is in.

Bobby Bonds had a quick decline, not really doing anything after his age 33 season. But he did have 58 WAR through age 33. The only eligible non-Hall of Famers to do that were guys on the current ballot (Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines), banned players (Joe Jackson, Pete Rose), and Buddy Bell (61.1), Bobby Grich (60.2), Keith Hernandez (58.8), Sherry Magee (58.8), and Bonds (58.0). All but Magee and Bonds were among my first 208 personal Hall inductees.

Sherry Magee: Photo Credit

Sherry Magee himself actually didn’t do much after 30. I ran a similar search to the one above (only changed the age to 30). The only eligible non-Hall of Famer with more WAR through age 30 than Magee’s 52.7 is Barry Bonds (73.7). The closest players are Trammell and Dick Allen, who both cleared 50. Among players not in my Hall, César Cedeño (49.5) and Vada Pinson (48.4) lead the way. Jim Fregosi (46.1) comes in before Bobby (45.1). This makes Magee’s peak look really good. Bonds is close, but I’ll keep him on the outside for now.

Magee is in.

Jim Wynn is the next-best player (by Hall Rating) that I don’t have in my Hall. While park effects severely cut into Larry Walker’s Hall Rating, they do the opposite to Wynn. He gets a big boost. What makes the difference for me is that even if you threw away Walker’s Coors Field numbers and doubled his road stats, he’s still Hall-worthy. Wynn, on the other hand, needs the big adjustment just to make it to the borderline. Perhaps I’m not being fair, but I’m not quite comfortable putting him in. (Note: I have since added Wynn.)

Next, let’s take a couple White Sox pitchers. Billy Pierce is pretty similar to Whitey Ford. While I think Ford is a bit overrated, his post-season resume puts him ahead of Pierce for me. Eddie Cicotte, of course, is banned from baseball. Like Sosa, I’ve kept him out long enough. Having a Hall Rating like his despite his premature departure from the game (at the time of his banishment, he was still a top pitcher) shows that he was truly Hall-worthy.

Cicotte is in.

Joe Tinker: Photo Credit

Three old-timey shortstops—Joe Tinker, Dave Bancroft, and Joe Sewell—are on my borderline. I like all three, but I put Tinker above the rest for a few reasons. First, he has the highest Hall Rating (and is actually in the Hall of Stats). Next, he was inducted to the Hall as part of the first Old Timers class. Sewell and Bancroft had to wait until the 1970s. Also, Tinker is also in the Top 10 all time in fielding runs with 180.0. While I may revisit Sewell and Bancroft at some point, I’ve made my decision about Tinker.

Tinker is in.

Third base is the position where my Hall diverges the most from the Hall of Fame. There are three other third basemen I’m considering—Darrell Evans, Stan Hack, and Heinie Groh. What I like about Hack and Groh is that they cover a particularly thin era for third basemen. Evans doesn’t rate among the best in his era, but he still has the best Hall Rating of the three. All three are in the Hall of Merit.

While I’m not a huge fan of putting players in simply because of their era, in a previous article, I said:

That 1920–1950 gap is led by Stan Hack, a player who is getting harder and harder to leave out. Smiling Stan was a solid leadoff man for the Cubs, hitting .301 with a .394 OBP (124 wRC+). He had 50.7 WAR and a Hall Rating of 94. The only reason I haven’t put him in is that it would make it difficult to leave Heinie Groh out. Groh played a bit before Hack, but was similarly valuable (122 wRC+, 46.3 WAR, 93 Hall Rating). Should both be in? Neither? I’m having a hard time with both of them.

Stan Hack: Photo Credit

After the most recent replacement level adjustment, Hack and Groh now both have a 94 Hall Rating. Evans, meanwhile, has a 106. There’s also the issue where my Personal Hall only has 15 third basemen. Putting all three in would tie the position with shortstop and still trail second base. They’re either all in or all out for me. So…

Evans, Hack, and Groh are in.

Two catchers remain. Gene Tenace is a player I’ve written many words about, trying to get him some attention. But I’ve still hesitated to put him in my Personal Hall. What has held me back about Tenace is that he wasn’t used correctly or appreciated in his day. Because of this, his career totals trail other Hall-worthy catchers. He was OBP/power machine behind the plate. Yet because of his low averages, he wasn’t considered (or treated like) the superstar he was. Despite all of this, the Hall of Stats still has him over the borderline.

Bryan O’Connor, who has the smallest Personal Hall submitted so far, actually has Tenace in. I asked him about it and he said:

I think my Tenace over Bando and Boyer pick may be unduly influenced by what Tenace could have done, rather than what he did. I already give catchers a playing time boost, and I probably doubled up on his. Comparison to Munson, who barely made my Hall, didn’t hurt him either.

Putting Tenace in gives me even more catchers, but I do love catchers. I’m willing to give a little boost for what he could have done.

Tenace is in.

Wally Schang: Photo Credit

Wally Schang is a bit trickier. He’s not quite over the borderline, but he also dominated when compared to his era. For example, from 1890 to 1930, he led all catchers in WAR. That works for me.

Schang is in.

Let’s move to the mound and move back in time. I still have three 19th century hurlers on my maybe list—Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, and Bobby Mathews. Mullane and Mathews are consistently topics of discussion in the 19th Century Overlooked Legend Committee discussions. McCormick hardly ever comes but, but statistically he was the best of the three. I’ve often said I see Mullane as the Tommy John of the 19th century and Mathews as the Jim Kaat. I have John in and Kaat outside. But I admit I give John a bit of credit for being a surgical pioneer. I have enough 19th century pitchers in that I’m still leaning towards excluding these two.

McCormick is a bit more difficult. He’s less well known, but also owns the best WAR total of the three. Like the other two, he played exclusively before 1893, though. Still, among 19th century pitchers, McCormick ranks sixth in pitching WAR (Mathews is 10th and Mullane is 13th). McCormick even places slightly ahead of Old Hoss Radbourn and Amos Rusie. One has to believe that if his Cleveland club was a bit better, he would have won more games (perhaps getting much closer to 300) and he wouldn’t have jumped to the Union Association (which sent him on a bit of a journeyman path). I’m also sympathetic to the fact that he should be talked about a lot more, but just isn’t. There’s also the fact that he accumulated a ton of WAR that season in the UA. And still, considering the number of 19th century pitchers already in the Hall of Stats, I’m going to hold off.

The last five pitchers are all intensely high peak guys. None are in the Hall of Fame or Hall of Merit.

Nap Rucker was a .500 pitcher (134–134). He also had a sparkling 2.42 ERA and 48.1 WAR packed into a ten-year career. Almost all of that damage was done over a seven-year stretch. He was a great pitcher who toiled for a lousy team, and given more longevity I probably would have added him.

Rucker’s most similar player according to the Hall of Stats is Noodles Hahn. But Hahn’s most similar player is actually Dizzy Dean. Hahn really only has six years of useful ball on his resume. His brief career totaled 44.7 WAR while Dean had 45.0 WAR. Their Hall Ratings are similar. The differences between the two seems to be team success and accolades. They are both close enough to the borderline that I think that’s enough of a distinction.

It’s hard to find pitchers who had a 10 WAR season who are not in the Hall of Fame (if you limit your search to post-1900). Wilbur Wood had two. The only other pitchers to do so without getting into the Hall are Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. Johnson will have no problem. Clemens, of course, is not in for other reasons (yet).

Wood’s career was longer than Rucker’s and Hahn’s (17 seasons). But he was only a win or more above average in seven of them. He had this run from 1971 to 1975 where he threw 1,681 innings (336 per year) with a 120 ERA+ and 38 WAR. That’s one hell of a four-year peak. He also added three tremendous relief seasons right before that stretch (totaling 400 innings and over 10 WAR despite starting only two games). His career was very unorthodox. But…

Wood is in.

Dwight Gooden: Photo Credit

There are only seven other non-Hall of Fame pitchers who posted a 10 WAR season in the 20th century. One is Cicotte (who I already added). Another is Pedro Martinez (who is not eligible yet). Dolf Luque (84 Hall Rating), Russ Ford (69), and Dick Ellsworth (38) don’t quite do it for me (though Luque was quite good). That brings us to the last two players on the list.

These two guys had seasons that weren’t just 10 WAR seasons—they were among the best single seasons in the history of the game. Dwight Gooden was 20 years old in 1985 when he went 24–4 with a 1.53 ERA (229 ERA+), 268 Ks, 16 complete games, 8 shutouts, and a staggering 12.1 pitching WAR. Making it even more amazing, he hit .226 with a homer, earning 1.1 WAR at the plate, too. That’s a 13.3 WAR season. That is ridiculous. As a 19-year old, he went 17–9 with a 2.60 ERA and 276 Ks. Through age 23, he had earned 29.2 WAR on the mound. Three pitchers in history—Bob Feller, Walter Johnson, and Bert Blyleven—have done that.

Because of his personal demons, it all fell apart. But for that short brief stretch, Doc was among the best we’d ever seen.

Gooden is in.

Smoky Joe Wood: Photo Credit

Seventy-three years before Gooden, we had Smoky Joe Wood. That year, at age 22, Wood went 34–5 with a 1.91 ERA, 258 Ks, 35 complete games, and 10 shutouts. It was worth 10.4 WAR. Wood could also hit—rather well, too. He batted .290 with a 119 OPS+. That added another 1.3 WAR. Wood didn’t have the personal problems that Gooden had. He had injury problems instead.

Before his 1912 gem, Wood posted a 6.4 WAR season in 1911. Those would be his only two seasons with 200 innings. But when he pitched, he was amazing. His final year as a pitcher was 1915. He led the league in ERA (1.49) and winning percentage (15–5, .750), despite just 157.1 innings. If Wood’s career ended there, I’m not sure I’d put him in my Hall.

But he took 1916 off and returned as an outfielder with the Indians. He could hit, posting a 116 OPS+ in over 1700 plate appearances. He may have been worth just 29.7 WAR on the mound and 10.6 at the plate, but doing both impresses me a great deal. He’s sort of like the 20th century Bob Caruthers, except Caruthers hit and pitch simultaneously over a short career (abeit against weaker competition). I love unique players and therefore have both Wood and Caruthers in my Hall.

Smoky Joe is in.

Given my new-found sympathy for high-peak pitchers, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. I wondered… if Gooden, why not Frank Tanana? He was sixth all time in WAR through age 23, after all. While Tanana may have had a better overall career than Gooden, Gooden’s peak was just so high that he gets the nod.

Suddenly, I have thirteen new Hall of Famers.

Note: Since this article was written, I've ever-so-slightly reversed my stance on the high peak pitchers. I couldn’t make a case for including them but not Nomar Garciaparra or Hughie Jennings. I'm not ready to include all of them, so I’ll keep everyone on the outside for now. That said, I wouldn’t be sad to see any of them inducted (yes, Jennings is already in).

Before I finish, I just want to touch on some members of the Hall of Merit who aren’t supported elsewhere. Our Personal Hall of Famers (as well as the Hall of Stats inductees and the Hall of Famers we list) are all in for their roles as players. The Hall of Merit does not make such distinctions. So, there are a handful of players inducted via the Hall of Merit that I may support in something of a combined role. Let’s look at them quickly:

My Personal Hall, if it did include non-playing roles, would include many others as well. But that’s just not my focus, so I’ll stop there. I just wanted to explain that I wouldn’t necessarily exclude all of these guys.

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