In each of the past two years, I previewed the Veterans Committee ballot before it was released. Last year I featured the Golden Era ballot and the year before I anticipated the Expansion Era ballot. It’s time to take a look at the 2016 Pre-Integration ballot (which will be released in the Fall).
Given my role as chair of SABR’s Overlooked Nineteenth Century Base Ball Legends committee, this ballot and election is a pretty big deal to me. If you’re not familiar with the Pre-Integration Era Committee, this is how the Hall of Fame describes it:
The Pre-Integration Era Committee (“The Committee”) shall refer to the electorate that considers retired Major League Baseball players no longer eligible for election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), along with managers, umpires and executives, whose greatest contributions to the game were realized from the 1876-1946 era.
It made little sense to me that the Pre-Integration committee couldn’t consider candidates from before 1876. I asked John Thorn about it and he confirmed that candidates before 1876 are eligible. It turns out it is just a mistake on the Hall’s website.
The Pre-Integration Era Committee meets every three years. In December of 2012, the committee’s voting results were announced for the 2013 induction ceremony. Three candidates were selected—Deacon White, Hank O'Day, and Jacob Ruppert. (You’ll recall this was in the year the BBWAA pitched a shutout.) Bill Dahlen came just two votes shy while all remaining candidates (Sam Breadon, Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Tony Mullane, Al Reach, and Bucky Walters) received three votes or less.
It’s fair to assume many of these candidates will return to the ballot this fall, but I’d prefer to see several new faces.
Ten candidates will appear on the Pre-Integration Era ballot. I’d like to see the following make the ballot (in alphabetical order).
The Hall of Fame plaque of Alexander Cartwright proclaims him the “Father of Modern Baseball.” Regarding Carwright’s contributions to the game, John Thorn (Major League Baseball’s official historian) writes:
Cartwright did much to formulate rules that codified the game that the [Knickerbockers] were already playing: laying out baseball on a “diamond” rather than a square, introducing the concept of foul territory, and eliminating the rounders and town-ball practice of retiring a runner by throwing the ball at him. But Cartwright assuredly did not do any of the three central things credited to him on his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame: “Set bases 90 feet apart. Established 9 innings as a game and 9 players as a team.” He also did not create the forty-five-foot pitching distance, nor the requirement that a ball be caught on the fly to register an out, nor a system for calling balls and strikes.
Thorn continues by saying that Hall of Famer Henry Chadwick had it right when he said “baseball never had no ‘fadder’; it jest growed.” Cartwright had a big impact on the development of the game, but he is not the sole creator. In fact, he probably wasn’t even the most important contributor on the Knickerbockers.
The story of Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams was unknown for many years. Many of his early contributions to the game were forgotten until 1980, when a memoir authored by Roger Cook Adams (Doc’s son) was published in the New York Times via Nathan Adams Downey, Adams’s great-great-grandson. Since then, Thorn has extensively researched Adams’ life and contributions (and wrote this excellent SABR bio.
Here is a brief timeline of Adams’ career:
- 1830s: Began playing base ball.
- 1840: Joined the New York Baseball Club.
- 1845: Joined the Knickerbocker Baseball Club and was elected president six times (while serving in other roles in six other years).
- 1848: Led the committee that revised the Knickerbocker rules and by-laws.
- 1849 or 1850: Was the first to position himself as a short-fielder, which eventually became the shortstop.
- 1857: Elected presiding officer of the first annual base ball convention that standardized rules for all clubs. The length of games was set to nine innings (rather than 21 runs) and teams to nine players.
- 1858: Was chairman of the rules committee for the second annual base ball conference (where the National Association of Base Ball Players was established). The distance between bases was set to 90 feet.
- 1862: Retired from the Knickerbockers.
There is room in Cooperstown for more contributors from the game’s developmental period. Adams is the most obvious candidate missing from the game’s infancy. He was chosen as SABR’s Overlooked Nenteenth Century Baseball Legend for 2014—an honor that hopefully triggers a march towards the Hall of Fame.
Ross Barnes, the Overlooked Legend for 2013, was the top hitter in the brief history of the National Association (1871–1875). Barnes has been overlooked by Cooperstown not only for the fact that he misses the ten-year requirement, but also because Major League Baseball doesn’t officially recognize the circuit he dominated. John Thorn points out that the Hall of Fame does recognize the NA, or else Deacon White probably wouldn’t have been inducted.
Barnes played just nine seasons (eight full), but he hit .400 four times (three times in the NA and once in the inaugural season of the NL). He led the league in hits and runs four times each. Nobody had more hits, doubles, walks, and runs or a higher batting average, on-base percentage, or slugging percentage in the National Association than Barnes.
If the ten-year minimum is the only hangup, it should be pointed out that Barnes played five seasons for the Rockford Forest Citys in the NABBP before the National Association was formed. Baseball historian Graham Womack points out that Barnes actually did receive votes in the first Veterans Committee election. In fact, he finished ahead of ten current Hall of Famers.
Pete Browning was the very first Overlooked Legend in 2009. A tremendous hitter (mostly for Louisville of the American Association), Browning posted a .341/.403/.467 line (for a 163 OPS+). His 405 WAR Batting Runs were the most for any eligible non-Hall of Famer until Dick Allen passed him in 1974.
Browning and Allen are both similar in that they were both clearly Hall of Fame-level offensive performers but their weak defense, longevity, and other external factors have kept them out of the game. The Hall of Fame has not typically been kind to stars of the American Association, as Bid McPhee (a borderline Hall of Famer) and Tommy McCarthy (the weakest of all Hall of Famers) are the only inductees to appear in 500 games in the Beer and Whisky League. Browning played 796 of his games in the AA and compiled 68% of his WAR there.
In 1890 Browning joined the Players League along with many future Hall of Famers. He dominated, leading the league in batting average and OPS+ while finishing behind only Roger Connor in WAR among position players.
In his 30s, Browning played only 269 games in the National League (across parts of four seasons), but still produced a 140 OPS+. While he wouldn’t be the first Hall of Famer to have a career that tailed off in his early 30s, to me Browning was enough of a star in his 20s to push him just over the Hall of Fame borderline.
Bill Dahlen has the highest WAR (or Hall Rating) of any eligible player outside the Hall of Fame who debuted before Barry Bonds. That alone should put him among the front-runners on this ballot. It’s not just the stats that like him—Dahlen fell just two votes shy of induction in 2012. I’m cautiously optimistic he’ll coast in this year.
It’s about time, too. By Hall Rating, Dahlen places 77th all time (71st among eligible players). He’s 8th among shortstops. He was a powerful and patient hitter (finishing in the Top 10 in extra base hits and bases on balls five times each) and a also a tremendous fielder (leading his league’s shortstops in assists and range factor four times each and double plays three times). By sabermetric standards, he’s a no-brainer with 137 batting runs above average and 139 fielding runs.
The fact that Dahlen spent a long time at the shortstop position helps him build that staggering WAR total. He played an incredibly valuable position and played it at a very high level for a very long time. He did that while also supplying a powerful bat, a patient eye, and speed on the bases. He is the type of player who was valuable in every single way, but didn’t have that one obvious skill people remember. It’s the Dahlen type (or Alan Trammell or Ken Boyer type) that often is overlooked.
Dahlen (you’re probably noticing a trend here) was the Overlooked Legend for 2012.
Ferrell has a Hall Rating of 110 while Koufax’s is 100. How can that be? Obviously Koufax’s career was cut short by arm troubles. Well, so was Ferrell’s. He attempted to pitch through it, but was essentially finished around the same time as Koufax.
Koufax had a 165—87 record (.655) and a 2.76 ERA. He led the league in ERA in the last five seasons of his career and won 20 games three times. Meanwhile, Ferrell went 193–128 (.601), winning 20 games six times (the only non-Hall of Fame pitcher since 1901 with as many 20-win seasons is Roger Clemens). The big flaw on Ferrell’s resume is a 4.04 ERA. There was a time that I would consider a 4.04 ERA a non-starter. After all, Jack Morris has an ERA of 3.90 and I don’t consider him Hall-worthy. Once again, adjusting for context can shed some light on that for us.
It’s important to remember that Ferrell pitched during the offensive explosion triggered by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others. He also did nearly all of his work in hitters parks. The league ERA during his career was 4.54, giving him an ERA+ of 116 (which doesn’t match Koufax’s 131, but is very much in line with many Hall of Famers).
During Ferrell’s 8-year peak, he faced hitters like Ruth (who hit .338/.468/.659 during that run), Gehrig (.344/.454/.648), and Jimmie Foxx (.340/.443/.652—but they were teammates in 1936). In fact, during Ferrell’s peak over 20% of all plate appearances were made by a Hall of Famer. To me it seems the best way to get in the Hall of Fame as a pitcher during that era was to simply not have to face Ruth and Gehrig. In fact, of the seven Hall of Fame pitchers who threw 500 IP in the AL during 1929-1936, four pitched for the Yankees (Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Herb Pennock, and Waite Hoyt). Somebody had to pitch to those guys. The best pitcher during that era was Lefty Grove. In fact, Grove and Ferrell are the only AL pitcher form 1929–36 with more than 32 WAR. Grove had 63.6 and had 49.2.
That 49.2 increases to 59.8 if you consider the piece that really makes Ferrell unique.
Ferrell is the best hitting pitcher of all time (at least among pitchers who weren’t eventually moved off the mound). During the 8-year peak, he hit .285/.350/.466 with an OPS+ of 104. He was not only the second best pitcher in the game—he was also an above average hitter. Ferrell was the best home run-hitting pitcher ever, as he still holds the single season (9) and career (37) records.
Put it this way:
- Ferrell (entire career): .280/.351/.446—.797 OPS
- The batters that Ferrell faced (entire career): .275/.343/.360—.703 OPS
- League average (entire career): .279/.347/.401—.748 OPS
- Ferrell (1929–1936): .285/.350/.466—.816 OPS
- The batters that Ferrell faced (1929–1936): .270/.330/.349—.679 OPS
- League average (1929–1936): .281/.350/.405—.755 OPS
Take a look at what Ferrell’s hitting prowess did to some of his already impressive seasons:
- 1930: Ferrell went 25–13 with a 3.31 ERA (145 ERA+). Because of the extreme offensive era (the league ERA was 4.65 and batters hit a collective .281/.351/.421) and Cleveland’s hitter-friendly park (League Park), his season was worth 8.0 WAR on the mound. In 133 plate appearances, he also hit .297/.362/.415 but failed to hit a homer. Still, his 1.2 WAR at the plate made it a 9.2 WAR season.
- 1931: The very next season, he wasn’t quite as sharp on the hill but still had a 6.1 WAR season. He went 22–12 with a 3.75 ERA (123 ERA+). At the plate, he belted a career high nine home runs in only 128 trips to the plate while batting .319/.373/.621 (152 OPS+, also a career high). That was good for 1.9 WAR, which turned his season into an 8.0 WAR campaign.
- 1935: Now pitching in Fenway Park for the Red Sox, Ferrell had his most valuable season by pitching WAR (8.4). He led the league in starts (38), complete games (31), innings (322.1), and wins (25, against 14 losses). He had an ERA of 3.52 but the league’s ERA was 4.46, translating to a 134 ERA+. In 179 plate appearances (we’re talking nearly a third of a full-time season) he hit .347/.427/.533 (.960 OPS) with 7 homers and 21 walks (to 16 strikeouts). That was also his most valuable season by hitting WAR (2.6). Add them up and it's a truly remarkable 11.0 WAR season.
Truly one of a kind—and (to me) Hall-worthy.
Jack Glasscock is something of a pet case of mine. I love Dahlen, but he receives a decent amount of support and seems poised for induction. On the other hand, Glasscock was left off the last Pre-Integration ballot and is actually so overlooked that he still hasn’t been named an Overlooked Legend.
By sabermetric standards, he is quite similar to Dahlen with 155 batting runs and 149 fielding runs (Dahlen had 137 and 139, respectively). Glasscock’s 130 Hall Rating is 100th all time among eligible players (Dahlen is 71st).
It’s not hard to see why the advanced metrics love Glasscock. He hit .290/.337/.374 while the league hit .262/.316/.356—impressive for a top notch defensive shortstop. Glasscock certainly was top notch, boasting not only overwhelming sabermetric credentials but also leading his league’s shortstops in…
- Fielding percentage six times (6 other times in the top 3)
- Assists six times (2 other times in the top 3)
- Range Factor per 9 innings 5 times (5 other times in the top 3)
- Double plays 4 times (4 other times in the top 3)
Glasscock could hit and he could field, but he also had a very long career for his time. When he retired, only four players had appeared in more games. He played the high-value shortstop position in nearly 94% of those games, further boosting his value.
If Glasscock finally appears on the ballot this year, I’ll consider it a personal victory since I’ve been banging this drum for a long time. But, I won’t stop until he has a plaque in Cooperstown.
Stan Hack was the last man to make my ballot. He could easily be swapped out for a number of players, such as:
- 19th century hitters Charlie Bennett (a tremendous defensive catcher with power), Paul Hines (the first Triple Crown winner and a possible 3,000 hit man if his team’s schedules were longer), Joe Start (who looks much better if you consider the peak of his career came before 1871), and perhaps Lip Pike (one of the game’s first power hitters and the NA leader in home runs and extra-base hits).
- 19th century pitchers like Bobby Mathews, Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, as well as my favorite from this group: Bob Caruthers (who was also a heck of a hitter).
- Fellow early 20th century stars Heinie Groh (also a third baseman) and Wally Schang (a great hitting catcher who backstopped several World Series winners).
Speaking of Schang, I dug up this tidbit…
Two players not in the Hall of Fame… WAR leader among catchers from 1883–1934 (52 years) WAR leader among 3B from 1911–1958 (48 years)— Adam Darowski (@baseballtwit) March 14, 2015
The first one is Schang and the second is Hack—and that’s a big reason why Hack is listed here. Third baseman are under-represented in the Hall and many of those enshrined probably don’t belong. Hack may not have the 100 Hall Rating, but he was the most valuable third baseman for just about a half century.
Hack, a five-time All Star, was an on base machine, hitting .301 with a .394 OBP while spending his entire career with the Cubs. He scored 100 or more runs seven times and had so much defensive Black Ink at third that I wonder if Total Zone sells him a little short.
As stated above, I could go either way on Hack. His era has been picked over quite well, but he was also better than several of his contemporaries in Cooperstown. I’d like to see him considered.
Magee is probably more famous for his assault on umpire Bill Finneran than he is for his playing career. Magee was the most valuable position player in the NL in 1910, when he led the circuit in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases, runs scored, runs batted in, and wins above replacement. He also earned three other RBI titles in his career, one of them coming in 1914 (when he also led the league in hits, doubles, slugging percentage, and total bases).
Magee was finished with his career at age 34 and boasts modest totals of 2,169 hits, 83 home runs, and 1,176 runs batted in. He played during the Deadball Era, so those figures actually ranked 26th, 19th, and 17th all time at the time of his retirement.
Less than a year before he died from a weakened heart caused by pneumonia, Urban Shocker went 18–6 with a 2.84 ERA (137 ERA+) for the famous World Champion 1927 Yankees. Shocker was 36 years old during the 1927 campaign, but he clearly had something left in the tank. According to his 108 Hall Rating, he didn’t really need to provide anything else to earn a spot in Cooperstown.
Before joining New York, Shocker starred for the St. Louis Browns. He won twenty games in four consecutive seasons with the Browns, posting a .641 winning percentage for a team that won at a .529 clip. He finished his career with only 187 wins against 117 losses, but won 37 games in his final two seasons. Since he was a member of the powerhouse Yankees, one can assume he would have been able to work his way into the low 200s (while maintaining his fantastic winning percentage).
Shocker’s case goes beyond wins and is also strongly supported by advanced metrics. He had a late start (converting from the catcher position) and an early finish (due to his illness and death), but he simply dominated in between. From 1919 to 1927, only Pete Alexander had more pitching WAR than Shocker (and just barely, 50.0 to 49.5). Shocker could hold his own with the bat, mostly due to his strong plate discipline. During that same nine-year stretch, he added 3.4 WAR at the plate while Alexander was worth 2.0. Thus, Shocker was the most valuable pitcher (by WAR) for an entire nine-year stretch.
But if you’re still into wins, rest assured—Shocker actually led the Majors in wins and winning percentage (minimum 200 decisions) during that same stretch as well.
If you like your Hall of Famers to lead the league in a variety of categories, then Harry Stovey is your man. Stovey’s Black Ink score is 56—good for 23rd all time among hitters. He led the league in…
- Home runs five times [Stovey spent time as both the single season record holder (14 in 1883) and career record holder (from 1885–86 and 1889–94)]
- Runs scored four times [Stovey is one of three players with 1,000+ games who averaged more than one run per game for their entire careers (the others are Billy Hamilton and George Gore)]
- Triples four times
- Slugging percentage three times
- Total bases three times
- Stolen bases twice
- Runs batted in once
- OPS+ once
Gabriel Schechter writes about his power:
Stovey was the first major leaguer to reach 50 career home runs, the first to 100 and held the career record with 122 until passed by Roger Connor in 1895.
… and his speed:
For decades after his retirement, Stovey was championed as the record-holder with 156 steals in a season, but more recent historians have gone back to recalculate steals according to the rules adopted in the mid-1890s and still in effect today. So Stovey’s “official” stolen base figures for the six seasons leading up to his 35th birthday were 68, 74, 87, 63, 97, and 57. The 156 figure gives you an idea of how often he took that extra base. Using the old criteria, there was a period when he held the career record for both home runs and steals. Think about that.
He even rates as an above average defender (both according to the advanced metrics and by reputation). Stovey, the 2011 Overlooked Legend selection, was a true 5-tool player.
The following players have SABR bios. I encourage you to check them out.
These are bios available for the other players I mentioned:
Who would I pick?
I have four clear favorites among this pool of ten—Adams, Dahlen, Ferrell, and Glasscock (again in alphabetical order). I would approve the selection of any of the ten I listed (and any of the ten additional players mentioned as well).
I expect Dahlen to be inducted and I hope the other three at least make the ballot (Adams and Glasscock would be first-timers). I’m optimistic, but I’ve been disappointed before.