Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Third Basemen: Cooperstown Snubs & Flubs

According to baseball-reference.com, Hall of Fame candidate Ken Boyer - who wore number fourteen as a member of the St Louis Cardinals - currently ranks as the 14th-best third baseman in major league history.  The top four - Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs and George Brett - have already been enshrined at Cooperstown.

The recently retired Chipper Jones is currently in the fifth spot, followed by a still-active Adrian Beltre at number six - although another couple of good seasons would more than likely push him ahead of Jones.  Both should be shoe-ins for Cooperstown when the time comes.

It's hard to believe how long Ron Santo (#7) had to wait for enshrinement; ignored by the brain-dead voters of the BBWAA for so many years, Santo was finally selected by the Veteran's Committee three years ago - which of course, was one year too late for the late Cub great to even get the chance to enjoy the honor.

After Santo, Brooks Robinson - the greatest fielding third baseman in major league history - and Paul Molitor - who spent quite a bit of time as a DH - are ranked eighth and ninth, respectively - and both had little difficulty in getting the necessary support from the baseball writers to enter through the front door of Cooperstown.  The BBWAA have gotten it right sometimes.

The recently retired Scott Rolen - whose greatest seasons were with the Cardinals (2002 - 2007) in an injury-plagued career, is ranked tenth, followed by Edgar Martinez - primarily known as a DH - and the underrated Craig Nettles - who are ranked eleventh and twelfth, respectively.  The knock on Martinez is that he didn't play enough games, defensively, to warrant induction.  In other words, had he been allowed to play third base badly, he might be deemed worthy for Cooperstown.  That logic simply escapes me.

Nettles was a superb defensive third baseman, but his relatively low career batting average seems to be working against him.  However, what the voters failed to consider was the fact that along with his Gold Glove-caliber defensive prowess, he consistently hit for power - he even led the AL with 32 home runs in 1976.  Of course, he also played on the Yankees during the Reggie Jackson era, which meant he was practically invisible during Mr October's heyday.  Again, that's not a valid reason to snub Nettles - but as we've seen over the years - the voters often have no rhyme or reason behind their selection process.

Just ahead of Boyer is Frank "Home Run" Baker - who led the AL in home runs four consecutive seasons during the Dead Ball Era - with a grand total of 39 home runs during that span.  But in those days, his power was legit - and he wasn't bad with the glove, either.  Or at least what they used as gloves a century ago.

Well back in the pack are Hall of Famers George Kell (#48) and the enormously overrated Pie Traynor (#59) - who was actually the first third baseman enshrined at Cooperstown, in 1948.  The popular myth promulgated by the baseball establishment was that Pie was the greatest third baseman of all-time.  Funny, but the previously mentioned and highly underrated Home Run Baker was far better than the Pie-man - yet he had to wait until 1955 for enshrinement.  Go figure.

It's interesting to note that the oft-injured Washington Nationals' third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, is currently #47 on the list - one notch ahead of lonesome George, who got in via the Veteran's Committee back in '83.  Of course, back in those olden days, the voters knew little or nothing about advanced metrics.  They were impressed by Kell's robust .307 lifetime batting average and his sparkling personality.  Of course, his power was practically non-existent (78 career home runs), and he was just an average defensive player.  However, I've already been in a few debates over the Kell-Boyer comparison - and the other side insists Kell was the superior defensive player.  That's just ludicrous.

It's also interesting to note that the current Milwaukee Brewers third baseman - Aramis Ramirez -  comes in at #58 on the list - one notch ahead of the Greatest Third Baseman of All-Time, who was nicknamed "Pie" simply because he liked to eat pie.  No other reason.  Imagine the course of baseball history if he preferred strawberry shortcake instead.  I wonder if having a stupid nickname like "Strawberry Shortcake" Traynor would have hindered his Hall of Fame chances.  We'll never know.

Actually, having a catchy nickname probably helped a number of colorful personalities achieve baseball immortality.  Some deserved the recognition:  Lewis Robert Wilson sounds a bit stuffy for a rough-and-tumble slugging outfielder - "Hack" sounds more appropriate.  Mordecai Brown suffered a severe injury to his pitching hand - becoming "Three Finger" Brown - and did quite well for himself despite missing that digit - Charles Leo Hartnett became "Gabby" and had a career worth talking about - and how could the Hall of Fame deny Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn - the only pitcher in major league history to win 59 games in a single season?  One of the biggest mysteries is why "Home Run" Baker never got enough support during the early days of his retirement.  Surely the voters had some knowledge of how difficult it was to go yard back when the balls were practically made of mush...

However, a first baseman by the name of George Kelly aka "High Pockets" surely got into Cooperstown solely on the strength of that unusual nickname - because his 25.2 career WAR is simply ridiculous.  Even HOF-Pie has that beat (36.2).

Same goes for Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, whose career WAR is a very un-Cooperstown-like 42.8.  I wonder how much support he would have received from the voters if his nickname had been "Moron"?  Probably not a much, although "Moron" Maranville does have a nice ring to it...

By the way, the great Kenny "No Nickname" Boyer had a career WAR of 62.8, which coincidentally, is exactly what Home Run Baker compiled during his productive, yet largely under-appreciated Hall of Fame career.

Boyer, of course, played a major role in getting his team - the St Louis Cardinals - to the World Series back in '64 - not to mention playing a major role in upsetting the favored New York Yankees.  While many great players never had the opportunity to perform on baseball's grandest stage (Santo, for example) - The World Series - Boyer did have that opportunity.  And he made the most of it.  Even without his postseason credentials, Boyer's career was most definitely Hall of Fame-caliber.  With them, he should have been a slam dunk...

I certainly hope at least 12 of the 16 Veteran's Committee voting members agree.  While they're at it, I hope they also add Minnie Minoso, Luis Tiant and Dick Allen to their ballots.  Their induction into Cooperstown is also long overdue.  Time to rectify this situation this time around, committee members.

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