The path to Cooperstown: Tim Raines and the Tablesetters

In my third annual THT column on position players on the Hall of Fame ballot, I’d like to focus on one of this year’s leading Hall of Fame candidates, Tim Raines, and the players that are in some sense comparable to Raines: the tablesetters. By tablesetters, I mean, broadly speaking, leadoff men and other players who made their offensive living primarily by scoring runs rather than driving them in, and who didn’t spend most of their careers playing key defensive positions like catcher or middle infielder.

Not all these guys were leadoff hitters (Raines himself batted third for much of his prime after Gary Carter and Andre Dawson left town), and not all of them were base thieves by any means, or even fast runners, but the key thread is that their skills and jobs were best suited to getting on base or getting into scoring position rather than hitting for power, and by picking a cross-section ranging from obvious Hall of Famers to obvious non-Hall of Famers with similar roles or skill sets to Raines, we can better get some context for how you evaluate Raines on this spectrum.

As with my prior looks at slugging outfielders/first basemen and middle infielders, I’ll be presenting the statistical profiles of these players with three adjustments: 1) I focus on the block of prime seasons of a player’s career, rather than career totals or “peak” seasons; 2) I adjust batting stats for offensive context; and 3) I present those stats in per-162-team-games notation. You can review my method in detail as discussed in the column on sluggers, but I will review it here briefly:

Prime value

At least in evaluating non-pitchers, the key inquiry for the Hall of Fame should be neither “peak value” (how good the guy was at his very best) nor “career value” (the sum total of his career) but “prime value.” Prime value is, roughly, looking at the number of years a guy had when he was a legitimate star and how good he was in those years. In other words, when I look at a potential Hall of Famer, the first question I ask is, “How many seasons did this guy have where he was a Hall of Fame quality ballplayer?” And the second is, “How good was he in those years—just around or above the line, or way above it?”

Now, I wouldn’t argue that you should throw peak or career value entirely out the window, but both have their flaws. Peak value really doesn’t capture the way most of us think about the Hall: as a shrine to a player’s accomplishments of a period of years, not his very best day. Career value, on the other hand, has two drawbacks.

One is that that looking only at career value ends up putting too much emphasis on which guy played passably well when he was 38 and playing out the string as a part-timer, rather than the years when he was doing the things we’ll remember him for. I’m a big believer that you don’t play your way out of the Hall in your old age, and neither should you get inordinate credit for padding the career totals with mediocre or part-time seasons.

Second, baseball is played in seasons. If you look just at career totals, you miss that—you miss the fact that, at least for a star player, two seasons of 600 plate appearances really are worth more than three seasons of 400 PA at the same level of production, because the 600-PA seasons move the team closer to winning championships. In-season durability is a very important measurement of value.

As a result, what I have tried to do here is excerpt out the seasons when each guy was a star and weigh that chunk against other guys’ primes. As you will see, I give Raines some credit for the years beyond his prime, but I zero in mainly on the prime.

The Criteria

I varied slightly the criteria over the first two columns, so I’ll flag here what I did this time:

1. I mainly defined “prime” seasons here—or seasons listed under the “other” column—as 500-plus plate appearances and an OBP+ of 100 or better, or 400 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 120 or better. Once again, where there were issues over what seasons to pick, I tried to isolate the part that let each guy put his best foot forward. You can re-run the numbers for any individual player if you think I’ve cherry-picked too long or too short a mix of seasons. For players whose primes were eight years or less, I list them on a separate chart to avoid mixing apples and oranges.

2. The one new alteration I’ve made that’s different from the prior two columns is that I include here a number of players whose primes straddled the pre- and post-1920 period, whereas I had previously excluded such players. I did that mainly because there were a number of such players who were comparable to the modern players at issue, and more broadly it’s more possible to compare a Deadball-era hitter to a modern leadoff man than to a modern home run hitter.

I didn’t bother including the really towering figures of the period who had a decade of prime years down by 1920, though (i.e., Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker) or the guys from those years who were really more slugger types (Zack Wheat and Sherry Magee); hopefully I’ll get around to looking at that era’s hitters separately another day.

3. I’ll also deal with third basemen separately—otherwise Wade Boggs would feature prominently in this conversation.

4. Unlike with the corner guys but as with the middle infielders, I looked at a few players who are still in their prime or otherwise still active. Ichiro’s “prime” is still in progress, and Johnny Damon’s ends here at 2006, but could run longer if 2008 begins a serious revival (which I doubt).

5. Unlike the middle infielders, I didn’t have many players whose careers were significantly interrupted by war or who had prime seasons during the war, but those are noted below. Two guys whose numbers might have merited inclusion here were left off because they were partly compiled during wartime (Dixie Walker and Augie Galan), although neither of them would have rated all that highly.

6. I didn’t bother cutting off the list at the top, quality-wise—I covered even the very best at the positions, to help give a broader context. But the top would look different if I’d gone back as far as Cobb.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

7. While the very best leadoff men may have exceptionally long careers due to their great athleticism, the merely good ones tend to burn out by the seven-year mark, and the list of guys I could have added to this column in the bottom half of these two charts, mainly the short-career list, is quite long, including Walker, Galan, Willie Davis, Matty Alou, Ferris Fain, Curt Walker, Don Buford, Ralph Garr, Dale Mitchell, Terry Puhl, Barney McCoskey, Paul Blair, Garry Maddox, Lonnie Smith, Lenny Dykstra, Lance Johnson, Tommy Harper, Otis Nixon, Jo-Jo Moore, Albie Pearson, Ron LeFlore, Roy Johnson, Terry Moore, Sam West, Marquis Grissom, Bobby Tolan, Pepper Martin, Johnny Mostil, Sam Jethroe and Lyman Bostock. One could debatably have included a few others depending how you classified them as offensive players, like Amos Otis.

I ended up with a sampling of 31 players—about half the size of the prior two columns—consisting of 12 Hall of Famers, three active players, two players who recently retired and have yet to join the ballot, one guy on the writers ballot (Raines), one on the Veterans Commitee ballot (Curt Flood), one on the permanently ineligible list (Pete Rose), and 11 who appear to have permanently dropped off the ballot (let me know if I have mis-classified anyone).

The numbers

The first caution I would emphasize here is that this is just a study of batting stats. Obviously, there’s defense, which has to be considered alongside these batting lines. In the chart below, I include a very rough, seat-of-the-pants defensive grading system (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor). For some of these guys I was largely guessing, but I think I’ve at least separated out the really elite glove men from the weak ones. “Good,” in this context, means guys who won a few Gold Gloves; it’s no insult.

The batting percentages here (batting average, slugging average, on-base percentage) are translated statistics. You can read a detailed explanation of the method in the slugging outfielders article; for consistency with the earlier pieces I used the 2005 National League. (I did most of the work on this before came out with its own translation system. Unlike Baseball Reference’s system, I translate based on differentials in league avg/Slg/OBP rather than runs-per-game, thus changing the shape of a player’s statistics to place them in a more common context). The essential idea of translations is to show what a player’s performance in Year X and Park X was equivalent to in Year and Park Y, not to project what a guy would have hit, which is unknowable.

The other numbers—plate appearances, steals and caught stealing, double plays—are actual, not translated (I included base stealing and GIDP figures because they’re the two main components of offense that aren’t captured by Slugging and OBP), but are averaged per 162-game season, so as to put players whose careers were in the 154-game era or were interrupted by strikes on a common footing (thus, 1981 is counted as two-thirds of a season in the averaging).

The “Rate” column in the chart is simply (Slg)*(OBP)*(PA). It’s not any kind of scientific formula, just a handy metric to organize the data on the table by the three main variables. I prefer multiplying rather than adding slugging and OBP (as is done with OPS), since a single point of OBP is worth more than a single point of slugging. As you can see, this metric organizes the data very strongly in favor of guys who were very durable in-season and against guys with low OBPs.

Of course, besides not counting defense, the “Rate” metric doesn’t count the baserunning and double play numbers on the chart, so don’t treat the rankings as holy writ.

With those preliminaries, let’s run the numbers, starting with the longer-prime guys:

Player            Yrs  Oth   Ages   PA  Avg  Slg  OBP   SB   CS   DP   Rate  Pos Def  Status
Pete Rose          15    4  24-38  731 .313 .469 .381    9    6   11  130.6  UT   F   Barred
George Burns        9    2  23-31  720 .289 .460 .373   39  *23    -  123.5  LF   G   Off
Rod Carew          11    5  27-37  625 .341 .481 .409   27   13   13  123.2  12   F   IN
Paul Molitor       10    7  30-39  667 .316 .484 .379   26    6   12  122.3  UT   G   IN
Rickey Henderson   14    7  21-34  621 .296 .476 .413   78   17    8  122.0  LF   F   Not Yet
Tim Raines          9    6  21-29  645 .304 .481 .389   67   10    8  120.9  LF   F   On
Roy White           9    1  24-32  654 .292 .472 .378   20   10   10  116.6  LF   G   Off
Tony Gwynn         14    2  24-37  624 .342 .480 .389   22    8   16  116.2  RF   G   IN
Richie Ashburn      9    5  23-31  737 .312 .402 .390   17   *8    6  115.4  CF   VG  IN
Lou Brock          11    2  25-35  709 .299 .455 .349   65   19    6  112.7  LF   P   IN
Mark Grace         11    3  25-35  667 .303 .450 .373    6    4   15  112.0  1B   VG  Not Yet
Edd Roush          10    2  24-33  569 .318 .518 .375   20  *16    -  110.3  CF   VG  IN
Sam Rice           13    0  27-40  714 .297 .446 .346   27  *13    -  110.2  RF   VG  IN
Tim Raines         15    0  21-35  631 .296 .456 .382   54   10    8  109.9  LF   F   On
Brett Butler       12    1  27-38  688 .297 .402 .384   40   18    5  106.4  CF   G   Off
Harry Hooper       15    0  22-36  676 .271 .444 .353   25  *15    -  105.9  RF   VG  IN
Ben Chapman        11    0  21-31  666 .283 .446 .356   27   13  *20  105.6  CF   G   Off
Max Carey          10    3  26-35  661 .278 .439 .363   51  *11    -  105.2  CF   VG  IN
Joe Judge          14    0  23-36  616 .279 .452 .354   14  *8     -   98.6  1B   VG  Off
Kenny Lofton       12    1  25-36  635 .290 .415 .357   46   12    7   93.9  CF   F   Active
Ken Griffey Sr.    12    0  25-36  554 .298 .458 .356   15    5    7   90.4  RF   G   Off
Lloyd Waner        12    0  21-32  627 .293 .409 .337    6   -    *8   86.4  CF   G   IN
Doc Cramer         14    0  26-39  690 .276 .382 .312    4    5  *13   82.3  CF   VG  Off
Willie McGee       10    0  25-34  550 .301 .430 .338   25    9   10   80.0  CF   VG  Off

It’s not really surprising that Pete Rose scores as the best player of this type in modern years, especially when ranked by a metric that gives very high marks for playing time. Nobody really disputes that Rose would belong in the Hall on the merits, whatever their opinion of the grounds used to exclude him. As I have pointed out before, Rose played more major league games than anybody, ever, and played every single inning of them like he had money riding on them.

Bill James has written about how baseball rewards the player who plays the percentages rather than diving for every ball, breaking up every double play and running into every wall, while punishing guys who play the game as if it’s football, where you get a week to lick your wounds before suiting up again. Rose, uniquely in the game’s history (even moreso than Ty Cobb, the man he measured himself against), played baseball the way football is played and never paid a price for it; while Rose was only a really spectacular offensive force for about two years (1968-69), he was insanely consistent and durable over a staggeringly long period, being essentially the same player at 38 (when he batted .331 and set a career high in steals) as he was at 24, and with little variation over a decade and a half between.

As I found previously when I ran a Win Shares-based study of top outfielders of the 1914-42 period, George Burns comes in surprisingly highly rated in some elite company, in large part due to having had some very solid offensive seasons in years when scoring was low and/or the schedule was compressed, so that his raw numbers don’t look that special. (This is George Burns of John McGraw’s Giants, not the Indians first baseman who won the 1926 AL MVP, nor the comedian).

Granted, the evidence suggests that Burns was a terrible percentage base thief, as was not uncommon in his era, and that counts against him. With a nine-year prime, Burns is at the low end of the scale in terms of longevity, and he provided little value outside of those 9 years, so I don’t consider it terribly scandalous that he was omitted from the Hall, but he is clearly more deserving than many of the outfielders of his era.

I discussed Rod Carew in the middle infielders column, and two additional and different but overlapping slices of his career are examined here in the long- and short-prime sections. Carew defies categorization among the immortals because he switched from second to first in mid-career, had his best season with the bat and was more durable at first, but had his best batch of seasons at second … still, regardless of how you divvy up his career he was a tremendous contributor to his teams.

Paul Molitor was, like Rose and Carew and a few others on this list, a defensive nomad, although Molitor is an oddity in that he played well defensively as a regular at six positions, yet ended up playing a plurality of his career as a DH mainly because he could never stay healthy while playing the field. Note that this selection of “prime” seasons is mainly his DH years, and leaves off, for example, his stellar 1982 season when he had 201 hits, stole 41 bases and scored 136 runs for a pennant-winning team.

Offensively, he really was highly similar to Rose, albeit a less patient hitter and a better base thief. Molitor was distinguished by how critical he was to his teams’ success; during his years with the Brewers, the Brew Crew played .541 ball with Molitor in the lineup, .458 with him out of the lineup. In fact, 2007 was the first time in the Brew Crew’s 38 seasons in Milwaukee that they finished over .500 without Molitor playing at least 50% of the team’s games.

Rickey Henderson, of course, is the yardstick against which Raines will be measured, but that’s like measuring Duke Snider against Willie Mays, or Hank Greenberg against Lou Gehrig. Rickey has one of those careers that just defies description without comically overstated superlatives, as I demonstrated when I looked at the game’s most impressive records. Henderson gets docked slightly here by the metric I use here for the fact that he always missed some games here and there due to overtaxing his turbo-charged “hammies,” but averaging 621 plate appearances per 162 scheduled games over a 14-year period really is not such a bad durability record.

The important point for present purposes is that while Rickey’s prime was longer than Raines’—and so was his period of hanging around as a good-not-great player—it really wasn’t all that much better, at least when you adjust for the fact that Rickey was playing in the AL, which was then a significantly higher-scoring league. You can’t knock Raines for not being Rickey.

As you can see from the chart, I’ve listed Tim Raines twice to enable a fuller evaluation of his merits. Raines is like Fred McGriff in that his career shows a series of stages of gradually declining quality down from a peak of greatness, rather than a clearly distinguishable prime surrounded by chaff. Raines was a great player, one of the very best in baseball, for 9 seasons from 1981-89, after which he was a good regular for six more seasons from 1990-95, after which he was a quality platoon player for a championship team for three more years from 1996-98. (If you include the whole 18-year sweep, Raines’ “Rate” drops to 99.1 due to the inclusion of platoon seasons, but he still comes out as a .296/.452/.381 hitter with 46 steals in 54 tries – none too shabby for a stretch of nearly two decades).

As you can can see, the slugging/OBP rate stat sells short the fact that Raines was a superior base thief, with as high a stolen base success rate as the game has seen from a guy who ran anywhere near that frequently, and who never hit into double plays. I can tell you, from watching him as a fan of a rival team with the best pitching in the game, that I feared Raines greatly in his prime years and never more than on May 2, 1987, when he inaugurated perhaps his best season—after a forced month-long layoff and spring training lockout due to collusion by the owners on the free agent market – by going 4 for 5 with a triple and a game-winning 10th-inning grand slam.

One of my favorite illustrations of Raines’ offensive value is the 1984 season, when he mainly batted third (behind Pete Rose and Brian Little) or leadoff, in either event followed closely by Andre Dawson, then Gary Carter, then Tim Wallach. The results:

Rose:    .259/.334/.295, 34 Runs in 95 G
Little:  .244/.332/.293, 31 Runs in 85 G
Raines:  .309/.393/.437, 75 SB, 106 R
Dawson:  .248/.301/.409, 73 R, 86 RBI
Carter:  .294/.366/.487, 75 R, 106 RBI (led the league)
Wallach: .246/.311/.395, 55 R, 72 RBI

You have two tablesetters who did nothing and rarely scored, a middle of the order with two more guys who had terrible years with the bat – yet both of those guys ended up with respectable RBI totals and the third guy led the league in RBI batting behind a guy with a .301 OBP and bad knees. All made possible because Raines was setting the table.

Raines’ only real weakness at his peak was his poor throwing arm, which consigned him defensively to left field, but the Win Shares method, at least, gives him 51 career WS with the glove compared to 45 for Tony Gwynn, who won five Gold Gloves. I would not, when you line up their full careers, put Raines on the level with Rose and Henderson, but he was arguably the best player in baseball at his peak, a great player for nearly a decade, a good one for another half a decade and a productive contributor to a championship team for three more seasons. Raines certainly fits my definition of a Hall of Famer.

Roy White, you ask? That Roy White? Yup. Like Burns, and unlike Raines, White has little more than his nine best seasons to recommend him (although White was still contributing in 1977-78), and like Burns he managed to time them (one) so as to produce raw numbers that are less impressive than they would be in a different context and (two) so as to be overshadowed by more colorful teammates at the beginning and end of his prime in the media center of the baseball world, while having his best years when fewer people were watching the team. But for a few years there, he was one heckuva ballplayer.

Tony Gwynn was a great player, though of course not as great a player as the devotees of batting average would have you believe. He may have been a marginally better player than Raines overall by virtue of holding his value a few years longer, and honestly despite the Win Shares numbers I do believe the general consensus that he was a better glove man due to his superior throwing arm. Raines’ advantage on the basepaths helps balance that out, and Gwynn doesn’t have Raines’ additional years as a valuable part-timer. In any event, it will be a serious injustice if the writers who voted Gwynn into Cooperstown by a wide margin decide to make Raines cool his heels.

Richie Ashburn is a respectable, if borderline, Hall of Famer due to his superior on-base skills, durability and glovework; he had little power and wasn’t much of a base thief. There remains a raging debate over whether Ashburn’s unearthly defensive stats reflect 1) a glove man of historic proportions or 2) a really good center fielder who happened to play behind a pitching staff, built around 330 innings a year of Robin Roberts, that offered up a humongous number of fly balls.

Lou Brock, whose skill set was about the exact opposite of Ashburn’s, is one of those guys whose career is subject to a number of cross-currents that simultaneously cause him to be over- or under-rated depending on who is doing the looking. Brock didn’t walk much and hit for good but not great batting averages, so his OBPs are pretty unimpressive for a guy who is in the Hall of Fame as a leadoff man. He was also a terrible defensive outfielder. On the other hand, Brock had a lot of power for a top of the order guy, he had his best years in the offense-starved Sixties, and he was tremendously durable (and it’s hard to rack up quite that many plate appearances playing in the low-scoring era Brock played in), he had a very long career, was a great base thief and a dynamite postseason player.

One oddity of Brock’s career is that when his power essentially dried up at age 31 in 1970 just as scoring was on the rise around the league, he suddenly started drawing more walks and running more, essentially reinventing himself as more of a classic leadoff man in his thirties (he was 35 when he stole the 118 bases). Brock’s a unique Hall of Famer, but the combination of his virtues satisfies me that he’s not a bad one.

Mark Grace is almost certainly the slowest guy discussed here, as you could tell from the steals and double play columns even if you hadn’t seen him play, but he lacked the power that placed similar hitters like Keith Hernandez and John Olerud in the sluggers column. I don’t regard Grace as a serious Hall of Fame candidate, as his lack of speed made him less valuable than the other tablesetters and his defensive value was limited by the position he played, but he was a solid player for many years. I could have added three more years to the “prime” seasons for Grace without a huge falloff.

Edd Roush, like Burns, stretched his prime over a period when the game was in flux and the NL was being overshadowed by the AL. I’d traditionally regarded him as just a figment of the 1920s’ high batting averages and missing a “hook”: he never batted .360, hit 10 homers, drove in 90 runs, scored 100, stole 40 bases or drew 50 walks in a season. But his numbers actually hold up fairly well in translation, with the exception of a weak record for durability, and he was an excellent defensive player. Roush may not deserve his plaque, but again, he’s pretty close to the line either way.

Sam Rice was the Don Sutton of outfielders. Rice was incredibly consistent and durable, and his career has some unusual footnotes—he missed a year after being drafted into the Army in World War I and also got a late start in the majors because he’d joined the Navy at age 23 after his parents, wife and two children were killed by a tornado (Rice saw combat in the Navy, landing at Vera Cruz in 1914). When he did reach the majors, it was as a pitcher.

Without those interruptions—and I do give him credit here for his age 27 season and overlook the age 28 season lost to WWI—Rice could easily have had 3700 hits in the major leagues, and maybe you’d have to consider him as a Sutton-type candidate, a minor star of truly exceptional consistency over an exceptionally long time. I think I’d leave Rice out of the Hall if it were up to me because he never really was a major star, although it does bother me that I’d basically be counting him out for years that he was wearing his country’s uniform.

Brett Butler, the poor man’s Ashburn, just misses the something extra you would need to consider him for the Hall. He had no power, he was a poor percentage base thief, and while his prime was long it wasn’t extraordinarily so. Even so, he rates not far off the pace of the great leadoff men of the past century, and that’s not so bad. Butler’s offensive numbers look marginally better if you look at him over 10 rather than 12 years (.301/.409/.389, 109.4 rate).

I tend to regard Harry Hooper as a ridiculous Hall of Famer. The numbers for his prime, combined with fine glovework, suggest that he’s likewise not so dramatically far off, but Hooper was really just never a significant star.

Ben Chapman was basically the Johnny Damon of the 1930s, a solid player with a mix of power and speed surrounded by superior offensive talents (although Chapman had an excellent throwing arm). Chapman’s double play figure here is a bit unfair since it’s taken from just the last two seasons of his prime.

Max Carey seems at first blush a highly similar player to Raines, a leadoff man with a long, steady career and great stolen base percentages (Carey’s are even more impressive than Raines’ when you consider the success rates prevalent when he played). Carey was also a better glove man. But he never had Raines’ bat. I’m a little unclear on whether Carey missed time with military service in 1918.

Rice’s longtime teammate Joe Judge, like Grace, was more of a slick-fielding first baseman than a leadoff man. Judge’s stats actually translate with more power and less batting average than his 1920s numbers would indicate.

Kenny Lofton’s career is a lesser version of Raines’: he was a very good player for the handful of years of his true prime, but it was shorter and not as good as Raines’; and he’s been a good player for a much longer stretch, but not as good as Raines.

In doing these columns, I’m simultaneously reminded how narrow is the gap that separates Hall of Famers from ordinary good players, and yet how really hard it is to cross that gap. Ken Griffey Sr. was, in his best seasons, the kind of talent that can have a Hall of Fame career – but he missed time here and time there, never had a real monster year, never turned his blinding speed into big-time base stealing, and ends up way off the pace when you add it all up.

Lloyd Waner was a significantly lesser player than Griffey, and no serious person argues for him as an immortal; he was really not much more than an average player after a bout with appendicitis that cost him half a season at age 24.

I believe Pete Palmer or one of the other sabermetricians who tries to compute net negative as well as positive contributions once rated Doc Cramer as the worst player ever, given that Cramer was constantly in the lineup for many years, yet produced little offensive value. Cramer’s value fell off after Connie Mack got rid of him; during his Red Sox years, he was a silent drain on the offense that featured the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin and Ted Williams. Me, I always think of Cramer as a Jersey Shore guy – he was born and died there and there’s a street named in his honor where we used to vacation when I was a kid.

Willie McGee had the one great year and won a batting title in 1990, but just never had the consistency or the secondary skills to be a year-in, year-out star. “E.T.” will be better remembered as the Babe Ruth of ugly.

Now, for the guys with shorter primes:

Player          Yrs  Oth   Ages   PA  Avg  Slg  OBP   SB   CS   DP   Rate  Pos  Def Status
George Sisler     7    2  23-29  673 .345 .574 .387   43  *19    -  149.3  1B   VG  IN
Rod Carew         6   10  27-32  666 .354 .519 .416   36   14   13  144.0  12   F   IN
Ross Youngs       7    1  21-27  674 .307 .487 .393   18  *15    -  128.9  RF   G   IN
Ichiro Suzuki     7    0  27-33  740 .331 .429 .375   39    9    5  119.0  RF   VG  Active
Tony Phillips     8    3  31-38  701 .273 .411 .383   14    9    9  110.3  UT   F   Off
Dom Dimaggio      8    1  24-34  718 .282 .431 .350   11    6   12  108.4  CF   VG  Veterans
Kenny Lofton      7    5  25-31  661 .303 .423 .367   62   15    8  102.5  CF   G   Active
Johnny Damon      8    1  25-32  697 .281 .422 .345   29    7    7  101.3  CF   F   Active
Curt Flood        8    0  24-31  676 .297 .410 .344   10    7    9   95.3  CF   VG  Veterans
Willie Wilson     6    0  23-28  648 .305 .414 .343   60   10    4   91.9  CF   F   Off

Bill James, in the original Historical Abstract, compared George Sisler to Babe Ruth at his prime, concluding that anybody who could stand next to the Babe and not look ridiculous was pretty impressive. James seemed to have backed off that assessment by the revised volume, perhaps as we got a more thorough look at park effects from his era and partly due to James’ conclusion that Sisler had been vastly overrated with the glove, but it remains the case that Sisler was having an upper-crust immortal’s career until a sinus infection cost him a season and seems to have permanently impaired his eyesight, converting an offensive wrecking crew into a slap hitter. In that sense, Sisler’s career is shaped much like a souped-up version of Don Mattingly’s, though Sisler had just enough more great seasons, and better enough, that he made it to the Hall where Mattingly came up short.

Ross Youngs may be tossed in the bin of overrated Frisch cronies from the 1920s, but before Bright’s Disease cut short his prime and then killed him, Youngs really was a tremendous player, the star of a team that won four straight pennants and beat Ruth’s Yankees in consecutive World Serieses.

Ichiro Suzuki is another truly unique case, although with just two or three more years any debate about whether you need to assign some credit for his Japanese seasons to get him across the Hall’s threshold will be academic. That “740” in annual plate appearances may look like a typo, but it’s not. Ichiro’s combination of consistency and durability are the closest thing we have seen to Rose since the Hit King hung up his spikes.

Tony Phillips is another defensive nomad, who was used as a sub by Tony LaRussa but didn’t bloom into a star until Sparky Anderson made him an everyday player in Detroit at age 31. Phillips was never really a good glove man anywhere, but filled many defensive roles adequately. Would have been more valuable if he’d been a plus base thief.

Dom DiMaggio, who took Cramer’s job in Boston, was basically Brett Butler but with a career interrupted by war, and may have been better than Butler – the numbers here are for ages 24-25 and 29-34, so the lost seasons were very likely his best. Like his brothers, he was a fine fielder.

Johnny Damon’s power compensates for his unspectacular OBPs if you are measuring him for contemporary stardom, but not so much in this crowd.

Curt Flood’s Hall of Fame case is as a trailblazer of free agency, although one would surmise from the fact that the Veterans Commitee has elected Bowie Kuhn and not Marvin Miller that its sympathies won’t lie in Flood’s direction any time soon, and with Flood dead a decade there will be no hurry. Flood wasn’t a Hall-caliber player but he was a good one, mainly due to his glovework.

Willie Wilson had his virtues: good batting average, tremendous speed well-applied on the field, excellent durability. But Wilson’s lack of patience or power and the shortness of his prime leaves him bringing up the rear in this company, and Wilson’s career went on for many years after he ceased to have any value.


Raines, at his best, stands up quite well against his contemporaries Henderson, Gwynn and Molitor; he was a formidable offensive force in the 1980s. Yes, his prime was shorter than theirs, but his productive years continued on for nine more seasons, which helps count against the charge that he wasn’t durable enough. And Raines stands well ahead of a number of Hall of Famers of similar talents, many of whom are not obviously unqualified for Cooperstown. Electing Raines would not require the lowering of the Hall’s minimum standards, or indeed its average, ordinary standards; and it would reward one of the greatest tablesetters the game has ever seen.

Comments are closed.