Cooperstown Elections Not Totally Objective by thad mumau

The numbers usually tell the story. But not always.

As mentioned in this space recently, there are certain numbers that pretty much guarantee entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, not every member of the Cooperstown club has a 300 or 3,000 or 500 on his resume.

The rub with this is that without so-called “requirements”, subjectivity replaces objectivity in the selection process. As is the case in almost every walk of life, what that boils down to is politics and personalities.

Voters, therefore, are sometimes influenced by whether they like a candidate. Many of the same baseball writers who fill in Hall of Fame ballots also decide winners of awards such as Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. The voters are not always fair.

The best example of what I’m talking about here is Ted Williams, who was snubbed twice in MVP voting. Looking at his sensational stats those two seasons, there is no other explanation for his failure to be chosen.

In 1942 and 1947, the Splendid Splinter won the triple crown, but finished second on the American League MVP ballot both times. In ’42, he led the major leagues in almost every category and hit 36 home runs, drove in 137 runs and batted .356. Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon won the cherished award with 18 homers, 103 RBIs and batting average of .322.

In ’47, Williams slammed 32 homers, knocked in 114 runs and hit .343, again leading the AL in all three categories. He finished one point behind Joe DiMaggio in the voting after the Yankee Clipper compiled a 20/97/.315 line.

Doesn’t sound like it should have been a contest, does it? Of course, New York winning the pennant figured strongly in many voters’ minds. So did the fact that DiMaggio was adored by the press, while Williams was despised by many writers for his tempestuousness spiked by profane outbursts and his disdain for the press which he dubbed the Knights of the Keyboard.

This background plays into what follows. At least, that is the assumption based on statistical comparisons. This time, we are looking at some pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame and some who are not and how closely their numbers stack up.

                              Won   Lost   ERA  Shutouts      Innings        Strikeouts Postseason

Don Drysdale        209    166    2.95   49                3,432           2,486           3-3

Bert Blyleven         287    250    3.31   60                4,970           3,701           5-1

Ferguson Jenkins   284    226    3.34   49                4,500.2        3,192           none

Jack Morris            254    186    3.90   28                3,824           2,478           7-4

Tommy John          288    231    3.34   46                4,710.1        2,245           6-3

Jim Kaat                283    237    3.45   31                4,530.1        2,461           1-3

Luis Tiant               229    172    3.30   49                3,486.1        2,416           2-0

Drysdale, Blyleven, Jenkins and Morris are in the Hall of Fame. John, Kaat and Tiant are not. A case can be made for all seven pitchers.

John won more games than anyone in this group, yet has been omitted. Is it because he wasn’t a dominant strikeout pitcher? Is it because he stuck around so long and accumulated so many losses?

The last two questions also apply to fellow lefty Kaat. Neither, however, was tagged with as many losses or pitched as many innings as Blyleven.

There are numerous ways of looking at statistics and of comparing players. The fact remains, though, that other factors are involved. Take Drysdale. His 209 wins are the fewest of this group, but his earned run average is the lowest.

Plus, he played for a Dodgers team that appeared in five World Series, and he was the winning pitcher in the three Fall Classics they won during his tenure. Voters like that stuff, as well as the “Big D would knock down his mother if she dug in” reputation.

Playing for a pennant winner has long been a factor with voters who select MVPs. It certainly was in DiMaggio’s 1941 and 1947 MVP selections over Williams. In the same vein, playing for World Series winners is a bonus in Hall of Fame balloting.

How in the world Jenkins is in the Hall, while John and Kaat are not is beyond me. Jenkins won 284 games in his career with a 3.34 ERA. John won 288 with an identical 3.34. Kaat won 283 with a 3.45.

If Jenkins is deserving, it seems John would be a clear-cut choice … especially factoring in his six postseason wins that include two World Series victories. Kaat is certainly close enough to warrant induction as well.

And then there is Tiant, also known as Looie and El Tiante. He won 20 more games than Drysdale, and his ERA was lower than Jenkins’ and Blyleven’s. Tiant posted a 3-0 World Series record, and his 49 career shutouts match Drysdale and Jenkins.

No one was more colorful than Looie. From turning his back to the batter during his pirouette windup to his celebratory stogies following big victories, Tiant was a classic piece of work who could really pitch.

Last in the discussion is Morris. To me, he is also the obvious last on this list. His 254 win total is far below John and Kaat, his ERA is far higher than any of these pitchers’ and he threw the fewest shutouts.

Morris, I believe, is one of those “characters” writers like. A swashbuckling sort with the bushy mustache and gritty demeanor, he was the ultimate competitor. Best remembered for terrific postseason success marked by a 4-2 record and three complete games in the World Series.

But alas, the purpose of this piece is not to criticize anyone who is in the Hall of Fame. Every member has done plenty to deserve his plaque.

Rather, this is to point out that the election process is not totally objective and that there are additional deserving players whose likeness ought to be on the wall of the Hall.

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