Last weekend, I saw an interesting article in colleague Mike Petriello’s Twitter timeline. It was from retired Detroit News sportswriter/columnist Jerry Green, who was — for the 15th and final time — advocating for Jack Morris‘ Hall of Fame candidacy. Without getting into a line-by-line critique of the article, there were several things in the article that I did not agree with, but one thing did catch my attention:
I think it is quite sad that Morris will be left out. That the best baseball team I ever covered —the 1984 Tigers — will have not a single player in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. Only Sparky Anderson, the manager, has been elected to the Hall of Fame. And forced to choose, Sparky opted to go into the Hall as the once-manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
Now, Green didn’t out and out declare that every World Series winner should have a member of its team in the Hall of Fame, but that was certainly the tangent that I led myself on in thinking about that passage. So, I decided to investigate — does every team have a Hall of Famer on it?
I started with just players that were voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. But I wanted to be a little more nuanced than just “yes” or “no.” As Petriello pointed out to me in subsequent conversation, some teams — like the 1988 Dodgers, technically had a Hall of Famer (in this case, Don Sutton) — but that doesn’t mean they were big contributors to the team. So, I broke things down into seasonal WAR groups — negative WAR, 0.0 to 1.9, 2.0 to 3.9, 4.0 to 5.9 and 6-plus. Here is what I came up with:
As you can see, the ’84 Tigers are not the only team that has gone unrepresented in the writer’s voting. And while the ’88 Dodgers only had Sutton, and he really shouldn’t count, this simply wasn’t the case for most teams. Looking at specific teams without a Hall of Famer, we have another Dodgers team, from 1981. In addition, the 1940 Reds, 1931 Cardinals, 1919 Reds, 1907-08 Cubs and 1906 White Sox all were shut out by the writers. To be fair, there are a couple of weird years in there. Perhaps the playoff format of 1981 wouldn’t look odd to children of this current generation, but at the time, the way that postseason was (necessarily, you might say) structured, it likely threw things off a little bit. For instance, the Expos beat the defending champion Phillies, who had two Hall of Famers. And then the Dodgers beat those Expos, who had two Hall of Famers, and may end up with a third. And it’s not too surprising, I suppose, that no one from the 1919 Reds was voted in, since they were likely seen as having benefited from the White Sox throwing the Fall Classic.
A couple of those teams did stand out as funny to me though. For instance, those Cubs teams. Any ardent Simpsons fan will clearly remember Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, and most baseball fans have heard the phrase Tinker to Evers to Chance. So I decided to go one step further, and include Major League Baseball players that were elected by the Old Timers and Veterans Committees as well. To wit:
As you can see, things filled up a lot. Those 1907-08 Cubs went from having zero Hall of Famers to having four. Same goes for those ’31 Cardinals. Even the two Reds teams squeaked through one Hall of Famer, and both were at least average contributors to the cause. Still, there’s that ’81 Dodgers team joining the ’84 Tigers sans Hall of Famers. Probably the best case you could make for someone on that squad is Reggie Smith.
Smith tallied 64.6 WAR in his career, which was certainly better than anyone else on that season’s team. And that total is comparable to other Hall of Fame outfielders. But Smith didn’t have a very defined peak — he only had three consecutive seasons with 5+ WAR — and he only tallied three votes in his first and only time on the ballot. Furthermore, he wasn’t a big contributor to that ’81 Dodgers team — he only came to the plate six times that postseason.
As we move forward, there may be more teams that join this club. Take the 2002 Angels, for example. Who is going to be the Hall of Famer from that squad? I can’t make a good case for anyone on it. Kevin Appier only notched one vote in 2010. I suppose Francisco Rodriguez will get a couple votes when he retires, but I can’t see a legitimate case for his candidacy. Maybe if John Lackey pitches well for another decade…probably not.
Perhaps there will be others. The best candidate from the 2010 and 2012 Giants appears to be Buster Posey, and certainly he is on track. Since 1901, Posey ranks 12th in WAR through his age-26 season. But not all of the players in front of him ended up being Hall of Famers, and he is well behind the pace of semi-contemporaries Joe Mauer and Brian McCann. If Posey remains this productive as a catcher for another decade or so, he’ll have good odds. But at this point, it’s hard to see him as a slam dunk, and there really isn’t anyone else on the team that fits the bill. Maybe Madison Bumgarner.
The 2013 Red Sox might have similar issues. Momentum is building for David Ortiz‘s case, and the eyes of Red Sox Nation certainly will turn to Xander Bogaerts. Dustin Pedroia may make for another interesting case. Through age 29, since 1901, he ranks 17th among second basemen in terms of WAR, but again, some of the players ahead of him didn’t reach the Hall. One of them is Lou Whitaker.
Which brings us back to our original point. Not every team is going to end up with a Hall of Famer, though as this exercise shows, nearly all of them have. In that sense, it is a little sad that the ’84 Tigers don’t have a Hall of Famer. At least, right now. I think eventually Morris and Alan Trammell will get in, and perhaps Whitaker will be enshrined some day as well. The book may be closed on the ’81 Dodgers though, and I’ll be pretty surprised if anyone from that ’02 Angels team makes it. Perhaps teams without a Hall of Famer will become more common, especially now that fewer players are being inducted. And that isn’t a crime. We tend to like everything to fall into nice, organized patterns in this game, but much of the beauty of baseball is that it often fails to cooperate to our preconceived notions. It makes intuitive sense that every World Series champion should have a Hall of Famer, but there will be exceptions. And that’s OK.
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