Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who Belongs in the Hall? (Part III--Shortstops)

There are currently 22 plaques honoring shortstops in the Gallery at Cooperstown. Aside from the four players who hit their stride in the 1980's (Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin) all of the honorees began their careers in the 1950's or earlier. Offensively, Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner was in a class all by himself, leading his Hall of Fame comrades in 5 major categories: Batting average (.327), Hits (3,415), RBI's (1,732), Runs scored (1,736) and stolen bases (722). ((No wonder his baseball card is worth so much!)) Ernie Banks is the power-hitter of the bunch with 512 career homers and a .500 slugging percentage. Arky Vaughan, long-time Dodger shortstop, leads the pack with a .406 on-base percentage.

For  many years, the position of shortstop was known primarily as a defensive post. That explains why the doors of Cooperstown have opened to so many light-hitting candidates. Of the 22 shortstops in the Hall, 9 of them compiled a career batting average of .275 or lower (for the record that's 41%). Rabbit Maranville, a flamboyant little sparkplug from the Deadball Era, has the lowest BA of the group at .258. Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio and Joe Tinker all hit .262 for their careers, giving hope to those who were heavy on the leather and light on the stick.

Two candidates I personally believe will be enshrined one day are Derek Jeter and Omar Vizquel. Jeter has scored more runs than Honus Wagner and, assuming he returns from his current injury, should outpace "The Flying Dutchman" in hits as well. In addition to 13 All-Star selections, 5 Gold Gloves and 5 Silver sluger Awards, the Yankee captain has helped the club to 5 World Series titles. Vizquel's career accomplishments aren't quite as lofty, though voters won't be able to ignore his impressive defensive stats. When he retired after the 2012 slate, Vizquel had the second highest career fielding percentage of all-time at .985. Additionally, he turned more double plays than any shortstop in the history of the game while ranking third in assists. He was honored with 11 Gold Gloves--just one short of the mark set by Ozzie Smith. Not known for his offense, Vizquel still managed to collect 2,877 hits and steal 404 bases. As I said before, voters would be crazy to ignore him. 

Some other candidates I feel deserve honorable mention:
Alan Trammell:
Trammell's name always surfaces in Hall of Fame discussions. His career numbers are impressive, but he played in an era that was dominated by shortstops and I believe he will ultimately remain overshadowed by his Cooperstown contemporaries--Yount, Smith, Ripken and Larkin. Then again, there's always the Veteran's Committee.

Dave Concepcion:
In an earlier post, I blundered and listed Concepcion as a second baseman (Duh--I have since corrected the error). Concepcion was an indispensible member of "The Big Red Machine" of the 1970's, a 9-time All-Star and 5-time Gold Glove recipient. Like Trammell, he was outshined by the people around him. Concepcion played with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose. His accomplishments pale in comparison.

Larry Bowa:
Bowa was one of the premier NL shortstops of the 1970's with 5 all-Star selections and 2 Gold Gloves. He ranks among the top 10 in fielding percentage and assists. But his .260 career batting average would put him second lowest in the Hall just ahead of Rabbit Maranville. In 16 seasons, Bowa landed himself on the top 100 list of "outs made." Imagine if he had stuck around a few more years.

Bert Campaneris:
"Campy" proved how versatile he was during one of Charlie Finley's crazy promotions, playing all nine positions during a game one night. He led the AL in stolen bases 6 times and finished with a total of 649, giving him a career rank of #14. He also helped the A's to 3 straight World Championships.  But he averaged only 157 hits per year and retired with a meager .259 career BA. His defensive accomplishments cannot erase this. 

Maury Wills:
Wills led the NL in stolen bases for 6 straight seasons and set the single season mark (104)--later broken by the less than humble Rickey Henderson. Wills was a 5-time All-Star and a very good hitter at .281. He was also a member of 3 championship Dodger clubs. Trouble is, he just didn't stick around long enough. Despite playing in only 14 seasons, he still managed to secure over 40% of the Hall of Fame vote in 1981.    

No comments:

Post a Comment