Pitching and the Hall of Fame

Cy Young's Pre-Modern Media Era & Physique Didn't Help Him Build His Case Much for the First Hall of Fame Class, But Those 511 Career Wins Spoke Loud & Clear Enough!

Cy Young

Charlie Sheen

Which of these Cleveland pitchers looks more like a Hall of Fame candidate? The guy on the right with the fit-looking body and the”Wild Thing” nickname? Or the guy on the left with the big waist and the 511 big league wins?

You guessed it. The Baseball Hall of Famer in the above photos is the one and only Cy Young. Charlie Sheen may earn one in the Hall of Fame for OC/Addictive Disorders someday, but that’s neither here nor there for our purposes in this discussion. Charlie’s image is just here to show again how you can’t judge a book by its cover when it comes to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  If they expelled all members who got to Cooperstown with something less than an Adonis-like body this afternoon, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Yogi Berra, Honus Wagner, and Ernie Lombardi, among so many others, will be on the street by nightfall.

I want to talk about pitchers and Cooperstown today? What s the benchmark for greatness that gets some people in the door while keeping other, perhaps, even more deserving members out? Has it changed over the years? Or does it simply hang on the thin air of popular spin, a candidate’s personality dominance, or a political pull with veterans committee members, or simply a guy’s eternal association with some great moment in baseball history?

With pitchers, “300 wins” seems to have become the standard for serious Hall of Fame consideration of starting pitchers, although, if you look at all pitchers in the Hall of Fame, it’s easy to see that the “300” club line has not always been the standard. Just look at the career records for all pitchers in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York (Graph Courtesy of Baseball Almanac.Com):

PitchersBOLD Indicates Statistical Leader For HOF Pitchers
Name [Link To Full Stats] Games Starts Wins Losses ERA K BB
Grover Alexander (bio) 696 600 373 208 2.56 2,198 951
Chief Bender 459 334 212 127 2.46 1,711 712
Mordecai Brown 481 332 239 130 2.06 1,375 673
Jim Bunning 591 519 224 184 3.27 2,855 1,000
Steve Carlton 741 709 329 244 3.22 4,136 1,833
Jack Chesbro 392 332 198 132 2.68 1,265 690
John Clarkson 531 518 328 178 2.81 1,978 1,191
Stan Covelski 450 385 215 142 2.89 981 802
Dizzy Dean 317 230 150 83 3.02 1,163 453
Don Drysdale 518 465 209 166 2.95 2,486 855
Dennis Eckersley 1,071 361 197 171 3.50 2,401 738
Red Faber 669 483 254 213 3.15 1,471 1,213
Bob Feller 570 484 266 162 3.25 2,581 1,764
Rollie Fingers 944 37 114 118 2.90 1,299 492
Whitey Ford 498 438 236 106 2.75 1,956 1,086
Pud Galvin 697 682 360 308 2.87 1,799 744
Bob Gibson 528 482 251 174 2.91 3,117 1,336
Lefty Gomez 368 320 189 102 3.34 1,468 1,095
Burleigh Grimes 616 497 270 212 3.53 1,512 1,295
Lefty Grove 616 457 300 141 3.06 2,266 1,187
Jesse Haines 555 388 210 158 3.64 981 871
Waite Hoyt 674 423 237 182 3.59 1,206 1,003
Carl Hubbell 535 431 253 154 2.98 1,677 725
Catfish Hunter 500 476 224 166 3.26 2,012 954
Fergie Jenkins 664 594 284 226 3.34 3,192 997
Walter Johnson 802 666 417 279 2.17 3,509 1,363
Addie Joss 286 260 160 97 1.89 920 364
Tim Keefe 599 593 342 225 2.62 2,543 1,234
Sandy Koufax 397 314 165 87 2.76 2,396 817
Bob Lemon 460 350 207 128 3.23 1,277 1,251
Ted Lyons 594 484 260 230 3.67 1,073 1,121
Juan Marichal 471 457 243 142 2.89 2,303 709
Rube Marquard 536 404 201 177 3.08 1,593 858
Christy Mathewson 635 551 373 188 2.13 2,502 844
Joe McGinnity 465 381 246 142 2.66 1,068 812
Hal Newhouser 488 374 207 150 3.06 1,796 1,249
Kid Nichols 620 561 361 208 2.95 1,868 1,268
Phil Niekro 864 716 318 274 3.35 3,342 1,809
Jim Palmer 558 521 268 152 2.86 2,212 1,311
Herb Pennock 617 420 240 162 3.60 1,227 916
Gaylord Perry 777 690 314 265 3.11 3,534 1,379
Eddie Plank 623 529 326 194 2.35 2,246 1,072
Old Hoss Radbourn 528 503 309 195 2.67 1,830 875
Eppa Rixey 692 553 266 251 3.15 1,350 1,082
Robin Roberts 676 609 286 245 3.41 2,357 902
Red Ruffing 624 536 273 225 3.80 1,987 1,541
Amos Rusie 462 427 245 174 3.07 1,934 1,704
Nolan Ryan 807 773 324 292 3.19 5,714 2,795
Tom Seaver 656 647 311 205 2.86 3,640 1,390
Warren Spahn 750 665 363 245 3.09 2,583 1,434
Don Sutton 774 756 324 256 3.26 3,574 1,343
Dazzy Vance 442 347 197 140 3.24 2,045 840
Rube Waddell 407 340 193 143 2.16 2,316 803
Ed Walsh 430 315 195 126 1.82 1,736 617
Mickey Welch 564 549 307 210 2.71 1,850 1,297
Hoyt Wilhelm 1,070 52 143 122 2.52 1,610 778
Vic Willis 513 471 249 205 2.63 1,651 1,212
Early Wynn 691 612 300 244 3.54 2,334 1,775
Cy Young 906 815 511 316 2.63 2,803 1,217
Name [Link To Full Stats] Games Starts Wins Losses ERA

Yesterday I made the point that Joe Niekro’s 221 career wins places him above fifteen predominantly starting pitchers who are members of the Hall of fame. I might add that Gaylord Perry’s brother, Jim Perry, had a similar experience to Joe Niekro. Both these brothers of Hall of Fame pitchers Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry were excellent in their own rights, but neither ever earned serious Hall of Fame consideration. And what did Joe Niekro and Jim Perry share in common in this comparison? Both came up about 79 to 85 wins short of the “300” win mark.

The 22-year career of the great Bert Blyleven (287-250, 3.31) is our greatest example of how foreboding that “300 win” gate on the Hall really is. People who oppose Blyleven point to his 250 losses as a barrier to his consideration, but these critics fail to take into account that Bert played for a lot of mediocre teams from 1970 to 1992. He’s lucky to have won 287 games, playing under those circumstances,

The relievers in the Hall of Fame are evaluated more on the basis of “save” totals, but where does that leave the middle relief guys who pick up far fewer wins than starters and virtually no “saves” in this era of increasing specialization?  Other than “out in the cold” from the Hall of Fame, I have no idea.

It’s also going to be interesting to see how things shift on the “300 win” door as time goes by from here. With starters going fewer innings, starters are losing wins to relief staffs that cannot hold leads. (See Roy Oswalt of the Astros, for example.) Where does that leave people like Oswalt who do have the ability to put up Hall of fame numbers, but do not get their wins over time? It most likely leaves them on the same bench with people like Bert Blyleven – on the outside, looking in.

I’m not sure Roy Oswalt is a Hall of Fame candidate, although I once thought he might be. Roy cannot get his wins unless he ends up playing for a club with a strong pen. Plus, we’re not even sure he wants to play long enough to qualify for consideration with enough wins. Players today make so much money that even the really durable ones may choose to walk away from shorter careers as big leaguers for the sake of some other new career or retirement direction. If that happens enough, the “300 win club ” shrinks even  further and the HOF has to either shut the door on new candidates, or else, start looking at pitchers and their qualifications for greatness far differently than their win totals.

What do you think? Please record your own thoughts on what qualifies a pitcher for the Hall of Fame as a reply to this column on the subject.

Also, speaking of greatness locally, please check out the column I wrote yesterday in support of the Astros retiring Joe Niekro’s number 36 this season or asap. If you agree, please weigh in there by leaving a comment on that subject with that column. That link is as follows:

https://thepecanparkeagle.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/its-time-to-retire-joe-niekros-astros-36/

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One Response to “Pitching and the Hall of Fame”

  1. Bob Hulsey Says:

    The use of pitchers has changed gradually over time so the starters get fewer starts (from three-man rotations to five-man rotations) and fewer innings (pitch counts and closers). The 300-win pitcher is becoming extinct so a new metric will need to be established.

    For now, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher is like the Supreme Court definititon of obscenity. We know it when we see it.

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