The JAWS 75 for 75: The Hall of Famers who just missed the cut
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. In honor of the coming weekend’s induction ceremony, I've selected the top 75 Hall of Famers using my Jaffe WAR Score (JAWS) system, which I use for my annual ballot evaluations and other Hall-based arguments. That list, which will run on Friday at SI.com, contains the major league players who rank above the average Hall of Famer at their position in career Wins Above Replacement, peak WAR (best seven seasons) and JAWS (the average of career and peak). Conveniently, that comes to 75 from among the 211 men elected primarily for their careers as major league players.
Inevitably, because JAWS doesn't account for military service, the color line, postseason play, milestones and other historic importance, such a list has some glaring omissions — Hall of Famers without whom the Hall simply wouldn't be the same. Likewise, several players who rate above the JAWS average but are short on either career or peak fronts have been left off, and of course, so have those players yet to be elected. Rather than use more subjective and arbitrary criteria to rejigger my list to get one man's notion of "the right 75," here I present the top baker's dozen of players left off of that list with explanations as to why. The 13 players are listed alphabetically.
Before diving in, here are the position-by-position standards. For more on JAWS, see here:
Cap Anson, 1B (93.9 career WAR/41.7 peak WAR/67.8 JAWS)
Anson played from 1871-97, a time when the game's rules were still evolving, and even today, there's a dispute over his career hits total; Baseball-Reference.com credits him with 3,435, which ranks sixth all-time. He was a central figure in upholding the game's color line, and he was known to gamble on games to a point unthinkable by today's standards. On the other hand, he played a crucial part in the National League's survival in the early going. Statistically, he ranks fourth in JAWS among first basemen behind only Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and Jimmie Foxx, but shorter schedules — he didn't play in 100 games in a season until 1884 (age 31) and topped 140 only once (in 1892, at age 40) — keep his peak score 0.7 below the position standard.
Lou Boudreau, SS (63.0/48.7/55.8)
Boudreau's peak score is sixth among shortstops, 5.9 WAR above the standard. A player-manager for the Indians from 1942 (his age-24 season!) through '50, he's a few wins shy on the career front only because he chose to focus on managing after leaving Cleveland; he played in just 167 games after his age-31 season.
Oscar Charleston, CF and Josh Gibson, C
Unlike Satchel Paige, who is included below, Charleston and Gibson did not have the chance to play in the majors once Jackie Robinson crossed the color line. Charleston, whose career spanned from 1915-41, was a centerfielder whose combination of power and speed made him the proto-Willie Mays; Buck O'Neill described him as "Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one," and The New Bill James Historical Abstract ranked him fourth among “The 100 Greatest Players of All Time” in 2001, behind only Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Mays.
Gibson, who played from 1930-46, was the elite slugger of the Negro Leagues, a power-hitting catcher who was said to have hit over 800 homers; James ranked him ninth all-time. Almost certainly, more Negro Leaguers could rightfully be placed among the top 75 Hall of Famers, but it’s beyond my research to know where to draw the line.
Bob Feller, SP (63.6/51.8/57.7)
A straight ranking of the top 75 players in terms of JAWS puts Rapid Robert at exactly 75th. But because he missed nearly four full seasons due to World War II service (all of 1942, '43 and '44, with just nine starts in late 1945) and had five other seasons with fewer than 20 starts bracketing his career, Feller falls about 10 WAR short of the career standard even while surpassing the peak standard. If not for his military service, he almost certainly would have topped Walter Johnson's then-strikeout record of 3,508, and he might have added to his total of three no-hitters.
Frankie Frisch, 2B (70.4/44.4/57.4)
The eighth-best second baseman of all time according to JAWS, Frisch wasn't quite the equal of contemporaries Eddie Collins, Charlie Gehringer and Rogers Hornsby, but he ranked among the game's elite for most of the 1920s, ranking fourth in position player WAR in that decade. That he's in this group is a fluke; his peak score is 0.1 WAR — or just one run's worth of value — shy of the standard.
Tony Gwynn, RF (68.8/41.1/54.9)
Emotions are still raw regarding the premature passing of Gwynn at age 54 last month; it caused an uproar when Fox didn't set aside a moment in last week's All-Jeter All-Star Game to acknowledge the death of the eight-time batting champion, 15-time All-Star and collector of 3,141 hits. Gwynn falls shy of the rightfield standard on all three fronts due to the high-end talent — headed by guys named Ruth, Aaron and Musial — classified there; he'd clear the career and JAWS standards if he'd put up the same numbers as a leftfielder.
Sandy Koufax, SP (49.0/46.1/47.5)
Koufax pitched in the majors for only 12 years (1955-66) and didn't even reach 200 innings until his sixth season, as he struggled to harness his control. Once he did, he was amazing, though the era's low scoring and Dodger Stadium's particularly run-parched environment lead to him being overrated by many. His four no-hitters, four strikeout titles, three world championships (with a 0.95 ERA in 57 World Series innings) and three Cy Youngs testify to his dominance better than his WAR; because of his premature retirement due to elbow woes, even his peak score is 4.1 shy of the standard.
Paul Molitor, 3B (75.4/39.6/57.5)
Molitor's 3,319 hits rank 10th all-time, and he surpasses the career and JAWS standards at third base, the position where he accrued the most value. Injuries and 1,171 games spent at DH — most of the final eight years of his 21-year career — depress his peak value.
Satchel Paige, SP
The color line kept Paige from pitching in the majors until he was 42 years old (or thereabouts) and he made just 179 major league appearances covering 476 innings over parts of six seasons, including a one-game comeback in 1965 at the age of 58. That he was above-average even in that thin slice of a career only hints at his brilliance in the Negro Leagues. Experts far more versed on the topic than myself put Paige in the discussion for the greatest pitcher of all time, and James ranked him 17th among all players.
Jackie Robinson, 2B (61.5/52.1/56.8)
Because of the color line, Robinson didn't debut until he was 28, and he played just 10 seasons in the majors (1947-56). His statistical impact is thus dwarfed by his importance as an historical figure; two decades before the Civil Rights movement, his arrival forced America to live up to its ideals of equality in ways that continue to resonate. As for the JAWS stuff, Robinson is roughly one full win per year above the peak standard at second base, a remarkable showing given his brief career. Perhaps more impressively, he ranks 21st among all position players in WAR from an age-28 season onward.
Nolan Ryan, SP (81.8/43.3/62.6)
Ryan was one of the most electrifying players in history, as his record seven no-hitters attests. He pitched for a jaw-dropping 27 seasons, and both his 5,714 strikeouts and 2,795 walks stand as all-time records. He won 324 games but never a Cy Young, and while he cracked his league's top 10 in pitcher WAR nine times, he never led; his peak is 6.9 shy of the standard, while his career WAR blows past it.
Ozzie Smith, SS (76.5/42.3/59.4)
Smith's defensive wizardry carried him to Cooperstown; his 239 runs above average in the field ranks third all-time, two fewer than fellow shortstop Mark Belanger for second place (Belanger's longtime Orioles teammate Brooks Robinson is the career leader). Smith's offense was nothing to write home about, though he had enough years around league average to give him considerable value. He is ahead on both career WAR and JAWS and a mere 0.5 runs off the pace on peak score.