Friday October 31st, 2014

On Thursday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame released the 10-candidate slate for this year's Golden Era Committee ballot. At the upcoming winter meetings, a 16-member panel of Hall of Fame players and managers, writers and former executives will vote on the candidacies of nine former players and one executive, with the ones who receive 75 percent of the vote inducted into Cooperstown next summer. The results of the vote will be announced on Dec. 8.

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The Golden Era is one of three periods defined by the Hall when it split the Veterans Committee into three subcommittees in 2010. It covers those candidates whose careers had their greatest impact between 1947 and 1972; the other periods are the Pre-Integration Era (up to 1946) and the Expansion Era (1973 onward). Candidates from each era are considered on a triennial cycle; the last Golden Era vote, conducted in December 2011, saw Ron Santo finally elected, albeit a year after he had passed away.

Six of this year's candidates — Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant — are holdovers from that 2012 ballot (the year refers to that of induction, not of the vote taking place). Kaat received 10 of 16 votes, Hodges and Minoso nine, and Oliva eight, with the rest receiving fewer than three.

The other four candidates aren't exactly newcomers. Bob Howsam, the lone executive, was on both the 2008 and 2010 Veterans Committee ballots, while Dick Allen and Maury Wills were last seen on the 2009 Veterans Committee ballot, which at the time included the living Hall of Famers, Ford C. Frick and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners (the last two for the Hall's broadcasters and writers). Billy Pierce hasn't been on a ballot since dropping off that of the BBWAA in 1974; he was considered by the Historical Overview Committee for inclusion on Veterans Committee ballots in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, but never made the final cut.

It's a colorful and controversial bunch, one with several candidates that deserve closer looks. In order to do so, I'm splitting the discussion into two separate installments, one for today and the other for Monday.

As with most Hall of Fame discussions, I turn to my JAWS system, which uses Baseball-Reference.com's version of Wins Above Replacement to compare each candidate's value — career and peak (best seven years) — to the players already in the Hall of Fame at his position. WAR accounts for each player's offensive and defensive contributions while adjusting for the wide variations in scoring levels that have occurred throughout baseball history, thus aiding considerably when it comes to cross-era comparisons and more clearly defining a player's core value. Here are the current averages at each position:

position number career war peak war jaws
SP 59 73.4 50.2 61.8
RP 5 40.6 28.2 34.4
C 13 52.5 33.8 43.1
1B 19 65.9 42.4 54.2
2B 19 69.4 44.5 57.0
3B 13 67.4 42.7 55.0
SS 21 66.7 42.8 54.7
LF 19 65.1 41.5 53.3
CF 18 70.4 44.1 57.2
RF 24 73.2 42.9 58.1

While those WAR-based numbers form the foundation of my analysis, they aren't the only thing that should guide a player's Hall of Fame candidacy. Awards, milestones, postseason and historical impact are part of the story as well. What follows here is a look at the first five candidates alphabetically. I have discussed nearly all of them in the context of this process before, but the last time I did so was using Baseball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) metric, which produces slightly different results. Baseball-Reference.com site owner Sean Forman has helped expand JAWS' reach by including my WAR-based version on every player page and via sortable position leaderboards, with other great tools as well.

Dick Allen, 3B: 58.7 career WAR/45.9 peak WAR/52.3 JAWS

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Allen was sort of the Gary Sheffield or Albert Belle of his day, a heavy hitter who generated endless controversy everywhere he went — and in a career that spanned from 1963-77, he went quite a few places, playing for five different teams, lasting just one year with three of them. For his career, he hit .292/.378/.534 with 351 homers en route to a stellar 156 OPS+; among players with 7,000 plate appearances, that mark is in a virtual tie for 16th with Willie Mays and 2014 inductee Frank Thomas.

Alas, Allen's was a short career. Had he not missed so much time due to injuries, absenteeism, alcoholism and retirement at age 35, he would almost certainly have the counting stats to be in, but his 1,848 hits and 7,315 plate appearances are fewer than any post-1960 expansion-era player who's been inducted.

Allen spent his first seven seasons with the Phillies. After a 10-game cup of coffee in 1963, he put up a rookie season for the ages, batting .318/.382/.557 with 201 hits, 29 homers, 13 triples and 8.8 WAR; among rookie position players, that last figure has been bettered only by Mike Trout (10.8 in 2012) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.2 in 1911). He won NL Rookie of the Year honors for that, and nearly carried his team to a pennant; lest anyone think he was a factor in the 1964 Phillies' legendary collapse, he batted .341/.434/.618 in September/October — including 17-for-41 during their 10-game losing streak — and didn't miss a game all season.

He spent the next five seasons putting up similar numbers as he bounced around the diamond, with significant time in leftfield and at first base. Particularly in Philadelphia, he battled racism to the point of needing to wear a batting helmet when playing leftfield to protect him from flying objects. A researcher named William Kashatus wrote a scholarly essay for the academic journal Nine arguing that Allen was "a victim and a manipulator of racism on a team that had a poor history of race relations," adding, "For some, he was the quintessential rebel who did as he pleased when he pleased, with little regard for team rules or his teammates. For others, he exemplified the emerging independence of Major League baseball players, as well as growing black consciousness in the game."

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Allen was traded to the Cardinals in an October 1969 blockbuster that included both Tim McCarver and Curt Flood heading the other direction; the latter refused to report, setting off a challenge of the Reserve Clause. Allen continued to put up big numbers, but spent just one season in St. Louis and another in Los Angeles before being traded to the White Sox, for whom he won AL MVP honors in his first season (1972) via a .308/.420/.603 performance, leading the league in on-base and slugging percentages as well as home runs (37), walks (99), RBI (113), OPS+ (199) and WAR (8.6). He missed more than half of the following season with a broken fibula before again leading the league in homers with 32 and earning All-Star honors for the last of seven times. A two-year return to Philadelphia proved far less fruitful due in part to a shoulder injury, and he played in just 54 games in his final season with the Athletics.

Allen spent more time at first base (807 games) than third (652) or leftfield (256), but JAWS considers him a third baseman because that's where he accrued the most value. At either corner, he's above the peak score by a few wins, but short on career and thus a couple points short on JAWS — a clear Hall of Fame-level talent who lacked the staying power for problems not entirely of his own making. He never got much love from the BBWAA voters, topping out at 18.9 percent in 1996, his second-to-last year on the ballot. Based on his peak, I'm willing to believe he belongs in Cooperstown.

Ken Boyer, 3B: 62.8/46.3/54.5

One of three brothers who spent time in the majors, Boyer earned All-Star honors seven times and won five Gold Gloves and the NL MVP award during his first 11 seasons with the Cardinals (1955-65). During that span, he averaged 23 homers and 5.3 WAR per year — five times in the league's top 10 — and batted .293/.356/.475 (119 OPS+). The hardware came in 1964, when he hit 24 homers, drove in an NL-best 119 runs and hit .295/.365/.489 for a team that edged Allen's Phillies for the NL pennant (though his 6.1 WAR was well behind Allen's 8.8). He helped the Cardinals upset the Yankees (who featured brother Clete) in that year's World Series; his grand slam in Game 4 accounted for all of the team's runs, and he homered in Game 7 as well.

Traded to the Mets in October 1965 when he was 34, Boyer had just one more solid season as a regular before bouncing around as a part-timer, first to the White Sox and then to the Dodgers, before retiring after the 1969 season. He later surfaced as the Cardinals' manager, guiding the team to an 86-76 record in 1979, his one full season, but winding up 34 games below .500 in fragments of the two seasons on either side.

A better fielder than Santo (via Total Zone, +73 runs to +27) but not as good a hitter (116 OPS+ to 125), Boyer ranks 14th in JAWS among third basemen, including ninth in peak, 3.6 wins above the third base standard, and he's just 0.5 short of the JAWS standard. Like Santo, he never got much love from the BBWAA voters, maxing out at 25.5 percent in 1988, his ninth year on the ballot. Given the quality of his peak, the volume of his other honors and the shortage of third basemen in the Hall, I'm inclined to believe he's worth a vote and a plaque.

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Gil Hodges, 1B: 44.9/34.2/39.6

Perhaps the most popular candidate on the ballot, Hodges was the Dodgers' regular first baseman from 1948 through 1961, a span during which he earned All-Star honors eight times and helped his team to six pennants (plus another in 1947, when he was a reserve) and two championships. After moving on to the Mets as a reserve on their dismal 1962 and 1963 teams, he managed the Senators before returning to Queens and overseeing the 1969 team's miraculous upset of the Orioles.

For his career, Hodges hit .273/.359/.487 with 370 homers, never leading the NL but ranking second or third in the league in that category four times. That batting line is aided considerably by having played in the Ebbets Field bandbox; for his career, he hit .271/.364/.510 with 210 homers at home, .276/.354/.465 with 160 homers on the road. His overall performance, adjusting for ballpark and era, is still good for a 120 OPS+.

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Hodges was good, but not exceptional: He wasn't the best player on those Dodgers, who sent Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider to the Hall. Only three times did he rank among the league's top 10 in WAR, never higher than seventh. He never placed higher than seventh in an MVP vote, either, and had a spotty postseason track record that included an 0-for-21 in 1952 but a combined .337/.404/.511 with four homers in 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959. He ranks 34th in JAWS among first basemen, ahead of only two who are enshrined (Jim Bottomley and George "High Pockets" Kelly), and he's nowhere near on the individual components; he's 37th in peak.

Though he piloted the Mets to 100 wins and that unlikely World Series triumph over the heavily favored Orioles, he was just .660-753 (.467) overall in his nine years managing the Senators (1963-67) and Mets (1968-71), with a pair of 83-win seasons in the final two. Alas, he died of a heart attack on April 2, 1972, at the age of 47, so he never got to build on that promising second career (the Mets did win the pennant in 1973).

That makes him something of a tragic figure in Hall lore, as does the fact that he peaked at 63.4 percent on the BBWAAA ballot in 1983, making him the first player to reach 60 percent but never gain entry to the Hall via either the writers or the Veterans Committee (Jack Morris now faces the same fate). Even with extra credit granted for his shining moment as a manager (germane to consideration of his case in front of this committee), I don't think he's got enough to merit a vote.

Bob Howsam, executive

There's no JAWS, obviously, for general managers and other front office personnel, but that doesn't mean there's not a spot in the Hall for them. Howsam was the architect of the "Big Red Machine," the Reds' juggernaut that dominated the NL from 1970-76, winning five division titles, four pennants and the 1975 and 1976 World Series.

Before making his name with the Reds, Howsam was part of a family that owned the highly successful Denver Bears and built what later became Mile High Stadium; in that capacity, he was part of the founding of the American Football League and the Denver Broncos, as well as baseball's Continental League, which never played but, in challenging Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption, forced the 1961-62 wave of expansion. He was hired as the Cardinals' general manager in August 1964, on the advice of the semi-retired Branch Rickey; that team won the World Series, but fired predecessor Bing Devine was its true architect. Howsam later traded away the aforementioned Boyer, as well as Dick Groat and Bill White, before leaving the Cardinals in early 1967 — a year in which St. Louis would again take the pennant — to take a job as the Reds' executive vice president and general manager.

In doing so, Howsam inherited a team that won 92 games as recently as 1964; his roster included Pete Rose and Tony Perez as well as 1965 draft pick Johnny Bench, who debuted later in 1967. On his watch, the organization added Davey Concepcion and promoted pitchers Don Gullet, Gary Nolan and Wayne Simpson, as well as Bench, to the majors. He hired 36-year-old Sparky Anderson to manage for the 1970 season, and they responded with 102 wins and the pennant, though the team fell to the Orioles in the World Series.

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In a pair of 1971 trades, Howsam stole future two-time MVP Joe Morgan as well as centerfielder Cesar Geronimo and starter Jack Billingham from the Astros in an eight-player blockbuster, and snagged outfielder George Foster from the Giants for spare parts. The Reds won 95 games and the 1972 pennant, though they fell to the A's in the World Series, but thanks in large part to Morgan and Foster, they went over the top against the Red Sox in 1975 and the Yankees in 1976.

Granted more power than most GMs — power that included a instituting a no-facial hair policy and a hard line against the players' union — Howsam rose up the Reds' hierarchy, attaining titles of team president, CEO and vice chairman of the board during a tenure that lasted until 1984. He turned the GM duties over to Dick Wagner after the 1977 season; a combination of Wagner's moves (including firing Anderson after the 1978 season) and free agency led to the dynasty's dissolution.

As I wrote in response to Class of 2011 enshrinee Pat Gillick, GMs are underrepresented in Cooperstown, mainly because the position didn't really come into focus until the second half of the 20th century. Among the non-Negro League executives in the Hall, only Ed Barrow, Gillick, Larry MacPhail, Rickey and George Weiss are there primarily for their GM work, sometimes while holding fancier titles, while enshrined managers (Connie Mack and John McGraw), owners (Mack and Bill Veeck, Jr.) and future league presidents (Warren Giles and Lee MacPhail) did time in that capacity as well.

Howsam is among many who built multiple winners but have yet to be recognized by the Hall. Does he deserve enshrinement before Buzzie Bavasi, the aforementioned Devine, John Schuerholz or half a dozen others? I'm not entirely sold, but that doesn't mean he's a bad start. Given limited ballot space, I'd put him in the "maybe" pile, with a final verdict once I work through all 10 candidates.

Jim Kaat, P: 51.4/38.4/44.9

A southpaw renowned for working quickly and keeping hitters off balance, Kaat spent 25 years in the majors (1959-83), winning 283 games and finishing with a 3.45 ERA (108 ERA+). The ace of some excellent mid-1960s Twins teams, he squared off against Sandy Koufax in Games 2, 5 and 7 of the 1965 World Series, notching a complete-game win in the first but losing the other two. He was foiled again by Koufax the following year, during which he won an AL- and career-high 25 games, with a 2.75 ERA. Had the Cy Young Award been given out in both leagues, he'd likely have won in the AL, but at the time there was just one award for both, and it went to the Dodgers' ace.

It took Kaat eight years to get back to the 20-win plateau, the longest drought until David Cone went nine seasons (1989-97) between such milestones. By that point, he was the ace of the White Sox; he tallied a combined 14.9 WAR in 1974-75, but soon afterward, his career descended into replacement-level territory as a starter for the Phillies (1976-79) and a reliever for the Yankees (1979-80) and Cardinals (1980-83); he totaled -0.6 WAR for those final eight seasons while notching the final 48 of his wins. After his playing career, he went on to become a fine broadcaster, winning seven Emmy awards in that capacity while working for the Yankees, getting nominated for the Frick Award but never winning.

Despite his high win total (and a whopping 16 straight Gold Gloves from 1962-1977), Kaat is nowhere near the standards on any WAR front, with a JAWS that ranks 101st, ahead of just 10 of the 59 enshrined pitchers. That's not enough to merit a vote.

So that's the first half of the list, alphabetically, with Allen, Boyer and Howsam all potential yes votes on my virtual ballot, which is limited to four choices by the voting rules. I'll be back to examine the candidacies of Minoso, Oliva, Pierce, Tiant and Wills on Monday.

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