Breaking down the Hall of Fame's Pre-Integration Era ballot, Part 2
Earlier this week, I examined the inherent problems with the Hall of Fame’s Pre-Integration Era Committee ballot, which covers players and other figures who made their biggest mark in the game prior to 1947, and delved into the merits of four of its 10 candidates. In short, like many other observers, I find the chance for yet another celebration of the game’s interminable all-white era to be distasteful, particularly as the process—part of the three-for-one split of the Veterans Committee into era-based committees that vote on a triennial basis starting with the 2012 induction year—appears to be closed off to Negro Leagues candidates. They could easily have been included within this format, particularly given that some of the weakest candidates on the ballot don’t merit another shot at joining a segment of history that’s already over-represented in Cooperstown.
Still, I can’t resist delving into these candidates’ careers, for many of them are fascinating and colorful characters. In Part 1, I covered players Bill Dahlen and Wes Ferrell, pioneer Doc Adams and owner Sam Breadon. Ahead of Sunday’s election, which will be voted on by a 16-member committee—each of whom can vote for as many as four candidates, with 75% of the vote necessary for election, as with the much larger BBWAA ballot—with the results to be announced from the winter meetings in Nashville on Monday morning, here’s the balance of the slate, which consists of players Marty Marion, Frank McCormick, Harry Stovey and Bucky Walters; executive Garry Herrmann; and owner Chris von der Ahe.
Garry Herrmann, executive
The flamboyant August Herrmann (1859–1931) was a man of multiple nicknames, including "Garibaldi" (shortened to Garry), "The Walking Delicatessen" (for his habit of keeping a supply of sausages on his person) and "The Father of the World Series," for helping to broker peace between the National and American Leagues, which enabled the playing of the first World Series.
Orphaned at age 11, Hermann worked as a printer's devil, founded a court newspaper, became part of the Cincinnati political machine run by George "Boss" Cox (not to be confused with the Big Red Machine), and made enough money to become a minority partner in the 1902 purchase of the Reds from John T. Brush. In turn, Brush bought the Giants from the hated Andrew Freedman, whose exit from the NL ownership ranks enabled the nascent American League to establish a foothold in New York City. Herrmann became president of the Reds, a capacity he would serve in through 1927, and one that included the duties of a modern general manager with regards to player procurement.
After two years of the rival leagues raiding each other for players, Herrmann played a crucial role in brokering peace in January 1903 by relinquishing the Reds' claim on future Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford, who had jumped to the Tigers. The resulting National Agreement (also known as the "Cincinnati Peace Treaty") established a three-man National Commission to mediate league disputes and act as a ruling body, with each league's president (Harry Pulliam for the NL, Ban Johnson for the AL) joined by a club president agreed to by both, who would serve as chairman. Herrmann, who had shown a capacity for mediation and diplomacy, was a natural fit, and it didn’t hurt that he knew Johnson from his days as a Cincinnati sportswriter.
Johnson was the commission's dominant figure, but in 1905, Herrmann was the lead negotiator in establishing an agreement between the two leagues that would pit their respective champions in a best-of-seven postseason exhibition series. Similar series had been done between the champions of the NL and the bygone American Association from 1884 to '90 (see the Chris von der Ahe entry below), and in 1903, the owners of the Boston Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates had agreed to a best-of-nine as their respective teams ran away with the league pennants. That didn't formally establish the World Series, however, which is why the Giants refused to play the AL champions in 1904. By giving the National Commission's sanction over the postseason series, Herrmann and company put the two leagues on the same footing.
Herrmann remained chairman until just before the 1919 World Series, when NL president John Heydler opposed his re-appointment. Ironically, all of this happened just as the Reds won their lone pennant and then championship on his watch, but the World Series that followed became known for being thrown by the White Sox, which resulted not only in a nationwide scandal but also the end of the National Commission and the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Landis as the game's first commissioner.
Elsewhere, Herrmann was an early proponent of a failed 1908 attempt to introduce night baseball. In 1911, he signed two Cuban ballplayers against whom the Reds had played exhibitions, Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans, insisting they were of European descent; though there were whispers they had "Negro" blood, they became the first Cuban players in the majors since 1873. Herrmann oversaw the 1911–12 construction of Redland Field, the NL's third steel-and-concrete stadium, replacing the wooden Palace of the Fans. In 1934, Redland became known as Crosley Field, which the Reds would call home through '70; in yet another irony, it would be there that night baseball was introduced in '35, four years after Herrmann's death.
While Herrmann was certainly a colorful, larger-than-life figure who was instrumental in stabilizing Major League Baseball, I have my reservations celebrating any executive from a time when the game's color line was in effect, particularly given the problems with this ballot that I outlined in Part I.
Marty Marion (31.6 career WAR/26.2 7yr-peak WAR/28.9 JAWS; avg. HOF SS: 66.7/42.8/54.7)
A mainstay for the Cardinals from 1940 through '50, Marion earned All-Star honors seven times as well as two nicknames: "the Octopus" for his unusually long arms and "Mr. Shortstop" for his general skill at the position. To quote St. Louis manager Billy Southworth, "Yes, he’s Mr. Shortstop in person. He anticipates plays perfectly, can go to his right or left equally well and has a truly great arm. Some of the things he does have to be seen to be believed.”
Standing 6'2" and 170 pounds, Marion was much taller than most shortstops (St. Louis native Earl Weaver moved 6'4" Cal Ripken Jr. to short because "he reminded me of Marty Marion"), though a broken right leg suffered at the age of 10 led to nearly two years in hospitals and on crutches, and his right leg grew to be one inch shorter than his left, which resulted in a deferment from military service. The Cardinals were a powerhouse during his tenure, winning four pennants and three World Series in a five-year span from 1942 to '46, finishing second five other times in his 11 years and above .500 in every year but '50. That team sent Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Johnny Mize and Red Schoendienst to Cooperstown. Marion wasn't in those players' class as a hitter; in most years, his .270-ish batting averages were quite thin. For his career, he hit .263/.323/.345 for an 81 OPS+, with totals of just 1,448 hits and 36 homers.
Defense was Marion's stock in trade. Without either Gold Glove awards or modern metrics, the authority of observers such as Southworth was bolstered by Marion leading NL shortstops in fielding percentage four times and putouts and assists twice apiece. Fortunately for Marion, modern metrics testify to his skill afield. His career mark of 130 runs above average is tied for 10th among shortstops since 1900, with five seasons of at least 15 runs above average. He led the league in Defensive WAR three times, ranked second five times and finished third once. Only twice did he place among the league's top 10 in WAR overall, however. In 1944, when he hit .267/.324/.362 for a 90 OPS+ with a career-high six homers, 63 RBIs, +24 fielding runs and 4.7 WAR, he won a squeaker of an MVP race by one point over Cubs slugger Bill Nicholson.
Marion played through chronic back problems and tore cartilage in his right knee in the spring of 1950, limiting him to 106 games that year. He took over for the fired Eddie Dyer as manager of the Cardinals in 1951 but couldn't play due to knee surgery. The team went 81–73 en route to a third-place finish, but Marion was fired after he fell out of favor for choosing to devote time to his family and business instead of discussing ways to improve the team with owner Fred Saigh. Browns owner Bill Veeck Jr., eager to snap up any ex-Cardinals, hired him as a player-coach; the 35-year-old Marion played 67 games and took over for fired manager Rogers Hornsby in midseason. The team slipped from 64 wins to 54 the following year, then was sold and moved to Baltimore. Marion signed on to coach the White Sox, became their manager in late 1954 and piloted them to seasons of 91 and 85 wins, both good for third place, but he was replaced when Al Lopez became available and never managed again.
Marion received as much as 40% of the vote on the BBWAA ballot, and he's been up for election via various Veterans Committee processes numerous times, including the 2013 Pre-Integration ballot, when he was one of six candidates who received three or fewer votes. His short career and limited offensive ability leaves his numbers well shy of the Hall standards; his career WAR is less than half that of the average Hall of Fame shortstop, and less than all 21 who are enshrined. Though certainly an important player in the history of the Cardinals, he's got no claim on a spot in Cooperstown.
Frank McCormick, first base (34.8/28.3/31.6; avg. HOF 1B: 65.9/42.4/54.2)
A contact-oriented hitter who had seasons where he homered more often than he struck out and who impressed with his glove work, McCormick spent parts of 13 seasons with the Reds (1934, '37–45), Phillies ('46–47) and Braves ('47–48) and earned All-Star honors in eight of the nine years in which he played at least 100 games. He was the starting first baseman on Cincinnati’s 1939 and '40 pennant winners, taking home MVP honors in the latter year—the third straight Red to do so after Ernie Lombardi and fellow candidate Bucky Walters—by batting .309/.367/.482 for a 132 OPS+, with 19 home runs and 127 RBIs. The Reds beat the Tigers in that year's World Series, though McCormick went just 6 for 28 without an RBI.
A late bloomer, the 6'4", 23-year-old McCormick had tried out for at least three big-league teams before the Reds signed him in 1934. While he played 12 games for them, his next big league experience didn't come until another cup of coffee in 1937. He broke out the following year, his age-27 season, collecting a league-leading 209 hits and knocking out 40 doubles but just five homers; he batted .327/.348/.425, striking out just 17 times in 671 plate appearances. He led the league with 209 hits and 128 RBIs in 1939, boosting his home run output to 18 and striking out just 16 times; his 5.3 WAR that season was good for fifth in the league, his 5.7 in his MVP year fourth.
A back injury suffered in a hotel swimming pool hampered McCormick in 1941 and exempted him from military service, but his performance fell off considerably. From 1941 to '43, he hit for a modest 112 OPS+, but he had one more big season in him: a 20-homer, 6.1 WAR campaign in '44, when he batted .305/.371/.482 for a career-best 143 OPS+. Thereafter, he was a bit better than average for a couple seasons, a bit worse than average for a couple more. Defensively, he was 62 runs above average for his career; Bill James called him “one of the best defensive first basemen ever to play the game" in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
Alas, that simply doesn't add up to a Hall of Fame career, either via the traditional numbers (a .299/.348/.434 line, 118 OPS+, 1,711 hits and 128 homers) or the advanced ones. He's just 58th in career WAR and 57th in JAWS among first basemen, below the lowest Hall of Famer, Jim Bottomley, in both categories. He never received more than 3.0% of the vote on the BBWAA ballot, and I'm not sure he's ever been up for a Veterans Committee vote. He's no Hall of Famer, and at this point, one wonders why the screening committee couldn't have offered a stronger candidate in his stead, such as 1947 NL MVP Bob Elliot (50.4/34.8/42.6 at third base) or, better yet, somebody from the Negro Leagues.
Harry Stovey, leftfield
In a career that ran from 1880 to '93—to the beginning of when the modern 60'6" pitching distance was established, in other words—Stovey led his league in homers five times, briefly holding the single-season record. He became the first player to reach 100 homers and reigned as the all-time leader at a time when few probably knew such a title existed (baseball-reference.com wouldn't come online for more than a century, alas). Far from one-dimensional, he offered great speed to go with his power and was a key figure in perfecting and popularizing the pop-up slide. For his career, he hit .289/.361/.461 for a 144 OPS+, with 1,771 hits and 122 homers in 6,832 plate appearances.
Born Harry Stowe in Philadelphia in 1856, he adopted the surname Stovey so that his disapproving mother wouldn't see reports of his play in newspapers. He began his major league career with the NL's Worcester Ruby Legs in 1880, leading the league in triples (14) and homers (six) as a rookie. In 1883, he joined the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, and in his first year he hit .304/.346/.506 for a 163 OPS+ and scored a league-high 110 runs in 94 games, setting a single-season record for homers with 14 and helping the A's to their only AA pennant. It was the first time any player had reached double digits in homes in a single season; at least five of them were of the inside-the-park variety. In his seven years with the A's, he led the league in round-trippers three times, with a high of 19 in 1889, and in triples twice, with a high of 23 in '84.
After the 1889 season, like most stars, Stovey jumped to the Players League, where he helped the star-studded Boston Reds—who featured Hall of Famers Old Hoss Radbourne on the mound, Dan Brouthers at first base and King Kelly as utility player and manager—to a pennant and led the league with 97 steals. At one point, he was credited with more than 100 steals in seven straight seasons, but the rules of the day counted taking an extra base on a hit as a stolen base, a practice that was discontinued (with the stat corrected) in the 1890s.
The Players League collapsed after only a year, but Stovey stuck around Boston with the NL's Beaneaters, whom he helped to another pennant, leading the league in homers (16) and hitting .279/.373/.498, the last of which also led the league. His play fell off considerably over his final two seasons as he passed from Baltimore to Boston to Brooklyn, but when he retired, he was the home run king, though few may have been aware of that fact. Modern research shows that he held that title for most of the span of 1885–95, interrupted by Brouthers in '87–88. He finally surrendered it to Roger Connor in 1895; Connor, who finished with 138 homers but was definitely unaware of his status, would be surpassed by Babe Ruth in 1920.
Aside from his totals of home runs and triples, Stovey's numbers don't jump off the page. Though he was originally credited with a league-leading .404 batting average in 1884, researchers discovered the mark was actually just .326, the league's fourth-best and still the highest finish of his career. His averages often fell below .300 in an era when that was the game's signature offensive stat, and he struck out a lot by the standards of the day, so he was never really regarded as a superstar. Still, he could thump, leading his circuit three times in slugging percentage, with four other top-five finishes. His OPS+ was in the top five seven times in a nine-year span (1883–91), and his WAR led the league once and placed among the top 10 eight times.
The short schedules of Stovey's leagues meant that he had just five seasons of at least 120 games, so he doesn't measure up particularly well in the leftfield WAR and JAWS rankings (33rd in the former, 37th in the latter). But if you prorate his production to a per 650 plate appearances basis, his 4.3 WAR is higher than 10 of the 19 enshrined leftfielders, between the likes of Carl Yastrzemski and Joe Medwick (4.5) on one side and Willie Stargell (4.1) on the other; candidate Tim Raines is at 4.3 as well. Stovey is seventh among position players in WAR up through 1893 and 13th for the 19th century, with shortstop Jack Glasscock (61.9) the only one ahead of him who's not already in Cooperstown. In 2011, the Society for American Baseball Research's anointed Stovey its Overlooked 19th Century Legend for the year; the aforementioned Dahlen was their '12 choice, while Deacon White, one of three men elected via this committee in '13, was their '10 choice.
In retrospect, it's a bit of a surprise that Stovey isn't already enshrined, but that may owe to the view that the American Association, which lasted only from 1882 to '91, was a second-class league. Of the players who spent at least three seasons there, only Bid McPhee and Tommy McCarthy are in the Hall of Fame, the latter with the lowest WAR of any enshrined player. Because Stovey spent most of his ages 26–32 seasons there, his NL stats suffer by comparison. I'm just not convinced Cooperstown needs to make room for him at this stage.
Chris von der Ahe, owner
Von der Ahe was a German-American entrepreneur who rescued the fledgling, bankrupt St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882. Under his care, they became an American Association powerhouse, though they struggled from the time they joined the National League in 1892 until he sold them in '99; soon they became the Cardinals. While his understanding of baseball was limited—he is reputed to have bragged about the size of the diamond in his heavy accent, unaware that the measurements were standardized—he had a gift for understanding the game's patrons; his team sold low-priced tickets, hot dogs and beer at Sportsman Park at a time when the AA set itself apart from the NL, which banned alcohol at games and didn't play on Sunday.
Born in Hille, Germany in 1851, von der Ahe immigrated to New York around '70, then traveled to St. Louis, became a grocery clerk and eventually saved enough money to start a saloon at the back of his store. Realizing the uptick of beer sales on game days, he bought control of the struggling, bankrupt team (re-christened the Browns) for $1,800 and turned the land next to his saloon into the first Sportsman Park, whose rightfield beer garden was in play. Von der Ahe was one of several AA owners with connections to the adult beverage industry, which is how it came to be known as "The Beer and Whiskey League." Unlike the NL, AA owners could set their own ticket prices; von der Ahe's 25-cent tickets (half the NL's price) left his patrons enough money to spend on beer. The Browns led the league in attendance, and he made a fortune, which he reinvested in real estate surrounding the ballpark. Led by first baseman/manager Charles Comiskey (later the White Sox' owner), the Browns won four straight AA pennants from 1885 to '88 and played the NL champions in prehistoric "World Series" of varying length and success.
Already something of a larger-than-life figure who billed himself as "The Millionaire Sportsman" and "der Boss President," von der Ahe built a 25-foot statue of himself outside Sportsman Park, which a sportswriter mockingly dubbed "Von der Ahe discovers Illinois." Alas, the AA's fortunes turned with the formation of the Players League, to which Comiskey was one of 30 stars to defect. When the PL folded after one year, the Browns were accepted into the NL for the 1892 season, and they moved into New Sportsman Park (later Robison Field) with the first "stadium club" under the grandstands. But without Comiskey, who jumped to the Reds, they became a doormat, with records as bad as 29–102 in 1897 and only one finish of higher than 10th in the 12-team league. Von der Ahe burned through managers at a furious pace—18 from 1892 through '98, according to Baseball-Reference—and innovations such as a 1/3-mile horse racing track at New Sportsman, with associated gambling, drew the ire of the game's powers that were further stoked by anti-immigrant sentiment. The Sporting News dubbed him "Von der Ha-Ha" and referred to him as a "maggot" as opposed to "magnate." The NL forced him out of the league and into bankruptcy in 1899; Comiskey later helped him raise money. Von der Ahe died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1913.
It's not hard to see the argument in favor of von der Ahe, whom author Edward Achorn described as "a generous, pompous, innovative, tantrum-prone owner who loved a dazzling show; he was George Steinbrenner, Charlie Finley and Bill Veeck rolled into one—with a splash of Yogi Berra, given his oddly insightful axioms." Undeniably, he was an influential figure who helped democratize and reshape baseball into the game we know and love, though he wore out his welcome among many.
Bucky Walters, pitcher (54.2/43.0/48.6; avg. HOF SP: 73.9/50.3/62.1)
A converted infielder who took up pitching, Walters earned All-Star honors six times and helped the Reds to back-to-back pennants in 1939 and '40 and a championship in the latter year. He led the NL in wins and ERA in both years and in strikeouts in the former, giving him the Pitchers Triple Crown and the NL MVP award. Even with a late start, he finished his career with a 198–160 record and 3.30 ERA (116 ERA+).
Born in Philadelphia in 1909, Walters was signed by the Boston Braves at age 20. In his first year in the minors, he pitched and played third, finding more success with the latter. He debuted with the Braves in 1931 but struggled to establish himself both there and with the Red Sox, whom he joined in mid-'33 by way of the the Pacific Coast League. Purchased by the Phillies in 1934, he began his conversion to the mound, and though he took his lumps while honing his craft with one of the league's doormats in the hitter-friendly Baker Bowl, Walters made the NL All-Star team in 1937 amid a 14–15, 4.75 ERA (92 ERA+) season.
Walters's fortunes improved upon being traded to the much stronger Reds in mid-1938, and he broke out in '39, going 27–11 with a 2.29 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 319 innings (all NL bests for the 97-win Reds); he also hit he hit .325/.357/.433 in 131 plate appearances and finished with a league-high 9.8 WAR. The Reds fell to the Yankees in that year's World Series but beat the Tigers in seven games the following season, prior to which Walters went 22–10 with a 2.48 in 305 innings. In the series, he threw complete-game victories in Games 2 and 6, the latter of which was a five-hit shutout; he also drove in two runs via an RBI groundout and an eighth-inning solo homer
Though classified as 1-A, Walters was never called into military service during World War II. In the diluted league, he continued as a mainstay of Cincinnati's staff, finishing in the top six in ERA in four of the next five seasons, leading the circuit with 23 wins in 1944 and making four All-Star teams. He pitched just twice in 1945 after a July 31 arm injury, and while he found limited success in '46, age and mileage had caught up to him. Well past his prime, he failed to collect wins No. 199 and 200 in seven appearances in 1948 and one with the Braves in '50.
Like fellow candidate Wes Ferrell, Walters added value to his pitching via his bat (.243/.286/.344 with 23 homers and 7.7 WAR). He ranked among the league's top 10 in WAR seven times, including a lead and two second-place rankings from 1939 to '41. Unlike Ferrell, however, he fattened up his stats during the war, and his peak wasn't high enough to justify overlooking his comparatively short career. He's nearly 10 JAWS points behind Ferrell, ahead of just 15 of the 59 enshrined starters. That's not good enough to justify a vote.
If I had a ballot in this, I'd tab Ferrell (whom I've warmed to over the years, having written about him multiple times in this context), Bill Dahlen (of whose merits I've long been convinced) and Adams, whose role in establishing baseball as we know it remained obscure for far too long. While I can see the merits of Breadon, I can’t escape the feeling that voting him in would be more than a reaffirmation of Branch Rickey’s genius. As for Herrmann and von der Ahe, I’d love to have a few beers with each, but I’d rather err on the side of exclusion rather than inclusion when it comes to any executive or owner from the game’s segregated era.
Beyond this year's ballot, I firmly believe this process is in need of reform. There should be more focus on post-1960 candidates, as their era is far less well represented in Cooperstown, with stronger candidates than those above on the outside looking in.