Arguing about the merits of players is the baseball fan's second favorite pastime and every year the Hall of Fame elections spark heated controversy. In a book that's sure to thrill--and infuriate--countless fans, Bill James takes a hard look at the Hall, probing its history, its politics and, most of all, its decisions.
James examines the history, politics and voting decisions surrounding the controversial elections to baseball's Hall of Fame.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 04, 1995
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Excerpt from Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame by Bill James
DRYSDALE AND PAPPAS
Don Drysdale won 209 games in his career, and lost 166.
Milt Pappas, Drysdale's contemporary, posted an almost identical won-lost record, 209-164.
Don Drysdale was selected to the Hall of Fame, by the BBWAA, in his tenth year of eligibility.
Milt Pappas received so little support (five votes from 324 ballots) that he was dropped from the ballot after one turn.
Pappas, an outspoken fellow, was very unhappy about this, and has been known to compare his own record to Drysdale's in an occasional interview, so this comparison between them is well known:
It is truly a travesty to have Don Drysdale elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. When Milt Pappas was not listed on the Hall of Fame ballot, his protests were met with howls of derision. He won only 209 games and had a winning percentage of only 560, they said. Not good enough for the Hall.
Now, here's the new Hall of Famer, Mr. Drysdale, who won the same 209 games pitching for the best team of the era....If there's a sub-basement at Cooperstown, I suggest the plaque be hung there.
-- Randall Kendrick
Baseball Digest, May 1984
There are many distinctions which can be drawn between Drysdale and Pappas, and many similarities. Presenting first the full record.
Drysdale was more of a power pitcher than Pappas, recording 758 more strikeouts. He had better earned run averages and better ERA components (control, opposition batting average). Drysdale pitched for more championship teams and more teams that were in the pennant race. He was a better hitter, and he established a well-known record in 1968, since broken by Orel Hershiser.
Almost all of those issues have another side to them (if he pitched for better teams, shouldn't he be expected to have posted a better won-lost record?), and I'll discuss all of them later, in Chapter 31. I wanted to deal here with what I think is really the key difference between them, which is the issue of consistency versus peak performance.
One of the most dependable patterns in Hall of Fame voting, both in the BBWAA vote and from the Veterans Committee, is that players who have big seasons are much more likely to be selected than are players of equal overall accomplishment, but greater consistency. Drysdale, who had 27 points in the Black Ink Test, had many more big seasons than Pappas, who had 5.
I could give countless examples to demonstrate this. It is an overstatement, but not much of one, to say that every marginal Hall of Famer in history had some big seasons with eye-catching numbers, while every marginal player who isn't in the Hall of Fame didn't have those big seasons. I'll give you four examples:
1. Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill. Chesbro won 199 games in his career, lost 131. In his best season, 1903, he threw a wild pitch on the last day of the season that cost his team the pennant, and that made him one of the most famous big-game goats of the first 25 years of this century. He was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.
Jesse Tannehill, who was born in the same year as Chesbro (1874), was Chesbro's teammate for much of his career, first in Pittsburgh (1899-1902) and later with the New York Yankees, then called the Highlanders (1903). His career record (197-116) is very similar to Chesbro's (199-131), but distinctly better -- yet he is not in the Hall of Fame.
In fact, the four pitchers who were the Pirates' rotation when they won the National League in 1901 (Chesbro, Tannehill, Sam Leever and Deacon Phillippe) all had extremely similar career records.
Chesbro had probably the poorest career record of the four, Sam Leever the best, yet Chesbro is the only one who is in the Hall of Fame. Why?
You all know the answer. He had the big year.
2. Dazzy Vance and Lon Warneke. Dazzy Vance, a National League pitcher of the 1920s and 1930s, won 197 games in his career, lost 140. He's in the Hall of Fame.
Lon Warneke, a National League pitcher who came along a few years later and also threw very hard, won 193 games and lost only 121.
Warneke's record is a little better, but in 1955, when both pitchers were eligible, Vance drew 205 votes and was elected. Warneke didn't draw a vote. Why?
Vance had some monster years. He went 28-6 in 1924, led the league in ERA at 2.16 and struck out more men than any other two pitchers in the major leagues. He also went 22-9 in 1925, 22-10 in 1928 and in 1930, at the age of 39, led the National League in ERA.
Warneke had some good years, too -- 22-6, 22-10, 20-13 -- but just not quite at the same level. Big years get you in the Hall of Fame.
3. Roger Maris and Bob Allison. Bob Allison's career totals are very similar to Roger Maris's.
Neither Maris nor Allison is in the Hall of Fame yet, but Maris drew strong support, peaking at 176 to 184 votes each year from 1986 to 1988.
Bob Allison was the most feared baserunner of his time. He played center field when he first came up, played it well -- yet his vote total peaked at zero. Why?
You know the answer. Maris had the big year.