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Thursday, August 07, 2014
 
Part 3: the 1950s.

Our alternative history Hall so far:

20th century players: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson; Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Pete Alexander; George Sisler and Eddie Collins; Rogers Hornsby and Rube Waddell, Lou Gehrig, Sam Crawford, Eddie Plank, Harry Heilmann, Three-Finger Brown, Frankie Frisch, Frank Baker, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Terry, Goose Goslin, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, Eppa Rixey, Edd Roush, Heinie Groh, Lefty Grove, Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Gehringer, Carl Hubbell.

19th century players: Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Cy Young; Ed Delahanty, Old Hoss Radbourn, Herman Long, and King Kelly; Jimmy Collins and Fred Clarke; Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie, John M. Ward, Roger Connor, Pud Galvin, Dan Brouthers, Tim Keefe, Billy Hamilton, John Clarkson, Jesse Burkett, Mickey Welch, George Davis, Bid McPhee, Bill Dahlen, Jake Beckley, Jim O'Rourke, Bobby Mathews.

Non-players/pioneers: John McGraw, Connie Mack, George Wright, Morgan Bulkeley, Ban Johnson, Alexander Cartwright, Henry Chadwick, Al Spalding, Judge Landis.

We'll pick up our imaginary exercise in 1950. The Veterans' Committee, tasked with electing 19th century players, has declared its mission complete and disbanded itself, pending more research that reveals other deserving players, such as those from the very early years before league play. In the meantime, our version of the BBWAA continues to vote with statistics provided by our researchers, but mainly just pass judgment on those newly eligible five years after their retirement. A steady stream of candidates has been picked, pleasing Coopertown by providing for sufficient inductions, but not so many nor so many at a time as to cheapen the Hall.

On the 1950 ballot Al Simmons is elected. Chuck Klein misses because our researchers see him as a product of his home parks. It is a good, positive reversal of the earlier quick election of George Sisler although Klein remains eligible.

1951 marks the eligibility of several players whose careers were somewhat artificially extended by World War II. As a result, there are more good players on the ballot than is typical. Jimmie Foxx and Paul Waner are elected, others who might be qualified are passed by...for now. Joe Cronin and Bob Johnson, Lon Warneke and Paul Derringer draw interest but miss election.

1952 comes and Joe Cronin, one of last year's eligibles, is elected along with Ted Lyons. Tommy Bridges tops the also-rans. In 1953 Mel Ott and Hank Greenberg get in, but there is some controversy among others who have not yet gained election. Billy Herman, Stan Hack, Ernie Lombardi, Red Ruffing, Mel Harder, and Dizzy Dean draw lots of interest, but fall short of election. Is the system broken? Perhaps there are just a lot of good candidates coming onto the ballot. The Hall's directors express satisfaction with the process.

In real 1953, the VC got active and elected several non-players: Bill Klem and Tommy Connolly, representing NL and AL umpires, respectively; Harry Wright, a name from the beginnings of baseball; and Ed Barrow, one of the the first to fit the role of "general manager," from the Yankees. Our VC will concur with these picks, and with their research will make two other picks from the game's beginnings; Davy Force and Joe Start, stars whose beginnings predate the league version of the game.

Perhaps hearing the criticism, our BBWAA accelerates their pace. No more than two players have been elected in any one year for some time, but 1954 brings three: Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, and Ducky Medwick. The grumbling slows but doesn't stop as some favorites still have not gained election. This time Arky Vaughan falls short among new eligibles.

The 1955 class of 1949 retirees is judged not to have any worthy candidates (Augie Galan and Dixie Walker are the best of the lot) and so some old choices are taken: Arky Vaughan and Stan Hack are elected. A controversy over Dizzy Dean's non-election ensues: are only 150 wins enough, with a high peak and emphasis on the "fame?"

1956 features the election of Luke Appling and Billy Herman. Dean is once again passed over, his short career the main issue. Joe Gordon and Bucky Walters also fall short in the voting.

The real-life BBWAA did not hold an election in 1957, having decided to vote only in even-numbered years; a Veteran's Committee would vote in odd-numbered years. We will pick up here with a VC that votes on non-players, whom we have been largely ignoring, and considers older players as well.

Our 1957 brings the election of Joe DiMaggio, along with longtime teammate Joe Gordon. The VC chooses their manager, Joe McCarthy. Bobby Doerr draws some votes.

1958 sees the election of Lou Boudreau, and the voters also buckle under popular pressure and elect Dizzy Dean. Dean is an anomaly in our Hall, but gains a place due mainly to the "Fame" part of the Hall.

Our BBWAA elects Johnny Mize in 1959, and the VC goes back over its research and chooses Zack Wheat from the past as a worthy candidate. Bob Elliott and Bobo Newsom draw interest but fall short.

So overall it is a quiet decade, with many worthy players recognized. We have come through something of a down period because of the effects of the war, which cut into the careers of many players. Several elected spent a few years in the military. Others likely did not make it because of their service. This effect will continue for a while into the 1960s.

So, with the 1950s concluded, elected this decade are:

20th century players: Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, Joe Cronin, Ted Lyons, Mel Ott, Hank Greenberg, Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, Ducky Medwick, Arky Vaughan, Stan Hack, Luke Appling, Billy Herman, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau, Dizzy Dean, Johnny Mize, Zack Wheat.

19th century players: Harry Wright, Davy Force, Joe Start.


Non-players: Bill Klem, Tommy Connolly, Ed Barrow, Joe McCarthy.


Tuesday, August 05, 2014
 
Part 2: The 1940s.

In our alternative Hall, we have 33 members compared to the 26 in the actual HOF in Cooperstown at this point, the first induction ceremony in 1939. To recap, our members are:

20th century players: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson; Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Pete Alexander; George Sisler and Eddie Collins; Rogers Hornsby and Rube Waddell, Lou Gehrig.

19th century players: Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Cy Young; Ed Delahanty, Old Hoss Radbourn, Herman Long, and King Kelly; Jimmy Collins and Fred Clarke; Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie.

Non-players/pioneers: John McGraw, Connie Mack, George Wright, Morgan Bulkeley, Ban Johnson, Alexander Cartwright, Henry Chadwick, Al Spalding.

In real life, there were no elections in 1940 or 1941. No veterans' committee met, and the BBWAA had decided to vote only every three years: they would vote in 1942, then in 1945. In our imaginary world, the BBWAA will continue to vote yearly on 20th century players, and a committee of experts will continue to vote on 19th century players. Also, the research commissioned will begin to produce a comprehensive record of the game's statistics. The effective jump-start of the Baseball Encyclopedia project and the Society for American Baseball Research about 35 years ahead of their actual existence will guide our voters as we get into the 1940s. Certainly the country was distracted with the war breaking out in Europe and soon to envelop the whole world, but we will suppose that does not affect our progress, though it might limit some Cooperstown induction ceremonies due to travel restrictions.

So, in our imaginary world, the Cooperstown people make it clear that a yearly induction is needed to keep visitors coming to the Hall and the game itself funds research to help the process. Old Reach Guides and the archives of The Sporting News, as well as city newspapers that covered the game, provide the materials and the relationship of baseball and the press helps makes these tools available.

We also get firmer rules. We will start enforcing the five-year rule in 1940, that players are not eligible to be elected until five years after they retire. We think of that now as always being the case but it was not in effect in the real world until the 1960s. Players including Lefty Grove, Joe DiMaggio, and Warren Spahn received votes while still active. Had this policy been in effect all the time Babe Ruth could not have been inducted until 1941. This will be another by-product of our research.

The effect of the research is that now, ballots are sent out with an information packet, presenting credentials of a number of candidates, and voters are allowed to select up to ten. With that here are our alternative votes.

1940: the BBWAA vote elects Sam Crawford and Eddie Plank, based on the information of the researchers. The 19th century voters, with more to rely on than faulty memories, select John Montgomery Ward, Roger Connor and Pud Galvin.

1941: The BBWAA picks Harry Heilmann and Three-Finger Brown. The Veterans choose Dan Brouthers and Tim Keefe.

In real life, the 1942 vote elected Rogers Hornsby. We've already elected him, so our 1942 ballot chooses recent retiree Frankie Frisch plus Frank (Home Run) Baker, while the VC selects Sliding Billy Hamilton and John Clarkson.

In 1943 again there was no actual vote; our voters are still at it, though. The BBWAA chooses Mickey Cochrane and Bill Terry. The VC picks Jesse Burkett and Mickey Welch, getting the last of the 19th century 300-game winners in addition to "The Crab". We won't quite follow the love for voting in all of the 1890s Baltimore Orioles, however.

In the real 1944 Judge Landis died, and a hastily-called meeting of the Veteran's Committee voted him, and only him, into the Hall he helped create. Landis was the first and to this point only Commissioner of Baseball. Our committee will likewise elect Landis with the Veterans also picking George Davis and Bid McPhee. The BBWAA, increasingly concentrating on recent retireees, chooses Goose Goslin and a somewhat controversial pick in Burleigh Grimes. Few pitchers without 300 wins have been selected so far, but Grimes with 270 victories tops the NL list for many years around. Only Grove wins more in this era. Rube Waddell and his 193 victories are controversially used as a case in point in this vote.

Now, the voters returned. The war was winding down in 1945, and the BBWAA voted but could not elect anyone with so many candidates to consider but no direction and no momentum from an annual election. Frank Chance came the closest, polling 72.5 percent with 75 percent needed. He was seven votes short of election. With that result, the Veterans' Committee went hog-wild, electing ten men. Some were qualified and some not.

On our own vote, only one truly qualified retiree from 1939 comes up, and that's Gehrig, already in. The BBWAA reaches back for two pitchers, Red Faber and Eppa Rixey, both with over 250 wins. This somewhat eases the controversy aroung the election of Grimes, but there is talk about diluting the Hall. Debate: is 250 wins to be the standard? The VC goes for Bill Dahlen and Jake Beckley.

Another real-time election in 1946, and again the BBWAA could not choose anyone. They even tried a runoff election, putting the top 20 on another ballot. It didn't work, as top vote-getter Frank Chance went from 71% on the first ballot to 57% on the runoff. The VC again decided to make up the difference and elected 11, including Tinker, Evers, and Chance as a group. Those who argue for a "small Hall" lost their argument right there. Our procedure and inclusiveness to this point will eventually have the effect of keeping our Hall smaller.

In our imaginary timeline the 1946 BBWAA selects Edd Roush and Heinie Groh, while the VC takes Orator Jim O'Rourke and Bobby Mathews, and declares its work to be done. More 19th century players, including those from pre-league days, will have to be chosen through more research that could take many years and the VC decides that it will not be a yearly voting committee though it will meet every year for discussion. This becomes established in a group much like the Society for American Baseball Research in our real history, but with a more official standing.

With the logjam broken the BBWAA in real time 1947 elected four and came near to electing a fifth. We will proceed apace, and our imaginary BBWAA elects Lefty Grove and Gabby Hartnett. Our BBWAA also elects Charlie Gehringer in 1948. In 1949 we get Carl Hubbell. It is also decided about this time that the burgeoning radio business and the announcers that work on air deserve the same priviliges as print journalists, so the broadcast guys are offered a chance to be BBWAA members.

The electees in our thought exercise from the 1940s:

20th century players: Sam Crawford, Eddie Plank, Harry Heilmann, Three-Finger Brown, Frankie Frisch, Frank Baker, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Terry, Goose Goslin, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, Eppa Rixey, Edd Roush, Heinie Groh, Lefty Grove, Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Gehringer, Carl Hubbell.

19th century players: John M. Ward, Roger Connor, Pud Galvin, Dan Brouthers, Tim Keefe, Billy Hamilton, John Clarkson, Jesse Burkett, Mickey Welch, George Davis, Bid McPhee, Bill Dahlen, Jake Beckley, Jim O'Rourke, Bobby Mathews.


Non-Players: Judge Landis.


Monday, August 04, 2014
 
Beginning a new series:
Baseball Hall of Fame Alternative History Part 1

Anyone who follows the game knows that a number of mistakes have been made in the history of Hall of Fame balloting, both by the BBWAA and the various incarnations of the Veterans' Committee. Let's imagine what might have happened if better choices had been made, right from the beginning.

First, let's imagine that the push to make a Hall of Fame for baseball was accompanied by a push to compile an accurate record. So, a committee was established to put together accurate statistics for the history of the game, nearly thirty years before the actual Baseball Encyclopedia project. Without computers this would proceed slower than it actually did, but some benefits could be realized right away, especially with the 19th century. And, since they were closer to the time, finding references and records could actually have been easier for them.

The first vote was taken in 1936 and we will continue that timeline. That vote was by two different groups; the general membership of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voting on the 20th century players, and another group (membership lost to history) to vote on the 19th century. Let's postulate that the 19th century group was better defined and chosen, composed of some historians and other experts in the period, and that we avoid confusion like both groups voting on some crossover players like Cy Young as actually happened at the time.

So we will say this first 20th century group turns out the same as it did: the election of that "first class," a classic of the genre, with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson being selected. It really couldn't have gone much better than that. Never mind that Ruth had only been retired a year and would not have been eligible by today's rules, or that some active players got votes. We'll clean that sort of stuff up as we go and more quickly than the actual BBWAA did.

In real life the 19th century committee couldn't focus on any candidates and ended up electing no one: our imaginary group does better, and chooses the four who got the most votes from the committee: Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, and Cy Young. That's an equally fine group to be the first choices of the old-timers. Only Young out of that group was still alive by 1936 (or 1939, the first induction, for that matter) but it works.

So we are underway, with nine worthy representatives. A second ballot was taken in 1937; Young was elected by the BBWAA then, but he's already in by the Old-Timers in our alternate history, so we will suppose three players are elected but not quite the same three. In our alternative Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker make it, as they did, but also Pete Alexander, who finished 4th and came up a little short on the original ballot. Also, the various committees made the first non-player selections; managers John McGraw (who died in 1934) and Connie Mack (Mack was still active), early player and manager George Wright, and the first president of each league (National and American) Morgan Bulkeley and Ban Johnson. We will stand by the elections of these pioneers.

Apparently deterred by the failure of the actual 19th century committee, that group did not vote again. Its purpose was folded into the regular voting by the BBWAA. We will instead suppose that our more effective group continued for a second year and picked the next four on the original voting list: Ed Delahanty, Old Hoss Radbourn, Herman Long, and King Kelly. Long will be our first pick who is not in the actual Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; he was a longtime shortstop, mostly with Boston's NL club. This seems a reasonable expectation of what would have happened had this committee been continued in the real world.

Moving on to 1938, actual election winner Alexander is already in our Hall so we will look to the next in line. Assuming the research has not had time to catch up to our present levels, George Sisler (next in votes) will be elected, as well as Eddie Collins. Both got a lot of support in real life. Sisler is not as highly regarded today as he was then but a .340 career average and high peak got him recognized. Alexander Cartwright and Henry Chadwick, two sportswriters who did a lot to popularize the game and standardize rules, were also elected and we will concur. Reaching back to the 19th century, we will suppose our committee votes yet again, and picks Jimmy Collins and Fred Clarke (even though Clarke was just as much a 20th century player; he got votes from the committee initially). So far we are doing pretty well.

Then comes 1939. The guys actually elected by the BBWAA (Sisler, Collins, and Keeler) are already in for us, so we will look at the next guys who drew support; that would be Rogers Hornsby and Rube Waddell, so they get in for our election. Waddell won just 193 career games and will become a controversial selection in our imaginary exercise. Lou Gehrig was also elected in a special vote after his illness was announced early in the season, and we will do the same. Meantime the Old-Timers committee made six selections; three are already in for us (Anson, Ewing, and Radbourn) so we don't have to worry about them. We will ignore the dubious selections of Charles Comiskey and Candy Cummings, and go along with the pick of Al Spalding. He was the power behind the throne for a good bit of baseball history, but we will choose him as an early player rather than an executive. Our 19th century committee will also pick up Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie, giving us a nice roster for the first induction ceremony. To wit:

20th century players: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson; Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Pete Alexander; George Sisler and Eddie Collins; Rogers Hornsby and Rube Waddell, Lou Gehrig.

19th century players: Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Cy Young; Ed Delahanty, Old Hoss Radbourn, Herman Long, and King Kelly; Jimmy Collins and Fred Clarke; Kid Nichols and Amos Rusie.

Non-players/pioneers: John McGraw, Connie Mack, George Wright, Morgan Bulkeley, Ban Johnson, Alexander Cartwright, Henry Chadwick, Al Spalding.


That's a pretty storied group, and a good representation of baseball history to 1939. In real life, even though they had only actually put 26 rather than 33 in the Hall, the BBWAA decided not to vote again until 1942. That's a mistake we will not repeat (partly because Cooperstown doesn't like it: no inductees means fewer visitors) and also suppose that research efforts are now bearing fruit.

To be continued!