December 8, 2008
BASEBALL: Hall Calls Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon has been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, as other candidates including Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Gil Hodges, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, and seriously old-time players like Sherry Magee, Bill Dahlen and Deacon White fell short. I'll come back to some of the guys who lost when I have more time to write, but you can go here for my take on Gordon as well as Vern Stephens and Maury Wills, also on this year's ballot. (In fact, I've been meaning to revisit and supplement that essay with an additional point, and will when I get a chance). Basically, Gordon - who died 30 years ago - is OK with me as a Hall of Famer when you give him back the two years he lost to World War II (he probably wouldn't have hit .210 in 1946, either, if he hadn't missed those two years). He was extremely comparable as a hitter to his contemporary Bobby Doerr and to a lesser extent Tony Lazzeri and Frankie Frisch, though less adept at getting on base than Lazzeri and Frisch, and while all four had comparable-length primes, Frisch had a longer career and success as a manager (Gordon didn't, and this excellent Steven Goldman essay I'd been meaning to link to gives Gordon some of the blame, along with Bobby Bragan, for ruining Herb Score's arm).
I also looked here at the 1948 Indians, for whom Gordon played a key role; Gordon is the sixth member of that team inducted to the Hall, as well as the seventh member of the 1938-39 Yankees and the seventh member of the 1941-42 Yankees (incidentally, that 1942 Yankees team, for which Gordon won an MVP award that really should have gone to Ted Williams - Williams won the Triple Crown, led the league in Runs by 18, RBI by 23, Slugging by 135 points and OBP by 82 and times on base by 60 - was a really good team, starring Gordon, the DiMaggio-Keller-Henrich outfield, Rizzuto, Dickey, and a largely forgotten pitching staff, although they were overshadowed by the late-30s editions and the fact that they lost the Series to a Cardinals juggernaut).
Gordon , a fine player, was a bad choice. Not a horrific choice, but a bad one. Santo is the man. I hope the vets put in Blyleven one day, and the voters reject Rice, but I'm skeptical on both counts.
I would consider Wills srongly despite his marginal (or worse) numbers. This is because he revived the stolen base as an offensive weapon. He had a major impact on the way the game was played to a greater extent than almost any other position player.
I agree with Seth about Blyleven, who deserves to get in on the basis of his numbers.
Wills blows as HOF candidate. His numbers arent even close; its like advocating for the first reliever to rack up a lot of "holds" once managers employed a clear set up role.
Gordon seems reasonable, at least of the players on the list. As Crank said, he lost two prime years to the war, and both before and after had multiple MVP-caliber seasons. His inability to rack up impressive counting stats is offset by the fact that he played a key defensive position and hit in, if memory serves, a poor park for runs.
Bill James wrote a good compare-and-contrast segment in one of his books, on Gordon and Doerr.
There are enough people beating the drum for Santo and Blyleven that I don't need to join in.
I've read that Wills didn't truly revive the stolen base, as Luis Aparicio was already stealing 60 a year before Wills got his 100+. If he was a great player, his record doesn't show it. He looks like a good player who had one great year (1965).
Maybe it's just me, but Allie Reynolds wasn't a Hall of Fame caliber player. He was one vote shy of induction. Between him and Gordon, there is a hint of a Yankee feel to the "before 1943" portion of the voting. Having only twelve voters didn't help.
I guess the best way to say it is that Gordon will not bring the Hall down on his induction. Yes, Santo was a better player, but some of that was the paucity of third basemen in history prior to Schmidtt and Brett coming along (with all due respect to Brooks).
Wills, on the other hand, would go in for a reason that keeps Maris out: You cannot have a player inducted for excellence in one season. Well, two really, if you count 1965. And Maris was a much much better player (and teammate and person). But if he had a few less stolen bases in either year, you would be laughed at for mentioning him. He was not a great fielder, he created lots of outs, walked little, and had problems getting on base. Aparicio was a similar offensive player. Some stolen bases, but couldn't steal first. But Luis was a fielder of Ozzian proportions. Wills was not. So please, can we forget Wills for the Hall, and complain about Santo not getting in while he can enjoy it?
Sadly, Gordon who was a very good second baseman is mostly remembered as the manager who was traded for another manager. Years ago. instead of Rizzuto and Doerr it should have been Gordon and Vernon.
Gordon would have been in a long time ago if Yankee Stadium hadn't held down his hitting numbers--his OPS+ is significantly better than Doerr's, particularly considering that Doerr's best season (165 OPS+) was against weak wartime opposition in WWII in a year (1944) when Gordon was in the service. Williams should have won the MVP in 1942, though--that was a terrible injustice perpetrated by the BBWAA.
Santo definitely should have been inducted--and Carl Mays should have been in decades ago. This every other year structure is a lousy idea and should be eliminated--and the Hall of Famers voting on the post-WWII players should be flown to a nice hotel so they can confer before voting.
The two quotes that capture what Gordon was as a player are the following. "Joe Gordon is the best 2nd Baseman in the American League right now except for Gehringer. But he will be better then Gehringer next season."- Ozzie Vitt Newark Bears manager during the 1937 season while Gordon was still in the minors. Also "Joe is the best all around player I have ever managed and I haven't forgotten who I have managed" - Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy following World Series in early 1940's.
I think Gordon's career was too short, and probably would not have voted for him. But he was a legitimately HOF-caliber player in his best years, and doesn't really water down the Hall beyond the extent that it already is. Looking him up, I was surprised to discover he was a right handed hitter, which makes his power output at Yankee Stadium quite a bit more impressive.
Bill, I really enjoy your baseball posts (in addition to the others).
Having looked at the Hardball Times article you linked to, do you think that looking at who's already in the Hall may bias one to be overly inclusive? It strikes me that there are many players from earlier eras (1930s in particular) who simply don't get any NEAR the Hall based on today's tougher standards. Referencing them when evaluating today's players seems like a formula for being overly generous to me.