Hall Watch 2004-The Second Basemen-Jeff Kent, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio (Part 1)

Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 09:04 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

As all three of the second base contenders for the Hall of Fame are into their late 30s, I decided to explore the question of which second baseman have been admitted to the Hall a bit before talking about each of them.

What credentials qualify a second baseman for the Hall of Fame?

For those who arenít familiar with the Hall of Fameís process, weíll start with a brief explanation. Players can be admitted to the Hall one of two ways- by securing at least 75% of the vote of the baseball writers association (BBWAA) or by being selected by the Veteransí Committee. Players with 10 years or more service become eligible after 5 years of retirement for BBWAA selection, and can remain on the ballot for 15 years, unless they fail to secure 5% of the vote in a year. After they cease to be eligible for BBWAA selection, the Veterans Committee may select them, again with 75% of the vote being the requirement.

The Veterans' Committee process was revamped in 2003, and is now transparent. All eligible players (1400 in 2005) are narrowed down to a field of 200 by a Historical Overview Committee, composed of experienced sportswriters. Here is the field of 200 for the 2005 Veterans' Committee vote. There are some fine, fine players on this list, including Larry Doyle and Joe Gordon. More on that later. After that, a BBWAA screening committee composed of 2 writers from each major league city (4 for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles) narrows the list down to 25 by vote. Those 25 players go to the Veterans' Commitee, composed of Hall of Famers (currently 60) and award-winning journalists (currently 14), and a player who secures 75% of the Committee's vote is elected to the Hall.

I will not be addressing 19th century ballplayers or Negro League ballplayers. This is a reflection of my limited knowledge, and the limited statistical information available.

BBWAA Hall of Fame 2nd basemen

Nap Lajoie (1900-10), Eddie Collins(1910-20), Rogers Hornsby(1920-30), Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer(1930-40), Jackie Robinson(1950-60), Rod Carew(1960-70), Joe Morgan(1970-80).

Overall, thatís a pretty good list of the greatest second basemen of the period 1900-1980. The only name that seems out of place is Frankie Frisch. More on that later. What is especially noteworthy is that the list stops at 8, for a period of 80 years. In other words, the baseball writers have essentially chosen one second basemen per decade (with the exception of the 40s), and really they have done a pretty good job of it. The decades beside each entrantís name represent the period that they could reasonably be said to have been the best in baseball.

Veteransí Committee 2nd basemen

Johnny Evers, Billy Herman, Bobby Doerr, Red Schoendienst, Tony Lazzeri, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski

Hereís where it gets sticky. These guys were all good, but most were not as good as some guys who are not in. As we shall see, when we compare stats.

The best 2nd basemen not in the Hall of Fame

Weíll skip Ryne Sandberg, who is eligible and may very well be elected in the next year or two.

Larry Doyle. Joe Gordon, Bobby Grich. Lou Whitaker. These guys were great ballplayers. Joe Gordon was easily the best second basemen of the 40s. Bobby Grich was the best second baseman in the majors after Morgan returned to earth and before Sandberg arrived on the scene. Laughing Larry Doyle was the best second baseman in the National League in the teens , but played in the shadow of Eddie Collins (as Grich played in Morganís shadow for much of his career). Lou Whitaker was the best second baseman in the American League in the 1980s.

With those names in mind, letís move on to the chart of statistics:

BBWAA Hall of Fame selections

Player        G     AB     H     HR    W     BA     OBP   SLUG  OPS+

Lajoie 2480 9589 3242 83 516 .338 .380 .467 150
Collins 2826 9949 3315 47 1499 .333 .424 .429 141
Hornsby 2259 8173 2930 301 1038 .358 .434 .577 175
Frisch 2311 9112 2880 105 1098 .316 .369 .432 111
Gehringer 2323 8860 2839 184 1186 .320 .404 .480 124
Jackie 1382 4877 1518 137 740 .311 .409 .474 132
Carew 2469 9315 3053 92 1018 .328 .393 .429 131
Morgan 2649 9277 2517 268 1865 .271 .392 .427 132

Veteran's Committee choices

Player        G     AB     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Evers 1784 6137 1659 12 778 .270 .356 .334 106
Herman 1922 7707 2345 47 737 .304 .367 .407 112
Doerr 1865 7093 2042 223 809 .288 .362 .461 115
Schoendienst 2216 8479 2449 84 606 .289 .337 .387 93
Lazzeri 1740 6297 1840 178 869 .292 .380 .467 121
Fox 2367 9232 2663 35 719 .288 .348 .363 94
Maz 2163 7755 2016 138 447 .260 .299 .367 84

The Outsiders

Player        G     AB     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Doyle 1766 6509 1887 74 625 .290 .357 .408 126
Gordon 1566 5707 1530 253 759 .268 .357 .468 120
Grich 2008 6890 1833 224 1087 .266 .371 .424 125
Whitaker 2390 8570 2369 244 1197 .276 .363 .426 117

The Contenders

Player        G     AB     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Alomar (36) 2379 9073 2724 210 1032 .300 .371 .443 116
Kent (36) 1777 6604 1910 302 592 .289 .352 .505 125
Biggio (38) 2409 9221 2639 234 1060 .286 .373 .435 116

A word about defence

Statistics concerning 2nd base defence that are reliable and meaningful are hard to access. Historical defensive statistics are even more so. For that reason, Iíll simply rely on reputation, augmented by personal observation, to do a simple scale regarding the defence of the Hall members and the outsiders:

A+ Bill Mazeroski
A Bobby Grich, Joe Morgan, Nellie Fox, Eddie Collins, Johnny Evers
B+ Joe Gordon, Red Schoendienst, Nap Lajoie, Bobby Doerr, Frankie Frisch
B Lou Whitaker, Larry Doyle, Billy Herman, Charlie Gehringer
C+ Rogers Hornsby, Tony Lazzeri
C Rod Carew

Thereís a fair degree of variation in evaluations of Hornsby and Carew. Some thought Hornsby to be very good, others that he was inadequate. I have chosen the middle ground. There seems to be little debate that Rod Carewís pivot on the DP was inadequate, but he had fairly good range when he was young.

Several propositions from the statistics

Here are my observations on the statistics:

1. All of the BBWAA 2nd base selections had long careers except for Jackie who is an obvious special case.
2. The anomalous BBWAA selection of Frisch can be explained by his high hit total and his fame as a member of the Gashouse Gang.
3. None of the Veteransí Committee choices were manifestly unqualified, but all of the outsiders (Doyle, Gordon, Grich and Whitaker) were better ballplayers. In fairness, not enough time may have elapsed for the Veteransí Committee to address the Grich and Whitaker cases. It is also true that Doyle and Grich (and Whitaker) had very little support among the BBWAA, and encountered a similar reaction at the Veterans' Committee. Gordon had substantial support among the writers, and has a substantial following among the veterans.
4. However, none of the outsiders would really fit in among the BBWAA selections (with the exception of Frisch) due to either short careers (Doyle, Gordon and Grich) or lesser performance (Whitaker).

One can hope that the Veteransí Committee will look again at the Doyle and Gordon cases soon, athough Doyle had no support and Gordon limited support in the last Veterans' Committee recorded vote. Doyle's case in particular is very strong. In the fullness of time, the Committee could then turn their attention to Grich and Whitaker

In Part 2, we take a closer look at the contenders, and ask the question: who was the best second baseman of the 90s? Weíll see how they did in 2004, and give opinions on whether they should be in the Hall, and whether they will.