Category: Hall of Fame

Underappreciated Baseball Great Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker was one of the most prolific and underappreciated players in Red Sox history.  Playing in the shadows of Ty Cobb during baseball’s “Dead Ball Era”, Speaker led the Red Sox to World Series championships in 1912 and 1915 and the Indians in 1920 as a player/manager.  The “Grey Eagle” hit for high average, power, and production while eTrisSpeakerT206stablishing the standard for center field defense.   

From deep in the batter’s box, the crouching Speaker held the bat at the hip to ensure greater contact.  He struck out just 220 times during his 22-year career that included 3,514 career hits.  Speaker displayed the strength to hit line drives into the gaps and down both lines, accounting for his still-standing major league record of 792 career doubles.  Speaker batted higher than .350 nine times and higher than .380 five times en route to a .345 career batting average.

Despite the lofty batting statistics, Speaker won just one batting title courtesy of playing in the same era as Cobb, who won 12 batting titles and compiled a .366 career batting average.  Like his career accomplishments, Speaker’s baseball cards pale in comparison to Cobb’s, but are quite impressive in their own right.  Most baseball historians and vintage card collectors consider the 1909-1911 T206 card to be Speaker’s rookie.  The card displays Speaker on the verge of making contact from his unique batting stance.  Decent graded versions sell for as much as $7,500.

The original T206 baseball cards were issued in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Co., including the “Ty Cobb” brand.  The set includes the T206 Honus Wagner card, the most valuable and coveted card ever produced.  One of the largest pre-World War I sets ever produced, the series also includes Hall of Famers Speaker, Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Speed and defense also contributed to Speaker’s Hall of Fame career.  He stole 436 bases and hit 222 triples (fifth on the all-time list) during his career.  Speaker is considered the best center fielder of his time and one of the best ever.  Playing in an era when long drives were rare, Speaker played extremely shallow — practically positioned as a fifth infielder — to cut down would be singles and bloop hits.  His trademark play was racing to second base behind a confused or unsuspecting runner for a pick off play.  Speaker is still the all-time leader in putouts and double plays for his position.  He also recorded a record-tying 35 assists for the Red Sox in 1909 and 1912.

The majority of Speaker baseball cards display portrait or batting stance photos.  However, the 1927 Exhibits card is one of the few that feature Speaker in action defensively.  The photo shows Speaker as he awaits a throw, perhaps playing first base.  The 63-card 1927 Exhibit Baseball Set featured a green hue of the black and white images on each card front — a relatively new and unique printing method for the time.  Ungraded versions sell in the $125-$175 range.

Speaker’s unconventional path to centerfield started at a young age. After suffering two broken arms as a teenager, he taught himself to throw right handed.  Despite throwing with his non-dominant arm, Speaker tried to break into professional baseball as a  pitcher.  After being turned down by New York Giants manager John McGraw for a tryout as a pitcher, Speaker went to the Texas League to learn centerfield with the Cleburne Railroaders in his native Texas.

A year later, he was purchased by the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) and became the regular centerfielder, playing alongside Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and defensive whiz Duffy Lewis to form the “Golden Outfield,” which was widely considered one of the best outfields in baseball history.

One of Speaker’s earliest cards with the Red Sox is from the 1910-1911 M116 Sporting Life series.  A four cent investment would get readers of the Sporting Life newspaper a dozen sports cards.  Speaker’s card features a colorized portrait displaying his Red Sox baseball jersey.  Highly graded versions sell in excess of $5,900.

 

 

A Place For Edgar Martinez And The DH In The Hall of Fame

The designated hitter is an actual position that has been debated, discussed, probed, and prodded since the 1890s.  Since the inception of the American League position 44 years ago, the DH has served it’s purpose ably: enhancing offense, while increasing fan interest.  Each year, the best DH  is honored with the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.  Somehow, the player who established the benchmark for excellence at the position has been kept out of the Hall of Fame and has just two remaining years of eligibility — a slight to one the finest hitters baseball has ever seen and to the position as a whole.  

Martinez did not become a full-time player until the age of 27, which limited his career hit total to 2,247 and home run total to just 309, well short of top sluggers from his era.  But looking deeper into the numbers, we discover that Martinez was actually one of the top and most consistent sluggers of his time — or any time period — culminating an 18-year career with an eye-popping .418 on-base percentage and .933 OPS.  Jayson Stark of ESPN describes Martinez as one of the “greatest hitters of his generation.”

Martinez was just one of eight players to have 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average above .300, a career OBP above .400, and a career slugging percentage above .500.  He is also one of six players to hit at least .320 for six consecutive seasons  alongside Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, and  Todd Helton.  All but Helton are in the Hall.

Sports edgarmartinezIllustrated’s Jay Jaffe, who spends endless hours crunching numbers to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates, says Martinez is one of the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time.  Martinez outdistanced David Ortiz in career WAR 68.3 too 55.4.  Most consider fellow DH Ortiz a clear cut Hall of Famer, steroid issues aside.  Martinez is one of 25 players with at least eight seasons with OPS+ greater than 150.  All who are eligible and not connected to steroids are in the Hall of Fame except two: Dick Allen and Martinez.  He also has the fourth best career OPS (.933) among right-handed hitters in the modern era … And still not enough Hall of Fame votes.

The anti-DH faction among baseball writers has weakened over the years, but is still clearly present.  There are several players who have appeared extensively as a DH already in the Hall, including Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice.  But most of these players played the majority of their games at other positions — usually first base or outfield.

Elected in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly 44 percent of the games he started.  Two years ago, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played.  Martinez played DH for 71% of the games he started.  If Martinez is not elected before his expiration date, Ortiz will likely become the first almost-full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor.  Ortiz collected more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH.

The designated hitter first proposed during the 1890s as the designated pinch hitter. Connie Mack took credit for the idea in 1906. NL owners actually approved the DH rule in December 1928, but were ironically overruled by their AL cohorts. In 1940, the Bushrod League, a California winter circuit, adopted the DH. In 1969 the International League experimented with the DH for a year.

After nearly eight decades of debate between league presidents, owners, and players, the American League finally approved the DH before the 1973 season. On April 6, Ron Blomberg, became major league baseball’s first designated hitter when he drew a first-inning, bases loaded walk from Luis Tiant on a cold, windy Opening Day at Fenway Park.

A pulled hamstring forced the 24-year-old first baseman to his new position. If Matty Alou, batting third for the Yankees, didn’t stroke a two-out double in the first inning, the Red Sox Orlando Cepeda, the first player signed specifically for DH duty, would have made the history books.  Although the Red Sox won the game 15-5, Cepeda, the prototype DH, went 0-for-6, the only Red Sox starter to go hitless.

AL owners hoped the DH would increase offense, give aging sluggers the chance to extend their years of productivity, and increase attendance. The three-year experiment worked. AL teams were scoring more runs, league attendance rose from 11.4 million to 13.4 million, and older stars were extending their careers.

Cepeda was exactly what the AL owners had in mind when they adopted the DH. The 35-year-old former first baseman entered the season with bad knees and 358 career home runs, and had driven in over 100 runs five times in his career.

In 1973, Cepeda played all of his 142 games at DH for the Red Sox, hitting 20 homers and 86 RBI — excellent power numbers for the time — winning the first Associated Press Designated Hitter Award.

The DH helped sluggers such as Cepeda, the 1958 NL Rookie of the Year with the Giants and the 1967 MVP with the Cardinals, achieve Hall of Fame status. Cepeda, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1999, finished his career with 379 home runs (21 as a DH) and 1,365 RBI.

The DH is now widely accepted and used in some form in most leagues from high school to the majors. The final hurdle to its acceptance as an actual position may be a deservedly wider presence in the Hall of Fame.

Roberto Clemente: Hall of Fame Player, Great Person

On this day 44 years ago, the world lost a Hall of Fame baseball player and a great humanitarian.  Thirty-eight-year-old Roberto Clemente, revered as a national hero in Puerto Rico, was leading a relief aid team flying supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua when the small aircraft exploded and crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff.  

Clemente’s untimely death occurred just a few months after he recorded his 3,000th career hit and prompted a special election that made the Pittsburgh Pirates great baseball’s first Hispanic Hall of Famer.  At the time, Clemente was just the 11th man in baseball history to achieve 3,000 hits and his lifetime batting average of .317 was the highest among active players.

Clemente used a unique inside-out swing to produce four batting titles, a 1966 roberto_clemente_rcNational League MVP, and 15 All-Star invitations.  Quick, powerful — almost Hank Aaron-like — wrists allowed Clemente to stand away from the plate and drive the ball with ferocity to all fields.  He also lead t
he Pirates to World Series Championships in 1960 and 1971, when he was named the Series MVP.

He got the most from his 5’-11”, 180-pound frame offensively and defensively.  Most baseball experts and historians still regard Clemente as the best right fielder in baseball history.  He patrolled Pittsburgh’s spacious Forbes Field for most of his career with speed and grace, earning 12 Gold Gloves and comparisons to Willie Mays as a defensive player.  A strong and remarkably accurate arm kept base runners at bay.

Known for his charitable tireless charitable work, Clemente was recruited by relief organizations to organize relief efforts from Puerto Rico.  He not only organized the efforts, but played a large role in gathering the goods and loading the plane.  He was on aboard the plane because many people thought the relief supplies were falling in the hands of profiteers.  Clemente wanted to ensure that people in need were receiving the goods.  The plane carrying a crew of three and Clemente crashed in heavy seas just under two miles from shore.

Clemente’s roberto_clemente_1972professional career started on the West Coast and if the Brooklyn Dodgers weren’t so careless, history may have been different.  The Dodgers originally signed Clemente out of high school with a deal that included a $10,000 bonus.  In 1954, his first season as a professional baseball player, Clemente played for the Dodgers’ minor league affiliate in Montreal.

Per rule of professional baseball at the time, all players signed for more than $4,000 had to be placed on the major league roster after one year of minor league service.  Any player not added to the roster could be signed by any other club for $4,000.  Instead of adding him to the roster, the Dodgers tried to hide Clemente in Montreal by not playing him.  Obviously, a player of Clemente’s talent could not be hidden.  He was scooped up by the Pirates for $4,000, making him one of the best bargains in baseball history.

In 1955, Topps issued the first Roberto Clemente baseball card. The colorful horizontal cards featuring portrait and action photos along with the team logo in the upper right-hand corner are considered one of the best-looking  sets ever produced.  Kudos to Topps for producing a card of a top prospect with no major league experience — a rarity in those days.  The final card featuring Clemente as a player, was featured in the colorful 1972 Topps set.

The Joy Of Collecting 1970s Hostess Baseball Cards

Drab, ordinary, jurassic are terms that come to mind when describing the Hostess Baseball Cards of the the mid-late ‘70s.  The sets were nothing more than marketing ploys to sell more Twinkies, HoHos, Suzy-Q’s and King Dons (Ding Dons if you lived on the West Coast) .  Big on errors and small on creativity, the Hostess  sets featured  the game’s biggest stars with simple head shots displayed against uninspired spring training backdrhank_aaron_hostessops and white borders.   

Yes, the Hostess sets were dull, almost cheerless, but just about every 40-something to 50-something
baseball fan/collector (like the guy I see in the mirror every morning) has fond memories of Hostess’s lame attempt at manufacturing baseball cards.  After all, this was the set that we assembled piece by piece while waiting for Mom to rummage through the produce isle at the local grocery store.  This is also the set that got us hooked on The Sporting News, which played a huge role in the development of our baseball fandom.

Back in the day,Topps dominated the baseball card hobby.  If the single Topps set — there were no premium, platinum or chrome releases — didn’t satisfy your collecting needs, the Hostess sets produced from 1975-1979 gave you another option.  Dealers and collectors couldn’t buy Hostess cards directly from the company, so they had to work and spend to complete these sets.

Beginning in 1975 Hostess cards were produced in three-card panels on  the back of each multi-pack Hostess box.  The best part of this new wave of collecting was seeing what you  were buying, which encouraged set building.  Hostess panels — complete with an offer for a free issue of The Sporting News — kept in tact are more valuable and coveted today that cards cut from the box.  Some cards were printed on not-so-tasty products and are more difficult to find today.  Cards printed on the back of the smaller HoHos multi-pack boxes are often creased at the corners from haozzi_smith_hostess-panelndling.

Proofreading, editing and reading the  daily box scores were not priorities for Hostess baseball card editors.  The initial set was loaded with mistakes.  Slugger Bill Madlock was listed as a pitcher, Rangers catcher Jim Sandberg was named Mike and outfielder George Hendrick became George Hendricks.  Robin Yount, a teenage phenom at the time, is one  of the more popular players in the set.  Unfortunately, Hostess did not include a rookie card of future Hall of Famer George Brett.

Despite the quality-control issues, the debut Hostess set remains popular today with over 3,000 listings, including a handful of graded panels, currently on eBay.  The 1975 panel set is worth  as much as $400 depending on the  condition.  The single-card set varies widely because of stain issues — creamy cake fillings sometimes seeped through the packages — and cards being miscut.

Celebratingyaz_hostess the  nation’s bicentennial, the Hostess 1976 set includes red, white and blue stripes surrounding the  player’s name, team and position.  Collectors familiar with the 1976 Topps set will recognize some of the same photos in the Hostess series.  The set is loaded with stars, including Brett, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, a Dennis Eckersley rookie and one of Hank Aaron’s final cards.

The 1977 Hostess set includes Hall-of-Famers-to-be Joe Morgan, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Thurman Munson and Johnny Bench.  By this time, collectors learned to save the cards as complete panels.  The complete panel sets are valued as much as $300 with the single set selling for nearly three times as much due to scarcity.

Although Eddie Murray was considered just another player at the time, his rookie card in the 1978 Hostess sets remains highly coveted.  For the first time, a few action shots were used to liven up the product.  Unfortunately the cost of producing baseball cards out-weighed the marketing advantages.  As a result, the 1979 edition was the final Hostess set.  Hostess went out with a bang, featuring an Ozzie Smith rookie card on  the same panel as Nolan Ryan as well as Willie Montanez.

 

Curt Schilling Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Curt Schilling is a blowhard.  He talks and talks and talks and I’m not sure he always knows what he’s talking about, but he keeps talking.  I will never understand why he thinks people care about his views on politics, gender issues or anything else, but he keeps talking.

What I do understand is Curt Schilling was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  His social media rants have grown tiresome, but should not block his path to Cooperstown.  He was never suspended, never linked to drugs, gaschillinrcmbling, or anything else harmful to the game.  Not being able to control himself on Facebook should not keep him out of the Hall.

Naysayers claim Schilling’s 216 career wins don’t pass muster.  But wins are not the sole measure of a pitcher’s value.  Schilling proved to be dominant in most essential categories, ranking 15th all-time in strikeouts.  More important in today’s advanced metrics, Schilling ranked third in strikeout-to-walk ratio all-time and 26th in career pitching WAR, tied with first ballot HOFers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.  By not giving away bases or  allowing hitters to make consistent contact, Schilling put his teams in position to win as much or more than baseball’s all-time greats.

Doubters are also quick to point out the Cy Young Award missing from the mantle in the Schilling household. Schilling spent his best years in the shadows of teammates Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, but he was one of the best and arguably most dominating pitchers of his era, striking out three hundred batters in consecutive seasons (1997 and 1998 with the Phillies).

Schilling was also one of the best money pitchers in baseball history, leading three teams to World Series titles and winning some of the most memorable games in postseason history.  He finished with a 2.23 postseason ERA en route to an 11-2 record when the games counted most.  Schilling’s playoff heroics started in 1993, when he earned MVP honors in the National League Championship series by throwing a 147-pitch shutout, forcing a Game 6 in Toronto (when Joe Carter hit his memorable World Series walk-off homer).

Schilling was overpowering in the 2001 World Series, giving up just two runs in seven innings before Randy Johnson sealed the deal in the final two innings to end Yankees mini dynasty.  Three years later, he held off the Yankees — bloody sock and all — in Game 6 of the American League Championship, leading the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86  years. He closed out his career with another ring with the Red Sox in 2007.

It’s unfortunate that Schilling’s political and social rants cost him his job with ESPN.  He was thoughtful and insightful as a color commentator on the network’s Sunday night showcase. I’ve  heard more than enough of Schilling’s political views and will never vote for him for political office (he has threatened to run for senate), but he gets my Hall of Fame vote.


Schilling’s Topps 2005 World Series Game Worn Jersey card is a favorite among Red Sox fans.You can fine Schilling sporting his Baltimore Orioles uniform in his 1989 Donruss Rookie — a drab looking set with black and purple borders.

Tim Raines’s Last Chance For the Hall of Fame

There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the side of righteousness trailing by a run.  The Baseball Writers Association of America has one more chance to right one of the biggest wrongs in the Hall of Fame by electing Tim Raines.

Raines has steadily gained support, but is in his 10th and final year of eligibility. In his first five years on the ballot, the former Expos great, was nominated by 22-49% of the voters, with 75% needed for election.  Last year he jumped from 55% to 69.8%.  This year Raines is looking to become just the fourth  player to be elected in his final year of eligibility, joining Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), and Jim Rice (2009).

Placed in a historical context, Raines’s resume is HOF worthy.  He was one of the game’s great leadoff hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career.  Raines wRainesas often lost in the shadow cast by Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter ever. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.

We all know Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled.  He ranks fifth on the career stolen base list with 808 and is the career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts. Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive  seasons (1981-1986).  He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.

Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former speedy outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate.  He was the only player in baseball
history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases.  Raines finished his career with 113 triples and 170 homers.

Raines finished with 2,605 career hits — well below the imaginary 3,000-hit Hall of Fame threshold. But looking deeper, only nine of the 27 players with 3,000 hits can match Raines’s .385 career on-base percentage.  Raines reached base more times than three HOFers with 3,000 hits: Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, and Roberto Clemente as well as the ageless and  still playing Ichiro.

Need more convincing?  Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases.  Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.

Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but he should be and the evidence is in the numbers:  He is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did from 1982-1986.  Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles
and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.

For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account.  Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame.  Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.

Just under 70 percent of the HOF electorate voted for Raines last January.  He’s on course to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement this year. Raines is looking to become the third player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, joining Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.  Raines won two World Series rings (1996 and 1998) in New York as a role player with the Yankees.  Here’s hoping one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.

The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series.  Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate, two “future stars” that never panned out.  Be careful if you’re buying:  The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.  

Happy Birthday To The Great Satchel Paige

Baseball legend Satchel Paige was born on this day in 1906. Forty-five years ago this month, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that former Negro League players will have a separate wing in the Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, Kuhn’s separate, but equal Hall of Fame policy did not set well with the American public, particularly baseball players from the pre-segregation era.

Paige and Ted Williams were among the most vocal former players. Paige was famously quoted: “I was just as good as the white boys. I ain’t going in the back door of the Hall of Fame.”

Williams, in his 1966 HOF acceptance speech, urged Major League Baseball and the Hall to open the doors to Negro League stars, referencing Paige, Willie Mays and Josh Gibson among others.

On July 6, 1971 — five months after Kuhn’s backward-thinking-policy was announced — MLB and the HOF succumbed to public pressure and opened the doors to Paige with full HOF membership, which cleared the way other Negro League stars in the years to follow.

Satchel

The first Satchel Paige baseball card is from the 1953 Topps Set.

Paige’s 2004 Leaf Certified Materials Game Used Jersey cards are some of the most overlooked memorabilia cards ever produced.  He spent 22 seasons dominating the Negro Leagues and six years in the majors before being enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1971. There were several versions of Paige’s first memorabilia cards issued in Leaf Certified’s “Mirror Materials” parallel set and the tiered “Fabric of the Game” insert set — all limited to a production run of 100 and selling for over $100.

Paige threw a remarkable 55 no-hitters during his Negro League career, becoming the league’s most popular and recognizable player, not to mention its largest gate attraction. He joined the major leagues in 1948, helping the Cleveland Indians win the World Series as a “rookie.”

In 1965, at the age of 59, nearly 12 years since he last pitched in the majors, Paige pitched one game for the Kansas City A’s, pitching three shutout innings. Three years later, he was a coach for the Atlanta Braves, where he wore the jersey Donruss officials used to incorporate into 2004 Leaf Certified Materials.

Known for longevity and age as a major leaguer, Paige was a Negro League legend in his younger days. At a time when African-Americans were barred from the majors, Paige drew huge crowds of black and white baseball fans. He led the Pittsburgh Crawfords to top billing in the Negro Leagues as a fireballer in the early ’30s and did the same for the Kansas City Monarchs in the early ’40s as finesse pitcher.

Barred from the majors, Paige was often tempted to jump from team to team to earn a decent wage. In 1937, he joined a large group of Negro Leaguers traveling to the Dominican Republic to play for a team owned by Dominican president Rafael L. Trujillo. The following season, Paige hurt his arm pitching in the Mexican League, but quickly transformed from a “thrower“ to a “pitcher.” He returned to the states using guile and control in leading the Monarchs to four consecutive pennants before entering the majors.

The first of just a few Paige baseball cards was issued by Topps in 1953 (#220). A headshot captured the 47-year-old reliever in his St. Louis Browns uniform. Unfortunately, the Topps spelling of “Satchell” was incorrect and never corrected. The card was issued following a 12-10 season with a 3.07 ERA. Paige’s ’53 Topps card is selling for $350 online in decent condition.