Monthly Archives: July 2011

Tommy Bridges was one of the best pitchers in the Majors during the 1930s.  A Southern right-hander who spent his entire career with the Detroit Tigers, Bridges would have easily won over 200 career games had he not missed action to World War II at the end of his career.  Like recent inductee Bert Blyleven, Tommy was respected throughout the game thanks to his first-rate curveball, which was widely regarded as the best breaking pitch in the Majors during the 1930s.  Detroit was a strong team during Tommy’s days with the club.  He was able to put together a three-year string of 20 or more wins. 

Now we’ll take a look at Bridges and see how well he stacks up against his peers.  He has a number of peers (players who played in the same era) in the Hall of Fame, such as Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, Carl Hubbell, Ted Lyons and Red Ruffing.  Bridges was best known for his strikeout proficiency, and when judged against his Hall of Fame peers, he doesn’t take second fiddle to any of them.  Tommy averaged 5.3 strikouts over nine innings over the course of his career.  This stat was matched by both Dean and Gomez, while Hubbell (4.2), Ruffing (4.1) and Lyons (2.3) were all well below Bridges’ strikeout pace.  The Southern right-hander always ranked high each season in the strikeouts department while some of his Hall of Fame peers didn’t have quite the put-’em-away as our man Bridges.

Bridges was a six-time All-Star who topped his league in strikeouts on two occasions.  Both Red Ruffing and Carl Hubbell led their respective leagues in whiffs once while the Bayou Boy Ted Lyons never paced the league in strikeouts.  It was quite common for Tommy to punch out more batters than his opposing moundsman.  When scouring through newspaper archives, you’ll find numerous stories concerning batters bemoaning digging in against Tommy because they all feared him.  His curveball was far advanced from that of any other pitcher’s breaking offering.  It was once claimed that Tommy could bend his curve around a lightpost with the greatest of ease.

Pitchers of Tommy’s time tended to finish what they started.  When his career was all said and done, Bridges had completed an even 200 games.  The time in which he pitched was also known more for its offense than its pitching, so any pitcher who could tame the opposition’s bats were of utmost importance.  The Tiger from Tennessee was adept at putting batters to hush.  He was able to twirl 33 shutouts, a mark that exceeded Hall of Fame peers Dizzy Dean (26), Ted Lyons (27) and Lefty Gomez (28).

A great deal is made about World Series and postseason performance when players are looked at for the Hall of Fame.  This is an absurdity because it takes a team and not one player to win a championship.  There are a handful of players in the Hall of Fame who were solid role players on championship teams but wouldn’t have been stars on lesser clubs.  Be that as it may, Bridges was a solid postseason pitcher.  Of his Hall of Fame peers, only Gomez has a better career winning percentage in October than Tommy, and let’s not forget, Lefty pitched for the mighty Yankees who could have beaten any team while wearing their pajamas and bedroom slippers.  Tommy had an .800 career winning percentage in October, which eclipsed Ruffing, Dean and Hubbell’s postseason percentages.

When comparing Bridges to his Hall of Fame peers, it appears that Tommy was the most reliable pitcher of the group.  He was often among the Top Ten in both strikeouts and ERA.  Over the course of his career he had ten Top Ten finishes in ERA and 12 in strikeouts.  Let’s take a look at his enshrined peers.  Dizzy Dean had four Top Ten finishes in ERA and six in strikeouts–edge Bridges.  Lefty Gomez had seven Top Ten finishes in ERA and nine in strikeouts–edge Bridges.  The great screwball artist Carl Hubbell had ten Top Ten finishes in both ERA and strikeouts–edge Bridges.  Ted Lyons had ten Top Ten finishes in ERA but not a single Top Ten finish in strikeouts–edge Bridges.  Red Ruffing posted eight Top Ten finishes in ERA and thirteen in strikeouts–edge Bridges.  Bridges has the edge over all his Hall of Fame peers when you combine his Top Ten finishes in two of the most important categories for pitchers.  As one of the greatest pitchers of his time, Bridges would make a solid Hall of Fame inductee.

Third base is the least represented position in the Hall of Fame, but that’s not for a lack of qualified candidates.  Every year there seems to be a strong push from Chicago to get Ron Santo inducted while there is rarely much mention of his peer Ken Boyer.  Boyer debuted a few years before Santo but the two manned the hot corner roughly the same time.  They also played the position in the same era as Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, who, although Boyer and Santo had good power, neither one had the muscles of Mathews.  The most support Boyer ever received from the Baseball Writers was in 1988 when he was named on 25.5% of the ballots.

Boyer spent the bulk of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.  During his prime years, the Cardinals were no longer the constant pennant threat they had been during the war years.  Stan Musial was nearing the end of the line and Boyer was set to take his place as the face of the franchise.  He did a great job in that capacity but the Redbirds had little protection for him as they made just one postseason while Ken was on their roster–his MVP season in 1964.  The Cardinals were no longer the National League’s powerhouse in the late 1950s and early 1960s–when Boyer starred with the club–but they would have been in a lot worse shape without him.

The scoring and driving in of runs is the most important stat for a position player.  Runs win games, and the man who hits .300 but scores infrequently and fails to drive in runs with the bat, is simply window-dressing.  Boyer wasn’t such a player.  Over the course of his career, Ken averaged 0.543 runs scored per game.  His mirror image, Ron Santo, averaged less with a 0.507 mark.  Granted, Boyer exceeded Santo, another overlooked third baseman, but now let’s take a gander at how this stat stacks up against Hall of Fame peers.  Boyer’s only real Hall of Fame peer is Eddie Mathews–he played the same position in the same era–so we must broaden the scope and incorporate other players.  For this exercise I will stick with corner infielders.  Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew averaged 0.527 runs scored per game and Willie McCovey was well behind both Killer and Boyer with a 0.475 mark.  So Ken crossed home plate on average at a higher clip than both Santo and Killebrew and at a much higher rate than McCovey.

His run scoring abilities were a boon to the Redbirds.  There are teams that can survive when a star player is shelved with an injury, because the supporting cast is strong enough to carry the offense in his absence, but the Cardinals of Boyer’s time weren’t that fortunate.  The following exercise will look at Boyer’s run scoring compared to his team and judge that against Hall of Famer Duke Snider, who played close to the same time as Boyer.  Rather than focus on one given year I have chosen to look at the tenth full season in the Majors for each player.  In Boyer’s tenth season, he accounted for 14% of the Cardinals runs scored.  In Snider’s tenth season, he accounted for 13.2% of the Dodgers’ runs scored.  Snider had a better supporting cast with the Dodgers, so they could have survived without Duke but the Redbirds would have played with a noticeable handicap with Ken’s 14% of the team’s runs scored out of the lineup.

Although Boyer was a star with the stick, he could also run (he was one of the best speed/power combo guys during his prime) and fielded his position well.  He currently rests twentieth on the all-time assists standings, ahead of Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and George Kell, future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and Ken’s slick-fielding brother Clete.  But his offensive accomplishments, coupled with his above average defensive skills, pushed him ahead of the third base crop.  He arguably had more value than Brooks Robinson, widely regarded as the greatest third baseman of all-time.  Ken had a season where he posted 100 runs scored and 100 rbi in the same campaign–Robinson never crossed home plate 100 times in any single season.

In closing, Boyer was regarded as a star during his day.  He was named to seven All-Star teams and won as many Gold Gloves, five, as his contemporary Ron Santo.  He also won an MVP award and played for a World Champion.  His Cardinals only managed to make one World Series but they beat the Yankees in ’64.  But to finish this case for enshrinement, I’ll make another little comparison with Hall of Fame peers.  Ken posted seven seasons with 170 or more base hits.  Hall of Fame peer Eddie Mathews had three such campaigns while Killebrew and McCovey never had one such season.  As for Ron Santo, you might be wondering, he had five such seasons–two less than our man Boyer.

As one of greatest shortstops in baseball history it should come as a shock that Rowdy Richard Bartell has never had a strong push for Hall of Fame induction.  In a perfect world, the Hall of Fame induction process would be one of comparison but it all too often falls into the realm of cronyism, favoritism and, if I may be pardoned for coining a word, locationism.  Bartell was the game’s greatest pepperpot of his time, which means his all-out style of play endeared him to many but also put off many as well.  Bartell was all spitfire and devil-may-care on the field.  He played the game with every ounce of everything he had within him and the following article will show that should be enough for Hall of Fame induction.

When comparing players one should typically stick with peers, meaning Bartell should be compared with men like Arky Vaughan and Phil Rizzuto and not folks who played different positions, like Joe DiMaggio or who played in another era, such as Honus Wagner.  While stacking Bartell up with his peers he often rests atop the talent totem pole.  The scrappy shortstop currently ranks 16th all-time in career putouts among shortstops.  Only Pee Wee Reese, among his position and era peers, has more.  Bartell tallied 3,872 career putouts, which falls under Reese’s 4,040 but rests above Joe Cronin’s 3,696, Arky Vaughan’s 2,995, Lou Boudreau’s 3,132 and Phil Rizzuto’s 3,219.  Even such modern-day star shortstops fall well below Bartell’s career putouts total.  Cal Ripken, Barry Larkin, Dave Concepcion and Alan Trammell all rest within the shadows of Rowdy Richard.

Fielding stats have gained more weight in recent years as new methods to judge a player’s defensive worth have been created by baseball statisticians.  One of these newfangled stats is the Range Factor stat.  Although a Range Factor of 5.636 means little to folks who are unaware of these new stats, comparison puts one in perspective.  Bartell’s career Range Factor is the tenth best total among all-time shortstops.  His Range Factor rests well above those of his era peers as Arky Vaughan is behind him with a 5.236 and Phil Rizzuto is 100th all-time among shortstops.

Even when perusing the tried and true defensive stats of fielding percentage and assists, one finds Bartell superior to his peers.  Bartell’s career fielding percentage is four points above league average–Arky Vaughan’s was just two points above.  Rowdy Richard posted three seasons in which he turned 100 or more double plays while Hall of Fame peer Joe Cronin had just one such season.  When you compare Bartell to postwar stars Reese and Rizzuto, you find that Dick excels each of the gentlemen who had the fortune of spending their entire careers in New York.  Pee Wee had two 100 double play seasons and both he and Rizzuto led shortstops in assists once during their careers.  Bartell topped his position peers in assists three separate times and did the same in putouts while Scooter Rizzuto led in putouts twice.

Bartell has a clear advantage among defensive stats and he is also superior in batting records as well.  Dick posted higher career numbers in every major offensive category than Rizzuto.  One could argue that Rizzuto falls behind Bartell because he missed time to World War II but so did Bartell.  The two military veterans have career offensive lines as follows.

HITS: Bartell 2,165/Rizzuto 1,588  RUNS: Bartell 1,130/Rizzuto 877  RBI: Bartell 710/Rizzuto 563  BATTING AVERAGE: Bartell .284/Rizzuto .273  ON-BASE %: Bartell .355/Rizzuto .351  SLUGGING %:  Bartell .391/Rizzuto .355

A heady all-round ballplayer, Rowdy Richard was always among the leaders in doubles among his position peers and the pepperpot did whatever was necessary to win.  He never bemoaned his status as a role player in the lineup and was willing to sacrifice his stats so the team could win.  Bartell currently ranks 25th all-time in career sacrifices.  With his never give-up attitude and desire to win, Bartell was an easy selection to start the first ever All-Star Game at shortstop for the National League squad.  It is one of baseball’s greatest tragedies that Bartell has never even received 1% of the Hall of Fame vote when he is clearly superior to shortstop peers already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.