A Case for Ken Boyer

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.

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