The Hall of Could’ve Been

Everyone with an opinion about the Hall of Fame falls somewhere on the continuum of peak value vs. longevity.  A player can’t be a Hall of Famer if he was never among the best players in the game, or at least those at his position.  Similarly, a player who dominates for a year or two and then fades into obscurity isn’t likely to garner much support from Hall voters or fans (though past Veterans Committees have felt differently).  But we all put different emphases on peak vs. longevity.

To me, some of the most interesting baseball careers are those of players who do achieve true greatness for a short time, only to burn out or fade away.  Following are two possible rosters of the Hall of Could’ve Been- lists of players who had multiple MVP-type seasons, but didn’t sustain their peaks long enough to be obvious Hall of Famers.

First, all retired players with at least three seasons since 1901 with 7 or more WAR (per fangraphs), but fewer than 60 career WAR.  A 7-WAR season generally puts a player in the MVP conversation, while 60 career Wins are typically enough to put a player in the Hall of Fame.

Player# Seasons 7+WARPeak WARCareer WAR
Ed Walsh511.559.5
Noodles Hahn48.648.6
Charlie Keller48.250.4
Elmer Flick37.358.2
Chuck Klein37.846.5
Ralph Kiner39.153.5
Al Rosen39.438.8
Rocky Colavito37.159
Sandy Koufax310.657.4
Sam McDowell39.146.2


It’s the pitchers above- Walsh, Hahn, Koufax, and McDowell- who best represent the Hall of Could’ve Been.  Each was among the best pitchers in the game for a short stretch, but each may have benefitted from the Stephen Strasburg treatment.  Here’s a brief bio of each player on the list, starting with the pitchers:

Walsh is in the Hall of Fame, and isn’t generally considered a borderline pick.  He was only a regular starter for seven seasons- 1906 to 1912- but was worth 55.3 fWAR over that stretch, certainly a Hall-worthy peak.  His 1.82 career ERA is the best ever among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings.  In 1908, he threw 464 innings with a 1.42 ERA, winning 40 games for the White Sox.  Of course, Walsh would pay dearly for that workload, as the White Sox halved his workload in ’09 and by ’13, at age 32, he was a part-time pitcher.

Hahn is perhaps more Koufax than Koufax.  He won his 100th game at age 24, and by 26, had accumulated 45.9 fWAR, pitching 1,910 innings with an ERA under 2.50.  SABR’s Bio Project reports that Hahn “hurt his arm” in 1905, but doesn’t mention any effect of the 2,000 innings of wear on his young arm.  Hahn’s career is similar in volume to Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean’s, though Dean, despite leading his league in strikeouts four times, innings three times, and wins twice, never had a 7-fWAR season and accumulated just 38.3 career fWAR.

You know about Koufax.  Six years of middling results.  Six years as the best pitcher in baseball.  Retired at 30 with a dead arm.

Sudden Sam McDowell was among the best pitchers in baseball in 1969 and 1970.  These were his age-26 and 27 seasons, beginning eight years after he started his first game.  He rose to prominence slightly faster than Koufax, striking out 325 batters in 1965, and held on longer, pitching his last game at 32.  His peak, of course, was lower than Koufax’s, and he really didn’t add any value in his thirties.  McDowell missed much of 1972 due to contract disputes, and developed shoulder issues in ’73 that only exacerbated the wildness that had plagued him through much of his career.

Al Rosen would be nowhere near this list if I had gotten my data from baseball-reference, which sees only Rosen’s 1953, when he came within an umpire’s blown call of the Triple Crown, as a 7+ win season.  Fangraphs also loves his 1950 and 1952, the difference apparently a factor of b-r’s higher replacement level calculations for those seasons (neither system is particularly enamored with his defense or baserunning, and everyone knew he could hit).  Rosen was born with asthma and faced an uphill battle as an athlete from day one.  A rash of injuries ended his career at 32.

King Kong Keller lost almost two full seasons to military service, which I would expect to be a common theme among members of the HoC’vB..  Like Rosen, he benefits from fangraphs’ lower replacement level calculations, averaging 7.65 fWAR, but just 6.1 rWAR, over his four active seasons in the mid-’40s.  Still, he was an excellent player before and immediately after the war, but a ruptured disc in his back did more to deflate his legacy than military service.

The next three players, like Walsh and Koufax, are in the Hall of Fame.  I’ve always thought of Chuck Klein as the poster boy for the first live-ball era and the homer-happy Baker Bowl, but it took some real talent to take advantage of those gifts to the extent that Klein did.  Between 1929 and 1932, Klein hit at least .337, OBPed at least .398, and slugged at least .584 every year.  Remove ’51 and that minimum line becomes .348/.404/.646.  After 1934, when Klein left Philadelphia, he never had another 4-win season, partly because of a leg injury he suffered in ’34.  He did hit four home runs, and nearly added a fifth, in a game in ’36, but never did recover the magic of his Baker Bowl peak.

Elmer Flick was a turn-of-the-century outfielder who was very valuable from his debut as a 21-year-old in 1898 through his age-30 season.  He fell victim to a still-unidentified illness in 1907 and was never productive again, but his ten-year peak provides a strong Hall of Fame argument in itself.

Kiner was perhaps the ultimate one-trick pony.  From 1946 through 1952, he led his league in home runs every year, peaking in 1949 with 54.  He gradually developed a keen batting eye, or at least started walking more as his career advanced because pitchers were afraid of his power.  But he never hit as many as 100 singles in a year, played poor defense at corner positions, and stole just 22 bases in his career.  In ’49, ’51, and ’53, his power and patience were immensely valuable, totaling 25.4 fWAR.  He was a decent player in the even years during that stretch, but back problems sapped his power and he played his last game at 32.

Rocky Colavito is one of those players I’m always a little surprised to see absent from the Hall of Fame’s roster.  He has one of those great baseball names, and from 1958 to ’65, he was quite a hitter.  Contract squabbles cost him a few games in his early thirties, but his retirement at 35 seems to have been the result of the natural effects of aging, rather than any specific injury.  He accrued 59 WAR without a season worth more than 7.1, and was a 4+ win guy eight times, so he’s on this list more as a result of the random nature of my criteria than because of unfortunate events that derailed an otherwise-legendary career.

Several active players meet the criteria at the moment, but may end their careers above my 60-WAR threshold.  Johan Santana, with three big years, but just 47.3 fWAR and not much left in the tank, seems destined for the HoC’vB, as does Jason Giambi, who’s stuck at 52.6 wins despite 24.1 between 2000 and 2002.

Chase Utley was worth seven or more wins for five straight years, from 2005 to 2009.  He’s at 53.8 now and, at age 34, has a pretty good chance to reach 60, but given his recent injury history, is certainly no lock.  David Wright just completed his third 7-win year, four years removed from his second one.  He just turned 30, and with 47 fWAR in the books, should break 60 if he can stay healthy.


Now let’s amend the criteria a bit to accomodate those players whose peaks were even shorter.  Eleven players had two or more 7+ WAR seasons, but fewer than 40 career WAR.  Players below this career threshold typically have very thin Hall of Fame cases and need help from a perfect game, a 191-RBI season, or an association with Frankie Frisch to have any shot at the Hall.


Player# Seasons 7+ WARPeak WARCareer WAR
Bret Boone27.825.2
Mike Donlin28.334.2
Bill Hands27.535.6
Elston Howard27.139.0
Benny Kauff29.538.0
Freddie Lindstrom27.634.3
Bobby Murcer28.138.6
Al Rosen39.438.8
Snuffy Stirnweiss29.230.3
Smokey Joe Wood28.930.2
Wilbur Wood28.739.3


Only Rosen, whose peak was truly great and whose career was extremely short, shows up on both lists.  Let’s take a quick look at the ten new entries, starting again with the pitchers.

Bill Hands pitched for the Cubs in the late ’60s and early ’70s, peaking with two very different seasons in ’69 and ’70.  He had a 2.49 ERA in 300 innings in ’69, succeeding by limiting walks and homers.  In ’70, he lost 35 innings and added 1.21 runs of ERA, but his peripherals were similar to ’69. Throw in a higher run-scoring environment and fangraphs gives him another 7.3 WAR (b-r gives him 4.8).  “Froggy” Hands was only a regular starter from 1968 to ’72, and was out of the game by age 35.

Smokey Joe Wood was the ace of the 1912 World Champion Red Sox, winning 34 games and striking out 258 that season.  From 1909-1915, his ERA never exceeded 2.62 and his FIP was never higher than 2.53.  Only in ’11 and ’12, however, did he pitch more than 200 innings.  Wood broke his thumb fielding a bunt in 1913 and was never as effective again.  He was a good hitter, though, and was used as an outfielder on occasion with the 1914-’15 Red Sox and regularly for the Indians from ’17 to ’22.  Add his offensive WAR and Wood totals 40.2, which would disqualify him from this list, but I think he belongs in spirit.

It’s hard to write about Sam McDowell without thinking about Wilbur Wood, who achiveed success with a very different repertoire, but in a similar pattern to McDowell’s.  The knuckleballer was immensely durable and effective from 1971 to ’75, pitching 1,673 innings over that stretch, including 334 with a 1.91 ERA in ’71.  He didn’t learn the knuckleball until he was 25, and didn’t use it effectively until age 29, so his is less a case of a tragic ending and more a case of a late start.

Bret Boone, despite his impressive lineage, was a role player until his first year in Seattle.  At age 32, the second baseman added some muscle and popped a career-high 37 homers.  Never much of a fielder, a baserunner, or a patient hitter, he provided most of his value with power, which he exhibited almost exclusively from ’01 to ’03, the boundaries of which were his two 7-win seasons.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusion as to the secret behind Boone’s slow start and sudden decline at 35.

Turkey Mike Donlin debuted in 1899 and excelled only in 1905 and 1908, when he slugged .495 and .452, both mammoth numbers for the deadball era.  He also stole at least 30 bases in each of those years, showcasing the speed for which he was renowned, especially before breaking his ankle in ’06.  Donlin only played 1,049 games over 16 years, missing all or parts of seasons due to legal trouble, contract holdouts, injuries, and a preference for vaudeville acting to playing baseball.

Elston Howard was a Yankee mainstay from the mid ’50s through the mid ’60s, but played more than 136 games just once in his career.  This is not especially rare for a catcher, of course, but it does explain why he only accumulated great value in seasons when he combined offensive production, stellar defense, and playing time.  He did this best in ’63 (28 HR) and ’64 (.313 BA).  For almost the first half of hs career, he was stuck behind Yogi Berra on the catcher depth chart, serving as a backup backstop and occasional left fielder.  The last quarter of his career was marred by bone chips swimming around his elbow.  It may be a stretch to conclude that Howard would have been a Hall of Famer with a clear path to his preferred position and a little health in the late ’60s, but he certainly played at a Hall of Fame level for a few years.

Benny Kauff makes the list only because fangraphs considers the Federal League of the 1910s to be a major league.  Playing for the Indianapolis Hoosiers as a 24-year-old rookie in 1914, Kauff hit .370/.447/.534 with 75 stolen bases and top-flight center field defense, earning 11 WAR.  The next year, he hit .342/.446/.509 for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops.  The National League wasn’t so easy on him, as Kauff was a good player for the Giants from 1916 to 1919, but never worth more than six wins.  In 1920, Kauff was banned from Major League Baseball by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis in connection with a criminal trial for auto theft and allegations of fixing games.  Kauff was never convicted on either count, but was never allowed back to MLB. I recommend a more complete bio at the SABR Bio Project.

Freddie Lindstrom is the only Hall of Famer in this group, though it’s hard to make a case that he’s more worthy than most of his HoC’vB peers.  Throughout his 13-year career, he was a solid defensive third baseman who ran the bases well and hit for high averages.  He never drew as many as 50 walks in a season, and only hit more than 15 homers once, in his 7.6-WAR season in 1930, a notorious live-ball year.  Injuries to his ankle, back, and knee ended Lindstrom’s career at 30 years old and 34.3 fWAR, but Hall of Fame voters were impressed with his high batting averages in an offensive era and a memorable (if negative) World Series moment  at age 18.

Bobby Murcer, like so many players before and after him, was a superstar for the Yankees who provided little value to any of the other teams he played for.  In 1971 and ’72, Murcer was one of the best hitters in the game, combining power and patience with a little bit of speed.  In ’73, Murcer broke his hand, and subsequent trades to teams he hadn’t worshipped growing up didn’t treat him kindly either.  Murcer was never worth as many as three wins after ’72.

Snuffy Stirnweiss has to be one of the 10 or 15 best players named Snuffy in baseball history.  Another Yankee, he was perhaps the best all-around player in the game at age 25, in 1944.  Fangraphs credits him with 37.5 batting runs, 6.3 baseruning runs, and 21.7 fielding runs (including the positional adjustment), good for 9.2 WAR.  He was nearly as good in ’45, leading the league in batting, slugging, runs, triples, and stolen bases.  My limited research hasn’t indicated why he lost his full-time job in 1949 and retired in ’52 at age 33.  He died at 39 when his train plunged off a bridge.


Obviously, we could add several players to these groups by tweaking the criteria. I expected Dwight Gooden, owner of the best single-season pitching rWAR (11.9) of the last century (if we’re ready to exclude Walter Johnson’s 1913) to be here, but he never had another 7-win season after 1984 and ’85, and he stuck around long enough to get to 58.1 WAR.  Roger Maris won back-to-back MVP awards with huge seasons in 1960 and ’61, but retired with just 44.3 fWAR.

Here’s the full list of retired players with exactly two seasons of 7+ fWAR since 1901 and between 40 and 59.9 career WAR (* denotes a Hall of Famer):

Bob Allison, Earl Averill*,Dave Bancroft*, Jesse Barfield, Albert Belle, Paul Blair, Vida Blue, George Burns, Roy Campanella* Cesar Cedeno, Harlond Clift, Kiki Cuyler*, Larry Doby*, Bob Elliott, Jim Fregosi, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Giles, Dwight Gooden, Mark Gubicza, Larry Jackson, Tony Lazzeri*, Fred Lynn, Roger Maris, Jon Matlack, Minnie Minoso, Dale Murphy, Bill Nicholson, Tony Oliva, Dave Parker, Bobby Veach, Bob Veale, Ken Williams, amd Hack Wilson*

The last group worth a look here are the true one-year wonders.  These players earned at least 10 fWAR in a season without accumulating 50 in their careers:

Cy Falkenberg, Benny Kauff, and Rico Petrocelli

Only Petrocelli, with 10.6 WAR for the 1969 Red Sox, accomplished this feat in a modern major league.  Mike Trout, of course, would rather not join this group.

Who else is in your Hall of Could’ve Been?

72 thoughts on “The Hall of Could’ve Been

  1. 1
    Insert Name Here says:

    As a Red Sox fan, the mere use of the words “could’ve been” brings Tony Conigliaro to mind. Although WAR doesn’t look upon him so fondly (his top being the beanball-shortened ’67 season at 3.5 WAR), he hit 104 HRs through about 3.5 seasons at age 22 (generally accepted as being on pace to break the Babe’s career HR record), then hit 62 HRs for the rest of his career after that nasty beanball, supposedly because of the sun’s reflection off of the CF bleacher seats (or someone sitting in them), which are now covered with a black tarp during Fenway Park’s day games as a result.

    An interesting, yet oft-overlooked fact about that beanball is that the Red Sox scored a run as a result of the HBP, won the game by one run, and then won the “Impossible Dream” pennant by one game over the Tigers and Twins. Of course, if they had “Tony C” down the stretch of the season, maybe the dream wouldn’t have been so impossible… and perhaps the championship drought wouldn’t have been 86 god-forsaken years. It’s fun to speculate, isn’t it?

    • 17
      Steven says:

      Another Red Sox “could’ve been” from that season: Jim Lonborg. If only he’d stayed off the ski slopes the winter after that sensational year.

  2. 2
    Mike HBC says:

    Speaking of The Babe, in two full seasons (and one most-of-a-season that would be considered full in 2013), Ruth as a pitcher was good for 16.7 (b-r) WAR with a 2.02 ERA and 134 ERA+. That’s a pretty good could’ve-been case right there, but with an extremely unique set of circumstances for why “could’ve been” never became “was”.

  3. 3
    bstar says:

    Wow, I did not know Rico Petrocelli had a 10+ WAR season.

    The name Dickie Thon leaps to mind. He put together consecutive seasons of 5.9 and 7.2 rWAR at age 24 and 25. That’s over 13 WAR, and only eight other shortstops produced this much WAR in consecutive seasons this early in their careers. Four are Hall of Famers(Ripken, Arky Vaughan, Hornsby, Joe Cronin), two are future Hall of Famers (Jeter and A-Rod), and the last two names are Hanley Ramirez and Nomar.

    We all know what happened after that. Early on in ’84, Thon got beaned in the eye (My memory says it was Mike Torrez who hit him – what a burden for Torrez to carry around).

    It was a minor miracle that he ever played again, but he was clearly never the same. He never put up an above average season after that. Looking at the numbers, it appears his eye injury affected his fielding as well, as he had put up consecutive seasons of +13 and +19 Rfield the years prior to the beaning but would rate as an average defender the rest of his career.

  4. 5
    Robbie says:

    Herb Score immediately comes to mind. He went 36-19 with a 2.68 ERA (150 ERA+) in 476.2 innings pitched between 1955 and 1956, leading the AL in strikeouts (245) and strikeouts per 9 innings (9.7) as he won the AL Rookie of the Year in ’55 before leading in strikeouts, ERA+, K/9, H/9, and shutouts in ’56. He was worth 12.4 bWAR and 12.3 fWAR between just those two seasons. But then his infamous eye injury on a line drive happened the next year and although he lasted to ’62, he was basically replacement level after that, managing just 0.7 bWAR and 0.8 fWAR. Score had major control problems, walking 6.0 per 9 for his career and even 5.3 per 9 when he was going strong in ’55 and ’56, but you never know how good he could have been if not for that eye injury.

    • 8
      Jason Z says:

      Whenever I hear the name Herb Score, I can’t help but think about
      Gil McDougald or “The McDougald” as Red Barber called him.

      McDougald played ten years for the NY Yankees from 1951-60.

      He played 2B-599 games.
      He played 3B-508 games.
      He played SS-284 games.

      He did not just play, he excelled, leading the AL in double plays
      in 1952 at 3B, 1955 at 2B and in 1957 at SS.

      Who does that!!??

      A 6 time All-Star, McDougald retired after the 1960 season rather than
      risk being exposed in the expansion draft.

      His first seven seasons were impressive. Between 3.5 and 5.6 WAR each
      season. Than under 3.0 WAR the last three. 2.7 2.4 and 2.9.

      He would never admit it, but many observers felt that he was not
      the same player after the line drive he hit plowed into Scores eye.

      Most felt that the desire was gone.

      Quick name a player who played 3B, SS and 2B with the skill of
      The McDougald.

      The events of May 7, 1957 were tragic in two ways.

      A promising career was derailed all to soon.

      A versatile player, that any manager would be thrilled to have
      lost his passion for the game.

      • 21

        You know, I never looked into why McDougald retired. I’ve got him with a Hall Rating of 80, so he was well on his way and just needed to compile a bit. What a great player.

        • 25
          Jason Z says:

          He was a great player. I cannot get over how effectively he played those three infield positions.

          I considered opining about his possible Hall of Fame

          I am glad to see you have him ranked so highly.

          If he had remained with the Yankees through at least
          1964 his postseason experience would have mirrored Mantle’s.

          Being apart of those great teams would have assured some level of Hall of Fame support.

          He probably would have retired with somewhere between 55-60 WAR and we could make a great case today when
          combining his war and versatility.

          I have read more books about Yankee history than I can remember.

          I don’t remember which one, but I can say with confidence that Stengel loved him.

          How could he not. Especially when one considers the value Stengel placed on platooning.

          Not that McDougald was a platoon player. But just imagine the comfort Stengel felt knowing he could insert him throughout the infield when needed.

        • 45
          Lawrence Azrin says:

          McDougald retired after the 1960 WS because it appeared that the Yankees would leave him unprotected in the 1961 AL expansion draft, and either the Angels or Senators would’ve taken him.

          Ironically, as Bill James pointed out, if the Angels had drafted him, he may have doubled (or more) his best HR total, as Wrigley Field, the Angels 1961 home, had a very short left-field power alley (less than 350 feet).

          • 46
            Richard Chester says:

            In 1957 McDougald himself was hit in the left ear by a batting practice line-drive. Years later he lost his hearing in both ears. In 1994 his hearing was restored with a cochlear implant. Afterwards he became a spokesman for the manufacturer, Cochlear Americas.

    • 44
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      If Tony C and Herb Score, then Pete Reiser also needs to be mentioned. After 1941/42, he looked like the next great all-around player(2nd/6th in MVP voting, but he couldn’t stop running full-speed into outfield walls.

  5. 7
    MikeD says:

    Somehow it doesn’t feel quite right for a HOFer to be a member of the Hall of Could’ve Been. Sure, Koufax could have accumulated more counting stats, probably more Cy Young Awards, but he did make the HOF and is considered one of the game’s great pitchers because of his peak. He’s also one of the most famous pitchers ever. Yet, I understand the point. As great as he was, he could have been even better. Yet there is something to the “die young, stay pretty” angle that has enhanced Koufax’s reputation. There was no fade. We never saw him less than at his peak at the end.

    Let me throw another name out there that few would probably think to include, yet if Koufax and Walsh fits, then so does Rapid Robert, Bob Feller. He’s certainly an obvious HOFer, but restore those three-and-a-half lost WWII years and he easily blows past 300 wins, probably reaches 350. Yet more significant was a knee injury in June 1947 that ultimately led to a significant loss in velocity. Yet he was still an effective, but lesser pitcher. The knee was never the same, according to Feller, creating greater stress on his shoulder, yet he still was durable. Restore those war years and the knee, he has a chance at 400+ wins.

    King Kong Keller is an excellent example. He was a HOF-caliber hitter who had two things going against him. The ruptured disk, and the Yankees desire to turn him into a pull hitter. He did it successfully, but he would have been an even better if they left his as a gap-to-gap hitter.

    Last, Frank Tanana. He falls just below the criteria you selected, but talent wise he was great. I was sure I was watching the start of HOF career. Heavy workload from the minors to the majors, and he kind blew his arm out. I give him credit. He re-invented himself on the fly, basically going from a Clayton Kershaw or David Price power lefty, to Jamie Moyer. It was painful to watch at first because of what he could have been, yet it was kind amazing to watch, too.

    • 13
      bstar says:

      I agree about players in the Hall not feeling like good candidates for a “could’ve been” list, but if we’re going to do that I would mention Addie Joss as a candidate.

      Joss died of tubercular meningitis at age 31 after nine years of 142 ERA+ pitching and 43 WAR. He trails only Ed Walsh in raw career ERA with a 1.89 mark.

    • 32

      Good point about Koufax, Mike. I’ll be addressing this in my next post. I think the Hall of Could’ve Been is more appropriately represented by a bunch of names thrown out here- Score, Conigliaro, Thon, Richard, Reiser- than by the output of any of my objective analyses. I’m happy to have kicked off the discussion with a few guys who belonged… and Rocky Colavito.

  6. 9
    Hartvig says:

    Conigliaro is alway the first name that comes to mind for me, largely because it was one of the most compelling stories of my youth.

    Another name is Pete Reiser, who not only led the league in batting average but also a whole bunch of advanced statistical metrics including offensive WAR as a 22 year old. Leo Durocher said the only player that compared to Pete Reiser was Willie Mays and then went on to enumerate the ways in which he though Reiser was better.

    In my mind Grady Sizemore has a whole lot in common with Pete Reiser.

    • 10
      Hartvig says:

      If forgot to mention- if you merge Noodles Hahn’s career thru age 25 onto Sandy Koufax’s you probably have the greatest pitcher of all time.

      And in sort of a reverse what-if scenario there’s Dazzy Vance- he struggles with arm troubles for years until finally the pain becomes unbearable and he goes to a doctor he doesn’t know from Adam to have some bone chips removed. He then proceeds to rack up nearly 200 victories after age 30.

    • 23

      While Conigliaro’s WAR totals don’t look as impressive through the sabermetric lens these days, you have to remember just how young he was. People just aren’t in the big leagues at that age too often. I mean, 1967 was his age 22 season and he had been in the AL for several seasons.

  7. 11
    Jason Z says:

    You can’t have a Hall of Could’ve Been without Pete Reiser.

    In 1941 at age 22, and keep in mind that this is before the
    war decimated rosters, Reiser had a decent season.

    He led the NL in…

    BA .343
    SLG .558
    OPS .964
    OPS+ 164
    RUNS 117
    DOUBLES 39
    TRIPLES 17

    Like I said, he had a decent year.

    The next season he ran into a concrete wall while running at full speed.

    Injuries due to his style of play caused him to be carried off
    on a stretcher eleven times!!

    Leo Durocher said their was only one player comparable to Reiser, some
    guy by the name of Mays I think. He said that Reiser had Mays’ power
    and throwing arm. Although in Reiser’s case it is arms not arm.

    He was a switch hitter who only batted lefty due to injury.

    He injured his shoulder playing baseball for the Army during the war.

    Due to this he learned to throw with both arms. He endured constant pain
    in his arm and shoulder.

    Speed you say. He led the NL in stolen base twice, 1942 and 46.

    He stole home seven times in 1946.

    In 1981 Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book,
    The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.

    Just looking at his career stats fails to merit the inclusion.

    But like Smokey Joe Wood (who also belongs on this list) sometimes injuries destroy the career of an obviously superior talent.

    As Ritter and Honig explained, these injuries should not preclude honoring
    someone who was one of the best, albeit for a very short time.

  8. 12
    Jason Z says:

    Shame on me. Reiser also led the NL in WAR for position players in 1941 with 7.4

    Glad to see Hartvig joining me on the Reiser bandwagon.

    I am going to leave Smokey Joe for someone else.

  9. 14
    Jason Z says:

    Denny McLain.

    His exploits are well known.

    From ages 21-26, 1965-69 McLain sparkled in a low offense environment.

    He racked up 108 wins against 51 losses, including his insane 1968 season when he went 31-6. Most pitchers today start 32-34 games max. It’s hard to imagine that we will see a season like this ever again.

    WAR tells us that he was slightly above average from 65-67.

    However in 68-69 he was spectacular. He started 82 games, completing 51.

    He led the AL in innings pitched both seasons, totaling 661.

    In 1968 he became the first pitcher in AL history to win the CY Young and MVP in the same season .

    In 1969 he won the CY Young again.

    And that was it.

    The downfall was just sad. Repeated cortisone shots wrecked his arm. By 1971 he had nothing. It appears that Sandy koufax was correct when he said
    at his retirement that he didn’t know the affect of to much cortisone, but
    he was not going to risk it. He had a lot of living left to do and did not
    intend to risk his long term health to play baseball any longer. Koufax
    famously said that he did not regret playing baseball but might regret
    one season too long. He had enough of taking pain pills just to pitch. And quite frankly he didn’t like to be high out there on the mound. Conversely, Dock Ellis embraced it.

    But I digress as usual.

    The rest of McLain’s downfall was self inflicted. Gambling was the major culprit. He liked the ponies. It got worse. He fancied himself a bookmaker.

    If speed dial had existed in 1970 Bowie Kuhn would have had McLain on his. If nothing else, just to inform him of his suspensions.

    It ended all to quickly for baseball’s last (ever??) 30 game winner.

    On September 12, 1972 the Reds were in Atlanta playing the Braves
    in front of 4,050 diehards.

    The game was tied at 4 going into the top of the 9th.

    In comes McLain.

    Cesar Geronimo lead off with a home run.

    Joe Hague pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon then singles to RF.

    Ted Uhlaender comes into the game as a pinch runner for Hague.

    Up steps Pete Rose, who promptly singles to RF.

    And that’s it. Over. Done.

    The man who self destructed, largely due to gambling, gave up
    a single to Pete Rose with the last pitch he ever threw.

    Folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.

    Baseball is truly the circle of life.

    Sadly for McLain his circle never approached Cooperstown, but it sure
    could’ve if things had been different.

    Pete Rose. He decided to ignore the signs posted in every baseball
    clubhouse since the Black Sox. He broke the rule that was put in
    place because baseball almost went the way of the dinosaur.

    Clearly stated is the following rule…

    “Rule 21 MISCONDUCT, (d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES, Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible. (Wikipedia)

    However Pete Rose has been to Cooperstown. Many times.

    That is him down the street from the HOF on induction weekend.

    Signing autographs.

    • 16
      kds says:

      I like the digressions. I like the non-digressions also. Even if non-digressions is not a word. Sounds like a double negative. (Which some find similar to a double play.) But if we try to take out both(?) negatives we are left with gressions, which isn’t a word at all. And we don’t get anywhere useful by regressing, linearly or to the mean. Which leaves me gressed, or something.

    • 18
      Ed says:

      Jason Z – Your digression would have been perfect if you included Ray Fosse in the story. Many of you may already be familiar with Fosse’s story. As a 23 year old catcher with the Cleveland Indians, Fosse went to the 1970 All-Star game hitting .312 with 16 home runs at the break. Pete Rose famously took Fosse out in a 12th inning collision to score the winning run. You can watch a video of the play here:

      Seems like a dirty play to me but as an Indian’s fan I admit I may be biased. Anyway, Fosse separated his shoulder and when he came back hit .297 with only 2 home runs in the second half of the season. In a “just desserts” twist, Rose served his 5 month prison sentence for tax evasion in Fosse’s hometown of Marion, Illinois.

      Fosse remained a solid defensive player but never again showed the hitting prowess of the first half of 1970. Even with his poor second half in 1970, Fosse had an OPS+ of 124 that year. But the next year it was 98. Then 95. Then 85.

      To make the connection perfect, we need to get Denny McLain into the story. Easy enough. In 1971, Fosse was again selected to the All-Star game. But this time he didn’t play in the game. Why? Because on July 5th, just before the All-Star break, Fosse tore a ligament in his hand while facing Denny McLain!

      • 27
        Jason Z says:

        Thanks for completing the story Ed. Everyone remembers what
        Pete Rose did to Ray Fosse. The video is burned into my
        memory. It was played countless times in the 1970’s.

        However I had no idea about the connection to Denny McLain.

        I remember stories about the Fosse connection when Pete went to prison. But truthfully, I had forgotten.

        Thanks for completing the circle so perfectly.

        • 39
          Ed says:

          Jason Z – I was born in ’69 so I never saw the video until recently. And I only read about the Fosse-McLain connection this morning. Anyway, glad you appreciated my contribution.

          • 41
            RJ says:

            Jason Z and Ed, please, digress away! For relative baseball-history neophytes like myself, these tales are a joy to read.

            Denny Mclain actually links in perfectly to something I was pondering earlier. I noticed that Jake Peavy had won the Cy Young Award without receiving votes in any other year, and wondered if many other players had done the same. Lo and behold, Mclain won the award twice without receiving votes in any other year! That truly seems to embody the spirit of Bryan’s post.

          • 54
            kds says:

            RJ, you have to careful comparing different years of Cy Young voting. Now voters select 1st thru 5th. From 1970 to 2010 they only voted for the top 3. From 1967 to 1969 they only voted for their top choice. And from 1956 to 1966 their was only one vote for the top pitcher in AL and NL combined, with no votes for place or show.

    • 48
      Doug says:

      The finale for McLain sounds a lot like that for Dizzy Trout. Except that, instead of facing the Big Red Machine, Trout faced the bottom of the 1957 KC As order, allowing two singles, a double and a triple to Tim Thompson, Bob Martyn, Billy Hunter and a very young Ralph Terry (he was shipped from the Yankees earlier that season and who would ship back to them a couple of years later). At least the battery was memorable – 42 year-old Trout pitched to 18 year-old catcher Frank Zupo, one of only a handful of times a teenager and 40-something guy have paired as a battery (later in the same game, Zupo would catch 18 year-old Milt Pappas, the youngest ever battery, by combined age).

      Trout is very much a HoCvB guy. Would have made Bryan’s second list, except that his final WAR total was slightly too high at 41.7. His two big WAR years were 8.9 and 7.1 (with a 1.6 between those two, possibly recovering from 352 IP), but only one other season above 4 WAR.

      No idea why Trout attempted a comeback at 42 after 5 years out of baseball, during which he had established himself as a successful TV broadcaster for the Tigers. Only reference I’ve found is the Orioles offered him a contract after seeing him pitch in an Old-Timers game. Seriously????

      • 49
        Richard Chester says:

        In 1957 C Frank Zupo and P George Zuverink twice formed what I believe is the only “Z” battery in the ML.

      • 57
        no statistician but says:

        Kind of a late comment on the subject: Trout’s finale wasn’t really anything like McLain’s, unless there’s no life after one’s baseball career stops. The amazing thing to me about McLain is that his wife, Lou Boudreau’s daughter Sharyn, has tried to stay with him and support him—according to that unimpeachable source Wikipedia—for most of his post playing days: a divorce but then a remarriage occurred. She, at least, had the mettle of her old man. I remember reading some comments by Lou on his son-in-law during the worst of the troubles. Lou was very supportive, at least in public, but he was that kind of person. It should be obvious to anyone that McLain was and probably still is a sufferer of emotional instabilities.

        • 58
          Doug says:

          I guess it would be more accurate to say the recounting of McLain’s final appearance reminded me of Trout, simply for the failure to get anyone out. And, since Trout came so close to one of Bryan’s objective criteria, seemed appropriate to mention him.

          Certainly wasn’t intending to convey any more connection than that.

  10. 15
    kds says:

    Rosen and Keller do much better on fWAR because brWAR properly reduces the difference between replacement and average in a weaker league. As the AL was for many years from the ’40s to the ’60s.

    Benny (Ty Cobb of the Federal League) Kauff has the same issue with the FL replacement level. That Fangraphs does not do this is an error by them, not a reasonable alternative method. (Like FIP instead of RA9 to figure pitching WAR.)

  11. 19
    Phil says:

    Nomar came to mind immediately for me—I see he’s on your supplemental list. On Baseball Reference, he’s got one season at 7.1, another four in the 6 range, one at 5.9, and after that nothing over 2.2. 39.1 of his 42.0 career WAR comes in six seasons; that must be some kind of record for players over 40.0. When he was healthy, he was great. He just never was after 2003.

  12. 20
    Ed says:

    Re: Rocky Colavito. I wonder if any other team made two disastrous trades involving the same player the way the Indians did with Colavito.

    Lots of fans are familiar with the first trade. The Indians’ traded Colavito, by far the fans’ favorite player, to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. Colavito was the reigning HR champ, Kuenn was the reigning batting title champ. Kuenn was a decent player but he wasn’t as good as Colavito. AND he was 3 years older than Colavito. Just a strange, strange trade. Colavito played for the Tigers for 4 years, putting up a total of 16.4 WAR. Kuenn played only one year for the Indians (putting up 2.1 WAR) before the Indian’s traded him to the Giants. So you trade away the fan favorite and then trade away the player you received in return one year later??? No wonder the Indians were bad for so long!!!

    But it gets worse. The Indians decide to reacquire Colavito. He’s now playing for Kansas City. The Indians reacquired him in a three trade deal that also involved the White Sox. Colavito played 3 more seasons with the Indians putting up 4.7 WAR. They also received Cam Carreon who got a total of 62 PAs for the Indians. Who’d they give up? They sent 3 players to the White Sox as part of the trade. The worst of the three was John Romano. Romano played two seasons for the White Sox and put up 4.8 WAR, most than what Colavito did for the Indians. And he was the worst of the three! Also included in the deal was Tommie Agee, most famous for his time with the ’69 Miracle Mets. But prior to that he played two full seasons for the White Sox. In those two years he won the Rookie of the Year, played in two All-Star games and accumulated 10.3 WAR. Last but not least….Tommy John! John of course is most famous for his time with the Dodgers and the Yankees. But before that he played 7 years with the White Sox, accumulating 22.0 WAR.

    Again…is it any wonder the Indians were so bad for so long????

  13. 24

    Nap Rucker is a good one.

    SEVEN SEASONS (through age 28) he had 43.8 WAR for the lowly Brooklyn Dodgers before arm troubles set in. That peak got him into the Hall of Stats despite a career record of 134-134.

  14. 28
    Brooklyn Mick says:

    “Eleven players had two or more 7+ WAR seasons, but fewer than 40 career WAR.”

    Donnie Mattingly had “only” one 7+ WAR season, but he had two other 6+ WAR seasons. From 1984-86 he posted 6.0, 6.4, and 7.1 WAR consecutively. Those three seasons accounted for 19.5 of his 39.8 career WAR.

    • 59
      MikeD says:

      Mattingly might compare with Frank Tanana, who I mentioned above. One 7.0+ WAR season, and several others below. Mattingly suffers from the WAR “penalty” for 1B. Also not quite sure defense is still properly rated at 1B, and certainly not looking back, yet that’s a whole different story. BTW If B-R’s WAR was used, Tanana put up three straight seasons of 7.1, 7.2 and 8.0 WAR and would make the list above. Fangraphs rates each of those three seasons lower (although still excellent) and interestingly descending in value 7.2, 6.1 and 6.0.

  15. 29
    RBI Man says:

    1962 ROY and GG winner, Cubs 2B Ken Hubbs and Lyman Bostock.

  16. 30
    Phil says:

    Dean Chance? One season for the record books (1964: 9.1 WAR, near-unanimous Cy when there was only one awarded), two in the 5.0-5.9 range, nothing else over 4.0. 20.2 of WAR out 32.3 for his career in three seasons.

  17. 31
    Phil says:

    I guess this is a topic I’ve always had in the back of my mind, because names keep popping up (even if they don’t strictly fit the parameters). Jose Rijo: 33.0 WAR for his career, 24.9 of it coming in a four-year run (1990-93). Also, to a lesser extent, Mario Soto (24.6 total, 17.9 of it coming between 1982-84).

  18. 34
    birtelcom says:

    43 everyday players reached 35 or more career WAR by the end of their age 27 season. Of those 43, the guys who totaled the fewest WAR over the rest of their careers:
    John McGraw: 5.2 WAR
    Travis Jackson: 5.3 WAR
    Cesar Cedeno: 9.1 WAR
    Vada Pinson: 9.4 WAR
    Jim Fregosi: 10.4 WAR

  19. 35
    GrandyMan says:

    When someone mentioned Grady Sizemore, another active player came to mind — Eric Chavez. Fantastic all-around player with 31 WAR through age 28; then the injuries piled up, limiting him to about one full season’s worth of play from 2007 to 2010. Even though he has resurrected his career to some extent, it’s still kinda difficult to watch him play, knowing that he may have been on an HOF career track at one time.

  20. 36
    birtelcom says:

    46 everyday players accumulated 45 or more career WAR from their age 28 season on. Of those 46, the guys who totaled the fewest WAR from the start of their careers through through their age 27 season:
    Jackie Robinson: debuted in MLB at age 28
    Bob Johnson: 3.6 WAR
    Bill Terry: 3.6 WAR
    Jose Cruz: 5.6 WAR
    Edgar Martinez: 5.8 WAR
    Luke Appling : 7.8 WAR

  21. 37
    bstar says:

    John’s Musial article forced me to delve deeper into the case of Mort Cooper.

    Cooper dominated baseball from a pitching perspective from 1942-1944, leading all of baseball in wins, ERA+, WAR, shutouts, winning %, and ERA. Overall Mort was 65-22 with a 2.17 ERA and won the NL MVP in 1942 with a 10-shutout, 22-7 and 192 ERA+ campaign.

    He cooled down considerably after 1944, only winning 25 more games in three final years before retiring after his age 36 season with 31 WAR and a 128-75 career mark.

  22. 38
    Gary Bateman says:

    A couple of old-time shortstops:

    Cecil Travis, who lost four years to WWII with nearly 1,400 hits to his credit after his age 27 year (1941), and was not the same after the war.

    Vern Stephens, the very rare power-hitting shortstop from that era, who injured his back in 1951.

    And of course, as a Royals fan, I have to mention Bo Jackson.

  23. 40
    Jason Z says:

    Eric Davis. That 1987 season 7.7 WAR was sick.

    He never played over 135 games in a season.

    8 times he played between 127 and 135 games.

    Inhale these numbers from 1987 when he played 129 games…

    He hit .293 with an OPS of .991 and an OPS+ of 155.

    37 home runs, 100 RBI’s, 120 Runs scored.

    He stole 50 bases after stealing 80 the previous year.

    The combination of power and speed was awesome to watch.

    And as mentioned before, 7.7 WAR helped along by the
    best DWAR, 0.9, of his career. And in only 129 games!

    • 42

      Oh gosh, Eric Davis is a great one.

      Lemme throw out Kal Daniels’ name. He seemed destined for greatness for a little while there, too.

      • 68
        T-Bone says:

        Kal Daniels was one of my favorites. His knees were so bad he sometimes looked and acted like he was walking bone on bone at the end of his time with the Cubs. Walk gingerly my friend.

    • 47
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      What was more amazing than Eric Davis in 1987? – his first _ two months_ in 1987:

      Through May 31st/Eric Davis in 42 games, all starts:

      .346 BA/ .420 OBA/ .788 SLG (!)
      19 HR (prorated about 63 HR{!!!})
      52 RBI (prorated about 172 RBI{!!})
      43 runs (prorated about 142 R)
      20/22 in SB (prorated about 66/72 SB)
      125 total bases (prorated about 415 TB{!})

      The Reds played 49 games through May 31st, so multiply Davis’ above numbers by about 3 and 1/3, as I did above – WOW

      • 55
        kds says:

        From Bill James Baseball Abstract 1987. (So, after the 1986 season.):

        When Eric Davis leaves this game
        What shall be writ beneath his name?
        Shall we old men, o’er a glass of ale,
        Legends tell and stats detail
        Of wonders seen in the Cincy sun
        Or merely the record of another one
        Who had a chance and didn’t take it
        Made us dream, but didn’t make it
        Up that mountain, nuilt of hope
        (Lord, it is a treacherous slope).
        When Eric’s time has come and gone
        Another youth will claim the dawn
        But none of us will be the same,
        What shall we see, beneath his

      • 69
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        Davis also seemed to make a spectacular HR-robbing catch over an outfield wall at last once every couple weeks in 1987. Yes, I know I am embellishing greatly – but he did make at least three HR-denying catches that year, adding to his aura.

  24. 43
    Jason Z says:

    I always thought of Kal Daniels as Eric Davis light.

    Or maybe Eric Davis was Kal Daniels on steroids.

    Having just looked up Kal Daniels over at B-ref, I think
    I may have just insulted Kal Daniels.

    Two numbers jump out from Kal’s page.

    A career OPS+ of 138.

    666 career hits.

    The fascinating thing is that they both had huge years
    in 1987. I would love to hear the recollections of any
    Reds diehards that may be lurking.

    To have two players in the same year for the same team
    appear to be locks for greatness, and then to see it
    all come crashing down. Must have caused much angst
    along Pete Rose Way.

    At least until 1990.

  25. 52
    David W says:

    2 Cardinals – Austin McHenry and Bill DeLancey.

    McHenry was an outfielder who hit .350 with power and speed at age 25 in 1921 and then a brain tumor ended his life in 1922.

    DeLancey was a catcher who came down with tuburculosis at age 23 in 1935 after seasons hitting .316 and .279. Branch Rickey
    named his as his all time Cardinal catcher despite only playing 219 games. He died in 1946 at age 35 after attempting a comeback
    which failed in 1940

    Both players would have been stars during times when the Cardinals were perenial contenders, and
    in an era which is way overpopulated with Hall of Famers.

  26. 60
    birtelcom says:

    A recent name for the Hall of C’ve B is Brandon Webb. He’s trying to catch on with a team for 2013, which would be his age 34 season, but looking at what he’s done to date:

    Brandon Webb through age 29 season: 1315 IP, 143 ERA+
    Whitey Ford through age 29 season: 1357 IP, 143 ERA+

    Brandon Webb after age 29 season: 4 IP, 36 ERA+
    Whitey Ford after age 29 season: 1812 IP, 126 ERA+

  27. 62
    Doug says:

    Bobby Bonds is a different kind of HoCvB guy. His 55.6 career WAR is borderline HOF, but he really wasn’t as close as that WAR might suggest.

    Bonds’ problem was that his peak wasn’t high enough. He had 9 seasons over 4 WAR (7 consecutively), but only one over 7 WAR at 7.7. He put up back-to-back 4 and 3 WAR seasons at age 32-33, then went over a cliff with only 82 OPS+ and -0.6 WAR after that.

    • 63
      birtelcom says:

      Actually, his MLB peak was at age 17 — at some point that year he provided his genetic contribution to the creation of Barry. Signed his first pro contract with the Giants in August, 1964 at age 18, about ten days after Barry was born.

      • 66
        mosc says:

        Steroids have certainly made us forget the unbelievable talent of Barry Bonds. Gifted beyond measure in so many areas. We forget what a threat on the basepaths he was. People tout speed as part of Larkin, Alomar, and Biggio’s game but Barry was a better base stealer. More than that, he had great pate coverage and pitch recognition, at the end of 1998 he had 1357 walks! In 1996, Barry was itentionally walked 30 times (yawn by later standards) which is a ridiculous number considering he stole 40! bases on 47 tries that year. He was a left fielder, but an impactful one with great range. Perhaps his only weakness was his throwing arm.

        I refuse to just remember Big Barry with two bad knees and head shakingly absurd power. My image will always be of that 1992 Pirates 27 year old Barry just after winning his second MVP in the post season. Sure he had power (75xbh to 72 singles), but you couldn’t get him out (.456 obp that year!) and you couldn’t catch him (39 sb on just 47 tries) and he could seemingly draw walks at will. That, and in 1993 when he followed it up with an even better season.

        I wouldn’t vote for McGuire but Barry was just too great to leave out. He has unjustly become the poster child for an era he was most certainly not alone in. He has already suffered financially and emotionally for his transgressions. I refuse to crucify what is in all likelihood the greatest ballpayer ever born. His fall from grace should be a statement on how far things went downhill league wide that such a figure would give into temptation. Shame on US for Barry taking roids. Those same sports writers who vote “no” now were the same ones overlooking andro bottles in McGuire’s locker and oozing all over 1998’s HR race. THEY are just as guilty as Barry.

        • 67
          mosc says:

          Wow, sorry for the unprovoked Bonds tirade. That wasn’t directed at anyone in specific. You guys know all this stuff already, and I know that.

    • 64

      Sounds like Lou Whitaker lite, Doug. Whitaker had 71.4 rWAR without ever exceeding 6.6 in a season. After their age 33 seasons, Bonds had 56.1 WAR, Whitaker 52.8. Then Whitaker had his best year at 34 and played well into his late 30s.

      • 65
        Doug says:

        Interesting. Couldn’t pick two more different ballplayers. Yet, both arrived at the some career point at the same age, and went about it the same way (consistently very good but not spectacular).

        Guess we’ll file that under “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”.

  28. 70
    Rico Petrocelli says:

    Petrocelli= Heroic Outlier

  29. 71
    James h says:

    Didnt sweet music have a couple of 7 WAR seasons but finished just over 40 WAR? Frank Viola was one of my favorites growing up, sad that he didn’t recover from an elbow injury.

  30. 72
    Cowbell says:

    Does Kevin Brown work here or is he in some other category? I think he averaged 7 WAR over a five year span, totaled more than 60 and missed the cut in his first year of hall voting.

    Actually, here’s a list to consider…who are the best players to be disqualified after their first year of HOF voting?

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