COG ’58 Results Part 1: Walkover for Man of Steal
Rickey Henderson, #1 in major league history in career runs scored and stolen bases, and #2 in walks, was a runaway winner in the most recent round of voting for the Circle of Greats. Henderson becomes the 11th inductee into the Circle. More on Rickey and the voting will miraculously appear if you click on “Read the rest of this entry”.
Measurements such as baseball-reference’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rate Rickey Henderson very highly. Rickey is one of only 19 everyday players in major league history to accumulate 100 or more career WAR, and one of only 19 everyday players to accumulate over 110 WAR in the Fangraphs version (yes, they are the same 19 players, except that b-ref includes Nap Lajoie while Fangraphs includes Jimmie Foxx).
But Rickey gets to that level in a marvelously unique way. Henderson’s career OPS+ was 127. Among players who played a corner outfield position more than any other position and ended with a career OPS+ under 130, here are the leaders in career WAR (b-ref version):
1. Rickey Henderson 106.8
2. Tim Raines 66.2
3. Dwight Evans 62.8
4. Goose Goslin 61.0
5. Andre Dawson 60.6
Rickey’s career slugging percentage (SLG) was .419. Among players who played a corner outfield position more than any other position and hold a career SLG of .420 or less , here are the career leaders in WAR (b-ref version):
1. Rickey Henderson 106.8
2. Ichiro Suzuki 54.6
3. Jose Cruz 51.0
4. Willie Keeler 50.7
5. Harry Hooper 49.4
Rickey’s career SLG was not at a level that one would expect of an all-time-great corner outfielder. Yet he did hit 297 career homers. Most career home runs by a player with a career SLG of .420 or less:
1. Rickey Henderson 297
2. Deron Johnson 245
3. Ron Fairly 215
4. Bob Bailey 189
5. B.J. Surhoff 188
Certainly, one reason that Rickey’s rate stats are lower than might be expected for a player of his position and achievement is that he played a very long time beyond his peak, dragging his career averages down (even though his peak was long, too). But even taking the effect of a long decline-phase into account, Henderson’s route to greatness was a unique and deeply creative combination of iron discipline at the plate, bravura mastery of the art of the stolen base, unexpected home run power, and the will to remain both productive and hungry enough to be the only non-pitcher in MLB history to play 25 seasons in the NL and/or AL. Like Babe Ruth, Rickey was both audacious and talented enough to take baseball not as he found it but to bend it in new directions.
Despite the strength of Rickey’s support this round, Wade Boggs received enough love in his first appearance on the ballot to top the 50% support level, gaining four rounds of assured eligibility. The one-two punch of Henderson and Boggs prevented anyone else from topping the 25% level, and a couple of long-standing holdovers, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio, by falling short of 10% actually had to use up one of their accumulated eligibility years this round — a rare occurrence in previous COG voting for long-time holdovers. But Smoltz and Biggio both still have years of stored eligibility remaining.
Kenny Lofton and Kevin Brown returned to the ballot as the result of redemption-round success, and both generated enough support to remain alive another round. Lofton found more support than he ever received in the five rounds he was on the ballot in his first period of eligibility, before falling off after the 1963 round. Is the greater support for Kenny a temporary result of the increased attention from his recent redemption-round victory, or does it reflect a longer-lasting reconsideration of his value? An interesting question to keep an eye on going forward.
As always, you can check out the complete voting record for this past round at Google Docs. The link is here: 1958-Pt 1 COG Vote Tally
The Circle of Greats membership thus far:
Cal Ripken, Jr.
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