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What, Exactly, is a guy with "HOF Potential"?

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  • What, Exactly, is a guy with "HOF Potential"?

    Our friend, Cowtipper, has started a number of posts to assess players as to whether they are HOFers or not. Most of them are not, and we all know it, but the value of such discussions is in (A) analyzing why a player is not a HOFer, and (B) trying to ascertain how far away a player is/was from actually being a player worthy of induction into the HOF. One of the categories mentioned a lot is “HOF potential”. Did the player have the potential to be a HOFer, but his career did not pan out to where he really merited induction to the HOF.

    This begs the question: What, exactly, ought we mean when we say that a player had HOF potential? What do we look for to say that this or that player could have been a HOFer if something were different? What is the difference between wishful thinking and a true case of a guy who might have been a HOFer if something had broken different for him?

    Most “potential HOFers” are guys who have posted some HOF-type seasons, or won a major award, or were considered (at least) the best player in the league at their position for a time, but did not end up with the kind of counting stats that spell HOF. When this happens, there are some questions as to help sort out the question. For example:

    1. Did the player have at least some core of seasons in his career where he was viewed by observers of the time as a guy that was destined for the HOF? I tend to look more closely at a player who had 3-5 top-tier seasons in succession. The more spread apart such seasons are, the less I am inclined to view the player as a potential HOFer. It’s the difference between Don Mattingly and Mickey Vernon. Neither, really is a HOFer, all things considered, but Mattingly concentrated his accomplishments into a four (4) year period where he was accurately viewed as an inner-circle HOFer, before his back began to give him woe. Vernon, on the other hand, was inconsistent from season to season, and never hit the kind of peak Mattingly hit.
    2. If a guy came close to hitting “magic HOF milestones”, how many milestones did he come close to hitting. Was it only one milestone (3,000 hits, 500 HRs), or was it a broad-based “close but no cigar”? If circumstances were different, would he have been able to hit such milestones in a normal career span (e. g. Fred McGriff hitting 500 HRs), or would he have had to experience an unusually lengthened career (e.g., Jamie Moyer reaching 300 wins, Steve Finley reaching 3,000 hits)?
    3. Was what happened to the player that caused him to not be viewed as a HOFer something beyond his control, or something not a consequence of his abilities or playing styles? If a pitcher blew out his arm, was it due to poor mechanics that strained his arm, but gave him that super slider or cut fastball? If a player was a young player with old players skills, was his skill-set or body type such that he was not likely to age well? Was the player on course for the HOF at a relatively demanding defensive position, but then shifted to an easier defensive position where his offensive production was not as impressive (Kevin Mitchell, Roy Smalley)?
    4. Did the player’s problems stem from substance abuse or emotional problems? Were the underlying problems of such a nature that they overtook the player after he showed greatness (Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry), or were they issues that occurred before the player really established stardom (Milton Bradley)?

    I think there’s a difference between a “potential” HOFer and a “borderline” HOFer or a “peak value” HOFer. Dizzy Dean is a peak value HOFer. Tim Raines, if he makes it, is a peak-value HOFer (although he has a number of circumstances that apply to “potential” HOFers). Harold Baines is a “borderline” HOFer, more or less on the wrong side of the borderline. Jack Morris is a borderline HOFer, on the right side (IMO). These are my picks for a real “potential” HOF team:

    1B: Hal Trosky

    Trosky’s career was ruined by migraine headaches; if he had not been so afflicted, he would likely have posted numbers similar to Johnny Mize.

    2B: Chuck Knoblauch

    Knoblauch was on a clear HOF path until 1999, when he lost the ability to throw accurately, a la Steve Blass. He was shifted to LF, but he didn’t hit well enough for the position, and declined swiftly. He later was named in the Mitchell report, but the evidence suggests that he wasn’t using PEDs in his best years with the Twins.

    SS: Ray Chapman

    The only MLB player to die as a result of a beaning. The Indians of 1919 were a rising team. If Chapman had lived, he’d have posted the kind of career numbers that would have put him in the HOF in the 1960s. He would have benefitted from the offensive inflation of the 1920s; his numbers are better than a number of contemporaries that are in the HOF.

    3B: Eric Chavez

    Chavez’s injuries will keep him out of the HOF. His recent resurgence shows an amazing retention of ability through years of injury.

    LF: Lou Piniella
    RF: Richie Scheinblum

    I’m putting these two guys together as peas in a pod. Scheinblum (born in 1942) and Pinella (born in 1943) were contemporaries in the Indian farm system during the 1960s. Both were college guys, but both were, IMO, clearly ready for a major league job long before they got one. It is utterly amazing that the 1968 Indians, a team that overachieved by winning 86 games, only to finish last in the AL East in 1969, played Lee Maye in LF (ahead of Piniella) and Vic Davalillo in RF (ahead of Scheinblum. Both of these guys were on the same 1968 Topps Rookie Card, but neither was given a job. Both were ready for a shot at a regular job as early as 1967, based on their minor league records; Bill James would have graded both of these guys as Grade B prospects in the spring of 1968.

    Piniella had the longer career. He started late, and he ended up being platooned a lot with the Yankees (who stockpiled stars in the 1970s). He was a guy who had broad-based skills, and would have been able to approach 3,000 hits if he had been given a job early in his career and kept there. He gained fame as a Yankee, but that hurt his status; he was a guy who could still play regularly, but there were always other guys to work into the lineup, plus the Yanks signed Reggie Jackson in 1977. He would have been a guy who would have been toward the bottom of the HOF, but he had the potential to have a HOF career that was short-circuited by circumstances beyond his control, most of them in his developmental years with Cleveland.

    Scheinblum is largely forgotten, but he had the greater potential, IMO, and why he did not obtain and keep a regular MLB job is an utter mystery to me. He has a .671 OWP in a 1967 cup of coffee. He had a .689 OWP in 1972, his only full-time season (with the Royals), and .660 in 1973 (.701 with the Angels). He was a .300 hitter who drew walks. It is absolutely baffling to me as to why Scheinblum wasn’t given a job and allowed to succeed.

    I am sure that Piniella and Scheinblum had their shortcomings. Maybe they had a lousy spiring in 1968. But the 1968 Indians started LEE MAYE!!!!! in LF and VIC DAVALILLO!!!!! in RF. Old guys going nowhere! I think that these guys are exhibits A and B as to the chronic stupidity of the Indians ownership and management. (I hope to write a longer essay on this, but I’d need to do some research.)

    CF: Brett Butler

    Brett Butler would have been a HOFer if he had been given the Brave CF job in 1980 and left there. Butler was hurt by going to college; he tore through the minor leagues and was a star at each level of the minors, indicating that the Braves started Butler too low in their minor league system. Butler’s overall career is below the borderline, but he came back from tonsil cancer to hit .283 with a .363 OWP at age 40, playing CF and LF. Butler bounced around between four (4) different teams and was not strongly identified with any one of those teams; this factor hurts HOFers. Butler is, to a lesser degree than Piniella and Schienblum, an example of just how being in the wrong place with the wrong people hurt a guy’s chances.

    C: Ray Fosse

    In 1970, Ray Fosse hit .307, with a .646 OWP. What happened halfway through the 1970 season, was an unusually brutal collision with Pete Rose in the All-Star game. He was never the same after that. He slumped during the second half of the season and was never the same player. There have been a number of catchers that have had star rookie seasons, only to flame out; Rick Wilkins and Geovany Soto come to mind. But Fosse had a specific event (the Rose collision) that affected his development; it was the first of a series of injuries that diminished Fosse’s career. Fosse had a number of fluke injuries, the worst of which was a crushed disk he received not through playing, but through breaking up a fight between Reggie Jackson and Bill North in the Oakland clubhouse.

    SP: Doc Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, Don Newcombe, Larry Jackson

    Three of these guys were diminished by injuries; Gooden and Newcombe had substance abuse issues as well. Gooden, Newcombe, and Saberhagen are familiar to everyone here.

    Larry Jackson was a guy with a record close to .500 who had a big season with the Cubs, but often played on losing teams. His career ERA was 3.40, and he posted a 2.77 ERA in 1968, but retired, rather than pitch for the Expos, who took him in the expansion draft. Had Jackson pitched with better teams, he’d have won 20 games more often, and he would have gone onto the HOF. He also would likely have not retired in 1969, boosting his career win totals, but his 1968 season was very, very good, given the horrible shape of the Phillies that year.
    "I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another. The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness."

    NL President Ford Frick, 1947

  • #2
    I was wondering the other day if there are any examples of HOFers, ones who we generally believe belong in the Hall (not mistakes), who did not really have much "HOF Potential" while playing, but their longevity makes their HOF case strong? I'm thinking of guys like Don Sutton and Max Carey.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by dgarza View Post
      I was wondering the other day if there are any examples of HOFers, ones who we generally believe belong in the Hall (not mistakes), who did not really have much "HOF Potential" while playing, but their longevity makes their HOF case strong? I'm thinking of guys like Don Sutton and Max Carey.
      Pee Wee Reese
      Phil Rizzuto
      Bruce Sutter
      Tony Lazzeri
      Luis Aparicio

      There wasn't a HOF during Max Carey's playing career, but he was regarded as a star, at the very least.

      Gaylord Perry wasn't thought of a HOFer until he won 300.
      "I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another. The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness."

      NL President Ford Frick, 1947

      Comment


      • #4
        "HOF Potential" guys for me are those who had relatively short careers, either because of a late start or an early retirement. Generally, they have played for less than 15 seasons.
        These guys had several successive All Star or MVP/CY years, buy they ended up not playing very long.
        What I like to do is look at their careers, come up with some sort of approx. average season for them, and then extrapolate their careers to 15-20 years. Most of the time, players still end up being a "No" for me. But every once in a while, I find someone who I can say had "HOF Potential". It does not happen often, but I like it when I can recognize one.
        Players who have already played a long time, maybe 17-20 seasons, are off my list of "HOF Potential" players. If you can't make the HOF with 17-20 seasons under your belt, you never really had "HOF Potential".

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Fuzzy Bear View Post
          Pee Wee Reese
          Phil Rizzuto
          Bruce Sutter
          Tony Lazzeri
          Luis Aparicio

          There wasn't a HOF during Max Carey's playing career, but he was regarded as a star, at the very least.

          Gaylord Perry wasn't thought of a HOFer until he won 300.
          Reese - might be a good example
          Rizzuto - often considered a mistake and did not really have a long career, I would not count him
          Sutter - had lots of HOF Potential, but had a short career, so I would not count him either
          Lazzeri - he didn't really have longevity going for him, did he?
          Aparicio - he probably fits in with what I'm taking about

          Perry - certainly had longevity, but he won multiple CYs, was a heavy CY & MVP candidate many seasons, and had several 20 Win seasons, so I would say the potential was certainly there.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by dgarza View Post
            "HOF Potential" guys for me are those who had relatively short careers, either because of a late start or an early retirement. Generally, they have played for less than 15 seasons.
            These guys had several successive All Star or MVP/CY years, buy they ended up not playing very long.
            What I like to do is look at their careers, come up with some sort of approx. average season for them, and then extrapolate their careers to 15-20 years. Most of the time, players still end up being a "No" for me. But every once in a while, I find someone who I can say had "HOF Potential". It does not happen often, but I like it when I can recognize one.
            Players who have already played a long time, maybe 17-20 seasons, are off my list of "HOF Potential" players. If you can't make the HOF with 17-20 seasons under your belt, you never really had "HOF Potential".
            I think one reason why the threads are so interesting is that "hall of fame potential" is open to different interpretations by different posters.

            For example, Jim Kaat pitched forever, but Bill James showed that if you rearranged his wins just a little bit, he'd have, what, I forget, 5 twenty game seasons and an irresistable HOF career line.

            To get there, usually a whole lot of things have to break right, so there are many ways a fully talented player can fall short. When a little bit gets whittled off in a number of different places, it can cut a potential hofer down pretty small. A couple of extra years behind an established star, playing in a park that doesn't suit your talents, an offense that's not in style, no chance to DH, etc.

            For example, Hodges' start was slowed by the war, and he ended up in unfriendly parks. Start him a couple of years earlier, leave him in Ebbets field his whole career, leave out the sixties, and have a DH rule, and he'd go in early, I'm sure. *

            A lot of guys split their careers between the lively and dead ball. If they'd played in one or the other, depending on their skills, they'd've had a better chance.

            If Jake Daubert had started at 22 instead of 26, and batted .300 for 15 years by 1920, he'd probably have had a better chance. On the other hand, if Jack Fournier hadn't missed his 29th year and had played in the twenties and thirties, no one would even remember Jim Bottomley. Or, to round out the Dodger first basemen theme, Frank Howard or Steve Garvey (from 23, not 27) in Wrigley Field in the 50s or nineties.

            *There are a bunch of players in the Hodges mode in the fifties who might have made it if their breaks had all been good ones instead of bad: Vic Wertz with his injuries and polio, Squirrel Sievers who got sent back to the minors and played in Griffith Stadium, Klu with his back, Adcock with his injuries and the misfortune of playing for a lunatic who platooned him with Frank Torre.
            Last edited by Jackaroo Dave; 01-22-2013, 01:02 AM.
            Indeed the first step toward finding out is to acknowledge you do not satisfactorily know already; so that no blight can so surely arrest all intellectual growth as the blight of cocksureness.--CS Peirce

            Comment


            • #7
              I always thought Moises Alou had HoF potential.
              "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by dgarza View Post
                "HOF Potential" guys for me are those who had relatively short careers, either because of a late start or an early retirement. Generally, they have played for less than 15 seasons.
                These guys had several successive All Star or MVP/CY years, buy they ended up not playing very long.
                What I like to do is look at their careers, come up with some sort of approx. average season for them, and then extrapolate their careers to 15-20 years. Most of the time, players still end up being a "No" for me. But every once in a while, I find someone who I can say had "HOF Potential". It does not happen often, but I like it when I can recognize one.
                Players who have already played a long time, maybe 17-20 seasons, are off my list of "HOF Potential" players. If you can't make the HOF with 17-20 seasons under your belt, you never really had "HOF Potential".
                I think this description will fit Chase Utley to a T.
                My top 10 players:

                1. Babe Ruth
                2. Barry Bonds
                3. Ty Cobb
                4. Ted Williams
                5. Willie Mays
                6. Alex Rodriguez
                7. Hank Aaron
                8. Honus Wagner
                9. Lou Gehrig
                10. Mickey Mantle

                Comment


                • #9
                  My example is Robin Ventura. While some think he was a HOF'er, I don't. The reason I think he had HOF potential is that I believe he had the physical talents/skills to be a Hall of Famer (especially talking about with the bat), but he didn't maximize the results. Think of his college career's dominance as an example of his talent.

                  He took numerous at-bats "off", where his mental concentration/focus wasn't there. Other White Sox friends have agreed with me on this theory. He got by with his skills as a good hitter, but if he was more focused, and took less at-bats off, he could have been a Hall of Famer. Having seen well over 1000 at-bats in his career, I can't think of another player who had the skills and just didn't apply them as well as Ventura.
                  Jim Palmer said about his longtime manager Earl Weaver: The only thing Earl Weaver knows about big league pitching is that he couldn't hit it.
                  Play the Who am I? game in trivia and you can make this signature line yours for 3 days (baseball signatures only!)

                  Go here for a link to all player links! http://www.baseball-fever.com/forum/...player-threads

                  Go here for all your 1920's/1930's OF info

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Toledo Inquisition View Post
                    My example is Robin Ventura. While some think he was a HOF'er, I don't. The reason I think he had HOF potential is that I believe he had the physical talents/skills to be a Hall of Famer (especially talking about with the bat), but he didn't maximize the results. Think of his college career's dominance as an example of his talent.

                    He took numerous at-bats "off", where his mental concentration/focus wasn't there. Other White Sox friends have agreed with me on this theory. He got by with his skills as a good hitter, but if he was more focused, and took less at-bats off, he could have been a Hall of Famer. Having seen well over 1000 at-bats in his career, I can't think of another player who had the skills and just didn't apply them as well as Ventura.
                    This may very well be true but wouldn't it run contrary to his being hired as a manager? If he had a reputation as a lazy player with his contemporaries I wouldn't think he would have gotten the gig.
                    "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GiambiJuice View Post
                      I think this description will fit Chase Utley to a T.
                      I hope not but those legs are in rough shape. :crossfingers:
                      "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Ventura wasn't lazy, he tried hard, but he didn't focus well. It is hard to explain, but he wasn't able to apply himself to every at-bat equally. Basically he wasn't able to get as much out of his skills as he should have.

                        Any other White Sox fans who think this, or can explain it better? Ventura was just disappointing compared to what he could have done.
                        Jim Palmer said about his longtime manager Earl Weaver: The only thing Earl Weaver knows about big league pitching is that he couldn't hit it.
                        Play the Who am I? game in trivia and you can make this signature line yours for 3 days (baseball signatures only!)

                        Go here for a link to all player links! http://www.baseball-fever.com/forum/...player-threads

                        Go here for all your 1920's/1930's OF info

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I wouldn't automatically rule out a guy who has played 17-20 seasons. If a guy has a severe back or knee injury, he may be able to stay in the game, but the chronic nature of these injuries will alter a player's potential severely. Mattingly is a good example of that; he definitely had HOF potential, and he could have played a few more years, but he'd have been just another player. Dale Murphy is, arguably such a case, although his peak was longer than Mattingly's, and one could argue that he was a peak value HOFer (as I believe he is).
                          "I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another. The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness."

                          NL President Ford Frick, 1947

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Fuzzy Bear View Post
                            I wouldn't automatically rule out a guy who has played 17-20 seasons. If a guy has a severe back or knee injury, he may be able to stay in the game, but the chronic nature of these injuries will alter a player's potential severely. Mattingly is a good example of that; he definitely had HOF potential, and he could have played a few more years, but he'd have been just another player. Dale Murphy is, arguably such a case, although his peak was longer than Mattingly's, and one could argue that he was a peak value HOFer (as I believe he is).
                            Thing with both these guys... I think they both are HOF material as they stand.

                            To me, players who had "HOF Potential" would be players like Chuck Knoblauch (as someone noted earlier), Cupid Childs, Charlie Keller, Thurman Munson, Noodles Hahn, and Brandon Webb.
                            Last edited by dgarza; 01-22-2013, 04:51 PM.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by dgarza View Post
                              Thing with both these guys... I think they both are HOF material as they stand.
                              Mattingly was about as good as Jim Rice when it was all said and done. If that's your idea of a HOFer, he's at least borderline, and I suppose it's fair to say that Mattingly s a borderline HOFer.

                              Another good example of a guy with HOF potential is Tommy Davis. The guy won consecutive batting titles with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962-63. He slumped a bit in 1964,then he broke his ankle severelhy in 1965 and missed most of the season. He was always rather impatient at the plate, and he didn't have great power. He came back some, hitting .300 plus in 1966 and 1967, but his speed was diminished and he was not the same player as before the injury.

                              Had Davis not been injured, he could have built on his early succss. He had 2,121 career hits; he could have possibly made it to 3,000 had he not been hurt. The Dodgers traded him in 1967 to the Mets for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman; the Mets traded him in 1968 to the Chisox for Tommie Agee; Hunt and Agee were minor stars, so he wasn't just being given away. I think that the Dodgers would have been more successful if they had kept Tommy Davis and Frank Howard, and I think Tommy Davis would have been a greater player with Frank Howard in the Dodger lineup, but we'll never know.
                              "I do not care if half the league strikes. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another. The National League will go down the line with Robinson whatever the consequences. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness."

                              NL President Ford Frick, 1947

                              Comment

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