Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bobby Grich, Rick Burleson, and Their One Full (Strike-Shortened) Season as a Dominant Double Play Combination

Grich & Burleson formed a dominant double play combination
Prior to the 1981 season, the California Angels acquired shortstop Rick Burleson from the Boston Red Sox in a five-player deal.  The trade paired Burleson with second baseman Bobby Grich to give the Angels a dominant double play combination.  For several seasons, Grich and Burleson had been two of the finest offensive and defensive players at their respective positions.  In their first season together, Grich and Burleson had standout campaigns and, with both signed to long-term contracts to play for the Angels, all signs pointed to them becoming a formidable double play tandem for a number of years.  Unfortunately, the strike-shortened 1981 campaign wound up being their only full season turning double plays together as a series of injuries kept Burleson off the field and prevented the duo from realizing its full potential.

Grich and Burleson were born in 1949 and 1951, respectively.  Grich and Burleson each grew up just outside of Anaheim.  Grich was born in Muskegon, Michigan but spent the majority of his childhood in Southern California.  He went to high school in Long Beach, while Burleson completed his education just about a half an hour north of his future teammate in Downey.  Grich grew up a fan of the American League based Angels while Burleson supported the Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League.  Grich and Burleson were both first round draft picks.  Grich was selected by the Baltimore Orioles with the nineteenth overall pick in the June 1967 draft.  Burleson was snapped up by the Boston Red Sox with the fifth overall pick in the January secondary phase of the 1970 draft.

Grich won 4 Gold Gloves with Baltimore
Grich played the majority of his minor league games as a shortstop but was moved to second base when the Orioles traded their keystoner Dave Johnson to make room for him.  In 1973, Grich had what is arguably the greatest fielding season ever for a second baseman, leading AL keystoners in games played, putouts, assists, double plays turned, fielding percentage, total zone runs, and range factor.  Not only did Grich lead his second sacker peers in every major fielding category, but with just five errors in 945 chances, his superb .995 fielding percentage set a major league record for second basemen.  Grich's fielding excellence was recognized with his first of four consecutive Gold Glove Awards.  Flanked to his right by defensive wizards Mark Belanger at short and Brooks Robinson at third, Grich was part of one of the finest fielding infields in baseball history.  The trio became the first second base-shortstop-third base combination to each win the Gold Glove Award in the same season--a feat they would accomplish not only in 1973 but in 1974 and 1975 as well.  In addition to his stellar glovework, Grich also contributed at the plate, putting up power and on base numbers that were well above average for a second baseman.  Grich played a significant role in helping Baltimore win AL East Division titles in 1973 and 1974.  Unfortunately, the '73 and '74 Orioles were unable to advance to the World Series as they were defeated by the eventual World Champion Oakland Athletics in the ALCS both times.

Following the 1976 season, Grich became part of the inaugural free agent class.  With his combination of power, patience, and slick glovework, Grich was a highly sought after free agent.  Grich spurned an offer of more money from the New York Yankees and signed with the Angels, the team he had rooted for growing up.  California signed Grich to play shortstop, his original position in the minor leagues.  Unfortunately, Grich suffered an offseason back injury carrying an air conditioning unit up a staircase, the effects of which carried over into the season and cut his 1977 campaign short once he saw he could no longer avoid having surgery.  Grich returned in time for the 1978 season but was moved from shortstop back to second base by the Angels.  Grich worked hard to rebound from the injury with a workout regimen focused on weight-lifting.  Grich's dedication paid off in 1979 as the keystoner hit .294 with 30 home runs and 101 RBI to help the Angels win the AL West for the first time.  With his 30 round-trippers, Grich joined Rogers Hornsby, Joe Gordon, and Dave Johnson as the only second baseman to reach the 30-home run plateau.  Unfortunately, the Angels were defeated by the Orioles in the 1979 ALCS before nose-diving to a 65-95 record in 1980.  Grich was unable to replicate his dominant 1979 campaign but nevertheless put together a solid year, hitting .271 with 14 home runs and an impressive .377 OBP.

Burleson won a GG & set a DP record w/Boston
Burleson made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox in 1974 and by season's end was the club's everyday shortstop.  Burleson played in a team-high 158 games for the Division-winning Red Sox in 1975.  He flourished in the postseason, batting a stunning .444 against the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland Athletics, whom Boston promptly swept in the ALCS.  Burleson then hit .292 in the seven-game Fall Classic in which the Cincinnati Reds narrowly edged out the Red Sox.  Burleson didn't hit for much power but posted strong batting averages in comparison to most shortstops as many of his peers were of the "good glove, no hit" variety.  Burleson particularly excelled at the plate in 1976 and 1977, becoming the team's leadoff hitter while posting respective batting averages of .291 and .293.  Like Grich, Burleson contributed on both sides of the diamond, regularly finishing near the top of many key defensive categories.  Burleson was recognized for his sterling glovework in 1979 when he was awarded the AL Gold Glove.  The following year, Burleson set a major league record for shortstops that still stands when he turned an incredible 147 double plays.  Despite setting the record, voters selected Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell over Burleson for the AL Gold Glove.  Nevertheless, Burleson led all AL shortstops and held a significant advantage over his Detroit counterpart in putouts (301 to 225), assists (528 to 412), and double plays turned (147 to 89).  Though, it is likely Trammell's edge in fielding percentage and batting average over Burleson--.980 to .974 and .300 to .278, respectively--played a role in the vote.

Even though Boston relied on Burleson's defense at short, bat at leadoff, and veteran leadership in the clubhouse, the franchise became embroiled in bitter contract negotiations with their shortstop.  When negotiations broke down following the 1980 season, Burleson was packaged in a deal with third baseman Butch Hobson and sent to the Angels for pitcher Mark Clear, outfielder Rick Miller, and third baseman Carney Lansford.  California quickly signed Burleson to a six-year, $4.65 million contract.  The trade represented a major upgrade at shortstop for the Angels, as Burleson replaced the aging veteran platoon of Bert Campaneris and Freddie Patek, each of whom struggled in 1980.  California had also played infield prospect Dickie Thon at shortstop towards the end of the 1980 season but the youngster performed underwhelmingly at the major league level and was used as a trade chip to bring in starting pitcher Ken Forsch from the Houston Astros during the offseason.

The pairing of Grich and Burleson not only brought together two of the game's best all-around players but also two of its fiercest competitors.  Grich and Burleson were both known for their intensity and determination to win--earning reputations as hard-nosed players, not afraid to get their uniforms dirty.  Umpire Ron Luciano once said that Grich "always wore uniforms that looked like 'before' on detergent commercials."  Early in his career Burleson was given the nickname "Rooster" by Boston third base coach Don Zimmer one day during infield practice, who remarked "with his hat off and his hair standing up, he looks like a rooster walking around."  The nickname perfectly fit the shortstop and his aggressive style of play.  Contemporary infielder Alfredo Griffin recounted the complete game Grich brought to the ballfield, "He had it all - a great glove, power, an all-around game."  Zimmer also recognized Burleson's abilities on both sides of the diamond saying, "He hits pretty well because he hits like he plays.  He's a little bulldog up there."  Future major leaguer Tim Salmon remembers Grich "as a real no-nonsense player, really aggressive with high energy and high emotion."  Former pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee described Burleson's tenacious desire to win, "Some guys didn't like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied."  Lee, who was teammates with the fiery shortstop on the 1975 Pennant winning-Red Sox also added that Burleson "was very intense and had the greatest arm of any infielder I had ever seen.  The moment he reported to camp, he brought a fire to the club that we had been lacking."  Broadcaster Joe Garagiola said this of Burleson, "He's even-tempered.  He comes to the ballpark mad and he stays that way."

California looked to rebound from an abysmal 1980 campaign in which the combination of injuries to several key position players and a struggling pitching staff resulted in a 65-win, sixth place finish in the AL West.  Angels manager Jim Fregosi installed Burleson as the number two hitter in the line up behind former MVP and perennial batting champion threat Rod Carew.  By contrast, Fregosi wrote Grich's name into the eight-hole in the batting order, surprisingly deep in the order for such an accomplished hitter.  Baltimore manager Earl Weaver had generally batted Grich second or third in the line up during the keystoner's time with the Orioles, while occasionally moving him into a later spot.  California initially used Grich as its number two hitter during his first season with the club.  However, midway through the following year--with Grich struggling to bat .240 and slug .300 in his first months returning from back surgery--the second sacker was moved to one of the bottom two spots in the order.  Nevertheless, Grich excelled in the final month of the 1978 campaign and found that he preferred hitting deep in the order as it allowed him to study the opposing pitcher and learn their patterns and velocity.  During his 30-home run 1979 season, Grich saw the majority of his plate appearances come out of eighth in the order while also starting several games batting sixth or seventh.  In 1980, Grich mostly hit sixth but also had a fair portion of starts come out of the seven-hole.

After opening the season by taking three out of four games against the Seattle Mariners, California was swept in a four game series at home by the Oakland Athletics, who started the season 11-0.  At the end of April, the Angels ranked in fourth place with a 10-11 record, already eight games behind the AL West leading A's.  Grich and Burleson each finished April with an OPS of .760--arriving at their totals in vastly different ways:  Grich counteracted a lowly .215 batting average with enough power and plate discipline to bring his OBP to an acceptable .329 and slugging to a solid .431.  Burleson, on the other hand, balanced his lack of power with an impressive .298 batting average that enabled him to put up a sound .381 slugging percentage along with a high walk rate which jumped his OBP up to .379.

Grich and Burleson each embarked on hitting streaks in the month of May.  Between May 7 to May 22, Burleson hit safely in 15 consecutive games, batting .375 with an .812 OPS during the streak.  Most impressive about Burleson's streak was the fact that the majority of it took place over the course of a ten-game road trip.  California went 9-6 during Burleson's streak which briefly overlapped with Grich's hitting streak which began on May 21.  However, Grich's and Burleson's hot hitting was not enough to move the Angels up the standings as the club struggled to stay above .500 and gain ground on the AL West leading A's.  After a homestand in which the Angels lost five of six and dropped their record to 22-25, the club fired Fregosi and replaced him with Gene Mauch.  Mauch, a veteran skipper with over 3,000 games managed, had been serving as California's director of player personnel, a position he was hired for prior to the season.

Grich and Burleson continued to sizzle in the batter's box as the calendar turned to June.  Unfortunately, on June 6 in the fifth inning of a 10-0 rout of Baltimore, Grich suffered a broken bone in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch from Orioles reliever Steve Luebber.  The hand injury sent Grich to the disabled list.  Nevertheless, the Angels continued to surge, with Burleson going deep off of Cleveland Indians pitcher Bert Blyleven during a 4-3 victory on June 10 which brought California's record back above .500.

Grich & Burleson were each strong all-around players
However, on June 12 the season grinded to a halt when the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike against the owners.  The major reason for the strike was to prevent the owners from implementing a system by which clubs losing a star player to free agency would be compensated with a player of comparable value.  Blocking the owners from enacting this change was crucial as a similar compensation system used by the National Football League and National Hockey League had largely stunted the growth of free agency in those sports.  After decades of player salary and movement being restricted by the reserve clause, the advent of free agency had swung the balance of power away from ownership.  Grich and Burleson had each been beneficiaries of free agency, empowering them to return to their Southern California roots by signing lucrative contracts with the Angels.  After almost two months of cancelled games, the two sides came to an agreement to restart play with a rescheduled All-Star Game on August 9 at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.  Burleson was named to the AL All-Star team as a reserve and entered the game in the seventh inning.  "Rooster" fielded short flawlessly and reached base in his sole plate appearance on third baseman Mike Schmidt's error.  Burleson then advanced to third on Vida Blue's wild pitch but was left on base as the NL ultimately defeated the Junior circuit, 5-4.

Games cancelled due to the strike would not be made up, which left most teams with roughly a third of their season's contests never to be played.  Moreover, the MLB decided to split the season into two halves and crown divisional champions for each.  California finished the first half in fourth place with a 31-29 record, six games behind the Athletics who received an automatic ticket to the postseason by being atop the AL West standings when the labor dispute halted play.  Prior to the strike, Grich was in the process of putting together another solid campaign with 6 home runs, 24 RBI, a .275 batting average, .385 OBP, .469 slugging percentage, and .854 OPS in 50 games.  Like his double play partner, Burleson also wielded an impressive stat line with 3 home runs, 16 RBI, a .299 batting average, .364 OBP, .390 slugging percentage, and .754 OPS.  In addition, Burleson started all 60 first-half games at shortstop.

When the MLBPA went on strike, no one knew how many games would be cancelled or if the remainder of the season would be lost.  Nevertheless, Grich and Burleson each spent the strike working out and staying in shape, preparing for the resumption of play.  Coincidentally, the timing of the strike actually worked to Grich's favor as the slugging second baseman returned to action when regular season play resumed on August 10, having only missed five games due to his hand injury.  Grich's and Burleson's hard work to stay in playing shape during the labor dispute paid off as each had phenomenal months of August.  Grich picked up where he left off before the hand injury, ripping 6 home runs in the first eight games back from the strike--extending the hitting streak he started on May 21 from thirteen games to twenty-one.  New manager Mauch took notice of Grich's hot hitting and moved the second sacker into the heart of the order for the rest of the season, generally batting him fifth.  Grich finally went hitless in an August 20 win over Baltimore but managed to reach base on an error and drive Burleson in to give California the go-ahead lead.  Overall, during Grich's 21-game hitting streak, the slugging keystoner dominated opposing pitching with 7 home runs, a .440 batting average, and an astounding 1.304 OPS.  In addition, Grich had also flashed the leather during the hitting streak, making just one error during that time--a harmless miscue in a May 23 blowout loss to the Chicago White Sox.  Grich’s bat stayed hot after the streak was over, finishing August with 10 longballs in just 19 games along with 20 RBI, a .378 batting average, and 1.209 OPS.  Burleson also surged in August, batting .338 with a .405 OBP, and .837 OPS.  However, the Angels failed to capitalize on their double play duo's excellent play in August, tripping out of the gate in the second half with losses in six of their first seven games before recovering to a 9-10 record by the end of the month.

Going into the season's final month, no AL West team had broken away from the pack and with the split season format all seven clubs had a chance at the Division title--setting up a shootout atmosphere.  Unfortunately, the Angels quickly fell out of the race, dropping fourteen of fifteen games from September 5 to September 20.  The California offense went cold during the horrid 1-14 skid, scoring just 41 runs while the pitching staff surrendered 77 runs.  Like most of the team, Grich struggled during the team's slump, hitting a dismal .203.  Burleson, on the other hand, excelled in the batter's box during the club's difficult fifteen-game stretch, putting up a potent .327/.424/.806 batting average/OBP/OPS line.  Kansas City took the AL West second half crown, going 30-23 after play resumed, while California's 20-30 record landed them in the cellar.  Grich regained his hitting stroke in the last two weeks of the season to finish the second half with 16 home runs and 37 RBI supported by a sensational .328 batting average, .372 OBP, .604 slugging percentage, and .976 OPS.  Burleson's post-strike numbers dipped slightly in comparison to his strong first half, though the fiery shortstop still hit a solid .286 with 2 home runs, 17 RBI, a .348 OBP, .349 slugging percentage, and .697 OPS.

Grich tied for the AL lead with 22 home runs in 1981
The Angels finished the strike-shortened season with an overall record of 51-59 and .464 winning percentage, ranking them fifth best among the seven AL West teams.  Despite suffering a broken bone in his left hand, Grich had one of the finest hitting campaigns ever for a second baseman with 22 home runs, 61 RBI, a .304 batting average, .378 OBP, .543 slugging percentage, and .921 OPS.  Grich's 22 round-trippers tied him with Eddie Murray, Dwight Evans, and Tony Armas for the AL lead--making him the first second sacker since Rogers Hornsby in 1925 to sit atop his respective league leaderboard in longballs.  Moreover, Grich's 22 home runs were more than double that of any other major league second baseman with Frank White having the next highest total of 9.  In addition, Grich's potent .543 slugging mark also led the AL while his overall .921 OPS ranked second in the Junior circuit behind only Evans.  Burleson also put together a fine offensive season, batting .293, with a .357 OBP, .372 slugging percentage, .729 OPS, along with 5 home runs and 33 RBI.  "Rooster" also showcased his durability, tying for the AL lead with 109 games--a total made even more impressive since he played all of his games at the demanding position of shortstop.

Despite putting together excellent offensive seasons, Grich and Burleson were non-factors in the AL MVP vote.  The inability of the Angels to contend for the AL West crown in either half of the strike-shortened campaign undoubtedly cost California's keystone combination with the MVP electorate as Grich finished a distant 14th in the election while Burleson failed to receive a single vote.  Although Grich and Burleson were overlooked by AL MVP voters, the solid-hitting, slick-fielding double play tandem were each recognized for their superb offense with Silver Slugger Awards at their respective positions.

Grich and Burleson both lived up to their reputation as two of the game's best all-around players with strong defensive campaigns to compliment their stellar offense.  Grich ranked in the top-five among AL second basemen in several fielding categories including second in double plays turned and range factor, third in assists, and fourth in putouts.  However, Grich made ten errors, a total that tied him with four others for second highest among AL keystoners.  Seven of Grich's errors came during a 19-game stretch between September 5 and 24.  Grich's fielding slump ran almost parallel with the team's 1-14 September skid, though just one of those errors--a ground ball miscue in a September 6 game against Cleveland which put California behind 1-0 in an eventual 2-0 loss--resulted in the opposing team taking a go-ahead lead which the Angels failed to at least tie back up.  Despite the errors, Grich finished the strike-shortened season with a .983 fielding percentage, slightly above the league average of .982.  Yet, prior to his September slump, Grich owned a stunning .993 fielding percentage which--had it been maintained--was much higher than Rich Dauer's AL leading .989 mark.  Like Grich, Burleson also displayed his impressive defensive prowess--ranking in the top five among his shortstop peers in several AL fielding categories.  For the second year in a row, Burleson ranked first among AL shortstops in putouts, assists, and double plays turned.  "Rooster" also placed second among Junior circuit shortstops in range factor and fourth in fielding percentage.

Even though Grich and Burleson put together strong defensive campaigns, neither were bestowed with the Gold Glove Award for their respective position as they were passed over by voters in favor of Royals second baseman Frank White and Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell.  Grich and Burleson led White and Trammell in most defensive categories and dominated them offensively.  However, the Angels dynamic double play duo trailed White and Trammell in fielding percentage--a statistic most Gold Glove voters placed a large value on at the time.  Also, Gold Glove voters during this time generally selected the same player each year.  In fact, since Grich's brief move off second base during his injury-shortened 1977 campaign, Gold Glove voters had honored White each year so it was little shock the Kansas City keystoner won the award for the fifth consecutive season while Trammell took home the hardware for a second year in a row.  Another factor which may have cost Grich and Burleson support was the Angels failure to be a factor in either half of the season's divisional race.  By contrast, White's Royals won the AL West in the second half and Trammell's Tigers stayed in the hunt for the AL East until the final week of the season.

Grich's and Burleson's standout campaigns not only look solid through the traditional statistics of the time but their excellence is also underscored by advanced metrics used today.  Grich finished the strike-shortened season with a 5.4 WAR which ranked the power-hitting second baseman fourth among AL position players, fifth in the Junior circuit, and eighth overall in the MLB.  In addition, Grich's superb .921 OPS ranked him second in the AL behind only Dwight Evans' .937 mark while the keystoner's park adjusted 165 OPS+ put him ahead of the Red Sox right fielder and atop the rest of the league.  What's more, Grich's WAR and OPS+ totals were so dominant among major league second basemen that the California keystoner led his second sacker peers by significant margins in both categories with Lou Whitaker's 3.8 WAR the next closest behind his 5.4 total and Tony Bernazard's 119 OPS+ the next best after Grich's 165 mark.  Burleson's 4.5 WAR gave the shortstop the sixth highest mark among AL position players, ninth best in his league, and placed him fourteenth overall in the MLB.  "Rooster" also looks strong in comparison to his defensive peers in advanced metrics, ranking second among all major league shortstops in WAR and OPS+ with his respective 4.5 and 112 marks just behind the 4.9 and 114 totals of Robin Yount.

Following his outstanding season, Grich was eligible to become a free agent again.  Despite finishing 1981 with a poor record, the front office had no interest in allowing their veteran second baseman to leave and play for another team.  Shortly after the conclusion of the season, the Angels signed Grich to a lucrative, four-year contract extension.  "There was never any question of letting Grich get away", Angels general manager Buzzie Bavasi said of the signing.  Barring trade, injury, or some other unforeseen consequence, Grich's contract extension ensured the Angels franchise would keep their dominant double play duo combination together through 1985.

A torn rotator cuff ended Burleson's '82 season
Unfortunately, the strike-shortened 1981 season wound up being Grich's and Burleson's only full season turning double plays together.  Burleson began to suffer from a sore right shoulder during the following season's Spring Training.  Burleson started receiving cortisone injections for his ailing shoulder but only lasted in 11 games into the season before he suffered a torn rotator cuff which required surgery and brought an end to the shortstop's season.  Grich expressed shock and despair at Burleson's injury, "It's unbelievable.  He's so vital to this team."  Nevertheless, despite losing Burleson, Grich and the Angels won the AL West Division crown with a 93-69 record.  California took on the AL East champion Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-five ALCS.  The Angels won the first two games before allowing the Brewers to even the series and win the deciding fifth game.

Burleson finally made his return more than a year later on June 30, just before the 1983 All-Star break.  "Rooster" initially looked strong in his return, picking up two or more hits in each of his first seven games back.  Unfortunately, the gritty shortstop continued to be afflicted by right shoulder issues.  After his strong start, Burleson struggled to remain in the line up and went on the 15 day-disabled list in mid-August with right shoulder stiffness.  Burleson briefly returned before packing it in for the rest of the season on September 8.  "Rooster" was back for the following season's Spring Training but once again hit the disabled list when a new tear was discovered in his right shoulder which kept him out of action until September.  Upon his return, Burleson was solely used as pinch hitter and pinch runner.  Once again disaster struck when Burleson dislocated his right shoulder lifting weights during the offseason, sidelining the injury-plagued veteran for the entire 1985 campaign.

Overall, Burleson made his way into just 51 games between 1982 and 1985.  In Burleson's absence the shortstop position was first filled by veteran Tim Foli and later by youngster Dick Schofield.  Foli and Schofield both performed well on defense but neither were the strong two-way player Burleson was, as both truly epitomized the "good glove, no hit" shortstop that was commonplace of the era with sub-70 OPS+ marks.  Following their Division title win in 1982, the Angels team struggled with injuries and slumped to a 70-92 record in 1983 before rebounding with back-to-back second place finishes behind the Royals in 1984 and 1985.  After his MVP-caliber 1981, Grich continued to put together solid campaigns with his combination power and patience.  Grich hit 19 home runs with a .371 OBP for California's AL West-winning 1982 team.  In 1983, Grich was enjoying one of his finest seasons--with a .292 batting average and .414 OBP--when an errant pitch from Yankees reliever George Frazier broke a bone in his right hand and brought a premature end to his impressive campaign on August 28.  As he aged into his mid-thirties, Grich began platooning at the second with Rob Wilfong during the 1984 and 1985 seasons while also filling a utility infielder role by backing up Carew at first and DeCinces at third.  In 1985, Grich once again set the fielding percentage record with an incredible .997 mark with just two errors in 606 chances at the keystone.  Coincidentally, the man whose record he broke was his teammate Wilfong's, who had set the record in 1980 as a member of the Minnesota Twins--eclipsing the mark Grich set in 1973.  Despite setting a new fielding percentage record for second baseman, Grich was passed over for the AL Gold Glove Award in favor of Tigers keystoner Lou Whitaker who was bestowed with the honor for the third consecutive season.  Grich's record stood for a dozen years before it was just barely edged by Cincinnati Reds second baseman Bret Boone whose only two errors came in 607 chances.

With his four-year contract set to expire after the 1985 season, Grich considered retiring but instead chose to sign a one-year deal to remain with the Angels.  The 1986 campaign represented the final season of the six-year pact Burleson signed following his trade to California.  After back-to-back second place finishes with most of their line up well into their thirties and several of their veteran players--including Grich and Burleson--eligible for free agency at the end of the season, the 1986 Angels were dubbed "The Last Chance Gang."  Burleson reported to Spring Training healthy much to the delight of Grich who stated, "You won't find a player anywhere that plays with any more intensity.  It just gives everybody a good feeling about him being out there."  With Grich at age 37 and Burleson turning 35 a few weeks into the season, their time as a dominant double play combination had passed and the veteran infielders started just six games together as a tandem during the season.  Nevertheless, Grich and Burleson were each able to contribute as the Angels led the standings most of the season and comfortably won the AL West Division with a 92-70 record.  Grich shared second base with Wilfong while also making pinch hit appearances and occasionally filling in at first for rookie Wally Joyner while Burleson backed up Dick Schofield at short, Reggie Jackson at DH, and also made a few starts at second and third base.  Grich put up a 109 OPS+ on the strength of his .354 OBP while Burleson made it through his first full season since the strike-shortened 1981 campaign and chipped in with a .284 batting average and 107 OPS+.  At season's end, Burleson was named the United Press International Comeback Player of the Year.

Grich retired after an emotional ALCS loss to Boston
Unfortunately, there would be no "fairy-tale ending" for Grich, Burleson, and the rest of "The Last Chance Gang" as the Angels were defeated in seven games by the Boston Red Sox in an unforgettable ALCS.  While Burleson quietly hit .273 in 11 plate appearances, Grich had a dramatic ALCS with incredible highs and heart-wrenching lows.  Grich was the victim of a base running miscue and made a costly error to be the goat of a Game 2 loss.  However, he redeemed himself with a game-winning, walk-off single in the 11th inning of Game 4 to put California up three games to one.  In the bottom of the 6th of Game 5 with the Angels one victory away from their first World Series, Grich hit a deep fly ball which popped out of the glove of Boston center fielder Dave Henderson and over the fence for a 2-run homer to put California ahead 3-2.  An elated Grich memorably leapt in the air to slap hands with teammate Doug DeCinces, celebrating what appeared to be the game-winning drive to send the Angels to the Fall Classic.  However, Henderson tied the game in the top of the 9th with a home run before driving in the go-ahead Red Sox run with a sacrifice fly in the 11th.  Grich had a chance to be the hero again with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th but his liner was snagged by Boston reliever Steve Crawford for the third out.  California dropped Games 6 and 7 to Boston in lopsided fashion to lose the ALCS.  At the conclusion of Game 7, Grich announced his retirement.  Burleson was not re-signed by the Angels and inked a one-year pact with the Baltimore Orioles for 1987.  Burleson was released by the Orioles on July 11 after hitting just .209 and subsequently retired.

In 1988, Grich became the first inductee into the California Angels Hall of Fame.  General manager Mike Port said of the former second baseman, "I think it's fitting for Bobby Grich to be the first inductee into our Hall of Fame.  In the 10 seasons he spent with the Angels, he ranked among the top 10 in most of the club's all-time offensive records.  That's an item of record.  But the attitude and the intensity he took across the white lines made Bobby Grich as much as all the statistical accomplishments.  In many ways, he was the ideal California Angel--not only in ability but also in terms of intensity and the determination to win.  Bobby Grich epitomized all of that."

Grich & Burleson were teammates for 6 season but rarely player together after 1981
Four years later Grich became eligible for the BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.  Despite his power numbers, fielding accomplishments, and reputation as a gamer, Grich collected less than the five percent minimum required to be included on future ballots.  However in more recent times, Grich's overlooked Hall of Fame case has become a cause celebre for the sabermetric crowd who point to his 70.9 WAR, 125 OPS+, and .371 OBP--each of which are higher than most second baseman in Cooperstown.  One person who supports Grich's election is his former double play partner Burleson.  When asked by Three Days of Cryin' during a 2009 interview which second baseman he played alongside should have their number retired and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Burleson named Grich and added, "That was one of the things that was toughest about my injury.  I was really looking forward to seeing what the two of us could have been together up the middle."

The pairing of Grich and Burleson brought together two of the game's most passionate and finest all-around players to form a dominant double play partnership.  Grich and Burleson exceeded expectations with outstanding performances in their first season together.  Moreover, with Grich and Burleson each signed to long-term contracts, the duo looked set to build on their strong initial campaign together.  Unfortunately, Burleson's shoulder injuries robbed the tandem of their chance to become a historically great double play combination.

----by John Tuberty

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Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, SABR, SI Vault, Baseball Almanac, Baseball Prospectus, UPI Archive, Google News Archive, Three Days of Cryin', The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, MLB, Bill James-The New Bill James Historical Abstract (Free Press), Ross Newhan-Anaheim Angels:  A Complete History (Hyperion), John Eisenberg-From 33rd Street to Camden Yards:  An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles (McGraw-Hill), Ron Luciano-The Fall of the Roman Umpire (Bantam Books), Bill Lee with Richard Lally-The Wrong Stuff (Crown/Archetype)

Photo credit:  1981 Topps Bobby Grich, 1981 Topps Traded Rick Burleson, 1976 SSPC Bobby Grich, 1977 Topps Rick Burleson, 1982 Topps Home Run Leaders, 1983 Fleer Rick Burleson, 1984 Topps Bobby Grich, 1984 Rick Burleson, 1982 Topps Bobby Grich, 1982 Topps Rick Burleson, 1987 Topps Bobby Grich, 1987 Topps Rick Burleson

Other articles by Tubbs Baseball Blog:
Bobby Grich Was The Victim of Some Bad Baseball Cards and Some Even Worse Hall of Fame Voting

The Two Excellent Five-Year Peaks of Bobby Grich's Hall of Fame Caliber Career, Part One:  The Baltimore Orioles 1972-1976

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Five Candidates Who Have Fallen a Single Vote Shy of Election to the Baseball Hall of Fame

There have been five candidates who have fallen a single vote shy of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame who were not later elected to Cooperstown via a subsequent vote.  Most of these close calls drew little attention as they did not occur on the BBWAA ballot but instead took place on elections held by the Era Committee or its predecessor, the Veterans Committee.  For several decades the Era Committee--or the Veterans Committee as it was known prior to 2010--has represented the alternate path to the Hall of Fame for player candidates who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA ballot as well as the only avenue to Cooperstown for non-player candidates such as managers, executives, and umpires.  Unlike the BBWAA, whose voting body is currently made up of over 400 members, the Era and Veterans Committees have generally been composed of smaller 12 to 16 member electorates.  The Hall of Fame only started publically releasing voting percentages for the Era and Veterans Committees elections in 2003, yet in that short period of time the tiny electorate has had five candidates miss being voted into Cooperstown by a single tally.  Each of those five candidates have appeared on both the Veterans Committee and Era Committee ballots where their Hall of Fame candidacies have been affected by the frequent changes in the format used by this voting body.  (A detailed listing of those changes appears at the bottom of this article.)

--Dick Allen and Tony Oliva--Golden Era Committee ballot, December 2014--
The most recent instance of a candidate falling a single vote shy of Cooperstown immortality was on the Era Committee's Golden Era election in December 2014 when both Dick Allen and Tony Oliva just missed the mark.  Allen and Oliva each drew 11 votes from the 16-member Golden Era Committee, giving them 68.8% of vote but leaving both one tally shy of the 12 necessary to reach the 75% required for election.

Allen and Oliva each fell one vote shy of Cooperstown on the Golden Era ballot
Allen's and Oliva's career timelines were almost mirror images of each other.  Allen took the NL by storm in 1964 and was voted the NL Rookie of the Year while Oliva snagged top rookie honors in the AL that same year.  Allen was one of the premier power-hitters of his day, reaching the 30 home run mark six times while leading the league in longballs twice and slugging percentage on three occasions.  Oliva was a perennial threat to lead the league in batting average, winning the batting crown three times while also pacing the circuit in hits on five occasions and doubles in four.  Allen made seven All-Star teams and was voted AL MVP in 1972.  Oliva made eight All-Star teams and, while he never won an MVP, he was runner up to the award in both 1965 and 1970.  Allen played his final major league game in 1977, while Oliva wrapped up his career in 1976.

Allen 1749 7315 1099 1848 351 1119 0.292 0.378 0.534
Oliva 1676 6880 870 1917 220 947 0.304 0.353 0.476

OPS+ WAR WAA Rfield MVP share

Allen 156 58.7 32.9 -110 1.62

Oliva 131 43.0 20.1 56 1.90

Allen's career looks stronger through the lens of sabermetrics as his career 58.7 WAR outpaces Oliva's 43.0 mark.  In addition, Allen's 156 OPS+ trails only Barry Bonds, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mark McGwire, and Pete Browning for retired hitters with at least 5,000 plate appearances who have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  However, Allen's dominance at the plate was tempered by his difficulties on the otherside of the diamond as he bounced around between first base, third base, and left field--playing each position at below average defensive level.  Oliva, on the other hand, played most of his career as a plus defender in right field, taking Gold Glove honors in 1966.

Oliva won three batting crowns
By virtue of retiring one year earlier, Oliva was eligible for the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot before Allen and drew 15.2% of the vote in his first appearance in 1982.  Oliva lasted the maximum 15 years on the BBWAA ballot but never came close to reaching the 75% required for election.  Oliva generally collected around 35%--peaking at 47.3% in 1988 and garnering 36.2% in his final year on the ballot.  By contrast, Allen only picked up 3.7% of the vote in his initial appearance on the 1983 BBWAA ballot and was not included on the following year's ballot.  However, Allen was restored to the BBWAA ballot in 1985 and like Oliva managed to stay on the ballot for the maximum number of years.  Allen's support regularly hovered in the teens with a high of 18.9% in his next to the last year on the ballot.  Both Allen and Oliva had excellent career peaks but their failure to be voted into the Hall of Fame on the BBWAA ballot was not surprising since the writers rarely elect position players with less than 2,000 career hits.  In fact, the last position player the BBWAA voted into Cooperstown who retired shy of the 2,000 hit-milestone was Ralph Kiner in 1975 and his election came in his fifteenth and final year of eligibility on the writer's ballot.

Injuries played a key role in shortening both Allen's and Oliva's careers.  A variety of injuries kept Allen off the field--particularly late in his career as the slugger never played in more than 128 games in any of his final five seasons following his 1972 MVP campaign.  Oliva was primarily affected by knee injuries which cost him nearly all of 1972 and relegated him to designated hitter duty over his last four seasons.  In addition to his career being shortened by injuries, Allen's Hall of Fame case is also hindered by the poor reputation he developed through a series of controversies during his playing career.  However, in more recent times, many of Allen's former managers and teammates have defended his character.  Nevertheless, it is likely the controversies played a role in the disparity in vote totals between Allen and Oliva on the BBWAA ballot.  Oliva may have also benefited from playing his entire career with one franchise, the Minnesota Twins, whereas Allen suited up for five different clubs.

After each appearing on the BBWAA ballot the maximum fifteen times, Allen and Oliva became eligible for the Veterans Committee ballot in 2003.  Oliva, once again, proved to be the stronger Hall of Fame candidate with this electorate as he saw an increase in support while Allen's vote percentage stayed in the teens.  Among a pool of around 25 candidates, Oliva respectively finished second, third, and fourth in the 2003, 2005, and 2007 elections with vote percentages of 59.3, 56.3, and 57.3.  Allen finished tied for thirteenth in the first two votes and tied for seventeenth in the last, with vote percentages of 16.0, 15.0, and 13.4.  For their December 2008 election, the Veterans Committee changed the process to reduce the number of candidates to ten and moved players whose careers started before 1943 to their own ballot.  Oliva placed third highest in the 2008 election with 51.6% of the vote while Allen drew just 10.9%--the lowest total of the ten candidates.

Allen reached the 30-HR mark six times
In 2010, the Veterans Committee was overhauled and replaced by a new voting body known as the Era Committee, which gave Oliva's and Allen's Hall of Fame cases the first chance to be judged by a 16-member committee that more closely resembled the smaller Veterans Committees electorates of the past.  Allen's and Oliva's career timelines fit best into the Golden Era, which evaluated candidates who made their biggest contributions between 1947 and 1972. Oliva drew 50% of the vote in the initial Golden Era election, which was held in December 2011.  Allen, on the other hand, was not even nominated for the ballot.  Oliva's vote percentage was in line with what he had drawn on the Veterans Committee ballots, but finishing fifth among ten candidates--behind Ron Santo (93.8%), Jim Kaat (62.5%), Gil Hodges (56.3%), and Minnie Miñoso (56.3%)--was a step back for the slugger's Hall of Fame candidacy.  Santo, who had passed away just one year before the Golden Era vote, was the sole candidate elected from the ballot.  Three years later
, the Golden Era Committee held its second vote, this time with both Allen and Oliva nominated for the ballot.  Only a quarter of the voting body from the 2011 election was retained to vote on the 2014 ballot.  In addition, the 2014 voting body skewed younger than its 2011 predecessor, with many of the older members of the electorate not retained.  The younger electorate likely played a role in Allen and Oliva--whose career peaks came in the latter part of the Golden Era--leap frogging over the other holdovers to draw the highest vote percentages at 68.8, each just a single tally from election.

After falling one vote shy of election on the 2014 ballot, Allen and Oliva stood a decent change of being voted into Cooperstown when the Golden Era Committee was slated to meet again in 2017.  However in July 2016, the Hall of Fame announced changes to the Era Committee process.  Under the new format, the Golden Era Committee has been replaced by the Golden Days Committee.  Unfortunately for Allen and Oliva, the Golden Days Committee only votes once every five years--instead of every three years as the Golden Era Committee did--and will not hold an election until 2020 when Oliva and Allen will be 82 and 78-years old, respectively.  In addition, members of the voting body change so much between elections, the momentum Allen and Oliva gained by coming one checkmark away from Cooperstown in 2014 will not necessarily follow them to the Golden Days vote.

--Marvin Miller--Expansion Era Committee ballot, December 2010--
Marvin Miller served as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and left an indelible imprint on the game, forever changing the relationship between players and management.  As leader of the MLBPA, Miller was instrumental in building the players union into arguably the strongest of its kind in all of professional sports.  Miller took office in 1966 and, by 1968, had negotiated baseball's first collective bargaining agreement.  Miller organized the first strike in Major League Baseball history in April 1972 which resulted in the owners agreeing to add salary arbitration as well as a $500,000 increase in pension fund payments.  During his tenure, Miller played a key role in the toppling of the reserve clause and the advent of free agency.  Miller also led the players on a brief strike during 1980 spring training and a more lengthy stoppage in the midst of the 1981 season.  The 1981 strike lasted nearly two months and led to the cancellation of roughly a third of the regular season.  However, the strike prevented the owners from implementing a system by which clubs losing a star player to free agency would be compensated with a player of comparable value.  Blocking the owners from enacting this change was crucial as a similar compensation system used by the National Football League and National Hockey League had largely stunted the growth of free agency in those sports.  Miller retired from the executive director position just prior to the 1983 season but stayed active as a consultant to the MLBPA for many more years.  Under Miller's leadership, the MLBPA swung the balance of power from the owners to the players.  Moreover, in just over a decade and a half with Miller as executive director, the average salary of a MLB player grew by more than tenfold--from less than $20,000 when he took office to nearly a quarter of a million dollars at the time of his retirement.

Miller left an indelible imprint on the game
Miller's first appearance on a public Hall of Fame ballot came in February 2003 on the Veterans Committee vote for non-player candidates.  Miller drew 44.3% of the vote and finished third among a pool 15 candidates.  At the time, the Veterans Committee included all living Hall of Famers in its electorate and some disappointment was expressed that a voting body largely made up of players which Miller had represented fell well short of electing their former labor leader to whom they owed so much.  Four years later the Veterans Committee held its second election for non-player candidates.  This time around Miller collected 63% of the vote, second to only Doug Harvey who picked up 64.2%.

Following the February 2007 vote, the Hall of Fame revamped the Veterans Committee process and split the non-player candidates into two separate ballots--one for executives and the other for managers and umpires.  The Hall of Fame included Miller on the ten-candidate Executives ballot alongside former team owners, general managers, and most notably, Bowie Kuhn--the MLB Commissioner for most of Miller's tenure as MLBPA executive director.  In addition, the Hall of Fame overhauled the Veterans Committee voting body, replacing the previous electorate--which had been largely made up of Hall of Fame players--with a 12-member panel which was comprised of seven current or retired executives, three sportswriters, and just two Hall of Fame players.  The Hall of Fame held the first election for the Veterans Committee Executives ballot in December 2007.  Miller's support plummeted on the Executives ballot, down from 63% on the previous Veteran Committee vote just ten months earlier to a meager 25%.  Miller's paltry vote total was tied for the sixth highest among ten candidates--a particularly frustrating outcome after respectively finishing third and second on the previous two Veterans Committee ballots.  The new electorate had little trouble voting in candidates, adding three new members to Cooperstown--former Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, and Miller's former adversary Kuhn.  The election of Kuhn was the subject of much criticism as Miller had not only regularly outdueled the former commissioner during their many labor battles but also outdrew him on the previous two Veterans Committee ballots--garnering 44.3% to Kuhn's 25.3% in 2003 and 63% to Kuhn's 17.3 in February 2007.

Following the controversial result, Miller wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame, requesting his name be removed from future elections.  Miller directed his criticism towards the composition of the executive-filled 12-member electorate, "I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote.  It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sportswriters, and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century.  At the age of 91, I can do without the farce."

Despite Miller's request, the Hall of Fame included him on the next Veterans Committee Executives ballot in December 2009.  Once again, the electorate consisted of seven executives, three sportswriters, and just two Hall of Fame players with eight of twelve members from the 2007 voting body returning, including six of the seven executives.  With such an executive-heavy voting body and so many members of the 2007 electorate returning, Miller stood little chance of being voted into Cooperstown.  However, public outcry likely played a role in the vote as Miller drew much more support than he had on the 2007 ballot, garnering 58.3%--just two votes shy of the nine checkmarks required to meet the 75% required for election.  Miller's seven votes tied him with former New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert for the second highest vote total, just one tally behind former Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer who fell a single mark shy of Cooperstown as the Veterans Committee failed to elect any candidates from 2009 Executives ballot.

Miller's HOF candidacy has generated much controversy
Shortly after the 2009 election, the Hall of Fame overhauled the Veterans Committee and replaced it with a new voting body known as the Era Committee.  Under the new format, players and non-players were put back on a composite ballot to be voted on by one of three 16-member sub-committees based on the era under which the candidate made their greatest contributions to the game.  Miller's Hall of Fame case fell under the Expansion Era Committee's jurisdiction which covered candidates from 1973-onward.  The Expansion Era Committee's voting body was comprised of seven Hall of Fame players, four sportswriters, four executives, and one Hall of Fame manager.  While having a higher number of Hall of Fame players as part of the electorate undoubtedly gave Miller a better chance at election, executives still made up a quarter of the voting body--meaning that the former union leader would need to carry all of the remaining twelve votes, assuming that none of the quartet of executives voted for him.  The Expansion Era Committee held its first vote in December 2010, electing former general manager Pat Gillick with 81.3% of the vote while Miller drew 68.8%--missing Cooperstown immortality by just a single tally, a cruel result after years of ups and downs on the Veterans Committee ballot.

The Expansion Era election drew sharp criticism, most notably from Miller himself who took the Hall of Fame to task, "The Baseball Hall of Fame's vote (or non-vote) of December 5, hardly qualifies as a new story.  It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring."  The 93-year old Miller added, "A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence.  Its failure is exemplified by the fact that I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity, and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history.  It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out."

Due to the Era sub-committees meeting on a triennial basis, Miller would not be eligible for another Hall of Fame vote until the Expansion Era Committee convened again in three years.  Miller passed away on November 27, 2012 at age 95 and posthumously appeared on the second Expansion Era ballot in December 2013 from which Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre were unanimously elected.  The presence of LaRussa, Cox, and Torre--respectively the third, fourth, and fifth winningest managers in baseball history--made the rest of the 2013 ballot an afterthought to the degree that all the other candidates' vote totals, including Miller's were listed as "six or fewer votes."

Following two cycles of Era Committee voting, the Hall of Fame tinkered with the format again and changed around the name and time frames of the sub-committees.  Miller's Hall of Fame case will now rest in the hands of the Modern Baseball Committee which will evaluate candidates from the 1970-1987 time frame.  The Modern Baseball Committee will hold their first election in December 2017, at which time Miller should once again draw strong support as he is the only standout non-player candidate from that era eligible for the ballot.

--John Fetzer--Veterans Committee Executives ballot, December 2009--
An early pioneer of radio and television, John Fetzer initially became involved in baseball through his station's broadcasting of Detroit Tigers games.  Fetzer was a key part of an 11-member syndicate that purchased the Tigers from the Briggs family in October 1956.  Fetzer initially became involved in the Tigers ownership to protect his broadcasting rights.  However, by November 1961, Fetzer had bought out the other parties and assumed full ownership of the franchise.  Fetzer's Tigers won the 1968 World Series and came one win shy of returning to the Fall Classic in 1972.  Fetzer ran a stable front office with Jim Campbell and Bill Lajoie serving as key figures throughout most of his ownership.  Following the 1983 season, Fetzer sold the franchise to Tom Monaghan but stayed on as chairman of the board through 1988.  Although the Tigers only won one championship under Fetzer's ownership, the club was a regular winner--suffering just six losing seasons during his twenty-two years as sole owner of the franchise.  Moreover, the Tigers won the 1984 World Series with a strong core group of players assembled during Fetzer's final years as owner.  In addition to his role as Tigers owner, Fetzer was also a central figure in broadcasting the game.  Fetzer negotiated Major League Baseball's first national broadcasting contract and was active in both the creation of a national World Series broadcast as well as a national game of the week.  Fetzer passed away just shy of his 90th birthday on February 20, 1991.

Fetzer was looked up to by many in the game, including Milwaukee Brewers owner and future MLB Commissioner Bud Selig who viewed the Tigers' owner as a role model.  "I think about my mentor, John Fetzer," Selig told The New York Times a few years ago.  "I was a new owner, and I believed in keeping your mouth shut for a few years.  Around 1971, while the Tigers were still a good team, Mr. Fetzer voted in favor of a motion that was not in the best interests of his team.

"I remember we were on a flight together from New York to Detroit, and I asked, "Mr. Fetzer, let me ask you a question.  Why did you vote for that motion?"  I will never forget his answer.  He said, "Buddy, you have to learn not to be myopic.  If it's in the best interests of baseball, it is also in the best interests of the Detroit baseball team."

Fetzer was eligible for the 2003 and 2007 Veterans Committee non-player ballots and was included among the 60 nominees both times but was subsequently passed over by the Historical Overview Committee, which screened and selected the final 15-candidate ballot. Fetzer then appeared on the December 2007 Veterans Committee Executives ballot in which Barney Dreyfuss, Walter O'Malley, and Bowie Kuhn were elected.  Fetzer finished with the fifth highest total among the ten candidates--picking up four of twelve tallies for 33.3% of the vote.

With three candidates ushered into Cooperstown on the 2007 Executives election, a lot of potential votes were freed up for the holdovers, such as Fetzer, when the Veterans Committee convened for their next Executives election two years later.  Of the ten candidates selected for the 2009 Executives ballot, only former Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Kauffman's five votes represented a higher holdover total from 2007 election than Fetzer's four tallies.  Moreover, with eight of twelve members from the 2007 electorate returning for the 2009 vote, it seemed likely Fetzer would draw more support.  However, in a stark contrast to the 2007 Executives ballot, none of the candidates were voted into Cooperstown.  Nevertheless, Fetzer collected the highest vote total of the ten candidates, picking up eight votes but leaving the former Tigers owner one checkmark shy of a bronze Hall of Fame plaque.

Fetzer missed HOF election by one vote in 2009
Despite missing Cooperstown immortality by a single vote, Fetzer has yet to appear on another Hall of Fame ballot since the 2009 Executives election.  Fetzer appeared poised to enter Cooperstown the next time the Veterans Committee voted on executive candidates in 2011.  However, the Hall of Fame replaced the Veterans Committee with the Era Committee and returned to the practice of having players and non-players on one composite ballot.  Of the three Era sub-committees under the new process, Fetzer's career timeline fit best into the Golden Era Committee, which judged the 1947-1972 time period.  Although he had fallen just shy of election on the 2009 Executives vote, Fetzer was passed over for the Golden Era's initial ballot in 2011 by the Historical Overview Committee which nominated two executives, Buzzie Bavasi and Charlie Finley, for the ten-candidate ballot.  Bavasi was a reasonable selection by the screening committee, having garnered strong support on the 2003 and 2007 Veterans Committee non-player ballots--finishing fourth among fifteen candidates each time, earning 43.0 and 37.0% of the vote, respectively.  Nevertheless, Bavasi's nomination over Fetzer was surprising given that Bavasi had drawn poorly on the 2007 Veterans Committee Executives ballot with his total ambiguously listed as "fewer than three votes" and had not been included on the 2009 ballot on which Fetzer narrowly missed election.  On the other hand, the Historical Overview Committee's selection of Finley over Fetzer was inexplicable as Finley had not appeared on either Executives ballot and he had been an afterthought on the 2003 and 2007 Veterans Committee non-player ballots--finishing towards the bottom of the 15-candidate pool both times while collecting barely 10% of the vote.  Bavasi and Finley fared poorly in the ensuing Golden Era election with their support classified as "fewer than three votes."

The Golden Era Committee held their second election in December 2014 but Fetzer was absent from the ballot as he had, once again, been passed over by the Historical Overview Committee.  This time around, Bob Howsam was the only executive to make it onto the ten-candidate ballot.  The screening committee's favoring of Howsam over Fetzer was puzzling.  Howsam, like Fetzer, had been among 60 candidates nominated for the 2003 and 2007 Veterans Committee non-player ballots but failed to make either final 15-candidate ballot.  Howsam was also included on both Veterans Committee Executive ballots but struggled to draw support.  Howsam garnered just 25% of the vote on the 2007 Executives ballot with his three checkmarks one tally behind Fetzer.  Two years later, Howsam's support dipped into the "fewer than three votes" category on the same ballot in which Fetzer came within a checkmark of Cooperstown.  Fetzer's exclusion from the Golden Era ballots by the Historical Overview Committee following his near election on the Executives ballot is hard to explain since the screening panel rarely undergoes changes and had essential the same members since Veterans Committee elections results became public in 2003.

With recent changes to the Era Committee process, Fetzer will be eligible to appear on either the Golden Days (1950-1969) or Modern Baseball (1970-1987) ballot depending on how the sum of his career achievements are weighed within those time periods.  Nevertheless, with the same Historical Overview Committee screening the Era Committee ballots, Fetzer's appearance on one of those ballots is not a given.

--Allie Reynolds--Veterans Committee Pre-1943 ballot, December 2008--
Allie Reynolds was a standout right-handed pitcher on six World Series winning-New York Yankees teams.  Reynolds got a late start to his career, making his major league debut, at age 25 with two appearances at the end of the 1942 season for the Cleveland Indians.  The following year, Reynolds put together a strong rookie campaign, leading the AL with 151 strikeouts.  During Reynolds' time with Cleveland, the team struggled to play .500 ball.  After four seasons with the Tribe, Reynolds was traded to the Yankees for second baseman Joe Gordon.  At that point in his career, Reynolds sported a 51-47 record with 3.31 ERA.  However, once Reynolds donned Yankee pinstripes, the righty won with regularity and rarely found himself in the loss column.  In his first season with New York, Reynolds went 19-8 and helped the Bronx Bombers overcome the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games to win the 1947 World Series.  Following a third place finish in 1948, the Yankees embarked on a record five consecutive World Series titles from 1949 to 1953.  Reynolds anchored a pitching staff that included Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and a young Whitey Ford.  In 1951, Reynolds joined Johnny Vander Meer as only the second pitcher to hurl two no-hitters in one season.  At season's end, Reynolds finished third behind teammate Yogi Berra and St. Louis Browns pitcher Ned Garver in a close race for the AL MVP in which each of the three candidates drew six first place votes.  Reynolds became a twenty-game winner in 1952, leading the AL with a miniscule 2.06 ERA while sitting atop the league in strikeouts for a second time with 160.  Reynolds once again drew well in the AL MVP vote, garnering four first place checkmarks and finishing runner up to Philadelphia Athletics hurler Bobby Shantz.  Midway through the 1953 season, Reynolds injured his back when the team bus crashed into a bridge overpass in Philadelphia.  The back injury played a major role in Reynolds retiring from the game at age 37, following the 1954 campaign.

Reynolds pitched for six World Series winners
Reynolds finished his career with a 182-107 record at a stellar .630 win/loss percentage.  Only twenty-two pitchers have won as many games as Reynolds with a higher win/loss percentage.  On top of that, Reynolds had 48 career saves as the right-hander contributed out of the bullpen in addition to excelling as one of the game's finest starting pitchers.  Saves did not became an official stat until 1969, nevertheless, Reynolds was recognized for his ability to flourish in the starter/reliever hybrid role and ranked in the top five among AL pitchers in saves during the 1951 and 1952 seasons while finishing fifth or higher in wins, ERA, win/loss percentage, innings pitch, strikeouts, complete games, and shutouts.  Reynolds also put together a solid 3.30 career ERA.  However, due to his late start and the premature ending of his career, Reynolds only pitched 2492.1 innings.  In addition, strikeout totals were much lower during Reynolds' era, so his career mark of 1,423 looks less impressive in comparison to other time periods.  Nevertheless, Reynolds possessed one of the most feared fastballs and was one of the premier strikeout artists of his day, regularly finishing among the league leaders in punch outs--leading the AL in 1943 and 1952.  Be that as it may, Reynolds also struggled with control, surrendering 100 or more walks eight times during his career.

Aside from his excellent win/loss percentage, Reynolds' career numbers lack the dominance or volume that would make him an obvious Hall of Fame selection.  Reynolds' 182 victories and 2,492.1 innings pitched would be some of the lowest totals among starting pitchers in Cooperstown.  Additionally, Reynolds had the fortune of playing alongside legendary Yankee greats such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle, which undoubtedly helped him put together his fantastic win/loss record.  Another knock against Reynolds' Hall of Fame case are his poor sabermetric statistics:  Reynolds' career ERA+ is a solid but unspectacular 109 while his career WAR of 25.9 is less than half of the average Hall of Fame pitcher and all but eliminates the former Yankee fireballer from Cooperstown consideration with the more analytically-inclined voter.  Yet, WAR and other sabermetric statistics have been a slow sell for many Hall of Fame voters--particularly those who have served on the Veterans and Era Committee's electorate.  Nevertheless, Reynolds' career statistics are a near carbon copy of another Yankee pitcher, Lefty Gomez.  Like Reynolds, Gomez was the ace of a Yankee dynasty, pitching on five World Series winners--including four in a row from 1936 to 1939.  Reynolds' 182-107 record is almost identical to Gomez's 189-102, as are his ERA (3.30 to 3.34), innings pitched (2,492.1 to 2,503), and strikeouts (1,423 to 1,468).  In addition, Reynolds and Gomez are each other's number one most similar pitcher on Baseball Reference's Similarity Scores.  However, Gomez's career was wrapping up just as Reynolds' was beginning and by pitching the bulk of his career in the hitter-friendly 1930s, Gomez holds the edge in WAR (38.4 to 25.9) and ERA+ (125 to 109).  Gomez was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee but his selection is largely view as a weak one.

Nevertheless, Reynolds' Hall of Fame case is enhanced by his superb performance in the World Series.  Reynolds won all six Fall Classics he played in, picking up at least one victory in each Series.  Reynolds was a key figure in the Yankees dynasty, starting Game 1 of the 1949, 1951, 1952, and 1953 Fall Classics while taking the hill for Game 2 of the 1947 and 1950 World Series.  Reynolds played his starter/reliever hybrid role to perfection in October, sporting an impressive 2.79 ERA, going 5-2 in 9 starts with a 2-0 record and 4 saves in 6 relief appearances.  At the conclusion of his career, Reynolds' 7 wins and 4 saves had tied the records respectively held by former Yankees Red Ruffing and Johnny Murphy.  Since that time, only Whitey Ford has passed Reynolds' win total while his save mark has been eclipsed by just Mariano Rivera and Rollie Fingers.

Reynolds appeared on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.  He regularly drew 25% to 30% of the vote with his support peaking at 33.6% in 1968, ahead of several peers who would eventually earn Hall of Fame election through the Veterans Committee including Pee Wee Reese, Joe Gordon, Phil Rizzuto, Hal Newhouser, and Bobby Doerr.  Reynolds collected 27.7% of the vote in his final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot in 1974.  He then became eligible for Veterans Committee elections, which at the time kept vote totals secret.  Reynolds passed away on December 26, 1994 at age 77.

Reynolds was one of twenty-six candidates selected among 200 nominees for the 2003 Veterans Committee player ballot, the first election in which the voting body publically released its results.  He garnered 19.8% of the vote, tying for tenth highest among candidates.  Reynolds was part of the 200 nominee pools for the 2005 and 2007 Veterans Committee player elections but, despite a decent showing in 2003, was not selected for the final ballot either time.  Following changes to the Veterans Committee, Reynolds was included on the ten-candidate Pre-1943 ballot.  The ballot, which was specifically for players who made their major league debut before 1943, was voted on in December 2008.  Reynolds drew eight checkmarks from the twelve-member electorate--leaving him just one tally shy of a bronze Hall of Fame plaque with 66.7% of the vote.  Coincidentally, Joe Gordon--the player Reynolds was traded from Cleveland to New York for--was the sole candidate elected to Cooperstown on the Pre-1943 ballot with eleven tallies and 83.3% of the vote.

Reynolds came one vote shy of Cooperstown in 2008
After missing Hall of Fame election by a single checkmark, Reynolds appeared to be in a good position when the Veterans Committee was scheduled to hold their next Pre-1943 vote in December 2013.  However, in 2010, the Hall of Fame overhauled the Veterans Committee and replaced it with the Era Committee.  Under the new process, Reynolds was eligible for election through the Golden Era Committee which covered the 1947 to 1972 time period.  The Historical Overview Committee included Reynolds as one of ten candidates on their initial Golden Era ballot in December 2011.  Despite coming a single vote shy of Cooperstown on the Pre-1943 ballot just three years before, Reynolds' Hall of Fame case did not inspire the Golden Era Committee electorate as he drew "fewer than three votes."

The overhauling of the Veterans Committee and elimination of the Pre-1943 ballot significantly decreased Reynolds' Hall of Fame chances since moving into the Golden Era time period put him back on the same ballot with candidates from more recent eras such as Ron Santo, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva, who had regularly outdrawn Reynolds and other players from earlier eras on the three Veterans Committee player votes from 2003 to 2007.  In fact, Joe Gordon--the only candidate to garner more votes than Reynolds and gain election on the Pre-1943 ballot--had placed no higher than seventh and accumulated no more than 23.5% of the vote on the three Veterans Committee player ballots.  On the Pre-1943 election, Reynolds shared the ballot with three pitchers, only one of whom--Carl Mays with 207--had more career wins than the former Yankee fireballer.  By contrast, on the Golden Era election, Reynolds shared the ballot with Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant, whose respective win totals of 283 and 229, were well above the Yankee hurler's 182 career victories.

Following his poor showing on the initial Golden Era election, Reynolds was not selected to appear on the Committee's second ballot in 2014.  With the most recent changes to the Era Committee, Reynolds will now be eligible for either the Early Baseball ballot which covers the origins of baseball through 1949 or the Golden Days ballot which judges 1950 to 1969.  The Early Baseball Committee will meet only once per decade with its first election scheduled for 2020 while the Golden Days Committee will convene twice per decade with its initial vote also taking place in 2020.  Based on his playing career and achievements, an argument could be made to include Reynolds in either era.  However, the former Yankee pitcher's best chance at Hall of Fame election would be on the Early Baseball ballot where he would be judged against candidates from essentially the same time period as the Pre-1943 ballot on which he came one vote away from Cooperstown.

----by John Tuberty

Changes in the format used for the Veterans Committee and Era Committee:

2003-07:  The Veterans Committee abandoned the decades old practice of having a 15-member voting panel meet privately in favor of having a larger electorate vote by mail.  This larger electorate consisted of all living Hall of Famers, Ford Frick Award winning broadcasters, and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winning writers.  The Veterans Committee also moved away from using a composite ballot by putting players and non-players on separate ballots.  After years of annual elections, the Veterans Committee held elections for player candidates on a biennial basis while non-player candidates were voted on once every four years.
--Process proved unwieldy and no player or non-player candidates were elected, leading to public outcry for changes to the format

2007-09:  The Veterans Committee started holding non-player elections on a biennial basis and also split non-player elections into two separate ballots--one for executives and the other for managers and umpires.  In addition, player candidates whose careers began before 1943 were moved onto a separate ballot with elections for these candidates to be held once every five years.  The Veterans Committee also went back to using smaller voting panels of 12 to 16 members and reduced the ballot size to ten candidates.  Oddly, the Veterans Committee continued to use a larger electorate for player candidates who made their debut in 1943 or after, with the 64 living Hall of Fame members making up the voting body.
--Non-player candidates Barney Dreyfuss, Bowie Kuhn, Walter O'Malley, Billy Southworth, Dick Williams, Doug Harvey, and Whitey Herzog were elected.  Player candidate Joe Gordon was elected on the special pre-1943 ballot while no players were voted in by the larger electorate made up of former Hall of Famers

2010-2015:  The Veterans Committee was overhauled and replaced by a new voting body known as the Era Committee.  Under the Era Committee process, players and non-players were put on a composite ballot to be voted on by one of three 16-member sub-committees based on the playing era under which the candidate made their greatest contributions to the game.  Each sub-committee voted once every three years in a rotational cycle with the Expansion Era judging the time period from 1973-on, the Golden Era covering 1947 to 1972, and the Pre-Integration Era in charge of the origins of the game through 1946.
--Non-player candidates Pat Gillick, Hank O'Day, Jacob Ruppert, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre were elected while player candidates Ron Santo and Deacon White were voted in

2016-on:  The Era Committee expanded to four sub-committees and revamped the eras:  Today's Game (1988-on) and Modern Baseball (1970-1987) will vote twice every five years while Golden Days (1950-1969) and Early Baseball (before 1950) will vote once every five and ten years, respectively.

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, Baseball Reference Bullpen, Baseball Almanac, SABR, Wikipedia, MLBPA, MLB, The New York Times, Baseball Hall of Fame, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, The Boston Globe, White Sox Interactive, Fetzer Institute, PSA Cards, Dan Ewald-John Fetzer:  On a Handshake (Wayne State University Press)

Photo credit:  1965 Topps Dick Allen, 1965 Topps Tony Oliva, 1968 Topps Tony Oliva, 1973 Topps Dick Allen, John Fetzer:  On a Handshake book cover, 1994 Upper Deck Ken Burns Marvin Miller, 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites Marvin Miller, 1953 Bowman Color Allie Reynolds, 1955 Bowman Allie Reynolds

Other articles by Tubbs Baseball Blog:
Dwight Evans' Strong Sabermetric Statistics Underscore His Overlooked Hall of Fame Case

Bobby Grich Was The Victim of Some Bad Baseball Cards and Some Even Worse Hall of Fame Voting

Carlos Beltrán, 400 Home Runs, 2,500 Hits, and The Hall of Fame