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Friday, July 21
Cooperstown's least qualified

Since the beginning, there have been two avenues to the Hall of Fame. The Baseball Writers' Association of American (BBWAA) has voted on players from the relatively recent past, while first the "old-timers committee," and later the Veterans Committee, were charged with electing deserving players from the game's distant past.

The BBWAA generally has done a fine job, but the same cannot be said of the the Veterans Committee, which made an immense number of selections in the late 1960s and early '70s, when the committee was populated largely by players who had been active in the 1920s and '30s. In other words, they put their old pals in.

The '20s and '30s were particularly conducive to hitting, which meant that good hitters who managed to play for a few years were able to compile superficially impressive batting stats. And when you're looking for a reason to vote for a friend, superficial will do just fine.

So if we're looking for Hall of Famers who really don't belong in Cooperstown, we could easily focus only on players from the '20s and '30s elected by the Veterans Committee in the 1970s. But while we'll mention many of those players in passing, we'll focus on at least a few players from other eras, too. What follows, then, are 10 of the many players whose qualifications for the Hall are something less than convincing.

Jim Bunning
A good pitcher? You bet. But while Bunning won 19 games four times, he won 20 only once. His career as a productive pitcher lasted only 10 years, and in his time he was not considered the equal of contemporaries like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale or Juan Marichal.

Bunning won 224 major league games, not that many by Hall of Fame standards (just ask Tommy John). Bunning's supporters will tell you that he won 100-plus games in both the American and National Leagues, but what does that mean, really? Isn't it just an accident? Milt Pappas won 209 games, and if he'd been traded to the National League a year earlier than he was, he might have won 100 in both leagues, too.

Earle Combs
Two teams are seriously over-represented in the Hall of Fame: the 1920s New York Giants (who we'll get to later), and the late-1920s New York Yankees. The '27 Yankees are, of course, still widely regarded as the greatest team ever, and a number of merely good players have ridden that reputation to Cooperstown.

A fast center fielder who didn't throw well, Combs didn't win a regular job until he was almost 26, and his tenure as an everyday player lasted only nine years. He did finish with a .325 lifetime batting average, but a lot of guys were hitting .325 in Combs' time.

Other marginal Hall of Famers among the '27 Yankees include second baseman Tony Lazzeri and pitcher Herb Pennock.

Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance
Three players, one poor selection.

In 1910, a newspaperman named Frank Adams wrote the following verse, because his paper had some space that needed filling ...

    Baseball's Sad Lexicon

    These are the saddest of possible words,
    Trio of Bear Cubs fleeter than birds,
    Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
    Making a Giant hit into a double,
    Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble.

At that time, Tinker and Evers and Chance all starred for the Chicago Cubs, the best team in the National League from 1906 through 1910. It has become fashionable in recent years to downplay the abilities of shortstop Tinker and second baseman Evers (Chance played first base and managed), but the pair probably was the best double-play combination of their era.

Nevertheless, none of the three enjoyed a long career, and none of the three was a productive hitter for more than a few years. Chance and Evers drew decent support when Hall of Fame voting opened in 1936, but neither were elected by the BBWAA. The light-hitting Tinker, meanwhile, drew very little support. However, in 1946 all three were elected as a unit by the old-timer's committee, thanks largely to the poem that made them famous.

Rick Ferrell
One might reasonably argue that catchers are under-represented in the Hall of Fame. But consider that in the years Ferrell was eligible for consideration by the BBWAA, he never garnered more than one vote from the 300-plus voters. Yet in 1984, 14 of the 18 members of the Veterans Committee gave Ferrell his ticket to the Hall.

His qualifications? Well, Ferrell was a pretty good defensive catcher, though he never really was considered the top defensive catcher of his time. He reportedly was particularly adept at handling the knuckleball, and in 1945 his Washington Senators nearly won the American League with four knuckleball pitchers in the rotation.

But Ferrell finished his career with only 1,692 hits; he never scored more than 67 runs in a season; he never drove in more than 77 runs in a season; and he never led his league in anything except fielding average (once).

Chick Hafey
Solid hitter, awfully short career. Hafey played in more than 100 games only seven times. He finished his career with 1,466 hits, exceptionally low for a Hall of Fame outfielder who never hit 30 home runs in a season. Hafey was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1971, a year after his Cardinals teammate Jesse Haines -- another poor choice -- was inducted.

Harry Hooper
Vada Pinson might ask, "Why is this guy in, and not me?"

Hooper played in the same outfield with Tris Speaker, a truly great player. Pinson played in the same outfield with Frank Robinson, a truly great player.

Hooper finished his career with 2,466 hits and a .281 batting average. Pinson finished his career with 2,757 hits and a .286 batting average.

But in 1971 -- the worst year in the history of the Hall -- Hooper had some big advantages over Pinson. One, he'd been featured a few years earlier in Larry Ritter's classic book, "The Glory of Their Times." And two, he was an old ballplayer at a time when the Veterans Committee was electing just about every old ballplayer it could think of.

George Kelly
Kelly was a wonderful defensive first baseman with good power, but his qualifications for the Hall of Fame are not easily found in the record books. He played in 100-plus games in only nine seasons and finished with just 1,778 career hits. His .297 lifetime batting average is not impressive for his time, and he never led his league in on-base or slugging percentage.

Kelly is just one example of the profligacy involving various New York Giants of the 1920s, as we could have filled half this article with his teammates. Speaking of his teammates, two of them -- Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry -- were on the Veterans Committee in the early 1970s, which as we have seen was a period of irresponsible selections. In addition to Kelly, marginal candidates like Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Fred Lindstrom and Ross Youngs all were enshrined around this time.

Frisch dominated the Veterans Committee, and in addition to arguing for his old Giants teammates, he also lobbied for his old Cardinals teammates, the aforementioned Hafey and Haines. If you want to blame one person for the relatively low standards of the Hall of Fame, then Frankie Frisch is your man.

Chuck Klein
Chuck Klein was a good player, there's no question about that. But as much as any player in the Hall of Fame, he was a product of his home park, Philadelphia's cozy Baker Bowl. From 1929 through 1933, Klein led the National League in home runs four times, and in '33 he also topped the NL in batting average and RBI.

But Klein went to the Cubs in 1934 and became merely a good hitter. He finished his career with 2,076 hits, quite unimpressive for a Hall of Fame outfielder.

Heinie Manush
Manush, an outfielder who played regularly from 1923 through 1936, was a good hitter but not a great one. His .330 career batting average ranks 27th on the all-time list, but he played in a great era for hitters, and in terms of true performance, Manush is comparable to such high-average/medium-power/medium-walks hitters of the '70s like Bill Madlock and Al Oliver, neither of whom have been seriously considered as Hall of Fame candidates. Dwight Evans was a better player than Heinie Manush, and so is Paul O'Neill.

Rube Marquard
Arguably the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame, Marquard finished with 201 victories and a .532 winning percentage, neither of those marks Hall-worthy. He was an excellent pitcher from 1911 through 1913, going 73-28 over those three seasons. But many, many pitchers have been great for three years, and there are probably 50 non-Hall of Fame pitchers more deserving than Marquard.

Elected in 1971 by the Veterans Committee, Marquard likely benefited from his chapter in "The Glory of Their Times."

Lloyd Waner
Lloyd Waner's big brother (and teammate) Paul Waner was one of the better hitters of the 1930s. But Lloyd was mostly a singles hitter, and not even a great one of those. He was essentially Tony Gwynn without the batting average.

There's a story, almost certainly apocryphal, that says Lloyd made the Hall of Fame in 1967 because members of the Veterans Committee were mistakenly presented with Paul's statistics instead of Lloyd's. More likely, the voters were simply impressed by Lloyd's .316 batting average, and thought it would be "nice" if both brothers could be in the Hall.