19to21: July 10, 2007
Another All-Star Game In Detroit
19 to 21
No, that’s not the number of shortstops in the Hall of Fame, it’s
Baseball...Then and Now
The choosing of the All-Stars teams, as flawed as process as it is, always stirs up controversies as to who is chosen and who is insulted by not being chosen. Quite often, this rhubarb is caused by the requirement that each team have an All-Star representative. Sometimes, it’s caused by the fans stuffing the ballot box. Other reasons include homer managers picking their own players over more deserving opponents, the confusion over whether “All-Star” means a guy who’s had three hot months or an actual All-Star, and everyone’s failure to understand the true meaning(s) of batting statistics.
There is, however, another reason deserving players get left off either or both the National and American teams. And that appears to be what happened this year at the shortstop position in the Senior Circuit. There are just too many good National League shortstops, or maybe too many shortstops having good years, to get everybody in the game. However, if it will make Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez and Edgar Renteria feel any better, this is hardly the first time this has happened. Although a lot has been said about the proliferation of talented shortstops at present, the 1941 season also had some pretty fair representatives at that position… no less than six of whom ended up in the Hall of Fame.
While the 1941 All-Star Game is best known as an instant classic that culminated with Ted Williams’ dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, there was also a fair amount of talent on display between second and third base, especially for the American League. Boston Red Sox player-manager Joe Cronin started at short for the AL, to be followed by future (in 1942) Cleveland Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau. With that kind of talent available, the AL didn’t even need its roster’s third shortstop, future White Sox Hall of Famer Luke Appling. Most likely not even considered for the game was a fourth shortstop, a rookie with the Yankees, who would hit .307 on the season and who would go on to finish in the top 20 of the AL MVP voting seven times. He was Phil Rizzuto, and he was also elected to the Hall of Fame (albeit controversially) in 1994.
Over on the National’s bench (at least while Cronin and Boudreau were in the field) was the Pirates’ Arky Vaughan, who hit two, two-run homers in the game to give the NL a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. He’s not only in the Hall of Fame, he might well have been the third-best shortstop ever, behind only Honus Wagner and Alex Rodriguez. With Vaughan around, the Nationals didn’t have any use for the Dodgers’ second-year shortstop who, after all, would only hit .229 that year. Nonetheless, he’d go on to a better career than Rizzuto, as indicated by his eight finishes in the top 10 of the NL MVP balloting. He was, of course, Pee Wee Reese. (The Braves’ Eddie Miller, certainly not a Hall of Famer, was the other NL All-Star shortstop in ’41.) That’s quite a collection of talent at one position in one game, to say nothing of one year.
(Years) BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ F% RFactor
Cronin (26-45) .301/.390/.468 119 .951 5.16
Appling (30-50) .310/.399/.398 112 .948 5.24
Vaughan (32-48) .318/.406/.453 136 .951 5.24
Boudreau (38-52) .295/.380/.415 120 .973 5.13
Reese (40-58) .269/.366/.377 99 .958 4.93
Rizzuto (41-56) .273/.351/.355 93 .968 4.79
While these numbers make it appear that Reese and Rizzuto were elected more for intangibles and World Series appearances than for performance, there’s no denying the other four could hit, and walk as well. Cronin and Vaughan were, relatively speaking, power hitters, and it seems unlikely that anyone ever complained about any of the six’ fielding. All in all, a lot of talent at one position in one year, and that’s without even mentioning the Senators’ Cecil Travis, who also didn’t make the 1941 All-Star Game and who then missed out on the Hall of Fame because of World War II. Travis, in a year that saw Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Williams’ .406 average, led the AL in hits with 218 and with a .359/.410/.520 (150 OPS+) line, and actually had a higher average than DiMaggio (.357). His career numbers, compiled between 1933 and 1947, stand up pretty well to the others…
BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ F% RFactor
Travis (33-47) .314/.370/.416 108 .955 4.89
That’s also without mentioning Junior Stephens (another 1941 rookie shortstop, though for only three games), Marty Marion or Dick “Rowdy Richard” Bartell. They were active in 1941, too. And, if you go into 1942, you get Johnny Pesky, who like Stephens could be in the Hall of Fame, and who led the American League in hits that year as a rookie. There was some talent at short in those days.
As to how J.J. Hardy and the Four R’s (Ramirez, Renteria, Reyes and Rollins) stand up to the 1941 crew, or how they meet the test of time, that’s a script that has yet to be written. It is way too early to even consider starting Hall of Fame discussions about these five present NL shortstops, given that Renteria is the oldest at 31 and JRoll the second-oldest at just 28. Still, in light of the howls of protest over the exclusion of Renteria, Rollins and Ramirez (no one seems to have objected to the Padres’ Khalil Thabit Greene being left out, but he’s a fairly good match for the other five), let’s look at the record to date. First, their career numbers…
(First Year) BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ F% RFactor
Renteria (1996) .290/.348/.406 98 .969 4.19
Rollins (2000) .275/.329/.434 97 .981 4.16
Reyes (2003) .289/.333/.429 99 .974 4.05
Greene (2003) .253/.313/.441 101 .973 4.09
Ramirez (2005) .306/.364/.500 127 .960 4.18
Hardy (2005) .259/.326/.430 97 .976 3.59
Looking at their careers to date, we have a “which one doesn’t fit?” situation, at least as far as hitting goes. (Defensively, Rollins is the class of this class.) Despite all the hype Reyes gets for playing in New York, and given that, except for Renteria and Rollins, these are pretty small samples, Hanley Ramirez sure looks like the best hitter. Of course, he’s only played one-and-a-half seasons of major league baseball… but they’ve been a quality 246 games, as in Arky Vaughan quality. Although, as noted, it’s way too early to nominate anybody for the Hall of Fame, Ramirez thus far looks like the class of the current class of shortstops. Even so, All-Star selections really shouldn’t be entirely based on careers – there should be some consideration given to what kind of current year the players are having. Here are some their more relevant hitting stats for 2007…
R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS OPS
Renteria 56 107 22 1 10 45 8 1 .865
Rollins 71 111 22 10 16 53 15 4 .847
Reyes 61 110 17 9 4 35 46 11 .826
Greene 48 76 21 3 15 51 1 0 .752
Ramirez 70 117 23 4 14 35 27 8 .926
Hardy 48 91 14 1 18 54 0 3 .833
(Without showing the defensive stats, suffice it to say that Greene is having the best year in the field, followed by Rollins.)
OK, what’s wrong with this picture? That’s easy. Although there are six top-flight shortstops in the National League, it’s pretty easy to break them down into a first tier and a second tier, based on both the quality and length of their careers (all of which are pretty even, except for Ramirez) and their 2007 seasons to date. The first tier is (in order) Ramirez, Rollins and Renteria. The second tier is (in order) Reyes, Hardy and Greene. And, yes, the two NL shortstops for the 2007 All-Star Game are both from the second tier, having been chosen by New York hype and a few (like two) extra home runs. Maybe there aren’t six future Hall of Famers like there were in MLB in 1941, but there is a lot of talent at shortstop in the National League in 2007… it’s just that the wrong talent is in San Francisco.
- John Shiffert