Thursday, March 17, 2011

Frick would've made Barker a HoFer

Uncommon commons. Contemporary accounts of tidbits that as a collector of baseball and football cards I found interesting because they helped bring to life the faces on the cards I collected. I figure that if I found these items of interest, so would other vintage card collectors.

If a suggestion made by then-Commission Ford Frick had been adopted by the Hall of Fame, Len Barker -- a lifetime 74-76, 4.34 ERA pitcher -- would have a plaque in Cooperstown.

When Hall of Fame balloting was being announced in early 1953, Frick, picking up on a suggestion from a sports writer, proposed that any pitcher who threw an official perfect game, and any batter who hit .400 or better for a season, should be immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame.

At the time of Frick's suggestion, that would have added five pitchers to the HoF roster, only two of whom were subsequently elected. In 1953, there had been six perfect games recognized. The pitchers were Lee Richmond and Monte Ward in 1880, and in the "modern era," Cy Young, Addie Joss, Ernie Shore and Charlie Robertson.

Young was already a Hall of Famer in 1953, and Joss and Ward would eventually be enshrined. You have to wonder what the Hall would have done with Ernie Shore's plaque when he later lost recognition of his perfect-o, because he had come in to relieve Babe Ruth after a first-inning walk, the base runner had been caught stealing and Shore retired the next 26 batters.

Since 1953, there have been perfect games pitched by (in order): Don Larsen, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, Randy Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay.

Bunning, Koufax and Hunter, of course, have joined the Hall of Fame. Randy Johnson will, no doubt do so, and the jury is still out on Braden and Halladay.

In 1953, there were 29 players who had batted .400 or more over the course of a season. Twenty of those hitters were already in the Hall of Fame, or would eventually be inducted. Those .400 hitters who never made the Hall were: Tip O'Neill, Pete Browning, Bob Caruthers, Yank Robinson, Denny Lyons, Fred Dunlap, Reddy Mack, Oyster Burns and Ross Barnes, and the lone 20th Century player on the .400+ list who never made the Hall of Fame, Joe Jackson.

Frick probably didn't anticipate that Ted Williams' .406 mark in 1941 would be the last .400+ season average to this day.

When the Hall of Fame officials met at the July induction ceremonies, Frick's suggestion was officially voted down. At the same time it was decided that a player had to be retired for five years before becoming eligible. A new veteran's committee of 11 baseball men was created to consider candidates who were 25 years or more removed from the playing field. 

In the Hall of Fame balloting in 1953, when a then-record 264 votes were cast by the baseball writers, Dizzy Dean and Al Simmons were elected. Joe DiMaggio, in his first year of eligibility (a player only had to be retired for one year to be considered at that time), was eighth in the voting, garnering 44.3% of the votes. 

All 13 of the top vote-getters in the 1953 BBWAA balloting for 1953 eventually were inducted. The player highest in the vote total that year who has not since been inducted, was Hank Gowdy, at #14.

Arky Vaughan, who received only one vote in the 1953 election, was voted in by the Veterans' Committee in 1985.

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