Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Will Minnie Miñoso Finally Get To Deliver His Long Overdue Hall of Fame Induction Speech Next July?



Minnie Miñoso 1961 Topps
With former players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas as well as former managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa set to deliver their induction speeches, Sunday's Hall of Fame ceremony will be one of the most impressive and most crowded induction ceremonies of recent memory.  Conspicuous by his absence will be Craig Biggio who fell just 2 votes short of election--collecting 74.8% of the required 75% on January's BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.  After coming so close, it is likely Biggio will be able to pick up the necessary votes to gain election and be part of next July's induction ceremony.  Despite having only appeared on two BBWAA ballots, Biggio--who retired with over 3,000 career hits--is viewed by many as a glaring omission from the Hall of Fame, whose election is overdue.  But, Biggio is hardly an overdue Hall of Fame candidate when compared to Minnie Miñoso.  Remembered by many for taking at bats in five different decades, Miñoso played the pioneering role of being one of the first black superstar ballplayers in the early days of integration as well as Major League Baseball's first black Latino player.  Miñoso appeared on his first Hall of Fame ballot all the way back in 1969 and has been eligible on and off since that time.  Yet, despite having accomplishments worthy of a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, Miñoso's career still stands outside the doors of the Hall of Fame with his enshrinement now several decades overdue.  However, that could all change since Miñoso, like Biggio, could potentially be inducted during next July's ceremony as he is eligible on December's Golden Era Hall of Fame ballot.

Minnie Miñoso was born in El Perico, Cuba on November 29, 1925.  Miñoso's name at birth was Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas.  Early in his life Miñoso started being known by his middle name Orestes rather than his first name Saturnino.  Orestes had two older half-brothers who played baseball for a local factory team and he would accompany them to games so he came to be referred to by their last name Miñoso.  Orestes would later pick up the nickname Minnie during his first season as a member of the Chicago White Sox.

Miñoso began his professional baseball career in his native country during the mid-1940's.  At that point, several white Cuban-born players had appeared in the Major Leagues but because of the color barrier, black Cubans were still ineligible.  Miñoso first made his way to the U.S. in 1945 to play in the Negro League for the New York Cubans, a team largely comprised of Cuban-born players.  In 1947, as the team's starting third baseman and leadoff hitter, Miñoso helped the Cubans win the Pennant and defeat the Cleveland Buckeyes, four games to one, to win the Negro League World Series.  On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers--at long last opening the door for black players such as Miñoso to compete alongside whites at the game's highest level.

Miñoso was signed by the Cleveland Indians in late 1948 and assigned to their minor league affiliate Dayton where he hit a blistering .525 in 11 games.  At the time, Cleveland was one of the few clubs willing to sign black players and had become the first AL team integrate when Larry Doby made his Major League debut on July 5, 1947.  Miñoso made the Indians' big league roster out of Spring Training for the 1949 season.  On April 19, Miñoso was called upon to pinch hit for Cleveland pitcher Mike Garcia in the top of the 7th inning of the season opener.  Miñoso drew a walk against St. Louis Browns hurler Ned Garver and in the process became the first black Latino and eighth overall black player to appear in the Major Leagues.

Despite his talent, Miñoso had trouble getting playing time on Cleveland's veteran roster and, by the end of May, was sent to the club's Triple-A affiliate in San Diego.  Although he put up excellent numbers with San Diego, Cleveland chose to keep Miñoso in Triple-A for the remainder of the 1949 and entire 1950 season.  Miñoso made the Indians' big league roster out of Spring Training a second time in 1951, but once again found himself struggling to crack the starting line up, earning only a couple starts at first base with just 17 plate appearances over the team's first 17 games.  On April 30, Miñoso was sent to the Chicago White Sox in a seven-player, three-team trade that also involved the Philadelphia Athletics.  One day later, Miñoso became the first black player to take the field for the White Sox.  Even though 1951 marked the fifth season of the Major Leagues being integrated, there were still a limited number of teams willing to give black players the opportunity to ply their trade at the big league level.  In fact, when Miñoso took the field for Chicago they were just the sixth of the sixteen franchises to integrate, and it would be another two years before the next team took that step.  In addition, Miñoso was one of less than twenty black players in the majors at the time.  Moreover, an underlying reason why the abundantly talented Miñoso may have been kept in the minors during most his time with the Cleveland franchise was the unofficial quota system under which even a forward thinking club like the Indians were hesitant to have what may be perceived as too many blacks on their big league team.

Although he was the sole black player on the White Sox, the trade ended up working out well for Miñoso since Chicago, in contrast to Cleveland, made a point of finding a spot for him in their starting line up--rotating him between third base, right field, and left field.  In his first at bat with the team, White Sox fans immediately found out their new player had a flair for the dramatic as Miñoso took pitcher Vic Raschi of the defending champion New York Yankees deep for a 2-run homer.  Unlike the Indians, who were a perennial contender for the AL Pennant, the White Sox were coming off seven-straight losing seasons in which the club finished no higher than fifth in the eight-team AL.  However, Miñoso's arrival coincided with a roster overhaul and management changes that helped turn the White Sox from a league doormat into a consistent winner.  Miñoso proved to be a key component in the franchise's resurgence with the team improving from a 60-94 record the prior season to 81-73.  Finally given regular playing time, Miñoso immediately established himself among the game's elite, batting .326 with 10 home runs, 76 RBIs, and a .422 OBP in his first full season.  In addition, the speedy Miñoso led the AL in triples, stolen bases, and times hit by a pitch while also ranking second in the league in runs scored and batting average.  Miñoso drew 11 of 24 Rookie of the Year votes but was narrowly edged for the award by Yankees infielder Gil McDougald who picked up the 13 remaining votes.  Although McDougald won the Rookie of the Year Award, Miñoso grabbed more MVP votes, finishing 4th overall in the vote compared to 9th for the Yankees infielder.

Miñoso proved his splendid rookie season was no fluke with his initial campaign marking the first of an eleven-year stretch, from 1951 to 1961, in which he hit over .300 eight times--never falling below .280--and got on base at a .400 or higher clip on five occasions while never dipping lower than .369.  After rotating him between center and left in 1952, Chicago moved Miñoso to left full-time for 1953.  Miñoso settled in as a fine defensive outfielder and rarely missed a game, leading the AL in games played in left field seven times between 1951 and 1961.  Miñoso's outstanding play helped the White Sox stay among the top teams in the American League--finishing in third place each season from 1952 to 1956, winning as many as 94 games, and finishing as close to five games behind the Pennant winner.  Miñoso's exciting style of play helped the team earn the "Go-Go Sox" nickname and embark on a run of success not seen by the franchise since days of the controversial "Black Sox" team of more than thirty years before.  Following a second place finish in 1957, Chicago controversially traded the popular Miñoso back to Cleveland.  Though he was still putting up excellent numbers, the trade was a sensible one for Chicago as it brought them starting outfielder Al Smith and future Hall of Fame starting pitcher Early Wynn in return for Miñoso and back up third baseman Fred Hatfield.

Minnie Miñoso 1959 Topps
Miñoso continued his steady hitting in Cleveland, batting .302 while smacking a career high 24 home runs in 1958--though the Tribe could only muster a 77-76 record for a fourth place finish.  Miñoso turned in another strong performance the following season, batting .302 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs.  Miñoso's stellar play helped Cleveland contend for the Pennant where--in a twist of irony--they battled Chicago, trading the lead back and forth until being passed by the White Sox for good in late July and ultimately finishing five games back of the Pale Hose with an 89-65 record.  The superior starting pitching of the White Sox played a key role in their outlasting the Indians with Wynn picking up 22 wins.  Chicago fell short in the World Series, losing in six games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Intent on returning to the Fall Classic, Chicago reacquired Miñoso via trade during the offseason.

On the Opening Day of the 1960 season, Miñoso made a dramatic return to Chicago against the Kansas City Athletics, hitting not only a grand slam but also a game-winning, bottom of the 9th home run.  Miñoso finished the season with a .311 batting average, marking the eighth time he hit over .300.  Miñoso also drilled 20 homers, led the league with 184 hits, and drove in 105 runs--second to only AL MVP Roger Maris.  Miñoso helped bolster the White Sox's offense, which scored 741 runs--just five runs behind the league-leading Yankees and 72 runs more than Chicago's Pennant-winning team of the previous year.  The White Sox battled the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles for the Pennant and led the standings as late as August 14 but were unable to keep the pace and wound up finishing in third place, ten games behind New York with an 87-67 record.  Miñoso followed up his strong 1960 campaign with another good season for the White Sox before being surprisingly traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after a change in Chicago's ownership and front office.  After being one of baseball's most durable and consistent players, Miñoso found himself plagued by a variety of injuries in 1962--including a broken wrist and fractured skull which were suffered when he crashed into Busch Stadium's concrete left field wall while chasing a Duke Snider triple.  Weakened by injuries, Miñoso hit an uncharacteristically low .196 in just 39 games for the Cards.  Prior to the start of the 1963 season, St. Louis sold Miñoso's contract to the Washington Senators, where he continued to struggle.  Miñoso wrapped up his career with the White Sox, being used mostly as a pinch hitter during the 1964 season.

After his Major League career was over, Miñoso headed south of the border to Mexico, where continued to play professional baseball--often times in the role of player-manager--from 1965 to 1973.  Miñoso later returned to the White Sox organization, serving on the team's coaching staff from 1976 to 1978 and also in 1980.  Chicago even allowed the colorful Miñoso to come out of retirement for a few at bats towards the end of the 1976 and 1980 seasons, despite him being over 50 years old.  With those plate appearances, Miñoso became only the sixth Major Leaguer to play past the age of 50 and joined Nick Altrock as the only Major Leaguers to play in five different decades.  Over the years Miñoso adopted the nickname "Mr. White Sox."  In 1983, the White Sox franchise honored him by retiring his number 9 and in 2004 unveiled a statue of his likeness on the center field concourse of U.S. Cellular Field.  Miñoso continues to work for the franchise as a community relations representative.

During his career, Miñoso was one of baseball's most dominant and well-rounded players, staying among the league leaders in nearly every major category and leading the AL on at least one occasion in hits, total bases, doubles, triples, stolen bases, sacrifice flys, times hit by pitch, and games played.  Miñoso was also one of the quickest players of his time and kept his opponents on their toes with his aggressiveness which made him a constant threat to steal a bag or take an extra base.  Miñoso had four seasons where he drove in over 100 runs as well as four campaigns where he eclipsed 100 runs scored.  Miñoso was a seven-time All-Star and drew MVP votes in eight different seasons, finishing as high as 4th in the MVP vote on four occasions while collecting one or more first place votes in three of those ballots.  A fabulous player on both sides of the diamond, Miñoso also stood out on defense, winning three Gold Glove Awards for his solid work in left field.  Miñoso was part of the initial Gold Glove class in 1957 when the award was voted on by the sportswriters and only honored one player at each position on the Major League level.  Miñoso was also awarded two more Gold Gloves in 1959 and 1960 when the honor was bestowed on one player from each position in each league and voting was done by the players themselves.  During most of his career, Miñoso was at the top of the AL leaderboard for left fielders in putouts, assists, and double plays turned.  Most of Miñoso's career took place before the existence of the Gold Glove Award but had they been given out from the onset of his career it is likely he would have received the honor several more times.

Minnie Miñoso 1957 Topps
Miñoso was one of the most fearless players of his time and wasn't afraid of getting hit by pitches during an era in which batters were afforded minimal protection in comparison with today's hitters.  In fact, Miñoso led the AL ten times in being hit by a pitch and was beaned a total of 192 times in his career.  By his own admission, Miñoso did crowd the plate and picked up the break of the ball late, thus he was often inadvertently struck by errant pitches.  Miñoso was the victim of a frightening beaning on May 18, 1955, when his skull was fractured by a pitch from Yankees hurler Bob Grim.  Although Miñoso considered the beaning unintentional, he spent ten days in the hospital--where he was visited by an apologetic Grim.  Miñoso miraculously returned to action on June 4 after missing just 15 games.  Despite the skull fracture, the courageous Miñoso still managed to play in 139 games, marking the only season between 1951 and 1960 that the durable Miñoso played in less than 146 of the 154 scheduled games.

As the first black Latino in the Major Leagues, Miñoso had to endure his share of racism as well as deal with the difficulties of playing in a foreign country while trying to learn a different language and culture.  Not only did Miñoso have to deal with the racial prejudices of the time but the Cuban-born slugger often found himself a target of racially-tinged taunts and bench-jockeying from opposing teams.  One manager in particular, brought a black dog to the field to torment Miñoso and even ordered one of his pitchers to throw at Miñoso's head.  Disturbing incidents like this imply that at least a few of the beanings he endured may have been due to the color of his skin--something the jovial Miñoso chooses not to dwell on.  Refusing to be intimidated or show pain, Miñoso would sometimes softly toss the ball back underhanded to the pitcher after being hit, as a way of showing he could not be hurt.  Miñoso faced these difficult pioneering challenges with grace and dignity, proving to be a role model for future generations as well as for his peers.  Miñoso also had to deal with the stress of political unrest in his native Cuba which was taken over by Fidel Castro in 1959.  Miñoso did not support the Castro-led government which seized almost all of his property and holdings.  Miñoso left Cuba for good in 1961 and made the United States his permanent home.

Throughout his playing career and for several years afterward, Miñoso's date of birth was listed as November 29, 1922.  In actuality, Miñoso was born a full year three years later in 1925 but had used the 1922 birth year to acquire a visa when he lived in his home country of Cuba, something Miñoso revealed in his 1994 autobiography.  Being recognized as three years older did not seem to help Miñoso reach the Major League any faster because the color barrier and unofficial quota system delayed the start of his career.  However, the three-year age difference may have hastened the end of his Major League career since he was thought to be in his early-forties when his skills began to erode instead of his late-thirties and that may have turned teams off from giving him a chance to prolong his career.

Miñoso retired with 1,963 career hits along with a .298 batting average and .389 OBP in 7,712 plate appearances over 1,835 career games--strong career numbers that would have been even more impressive had his career not been delayed by several years due to the color barrier and the unofficial quota system.  Yet, despite his solid career numbers and pioneering role as Major League Baseball's first black Latino player, when Miñoso became eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the 1969 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, he inexplicably drew just 1.8% of the vote and subsequently disappeared from the ballot.  Miñoso was re-added to the BBWAA ballot in 1986 and was allowed to stay on the ballot for up to fourteen more years as long he collected at least 5% of the vote in each election.  Miñoso easily surpassed the 5% minimum on each election and drew moderate support--generally hovering right above or below 15%, peaking at 21.1% in 1988.

Following his time on the BBWAA ballot, Miñoso became eligible to be included on Hall of Fame ballots voted on by the Veterans Committee, a small voting body which met behind closed doors each year.  While their secretive elections may have been controversial, the Veterans Committee usually elected at least one or two candidates to Cooperstown each year.  Miñoso's chances of election were much greater through the Veterans Committee since that voting body had elected several players from his era who were overlooked in BBWAA voting including Enos Slaughter and Phil Rizzuto, as well as former teammates Larry Doby and Nellie Fox.  Doby, in particular, had Hall of Fame credentials comparable to Miñoso's, with the two players having similar career numbers and length as well as each playing pioneer roles in the integration of the Major Leagues.  However, Miñoso had the misfortune of only being eligible on the Veterans Committee ballot for a few years before cries of cronyism led to it being abandoned in favor of biannual elections in which all living Hall of Famers were asked to vote by mail.  Unfortunately for Miñoso, this system proved to be unwieldy as in four elections under this format, the Veterans Committee failed to vote in a single candidate.

Ultimately, the Veterans Committee was, once again, restructured into what is now known as the Golden Era Committee, a 16-member electorate which meets in a closed door session every three years to consider 10 candidates who made their biggest contributions to the game between 1947 and 1972.  The Golden Era Committee held their first election in December 2011.  Miñoso appeared on the 2011 Golden Era ballot, collecting nine of the sixteen votes--falling just three votes shy of the 75% required for election.  On the same ballot, the Golden Era Committee posthumously elected the long overdue Ron Santo, who captured fifteen votes for a near unanimous 93.8% of the vote.  Pitcher Jim Kaat fell two votes shy of election with 62.5% of the vote, while Miñoso and slugger Gil Hodges finished tied for third on the ballot with 56.3% of the vote.  Prior to the election, Miñoso's Hall of Fame candidacy had picked up ample backing with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf among his most vocal supporters.  However, Miñoso and all other candidates were overshadowed by Santo, who had passed away the previous December after coming close in several Veterans Committee elections and had been an open critic of the previous voting format which failed to elect a single candidate in four elections.  Nevertheless, the support Miñoso drew in the 2011 election is promising and with Santo no longer on the ballot, voters may turn their attention to the White Sox legend.

Miñoso's name appeared in the news last summer when he was part of a group of former Negro League players invited to the White House to meet and be honored by President Barack Obama.  A short time later, Miñoso drew more press when Ichiro Suzuki reached 4,000 professional hits.  A study by Scott Simkus of the Society on American Baseball Research showed that Miñoso had at least 4,073 hits over his professional career with 1,963 coming in the Major Leagues, 429 in the Minor Leagues, 838 in the Cuban Leagues, 715 in the Mexican Leagues, and at least 128 documented for his time in the Negro Leagues.  This made Miñoso one of just nine players known to reach the 4,000 professional hits plateau, putting him in an elite class which also includes legendary players such as Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Derek Jeter to accomplish that incredible feat.  Miñoso's name will make its way back into the news again in December when he makes his second appearance on the Golden Era Hall of Fame ballot.  Will Miñoso once again be overlooked by Hall of Fame voters or will the combination of his excellent Major League career, 4,000-plus professional hits, and pioneering role as one of the first great black ballplayers in the early years of integration and the first black Latino Major Leaguer be enough for the long overdue White Sox legend to finally be elected to the Hall of Fame?

----by John Tuberty

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, SABR, Minnie Miñoso's SABR Bio, Baseball Almanac, Google News Archive, Eugene Register-Guard, Reading Eagle, MLB, Minoso By Any Other Name by Richard C. Lindberg from The National Pastime:  A Review of Baseball History, William M. Simons-The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2009-2010 (McFarland), Bruce Markusen's Cooperstown Confidential, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Chicago White Sox, White Sox Interactive, Baseball Hall of Fame, Southside Sox, Lou Hernández-Memories of Winter Ball:  Interviews with Players in the Latin American Winter Leagues of the 1950s (McFarland), Peter C. Bjarkman-Baseball with a Latin Beat:  A History of the Latin American Game (McFarland)

Other Tubbs Baseball Blog Articles:

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


Nineteenth Century Baseball Pioneer Deacon White Is An Excellent Addition To The Hall of Fame

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Two Excellent Five-Year Peaks of Bobby Grich's Hall of Fame Caliber Career, Part Two: The California Angels 1979-1983



Bobby Grich 1981 Fleer
This is the second article of a two-part series on the excellent five-year peaks of overlooked Hall of Fame candidate, Bobby Grich.  Part one covered Grich's 1972 to 1976 peak during which time he emerged as not only one of the most dominant second basemen in baseball but also one of the game's finest all-around players.  Part two examines the second five-year peak of Grich's career, from 1979 to 1983, in which he overcame a disastrous back injury and reestablished himself among the sport's elite.

Following a strong 1976 season where he won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award at second base, Bobby Grich played out his contract with the Baltimore Orioles and became part of baseball's first free agent class.  Baltimore was not interested in paying the large salary Grich would command on the open market.  Grich, who had lived most of his childhood in Long Beach, spurned more lucrative offers and signed a 5-year, $1.58 million contract to play for the California Angels, the team he rooted for growing up.  In an effort to put six consecutive losing seasons behind them the Angels also signed two other high-profile free agents, outfielders Don Baylor and Joe Rudi, in addition to Grich.  The Angels acquired Grich with the intention of playing him at shortstop, a position he frequently played in the minors and also while first breaking into the majors with Baltimore.

Unfortunately, just a couple of weeks prior to the start of Spring Training, Grich injured his back carrying an air conditioning unit up a stairway.  Grich spent three weeks in traction during Spring Training but, eager to live up to his new contract, returned to action for the start of the 1977 season.  Despite still feeling discomfort on a daily basis, Grich continued to play.  Finally, after hitting a walk-off home run against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 8, Grich was alarmed that he even felt pain while rounding the bases after the game-winning drive and decided to undergo season-ending back surgery.  In spite of near constant back pain, up until that point, Grich had started all 52 of the Angels' games, taking the field at the demanding position of shortstop each time, and only missed six innings all season long.  Grich generally was a .260s hitter during his time with Baltimore, but his batting average was sitting at an uncharacteristically low .243 when his season ended prematurely.  However, with 7 home runs in just 52 games and a .369 OBP, Grich's moderate power and plate patience were on display.  Grich's .983 fielding percentage was well-above the .963 league average for shortstops but his range factor--no doubt affected by his back injury--was below the league norm.  Based on fielding runs, Grich's defense rated just a tick below the league average in comparison to other shortstops.  Shortly after Grich went on the disabled list, the Angels were dealt another cruel blow when one of their other marquee free agent signings, Joe Rudi was also lost for the season.  California struggled to a 74-88 record and finished the season a disappointing fifth in the AL West.

Grich returned in time for the start of the 1978 season.  Coming off back surgery, Grich was moved back to his customary position of second base.  Despite still feeling linger effects from his back injury, Grich managed to play in 144 games.  Grich's struggles at the plate continued, hitting a lackluster .251, though his sharp batting eye kept his OBP at a healthy .357.  More troubling for Grich was that his back injury appeared to zap much of his power as he hit only 6 home runs and slugged just .329--by far, career lows for him over a full season.  Nevertheless, Grich was able to provide good defense at the keystone and his offense, while disappointing for him, was above average in comparison to other second basemen.  In fact, based on Wins Above Replacement, Grich actually was the Angels' best overall player, finishing with a team high 3.4 WAR.  The Angels stayed in the AL West Division race all season long, ultimately finishing tied for second place with the Texas Rangers with an 87-75 record, five games behind the Kansas City Royals.

Going into the 1979 season, the 30-year old Grich's career appeared to be in decline.  While he was still one of the better second basemen in the league, it looked as if there would be little chance Grich would play at the same level he had during his peak seasons with Baltimore and be able to live up to his expensive, five-year contract.  In an effort to combat his decline, Grich--already one of the more physically fit players in the league--upped his weight-lifting and workout regimen during the offseason.  The combination of Grich's increased conditioning and being another year removed from his back injury resulted in one of the best offensive seasons ever for a second baseman.  Grich finished the 1979 season with 30 home runs, 101 RBIs, a .294 batting average, .365 OBP, and 145 OPS+.  With his 30 longballs, Grich joined Rogers Hornsby, Joe Gordon, and Dave Johnson as the only regular second basemen to hit that many home runs in a season.  Though surprising, Grich's power surge was not completely unfathomable since he had hit as many as 19 home runs for the Orioles in 1974 and went deep 32 times for Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate, Rochester in 1971.

Grich's magnificent 1979 campaign helped California win their first AL West Division title.  Coincidentally, the Angels faced Grich's old team, the Orioles, in the ALCS.  While California went 88-74 and won their Division by a three game margin over the Royals; Baltimore finished with a dominant 102-57 record and cruised to the AL East title, finishing eight games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.  Baltimore beat California, three games to one, to advance to the World Series where they were upset by NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.  Grich batted just .154 against the Orioles in the ALCS.

Despite his amazing season, Grich placed just 8th in the AL MVP vote.  Instead voters bestowed most of the credit for the Angels' Division title on Grich's teammate, Don Baylor, who won the MVP Award, collecting 20 of 28 first place votes.  Most of the reason Baylor drew more support than Grich was due to his league leading 36 home runs and 139 RBIs, all of which came from the clean-up spot in California's potent batting order.  While Baylor's advantage over Grich in RBIs was largely a byproduct of hitting clean-up, their totals for batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS were a near mirror of each other.  Though their hitting totals were comparable, defense was another story.  While Grich did not have a Gold Glove-caliber season, he still ranked right at the major league average defensively among second baseman.  By contrast, Baylor started 65 games as designated hitter and was a staggering 15 runs below average in only 97 games on defense, most of which came at left field--arguably the easiest defensive position on the diamond.  Both were recognized by the press for their competitiveness, but while Grich was seen as a gritty player who hated to lose, Baylor was viewed as the leader of the clubhouse which may have also played a role in collecting support.  MVP voters valued Baylor's impressive RBI totals and clubhouse leadership over Grich's solid all-around game which featured equivalent batting statistics with stronger defense at a much more demanding position.  Wins Above Replacement was still several years away from being devised but judging Grich's and Baylor's 1979 seasons based upon this metric, Grich's campaign is worth 5.9 WAR in comparison to Baylor's 3.7 mark.  Grich's 5.9 WAR not only led his Angels teammates but also ranked seventh highest among AL position players.  Grich's phenomenal campaign marked the first season of an excellent five-year stretch, from 1979 to 1983, in which he reestablished himself as one of the best players in the game.

After their Division-winning 1979 season, California collapsed to a 65-95 record in 1980 and finished 6th in the AL West.  Blame for the team's slump could not be placed on Grich who, once again, led the club with a 4.1 WAR.  While he did not post the eye-popping hitting totals he had in the season before, Grich still swung a potent bat for second baseman, hitting 14 home runs with a .271 batting average and .377 OBP.  In addition, Grich had his finest defensive season since returning to the keystone, collecting five fielding runs.  However, because Grich temporarily moved to shortstop and spent a few seasons slowed by a back injury, Gold Glove Award voters had started recognizing Frank White of the Royals as the AL's top defensive second baseman, honoring him for the fourth straight year in 1980.  Unlike the defensively sound Orioles teams Grich had played for in prior years, the Angels were one of baseball's least defensively adept teams.  After winning four consecutive Gold Gloves manning Baltimore's keystone alongside defensive wizard Mark Belanger at shortstop, Grich had spent his last three seasons turning double plays with the forgettable Dave Chalk and Jim Anderson and aging former All-Stars Freddie Patek and Bert Campaneris--each of whom rated below average defensively based on fielding runs.

Bobby Grich 1981 Topps Sticker
For the 1981 season the Angels improved the middle of their infield by acquiring shortstop Rick Burleson from the Boston Red Sox in a five-player deal.  California committed to Burleson by signing the shortstop to a lucrative, six-year contract.  Burleson, the winner of the 1979 Gold Glove, gave Grich by far the best defensive player to turn the double play with since his days with Belanger in Baltimore.  Grich and Burleson each had sound defensive campaigns in 1981, both finishing in the top three in the AL for assists, double plays turned, and range factor at their respective positions.  Despite their stout defense, neither Grich nor Burleson won the Gold Glove as voters yet again recognized Frank White as the best defensive second baseman while selecting Alan Trammell, the 1980 Gold Glove winner, as the top fielding shortstop.  Unfortunately, 1981 was the only year Grich and Burleson played a full season together at second and short as Burleson would be sidelined by a variety of injuries over the course of his six-year contract.

As good as his defense was, once again, Grich provided more value on offense.  Fifty-five games into the season, Grich was in the process of putting together another strong season, batting .275 with 6 home runs, 24 RBIs, and a .385 OBP when he suffered a broken left hand after being hit by a pitch from Orioles reliever Steve Luebber.  In a fortunate twist, Grich's injury coincided perfectly with the player's strike, which lasted nearly two months--enabling Grich to only miss five games and return to action when play resumed.  Due to the strike, the season was split into two halves with a Division winner crowned based on which teams were leading their respective Divisions when play was halted and a separate winner awarded based on games played after the strike.  The Angels were sitting in 4th place with a 31-29 record, six games behind the Oakland Athletics, when play stopped.  When play resumed, Grich showed no ill effects from the broken hand, hitting a splendid .328 with a .372 OBP, while drilling an amazing 16 home runs with 37 RBIs in just 50 games.  Unfortunately, despite Grich's dominance, the Angels struggled to a 20-30 record in the second half, finishing at the very bottom of the AL West, eight and a half games behind the Royals.  Overall, Grich finished the season with 22 home runs, 61 RBIs, a .304 batting average, and .378 OBP in the strike-shortened season.  Grich's 22 longballs tied him with sluggers Eddie Murray, Dwight Evans, and Tony Armas for the AL lead, making him the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby in 1925 to lead his respective league in home runs.  Grich also lead the AL with a .543 slugging percentage and 165 OPS+.  In addition, Grich's 5.4 WAR ranked fourth highest among AL position players.  Despite leading the league in home runs and slugging, California's poor record cost Grich well-deserved MVP consideration and he finished a distant 14th in the voting.  With his five-year contact set to expire at the end of the season, Grich had a chance to test the market but opted to forego free agency and signed a four-year contract extension to stay with the Angels.

After following up their 1979 Division title with two losing seasons, California rebounded in 1982, going 93-69 to win the AL West crown over the Kansas City by three games.  Grich made big contributions to the Division title with another solid offensive season, smacking 19 home runs with 65 RBIs while batting .261 with a .371 OBP.  Although, by batting in a line up with three former AL MVPs--Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn, and Don Baylor--and a seven-time AL batting champ in Rod Carew, Grich's strong hitting was easy to overlook.  In the ALCS, California faced the Milwaukee Brewers, who with a 95-67 record had narrowly edged Baltimore by just a single game to win the AL East.  The Angels took the first two games of the ALCS at home but dropped the final three contests to the Brewers in Milwaukee.  Grich batted .200 with a .333 OBP in the five-game ALCS.

California appeared poised to successfully defend their AL West crown in 1983, leading the standings during most of the first half.  Unfortunately, the club struggled mightily in the second half, finishing the season with a 70-92 record in 5th place, a distant 29 games behind the Division-winning Chicago White Sox.  Unlike most of his teammates, Grich hit particularly well in the second half, but his season ended prematurely when a pitch from New York Yankees reliever George Frazier broke his left hand on August 28.  Grich's injury marked the second time in three years that his left hand had been broken by a pitch.  Prior to the injury, Grich was in the process of putting together another great season, batting .292 with a .414 OBP and 142 OPS+, along with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs in just 120 games.  Although Grich was on top of his game in the batter's box, his glove suffered a bit, uncharacteristically leading AL second basemen with 22 errors.  However, Grich combated his fielding woes by leading AL keystoners in range factor per game while ranking just a fraction behind Frank White for the lead in range factor per nine innings.  Overall, Grich's defense was four fielding runs below average--one of the few times he finished a season below average defensively.  Nevertheless, Grich's combination of power and patience at the plate more than made up for his defensive struggles, giving him a team-high 4.3 WAR, despite missing the last month of the season.

Grich's impressive 1983 campaign capped the second excellent five-year peak of the gritty second baseman's career.  During the five-year stretch, the Angels franchise won their first two AL West Division titles but also suffered through three disappointing losing seasons.  Although he was often overshadowed by more recognizable teammates like Baylor, Lynn, Jackson, and Carew, none played at the consistent level of Grich who was the club's leader in WAR for four of the five years.  Moreover, during the five-year period, Grich never endured the bitter struggles that befell his higher-profile teammates such as Baylor's disappointing five-home run 1980 campaign or the respective .219 and .194 batting average seasons of Lynn in 1981 and Jackson in 1983.  Just as Grich had been the key position player for Baltimore from 1972 to 1976, the underrated second baseman was California's best all-around player for the 1979 to 1983 period and played a pivotal role in the club's first two Division titles.

Unlike his first career peak in which he won four Gold Glove Awards, Grich was not the premiere defensive keystoner during his second peak.  The back injury he suffered prior to the 1977 season likely played a role in Grich taking a step back defensively.  In addition, during his second five-year peak, Grich was in his early to mid-thirties, as opposed to his mid-twenties.  Moreover, in contrast to the Orioles franchise, the Angels emphasized hitting over defense and ranked below average as a team in fielding runs each of the five seasons, save for 1982.  Despite those factors, Grich was still above average defensively in comparison to other second basemen.

While he was no longer an elite defender, Grich was easily the most dominant hitter among keystoners during his second peak.  Grich worked hard to reestablish himself after his back injury and strengthened the power-hitting aspect of his game, becoming only the fourth second baseman to reach the 30-home run plateau in 1979 and the first keystoner in 56 years to lead his respective league in longballs.  Grich's 121.8 batting runs over the five-year period were more than double that of any other second sacker.  Grich also held a significant edge over his keystone peers in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS+.  Grich's offensive statistics are even more impressive considering he played his home games at Anaheim Stadium, a ballpark that like Baltimore's Memorial Stadium favored pitchers over hitters.  On the table below, Grich's 1979 to 1983 peak is compared to other second basemen in both advanced and traditional metrics.  The combination of Grich's above average glove and dominant bat give him an excellent 23.5 WAR over the five-year period, leading all other second sackers.

Grich vs. regular second basemen from 1979-1983








WAR
WAA
Rbat
Rfield
dWAR
OPS+
AS
GG
MVP

1
Grich
23.5
14.8
121.8
4.2
2.8
137
3
0
0

2
Whitaker
22.3
13.3
35.0
46.7
7.4
107
1
1
0

3
Randolph
20.3
11.6
45.0
24.3
4.8
107
2
0
0

4
Morgan
16.6
8.0
57.2
-9.5
0.9
118
1
0
0

5
Garner
13.7
4.0
-4.5
17.0
4.0
100
2
0
0

6
Gantner
11.9
4.7
-3.9
27.0
4.9
99
0
0
0

7
Cruz
11.3
3.0
-53.8
21.1
4.3
77
0
0
0

8
Lopes
10.5
2.1
20.3
-39.4
-2.3
103
3
0
0

9
White
10.1
1.7
-26.0
17.4
4.1
91
3
4
0

10
Dauer
9.9
1.2
-30.0
18.0
4.3
87
0
0
0




G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
1
Grich
668
2691
333
644
111
14
101
351
341
0.283
0.380
0.477
0.857
2
Whitaker
694
2809
361
686
109
27
36
260
306
0.281
0.359
0.393
0.751
3
Randolph
632
2866
414
661
94
28
19
205
399
0.273
0.377
0.359
0.736
4
Morgan
615
2536
323
522
98
12
58
232
426
0.252
0.378
0.395
0.773
5
Garner
697
2844
314
672
125
27
44
305
240
0.264
0.327
0.386
0.713
6
Gantner
602
2235
244
572
85
17
23
212
139
0.282
0.330
0.375
0.706
7
Cruz
634
2579
347
553
78
18
16
170
266
0.246
0.326
0.317
0.643
8
Lopes
627
2617
345
583
69
16
71
248
268
0.254
0.333
0.391
0.724
9
White
666
2620
301
662
146
21
48
279
99
0.269
0.295
0.403
0.699
10
Dauer
688
2696
299
642
122
2
28
260
206
0.265
0.322
0.352
0.674


























On the table below, Grich is compared to the other top position players.  In addition to leading all regular second baseman in WAR over the five-year stretch, Grich also was among the best players in the game, ranking twelfth highest among position players in WAR.  Grich wielded one of the most potent bats, amassing 121.8 batting runs, good for ninth best in baseball during the five-year period.  Born on January 15, 1949, Grich was thriving at an age when most players were well into their decline.  Of the eleven players ahead of him in WAR, only Mike Schmidt and Cecil Cooper--who are eight and eleven months younger-- were a similar age to Grich.  In fact, of the top 25 position players, only Jose Cruz--born August 8, 1947--was older than Grich.

Grich vs. top position players from 1979-1983








WAR
WAA
Rbat
Rfield
dWAR
OPS+
AS
GG
MVP

1
Schmidt
38.6
28.3
212.2
35.0
5.3
166
5
5
2

2
Yount
32.8
23.3
114.5
38.1
8.5
130
3
1
1

3
Dawson
32.5
22.2
119.4
56.8
6.6
133
3
4
0

4
Carter
31.9
22.1
81.7
81.5
14.0
126
5
3
0

5
Brett
31.6
23.0
177.5
16.7
2.7
158
5
0
1

6
Bell
29.9
20.5
78.2
100.5
12.4
122
3
5
0

7
Hernandez
28.4
17.9
138.3
58.7
2.0
140
2
5
1

8
Henderson
28.1
19.2
118.8
45.7
2.6
129
3
1
0

9
Wilson
26.7
17.3
29.4
84.6
7.0
106
2
1
0

10
Murray
24.9
15.0
160.3
18.8
-2.2
146
3
2
0

11
Cooper
24.3
14.3
158.6
4.4
-3.8
143
4
2
0

12
Grich
23.5
14.8
121.8
4.2
2.8
137
3
0
0




G
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
1
Schmidt
714
3061
503
686
111
21
199
522
517
0.275
0.398
0.576
0.975
2
Yount
693
3050
474
824
178
42
87
381
209
0.297
0.344
0.485
0.829
3
Dawson
716
3121
468
845
159
39
121
439
178
0.296
0.341
0.507
0.848
4
Carter
693
2857
352
691
140
16
113
420
262
0.274
0.342
0.476
0.818
5
Brett
627
2749
439
806
172
47
99
443
264
0.328
0.391
0.557
0.948
6
Bell
692
2961
346
797
144
13
72
381
232
0.298
0.353
0.442
0.795
7
Hernandez
733
3159
448
849
170
36
54
409
415
0.315
0.404
0.464
0.869
8
Henderson
649
2891
473
703
102
25
35
213
434
0.291
0.401
0.398
0.798
9
Wilson
690
3082
477
901
97
58
15
209
133
0.311
0.346
0.401
0.747
10
Murray
723
3099
449
828
147
10
144
514
322
0.303
0.374
0.521
0.895
11
Cooper
724
3197
459
942
187
12
123
535
192
0.320
0.359
0.517
0.876
12
Grich
668
2691
333
644
111
14
101
351
341
0.283
0.380
0.477
0.857



























Grich played three more seasons after his strong 1983 campaign.  California finished second to Kansas City in both 1984 and 1985 before winning the AL West title in 1986.  In addition to regularly playing second, Grich occasionally saw playing time at first and third during his final three seasons.  A persistent flu and being platooned at second with Rob Wilfong limited Grich to just 116 games in 1984 but he was at his best down the stretch, finishing with 18 home runs and a .357 OBP.  Although his batting average dipped from previous years, power and patience continued to be hallmarks of Grich's game, allowing him to put up better than average slugging and on base numbers for a second baseman over his final three campaigns.  Grich struggled defensively in 1984 but rebounded in a big way in 1985, setting the single season record for fielding percentage for a second baseman with just two errors in 606 chances for an amazing .997 mark.  Coincidentally, the man whose record he broke was his teammate Wilfong's, who set the record in 1980 with the Minnesota Twins--eclipsing the mark Grich set in 1973.  In what turned out to be his final season, Grich helped a roster of aging veterans go 92-70 to win the franchise's third AL West title by a margin of five games over the Texas Rangers.  Grich had an up and down ALCS against the AL East champion Boston Red Sox, making a costly error in a Game 2 loss but redeeming himself with a game-winning, walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of Game 4 to put California up three games to one.  In Game 5, with the Angels one victory away from the AL Pennant, Grich hit a 2-run homer off Bruce Hurst in the bottom of the 6th to put his team up 3-2.  It appeared Grich's drive had given the Angels the lead that would send them to their first World Series.  Unfortunately, California could not hold onto the lead as Boston roared back to tie the game in the 9th before ultimately winning in the 11th.  Boston won the remaining two games to capture the Pennant.  Grich hit .208 with one home run and three RBIs in the seven-game ALCS and, at age 37, decided to call it a career after the Game 7 loss.

During his 17-year career, which spanned 1970 to 1986, Grich's combination of patience at the plate, slick fielding, and exceptional power for a second baseman made him one of the game's finest all-around players.  Grich retired with 224 home runs, a .371 career OBP, 125 career OPS+, four Gold Glove Awards, and a 70.9 career WAR.  Yet, when he became eligible to appear on his first BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 1992, Grich collected less than the five percent minimum required to be included on future ballots.  It is likely BBWAA voters passed on Grich's Hall of Fame candidacy due to his adequate but unspectacular .266 career average and his inability to reach round career numbers such as 2,000 hits or 1,000 RBIs.  At the time, few voters were looking past hits, home runs, RBIs, and batting average.  Another factor voters overlooked or discounted was Grich's impressive power-hitting, which was rarely seen from a second baseman during that time.  In fact, when he became eligible for the Hall of Fame, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, and Joe Gordon were the only regular second baseman with more career home runs than Grich.  Hornsby and Morgan both easily made it into the Hall of Fame on the BBWAA ballot.  By contrast, Gordon was not voted in by the BBWAA, but was eventually elected to Cooperstown--nearly sixty years after he played his last game--by the Veterans Committee on their 2009 ballot for Pre-1943 players.  Hopefully Grich won't have to wait that long to be inducted.  However, that may be Grich's fate since he has twice been overlooked by the Historical Overview Committee which selects candidates for the Expansion Era Hall of Fame ballot--a revamped version of the Veterans Committee ballot.  Thus far, the Committee has opted to fill the ballot with players who either drew moderate support in BBWAA voting or reached round milestone career numbers while passing over candidates with stronger sabermetric statistics, like Grich, who were better all-around players.

Bobby Grich 1979 Topps
With solid career numbers in WAR and OPS+, it is not surprising that Grich's overlooked Hall of Fame candidacy is popular debate among the sabermetric crowd.  Since Grich fell off the BBWAA ballot after the 1992 election, the number of second basemen in Cooperstown has grown by a third.  The BBWAA elected Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, while the various incarnations of the Veterans Committee added Nellie Fox, Bid McPhee, Bill Mazeroski, and Joe Gordon.  Yet, none of those enshrined keystoners can match Grich's career 70.9 WAR or his 125 OPS+.  While a bronze plaque in Cooperstown still eludes Grich, his underrated career was highlighted by two excellent five-year peaks, during the second of which he overcame a serious back injury, worked hard to evolve into one of the best power-hitting second baseman in baseball history, and in the process put his Hall of Fame-caliber career back on track.

----by John Tuberty

For part one of this article click this link

Sources:  Baseball Reference, Baseball Reference Play Index, Retrosheet, Bobby Grich SABR Bio, Don Baylor SABR Bio, Rick Burleson SABR Bio, SI Vault, The Courier, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Baseball Hall of Fame

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