Shortly before the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voted in Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven into the Baseball Hall of Fame last year, I wrote an article about players I believed deserved greater consideration for Cooperstown. Well, the BBWAA has just voted to induct Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. In July, Larkin will be inducted along with Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo who was given posthumous, if not bittersweet approval by the Veterans Committee last month. So here are three more players who I think worthy of baseball immortality.
Ironically, when the Cubs acquired Madlock from the Texas Rangers after the 1973 season for future Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, it was Santo who became expendable and was soon traded to the cross town White Sox.
While the "Mad Dog" did not have Santo's defensive prowess at third base, he could flat out hit. Arguably one of the best right-handed hitters in the National League, Madlock won back to back NL batting titles with the Cubs in 1975 and 1976 and would win two more batting championships in 1981 and 1983 while with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Madlock also earned a World Series ring with the Bucs in 1979. He also had stints with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers and finished his career with a .305 lifetime batting average, a .365 on base percentage (OBP) and 2,008 hits. Yet Madlock only received 4.5 percent of the vote from the BBWAA in 1993 and was dropped from the ballot. I believe his career totals would have been better had he not been a victim of collusion by the MLB owners. Despite helping the Tigers to an AL East pennant in 1987, Madlock could not hook on with another MLB team and ended up playing one season in Japan before calling it quits.
Another thing working against Madlock was his temper. He wasn't called "Mad Dog" for nothing, as he was ejected from games 18 times over his 15-year career. But one of those occasions wasn't his fault. My Dad got him ejected from a game in Atlanta more than 25 years ago. But that's another story for another day.
Now that Larkin has made his way to Cooperstown, I hope greater consideration will be given to a Reds shortstop of an earlier generation. Davey Concepcion is by far the most unheralded member of the Big Red Machine that won four NL championships in the 1970s, including back to back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez all have plaques at Cooperstown as does the late Sparky Anderson. Surely Concepcion is also deserving of inclusion.
If we put Concepcion and Larkin side by side they are very comparable players. To start with, both men played 19 seasons with the Reds. Larkin finished with only 14 more hits than Concepcion (2,340 to 2,326). Granted, Larkin needed nearly 600 fewer plate appearances to collect his hits and consequently had a far superior lifetime batting average (.295 to .267), OBP (.371 to .322) and slugging percentage (.444 to .357) than Concepcion. Nevertheless, Concepcion was no slouch at the plate winning NL Silver Slugger Awards for his offense in 1981 and 1982. Concepcion also finished his career with 321 stolen bases, although Larkin bettered him in that department as well with 379.
Concepcion and Larkin are bookends to Ozzie Smith, arguably the greatest defensive shortstop to ever play the game. Before the Wizard of Oz, Concepcion was the premier shortstop in the NL and when the Wizard faded, Larkin became his heir apparent. Larkin was selected to 12 NL All-Star teams while Concepcion was selected to nine. But if we measure their defense you have to give the edge to Concepcion. Although Larkin's career fielding percentage is slightly higher than Concepcion (.975 to .971) and he committed fewer errors (235 to 311), Concepcion had far better range resulting in far more chances (10,575 to 9,250), putouts (3,670 to 3,150), assists (6,594 to 5,858), and double plays (1,290 to 1,092). Concepcion earned eight NL Gold Gloves for his play at short while Larkin only earned three.
Although Concepcion remained on the Hall of Fame ballot for fifteen years, he never garnered more than 17 percent of the BBWAA vote. I think the BBWAA muffed the ball repeatedly. In light of Larkin's election to Cooperstown, perhaps the Veterans Committee will field that grounder cleanly.
In December 1968, the Houston Astros traded the Cuban-born southpaw to the Baltimore Orioles for Curt Blefary, who had been AL Rookie of the Year in 1965. In five plus big league seasons with the Reds, Cardinals, and Astros, Cuellar posted a career record of 42-41. In 1969, armed with a devastating screwball, he would go 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA en route to the first of three AL pennants with the Orioles and would share AL Cy Young honors with Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers. Between 1969 and 1974, Cuellar went 125-63 with a 2.99 ERA winning 20 or more games on four occasions. Over that same period, Steve Carlton, considered by many amongst the top five left handed pitchers in the history of the game, went 103-82 with a 3.07 ERA. Yet while Carlton received 95.6 percent of the vote from the BBWAA in his first year on the ballot in 1994, Cuellar did not receive a single vote from any of the 374 BBWAA members who cast a ballot in 1983. It's true that Carlton won four Cy Young Awards, earned 329 wins and struck more than 4,000 batters while Cuellar finished with 185 wins and struck out just over 1,600. Yet Cuellar still found a way to get hitters out. Does it really matter how he got them out?
As always, I welcome your agreement or disagreement.