On the Dregs of Cooperstown

Second Base: Bill Mazeroski

I thought about giving Mazeroski a Ray Schalk-type exemption because, as bad as he looks by the numbers, he’s widely considered the best defensive second baseman ever. In his case, though, there’s no other real candidate for this list. By WAR, the only Hall of Fame second baseman who’s even in the same ballpark is Red Schoendienst, and Red’s successful managing makes his overall case significantly stronger than Mazeroski’s. The other questionable choices in the Hall – Johnny Evers, Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Doerr and others – had much more valuable careers.

So, yes, Maz was a brilliant defender, even a historically great defender. He also couldn’t hit to save his life. His career batting average is .260, which isn’t great, but could still be reasonably productive with good secondary skills. Unfortunately, Maz couldn’t walk either – his career .299 on-base percentage is the worst among Hall of Fame position players. By comparison, Andre Dawson, who drew plenty of flack from analysts for his poor on-base skills, posted a .323 career mark.

Even that low OBP could be forgiven if Maz had hit for ferocious power as Dawson did, but that’s not the case. Though one of his most famous moments was a home run, Maz was anything but a power hitter for his career. His lifetime slugging percentage is just .367, below average even for someone who played the bulk of his games in the ’60s.

Some of Mazeroski’s closest comparables by WAR are Fred Dunlap, Don Buford, Danny Murphy and Miller Huggins – the latter of whom is in the Hall of Fame, but as a manager. Ray Durham, who just fell off the BBWAA ballot, was within three wins of Maz. Frank White, a very similar player in many respects, was within two.

I do think the museum portion of the Hall of Fame ought to recognize Mazeroski’s defensive greatness. As an all-around player, though, he just isn’t worthy of a plaque.

Third Base: Freddie Lindstrom

As with catchers, the Hall of Fame has historically been pretty tough on third basemen. For many years, third base was considered a minor position, the home of players who weren’t good enough to be shortstops. In more recent years, third basemen have been expected to hit like other corner players, even though the position’s defensive demands are much higher. It’s no wonder that some of the best players not in the Hall of Fame – Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Buddy Bell and until recently Ron Santo – were third basemen.

Still, there are a few questionable choices at every position, and the most questionable at this one is Lindstrom. Another product of the offensive explosion of the late ’20s and ’30s, Lindstrom hit .311 for his career, but his limited secondary skills meant he was just 10 percent above average offensively. He had a couple of excellent years, including 1930, when he hit .379 for the Giants and posted a 141 OPS+. His career was quite short, though, and left him well short of the Hall of Fame counting numbers with just 1747 hits and 103 home runs.

In short, Lindstrom was a very good player for a fairly short time – not the sort of player who usually ends up in the Hall, especially not at third base. Like High Pockets Kelly, he had the good fortune of playing with Frankie Frisch, who pushed him through the Veterans Committee in 1976.

Lindstrom had pretty much the same career as Melvin Mora, a very good player who will likely get zero support for the Hall of Fame. Other close comparables include Bobby Bonilla, Edgardo Alfonzo, Terry Pendleton and Clete Boyer. Some clearly better third basemen include Eric Chavez, Troy Glaus, Eddie “The Walking Man” Yost and (already) Evan Longoria.

The Hall of Fame would do well to relax its standards and let a few more deserving third basemen in, but Freddie Lindstrom falls well below any reasonable standard. Like his teammate, High Pockets Kelly, he’s hurt more than helped by his induction.

(Sidenote: So far, my selections have all been Veterans Committee picks. It’s worth noting, though, that if it weren’t for Lindstrom, this spot would go to the BBWAA’s Pie Traynor.)

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