On the Dregs of Cooperstown

Shortstop: Rabbit Maranville

It should be said that, by WAR, Maranville isn’t quite the worst shortstop in the Hall of Fame, but there are extenuating circumstances for the players below him.* In addition to careers that put the only slightly below Maranville, Hughie Jennings and Phil Rizzuto were (respectively) a successful manager and a beloved broadcaster. Those extra qualifications aren’t material to judging their worthiness as players, but they contribute to the overall body of work that helped those players reach Cooperstown.

*Two nineteenth-century players, George Wright and Monte Ward, also appear below Maranville on the all-time shortstop rankings. Wright, however, wasn’t inducted as a player – he’s in the Hall as a pioneer. Ward’s career WAR is deceptive because he was also a successful pitcher – add up his position player WAR and pitching WAR, and he’s a deserving Hall of Famer.

Maranville was, in many ways, the Bill Mazeroski of his day, albeit at a more difficult position. He was a highly regarded defensive player who couldn’t hit a lick. His .318 on-base percentage is one of the worst marks in the Hall, as is his .340 slugging percentage – and while his career started in the deadball era, he was still playing in the high-flying offensive years of the late ’20s and early ’30s. His 82 OPS+ shows that he was a well below-average offensive player, and while his defense was legitimately excellent, it wasn’t enough to make up for those shortcomings at the plate.

By WAR, Maranville’s long career was worth 42 wins. That’s a better total than many players on this list, but it’s still well short of the Hall’s standards.

Maranville’s induction is fairly easy to explain: The writers loved him. Even as a 41-year-old second baseman whose bat had officially turned to sawdust, he picked up some MVP votes. In fact, he received MVP consideration eight different times in his career; only one of those seasons, 1914, was a legitimate star-level year. Those same writers, or their understudies, elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1954.

Like Mazeroski, Rabbit Maranville deserves recognition in the Hall of Fame’s museum. He was a good player for a very long time, and he was one of the game’s great characters besides. Like Maz, though, he falls short of the standards for induction.

Left Field: Chick Hafey

Another position, another questionable selection by the ’70s Veterans Committee. (It should be said that the lowest WAR among Hall of Fame left fielders belongs to Monte Irvin, but that’s because he spent half his career in the Negro Leagues.)

Unlike many of the players on this list, Hafey was actually a brilliant hitter. He batted .317 for his career, led the league in slugging in 1927 and won a batting title in ’31. Those seasons bookended a five-year run in which, when healthy, he was one of the National League’s biggest offensive threats. His OPS+ in that stretch was an excellent 150, and he helped the Cardinals to a world title in 1931.

Of course, “when healthy” is the key phrase there. Hafey averaged just 123 games per season in that stretch thanks to a variety of vision and sinus problems. After a trade to the Reds, he had a few more good years, but his career was essentially over at age 32.

Hafey ought to be remembered as one of baseball’s great “what might have been” stories. Had he remained healthy for even a few more seasons, he’d likely be recognized as a deserving Hall of Famer. For that matter, if he’d been born a few decades later, he may have benefited from modern corrective lenses or laser surgery. It’s tragic that he had erratic vision in an era when doctors weren’t sure how to handle it.

Sadly, though, we have to judge his career on its actual merits, and his counting numbers – 1466 hits, 164 home runs, 30 career WAR – are well shy of the Hall’s standards in left field.

Seen through the lens of history, Chick Hafey is a sentimental pick for the Hall of Fame, not a deserving player.

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