On the Dregs of Cooperstown

Center Field: Lloyd Waner

You probably know that the Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd, are the only siblings in the Hall of Fame. Paul Waner is an absolutely deserving choice, easily one of the 10 best right fielders of all time. Lloyd is… not so much.

In what’s becoming a familiar refrain on this list, Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner (who actually stood an inch taller than Paul “Big Poison” Waner) was a good hitter who looked better than he was because of the era in which he played. Take his 1929 season, for instance. He batted .353 with a .395 OBP and .479 SLG – great numbers in any season, but by OPS+ it was “only” 13 percent above league average. That was his best or second-best offensive season.

Waner’s career was more of the same. He batted .316, which looks great, but it was a fairly “empty” batting average. Thanks to low walk totals and limited power, he posted only a .747 OPS and a 99 OPS+, meaning he was almost exactly a league-average hitter. Average offense and average defense in center field made him pretty much the definition of an average player.

There’s plenty of value in being average for 18 seasons, but it’s not Hall of Fame value. Waner’s comparables by WAR include Tommie Agee, Stan Javier, Al Bumbry and Matty Alou. Another Pirates center fielder, Andrew McCutchen, has already passed Waner in career value, and he’s only been in the league for five seasons.

Despite his excellent batting averages and equally excellent nickname, Lloyd Waner is well short of worthiness for Cooperstown.

Right Field: Tommy McCarthy

I try not to pick on nineteenth-century players because the game was so different back then, but in McCarthy’s case, the numbers just don’t lie.

Tommy McCarthy had, essentially, one Hall of Fame-caliber year. In 1890, McCarthy hit .350/.430/.467 for St. Louis of the American Association, an offensive showing that, by OPS+, was 47 percent better than league average. There was no MVP award back then, but if it did, he may well have won.

Other than that, he was varying degrees of average-ish throughout his career. His 102 OPS+ is almost precisely league-average, and that’s including his monster 1890 season. As far as we’re aware, he was a slightly above-average defensive right fielder, but nothing spectacular, and his career was fairly short. Like many nineteenth-century players, he was occasionally called upon to pitch, but he had very little success on the mound.

Add it all up, and McCarthy’s 16.2 WAR is easily the lowest mark among Hall of Fame players.

There’s an argument to be made that McCarthy deserves to be honored for the impact he made on the game in its early years. He helped to introduce the hit and run play, still a popular (if dated) tactical move today, along with other strategies such as signaling from the batter to the baserunner. In an era known for rough and tumble play, McCarthy helped to make baseball a gentleman’s sport.

The fact remains that McCarthy was inducted as a player. On his merits as a player, he’s not just below the Hall’s standards, but well below. No amount of innovation can make up for those shortcomings.


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