Today, we have the third and final part of my series looking at the thirty best players who have been totally overlooked by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee process. It's a direct continuation of the first two parts, which can be found here and here. Also, if you'd like to see my chart summarizing Veterans Committee ballots since 2000, that can be found here, with the annotation notes: non-player candidates are highlighted in red (Joe Torre gets an off-red color, since his first few ballot appearances were as a player), each column is a different year’s VC ballot, and X’s show seasons that they were nominees. Yellow means a candidate was inducted that year (with subsequent years blacked out), green means the player hadn’t been retired long enough for VC consideration, and light blue is years where the candidate wasn’t up for consideration (for example, how they currently consider certain eras at a time).
Bob Caruthers (SP/OF, 59.6 WAR)
If you’ve read any of my Hall snubs coverage in the past (or similar articles from other writers), you might be familiar with Wes Ferrell, the pitcher from the 1930s who could hit like a position player. Ferrell has had plenty of VC ballots (including 6 since 2000), but the 1880s equivalent Bob Caruthers (who even finished within half a Win of Ferrell’s career total) has not. His career, like many of the other 1800s pitchers I’ve covered, was relatively short, at ten years exactly, and he did pitch in fewer games than most of them. He makes up for some of that by being an actually good hitter, though, with a career 134 OPS+ to go with his 122 ERA+. I don’t know if I’d put him ahead of Ferrell, but that certainly is an interesting narrative hook that puts him ahead of some of the other 1800s pitchers I’ve touched on so far.
Sherry Magee (LF, 59.4 WAR) #
Magee had some bad luck in building a Hall of Fame narrative. He was one of the better offensive players of the deadball era, but retired in 1919, the year before Babe Ruth went to the Yankees, hit 54 home runs, and rewired how everyone thought about offense in baseball. He played for mostly mediocre teams, primarily the 1900s-1910s Phillies, but was dealt away in 1915, at which point the Phillies made a surprise pennant win. He finally won a World Series as a part-time player on the Reds in 1919, but that was probably the only World Series where the losing team is more famous than the winner. Magee had been retired for a bit when the Hall of Fame opened, but wasn’t really old enough to qualify for early attempts at Old Timers Committees. He made a handful of BBWAA ballots in the early years (which featured very different rules), but never got more than 1% of the vote, as he was already something of a relic from a different era. Magee did make the pre-1943 ballot of the 2009 Veterans Committee induction, where he got 3 of the required 12 votes, but did not make the 2013 or 2016 ballots.
Bret Saberhagen (SP, 58.9 WAR)
I feel like I’ve mentioned this here repeatedly, but I think Saberhagen fits neatly within the Hall’s tradition of high-peak stars, and he (along with Cone) should be one of the first names the VC considers in their effort to elect more starting pitchers. Despite his two Cy Young Awards, Saberhagen was a one-and-done candidate on the BBWAA ballot, getting only 1.3% of the votes back in 2007. That was also Orel Hershiser’s second year on the ballot, and he fell below 5% as well, although he’s made the Today’s Game ballot both times he’s been eligible. I’m really not sure what’s the disparity between those two in terms of Hall consideration, let alone the disparities between Cy Young winners like them and MVP winners like, say, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy, who hung around the ballot for full terms. There’s a lot around the margins of Hall voting that gets confusing when you look at it too closely.
Darrell Evans (3B/1B, 58.8 WAR)
Sure, we’ve covered third base being underrated as a position. And sure, we’ve been over how low-average players with high on-base and slugging get underrated (Evans had a .248 career average, but a .361 OBP and a .431 slugging percentage). But Evans is also a good case study in how more marginal players can get underrated by switching teams, especially if it masks a player’s peak. Evans played 9 years in Atlanta, 8 years in San Francisco, and 5 in Detroit. When he retired, Evans had 2223 hits, 1354 RBI, 414 homers (then-21st most in history), and nearly 60 career WAR. When divided out, he didn’t reach 1000 hits or 150 homers with any of the three teams, and most of his other career totals were similarly split. That might not be the only reason he only got two All-Star appearances or 1.7% of the vote on his only BBWAA ballot, but having voters’ first impression of you be “oh yeah, he was pretty good for a couple teams” probably isn’t great when so many of them only go off of that first impression.
Urban Shocker (SP, 58.7 WAR)
Jack Quinn (SP/RP, 58.6 WAR)
Both Shocker and Quinn are 1910s-20s pitchers who starred on some good teams (most notably, the 1920s Yankees and A’s, respectively), but didn’t quite get the notoriety of some other 1900s stars because of a variety of factors, most notably short careers. The amateur-to-pro pipeline wasn’t quite what it is today, so neither pitched in the majors until their age 25 seasons, staying in semipro leagues in other parts of the country. And even then, there were other weird factors. For instance, Quinn left to play in the Pacific Coast League for two seasons in the middle of his career (but he made up for it in part by pitching until he was nearly 50). Shocker, meanwhile, appears to have suffered from health issues, and died the year after winning 18 games and a championship as part of Murderers’ Row’s rotation. If you want to give them extra credit for fascinating life stories, I wouldn’t blame you. If you want to know more about either, I can’t recommend the Society for American Baseball Research’s biographies enough. Both appeared on a handful of BBWAA ballots in the first few decades after the Hall was founded, but usually fell in the 1-2% range.
Chuck Finley (SP, 57.9 WAR)
Frank Tanana (SP, 57.2 WAR)
Back in my piece looking at Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, and Tim Hudson, I came away with the conclusion that Hudson looked fine, and would not be at all out of place among the Hall’s pitchers, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him inducted… but there also weren’t any big hooks like there were with the other two, which made it harder to recommend that he take priority. That’s kind of how I feel about these two Angels stars. Seeing them both get more consideration would be nice, and if they were elected, they wouldn’t be awful choices, but there are better pitchers with more interesting cases on this list (not even getting into the ones making the Vet ballots occasionally). They’re wildly different cases, though; Finley had a Buehrle- or Hudson-like long string of competence, never finishing below 2.0 pitching WAR from 1988 to 2000, and B-R reference even likes his peaks a little more than theirs, with a few 7-WAR years. Tanana, meanwhile, had an incredible five-year peak (topping 30 WAR), then remade himself following injury and hung around to throw 4000 innings in his career. Finley got a single vote back in 2008, while Tanana didn’t get any in 1999 (depending on how you value peak versus bulk and which version of WAR, he might be the best player to not get a single vote).
Dave Stieb (SP, 56.4 WAR)
Dave Stieb would qualify under that “high-peak” standard I mentioned earlier, but unlike Cone or Saberhagen, his period of time as the best pitcher in his league wasn’t really recognized as such at the time. Playing for mediocre teams, poor win totals, and a brief voter obsession with relief pitchers meant that, while he had an argument for a Cy Young or two in the earlier half of the 1980s, he instead usually finished closer to the middle of the pack. He’s exactly the type of candidate who could use a modern reconsideration. At the very least, he did rack up a strong seven All-Star selections in the moment, and his lone BBWAA ballot appearance (1.4%, 2004) wasn’t too far off from how Cone or Saberhagen did. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting them all in front of voters again.
Jim Whitney (SP/OF, 56.1 WAR)
Remember when I mentioned Bob Caruthers earlier? Jim Whitney was similar, but a bit worse overall (lower WAR, only a 105 career ERA+ and a 112 OPS+). I think it’s a little easier for writers to mentally separate Caruthers and Wes Ferrell from each other since they weren’t direct contemporaries, but Whitney and Caruthers’s careers overlapped significantly. I’m not sure what it might take for Whitney to jump the line here since Caruthers has the advantage in most capacities.
Jim Wynn (CF, 55.8 WAR)
Willie Davis might be the best player to not appear on a BBWAA ballot, but another center fielder, Jim Wynn, is arguably the best one to appear and get totally shut out, back in 1983 (that was a tough ballot!). I’ve already covered most of the factors that led to The Toy Cannon being underrated (good batting eye, good defense, good power, played in a pitchers’ park in a pitchers’ era), but if you want a fuller accounting of his career, I wrote in appreciation of his life a year ago in the wake of his passing. Hopefully he can one day get that first vote, en route to eventual recognition.
Chet Lemon (CF, 55.6 WAR)
George Uhle (SP, 55.6 WAR)
There’s a tie for thirtieth place. Lemon’s case is pretty familiar by now (above average eye and power at the plate, and a good glove in center field), and it translated into just one vote on the BBWAA ballot in 1996. Meanwhile, Uhle, to go back to what I said about Jim Whitney, was a Wes Ferrell contemporary who wasn’t quite as good (with a 106 ERA+ to go with an OPS+ of 86); impressive, but again, not the most impressive in this category.
To keep things a little more interesting on the final entry, though, I’ll shout out to another special case that needs highlighting. Catchers often have trouble getting attention in the Hall process (did you know that there have only been two first-ballot inductees who played catcher?), but Bill Freehan’s struggles are still kind of shocking. Sure, catchers often struggle to get the counting stats that other positions get, but Freehan did pretty well in spite of that. Most people at the time seemed like they understood how good he was; the catcher regularly got MVP votes, made eleven All-Star Games in fifteen seasons, won five Gold Gloves, took home a World Series title… And yet, somehow, when it came time for Hall voting, he fell off after just one ballot, reaching just 0.5% of the vote in 1982. I’m kind of shocked that someone with those credentials hasn’t come up on even a single Veterans Committee ballot since then, from what I can tell.
Just going over this list, I think it reinforces my point from a month ago that the Hall needs to do a lot more than it’s normal “one Veterans Committee era per year” rotation. Like, it would be one thing if it were just a lot of snubs, but the fact that so many snubs not even getting consideration seems to indicate a bigger flaw in the process. More frequent ballots might inspire the Hall to rotate in more names, and finally get some of these players more attention. If the only way new names will get considered is when names on the ballot are finally voted in, things will remain extremely slow.