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My 2002 Hall of Fame Ballot: Slot #1, Gary Carter

by Paul White (Shawnee, KS)


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A few interesting facts about catchers and the Hall of Fame. I think these will help illuminate a growing problem.

For instance, were you aware that that the average Hall of Fame catcher caught under 1,600 career games? Only since the World War II have catchers' careers stretched toward the 2,000 mark. Seven of the top-ten catchers on the all-time games-caught list, including each of the top-five, began their careers in 1968 or later.

Beyond mere durability, the list of career hitting leaders among catchers is also dominated by those who played out their careers in the latter half of the 20th Century. This includes all ten of the top-ten home run hitters, seven of the top-ten RBI leaders, and seven of the top-ten in Total Bases.

Defense also can't be ignored. All of top-ten catchers in career putouts played after the war. All ten of the top catchers in average putouts per game are also Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. The same is true of career fielding percentage and total chances.

Now obviously many of these numbers are skewed. The eras in question were hardly equal in terms of season length, available equipment, game strategy, offensive production, even the dimensions of the field and the rules of the game. We could equalize for some of these, but that's not the point.

The point is simply that you are now watching the Golden Age of catching. No, they don't call their own games anymore, but how much of that is a function of megalomaniac managers who try to control every aspect of the game or multi-millionaire pitchers who are going to let some backstop control their fate? Quite a bit I suspect. Ever since Elston Howard and Tim McCarver, through Bill Freehan and Johnny Bench, all the way up to Mike Piazza and Charles Johnson, modern catchers are bigger, healthier, more powerful, faster, and better equipped.

Hey, maybe Ray Schalk and Roger Bresnahan would still be exceptional catchers today, but the fact is that they simply can't compare to modern catchers in any way. The position and the game have changed that much.

Despite these facts, only four catchers who began their careers after World War II - Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Carlton Fisk - have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Subtracting the five year waiting period needed in order to be eligible, that's a fifty-year span with just four Hall-quality catchers. That's a bit odd, don't you think? This is particularly true when we note that the previous fifty-year span, from 1896 through 1945, produced nearly twice as many, seven to be exact.

For some reason, despite all evidence to the contrary, voters for the Hall of Fame continue to view modern catchers as poor second-cousins of "real" catchers. No player has been more affected by this than Gary Carter.

The reasons why are mysterious, because Carter compares well nearly any way you slice his numbers. Here they are versus the average post-WWII catcher who has been inducted:

StatCarter Post WWII
G
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
AVG
OBP
SLG

2296
7971
1025
2092
371
31
324
1225
.262
.335
.439

1998
7044
1042
1929
325
35
341
1248
.274
.346
.475

Pretty darned even. He looked even better compared to the median career of all Hall of Fame catchers:

StatCarter HOF Median
G
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
AVG
OBP
SLG

2296
7971
1025
2092
371
31
324
1225
.262
.335
.439

1821
5942
899
1742
323
49
196
937
.283
.359
.468

It's pretty clear that from an offensive perspective, Carter's got all the Hall credentials he needs. How about defense? Here are the same comparisons only with defensive statistics (at catcher only):

StatCarter Post WWII
G
PO
A
E
DP
FP
LgFP
RF
Lg RF

2056
11785
1203
121
149
.991
.986
6.32
5.48

1713
8969
812
112
133
.989
.986
5.74
5.02

StatCarter HOF Median
G
PO
A
E
DP
FP
LgFP
RF
Lg RF

2056
11785
1203
121
149
.991
.986
6.32
5.48

1704
7208
986
137
132
.985
.981
5.40
4.70

If anything, Carter's defense compares even better than his offense. More game caught, a better fielding percentage compared to his leagues, better range compared to his league, more double plays, a lot more assists, pretty much the whole package.

I realize that there are plenty of other statistics out there that might be more accurate, but these are the ones most often examined by Hall voters (when they bother with statistics at all). The only other things given much weight are awards and post-season performance. Well, Carter compares well there too:


Awards

 Carter Post WWII HOF Median
All-Star
Top 10 MVP
11
4
12
5
8
4

Post Season
StatCarterPost WWIIHOF Median
G
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
AVG
OBP
SLG

30
118
11
33
8
1
4
21
.280
.325
.466

42
149
232
39
6
1
7
19
.263
.341
.456

24
82
12
21
2
0
2
7
.257
.346
.397

In summary, using the same statistics most curmudgeonly BBWAA members use when evaluating eligible Hall of Fame candidates, Gary Carter compares well in all facets of the game to both the average Hall of Fame catcher and to the subset of Hall of Fame catchers who played since World War II. We could go even further and display more modern metrics, like Carter's career OPS adjusted for ballparks and eras, but why bother? Few voters consider those measurements and they would do nothing but confirm what the traditional statistics already tell us - Gary Carter belongs in the Hall of Fame. Hell, he has a very reasonable claim on being one of the top five catchers of all time.

Why, then, is the poor SOB still on the ballot? Do you realize that he's been out-polled by ten different men in the four years he's been on the ballot, some of them more than once? And not just the no-brainers like Fisk, Brett, Ryan and Yount, but borderline guys like Tony Perez and Don Sutton. Hell, he's been out-polled by a pair of guys who aren't even in the Hall, Jim Rice and Ron Santo (though, in fairness, I think both of them should be). Can Perez, Sutton, Rice, Santo, Kirby Puckett or Dave Winfield lay reasonable claim to being one of the top five players at their position in the entire history of baseball? Of course not. Many of them would have a hard time making their respective top-tens or even top-twenties.

Will any of the new guys on this year's ballot, like Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell and Andre Dawson, be able to make that claim? Smith could if only defense was being considered, but not as an all-around shortstop. Neither Trammell nor Dawson could be taken seriously from that standpoint either.

Don't get me wrong, I think nearly every one of the players just mentioned deserves to be in Cooperstown. But it's plain to me that they aren't as deserving at their positions as Gary Carter is at his.

If anyone from the BBWAA is reading this, please implore your colleagues to get their collective act together. It pains me to say this as a Red Sox fan, but Gary Carter would be the first name on my Hall of Fame ballot this year.

You can read more of Paul's work at www.lostinleftfield.com.

More articles by Paul White on Baseball Library


Copyright 2001 by Paul White. Posted January 10, 2002.