Year Inducted: 1946 (Veteran’s Committee)
Frank Chance comes out last in these rankings. Does this mean he’s the worst player in the Hall of Fame? As a player, probably, but that has more to do with whom he is getting compared to rather than anything about him. Does it mean that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame? No, and both positions can be held easily.
First, let’s go over a little bit of Chance’s career as a player.
Chance hit .296/.394/.394 (Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage, also known as his “slash-line”) in his career, which was good for a solid 137 wRC+ (weighted Runs Created “plus”). wRC+ measures how well you create runs against the league average (non-pitching players), and adjusts for both park-effects and run scoring environment. Every point above 100 is another percentage point better than league average. It’s one of the best ways to compare batters across eras. And, as a hitter, Chance was pretty good. A career .394 OBP is great, and despite his low overall SLG of .394, he still fared well against his peers.
The problems with Chance being inducted as a player are two-fold. The first problem is fairly obvious; he didn’t hit for power at a typical power position. Chance had a grand total of 20 homers in his career. Despite playing most of his career in the Dead Ball Era where pitchers dominated, that was still good for only 76th place in that time frame, tied with such luminaries as Freddie Parent and Johnny Kling. Normally, that wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that he is a first baseman, and is going to be compared to a bunch of guys who were much better hitters than him. Lou Gehrig, playing roughly 10 years after Chance retired, would end up with 493 homers. That’s more than 24 times what Chance hit. And it just kept going up from there, with players like Willie McCovey, Stan Musial and Harmon Killebrew each hitting at least 475 long balls, and even guys like Hank Greenberg and Johnny Mize, who lost prime years to WWII, hitting over 300. Chance has literally no chance when compared to them. Yes, Chance compares very well to first basemen of his era (actually leads them in WAR for the years he played), and was a very valuable player. But the average first baseman in his career hit .270/.327/.358 so it wasn’t a high bar to clear.
Chance’s lack of power is not the main reason why he comes out so low. The main reason is that he only played in 1286 games, and it’s very hard to have a huge impact on the game if you don’t play very often. Chance initially came up as a backup catcher, which probably wasn’t that fun of a job back then. With poor protection for his hands, especially from foul tips, he often had broken fingers and that limited his playing time. In his first 5 seasons, he averaged about 63 games a season, and since he only played in parts of 17 seasons, that’s roughly a third of his career. The Cubs changed catchers in 1903, which forced Chance to first base, and he could finally start playing regularly. He played in over 100 games in each of the next 6 years, and performed fairly well. However, he still got hurt a lot. Chance would crowd the plate, and as a result got hit by a pitch at a decent clip (137 times in 5099 PA), often times in the head. This resulted in blood clots in his brain, and required some intense surgery (especially for the early 1900’s). While his surgery was successful, he had pretty much lost his ability to play everyday, if at all. While in the hospital, the Cubs eventually released (which, despite the fact that he was upset at their management and the Cubs and Yankees were in discussions about him, was still kind of a jerk-move) him prior to the 1913 season, which allowed him to sign with the Yankees to be a player-manager for the Yankees. Unfortunately, Chance was only able to play in a total of 13 games for the Yankees, and resigned during the 1914 season.
Chance, as just a player, doesn’t have a great resume for the Hall of Fame. However, Chance the baseball lifer does. He was an incredibly successful as a manager, leading the Cubs to (so far) their only World Series Championships in 1907 and 1908, along with piloting them to a record 116 win season. While he didn’t manage for long, he certainly had a major impact on their franchise, and wound up with over 900 wins as a manager while only managing in 11 seasons. People who have success in multiple careers in the game (managing, scouting, front office work, broadcasting, etc) of baseball have a spot in the Hall of Fame. The entire body of Chance’s work deserves enshrinement, but as a player he leaves something to be desired.
Stay tuned for the next update
On Deck: 6/26/16 This player, along with Hugh Duffy, formed a combination for the Boston Braves known as the Heavenly Twins.