Year Inducted: 1971 (Veterans Committee)
There are some players that score low simply due to not playing much. It’s not a coincidence that the bottom three players in this ranking all played in fewer than 1300 games in their careers. Of those three, Chick Hafey is probably the best, deserving on talent but not on results due to unfortunate injuries. Let’s see what Hafey has in his favor for induction.In his brief career, Hafey slashed .317/.372/.526, which was good for a wRC+ of 132. Hafey was a consistent force for the Cardinals and Reds, helping guide the Cardinals to championships in both 1926 and 1931. From 1927 until the end of his career, he posted a wRC+ between 109 and 159. Unlike Frank Chance, whose numbers were mostly based on OBP and steals, or Tommy McCarthy whose numbers were based on…something….Hafey was able to hit for power. From 1927 until 1931 he hit between 16 and 29 homers a season, and slugged no lower than .569. One thing Hafey didn’t do much of, however, was drive in runs. His career high of 125 is impressive, but he only topped 100 three times, and 90 one other time. He also didn’t score a lot of runs (which makes some sense since he doesn’t score highly as a base runner), which make his overall numbers suffer some when compared to other left fielders.
In the field, he was highly praised for his arm. He ended his career with over 100 outfield assists, and several players always spoke very highly of his reflexes and accuracy with his arm. More advanced stats have him pegged as a slightly negative defender, which goes along with him not being a great baserunner, so he probably couldn’t get to as many balls in play, and his arm must have balanced it out to a degree.
On the whole, the talent and ability were always there for Hafey to be amongst the greatest in the game.
Unfortunately, he suffered from injuries quite frequently in his career. In 1926 he got hit by pitches in the head so often that he ended up hurting his sinuses and needing corrective surgery. The injuries also damaged his eyesight, forcing him to wear glasses (Interestingly, only two people wear glasses on their Hall of Fame plaques, including Hafey). Only twice in his career did Hafey ever play in more than 140 games, and two other times was he able to play in 130. His vision and sinuses remained problematic over his career, but in 1933 and 1934 (when he set career highs in games played) it seemed to subside somewhat. In 1935, though, he developed a bad case of the flu, which nearly forced him into retirement. After sitting out the 1936 season, he tried to comeback in 1937, but was only able to play in 89 games with middling results. After contract issues with the Reds front office, he decided to retire before the 1938 season.
Hafey’s induction is one of several that were met with instant criticism. Many thought that he simply hadn’t played enough, or wasn’t nearly dominant enough in his brief career to warrant induction. The Veteran’s Committee had some of his former teammates leading it, especially Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry, and many selections during their tenure were often reviled and criticised with complaints about favoritism. Still, many think Hafey was worthy because of his brief dominance. However, baseball is filled with players who started great and got injured (Don Mattingly and Tony Conigliaro for example) or just sort of fizzled out. His injuries limited his greatness, it happens, but statistically he probably wasn’t a great pick for induction.
One thing becomes pretty evident when researching the Hall of Fame. There are some good players, and good people, who got dealt a raw deal due to injuries. It’s a sobering feeling to be dissecting their careers and find out how tragically some of them were cut short. A grim reminder that life isn’t fair, and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
On that sombering note, stay tuned for the next update.
On deck: 6/30/16, Another inductee from the Frisch/Terry coalition. This player was the first baseman for the Giants in some successful seasons.