Year Inducted: 1973 (Veteran’s Committee)
Statistics can tell you a lot about a baseball player. In the case of George Kelly, they don’t say nearly enough.
That quote is from Kelly’s SABR Bio page. In fact, it’s the very first two sentences of their article on him. When the group of people who have dedicated their lives to advancing baseball analytics and avoiding the “eye-test” and using their perceptions of a player to judge them says that about a guy in the Hall of Fame, it’s something to take notice of. When they start their biography on him that way, it’s sad.
The purpose of this project wasn’t at any time to say that someone should be removed from the Hall of Fame. There have been some lackluster selections from both the Veterans Committee and the BBWAA, but that will always happen with humans in charge. And, even though this is almost entirely a statistics based ranking, it is important to recognize that some players’ place in history transcend their numbers. A player like Jackie Robinson is of immense importance to what the game means, that it doesn’t matter what his numbers are, he should be inducted and placed on the highest pedestal. A more modern example is Ichiro. While he’s having a great season right now and approaching 3000 hits for his career, he doesn’t need them to justify either his place in history (being the first truly successful Japanese position player that found success at both the MLB and Japanese levels is astonishing and culturally significant), nor to ensure his inclusion into the Hall of Fame when he retires. There is definitely a place in Cooperstown for those who were good players, but were important beyond their numbers. George Kelly just isn’t one of them.
But, he had to do something to at least be put on the radar for induction. What was it?
In his career, “Highpockets” slashed .297/.342/.452 which was good for a wRC+ of only 109. He gained fame for being a clutch player in his career, driving in over 100 runs 5 times en route to putting up over 1000 of them overall. Legendary manager John McGraw said that there was no one else on his roster that he would want up in a big situation than Kelly. As far as praise goes, that’s probably as high as it gets in baseball. At the time of his retirement, Kelly ranked 45th all-time in RBIs, which isn’t so bad considering the game was just hitting its stride as one being built on the home run, rather than stolen bases and performing the hit and run.
Speaking of the home run, Kelly smacked 148 of them in his career, which was good for 18th of all time at that point. That’s impressive, actually. Equally impressive was his defense. Kelly scores very high fielding marks, from both advanced stats (his Fielding Runs are quite good for a first baseman) and people that watched him play. Frankie Frisch, a long time teammate of Kelly’s, thought him to be the best defensive first baseman he ever saw.
Kelly, like Chick Hafey and a slew of others, was a selection by the Frisch/Terry coalition by the Veterans Committee. And, like Hafey’s selection, there were cries of cronyism with Kelly’s choice. Even the BBWAA thought that the Veterans Committee should be more careful in selecting members. Which makes sense, seeing as how when he was on the BBWAA ballot, Kelly never received more than 5 votes and never even broke 2% on the ballot (75% is needed for induction). Even with all of the arguments against Hafey, it’s easy to see the talent he had and the early career track towards the Hall of Fame that was cut tragically short due to injury. Kelly, on the other hand doesn’t have that, and he was quickly surpassed by other first basemen of the day (Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx primarily).
Most of the players so far have been from the early years of the game. Stay tuned for the next update that features someone from the WWII era.
On Deck: 7/2/16 this Hall of Famer is the younger brother of another Hall of Fame player.