Year Inducted: 1994 (Veterans Committee)
From the late 1940s until the early 1960s, there were essentially two entities in Major League Baseball: the New York Yankees and everyone else. From 1947 until 1964, the Yanks won the AL Pennant every year save for 3 years, winning it all in 10 of those seasons. Due to this incredible string of success, many players on the Yankees were elevated in the eyes of the general populace and media-similar to what has happened in recent years to Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, etc. Not to say that there weren’t legitimately great players on the team (Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were all among the top players in the league at the time), but some players probably got too much credit for the Yankees’ success. One such player is the subject of today’s post-Phil Rizzuto.
The Scooter slashed .271/.351/.355 in his 13 year career for a wRC+ of 96. Among his 1558 hits, he hit 38 home runs, 239 doubles and 69 triples. Rizzuto spent most of his time near the top of the Yankees batting order, hitting in front of players like DiMaggio and Mantle, and as such didn’t get many opportunities to drive in runs, only driving in 563 runs in his career. However, this did allow him to score quite a few runs, scoring 877 times in his career. Rizzuto’s best season at the plate, without a doubt, came in 1950. That year, he hit for a .324 average, an .857 OPS and drove in 125 runs en route to winning the AL MVP award.
Obviously, Rizzuto wasn’t inducted for his bat. Despite gathering a lot of sacrifice hits in his career (nearly 200 of them), he was only a league average hitter in 4 of his seasons. He never topped 7 home runs in any year of his career, nor did he ever steal more than 22 bases in a season. His main gift on the field was his glove. Rizzuto was worth over 200 runs defensively, in a fairly short career. He was the third best overall defender at his position, behind only Pee Wee Reese and Marty Marion in his career. Even now, he still ranks in the top 25 all-time defensively for shortstops-an incredible feat for a player who played in fewer than 1700 games in his career.
Unfortunately, despite his excellent defense, he didn’t do enough offensively to warrant induction as a player. Reese serves as an excellent comp for Rizzuto (same position, same city, same time frame). Reese was also an excellent defender at shortstop and worth even more than Rizzuto as a defensive shortstop. Reese, however, was a good hitter. His career wRC+ was 103, hitting over 100 home runs and scoring over 1000 runs. Had Rizzuto finished with similar numbers, he surely would have ranked higher than he currently does, and would more than likely been inducted sooner.
Rizzuto became famous as an announcer following his career, winning the Ford Frick Award and being one of the voices of the Yankees for 40 years. Similar to George Kell, Rizzuto deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame for not just his work as a player (and he was a good player), but also for his work as an announcer and helping to bring the game to millions of fans and being synonymous with his team.
Stay tuned for the next update:
On deck 7/16/16 this Hall of Fame backstop would go on to be the GM of the Tigers.