Year Inducted: 1961 (Veterans Committee)
Most players that make the Hall of Fame do so as either hitters or pitchers. Fewer make it in due solely to their defense, as is the case of Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, and Joe Tinker. Even fewer make it in solely due to their running, as was the case for Max Carey.
Carey spent most of his career in the Steel City, playing in the outfield for the Bucs in 17 of his 20 big league seasons. In those 20 years, his legs gained him reputations as both a ferocious runner, and an excellent fielder. And, there is solid truth to both of those ideas. As a base runner, Carey stole over 700 bases in his career and Fangraphs has him worth 93 runs on the base paths. His career stea mark ranked 5th for a long time until Rock Raines, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson set new heights for base stealers.
In the field, his defense may have been a tad overrated. At the end of his career, according to his Hall of Fame plaque, he held NL records for putouts, assists and chances among outfielders. His fielding was worth 86 runs as well, but spending most of his career in the Dead Ball Era, outfield play wasn’t nearly as hard as infield play.
Obviously, he was a great runner and a good fielder. So why doesn’t he rank higher? Well, his offensive line was only .285/.361/.386 and his wRC+ was only 110. Those numbers are good, but not great, even when compared to the average center fielder of his time. His average was barely more than league average during his career, ditto his slugging and OPS. Despite playing in a fairly cavernous park during a pitcher’s era, Carey was able to crank out nearly 400 doubles and 143 triples, but they only served to keep his power numbers slightly above league average, when players like Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb had excellent power numbers for that era.
Carey also gets hurt from a rocky end to his career. Following an excellent season in 1925 culminating in a Pirates’ World Series win, Carey began a very sharp decline. His batting average dropped over 100 points and his wRC+ went from 132 down to 57, and wasn’t over 100 in any of the following seasons. He would bounce back some but Carey, now playing for the Brooklyn Robins, was pretty much at the end of his career at that point.
Overall, Max Carey was a solid, above average player when all aspects of his game are taken into account. He was a great bridge between the aggressive baserunning oriented Dead Ball Era and the lively home run hitting era that began in the 1920s. Not necessarily a great player, but definitely a very good one.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/14/16 This Hall of Fame shortstop would shout “Beauty!” every time one of his teammates made a great play.