Year Inducted: 1967 (BBWAA, ballot #15, 212/292, Runoff)
The Yankees have a history of having very good players reach the Hall of Fame due to their franchise’s mystique, don’t they? Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, for example, were all very good players, but wouldn’t have been looked upon historically as great if not for wearing the pinstripes. Today’s pitcher, Red Ruffing, is a similar example. He was also a much better option for the Hall of Fame than either of the Yanks’ previous entries on this list.
Ruffing was a big, hard throwing right hander that kept in shape by constantly running each day. His exercise routine helped him throw over 4300 innings in a 22 year career. He won 273 games against 225 losses with an ERA of 3.80. His number are hurt somewhat by a rocky start to his career. He first joined the Red Sox when they were in the worst point in their franchise history. In his 5 full Boston seasons, they lost 100 games 3 times and finished last all 5 times. Following his career, he would remark about how poorly constructed all of those teams were, claiming that they were mostly Class D (the lowest minor league class of the day) and players fresh out of college, thinking that it would be difficult to win with said arrangement of players.
While with the Yankees, under legendary manager Joe McCarthy, Ruffing had a great defense behind him and his ERA went from 4.61 with the Red Sox to 3.47 with the Yankees. The Yankees also revamped his delivery and eventually added a slider to his repertoire. This can help to explain why he had an increase in K-rate while with the Yanks and a drop in his BB-rate, as well as why he seemed to peak later than most other pitchers.
That isn’t to say he is fully deserving of his induction. His ERA- is only 91 while his FIP- is only 96. His ERA, unadjusted, is the highest for any pitcher in the Hall of Fame (and will be as long as the Veterans Committee keeps Jack Morris far away from induction). He did pitch in a major hitter’s era, but he was only slightly above average. He would claim that he would pitch to the score (and being on the Yankees, he had plenty of opportunities to just coast). Pitching to the score is one of the lamest cliches in history. It’s used as a saying to try to elevate a pitcher on a good team to seem better than he really is. Whitey Ford had plenty of times to coast as well, and his ERA- was 75. It’s not an excuse that makes him a great pitcher. He was a very good pitcher, but not a great one.
Before signing off, let’s quickly talk about his induction. For years the BBWAA (who voted once every other year at that point) gave Ruffing at most 50% of the vote. Then Bob Feller wrote an article in TSN about players he thought should be inducted, and named Ruffing as one of those players. Two ballots later, when no one reached the 75% plateau, they had a runoff ballot, electing whoever had the most votes. That player was Red Ruffing. It’s likely that the Veterans Committee would have eventually voted him in (seeing as how Hoyt got in by the Veterans Committee), but they never got the chance. Ruffing was an above average pitcher, on a great team, like many before him. One of the things that set him apart from others of his time was his hitting abilities. He hit more home runs than all but one pitcher in history (Wes Ferrell), with 36 and a wRC+ of 80, an exceptional total for a pitcher. It’s his contributions from both the mound and the plate (his total fWAR is about 70 when his offense is added into his pitching) that make him an OK selection to the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/16/16
This Hall of Fame catcher, primarily with the Reds, was renown for being slow of foot, despite hitting over .300 in his career.