Year Inducted: 1955 (BBWAA, ballot #16, 205/251)
Many players have a straightforward path to the Majors. Most will get drafted (or in the older days sign out of a semipro league), spend a couple of years in the minors crafting their skill and finally get called up to the majors. Sometimes they’ll sputter on first call-up and need some fine tuning, but usually after 3 years the player is fully adjusted and (if he is a Hall of Famer) dominating the league. Some players don’t have that path. Some may have the call-ups and sputters and demotions and seem to never really pan out. Some need a miracle. Legend has it that a poker game was the miracle for Dazzy Vance.
After showing a “dazzling fastball” in the minors, Vance discovered two things. First is that he couldn’t throw long without pain. Second was that he needed more than a fastball in the majors to win. While playing in New Orleans one night, as the story goes, Vance won a big pot in a poker game and while pulling in his winnings he banged his elbow hard on the table. After a visit to the doctor, an injury was discovered and rectified. Vance soon discovered that he was finally free to throw without pain once again. He found himself traded to the Dodgers (then known as the Robins) in 1922 where, at the age of 31, he was finally in the bigs to stay.
So, how does a 31-year old rookie become a Hall of Famer? Vance’s fastball was finally back after the injury (which is speculated to be bone chips or scar tissue) was treated, and he learned how to throw a great curveball, he anchored the Dodgers’ rotation for the next 11 of his 16-ish seasons (he technically started in 1915 with a cup of coffee, and one start in 1918, so it really is a 14 season career). Vance proceeded to win 197 games (against 140 losses), tossed almost 3000 innings and had an ERA of 3.24. With a very lively fastball, Vance managed to strikeout over 2000 batters while limiting batters to 840 walks and 132 homeruns accounting for a FIP of 3.18. With an ERA- of 81 and an FIP- of only 78, it is quite evident that Vance had the dominance needed to be a Hall of Famer.
The only thing holding back Vance, essentially, is his arm injury early in his career. The fact that the damage was fixed and he was able to find success was remarkable, equally so the fact that he had dominance. Very rarely do players succeed in baseball after the age of 30, especially in the 1920’s. Vance more than earned his induction in 1955.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/31/16: Let’s celebrate the day of black and orange by looking at the greatest pitcher to ever wear those colors for the Orioles.