Year Inducted: 1972 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 344/396)
Most “experts”, when talking about baseball players, suggest that a player’s prime years start around age 26 and last until, at the latest, 33. Usually, a player has peaked about 30 and can maintain that level or close to it for another few seasons before they really start to decline. So then, what does that say about a player who threw his final pitch at the age of 30 and ended his career with fewer innings than Pedro Martinez? How can such a pitcher even be inducted into the Hall of Fame? Because Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher during his generation, and the greatest left handed pitcher ever.
Year Inducted: 1984 (BBWAA, ballot #10, 316/403)
In the mid-1960’s, pitching was the name of the game, especially in the NL. The Giants had Juan Marichal leading their staff, the Cardinals had Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, but the toast of the NL rotations belonged to the Dodgers. For six seasons, Sandy Koufax became one of the most dominant pitchers in history, and he lead a formidable Dodger rotation to several NL Pennants and World Series wins. But, one pitcher alone cannot bring a team to glory. That required the help of his fellow Dodger ace, Don Drysdale.
Year Inducted: 1984 (Veterans Committee)
Until the 1950’s, shortstops almost by definition didn’t put up big offensive totals. They were mostly smaller guys that were fast, had quick reflexes and could field well. Then, in 1953, Ernie Banks comes along and hits for power and shortstop slowly evolves as a position that required no offense to at least requiring a competent bat. This was further pushed in the 1980’s when Cal Ripken started his career, and came full circle in the 1990’s with Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra, and a slew of others. It makes it hard to remember a time when shortstops didn’t have to hit for power to be noticed as great shortstops. The paradigm shift helps explain why a player like Pee Wee Reese had to wait for the Veterans Committee to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
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.
Year Inducted: 1998 (BBWAA, ballot #5, 386/473)
Sometimes, while watching baseball, it can feel like pitchers just can’t throw like they used to. Pitching is just such an unnatural motion, and more pitchers are using max effort, so injuries seem to be increasing like crazy. When that is what reality feels like, pitchers whose main attribute is just being able to take the ball once every four or five days have to seem incredibly valuable. Like Robin Roberts before him, this ability helped get Don Sutton into the Hall of Fame.
Year Inducted: 1969 (BBWAA, ballot #5, 270/340)
A few years ago, Fangraphs published an article about underwhelming selections for the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. As it’s a sabermetric-based site, there are some typical selections. Pie Traynor, Lou Brock and Jim Rice are all mentioned, but there were two names that were mentioned that were startling. One was Luis Aparicio. While he wasn’t a great hitter, he was the best defensive shortstop until Ozzie Smith showed up. The other was a player who had a short career due to many factors relatively out of his control. While he didn’t serve in WWII (he did have to work in a war-time industry but never saw combat), the fact that he was an African American man in the 1940’s meant he wouldn’t be able to play in the Majors until after 1947. As such, he didn’t debut until he was 26 years old, and then his career tragically ended due to a car accident. That man was Roy Campanella.
Year Inducted: 1959 (Veterans Committee)
The Dodgers were one of the original teams in the National League. This means that they’ve been around for a long time, and as such have had a lot of great players on their teams. As far as hitters go, the Dodgers have been blessed to have both Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, along with players like Roy Campanella and Mike Piazza on their teams for long stretches of time. But, none of them hold the Dodgers’ records for hits, doubles or even total bases. No, the man that leads in many Dodger categories is Zack Wheat.