The Baseball Hall of Fame announced ten nominees to be considered for election as part of the Pre-Integration committee. Six former players and four pioneers are on the list, all of whom had to be from the era of baseball before 1947. Of course, the voters (who consist of different members of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the literary community) vote on a different era of baseball each year, alternating from the Pre-Integration Era to the Golden Era to the Expansion Era. So every three years a particular group of players, executives, and pioneers are eligible for induction.
The original five players were selected to the Hall of Fame in 1936, with a total group of about 20 going into the first induction ceremony of 1939. Because of that, I truly feel that there has been enough time for all the initial pioneers and top ballplayers to get the respect of an induction. However, because of the presence of historians — those who spend all their time studying the game, a game that existed well before any of us were born — the possibility exists that one may have had a bigger impact on the game that was ever noticed or documented. Unfortunately, none of the twelve candidates received enough votes to be elected this year.
An interesting case could have been made for longtime National League shortstop Bill Dahlen. A shortstop, perhaps the most interesting number on the diamond, has long been considered a defense-first position. It does not mean, however, that the game has not had its share of great hitting shortstops. That being said, more credit has been given to shortstops who have fielded well but hit adequately than, say, first basemen. Over the course of stating Dahlen’s Hall of Fame case, I will mention 17 other longtime MLB shortstops. Ten of them are baseball Hall of Famers, another two will definitely get in, and I believe another two do belong. The question is, which category does Dahlen belong in?
Dahlen played 21 seasons in MLB, starting in 1891 with the Chicago Colts and ending in 1911 as a player/manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His four seasons managing the Brooklyn club from 1910-13 kept the seat warm for the great Wilbert Robinson, who would manage Brooklyn for the next 18 seasons. For his career, Dahlen played in 2,444 games (a record when he retired) and hit .272 with 2,491 hits, 1,234 RBIs, 413 doubles, and 546 stolen bases. “Bad Bill” finished with a career OPS of .740. He led the NL in RBIs in 1904 when the New York Giants considered themselves the champions of baseball, then won a World Series with New York in 1905.
When comparing a top shortstop to the best of all time, you tend to start with the great Honus Wagner, a Dahlen contemporary. By my calculations, Wagner is the 11th-greatest offensive position player to ever play the game. Other top Hall of Fame offensive shortstops include Cal Ripken and Robin Yount, though both spent significant time at other positions. Though both Ripken and Yount are no doubt HOFs, it is not fair to compare the accomplishments of Dahlen to them. Derek Jeter would round out the list of the first category. Jeter’s numbers are comparable to Ripken, Yount, and Wagner and he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible. Summarizing the numbers, Wagner hit .328, 101, 1,732, .858 (AVG, HR, RBI, OPS) while Jeter hit .310, 260, 1,311, .817. Ripken hit .276, 431, 1,695, .788 and Yount .285, 251, 1,406, .772. When categorizing all-time shortstops, this would represent the elite section of top offensive shortstop.
Next would be the ones who played the position defensively at a level that will be remembered forever. Offense got the first four in the Hall, though they obviously played good enough defense to man such a demanding position. Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, and Pee Wee Reese all will forever be remembered for what they did on the defensive side of the ball, though they did put up respectable offensive numbers. However, their career offensive numbers simply would not have cut it if they played a different position. Omar Vizquel is a possibility for the Hall of Fame for the same reason as Smith, Aparicio, and Reese. It is also the reason that longtime Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion remains under consideration. All except for Reese had a career OPS below .700.
The next group would be for players who were good offensive players enhanced by the fact that they played shortstop. The first group would have been Hall of Famers no matter where they played, and the second were rewarded for their talents on the defensive side of the ball. In most cases, their offensive numbers did not matter. Odds are, this next group may not be Hall of Famers if they played a different position. Barry Larkin (.295, 198, 960, .815) and Luke Appling (.310, 45, 1,116, .798) benefited from playing shortstop as opposed to anywhere else on the diamond. It certainly helped that they played the position well. Two others belong in this category and should be Hall of Famers. Alan Trammell (.285, 185, 1,003, .767) and Vern Stephens (.286, 247, 1,174, .815) have had their cases made by many, especially myself.
The final couple of Hall of Famers I mention make me wonder why they are in the Hall at all. Rabbit Maranville (.258, 28, 884, .658) and Joe Tinker (.262, 31, 785, .661) benefited from playing for well-known teams. Maranville was more of a compiler and Tinker played barely 15 seasons of slightly above-average shortstop. Tinker is in the Hall of Fame because he was part of a line in the famous poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” (Tinker to Evers to Chance). Others to fall in that category include fellow 2016 Pre-Integration nominee Marty Marion (13 seasons) and former Philadelphia Athletics shortstop Jack Barry (11 seasons).
In which category does Dahlen fall? Regardless of the previous voting, the last category does not belong in the Hall of Fame. I do not put Dahlen in the first two groups as he was neither a dominating offensive or defensive player. Dahlen most profiles to Appling, but he hit almost 40 points lower during his career. He had more hits than Larkin or Trammell and was one of the more durable players of his time. It hurts his case that his identity does not belong to any particular team.
When it comes down to it, I probably would not argue with Dahlen getting future induction; however, I would rather see Trammell and Stephens in first. All are more worthy than Maranville and Tinker.