Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joe Gordon

I've been a little slow to update the blog lately, but I'm back now.

Last week came news that the Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee was evaluating several potential members from the pre-war era: Allie Reynolds, Joe Gordon, Vern Stephens, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Sherry Magee, Carl Mays, Mickey Vernon, Bucky Walters and Deacon White. There's a case to be made for and against each of them, and today I want to talk about Gordon. Does he belong?

Joe Gordon

Gordon played second base for the Yankees and Indians from 1938 through 1950, with a couple of years off while in the army during World War II. In his early years, he was a very good offensive player, good for 20-30 home runs and 100 RBIs per year with above average OBPs. Think Miguel Tejada. Like Tejada, Gordon even won an MVP award, though in all honesty, Gordon was not the best player on his team that year (Charlie Keller or Joe DiMaggio), let alone the league (Ted Williams).

Even after he returned from the war, Gordon continued as an excellent player. The Yankees didn't have any use for him, trading him to Cleveland, where he starred on the 1948 World Series champion team. For that one year at least, the middle infield tandem of Lou Boudreau and Joe Gordon ranks as possibly the greatest ever.

Gordon retired at age 35, even though he was still a good hitter; with the DH today, he probably would have played until 40. The final numbers don't seem all that great: 11 seasons, 1,530 hits, 253 home runs, 975 RBIs, .268/.357/.466. His career OPS+ is 120, which means he was about 20% better than average during his career. By comparison, Joe DiMaggio's career OPS+ is 155 and Ted Williams's is an eye-popping 191. (Tejada's is only 112.)

The case for Gordon: He was a very good hitter playing a tough defensive position. His career numbers are hurt by having to miss two prime years to military service. Give him back those years, and he finishes with about 300 home runs, close to 1,200 RBIs, and about 1,900 hits. He's better than some other second basemen in the Hall, such as Red Schoendienst and Bobby Doerr.

The case against Gordon: Even with that credit, his numbers still aren't worthy of the top-tier of the Hall of Fame. He's no Rogers Hornsby or Nap Lajoie, or even Roberto Alomar. He was a very good player on a lot of great teams. Just because he's better than a couple of other players already in the Hall doesn't necessarily make him worthy on his own.

My opinion: I'm coming around on Joe Gordon. I started out skeptical, but after doing the research, I do think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. If he were still alive to enjoy the honor, I would be rooting for him to make it. The fact that he died 30 years ago, however, dampens my enthusiasm quite a bit. At this stage, I don't really understand the necessity to induct people who can't appreciate the honor, but that's the way it works, I guess.

Ultimately, yes, I would vote for him if I could.

PS. Gordon has a claim to fame that will probably never be equaled: In 1960, while managing the Indians, he was involved the only trade of major-league managers ever when the Indians traded him to the Tigers for their manager, Jimmy Dykes

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