I’ve been reluctant to embrace sabermetrics, albeit for different reasons than many others. Still, I do think they did something right with the Keltner list. Basically, it’s a supposed metric to be considered a Hall of Famer.
Today’s potential candidate: Ken Boyer
Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
For several seasons, it looked like he was. He won an MVP award in 1964, leading the Cardinals to the World Series that year. As good as Bob Gibson eventually became, he wasn’t in his prime yet. Maybe there were other players better than Boyer that year, but the 1960s were rough for hitters.
Was he the best player on his team?
For a couple of year, yes. Granted, these weren’t great Cardinal teams, so I don’t know if this helps or hurts Boyer.
Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Ron Santo was probably better at third base, but Boyer did it earlier and in an era where batting averages were down. Third basemen weren’t considered all-around players, but aside from Santo, it’s hard to find anybody else who was better. And there are years where Boyer was better than Santo. The only other one better during his era was Eddie Mathews, who is already in.
Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
His two big ones were in 1964 with the Cardinals and 1967 with the White Sox. In the former, he was one of the key figures in driving the Cardinals to the pennant. They made a belated charge in 1963, but that’s largely overshadowed by the retirement of Stan Musial. In 1967, the White Sox fell short, but it was a terrific pennant race that year- four teams were tied going into the final week. This is also tempered by the fact that he was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Mets, and he was 36 at the time. Under the circumstances, he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t terrible. If the White Sox had him for the whole year, I think they would have had a good chance. And he also had a grand slam in the ’64 Series in Game 4, helping turn the Series in the Cardinals favor.
Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
This is the toughest question to answer, because he didn’t get started until he was 24 years old. The definition of “in his prime” is the big question here. He probably played better in his late twenties and early thirties, but after the 1964 season, he got old, and fast. You could answer no to this question, but I would argue that he had a late start to his “prime” anyway.
Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Probably not. Still, there are worse guys in the Hall of Fame. I think a lot of this depends on position. For a third baseman, he had several good to great seasons, maybe finished too early, but for his position, I think he deserves some merit.
Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Again, so much of this is dependent on the fact that he was a third baseman. Mike Schmidt and George Brett played longer, and Pie Traynor hit higher than he did. Ron Santo is his closest comparison. Santo had more hits (2254 to 2143, so not a big spread), but Boyer hit ten points higher than Santo did (.287 to .277). Additionally, Santo never won an MVP Award, and Boyer did. Both played fifteen seasons, both won five Gold Gloves. Santo was probably healthier, and perhaps a little bit better, but Boyer played on losing teams early in his career, and probably hit better than Santo did in the same decade.
Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Although he only had two seasons of 100 RBI, he also had six 90+ RBI seasons, and hit .280 or better eight times, and at least .300 five times. He also won five Gold Gloves, at arguably the most important defensive position. He only hit 282 home runs, but third basemen weren’t really home run hitters until Mike Schmidt came along (and Boyer hit 20 points higher than Schmidt). Up until 1966, he was good for at least 135 games a year, so he had great longevity for twelve out of fifteen years.
Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Depends on what statistic we’re looking at. He didn’t strike out a lot, hit for a higher-than-normal average for his era, but he was never the league leader in anything except for his RBI crown in 1964, when he drove in 119, which is low for a league leader. I still don’t think that should be held against him. He also slugged .462, third highest for a third baseman at the time of his retirement, and was also the second player at third baseman to hit 250 home runs (he finished with 282).
Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
I believe so. After Santo got in in 2012, I can’t necessarily think of anybody better as a third baseman than Boyer who is in.
How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
He won the National League MVP in 1964, and was in the top ten three other times, but the best he did was sixth in those years. Santo never won an MVP, and neither did Pie Traynor, probably the best third baseman before Schmidt and Brett.
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
If you consider the fact that there were two All-Star games from 1959-1962, he is credited with at least seven. Santo had nine. Seven All-Star Games isn’t a lot, but it’s still significant. Other players are in with less.
If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Yes. He drove the Cardinals to the pennant in 1964, and helped their belated run the previous year. If he had played in Chicago for the full 1967 season, he probably could have helped them get closer. Most other years, he played on terrible teams or was too old to make a difference.
What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
He is one of many credited with helping the Cardinals become more cohesive during the desegregation of their spring training facilities, but he is not the only one, nor was he probably the first. Still, I don’t think this should be held against him. Other than that, there’s really nothing major about his career in this category.
Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
I haven’t heard any character issues. He may have been a Southerner in the 1960s, but history suggests that he was for integration, and helped drive the desegregation of the Cardinals’ spring training facilities.
Aside from Santo and Mathews, with whom his career sandwiched, I doubt there was a better National League third baseman during his era. He hit for a higher average than both of them, and won an MVP award, which neither of them did during the era. His last three years led to a swift decline, and his fifteen years may not have been the most, but considering how late he broke in, I don’t hold that against him. Relative to his position at third base, he’s probably in the top fifteen, and he should be considered for the Hall of Fame.