The worst, the strangest, and the most disturbing. And Dante Bichette.
The question on Monday was "Who was the best player on a Hall of Fame ballot to not get a single vote?" The natural follow-up question? "Who was the worst player to get a Hall of Fame vote?"
But before we get there, some caveats. This isn't an exercise undertaken to mock the voters who cast these votes, or the players who received them. This isn't a look-at-these-dolts pile of smug. I was just curious. And if I had a Hall of Fame vote, I can't say for sure that I'd fill the 10th spot on my ballot with a winking nod of a pick if I couldn't find 10 realistic candidates, but I might. Robb Nen might have given his career for the Giants' championship chances. If I couldn't find 10 players to vote for in 2008 -- and by my count, there were five I would have voted for -- I might have shown my appreciation for Nen in that way, knowing he wasn't going to make it.
Heck, I might have done the same for Kirk Rueter last year, just because I like the guy. Your mileage my vary, but I'm not put off by down-ballot tomfoolery if it doesn't affect the actual results.
That written, check these fellers out!
Overall worst (by Baseball Reference WAR) -- Tommy Thevenow (-6.7)
Tommy Thevenow was a no-hit shortstop. That's okay, you might think. The Hall has a couple of those, and that's because their defense is otherworldly. But here's the thing about Thevenow: He didn't really play. He was hurt too much. From Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia:
… in 1926 (Thevenow) played in every one of his team's 156 games, hit .256 with 63 RBIs, and led National League shortstops in putouts, assists, total chances and chances per game -- he was also second in double plays...
He held out the following season. When he returned, he severely broke his ankle; the accident left him with a limp and ruined his career.
He was 22 in 1926, when he racked up those gaudy defensive stats. He hit only .256/.291/.311, but the defense was impressive enough to garner a fourth-place MVP finish. It's possible that the Hall of Fame voters -- there were actually two of them -- thought they were voting on a Hall of Fame talent, snuffed out before its time. Maybe it was a vote against cruel twists of fate.
Or maybe it was a vote for a single, isolated performance, as Thevenow hit .417 with four RBI and five runs scored in the 1926 World Series, in which the Cardinals upset the Yankees. Thevenow hit a home run in the Series; he hit two more in 4,483 regular-season plate appearances. Until the late '50s, writers were advised to vote for the maximum of 10 players, so it's certainly possible that either reason was convincing to a pair of writers.
This was in 1950. Do you know who made the Hall of Fame in 1950? No one. Do you know who was on the ballot? Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, Al Simmons, Hank Greenberg, Harry Heilmann, Goose Goslin, Zack Wheat, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Home Run Baker, Dazzy Vance, and Red Ruffing.
Other than that, though, there really wasn't anyone to vote for, so why not give Thevenow a stray vote?
Worst by a player whose biography you should still read -- Moe Berg
Berg was a backup catcher with a 49 career OPS+. In the WAR column, he was right behind Thevenow for the second worst among players with a Hall of Fame vote (-5.3). But he gets his own category because everyone should know this book exists.
He was clearly one of baseball's biggest and most interesting characters. From the Biographical Encyclopedia mentioned above:
Berg was a panelist on the popular radio program "Information Please" … correctly answering questions on Roman mythology, French impressionism, spatial geometry, and the infield fly rule.
Berg was also a spy, taking pictures during a goodwill tour of Japan that were used in the first American attack of the country in World War II, and working for the Office of Strategic Services during the war.
He was considered eccentric, of course. Most abnormally intelligent athletes are. And maybe that's the point. What is the Hall of Fame if it's not telling the story of baseball? And isn't the story of baseball made better with Moe Berg in it? I wouldn't have voted for him, I don't think, but I would listen to the arguments of people voting for Berg because he made the story of the game better.
Strangest vote -- Marty Bergen
Marty Bergen isn't in the Biographical Encyclopedia. I know that because I have the Moe Berg page still open, and, well, he'd be next.
Bergen was a backup catcher, too, and he was said to be excellent defensively. But here are some stats for you: 65, 87, 120, 72. Those are the number of games he played in each season between 1896 and 1899. That was his entire career.
But it wasn't his entire legacy. If you don't have the time for the Berg book, you might make time for a magazine article:
Under increasing stress, Bergen felt he was going to pieces. Near the end of the season, while catching against Philadelphia, he experienced a psychotic episode that caused him to give up so many passed balls that Selee removed him from the game. As a pitch reached the plate, the Springfield Republican reported months later, Bergen would leap out of the way, letting the ball go by, because he imagined someone was standing next to him and making a "fierce stab at him with a knife."
The story doesn't have a happy ending, and there's kind of a slow reveal in that article, so I won't spoil it. Or you can go to Wikipedia and get it in the opening paragraph.
I suppose that Bergen received votes in three different years because of the "story of baseball" clause up there. It's a philosophy that's at least worthy of debate. But considering that Bergen didn't do much of anything on the baseball field, it's still the strangest vote on record.
The "Hey, remember that one time" vote -- Bill Wambsganss
Bill Wambsganss turned an unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series. That's about all you should know about Wambsganss's major-league career. His career OPS+ was 78; his career WAR was 0.5.
But Wambsganss appeared on six ballots, getting as much as two percent of the vote one year. There was someone really, really determined to make their case that Wambsganss should have made the Hall because of his contribution to the tapestry of baseball.
If there were a "Hall of Baseball Players Whose Name Sounds Like a Marsupial," though, Wambsganss would be a first-ballot guy. Also, if you're looking for a new ringtone, this one is just waiting for you.
Worst WAR for a vote-getting player whom you probably watched -- Dante Bichette
Oh, I probably didn't need to include this category, but I'm forever fascinated with Coors Field, especially in its early years. In 1995, Bichette hit .340/.364/.620, with a league-leading 40 home runs and 128 RBI. He finished second in the MVP voting.
His WAR that season: One.
His career WAR: exactly 3.0, which is one win for every Hall of Fame vote he received. The mid-'90s were a horrible time. I went to a Dave Matthews concert in 1995. A Dave Matthews concert. You can see how that sort of time lends itself well to Dante Bichette-related hysteria.
After Bichette's career, there were a couple of different articles you could write about his Hall of Fame chances. You could go the serious route, like this:
"If you look at the MVP ballot, there is no asterisk for where you play," the Rockies' manager at the time, Don Baylor, told the Rocky Mountain News. "It's how valuable you were to your team. It's not hard to figure out what Dante meant to our team.
"Dante didn't just build up numbers. He got key hits, and he always hit late in the game."
Or you could skip the article, and just go with a headline.
Sometimes the Hall of Fame voting is worth a straight-faced article, and sometimes it's parody. And sometimes, you can't tell the difference. Considering the thousands of different writers getting a vote over the last few decades, sometimes it seems remarkable that they've done as well as they have. These anomalies are fun to look at in retrospect, but they're clearly anomalies.
Now let's get back to arguing about Jack Morris, shall we?