Thursday morning the BBWAA official Twitter feed announced which Hall of Fame candidates the Veterans Committee will consider. The complete list: Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Ron Santo, and Luis Tiant.
Of the men on the list, two stand out to me: Ken Boyer and Jim Kaat. Kaat played for the Cardinals, but it was the last 3 years of his career. He was a member of the 1982 World Champs, but played the majority of his career in Minnesota.
Ken Boyer, on the other hand, played the majority of his career in St Louis, and was one of the key members of the 1964 World Champs. He happens to be the only Cardinal with a retired number who is not in the Hall of Fame. Boyer should be in the Hall, not solely to clear that historical footnote, but because he was really good.
How good was Ken Boyer? He finished in the MVP top 20 every year from 1958 through 1964. Four of those years (1959-1961, 1964) he finished in the top ten, and won the MVP in 1964. Boyer’s 119 OPS+ from 1955 to 1965 is seventh best among me with at least 5500 at bats during those years, and the men ahead of him on that list are all in the Hall of Fame. A third baseman, he won five Gold Gloves while with the Cardinals.
That 1964 season was definitely his best. His MVP award was the first one one by a NL third baseman in almost 50 years. After leading the Cardinals to an improbable NL pennant, he won Game 4 of the Series with a Grand Slam, and contributed 3 hits to the Cardinals Game 7 triumph, the last Fall Classic ever played at Sportsman’s Park.
Like Ted Simmons, another Cardinal who didn’t get much HOF consideration five years after he retired, Boyer’s HOF case may have been hurt by hanging around too long. He won that MVP at age 33 with a 130 OPS+. In the years that followed, plagued by back problems, he never again cracked 110. Boyer played one more season with St Louis, then bounced around the majors for several seasons, playing for the Mets, White Sox, and Dodgers.
He retired following the 1969 season. At the time of his retirement, only Eddie Mathews had hit more HR as a third baseman.
The problem guys like Boyer face is the dwindling number of people who were alive to see him play. Those of us at this end of the timeline are reliant on what we read, what we see World Series highlight DVDs, and whatever we can cull from his statistical record. Boyer has never had a lot of support amongst the BBWAA vote – he peaked with 25.5% of the vote in 1986 – but the peers he played with clearly perceived him to be one of the elite players in baseball.
There are several men on this year’s list who have good cases for election. Ken Boyer is one of those men.