History Unblurred: The Tip O'Neill HOF Argument and the Triple Crown

Michael WCorrespondent IIJune 5, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 23:   A 1927 baseball autographed by Babe Ruth is seen at a Sotheby's preview of a baseball memorabilia sale titled 'The Babe Comes Home' November 23, 2004 in New York City. The sale will feature important historical baseball relics with items including the bat which Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

During the last couple of months, I have read some articles on the Bleacher Report regarding the Triple Crown. Most of the articles were very good and well-researched. It got me thinking about Tip O'Neill. I wrote an article about six or seven months ago on the old chap and I wanted to revisit his history and accomplishments.

I always thought there was a good argument for him being in the HOF.

I will list all of the reasonS that he should be in the HOF first.

Then I will list the reasons that he is not in the HOF last.

Apparently, the reasons that he is not in the HOF winS the war against the reasons that he should be in the HOF, and it just shouldn't be working out that way. But it is. See what you think.

The reasons he SHOULD be in the Hall of Fame

REASON No. 1: He was the first player in the history of MLB to ever hit for the Triple Crown

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There have only been 11 different players in the history of MLB to hit for the Triple Crown since O'Neill did it. And of course, he's the only one of the 12 to do it that is not in the HOF.

You probably know the other 11, but just to refresh your memory, here they are: (listed from oldest to newest): Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby (twice), Jimmie Foxx, Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig, Joe Medwick, Ted Williams (twice), Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, and Carl Yastrzemski.

The Triple Crown is supposed to be a shoo-in for the HOF and it is, except for O'Neill. The list of the other 11 players to do it, it's not just a list of HOF players, it's a list of "top-tier" HOF players; except for Joe Medwick, he belongs in the HOF and he was a great player, but I wouldn't consider him a top-tier player.

The year that O'Neill hit for the Triple Crown, he not only led the league in BA, HR, and RBI to capture the crown. He actually led the league in 10 of the 12 major statistical categories that year. What do you call that, the octagonagle crown? Hell, that's not even enough sides, is it?

That 1887 season, he led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, R, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, and hits.

The only two major categories that he didn't lead the league in were SB and FA, and he had 30 SB that season, which was great, but not enough to lead the league. And he didn't lead the league in FA, but he is historically an "A" to "B" grade defensive left fielder.

In fact, Bill James calls him an "A-plus" defensively in his Win Shares book. I don't think he was quite that high, but you get the point; he was a great defensive left fielder.

Here's his 1887 Triple Crown season: .435 BA, .490 OBP, .691 SLG, 205 OPS, 30 SB, 167 R, 52 2B, 19 3B, 14 HR and 123 RBI.

My point, he could be in the HOF just for capturing the Triple Crown, but he didn't just lead the league in those three categories, he led the league in 10 of the 12 categories.

REASON No. 2: He is the only player in the history of MLB to lead the league in 2B, 3B and HR during the same season

Most historians believe that it will never be achieved again because it takes such a brilliant mix of pure hitting, power-hitting, speed, great base running, etc...

When you pile this reason onto the the fact that he hit for the Triple Crown, it makes the argument that much stronger.

REASON No. 3: He had a career 140 OPS+ (and other statistical evidence)

To put it into perspective, Carl Yastrzmeski had about a career 130 OPS+ and he's considered, by many, as a top-tier HOF player. Yaz was a left fielder also. A 140 OPS is certainly a HOF number. The fact is, O'Neill had over a 100 OPS in each of his last nine seasons (every season during his career, except for his rookie season).

As most of you know, Bill James is arguably the most respected MLB historical rater in the world. He is the Godfather of Sabermetrics, and he simply revolutionized the way players are rated with his Win Shares system, which he uses in his Win Shares book and his Baseball Historical Abstract book.

Here's the fact that Bill James comes to with Tip O'Neill. In Win Shares per 162 games, O'Neill ranks fourth all-time in the history of MLB for left fielders, behind only Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

That should tell us all something. That means that he averaged more Win Shares per season than almost every HOF left fielder in the history of MLB. And again, the Win Shares system that Bill James created is almost taken as gospel by many.

It is an obvious—and, apparently, an incredible—fact about O'Neill that Bill James presents in his books.

Another statistical fact: O'Neill and his .435 BA in 1887 still ranks as the second best single season BA in the history of MLB.

He ended his career with a .326 BA and he had over a .300 BA in seven consecutive seasons.

His 167 R during the 1887 season still ranks fourth on the all-time single season list. He scored over 100 R five times during his career.

He was a great base runner. He had at least 10 3B five times during his career and he had at least 25 SB in five consecutive seasons (they didn't keep SB during the first half of his career).

Here's another reason to pile onto the statistical evidence. He was the best player on arguably the best team in history.

It's arguable, but most historians will call the 1887 St. Louis team one of the 10 best teams in the history of MLB. Some of his teammates: Charlie Comiskey at first base (and manager), Yank Robinson at second base, Arlie Latham at third base, Bob Caruthers at starting pitcher, Dave Foutz at starting pitcher (and first base), Silver King at starting pitcher, just to name a few.

Side Note: the Tip O'Neill that was the Speaker of the House during the Reagan years was named after this Tip O'Neill. Has nothing to do with anything, just a neat tidbit.

Now, the reasons that he is NOT in the Hall of Fame (as you can see from the above references, it's damn sure not because he wasn't good enough). So here are the "real" reasons that he's not in the Hall of Fame, if you'll allow me to unblur history:

REASON No. 1: He had a fairly short career

Tip played in just over 1,050 games and 10 seasons. Historians and Hall of Fame voters hate fairly short careers. Well, the old Tipster had one of those.

So even though he's the fourth highest caliber left fielder in history, according to Bill James Win Shares per 162 games, and even though he is the first player in the history of MLB to hit for the Triple Crown—and the only one to do it and not be in the Hall of Fame—and even though he is the ONLY player in the history of MLB to lead the league in 2B, 3B, and HR during the same season...

Well, sorry about your luck old chap, we like long careers.

His fairly short career is a huge reason that he is not in the HOF, trust me.

REASON No. 2: He played most of his career in the American Association instead of the National League during the 1880s

Historians consider the American Association during the 1880s as an inferior League to the National League at that time. And Tip played more in the American Association than the National League during his career. Some people think that some historians didn't even consider the American Association of the 1880s a major league. That's simply NOT true.

Every (and I mean every) respected historian considers it a major league. So, if you have a book that says otherwise, throw it away, trust me. Having said that, most respected historians consider it inferior.

Here's how much historians hate the American Association from the 1880s: The fact that there is not one single player from the 1880s American Association  in the Hall of Fame, except for Charlie Comiskey (who was Tip O'Neill's teammate—and probably the sixth or seventh best player on the team.)

But Comiskey is in as a pioneer of the game, not as a player.

Most are OK with that because he could have been inducted just as a manager.

So that should tell you something—not one player is in the HOF from the league's time period.

Also, there is not one left fielder from the 1880s that is in the Hall of Fame, American or National League. It's one of the only decades in the 140 year history of MLB that is not represented at left field, while some decades have five left fielders in the HOF.

And there's no question that Tip O'Neill was the best left fielder from the 1880s, American or National League. His only competition is Harry Stovey, but Stovey was really a first basemen.

So MLB, it's time to put a left fielder from the 1880s in the HOF; and if you do that, there's ONLY one real choice—Tip O'Neill.

Some also argue that HOF doesn't care about the old players; that's simply not true. In fact, there are plenty of players from the 1880s and the 1890s that are in the HOF that played other positions, just none from the 1880s at left field and none from the American Association during the 1880s at any position.

So, in a nutshell, the league that he played in, coupled with the fact that he only played in just over 1,050 games, overshadow the fact that he was the first player to ever hit for the Triple Crown; the fact that he's the only player to ever lead the league in 2B, 3B ,and HR during the same season; the fact that he's fourth all-time in Win Shares per season for a left fielder; the fact that his career 140 OPS+ is better than other top-tier HOF left fielders like Yaz; the fact that his 1887 .435 BA still remains second all-time, etc...

All wiped out because of a fairly short career and the league he played in.

It's almost tragic (baseball historically speaking) how he and many of the great players of the past have fallen into oblivion. Some of the greatest ball players ever, forgotten.

Here's to you, Tip, may you never be forgotten. Or should I say, may you start being remembered.

Any thoughts on Tip O'Neill?

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