Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hall of Fame Worthy? Pt. 18: Vern Stephens

The Hall of Fame has inducted many players who were borderline choices, and many players who deserve induction have been on the outside looking in. I want to look at some players to determine if they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
Vern Stephens is a player that I believe merits some more Hall of Fame consideration.  Stephens was a rare power-hitting shortstop in the 1940's and 1950's.  At that time period most shortstops were defensive specialists and those that were good hitters were contact hitters (such as the Red Sox Johnny Pesky).  Stephens lead the league in home runs once and RBIs twice, something that was pretty rare for a shortstop at the time.

Stephens put together a career line of .286/.355/.460 with 247 home runs, 1,859 hits, and 1,174 RBIs.  His batting average was higher than such shortstop Hall of Famers as Ernie Banks, Pee Wee Reese, Cal Ripken, Jr., Phil Rizzuto, and Robin Yount.  He had a higher OBP than Banks, Ripken, Rizzuto, and Yount as well.  His slugging was better than the career marks of all shortstops in the Hall of Fame other than Banks, Joe Cronin, and Honus Wagner.  He had more hits than Lou Boudreau, Travis Jackson, Hughie Jennings, Rizzuto, and Joe Tinker.  He had more home runs than every shortstop in the Hall of Fame except Banks (who played a lot of first base), Yount (who played a lot of center field), and Ripken.  And he had more RBIs than all but Banks, Cronin, George Davis, Ripken, Wagner, and Yount.  It is very clear that Stephens's offensive numbers put him high among shortstops already in the Hall of Fame.

So, what happened?  Why is Vern Stephens not in the Hall of Fame?  After some extensive Google searching, the best reason I can come up with is that voters felt that he was a product of Fenway Park.  While it is certainly true that his best seasons occurred in Boston, he was a star shortstop for years in St. Louis with the Browns before he came to Boston.  Of course that stretch in Boston was huge.  In three seasons from 1948 to 1950, Stephens hit .285/.367/.507 with 98 home runs and 440 RBIs.  He was never quite that good before or since.  Those numbers certainly inflated his numbers, but he had been a good player before that.  He had been an All Star three times before those seasons and finished in the Top 10 in the MVP vote for the league four times as well.  

Stephens is possibly hurt a little bit as well by his success during the WWII seasons.  He was a strong player from 1942 through 1945 when a number of star players were serving in the War.  Finally, the strong crop of offensive shortstops in the 1990's hurts his chances. 

Stephens was basically washed up by the time he was 32, but he was a very productive shortstop for several years.  I think he deserves some more consideration.

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