Orel Hershiser - Hall of Fame?

by David Fleitz

It looks like the career of Orel Leonard Hershiser IV is finally over.

At the age of 41, Hershiser has completely lost it. He won only one game and lost 5 for the Dodgers this year, and in his last appearance he tied a major league record with four hit batters in a game. The worst of it is, he hit those four men in only one and two-thirds innings! After the game - in which Hershiser allowed eight earned runs and got only five outs - the Dodgers released him.

Now, assuming that Hershiser doesn't hook on with another team (and I don't think that even the Tigers could use him right now), we ask the question: does Hershiser belong in the Hall of Fame?

I can answer that with two sentences:

1) No, I wouldn't put him in, although

2) There are pitchers in the Hall of Fame (like Rube Marquard, for example) who weren't nearly as good as Hershiser.

I know that those statements seem to conflict, so let me explain.

I've always liked Orel Hershiser. He doesn't look like an athlete, and once when he appeared on TV, singing a hymn on the Tonight Show for Johnny Carson, he didn't act like he was all full of himself. It was good to see a genuinely nice, normal-looking guy succeed in baseball. I also liked him because he pitched in college for my alma mater, Bowling Green, though he only spent a year there.

Hershiser wound up with 204 major league wins, the 1988 Cy Young Award, a record of 59 scoreless innings pitched, and appearances in three World Series. Don Drysdale won 209 games, set the record of 58 scoreless innings that Hershiser broke, won the 1962 Cy Young Award, and pitched in four World Series. Drysdale is in the Hall of Fame. Should Hershiser be in as well?

Let's compare some stats:

             Won-Lost     Above .500  Cy Young   20-win       Shutouts
                                        Awards   seasons
Hershiser    204-150          +54         1         1            25
Drysdale     209-166          +43         1         3            50

Their won-lost records are similar, though Hershiser's is slightly better. However, Drysdale, who pitched from 1956 to 1969, threw twice as many shutouts, indicating his dominance.

Drysdale won only one Cy Young Award, but his teammate Sandy Koufax usually won it when he didn't. Also, there was only one award for the entire majors until 1967, when they began awarding one for each league.

Most importantly, arm problems ended Drysdale's career when he was only 33 years old. If he had pitched until age 41 like Hershiser did, he might have had a shot at 275-300 wins. Hershiser took a lot longer to accumulate roughly similar stats. So, Hershiser doesn't really compare to Drysdale.

Hershiser's stats also look similar to those of another Hall member, Hal Newhouser, who pitched from 1939 to 1955:

             Won-Lost     Above .500  Cy Young   20-win       Shutouts
                                        Awards   seasons
Hershiser    204-150          +54         1         1            25
Newhouser    207-150          +57         0         4            33

Newhouser didn't win the Cy Young because they didn't award it until after he retired. However, he was the MVP winner in 1944 and 1945. Also, Newhouser's career ended at age 34 due to arm problems, so he really doesn't compare to Hershiser, either.

Hershiser's stats are also similar to those of Lew Burdette (203-144), Eddie Cicotte (209-149), and nineteenth-century pitcher Silver King (206-152). None of these guys are in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Famer closest to Orel is Jesse Haines, who pitched from 1918 to 1937, almost all with the Cardinals:

             Won-Lost     Above .500  Cy Young   20-win       Shutouts
                                        Awards   seasons
Hershiser    204-150          +54         1         1            25
Haines       210-158          +52         0         3            23

Haines, who pitched until he was 44 years old, is one of the weaker Hall of Famers. The Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee put in a lot of guys who played for the Cardinals and Giants in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly because Bill Terry and Frank Frisch were on the committee at the time. Haines is in because, at the time of his election, he was the all-time Cardinals leader in wins. Of course, Bob Gibson soon passed him by a wide margin, and now Haines doesn't even hold that distinction.

Nowadays it takes a lot more than 204 wins to reach the Hall of Fame. If Don Sutton waited a while with 324 wins, then it appears that the bar has been raised for pitchers to get in the Hall, and Hershiser's 204 wins won't be enough. Bert Blyleven has 287 wins and he's not there yet. It appears that Hershiser won't make it, but he was a good guy who had a fine career.

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Created: 7/6/00 Updated: 7/6/00