Somewhere, sometime, somehow I recently stumbled across a Facebook page promoting Vada Pinson for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For me, Pinson always epitomized the classic case of a ballplayer who belonged in the Hall of Very Good and not the Hall of Fame.
I took a closer look at the one-time Reds outfielder, a speedy defensive whiz with a bit of pop. He played from 1958 to 1975.
One of the first things on my Pinson to-do agenda was compiling a list of players with more than 2,750 hits, 250 homers and 300 stolen bases.
It’s a small and exclusive club with only eight members. Here’s that list:
Name Hits Homers Steals
Derek Jeter 3,310 256 348
Willie Mays 3,283 660 338
Craig Biggio 3,060 291 414
Rickey Henderson 3,055 297 1,406
Alex Rodriguez 2,937 653 322
Barry Bonds 2,935 762 514
Andre Dawson 2,774 438 314
Vada Pinson 2,757 256 305
Mays, Henderson and Dawson are in the Hall of Fame. Jeter and Biggio are almost certain Hall of Famers when they become eligible. Rodriquez and Bonds may never get in because of all the PED accusations swirling around them.
But what about Pinson? He never got close in the 15 years he was on the writers’ ballot. In 1981, his first year of eligibility, he received 4.5 percent of the vote, well short of the 75 percent needed. His best year on the ballot was 1988, when he received 15.7 percent. His worst year was 1982, when he picked up only 1.4 percent of the vote.
Why didn’t the voters go for Pinson? He was a nice guy as well as a very good player.
In “The New Bill James Baseball Abstract,” the author carried this quote from a 1962 Sport Magazine profile by Dick Schaap: “Outwardly, he seems totally relaxed, totally carefree, as pleasant, cheerful an athlete as you could ever hope to meet. His is friendly toward teammates and friendly toward newspapermen.”
Yet, Pinson once punched Cincinnati sports writer Earl Lawson. Lawson, though, voted for Pinson for the Hall of Fame, according to miscbaseball.wordpress.com.
In his book, James rated Pinson No. 18 on his list of the all-time centerfielders.
In his first full season, 1959, Pinson led the National League with 131 runs scored. He scored more than 100 runs in each of the next three seasons.
He was durable, playing between 154 and 162 games every year from 1959 through 1967. He twice led the league in doubles and twice in triples.
He had seven seasons of 20 or more homers. He was a four-time all-star and was a .286 career hitter.
He was widely-respected throughout his career for more than hitting, fielding and running. Teammates, according to the miscbaseball.wordpress.com piece, praised the way he took pride in his appearance, shining his shoes to a high gloss.
That piece drew dozens of comments from fans such as Mitch Canin, who wrote, “Vada was a man of grace both on and off the field.”
How fast was a young Pinson? He was clocked at 3.3 going to first base, according to a sabr.org profile.
In 1961, when the Reds won the pennant, he hit .343 with 16 homers, 37 doubles 12 triples, 23 stolen bases and scored 101 runs. He was second in the league in batting to Roberto Clemente, who hit .351. Pinson won his only Gold Glove that year.
Pinson was Cincinnati’s second-best player, behind only Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
In 1963, when a brash rookie named Pete Rose showed up for spring training in Tampa, most of the veterans shunned the kid. Pinson and Robinson took a liking to Rose and asked him out for meals and were his mentors.
Pinson played with the Reds through 1968 and then from 1969 through 1975 played with the Cardinals, Indians, Angels and Royals.
He died in 1995 in his hometown of Oakland. He was 57.
If I had a Hall of Fame vote would I vote for Pinson?
I’ve considered it. He was a very good player and a classy gentleman. He was one of the best players of his generation. Alas, I don’t think I would vote for Vada Pinson, a very good player who probably needed just a few more outstanding seasons to have a plaque in Cooperstown.
A 2019 post-script: I’ve re-considered my 2013 re-consideration and now think Pinson DOES belong in the Hall of Fame. I was wrong in 2013.