November 25, 2014

Vada Pinson and the Question of Character and the Hall of Fame

November 9, 2010 by · 33 Comments 

About a year ago, while looking for something else, I came across a couple newspaper articles on the death of Vada Pinson on October 21, 1995. I’d heard of Pinson, vaguely, as one of the best center fielders of the 1960s, for a long time the man with the most hits (2757) who wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, and that was about all. In the articles reporting his death I learned that Pinson was part of the first wave of great black major league players from Oakland, a man remembered by his teammates as much for his grace and quiet, neat, gentle personality as for his skills on the field, and that he was a longtime friend of Curt Flood’s.

Flood said, “I always remember Vada Pinson’s smile. It was always present. If not on his face, it was in his voice.”


I don’t have passionate feelings either way about whether Pinson should be in the HOF; it seems like not the greatest mistake in HOF history if he was put in, but there are clearly other, better players who aren’t in. Pinson strikes me as a fine example of someone who belongs in a tier of baseball figures just below the class of Hall of Famers. In any case, the question of how he lived his life, and is now remembered, is more important than the question of whether Pinson belongs in the Hall of Fame.

To that point, several people have left comments on the post I did about Pinson’s death, raving about his character and their memories of watching him play the game. Here are some examples:

“Nowadays they’d be showing his web gems on tv every nite. . . . As graceful a player as I ever saw, in CF, running the bases, and swinging a bat.”

“Vada was my hero as a young kid in the 60s. I wish that there was more video of him to show how great it was to watch him play. As a 58 year old man, now, I’ve never found another player that drew me to them like he did. As I read about comments about his character from people that knew him personally, I know that my instincts were right in following his career.”

“Vada Pinson was a gentleman. He is deserving of inclusion in Cooperstown for his many abilities as a player and for his character.”

These comments came 40 to 50 years after seeing Pinson star, primarily in Cincinnati, from people who had no obvious reason, other than their memories of the man, to come by my posting, let alone praise Pinson.

There’s the issue, which for quite a while pretty much only involved Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, but has now engulfed Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and others tainted by steroids (along with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, and I guess Steve Garvey too), of whether bad behavior should keep someone out of the Hall of Fame. But there isn’t nearly as much talk about the corresponding issue of whether people should consider character, charisma, and memorability when voting on HOF candidates. Should someone like Pinson (or, to name more recent examples, Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin, and Dale Murphy) get extra marks because of the positive impact he had on the game and its image, and the impression he made on the fans who saw him play? Or does the character issue only operate as a negative?

Arne Christensen runs Misc. Baseball, a blog assembling eclectic items about baseball’s history, and 1995 Mariners.

Comments

33 Responses to “Vada Pinson and the Question of Character and the Hall of Fame”
  1. Slinger Francisco Barrios says:

    First you have to be a good enough *player* to be in the Hall…then if your character caused you to harm baseball, you get dinged. I.e., a plus character should not add to your credentials. IMO. 8-)

  2. Glenn Reeves says:

    Vada Pinson was a great player, smooth as silk with power and speed. He would’ve made a lot of money in today’s game. The comment about him being on web gens all the time was absolutely correct.

    But I don’t think character should factor in at all to HOF selections. It’s a joke, worse yet an example of hypocrisy that Pete Rose is not in the hall.

  3. Mike Hoban says:

    Vada Pinson was a very good ball player. (I saw him play a number of times.) But you are correct in saying that he is in that class of players just below HOF credentials. He was a better player than either Jim Rice or Andre Dawson according to the CAWS Career Gauge. But Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub and Bobby Bonds had career numbers that were just better than Pinson.

    Character does seem to work only in the negative sense. Dick Allen is the most glaring example of a player with obvious HOF numbers who has been kept out by the “character” issue.

  4. Vada Pinson III says:

    Originally Posted By Mike HobanVada Pinson was a very good ball player. (I saw him play a number of times.) But you are correct in saying that he is in that class of players just below HOF credentials. He was a better player than either Jim Rice or Andre Dawson according to the CAWS Career Gauge. But Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub and Bobby Bonds had career numbers that were just better than Pinson.

    Character does seem to work only in the negative sense. Dick Allen is the most glaring example of a player with obvious HOF numbers who has been kept out by the “character” issue.

    @Mike Hoban@Mike Hoban@Mike Hoban – Then if you say he is better than Andre Dawson how did he get in.I always thought my dad would get in before Andre and Tony Perez his numbers are better.

  5. Toledo66 says:

    Pinson belongs in the hall – Dawson and Fisk are marginal to me.
    Pinson from 59-67 was a top player in NL . Frank Robinson was the man in Cincy and over shadowed Vada. He was underrated with FRobinson, Aaron , Clemenete, Mays, and even Flood.

  6. Toledo66 says:

    Check the stats 59-67 , was better than many HOFers, compare Kaline , and Brooks Robinson , he was a great third baseman , but it he wouldnt of got in so fast with -out Frank Robinson going to Baltimore in 66. Nice Trade Reds. Vada went down hill when F.Robby left Cincy for the O”s in 66.
    Pinson should of been in more All Star games too , that would of helped his status as great CFer.

  7. danny says:

    There is no bigger Pinson fan than me. As a life long Reds fan now in his sixties I can tell you that he was a terrific player. More than anything else Pinson seemed to be a victim of poor timing. He was denied Rookie of the year honors in 1959 despite banging out over 200 hits because he had remained on the roster for two days too long in 58. Under today’s rules he would have been unanimous without a doubt. Instead the award went to McCovey who appeared in only 54 games. He was out voted for the MVP in 61 by his best friend Robinson. He came up to the majors at a time when batting averages were falling due to the high mound, now changed. Despite this he hit 343 in 61′ only to lose the batting title to Clemente who hit 351 that year. Any other year in the sixties 343 would have won it. He also played in the National League in the hey day of Mays, Aaron,Clemente,Robinson, Billy Williams etc. which made it difficult for him to be in many All Star games. He left the Reds after the 68′ season just as the Reds were putting together the pieces of the big Red Machine. He went to ST. Louis in 69′ forming the best outfield in baseball at the time. Brock, Flood and Pinson. It was one year after the Cardinals had won it all. He would get hurt that year and spend the rest of his career bouncing around with non contending teams. If there was a rap of Pinson it was that he did not walk enough to take advantage of his blazing speed. Walks would also have made him a slam dunk lifetime 300 hitter. Brock and Williams are deserving players. Dawson, Ashburn are in the opinion of the voters also deserving. Pinson was every bit the equal of any of them. In my humble opinion he belongs and is the best player of that era not yet enshrined. Look at this guys first ten years in the league and compare it to the other Hall of Famers who played in the same ten year period. I am not saying that Pinson is a Willie Mays or Henry Aaron but based on the others elected who played in his era, he has been wrongfully ignored by the voters.

  8. Ralph Moses says:

    Vada Pinson was a great player who I had the pleasure of watching while I was growing up in the 1960s. He played with style, grace, and dignity, what we now refer to as a five tool ballplayer. His numbers were outstanding, especially during the first half of his career with the Reds. He is a Hall of Famer in my opinion, better than a number of players who are there already. On the subject of character, especially with what baseball has gone through in recent years, I think it does matter that the Hall of Fame should consider players who best represent the game both on and off the field. If this had been a criteria for election, Vada Pinson would have been in the Hall of Fame years ago.

  9. Bill says:

    Vada belongs in the MLB Hall without a doubt.

  10. The numbers should speak for themselves. Bill James considers Pinson the 18th best centerfielder in baseball history. Not sure of that status but clearly, looking at the period 1959 to 1967, Pinson has the numbers for HOF induction. To his detriment,Pinson played the game without fanfare and ironically, was overshadowed by two of his neighborhood friends from Oakland, California – Frank Robinson and Curt Flood

  11. mike foster says:

    I believe Vada Pinson is a Hall of Famer. Tell me a reason why not. I’m against the drug people, ( Mcgwire, Bonds, etc) but Vada, along with Pete Rose, and Gil Hodges should be there.

  12. Ralph Moses says:

    To me, Vada Pinson has always been a Hall of Famer. He was a five-tool player before the term was used. Furthermore, he played with style, grace, and dignity. As one of the first generation of African-American ballplayers in the Major Leagues, Vada had to endure conditions and treatment that are shameful and inexcusable. Yet, he endured all this and became one of the top all-around performers of his time. An example of his ability is that he is the only player in history to record three 200+ hits, 20+ home runs, and 20+ stolen bases in the same season. No one else has accomplished this feat more than once in their career.

  13. Jack Terrazas says:

    About every 3 months or so, to bring back memories of my youth, I’ll google a player like Early Wynn, Enos Slaughter, Mickey Vernon, etc., just to see when they died, what they did after their careers, etc. This month was Vada Pinson. What I remembered most about Vada was that while, between the two of them, Nellie Fox and Harvey Kuenn led the AL in hits 8 times in the 50’s, they never had the combined power of hrs, doubles,triples as Vada did, not to mention speed.
    If you took Vada’s 9 year stretch of over 150 games played per year, he was in the top 10 in games played, at bats, hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases and runs scored for all 9 years with very few exceptions.
    With today’s computer analysis, his “power/speed” rating ranked no lower than 6th in the league for 8 straight years!
    When compared to Aaron, Mays and Clemente, the stats alone say it all: for all around power, speed and year in/year out consistency, for those 9 years, Vada ranked right there with “the big 3″ as a “5-tool” player.
    Regarding HOF credentials, my suggestion would be to compare his overall stats vs. other HOF’ers. Vada ranks 15th in all time putouts in CF, 36th in Power/Speed, etc.
    I’m sure he’d come out ahead of 15-25% of existing HOF’ers.
    Thanks for being a great website and thanks to all you fans out there who still care about the value of statistics before the steroid era.
    Jack

  14. Paul Elliott says:

    Vada pins on deserves to be in the HOF as much as anyone in the Hall!
    Get over your prejudice.

  15. Mike Lynch says:

    To what prejudice are you referring? It sounds like you’re trying to drum up controversy where there is none.

  16. Bill pennington says:

    Well what if everyone that left a post is told that they are average as a person……. smart, looks etc. average! I am white. I cannot imagine the shit he had to endure, and still hit and field as he did What does that have to do with it. He couldn’t even sleep in the same hotels in the beginning….. Don’t you think that would hurt your stats being called a nigger down south. Ok don’t put him in. Can we take people like Pee Wee Reece out

  17. Mike Lynch says:

    There was obvious prejudice toward black players, but the author of this article isn’t a racist. I’m defending him and not the assholes who made Pinson’s life a living hell.

  18. Karl Jay says:

    I was fortunate to see all the greats of the National League at Forbes Field during the late 50s and most of the 60s, and Vada Pinson deserved to be mentioned in the same breath with Roberto Clemente as an athlete that made all facets of the game look easy. And there was nothing like watching Pinson, or for that matter, Willie Davis produce a triple…it was like they hit the ball in a gap and then materialized on third. And Pinson, like Clemente, even made falling down look graceful…and for both that was a rare event.

    And what an era…Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Willie Stargell..and the drug scandals were unknown.

  19. Sammie J says:

    As many other have stated, if you saw him play you would never forget it. Style, grace, speed, power, offense, defense. Had he been a Yankee, he would already be in the HOF. I hope to see the day where he is inducted. I’d be willing to bet that Robbie will be there if it happens.

  20. Michael says:

    In my opinion Vada Pinson should be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think enough credit is given to the very rare ability to be a 5-tool player and have a very long career. Vada Pinson had both.

  21. TDawg says:

    Compare Pinson’s numbers with Craig Biggio’s. Almost the same.
    Biggio was 2013’s top voter-getter. Pinson never got over 15% of the vote.
    I’m NOT saying Biggio doesn’t belong in the HOF… I’m saying Pinson does.
    Unfortunately, politics and the good-old-boy network exists in the ‘Veteran’s Committee.’

  22. david kennedy says:

    I am now 66 years old and had the priveledge of enjoying baseball at it’s finest in the 1950/60 era. Today I still have in my home what I call “My Shrine to Vada Pinson” He was my favorite player of all time and I had quite a crew to pick a hero from back then. The most exciting player I have ever seen..SOoooooo Fast!..He would have led the league in doubles every year except …he simply turned them into Triples. Cool Guy in a Great Era.

  23. rich reynolds says:

    @Glenn Reeves

    Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame because been banned from the game for gambling. Although he usually bet on his team to win and cover the spread there is evidence two ways that he bet on his team to lose ot not cover the spread on three occassions. Pete Rose cost himself the Hall of Fame. It crime would be if he were let in. rich reynolds

  24. Greg Couch says:

    When I was a kid growing up in Cincinnati…my best friend was Frank Robinson and I pretended to be Vada Pinson. It’s been so long ago to remember why I attached myself to this soft spoken professional…but he was certainly my hero.

  25. Mike Corsi says:

    Just read where Gene Freese died. Caused me to google his name & from there one link lead to another & then another & here I am. I was a 14 year old kid in the summer of 61 when the Reds made there run for the NL pennant & what I remember about Vada Pinson is exactly as has been described in previous posts. One of my all time favorite players. Ranks with the best of that era & for my money belongs in the Hall. No doubt about it.

  26. Keith Lambert says:

    My first Major League baseball games was at Crosley Field in Cincinnati 1959. Vada was my favorite player for the Reds. He could glide around the bases like a gazelle, he was knocking the stitches off the ball that year it seems. Sure Frank Robinson was the star but there was something intangible about Vada that always caught my young eye. The Reds played the Dodgers that night,big Frank Howard hit a towering drive over toward the first base dugout where my dad and I sat. To my surprise my father bare-handed the ball. Afterwards I got to go into the locker room and meet my idol! Vada was very nice, shook my hand and signed my ball. I will never forget. Years later in 1989, a retired Vada was going to High Schools across the US speaking to kids about education and good morals and my son was in the audience. Afterwards, he also met Vada and told him the family story. He signed an autograph for my son just like he had done for me 30 years ago. Shortly afterwards I was very sad to hear of his untimely death.

  27. FRED says:

    It was said that Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson did not get along!! That is not true they were close friends, the main person pushing for Vada to enter the Hall of Fame was Frank Robinson Vada had a great career and was very underated I saw him catch balls that only Willie Mays caught he will be remembered but I feel he will never be enshrined in the HOF because too much time has passed and those who could make it happen are passed also!!

  28. gary vaughan says:

    @Vada Pinson III – I got to see your dad play when i was 10 years old in 1960. To me he was the greatest center feilder there was.I was lucky to have him sign a ball for me.I don’t know who had the biggest smile him or me,i wish i still had that ball.Your father played in era where black players where looked down on , he helped to bring the black players though the years of hate. I belive your dad had the stats to get in the hof,plus as a young boys hero he will always be in my hall of fame.

  29. jon dellheim says:

    Vada Pinson was one of the great players of his era and by all the above accounts obviously a great ballplayer and person. For some reason, in baseball and in life, sometimes some people just get overlooked. Usually they’re the ones who have the decency and humanity to not only think of themselves. This man belongs in the Hall of Fame and anywhere else we honor great Americans, and compared to that piece of crap Pete Rose – its no comparison. Pete deserves honor for playing as hard and doing as much with what natural abilities he had as anyone ever, but what a bum compared to Vada Pinson.

  30. Vada Pinson III says:

    I love some of the comments about my dad he would love them thank you for remembering his baseball legacy.

  31. Vada Pinson III says:

    Thanks Danny my dad would have loved your comments.

  32. Keith Hall says:

    @Vada Pinson III – I met your dad once at a baseball card show in Cincinnati and spoke with him for quite a while. He kept telling my wife and I that we didn’t appear old enough to remember his playing days. I told him enough of my memories of following the Reds at Crosley Field as a youngster and how he and Frank Robinson were my boyhood heroes to convince him I had indeed been a young fan in those days of the 1960s. Your dad signed a number of baseball cards for me as we talked (I was a dealer at the show, not a customer)and he was one of the most personable former players I ever spoke to. I remember he even asked if I wanted one of the cards to be signed “Vada E. Pinson Jr.” (1959 Topps)as it was printed in facsimile on the card. I said yes and he did so. I still have all those cards he signed and the memories of that day will remain with me always. I’ve sold off much of my collection but those cards will never leave as long as I’m around. I wanted you to know what a class act I found your dad to be. I hope he is someday elected to the Hall Of Fame.

  33. Jim says:

    Vada, belongs in The Hall of Fame and they should have drawn the line. I loved Vada.

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