Baseball Hall Of Fame Book Is McConnell’s Labor Of LovePublished: January 17, 2012
A lot has changed in 49er baseball since John McConnell began coaching Long Beach State’s first team in 1954, a year after he joined the physical education faculty.
McConnell retired in 1986 as associate dean of academic affairs in the then-School of Applied Arts and Sciences and professor emeritus of physical education. He remains involved with the university and was inducted into the CSULB Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.
Now he’s turned his affection for the sport into a book, Cooperstown by the Numbers: An Analysis of Baseball Hall of Fame Elections, and donates proceeds from its sale to the John McConnell Scholarship for student-athletes.
The book’s roots began on campus. “Initially, when we began to get computers at Cal State Long Beach, I was just trying to acquaint myself, and with baseball being my first love, I thought I’d do something related to baseball,” he recalled. “Then I got acquainted with Dave Bradley, who was in Academic Computing. He passed away tragically at far too young an age. He was a real baseball fanatic and we were working on what would have been a much larger book than this. He provided the brains and I provided the data.”
After Bradley died in 2007, ”I had all this data accumulated and decided, why not try to do something with it,” McConnell said. “I gave a draft to McFarland Publishing, which is in Jefferson, N.C. It’s a small town, but they publish scads of books. To my amazement, they accepted it.” The firm describes itself as covering topics of popular appeal in a serious and scholarly fashion, including sports.
Aimed at diehard fans who love baseball stats, “The book deals with an analysis of Baseball Hall of Fame elections in the first part,” McConnell explained. “In the second part, it deals with various factors that could enable people to get into the Hall of Fame—the Rookie of the Year Award, the Cy Young Award, the Sporting News all-star teams and so forth—and I relate all that to Hall of Fame admission. The third part is an analysis of Hall of Fame players by position, by year and so on.”
As an avid statistician who keeps score at the games he attends, McConnell used his own data as well as sought out a host of respected online and print sources for his information. “It wasn’t like I was coming up with anything unique or different, it was information that was there and I categorized it, you could say,” he remarked.
Hall of Famers primarily are elected by sports journalists in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. To be eligible for consideration, a player must play for at least 10 seasons and then cease playing for at least five years, among other criteria. McConnell said that when he tallied the statistics, he dealt in percentages because the number of voters has varied over the years.
“One thing I found is that in voting by the baseball writers, if a player achieves 10 percent of the vote, he usually ends up getting elected. Their stock seems to go up over the years,” McConnell noted. “They have 15 years of eligibility, so they can be voted upon 15 times. Then they’re removed from the ballot and go into the Veterans Committee ballot. That has changed so much over the years. But eventually, it takes 75 percent of the vote to get in, either by the baseball writers or the secondary voters of the Veterans Committee.”
Then there are controversies over players who are considered overlooked in voting. “Two people who should have been elected were Gil Hodges and Ron Santo. They’d just missed time and time again. Just recently, Santo was elected by the Veteran’s Committee almost one year to the day of his death. Hodges is still hanging on; he had come so close.”
The first edition came out in 2010 with statistics through 2009, so he’s finishing an updated edition that he hopes to see published sometime this year and will continue to support his scholarship.
McConnell came to Long Beach State after serving as a high school and junior college coach and teacher in Iowa and earning his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He’s proud of how Long Beach State baseball has evolved into a nationally recognized program and remains in touch with many of his players during his head coaching tenure from 1954-59.
“When I think of how we started, the first year we had 14 players on the roster. Now, I think they carry about 30. But you have to start somewhere—talk about humble beginnings.”