It’s out. Who should get in?
A much ballyhooed young pitcher, brought up very young by the Cardinals, and he swiftly caught Steve Blass Disease, finding himself unable to throw a strike.
When it became apparent he wasn’t going to be able to pitch again, he decided to try to make it back to the majors as an outfielder, and to my admitted amazement, he did it, and had a pretty decent year in 2008, hitting 25 homers.
As inspirational as that is, I don’t understand why he’s on the ballot. He wasn’t a regular player long enough to really merit it. Ryan Dempster, who had a full career and was twice the player, isn’t on the ballot.
Bay is Canadian, from British Columbia. He is, I am pretty sure, one of the ten best Canadians of all time; fairly clearly behind Fergie Jenkins, Larry Walker, Joey Votto, Jeff Heath, and Russell Martin and in and amongst a bunch of guys like Justin Morneau, John Hiller, Terry Puhl, and Matt Stairs. I suppose that ranking tells you he’s not a Hall of Famer, but he had a few good years.
Most of the best Canadian players of all time have played in the last thirty years; Fergie Jenkins, the only Canadian Hall of Famer so far, is an exception, but other than that probably three quarters of them are recent.
I’m not sure why that is, but my guess would be that it’s relatively recently that Little League and the semi-professionalism of youth baseball coaching came to Canada. When I started playing youth baseball in Kingston, Ontario is about 1980, we weren’t even affiliated with Little League. The appointed coach was basically whatever parent felt like doing it that year; there were no qualifications required, no programs to help the coach figure out what he was doing. In retrospect – and I mean no disrespect, it’s just fact – the coaching was enthusiastically bad, consisting largely on telling us to play catch and saying “keep your eye on the ball.” Some coaches told us to catch fly balls with two hands, which has not been the preferred method of doing that since before I was born. Team equipment consisted of four old bats and catcher’s gear. The fields were vacant lots.
That started to change around 1985 or so; it was then, as memory serves, that Little League finally spread to our part of Canada. Today, I have two ball diamonds more or less across the street from my house, used by kids. Their equipment alone looks like a Division 1A college squad. Coaches are licensed and trained. There’s no way that doesn’t result in better ballplayers.
Berkman was, really, one hell of a hitter, but he’s just not quite there. He played 1879 games, and if he’d lasted for more like 2400 games he’d be a Hall of Famer. But he didn’t, and he didn’t have the kind of peak to mitigate a shorter career. He sort of of falls into a pile of guys like Shawn Green or Fred Lynn, guys who were stars and had 66% of a Hall of Fame career, but it’s the last third that’s the hardest to get.
Seventh year on the ballot; he only gets three more, and if he doesn’t make it he’s temporarily ineligible until the Hall of Fame creates a new “committee” to revisit players of this era and puts him in. Obviously, it’s an ongoing joke that he isn’t. I can understand is steroid use is your coin flip on guys like Rafael Palmiero, but there’s no coin flip here.
The Barry Bonds of pitchers, obviously.
Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards. In those seven years, Clemens amassed (Baseball Reference figures) 57.3 WAR. In all his other seasons combined, he had about 81 WAR. Either of those by itself would be a deserving Hall of Famer. There are a dozen pitchers, at least, in the Hall of Fame who don’t have 57 WAR.
The only player in major league history named either “Octavio” or “Dotel.” He didn’t make the ballot but I wanted to mention that.
Freddy won 17 games in his rookie season and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting; two years later, just 24 years old, he won the ERA title and 18 games. He then pitched until he was 36 and never again had a season as good as either of those.
Garland was (well, presumably still is) a huge man, 6’6”, but he was one of the softest tossers in the major leagues who wasn’t a knuckleballer; I’m pretty sure he could never throw 90. He only struck out 4.8 men per nine innings, an extremely low number, and it’s kind of amazing he lasted as long as he did. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but my hat’s off to anyone who can win 136 games pretty much entirely through guile and trickery.
Hafner was a pretty scary hitter for about four years, but he was made of glass.
There are four kinds of injury-prone players:
- Fat guys, like Prince Fielder
- Guys with a particular physical ailment they can’t beat (most pitchers are like this)
- Guys who are just clumsy
- Guys who just seem snakebit, like Paul Molitor in the first half of his career
Hafner was type 3. He could hit, but had the grace and smooth elegance of a building collapse, and found a way to hurt more or less every part of himself.
A no brainer. Halladay’s turnaround in 2001 is without any other modern equivalent, that I can tell. In 2000 he was the worst pitcher in the major leagues, and for the number of innings he pitched maybe the worst ever. Toronto sent him to single A ball, he changed his delivery, and when he returned on June 2 he got the crap kicked out of him… and then starting with his next start he was one of the best pitchers in the world for ten years.
Todd Helton put up some truly astounding numbers; for six or seven years he was just killing it. There are two problems with his candidacy;
- His career is relatively short for a Hall of Famer, and
- His numbers are way inflated by context.
Context means not only that he played in a time of big hitting numbers but, of course, he played in Coors Field, which bloats a guy’s statistics.
That said, Helton would not be a terrible choice – he isn’t the right choice, because there are better players ahead of him who aren’t yet in, but even if you adjust for context he really was an outstanding hitter, and he was a fine defensive player. His teammate, Larry Walker, is a very similar case.
Jones came up at the age of 19, in 1996, and hit two home runs in a World Series game. From that point to age 29 he was on track to be not a Hall of Famer, but an inner circle Hall of Famer. He was a spectacular defensive center fielder, one of the best of my lifetime, and hit a lot of home runs.
Then at age 30 he was done. He was bad, Atlanta got rid of him, and he bounced around for a few years being bad before finally giving up. I don’t know why, to be honest.
Jones was so good in his run that he is still an outer ring candidate for the Hall of Fame; I’d rank him as equal to Todd Helton, I guess. Jones won’t ever get in, and I’m fine with that. He is the best player ever born in Curacao, so that’s something.
Kent was a Blue Jay rookie in 1992 and played really well backing up Kelly Gruber. Late in the year the Jays traded him to the Mets for a couple of months of David Cone. Kent ended up having a hell of a career but as Cone helped them win the World Series that year it wasn’t a bad trade.
Prior to his arriving in Toronto I’d never heard of him; he was not a highly regarded prospect. Although he was a second baseman, he was weirdly stiff and not very agile looking as an infielder – statistically he did a decent job out there, he just didn’t look like it. Kent was drafted in the twentieth round, the point in the draft when teams are just grabbing whomever they can to ensure their low minor league teams have enough players… I don’t even think twentieth round picks get signing bonuses. Kent became an MVP, though, and played drafted lower than that have become Hall of Famers.
The baseball draft is a crapshoot. In hockey and basketball, there are guys drafted in the first round who become All Star literally right away. Basketball doesn’t even have a third round of the draft; if you aren’t picked by then everyone knows you’re not an NBA player. In baseball, any number of first round picks never make the majors, and guys picked as an afterthought become stars.
Kent is in that bunch of players with Todd Helton who wouldn’t be the worst pick ever but I wouldn’t vote for them.
Had some good years but isn’t even half a Hall of Famer. He was on the All Star team in 2004 for the Blue Jays not because he deserved it but because no one else on the team was any good, and the rules says every team gets at least one All Star.
Lowe was a relief pitcher for Boston for a number of years, and he was a pretty good relief ace. In 2002, for reasons I don’t recall, they decided to make him a starting pitcher. He wasn’t a kid – he was 29, halfway though most players’ careers, and had been a relief pitcher for years. He was amazing, winning 21 games, and was a good starting pitcher for years more. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but that was pretty cool.
Edgar was just barely short of election last year, so the odds are he’ll make it this year, which will make him the first player ever who was largely a designated hitter to be elected to the Hall of Fame. I guess he deserves it.
A tall, elegant first baseman who came up with the Blue Jays at a time they were awash in first basemen, and they traded him to the Padres in the famous trade that got them Roberto Alomar.
The Blue Jays in eight years produced an astounding number of first basemen. Around 1985-1986 they came up with Fred McGriff and Cecil Fielder, and they had to trade Cecil, and then later they replaced McGriff with John Olerud, who was terrific, and then in 1993 they came up with with Carlos Delgado, who leads the Blue Jays in fifty career statistics.
McGriff had a 30-homer season for five different teams; the Jays, Padres, Braves, Rays and Cubs. I am pretty sure that’s a record. He ended up just seven homers short of 500, a statistical marker that used to mean certain Hall of Fame election but no longer does. He’s a marginal candidate.
Mussina was just a sensational pitcher; he is long overdue to be in the Hall of Fame, but he’ll get in this year or next. He finally won 20 games in his last season and then he retired. Gotta love a guy going out on top.
Oliver pitched for nine teams over the course of twenty years. He was a starting pitcher and when he was no longer good enough to do that he became a left handed specialist relief pitcher and did that for like 500 games. At the end, at the age of 42, he was still pitching pretty well, but was apparently tired of being away from his family.
Oswalt for his first ten years was just awesome. In his first six seasons he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times. He did everything well, but then his arm died and his shot at the Hall of Fame went with it; he needed another three solid years. Pitching is brutal on the arm.
Bill James once wrote that there are more pitchers who’d be in the Hall of Fame if they hadn’t gotten hurt than there actually are pitchers in the Hall of Fame. It’s true.
Andy Pettite is my personal odd choice for the Hall of Fame. His career ERA is 3.85, which is superficially not very impressive – good, but it’d be the second highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher, exceeded only by Jack Morris, and since he mostly pitched for the Yankees, people assume he won a lot of games just because he got a lot of offensive support.
I think he gets a bit of a bum rap. Pettite’s ERA was accumulated during an age of very high scoring. If you adjust it to league norms it’s as good as dozens of Hall of Famers. He had a reasonably long career by modern standards and won more playoff games than any other pitcher. Honestly I think he’s a clearly qualified choice but he probably won’t get in. He also admitted to using PEDs, which doesn’t help.
Juan wasn’t very strong but he could run like the wind, and that was basically his game; he only hit 18 career home runs in almost 2000 games, but he stole 614 bases and hit a lot of triples. He was a big part of Florida winning the World Series in 2003.
A contact hitter, and a pretty good one, with little power.
Polanco has the highest fielding percentage of any third baseman in baseball history, and that kind of undersells it. He is just completely off the charts better than anyone else, 9.1 points above second place (Mike Lowell.) There is more of a difference between Polanco and Lowell than there is between Lowell and thirtieth place.
Of course, Polanco played less than half his career at third. He played most of his career at second. Would you like to know who the all time leader at second base is for fielding percentage? Why, that’s right. Placido Polanco.
I wouldn’t suggest Placido should be in the Hall of Fame but he was probably the most sure handed fielder who ever lived. He won Gold Gloves at both second and third. If you count outfield as one position (which for years the Gold Glove Award did) the only other player I can think of to win a Gold Glove at two different positions is Darin Erstad.
Manny was of course known as being a kind of daffy-headed flake, but he took his hitting very seriously indeed, and my God he was good at it. If you want to show a kid how to swing a bat, get videos of Manny Ramirez hitting. His swing was as technically excellent as anyone who ever lived.
He played outfield like he’d just learned it the day before; he was as terrible an outfielder as he was great a hitter, but the overall package was great and he should be in the Hall. Manny hit 29 home runs in the playoffs, the all time record.
The greatest relief pitcher of all time and the best player of all time in the playoffs, at any position. If Mariano Rivera isn’t in the Hall of Fame, there’s no point in having one.
According to the Wins Above Replacement measure, Rolen is probably a Hall of Famer, and I can see that argument statistically; he was a very good hitter and a very good fielder at a hard position.
Nonetheless he only got 10% of the vote last year and he’ll probably never get in. Weirdly, I’m okay with that, and I can’t exactly tell you why. He just never seemed like a great player at any one time. He won the Rookie of the Year Award and a bunch of Gold Gloves but never led the league in any offensive category and only once made the top ten in MVP voting. There are better candidates.
Schilling was a hell of a pitcher in the regular season, and was one of the five greatest postseason players who ever lived. Statistically he is a no brainer.
Since retiring, Schilling has earned a reputation as one of the biggest dickheads in the history of ex-pro-athletes. He started a video game company that failed after taking a lot of government money from the State of Rhode Island, and has gone from being a loudmouthed conservative, which is okay, to being a raving, bigoted Trumpist, which is generally not a way to earn respectable friends. His Hall of Fame support last year was 51%, which makes him a dubious shot – he is only on the ballot three more years – but if he wasn’t a colossal dick he’d be in already.
Should the voters disregard his being an asshole and elect him? Logically, they should. Schilling was not enough of an asshole as a player to make his teams unsuccessful; he played for two World Champions. His being a shitstick since then is not especially relevant. I’m not shedding any tears for him though. It’s a privilege, not a right.
Sheffield was a Hall of Fame hitter all the way, just a pure hitter. Unlike most power hitters today. Sheff, as he was unoriginally known, didn’t strike out much. He never struck out 100 times in a season, and in fact never came close. That is something you can say about literally no power hitters anymore, none I can think of. He just had a talent for putting the bat on the ball.
He moved around a lot. He started with Milwaukee but they sent him early on to San Diego and he hit great there. Then he went to Florida and he hit great there for years, and then he went to Los Angeles and hit great there. He then spent a couple of years in Atlanta and hit like crazy, then signed with the Yankees and he kept on hitting. He was with the Tigers for a few years and hit, then finished his career with two thirds of a season with the Mets, still hitting.
Sheffield is a long shot because
- He is reputed to have used steroids,
- His career doesn’t really have a clear peak or narrative because he moved around a lot – he played over 2500 games but didn’t even play a quarter of them with any one team, which is, I am sure, a unique accomplishment in baseball history, and
- He had a reputation as a terrible fielder, a reputation supported by the numbers.
I don’t care about 1 or 2 and think 3 is a bit exaggerated, so I’d vote for him.
Slammin’ Sammy was a humongous star there for a few years but now gets little Hall support because, again, steroids.
It’s also partially just that the home run totals were inflated in general. He was a great player at his peak but there are a lot of better players available to vote for.
When I was a kid, I knew the career home run leaders off by heart. The top five were Hank Aaron (755) Babe Ruth (714) Willie Mays (660) Frank Robinson (586) and Harmon Killebrew (573) and in my teens Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt moved into sixth and seventh. Seven more guys had 500. It was assumed 500 homers meant automatic Hall of Fame inclusion, and 600, well, only three guys had done that.
Since then, six more players – Bonds, A-Rod, Griffey, Pujols, Thome and Sosa – have passed 600, and now 27 players are above 500. If you’d told me back then a guy would hit 609 homers and not be a clear Hall of Famer I’d have thought that nuts, but here we are.
Tejada was a hell of a player but has maybe a twenty percent shot at the Hall.
In 2002 Tejada won the MVP Award, though he should not have. Two years later he actually had his best season, but finished fifth in the MVP voting even though, honestly, he should have finished ahead of all four guys ahead of him in the vote. The MVP award is stupid.
I wrote about Omar’s candidacy at length last year and don’t feel like doing it again. To make it short; he is usually compared to Ozzie Smith, and so he’ll get in eventually, but he was not nearly as good as Ozzie. That said, most players like him – excellent defensive shortstops with very long careers – are in the Hall of Fame, so what the hell.
Wagner was an absolutely terrifying relief ace who threw about a million miles an hour. In fifteen years he was dominant every year except one bad season he was hurt. He was an objectively incredible pitcher.
The problem with his Hall of Fame candidacy is that he only pitched 903 innings, a number which roughly approximates four seasons of a good starting pitcher. It’s just impossible for me to think a guy like that is worthy of the Hall of Fame. If he pitched literally twice as much, he’d be a marginal candidate. Joahan Santana actually DID pitch twice as much and got dropped off the ballot because it wasn’t considered a long enough career.
Wagner might, relative to his regular season performance, be the worst playoff performer of all time. He gave up 13 runs in just 11 innings, an incredible run of ineptitude.
See Todd Helton. The second best Canadian player of all time. Walker will not get to 75% before he drops off the ballot in 2020. It’s a shame, as he really does deserve it.
Larry became a major league regular in 1990 and retired after the 2005 season. In those sixteen years, he missed a significant amount of time to injury (or the 1994 lockout) in every single one of them except one, that being 1997, when he won the MVP Award. In every other season he missed at least 19 games, and on three occasions he missed half the season. If he’d been just a little less injury prone he’d have another 250 games or so, at least, and might well have gotten in.
Wells became a star in Toronto and still holds some team records. After a huge year in 2003 he spent the rest of his time in Toronto alternating mediocre years with good ones and he never quite became the MVP candidate everyone was hoping.
After the 2008 season the Blue Jays gave him a gigantic contract, I believe still the biggest a Blue Jay has ever gotten. After a couple of years that deal wasn’t looking great so they wanted to trade him, and to the absolute amazement of everyone, the Angels agreed to take him and take on his entire contract. It saved the Blue Jays ninety million dollars. Immediately upon arriving in California, Wells just fell apart; he was a total disaster there for a few years, was traded to the Yankees, was terrible there for a year, and retired.
Youkilis is the subject of a chapter in “Moneyball” in which Billy Beane goes to enormous but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fool the Red Sox into giving him to the A’s; they keep calling him “The Greek God of Walks.” He was right to try, as it turned out; Youkilis turned into exactly the kind of player they expected him to, a pretty solid righthanded hitter who did everything well except run.
Youkilis had a truly bizarre batting stance where he would hold his bat way above his head and slide the top hand up the barrel of the bat and, rather than holding it with the top hand, just kind of lay the bat on his thumb, and then he’d point the bat horizonally out towards the second baseman, like he was trying to hit the guy with a T-shirt cannon. He held his feet really close together and kind of turned his ass away from the pitcher. He looked like a man about to fight a cobra while walking a tightrope. It was really weird.
At the height of his powers, Youkilis was, or was close to being, a Hall of Fame level player. The height of his powers didn’t last very long, though.
Michael Young, superficially, has Hall of Fame numbers. There aren’t a lot of shortstops with six 200-hit seasons, career .300 averages.
That said, Young’s numbers are heavily inflated by context. He played in the highest offensive era since the Second World War, in a ballpark that was relatively friendly to hitters. He was a really good player but not a Hall of Famer.