I participated in Baseball: Past and Present’s now-annual “50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” Project. This is the intersection of all sorts of different things that I love: baseball, baseball stats, the Hall of Fame, arguing, snubs and overlooks, lists, voting, really big projects, and so on. The full list will be coming soon, but seeing as I’d like to actually explain my picks (including some of the people who didn’t make the list), the most prudent thing to do is to break the list down into parts.
Part of the ballot was listing whether we thought our 50 Best were actually Hall of Famers. So, I suppose I should start by saying that I am definitely a big Hall of Fame guy; I marked all 50 Players on my ballot as Yeses (there are actually players who didn’t make my final ballot that I would still put in). I operate on the thinking that the Hall was intended to be closer to a big Hall, anyway. Some of the Veterans Committee players that got in under Frankie Frisch weren’t great, but at the same time, they’re in.
Additionally, the game (and, therefore, the number of players in the game) is growing much faster than the Hall of Fame. For example, there are nearly twice as many teams now as there were when the Hall was founded; shouldn’t we be inducting more players now? (If not at a 2 to 1 rate, then maybe a 1.5 to 1 rate or so.) And even more than that, I like to remember players. Every player was someone’s favorite, and each one has some stories that made them stand out. The Hall of Fame is without a doubt the best way to remember and honor great players, so why not add a few more in any way? It’s not like it would detract from the best of them; nobody now cares any less about Babe Ruth because High Pockets Kelly is in Cooperstown with him.
So, now that I’ve explained my general philosophy, I’ll start with players. For an order, I’ll be going in a rough order of how I added them to my list. There are certain players who I feel very strongly about; a lot of them are still on the ballot, so I’m very familiar with their cases. Others may not be on the ballot, but I feel so strongly about them being in that I was able to add their names to my ballot without further research. These were more or less my first round of additions. Subsequent research added extra rounds of cuts, five in total (sort of). Obviously, then, then last players added were the closest to the borderline; they’ll be the choices that I’ll defend last. We’ll start, though, with my somewhat bizarre “Round 0”.
Technically, Round 0 didn’t make my ballot, but for a reason; the list is specifically the best PLAYERS not in the Hall. It’s nit-picky, but in the end, I felt like it was an important qualification to make. One of the two in this section wasn’t a player, although I think he’s deserving of induction. The other was a player, but I couldn’t find a way to say one way or the other if he was one of the best not in the Hall.
In reverse order, those two are Buck O’Neill and Bill James. First, O’Neill; I must admit, I don’t know Buck O’Neill’s case as well as some, but in short, it sounds like a very deserving lifetime achievement candidacy. He started in baseball as a Negro League star, manager, became the first black Major League coach, became a long-time, highly-successful scout, and finally became a historian, helping start the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Many very smart baseball people (including Joe Posnanski) endorse his induction, and I’m more than willing to take their word for it (especially in a case like this, where data isn’t the main argument for the candidate).
Bill James deserves election in some way (maybe as a pioneer? I’m not sure how the Hall goes around electing pioneers of baseball). His work with baseball stats has revolutionized the game and how players are evaluated, as seen in the influx of new-thinking GMs. Maybe others who worked with stats should get in later, but Bill James more or less kicked off the whole movement; he, at the very least, needs to get in.
Now then, my official Round 1 consisted of 27 players, all of whom I knew off hand should be in the Hall. I don’t use that phrase lightly, either; I spent plenty of time poring over stats and agonizing over every slot. I’m still not sure I got the whole ballot exactly right However, these are the players that I think are the biggest Cooperstown snubs, the ones that I support every year when they appear on the ballot. Essentially, they are the players that I support so fully and frequently that I didn’t need to go to their stats to confirm that they were worthy because I’ve seen them so many times (although, I did go look at their stats anyway-I told you I obsessed over this).
I’m going to break it down a little further in my explanations to keep any one part from getting too long. So, the first Round 1 players that I’ll cover will be the on the ballot this year.
Ron Santo, Cubs/White Sox, 3B - I’ll start off with the easiest player to defend, the guy who just got in. Third base is already underrepresented in Cooperstown (I may have over-corrected for this, as you’ll see later in my ballot), and Santo is unquestionably one of the best of the position all-time. He was a good hitter (342 homers, 125 OPS+) and solid fielder (five-time Gold Glove) at a difficult position. Both Baseball-Reference (66.4 bWAR) and Fangraphs (79.3 fWAR) have him as more valuable then many players already in the Hall.
As a point about how under represented third base is in the Hall of Fame, try and think of the ten best third basemen ever. Mike Schmidt is probably at the top. A-Rod will finish with more games at third, so add him. Eddie Mathews was pretty incredible as well. Wade Boggs, Brooks Robinson, and George Brett are in the Hall, and Chipper Jones will make it when he retires. We’re at seven players now, and we’ve run out of players that are thought of as first-ballot Hall of Famers. For the last three, I would probably go with Santo (who took 30-some years to get elected), then Scott Rolen (who I have a feeling will get the Ron Santo treatment), and Graig Nettles. Yes; apparently, the Hall feels that not all of the ten best third basemen are good enough to be in the Hall. For reference, there are nearly 20 first basemen, not counting the Negro League players elected from that position. This is just ridiculous.
Jeff Bagwell, Astros, 1B - Speaking of first basemen, Bagwell should have gone in his first year. 449 homers, 488 doubles, 202 steals (!!!)a 149 OPS+, 79.9 bWAR, 83.9 fWAR... Really, there’s no reason not to induct him. The only reason I’ve seen people not vote for him is because he was a power hitter during the steroids era, which is some of the dumbest reasoning ever (keep in mind that nothing has linked him to anything Bagwell to steroids, either).
Fun trivia about Bagwell: 1) Adam Darowski at Beyond the Boxscore keeps track of weighted WAR, or wWAR. It’s bWAR, but tries to give extra credit to strong peaks (I highly recommend reading about it; I did consider it when compiling my list, as well). By his calculations, Bagwell is the best player not yet in the Hall of Fame.
2) Some players look at Bagwell’s minor league numbers as proof of his steroid use. basically, in 1990, he only hit 4 home runs for the AA New Britain Red Sox. What’s commonly forgotten is that that entire team only hit 31 homers.
3) Bagwell is a smart, classy guy.
Barry Larkin, Reds, SS - Barry Larkin seems to be the consensus favorite to make it this year-he got the most votes last year out of all the returning players. He was often injured, but still impressive when he did play. Baseball-Reference credits him with 68.9 bWAR (just between Brooks Robinson and Tony Gwynn), while Fangraphs gives him 70.6 fWAR (putting him twelfth among shortstops, just above Ozzie Smith).
Edgar Martinez, Mariners, DH - I don’t think anyone doubts that Edgar was a Hall of Fame quality hitter; his career OPS+ is 147, which ties him for 40th all-time. I think the problem most people have is that he was “just” a DH (really, that should be enough). But, for reference, look at the four other hitters wit ha career 147 OPS+: Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, and Jim Thome. Schmidt is a different class, but the other three are pretty similar to Edgar: slugging first basemen/designated hitters. I doubt anyone would argue if I said those three probably cost their teams runs on defense, and yet they got in (or will get in) without problem. Martinez was a net-0 on defense; he didn’t play, so he didn’t cost or save his team runs. That’s better than those other three players, though. And he still can’t pick up enough momentum among the voters.
Mark McGwire, Athletics/Cardinals, 1B - And now the really controversial players. Like Edgar, I’m not sure if anyone debates that McGwire was a good enough player to make the Hall. He had 583 homers, a .263/.394/.588 line, 162 OPS+, 63.1 bWAR, 70.6 fWAR, and a 10.6 at-bat to home run, the best in baseball history. The real issue in McGwire’s case is steroids.
My take on steroids in Cooperstown is more or less if a player is a borderline player, I might keep them out. For the most part, though, I’m going to ignore it. Players have been cheating throughout history, from Pud Galvin’s monkey testosterone drink in 1889 (Hall of Famer) to the players using greenies in the 1960s and 1970s (some of whom made the Hall) to ball-doctorers like Gaylord Perry (Hall of Famer) to at least one Hall of Famer who used steroids, according to Thomas Boswell. And this isn’t getting into the deeper murkiness of steroids themselves. For example, Tom House claims that steroids were already somewhat common in baseball when he played; House hasn’t pitched in 33 seasons. So, we can’t just keep out all players from after a certain point in time (which is an idiotic notion in any case). On top of this, we’ll never be totally certain of how widespread steroid (or greenie, or any other performance enhancer) use was who was “clean”, as you can’t prove a negative.
In any case, Mark McGwire was not breaking rules while playing, as there was no rule against steroids while he was playing. Even with current players who get caught, like Manny Ramirez, I’m hesitant to keep them out of the Hall. Why? Because we do have a punishment in place now, and it has nothing in it about banishment from the Hall of Fame. The rule is currently that a first time positive test gets a 50 game suspension, a second time gets 100 games, and a third time gets a lifetime ban. I’m totally fine with keeping those banished from the game from the Hall, as there is a precedent for it. But, as it stands now, there is nothing in the punishment about Cooperstown; I don’t see a need to layer another punishment onto this. We don’t do that with other forms of cheating, which are just as bad or worse.
Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers/Orioles/Cubs, 1B - So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Palmeiro’s entry should be much quicker: 3020 hits, 569 home runs, a .288/.371/.515 batting line, 66.0 bWAR, 74.2 fWAR, and so on. Again, it’s just the steroids that are keeping him out.
Tim Raines, Expos/White Sox/Yankees/Marlins/Athletics/Orioles, LF - The Platoon Advantage ran a piece on who the next Ron Santo is as far as Hall of Fame voting. It’s an interesting question, one I would like to look at later. Anyway, I think Raines is a reasonable bet; there’s already a site devoted to the cause. As for why I voted for him, his 808 steals place him fifth all time, and they came at an incredible 85% clip. He had 2605 hits, and still managed to reach base 3977 times, 22 more than Tony Gwynn. His combination of speed and reaching base gives him 64.6 bWAR and 70.8 fWAR. Overall, he would make a solid addition to the Hall.
Alan Trammell, Tigers, SS - We’ve established that Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer, right? Good. Now, working from that, Alan Trammell is like Barry Larkin, but even more so (if that makes sense), and he came before Barry Larkin. Compare these two lines:
Player A: 2175 games, 9057 PA, 2340 hits, 198 HR, 379 SB, .295/.371/.444 line, 116 OPS+, 68.9 bWAR, 70.6 fWAR
Player B: 2267 games, 9376 PA, 2365 hits, 185 HR, 236 SB, .285/.352/.415 line, 110 OPS+, 66.9 bWAR, 69.5 fWAR
It’s pretty close, right? Player A is a better hitter and baserunner, but B is a better fielder. Overall, they’re about equal. Player A is Larkin, B is Trammell (and kudos to anyone who figured out which line was which by rereading the Barry Larkin section).
As a side thought, it’s kind of funny when you think about how many people are complaining about how fewer and fewer great players are staying with one team for their entire career, and yet, there are four more-than-worthy Hall candidates who fit that exact criteria on the ballot right now, and they’re getting no extra credit. Bizarre.
Larry Walker, Rockies/Expos/Cardinals, RF - Walker also has some extenuating circumstances, in that he’s the first serious Hall candidate to play significant time in Colorado. People like to discount his numbers a little too much, though, I think. His 2160 hits, 471 doubles, 383 home runs, and .313/.400/.565 batting line are probably somewhat inflated by Coors Field, but OPS+ attempts to correct for home field, and that puts him at 140. 140 is tied with Duke Snider and Gary Sheffield, and just above Reggie Jackson, so he could hit away from Denver. Add in his solid fielding (six Gold Gloves, both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference credit him as a 8.6 to 9.6 win right fielder) and you get an overall solid candidate. For reference, his bWAR is 67.3 and his fWAR is 73.2.
More explanations will be forthcoming.