There is no greater shrine to athletic excellence than the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Pro football and basketball have a set minimum number of inductees, while baseball has had more than a few years when no one has garnered enough votes to make it into the Hall.
There is also no greater argument than the Hall of Fame Debate.
In honor of the January 4 announcement of the newest HOF inductees, for rest of this month, I’ll be using this space to offer up my opinions of the Hall of Fame chances for 100 active and retired players. We’ll start with the hitters and finish up with the pitchers.
As far as who gets discussed, the Baseball HOF has a rule that, to be considered, players must have played at the Major League level for a minimum of 10 years. So, for this discussion, we’ll just arbitrarily state that players”¦well, they have to had/have played for close to or more than 10 years.
We’ll do this in 10 parts”¦10 players at a time.
I once heard that if you have to spend more than a minute discussing a player’s HOF merit, then he probably doesn’t belong in the Hall. To that end, the format will include a link to the player’s complete stats and a few paragraphs explaining why they should or should not get the call.
That’s it”¦no fancy sabermetrics”¦no for-or-against filibusters. 100 Major League Players”¦they’re either in or out.
And, away we go”¦alphabetically, we’ll begin with:
Dick Allen: One of the most enigmatic and emotional players of his day, Allen was also one of the best. He was the 1972 AL MVP while with the White Sox and led his league in slugging percentage for three separate seasons. His volatility off the field led to him being traded five times.
Allen is one of the more extreme borderline cases out there. His overall numbers jibe with some other “very good, but not great careers” like Fred Lynn and Reggie Smith. In Allen’s case, however, he was much better than his peers. His career OBP (.378) was 54 points higher than the league average during his career, while his career SLG (.534) was more than 150 points higher than the league average.
Poor defensively and spent most of his career in good hitters parks, but I’m inclined to open the door. Verdict: In
Roberto Alomar: Here’s a clear case study in the “suitcase superstar”. After achieving fame, fortune and two World Series rings as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Alomar took his act on the road for several contenders throughout the remainder of the ’90s.
Despite the numerous changes of address (seven different teams in 17 years), Alomar is unquestionably the best second baseman of his era. 12 All Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves and five top 10 finishes in the MVP race would be enough by themselves. Throw in a career .300 average and .371 OBP and you’ve got one of the finest top of the order hitters of this generation. 2700+ hits and 470+ stolen bases (and counting) are just icing on the cake.
The last few years haven’t been kind, as his skills have eroded on both offense and defense. Still, he’s not the first (nor last) great player to hang on too long. Verdict: In
Jeff Bagwell: As the offensive explosion of the last ten years shows no sign of slowing down, there are several players who’ll be held to a different standard than yesteryear. 500 career home runs are no longer an automatic ticket to the Hall and Jeff Bagwell will be one of several players who will have to bring more to the ballot to distinguish themselves.
At 446 career HRs and signs that he might be slowing down, Bagwell’s not likely to ever revisit the monster years he put up from 1993 to 2000. In his favor, he spent a good chunk of those years playing half his games in the Astrodome, a notorious pitcher’s park. He also owns a career OBP over .400 and a lifetime SLG of .542. Despite winning just one Gold Glove, he’s been a fine defensive player and a smart, underrated basestealer with over 200 SBs.
The Astros are paying for that fat contract he signed prior to the 2001 season, which runs through 2006. While still productive, he’s nowhere near a $15 million player. However, with or without the magical 500 HR mark, Bags has a very strong case for Cooperstown. Verdict: In, but another good season or two wouldn’t hurt.
Harold Baines: Unquestionably one of the finest designated hitters ever”¦but is that damning him with faint praise? Injuries turned him into a full-time DH after the 1986 season, at the age of 27. In spite of chronic knee problems, Baines played for 22 seasons.
Often referred to by fans as “overlooked” and “underrated”, Baines really is neither. He never hit 30 home runs in a season and, in fact, only cracked the top 10 in slugging percentage once in his career. And despite solid career numbers in hits (2,866) and RBI (1,628), Baines finished among the single-season top ten in both categories just once and twice, respectively.
Several of Baines’ stats were padded by the offensive talent that surrounded him once he was traded from the White Sox in 1989. Arguably, he can only lay claim to just two great seasons (1984 and 1995) in an otherwise solid, but unspectacular career. Verdict: Out, and it’s not as close as people think.
Albert Belle: One of the most despised players in recent memory, Belle’s career was cut short due to a degenerative hip condition. And that was a shame, because Belle was one of the game’s best hitters and was on his way to removing all doubt about his HOF credentials.
Can 12 seasons get you into Cooperstown? Hey, it worked for Kirby Puckett. Unfortunately, Belle wasn’t as lovable or cherubic (uh, pre-insane sexual deviant Kirby). On the other hand, Belle might’ve been a better hitter. His career OPS (OBP plus SLG) was .933, a few points higher than Hank Aaron. An eight-year stretch of 30+ HRs and 100+ RBI, including back-to-back seasons (1994-95) that featured SLGs of .714 and .690.
Belle will never be voted into the Hall by the Baseball Writers. These are the same people who gypped him out of the MVP award in 1995, in favor of “good guy” Mo Vaughn. But, does he deserve entry, anyway? He wasn’t a great fielder or basestealer, but neither one was really his forte, anyway. A tough, tough call. Verdict: Out”¦for some reason, his career just doesn’t seem as “complete” as Puckett’s
Craig Biggio: Does anyone still have his 1989 rookie cards that showed him playing catcher? Those are probably the only remaining shreds of evidence, since he’s spent the bulk of his career as the premier second baseman in the National League.
Often compared to his contemporary in the AL (mostly), Roberto Alomar, Biggio hasn’t been quite as good with the stick or the glove, but that’s not to take anything away from him. A career .373 OBP is a good place to start. He’s also just 4 SBs shy of joining the 200 HR/400 SB club. Biggio currently places 18th on the all-time doubles list. And, in an admittedly odd novelty, is a safe bet to break the all-time hit-by-pitch mark of 287.
Ah, but there’s a little something they call the “recency effect” in psychology”¦and watching Biggio stumble around in Minute Maid Park’s silly centerfield “hill” is a sad sight to see. To his credit, he set a career high with 24 homers in 2004, but that was after two years of decline and his shrinking OBP indicates that last year was likely a fluke. Verdict: Out, but two more solid seasons or one last big year could get him in.
Wade Boggs: One of the most disturbing images in the last few years, was watching Boggs in the hideous home uniform of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays limping after his 3,000th hit. Thankfully, he retired shortly after homering to reach the milestone.
All kidding aside, Boggs might’ve been one of the most underrated great players in the game during his prime. His posted eight straight OBPs over .400 to start his career and reached the mark in 9 of his first 10 seasons. Despite an abject lack of power (remember his juiced-ball aided career high of 24 in 1987?), Boggs was still dangerous as he played the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park like no other.
A 12-time All Star and 5-time batting champ, they don’t come any more certain than this one. Even Red Sox fans have certainly purged the pictures of Boggs riding horseback across the Yankee Stadium foul line after he helped bring a championship to The Bronx in 1996″¦right? Verdict: In”¦probably before you read this.
Barry Bonds: Quite simply, the greatest player of this generation. He was already on the path to Cooperstown, but then his offensive output jumped into the stratosphere with a 73 HR, .863 SLG season in 2001. Ah, but things are never that simple, are they?
In late 2004, it was revealed that Bonds had “unknowingly” taken various steroids and steroid derivatives. His name has become the flashpoint for fans, who are furious that the record books are being dwarfed by Barry and other BALCO-blessed ballplayers. Do steroids and other illegal performance enhancers actually improve performance on the baseball diamond? Possibly, although it’s never actually been proven in any controlled setting.
More importantly, should Bonds’ accomplishments come with the dreaded “asterisk effect”, thus forever brandishing him as a cheater and disgrace to the game? Please. There’s just no way to determine how the juice has affected his numbers, if at all. There’s not enough space to get into that argument, but even if you arbitrarily use 2000 as the cut-off point for his credibility as an athlete, the Call to the Hall should still come. Verdict: In
Bobby Bonds: Much like Dick Allen”¦Bonds was a very talented player, whose services were moved around to several teams. In 14 seasons, Bonds was traded six times and he played for eight different clubs.
Bonds’ potential HOF rÃƒÂ©sumÃƒÂ© is highlighted by his 332 career home runs and 461 career stolen bases”¦one of only four players to accomplish that feat. Both a three-time All Star and Gold Glove winner, he hit 30+ HRs in six separate seasons and whacked 29 in another. Unfortunately, his career numbers, while solid for his era, have dimmed in the glow of BALCO ball.
He’s not helped by his top ten finish in career strikeouts, or his reputation as a bad apple. Verdict: Out
Bill Buckner: 2,715 career hits”¦and one error. In the blink of an eye, a 22-year career is reduced to ridicule. Billy Buck deserved better than that, while the goat horns should’ve been saved for John McNamara or Calvin Schiraldi.
A former batting champion (.324 in 1980), Buckner put up a pair of 200-hit seasons in the ’80s, despite lacking the power traditionally found in first baseman. (He was an outfielder from 1969-76 with the Dodgers, before moving to 1B with the Cubs.) And speaking of unusual first basemen traits, Billy had some wheels back in the day, stealing 31 and 28 bases in the ’70s and swiping 18 bags (in 22 attempts) at the age of 35 in 1985.
His career OBP of .321 and SLG of .408, pretty much tell you all you need to know about Buckner’s HOF chances. Still, he’s included here so that anyone who only knows him as a 20-year-old punch line give his numbers a second look. A damn fine player for a good long time. He doesn’t need your forgiveness, Red Sox Nation”¦many of us already appreciated him. Verdict: Out
Check back for Part Two of the Hall of Fame 100. There’ll be more player debate including Jose Canseco, Will Clark and Rocky Colavito. Get at me on AOL or Yahoo IM: ajcameron13