That Bootleg Guy

Everyone seems to have their own criteria for induction into Cooperstown.

Some are subjective and based on ludicrous criteria, such as “would I ever pay to see that guy play?” It’s a good thing that less-than-flashy HOFers like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were actually judged on, y’know…their numbers.

Admittedly, it is hard to be objective. Especially, when you’re looking back at players who you watched while growing up. Maybe he was your favorite player or perhaps he was the guy who stabbed your team in the heart with a rusty butter knife, when he took the money and ran for Steinbr…uh, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Now, the list continues with Part Three and we begin with…

Nomar Garciaparra

So, a funny thing happened on the way to immortality. After a .306 BA and 30 HR in a Rookie of the Year winning campaign in 1997, Nomar saw several of his stats increase in the following three seasons, while his at-bats steadily declined.

Today, at the age of 31, Mia Hamm’s husband is at a career crossroads…he still has enough time to get his career back on course to Cooperstown, but time’s a’wastin’. Currently, he’s got the third highest BA among active players and a career OPS (on-base plus slugging pct.) that’s top 50 all time. Injuries took away most of his 2001 season and, despite putting up back-to-back years of nearly identical and effective production in 2002-03, he’s currently best known (unfairly) as a cancerous malcontent who didn’t give 100% during his final months in Boston.

If Nomar had somehow made it through to the end of ’04 with Boston and if the Sox had still won the championship, Garciaparra’s Hall of Fame chances would’ve gotten an automatic and undeserved boost just for the name on the front of his uniform (see: Schilling, Curt). As it stands, he’ll likely need more healthy years than he has left to give.
Verdict: Out…but, don’t be surprised if he’s got a few monster years left in him.

Steve Garvey

In many ways, Garvey was the last of his kind. He was part of a Dodgers infield that played together for nearly a decade. He set the National League consecutive games played mark. And, he was a productive first baseman despite an absence of home run power.

His supporters are quick to point out his run during the ’70s in which he drove in 95+ runs in six separate seasons. To his credit, he was also a strong defensive player and performed very well in the glare of the national spotlight with a pair of NLCS and All Star Game MVPs sitting on his mantle. And, who says Garvey wasn’t much of a base thief? Of course, in this case, we’re talking about the 1974 NL MVP award he stole from Willie Stargell and/or Mike Schmidt. Despite the deserved (and undeserved) accomplishments, most of them were forgotten when a sex scandal ruined his rhinestone reputation in 1989.

Check the career comps…Bill Buckner, Al Oliver…Garvey is probably the most overrated amongst those whose name is always brought up in “he should be in” discussion. Verdict: Out

Jason Giambi

It seems like only yesterday…in 1997, the Oakland A’s traded Mark McGwire and handed over the keys to an unshaven, muscled-out man-child. Giambi would become the face of the brash, young A’s teams that would reverse a decade of decline and become one of the best teams in the game.

But, behind his smiling mug and Generation X appeal was a man whose delusional notions about his place in history didn’t include the team that originally signed him. Under the subterfuge of a faux demand for a “no-trade” clause, Giambi followed the dollar signs to the team he wanted to play with all along: The New York Yankees. His .951 career OPS ranks 22nd all time and is also nearly 200 points higher than the league average during his career. In his ten seasons, he’s a five time All Star and won the 2000 AL MVP.

Oh, yeah…BALCO. It’d be easy to blame the recent revelations regarding “performance enhancers” for his eventual exclusion to the Hall. But, the numbers just aren’t there. At 33 years of age and in declining health, it’s unlikely that Giambi will be able to make up enough ground to even get his #25 retired by the Yankees…and they retire everyone’s number. Verdict: Out

Juan Gonzalez

In the 1990s, Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez oversaw the salad days of the Texas Rangers franchise. In his first nine full seasons in Arlington, Juan Gone won a pair of MVPs and surpassed 40 home runs in five separate seasons.

Always dogged by injuries, the wheels seemingly fell off after his surprising trade to Detroit after the 1999 season. In the last five years, he’s only spent one season reasonably healthy and has only played in 183 games combined over the last three seasons. Gonzalez has still managed to put up some eye-popping numbers, though, which is a testament to how great he was in his 20s. His 434 career HRs place him 32nd all time, while his 1,404 RBI is 61st. He’s slugged a phenomenal .742 in 62 postseason at-bats, while inexplicably being selected to just three All Star teams.

Gonzalez received a boost from playing most of his career in one of the best parks for right-handed hitters during his tenure with Texas. Unfortunately, at the age of 34 and with a body going on 64, there’s no fountain of youth that’s going to get him into The Hall. Verdict: Out

Mark Grace

Underrated or overrated? Well, it depends on who you ask…Cubs fans knew him for 13 seasons as the gregarious gamer who gave glimmers of hope that next year might be the year. Others point out that, despite playing in a hitter’s park and in a hitter’s era, he never really produced like the cream of the corner infielder crop.

One of the emptiest stats you’ll ever hear is that so-and-so recorded the most (fill in the blank) during the (’80s, ’90s, etc.). Grace had the most hits during the 1990s, which is really just the luck of the calendar. In all that time, he put up all of one season with a SLG over .500 and that fluky .516 percentage in 1995 was 74 points above his career mark. He never hit 20 home runs or drove in 100 runs in a season, but he does rank in the top 40 in the career doubles department. And, his career .303 BA and .383 OBP are both well above the league average during his major league tenure.

Now a Diamondbacks’ broadcaster (and rumored to have managerial aspirations), Grace is one of those guys who you’d think would be a cinch for induction by The Veterans’ Committee. Fortunately, he wasn’t as well liked by his peers as you might think, so, rightfully, he’ll remained locked out. Verdict: Out

Rickey Henderson

In a professional career that’s spanned four decades, Rickey has worn several hats…both figuratively and literally. He changed teams 12 different times and wore nine different uniforms over his magnificent career. He went from brash youngster to much maligned superstar to eccentric role player to sympathetic ol’ coot.

There will never be another Rickey Henderson. A leadoff hitter with over 1,400 stolen bases and nearly 300 home runs to go with 3,000+ hits and the all-time runs scored mark? There isn’t an active player in existence who’s in the same solar system (OK, we’re talking mostly SBs, here…). He broke Babe Ruth’s all-time walks record in 2001 before NL pitchers and Barry Bonds made a mockery of the accomplishment last year. A ten-time All Star, six top ten MVP finishes (he won it in 1990 and should have won it in 1985) and a Gold Glove are all the rich, creamy icing on one hell of a cake.

In his later years, Rickey became more known for overblown or untrue anecdotes (the John Olerud/helmet legend, for example). Young fans should know that Rickey changed the game in the ’80s and ’90s and his impact cannot be understated. Verdict: IN!

Keith Hernandez

Is he the greatest defensive first baseman of all time? And, if so, should that be enough to get him into The Hall? What if we throw in five All Star games, four top 10 MVP finishes (he shared the award with Willie Stargell in 1979) and his famous cameo on Seinfeld?

Hernandez is one of those guys whose reputation is supersized from his time with the winning and wild Mets teams of the late 1980s. In actuality, his numbers are eerily similar to the equally undeserving Mark Grace. He also only passed the .500 SLG threshold once in 17 seasons and, like Grace, it was a one season spike that he never revisited. Hernandez’s career high in home runs was 18 and he finished with just 162. Right down to his career BA (.294) and OBP (.384), he and Grace can both commiserate outside the walls of Cooperstown.

The halcyon days of Shea obscured the controversial end to his career in Cleveland, when he pretty much quit on the team and filched them for 18 months of nothing from 1990-91. Good players with a few very good skills just don’t pass the test. Verdict: Out.

Gil Hodges

Another first baseman with something of a Hall of Fame following, Hodges might actually be most known for managing the New York Mets to their first World Championship in 1969. But, he could play a little, too.

Hodges debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, at the age of 19. He came into his prime during the ’50s, when we put up a pair of 40+ home run seasons and finished his 18 years career with 370 HRs total. An eight time All Star, Hodges also pulled in three Gold Gloves and finished among the top ten in OPS six times in a nine-year stretch. Unfortunately, his last remotely good year was in 1959, at the age of 35. He played for an additional four seasons at about half-speed as injuries and performance decline flattened out some of his overall numbers.

Well, he’ll always have the World Championships he won as a player in 1955 and as a manager nearly 15 years later. He’s one of those guys who are more than a footnote, yet less than a legend. Verdict: Out

Shoeless Joe Jackson

One of the most controversial and tragic figures in American history, the story of Shoeless Joe has been told several times over. He was a member of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox team that threw the World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds.

But, did Jackson participate in the fix? No one disputes that he knew of the back-room double-dealing that jeopardized the integrity of the National Pastime. Nor, that he took $5,000 of dirty money. But, his staunchest supporters steadfastly believe that “Shoeless” Joe did not give in to the gamblers’ influence. They point to his .375 BA and six RBI during the ’19 Series.

If one takes a closer look, however, they’ll see a different story. In games 1-5, Jackson failed to record a hit with runners in scoring position, while rapping six hits with a man on first on the bases empty. He drove in three runs in games 6 and 7, but those were the two games that the Sox were actually playing to win. In the deciding eighth game, Jackson drove in three meaningless runs, late, in a 10-5 defeat. All the while, his legendary glovework became suspiciously shaky during the Series.

Commissioner Landis banned Jackson (and seven of his teammates) from baseball for life after the 1920 season. At the time of the decision, Jackson was 30 years old with 1,772 career hits. His SLG had gone up in each of his final four seasons, peaking at .589 in his last year. His career BA of .356 is third all time, while his .423 OBP is in the top 20. Make no mistake…”Shoeless” Joe Jackson was one of the greatest players of all time.

And, all the sepia-toned tales told by Tinseltown can’t hide the fact that he has no one to blame for his situation but himself. Verdict: Out and deservedly so…

Andruw Jones

Umm…what happened? In 1996, he was the youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series game. By 2000, at the age of 23, he was a legitimate MVP candidate after hitting .303 with a .907 OPS.

But, those numbers fell off dramatically the following year and it’s been an uphill climb for the occasionally unfocused Jones in his quest to achieve that superstar status that was thrust upon him at an early age. He’ll be 28 next season, still with plenty of time to get his game back together. He’s already the best defensive centerfielder on the planet with seven consecutive Gold Gloves to his name. He’s also never sustained a major injury, while his age 27 career comps include HOFers Frank Robinson and Eddie Matthews.

Ominously, there are warning signs ahead, though. Jones has completely stopped stealing bases, after several years with 20 or more. His marginal gains in OBP have been reversed recently, while his SLG fell off 25 points from the year before. It’s hard to write off players with his resume at his age, but still… Verdict: Out, for now, but check back in 10 more years.

Check back for Part Four of the Hall of Fame 100. Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey, Jr., Derek Jeter and the fourth greatest “slugger” of all time get the spotlight. Get at me on AOL or Yahoo IM: ajcameron13

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!