[MLB] That Bootleg Guy


It wasn’t that long ago when 500 home runs was your all-access key pass to The Hall of Fame.

That changed around 1993, when baseball, in its infinite wisdom, expanded into Miami and Denver. You can argue the effects of the “dilution” of talent, but what cannot be debated in the influx of hitter friendly ballparks that were opening up all around the league at roughly the same time.

Camden Yards in 1992, The Ballpark at Arlington in 1994…um, the state of Colorado.

Home run numbers went up and out, as we all learned that chicks dig the long ball. Or, in the case of Brady Anderson and his fluke 50 home run season in 1996…ah, never mind. The point is that standards for inclusion have changed, but no one seems to know where they now stand. And that doesn’t even begin to discuss the whole steroids conundrum. Hopefully, we’ll start to find some answers in this discussion.

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

Roger Maris

Until 1998, “61” was the most coveted single-season number in baseball. It’s a shame that Maris’ Babe-breaking accomplishment was met with so much resentment, in its day, but the home run race of ’98 seemed to put that mark’s majesty in its proper perspective.

Speaking of perspective…Maris is one of those guys who seems to get a pass from those who continue to clamor for his Cooperstown induction. Yes, he was overshadowed in the media by teammate Mickey Mantle, but for the first three years of the 1960s, Maris put up numbers that firmly placed him as the league’s second best ballplayer…behind Mantle. In ’61, Maris famously broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season. This was in Maris’ fifth Major League season and it would be the last great year he’d ever have. His slide was both quick and cruel as injuries robbed of a nice rebound year in ’63 and, by the end of the decade, he was out of baseball at 33.

In his 12 seasons, Maris collected 1,325 hits and 275 home runs. He doesn’t place among the all-time career leaders in any significant category and was never even the best player on his team, much less in his era. Verdict: Out

Edgar Martinez

It’s taken more than 30 years, since the inception of the designated hitter, but we’ve finally got our first true Hall of Fame case study. Martinez might be one of the most underrated players of this era, but a look at his body of work shows that you’ll all be getting to know him again in a few years.

He made his debut on September 12, 1987, but didn’t become a full-time player until 1990, at the age of 27. Martinez enjoyed a three-year stretch marked by consistent improvement, until injuries robbed him of his ability to play the field (3B) everyday and cut into his number of at-bats. He returned with a vengeance in 1995, putting up an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.107, in what would be the first of three straight seasons over 1.000. In fact, his .993 OPS in 1998 broke that string, but he put up 1.001 and 1.002 OPS numbers in ’99 and ’00. For his career, this seven-time All Star ranks 21st all time in on-base percentage, while his .933 career OPS is 37th.

Martinez is a little light in the hits department, with just over 2,200, but he’s a career .312 hitter with 300+ home runs and a stretch of dominance that the DH position has never seen before. Verdict: In

Don Mattingly

For an all-too-brief time (we’ll call it “the ’80s”), Donnie Baseball was the game. Quiet and classy, with all the hitting talent in the world, Mattingly racked up six All Star appearances, five Gold Gloves and an MVP award in that decade.

But, sometimes, there’s not a happy ending. In 1990, Mattingly injured his back and, for all intents and purpose, was never the same player again. Actually, the injury merely hastened his decline, as his last great season was 1987, when the year of the juiced ball was turning Dale Sveum into Superman. It would be the last of Mattingly’s four straight .500+ SLG campaigns, as his home runs fell off by nearly 50% in 1988. The former batting champion had never hit below .300 in a full season until 1991, but had been sliding backwards in that category every year since 1986. And, in fate’s cruelest twist, he retired in 1995…the year before Yankees dynasty run began.

There were lots of arguments in favor of Mattingly when Kirby Puckett was inducted and the two are very similar offensive players. But, Puckett’s stats simply spread out more evenly, with a more sustained peak. Mattingly’s run of excellence lasted about four years, with more mediocre seasons, than otherwise. Verdict: Out, but, damn, he was great in his prime.

Fred McGriff

If Edgar Martinez is the litmus test for DHs in the Hall, then McGriff has an outside shot of testing bounds of the Hall’s “power principle”. With 493 career home runs, could McGriff unseat Dave Kingman as the player with the most HRs who’s not in the Hall? (Remember, Jose Canseco is not yet eligible)

The biggest thing against McGriff is that even in his greatest seasons, when he finished in the top five in OPS from 1988 through 1994, he was never really great. He led his league in home runs twice during that time, but never hit 40 or more. He also had the misfortune of being overshadowed by teammates such as George Bell and Gary Sheffield during his time with Toronto and San Diego, respectively, and the entire Braves pitching staff while in Atlanta. More recently, his once-impeccable reputation has taken a couple of hits. In 2001, he initial refusal to waive his no-trade clause from lowly Tampa Bay to wildcard contending Chicago raised a few eyebrows. And last season, McGriff returned for his 19th season in a transparent attempt to reach the 500 HR plateau.

Your mileage may vary on the negatives, but the positives are definitely hard to ignore. His stats compare favorably to Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey, while his career HRs and RBI rank in the top 25 and 35, respectively. Unfortunately, McGriff played in the wrong era and was never really the dominant player at his position. Verdict: Out

Mark McGwire

They say the third time is a charm. For McGwire, after two false starts, he used his third stretch of excellence to set the single-season home run record in 1998 and, depending on the degree of hyperbole for the day…”saved baseball” with his mighty bat.

In 1987, Big Mac set the rookie home run record with 49 and could’ve reached 50, if he didn’t miss the final few games to see the birth of his son. It was a phenomenal year, but his numbers began a precipitous decline, before bottoming out in 1991 with a .202 BA and just 22 HRs. Oakland A’s hitting coach Doug Rader convinced McGwire to return to his “pigeon-toe” batting stance in 1992, and Mac rebounded with 42 HRs and a .585 SLG.

A free agent, McGwire signed a 5-year, $35 million dollar deal to remain in Oakland, but his 1993 and 1994 seasons were ruined by foot injuries. Finally healthy in 1995, McGwire began a stretch of power that, even for the “home run era”, was second-to-none. He was the best player on some awful A’s teams through 1997, before he began chirping about moving on to a contender. His wish was granted with a deal to St. Louis in ’97 and his legacy was secured a year later.

He’s a 12-time All Star with 583 career home runs and the 11th best OPS of all time. His andro admissions will likely factor into the minds of a few voters, but there’s still no clinical proof that anything he took actually made him hit the ball farther or with more frequency. Verdict: In

Thurman Munson

On August 2, 1979, Yankee captain Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in Ohio. In the Yankees next game, they took the field without a catcher for the first pitch. His death left a hole in the team’s psyche that took years to heal and many think that he was good enough, for just long enough to get into the Hall.

Munson died at 32, after 11 seasons in the bigs. The seven-time All Star was famous for his defense and won three Gold Gloves. But, he was also a career .357 hitter in 30 postseason games, garnering a reputation as one of the best clutch hitters in the storied Yankees history. During the regular season, Munson had his moments, but couldn’t sustain his October success over the span of six months. He drove in 100+ runs in three straight years, had a little bit of pop for a catcher and won an MVP award in 1976 that he stole from Hal McRae. But, his power percentage numbers fell off a cliff when he turned 30 and compared to his National League contemporary, Johnny Bench, Munson was obviously inferior, even at his peak.

To be blunt, Munson probably didn’t have too many effective seasons left in him when he passed away. If he had managed to hang on for another 5-7 years, his overall numbers would have surely suffered, all for the sake of keeping his grit and glove in the lineup. Verdict: Out.

Dale Murphy

The Three Stooges, Georgia Championship Wrestling and Dale Murphy were the staples of early TBS broadcasting in the ’80s. And, during that time, it seemed that Murphy would be making speeches and thanking the Peach State, shortly after his career had ended.

Murphy won back-to-back MVP awards in 1982-83. He finished in the top ten in home runs in nine out of 10 years during the ’80s. In the decade, he made seven All Star teams, won five Gold Gloves and played in nearly every game without a single trip to the disabled list. So, what happened? Well, it seems that Murphy turned 30…and with it, his skills simply evaporated. In 1986, after years of consistency, his numbers dropped to their worst level since the strike-shortened 1981 season.

He bounced back, with just about everyone else, in the infamous 1987 season, then flat lined with .226, .228 and .232 averages to end his stay with the Braves. He was traded to Philadelphia in 1990, but whatever magic Murphy once had was long gone.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this for those of us who saw Murphy in his prime. A career .469 slugging percentage and 398 home runs are numbers that most of the league would kill for, but for Murphy, it can only be a sign of what might have been. Verdict: Out

John Olerud

Hard to believe, but even in this era of the self-serving, self-promoting superstar athlete…someone with legit talent can actually fly under the radar. For 16 seasons, Olerud has been doing just that, while showing there’s still gas in his tank.

With his career on life support in 2004, Olerud signed with the Yankees after being released by the Mariners. He started off strong, before leveling off, but served notice that he could do what he’s always done: hit. A .295 career hitter, he’s had two seasons in which he hit over .350. His .399 career OBP is even more impressive, as he racked up six seasons where he passed the .400 level. Olerud won a pair of World Series rings in Toronto and is a .278 career hitter in over 60 postseason games.

Oddly enough, he’s probably most famous for the batting helmet he wears while playing defense (a result of surgery for a brain aneurysm) and his brief stay with the New York Mets, when he was part of one of the finest defensive infields in history.

He’s got some of the quality, but not enough of the quantity. With 2,100 hits and just shy of 250 home runs, he’s not likely to get a lot of love. Furthermore, his is probably the most competitive position on the diamond and several of his peers are simply much, much better. Verdict: Out

Tony Oliva

What is it about the age of 30? Sure, it’s a nice round number, but it’s also the age where several of these surefire inductees seem to see it all fall apart for them. In Oliva’s case, “it” was his right knee. And the date was June 29, 1971.

Oliva tore knee cartilage diving for a ball against Oakland. The event, by itself, seems like an unfortunate, but not uncommon injury. But, at the time, Oliva was hitting .375 and was looking to build on his twenties, when he was consistently among the top ten in batting average, hits and slugging percentage. One of the first great players of the Minnesota Twins, finished the ’71 season with his third batting title, despite dropping nearly 40 points off his high-water mark.

After that, however, he never really recovered. He played five more seasons, but his power had eroded and ultimately dragged down his once impressive career OBP and SLG.

One of the best players of the ’60s, Oliva could’ve used just two or three more solid, if unspectacular, seasons to make a case for Cooperstown. It’s the times when “oh so close” can actually hurt the most. Verdict: Out

Rafael Palmeiro

Anyone remember when Palmeiro was a powerless first baseman for the Cubs? He was traded to the Rangers after the ’88 season, so that Chicago could install the equally powerless Mark Grace at first base. Not really sure whatever happened to that Palmeiro guy.

Oh, that right…he found his power. In 2003, Palmeiro hit his 500th home run and set off a din of debate on his Hall of Fame chances and, consequently, those of all modern players who weren’t in the Bonds stratosphere. Looking back, it seems kind of silly, don’cha think? Palmeiro currently stands at 551 HRs, which currently places him 10th all time. He’ll likely become the 26th member of the 3,000 hit club in 2005, while he currently ranks in the all time top 20 in total bases, extra base hits, doubles and RBI.

Sure, his postseason numbers won’t blow your mind and he’s still the first designated hitter to “win” a Gold Glove, but if there were once any questions, it’s clear that most of them have been answered.

Weird. You could just as easily argue that the points keeping Fred McGriff out of the Hall (the “greatness” and “dominance” questions) might apply to Palmeiro as well. But, Palmeiro’s numbers are better across the board and he was an exceptional player much longer than McGriff ever was. Verdict: In

Check back for Part Six of the Hall of Fame 100. Has Alex Rodriguez done enough to get in? How about Piazza or Pudge? And the final word on Pete Rose. Get at me on AOL or Yahoo IM: ajcameron13