The recent announcement of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame Class of 2012—and the number of worthy players who didn't make the cut—got me thinking about all the guys who had outstanding careers but have never been recognized by the Baseball Writers Association or the Veteran's Committee. I've already ranted a bit about the exclusion of Tim Raines, but I wanted to expand on the concept a bit.
In some cases, there are perfectly good reasons that players have been passed over. In some cases, they just didn't get along with the writers who might eventually vote them in, or they simply went about their business in circumstances that didn't seem to make them stand out from the crowd.
Here's my list of the top ten best players on the outside looking in. Players who, with a couple of notable exceptions, have every right to be enshrined in Cooperstown but have been shunned for one reason or another.
I must give thanks to my keys sources for information and inspiration. My stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
A handful of excellent candidates for the list are pulled from a fine book from a decade ago, "Out by a Step: The 100 Best Players Not in the Baseball Hall of Fame" by Mike and Neil Shalin. Reading this book got me thinking about the people who have not been given the credit they deserve as well as the people who have possibly been given more than they deserve.
A number of the players mentioned have since made their way to the hallowed halls while a whole new group of outstanding players have become eligible to be honored (or snubbed) since then.
A couple of honourable mentions that I believe fall just short of Hall of Fame performance:
Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Lee Smith, Ron Guidry, Luis Tiant, Jim Kaat, Jack Morris.
Tommy John won 288 games over his MLB career and is not in the Hall of Fame. There are only five pitchers ahead of him in the all-time list for wins who aren't in the Hall; one pitched in the late 1800s and the rest are not yet eligible to be voted for.
Over a 26-year career, John played for six teams, spending the bulk of his time with the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, with a six-year stint in Los Angeles in between. He continued to be effective well into his 40s and retired for good at the ripe old age of 46.
He won 20 games or more on three occasions. He is 26th all-time in wins and 44th all-time in Wins Above Replacement for pitchers (59.0). He led his league in shutouts three times. His career earned run average of 3.34 is decent, if unremarkable.
What he's best known for though, is the surgery that now bears his name. In his prime with the Dodgers in the mid-70s, John underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery, which resulted in him losing part of the 1974 season and all of the 1975 season while rehabilitating. He returned in 1976, making 31 starts and finishing with a solid 10-10 record and a 3.01 ERA.
He would go on to pitch for another 13 years in the Majors.
But here's the problem. Although everyone knows his name, as a pitcher he never did anything particularly exceptional, aside from the surgery and playing for a long, long time. He never won a Cy Young award or led his league in wins or ERA. He was merely consistent and reliable, year in, year out.
The question then becomes whether longevity and consistency makes a player worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. After all, only two other players played in more seasons than John (Cap Anson and Nolan Ryan) are both in the Hall. In my opinion, he did enough to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
As with Tommy John, Steve Garvey's most exceptional attribute as a ballplayer was endurance. With the Dodgers in the 1970s and early 80s, "Senator Steve" played in a National League record 1,207 consecutive games, during which he won an MVP award, four Gold Gloves, and made the All-Star team eight straight years.
Garvey was a key piece of the Dodgers dynasty of the late 70s, playing first base for an infield that stayed together as a unit longer than any other infield group in history. The combination of Garvey at first with Davey Lopes at second, Ron Cey at third, and Bill Russell at short were together in LA for nine seasons, a Major League record.
Garvey himself won the NL MVP in 1974 on the strength of his .312 batting average, 111 RBIs and Gold Glove fielding. He would go on to lead the league in hits twice, eventually finishing his career in San Diego with a total of 2,599 hits.
He won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981 and batted .338 for his post-season career, with 11 HRs and 31 RBIs.
Garvey was an outstanding glove man. Between 1983 and 1985, he went 194 consecutive games without committing an error, an MLB record for first basemen at that time (Kevin Youkilis has since broken the record).
The rest of the accolades are relatively few and far between. He wrapped up his career with a good -- but not great -- batting average of .294, with a respectable 272 homers and 1,308 RBIs. All very good numbers, but not stand-out. Voters for the Hall of Fame might also have been turned off by some of the issues Garvey had in his private life, including a messy divorce from his first wife and a sex scandal involving multiple women and multiple pregnancies in the late 80s.
This is three former Dodgers in a row. I hope it's not a pattern...
Maury Wills was the Los Angeles Dodgers' shortstop for much of the 1960s and was the catalyst at the top of the order for their offense. Wills was a key figure in bringing the stolen base back into fashion in an era where home runs were king and little ball was a forgotten art.
Wills' game was all about speed, and he excelled at it, leading the NL in stolen bases six straight years. His 104 steals in 1962 made him the first modern era player to eclipse the century mark, although Commissioner Ford Frick dropped an asterisk on the accomplishment (Ty Cobb's record of 97 steals was done in a 154-game season; Wills did it in a 162-game season). Wills' 104 steals were more than any other team in '62, making the feat all the more impressive, despite the asterisk.
Also in 1962, Wills was awarded the NL MVP, led the league in triples (10) and picked up his second consecutive Gold Glove.
Wills has a career line of .281/.330/.331/.661, which on its own is pretty unremarkable. His offensive contributions improve when you take his stolen bases into consideration. In fact, his offensive numbers stack up very well against Hall of Fame shortstops Luis Aparicio (.262/.311/.343/.653) and Ozzie Smith (.262/.337/.328/.666), although granted Wills' defensive skills were not in the same super elite range as Smith and Aparicio.
Working against Wills are his lacklustre hitting, a good—but not great—glove and possibly some drug-related issues he suffered through in his personal life. Nevertheless, here's a guy who changed the way the game was played and, to me, that is worth something.
Career Houston Astro Jeff Bagwell is one of the players currently on the Hall of Fame snub list. He garnered only 56% of the vote this week, putting him well shy of the required 75%, although there's always the possibility that he might squeak in over the next couple years.
Bagwell is the Astros' all-time leader in home runs (449) and RBIs (1,529). He wrapped up his career with an excellent .297/.408/.540/.948 stats line. He was honored with the Rookie of the Year award in 1991 and the MVP in 1994. He also won a Gold Glove in '94 as a credit to his defensive prowess. He is 57th all-time in the Majors in Wins Above Replacement with 79.9 and 22nd all-time in OPS at .948.
If all the hitting wasn't enough, Bagwell could run too. He stole 202 bases in his career, including a pair of 30-steal seasons in 1997 and 1999.
As a member of "the Killer B's" in Houston's lineup, along with Craig Biggio, Bagwell helped power the Astros to six postseason appearances, including their 2005 trip to the World Series. His performance on the biggest stage was lacklustre, however, as he batted an anemic .226 overall in the playoffs.
The thing that is holding the voters back is persistent but unsubstantiated rumours of PED use during the 90s when so many of the MLB's stars seemed to be generating similarly gaudy offensive numbers through steroid enhancement. While one can't rule out the possibility that Bagwell was juicing, there is no evidence to the contrary thus far and I think he has to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Tony Oliva spent his career with the Minnesota Twins and was, during that time, one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
During an eight-year span, Oliva won three batting titles, leading the AL in hits five times and in doubles four times. He also averaged 22 home runs a year during that period. He consequently was named the Rookie of the Year in 1964 and a runner-up for the AL MVP twice. All this during what was one of the most pitching-dominant eras in baseball history.
As if all that offense wasn't wasn't enough, Oliva was also an outstanding right fielder for the Twins, earning a Gold Glove in 1966 and coming in a respectable 186th in MLB history for Defensive Wins Above Replacement with 6.3.
In the postseason, Oliva compiled a .314 batting average with a .588 slugging percentage, although he hit only .192 in his only trip to the World Series in 1965.
Knee injuries sapped Oliva of his power and mobility later in his career and he was eventually moved to the designated hitter's role in the lineup. The stigma of being an everyday DH is likely one of the key reasons the BBWAA never saw fit to induct him into Cooperstown. Nevertheless, he wrapped his career with a .304 average to go along with 220 home runs and 329 doubles, all excellent numbers.
Alan Trammell had the poor taste to be an excellent offensive shortstop in the AL at the same time as Cal Ripken Jr. and seems to have been overlooked as a result, in spite of Hall of Fame worthy numbers.
Trammell spent 20 years with the Detroit Tigers and was one half of the double play combo with Lou Whitaker from 1978-1995, longer than any other middle infield duo ever. During that time, Trammell won four Gold Glove awards and was an All-Star six times.
His career hitting line of .285/.352/.415/.767 is outstanding for a shortstop and only just a tick behind the numbers produced by contemporary Barry Larkin, who was elected to the Hall of Fame this year. His Offensive WAR of 59.4 is the 89th best all-time.
He also stole 236 bases, making him a threat on the basepaths as well.
Defensively, he has the 22nd best fielding percentage ever for a shortstop at .977, the 16th most assists at short (6,172) and his Defensive WAR (7.5) is a solid 134th best all-time for any position player.
In his best year, 1987, he hit .343 with 28 home runs, 105 RBIs and 21 SBs, and was runner up for the MVP as a result.
In two trips to the postseason, Trammell banged out an excellent .333 average and .588 slugging percentage as well as 11 RBI in 13 games. His World Series numbers were even better, as he hit .450 with two homers and six RBI en route to a ring and the World Series MVP award in the 1984 series.
The downside for Trammell's candidacy for the Hall of Fame is that he was never Top Dog at his position. Cal Ripken dominated the AL spotlight and Trammell, in spite of consistently excellent performances, had to live in that shadow.
Dick Allen was a force to be reckoned with during his time in the Majors. Over his 15 seasons, he hit .292 with 351 home runs. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1964 with the Philadelphia Phillies and AL MVP after moving to the Chicago White Sox in 1972.
In that MVP season, Allen led the league with 37 homers, 113 RBIs and 99 walks.
He hit more than 30 home runs on six occasions, and was in the top 10 in homers eight times. His career Offensive WAR (71.8) is 54th overall and his career slugging percentage (.534) is the 43rd best of all time.
Over the course of his career, he led the league in slugging percentage three times, on-base percentage twice and runs, triples, RBIs and walks once each.
The 14-year veteran also had some wheels, stealing 133 bases in his career, with a personal best of 20 in 1967.
Allen played with a chip on his shoulder, and his attitude turned many fans and writers off, although his teammates typically had nothing but good to say about him. The negative public image has almost certainly affected his Hall of Fame voting numbers, while less worthy candidates have been given spots in Cooperstown.
Tim Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters in MLB history. He reached base at a .385 clip to go along with a career .294 batting average. He led the NL in steals his first four years in the Show and finished with the fifth most steals of all time (808).
"Rock" also led the NL in runs twice, doubles (38) in 1984, and won a batting title in 1986 with a .334 average. He finished his career with 2,605 hits, 76th most in history, and 1,330 walks, good for 35th most all-time.
Raines was in the top 5 in on-base percentage in the league seven times.
In Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals history, Raines holds the all-time records for runs, singles, triples, walks, and stolen bases.
As a left fielder, Raines played solid defense and owns the 19th highest fielding percentage (.988) ever.
Raines' two biggest mistakes were both cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had his best years while playing for the Montreal Expos, which kept him out of headlines during his prime. And his career was played in the long shadow of Rickey Henderson, who was the best leadoff hitter ever. No matter what Rock did, his performances always seemed to pale in comparison to what Rickey was doing.
Rock has been slowly garnering more and more support for his induction into the Hall of Fame and may yet make the cut if the voters continue to add to his totals.
MLB All-Time Hits Leader (4,256).
Longest hitting streak in NL history (44 games).
Most games played; only player to play 500+ games at five different positions.
And numerous other MLB records.
Unquestionably one of the best hitters of the last half century, Pete Rose is on the outside looking in because he broke the one inviolable rule that the MLB has: he bet on baseball.
"Charlie Hustle" won three batting titles, the Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award and also two Gold Gloves during his 24-year career. He was an impact player, both literally and figuratively, who played to win and went flat-out whenever he stepped on the diamond. Between the lines, he was everything anyone could want in a ballplayer.
Off the field was a little different though. He went to prison in 1990 after being found guilty of tax evasion.
Most famously though, in August 1989, Rose accepted a permanent ban from baseball as a result of the investigation into allegations that he had been betting on baseball. In exchange for his acceptance, MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti closed the file on Rose and agreed to make no formal finding in the case. Although Rose spent a number of years denying the allegations in an effort to get reinstated, he eventually admitted the truth in his autobiography, published in 2004.
For me, Rose's transgression was worse than that of the Chicago "Black Sox" of 1919, because everyone in the MLB knew after the banning of the eight Sox players, that betting on baseball, or even having knowledge of betting on baseball without reporting it, would result in a permanent ban. Knowing the potential consequences, Rose broke the rule anyway and he is unlikely to ever find his way into Cooperstown as a result.
Shoeless Joe Jackson was one of the infamous "Eight Men Out" who conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. He admitted before a grand jury that he had received payment for the fix, then promptly went out and set a record for most hits in a World Series—a record that would stand for decades.
Although the accused White Sox were exonerated of all charges, MLB commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis nevertheless handed life bans to the eight players involved in the conspiracy.
Of those eight, Jackson was the best known and easily the best player. A consummate five-tool guy, he could hit, run, field, throw and hit for power.
During his 13-year career, he built a reputation as one of the finest hitters in the game, perhaps second only to the great Ty Cobb. Jackson's career .356 batting average is the third highest of all time. He led the American League in hits twice, triples three times and doubles, slugging percentage and on-base percentage once each. He was in the top ten in home runs and doubles six times each, and in the top ten for triples nine times. He also stole as many as 41 bases in 1911.
He had a reputation as an excellent outfielder with a cannon arm—his 32 assists in his rookie season of 1911 remains, to this day, a Cleveland record.
While with Cleveland, "Shoeless" Joe was the runner up for the AL MVP in 1913 while leading the league in hits (197), doubles (39) and slugging percentage (.551) and finishing second in batting average (.373) behind Cobb.
Babe Ruth once noted that he copied Joe Jackson's swing because "His is the perfectest."
Jackson had two trips to the World Series while playing for the White Sox, batting an impressive .345 overall, including 12 hits and six RBI while "throwing" the 1919 Series.
There have been a couple of attempts to reinstate Jackson over the years to earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame, but the commissioner's office has been consistent in refusing to hear any arguments in his favor.
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