Baseball Hall of Fame: 10 Closest Calls Ever, Whether or Not They Should Be In

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIJanuary 11, 2012

Baseball Hall of Fame: 10 Closest Calls Ever, Whether or Not They Should Be In

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    In order for a player to be granted induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame he must get a minimum of 75 percent of the vote. 

    Some players like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn, George Brett and others have coasted right into Cooperstown without much drama. They got well over 90 percent of the vote easily surpassing that minimum and leaving no doubt in the minds of fans or other members of the media that they were indeed worthy of their place in the Hall of Fame. 

    For some other players it wasn't quite as simple. For some it was never a foregone conclusion that they would make the Hall and even when they did the margin above the 75 percent minimum was so close that their place in the Hall of Fame is still debated to this day. 

    Who are these "close calls"? Do they inspire debate among baseball fans both young and old?

    Here are the 10 players who surpassed the 75 percent minimum by the slimmest of margins.  

Number 10: Jim Rice 2009, 76.44 Percent

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    This is the most recent inductee to eek past that 75 percent mark and gain induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

    In 2009 in his final year of eligibility Jim Rice finally made it. 

    Maybe it was that final year that sealed the deal for him? Perhaps when voters realized he had been on the ballot for 15 years and knew that he would not appear after 2009 they chose to take a closer look at his resume? 

    Perhaps the steroid era in which power numbers were artificially inflated caused voters to look at Rice's power production and deem it more impressive? 

    Rice played for 16 seasons and one could make a case that for 12 of those he was one of the better offensive left fielders in the game. Rice won one MVP Award in 1978 and finished in the top five for the voting six times. 

    Rice led the league in total bases four times, home runs three times and in runs batted in two times. Those are all numbers that state a compelling case. 

    Rice was not one of the best defensive players in the league. He also finished his career with 382 home runs and 1451 runs batted in, both very good but not necessarily Hall of Fame numbers. His career batting average of .298 is another nice number but it's not one that would grant anyone automatic entry to Cooperstown. 

    Yet Rice was one of the most feared hitters in the game from 1977 through 1986. He is without question one of the weaker players in the Hall of Fame but there will always be some players that will occupy that position in a group that now numbers over 100. Rice deserved to wait to gain induction but he also was worthy of it as well. 

Number 9: Lefty Grove 1947, 76.40 Percent

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    It's amazing how the Hall of Fame has changed over the years. That's what happens as things get older though. Perspective is gained. What was once not considered impressive can gain gravitas as time and the passing of time allow people to put the accomplishments of others into a different light. 

    Take the case of Lefty Grove. 

    In 1947 he was admitted to Cooperstown with only 76.4 percent of the vote, a slim margin to be sure. Sixty-five years later would these type of numbers cause the voters to even hesitate to admit Lefty Grove? 

    In 17 seasons Grove won 300 games and lost 141. Grove finished with an earned run average of 3.06 and won the American League MVP Award in 1931 when he went 31-4 with an earned run average of 2.06, 27 complete games and a league leading 175 strikeouts.

    Was it a different time? Of course it was. Yet Grove still led the league in earned run average nine times in his 17 year career. Those numbers would get Grove far closer to 100 percent than 75 if he came up for induction in 2013.   

Number 8: Catfish Hunter 1987, 76.27 Percent

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    Lefty Grove got in back in 1947. Catfish Hunter got in 50 years later in 1987 and yet some of the same traits that would now stand out as exceptional were likely not as eye-popping in either 1987 or 1947 for that matter. 

    Take durability for instance. 

    Those that saw Lefty Grove's 27 complete games and rightfully thought, "Well it was a different era way back then" might be amazed to know that Catfish Hunter threw 30 complete games in 1975. That's 40 years since Grove had 27. 

    Hunter only finished his 15 year career with 224 wins, but from 1971 through 1975 Hunter won 21, 21, 21,25 and 23 games. That's a dominant stretch in any era of baseball. He wasn't getting those wins cheaply either. He exceeded 250 innings pitched in each of those seasons and his earned run average was under 3.00 in four of them including a 2.04 in 1972. 

    Hunter won his only Cy Young Award in 1974 but finished in the top of the voting four times. Hunter wasn't a prolific strikeout pitcher, but he still got lots of outs. The strikeout is an impressive feat to be sure but the goal is in most cases to get the batter out. How a pitcher goes about doing that only gains importance in certain circumstances. 

    Hunter also started 19 post season games in his career and finished with a 9-6 record and a 3.26 earned run average. Those aren't dominant postseason numbers but they're very good. 

    Hunter is one of those players whose overall numbers aren't amazing but his dominance at his position for five seasons was enough to push him over-the-top with the voters. 

Number 7: Ryne Sandberg 2005, 76.16 Percent

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    Had Ryne Sandberg been a first baseman then there would be no debate or corresponding slide seen above. 

    That's because Sandberg's numbers really aren't that great. That is until one realizes he played second base. 

    Second base isn't a position jam packed with a long list of amazing offensive producers. 

    With guys like Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Robinson Cano currently playing the second base position it's worth noting that having a crop of prolific second basemen like that in the majors all at the same time isn't normal. 

    Sandberg's 282 home runs aren't that great until you consider that among Hall of Fame second basemen he's second behind only Rogers Hornsby who had 301 home runs. Sandberg's .285 career average is higher than Joe Morgan or Bill Mazeroski.

    There are many that discount the use of All Star selections in helping to determine Hall of Fame worthiness. It's not a perfect way to go about it but All Star selections can help in painting a picture oh how a player dominated his position. Every All Star selection isn't a fluke. Every year when the selections are announced there are always a few that inspire debate but there are also a lot more that inspire no debate. Sandberg was an All Star 10 times. For 10 years in a row from his MVP season of 1983 until he was near retirement in 1993 he was an All Star second baseman in the National League.

    That makes him the dominant second baseman for nearly a decade in the National League, it also makes him Hall of Fame worthy.  

Number 6: Cy Young 1937, 76.12 Percent

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    It's amazing to think that this happened but it did. 

    In 1937 the second year that there even was Hall of Fame voting Cy Young squeaked in. He got in ahead of Grover Cleveland Alexander who got only 62.2 percent of the vote but was well behind Tris Speaker who got 82.1 percent of the vote. 

    It's incomprehensible how someone with 511 wins, a career earned run average of 2.63 along with 749 complete games over 22 seasons wouldn't be named on 100 percent of the ballots never mind only 76.12 percent of them but that's what happened. 

    Maybe it was the distinct lack of Cy Young Awards that he won? 

Number 5: Early Wynn 1972, 76.01 Percent

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    Wynn's name was on the ballot for three years before he gained induction into the Hall of Fame in spite of the fact that he had won a Cy Young Award and amassed 300 wins in his career. 

    That won't happen again anytime soon but then again there is that "character clause" in the Hall of Fame voting guidelines. 

    Wynn was known for being rather surely on the mound. Mickey Mantle once said of Wynn, "That s.o.b. is so mean he would $^#&ing knock you down in the dugout." 

    Of course that doesn't mean he was mean to the writers who vote but it could have given a few voters pause. 

    Then again in spite of his 300 wins Wynn did have a somewhat unimpressive career earned run average of 3.54. He also only recorded 2,334 strikeouts over his 23 year career. That seems low but considering that he led the American League in strikeouts in both 1957 and 1958 with totals of 184 and 179 it's also apparent that the strikeout wasn't as commonplace in that era. 

    Wynn certainly is not Cy Young but he's still Hall of Fame worthy. 

Number 4: Willie Keeler 1939, 75.55 Percent

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    From 1894 through the end of 1906 Willie Keeler was a hitting machine.

    In 1897 he hit .424 with an OPS of 1.003 both led the league as did his 239 hits. 

    Keeler was basically an "Ichiro" type of player from a different era and a different century. 

    He was small in stature but hit tons of singles which may have been partially responsible for Keeler not getting into Cooperstown until his fifth year on the ballot. This in spite of an amazing .341 career batting average as well as the fact that he hit over .300 in 16 of the 19 seasons in which he played. 

    Keeler's 495 stolen bases place him 38th all time and he also had an on-base percentage of over .400 for seven consecutive seasons from 1894-1900. 

    Keeler's considerable accomplishments were probably overlooked when he first became eligible for Cooperstown induction. Now more than 100 years after he retired in 1910 Keeler's resume make him an easy choice for the Hall of Fame. 

Number 3: Ralph Kiner 1975, 75.41 Percent

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    Ralph Kiner had a path to Cooperstown similar to that of Jim Rice.

    Kiner first hit the ballot in 1960 and received only 1.1 percent of the vote.

    15 years later in 1975 Kiner broke through with 75.41 percent to gain Hall of Fame induction in what would have been his final ballot appearance.

    Kiner is one of those players who really gained entry based largely on a very, very impressive period of dominance in which he led the National League in home runs for seven consecutive seasons. Over that same period from 1946 to 1952 he also led the league in OPS three times and led the league in runs batted in three times as well.

    Kiner would hit 369 home runs in only ten seasons. He would also finish his career with an OPS of .946. Kiner drew walks in bunches as pitchers sought to avoid his prolific bat. He drew over 100 walks six times and had over 100 strikeouts just once as a rookie.

    Having only had the luxury of looking at numbers it's hard to say whether or not Kiner is Hall of Fame worthy. There is something to be said for longevity but then again there's also a compelling case for appreciating the type of performance that Kiner had for seven years.  

Number 2: Fergie Jenkins 1991, 75.40 Percent

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    It only took Jenkins three years on the ballot to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

    When one looks over his complete record that seems like too long. 

    Seven 20 win seasons over eight years. Jenkins won 284 games, a Cy Young, his 4,500.2 innings pitched ranks 26th all time. 

    If Kiner gets in for seven dominating offensive seasons in a career so brief that he didn't really cross any major statistical barriers then Jenkins is clearly qualified with a resume like the one listed above. 

    Jenkins was a true workhorse who spent 19 seasons playing professional baseball and started more than 25 games in 16 of them. More impressively he had more than 20 complete games in season eight times. That amount of work probably had an impact on his career earned run average which sits at a very good but not amazing 3.34. 

    Jenkins got in on a narrow margin but the year before he got in was a year in which Joe Morgan and Jim Palmer were both on the ballot, both players who had not just great numbers but also played for great teams likely stole some of Jenkins' thunder. 

    In 1991 Jenkins would join Gaylord Perry and Rod Carew as worthy inductees to Cooperstown. 

Number 1: Al Simmons 1953, 75.38 Percent

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    Al Simmons probably took eight years to get into the Hall of Fame not because of his own numbers but because of the players who played at the same time that he did. 

    Simmons had his most prolific seasons—and make no mistake about it some of them were truly amazing from the mid 1920's to the mid 1930's. There were a few other notable ballplayers posting impressive numbers in that time period. 

    Guys named Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby were dominating the limited media attention that baseball received.

    Still Simmons produced prolific numbers such as six seasons in which he finished with a batting average higher than .350 from 1925 through 1931. Simmons led the American League in hitting in both 1930 and 1931. His 1930 season also featured 36 home runs, 165 runs batted in, a league leading 152 runs scored and an OPS of 1.130.

    Simmons never won an MVP award and he played most of his career before there was an All-Star Game. That tradition was established in 1933 and in spite of his finest years being in the rear view mirror Simmons made the All-Star team for three consecutive seasons from 1933 through 1935.

    Simmons would finish his career with numbers that fell just short of what are now considered to be major accomplishments. 307 home runs, 2,297 hits, 1,507 runs scored. Still Simmons 1,827 runs batted in place him 19th all time. His career batting average of .334 places him 23rd all time among players with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances.

    Simmons narrowly and deservedly made it into Cooperstown in 1953 but it's nice that he did make it then. Simmons passed away at the age of 54 in 1956 the victim of a heart attack.