Baseball Hall of Fame: Who's Headed to Cooperstown?
This year's crop of Baseball Hall of Fame candidates isn't exactly loaded with stars—especially when you think back to last year's crop. What follows is an assessment of each player making his first appearance on the ballot, along with my take on his general Hall worthiness, and how the voters will likely respond.
Are you kidding me? I was surprised to not see his name on the steroid list. From 1992 thru 1995 Anderson hit a total of 62 home runs. Suddenly in 1996 he hits 50. Over the next two seasons he failed to even reach 20. Three All-Star appearances and only once being in the top ten of the MVP race aren't Hall caliber. His time on the ballot will be very short, and it won't be because he's elected to Cooperstown. I really don't even need to waste anybody's time explaining any more as to why.
The Hall hasn't exactly been kind to relievers, and being just 23rd all-time in saves isn't the way to get there as a closer. While he finished second in saves four different times, he never lead the league. Beck was a good option as a closer for many years, but unfortunately his best years were wasted on some bad Giants teams. It seemed he saved nearly half of their wins in the early 90s. If only the Giants could have been winning more than 65 or 75 games a year Beck might receive more consideration. Overall, I doubt the voters will take this into consideration so he really probably doesn't have a shot at being inducted. If I were voting I would consider it, but I don't think he'd get a yes vote from me.
Would someone please explain to me why he is even on the ballot? It's a waste of ink. Granted, Dunston, courtesy of WGN, was one of my favorite non Atlanta Braves players growing up, but he's no Hall of Famer, he's not close. Take this into consideration, Dunston ranked in the top ten in strikeouts, outs made and caught stealing a combined three times. He ranked in the top ten in all positive offensive categories five times, and that's being generous as it includes sacrifice flies. For his career, as a hitter, Dunston annually performed below the league average player, and in reality, did more to hinder his team offensively than aide it. Dunston's prowess was obviously as a defensive player, but even there, he never won a Gold Glove and was only slightly above average. Dunston won't be a Hall of Famer, and won't last long on the ballot.
Aside from a pretty remarkable streak where his Angels won 18 straight games over nearly from July of 1997 thru May of 1998 where Finley started (Finley got credit for 14 of those wins), nothing about his career was remarkable enough to really put him in the Hall of Fame. However, he was just steady enough to warrant a look, and possibly a second look. Finley wasn't blessed with a lot of good baseball teams, and ultimately that might be what prevents him from being enshrined in Cooperstown. Finley was a starting pitcher for the Angels from 1988 up thru 1999. During those 12 years the Angels only had four seasons where they finished above .500 as a team. Despite that, Finley managed to go above .500 nine times, topping out with 18 wins on two separate occasions. During that stretch 1988 was the only season in which Finley's ERA was higher than the league's average. For his career he topped 200 innings nine times, won 200 games and was a five time All-Star. He however only finished in the top ten of the Cy Young voting once. Finley was a very good, quality starter, but his being stuck on some bad teams probably prevented him from ever becoming known as a great starter, and will keep him out of Cooperstown. Regardless, you could have done a lot worse than have Chuck Finley as a part of your rotation.
Fryman was one of the American League's better infielders during his tenure as a Detroit Tiger from 1990 to 1997. Unfortunately for Fryman, he never played on a really good baseball team. While Fryman made four All-Star teams as a Tiger, and another as a Cleveland Indian, he never really did enough to warrant a place in Cooperstown. He never even led his own team in OPS, and it's not like those Tigers teams were full of superstars. Fryman spent time at third and short for the Tigers and perhaps the constant position switch impeded his ability to get a stranglehold as one of the premier players at any one position. Fryman posted seven season of 90 plus RBIs and seven seasons of 20 plus home runs. While not outstanding or jaw dropping, those numbers were certainly solid. However, there are other numbers that are a strong case to keep him out of Cooperstown. He had but three years in which he had an OBP of better than .340 and never finished in the top ten of the AL in home runs or batting average, and only did so once in RBIs. A good player, but never a great one, Fryman likely won't be on the ballot long, and won't receive a ton of Hall consideration, and rightfully so.
Justice is an interesting guy to gauge his Hall of Fame potential. He was an MVP candidate for three different teams, including 2001 when he finished 13th in the voting despite having his season split between New York and Cleveland. Justice is an enigma also due to the fact that he had four years where he ranked in the top 15 in MVP voting, yet was only a member of three All-Star teams. Injuries and inconsistency plagued Justice more than anything. He made his name more so on a few monstrous seasons rather than strings of really, really strong ones. While he was always a pretty above average offensive player, he wasn't consistently at the peak of his profession. He had his years, 1993, 1997 and 2000, where he seemed to fully reach his potential. Yet all too often he was just tantalizingly close. Beyond those three seasons Justice never drove in more than 90 runs nor did he hit more than 30 home runs. Not coincidentally, aside from those three seasons he only appeared in more than 135 games on two occasions. Had Justice been able to stay healthy his case for the Hall of Fame would certainly be stronger. He almost assuredly would have more 30 home run seasons (1990, 1991, 1994?) and more 90 RBI seasons (1990, 1991, 1999). Injuries kept Justice from being a fringe Hall of Fame player, as it is, he's not really that close, not being a sub .300 hitter with 305 home runs for his career. Even so, you could do a whole lot worse than to have nine David Justices in your lineup.
While a member of the Minnesota Twins Knoblauch seemed destined to have a Hall of Fame career. His numbers were good on offense and he was for the most part, an above average fielder, even winning a Gold Glove in 1997. He was the the 1991 Rookie of the Year and would go on to make four All-Star teams. Is it enough? No, probably not. His decline came so immediate in New York, thanks largely in part to his sudden inability to throw the ball to first base that many people have that lasting image of Knoblauch etched in their minds, and not the image of the Minnesota Twins second baseman who was one of the best second baseman in baseball. While in Minnesota Knoblauch was a very solid top of the order guy, with an OBP that never dipped below .350 and four times topped the .380 mark. He constantly was among the league leaders in hits and in runs scored. He also concluded his tenure in Minnesota with four straight seasons ranking in the top five in steals. When he left the Twin Cities and headed to the Bronx, it looked like he was in a position to cement his place in the Hall of Fame. His first year in New York saw him total a career low in hits (sans the strike shortened year of 1994) and his lowest stolen base output since 1993. What's more is that following his Gold Glove year of 1997 in Minnesota, his range and his fielding percentage immediately dropped while in New York, albeit unsubstantially. The big drop occurred the following season when, in 1999, Knoblauch committed 26 errors at 2nd base, more than double the number he had committed in any single season since his rookie year. The good news was that he rebounded offensively in 1999, however, the sudden disappearance of his reliable defense had a lasting effect, and ultimately is what probably ended his career. Over the next three seasons, his final three seasons in baseball, he saw his average drop 9 points, then 33 points, and ultimately 40 more points to a staggeringly low .210 with the Royals in 2002. Knoblauch's sudden descent from a vastly above average player to one suddenly very below is going to keep him from Cooperstown. Once a surefire bet to be enshrined, Knoblauch now is known more for hitting people in the first row of the bleachers than he is for his fine days as a Minnesota Twin. The Big Apple isn't kind to everyone.
Nen is really just a slightly better version of Rod Beck, or perhaps a more fortunate one, it depends on how you view it. Nen was blessed with the chance to pitch for more competitive baseball teams, enabling himself to garner more save opportunities, which ultimately resulted in his ranking eight spots higher on the all-time list than Beck. From 1998 thru 2002 Nen's Giants never failed to top 86 wins and Nen took full advantage, saving close to half of their games each year, putting together four 40 save seasons in five years. Coupled with his numbers from Florida Nen saved 314 games for his career, placing him 15th all-time. Even so, 15th all-time in saves isn't likely going to translate into a bust in Cooperstown. Had Nen stayed healthy past 2002, as he was clearly still in his prime, his case might be different. As it stands, he's going to have to rely on voters looking at a career cut short by injury and hope they judge him solely on what he did while he was on the field. His injury came via his determination to try and bring a world title to San Francisco, so that might factor into consideration. Would I vote Nen into the Hall? Yes, I would. Will the voters, that remains to be seen, but he certainly is worthy of serious, serious consideration.
Raines is one of my favorite non Braves players of all-time, so I may be a little bit biased here, but he's probably the most likely of all the first time candidates to be enshrined, or at least will be enshrined first. If longevity counts for anything, Raines racks up a ton of points as he stuck around the Bigs for 23 seasons. What was impressive about Raines is that his final few years weren't all spent toiling in mediocrity or below it. While he obviously didn't produce like he did during his prime, he still offered decent value to the clubs he played for. Even in his final season, 2002 with the Marlins, Raines, despite a weak batting average under .200, still posted a respectable .350 OBP. Not bad for a 42 year old. In 1999 with Oakland Raines had a terrible season, and seemingly retired, only to come back in 2001 and once again be a solid contributor. In fact, over his 23 seasons, the only two years in which he performed at a below average level were 1999 and 2002. When you play for 23 years and spend 21 of them as an above average player, that speaks for something. So do his numbers from the 80s while he was a Montreal Expo. He had runs of seven consecutive trips to the Midsummer Classic, was in the top 12 of MVP voting for five straight seasons, had a string of 12 straight seasons with 30 or more steals, including a run of six straight 70 steal seasons. Additionally he was also a very solid defender in the outfield. Over 2,600 hits, over 800 steals (5th all time with an outstanding 84% success rate), and a career .294 hitter, Tim Raines undoubtedly deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. While he's probably not going to be a first ballot enshrinee, odds are pretty good that in the near future he will be elected.
He's the epitome of a what could have been. Rijo falls somewhere in between the likes of a David Justice (had his years, but just too many injuries to be fully productive over a long enough period of time) and a Steve Avery (had a couple of years and then quickly took a nose dive). When Rijo toed the rubber he was a fierce competitor and damned fine pitcher, having most of his success as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately for Rijo he only reached 190 innings five times in his 14 year career, and only topped 30 starts in a season twice. His inability to stay on the field derailed what could have been a stellar career. From 1990 thru 1993 though Rijo ranked right up there with the best pitchers in the game. His Reds teams were only eight games above .500 over that stretch, but Rijo was 58-33. His ERA during that period maxed out at 2.70 and he was consistently over a full run better than the league average. In 1993 Rijo had the best season of his career, posting 14 wins, tossing over 250 innings, and sporting an ERA of 2.48 that was a run and a half better than the average at the time. Unfortunately, he never approached those numbers again. The next season was cut short by the strike as Rijo went 9-6 with a very respectable, and again, much lower than the league average, 3.08 ERA. Unfortunately it would be the last season he would complete. At just 29 years old, Rijo would never again throw as many as even 80 innings in a season. A devastating injury in 1995 ultimately led to him being out of baseball for 6 seasons. He attempted a comeback in 2001 and pitched well in very limited work, but in 2002 age had caught up to him and he clearly wasn't the same pitcher. Amazingly Rijo only made one All-Star team, despite twice finishing in the top five of the Cy Young voting (which ironically enough did not take place during his All-Star season of 1994). In his prime he was constantly among the league leaders in ERA, wins, strikeouts and strikeout to walk ratio. Unfortunately his prime didn't last long enough. Is Rijo a Hall of Fame talent? Yes, absolutely. But did he have a Hall of Fame career? No, it just wasn't long enough.
While many pitchers on this list suffered some due to bad teams, Stottlemyre is the exact opposite. He's only even on the ballot because of his team's offensive prowess. His career began in Toronto, and it was there he benefited greatly from being a part of a baseball team that could score some runs. Those Blue Jays teams won, from 1988 thru 1993, no fewer than 86 games, four division titles and three straight years topped 90 wins. In none of those seasons did Stottlemyre ever lead the team in ERA. In fact, in five of those six seasons his ERA was above the league average. How does that quantify being a Hall of Famer? How does that quantify even being on the ballot? He rode the coattails of his teammates to 62 wins during that stretch. The even more discouraging aspect to that? Despite being on teams that constantly played well above .500, he lost 63 games, putting his record during the Blue Jays run below the .500 mark. That's in no way representative of someone worthy of even being discussed in Hall of Fame conversations. In fact, with those statistics now mentioned, I will end this discussion right now.
Should get elected, no doubt, an electrifying player in his prime.
It's not just that his career got cut short by injury, it's the manner that might sway me to vote him in. He was extremely reliable and among the best at his position.
One of the more underrated pitchers over the past 20 years or so, but perhaps more remembered for his wife's good looks in the SI swimsuit calendar several years ago. He's a fringe guy, no question, but probably closer to out than in.
Several below him probably have better odds of actually making the Hall of Fame, but none were as good as he was when he was healthy.
It's just too hard to forget how abruptly, and horrendously, his career ended, while he still should have been having good seasons
Is probably being punished for some bad teams, but life isn't fair, is it?
Too many nagging injuries that cost him ten games here, seven there, and prevented him from posting enough big seasons
He's the model of consistency, it's just he was consistently good, not great
At least had one big year, whether it was chemically aided or not. It's not like his other years were bad, but they weren't that much above average.
Below average on offense, no Gold Gloves, what do you expect?
A below .500 record while pitching for one of the better teams in baseball over a six year stretch, please.
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