Right fielder Lance Berkman is well on his way to an impressive bounce-back season for the St. Louis Cardinals. After an awful 2010 season, which included a devastating left knee injury, he is hitting .357 in 2011 with 10 home runs and a league-leading 32 RBI.
Berkman has very impressive career numbers, but his chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame are far from guaranteed.
Had Berkman played the bulk of his career during a different era, he may very well have looked at as a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Unfortunately for Berkman, his numbers don't jump out at you when compared to other hitters from the last 15-20 years, particularly the steroid era.
The steroid era is often referred to as the MLB seasons from 1996-2006.
During that time, we saw an incredible sudden increase in home runs. To give you an idea, there were just 18 players that hit at least 40 home runs in a season between 1989 and 1995, an average of 2.6 per year. By contrast, 128 players hit 40 or more home runs from 1996-2006, an average of 11.6 per season.
It was an exciting time for the game when television ratings increased, attendance went up and several of the most impressive offensive seasons in major league history took place. However, while we may have raved about certain power hitters back at the time, it is now evident that many of them were using illegal Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's).
As a result, voting for the Hall of Fame has become an unsolvable puzzle. Voters are now pressured to gather information as far as which players used PED's and which players did not, prior to making a decision.
Guys like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn and Andres Galarraga, all of whom would have been sure in Hall of Famers or borderline inductees at the worst, have already been overlooked by voters completely and may never get into the Hall of Fame because of allegations that they may have used PED's.
But if you punish guys because they took steroids, doesn't that mean that guys that you should reward guys that did not used PED's? There are a number of guys who appear to have been clean during the era and seemingly would have been voted into the Hall of Fame had they come out of a different era, but whose numbers pale in comparison to their competition.
Assuming that Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. will all get into the Hall of Fame because they have done enough on the field without PED's, there are still at least ten more allegedly clean power hitters that should join them in Cooperstown.
Career: (.284 batting average, .377 on base percentage, .509 slugging percentage), 493 home runs, 2490 hits
McGriff first hit his prime during the late 1980s and early 1990s when steroids were essentially a nonissue. Spending time with Toronto, San Diego and Atlanta, McGriff was one of the elite power hitters during that time period.
Despite never hitting more than 37 home runs in a single season, McGriff was among the top four in the league in home runs every year from 1988-1994, leading the league twice.
By the time the steroid era was in full force, McGriff was still consistently hitting between 28-32 home runs per season, but he would never finish in the top ten in the league ever again.
McGriff was named to just one All-Star team during his final eight seasons, but he still ended his career with 493 home runs. With an exception of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, every player eligible for the Hall of Fame that has hit at least 462 home runs has been voted in.
Unfortunately for McGriff, it seems as if he was unfairly compared to players specifically from the steroid era when voting for the Hall of Fame took place. But if McGriff did not use steroids, had more than 462 home runs and was among the elite power hitters in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it does not make much sense to leave him out of Cooperstown.
(.280, .383, .546)
473 home runs, 2038 hits
Delgado retired just one month ago, and like Fred McGriff, he hit more than 462 home runs, but may never get into the Hall of Fame.
One of the elite power hitters in the game during the steroid era, Delgado had a streak from 1997-2006, in which he hit at least 30 home runs every season.
Delgado averaged nearly 38 home runs and 120 RBI from 1998-2006, an extremely impressive run. He finished in the top 12 in MVP voting six times, coming closest in 2003 when he was second to Alex Rodriguez, who later admitted that he used steroids during that season.
However, Delgado was just a two-time All-Star and barely missed the 500 home run plateau that many Hall of Fame voters still consider to be the cutoff for power hitters.
Delgado was frequently left off of the All-Star roster because there were so many other power hitting first baseman and DH in the AL at the time, including Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, Mark Teixeira, Jim Thome and David Ortiz.
If Delgado was in fact clean, then there is no reason that he should be left out of the Hall of Fame.
(.313, .400, .965)
383 home runs, 2160 hits
Walker had one of the most dominant six year runs in MLB history, but he does not appear to be headed to Cooperstown any time soon.
From 1997-2002, Walker posted the following batting averages (.366, .363, .379, .309, .350, .338). He won three batting titles during those six years and had five seasons in which his OPS was above 1.000, a staggering statistic. Walker's career OPS of .965 stands as the 16th best all time.
Oh by the way, Walker was also a six-time Gold Glove winner, an MVP in 1997 and a great athlete that could steal bases.
Walker first became eligible for the Hall of Fame in January of this year, but was essentially the first player to miss the cut simply because many voters felt that his numbers were not good enough once you add in the factor of the high altitude in Colorado.
While Walker's career numbers likely would have been less impressive had he not spent 60 percent career with Colorado, the reality is that he played only 30 percent of his games at Coors Field. Therefore, his numbers may still have been very good had he never played for the Rockies.
After all, he finished in the top 11 in NL MVP voting three times before he was ever traded to Colorado.
(.284, .393, .527)
383 HR, 1949 hits
Edmonds' career was limited a bit by injuries, but he did enough during his career to be Hall of Fame worthy.
He is best known for his incredible defensive plays, including this one from the 2004 NLCS. Overall, Edmonds earned eight gold gloves and is undoubtedly one of the best defensive center fielders in history.
Besides being an absolute human highlight reel, Edmonds was a pretty good hitter too. He finished just shy of 400 career home runs, but averaged a very solid 32 home runs per 162 games. His career slugging percentage of .527 places him 52nd all-time.
Edmonds was just a four-time All-Star, but this in large part due to the fact that he had to compete against a number of steroid-driven outfielders.
The MLB Network recently showed an episode of "Prime 9" in which Edmonds was listed as the eighth best center fielder of all-time behind Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr and Duke Snider.
If you agree with this list, then Edmonds should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Easily.
(.312, .418. .515)
309 home runs, 2247 hits
Widely regarded as the greatest DH of all time, Martinez was one of the best pure right-handed hitters the game has ever seen.
A Seattle Mariner for his entire career, Martinez hit over .300 10 times and his career on base percentage of .418 ranks 22nd best all time.
He was named to seven All-Star teams and led the entire A.L. win probability added in both 1995 and 1996.
Martinez was not a power-hitter per se, but he did hit more than 20 home runs in eight different seasons, including a career-high 37 in 2000. He was also one of the premier doubles hitters in the league, leading the league twice in that category.
The most common arguments against Martinez being inducted into the Hall of Fame are:
a) that he was primarily a DH, who played just 582 games in the field (546 at first base) and
b) that he did not reach any career milestones, such as 3000 hits. Much of this can be attributed to frequent injuries to his hamstrings, which caused him to miss most of the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
Martinez, who fallen far short on the Hall of Fame each of the last two seasons, did not receive the recognition he deserved. This was in large part because he played in the north west on the same teams as Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson.
However, Martinez was one of the most efficient players in the game and seemingly would have been elected to the Hall of Fame easily had he come out of a different era.
(.324, .423, .554)
336 home runs, 2266 hits
Helton has extremely impressive career numbers, but his Hall of Fame chances are very much up in the air.
Despite his recent regression offensively, Helton still ranks fourth among active players in batting average. His career OPS of .977 is the 13th best of all time.
Helton is also a three-time Gold Glove winner and is one of the elite doubles hitters in history. If he plays three more seasons, he could find himself in the top 10 all time in career doubles.
However, similar to Larry Walker, Helton achieved much of his success because of the high altitude at Coors Field. Also hurting his cause, Helton peaked from 1999-2004 when so many other guys in the league put up incredible numbers as well.
As a result, Helton may go down as the clean player with the most impressive resume to miss out on the Hall of Fame.
(.295, .369, .564)
381 home runs, 1726 hits
Belle is all but forgotten by now, but he is by many accounts one of the better offensive hitters in major league history.
Although many of you may disagree that Belle was steroid-free throughout his career, there is little to no evidence suggesting otherwise. However, he was once suspended for 10 games after cork was found in his bat.
During his career, he averaged 40 home runs and 130 RBI per 162 games. He also had more extra base hits (711) and RBI (1099) than any player in the 1990s.
Belle had three season in which he hit at least 48 home runs and also finished in the top three in AL MVP voting three times.
It should also be noted also be noted that Belle had four terrific seasons before 1996, the first major year of the steroid era.
In 2007, Belle's first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, he received just 3.5 percent of the vote, far short of the 75 percent necessary.
(.297, .410, .549)
337 home runs, 1715 hits
Berkman is still very effective, but he was widely overshadowed during much of his prime.
The Texas native is having a comeback season for St. Louis, while at the same time, making a strong case for Hall of Fame consideration.
Berkman's four best seasons came during the steroid era (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006), which really prevented him from gaining the recognition he deserved. He has hit at least 42 home runs in a season twice and has knocked in at least 126 runs on three occasions.
However, arguably Berkman's most impressive statistic throughout his career has been his slugging percentage. He has slugged over .500 in 10 of his 11 seasons and is among the all-time leaders in that category (27th), as well as OPS, where he is 19th of all time.
If Berkman can put together a few more very good seasons, then he should receive plenty of Hall of Fame consideration.
(.288, .363, .470)
281 home runs, 2105 hits
(.297, .381, .477)
287 home runs, 2336 hits
Williams and O'Neil had incredibly similar careers, so we will make the same case for each of them being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Both players enjoyed their best seasons while playing outfield for the New York Yankees from 1993 through the beginning of the 21st century. They each won a batting title and consistently hit over .300 with 15-30 home runs during the Yankees dynasty.
Each of them were also a part of four Yankees World Series titles (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000).
Both Williams and O'Neil fell far short of career milestones like 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but were consistently named to AL All-Star teams throughout the mid-to-late 1990s.
Depending on what type of emphasis you put on winning, it seems as if either both players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame or neither. O'Neil and Williams each thrived during big moments, but did not put up impressive enough statistics to be inducted based on regular season numbers alone.
Major League Baseball is obviously very stat-heavy, but I believe that both Williams and O'Neil are Hall of Fame worthy. They were elite winners and did just enough during the regular season to be considered all-time greats.
O'Neil failed to receive enough votes on the ballot and is no longer eligible, but Williams will appear on the ballot next year and deserves an entry into Cooperstown.