Johnny Damon: Is the Tampa Bay Rays Outfielder Worthy of MLB Hall of Fame?

Perry SchwartzCorrespondent IIIJuly 15, 2011

ST PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 29:  Designated hitter Johnny Damon #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays smiles against the Cincinnati Reds during the game at Tropicana Field on June 29, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Rays DH Johnny Damon recently hit his 500th career double, becoming just the 11th player in major league history to eclipse 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 home runs and 2,500 hits for his career. The other 10 are already in the MLB Hall of Fame. 

Now in his 17th major league season, Damon, 37, is just over 300 hits away from 3,000. With the exception of Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro, who both cheated, every member of the 3,000-hit club that is eligible for the Hall of Fame is already in.  

This immediately brings up the question: Should a player automatically be considered Hall of Fame worthy simply because he has reached one or more milestones that had previously only been accomplished by Hall of Famers? My answer is no.

After all, as many solid seasons as Damon has had, he has never been an elite player. 

Damon has never placed among the top 10 leaders in on-base percentage or slugging percentage, and only once has he had what would generally be considered to be a great season. That was in 2000 when Damon, then with the Kansas City Royals, hit .327, stole 46 bases, scored 136 runs and had 68 extra-base hits. He finished 19th in AL MVP voting. 

If you take away the 2000 season, Damon has never reached 300 total bases in a single season and has never finished in the top three in the league in stolen bases.

ST LOUIS - OCTOBER 21:  Jim Edmonds #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals makes a diving catch in game seven of the National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros during the 2004 Major League Baseball Playoffs on October 21, 2004 at Busch Stadium
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

As far as Damon's defense, he has always had a below-average throwing arm. That wouldn't be as big of a deal if he had great range, but despite Damon's speed, he doesn't fare well in range and zone statistics either.

Besides the possibility of Damon reaching 3,000 hits—along with the fact that he is already a member of the 500, 100, 200 and 2,500 clubs—many argue that Damon's leadership and ability to help his team win ballgames puts him over the edge as a shoo-in Hall of Famer. 

While those are valid arguments, consider that Damon is just a two-time All-Star and has just once posted more than 5.0 in wins above replacement during a single season. By comparison, Jim Edmonds, who played center field during basically the same era as Damon, posted a WAR above 5.0 in seven different seasons. Yet, many believe that Edmonds will never make it to Cooperstown. 

For a player to be considered Hall of Fame worthy, shouldn't he at least be considered one of the top players at his position? 

Since Damon's rookie year in 1995, here is a list of outfielders that I believe have been more valuable to their respective teams than Damon:  

Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Albert Belle, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, Juan Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez,  Magglio Ordonez, Jim Edmonds, Ichiro Suzuki, Andruw Jones, Luis Gonzalez, Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa, Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Lee, Torii Hunter, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Moises Alou, Kenny Lofton.

While it may be true that some of the guys above took performance-enhancing drugs, we are still likely looking at between 15-20 clean outfielders from basically the same era that had better careers than Damon. 

And out of the group of players that are already in the 3,000-hit club, only Lou Brock (39.1) has a lower career WAR than Damon (50.5) currently has. 

However, assuming that Damon eventually reaches 3,000 hits, there are few people around the game that believe Damon will become the first clean member of the 3,000-hit club to miss out on Cooperstown.