The Best MLB Player at Every Position Rejected by Hall of Fame
The 2021 MLB Hall of Fame voting results were released Tuesday evening, and for the first time since 2013, no players on the ballot received the requisite 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement.
High-profile candidates Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling will each have one more try before they reach the 10-year limit and fall off the ballot, at which time they would join a long list of former stars who have been passed over for the sport's ultimate honor.
Ahead, we set out to identify the best player at each position who has been rejected by the Baseball Hall of Fame voting system.
In order to be considered for this list, players must have appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot and since fallen off by way of failing to reach 75 percent before hitting the year limit or the 5 percent needed to stick around on the ballot.
That means no players who still appear on the ballot like Bonds and Clemens and no players who have yet to appear on the ballot like Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez since they have not yet been officially rejected by the voters.
Note: Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are banned by Major League Baseball and therefore ineligible for Hall of Fame induction. Since neither has ever formally appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, they have never been officially rejected by the voters and are therefore ineligible for this list, as well.
Catcher: Thurman Munson
Years on Ballot: 15
Peak HOF Support: 15.5 percent
A plane crash ended Thurman Munson's life shortly after his 32nd birthday when he was still in the prime of his career as the captain of the New York Yankees.
He won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1970 and made seven All-Star appearances over 10 full seasons in the majors, taking home the AL MVP Award in 1976 when he hit .302/.337/.432 with 17 home runs and 105 RBI for a World Series-bound Yankees team.
Aside from his offensive production, he was also a three-time Gold Glove winner who threw out 44 percent of base-stealers over the course of his career.
He hit .357/.378/.496 in 135 postseason plate appearances and won back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978.
While he lacks a complete body of work as a result of his career being cut short, his 3.2 WAR per 100 games played compares favorably with all-time great Johnny Bench (3.5), and that speaks volumes to the impact he made.
Honorable Mentions: Bill Freehan, Jason Kendall, Lance Parrish, Jorge Posada
Currently on Ballot: None
First Base: Fred McGriff
Years on Ballot: 10
Peak HOF Support: 39.8 percent
Playing alongside some of the game's prolific Steroid Era sluggers, Fred McGriff was one of the sport's most feared home run hitters and has never been linked to PEDs.
He put together seven straight seasons with at least 30 home runs while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves, and the trade that brought him to Atlanta at the 1993 deadline helped bolster a team on the rise.
Crime Dog ranks in the top 50 all-time in home runs (493, 28th) and RBI (1,550, 47th), and he was a five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner at a time when the first base position was absolutely loaded.
His voting support jumped from 23.2 to 39.8 percent in his final year on the ballot, and it's fair to wonder if he might have ultimately made the cut under the previous 15-year limits rather than the new 10-year cutoff.
Honorable Mentions: Dick Allen, Norm Cash, Carlos Delgado, Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez, Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Boog Powell
Currently on Ballot: Todd Helton
Second Base: Lou Whitaker
Years on Ballot: 1
Peak HOF Support: 2.9 percent
The Veterans Committee righted one wrong when Alan Trammell was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018, and it should be only a matter of time before his longtime double-play partner joins him.
A five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glove winner, Lou Whitaker spent his entire 19-year career with the Detroit Tigers, helping lead the club to a World Series title in 1984.
He finished with 2,369 hits, a 117 OPS+ and a 75.1 career WAR total that ranks sixth all-time among second basemen, behind five Hall of Famers and ahead of 14 others who currently reside in Cooperstown.
In fact, only Barry Bonds (162.8) and turn-of-the-century shortstop Bill Dahlen (75.3) have a higher career WAR total among eligible players not currently enshrined.
It's stunning that he only received 2.9 percent of the vote in his one and only year on the ballot.
Honorable Mentions: Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph
Currently on Ballot: Jeff Kent
Shortstop: Dave Concepcion
Years on Ballot: 15
Peak HOF Support: 16.9 percent
It might be easier to make a case for Omar Vizquel being the best shortstop not currently in the Hall of Fame than it is to make a case that he's deserving of enshrinement.
However, since he's still on the ballot, he was not eligible to be the choice here.
Instead, we turn our attention to an integral member of the Big Red Machine in Dave Concepcion, who played his entire 19-year career with the Cincinnati Reds.
A nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, he also took home a pair of Silver Slugger Awards and tallied 2,326 hits and a .267 career batting average at a time when shortstop was still a defensive-focused position.
He also won two World Series rings and hit .297/.333/.455 with 13 RBI in 34 career playoff games.
Teammates Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez are already enshrined, and Concepcion's case is one worth further consideration from the Veterans Committee.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Belanger, Bert Campaneris, Bill Dahlen, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Maury Wills
Currently on Ballot: Omar Vizquel
Third Base: Graig Nettles
Years on Ballot: 4
Peak HOF Support: 8.3 percent
Scott Rolen belongs in the Hall of Fame, and with another nice bump of support in 2021, he appears to be well on his way to getting there before his time on the ballot comes to an end.
In terms of players who were rejected by the voters, there are a number of standouts from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who are worthy of another look, and Graig Nettles sits atop that list.
He was a model of consistency during the '70s, spending three years in Cleveland before joining the New York Yankees and posting a 114 OPS+ while averaging 23 home runs, 76 RBI and 4.0 WAR in 140 games over the course of his 11 years in pinstripes.
He wrapped up his 22-year career with 390 home runs and 1,314 RBI, earning six All-Star selections and winning two Gold Glove Awards. He was a World Series winner in 1977 and 1978, and his 68.0 career WAR ranks 10th all-time among third basemen.
Honorable Mentions: Sal Bando, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, Ron Cey, Darrell Evans, Robin Ventura
Currently on Ballot: Scott Rolen
Outfielder: Kenny Lofton
Years on Ballot: 1
Peak HOF Support: 3.2 percent
Besides Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines and Ichiro Suzuki, it's hard to think of a player who better fit the mold of the prototypical leadoff hitter than Kenny Lofton.
In his first five full seasons in the majors, he hit .316 with a .382 on-base percentage and led the AL in steals every year, swiping 325 bases in 395 attempts.
He finished 15th on the all-time list with 622 steals, but he was more than just a speedster, showcasing elite on-base skills with a .372 career on-base percentage and playing a terrific center field on his way to four Gold Glove Awards.
He was a dynamic catalyst atop some loaded Cleveland lineups in his prime, and he became a hired gun for a number of playoff-bound teams later in his career. He scored 65 runs and stole 34 bases in 95 career playoff games, reaching the postseason with six different organizations.
With 68.4 career WAR, he falls well within Hall of Fame range, ahead of Duke Snider (66.0), Andre Dawson (64.8), Dave Winfield (64.2), Billy Williams (63.7), Vladimir Guerrero (59.5), Willie Stargell (57.5) and several other legends.
He joined an extremely crowded ballot in 2013, and that no doubt contributed to his one-and-done exit.
Honorable Mentions: Albert Belle, Lance Berkman, Johnny Damon, Jim Edmonds, Dwight Evans, Frank Howard, Fred Lynn, Minnie Minoso, Dale Murphy, Tony Oliva, Reggie Smith
Currently on Ballot: Bobby Abreu, Barry Bonds, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa
Starting Pitcher: Orel Hershiser
Years on Ballot: 2
Peak HOF Support: 11.2 percent
It's not always about a player's final counting numbers when it comes to Hall of Fame candidacy.
Orel Hershiser was undoubtedly one of the game's elite pitchers in his prime, rattling off a five-year peak that included a 2.69 ERA and 132 ERA+ while he averaged 252 innings per year from 1985 through 1989.
In 1988, he was the best pitcher on the planet, throwing a record 59 straight scoreless innings while going 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA and leading the National League in complete games (15) and shutouts (eight) to win NL Cy Young.
He then added NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in October, going 3-0 with one save and a 1.05 ERA in 42.2 innings to lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a title.
Seven years later, he added ALCS MVP to his resume in his age-36 season, serving as the sage veteran on a Cleveland team that reached the World Series.
His career numbers may fall a bit short of traditional Hall of Fame benchmarks, but his 8-3 record and 2.59 ERA in 132 career playoff innings help prop up his resume, and his peak performance stacks up against any pitcher from the past 50 years.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Brown, David Cone, Jim Kaat, Mickey Lolich, Billy Pierce, Rick Reuschel, Dave Stieb, Luis Tiant
Currently on Ballot: Mark Buehrle, Roger Clemens, Tim Hudson, Andy Pettitte, Curt Schilling
Relief Pitcher: John Franco
Years on Ballot: 1
Peak HOF Support: 4.6 percent
For the most part, Hall of Fame voters have done a solid job recognizing the best relievers in the history of the game, assuming Billy Wagner eventually punches his ticket.
Baseball historian Bill James published a list of his top 100 relievers of all time in 2017, and the top 10 is made up of six players who are currently enshrined, three players who are not yet eligible and Wagner.
At No. 12 on that list was left-hander John Franco. While it may be a bit difficult to argue his case for induction, he's the best reliever in the "Hall of Very Good" at the moment.
The southpaw broke into the league with the Cincinnati Reds in 1984 at age 23, and he was still pitching in 2005 for the Houston Astros at age 44. In between, he was an awfully good closer with the Reds and New York Mets, saving at least 30 games eight times and nailing down 424 career saves to rank fifth on the all-time list.
His longevity made him one of just 16 pitchers to pitch in 1,000 career games, and his 1,119 appearances actually rank third behind Jesse Orosco (1,252) and Mike Stanton (1,178).
His underrated career spanned three decades.
Honorable Mentions: Sparky Lyle, Robb Nen, Dan Quisenberry
Currently on Ballot: Billy Wagner
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.