Of all the various sports Hall of Fames, none invites more debate than the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Every January, the inductees are announced, followed by countless arguments, in print and over the airwaves, about the players who should have gotten in but didn’t. For each snubbed player, there is a statistic that backs up their claim.
In looking at the players on the ballot for the first time, some shouldn’t merit much initial thought. Based on their statistics alone, the following players can be ruled out: Ellis Burks, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Kevin Appier, Mike Jackson, Pat Hentgen, and Shane Reynolds.
Simply put, they don’t stack up with other Hall of Fame players, and their overall impact on the game was minimal compared to other peers on the ballot.
Of the players eligible for the first time, Roberto Alomar stands out as a definite Hall of Famer. He was miles ahead of his peers at second base defensively (10 Gold Gloves, best all-time at 2B), was an All-Star 12 times, and was a serious MVP candidate five times. In his prime years, Alomar and Derek Jeter were the best No. 2 hitters in all of baseball.
The other first-time eligible players I would consider are Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, and Andres Galarraga.
Martinez is not a sure-fire Hall of Famer for a few reasons, some of which were entirely out of his control (injuries, bad team management).
Some rule him out because he was a DH in 69 percent of the games he played. Others look at his career totals in the so-called “counting statistics” (hits, HR, runs, RBI) and decide he doesn’t measure up to other Hall of Famers in those areas.
However, Martinez had a seven-year stretch (1995-2001) in which he averaged a 1.020 OPS (on-base + slugging), along with a .329 batting average, 28 HR, and 110 RBI. Martinez won two batting titles (1992, 1995), led the AL in on-base percentage three times (1995, 1998, 1999), and led the AL in runs scored (1995) and RBI (2000) once each.
Martinez was a Hall of Fame hitter. The fact that he played just 12 full seasons shouldn’t be held against him. In those 12 seasons, Martinez had a .400 OBP or better in 11 of them, and a .300 batting average or better in 10.
Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer.
Barry Larkin has some elements of being a sure-fire Hall of Famer as well. He won the 1995 NL MVP award, was a 12-time All-Star, and won three Gold Glove awards.
Larkin was light years better than his NL peers at shortstop as a hitter. He won nine NL Silver Slugger awards, more than any other shortstop. Larkin was also the first shortstop to have a 30 HR, 30 SB season.
Like Martinez, Larkin didn’t accumulate gaudy career totals in the “counting statistics.” Injuries forced Larkin to miss 35 or more games in eight of his 19 seasons. In fact, Larkin managed to have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in just 10 of the 19 seasons in which he played.
The difference between Martinez and Larkin is that Martinez was a dominant player compared to all players from all positions when he was healthy, while Larkin was dominant compared to other NL shortstops. Martinez’s competition included Hall of Fame caliber contemporaries. Larkin’s competition included Jay Bell and Jeff Blauser.
Larkin may have some Hall of Fame qualities, but he wouldn’t get my vote based on his statistics and my current perception of him. His stats will never change, but my perception of Barry Larkin could.
Fred McGriff hit 493 HR in his career, drove in 1,550 runs, and finished in the top 10 in league MVP voting six straight years (1989-1994).
If McGriff were a third baseman or a catcher, he’d be a surefire Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, McGriff’s candidacy has been dismissed by many because he played 1B, and because of a perception that his numbers were pedestrian compared to his power-hitting peers. Also, McGriff may be best known for ads he did for those Tom Emanski baseball instructional videos, and that may not help his profile as a potential Hall of Famer either.
However, during that six-year stretch highlighted earlier, McGriff twice led his league in HR (1989, 1992) and finished in the top five in all six of those seasons, averaging 34.67 HR per year during that span. Additionally, McGriff finished in the top five in OPS in all six of those seasons (1989-1994), leading the league in 1989, and had three 100 RBI seasons during this stretch.
Overall, McGriff had 10 30 HR seasons and eight 100 RBI seasons, including four straight 100 RBI seasons late in his career (1999-2002). He was selected to five All-Star teams and won three Silver Slugger awards. In terms of contemporaries, McGriff had the same number of Silver Slugger awards as first basemen such as Don Mattingly, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Carlos Delgado.
McGriff’s career was a combination of excellence, consistency, longevity, and good health. Hall of Fame players require a large amount of all four in order to have the impact necessary for induction. Quietly, McGriff had them all, and should be a Hall of Famer as a result.
Prior to 1993, the idea that Andres Galarraga would play long enough to make a Hall of Fame ballot would have been questionable. Following an All-Star season in 1988 in which he led the NL in hits and doubles, and hit .302 with 29 HR and 92 RBI, Galarraga struggled in subsequent years, and his career was derailed by injuries in 1991 and 1992.
In 1993, at the age of 32, Galarraga joined the then-expansion Colorado Rockies and his career took off again. He hit .370 in 1993 to win the NL batting title, then, in 1996, Galarraga led the NL in HR and RBI, and again led the NL in RBI in 1997.
Galarraga finished with 399 HR and 1,425 RBI for his career, numbers that don’t match up well with other Hall of Fame first basemen. Also, to what degree were Galarraga’s statistics affected by Mile High Stadium and then Coors Field during his five years in Colorado?
While Galarraga had some very good seasons, his impact on the game is closer to the also-rans listed earlier than to peers like McGriff, Larkin, Martinez, and Alomar. Given the choice, I wouldn’t vote for Andres Galarraga.
Coming soon, a look at the holdovers on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Will any of them gain induction this year?