Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ten for Tuesday - Eliminations from the Baseball Hall

Hey everyone, Drew back here! This week in my new series, "Ten for Tuesday", we will venture into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame has been a controversial subject ever since its creation, and today we still see frequent debates over whether Pete Rose or any of the positively tested steroid players should be inducted. It makes for great conversation, which will be exactly the purpose of what I'm about to bring to you today.

10 Borderline Baseball Hall of Fame Members Who Shouldn't Be In

Let me be very clear with this before I begin: I am not saying that any of the following players were not good players. Every member of the Hall of Fame is in for one reason or another, however some of these reasons are more notable than others. Also, let us not forget that the Hall of Fame isn't always stats first. A guy like Ozzie Smith was a tremendous defensive player but generally an average offensive threat throughout his career with the Cardinals, however the impact he's made on baseball and on the city of St. Louis give him a larger than life persona than some of the players listed below. The players below may have been better all around players than Smith, but there is an element of character that should be slightly taken into consideration as well.

Also, this list is only for players who started their career 1950 or later. I personally do not know much about several of the players before that time period other than what Baseball Reference can tell me. Besides, the game was extremely different in that era, and it's difficult to compare the Deadball Era from any other era in the game's history. Lastly, I want to thank my Grandpa Roy and best buddy William of foul bunt for some advice in putting the list together!

Honorable Mentions - Billy Williams, Barry Larkin, Luis Aparicio

Something we took into consideration in building this list was name value, as cheap as that may seem. We questioned "Is this player an all time great?," and this question alone was helpful in picking apart the tiers of the Hall. Billy Williams was a great Cub, and after comparing him with the now 10th ranked player, I had to keep him out of the Top 10. He played in one playoff series for the A's in 1975, so it isn't fair to slight him for his lack of postseason accomplishments. There was a sizable gap between he and Larkin/Aparicio, who both came home with plenty of hardware and racked up solid statistics across the board. Aparicio is not a well known player to most because he played so long ago now, but was a fantastic defensive presence with a knack for stealing bases (sound familiar, Ozzie Smith?). The difference between Smith and Aparicio is the value to the game, and this may be biased due to Smith's younger age and increased popularity in comparison. But let's face it; a majority of fans would be shocked if Smith wasn't in, and Aparicio was, regardless of the statistics. But none of these players made the ultimate cut.

10 - Andre Dawson
OF, Montreal Expos / Chicago Cubs / Boston Red Sox / Florida Marlins

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Based on talent alone, you would be hardpressed to find "The Hawk" on this list. However, Andre Dawson spent his career battling injuries that took a toll on his final career contributions to the game. Unfortunately, this list does not give sympathy points, although it can be said that Dawson was great for the game and a beloved player among the cities in which he spread his time throughout. He was a tremendous fielder until the turf at Montreal's Olympic Stadium caused him to suffer knee problems. He could do it all during the late 1980's, and even earned an MVP and Rookie of the Year Award. Dawson has an impressive resumé award-wise, but his career statistics were underwhelming compared to what they could have been. And his career on base percentage of .323 is not Hall of Fame worthy, at all.

9 - Tony Perez
1B/3B, Cincinnati Reds / Montreal Expos / Boston Red Sox / Philadelphia Phillies

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Tony Perez was a very productive player for what is arguably the greatest baseball team of the modern era, however, he appeared to play fourth fiddle on the "Big Red Machine"; behind Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. He was a valuable run producer in the middle of the lineup, but it can be said that driving in runs for a team of this caliber was most likely easier than it would be if he played his prime years with any other team. He also was a victim of extending his career a bit too long, which is something you will see often on this list. Perez made 7 All Star teams in his 23 year career, and even won an All Star Game MVP in 1967. He went in on his final year on the ballot, and seemed to get a lot of sympathy votes from writers who didn't vote for him previously. It's difficult to place a guy who closely missed the 3,000 hit club and 400 home run club on this list, but due to the extended longevity along with his high powered team and lack of significant hardware; the Reds slugger is on my list.

8 - Gaylord Perry
SP, San Francisco Giants / Cleveland Indians / Texas Rangers / San Diego Padres / New York Yankees / Atlanta Braves / Seattle Mariners / Kansas City Royals

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If you're among the fairly large crowd who never wishes to see Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame; you probably shouldn't be a fan of Gaylord Perry's, either. Perry is an admitted cheater, who frequently threw an illegal spitter pitch and doctored baseballs with lubricants and vaseline. Apparently, he was so proud of his system that he tried to land an endorsement deal with vaseline products! He seemed to be a hittable pitcher during his first few seasons until he started cheating his way all the way to the Hall of Fame. When it comes to his actual career statline, he pitched until he was 44 years old; which did not pay his career ERA dividends. Even while winning 314 games, Perry lost a whopping 265 games; posting a career winning percentage of .542. He struggled mightily in his only postseason appearance, and only made 5 All Star teams over his 22 seasons. His numbers were good, but not dominant, and lest we forget, he cheated. And from the looks of it, he liked it.

7 - Phil Niekro 
SP, Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves / New York Yankees / Cleveland Indians / Toronto Blue Jays

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"Knucksie" will forever be known for just that: his knuckleball. Niekro mastered the knuckleball well enough to pitch consistently well for 24 years; up until he was 48 years old. While there is something to be said for someone who is capable of performing well past his prime, he didn't exactly look like he belonged on the field at that point. It appeared as though he played in order to pad his statistics towards making a Hall of Fame case, and sure enough his plan worked out in his favor. Similarly to Perry, Niekro had a shaky winning percentage of .537, losing 274 games. Sure, Cy Young may have lost 316 games, but times were much different in the early 1900's than they were during his time. His saving grace helped him keep the legacy he has now, especially because it has been since passed down to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. But just because you have longevity on your side should not make you a lock for the Hall of Fame, because you're bound to reach significant milestones eventually. Niekro was a very good pitcher, better than anyone would have expected, and he makes for a fun story. But he's not a Hall of Famer in my book.

6 - Don Sutton
SP, Los Angeles Dodgers / Houston Astros / Milwaukee Brewers / Oakland Athletics / California Angels

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You know those Golden Oreos? They're great in their own right, yet every time you eat them you wish for an original chocolate cookie instead. Don Sutton is the golden Oreo of Hall of Fame pitchers. Sutton pitched for 23 seasons, and many of those years were average or slightly above average. He won over 20 games once during an era where pitchers were more capable of achieving the feat. Wins can surely be a difficult category to inspect, because a lot of the problem could have been due to lack of run support. He compiled 324 of them eventually, after struggling to get through his age's 38-43 seasons. But when it comes to sheer dominance, Sutton and Niekro simply did not own the league. When I view a Hall of Fame player, I expect to see players who appear significantly better than the rest of the pack. Plus, he only made 4 All Star teams, showing that he was not someone who was viewed among the fans as highly as perhaps he should have. Sutton accomplished plenty throughout his career, but if we could just do away with the silly 300+ wins argument (that will be ruined anyway once Clemens doesn't make it), we would see that he may not appear as much of a lock as he was in 1998 when he was enshrined.

5 - Hoyt Wilhelm
P, New York Giants / St. Louis Cardinals / Cleveland Indians / Baltimore Orioles / Chicago White Sox / California Angels / Atlanta Braves / Chicago Cubs / Los Angeles Dodgers

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Another name, another knuckleballer. Wilhelm was the first primarily relief pitcher inducted back in 1985, and set the standard for which late inning stars should or should not be included. He made eight All Star teams and won a World Series with the Giants in 1954, but he played for nine teams in that span. Saves should not matter when it comes to voting, which helps his case due to his 227 total career saves, 37th all time. My main gripe with Wilhelm, as well as with Sutter, Rollie Fingers, and Goose Gossage, is something they could not control. They simply did not pitch enough. I gave Fingers an edge on this list due to his 1981 MVP and Cy Young season, as well as 3 World Series championships (not to mention great postseason performances). Dennis Eckersley also padded his resumé for much of the same reasons. Wilhelm was transcendent in baseball history, and probably should get more respect than I am giving him, but I had such a difficult time leaving him off this list.

4 - Jim Rice
OF, Boston Red Sox

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There has been a lot of talk regarding why Jim Rice was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2009 alongside Rickey Henderson. Rice was a feared hitter without question in his prime with the Red Sox, but no matter how he performed, he never seemed to carry any of the spotlight. There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't put his case off to a good start. He was generally a solely power hitter, although he did bat over .300 seven times during his somewhat short 16 year career. Meanwhile, he produced significantly better at home in Fenway Park than on the road (.320 average at home, .277 on the road).

But my biggest problem with Rice, along with the aforementioned Andre Dawson; is that there a plethora of players from that general era who have comparable statistics. I call it the "If he's in, then he's in, then he's in" rule, and I know it's not a catchy name but it fulfills exactly my problem. If you're going to let Jim Rice and Andre Dawson in the Hall, then their contemporaries Tony Oliva, Dave Parker, George Foster, Dick Allen, and Dwight Evans all should have plaques in the museum as well. And for a museum that strives to honor the top percentage of players to ever play the game, it should not include so many similar players in and honor the ones who were able to stand out.

When a player takes the full 15 years on the ballot to be elected, it's clear how little his presence was felt against some of the other greats of his time.

3 - Bruce Sutter
CP, Chicago Cubs / St. Louis Cardinals / Atlanta Braves

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Bruce Sutter was a really good reliever for the twelve seasons he played, and he will forever be credited for being the first pitcher to effectively use a split-finger fastball. That is why he's in the Hall of Fame. But for a Hall of Famer, he didn't pitch a whole lot. Sutter only throw slightly over 1,000 innings between the Cubs, Cardinals, and Braves, whereas his contemporary, Goose Gossage; threw almost 800 more innings. The reliever conundrum in the Hall is conflicting, because it seems to be judged based on consistent dominance and not as much on the numbers themselves. If that is the case, then Lee Smith, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera should be in as well. All relievers, even Rivera, should be heavily debated when it comes to being inducted, because relievers (especially in the new era with one inning saves) simply do not pitch nearly as much as starting pitchers. Sure, he won a Cy Young Award, but I don't know if that is enough to build a resumé that would put him in the same Hall as guys from the same era that consistently threw 250-300 innings, year in, year out.

2 - Jim Bunning
SP, Detroit Tigers / Philadelphia Phillies / Pittsburgh Pirates / Los Angeles Dodgers

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When William and I discussed Jim Bunning's case, we initially were saying how he made it due to accumulating 300 wins. After researching his career, though, I noticed that he came nowhere close to 300 (224 total), and he shot up this list. I do not value 300 wins all that much, as you have read before with Sutton, Perry, and Niekro's respective cases, but that was why we thought he was in, which made his case more puzzling when I saw his overall numbers. The former Senator was a nine time All Star and pitched a no hitter, and other than that, he doesn't have much else to boast about. No World Series ring (or playoff experience), no Cy Young Awards, and although he was 2nd all time in strikeouts at the time of his retirement he has since been surpassed fifteen times. When you view Jim Bunning, do you see him as an all time great, better yet a legend? I didn't think so, and despite his consistent, solid career, it's hard for me to honor players that didn't have that "wow" factor.

1 - Bill Mazeroski
2B, Pittsburgh Pirates

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I remember sitting in my basement years ago sorting through cards, only to come across a 1972 Topps Bill Mazeroski card. I recognized him for his iconic home run against the Yankees to win the 1960 World Series, but didn't know much else about him. I went on to research his career statistics, and then saw that he was elected into the Hall of Fame. And ever since that day, I've wondered why that could be. His career on base percentage was .299, which would be an excellent career batting average, but is a horrible OBP for one of Cooperstown's elite. He was a great defensive player, who came away with eight Gold Glove awards, but if it wasn't for his walkoff home run it could be easily said that he would never have been even regarded as a Hall of Famer. Putting him in means that Bobby Thomson, Joe Carter, and Kirk Gibson should be in as well, and that just doesn't make sense.

The goal of this post is to spark debate over which bottom tier of Hall of Fame players could be removed. There will always be marginal players who are comparable to other members, but there are simply too many of them inducted today. Of course, this will never happen, as you cannot take away such incredible honors from the players. All of these players were extremely good players, but as time goes on, the Hall of Fame has become less and less of an accomplishment. The honor stays the same, but the more marginal players are added to the roster, the less of a distinction it becomes.

Bill Simmons wrote an article in 2002 about how he views the Hall of Fame by five separate tiers of talent; the first tier being of players who barely made the cut, while the fifth tier contained the Ruth's and the Mays' and the Walter Johnson's. Looking back on history, I would have tried my best to avoid this classification and narrow down the standards necessary for entry. It's so hard to fathom being able to make this strategy work in this day of age, and I would never mean to take away from players who earned their place in the museum. If there was ever a time to reminisce on such a debate, it is now, because of the steroid era, the Pete Rose situation and so on. So, if we were to start all over, where would we go differently?

What would you do? How do you feel about the state of the Hall of Fame today?

See Ya!

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