We can argue all we want over whether Mike Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame, but when we frame the abysmal record of the BBWAA’s voters in a purely Steroid-oriented context, we do a disservice to those other players who have been unfairly passed over.
Well, actually, we can’t argue much about whether Mike belongs, because it’s clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that he does. It’s not an argument anyone with any common sense is interested in having. And, by the way, the same applies to Gil Hodges, although he won’t be the subject of contention for another two years or so.
But in reality, the mental limitations of Hall of Fame voters go far beyond steroid rumors. There are whole hosts of players out there who, to many, and by many measures, are Hall of Famers, but who have been completely forgotten – in some cases, pushed off the ballot entirely.
Now, this isn’t about the close calls. This isn’t about Alan Trammel or Tim Raines or Lee Smith, or any of those guys who are getting 50 to 60 percent of the vote and might very well get in one day. This is for the other guys. The five to ten percenters. The forgotten.
First, related to Lee Smith: the Hall has a reliever problem. I understand that sabermetrically speaking, relievers don’t have the value that starting pitchers do. But first basemen don’t have the value that catchers do either, yet we’ve elected many, many elite first basemen to the hall. Relief pitching may be less valuable; that doesn’t mean that those who engage in it are less deserving of the honor of Hall of Fame induction.
And that brings me to the first of the forgotten: Billy Wagner.
Now, this might just sound like Mets bias, but it’s not: Billy Wagner is, by all sensible measures, an all-time great closer. He’s certainly better than Trevor Hoffman – Wagner beats Hoffman in E.R.A. and E.R.A.+, and their WARs are nearly identical. Nearly identical, that is, despite Hoffman pitching two years longer than Wagner did. Billy Wagner’s career E.R.A. is 2.31, and he pitched through the heart of the Steroid era.
Here’s another thing about Wagner, that is vastly and systematically under-appreciated: he went out on top. Billy Wagner retired when he wanted to, when he decided he had had enough. In his final season, his E.R.A. was 1.43, and he saved 37 games. Trevor Hoffman’s E.R.A. in his final season was 5.89. Going out on top isn’t so common. Ted Williams did it. Mariano Rivera did it. A player retiring when they want to, and leaving the league more powerful than when they entered it? That’s a Hall of Fame move in my book. Wagner will likely get five to ten percent of the vote this year, and, more likely than not, will drop off the ballot at some point because of lack of support. But to me, he’s a Hall of Famer.
Now, on to other matters.
Alan Trammell has gotten some significant support, at least from the non-voting segment of the population. But there’s another shortstop who’s been almost entirely forgotten: Nomar Garciaparra.
Trammell played longer than Garciaparra did, and therefore, has more hits and a higher WAR, but if I had to choose one of the two to elect, it’s Nomar every time. Trammell was a career .285/.352/.415 hitter. Nomar had .313/.361/.521. That’s an .882 OPS from a shortstop, and that’s not something you see every day. Nomar got 5.5% of the vote last year, and will probably drop off the ballot this year. And while he may not have the quantity for a Hall of Fame career, he’s certainly got the quality – every bit and then some.
.300/.400/.500 was supposed to be Hall of Fame material – I don’t know when the writers disavowed that particular unwritten rule, but it’s a shame that they did, because Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez both belong in the Hall of Fame. Walker slashed .313/.400/.565 for his career, while Martinez had .312/.418/.515. OPS’s of .965 – .965! – and .933, respectively, and neither stands much chance of induction.
Both Walker and Martinez, despite stellar career numbers, have been victimized by forces beyond their command. For Martinez, it’s anti-DH bias, which doesn’t make much sense. I’m anti-DH as much as the next National League Baseball fan, but if you’re not going to elect a quality DH to the Hall, don’t play with ‘em. For Walker, it’s Coors Field bias: he played his prime years as a Rockie, and despite a career OPS+ of 141, just one point below Mike Piazza’s, voters can’t seem to recognize him as a legitimate superstar of his era. They also both suffer from steroid era bias, of course – among the current BBWAA electorate, it’s hard not to. But despite the biases, Walker and Martinez both belong in the Hall. Martinez’ support, at least among public ballots, has gone up this year, but Walker’s has not, and it’s more likely than not that neither will be elected. And as two hitters with .300/.400/.500 slash lines, that’s a damn shame.
And finally, you’ve got the two forgotten sluggers, Delgado and McGriff.
The obsession with 500 home runs is a little strange, to me – it doesn’t really make sense that, had Fred McGriff returned to play one more full season, and batted .146 with eight home runs, he would have become an automatic Hall of Famer. Nor does it make sense with Delgado – Carlos, who ended his career with 473 home runs, hit 38 in his penultimate season, then got injured. He worked to come back, but ultimately, his career was over. One more healthy season could quite easily have put him over 500 career, but…well…he’s got 473. Your move, voters.
While Delgado’s most impressive stat could be his career .929 OPS, McGriff’s is his consistency. From 1987 to 2002 – 16 consecutive seasons – he hit at least 18 home runs each year, and batted .287/.380/.514. Those 16 years included ten with at least 30 home runs, and eight seasons with an OPS above .900. He finished his career with 493 home runs, and was never linked to steroids.
Both Delgado and McGriff, beyond the obvious steroid era bias, have likely not been elected due to position and consistency bias. Both were first basemen, which necessitates a higher offensive output among voters, and both spaced their production more or less evenly throughout their careers – neither had that mythical seven year peak that voters like. But more than anything, it’s simple numbers thinking. 500 home runs is automatic induction, without steroids. But McGriff has less than 20% public support this year, and Delgado dropped off the ballot last year after only 3.8% of the vote. Apparently, almost 500 does not mean anything.
So there you have it: the forgotten. Six players. Five will likely receive less than 20% voting support on the 2016 ballot. One – Martinez – may get more. But he almost certainly will not get in.
I see six Hall of Famers – or, at least, players who deserve more than 20% support, or dropping off the ballot after one year’s token appearance. But apparently, the BBWAA does not. And until something changes, they – and not, in their minds, the players they write about – are the only ones that matter.