Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Hall of Fame Wayback Machine
Yesterday's post got me nostalgic for the good ol' Bootleg days. In 2005, I wrote "The Hall of Fame 100", in which I looked at HOF chances of 100 active and retired players. I've recycled some of these before on this blog, but if you haven't seen it, it's new to you! While my position on a few of these guys has changed, I've kept everything as it was written four years ago:
Roberto Alomar: Here's a clear case study in the "suitcase superstar". After achieving fame, fortune and two World Series rings as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Alomar took his act on the road for several contenders throughout the remainder of the '90s.
Despite the numerous changes of address (seven different teams in 17 years), Alomar was unquestionably the best second baseman of his era. 12 All Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves and five top 10 finishes in the MVP race would be enough by themselves. Throw in a career .300 average and .371 OBP and you've got one of the finest top of the order hitters of this generation. 2700+ hits and 470+ stolen bases (and counting) are just icing on the cake.
The last few years haven't been kind, as his skills have eroded on both offense and defense. Still, he's not the first (or last) great player to hang on too long. Verdict: In
Jeff Bagwell: As the offensive explosion of the last ten years shows no sign of slowing down, there are several players who'll be held to a different standard than yesteryear. 500 career home runs are no longer an automatic ticket to the Hall and Jeff Bagwell will be one of several players who will have to bring more to the ballot to distinguish themselves.
At 446 career HRs and signs that he might be slowing down, Bagwell's not likely to ever revisit the monster years he put up from 1993 to 2000. In his favor, he spent a good chunk of those years playing half his games in the Astrodome, a notorious pitcher's park. He also owns a career OBP over .400 and a lifetime SLG of .542. Despite winning just one Gold Glove, he's been a fine defensive player and a smart, underrated basestealer with over 200 SBs.
The Astros are paying for that fat contract he signed prior to the 2001 season, which runs through 2006. While still productive, he's nowhere near a $15 million player. However, with or without the magical 500 HR mark, Bags has a very strong case for Cooperstown. Verdict: In, but another good season or two wouldn't hurt
Craig Biggio: Does anyone still have his 1989 rookie cards that showed him playing catcher? Those are probably the only remaining shreds of evidence, since he's spent the bulk of his career as the premier second baseman in the National League.
Often compared to his contemporary in the AL (mostly), Roberto Alomar, Biggio hasn't been quite as good with the stick or the glove, but that's not to take anything away from him. A career .373 OBP is a good place to start. He's also just 4 SBs shy of joining the 200 HR/400 SB club. Biggio currently places 18th on the all-time doubles list. And, in an admittedly odd novelty, is a safe bet to break the all-time hit-by-pitch mark of 287.
Ah, but there's a little something they call the "recency effect" in psychology…and watching Biggio stumble around in Minute Maid Park's silly centerfield "hill" is a sad sight to see. To his credit, he set a career high with 24 homers in 2004, but that was after two years of decline and his shrinking OBP indicates that last year was likely a fluke. Verdict: Out, but two more solid seasons or one last big year could get him in.
Andre Dawson: During the juiced-ball season of 1987, "The Hawk" treated the sport to the possibility of the first 50 home run season in exactly 10 years. Dawson would fall one bomb shy, but would win the MVP award despite playing for a last place Cubs team.
And so goes the story of Andre, whose most Gigantic seasons had mostly materialized in Montreal and away from the big-market media. An eight-time All Star and Gold Glove winner, Dawson was very good for a very long time, but seldom great. He only reached the 30 HR plateau three times, his lifetime OBP of .323 is borderline awful and the fact that he collected nearly 1,000 useless and unproductive at-bats over his final four years make his case for Cooperstown all the less compelling.
Superfluous words like "clutch" are often tossed around when describing Dawson. And he got his share of hits when it counted. But, even at his peak, his numbers were bested by several of his contemporaries, like Dale Murphy, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis. Questionable company, indeed.
Barry Larkin: There were several shortstops who had the misfortune of playing in the same era as Ozzie Smith. But, none of them (at least in the National League) were greater than Larkin. And, it's amazing to think how much better his numbers would be if he could've avoided the injury bug.
By the time the late '80s rolled around, Smith was pretty much living on his reputation and not much more. Larkin had easily surpassed him offensively and, arguably, was already better with the glove. But, in a sign of things to come, Larkin injured himself at the 1989 All Star Game. He ended up hitting .342 that year, but few outside of Cincy noticed. In the years that would follow, Larkin would win a World Series ring, three Gold Gloves and one undeserved NL MVP award in 1995 (which should've gone to Mike Piazza). Still, Larkin could not seem to dodge the disabled list. In recent years, it's only gotten worse, as he's missed significant time in four of the last five seasons.
Larkin, by all accounts, is great teammate who probably deserved a better fate. He's had a fine career and he's something of an icon in Cincinnati…but, a few steps short of enshrinement. Verdict: Out
Edgar Martinez: It's taken more than 30 years, since the inception of the designated hitter, but we've finally got our first true Hall of Fame case study. Martinez might be one of the most underrated players of this era, but a look at his body of work shows that you'll all be getting to know him again in a few years.
He made his debut on September 12, 1987, but didn't become a full-time player until 1990, at the age of 27. Martinez enjoyed a three-year stretch marked by consistent improvement, until injuries robbed him of his ability to play the field (3B) everyday and cut into his number of at-bats. He returned with a vengeance in 1995, putting up an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.107, in what would be the first of three straight seasons over 1.000. In fact, his .993 OPS in 1998 broke that string, but he put up 1.001 and 1.002 OPS numbers in '99 and '00. For his career, this seven-time All Star ranks 21st all time in on-base percentage, while his .933 career OPS is 37th.
Martinez is a little light in the hits department, with just over 2,200, but he's a career .312 hitter with 300+ home runs and a stretch of dominance that the DH position has never seen before. Verdict: In
Tim Raines: Am I the only one who remembers an early '90s Topps card featuring a smiling Chicago White Sox player sitting on a slab of granite, with the name Rock Raines printed on the bottom? Hey, it was better than "HoJo", I guess.
Raines was a great player in the '80s. You probably didn't know that because he played in Montreal…and he was the most prominent victim of the owners' collusion activities prior to the 1987 season…and because Rickey Henderson played during the exact same era. During the decade, Raines' OBP hovered around .400 every year, he passed the 100-runs threshold four times and finished in the top four in stolen bases every season, but one.
Traded to the Chi Sox prior to 1991, he manned the leadoff spot during their south side revival and continued to put up productive numbers, despite a slight decline in skill. Raines put up two more 100 run seasons and still kept his OBP in the .370 range, although injuries sapped him of his once-great speed. By the end of the '90s, he was exceptional in a reduced role with the Yankees, putting up OBPs of .383, .403 and .395.
A bout with lupus nearly ended his career with Oakland in 1999, but Raines returned (in more ways than one) and played with the Expos, two other teams and his son, before retiring in 2002. Wow…check those numbers again. While not as great as long as Rickey was, it's hard to ignore 2,600 hits and 808 stolen bases.
But, I just can't do it. Verdict: Out
Bernie Williams: In 115 postseason games, Williams has collected 443 at-bats. He's used all that time to hit 22 playoff home runs, while driving in 79. While the notion of a "clutch hitter" has been decisively debunked by the stat head nation…is there really any other way one can describe Bernie Williams?
His power took awhile to come around. Williams' didn't pass the .500 mark in SLG for a single season until his sixth year in the bigs, at the age of 27. That was in 1996, which capped off a three-year stretch that saw his batting average and OBP remain consistently impressive. From 1996 to 1999, his BA leapt from .305 to .342, while his OPS topped out in the high .900s. As if that wasn't enough, he took home four straight Gold Gloves from 1997-2000.
Unfortunately, since the turn of the century, Bernie has gone from "great" to "very good" to merely "decent". Over the last two years, he's hit about .262 with a SLG around .425. Even worse than his obvious, and ongoing offensive decline is his slide with the leather. His range in centerfield is nowhere close to what it once was and many argue that he's actually a defensive liability these days.
But, you've got to love those career stats: .301/.388/.488. He'd make for a much more intriguing case if he had more than 2,100 hits, 263 HRs or 144 SBs. He absolutely gets extra credit for his October heroics and, at 36, he might have enough in the tank to put up the three more above-average seasons he'll likely need to get another look. Verdict: Out