Monday, July 18, 2005

Compilation: Top 10 Should-be Hall of Famers; MLB Voting Still Too Rigid

On July 31 the National Baseball Hall of Fame will enshrine its class of 2005 – Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs. While both Sandberg and Boggs are clearly deserving, a list of usual suspects once again failed to receive the needed 75 percent of votes to be enshrined.

Boggs, a career .328 hitter and one of only eight players to win at least five batting titles, is a first-ballot selection while Sandberg has been on the ballot for the two previous years. Despite never finishing top three in MVP voting, Boggs’ selection was fueled by the magic number of 3,000 hits and his seven 200-hit seasons (the fourth most ever).

On the other hand, Sandberg’s ticket to Cooperstown was likely punched because he was widely considered the best player at his position during his era. He won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards and was the NL MVP in 1984. He also ended his career as the all-time home run leader among second basemen, overshadowing the fact that he only appeared in the postseason twice and lost both times.

With apologies to those not included but maybe deserving – Dale Murphy and Tommy John, among others – here is my list of the top 10 should-be Hall of Famers (even though a few no longer even appear on the ballot):

Andre Dawson – The only player to ever win an MVP Award while playing for a last place team (1987, Cubs), Dawson was also the NL Rookie of the Year in 1977 and was runner-up in MVP voting two other times. One of only three players with 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases, Dawson hit over .300 five times, won eight Gold Glove Awards, and was an All Star eight times. Among Hall of Fame eligible players, only Dave Kingman (442) has more career home runs than Dawson’s 438, while no one eligible has more career RBI or career hits (2,774). Perhaps the lack of team success has hurt Dawson, or perhaps the media found him a bit difficult, but the only Hall of Fame voting more mysterious than this is how Lynn Swann reached Canton before his Steelers teammate John Stallworth.

Jim Rice – The 1978 AL MVP, Rice also finished top five in MVP voting on four other occasions. A career .298 hitter with seven seasons over .300 and four 200-hit seasons, Rice led the AL in homers three times, total bases four times, RBI twice, slugging percentage twice, and triples once. Unlike Dawson, Rice was notoriously bad defensively and ultimately spent a third of his career as a DH, but like Dawson, Jim Rice was also notoriously cantankerous with the media – both of which have probably hurt his Hall of Fame chances.

Bert Blyleven – An integral part of World Series winners with the Pirates in 1979 and the Twins in 1987, Blyleven shined in the postseason – in six postseason starts, he posted a 5-1 record with a 2.47 ERA and better than a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If postseason heroics aren’t enough, Blyleven’s mark of 60 career shutouts is surpassed only by Ryan and Seaver’s 61 among expansion-era pitchers, and he won more 1-0 games (15) than anyone after World War II. With a career record of 287-250, he is hurt by a not-so-great career winning percentage, having only won 20 games once, and never having won a Cy Young Award. Currently placing fifth on the all-time strikeout list, combined with his postseason play, however, should have been enough for Blyleven years ago.

Steve Garvey – Garvey quietly compiled a list of accomplishments rivaled by very little in MLB history. With only 2,559 career hits, but a .294 lifetime average, seven .300 seasons, and six 200-hit seasons, he should be the shining example of why magic numbers like 3,000 hits should sometimes be ignored. Garvey was the NL MVP in 1974 with the Dodgers and in 1984 with the Padres; he twice won the All Star Game MVP Award, was twice named the NLCS MVP, and won four consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Most importantly, however, he hit .338 with 11 home runs in 55 postseason games – not to mention the fact that he still holds the NL record for consecutive games played with 1,207.

Tony Oliva – In 1964 Tony Oliva compiled one of the greatest rookie seasons in MLB history, becoming the first rookie to win a batting title, and also leading the league in hits, runs, total bases, doubles, and extra base hits. Despite leading the AL in hits four more times, doubles three more times, and winning two more batting titles, Oliva has suffered from only having a great career following his more-than-great rookie season. Oliva was also great in his three postseasons, batting .314 with three homers in 13 games, but the Twins lost all three postseason series. Hampered by injuries throughout his career, he played 15 seasons, but missed a significant portion of at least four of those.

Don Mattingly – Despite a lifetime .307 average and seven seasons above .300, Mattingly won only one batting title – thanks in part to Wade Boggs, and he won only one AL MVP Award – thanks in part to George Steinbrenner and the one bad Yankees era of the 20th Century. He did win nine Gold Glove Awards, however, and led the AL in doubles three times, but only 2,153 career hits and one losing postseason appearance will probably Keep Mattingly from his plaque in Cooperstown.

Luis Tiant – Clearly one of the dominating pitchers of his era, Tiant won 20 or more games four times from 1968-1976, and spent the majority of two years injured. He led the AL in shutouts three times and ERA twice, but collected only 229 career wins. Few pitchers have ever had a better single postseason than Tiant did in 1975 -- In four postseason starts he tossed three complete game wins, one a shutout, and struck out 20 batters. Particularly in a losing cause, one superb postseason hasn’t been enough for Tiant.

Jim Kaat – One of only a handful of four-decade players, Kaat’s career record stands at 283-237. He won 20 games three times, which is twice more than Don Sutton, but is clearly hurt by the fact that he was never seriously considered for the Cy Young Award. Likewise, the only category in which Kaat led the league multiple times was wild pitches and hit batsmen. Although both Blyleven and Tiant have stronger cases, Kaat is widely considered the greatest fielding pitcher of all-time, having won more Gold Glove Awards than anyone in history except Brooks Robinson.

Bruce Sutter – Still a relatively new phenomenon of expansion baseball, closers remain largely unrepresented in the HoF, but look for Sutter to make in 2006. Despite a short 12-year career, Sutter won the Cy Young Award in 1979 and won the NL Rolaids Relief Award four times. He led the league in saves five times, but ranks only 18th on the all-time list.

Carl Mays
– Having to toss in at least one old-timer, Carl Mays is a name that was tossed around in Hall of Fame debates of the 1940s like Pete Rose was during the 1990s. Mays won 20 or more games five times, guided his Red Sox to two World Series titles and the Yankees to two pennants, posted one of the best ERAs in history (2.92), and posted one of the best winning percentages in history (208-126). But it was one fateful pitch that might have kept Mays out of the Hall. Well known for hitting batters, Mays beaned Ray Chapman on August 16, 1920, resulting in MLB’s only on-field death. Mays died in 1971 quite sure that the Chapman incident kept him off the ballot.