Best MLB Players Not in the Hall of Fame
Look what they’ve done to my Hall Fame, ma. The voters turned it into the Hall of Very Good. Then, boom, out of nowhere, Harold Baines received a Hall pass with 2,866 hits, 384 home runs, 1,628 RBI, zero Gold Gloves and zero World Series titles. Now it’s the Hall of Kinda Good.
Far worse, suspected steroids-users have seen their vote totals rise up, up, up, while the ages of the voters and their attention to history and precedent have gone down, down, down. A few cheaters even sneaked into Cooperstown.
Now compare those developments to the stated Baseball Writers Association of America standard: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
But now that the Baines standard is in place, a massive victory for quantity over quality, expect a rush of borderline candidates and worse to flood Cooperstown in the years to come. That’s a Hall of a shame.
Here are the best Hall of Fame candidates at each position.
Note: Players are eligible for the Hall of Fame five years after they retire.
Starting Pitcher: Roger Clemens
Career: 24 years (1984-2007)
Teams: Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Houston Astros
Bottom Line: Roger Clemens
If I had a hundred bucks for every time I heard a suspected steroids loser say "never, ever," I’d have almost enough money to buy a box seat ticket and a Dodger dog.
Roger Clemens said words to that effect, most infamously as a defendant in a defamation lawsuit filed by his former trainer. Among other things, the career 354-game winner claimed that steroids hurt performance, not the other way around. Even more remarkably, he did this with a straight face.
Remember, this is the same Clemens who had a 1.87 earned run average in the 2005 season. At age 42. One year after he won 18 games. And the Cy Young Award.
Uh, kind of strange how so few geezers excel late in their careers since the steroids crackdown, isn’t it?
By my count, there are three cheaters in the Hall of Fame, if not more. It may take a while, but as voters become younger and more indifferent to history and tradition, Clemens may join them eventually. His approval rate (61.0 percent) increased for the fourth consecutive year in the 2020 election, and he has two swings left on the regular ballot.
In Their Own Words: Roger Clemens
"Everybody kind of perceives me as being angry. It's not anger. It's motivation." —Roger Clemens
Honorable Mention Starting Pitcher: Curt Schilling
Career: 20 years (1988-2007)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox
Bottom Line: Curt Schilling
Only Roger Clemens (139.0) has a better career WAR than Curt Schilling (80.6) among non-Hall of Fame pitchers. What should put him is a crazy .846 postseason win percentage (11-2 record), fourth-best in MLB history. Oh, and his 2.23 ERA in 19 starts wasn’t too shabby, either.
That Schilling hasn’t garnered more than 70 percent of the Hall of Fame vote reeks of more politics as much as anything. He admits to conservative values, while his media peers are more liberal than ever, hardly the ideal scenario for a Cooperstown hopeful.
"Part of it is (political)," Schilling told Fox’s "Life, Liberty & (Mark) Levin" of the oversight. "I mean, it’s not a guess. ... People that have not voted for me specifically because of the things I’ve said or did — they’ve said it. They’ve come out and said, 'I can’t vote for him because of what he said and what he did.'"
If Pedro Martinez and his 219 career victories are in the Hall of Fame, then Schilling and his 216 should be, too. When it comes to the postseason, Schilling is his daddy.
In Their Own Words: Curt Schilling
"The only thing I hope I did was never put in question my love for the game, or my passion to be counted on when it mattered most." —Curt Schilling
Honorable Mention Starting Pitcher: Orel Hershiser
Career: 18 seasons (1983-2000)
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1983-94, 2000), Cleveland Indians (1995-97), San Francisco Giants (1998), New York Mets (1999)
Bottom Line: Orel Hershiser
Orel Hershiser put together one of the finest seasons by a pitcher in MLB history in 1988, when he became the only player to win the Cy Young Award, NLCS Most Valuable Player and World Series Most Valuable Player in the same season.
Hershiser's demeanor and toughness — he was nicknamed "Bulldog" — endeared him to fans. It also helped that Hershiser looked like he might have been better suited to be a junior high school science teacher than a superstar pitcher.
In Their Own Words: Orel Hershiser
"I'm proof that great things can happen to ordinary people if they work hard and never give up." —Orel Hershiser
Relief Pitcher: Billy Wagner
Career: 16 years (1995-2010)
Teams: Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves
Bottom Line: Billy Wagner
Throw out the postseason records — in Billy Wagner’s case, please do — and his Hall of Fame case is an overwhelming one. For one, Wagner ranks sixth in saves (422) in baseball history. Among the retired pitchers ahead of him, only John Franco (424) doesn’t have a Hall of Fame plaque. Wagner's career 2.31 earned run average trails only new inductee Mariano Rivera (2.21) among retired 200 save club members.
It that’s not good enough, then this should blow the voters away: Among pitchers with at least 800 innings, Wagner’s strikeout rate (11.9 per nine innings) and opponents batting average (.187) are the best ever by a country mile.
How could a 180-pounder who was barely tall enough to ride Cyberspace Mountain throw so hard for so long? "To look at me, it doesn't make a lot of sense," said Wagner, a natural right-hander, no less.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense, either — Wagner had a 10.03 ERA in 14 postseason games. Nah, couldn’t be the same guy.
In Their Own Words: Billy Wagner
"Whenever I get in a tough situation, I think of growing up, and I say, 'This situation won't be the worst I've ever been in.'" —Billy Wagner
Honorable Mention Relief Pitcher: Dan Quisenberry
Career: 12 years (1979-90)
Teams: Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants
Bottom Line: Dan Quisenberry
Dan Quisenberry received only 18 of a possible 470 votes in the 1996 election, his one and only appearance on the regular ballot. The three-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award runner-up deserved better.
Quisenberry and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter are joined at the hip as the preeminent closers of the 1980s decade. Sutter finished with 300 saves (28th overall), and Quiz had 244 (37th) in virtually the same number of innings. Each led the league in the category five times. Otherwise, there wasn’t much difference between them.
It’s difficult to gauge relief pitchers through metrics because of their limited sample sizes. For what it’s worth, Quisenberry owns a career 5.98 WAR per relief appearance over 162 games, highest of the 43 non-Hall of Famers with at least 200 career saves. Sutter checks in at 5.93, which gives you an idea of their proximity.
Clearly, Quisenberry could use another ex-teammate or two on the modern era committee in the future.
In Their Own Words: Dan Quisenberry
"When I came over here (the National League), I always heard it was a stronger league, with amphetamines all over the clubhouse, but all I found was Michelob Dry." —Dan Quisenberry, The Sporting News
Honorable Mention Relief Pitcher: John Franco
Career: 22 seasons (1984-2005)
Teams: Cincinnati Reds (1984-89), New York Mets (1990-2001, 2003-04), Houston Astros (2005)
Bottom Line: John Franco
John Franco got his MLB bona fides in his first five years with the Cincinnati Reds, then spent 15 seasons with the New York Mets.
Franco was a four-time All-Star and led the National League in saves three times. His 1,119 career games pitched are still the NL record, and his 424 career saves are No. 4 in MLB history and the most for a left-handed pitcher.
In Their Own Words: John Franco
“The Hall of Fame is supposed to be about numbers … relief pitchers in there have 400-600 saves. The other ones who have been in there a while have 300 saves, obviously that’s a different era. I have 424. In my mind, I think I deserve to be in there, but it’s up to the voters.” —John Franco
Catcher: Joe Mauer
Career: 15 years (2004-18)
Teams: Minnesota Twins
Bottom Line: Joe Mauer
If the Hall of Fame voters want a good argument, well, whoo boy, they’ve got one here. Joe Mauer was headed to Cooperstown in his first 10 seasons, six of them as an All-Star catcher. That changed after the 2013 season, when he moved to first base/designated hitter.
Mauer the catcher had a lights-out .328/.428/.481 slash line in 897 games. His rare plate discipline and underrated baserunning further separated him from the pack. But elsewhere, Mauer was only pretty good. In 903 games at first base and designated hitter, his .286/.368/.399 slash line is that of a much less productive player.
Mauer had almost the exact same number of plate appearances as a catcher (3,943) and first baseman/DH (3,942). So is Mauer a catcher, or is he a first baseman/DH? Or are a career .306 batting average. 2,123 hits and 143 homers good enough at any position these days?
In Their Own Words: Joe Mauer
"As you get older, you learn there are some things out of your control." —Joe Mauer
Honorable Mention Catcher: Thurman Munson
Career: 11 years (1969-79)
Teams: New York Yankees
Bottom Line: Thurman Munson
Thurman Munson owned a .292 batting average, 113 home runs and 701 RBI in 1,423 games when he perished in a plane accident. He also was a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover and one-time MVP.
The resume is in the same ballpark as Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella, who hit .276 with 177 homers and 614 RBI in 1,215 games before his own career was cut short in an auto wreck. He was an eight-time All-Star, three-time MVP and would have been a multi-times Gold Glover if there had been such an award at the time.
Had Munson like Campanella played three more seasons through 35 years of age, he would have finished with more home runs (147) and RBI (909) than Mickey Cochrane and almost as many hits (2,019) as Johnny Bench, both Hall of Famers. Only Cochrane and Bench are ahead of him in career WAR/162 (5.25) at the position.
Munson didn’t merit the Hall of Fame treatment of Roberto Clemente, whose five-year wait requirement was waived after his tragic death. He does deserve a close look for 10-plus seasons of all-around excellence.
In Their Own Words: Thurman Munson
"I started playing as a kid and I was 'littler' than most. This might sound corny but I remember seeing a lot of horses back in Ohio and baseball reminded me of a stallion just running free. There was freedom to the game. No matter what your problems were and what you had on your mind, when you played baseball, you forgot about it." —Thurman Munson, The Akron Beacon Journal
Honorable Mention Catcher: Gene Tenace
Career: 15 seasons (1969-83)
Teams: Oakland Athletics (1969-76), San Diego Padres (1977-80), St. Louis Cardinals (1981-82), Pittsburgh Pirates (1983)
Bottom Line: Gene Tenace
It's not difficult to see what's keeping Gene Tenace out of the Hall of Fame despite being one of the best catchers of his generation. It has to be his .241 career batting average, though it should be pointed out he had a .338 on-base percentage.
More than anything else, Tenace was a winner. He won three World Series championships with the Oakland Athletics in the 1970s and was the 1972 World Series MVP. He added another World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982.
In Their Own Words: Gene Tenace
"Champ here. I’m all about havin’ fun. You know, start a fire in someone’s kitchen, maybe go to SeaWorld, take my pants off … Anyway, I’ve become kind of famous for my signature catch-phrase … WHAMMY!. Like, Gene Tenace at the plate … and WHAMMY!" —Champ Kind, "Anchorman"
First Base: Dick Allen
Career: 15 years (1963-77)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox
Bottom Line: Dick Allen
It was criminal that Dick Allen never received more than 19 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 14 years on the regular ballot. Harold Baines could only dream to have his resume.
A seven-time All-Star and one-time MVP, Allen abused pitchers for more than a decade in both leagues. Name the category and he probably led the league in it — OPS (four times), slugging percentage (three), home runs (two), RBI (one), runs scored (one), walks (one). Among first baseman, he ranks 11th in WAR/162 (5.44) overall.
True, Allen could be aloof and even prickly at times, especially in his early Phillies days. Then again, a lot of teams wouldn’t mind a clubhouse distraction who hits .292 with 25 homers and 80 RBI. That was his average in 14 complete seasons.
Allen died in 2020 at the age of 78, but it would have been nice for him to be elected during his lifetime, just to see if he would have shown up late to his induction address.
In Their Own Words: Dick Allen
"I wish they'd shut the gates, and let us play ball with no press and no fans." —Dick Allen
Honorable Mention First Base: Mark McGwire
Career: 16 years (1986-2001)
Teams: Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals
Bottom Line: Mark McGwire
Mark McGwire likes to brag that he would have hit 70 homers in a season without the steroids. "Absolutely," McGwire said in 2018, 20 years after the fact. "I just know myself. I just know. I was a born home run hitter."
Well, yeah, sure, OK, except that McGwire admitted to steroids. In fact, his admission may be the most notable achievement of his 'roids-riddled career. He’s the one of the few star players to fess up.
McGwire maxed out at 24 percent in his fourth of 10 tries on the regular Half Fame ballot. As more cheaters invade Cooperstown, though, his 583 home runs (11th overall) will be too difficult for his apologists to overlook at some point.
In Their Own Words: Mark McGwire
"Performance-enhancing drugs are an illusion. I wish I had never gotten involved with steroids. It was wrong. It was stupid." —Mark McGwire
Honorable Mention First Base: Fred McGriff
Career: 19 seasons (1986-2004)
Teams: Toronto Blue Jays (1986-90), San Diego Padres (1991-93), Atlanta Braves (1993-97), Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1998-2001, 2004), Chicago Cubs (2001-02), Los Angeles Dodgers (2003)
Bottom Line: Fred McGriff
Fred McGriff — "Crime Dog" — was a pretty amazing player beginning in the 1980s, where he began making his name while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The thing McGriff really did well was hit for power, which he began doing from the moment Toronto put him in its starting lineup in 1986, the first of seven consecutive years he would hit at least 30 home runs.
Those Tom Emanski Baseball Fundamentals commercials? They didn't start running until 1991.
In Their Own Words: Fred McGriff
"Fred McGriff must be elected into the Hall of Fame where he belongs. If he had cheated, and used performance-enhancing drugs, McGriff would have been a slam-dunk Hall of Famer with bloated statistics, hitting 40 and 50 homers year after year. If it weren't for the work stoppage in 1994-1995, McGriff would have easily been in the 500-home run club and not wound up with 493." —Bob Nightengale, USA Today
Second Base: Bobby Grich
Career: 17 years (1970-86)
Teams: Baltimore Orioles, California Angels
Bottom Line: Bobby Grich
Few, if any, played a more consistent two-way game than Bobby Grich over his 17 seasons. His career offensive WAR (87th overall) and defensive WAR (83rd) are virtually identical.
Grich finished with a .266 batting average, 224 homers and a respectable .794 OPS. He also won four consecutive Gold Glove Awards in the mid-1970s as the standard at his position.
Perhaps Grich’s most stunning achievement came as a free agent in 1976, when the five-time All-Star signed with the Angels even though the New York Yankees offered $700,000 more in annual salary. (Gasp!)
Grich was on the HOF ballot only one year (1992), but a lot has changed since then. Of the six retired second basemen who exceeded his 5.74 WAR/162, every one is in Cooperstown. He’s got a chance.
In Their Own Words: Bobby Grich
"When I was a kid growing up in Long Beach (California), I used to dream about some day playing for the California Angels. That's not unusual. Most kids have dreams like that. I was fortunate enough to realize my dream. If I had a hero in those days it was the Angels' shortstop, Jim Fregosi. As often as I could, I'd go see the Angels and Fregosi play. I'd hop in my '56 Ford — I paid $125 for it — and drive from Long Beach to Anaheim, get a general admission ticket, and root for Fregosi and the Angels." —Bobby Grich, Baseball Digest
Honorable Mention Second Base: Chase Utley
Career: 16 years (2003-18)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bottom Line: Chase Utley
Because Chase Utley played the game like a strong safety, he lacked the durability to put up gaudy career numbers. He finished with a .275 batting average, 1,855 hits and 259 homers. He also led the league in one category more than once — hit by pitches (three times).
Still, in terms of sheer efficiency, Utley is under the radar among his peers. His 5.47 WAR/162 ranks among the best ever at second base. Then there was that insane performance of his in the 2009 World Series, albeit with a loser — five home runs, eight RBI and 1.448 OPS in six games.
Utley may be a five-run homer to reach Cooperstown, but I’ll take him over Harold Baines in a best-of-one against the Mars invaders any day.
In Their Own Words: Chase Utley
"I never want to look in the mirror and say, 'What if? What if I had run harder? What if I had dived for that groundball?'" —Chase Utley
Honorable Mention Second Base: Lou Whitaker
Career: 19 seasons (1977-95)
Teams: Detroit Tigers
Bottom Line: Lou Whitaker
When the discussion of the greatest double-play combos of all time is had, just remember that it's not a legit list until you hear the names of Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell and second baseman Sweet Lou Whitaker.
It's kind of a mystery that Whitaker hasn't made more of a run at being in the Hall of Fame. His 75.1 WAR jumps off the page. But it's also a mystery how he hasn't even garnered respect in the franchise he played his entire career for.
Shame on the Tigers for not retiring his iconic No. 1 jersey until 2020.
In Their Own Words: Lou Whitaker
"It hurt my family more than it hurt me. I said a long time ago, if I didn't make (the Hall of Fame) my first time, don't bring my name back up. I never think about it. The thing is, it had nothing to do with what major league ballplayers thought of me, and they knew I was a winning ballplayer. I am proud of that." —Lou Whitaker
Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez
Career: 22 years (1994-2016)
Teams: Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees
Bottom Line: Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez hit a bunch of home runs and knocked in a bunch of runs and won a bunch of awards in his career. Never mind that. His most impressive accomplishment was the way he conned the public all those years. Or tried to, anyway.
The thing is, Rodriguez can sweet-talk the chrome off a hubcap. Since his steroids admission, the first-ballot member of the Chronic Liars and Cheaters Hall of Fame has done his best to put his dirt back in the tube.
"There's rules, and you have to follow the rules," Rodriguez begged forgiveness in "Cigar Aficionado" not long ago. "I made those mistakes, and at the end of the day, I have to live by those mistakes."
Smart guy, that A-Fraud. He knows fake humility and repentance are his only tickets to Cooperstown. Fans and Hall of Fame voters can be a forgiving lot, so don’t be surprised if he fools them again one day.
In Their Own Words: Alex Rodriguez
"Money and fame are like dust. You aren't worth anything if you don't stay the same person you were before you had them." —Lourdes Navarro, Alex Rodriguez's mother
Honorable Mention Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra
Career: 14 years (1996-2009)
Teams: Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics
Bottom Line: Nomar Garciaparra
No sooner did Nomar Garciaparra arrive in Boston than he was on a meteoric Hall of Fame path. In his first four full seasons, he was a three-time All-Star and back-to-back batting champion. From that point on, Garciaparra was a physical wreck, a career u-turn that prompted suspicious minds to connect the dots.
The steroids whispers grew in the spring of 2001, when a suddenly ripped Garciaparra opened eyes on a Sports Illustrated front cover. That season, he was limited to 21 games because of a wrist tendon surgery. Three years later, a gruesome groin injury grounded him again. He retired at 35 with 1,747 hits, 229 homers and 4.99 WAR/162, 11th best at shortstop.
Garciaparra said a rigorous workout regimen was the reason for his physical makeover. He never flunked a drug test. Nor was he mentioned in the Mitchell report. This much is certain: Only he knows what might have been.
In Their Own Words: Nomar Garciaparra
"Back then, my idol was Bugs Bunny, because I saw a cartoon of him playing ball — you know, the one where he plays every position himself with nobody else on the field but him? Now that I think of it, Bugs is still my idol. You have to love a ballplayer like that." —Nomar Garciaparra
Honorable Mention Shortstop: Dave Concepcion
Career: 19 seasons (1970-88)
Teams: Cincinnati Reds
Bottom Line: Dave Concepcion
Dave Concepcion was the shortstop at the heart of the defense on the "Big Red Machine' for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s, when they won two World Series championships and played in the World Series two other times.
Concepcion was the ultimate team player. Not only did he combine with Joe Morgan for one of the greatest middle infields of all time, he also helped groom his successor, Barry Larkin, who ended up being one of the all-time greats at shortstop alongside his mentor.
In Their Own Words: Dave Concepcion
“Dave Concepción exceeded everyone’s expectations — everyone’s except, perhaps, his own. That’s because as a kid, Concepción idolized major league Hall of Fame shortstop and fellow-Venezuelan Luis Aparicio, and he aspired to become that same caliber of player.” —Tucker Elliot, author, "Cincinnati Reds IQ: The Test of Ultimate Fandom"
Third Base: Scott Rolen
Career: 17 years (1996-2012)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds
Bottom Line: Scott Rolen
Dominant two-way third basemen are hard to finder than 2 1/2-hour games, as one look around the Hall of Fame confirms. The hot corner has been home to a lot of Scott Rolen types, guys who are consistently good or even very good but not truly great.
Most metrics geeks have Rolen in the top dozen or so third basemen of all time, but he’s probably better than that. Only six have a higher WAR/162 (5.58) at third base. The eight-time Gold Glover and seven-time All-Star ranks slightly ahead of Adrian Beltre, another candidate at the position.
Rolen also never was tied to illegal performance-enhancers, while Beltre was implicated in the Mitchell report after the 2007 season. The flip side is Rolen was no stranger to sprains and fractures. He played more than 142 games only five times in 17 seasons.
Mr. Intensity also was known to be a disruptive force at times, the result of occasional clashes with managers and team executives. Hello, Larry Bowa, Dallas Green and Tony La Russa.
Nonetheless, the Hall of Fame could do much worse than Rolen, especially at a position so few in number.
In Their Own Words: Scott Rolen
"I have a bigger mouth than a lot of these youngsters right now, so I think that puts me at a distinct advantage. The more gum you get in your mouth the better you will be." —Scott Rolen
Honorable Mention Third Base: Adrian Beltre
Career: 21 years (1998-2018)
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
Bottom Line: Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre is a member of the 3,000 hit club (3,166), which gives him an automatic Hall pass. He also has 477 homers, five Gold Gloves and a high likability quotient on his side.
Now about that 2004 season. Beltre was godawful in 2003, when he put up some of the worst numbers of his career. Poof! Suddenly, the 25-year-old turned into Mike Schmidt in his prime the next season. His .334 batting average, 38 homers and 121 RBI would be career highs.
After an injury-plagued 2009 season, Beltre discovered the fountain of youth somewhere. He averaged 25 homers and 89 RBI over the next nine seasons, remarkable numbers for any player in his 30s. Maybe Beltre was one of those rare physical freaks who defied logic. Or maybe the Dominican native was one of the many who cheated their way to fame and fortune.
Regardless, he’s almost certain to make the Hall of Fame cut on his first or second try.
In Their Own Words: Adrian Beltre
"I'm not perfect. Nobody's perfect. But I love baseball, and I love to play hard." —Adrian Beltre
Honorable Mention Third Base: Pete Rose
Career: 24 seasons (1963-86)
Teams: Cincinnati Reds (1963-78, 1984-86), Philadelphia Phillies (1979-83), Montreal Expos (1984)
Bottom Line: Pete Rose
While Pete Rose may never make the Hall of Fame after being banned permanently from the game over betting on his own team, what can't be taken away from him are his records.
Rose, who has been banned from baseball since 1989, still holds MLB career records for hits, singles, games played, at-bats and plate appearances.
Rose was also a winner. He won back-to-back World Series championships with the Reds in 1975 and 1976 then again with the Phillies in 1980.
In Their Own Words: Pete Rose
"The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is a sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. There is absolutely no deal for reinstatement." —MLB Commissioner A. Bart Giamatti
Left Field: Barry Bonds
Career: 22 years (1986-2007)
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants
Bottom Line: Barry Bonds
I won’t bore you with his PEDs-stained numbers. You know all about them by now. (One-hundred-twenty intentional walks in one season? At 39 years old? Really?)
The truth is, any narcissist who makes a joke of the game to the extent that Barry Bonds did all those years shouldn’t be allowed in the Cooperstown zip code. Seriously, can you think of any person who has done more to destroy the integrity of the game than this bum?
(Yeah, I know, Bonds never flunked a drug exam. But after he left Pittsburgh, he never, ever passed the eye test, either.)
Yet "Barry Quite Contrary" has seen his Hall of Fame approval rate increase in each of the last four years to 60.7 percent. Like Clemens, it could take a while, but expect Bonds and his sellouts to have their day yet.
In Their Own Words: Barry Bonds
"I think of myself as 'catching' the ball with my bat and letting the pitcher supply the power." —Barry Bonds
Honorable Mention Left Field: Charlie Keller
Career: 13 years (1939-43, 1945-52)
Teams: New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers
Bottom Line: Charlie Keller
"King Kong" Keller (is that a Hall of Fame name or what?!) took part in only 1,170 games — he spent one prime year in the military and three others with a herniated disc — but his career ranks make you go, "Wow." He’s 34th in on-base percentage (.410), 44th in OPS (.928) and 40th in range factor (2.14) on the all-time list.
Bet you didn’t know this: Charlie Keller’s career 5.95 WAR/162 ranks behind only Bonds and Ted Williams in left field. That’s right — ahead of Rickey Henderson, Ralph Kiner, Fred Clarke and Al Simmons, the Hall of Famers next in line.
Keller was a postseason difference-maker as well. If there had been a World Series MVP award at the time, he would have been the runaway winner in 1939 and a close second to future Hall of Famer Joe Gordon two years later.
Keller didn’t put up big enough numbers to meet the Baines standard, but based on short-term excellence, the five-time All-Star deserves more than token consideration.
In Their Own Words: Charlie Keller
"Everybody knew Charlie Keller was a great ballplayer, but he was a lot more than that. He was a true-blue man. A man's man. You hear so much about the term 'True Yankee.' Well, Charlie Keller personified what the Yankees used to stand for." —Former New York Yankee Tommy Henrich, in Charlie Keller's obituary, Pittsburgh Press
Honorable Mention Left Field: Manny Ramirez
Career: 19 seasons (1993-2011)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1993-2000), Boston Red Sox (2001-08), Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10), Chicago White Sox (2010), Tampa Bay Rays (2011)
Bottom Line: Manny Ramirez
One of the worst fielding outfielders of all time, Manny Ramirez more than made up for his lack of fielding prowess by hitting at a level few have ever matched.
Ramirez was also one of the game's greatest, most irreverent personalities and one of the stars of Boston's epic run to the 2004 World Series title.
Ramirez was suspended 50 games for PED use in 2009 and was set to be suspended for 100 games for PED use in 2011, but chose to retire instead.
In Their Own Words: Manny Ramirez
"I have fun every day. The game is supposed to be fun." —Manny Ramirez
Center Field: Carlos Beltran
Career: 20 years (1998-2017)
Teams: Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers
Bottom Line: Carlos Beltran
By itself, Carlos Beltran’s career .279/.350/.486 slash line doesn’t scream Hall of Fame at you. Still, his career 2,725 hits and 435 homers put him on the short list of best switch-hitters in baseball history.
In terms of versatility, Beltran was in a higher league. The three-time Gold Glover had great range in center field. Few ran the bases better. His .864 stolen-base success rate (312 of 361) ranks behind only Chase Utley (.875) among those with 100 or more career steals.
It’s the postseason where Beltran further distances him from the other candidates. His .307/.412/.609 slash line in 15 series is the definition of clutch. That’s the equivalent of 40 homers and 105 RBI over 162 games.
Beltran should a first- or second-ballot Hall of Famer beyond any reasonable doubt.
In Their Own Words: Carlos Beltran
"Major League Baseball should retire Roberto Clemente's number, just like they did Jackie Robinson's." —Carlos Beltran
Honorable Mention Center Field: Kenny Lofton
Career: 17 years (1991-2007)
Teams: Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers
Bottom Line: Kenny Lofton
At his peak, Kenny Lofton was akin to the left-handed Rickey Henderson as the best leadoff man in the game. For six consecutive seasons (1994-99) with two teams in both leagues, Lofton was an All-Star selection. He also was a Gold Glove candidate and received MVP votes.
Among center fielders, Lofton owns a 5.5 WAR/162. That’s better than Ken Griffey Jr., Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn and Kirby Puckett, all Hall of Famers.
If Baines is the Hall of Fame basement, then Lofton is closer to the loft.
In Their Own Words: Kenny Lofton
"I understand what I can and can't do and just go out and play the game my way." —Kenny Lofton
Honorable Mention Center Field: Dale Murphy
Career: 18 seasons (1976-93)
Teams: Atlanta Braves (1976-90), Philadelphia Phillies (1990-92), Colorado Rockies (1993)
Bottom Line: Dale Murphy
Dale Murphy is a player who true baseball heads know was a dominant star in the 1980s. His career has kind of been lost to the ages because he played on some truly horrible teams with the Atlanta Braves in the early and mid-'80s.
One of just four players to win multiple MVP awards and not be in the Hall of Fame, Murphy's career got off to a slow start as he spent his first two seasons as a backup catcher, then his third season as a first baseman before being moved to the outfield, where he blossomed.
One thing about Murphy that never showed up in the stat column? He was one of MLB's all-time good guys — a player who appreciated the game, the fans and his role with both.
In Their Own Words: Dale Murphy
"Dale Murphy approached his career with uncommon integrity and a mature perspective. He is a person of substance. Accordingly, his experience and insights should be beneficial to pro athletes at any stage of their careers and lives.” —Bob Costas
Right Field: Joe Jackson
Career: 13 years (1908-20)
Teams: Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Naps, Chicago White Sox
Bottom Line: Joe Jackson
Numbers-wise, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson would be a Hall of Fame shoo-in. His career batting average (.356, third overall) and on-base percentage (.423, 17th) are first-ballot worthy. So is his monstrous WAR/162 (7.58), which ranks behind only Babe Ruth (10.55) at the right-field position.
It’s the fix of the 1919 World Series that has left Jackson on the outside all these years. Twice, he admitted to a $5,000 take in front of a grand jury. He later recanted the accounts and remained adamant about his innocence until his final breath. He was never convicted in a court of law.
So, six decades after his death, the debate continues: Will Shoeless Joe ever gain Hall of Fame induction? Can’t say it’s so — some opinions will have to change to lift his lifetime ban — but ask yourself this: Did he ruin the game any worse than the steroids cheaters?
In Their Own Words: Joe Jackson
"I copied (Shoeless Joe) Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter." —Hall of Famer Babe Ruth
Honorable Mention Right Field: Gary Sheffield
Career: 22 years (1988-2009)
Teams: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets
Bottom Line: Gary Sheffield
Gary Sheffield never had any trouble finding work. Or ruffling a few feathers. It's one reason why he played on eight different teams. The other is that he could flat-out rake. In 2,576 career games, he posted 509 home runs, 2,689 hits and 1,676 RBI with a .292/.393/.514 slash line.
If there's a place in Cooperstown for Larry Walker — who got his Hall ticket punched with 383 home runs, 2,160 hits, 1,311 RBI and a .313/.400/.565 line — Sheffield also deserves a spot.
His name in the Mitchell report didn't help, but voters are warming to the idea. Sheff got 30.5 of the vote in 2020, his sixth year on the ballot, more than double his previous highest vote tally of 13.6 percent in 2019.
In Their Own Words: Gary Sheffield
"My dad's a bodybuilder. My whole life I've been taught to train the hard way. I believe in earning strength, not buying it. My grandfather raised me old school: In baseball, you work for whatever you get." —Gary Sheffield
Honorable Mention Right Field: Sammy Sosa
Career: 18 seasons (1989-2005, 2007)
Teams: Texas Rangers (1989), Chicago White Sox (1989-91), Chicago Cubs (1992-2004), Baltimore Orioles (2005), Texas Rangers (2007)
Bottom Line: Sammy Sosa
Of all the players from the steroid era, few can trace their fame and success directly to PED use as much as Sammy Sosa, who is the only player in MLB history to hit 60 or more home runs in a season three times.
One of just seven players to hit 600 career home runs, Sosa reached 400 home runs quicker than any player in MLB history. Sosa is unlikely to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He'll go off the ballot in 2023 and needs at least 75 percent of voters to select him to be inducted.
In 2020, he received 13.9 percent of the vote.
In Their Own Words: Sammy Sosa
"I will calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Don't I have the numbers to be inducted?" —Sammy Sosa
Designated Hitter: Don Baylor
Career: 19 years (1970-88)
Teams: Baltimore Orioles, California Angels, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics
Bottom Line: Don Baylor
Don Baylor lasted only two years (1994-95) on the regular Hall of Fame ballot — he received a mere 2.6 percent of the vote both times. But that was long before the Baines standard went into effect.
Baines had a higher batting average (.289-.260), more hits (2,866-2,135), home runs (384-338) and RBI (1,628-1,276) among them. But it took 1,691 plate appearances or roughly three more seasons to do it.
Consider that Baylor stole significantly more bases (285-34) and scored almost as many runs (1,236-1,299), not to mention earned more Silver Slugger awards (3-1), Most Valuable Player awards (1-0) and World Series rings (1-0), and the difference was rather minimal.
Plus, as one of the few black major league managers, Baylor had historical significance attached to his name. If Baines, why not Baylor, too? At this rate, my boyhood favorite Ted Kluszewski may have a chance yet.
In Their Own Words: Don Baylor
"He (Don Baylor) played under many managers and once commented, 'Playing for Yogi (Berra) is like playing for your father. Playing for Billy (Martin) is like playing for your father-in-law.'" —Author Brad Engel in "Tales from First Base: The Best, Funniest, and Slickest First Basemen Ever"
Honorable Mention Designated Hitter: Dave Parker
Career: 19 seasons (1973-91)
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (1973-83), Cincinnati Reds (1984-87), Oakland Athletics (1988-89), Milwaukee Brewers (1990), California Angels (1991), Toronto Blue Jays (1991)
Bottom Line: Dave Parker
There was little Dave Parker couldn't do on a baseball field — the 1978 National League MVP won two World Series championships, made seven All-Star teams, won two NL batting titles and became just the second professional athlete to earn $1 million per year when he signed a five-year, $5 million contract in 1979.
Parker was also brilliant in the field, winning three consecutive Gold Glove Awards in right field. If he's not in the Hall of Fame, you can point directly to his role in one of the worst scandals in MLB history as the reason, as Parker was one of the central figures in MLB's cocaine scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In Their Own Words: Dave Parker
"When the leaves turn brown, I'll be wearing the batting crown." -Dave Parker
Honorable Mention Designated Hitter: Hal McRae
Career: 19 seasons (1968, 1970-87)
Teams: Cincinnati Reds (1968, 1970-72), Kansas City Royals (1973-87)
Bottom Line: Hal McRae
Hal McRae's great career as an MLB player has unfortunately been overshadowed by a drunken, violent temper tantrum he threw as manager of the Kansas City Royals in 1993. Check out former Wichita Eagle reporter Rick Plumlee smartly walking out of the room before things went totally sideways.
That's too bad, because McRae was very good, if not great, during almost 20 seasons in the majors, where he was a five-time All-Star, finished his career with a .284 batting average and helped lead the Royals to a World Series championship in 1985.
In Their Own Words: Hal McRae
"McRae chased everyone out of his office, followed them out, and screamed at them some more before concluding, 'Put that in your pipe and smoke it!'" —The Hardball Times
Manager: Danny Murtaugh
Career: 15 years (1957-64, 1967, 1970-71, 1973-76)
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates
Bottom Line: Danny Murtaugh
Danny Murtaugh was Earl Weaver without the profanity-laden tirades, crazed hat tosses and frequent ejections. The two had somewhat comparable resumes — and Murtaugh managed in nearly three fewer seasons. Why, he even looked like a pirate.
The Pirates won 54 percent of their games and pulled off two of the biggest World Series upsets ever with Murtaugh at the helm. In 1960, they shocked the mighty Yankees in seven games, and 11 years later, they beat the unbeatable Orioles, who were managed by Weaver himself.
But Murtaugh might have done his best work in 1958, when a young Bucs team surprised the baseball world with a second-place finish and turned around a wayward franchise.
Oh, then there’s this: Murtaugh is the only manager with at least five postseason and three-All-Star appearances and two World Series titles not in Cooperstown today. If Weaver is in the Hall of Fame, Murtaugh should be, too.
In Their Own Words: Danny Murtaugh
"Danny Murtaugh will be remembered for many things. His success as a manager will be one of them, but not the foremost. Mainly, he will be remembered for his wonderful human qualities. He loved a good story, a good joke and a good time. And he loved people. Everywhere he went, Danny Murtaugh had friends." —Sportswriter Bob Smizik, "1960 Pittsburgh Pirates - Day by Day: A Special Season, an Extraordinary World Series"
Honorable Mention Manager: Davey Johnson
Career: 17 years (1984-90, 1993-97, 1999-2000, 2011-13)
Teams: New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals
Bottom Line: Davey Johnson
Davey Johnson owns an impressive career .562 win percentage, the highest of any manager not in Cooperstown at the moment.
He also has 1,372 victories (31st overall), two Manager of the Year awards, one World Series title and one All-Star appearance to his credit.
Even so, Johnson fell short in the Today’s Game Era committee vote in 2018. The fact that he had some loaded Mets teams yet managed only one pennant winner in his managerial career left some to want more, apparently.
In Their Own Words: Davey Johnson
"Once you start winning, you don't want to stop. You don't want to lose." —Davey Johnson
Honorable Mention Manager: Jim Leyland
Career: 22 seasons (1986-99, 2006-13)
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-96), Florida Marlins (1997-98), Colorado Rockies (1999), Detroit Tigers (2006-13)
Bottom Line: Jim Leyland
Only 1980s baseball fans can truly appreciate the old-school type of manager Jim Leyland was. The dude smoked cigarettes in the clubhouse until MLB told him he had to stop and gave Barry Bonds one of the all-time tongue lashings when he was managing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Beyond that stuff, Leyland was just a great manager. He won three straight division titles with the Pirates from 1990 to 1992 and led the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series championship.
After he led the Detroit Tigers to the 2006 AL pennant, he became just the seventh manager in MLB history to win pennants in both the AL and the NL.
In Their Own Words: Jim Leyland
"I knew we were in for a long season when we lined up for the national anthem on opening day and one of my players said, 'Every time I hear that song, I have a bad game.'" —Jim Leyland