Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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Baseball’s Hall of Snubs: Building roster of best MLB players who haven’t made the Hall of Fame

I love Hall of Fame season. I love diving in and discussing the Hall of Fame cases of various players throughout history. One thing that happens on nearly every single candidate where there’s a question (that is, he isn’t an easy yes or easy no) is I’ll invariably get a response on social media that says this candidate can’t possibly get in until someone else is let in. 

For example: Chase Utley cannot be a Hall of Famer unless Ken Boyer gets in first! 

Yeah, I got that one this year in addition to myriad others in a similar format. I always get a chuckle. We should shut down the entire voting process until your pet candidate gets in! Plus, pretty much every time I get this comment, the player in the Boyer spot isn’t even on the ballot.

Still, there’s something worth discussing here. There are a lot of worthy players who didn’t make the Hall of Fame through the voting process, be it just the BBWAA process or any of the veteran committees that followed. Let’s run through the best players who haven’t yet made the Hall of Fame, so long as they’ve had a chance and came up short. 

The latter portion of that sentence is important. You won’t find Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson, as they are ineligible. You also won’t find active players, players who have recently retired (Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, etc.) or players on the current ballot. We are only looking at players who have already been snubbed.

Welcome to the Hall of Snubs.

Catcher: Thurman Munson

Thanks to Ted Simmons recently, finally, getting in, the list of snubbed catchers isn’t glaring, especially once Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina all, likely, make it. Still, the total is a bit low. There are currently 16 catchers in the Hall and even those three only run it to 19. For the sake of comparison, there are 24 first basemen and 23 shortstops. 

We’re going to start with Thurman Munson. His life was tragically cut short due to a plane crash. In his 11 seasons in the majors, he was a seven-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves and two World Series rings. He won an MVP and Rookie of the Year. He was a .292/.346/.410 (116 OPS+) hitter with three 100+ RBI seasons. Munson gathered 46.1 WAR in his relatively limited time in the majors and he sits 12th all-time in JAWS among catchers. 

Backup options are Jorge Posada and Gene Tenace. Posada was a five-time All-Star and five-time World Series champ who hit .273/.374/.474 (121 OPS+) with 1,664 hits, 379 doubles, 275 homers, 1,065 RBI and 900 runs. Tenace was just before his time. He had a low batting average, but walked a ton and hit for power, making him an OPS machine. That career .241 average looks bad, but his .388 OBP and .429 slugging give him a 136 OPS+. He sits directly behind Munson in JAWS at 13th place. Whammy

First base: Mark McGwire

Well, let’s just dive right into the PED talk. Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire would already be Hall of Famers if it weren’t for the steroid era and the ensuing fallout. Alas, they aren’t in but also have the baggage. McGwire has straight up admitted to his use multiple times while Palmeiro made a big scene on Capitol Hill and then was suspended after a positive test. I don’t think either will ever make the Hall. The statistical cases are no-doubters, though, so we can’t just ignore them. 

Elsewhere, Keith Hernandez has a strong case. He won an MVP and is widely regarded as the best defensive first baseman ever. He won a batting title and two World Series rings. He was a career .296 hitter with a .384 OBP. He fell short due to low counting stats for a power position (162 homers, 1,071 RBI and 2,182 hits). 

Carlos Delgado also has a strong case. He ended up with 2,038 hits, 473 home runs and 1,512 RBI with a .280/.383/.546 (138 OPS+) slash. 

Don Mattingly had an obvious Hall of Fame career for a six-year prime. Was that enough? He ended a .307 hitter with a 127 OPS+, 2,153 hits, 442 doubles, 222 home runs, 1,099 RBI and 1,007 runs. 

Will Clark, Norm Cash and Steve Garvey also merit mention. 

I’ll go with McGwire as the starter with Hernandez and Mattingly as the backups. As for Palmeiro, my PED rule on the Hall of Fame ballot is that I’ll toss out players who were suspended by the league once there was a testing system in place. Palmeiro was suspended. He’s out. 

For those who don’t want McGwire due to the juice, Hernandez, Delgado and Mattingly are a very nice top three. 

Second base: Lou Whitaker

There are two players head and shoulders above the others here: Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich. 

Whitaker was part of the backbone of the powerhouse Tigers in the ’80s. He was underrated in his time and would’ve been more appreciated these days with his ability to take a walk, get on base and play excellent defense. He walked more than he struck out throughout his career, has a career .363 OBP and sits seventh all-time in WAR among second baseman, ahead of players like Frankie Frisch, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio. 

Grich sits ninth in WAR at second and had three 7+ WAR seasons. It’s the walks, power and defense that led to his being underrated while he played. He hit “just” .266, but had a .371 OBP and a 125 OPS+. He ended up with 224 homers. The six-time All-Star won four Gold Gloves and was a World Series champ. 

I’ll start Whitaker, but it’s a toss up. Since I’ve been taking a second backup at each position, let’s run with Jeff Kent here as our third second baseman. 

Third base: Dick Allen

Long underrepresented in Cooperstown, third base is starting to make a little headway. There are currently 16 in the Hall and Adrián Beltré will push that up to 17 this year. Still, there are worthy candidates who have long been on the outside looking in. 

Dick Allen played third more than first or outfield during his prime and got the most value as a third baseman, so we’ll list him here. I’ve already made his case

Ken Boyer won an MVP and had a great prime. He ended up a .287/.349/.462 (116 OPS+) hitter with 2,143 hits, 318 doubles, 282 home runs, 1,141 RBI and 1,104 runs. Among third basemen, he hits 15th in WAR and 14th in JAWS. If we are open to the reality that third base should have more Hall of Famers, extending things a bit makes room for Boyer and … 

Graig Nettles is 12th in both JAWS and WAR at third. The six-time All-Star won the World Series twice and took home a pair of Gold Gloves. The rate stats are a bit lower at .248/.329/.421 (110 OPS+) but he stuck around for 22 years with a great glove and compiled 2,225 hits, 390 home runs, 1,314 RBI and 1,193 runs. 

Darrell Evans, Buddy Bell and Sal Bando are worth mention, but fall short here. 

We’ll start Allen with Boyer and Nettles as backups. 

Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra

It’s not quite as egregious here as other positions. Just sorting by WAR shows the biggest snubs are Bill Dahlen (9th) and Jack Glasscock (18th). A-Rod will join the list in a few years, but we aren’t there yet. Dahlen’s last year in the majors was 1911 and Glasscock’s was 1895. I’m not particularly compelled to go with Deadball Era hitters when the era is already arguably over-represented in the Hall. 

Instead, I’m picking Nomar Garciaparra. He’s a career .313 hitter with a 124 OPS+ and was a huge deal during his short peak. 

Some of the best remaining options are Jim Fregosi, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Dave Concepcion and Maury Wills. Miguel Tejada gets bounced for the same reason I mentioned above with Palmeiro. I’ll name Fregosi and Wills as the backups to Nomar. 

Outfielders: Barry Bonds, Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa

Uh oh. We might as well dive right in with Barry Bonds. He’s my starting left fielder. Not much more needs to be said, really. Every baseball fan already has a made-up mind here about his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Kenny Lofton was an all-time great leadoff man who was severely underrated. He played for 17 seasons, into his age-40 year, and hit .299 with a .372 OBP while stealing 622 bases and scoring 1,528 times. He had 2,428 hits and 945 walks. Among center fielders, he sits ninth in WAR and 10th in JAWS. He’s my center fielder and leadoff man. 

Sammy Sosa long had a polarizing case for so many reasons, but he was always a yes for me

Jim Edmonds deserved a lengthier stay on the ballot than he got. Long an exceptional defender in center with a great bat, he ended up 16th among center fielders in WAR. He hit .284/.376/.527 (132 OPS+) with 1,949 hits, 437 doubles, 393 home runs, 1,199 RBI, 1,251 runs and a litany of highlight-reel catches. 

Dwight Evans is another on the list of high-OBP guys from the ’70s and ’80s who were drastically underrated at the time they played. He hit .272 in his career, but had a .370 OBP. Team that with his good power and you’ll see a 127 OPS+. He finished with 2,446 hits, 483 doubles, 385 home runs, 1,384 RBI and 1,470 runs. 

Dale Murphy is similar to Mattingly. He was one of the best players in baseball for about half his career and then fell off. He finished with two MVPs, 2,111 hits, 350 doubles, 398 homers, 1,266 RBI, 1,197 runs and a .265/.346/.469 (121 OPS+) slash. 

Albert Belle is also similar. He had a ridiculous prime and had to retire early due to a degenerative hip injury. He basically played in 10 full seasons and finished in the top eight of MVP voting five times (three in the top three). He led the league in runs, doubles, home runs, RBI (three times), slugging (twice), OPS, OPS+, total bases (three times) along the way. He finished a .295/.369/.564 (144 OPS+) hitter with 1,726 hits, 389 doubles, 381 homers, 1,239 RBI and 974 runs. He’s a peak candidate and a damn good one who will likely never make the Hall. 

Dave Parker has an all-time great nickname (“Cobra”). He also won an MVP and was a seven-time All-Star. He finished with 2,712 hits, 526 doubles, 339 homers, 1,493 RBI and 1,272 runs. He was a two-time batting champion and two-time World Series champion. 

Sherry Magee, George Foster, Lance Berkman, Willie Davis, Jim Wynn, Fred Lynn, Bernie Williams, Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, Vada Pinson, Curt Flood and Roger Maris are others who were under consideration. 

Starting pitcher: Roger Clemens

Much like with Bonds, Roger Clemens is the ace and this subject has been exhaustively covered. Many don’t want him here. His statistical case says he’s a top-five all-time pitcher. 

I’m gonna go with 12 starters in all here for the full team and if someone didn’t make it, he isn’t the biggest snub. 

After starting his career in the Negro Leagues, Don Newcombe was the third Black pitcher in the majors. He also lost two seasons to military service during the Korean War. The four-time All-Star won the Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young and an MVP while also helping the Dodgers to a World Series title. In his 12 MLB seasons, he was 149-90 with a 3.56 ERA (114 ERA+), 1.20 WHIP and 1,129 strikeouts in 2,154 2/3 innings.

Curt Schilling did everything he could to sabotage his Hall of Fame case after his retirement, including very publicly asking off the ballot after getting 71.1% of the vote in his ninth season. His on-field record is easily worth inclusion in the Hall and I’ve written as much several times, so there’s no need to rehash. 

Kevin Brown got just 2.1% of the vote his only try on the ballot. He went 211-144 in his career while winning two career ERA titles en route to a 3.28 ERA (127 ERA+). He finished in the top six of Cy Young voting five times. He struck out 2,397 in 3,256 1/3 innings. Brown sits 33rd in pitcher JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers like Carl Hubbell, Ed Walsh, Hal Newhouser, John Smoltz, Jim Palmer, Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal. 

Luis Tiant had four top-six finishes in Cy Young voting and won two ERA titles. He was 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA (114 ERA+) in his career. He struck out 2,416 in 3,486 1/3 innings and also had 187 career complete games along with 15 saves. 

The ’80s starting pitchers are under-represented in the Hall and Dave Stieb is one of the main snubs there. He made seven All-Star teams and got Cy Young consideration five times. He ended up 176-137 with a 3.44 ERA (122 ERA+). A workhorse, he topped 200 innings nine of 11 seasons through his prime; the strike-shortened 1981 was one of the times he fell short. He even topped 265 innings four straight seasons, twice leading the league. 

Remember when Johan Santana was the top pitcher in baseball for that quick stretch? It was five years or so, so maybe not that quick. He won two Cy Youngs, finished third twice and fifth once. He won three ERA titles, twice leading the league in innings pitched while doing so. He led the league in strikeouts three times. His counting stats (139 wins, 1,988 strikeouts) are what left him out of the Hall, but he’s an excellent peak candidate. 

Did you know David Cone was in the rotation for five World Series champions? He was also a five-time All-Star and won a Cy Young (with four other top-six finishes). He ended up 194-126 and I can’t help but wonder if six more wins would’ve appeased the voting body at the time. He also had 2,668 strikeouts and a 3.46 ERA (121 ERA+). In pitcher JAWS, he sits 48th all-time, around the likes of Drysdale, Marichal, Dazzy Vance and Bob Feller. 

Aside from Clemens, Schilling and any active pitcher, Rick Reuschel is the top non-HOF pitcher in JAWS. He’s 32nd all-time. He was saddled with a ton of losses on bad teams, but still ended up with a winning record (214-191) and we know better now than to solely blame the pitcher. Reuschel racked up 3,548 1/3 innings in his career and had a 3.37 ERA (114 ERA+). 

Tommy John was more than just a surgery! He won 288 games and amassed an absurd 4,710 1/3 innings while pitching to a 3.34 ERA (111 ERA+). I do think the surgery should give him a boost in terms of Fame Factor, too. Someone had to have the guts to be a guinea pig, right? 

Vida Blue won 20+ games in three of his first five seasons in a rotation, including the 1971 season when he was the MVP and Cy Young winner with a 1.82 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. He was a six-time All-Star and won three World Series rings, ending with 209 wins and a 3.27 ERA in 3,343 1/3 innings. He also has an 80-grade name.

Fernando Valenzuela didn’t rack up the counting stats needed to impress the voting body. He ended with 173 wins and 2,074 strikeouts in 2,930 innings. His decline ravaged his rate stats, too, as he ended with a 3.54 ERA (104 ERA+) and 1.32 WHIP. I feel like Fernandomania has to count for something, though, and his first seven seasons were a thing of beauty. He was a six-time All-Star, won a Cy Young (and Rookie of the Year) and finished in the top five of Cy Young voting four times. From 1981-86, he had a 2.97 ERA and averaged 210 strikeouts per season while winning 97 games in 200 starts.

Relief pitcher: Dan Quisenberry

There’s not much egregious here. Many people believe, if anything, too many relievers are in the Hall of Fame, given the whole “relievers are failed starters” line of thought. 

Some of the best closers in recent memory who already fell off the ballot would be Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan and Troy Percival. Going back a bit further, though, Tom Henke, John Franco and Dan Quisenberry seem like top-shelf closers worth considering and I admire the heavy workloads of the likes of Tug McGraw, Kent Tekulve and Jesse Orosco. Tom Gordon deserves a mention, too. 

Of that entire group, the ones who feel closest to Hall of Famers to me are Quisenberry and Nathan. I know the voting body fell too much in love with the save stat in the ’80s, but Quisenberry had five top-five finishes in Cy Young voting. We’ll use him in the ninth. 

Starting lineup

Just for fun, I always like to make a lineup when building a whole team of anything. I’m going to make Gary Sheffield my DH since he fell off the ballot this year after not making it

1. Kenny Lofton, CF
2. Barry Bonds, LF
3. Gary Sheffield, DH
4. Mark McGwire, 1B
5. Sammy Sosa, RF
6. Dick Allen, 3B
7. Nomar Garciaparra, SS
8. Thurman Munson, C
9. Lou Whitaker, 2B

SP: Roger Clemens

Closer: Dan Quisenberry

How many of these players should actually be Hall of Famers? Hey, that’s not for me to decide. Go nuts and argue away. 

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