Cooperstown Series — Part III — The Underrated, the Overlooked and a very Suspicious Looking Newbie


This was not a call from Cooperstown

Fred McGriff

The Crime Dog is an interesting case. McGriff was never the best first baseman in the league. Nor did he ever top thirty-seven homeruns in a season, but he was in an elite class for a very long time. McGriff is famous for coming seven homeruns short of five hundred — tied with Lou Gehrig by the way. While not five hundred, 493 is a huge number. He has no ties with steroids, yet Fred only received 21.5% of the vote last year. On a somewhat related note, I’m fairly certain that my next door neighbor stole his rookie card from me when we were kids and I’m still pissed about it. Sorry for the digression.

There are two reasons McGriff isn’t in the Hall. The first one is obvious; he didn’t reach the 500 homerun plateau. The second is that, while he was consistently terrific, there were always two or three first basemen that were better. Even though he played most of his career in the steroid era, McGriff never fit the mold. He was always a lanky player and his numbers were consistent through-out his career. Plus, most of the superior first basemen in his era are known steroid users who will be black-balled for a quite some time. So why can’t the Crime Dog get in? There must be a place in Cooperstown for McGriff and his helicopter swing.

Barry Larkin

Barry Larkin is one of the most underrated shortstops to play the game. His entire career, he was overshadowed by players like Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter. However, other than A-Rod, Larkin was a more complete player than any of those guys. He won three Gold Gloves and would have gained many more if not for Ozzie. No one could play defense like the Wizard, but Ozzie couldn’t hold a candle to Larkin at the plate. Larkin also won nine Silver Sluggers; A-Rod is the only infielder in history with more. He appeared in twelve All-Star games and won an MVP in 1995 and a World Series in 1990. He was also an adept base-stealer, having stolen over twenty bases in nine seasons. Larkin is overlooked because of his lacking power numbers. Only once did he top thirty homeruns in a season, but his overall resume screams Hall of Famer. Larkin will eventually make it to Cooperstown, but he will probably have to wait a decade – much like this next fella.

Bert Blyleven

Perhaps the bias against Blyleven stems from his Dutch heritage or maybe it’s related to his world renowned flatulence. Either way, Blyleven has been slighted by the BBWAA for far too long. Bert’s career strikeout total is the fifth highest ever, yet somehow he has been passed over by voters in the past thirteen elections. They don’t make ’em like Bert Blyleven anymore. He accumulated an absurd 242 complete games, including SIXTY shut-outs. He downed innings like John Bonham did vodka. He topped 270 innings in a season eight times. To put that in perspective, the 270 inning plateau has only been reached twice in the last twenty-two seasons — Clemens with 271.1 in 1991 and Randy Johnson with 271.2 in 1999. Bert also won 287 games. If he had won thirteen more, he would have been elected over a decade ago. This year, Blyleven is going in. Mark it dude.

Jack Morris

Morris was known for coming up huge in big moments. He won a World Series with three different teams and was a key part of each squad. In 1991, he started for the Twins in Game 7 of the World Series against John Smoltz for the Braves. Morris delivered the greatest single-game World Series pitching performance of the modern era. Jack threw ten innings of shut-out baseball and the Twins won the game 1-0. He also had more wins in the ’80s than any other pitcher. However, his numbers don’t approach Blyleven’s and he won’t be elected until Bert is off the ballot.

Tim Raines

There is one reason Tim Raines is not in the Hall of Fame – Rickey Henderson. It was Raines’ extreme misfortune that he happened to be a lead-off hitter in the same era as the greatest lead-off hitter ever. It’s unfair to compare Raines to Henderson. Hell, it’s unfair to compare anyone to Henderson. But Raines belongs in the Hall. Tim’s game holds up in any era. He was the prototype lead-off hitter. He hit for average and drew walks. He was a tremendous base stealer, taking bases often and efficiently. Out of all players with over three-hundred attempted steals – including the great Henderson and Lou Brock – Raines has the highest success rate. Raines will be elected eventually, but there is no telling how long he will have to wait. Does anyone else see a pattern here?

All of these guys are more than deserving candidates for the Hall, but for whatever reason the BBWAA is forcing them to wait. Several will have to wait on the Veterans’ Committee for election and that is a shame.

Jeff Bagwell

This is Bagwell’s first year on the ballot and many think he has a good chance. Bagwell is a deserving candidate. He is the greatest Houston Astro of all-time and was one of the top first basemen for an extended period. He hit 449 homeruns in just fifteen seasons. He won an MVP, multiple Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. Bagwell was great at getting on base and was even a decent base stealer. However, the steroid era looms over Bagwell like a West Texas dust storm. If the BBWAA elects Bagwell and it comes out that he used steroids, they will have quite the mess on their hands. Up to this point, Bagwell hasn’t been affirmatively linked to performance enhancers. There have only been whispers. But are we really prepared to say that he didn’t? Have we not learned from our naivety when it comes to this stuff? I think he belongs in the Hall regardless, but I have a feeling the BBWAA wouldn’t agree.

Others worth Mentioning

Lee Smith

Lee Smith is third all-time in career saves, but the BBWAA has been particularly unkind to closers. This will be Smith’s ninth year on the ballot and he has yet to obtain over 50% of the vote. Smith has a shot in his last few years, but he is another guy that will probably have to rely on the Veterans’ Committee.

Edgar Martinez

Looking at his offensive numbers alone, Martinez probably belongs in the Hall. However, the Rox Pile absolutely loathes the DH rule and refuses to support the candidacy of a player who was strictly a DH. More Gold Gloves!!