I spent a lot of time at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I worked there for several years and both of my children were born in Cooperstown. (I like to tell people that Cooperstown is not the birthplace of baseball, but it was the birthplace of my beautiful daughters).
I love the Baseball Hall of Fame, and nothing in this article is a criticism of the institution itself or the fine people who work there. But, the Hall of Fame is definitely missing something. It’s a glaring error that should be fixed.
The Hall of Fame is missing some of the best players to ever play the game. Here are my selections for the most glaring omissions in the Cooperstown ranks: ten of them to be exact.
For purposes of this list, I am including only players who are no longer eligible via the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) ballot. There are several candidates on that ballot who deserve to be elected, and I’ll list them in another article.
Allen has the best hitting numbers of any player not in the Hall of Fame, period.* Toiling in the second “deadball era,” Allen hit for high average and excellent power. He did the other things too — winning a Rookie of the Year award and Most Valuable Player Award. He was the best hitter on every team he played for, and even though his career was relatively short (1,749 games), it’s more than enough to get this slugger into Cooperstown.
It’s easy to forget that the 1960s and early 1970s were an abysmal time to put up hitting numbers. There’s a reason the AL introduced the designated hitter in 1973 — scoring was at a near all-time low. if we take Allen’s career records and put them into the context of the 1980s and at Comiskey Park, for example, he ends up with more than 400 home runs, a .324 batting average, .414 OBP, and .592 SLG. His context-altered line would show ten 100-RBI seasons, three 200-hit seasons, and nine seasons of at least 100 runs scored. even if he just comes within 10 percent of those numbers, Allen is an easy Hall of Famer. Allen was clearly a better hitter than Tony Perez or Orlando Cepeda, two more immobile slugging first basemen of the same era.
The chances of Bill Dahlen being elected to the Hall of Fame are about as good as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz opening a nightclub together. But, this old-time shortstop (he was born five years after the Civil War ended), most definitely deserves to get his plaque.
Dahlen is a pretty good comp to Derek Jeter. Both came into the majors at the age of 21 and found success as young players. Both hit a lot of singles and doubles, and rarely led the league in any offensive category. Dahlen was more of a power hitter than Jeter, and he led the NL in runs batted in once, later in his career. Both were regarded as team leaders, though Dahlen was more likely to holler or even fight a teammate who was slacking. Both Jeter and Dahlen became loved as stars in New York, Jeter with the Yankees and Dahlen with Brooklyn and later the Giants. Both played after their 40th birthday and both of these shortstops accumulated a lot of games played and hits and runs scored. Dahlen’s counting numbers don’t look as impressive as Jeter’s, but he played in an era when the schedule was two to three weeks shorter. The similarities end when it comes to team success, popularity, and defense. Dahlen didn’t get a chance to play in a postseason series until he was 35 years old, while Jeter played another full season worth of games in the postseason. There wasn’t radio or television when Bad Bill played, while The Captain played every game of his career with about a hundred cameras trained on him. While Jeter was a mediocre defensive shortstop, Dahlen was applauded for his ability to play the position in an era when the gloves were only slightly larger than oven mitts. Dahlen’s career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) ranks in the top ten all-time at shortstop, ahead of Jeter.
More than a century after he played his final game, Dahlen has few supporters, outside avid baseball historians like myself and maybe his great great granddaughter. But the record indicates that he was a better player than at least half a dozen shortstops in Cooperstown.
The next two players were great second basemen, the best at their position not in the Hall. Both players were better than several second basemen already in the Hall of Fame.
Grich was a superlative defensive player whose offensive value rested under the surface and was hard to recognize in his era. He hit for power and drew a lot of walks, something that was unusual for middle infielders in the 1970s. In that era, light-hitting “glove-first” shortstops who could hit .275+ were still highly regarded while great players like Grich were vastly underrated. For example: four times in the 1970s, Rick Burleson received MVP votes despite the fact that he never had an OBP as high as .340 and he never had a SLG better than .384. Meanwhile, Grich would hit 12-20 home runs, draw 90 walks, slug .450+, post a .370+ OBP, and play Gold Glove defense. He was one of the best to ever turn the double play.
Grich’s 125 OPS+ (OBP+SLG adjusted to his era and ballpark) is higher than eight second basemen who have plaques in Cooperstown.
Readers of this blog already know a lot about Whitaker, who was similar to Grich in results but looked smoother doing it. Whitaker’s career WAR ranks seventh all-time, just ahead of Grich. Sweet Lou was tremendously consistent and steady, but what seemed to hurt him among voters was his lack of a definitive peak with one or two great seasons. Whitaker chugged along as one of the 1-3 best second basemen in his league for 15 years. In some ways that’s more amazing than having a brief high-peak career trajectory.
Among third baseman, Nettles ranks tenth all-time in WAR. Seven of those ahead of him are in the Hall and the other two are Chipper Jones and Adrian Beltre. He was a far better player than either George Kell or Pie Traynor, and his peak value is fairly comparable to Brooks Robinson. Don’t like advanced metric ratings? Well, I’m not in love with them either, but pick any other stat and Nettles is in the top 10-15 among at third, a position that is woefully underrepresented in Cooperstown.
A quick note: there is no Yankee bias in regards to the Baseball Hall of Fame. At one time there was, when the veterans committee was comprised of several former New York ballplayers, but that time was more than 40 years ago. Lots of fans want to cry about the bias, especially Detroit fans who are fond of saying things like “Mickey Lolich would be in the Hall of Fame if he’d pitched for the Yankees.” Well, no he wouldn’t. Some of the best candidates for the Hall of Fame are former Yankees: Nettles, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, and Don Mattingly to name a few from the last 45 years. None of them have gotten in, even though I think two of them should. Hell, Ron Guidry is a decent candidate but you don’t see Yankee fans whining about it.
Nettles suffers from the same things that hurt Grich and Whitaker: the first half of his career spanned a low-offense era, and he never had a monster year or two. His value is “hidden” in 6-7 seasons where he’s very, very good. He also failed to accumulate the gaudy seasonal numbers voters like, such as 100 runs, 100 RBIs, and 30 homers or a .300 batting average. A lot of his value was reflected in his phenomenal defensive play at the hot corner, where he was clearly the best defender in baseball for a decade. There’s something to be said for being one of the best defensive third basemen ever and also hitting 390 home runs. But Cooperstown has ignored Nettles.
Morris and Trammell are two of the most controversial HOF candidates ever. Both spent the maximum 15 years on the ballot, with Morris nearly gaining election. Others (mostly the Sabrmetric crowd) had to make the case for Trammell, and it helped some, but the BBWAA voters still failed to elect one of the best shortstops to ever play the game and the definitive ace pitcher in baseball for about a dozen years from the early 1980s to the early 1990s.
Critics point at Morris’ 3.90 career ERA as proof he isn’t worthy, but that’s cherry-picking one stat. A ful picture needs to be crafted for every candidate. Many stats: WAR, ERA, ERA+, WHIP, quality starts, wins, innings, strikeouts, complete games, they all mean something to varying degrees. From 1979 to 1992, Morris towers above every pitcher in baseball in almost every category and ranks in the top ten in the others. No pitcher in his generation took the ball more, pitched more innings, won more games, completed more games, and won more big games. He was 7-1 in his first eight postseason starts, and the ace of three World Series champions.
In his rating system called JAWS, Jay Jaffe rates players based on the balance between their career value and their best seven seasons. It’s an attempt to measure both career and peak value. Trammell rates 11th on that scale (just behind Bill Dahlen and ahead of Derek Jeter). Yes, he rates above Derek Jeter. Sure, Jeter has a lot of other intangibles and postseason success, but even the fact that Tram and Jeter are so close shows how good a ballplayer the former Tiger was.
The next three players should be inducted for two reasons: 1) they deserve it individually based on their accomplishments, but also 2) because the Hall has too few catchers in their ranks. To date, only 14 catchers have been elected to the HOF and ten of them started their careers before 1950.**
Simmons played at almost the exact same time as Grich and Nettles. But unlike those two, Simmons did some things voters usually like, such as hitting over .300 seven times. He racked up 2,472 hits, a figure surpassed by only one other catcher in history (Pudge Rodriguez). His career counting totals look great, but voters are hung up on his poor defensive reputation.
Mediocre catcher or not, Simmons’ batting skills helped put him in the top ten in career and peak value among catchers. Unfortunately, he rarely even gets consideration by the veterans committee.
Freehan is the fourth former Tiger on this list. I don’t think there’s a bias against Detroit by voters but it is weird that four of the best candidates for the HOF were Tigers.
Freehan was the starting catcher in 13 seasons and he was an All-Star eleven times. He won five Gold Gloves and he was usually one of the three best hitting catchers in the game every season.
If we do to Freehan’s numbers what we did to Allen’s at the start of this article (adjust them for a better hitting era), he gets to 230 career homers, more than 850 RBIs, and his slash line goes to 289/371/454. Those numbers are good enough, combined with his stellar defense, to make him a Hall of Famer, in my opinion. There’s no HOF catcher from the AL from the late 1950s to the 1970s (Berra to Fisk). That’s because Freehan was clearly the best of the 1960s and that fact should be recognized.
Its puzzling that Munson hasn’t received more support for the Hall. He was considered at least the equal of Carlton Fisk in his prime, he won a Rookie of the Year Award, was awarded three Gold Gloves, was the unquestioned leader of three pennant-winning teams (and hit really well in the postseason), and he won an MVP award. There are several catchers in the Hall who didn’t do that much.
He was 32 when he died and would have easily had four more seasons of decent play, adding to his career numbers. It appears the voting body didn’t think Munson did quite enough in his abbreviated 11 seasons, but I think he did and if we give him a few more years that were taken from him, he’s a no-brainer for the Hall in my opinion.
There you have it, my ten for the Hall of Fame. What do you think?
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