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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
50 Best Non-Hall of Famers.

Hi, folks, it's been awhile. I've been working on re-doing my rankings list, which has been slow going. I got frustrated with the Baseball Prospectus WARP system, decided to switch to WAR, and ran into complications with the different versions of that. I concluded that the Fangraphs version was better than the one used by Baseball Reference.com, but it is less user-friendly and does not have numbers for 19th century and early 20th century pitchers. Such is the life of the researchers.

At any rate, I am writing again because someone has posed a question that is right in the wheelhouse of a blog like this: the 50 best non-Hall of Famers. Colleague Graham Womack of the blog Baseball: Past and Present poses the question, and well, it's too interesting not to respond. So, here goes.

1. Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell becomes eligible this year. His MVP year, 1994, was interrupted by a strike/lockout. He was excellent for many years, but that was his only year of really standing out. Not sure how writers will react to that.

2. Ron Santo. Our first pick that gets to the heart of this balloting. In a 15-year career, Santo never won an MVP or played in the postseason, and got overlooked. He also played in an era which decreased offense, holding down his stats, though he played in Wrigley Field, a hitters' park. He led the league in walks four times and on-base average twice, not stats that were monitored closely when he played. He was an excellent defensive player, and won five Gold Gloves. Santo finished fourth in the 1967 MVP vote, a year he really should have won, but the Cubs were just third. He is one of the Hall's great injustices.

3. Albert Pujols. Still active.

4. Pete Rose. Rose, of course, is not eligible for the Hall: he is suspended from the game due to gambling on it. Rose has lobbied to be reinstated, but whether his behavior warrants it, or whether writers would vote for him even if he was, is open to question. What is not questioned is his greatness. Based on the numbers, he is certainly a Hall of Famer.

5. Tim Raines. Another of the Hall's great injustices, Raines was never appreciated by the members of the BBWAA. He should have won two or three MVP awards during his career, but never finished higher than fifth in the voting. In three ballots, he has drawn only lukewarm Hall support. This is a guy who should be an obvious Hall of Famer, but his skills as a premier leadoff man are not widely appreciated.

6. Roberto Alomar. Alomar figures to make the Hall this year after falling just short last year, but he faces the same problems as Raines: he was not as valued by the writers as his actual value on the field. Alomar also could easily have won an MVP, but never did. Strong defensive players with a broad range of offensive skills, or in other words good all-around players, are the most often overlooked in MVP and Hall voting. The same is true for Santo, and for many other overlooked players on this list.

7. Bert Blyleven. Eminently deserving.

8. Rafael Palmeiro. Eligible for the first time this year, steroids will likely keep him out of the Hall.

9. Mark McGwire. Sort of the poster boy for steroids, at least as the Hall goes.

10. Will Clark. Yes, he fits that strong defense, good all-around hitter that writers say they like, but don't vote for when the chips are down. Clark spent most of his career in pitchers' parks, holding down his overall stats, but he was excellent.

11. Bobby Grich. Grich is the epitome of the terrific player who cannot win a vote like this. His batting averages were never very high, but he was a tremendous defender, drew lots of walks, hit for good power, and "played the game the right way." But, with a .266 career batting average, he will never get into the Hall.

12. Alan Trammell. Another of the Hall's great oversights, and for the same reason as the others. Some Veteran's Committee someday may correct some of these, but I won't hold my breath.

13. Dick Allen. An often disagreeable sort, and Bill James has gone to great lengths to point out why he doesn't belong. Others have had a go at refuting James, however, and at this point I am an agnostic.

14. Barry Larkin. Falls into that same category of overlooked players, but based on his vote total from last year he will eventually make it into the Hall.

15. Albert Belle. Want to talk about feared hitters? Here's a feared hitter. Belle also wasn't bad defensively, at least when he was younger. His career was cut short but he was terrific: he deserved the 1995 AL MVP over Mo Vaughn.

16. Charlie Bennett. My first 19th century player listing. Bennett would be a tough choice, as he did not have even 1000 career hits, but it was a different game then. Bennett was a catcher back when catchers did not have equipment like shin guards and face masks, and catching was a tough business. Catchers didn't play every day then. Bennett was a great, and so beloved in Detroit they ended up naming the ballpark after him. He threw out the first pitch of the season in Detroit when the American League returned a franchise to the city, every year until he died.

17. Edgar Martinez. Tough as it will be to elect a player who was almost exclusively a DH for much of his career, they already elected Paul Molitor.

18. Keith Hernandez. As obnoxious as I find him on commercials, he was one of those good hitters/excellent defenders that we find overlooked here.

19. Deacon White. Another 19th century guy, he goes back to the very beginning of organized leagues. White was largely a catcher, but they also played him at third base and the outfield to keep him in the lineup. His nickname (given name was James) indicates the high regard for his character.

20. Dwight Evans. Yes, excellent defense, strong hitter. Robbed of the 1981 AL MVP, a common theme here.

21. John Olerud. A player in the Hernandez mode, a Gold Glove level, batting champion first baseman. Olerud also had good power, and should have won the 1993 AL MVP.

22. Bucky Walters. He did not reach 200 career victories, but had the period of dominance that usually propels such pitchers into the Hall, with his 49 wins in 1939-40 and the 1939 NL MVP. It didn't work for him like it did Dean and Koufax, however.

23. Kevin Brown. He goes on the ballot this year, but won't draw much interest. His 211 wins and lack of a Cy Young won't help, though he easily could have won multiple Cys, especially in 1996 and 1998, and was the ace for two unlikely World Series teams, the 1997 Marlins and 1999 Padres.

24. Bill Dahlen. A turn of the century (19th/20th) shortstop who was excellent defensively and a good hitter. Yes, just the type.

25. Joe Torre. A borderline HOFer as a player, he will eventually get in as a manager with his Yankee rings. He was a mediocre defensive catcher, but a fine hitter.

26. George Gore. A 19th century outfielder with a .301 career average, it's a surprise the early Hall voters missed him. Then again, early stats were spotty until the Baseball Encyclopedia project came out in 1969.

27. Jim Wynn. A short outfielder with speed and excellent power, plus good defense, whose stats were held down by playing in the cavernous Astrodome in the 1960s, then Dodger Stadium in the 1970s. He looks terrific with neutralized stats.

28. Robin Ventura. Sort of a Ron Santo-lite, Ventura was excellent defensively and a middle-of-the-order hitter. He would help balance the lack of third basemen in the Hall.

29. Ken Boyer. Another excellent defensive third baseman who could hit. He did win an MVP, but it hasn't helped his Hall candidacy.

30. David Cone. The kind of solid pitcher honored many times by the Hall, but not recently.

31. Bernie Williams. To me, the image of the Yankees of the 1990s and the key to their success. I know the shortstop gets the attention, but I think it was about Bernie. This is a fudge, because he won't be eligible until next balloting cycle, but I think he will be overlooked.

32. Ned Garver. A quirky pick, as he had a losing record for his career, but that was due to playing for terrible teams like the St. Louis Browns and Kansas City A's. In 1951, when he won 20 for the Browns, he was the best pitcher in the league.

33. Paul Hines. A 19th century outfielder, he was the NL's best player in 1878 and 1879.

34. Ted Simmons. A good hitter who was average defensively, but was valuable because he could catch. He lost value in the second half of his career, when managers stopped using him at catcher.

35. Heinie Groh. An overlooked early-20th century player, he was a third baseman who would play second base (or maybe shortstop) in today's game. A little guy who was excellent defensively and a good hitter, he was the NL's best player in 1917 and 1918.

36. Cesar Cedeno. Got off to such a good start at a young age that people were disappointed he didn't turn into Willie Mays. He still had a good career, but people felt it wasn't quite good enough, somehow.

37. Matt Williams. Another strong defensive third baseman, he had excellent power though not very good on-base skills.

38. Lance Parrish. A symbol of the difficulty of evaluating catcher defense. He had a strong arm, but was very big and not exceptionally mobile. He could hit, but evaluating him is a matter of deciding how good his defense was, and that's not easy.

39. Lou Whitaker. Like his double-play partner Trammell, Whitaker got overlooked. What is it about the 1980s Tigers?

40. Bret Saberhagen. Saberhagen was always terrific when he could pitch. Not sure why Dean and Koufax got in, but guys like this were overlooked.

41. Darrell Evans. Excellent defensive third baseman, good power, lots of walks, but a low batting average. Hall voters don't like guys like this.

42. Bob Elliott. "Mr. Team" got a 1947 MVP, but not much Hall support. Another third baseman though he also played the outfield, he got MVP votes while active but drew almost no Hall support for some reason.

43. Brett Butler. The very picture of a leadoff man, but the Hall does not like leadoff men in general (unless your name is Lloyd Waner). Another excellent defender.

44. Stan Hack. A double-whammy: a leadoff man and a third baseman. Never did draw much Hall support: not sure why he didn't, but George Kell did. Hack played for the Cubs, but did so in the 1930s when they still won pennants.

45. Shoeless Joe Jackson. I would never vote for him, but there's a case he was a good enough player. Sure, he was a bit of a patsy in that whole gambling thing, but it looms large.

46. Fred McGriff. I wonder if he will look better, or worse, as time passes. He is one of those guys Hall voters might look at down the road and say, "Hey, this guy deserves it."

47. Orel Hershiser. Had a three-year run, 1987-89, as the best pitcher in the NL. Bad luck and poor support in the bookend years made that less obvious then his terrific 1988 season.

48. Pebbly Jack Glasscock. 19th century shortstop, tremendous defender.

49. Buddy Bell. Another excellent defensive third baseman who could hit.

50. George Foster. People remember how he struggled in New York, in his mid-30s, and forget how incredible he was in Cincinnati in his prime. Again, a true feared hitter.

Whew. An interesting list, if I do say so myself. I wouldn't necessarily vote for all of these guys myself, if I had a vote, but each has a case and each is better than some players already in the Hall. The players are roughly in my ranking order, but if I did it again next week the order might be different. I'll go with this for now.