Cooperstown, NY. A small town of just under 2,000 people, yet one that is renowned among the entire baseball community. Yes, you probably know already that Cooperstown houses the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. With a packed ballot this year containing 35 total candidates, including 19 newcomers, not every player on this year’s ballot will have a chance to achieve baseball immortality, but still, I’m going to try and make a case for each and every player’s enshrinement right here. Each player will be presented in alphabetical order as presented on the ballot. This part will cover the second column of members, which includes 11 players. For reference during the article, all WAR figures will be represented as determined by Baseball Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.
When Ted Lilly came to the Dodgers in 2010, he was Rich Hill before Rich Hill. His slow, winding delivery would lull batters to sleep until they were either punished by his blazing 87 MPH fastball or his very Rich Hill-esque breaking ball. Personally, I think his pitch delivery and curveball deserve Hall of Fame enshrinement on their own, and Theodore Roosevelt Lilly could have his plaque right next to Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander
Derek Lowe would probably be on a shortlist with Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz of both established starters and closers, albeit without nearly the track record of the latter two. However, since 1950, there have been only 3 pitchers to have led the league in both saves and wins: Johnny Sain, John Smoltz, and Derek Lowe. And, although he struggled mightily in the regular season in 2004, any pitcher who throws 7 shutout innings in the clinching game of the World Series to end an 86 year old curse deserves Hall of Fame recognition in my book. Not only that, he also capped off the first ever 3-0 series comeback in MLB history with a stellar Game 7 performance against the Yankees
4,829.1: the number of total innings “Designated Hitter” Edgar Martinez played on defense. .933: the career OPS of Edgar Martinez. 32nd: the career standing of Edgar among all-time OPS leaders. 68: the number of Hall of Fame position players that Edgar ranks higher than in career WAR. To say that Edgar isn’t a Hall of Fame baseball player because he “didn’t play defense” is just plain silly. Regardless of position, this is one of the most prolific hitters in history. And as far as “specialists” go? Fellow ballot member Mariano Rivera has the potential to be the first ever unanimous selection into the Hall. Widely regarded as one of the most dominant pitchers ever, Edgar completely had his way with him. Edgar put up 11 hits in 19 at bats vs Mo, good for a slash line of .579/.652/.1.053. That’s a 1.705 OPS. The award for the best designated hitter in a given year is called the Edgar Martinez Award, and any player who has an award named after him should get Hall of Fame treatment. He also gave us one of the all-time postseason moments to cap off a 2-0 series comeback vs the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS.
There are multiple valid reasons that Fred McGriff should have found enshrinement by now. For one, his 493 career home runs leave him tied with Lou Gehrig on the all-time home run list. With the exception of a couple steroid era guys (McGwire, Sosa, Manny, Bonds, Palmeiro), no player with at least 493 home runs has ever missed enshrinement from the Hall. For fans of peaks, McGriff’s 7 year peak saw him hit over 30 home runs in every year from 1988-1994, including 34 home runs in only 113 games during the strike shortened 1994 season. He averaged 35 homers per year during that span, along with a .935 OPS for those 7 years. Even ignoring his on field offensive production, “Crime Dog” has to be in the conversation of greatest nickname of all time. 493 home runs from “Crime Dog”? That should be the perfect recipe for baseball immortality.
To begin, Mike Mussina’s 82.9 career WAR ranks 24th among all pitchers in history. The 23 ahead of him are all in the Hall of Fame (with the exception of Roger Clemens). He ranks ahead of such pitchers as Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Carl Hubbell, and Bob Feller. Now before you go and compare ERA, strikeout, or other numbers, think about the context of the era that Mussina pitched in. Mussina pitched from 1991-2008, and pitched exclusively in the AL East during the height of the steroid era. While not exactly putting up gaudy ERA numbers, neither was really anybody else in the American League not named Pedro Martinez. And for as tough of a time as he pitched in, the man was an absolute workhorse. Only one time in his 17 full seasons did he fail to qualify for the ERA title, not happening until his second to last season where he threw 152 innings in 27 starts. In a time when hitting ran rampant, the original Moose was as steady as they come. Good luck trying to take him out of a game.
20 year veteran Darren Oliver started his career as a starting pitcher, and, truthfully, as an unsuccessful one. Oliver reinvigorated his career in 2006 as a very successful middle relief pitcher, and pitched in two World Series for the Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011. Oliver also ranks among the best of all-time among other players named Darren, falling only .8 WAR short of Darren Daulton as the most valuable Darren of all-time.
Fans of the Astros in the 2000s will have fond memories of Roy Oswalt, as he was a key cog in their rotation for the entire decade. His 10 year run in Houston was marked by a 137-70 record, a 3.23 ERA, a 134 ERA+, and the highest pitching WAR of any Astros pitcher with 45.8. He also earned NLCS MVP honors by pitching to a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings in 2005, and a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings of the 2010 NLCS for the Phillies. He ranks in the top 10 in almost every major pitching category in Astros history, and deserves more love than he has received.
The “Core 4” of the Yankees wouldn’t be complete without its starter. A 5 time World Series champion, Pettitte also ranks 1st all-time in postseason wins and innings pitched, as well as second in strikeouts. It also wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Pettitte had the most deceptive pickoff move of all time. Couple his playoff resume with 256 wins, a 60.3 career WAR, and 2448 strikeouts, and you have yourself a fairly interesting Hall of Fame case.
During his relatively brief 14 year career, Pierre had a knack for tearing it up on the base paths whenever he was granted the opportunity. A career .295 hitter, Pierre swung his way to 2217 career hits. His total of 614 stolen bases is good for 18th all-time, and he averaged 180 hits and 50 stolen bases per 162 games during the course of his career. I think there’s room for Juan more in the Hall of Fame.
Placido Polanco seems to fall in the category of: “was way better than anybody remembers him being”. A career .297 hitter, Polanco racked up 2142 hits in his career, and he picked up his 2000th career hit in style. Although not producing much in the way of power, Polanco was also a fantastic fielder, primarily manning the hot corner and 2nd base for the Cardinals, Tigers, and Phillies for 15 of his 16 seasons. His career WAR of 41.5 ranks first among all players who have had the initials of PP in history.
The ultimate way to end “Manny being Manny” would be enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Even with all his on field antics, Manny was no laughing matter once he stepped into the batter’s box. Ranked 15th all-time in home runs (555) and 19th all-time in RBI (1831), Manny terrorized opposing pitchers to the tune of a .996 OPS for his career, including an otherworldly stretch from 1998-2005 where he averaged 41 homers, 130 RBI, and a 1.039 OPS per season. Manny was no stranger to the big stage either, swatting the most home runs in postseason history, including this game winner against the Angels, and ranking only 2 postseason RBI behind Bernie Williams for the most of all time.
This concludes the second part of this series, and this could certainly be the most controversial section regarding Hall of Fame cases. I really wish there was a different voting system in place, because there’s way more than 10 players that deserve enshrinement this year. Coming up next, probably the most stacked part of the ballot. Thanks for reading!