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. 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 first column of members, which includes 12 players. For reference during the article, all WAR figures will be represented as determined by Baseball Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.
Many of you might remember Rick Ankiel for his exploits in throwing out base runners from the next county over, but do you remember his short lived success as a pitcher? That cannon from center field didn’t come from nowhere, as Ankiel actually pitched himself to second place in Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 with a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. His well documented case of the yips certainly caught up to him in the postseason, leading to his transition to the outfield. His 32 career outfield assists in 7 seasons in the outfield seem meager given the wow factor that almost every throw had to it. Honestly, Rick Ankiel should have a plaque solely to display his outfield throws on loop.
The rise and fall of Jason Bay; a tale of joy for Red Sox and Pirates fans, and a tale of misery and woe for Mets fans. After hitting 184 home runs between his first 8 years with Pittsburgh and Boston, including a Rookie of the Year award after the 2004 season, Bay received a monster contract from the New York Mets, where he promptly caught the injury bug and never came close to duplicating his same level of success. However, his career OPS of .8411 ranks 209th all time, and puts him mere percentage points behind that of hall of famer Carl Yastrzemski (.8415), and ahead of other Hall members Enos Slaughter (.8345) and Eddie Murray (.8355). For the first 6 full years of Bay’s career, he also averaged about 30 home runs and 99 RBI per season. That’s a pretty good 6 year peak.
The “Big Puma”, as he was affectionately referred to during his 15 year career, Berkman may be the most overlooked player on this year’s ballot. He is not only ranked 6th all-time among switch hitters with 366 career home runs, but also ranks 27th all-time in career OPS with a .943 career mark. Forget nitpicking other hall of famers that Berkman had a higher mark than, he’s in the top 30 of anybody ever. It would be a crime if the Killer B’s (Bagwell, Berkman, Biggio) lost a member on the way to the Hall. Berkman also might have given us the best Tal’s Hill catch of all-time, which has to count for something.
Most people know about Barry Bonds as the all-time home run leader with 762 home runs, but that’s hardly his most impressive feat. More importantly, he absolutely destroys the field among intentional walk leaders, and the all-time leader in intentional walks absolutely deserves a spot. Barry Bonds was issued a free pass 688 times over the course of his destructive career, over 300 more than second place Albert Pujols (310). For the sake of comparison, the Tampa Bay Rays have been issued 594 free passes in their 21 years of existence. The entire franchise history of the Tampa Bay Rays has seen less intentional walks than Barry Bonds saw himself. That’s Hall of Fame worthy. He was also known for having the most “Splash Hits” into McCovey Cove, including this mammoth shot against Cy Young winner Eric Gagne.
His name will probably always be synonymous with Barry Bonds, but “The Rocket” has his own credentials as well. If you aren’t a fan of his record setting 7 Cy Young awards, his 3rd all-time number of 4672 strikeouts, or his 354 career wins, perhaps you’ll enjoy his 20 strikeout performance. If a record setting 20 strikeouts in one game still isn’t enough for you, maybe you’ll be convinced by his second, record tying, 20 strikeout game. If you just aren’t a fan of the Mets (or Mike Piazza), then maybe a certain bat toss will grab your attention.
Freddy Garcia had a very productive 15 year career, highlighted by a second place Rookie of the Year finish in 1999 and back to back All-Star appearances in 2001 and 2002. Garcia also ranks 8th in career ERA among Venezuelan born pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched, and 2nd in innings pitched with 2264, falling behind only Felix Hernandez. He boasts a very strong 3.26 career postseason ERA across 66.1 innings, including 7 innings of shutout ball in the 2005 World Series clinching Game 4 against the Astros.
2005 All-Star Jon Garland was one of the most important pieces in the rotation of the World Series winning White Sox, putting together a campaign that included an 18-10 record, a 3.50 ERA, a league leading 3 complete game shutouts, and a 6th place Cy Young finish. Not only that, but he was dominant in his only season of postseason action, netting 16 innings in two starts for a 2.25 career postseason ERA, including a complete game against the Angels in the Championship Series in which he only gave up 2 earned runs on 4 hits.
A late bloomer for the Tribe, Hafner was an absolute force out of the DH spot when he was able to remain healthy. His 4 year stretch from 2004-2007 was one of the most dominant runs of the century, averaging 32 homers and a .296/.410/.567 slash line during that span, including 42 homers in only 129 games in 2006. The injury bug cost him a chance to truly maximize on his potential, but the peak was that close to being long enough. He also gave us this CLASSIC Tom Hamilton call on a walk-off grand slam, which only helps his case.
“Doc” Halladay, as he was known for most of his career, has certainly lived up to the name as he was absolutely surgical on the mound. He’s one of only 6 pitchers to win a Cy Young award in both the AL and NL (Perry, Martinez, Johnson, Clemens, Scherzer), one of only 6 pitchers with multiple no-hitters in the same calendar year (Vander Meer, Reynolds, Trucks, Ryan, Scherzer), and one of only 2 pitchers with a postseason no-hitter (Larsen). Oh yeah, and his first no-hit game of the season when he had two happened to be the 20th perfect game in baseball history. Halladay, one of the last true workhorse pitchers, led the American League in complete games in each of his last 3 seasons with Toronto. After being traded to the Phillies prior to the 2010 season, Halladay led the National League in complete games in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. The only other two pitchers to lead the league in complete games 5 seasons in a row? Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts.
Had Larry Walker not already been the poster child for the Coors Field argument, Todd Helton would have that role locked up. Helton, an on-base and doubles machine for the entirety of his career, had a “Coors boosted” .953 career OPS. While his OPS at home was an incredible 1.048, his OPS at normal altitudes was still a very elite .855. His road OPS alone would be enough to be tied with Hall of Famer Al Kaline for 153rd all-time, and his total OPS currently ranks 19th of all-time. Not only was Helton able to put up elite numbers away from Coors, he was also able to do it while dealing with the “Hangover Effect” that Rockies hitters experience. The “Hangover Effect” has to do with the lesser break that hitters see in high altitudes, and trying to adjust for the increased break they see away from home. As many have pointed out, the effects of the Coors Hangover almost negate the positives that Coors itself offers. It’s time for the Coors argument to die.
It’s a shame that Andruw Jones fell off as hard as he did, because that seems to be sticking in the mind of voters. Not like he was one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time, or that his 9 year offensive peak included a total of 319 home runs and 940 RBI. That’s an average of 35 homers per year for 9 years. Jones finished with 434 home runs on his career and absolutely deserves more recognition. If defense can get a player as offensively challenged as Ozzie Smith in the hall or garner consideration for Omar Vizquel to the degree he’s getting, then Jones’ defense combined with his elite offensive peak need to be in.
The most prolific power hitting second baseman of all-time also has a reputation of one of the game’s biggest headaches in the dugout, which may be why his support on the ballot has been as low as it has been. Halfway through his eligibility period on the writer’s ballot, Kent finished with 14.7% of the vote. Not exactly what you would expect from a second baseman with 377 career home runs and an .855 career OPS. That’s 95 more home runs (282) and a 60 point difference in OPS (.795) than Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. Kent is one of many examples on this ballot of an offensive minded player who offered below average production in the field, but for some reason players like these haven’t been faring too well as of late.
That’s it for the first edition of this series! Obviously not every player on the ballot each year will be worthy of enshrinement, but it’s still fun to highlight some of the career accomplishments of the players who were able to earn an appearance on the ballot at all. Next up in this series: column 2, and a whole bunch of interesting cases to be made, along with one of my favorite stats that I’ve come across in my research. Thanks for reading!