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Hall of Justice: A Look at Neglected Hall of Fame Candidates

 

Entering what would have been the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend in Cooperstown, we examine why some of the game’s greatest players have been overlooked and deserve – at the very least – more serious consideration.

By: Stats Perform

Grassroots support that bubbled up from books, blogs, and other websites, many with a sabermetric approach, has helped to push worthy Hall of Fame candidates like Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez across the finish line and into Cooperstown immortality.

Gone are the days when former great players like Tony Oliva and Dick Allen lacked convincing published support for their candidacy for the Hall. Now you can often find logical and well-researched backing even for some marginal candidates (e.g., Bill Dahlen and Buddy Bell).

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend, which would have taken place in Cooperstown July 23-26, with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and Marvin Miller scheduled for induction. So we’re going to use that hook to examine some overlooked candidates who might, with additional public support, get more serious attention from the electorate.

But with so much already written on many of these players, we challenged our staff to write a short, sharp advocacy for a Hall of Fame outsider they feel deserves election—or at least more serious consideration than he has been given. We imposed a 200-word limit while focusing on a truly disregarded candidate or finding a new approach to a player’s recognized case.

This section will feature support for some players whose candidacies with the full Baseball Writers’ Association of America electorate are ongoing (Jeff Kent and Bobby Abreu), but many of the players supported in this collection failed to maintain the 5% voting level required to stay on the primary ballot—for example, Lance Berkman and Jim Edmonds—and will forevermore be in the hands of the Veterans Committee, which has long controlled the fate of Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso.

MINNIE MINOSO (1949-80)

Minoso was the first black Cuban player in Major League Baseball and the first black player in White Sox history. That alone makes him one of the most significant players of the 1950s.

Orestes “Minnie” Minoso in 1957

His numbers also back up his historic career. During Minoso’s prime from 1951-61, his 52.2 bWAR exceeded those of HOF’ers Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Al Kaline and Nellie Fox. The only AL player with a higher WAR in that time was Mickey Mantle (84.7). Minoso collected 1,627 hits from his age-27 season on, slightly above the average of Hall of Fame position players in those years (1,621). His eight seasons with a .300+ batting average included five straight from 1956-60. He was a top-5 candidate for MVP in four different seasons and a nine-time All-Star.

The Cuban Comet led the league in hit-by-pitches a record 10 times and he took advantage on the basepaths, leading the AL in steals three times. He is one of seven players since WWII with at least 150 hit-by-pitches and 200 steals, joining Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter, Brady Anderson, Don Baylor, Frank Robinson and Alex Rodriguez.

Minoso is surely one of the best players in baseball history not currently in the Hall of Fame.

JIM KAAT (1959-83)

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Kaat was not a “compiler.” Kaat reinvented himself—several times, in fact—and he did it long before reinvention was a thing. You know the basics (283 wins, 16 Gold Gloves). Let’s fill in the blanks.

As a top-of-the-rotation starter for more than a decade, Kaat ranked second to Bob Gibson with 225 wins from 1962-75. He remained a viable starter throughout his late 30s, then headed to the bullpen—not as a hanger-on, but a valued contributor on good teams. He made 223 appearances after turning 40, including 62 for the 1982 Cardinals, the most by a pitcher in his 40s for a World Series champion.

Kaat also hit 16 homers and pinch-ran 85 times, fourth most among pitchers since 1920. Fast? In 1965, he set a World Series record for pitchers with five putouts in Game 2—all on 3–1 groundouts, three by lightning-quick Willie Davis.

Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn … solid citizens whose broadcasting careers boosted them into the Hall. Kaat has spent 35 years as a beloved broadcaster. His career spans eight decades (1959–2020). Heck, his nickname is Kitty! He belongs in Cooperstown.

DAVE PARKER (1973-91)

Parker’s 2,712 hits are nearly 300 more than the average HOF’er, and he ranks 45th all time in doubles and 56th in total bases and extra-base hits.

He won a World Series in each leaguean MVP with five top-5 finishes, back-to-back batting titles, and an All-Star MVP with seven selections. He’s one of 11 players to win an MVP while leading baseball in average and OPS. 

Parker’s 72 assists from 1975-79 are 11 more than the next best outfielder, and his 26 in 1977 stand today as the best single-season mark since Roberto Clemente’s 27 in 1961. He turned nine double plays as a right fielder that year, which hasn’t been bettered since. 

Parker exceeded Harold Baines’ career batting average, Tony Perez’s slugging, Andre Dawson’s OPS and Billy Williams’ RBIs – all HOF’ers – yet he never earned 25% of the BBWAA vote.

His 40.1 career WAR won’t dazzle, but Parker essentially had two lost seasons with more compromised by injuries and cocaine. He had a single-season WAR of 6.3 or higher four timesBaines, Perez and Williams have to combine careers to match that, while his 37.4 seven-year peak WAR is higher than 12 of 27 HOF right fielders. 

ALBERT BELLE (1989-2000)

Forced to retire due to a degenerative hip condition, Belle compiled eight straight years of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, including five straight All-Star appearances (1993-97).

Albert Belle in 1993

Belle won five Silver Slugger awards and ranks 13th all-time in slugging percentage.  His .564 mark is exceeded by only Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Trout among non-Hall of Famers, and Belle has never been pinned for steroid use.

Belle is the only player in Major League history to compile a 50-homer/50-double season.

According to Hall of Fame Monitor (created by Bill James), Belle received a score of 135. A score of 130 is denoted as a “virtual clinch” for the Hall of Fame by this metric. Among hitters, this metric currently wedges Belle between Trout and Gary Carter (a HOF’er).

Not just a power hitter, Belle ranked among the top 10 in times-on-base six times and had only two seasons with more than 100 strikeouts. Not known for being fleet of foot in the outfield, Belle tied for the league lead in OF assists (17) in 1999. In 1993, he was involved in seven double plays starting in left field.

KENNY LOFTON (1991-2007)

It’s easy to make Hall of Fame cases for one-trick ponies: “Look how many homers he hit!” Do-it-all types can slip through the cracks, as Lofton did, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving.

Using Baseball Reference’s run components of WAR, here’s the list of players all-time worth 100+ runs batting, 100+ runs fielding and 50+ runs as a baserunner: Willie Mays and Lofton. That’s it. In Lofton’s first eight full seasons (1992-99), he was worth 47.5 bWAR – fourth in MLB over that time behind Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jeff Bagwell. Not bad company. And you know who never had 45+ bWAR in any 8-year span? The last five position players elected into the Hall – not even Jeter.

Maybe you prefer old-school stats. Lofton stole 50+ bases and was caught fewer than 20 times in each of his first five seasons. No other AL player did that in five straight seasons.

Among MLB players with 600+ steals, there are 10 with a .350+ OBP, 10 with a .400+ SLG and seven with 100+ homers. Everyone on any of those lists is in the Hall … except Lofton, who’s on all of them. It’s time that changed.

JEFF KENT (1992-2008)

Perhaps Kent’s nomadic career has hindered his Hall of Fame chances, but his lofty offensive totals are easily tops all-time among second basemen.

His 351 home runs while playing the position are 43 ahead of second-place Robinson Cano, with no other second sacker within 70 of that total. And Kent’s career wOBA of .373 ranks fourth all-time among qualifying second basemen, with only Hall of Famers ahead of him: Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer and Jackie Robinson.

In Kent’s best years, 1998-2005, he went eight consecutive seasons with a slugging percentage of at least .500—a feat unmatched by any other second baseman in MLB annals. Detractors will note that he played in a hitter-friendly era, but Kent’s adjusted numbers stand up well. In the 60-year expansion era, his three seasons with an OPS+ of 140 or better are topped by only one second baseman, Joe Morgan (5).

Kent, who won the NL MVP in 2000, is one of only three second basemen to win the award in either league in the last 35 years. Of the nine Hall of Fame-eligible second basemen to win an MVP award in the Live Ball Era, Kent is the only one not enshrined in Cooperstown.

JIM EDMONDS (1993-2010)

If you’re the kind of person who thinks Hall of Famers should hit you over the head with their greatness, maybe Jim Edmonds isn’t for you.

But by actual Hall of Fame standards, Edmonds has a strong case. He played an important defensive position for a long time—he’s in the top 20 in the modern era in games in center field—and he played it well. If you’re into advanced stats, only two HOF outfielders can match his 6.4 defensive WAR: Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. If for some reason you value Gold Gloves, Edmonds won eight in a nine-year span. And if you value SportsCenter highlights, ka-ching!

And by the way, he could hit. Edmonds is one of 11 qualifying center fielders with a career OPS of at least .900. The others? Nine Hall of Famers and Mike Trout. Even accounting for era, Edmonds’ OPS+ of 132 is equal to Tony Gwynn’s and ahead of first-ballot HOF outfielders Carl Yastrzemski and Rickey Henderson. Edmonds even added 13 homers and a .874 OPS in the playoffs.

That adds up to a Hall of Famer.

BOBBY ABREU (1996-2014)

Really, Bobby Abreu?! A guy with less black ink and fewer All-Star appearances than Freddy Sanchez? Actually, yes. Because here’s the thing: Abreu was an elite baseball player, and we shouldn’t keep penalizing him for flying under the radar.

Part of Abreu’s problem is he excelled at things that are easy to overlook. He’s 20th all-time in walks, which are as unsexy of an important stat as there is in sports. He’s 25th in doubles, which are the Cooper Manning of extra-base hits. He doesn’t come to anyone’s mind as a speedster, but he racked up a whopping 400 stolen bases, and his 12 straight seasons (1999-2010) with 15+ homers and 20+ steals is the longest streak all-time.

Abreu qualified for the batting title 14 times, and he had an OBP over .350 all 14 seasons. Over the last 100 years, the only players to match his OBP (.395) and steals are Rickey Henderson and Barry Bonds. Seven players all-time have tallied 900+ extra-base hits and 400+ steals: five Hall of Famers, Bonds and Abreu.

Abreu had more bWAR than Vladimir Guerrero and more 5-WAR seasons than Derek Jeter. He may not make headlines, but Abreu should make the Hall.

LANCE BERKMAN (1999-2013)

One of the premier hitters in baseball, Berkman’s OPS+ of 144 ranks seventh among career left fielders (min. 5,000 PA). Of the six players above him, four are in the Hall; the remainders are Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez.

Lance Berkman in 2011

Beyond his overall stats, however, Berkman can be summed up thusly: When his team needed him, he answered the call. He led the Astros in extra-base hits five times over his career – tied with Jeff Bagwell and Jimmy Wynn for second most in club history. He led a star-studded 2001 lineup that featured Hall of Famers Bagwell and Craig Biggio and sluggers Moises Alou, Vinny Castilla and Richard Hidalgo.

Berkman was at his best in the postseason. Who can forget his eighth-inning grand slam in the 2005 NLDS classic or his 10th-inning, game-tying hit on the would-be final strike of the 2011 World Series? And his World Series numbers are jaw-dropping, compiling a .410/.520/.564 slash line in 11 games, making him one of seven players with a .500+ OBP and a .500+ SLG in Fall Classic play (min. 30 PA).

Berkman came through for his teammates, now it’s time for the voters to come through for him.

JOHAN SANTANA (2000-12)

Santana fell off the BBWAA ballot in his first year of eligibility in 2018, which begs the question, why?

Johan Santana in 2007

The former Twins and Mets left-hander received 2.4% of the 422 ballots cast, 12 votes short of staying on another year despite a 12-year career in which he went 139-78, for the ninth-best winning percentage among left-handers who started at least 280 games (.641). Santana was arguably MLB’s best pitcher during a five-year stretch that in some ways rivaled Sandy Koufax’s peak years. He went 86-39 with a 2.82 ERA and 1,189 strikeouts from 2004-08, winning two Cy Young Awards. Koufax went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and 1,444 Ks from 1962-66, earning three Cy Youngs.

While Koufax is the only pitcher to lead the majors in WHIP four years in a row, Santana is the only one to lead the AL in four straight years. He’s also one of nine hurlers to lead MLB in WHIP, ERA and Ks in the same season. Koufax did this twice, and six of the nine are in the Hall. Santana, like Koufax, had his career shortened by injuries but he provided one last highlight in 2012 with a no-hitter against the Cardinals.

Keeping Santana out of the Hall is questionable. Keeping Santana off a second ballot is absurd.

 

Contributors: Evan Boyd, Peter Hirdt, Kevin Chroust, Micah Parshall, Jacob Jaffe, Ethan D. Cooperson, Bryan Holcomb, Taylor Bechtold.