Ken Griffey Jr.? Of course. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines? Quite possibly. Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling and Edgar Martinez and Trevor Hoffman? Probably not this year, but maybe one day. Alan Trammell? Worthy but unlikely. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? Third rail.
As Wednesday’s announcement of the next class of Hall of Fame inductees approaches, the arguments about the merits of several candidacies remains impassioned. (Scott Lauber’s honeymoon period evidently ended with his endorsement of Bonds and Clemens.) Yet there is another class of standout players who haven’t inspired anything remotely akin to the outcry over so many members of this year’s eligible class.
Perhaps foremost among them: Jim Edmonds, who posted a career .284/.376/.527 line with a 132 OPS+, 393 career homers, and eight Gold Gloves. Though Edmonds’ numbers might fall just short of typical Hall of Fame standards, as Jay Jaffe of SI.com wrote, the fact that he stands a good chance of being a one-and-done candidate fails to reflect properly the multidimensional impact he made on the field.
Andrew Simon, writing for Sports on Earth, examines some of the best players to get bounced from the ballot in their first year of eligibility. If Edmonds joins their ranks, there will be an echo of the underappreciated career of a longtime Red Sox standout who possessed a similar skill set: Dwight Evans.
Evans (.272/.370/.470, 127 OPS+, 385 homers, 8 Gold Gloves) and Edmonds help to define a profile of players who were game-changers yet tend to get little love in Hall voting: Players with elite defensive ability (at a time when the game’s defensive metrics were somewhere between non-existent and not fully developed), power, and great on-base skills that surpassed their ability to hit for average.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of guys who kind of fit that bill of the Evans prototype: low-average, high-power, excellent defense, long career, who were overshadowed by Brooks Robinson,” Jaffe said by phone. “There was a failure to account for position and defensive value. It’s something that explains a lot. The guys who were most mistreated by Hall of Fame voters had significant defensive value and significantly high on-base percentages relative to their batting averages. [Not] hitting .300 is held against them, while having an on-base percentage close to .400 isn’t recognized.”
There was something untimely in the Nietzschean sense about the excellence of players like Evans and Bobby Grich. In another era, it’s entirely possible that players with their skill sets – great defense, power, fantastic on-base ability – might have been viewed as Cooperstown-worthy. Yet their standout skills either weren’t valued as highly or couldn’t be measured as precisely in the eras in which they played.
That untimeliness contributed to the fact that Grich – likely one of the greatest second basemen ever – fell off the ballot after one year and Evans lasted just three years (5.9 percent in 1997, 10.4 percent in 1998, 3.6 percent in 1999) before seeing his candidacy wash ashore. The Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee hasn’t considered either for election.
There are players who enjoyed better careers than some who are enshrined in Cooperstown but will never get there without a ticket. And there’s something a bit sad about that reality.
“I think the further you get from a player’s career, the more likely these guys are to be remembered if they’re Hall of Famers,” said Jaffe. “There’s a danger of these guys slipping into a kind of obscurity.”
The results of Hall of Fame balloting are significant in the sense that they define those whose greatness will be recalled and those whose excellence may be forgotten. When the 2016 induction class is announced on Wednesday, it will represent a dividing line between those who are immortalized and those whose standout careers will drift into something of an ill-defined fog.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.