Four who probably won't make the Hall of Fame this year, but should
Edgar Martinez might become the best eligible hitter to not make the Hall of Fame
Roberto Alomar has a case as the greatest second baseman since Rogers Hornsby
Only four times in Barry Larkin's great career did he play 150 games or more
Hall of Fame time already? Well, no. But to beat the rush, here are a few thoughts about four interesting new candidates ...
Question: Who is the best eligible hitter who is not in the Hall of Fame?
I think this is an interesting question. It's interesting because the way it is framed we don't have to drudge up all the talk about Joe Jackson and Pete Rose -- neither one of them is eligible. Neither is Barry Bonds, yet.
One answer to the question is Mark McGwire. A lot of people would say that McGwire was not a great hitter -- as they define "hitter" -- but I would disagree. He had a .394 on-base percentage because of his incredible ability to work the strike zone (and McGwire had a HUGE strike zone). And in his prime he hit a home run every eight at-bats, which is simply unmatched in baseball history. But, well, we all know why McGwire is not in the Hall of Fame, and anyway he did hit .263 for his career which probably eliminates him from the discussion. My hero Duane Kuiper hit for a better average than Mark McGwire, though he was only good for a home run every, oh, 3,379 at-bats or so.
Dick Allen is a pretty decent choice as the best eligible not in -- his 156 OPS+ is better than all but 12 Hall of Famers (it ties him with Willie Mays for 12th). He played in a terrible hitting era, but from age 22 (when he put up one of the great rookie seasons ever) to age 32 (when he led the league homers despite playing in only 128 games) he was an awesome hitter.
Don Mattingly, I suppose, has his case -- he hit .307 for his career, won a batting title, an MVP, twice led the league in OPS+, twice in hits, three times in doubles. Over a career, though, Will Clark was probably even better, because he drew more walks and slugged better. So Clark deserves consideration, too.
Minnie Minoso, for regrettable reasons, did not make it to the big leagues as a full-timer until 1951, and from '51 to '61 he hit .305/.395/.471 for an OPS+ of 134. Indian Bob Johnson -- who never played for the Indians -- was 27 when he made it to the big leagues, and he punched up an OPS+ of 138 while hitting .324 and leading the league in on-base percentage and OPS+ when he was 38.
Babe Herman hit .324 for a career, though it was a relatively short one. Tony Oliva won three batting titles and led the league in hits five times -- Bill James has often said that he never saw anyone hit more savage foul balls than Tony Oliva. People often poked fun at Bill Madlock for caring so much about his stats, but he won four batting titles between 1975 and '83. One of my favorites was Pedro Guerrero -- from 1980 through '89 he hit .308/.383/.586 and through the eyes of a teenager he often seemed to be pretty much an impossible out.
But I think there's actually a better answer than any of those for the greatest eligible hitter who is not in the Hall of Fame. I'm cheating a little bit because this player is not quite eligible ... he will be on the ballot this year for the first time. But he will not get voted in, and I suspect he will not come close to getting voted in. And I think he might be the best hitter (non-steroid/gambling division) to not make the Hall of Fame.
That hitter, of course, is Edgar Martinez.
Martinez's career average is .312 -- since the end of World War II (not including active players) only seven men with 7,500 or-more at-bats have a better batting average (Gwynn, Boggs, Carew, Musial, Puckett, Clemente, Larry Walker).
Martinez's career on-base percentage is .418 -- FOUR ONE EIGHT. Only Bonds, Mantle and Frank Thomas have a better on-base percentage using the same criteria (since 1945, 7,500 at-bats, non-active).
Martinez slugged .515 -- the same as Willie McCovey. Admittedly, it was a different era (and Edgar only once hit more than 30 home runs), but the point here is that Martinez was not a slappy hitter.
Martinez led the league in hitting twice, in on-base percentage three times, in runs once, in RBIs once and in doubles twice. I've often said that one of the great MVP rip-offs in baseball history was when Mo Vaughn won in 1995 over Albert Belle -- who hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in a strike-shortened season, one of the great hitting years in baseball history. Edgar, you could argue, had an even BETTER YEAR than Belle (.356/.479/.628 with 121 runs, 116 walks, 113 RBIs, a 185 OPS+).
Best I can guess, Martinez will not get a lot of Hall of Fame support despite being one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, and there are at least three reasons. One, he was viewed as a DH -- well, he was mostly a DH. In his career, he played 1,412 games as DH and only 563 as a third baseman. There's a sense among many voters that a player who was not good enough to play the field on a regular basis -- no matter how good a hitter he may have been -- lacks that completeness necessary to be a Hall of Famer.
Of course, Paul Molitor was predominantly a DH, too, and he breezed right into the Hall of Fame.
Molitor, though, reached the hallmark number -- he got to 3,000 hits. And that's reason No. 2. Martinez, who did not get a chance to be a full-time player until he was 27, only managed 2,247 hits. He only hit 309 home runs. Molitor got about 3,500 more plate appearances than Martinez, and as such his numbers simply look better. But there is no doubt in my mind that Martinez was a better hitter than Molitor -- he just had a significantly shorter career.
And I mean that as no knock on Molitor. Jim Rice was just inducted ... and he didn't put up any Hallmark numbers. Martinez was a much better hitter than Rice, too.
And I mean that as no knock on Rice, either. The Hall of Fame is loaded, absolutely loaded with players who were not nearly as good at hitting a baseball as Edgar Martinez. Compare him as a hitter with almost anyone you can think of recent years -- George Brett, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Billy Williams, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline or Yaz. You'll be surprised.
And that's reason No. 3 -- many people never realized or appreciated just how good a hitter Edgar Martinez was. He was out there on the West Coast, in Seattle, playing after people around the country went to sleep, after those East Coast newspaper deadlines. He never played in a World Series, and he was always overshadowed -- by Griffey, by A-Rod, by Unit, by somebody.
He was a truly great hitter -- world class. I'll be interested to see how the vote goes for him this year. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. But I expect a lack of support. And I expect that Edgar Martinez will hold the "Best Hitter Not In the Hall" title -- maybe he can have a championship belt made of it.
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