A quick continuation of explaining my ballot for the 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project. These players are the final nine from my first round of additions; again, I wrote on my ballot that I supported every one of these players becoming Hall of Famers. To see the earlier parts of my ballot, see Part 1 and Part 2.
Keith Hernandez, Cardinals/Mets/Indians, 1B - Hernandez isn’t like the now-common model of slugging first basemen, but he could still hit well and get on base (426 doubles to go with 162 homers, a .296/.384/.436 line, a 128 OPS+). On top of this, he’s arguably the best fielding first baseman of all-time; both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs put him in the range of 12 to 13 wins just from his fielding. Going by Total Zone Runs, Keith Hernandez saved 117 runs, most all-time for first basemen (and really, only three others are close: Albert Pujols at 114, Todd Helton at 100, and John Olerud at 97. More on this in a bit). Overall, his career and peak seem to match the Hall’s standards: 61.0 bWAR, 61.8 fWAR, and 90.8 bWAR.
Shoeless Joe Jackson, Naps(Indians)/White Sox/Athletics, LF - As a side note, I always forget that Shoeless Joe spent more time in Cleveland than he did in Chicago. Anyway, I don’t really know that Jackson’s playing days are the problem for his candidacy. For example, his career batting line of .356/.423/.517 is good for a 169 OPS+, good for ninth all-time. Despite really only playing for nine full seasons, Jackson amassed 62.9 bWAR and 67.0 fWAR in his career.
Anyway, I get the feeling that Jackson’s problem is with his banishment. First of all, the Hall of Fame is not actually included in the gambling banishment. The Hall separately added a clause banning players on MLB’s banned list years afterwards. MLB’s ban just prevents these players from holding a position in MLB like player or manager.
But, more than that, the Hall of Fame is supposed to be a museum to remember the game’s best players. That applies to Jackson. At the very least, the guy’s been dead for over six decades. Let it go already; make it a lifetime ban. I feel like the Hall is losing more by not letting him in than he is by being kept out at this point.
Sherry Magee, Phillies/Braves/Reds, LF - Magee is yet another early star (who played from 1904 to 1919) who was undervalued and then forgotten. His somewhat modest numbers (2169 hits, 83 home runs, a .291/.364/.427 line) are hurt significantly by his era (136 OPS+). He also had 441 steals in his career (although we have no idea in how many attempts). Baseball-Reference puts his career value at 59.1 bWAR (roughly equal to Vladimir Guerrero and Mike Piazza), while Fangraphs puts it at 74.1 fWAR (equal with Robin Yount).
Graig Nettles, Yankees/Indians/Padres/Twins/Braves/Expos, 3B - Nettles is yet another underrated third baseman, in spite of spending his peak on the Yankees. Again, it’s because he did a bit of everything: played good defense (B-R and Fangraphs are both around 14 wins) at a difficult position while being an above-average hitter (.248/.329/.421 line, 110 OPS+). And he did it over a long period without having a high peak; he could always be counted on for an All-Star season, but he rarely reached MVP level. His value was more from an extended run of greatness rather than a short burst of excellence. His career saw him post 61.6 bWAR and 71.8 fWAR, good enough to slide into the top 10 all-time among third basemen, as well as 82.5 wWAR.
John Olerud, Blue Jays/Mariners/Mets/Red Sox/Yankees, 1B - Olerud is a lot like Keith Hernandez, a line-drive-hitting, slick fielding first basemen. As stated, he’s one of only four first basemen with more than 90 Total Zone Runs, at 97. And he’s consistently rated as a 10-win defender for his career, while carrying a 128 OPS+ to show his hitting prowess (to go with 500 doubles, 255 home runs, 3602 times on base, and a line of .295/.398/.465). All of this adds up to 56.8 bWAR, 61.3 fWAR, 84 wWAR.
Pete Rose, Reds/Phillies/Expos, 1B/LF/3B/2B/RF - Like Jackson, Rose’s issue is more for his gambling than his playing career. My thoughts on the gambling punishment still stand up. However, Rose isn’t dead, so that’s one major difference in their case. The other major difference, though, in my opinion, is actually in favor of Pete Rose. Rose wasn’t banned as a player, but rather, as a manager, and I don’t really see why that should have any bearing on him making the Hall of Fame as a player. Just my two cents on the gambling rules.
Ted Simmons, Cardinals/Brewers/Braves, C - Ted Simmons is on of the more inexplicable snubs from the Hall, in my opinion. First of all, Simmons is a catcher, one of the Hall’s more underrepresented positions (the BBWAA has only inducted eight catchers), yet Simmons is clearly among the top 10 at the position at least (and that’s even taking into account more recent catchers, like Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez; when he retired, he was closer to the top 5 all-time). Simmons is second all-time in hits at the position (2472) and eleventh in home runs (248, which was good for seventh when he retired). In short, he was a good hitter (117 OPS+) at the most difficult position on the diamond. Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference put him ninth in WAR for catchers at 61.1 fWAR and 50.4 bWAR (and, again, he was seventh when he retired). His production was rare for the position, yet he got almost no support.
Joe Torre, Braves/Cardinals/Mets, C/1B/3B - Torre didn’t play at catcher as much as Simmons (903 games there, against 787 at first base and 515 at third), but he was a better hitter overall (128 OPS+, 252 home runs). All together, it’s enough for 55.6 bWAR and 70.8 fWAR. Really, I think the Hall’s electorate needs to do a better job of looking at players through the lens of each position-it’s more difficult to play certain positions, and their defense accounts for something. There’s a reason no catcher has ever made 3000 hits, or only one shortstop has made 500 home runs (and, like Ernie Banks did, Alex Rodriguez will end his career with a majority of his games at another position).
Lou Whitaker, Tigers, 2B - Again, Whitaker is best represented when compared to other second basemen. His 244 home runs don’t seem incredibly impressive, until you realize that that puts him eighth all-time for the position. His .276/.363/.426 line translates to a 116 OPS+. As seen throughout my ballot again and again, Whitaker’s extended run of above average offense and defense at a premium position provided huge value, to the tune of 74.3 fWAR and 69.7 bWAR, as well as 93.4 wWAR.