On Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their Class of 2011. The first time nominees include former Mets John Olerud, John Franco, Al Leiter and Carlos Baerga. Notable first-timers include Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker.
A number of returnees are also on this year’s ballot, including Roberto Alomar (another former Met) and Bert Blyleven, who both narrowly missed enshrinement last year. Alomar was selected on 73.7% of the ballots and Blyleven’s name was chosen on 74.2%. Of the 21 previous players who received at least 70% of the votes, but failed to register the minimum 75% needed for election, all of them eventually got the call to the Hall.
Kiner’s Korner was not allowed to vote in this year’s Hall of Fame election. (Note to self: Remember to add another $20 bill the next time I send the Baseball Writers Association of America a letter asking them to join their ranks.) But we still have an opinion as to who should reserve a hotel room in Cooperstown the last weekend in July.
Can you name a more complete second baseman in the expansion era? Maybe Joe Morgan (who’s already in the Hall of Fame). Certainly not Jeff Kent, unless if you include his ’70s porn ‘stache as one of his five tools.
If you take the 10-year time period from 1992-2001, you’d have a hard time finding another player, regardless of position, whose numbers could match up with Alomar. During those ten years, Alomar hit .315, with 327 doubles, 49 triples, 159 HR and 792 RBI. He also stole 303 bases and scored 1,007 runs. He was an All-Star in all of those seasons and won the Gold Glove Award in all but one of them.
For his career, Alomar hit .300, with 504 doubles, 210 HR, 1,134 RBI, 1,508 runs scored and 474 SB. He also made 12 All-Star teams, won ten Gold Gloves and earned four Silver Slugger Awards. Although he never won a regular season MVP Award, he did finish in the top six in MVP voting five times. He also won the 1992 ALCS MVP Award for leading the Blue Jays to their first World Series appearance and took home the 1998 All-Star Game MVP trophy.
It is a travesty that Blyleven has been retired for nearly 20 years and has still not been elected to the Hall of Fame. His numbers speak for themselves.
In 22 major league seasons, Blyleven won 287 games, mostly for poor teams (Blyleven’s teams finished below .500 in ten of his 22 seasons). Despite playing most of his career in the American League during the DH era, Blyleven registered ten seasons with an ERA of 3.00 or lower. His low ERA was helped out by his astonishing 60 career shutouts. That’s approximately two full seasons of starts without allowing an earned run in any of them!
He also possessed one of the most devastating curveballs in major league history, fooling hitters to the tune of 3,701 career strikouts, which is good for fifth on the all-time list. Unlike Nolan Ryan, he didn’t need to rely on gas to send hitters back to the bench, unless if he was wearing the shirt below.
Blyleven was also an excellent pitcher in the postseason, despite having only played for three teams that made the playoffs (1970 Twins, 1979 Pirates, 1987 Twins). In six career postseason starts, Blyleven was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA. He was also the winning pitcher in two pennant-clinching games (1979 NLCS Game 3, 1987 ALCS Game 5).
Simply put, Blyleven was one of the best pitchers in the game during the 22 years that he played it. He just didn’t get the attention he deserved because he spent many of those seasons toiling in places like Texas, Cleveland and California, which were not exactly hotbeds for baseball.
One stat should say it all regarding Jeff Bagwell’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Prior to this year, every player who scored at least 1,500 runs and drove in at least 1,500 runs (and is eligible for the Hall of Fame) is already in the Hall of Fame. Jeff Bagwell scored 1,517 runs and picked up 1,529 RBI over his 15-year career. Let me repeat that in a separate paragraph.
Jeff Bagwell scored and drove in over 1,500 runs. He only played 15 years in the major leagues. Therefore, he averaged over 100 runs scored and 100 RBI every year he played in the major leagues. If that isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame, I don’t know what is.
Just in case that’s not enough for you, I’ll give you some more bits o’ Bagwell. Before injuries sapped him of the last few years of his playing career, forcing him to retire at age 37, Bagwell was ultra-durable. He played in all 162 games four times. He hit 488 doubles, including 26 or more in each of his first 14 seasons. He stole 202 bases, a number almost unheard of for a first baseman. He became (and still is) the only first baseman in history to register a 30-30 season when he hit 42 HR and stole 30 bases in 1999. He hit over .300 six times, including a career-high .368 in his MVP season of 1994. In addition to that MVP Award, Bagwell was also the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year.
Perhaps a questionable call, due to the many years he played in the pre-humidor Coors Field, but Larry Walker still put up incredible numbers and was a phenomenal defensive player.
Over a career that spanned from 1989-2005, Walker hit for average (.313), could draw a walk (.400 career on-base percentage), hit for power (383 HR), stole bases (230 SB), could find the gaps (471 career doubles) and made opposing runners fear his cannon in right field (six Gold Glove Awards).
Walker played the first six seasons of his career in Montreal and the last season and a half of his career in St. Louis (for which he made his only World Series appearance in 2004), but it was his time in Colorado that made him a superstar. In fact, he had one of the best six-year stretches in recent history from 1997-2002.
During those six seasons, Walker hit a whopping .353. He won three batting titles (1998, 1999, 2001) and hit .366 in 1997, a season in which he didn’t win the batting title. However, that 1997 season was one for the ages. That year, Walker hit 49 HR. He also scored 143 runs, tallied 130 RBI, laced 46 doubles and stole 33 bases, in addition to the .366 batting average. He also led the league in on-base percentage (.452) and slugging percentage (.720), en route to winning every accolade possible (All-Star team, NL MVP Award, Gold Glove Award, Silver Slugger Award).
There are other players who are certainly worthy of Hall of Fame induction, such as Rafael Palmeiro, who, like Jeff Bagwell, is another member of the exclusive 1,500 runs scored, 1,500 RBI club.
You can also include Edgar Martinez (.312 career batting average, 514 doubles, 309 HR, seven-time All-Star) and Barry Larkin (.295 career batting average, nine-time .300 hitter, 198 HR, 379 SB, 441 doubles, 12-time All-Star, nine Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Glove Awards, 1995 NL MVP) to the list.
All three of those players might make it to the Hall of Fame someday, perhaps even this year. However, I believe only four players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2011. Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker should all be Hall of Famers.
In Blyleven’s case, he is long overdue for enshrinement. In the other three players’ cases, they represented the complete baseball player. They possessed all five tools and excelled in all of them. When the Hall of Fame makes their calls on Wednesday, those four players should make sure their phone lines are clear. They just might be getting the calls of their lives.