Keep ’Em the Hall Out

Players who should not get in

By Walt Baranger

Here are under-qualified or scofflaw players who are sometimes mentioned as overlooked candidates for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with brief arguments against membership:

David Cone
Cone has an impressive list of accomplishments: Pitching for the Yankees against Montreal in 1999, he threw the first perfect game of interleague play. He struck out 19 batters during a game in 1991. He won the Cy Young Award in 1994 and was a five-time All-Star. But Cone lacks stellar career statistics. He didn’t even win 200 games, and only twice won 20 games. True, he was 5-0 in World Series play and 12-3 overall in the post-season, but he’s not in the top 20 in career strikeouts. In his eight seasons with 30 or more starts, his average record is just 14-10. New Yorkers tend to remember Cone’s standout years with the Mets and Yankees, but he had just too many unremarkable seasons to reach the Hall of Fame.
Steve Garvey
The Dodgers and Padres star did set the National League record for consecutive games played (1,207) and most most consecutive errorless games by an infielder (183). But Cal Ripken’s famous streak was more more than twice as long, and for having played all those games Garvey doesn’t even come close to holding any career batting records. He was an excellent first baseman who played in a very good Dodgers infield during the 1970s and ’80s, but his individual achievements don’t rank him in the top tier.
Tommy John
One of the favorite pastimes of Yankees fans is advocating Tommy John for the Hall of Fame. Sinkerballers are fan favorites because they tend to have long careers, and John pitched for all or part of 26 seasons beginning in 1963. But in all that time, he was unable to win 300 games or even come close to a .600 career winning percentage. His lifetime earned run average is good but not outstanding compared to his peers. He won four games and lost five in post-season play, and he never won a Cy Young Award. Most importantly, he won 20 or more games only three times and won 15 games or more games a grand total of just five times. Today he is perhaps best known for successfully undergoing a novel surgical procedure known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, now commonly called Tommy John surgery. If anything, his physicians should be in the Hall of Fame.
Bowie Kuhn [inducted 2007; see our essay on Kuhn’s shortcomings]
As a matter of principle, we believe that it is wrong to elect former baseball commissioners or any other baseball executives into the Hall of Fame. Aside from the obviously huge effect that any commissioner has on the teams and players — thus making the Hall of Fame vote superfluous — it places him in a curious position: As retirement nears, is the commissioner tempted to curry favor with those who will shortly vote on membership? In his waning weeks, is he more worried about alienating Hall of Fame voters (who are almost all former players) than making sound decisions that might favor the owners or others? Will the public question the commissioner’s motivations? Better to just automatically induct every commissioner and be done with it.
Don Larsen
If not for pitching a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen would be but a footnote in baseball lore. Over his career Larsen won just 81 games while losing 91, and he lost a league-leading 21 games in 1954 — the only time he led the league in anything. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 1956 series, and followed up with a decent 10-4 record (but a mediocre 3.74 earned run average) in 1957. He was never a major factor again; by 1960 he was 1-10 with the dreadful Kansas City Athletics. But Larsen had one lasting effect on the Yankees: The 1959 multi-player trade that sent him to the A’s also sent Roger Maris to the Yankees.
Roger Maris
Records with asterisks aside, Roger Maris was a two-time Most Valuable Player whose career lacks the longevity normally associated with Hall of Fame outfielders. He played in more than 100 games in only nine seasons (and exactly 100 games once), and as a consequence ended his career without anything close to Hall of Fame career statistics. His fielding percentage was average for an outfielder, and except for 1960 to 1962 his home run production was not in the top five in the league. It was the 1961 home run derby with Mickey Mantle that gave Maris his reputation, and it was Ford Frick who gave him his asterisk. Neither are credentials for the Hall of Fame.
Don Mattingly
Mattingly was the New York Yankees’ star first baseman in the 1980s and ’90s, but lacks a critical mass of games played and career statistics. He has only 10 seasons with 100 or more appearances (and one of those was just 102 games). Despite a Most Valuable Player award in 1985 and a five-season streak of batting above .310, his later career tailed off considerably. After a streak of six straight All-Star appearances ended in 1989, he batted over .300 just once — in the strike-shortened 1994 season. He earned an impressive nine Gold Glove awards, but holds no significant career records and he lacked offensive consistency.
Mark McGwire
Better living through chemistry. Enough said.
Thurman Munson
A fine New York Yankees catcher in the 1970s, Munson was killed in a plane crash at age 32. He is primarily remembered for having committed just one error while catching in 117 games in 1971. But he played only nine full seasons, and despite seven All-Star games and a Most Valuable Player award, he lacks any semblance of Hall of Fame career statistics — either offensive or defensive. Munson died too young to earn the long-term statistical breakthrough that most modern Hall of Famers achieve.
Tim Raines
His best years were at Montreal in the 1980s, but they shouldn’t be good enough for the Hall of Fame. Raines reached none of the usual career benchmarks in hitting and never came close to being elected Most Valuable Player. He was a good, but not great, outfielder. He started in only two All-Star games and admitted that he favored sliding head first because he was afraid of breaking the cocaine pipe in his back pocket. He appeared in one serious World Series bid but made no lasting impression, getting just 11 hits in 13 post-season games; he batted a paltry .214 in the 1996 World Series. Raines was one of the best base stealers ever, compiling an 85% success rate and finishing 5th in career stolen bases with 808, but his lack of excellence at the plate coupled with serious health problems — injuries and cocaine — kept him from compiling standout stats over the long term. For all his stolen bases, Raines scored 724 fewer runs than his contemporary rival, Ricky Henderson. Still, Raines is often mentioned as a leading Hall of Fame candidate. We don’t know why.
Pete Rose
For the record: Rose should be on the Hall of Fame ballot. As a general academic principle for any baseball museum, the Hall of Fame should be independent of the Commissioner’s rulings on player eligibility. Rose’s candidacy should be fully debated and put to a vote; he certainly has the statistics and awards to merit consideration. Until all of the facts surrounding his tragic gambling addiction are known, we would not vote for him. But it is wrong to stifle the debate, and the current ban only confers martyrdom status on him. Besides, so what if he gets in? After all, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker actually did fix a game in 1919, and they’re in.
Sammy Sosa
See Mark McGwire. Like all of the so-called Chemistry Majors, Sosa’s eligibility should be suspended until the effects of steroids (and his role in the steroid scandal) are better researched. Once he’s in, he’s in forever.

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