It’s time to rethink what makes a Hall of Famer
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media
When the latest Hall of Fame names are called for enshrinement Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., modern players will constitute a null set. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America didn’t elect anyone this time around.
Many who were on the ballot will make it later. Six players who were passed by in the empty class of 1996 have made it so far, as have 15 from 1971 and 34 from the shutout of 1960.
Still, there are worthy candidates who fall off the ballot. Often, they’re players with value in defense and in getting on base, things not reflected in Triple Crown stats.
The Hall midpoint is about 55 Wins Above Replacement, and 300 Win Shares is another good value indicator. By those numbers, here are a few players who merit another look.
Dwight Evans: Through the 1970s and ’80s, the Red Sox had two stellar corner outfielders. Left fielder Jim Rice had a higher batting average (.298-.272), but right fielder Evans drew more walks and had a higher on-base percentage (.370-.352). Rice led in OPS (.852-.840) but also gave away more outs by hitting into 315 double plays to Evans’ 227. Rice had a narrow lead in RBI (1,451-1,391), but Evans scored more runs (1,470-1,249).
They’re practically an offensive wash, with Evans at 6.2 runs created per 27 outs and Rice at 6.0. Once defense, position and baserunning are factored in, Evans checks in with a 66.7 career WAR to Rice’s 47.2. By Win Shares, it’s Evans 347, Rice 282.
Rice was elected by the BBWAA. But Evans was more than his equal, and he fell off the ballot after receiving only 3.6 percent of the vote in 1999.
Graig Nettles: There’s a glut of Hall-worthy third basemen awaiting a second look. Ken Boyer (62.9 WAR, 279 Win Shares), Sal Bando (61.6, 283) and Buddy Bell (65.9, 301) all sit comfortably within Hall range.
Defense makes Nettles (68.9, 321) the hottest of the hot-corner candidates, with a 20.9 career defensive WAR. Having so much value beyond Triple Crown stats has made Nettles a rarity: an underrated Yankee.
Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich: The second-base stars provided far more than their batting averages indicate. Both had power (Whitaker hit 244 home runs, Grich 224). Grich ranked among the top 10 in the American League in walks six times and boosted his .266 batting average to a .371 on-base percentage, and Whitaker’s walks lifted a .276 batting average to a .363 on-base percentage.
Grich had tremendous range and a 16.2 defensive WAR, and Whitaker was a plus defender with a 15.4 defensive WAR. Overall, Whitaker turned in what was easily an upper-half Hall of Fame career at 74.8 WAR and 351 Win Shares, and Grich was at 71 and 329. Both should be in.
There are others. Kenny Lofton (68.1 WAR) and Kevin Brown (68.5) fell off the ballot far too fast. Joe Torre (57.4), Luis Tiant (66.1) and 1930s and ’40s star Bob Johnson (57.1) are among those who deserve a second look.
Not everyone of their caliber is enshrined, but all would enhance, not reduce, the standards of the Hall.