Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Who Belongs in the Hall? (Part I--First Basemen)

First base is one of the toughest positions to play if you're interested in getting a plaque at Cooperstown. There are currently only 18 first-sackers enshrined and the names include such legendary greats as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg--pretty elite company. The last first baseman to reach the Hall was Eddie Murray back in 2003. He was well deserving of the honor with his 3,255 hits, 504 homers and 1,917 RBI's.

Of active first baseman, Albert Pujols probably stands the greatest chance of enshrinement. Entering the 2013 season, Pujols was a 9-time All-Star and a 3-time MVP. He also captured Rookie of the Year honors in 2001, setting new NL freshman marks for RBI's (130) and extra-base hits (83). Over the course of his first ten seasons, he established the all-time record for most consecutive 30 homer/100 RBI campaigns from the start of a major league career. Traded from the Cardinals to the Angels in 2012, Pujols continues to demonstrate power while driving in runs.

Another lock for the Hall of Fame is Jim Thome, who retired after the 2012 season. Thome smashed more homers than any first baseman in history (612) and did it without the benefit of steroids. A 5-time All-Star, he finished among the top ten in MVP voting 4 times and currently ranks #24 on the all-time list in RBI's (1,699) and slugging percentage (.554).

So what other first basemen deserve to be in the Hall?

Well, there are a number of players who have been overlooked--some with good reason. From a numbers standpoint, both Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire measure up well against the competition. McGwire's 583 homers are tenth on the all-time list. A dramatic illustration of his power, he averaged 1 long ball for every 10.6 at-bats. That's better than Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Palmeiro collected 3,020 hits, 569 homers and 1,835 ribbies. He was pretty handy with the leather, too, winning 3 Gold Gloves. Had either of these two men not been collared for using steroids, their plaques would be hanging in the gallery at Cooperstown even as we speak.

Two first basemen I would personally like to see enshrined are Jeff Bagwell and Gil Hodges. I endorsed Jeff Bagwell in an earlier post, commenting how he belongs to an elite group of players who have scored 1,500 runs while driving in as many. An overlooked fact, Bagwell actually had excellent speed, stealing over 200 career bases while becoming a 30/30 man twice in his career. There aren't many first basemen who can make that claim. Hodges was a 9-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glove recipient and an indispensable member of 7 pennant-winning Dodger teams. He was a lifetime .267 hitter in World Series play with 5 homers and 21 ribbies. Perhaps it's because he played with so many iconic greats (Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider among them) that he has been left out. One can hope that in time he will get the nod from the Veteran's Committee.

Some other first baseman I believe deserve honorable mention (though I don't think they'll make it):

Dick Allen:
Allen played 15 seasons and accrued a 162-game average of 33 homers and 104 ribbies. He was named Rookie of the Year in '64 and MVP in '72. However, Allen was a controversial figure and a toxic clubhouse presence, especially in Philadelphia.

Steve Garvey:
Garvey reached the 200-hit threshold 6 times between '74 and '80 while helping the Dodgers to 4 World Series appearances. Garvey excelled in October with a .338 lifetime postseason average. Despite 10 All-Star selections and 4 Gold Gloves, Garvey had a fairly weak throwing arm and compiled mediocre slugging percentages. He also lacked patience at the plate, once referring to himself as "a contact hitter."
A series of paternity suits tarnished his public image.

Will Clark:
Clark's numbers are solid but not jaw-dropping. In 15 seasons, he hit .303 and played on 6 All-Star teams. He was a .333 lifetime postseason hitter. A Gold Glove winner in '91, he led the league 5 times in double plays and 4 times in putouts.

Fred McGriff:
"Crime Dog" received 5 All-Star nods and won 3 Silver Slugger awards. A sign of respect, he was intentionally walked 171 times in his career--among the top 30 totals of all-time. His 493 homers are also among the top 30. McGriff was no stranger to postseason play and was a major contributor, hitting .303 with 10 homers and 37 RBI's.

Mark Grace:
A fixture in Chicago for 13 seasons, Grace hit .290 or better 11 times between 1988 and 2000. He was one of the smoothest fielders in the NL with 4 Gold Gloves to his credit. His sabermetric scores compare him favorably to Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter--without all the World Series rings of course. (Slaughter played on 4 championship squads while Grace played on 1.)

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