Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Who Belongs in the Hall? (Part II--Second Basemen)

There are currently 19 second basemen enshrined at Cooperstown. Most of the big names are old-timers. Offensively, the bar was set quite high by guys like Rogers Hornsby, whose lifetime .358 batting average is second only to Ty Cobb. Napolean Lajoie, who spent many years swinging a stick at lopsided, spit-covered baseballs in the Deadball Era, managed a .338 batting average while driving in 1,599 runs. Eddie Collins (another Deadball Star) leads Hall of Fame second basemen in three major categories: Runs scored (1,821), Stolen Bases (744) and Hits (3,315). 

In recent times, Hall of Fame voters seem to be cleaning up the category of second sackers. Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates was elected in 2001. Ryne Sanberg of the Cubs was enshrined in 2005. Yankee great Joe Gordon was elected via the Veteran's Committee in 2009. And Roberto Alomar was among the 2011 class. So who's left? Well, not too many viable candidates in my opinion. Of the remaining hopefuls, I personally am endorsing only two.

Craig Biggio: 
I raved about Biggio in an earlier post. He got 68% of the vote last year on a ballot stuffed with controversial names. He should get the nod this year with his 7 All-Star selections, 4 Gold Gloves and 5 Silver Slugger Awards. Biggio spent his entire career with Houston and if Ernie Banks is "Mr. Cub" then Biggio is "Mr. Astro." In addition to reaching the 3,000-hit mark, his 668 career doubles are fifth on the all-time list. His 1,844 runs scored are in the top 20. Another strange claim to fame, Biggio is second all-time in being hit-by-pitches, getting plunked 285 times. The guy would do anything to get on base and when he did, he had some speed, swiping 414 bags.

 Jeff Kent: 
Yeah, okay--so Kent was a kind of prickly guy who didn't always get along well with teammates. But some of the other Hall of Famers weren't so sweet either. Hornsby? Forget about it.  Jeff Kent smashed 377 career homers--more than any second baseman in the history of the game. End of story--open the doors of Cooperstown. That's 76 more than his nearest HOF competitor (the ornery Hornsby). If that doesn't sway voters then maybe his 5 All-Star selections and 4 Silver Slugger Awards will. He averaged 22 homers and 89 RBI's per year during his 17-year career. Defensively, his career totals place him among the top 20 of all-time in Putouts, Double plays and Assists. He also finished among the top 5 in fielding percentage 5 times. I rest my case.

The rest of the contenders are long shots at best. Lou Whitaker's name always seems to surface, but Whitaker's 162-game average included 17 homers and 73 RBI's per year--decent, but by no means jaw-dropping. One could argue that he wasn't expected to hit for power and drive-in runs since he was mostly a leadoff or second slot hitter, but his .276 career batting average won't win him any votes at the top of the order either. When he did hit in clutch situations, he was mediocre--compiling a .256 lifetime average with runners in scoring position, If Whitaker gets in, it will be on the strength of his superb defense, which earned him 4 Gold Gloves.

Beyond Whitaker, there aren't many big names. Yankee great Gil McDougald played in 8 World Series, but stuck around the majors for only 10 years. Jim Gilliam got into 7 Fall Classics with the Dodgers, but didn't accomplish enough in his 14-year big league run. Willie Randolph and Davey Lopes were both very good and maybe even great for a short period of time, but their numbers do not match up with the second baseman in the Hall of Fame.
In 2014, I will really be pulling for Biggio.

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