Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Belongs in the Hall? (Part IX--Left Field)

There are currently 20 left fielders in the Hall of Fame, only one of whom logged a major league at-bat after 1989. Statistical leaders among the group include Ted Williams with 521 homers, Stan Musial with 1,951 RBI's and Ed Delahanty (a deadball star) with a .346 lifetime batting average. Rickey Henderson leads his Cooperstown peers with 2,295 runs scored and 1,406 steals (both of which are all-time records).

In examing the list of eligible candidates, one encounters a great deal of controversy. Banned for life for betting on baseball, Pete Rose is among the most worthy players not in the Hall. Rookie of the Year in 1963 and MVP in '73, he holds the record for most hits in a career (4,256). He also became the first player to appear in 500 games at 6 different positions. His accomplishments don't end there. He collected 746 doubles (tops among switch-hitters) and reached base more times than any man in the history of the game (5,929). Only time will tell if MLB will ever forgive him for his transgressions. His quest for reinstatement has been ongoing for many years and he is currently one of the game's greatest ambassadors.

Another statistical giant who will almost certainly not be enshrined at Cooperstown is Barry Bonds. Ignoring the fact that he used steroids and lied about it, his numbers are eye-popping. A 7-time MVP, he reset the career mark for homers with 762 and shattered the single season record in 2001 when he smashed 73 long balls. He also drew more walks than any player in history. He currently ranks third in runs scored, fourth in RBI's and fourth in total bases. He also stole more than 500 bags in his mythical yet checkered career. What leaves many fans scratching their heads is the fact that he was on a clear trajectory toward Cooperstown BEFORE he started using PED's. Did he really need them? Of course not. Would he have claimed all the home run records? Probably not, but had he avoided the temptation, he would likely have delivered an induction speech at Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility (providing he actually showed up).

Yet another highly controversial but highly eligible candidate is Albert Belle. His surly attitude and wild mood swings (on and off the field) tarnished his public image. But he had 10 monster years from 1991-2000 before retiring prematurely due to hip problems. Though Belle never won an MVP Award (likely because he was so nasty to journalists), he certainly should have claimed the honor in 1995, when he led the league in runs scored (121), doubles (52), homers (50), RBI's (126) and slugging percentage (.690). He was the first player ever to club 50 doubles and 50 homers in the same season. Nobody--not even the pumped up Bonds--was able to do that. In 12 seasons, Belle averaged 32 homers, 103 ribbies and a .295 average per season. His proponents can only hope that the people casting those Hall of Fame ballots didn't know him personally.

Barring cheaters, gamblers and hotheads, the only truly deserving player among those currently eligible is Tim Raines. Raines's candidacy has been gaining steam lately. He captured 49% of the vote in 2011 and 52% last year. In a 23-year career that stretched from 1979-2002, Raines made 7 All-Star teams, hit at a highly respectable .294 clip and stole 808 bases (fifth on the all-time list). He pilfered bags not only in great volume but with remarkable proficiency, retiring with an 84.7% success rate. Defensively, he was superb, leading the league in fielding percentage 6 times and assists on 3 occasions. It's hard to believe he never won a Gold Glove. Another compelling factoid, he helped steer three different clubs into the postseason.

There are few viable candidates due in the near future. Moises Alou, Luis Gonzalez and Carlos Lee were all very good, but none of them were off the charts. Gonzalez may have the best chance on the strength of his longevity and defensive excellence. "Gonzo" assembled a 19-year career and is considered one of the greatest Diamondbacks' players ever. He wore an Arizona uniform for 8 seasons and was the first man in franchise history to hit for the cycle. He pounded more than 1,000 extra-base hits in his career, 596 of which were doubles. When he wasn't hitting balls into the gaps, he was flashing the leather. He posted the highest fielding percentage among left fielders 5 times and his 4,442 putouts currently place him a #3 on the all-time list among players at his position.

My prediction for the future? I believe Raines will eventually make it into the Hall while the others remain outside looking in. 

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