MLB Hall-of-Fame Worthy or Hall-of-Very Good?

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USA News-Sports Division February 18, 2023
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MLB Hall-of-Fame Worthy or Hall-of-Very Good?

MLB Hall-of-Fame Worthy or Hall-of-Very Good?

Of all the major American sports, Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame is arguably the toughest to gain induction to.  Gaining acceptance to an Ivy League school may be easier than becoming enshrined into Cooperstown.  It seems as if the Basketball Hall of Fame is expanding faster than Amazon.  The Pro Football Hall-of-Fame inducts a fair amount of folks in annually.  The Hockey Hall of Fame has set a maximum of contributors that can gain election per year - four players, two “builders,” one on-ice officially, and a dentist.  Ok, fine!  I made the dentist part up.

Then there’s the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

It seems as if someone has a better chance to win the lottery or get struck by lightning (twice) than to be elected to Cooperstown.  You might as well buy a ticket as a visitor.  Then again, one could argue that Baseball has a true Hall-of-Fame because it’s so difficult to gain induction.   There are even years when no one gets inducted!  Baseball has been around for over 125 years.  How is that even possible???  It’s both simpler and tougher than you think.

Each year there are a number of media members, specifically the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), who have the privilege of casting a Baseball Hall-of-Fame Ballot.  There are 394 members of the BBWAA as of late-2022.  Each member may vote for up to 10 candidates on his or her ballot every year.  BBWAA members are not required to vote for ten, but up to ten candidates.  In recent years many writers post their ballots on social media, primarily Twitter.  Many don’t vote up to the maximum of ten candidates.  Furthermore, for a former player to gain induction, they must receive votes on a minimum of 75% of the ballots.  Doing the math – a player must earn 296 votes to gain entry to the hall.

There was only one former player who surpassed the 75% vote threshold for the 2023 Baseball Hall of Fame class.  That would be former Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Red Third Baseman Scott Rolen.  He was known best as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Rolen played 17 years in the big leagues and was one of, if not the best third baseman not named Chipper Jones of his era.  He was the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year, 2002 Silver Slugger award winner, a 7-time All-Star, 8-time Gold Glove winner, and won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2006.  Rolen was a stud defensive player and a threat at the plate. 

Rolen will be inducted into Cooperstown later this summer along with long-time standout First Basemen Fred McGriff.  McGriff was elected via the recently created Contemporary Baseball Era player ballot.  “The Crime Dog” appeared on all 16 ballots cast through that committee.  Personally, I don’t doubt McGriff’s election to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.  I believe his election was overdue.   No offense to Scott Rolen, but I was kind of surprised to hear that he got elected in at first.  I thought he was a very good player but wasn’t sure that he was Hall-of-Fame worthy, given how difficult it is to gain election to Cooperstown.  His stats are similar to those of the late Ron Santo.  It took 40 years for Santo to get into the hall! 

I’ve come around on Rolen being Hall-of-Fame worthy.  However, there are a number of former players who are either already Hall-of-Fame eligible or will be in the next couple of years.  Are they destined for Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame…or the Hall of Very Good?  There are former players who will be shoo-ins for Cooperstown when eligible, like Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, and Adrian Beltre.  For those confused as to why I think Adrian Beltre is a no-doubt Hall-of-Famer: one reason is that 3,000 hits usually get you enshrined into Cooperstown.

Here's a list of the guys who are eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame over the next few years but are borderline worthy of making it to Cooperstown.  I’m sure there will be some debate.

Billy Wagner, Relief Pitcher (1995-2010)

Eligibility Year: Currently Eligible – 9th year on the ballot

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame

Key Career Stats and Awards:

422 Saves (6th All-Time)

2.31 Career ERA

11.9 Strikeouts Per 9 Innings

7-time All-Star

1999 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year

Are you surprised that Billy Wagner hasn’t been elected to the Hall-of-Fame?  Me too.  There wasn’t a more feared left-handed reliever during his era than Billy Wagner.  Only John Franco has more career saves as a lefty (just two more!) than Wagner.  Then again, Franco isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown either.  Maybe it’s because he only had two seasons of at least 40 saves.  Wagner played for some good teams but never won a ring.  Maybe it’s because he played in the same era as Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. 

Jeff Kent, Second Baseman (1992-2008)

Eligibility Year: No longer on the ballot.  Can only gain election via the Contemporary Baseball Era ballot.

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame

Key Career Stats and Awards:

377 Home Runs (351 as a second baseman – MOST all-time)

1,518 Runs Batted In (RBI)

2000 NL MVP

5-time All-Star

4-time Silver Slugger

Perhaps Kent’s his best baseball accomplishment was not getting killed by former teammate Barry Bonds.  Jeff Kent wasn’t the most liked guy by the media or even some of his teammates.  He wasn’t the greatest defensive player, but he was a damn good hitter.  Kent was a bit of a late bloomer at the plate.  His name did appear in the Mitchell Report although proof does not exist that he used steroids.  Kent hit the most home runs ever by a second baseman (more than HOFs Sandberg, Morgan, and Hornsby).  He should be in the hall.

Todd Helton, First Baseman (1997-2013)

Eligibility Year: 6th year

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Very Good

Key Career Stats and Awards:

.316 Career Batting Average

592 Doubles (20th all-time)

369 Home Runs

1,406 Runs Batted In

2000 NL Batting Champ

5-time All-Star

4-time Silver Slugger

3-time Gold Glove Winner

Helton nearly gained entry in the hall this year and fell just short of the 75% vote threshold (72.2%).  He is probably the greatest Colorado Rockies player ever.  Make no mistake about it.  Todd Helton was a very good baseball player.  He was a damn good hitter.  I just don’t think Helton compares with other Hall-of-Fame first baseman.  He also didn’t win an MVP or a World Series so you can’t make those arguments.  He may make in eventually but there have been better first basemen left out of the hall.

Andruw Jones, Outfielder (1996-2012)

Eligibility Year: 7th year

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame, barely but debatable

Key Career Stats and Awards:

434 Home Runs (48th all-time)

1,289 Runs Batted In

24.4 Career Wins Above Replacement (WAR – 24th all-time)

5-time All-Star

2005 Silver Slugger

10-time Gold Glove Winner

Who is the youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series game?  Andruw Jones.  That’s not a reason to put him in the hall but still a cool trivia question.  Jones barely makes in it in my opinion, and it’s mostly because of his defense in the outfield.  He was a 10-time Gold Glove winner and the smoothest outfielder not named Ken Griffey, Jr. of his era.  Jones did just enough at the plate to gain entry with 434 career homers, including 51 in 2005.

Carlos Beltran, Outfielder (1998-2017)

Eligibility Year: 2nd year

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame Talent, Hall-of-Very Good Career

Key Career Stats and Awards:

435 Home Runs (47th all-time)

1,587 Runs Batted In (41st all-time)

1999 AL Rookie of the Year

9-time All-Star

2-time Silver Slugger

3-time Gold Glove Winner

Member of 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros

Carlos Beltran was a very good player and a Hall-of-Fame talent.  Was he a great player and have a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career?  I’m on the fence.  He had a long career capped by a 2017 World Series win with the Houston Astros.  Beltran was accused of playing a big role in the Astros cheating scandal that arguably helped them win that World Series.  That alone could keep him out of the hall for some writers.  That aside, was he one of the truly elite players of his era?  Very good, yes.  Elite?  I’m not sure.

Chase Utley, Second Baseman (2003-2018)

Eligibility Year: 2024

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Very Good, barely.

Key Career Stats and Awards:

259 Home Runs

1,025 Runs Batted In

6-time All-Star

4-time Silver Slugger

Member of 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies

Chase Utley’s #26 will be retired by the Philadelphia Phillies at some point.  Offensively, he was a Hall-of-Fame caliber second baseman.  Utley never won a Gold Glove, but he was an underrated defender, having been in the top 10 in Defensive WAR six times in his career, including 1st in 2008.  He was a key member of the Phillies 2008 World Series team.  The thing is that he didn’t play a full major league season until he was 26.  Utley was among the best second baseman in MLB for a five-to-six-year stretch.  His last eight seasons were average to below average.  Is that enough for the hall?  I don’t think so.

Francisco Rodriguez, Relief Pitcher (2002-2017)

Eligibility Year: Currently Eligible – 2nd year on the ballot

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame

Key Career Stats and Awards:

437 Saves (4th All-Time)

MLB Single-Season Record of 62 Saves (2008)

Three-time AL Saves Leader

2.85 Career ERA

10.5 Strikeouts Per 9 Innings

6-time All-Star

Two-time NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year

Member of 2002 World Series Champion Anaheim Angels

If Billy Wagner should be elected to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame, so should Francisco Rodriguez.  K-Rod’s resume is even more impressive than that of Wagner’s.  He burst on to the MLB scene in 2002 and help the Angels win the World Series.  Rodriguez recorded an MLB record 62 saves in a single season and is 4th all-time in career saves.  Only Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera have more.  More closers should gain entrance to the hall.  K-Rod is one of them.

Joe Mauer, Catcher (2004-2018)

Eligibility Year: 2024

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Very Good, barely

Key Career Stats and Awards:

.306 Career Batting Average

2009 AL MVP

Three-time AL Batting Average Leader

143 Home Runs

923 RBI

6-time All-Star

3-time Gold Glove winner

5-time Silver Slugger

Man, this one is tough.  I honestly could go either way on Joe Mauer.  He was the best pure-hitting catcher of his era.  His 2009 season, where he won AL MVP is one for the books as far as catchers go.  Yes, he was a good hitter and a more than decent defensive catcher.  Was he an elite or dominant player?  Mauer’s Minnesota Twins teams made the Postseason four time and never made it past the Division series.  You can’t make the winner argument.  Mauer is the Mark Grace of catchers.  Grace isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown.  Maybe Mauer won’t be, either.

CC Sabathia, Starting Pitcher (2001-2019)

Eligibility Year: 2025

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame

Key Career Stats and Awards:

251 Wins (tied for 46th All-Time)

3,093 Strikeouts (18th All-Time)

Two-time AL Wins Leader

2007 AL Cy Young Winner

6-time All-Star


Member of 2009 World Series Champion New York Yankees

300 wins used to be a magic number for starting pitchers to earn entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Maybe that magic number is 250 now.  Either way, C.C. Sabathia was someone you were eager to hand the ball to every fifth day.  He often found himself as the ace of his team’s starting staff, whether it was with the Indians, Brewers, or the Yankees.  Sabathia was one of the elite starting pitchers and aces of his era, having finished in the top-5 in Cy Young award voting five times, including his 2007 AL Cy Young win.  The Yankees don’t win the 2009 Series without him.

Buster Posey, Catcher (2009-2021)

Eligibility Year: 2027

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame

Key Career Stats and Awards:

2010 NL Rookie of the Year

2012 NL Batting Average Leader

2012 NL MVP

2-time NL Comeback Player of the Year

7-time All-Star

3-time World Series Champion (2010, 2012, 2014 Giants)

If Posey’s Hall-of-Fame candidacy were based on just his stats he wouldn’t get into Cooperstown.  His career is proof that statistics don’t tell the full story of one’s baseball career.  Buster Posey was the leader of the San Francisco Giants during his career.  More importantly, he was a winner – a three-time World Series winner.  There are both accomplishments in his career and awards in Posey’s trophy case that many current Hall-of-Famers are jealous of.  He could hit, play defense, and call a great game behind the plate.  Buster Posey will be in Cooperstown one day.

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher (2006-2021)

Eligibility Year: 2027

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Very Good

Key Career Stats and Awards:

200 Wins

.631 Winning Percentage (61st all-time)

2018 NL Wins Leader

5-time All-Star


Three-time World Series Champion (2007 & 2013 With the Red Sox, 2016 with the Cubs)

Not putting Lester in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame kills me as a Chicago sports fan.  Jon Lester is one of the best free-agent signings in Chicago sports history.  His joining the Cubs made them a serious contender in the mid-to-late 2010s.  Lester IS a three-time World Series Champ.  He was a staff ace, a five-time All-Star, and won 200 games.  Lester was a guy you could count on in this Postseason.  He didn’t win a Cy Young despite finishing in the top-5 in voting three times.  Jon Lester was a very good pitcher.  I’m not sure his resume has enough to get him into the hall.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Yadier Molina, Catcher (2004-2022)

Eligibility Year: 2028

Hall-of-Fame OR Hall-of-Very Good?  Hall-of-Fame

Key Career Stats and Awards:

177 Home Runs

1,022 RBI

28.0 Career Defensive WAR (14th all-time)

2,184 games played as a catcher (4th All-Time)

9-time Gold Glove Winner

10-time All-Star

2-time World Series Champion (2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals)

Yadier Molina was the gold standard for MLB catchers for most of his career.  He’s going to the Hall-of-Fame for many reasons.  One of them is because NO ONE ran on Yadi.  Players who stole bases against Molina will tell their grandchildren about it one day.  Said grandchildren might not believe them.  The St. Louis Cardinals had some great teams during Molina’s career but they don’t win two World Series with Yadi behind the plate.  He was a great defensive catcher but also an underrated hitter too.  

Photo Credit: Depositphotos

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