How Baseball’s Past Work Stoppages Impacted the Hall of Fame

Would any of these 20 players be in the HoF if strikes hadn't happened?

Over the next six to 12 years, current MLB stars who are nearing retirement age will be filling up the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. While we know players like Albert Pujols, Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera will get enshrined on their first go-round, there are a lot of players from this era who will be polarizing for BBWAA voters.

Will Joey Votto be able to sway enough voters to consider him a Hall of Famer, even though he probably won’t even eclipse Paul Konerko’s home run total? Is Yadier Molina going to be able to cross the notoriously difficult barrier for induction at the catching position? Did Andrew McCutchen have a long enough peak? What about Evan Longoria?

All of these players will be impacted, to varying degrees, by the 102 games lost because of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Many teams missed more than 100 games because of positive Covid-19 tests (including Molina’s Cardinals) while some players — like HOF hopeful Buster Posey — opted out of the season entirely.

Additionally, we are nearing the end of the current CBA and negotiations are already a bit tense between MLB and the Player’s Association. As of now baseball is officially in a lockout, although it is unclear if that will impact Opening day 2022. Will Tony Clark and the MLBPA be able to come to an agreement with Rob Manfred and the owners in order to avoid a work stoppage in 2022? It is in baseball’s best interest, obviously, but more so now than ever with dwindling interest in the game among the country’s youth, and the frustration of a summer without baseball still fresh in people’s memories.

Lower on the list, at least for the owners and the MLBPA, is the impact this could have on the end-of-career numbers for many of the game’s current stars. A few missed games here and there is a part of every MLB players’ career, even Cal Ripken’s, but missing time because of a work stoppage is an unfortunate way to fall short of significant career milestones. Plus, in at least a handful of cases, it could have a big impact if said player does not reach the game’s pinnacle achievement — enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Work stoppages are not new to baseball, having occurred three times in the last 50 years: 10 games missed in 1972, roughly 50 games in 1981 and of course the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series and bled into the 1995 season.

Every player who participated in one (or more) of those seasons lost valuable opportunities to bolster their career numbers, and while it is unlikely anyone absolutely would have made the Hall of Fame had the strike not happened, there are plenty of players who have a very legitimate argument — should someone be willing to advocate on their behalf.

In this case that person will be me. I’ve hand selected 20 players who have some semblance of an argument for HOF enshrinement had their not been labor stoppages.

The five players with the strongest case in my mind will be listed first, followed by a group of six pitchers. Pitchers are separate because, frankly, the case is much tougher to make for a guy who probably only missed 7-8 starts because of a work stoppage, rather than a hitter who missed 50 or so games.

Then we have two more lists, a list of players who were close to induction but who didn’t perform particularly well in the strike-shortened season, making it unlikely they would have done enough with those extra games to merit induction, and a list of players who were having great seasons when the strike happened, but who are generally considered not borderline candidates for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

Without further ado (since this was a lot of ado) let’s take a look at these 20 players with Hall of Fame arguments:

(Note: Omar Vizquel was considered for this piece, but as he is currently on the ballot for enshrinement, and he’s notably an abuser, he was left off)

 

Fred McGriff, 1B, 1986-2004

 

Hall of Fame Voting: 10 years on Ballot, topped out at 39.8% in 2019

Affectionately nicknamed the Crime Dog, former San Diego/Atlanta/Tampa Bay/etc. first baseman Fred McGriffis the most notable “what-if” when discussing Hall of Fame credentials and the impact of work stoppages.

McGriff finished his illustrious career with five All Star Game appearances and three Silver Slugger Awards, while totaling 52.6 bWAR, a 134 OPS+, and Hall of Fame Monitor and Standards scores of 100 and 48, respectively, compared to the average Hall of Famer who scores 100 and 50.

However, far and away the most notable statistic in McGriff’s (ongoing) Hall of Fame case is his home run total of 493, just seven short of the 500 home run mark which, until very recently, was a lock for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

McGriff is perfect for this exercise. Not only was he fairly close to getting inducted anyway — and he still could on a veteran’s committee — but he fell just short of a major career milestone, and was having a tremendous season in 1994 when the strike cut the season short. It is a near certainty he would have not only reached the 500 home run mark, but would have added even more milestones to his career totals.

Doing some simple math, McGriff played 113 of Atlanta’s 114 games in 1994 before the strike. He played in all 144 of Atlanta’s games the following year as well, which was shortened by 18 games across the league. So, it is fairly safe to assume he would have played most — if not all — of the games missed due to the strike.

Extrapolating the totals he did put up (34 home runs in 1994 and 27 in 1995) gives McGriff about 17 more home runs for his career, or 510 total. There is obviously no guarantee he would have hit exactly that many — how could there be? — but again I think it is extremely safe to assume he would have reached 500, and he probably would have topped Eddie Murray’s mark of 504 round trippers as well.

Is that enough to get him in? Hard to say. McGriff never even topped 40% of the votes during the 10 years he was on the ballot, so adding less than a half seasons worth of home runs, RBI, and WAR to his total doesn’t seem like enough to move him all the way into Cooperstown. The allure of round numbers, in this case 500, is the key factor here — and even that has lost its luster thanks to the steroid era. As an example, Gary Sheffield is not getting a lot of support for the Hall currently, entering his eighth year on the ballot after earning just 40.6 percent of the vote last season, despite having 509 career home runs and no (credible) accusations of steroid use — much like McGriff.

Ultimately our advanced understanding of analytics has helped steer many voters away from players with empty HR/RBI accruals and into guys who were more well-rounded. While McGriff was considered a fine fielder, his 52.6 bWAR is somewhat pedestrian compared to his peers, and even a small bump to that total without the strike (say 55 or so) would still place him below most others in the Hall at his position (Sheffield, who played the outfield, has a 60.5 bWAR for example).

Still, the draw of 500 total round-trippers runs deep in the blood of many BBWAA members, and it is not hard to imagine his totals would have climbed a fair amount had he reached that threshold, perhaps enough to get him in while on the ballot instead of him having to wait for the veterans committee to potentially push him through.

 

Kenny Lofton, CF, 1991-2007

 

Hall of Fame Voting: 1 year on Ballot, topped out at 3.2% in 2013

There is certainly a long list of players who deserved better on the Hall of Fame voting circuit. Longtime Cleveland outfielder Kenny Lofton has a strong case as one of the least respected, only getting one shot on the ballot before falling off in 2013 with a measly 3.2% of the vote.

It is hard to imagine 70 or so games between 1994 and 1995 would impact public opinion about him so much that he would be in the HoF had the strike not happened, but he likely would have reached some interesting milestones if he had kept pace over uninterrupted campaigns in 1994 and 1995.

Lofton played in 112 of Cleveland’s 113 games in 1994, hitting .349 with a league-leading 160 hits, 60 stolen bases, 12 home runs and an outstanding 7.2 bWAR. He only appeared in 118 of Cleveland’s 144 games in 1995, hitting .310 with 54 steals. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in both seasons, and finished fourth in MVP voting in 1994.

There is little doubt this was right around the peak of Lofton’s career, and some quick number crunching shows the strike cost him roughly 4.7 bWAR and around 50 stolen bases — assuming he played in all of the cancelled games.

This represents a significant bump for any player, but for Lofton — who finished his career with 68.4 WAR and 622 stolen bases – it would push him up over 70 career WAR, a nice barometer for Hall of Fame enshrinement, while also getting him over 650 steals and potentially moving him into 12th place all-time ahead of Willie Wilson. Although, of course, Wilson would have extra time to make up these steals in this non-strike scenario as well, part of what makes these hypotheticals admittedly difficult to flesh out.

Additionally, while we know batting average is a largely overrated statistic, Hall of Fame voters historically love nice round numbers and Lofton’s .299 career average, sadly, probably hurt his candidacy. He hit .349 and .310 in 1994 and 1995, so it is quite likely his career average would have crept over that .300 mark had he played 70 or so more games.

A career .300 hitter with 70+ bWAR all the sudden looks a lot more enticing as a Hall of Fame candidate, and while Lofton’s candidacy was largely undone by the Hall of Fame’s Rule of 10 — which forced many voters to leave Lofton off their ballot because they could only make room for 10 candidates — it is plausible he would have gotten more love had he reached those numbers.

At least, he could have earned enough votes to reach 5% in year one and stick around on the ballot for a while, potentially gaining some traction as the sabermetric movement, which looks favorably upon his body of work, continued to grow in the early part of last decade.

If this seems like a stretch, consider Tim Raines and Larry Walker, who both had under 25% of the vote early in their time on the ballot before getting inducted thanks to strong pushes from sabermetricians. Lofton didn’t last long enough for that type of concentrated effort to come together, but a slight bump to his numbers may have earned him a few more votes in year one — which might be all he needed.

 

Dwight Evans, OF, 1972-1991

 

Hall of Fame Voting: 3 years on Ballot, topped out at 10.4% in 1998

Dwight ‘Dewey” Evans began his career with the Red Sox in 1972, appearing in 18 games as a fresh faced 20-year-old. He patrolled right field at Fenway for the better part of the next two decades, retiring after one single season with Baltimore in 1991. Over that time he led the league in runs once, home runs once, walks three times, OBP once, OPS twice and total bases once, while making three All-Star teams, winning two Silver Slugger Awards and a whopping eight Gold Gloves.

He finished his illustrious career with a bWAR of 67.1 and an OPS+ of 127, while blasting 385 home runs with 2,446 hits, 1,470 runs and 1,384 RBI. Despite an excellent career and a lot of notoriety playing in Beantown, Dewey only lasted three years on the ballot, topping out at 10.4% in 1998 and falling off with just 3.6% of the vote in 1999.

Evans is generally considered a HoVG (Hall of Very Good) candidate, and his HoF Monitor and Standards scores of 70 and 44 certainly back that up, along with a JAWS score of 52.2 – which calls short of the average right fielder in the Hall with a mark of 57.2. Of course, right field is one of the most notoriously stacked positions in the Hall of Fame, which has hurt fringe candidates when looking at average HoF metrics at that position before. It is a little unfair to hold Evans to the standards of his position when the top eight players are Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Reggie Jackson.

In fact, Evans is 15th in bWAR all-time among right fielders, and all 14 ahead of him are in Cooperstown, except Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ichiro and Reggie Smith are just behind him, along with Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, and — way down at no. 74 – Harold Baines.

Evans is a perfectly defensible candidate even without adding production in 1981, but it is worth noting he was in the midst of perhaps his best big league season when the strike shortened the campaign. Evans played in 108 games and led the league with 504 plate appearances, 22 home runs, 85 walks, a .937 OPS and 215 total bases. He made his second All-Star game, won his fourth Gold Glove and his first Silver Slugger, and finished third in MVP voting. A full season’s worth of games likely would have yielded over 30 home runs (a mark he topped three times in his career) and potentially 100 RBI.

It’s hard to point to any one 50-game stretch as significant enough to change a player’s Hall of Fame trajectory if they didn’t reach significant milestones (like McGriff and Lofton) but Evans could have used those extra games in a big way. There’s a non-zero chance he would have hit well enough to actually win the MVP award (he finished third) and we know one MVP can go a long way toward keeping a player on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Dewey is still a candidate to get inducted on a veteran’s committee in the not-too-distant future, righting a wrong that has been a long time coming. An MVP award, or at least another 30 home run season in 1981 may not have changed his voting pattern enough to get him inducted on his first go-round – but it couldn’t have hurt.

 

Julio Franco, 2B, 1982-2007

 

Hall of Fame Voting: 1 year on Ballot, topped out at 1.1% in 2013

I made Franco one of my top five candidates even though he never got much support for the HoF, primarily because his case is radically different than everyone else’s. Franco hit 20 home runs with 98 RBI for the 1994 Chicago White Sox — both career highs — before the season was cut short. He slashed .319/.406/.510 and ended up winning his fifth (and final) Silver Slugger Award, while finishing eighth in MVP voting.

That’s not what makes his case unique though. Franco opted to go play in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 instead of waiting out the strike. He spent the entire season in Japan and came back to the MLB in 1996 with Cleveland at age 37, promptly hitting .322/.407/.470 with 14 home runs and 76 RBI.

After an injury shortened 1997 season, Franco spent basically all of 1998-2001 either in Japan or Mexico, only racking up 102 big league plate appearances (where he slashed .297/.373/.440 from ages 40-42).

Franco famously didn’t stop there, playing another 611(!) MLB games from ages 43-48, slashing an outstanding .284/.357/.410 with a 99 OPS+. He retired with 2,586 career hits, 1,285 runs scored, 1,194 RBI and 917 walks.

So the question for Franco is not whether a few extra games in 1994 would get him into the Hall, but an entire season in 1995. And, depending how far down the rabbit hole you want to go, it is fair to wonder if he stayed in the MLB from 1998-2001, how much of a difference that would have made. It seems very plausible, likely even, that if he had played in MLB instead of Japan those seasons he would have eclipsed 3,000 hits, or at least come very, very close to it.

Of course, there is no guarantee Franco wouldn’t still have gone overseas had the strike not happened, and his greatest skill as a ballplayer — drawing walks and posting high OBPs — still wasn’t recognized as widely as it is now, at least by BBWAA voters.

As it stands, Franco received just 1.1% of the vote in 2013, and his 43.6 career bWAR is below the seven-year peak average for Hall of Famers, despite Franco accruing his total over a quarter century. It is pretty difficult to make a case for him as is, but who knows – perhaps no strike means he plays in MLB for quite a few more seasons, which undoubtedly alters the conversation more than anyone else who is on this list.

 

Will Clark, 1B, 1986-2000

 

Hall of Fame Voting: 1 year on Ballot, topped out at 4.4% in 2006

I could (and might) write an entire article about a subset of the baseball population that gets ignored by Hall of Fame voters: the good fielding, good hitting, non-slugging first baseman. This article not only touches on Clark, but Bill Buckner, Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly, and John Olerud as well. Mark Grace and Wally Joyner fall into this category as well, although they have less of an argument for actual enshrinement in Cooperstown.

In fact, it’s fairly reasonable to say none of these players deserve to go into the Hall, although Clark likely has the strongest actual case.

The longtime Giants 1B with one of the sweetest swings in the game’s history, Clark played from 1986-2000 and tallied 284 home runs, 1,190 RBI, 2,176 hits and a slash line of .303/.384/.497 with a whopping 137 OPS+ and a career bWAR of 56.5. He was a six-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and the 1991 recipient of the Gold Glove. Despite all this, Clark only received 4.4% of the vote in 2006, narrowly missing the opportunity to remain on the ballot for another season.

It’s not as egregious as Lofton, or Lou Whitaker (more on him later), but it is pretty clear Clark deserved better from the BBWAA. First basemen are handed significant positional penalties in WAR calculations, which is why players like Clark and Olerud have lower WAR totals than their body of work with the stick (and glove) would indicate. Beyond that, 1B are almost always judged by their ability to hit the longball, especially during the 1990’s, which is why guys like this weren’t usually MVP candidates, and did not get a lot of love from the BBWAA.

Clark’s 137 OPS+ is ahead of multiple baseball elite’s, including George Brett, Ken Griffey Jr, Jackie Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Rafael Palmeiro, Wage Boggs, and Rod Carew, and while his 284 home runs is below the threshold for the “power hitter” distinction, it’s far from terrible.

Ultimately Clark’s case is more about the lack of respect for first baseman who didn’t routinely top 30 home runs and 100 RBI, although some added at-bats in 1994 would have been helpful as Clark slashed .329/.431/.501 with a 141 OPS+ in 1994, his sixth and final All-Star campaign. Would it have been enough to earn another vote in 2006? If so, he would have been on the ballot again in 2007. Does he climb all the way to 75%? Almost certainly not, but at least he’d get another crack at it and potentially some more love from the veteran’s committee down the line.

 

The List of Pitchers (AKA the Pitcher List)

 

Rick Reuschel

I don’t think anyone thinks about Rick Reuschel and the Hall of Fame all that often, but the workhorse right-hander played 19 MLB seasons and posted a whopping 68.1(!) bWAR, which should absolutely put him in the conversation. Reuschel posted a pedestrian 214-191 W-L record — thanks mostly to playing for the Cubs — along with a 3.37 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 2,015 strikeouts. He was a three-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner and led the league in complete games once, shutouts once, games started twice, and WHIP once while playing from 1972-1991.

There is an outside chance that added starts in 1972 and 1981 get him over 70 career bWAR, but he received just 0.4% of the vote in 1997 and I don’t think that would have changed considering how little WAR was understood/respected at that time. Perhaps it would strengthen his veteran’s committee argument, but only barely.

 

Tommy John

John’s name is synonymous with pitching, but unfortunately not because of his 26 year career and 288 wins, but rather as the name of a common elbow procedure which takes players (mostly pitchers) out of action for about an entire season. John got the surgery in the mid-1970’s and returned to play another 13 seasons, pioneering the procedure and changing the game of baseball in a significant way.

Despite his contribution to the game and his illustrious career, which includes a 3.34 ERA, four All-Star Game appearances, three top-five Cy Young finishes, and a 62.1 bWAR, John remains without a bust in Cooperstown. The left-hander posted a 2.89 ERA in 1972 and a 2.63 ERA in 1981, and adding 12 or so starts to his career would likely push him over 290 wins, 2,300 strikeouts, and a 65 bWAR. 300 wins was/is the magic number, however, and unless he went 11-1 in those 12(ish) added starts it is unlikely he gets into the Hall — after all his highest vote total was 31.7% in 2009.

 

Kevin Brown

Brown is up there with Lofton, Jim Edmonds, Lou Whitaker, and Johan Santana for most disrespected players in BBWAA voting history.

Brown is a six-time All-Star who finished top-six in Cy Young voting five times. He posted a 67.8 bWAR with a career 3.28 ERA right in the heart of the steroid era, while leading the league in ERA twice, WHIP twice, innings pitched once, games started three times, and K:BB ratio once. His 211 wins and the BBWAA’s inability to correctly analyze pitchers during the 1990s is the sole reason he didn’t get in, and neither of those things would have changed with a few more outings in 1994-1995.

In fact, from 1992-2001 Brown’s two worst seasons were in 1994 and 1995, where he posted a 4.82 and 3.60 ERA, respectively, in his final year in Texas and only season with Baltimore. 10 more starts wouldn’t have helped him even climb over the 5% induction threshold in 2011, as he earned just 2.1% of the vote in one of the Hall’s biggest missteps.

 

David Cone

Cone was smack in the middle of his prime when the strike happened, going 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA and winning the Cy Young Award in 1994 across 23 starts. He led the league with 229.1 innings pitched in 1995 as well, posting a 3.57 ERA and 191 strikeouts and finishing fourth in Cy Young voting.

I believe Cone’s body of work is good enough for him to be in the Hall of Fame as it is, and adding 10 or so starts to two of his strongest seasons would probably push him up around 65 bWAR and potentially over 200 wins — he finished his career with totals of 62.3 and 194, respectively. Cone also finished with 2,668 career strikeouts, and 10 more starts would get him over 2,700 for his career, which at the time of his retirement would have put him in a class with just 17 other pitchers by my count.

Cone received just 3.9% of the vote in 2009, a product of old school voters valuing wins and not factoring in the effects of pitching in the steroid era. It’s unlikely that would have changed with 10 more very good starts under his belt, but perhaps it would strengthen his case as a veteran’s committee candidate.

 

Fernando Valenzuela

There probably isn’t a single player more impacted by the 1981 strike than Valenzuela, who was in the midst of one of the best pitching seasons in the modern-era. 1981 was when Fernando-mania swept the city of Los Angeles as the young left-hander went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA, 11 complete games, eight shutouts, and 180 strikeouts in 25 games started. He was an All-Star, the Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award winner, the Silver Slugger Award winner, and finished fifth in MVP voting. It was a truly incredible season for the 20(!)-year-old, and thus began a decade as one of the league’s strongest starting pitchers.

Valenzuela’s career started to derail in 1988, however, and from age 29 on he only managed to make 137 starts with a 4.52 ERA and 430 strikeouts in 785.1 innings, finishing his career with 173 wins, 2,074 K’s, and a 41.4 bWAR. Longevity is the key here, and while more starts in 1981 would have made that season even more jaw dropping, it wouldn’t have been enough to overcome his late career struggles. Valenzuela earned 6.2% of the vote in 2003 before falling off the ballot entirely in 2004.

 

Orel Hershiser

There is definitely a case for Orel Hershiser as a Hall of Famer as is, at least by those who believe peak performance is more important than longevity/milestones, but a few more starts in 1994/1995 at age 36/37 probably wouldn’t have helped him too much.

Hershiser posted a 3.79 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 21 starts in 1994, going 6-6 for the Dodgers. Tack on maybe six more starts and all you do is slightly raise his career 3.48 ERA without doing enough to help his low win (204) and strikeout (2,014) totals. Hershiser spent two seasons on the ballot, topping out at 11.2% of the vote in 2006.

 

Player Was Close, Strike Season Wasn’t Good Enough

 

Graig Nettles

Nettles was active during the mini strike in 1972 (~10 games) and the bigger strike in 1981, but neither came in particularly great years for the slugger. He hit .253 with 17 home runs in 1972 and .244 with just 15 round trippers in 1981 as a past his prime 36-year-old.

Nettles finished his career with 390 home runs and a 67.9 bWAR, numbers that make him an intriguing candidate for the Hall. However, a few more games in two less-than-impressive seasons probably isn’t enough to change the BBWAA’s mind, especially since his highest voting total was 8.3% in 1994.

 

Steve Garvey

Garvey made one of his 10 All-Star Game appearances in 1981, appearing in all 110 games played by the Dodgers that year. While he slashed .283/.322/.411, his 10 home runs and 2.0 bWAR likely wouldn’t have improved enough over an extra 50 games to really move the needle.

He would have totaled over 2,600 hits and his WAR would maybe touch 40 total (38.1) but he never received more than 43% of the vote from the BBWAA, and it’s unlikely a few extra hits in 1981 get him all the way to Cooperstown.

 

Don Mattingly

Mattingly missed the 1981 strike, debuting in 1982, and retired after the 1995 season – so his peak fortunately missed the work stoppages. He finished 18th in MVP voting and won his ninth Gold Glove in 1994, but the small amount of power he had in his prime was completely gone by the mid-90s, and he probably wouldn’t have added more than a handful of home runs and maybe a half a win or so to his career 42.4 bWAR.

Mattingly did stick around on the ballot for the full 15 years, but he never topped his 28.2% output in 2001 — so a few more singles in 1994 probably wouldn’t have changed anyone’s mind.

 

Dave Parker

Parker may have been an All-Star in 1981, but all told it was a pretty average year for the slugging right fielder. He slashed .258/.287/.454 with nine home runs and six stolen bases in just 67 games played.

Like Mattingly and Garvey, Parker spent 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, although a few more home runs in 1981 probably wouldn’t have taken him over the threshold for enshrinement, considering he topped out at 24.5% of the vote in 1998.

 

Great Season, Still Not Enough

 

Matt Williams

There is not a strong statistical argument that 50 missed games would have been enough to merit Hall of Fame induction for third baseman Matt Williams. He finished his career with a 113 OPS+, a 46.6 bWAR, 378 home runs, 1,218 RBI, and Hall of Fame monitor and standard scores of 70 and 29, respectively, which both fall well below the Hall of Fame averages.

However, the narrative argument is strong. Williams blasted 43 home runs during the 1994 season, a season where he was on pace to break Roger Maris’ all-time home run record of 61 – later broken of course by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during the summer of 1998.

Williams and Maris are somewhat similar statistically, with Williams boasting a better bWAR while Maris has a better OPS+, in part because he played during a slow offensive era. However, Maris spent 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, garnering between 16 and 43% of the vote. And, even to this day, he generates a lot of discussion and fan support because of his significance on the game’s history.

Meanwhile, Williams got just 1.3% of the vote in 2009, and is never really talked about as any kind of HoF snub. If you tack 19 more home runs onto his total in 1994 it does not alter his career numbers enough to merit Hall consideration – but it changes the conversation around him in a more significant way than it would for any other player on this list (except perhaps McGriff).

 

Bill Buckner

Known primarily for flubbing a ground ball that lost the Red Sox a World Series in 1986, Buckner defenders like to remind everyone he was actually a very accomplished big leaguer who spent 22 seasons in the show, compiling 2,715 hits. And while his hit total is gaudy, his 100 OPS+, .321 OBP, and 15.1 bWAR paint a different picture – one of a compiler who was only an All-Star one time and who spent large chunks of his career decidedly average or even below average.

His lone All-Star Game appearance came in the strike-shortened 1981 season, where he slashed .311/.349/.480 with a league leading 35 doubles, along with 10 home runs and 75 RBI. While it’s a bummer the strike cost him the best season of his career, it’s hard to imagine an extra 50 games (plus 10 more in 1972) would really do much to change his career outlook.

He only received 2.1% of the vote in 1996, which was probably still considered too high by bitter members of the Boston media.

 

Lou Whitaker

Whitaker is at the top of my list of Hall of Fame snubs, posting a ridiculous 75.1 career bWAR and a JAWS score of 56.5, along with five All-Star games, four Silver Slugger Awards, and four Gold Gloves. Whitaker played his entire career in Detroit and never got the same amount of attention as his double-play partner, Alan Trammell, even though it took Trammell 15 years to get in as well.

Whitaker doesn’t entirely fit in this category, because there isn’t a lot of optimism he would have magically gotten a ton more support had he played full seasons in both 1981 and 1994/1995. Whitaker led the league with 109 games played in 1981, slashing .263/.340/.373 with just five home runs and five stolen bases, along with a 3.8 bWAR. He was better in 94-95, despite being 37 years old and in his final two seasons, slashing a combined .298/.375/.503 with 26 home runs, 4.0 bWAR, and a 125 OPS+.

Adding 3-4 WAR and a handful of counting stats just doesn’t seem like it would change the voters minds after he received just 2.9% of the vote in his lone season on the ballot in 2001. Perhaps it would have been enough to push him over the 5% threshold to remain on the ballot, but it took a long time until sabermetrics really recognized how elite he was. Maybe there’s still a chance the veterans committee will make the right decision here, as he clearly deserves it regardless of his hypothetical added performances in 1981 and 1994.

 

Keith Hernandez

I could probably do an entirely separate article about good-fielding, non power hitting first basemen who didn’t make the Hall of Fame, as Clark, Garvey, Buckner, Olerud, and now Hernandez all fit into that camp, along with guys like Mark Grace and Wally Joyner. Hernandez was two years removed from his MVP campaign when the strike shortened the 1981 season, a year in which he slashed .306/.401/.463 with eight home runs, 48 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a 132 OPS+.

It was a strong performance in the middle of Hernandez’s peak, but considering his underwhelming voting totals (he never topped 10.8% of the vote despite remaining on the ballot for nine years) it seems unlikely an extra 50 games would have helped his case all that much. He was not particularly close to any major milestones (2,182 hits, 162 home runs, 1,071 RBI, .296 average) and while his career bWAR of 60.3 is very good, an extra win or so wouldn’t have helped him earn support on the ballot in the late-90’s when he was eligible.

 

John Olerud

Olerud is a personal favorite of mine, a Will Clark look-a-like who posted a 58.1 bWAR and a 48.6 JAWS score in a career that will unfortunately be forgotten by most outside of the Pacific Northwest and our friends up north in Canada.

Olerud posted a 5.4 bWAR with a .293/.396/.436 slash line from 1994-1995 across 243 games. While 50 or so more games might have brought him over 60 career WAR, his 0.7% vote total on the ballot in 2011 doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that he would have even made it past the 5% threshold, sadly.

 

Photo By John Cordes/Icon Sportswire & Wikimedia Commons | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Andy Patton

Andy is the Dynasty Content Manager here at PitcherList. He manages all of the prospect content on the site, while also contributing a weekly article on dynasty deep sleepers, and the weekly hitter and pitcher stash lists. Andy also co-hosts the Never Sunny in Seattle podcast on the PitcherList Podcast Network, and separately hosts the Score Zags Score Podcast.

  • newsense says:

    Will Clark also hurt his HOF case by retiring when he was still a very effective player

    • Andy Patton says:

      Very true – a few more seasons of slight decline probably get him up toward 2500 hits and over 300 home runs. Not a slam dunk, but at least someone who lasts more than one year on the ballot

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