Friday, January 11, 2013

Top 10 Should-Be Baseball Hall-of-Famers

In the wake of the Baseball Writers' Association of America electing no one to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Wednesday's vote, the question needs to be asked: Who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, and deserves it, but is not in?

Someone (I forget who) said that one good way to judge whether a player is deserving is if he's a "1 in 100" kind of player.  That is, if you think he's in the top 1 percent of all baseball players, ever.

There are 297 people in the Hall.  Of these, 236 were elected as players, rather than as managers, umpires, or executives of any kind (owners, general managers, league presidents, commissioners, or "pioneers").

Of those, 35 were elected due to the perception of their performance in the Negro Leagues -- for which statistics are, through no fault of the players involved, woefully incomplete, so we're essentially just guessing how good they were, based on the word of those who saw them play, either in contemporary newspaper accounts or from reminiscences.

That leaves 201 players whose statistical performances we can look at, and from which we can draw our own conclusions.

According to Baseball Reference, a website which is your friend whether you know it or not, there have been 17,943 men who have appeared in at least one regular-season Major League Baseball game.

Therefore, if we were adhering to the 1 percent guideline, there should be 179 players in the Hall of Fame that fit the description I gave.  Not 201.  Which means we may have more than we should.

Nevertheless, I'm going to list 10 players that I think should be in the Hall, but aren't.

I previously did such a list on May 14, 2010.  Here were my Top 10:

10. Don Newcombe
9. Wes Ferrell
8. Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat and Vic Raschi
7. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker
6. Ted Simmons
5. Tommy John
4. Jim Kaat
3. Bert Blyleven
2. Ron Santo
1. Gil Hodges

Some explanation is needed.  I reckoned that, if Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance, the 1906-10 Chicago Cub double play combination, could be elected as a unit, why couldn't we do this for others? Separately, Reynolds, Lopat and Raschi were not HOFers; together, they formed a HOF unit, every bit as much as did the later Atlanta Braves triad of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.  And "TramWhit" was much worthier of the Hall than Tinker-Evers-Chance, if you're judging them solely on their playing: Chance deserved election as a manager but was a step below greatness as a player, Tinker was no better, and Evers, while better, is a close call.

In the nearly 3 years since, Blyleven and Santo have been elected -- although Santo died before it could happen.

The Hall does not combine records for playing and managing, which hurts Hodges, but shouldn't: He should be in as a player.  The Hall also does not combine records for playing and broadcasting, which hurt Santo and still hurts Kaat.  (In all 4 major North American sports, only one man has been honored by his sport's Hall of Fame for both playing and broadcasting, pro football's Frank Gifford.)

Here is Baseball Reference's top 10 nonpitchers eligible but not in, using "WAR," or "Wins Above Replacement," which is defined as how many games said player appears to have won for his team, above and beyond what a rookie just called up from the minors might do.  It's subjective, and the part of it that is statistical includes a formula that I don't think I've ever seen, and don't care to.  Keep in mind that Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose are not currently eligible.

1. Barry Bonds
2. Jeff Bagwell
3. Lou Whitaker
4. Bill Dahlen
5. Larry Walker
6. Bobby Grich
7. Alan Trammell
8. Tim Raines
9. Rafael Palmeiro
10. Kenny Lofton

Incidentally, the difference between Bonds at 1 and Bagwell at 2 is, by the standards of this stat, enormous.  Indeed, Bonds is 2nd all-time behind Babe Ruth.

You say Bonds and Palmeiro shouldn't be up there, because they used steroids? I agree.  But this particular list isn't about who's worthy, which is based on opinion; it's about who's high-ranking and eligible, which is based on facts.

Here's the top 10 pitchers, based on Pitching WAR:

1. Roger Clemens (all-time, trails only Cy Young and Walter Johnson)
2. Curt Schilling
3. Jim McCormick
4. Bobby Mathews
5. Rick Reuschel
6. Kevin Brown
7. Luis Tiant
8. Tommy Bond
9. David Cone
10. Charlie Buffinton

No, I'd never heard of McCormick, either, even though he lived most of his life in my native North Jersey.  He played his last game in 1887, the first term of President Grover Cleveland, and anybody who played back then and isn't in the Hall of Fame is, almost certainly, going to be forgotten.  And that's the difference between getting into the Hall, and not.

I had heard of Mathews, whose finale was also in 1887, but only because I read an article about the 300 Wins Club, and saw that, if you count what he did in the National Association of 1871-75 (some sources do, some don't), his career win total was 297, just short.  If he'd gotten just 3 more, he'd have had 300, and he would be in.  But he didn't, so he's not, and so I never heard of him until a few years ago when I read the article online.

Bond was one of the best pitchers in the game as it moved from the first professional league, the NA, to the first totally major league, the National League, in 1876.  It was a very different game then, especially as far as pitching is concerned: It was all underhanded, and batters could call for a high or a low pitch.  As in baseball's British cousin cricket, where the position is called the bowler, the pitcher was the least important defensive player, not the most important as it would become once overhand pitching was legalized in 1884.  (In the pitcher's favor, though, it then took 9 balls to walk a batter, not 4.) And the pitching distance was extended from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893, and a lot of pitchers who were good before that year either lost their effectiveness or retired.  So it's hard to say that a pitcher whose best years were before 1893, and even harder if they were before 1884, would have excelled afterward.  It's a bit easier to say a pitcher good between 1893 and the dawn of the Lively Ball Era in 1920, and easier still for one good between then and the dawn of the Integration Era in 1947, would have excelled afterward.

Buffinton was a pitcher for whom the 1884 legalization of overhand pitching was a godsend, but for whom the 1893 extension appears to have been the end of the line, as his last appearance was in 1892, when he was only 31.  I had never heard of him until I read the book about Edward Achorn's book about the 1884 Pennant race between the Charlie "Old Hoss" Radbourn's Providence Grays and Buffinton's Boston Beaneaters, Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had.  Again, it's the difference between being in the Hall of Fame (Radbourn, career record 309-194) and not (Buffinton, 233-152).

But let's get real: While Clemens is in the 300 Wins Club, he and Schilling are both in the 3,000 Strikeouts Club, and both Tiant and Cone have their advocates, I don't know why anyone would think Rick Reuschel or Kevin Brown was a Hall-of-Famer.  And that would be my stance even if Brown hadn't broken his hand in September 2004 and then had that horrible start in up Game 7 of the ALCS for the Yankees.

So who are the top 10 deserving men?

Well, if we were including the Negro Leaguers, for whom the stats just aren't available in full, we would have to include Buck O'Neil.  And if Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui get considered, why not Sadaharu Oh? It's not his fault that he never played in the North American majors.  But we're only looking at major leaguers.

And I won't cop out by suggesting the joint entries of ReynLopSchi and TramWhit.  One TinkEvAnce in Cooperstown is enough.  But it is worth pointing out where they stand.  Baseball Reference has a Hall of Fame Monitor, on which 100 is a "Likely HOFer." They also have a Hall of Fame Standards, on which 50 represents the "Average HOFer." And they have "Similarity Scores," which shows the 10 players whose statistics most closely resemble that player's, and is weighted toward players who also that player's position, so as to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

HOF Monitor: Trammell 118, Reynolds 110, which means they should be in; Whitaker 92, which means he falls a little short; Raschi 82 and Lopat 64, which means they fall well short.

HOF Standards: Whitaker 43, Trammell 40, Reynolds 33, Lopat 27, Raschi 25, which means they all fall short.

10 Most Similar: Of the Yankee trio, only Reynolds has anyone in his Top 10 who are in, but those are his Top 2: Lefty Gomez and Bob Lemon.  Trammell’s 10 Most Similar include Whitaker, and also Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg and Pee Wee Reese, who are in, and Jimmy Rollins, who will probably make it.  Whitaker’s 10 Most Similar include Trammell (obviously); already-in players Sandberg, Larkin, Roberto Alomar and Joe Morgan; and Joe Torre, who will be in as a manager.

As for my Top 10, I am listing these in chronological order, not in ascending (or descending) order of how much they deserve it.

And since we're going chronologically, let me mention 3 players who are so far back that it's difficult to judge their careers, but for their pioneering roles, should be in.

Doc Adams.  After all, if we're reflecting the history of the game, shouldn't we go back to the beginning of its history? Daniel Lucius Adams (1814-1899), a physician from Mount Vernon, New Hampshire, even more than the man usually credited, Alexander Cartwright, was the guiding force behind the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and, more than any other person, comes close to being the man who shaped the rules of earlier forms of "base ball" (even into the early 20th Century, it was often printed as two words) into a game that we would recognized as "baseball," and thus comes closer than anyone else to being "the man who invented baseball."

He began with the New York Base Ball Club -- the team that beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 in what's long been considered "the first baseball game" in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846.  That club split over some dispute or other, and led to the formation of the Knickerbocker Club.  So that New York Club was already in existence, and now you know why they clobbered the supposed inventors of the sport in "the first game." Adams played in that game.

According John Thorn, author of a slew of books about the sport and now the official historian of Major League Baseball, Adams essentially invented the position of shortstop, more as what we would now call a cutoff man than as a way to better stop grounders.  Adams played every position available at the time except pitcher, and was a lefthanded hitter with, under the conditions of the time, power, hitting some balls from Hoboken's Elysian Fields into the Hudson River.  Thorn has called him the best player of the 1840s, and he played until 1859.

More important that his performance were his innovations.  In addition to inventing shortstop, he was the man who, at a New York convention to standardize rules in 1857, convinced the other men to settle on 9 innings for a game, 90 feet between bases (making official the rough estimate Cartwright made of 42 paces between home plate and 2nd base, and between 1st and 3rd bases), and eliminating the rule of catching the ball on the first bounce still counting as an out.

Cartwright has been overcredited -- including by myself, on this blog, in years past.  He is in the Hall of Fame, but probably shouldn't be, just as Abner Doubleday, whom we now know to have had nothing to do with baseball, is not.  Adams should be in the Hall.  Cases can also be made for another Knickerbocker, William R. Wheaton (1814-1888).

Jim Creighton.  Born in Brooklyn in 1841, James Creighton Jr. didn't last long, but his impact was tremendous.  He was a superb batter, and as a pitcher, he used what may well be the first "trick pitch." Pitching was done underhand, but he managed to put in a snap of his wrist, and make the pitch much faster.  Essentially, he invented the fastball.

A lot of people thought this was unfair.  Most of them were probably in favor of big offense.  Even during the American Civil War, people dug the long ball.  But Creighton's delivery was described as being "as swift as it was shot out of cannon" and "fairly unhittable." Up to that point, high scores were common.  If you think ERAs are high now, in the amateur era there were scores that today's football purists would have found to be a bit high.

He played for several amateur clubs in Brooklyn, until 1898 a separate city from New York (then just Manhattan Island).  He helped establish the Excelsior Club (named for the motto of New York State, meaning "Ever upward") as one of the dominant clubs.  The Excelsior Club lured Creighton in 1860 but getting him a job that paid him $500 a year -- a big sum for a working man then.  Another player they lured was Asa Brainard, himself a great pitcher, and his brother Henry Brainard.  They were probably the first professional players, but, in American baseball as in English soccer, professionalism was then considered ungentlemanly.

On October 14, 1862, in a match against the Union Club of Morrisania (which was included in the City as part of the Borough of The Bronx when Consolidation happened in 1898), Creighton hit a home run, but suffered a hernia.  With medicine being what it was then, he couldn't be helped, and spent 4 days in immense pain until he died.  He was only 21.

William Arthur "Candy" Cummings is in the Hall of Fame, even though statistics suggest he wasn't such a great pitcher, because of his claim to inventing the curveball.  That claim has been revealed to be highly questionable, as another pitcher seems to have thrown one in a game earlier.  If Cummings is in the Hall for "inventing the curveball," why is Creighton not in the Hall for being a superb hitter and the almost-certain inventor of the fastball?

Lip Pike.  While Creighton and the Brainards were the first professional players, Lipman Emanuel Pike (1845-1893) was the first player revealed to have been paid to play.  The Manhattan native is also the first baseball player known to have been Jewish.

His willingness to let it be known that he was paid to play, by the first team to be known as the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1866, paved the way for the first openly all-professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.  That team included Asa Brainard, who had become the best pitcher in the baseball after Creighton's death, and whose name led to a star pitcher being called an "ace." (Brainard is also worthy of HOF consideration.)

The Red Stockings went through the entire 1869 season without losing a game, and were still undefeated on June 14, 1870 (their streak being anywhere from 81 to 130 games, depending on whose story you believe), before crossing the ferry to Brooklyn (the Brooklyn Bridge was in the first stages of construction and wouldn't open until 1883) to face the Atlantics at the Capitoline Grounds in what's now the Bedford-Stuyvesant section.  A crowd of at least 12,000 came out, and in a game that required 11 innings to be completed, the Atlantics -- with early stars Pike at 2nd base, Dickey Pearce at shortstop, Joe Start at 1st base, George Zettlein pitching, and the man with the wildest nickname in baseball history, the fine-fielding Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson, catching -- won 8-7 to give the Cincy club their first defeat.  It was the first great game in professional baseball history.

When the NA was founded in 1871, Pike was one of its first stars, leading it in home runs in each of its first 3 seasons.  Ironically, he later played for and managed a new club called the Cincinnati Reds.  He played his last game in 1887, at age 42.  Unfortunately, he died of heart disease at 48, just as the 60-and-6 pitching distance ended forever the game he knew.  But, having been a nonpitcher, he is much more likely than Brainard or even Creighton to have been able to adapt to the modern game, had someone time-traveled back to the 1870s and offered him the chance to play in the 21st Century.

Now, the Top 10:

1. Wes Ferrell.  Born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1908, Wesley Cheek Ferrell debuted in the majors with the 1927 Cleveland Indians.  In his first 4 full seasons, he won 91 games -- all before his 25th birthday. He won 21 at 21, 25 at 22, 22 at 23 and 23 at 24. That was from 1929 to 1932, one of the biggest periods ever for hitters, rather than the Dead Ball Era of the 1900s and 1910s, or the 1960s. And it was for an Indians team that really didn’t contend while he was there.

Acquired by Tom Yawkey in his bid to buy championships for the Boston Red Sox, he rode better support to add 2 more 20-win seasons, and finished with 193 wins and a .601 winning percentage.

And he was a really good hitter, too: In 1931, he won 22 games and hit 9 home runs. In 1935, he won 25 and hit 7. His lifetime batting average was .280, he had a .797 OPS, and OPS+ of exactly 100 (How many pitchers hit as well as the average hitter of their time?), and had 107 extra-base hits including 38 home runs, more than any player whose primary position was pitcher. (This, of course, excludes former pitcher Babe Ruth.) He last appeared in the majors in 1941, and died in 1976.

So why is he not in the Hall? Well, an injury meant that his last productive season was at age 30, and he last pitched in the majors at at 33, and then came World War II. His career ERA was 4.04. Granted, that was, as I said, in the power-happy 1930s, and his career ERA+ was 117, meaning he was 17 percent better than the average pitcher of his time. But his career WHIP was also high, 1.481. And he also gave up a lot of home runs, including a league-leading 25 in 1937. His brother Rick Ferrell, a fine defensive catcher, is in the Hall. Wes deserves it more.

HOF Monitor: 75, which means he shouldn’t be in.  HOF Standards: 22, which means he shouldn’t be in.  None of Ferrell's 10 most similar pitchers are in the Hall, and if you're under age 75, the 2 you're most likely to have seen are Rick Sutcliffe and Dave Stewart, and you don't see much agitation for either of those to be elected.

It doesn’t matter: I think Ferrell should be in.

2. Gil Hodges. They don’t combine playing and managing. If they did, Gilbert Raymond Hodges, born in 1924 in Indiana, would be, to mix my sports metaphors, a slam dunk. After all, he managed the New York Mets to a World Championship. True, so did Davey Johnson, and no one recommends him for the Hall. Then again, Johnson was lucky: While he also managed L.A. and Baltimore to postseason play, he only won that one Pennant. We’ll never know what else Gil could have done as a manager: He died right before the ’72 season, and the Mets won the ’73 Pennant.

But what a player: A 120 OPS+, 370 home runs, 10th all-time when he retired, and he did not play in a homer-happy era; and the best-fielding first baseman of his generation. He belongs.

HOF Monitor: 83, which means he falls a little short. HOF Standards: 32, which means he falls a little short. Keep in mind, though, this measures only hitting, not fielding. 10 Most Similar: Norm Cash, George Foster, Tino Martinez, Jack Clark, Boog Powell, Rocky Colavito, Joe Adcock, Lee May, Willie Horton, Derrek Lee.  Lee has not yet officially retired, but isn't going to the Hall.  But Colavito might belong, and Foster, Powell and Clark sure looked like they would end up in before tailing off. No matter: Gil Hodges belongs.

3. Don Newcombe.  The fact that Donald Newcombe, born in 1926, is a lifelong resident of New Jersey (grew up in Madison Borough, Morris County, and has lived most of his adult life in Woodbridge) is nice, but has nothing to do with his qualifications.

Unlike a lot of the early black players, racism didn’t keep him out long enough to cost him his prime, as he was 23 years old when he debuted. But injuries and alcoholism ended his career at 34, and the Korean War cost him the seasons in which he turned 26 and 27, and half of the season when he turned 28, ruining what could have been his 3 best seasons. (Shocking: The Dodgers won the Pennant in 1952 and ’53 without him -- imagine them facing the Yankees in those World Series with him. Though it’s worth noting the Yanks were, themselves, without Whitey Ford due to the same war in ’52, and won anyway.)

In the 3 seasons before that, his first 3, he won 56 games; in his first 2 after that, he won 47 -- he went 47-12! In 1955, he won 20 games and hit 7 home runs, a feat topped only by Wes Ferrell (twice, I’ll get to him shortly) and Newk’s Dodger teammate Don Drysdale. Cy Young died the following off-season, and the Cy Young Award was established to honor the pitcher (first in all of the majors, then in 1967 in each League) judged to be most valuable to his team, a reflection of the idea that, not playing every day, pitchers didn’t deserve the MVP. Newk ended up winning the first Cy Young, and the MVP anyway, with 27 wins, a total topped only once since and matched only 2 other times.

He had a lifetime batting average of .271, a .705 OPS (though only an 85 OPS+, still amazing for a pitcher), and hit 51 extra-base hits including 15 home runs. He won 149 games despite missing almost 3 prime seasons, with career stats of a .623 winning percentage and a 1.203 WHIP. In his first 6 seasons, the Dodgers finished 1st or 2nd every year; in each of his first 5 full seasons, the Dodgers either won the Pennant or lost it on the final day.

The knock on Newk was that he wasn’t a big-game pitcher. In 1949, as a rookie, he started Game 1 of the World Series and held the Yankees scoreless for 8 innings, but Allie Reynolds held the Dodgers scoreless for 9 and Tommy Henrich homered off Newk in the bottom of the 9th to win it. On the final day in 1950, he held the Phillies off for 9 innings, before giving up Dick Sisler’s Pennant-winning homer in the 10th. In the final game of the 1951 Playoff, he threw his 264th through 272nd innings of the season, complained that he was tired in the 270th, was told by teammate Jackie Robinson (who didn’t want people to see a black man complain of fatigue), “You keep pitching until your fucking arm falls off,” and was finally relieved in the 9th while still holding a 4-2 lead in the Polo Grounds. (Ralph Branca was brought in, and you know what happened: The Giants won the Pennant.) Newk gave it his all in big games; that his opponents were often the better team isn’t his fault.

Finally, allowance should be made that, while he was just 23 when he reached the majors, he did pitch in the Negro Leagues, and quite well, helping the Newark Eagles win the 1946 Negro World Series.

HOF Monitor: 78, which means he should not be in. HOF Standards: 28, which means he should not be in.  10 Most Similar: Ray Kremer, Dizzy Dean, Schoolboy Rowe, Dennis Leonard, Chris Carpenter, Newk’s Dodger teammate Preacher Roe, Roy Oswalt, Nig Cuppy, Rip Sewell, Mike Garcia.  Dean is in.  Kremer and Rowe fall a little short.  Leonard, Roe, Sewell and Garcia are well short.  So was George Cuppy, a righthander for the 1890s Cleveland Spiders, who was, in that politically incorrect time, called "Nig" because he was a white man with a dark complexion.  Oswalt and Carpenter are still active, but neither will make it.

4. Jim Kaat.  Born on the Lake Michigan coast of Michigan in 1938, he won 283 games and 16 Gold Gloves. He was the ace of the Minnesota Twins’ 1st Pennant, and was a key member of a St. Louis Cardinals’ World Championship -- 17 years later.  As far as I know, that's the longest gap between World Series appearances of any player.  In between, he helped the Twins reach the LCS twice and the Philadelphia Phillies to 3 times. He won 18 games at age 23, and 20 at age 36. And he was a terrific broadcaster. And as both a player and a broadcaster, “Kitty” was a man of sterling character. Put him in.

HOF Monitor: 130, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 44, which means he falls a little short. 10 Most Similar: Tommy John (No, but should be), Robin Roberts (Yes), Fergie Jenkins (Yes), Eppa Rixey (Yes), Jamie Moyer (officially still active but probably won't make it), Bert Blyleven (Yes), Early Wynn (Yes), Burleigh Grimes (Yes), Frank Tanana (No) and Red Ruffing (Yes).

5. Tommy John.  Born in 1943 in Terre Haute, Indiana, Thomas Edward John used a blazing fastball to win 124 games for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers -- which would be a fine career for most pitchers.

Then he wrecked his elbow. Then he had surgery, a pioneering procedure that now bears his name. Then, after sitting out a season, became a sinkerballer, and won 164 games for the Dodgers, New York Yankees, California Angels and Oakland Athletics -- winning more games after the surgery that could have ended his career (had it gone wrong) than he did before it.

Think about this: Due to an injury, Dizzy Dean won “only” 150 games, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. Due to an injury, Sandy Koufax won “only” 165 games, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. Though, to be fair, from 1933 to 1937, Dean was one of the top 3 pitchers on the planet along with Carl Hubbell and Satchel Paige; from 1961 to 1966, Koufax was one of the top 5 pitchers on the planet at the time and from 1963 to 1966 was one of the top 5 pitchers who has ever lived. TJ was only occasionally (1973-74, 1977-80) one of the top 5 or even one of the top 10 pitchers on the planet.

But he won more games after his potentially career-ending injury than Dean did in his entire career, and almost as many as Koufax won in his entire career. Total wins: 288, the closest any pitcher (aside from the aforementioned Bobby Mathews) comes to 300 major league wins -- long considered a benchmark for Cooperstown -- without making it. His .555 career winning percentage also opens eyes.

HOF Monitor: 112, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 44, which means he falls a little short. 10 Most Similar: Kaat (No, but should be), Roberts (Yes), Blyleven (Yes), Jenkins (Yes), Wynn (Yes), Grimes (Yes), Tom Glavine (Not yet eligible, but will get in), Tony Mullane (No), Don Sutton (Yes), Rixey (Yes).

6. Ted Simmons. You have to judge the stats of catchers, who play the hardest defensive position, a little differently from those of outfielders and first basemen.  Ted Lyle Simmons, born in 1949 in the Detroit suburbs, has a lifetime batting average of .285.  His OPS is .785, his OPS+ 117, and he hit 248 home runs despite his position and playing most of his home games at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

As the man who sponsors his page points out, compared to other HOF catchers of the last half-century, “The Mighty Simba” had more career RBIs than Johnny Bench, scored more runs than Gary Carter, and collected more hits than Yogi Berra or Carlton Fisk. He had 3 seasons of 100 or more RBIs and just missed 4 other times. He played in 8 All-Star Games.

He led the Milwaukee Brewers to their first 2 postseason appearances in 1981 and ’82 -- until 2008 their only postseason appearances -- but, ironically, ran into his former Cardinal teammates in his only World Series appearance, and still almost won it for the Brew Crew, hitting 2 home runs in that 7-game thriller. (In another irony, the Series MVP was his replacement as Cardinal catcher, Darrell Porter.) He never won a Gold Glove, but that was because he played in the same league at the same time as Bench and Carter, and then switched leagues and got stuck behind Fisk.

From the ages of 22 to 33, he was one of the most productive catchers ever, was still a productive regular at 35, and still a productive pinch-hitter at 37 -- pretty good considering he caught 1,771 games in his career, more than all but 4 players before him.

HOF Monitor: 124, which means he should be in. HOF Standards: 44, which means he falls a little short. 10 Most Similar: Miguel Tejada (not yet eligible, and wouldn't get in even if you didn't know he was a juicer), Trammell (No, but should be), Joe Torre (No, falls a little short as far as his playing is concerned), Fisk (Yes), Carter (Yes), Whitaker (No, but should be), Larkin (Yes), Joe Cronin (Yes), Berra (Yes), Sandberg (Yes).

7. Tim Raines.  Quick: Tell me what these 4 men have in common: Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb? Answer: They are the only 4 human beings, living or dead, male or female, black or white or whatever, American or foreign-born, who stole more bases in Major League Baseball games than the 808 stolen by Raines.

And he wasn't just about the steals.  Born outside Orlando in 1959, Timothy Raines was the NL's answer to Henderson, the best leadoff hitter the league had ever seen.  He batted .294 lifetime, topping .300 7 times and just missing one other, had an OPS+ of 123, and collected 2,605 hits.  With the Montreal Expos, he led the NL in stolen bases in 1981, '82, '83 and '84; in runs scored in '83 and '87; in doubles in '84; and in batting average and on-base percentage (.334 and .413) in 1986.

He nearly won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1981, as the Expos came within 1 run of a Pennant.  He didn't return to the postseason until 1993 with the Chicago White Sox, and in 1996 and 1998 won rings as the closest thing the Joe Torre Yankees had to a regular left fielder.

HOF Monitor: 90.  HOF Standards: 47.  In each case, he falls a little short.  10 Most Similar: Brock (Yes), Kenny Lofton (No), Max Carey (Yes), Johnny Damon (still active but I don't think he makes it), Willie Davis (No), Jimmy Ryan (No), Jose Cruz Sr. (No), Julio Franco (No), Fred Clarke (Yes) and Enos Slaughter (Yes).

8. Curt Schilling.  Born in 1966 in Anchorage and grew up in Phoenix, I am judging Curtis Montague Schilling totally on performance, not on personality.  216-146 (including 3 seasons of 21 or more wins), for .597.  ERA, 3.46; ERA+, 127.  WHIP, 1.137.  Strikeouts, 3,116, including 2 (nearly 3) seasons of 300 or more.

Big pitcher in big games, which certainly helps his cause.  Pitched a shutout in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series to keep the Phillies alive.  Went 4-0 with a 1.11 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 postseason.  Gutted out wins on an injured ankle in 2004 in Game 6 of the ALCS and Game 2 of the World Series to help the Red Sox finally win the Series after 86 years.  Went 3-0 in the 2007 postseason as the Sox did it again.

HOF Monitor: 171, meaning he's an easy choice.  HOF Standards: 46, meaning he's a little short.  10 Most Similar: Kevin Brown, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Freddie Fitzsimmons, Milt Pappas, John Smoltz, Don Drysdale, Dazzy Vance, Jim Perry, and his former Red Sox teammate Pedro Martinez.  Only Drysdale and Vance are already in, and only Smoltz and Pedro are likely to get in.

9. Larry Walker.  Born in 1966 in a suburb of Vancouver, Larry Kenneth Robert Walker got skunked for a 3rd year in a row this week.  Part of it was the fact that he played first one-third of his career with the Expos, making him the greatest player to both come from and play in Canada.  Part of it was the fact that he played his most productive years for the Colorado Rockies in homer-happy Coors Field.  And part of it was a thin postseason resume: He helped the Rox reach the Playoffs in 1995, but didn't get back until 2004, when he was one of the few St. Louis Cardinals to hit well in the World Series (.357, 2 homers, 3 RBIs).

For a guy who played in a homer-happy park, his career home run total doesn't look so hot: 383.  Although that's more than a few guys who are in, like Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench and Jim Rice. But he batted .313 at a time when few players had lifetime averages over .300.  He batted .300 9 times and just missed a 10th; he batted at least .322 6 times, and 3 times in 4 years he won the NL batting title: .363 in 1998, .379 in '99, and .350 in 201.  His career OPS+ is 141.

HOF Monitor: 148, an easy choice.  HOF Standards: 58, also an easy choice.  10 Most Similar: Duke Snider (Yes), his former Rockies teammate Ellis Burks (No), Moises Alou (Not yet eligible and won't make it), Jim Edmonds (Not yet eligible and will be a tough call), DiMaggio (Yes), Johnny Mize (Yes), Vladimir Guerrero (Active and has an excellent shot if he's not proven to be a juicer), Carlos Beltran (Active and probably won't make it), Chuck Klein (Yes) and his former Rockies teammate Todd Helton (Active but has really declined the last 3 seasons and now might not make it).

10. Craig Biggio.  Like the Casey Stengel-era Yankee Big 3 and TramWhit, Biggio should have been a package deal with Jeff Bagwell.  But if you can only pick one, it should be Craig Alan Biggio, born in 1965 in Smithtown, Long Island, because he has the 3,000 hits.  And when 668 of those are doubles -- only Tris Speaker, Pete Rose, Stan Musial and Ty Cobb had more, and of those only Rose debuted after World War II -- and there's no accusation of steroid use, you should have an easy case.

Not that you could go particularly wrong by selecting Jeffrey Robert Bagwell, born in 1968 in Boston and grew up in Killingworth, Connecticut.  Lifetime batting average .297, with 6 .300+ seasons and 8 100+ RBI seasons.  OPS+ 149 -- among players debuting in my lifetime, only Bonds, Albert Pujols, Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Joey Votto, Manny Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera are higher; only Pujols, Thomas and Votto have avoided serious juicing allegations.  Bags has been suspected, but unless something is being hidden, those suspicions are just guesses.  His 449 home runs make him the Astros' all-time leader, and he added 448 doubles.  Yes, they played the 2nd half of their careers' home games at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, but they also played the 1st half at the pitcher-friendly Astrodome.

HOF Monitor: Biggio 169, Bagwell 150.  HOF Standards: Bagwell 59, Biggio 57.  Easy choices.

Biggio's 10 Most Similar: Robin Yount (Yes), Derek Jeter (Active but an easy choice), Morgan (Yes), Paul Molitor (Yes), Alomar (Yes), Cal Ripken (Yes), Damon (Active but probably won't make it), Brooks Robinson (Yes), Whitaker (No but should be) and George Brett (Yes).

Bagwell's 10 Most Similar: Carlos Delgado (Not yet eligible, hard to think of him as a HOFer but he did hit 473 home runs with 9 100+ RBI seasons in mostly pitchers' parks), Thomas (Not yet eligible but should make it), Fred McGriff (Not yet in but should be), Guerrero (Active and has an excellent shot if he's not proven to be a juicer), Helton (Active but now a question mark), Jason Giambi (Not yet eligible and wouldn't make it even if you didn't know he juiced), Andres Galarraga (No, and is a borderline case at best), Willie Stargell (Yes), Pujols (Active but will almost certainly make it unless he's outed as a juicer) and Orlando Cepeda (Yes).

Of these, the most deserving? Biggio, which makes sense, as he is the one of these who has come the closest to election.

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