As promised, for the next couple months, I’ll be writing up the Baseball Hall of Fame from top to bottom—every candidate, every argument, lots of fun. We continue this week with the veterans’ committee candidates — the players in the Early Baseball Era Committee and candidates from the Golden Days Era Committee.
* * *
Roger Maris (Golden Era Ballot)
Played from 1957 to ’68 for Cleveland, Kansas City, the Yankees and St. Louis. … Won back-to-back MVP awards in 1960 and ’61. … Broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60 when he homered off Boston’s Tracy Stallard in the last game of the ’61 season. … Gold Glove winner in 1960 … Seven-time All-Star, though the number is somewhat inflated because MLB had two All-Star Games in 1960, ’61 and ’62.
Key numbers: .260/.345/.476, 275 homers, 127 ERA+, 1,325 hits.
Hall of Fame history: Appeared on 15 BBWAA ballots, topping out at 33.6% in 1968. Has been on three veterans committee ballots.
2003 (Veterans): 16 votes (19.8%)
2009 (Pre-1943 committee): 8 votes (66.7%)
2012 (Golden Era): Fewer than three votes.
Unlike so many other people on this list, the Maris Hall of Fame question is really a simple one: Does breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record make Maris a Hall of Famer?
We can talk about Maris’ various other strengths as a player … and he had plenty. His 1960 MVP season — because he was such a good defender that year — might have been even better than his 1961 record-breaking year. He was a very good baserunner, he drew more than his share of walks*, I already mentioned his excellent fielding, you know about his power.
*Some of you may know that my favorite trivia question is: “How many intentional walks did Roger Maris have the year he hit 61 home runs?” The answer is zero … because he had Mickey Mantle hitting behind him all year. But I’ve recently discovered an even cooler side-note to this — 1961 was the only year in Maris’ career when he did not draw at least one intentional walk.
But in every other way, Maris falls short of the Hall of Fame. If he had 55 home runs instead of 61 in 1961, I don’t know that he would have gotten ANY Hall of Fame votes. Well, maybe he would have gotten some votes because of the multiple MVP awards, but let’s look at five players — I’ll give away that Player A is Maris:
Player A: .260/.345/.476, 275 homers, 850 RBIs, 826 runs, 21 steals, 127 OPS+, 2 MVPs, 1 Gold Glove, 38.3 bWAR.
Player B: .255/.358/.471, 256 homers, 796 RBIs, 811 runs, 84 steals, 127 OPS+, Rookie of the Year, 34.1 bWAR.
Player C: .256/.335/.466, 241 home runs, 716 RBIs, 715 runs, 66 steals, 124 OPS+, 2 Gold Gloves, 39.4 bWAR.
Player D: .295/.343/.561, 434 home runs, 1,273 RBIs, 1,061 runs, 26 steals, 132 OPS+, 2 MVPs, 38.7 bWAR.
Player E: .278/.338/.480, 348 home runs, 1,239 RBIs, 986 runs, 51 steals, 126 OPS+, MVP, 44.2 WAR.
It goes without saying that none of these players got anywhere CLOSE to the Hall of Fame support that Roger Maris has gotten. Players B and C are Bob Allison and Jesse Barfield, and neither one of them got a single MVP vote. Player D is Juan Gonzalez, who lasted on two ballots. And Player E is George Foster, who did make it on four ballots but never got even 7% of the vote.
Maris, meanwhile, has been a popular and recurring Hall of Fame candidate for almost 50 years.
And so we come back to the original question: Is breaking Ruth’s home run record enough to make someone a Hall of Famer?