HOF Candidates: 65-61
|Joe Posnanski||Mar 6, 2019|
Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 65: Dennis Martínez
El Presidenté was the first Nicaraguan player in the Major Leagues. This is is one of those extraordinary feats that is easy to overlook, you know, if you're not actually from Nicaragua.
That Martínez was discovered at all is a remarkable thing. It happened when he was pitching for Nicaragua in an Amateur World Series game; his team happened to face the United States in the final in Managua and Martinz pitched brilliantly. His team lost 1-0 in ten innings, but nobody could take their eyes off the rail-thin pitcher who was stifling the American hitters. After three superb minor league seasons, he started with the Orioles in 1977 and won 14 games.
He would win double-digit games 14 more times, the last in 1995. Think about that for a minute. He won 14 games in 1977 and won 12 in 1995 -- how many pitchers have ever had that sort of career scope. And think about how much baseball changed between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s.
Here's our El Presidenté question: Could his Hall of Fame track have been altered if there had been no strike in 1981?
It might not be likely ... but it's possible.
That year, Martinez tied for the American Lead lead with 14 wins. Since wins were pretty much everything in 1981, that put him in Cy Young contention (it wasn't actually one of his better seasons -- he only managed 1.8 WAR).
So the question is ... what if he had pitched a full season and won 24 or 25 games? He was not the only who could have done it -- Steve McCatty and Jack Morris and Pete Vuckovich all had 14 wins.
But let's say El Presidenté had a hot two months, won all 11 of his missing starts, and finished with 25 wins.
He probably would have won a Cy Young. That would have helped his Hall of Fame case immensely.
He would have pushed his career win total from 245 to 256 ... there is just something more substantial about a 256 win total. Maybe it's just getting above the 250 mark.
But, more than anything, he simply would have been VIEWED differently, as Cy Young and MVP winners always are. Jack Morris eventually got into the Hall of Fame, but if he had won 23-25 games and won the 1981 Cy Young, he would have gone in first or second ballot, I think.
Anyway. El Presidenté never got a first-place Cy Young vote, and the perception around him was good but not great. Once you get labeled like that, people rarely change their minds.
No. 64: Ken Boyer
You have no doubt noticed that one of the trends of this list is that so many of these players -- like El Presidenté -- failed to win a big award. This is why Ken Boyer strikes me as an odd Hall of Fame case. He DID win an MVP Award. He won a lot of stuff -- five Gold Gloves, he played in 11 All-Star Games (though that total is boosted because they used to play two All-Star Games a year for a while).
At 33, he was the reigning MVP, a St. Louis icon, and he had a career .296 average, he had slugged .485, he was seen as a defensive genius and he had 242 career home runs, which placed him second on the all-time list of third basemen, behind only Eddie Mathews.
In other words, he seemed a Hall of Fame lock. He had perception on his side.
And then he didn't.
Boyer never made another All-Star Team, never won another Gold Glove, he was traded to the Mets the next year, then traded and released two times after that. Pitchers began to dominate baseball like they hadn't since Deadball, and this, along with general age, flattened Boyer's numbers.
As I've written before, I do think we penalize players too much for how their careers end. Ken Boyer had a clear Hall of Fame peak, but it all ended too quickly.
No. 63: Elston Howard
I wrote a pull-out essay about Elston Howard, but for the purposes of this list ... Elston' Howard's career 27.3 WAR suggests that his career was well short of Cooperstown.
But for those who believe that Hall of Fame should tell the story of baseball, well, you cannot tell that story well without Elston Howard.
No. 62: Jimmy Rollins
How much better was Rollins' 2007 MVP season than any of his other seasons?
By WAR batting runs, it was substantially better.
Most WAR Batting Runs above average for Rollins:
2007: 22 runs
2004: 4 runs
2011: 4 runs
2014: 4 runs
2008: 3 runs
2006: 1 run
2012: minus-1 runs
All of his other seasons are negative -- Rollins was mostly a below average hitter. But he was truly fantastic in 2007 -- that was his 20-20-20-20 with 20 doubles (38 actually), 20 triples (exactly), 20 homers (30) and 20 stolen bases (41).
If you want to have some fun -- ask people if they would have rather had Jimmy Rollins or Omar Vizquel. By career WAR, they're virtually identical.
No. 61: Dave Concepcion
His father back in Venezuela had wanted him to be a doctor; Davey could not stand the sight of blood. But he did have those surgeon's hands. He picked up ground balls to his left or his right with precision; on the field, he never bobbled the ball, never looked off-balance. Off the field, though, balance was harder.
"I am a superstar," he would tell his teammates, challenging anyone to disagree.
"Shut up Bozo," Pete Rose would say.
"Yeah, shut up," Joe would say. "There are four superstars on the team, and you're not one of them."
The next day, Davey would again remind them all that he was a star.
Yeah, that's from my book The Machine.
Concepcion is the middle son in the Holy Trinity of Venezuelan shortstops. Aparicio was the best fielder of the three, Vizquel the flashiest of the three, and Concepcion ... well, he was the best hitter of the three, for what that's worth. Between them, they won 25 Gold Gloves, played in 25 All-Star Games and stole more than 1,300 bases (Concepcion and Vizquel each stole exactly 404 bases).
One of my favorite Concepcion stories -- he was a great but somewhat erratic fielder in his younger days. He made 30 errors in 1974. That year, Larry Bowa came up to him and said, "He Elmer."
"Why do you call me Elmer?" Concepcion asked.
"I figured that was your first name," Bowa said, "since every day I pick the paper and the first thing I see in the boxscore is E - Concepcion."