Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 85: Ron Cey Score: 28.36 From 1974 to '82, Steve Garvey was widely regarded as one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, star in baseball. He started in the All-Star Game for seven straight seasons during that stretch, he put together the longest consecutive game streak in National League history, he won an MVP, he finished second another year, he had 200-plus hits six times, he was Captain America.
So strange, then, that the guy playing across the diamond from him, a guy they called the Penguin, was probably better.
Well, you can decide: Garvey hit .306 over those years, which is a huge advantage over Cey's .266. Garvey also got almost 500 more plate appearances over that time (he played EVERY day) and, as such, has a fair advantage in most counting categories (though, tellingly, he had fewer homers).
But Cey has his advantages too. He has 20 points of on-base percentage, which is probably the most significant single stat; Cey had more than twice as many walks as Garvey over those years. As mentioned, he hit more home runs. He played the more difficult and important defensive position and he played it very well.
By b-WAR, over those years, Cey had a 44 to 33 advantage.
By f-War it's an even starker 46 to 31 advantage.
The tide of opinion is not going to change on this, though. Garvey has his very vocal Hall of Fame fans, and I think there's a reasonable chance that he will get elected. Cey, well, almost nobody seems to remember Cey as a great player. He did so many underappreciated things. Cey was awkward -- he really did move like a penguin -- but he was a fabulous player.
No. 84: Buddy Bell Score: 28.43 I remember around 2006 or 2007 when lots of people were pushing the Hall of Fame case of Ron Santo, that my friend and Kansas City Royals beat writer Bob Dutton regularly made his case against Santo. Nothing personal. He just didn't think Santo was quite a Hall of Famer.
"You really don't think Ron Santo is a Hall of Famer?" Royals manager Buddy Bell asked.
"You know who I think was better than Santo?" Bob replied. "You."
I wouldn't go that far, but I appreciated Bob saying that. I appreciated Buddy Bell more than just about anybody. He was my clear No. 2 favorite player as a kid, just behind Duane Kuiper, and I was heartbroken when Cleveland traded him in 1978 for Toby Harrah. I was doubly heartbroken when Buddy promptly went on to put up six fantastic seasons in a row.
In those six years, Buddy hit .301/.358/.445, and he won (and deserved) Gold Gloves in each one of those seasons.
You probably know the whole thing about third base being underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Well, what does that mean? For me, it means this: If Buddy Bell were a shortstop, he'd be in the Hall of Fame. He'd be there because he was an otherworldly defender and an above-average hitter.
That combination has gotten several shortstops in -- even shortstops who were NOT above-average hitters, such as Ozzie Smith (87 OPS+), Luis Aparicio (82), Joe Tinker (96), Phil Rizzuto (93), Pee Wee Reese (99) and Rabbit Maranville (82).
There are also below-average-hitting second basemen in the Hall of Fame, too, like Red Schoendienst (94 OPS+), Nellie Fox (93) and Bill Mazeroski (84).
But there are no below-average-hitting third basemen in the Hall -- the only one even close is Brooks Robinson (104 OPS+) and he was a very good hitter during his 10-year prime, which included his 1963 MVP season (when he hit .317 with 118 RBIs). You can't get into the Hall of Fame as a third baseman with only defense.
Buddy Bell was an above-average hitter (107 OPS+) and his defensive value was equal to just about every defensive specialist in the Hall. Like I say, if people judged third basemen the way they judge shortstops, Buddy Bell would be in Cooperstown.
No. 83: Norm Cash Score: 28.86 On July 15, 1973, Nolan Ryan pitched one of the most remarkable games in baseball history. It's remembered for being his second career no-hitter (and his second no-hitter in two months) but as it was progressing, people realized that it could have been so much more.
Ryan struck out two in the first, including Norm Cash, who plays the key role in this story. Ryan struck out the side in the second, struck out two in the third, struck out the side in the fourth (including Cash again), struck out two in the fifth, struck out just one in the sixth (Cash grounded out -- this was the key at-bat) and struck out the side in the seventh.
That made 16 strikeouts through seven innings. At this point, it didn't just look like Ryan would throw a no-hitter, but that he would at least match and perhaps break the then-single-game strikeout record of 19.
But in the bottom of the seventh, the Angels had a long, five-run inning -- the Tigers used three pitchers in the inning -- and Ryan's arm got cold. He would say that he simply could not get warmed up the rest of the game, and even though he got the no-no, he struck out only one more batter. I mean, a 17-strikeout no-hitter is still pretty good. But it could have been unforgettable.
Anyway, it's unlikely that anyone has ever been MORE unhittable than Ryan was in the first seven innings of that game. That's why it's so funny that Norm Cash came to the plate in the sixth inning with a table leg instead of a bat.
I seem to remember reading this story in one of the myriad books by umpire Ron Luciano, who happened to be behind the plate that game. As the story goes, Luciano told Cash he had to use an actual bat, to which Cash famously replied: "Why? I'm not going to hit him anyway."
But my favorite part of this is something admittedly inside-baseball: NOBODY reported it at the time. None of the sportswriters wrote about it, not one. I don't even know what to say. Could you even imagine the Twitter explosion if something like that happened now? Could you imagine the coverage that would get? We'd get an oral history within days. There would be a 30 for 30 on it by the end of the month.
But the only place I can even find the story in 1973 was buried in a baseball notebook in The Baltimore Sun. The lead item was about Reggie Jackson saying how he was rooting for Ryan. Then, a bit later, there was this cryptic note:
"Oriole catcher Andy Etchebarren relayed the story he heard from Clyde Wright earlier that day about how Norm Cash came to the plate Sunday with a table leg instead of a bat in his hands."
That's it. Weird.
Cash, you probably know, had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever in 1961, when he hit .361/.487/.662 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs. He never came close to having another season like that one, which is part of the reason why his career remains underrated -- you don't want to have your career year too young. Also, Cash was a prankster, as the table leg incident shows, and people saw him more as a flake than a ballplayer. That's too bad, because the flake had a career 139 OPS+ and a lifetime .374 on-base percentage.
No. 82: Robin Ventura Score: 29.57 Ventura has more or less a miniature version of Buddy Bell's Hall of Fame argument. He was a slightly better hitter than Bell, with more power, and he was probably a touch (but just a touch) behind as a defender. Buddy did have a longer career by more than 1,700 more plate appearances.
A friend makes this point: If there are several players who are broadly similar -- say, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura, Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles, Ron Cey, Darrell Evans and Sal Bando might fit this category -- doesn't that, by definition, mean that they're not unique enough to be Hall of Famers?
I suppose there's an argument there, though I wouldn't say that those players are THAT similar. You wouldn't confuse Buddy Bell and Robin Ventura.
Ventura is probably best remembered now as the guy who got pounded by Nolan Ryan when he charged the mound in 1993. So here's a philosophical question for you. Would you rather be remembered for something slightly embarrassing like that ... or not remembered at all?
No. 81: Al Oliver Score: 29.61 When Al Oliver retired in 1985, there were 28 retired players with 2,500 hits and a career .300 batting average. All 28 of them were in the Hall of Fame.
That is not to say that Oliver was exactly LIKE those 28 players -- he wasn't. The list includes Hank Aaron, for crying out loud. Ty Cobb. Honus Wagner. Ted Williams. Al Oliver wasn't like any of them.
Still, when he retired in 1985, hitting .300 was considered the ultimate baseball achievement. And he hit .300.
And 2,500 hits, while not quite the Hall of Fame standard of 3,000, was considered a bountiful career. Oliver had more than 2,700 hits.
Still, almost nobody seemed to think of Oliver as a Hall of Famer. It's not entirely clear why, but it was true all of Oliver's career. He did what players of his time were supposed to do. He hit .300. He drove in runs. He won a batting title. He hit for extra bases. He didn't walk, but nobody cared about that then. It just seems that some players are destined to be underappreciated.