There’s a great scene at the end of “Princess Bride” — a movie with, perhaps, more great scenes than any other — after Inigo Montoya has killed Count Rugen and Westley has reunited with Buttercup, and Fezzik has found the four white horses that will take our heroes off into the sunset.
And Inigo turns to Westley and says: “You know, it’s very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
I must admit to having just a little bit of that feeling now that Buck O’Neil and Minnie Miñoso have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I wouldn’t say that I have chased their Hall of Fame election with the same singular focus as Inigo chased the six-fingered man … but maybe close. You could probably throw in Marvin Miller too, who was finally inducted this year. To me, those three were, far and away, the biggest omissions in the Hall of Fame.
I should probably explain that because, obviously, some of the greatest players in baseball history — Barry Bonds (The Baseball 100 No. 3), Roger Clemens (No. 13), Pete Rose (No. 60), Curt Schilling (No. 88), Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and others — are not in the Hall of Fame, and nobody is sure what will be the fate of Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, though early signs aren’t too good.
But here’s the thing: There’s powerful disagreement about those players. I may think that Barry Bonds belongs, but there’s a large group of people who believe, just as strongly if not more strongly, that he doesn’t.
What made Buck and Minnie and Marvin different, I think, was that there was no powerful counterweight. There was no self-inflicted controversy that made them poison to any group of people. They were men who changed baseball, honored baseball, shaped baseball. There were certainly people who felt, for one reason or another, that Buck, Minnie and Marvin fell short of the Hall of Fame … but I never heard from anybody who adamantly wanted to keep them out.
I can’t imagine such a person existed, unless they were a 1970s or 1980s baseball owner who could never get over the way Marvin Miller beat them every time.
Because of this, the Hall of Fame felt truly empty without those three.
And now those three are in the Hall of Fame.
And, it’s very strange: I’ve been in the business of getting them in the Hall of Fame so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.
I keep a little scoreboard in my computer. It is a list, in my view, of the top 100 (or so) eligible people for the Hall of Fame. And with the Hall of Fame election of Buck and Minnie — plus Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat — I’ve reworked the list quite a bit. Here, then, are the top 10 eligible players, in my mind, who are not in the Hall of Fame.
No. 1: Curt Flood
The more that time passes, the clearer Curt Flood’s Hall of Fame case becomes. First of all, he really was a fantastic player — had his timing and circumstances been different, he would have had a real shot at compiling 3,000 hits. I like to compare him directly to his longtime teammate and friend Lou Brock:
Brock through age 25: 456 hits
Flood though age 25: 754 hits
Brock through age 28: 1,027 hits
Flood through age 28: 1,323 hits
Brock through age 31: 1,608 hits
Flood through age 31: 1,854 hits
They were very different players, Flood and Brock — Flood was one of the greatest defensive centerfielders ever, while Brock was, of course, the king of the stolen base (until Rickey) — but they both finished their careers with .293 batting averages, they walked about the same amount, Brock struck out significantly more but also hit with a bit more power. It’s not unreasonable to think Flood could have gotten to 3,000 hits like Brock did, thus guaranteeing Hall of Fame election.
We’ll never know because Flood fought for his rights and his career basically ended at age 31.
Flood’s impact on free agency is complicated and often misunderstood. In 1970, the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia for Dick Allen, whose name will come up again in this countdown. Flood refused to go. His famous words came in a letter he wrote to commissioner Bowie Kuhn: “After 12 years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.”
His stance was extremely unpopular in 1970; nobody really wanted to hear about player rights in those days. The feeling was that Curt Flood forfeited all rights because he was getting paid $90,000 and that was an awful lot of money. For the most part, the press was against him. The fans were against him. And, most of all, baseball was against him. Marvin Miller warned Flood that he was destined to lose his fight.
“But it would benefit all of the other players and all the players to come, wouldn’t it?” Flood asked.
“Yes,” Miller said.
“That’s good enough for me,” Flood said, and he sued baseball, the case went to the Supreme Court, and — as Miller had foreseen — Flood lost. He lost the case. He lost his career. And it took him a long time and a lot of pain to regain his life.
His case did not lead to free agency. But it did spur a movement. The more I think about it, the more I believe that Curt Flood is currently the biggest omission in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Before Marvin Miller died, he made it crystal clear that he did not want to be elected posthumously to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was elected anyway, which I think would have really ticked him off, but we only have so much say over our own legacies.
But what I think even more about were his words about Curt Flood. “Put him in,” he said. “That’s a hero.”
No. 2: John Donaldson
Sunday’s Hall of Fame announcement was so joyful, such a bounty of good news, that it’s too easy to overlook the disappointments. John Donaldson so obviously belongs in the Hall of Fame. He should have been elected many, many years ago. It has taken the extraordinary efforts of a man named Peter Gorton and many Donaldson Network volunteers to catalog Donaldson’s overwhelming achievements in Black baseball, starting a decade before Jackie Robinson was even born.
The Donaldson Network has verified that as Donaldson barnstormed around America in those years before and after the Negro leagues were founded, he won more than 400 games, struck out more than 5,000 batters and threw many, many no-hitters. They uncovered dozens of stories that referred to him as “the greatest pitcher in the world.” They highlighted a quote from J.L. Wilkinson, the white owner of the Kansas City Monarchs who probably saw Satchel Paige pitch as much or more than anyone: “Paige is a great a pitcher all right … but Donaldson had more stuff.”
Buck O’Neil used to say that Donaldson was the pitcher who showed Paige what was possible.
Donaldson received eight out 16 votes on Sunday … and I feel confident that when his name comes up again on the ballot, he will get elected. The thing is, the Early Era Committee is not scheduled to meet again for another 10 years.
Nos. 3 and 4: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
No need for a lot of words here — I think Bonds and Clemens are two of the greatest players in baseball history, better than almost every player in the Hall of Fame, and it just seems ludicrous to not have them in Cooperstown.
I get the argument that you don’t want cheaters in the Hall of Fame, and I get the argument that there are already plenty of cheaters in the Hall of Fame, and I get the argument that steroid use was a different kind of cheating, and I get the argument that there are unquestionably steroid users already in the Hall of Fame, and I get the argument that their career totals might have been boosted exponentially because of drugs they took, and I get the argument that they played in a time when baseball tacitly (and perhaps even more than tacitly) encouraged players to take drugs so they could play baseball better, and I get the argument that they were probably both sure Hall of Famers before they ever took any drugs so they could play baseball better, and I get the argument that the morass of legal and illegal supplements is so confusing that people who are in that world laugh hysterically every time they hear people talk about “PEDs” as if that’s just one black-and-white thing.
The arguments are so worn out that at this point that I only hear white noise.
But I think Bonds are Clemens are two of the greatest players in baseball history, better than almost every player in the Hall of Fame, better than Mariano Rivera (who was elected unanimously) and Derek Jeter (who missed unanimity by one vote) and Ken Griffey Jr. (who missed unanimity by one vote) and every other player who has been elected in a very a long time.
And it just seems ludicrous to not have them in Cooperstown.
No. 5: Dick Allen
There was something liberating about Sunday’s Golden Days ballot vote. As mentioned, four players got into the Hall of Fame — Hodges, Kaat, Oliva, Miñoso — and, I don’t know, it just felt like this instant relief. Here’s a gross story, but a few years ago we were in Orlando to take the kids to Disney World and I ended up getting kidney stones. It was some of the most absurd and agonizing pain of my life.
Here’s are the two things I remember most: One, the doctor gave me morphine, and said, “This will help with the pain,” and then left the room for what felt like 17 hours. And the morphine DID NOT help with the pain. Not at all. If anything the pain escalated. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt when the doctor walked back in and said so calmly, ‘How are you feeling?” and I all but screamed, “NOT GREAT, BOB!”
But the second thing I remember was that after several hours of nothing working to stop the pain, it suddenly and completely went away in one second. They had just given me yet another pain medication, and then the pain was completely gone, and I said, “Wow, whatever that last thing you gave me was, it is incredible.” And the doctor said, “Actually, it’s more likely that the stone moved. There was nothing else we could do.”
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Anyway, that instant feeling of relief — the pain was just entirely gone, I felt completely normal and happy and could barely even remember the pain — was a little bit of the feeling when those four guys went into the Hall of Fame. After years and years of arguments, battles, debates, clashes and all the rest, it was like one day everybody decided: “This is kind of ridiculous, these guys were all great, the Hall of Fame is there to honor great players, let’s just put them in.”
And instantly, the years of “Was Oliva’s career long enough?” and “How much credit should Gil Hodges get for managing the ’69 Mets?” and “Did Jim Kaat win enough games?” and “Was Minnie Miñoso’s peak high enough?” disappeared completely.
I long for that feeling with Dick Allen. We all know that, in time, Dick Allen will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s a certainty. He has finished one vote shy TWICE, which is just cruel. Allen was, unquestionably, one of the greatest hitters in baseball history; his 156 OPS+ places him squarely between Willie Mays (155 OPS+) and Stan Musial (159 OPS+). He endured ferocious racism, fought back the way he knew how, followed his own path and sparked as many controversies as any player of his time.
Some years ago, Bob Costas asked him if he thought about how good he COULD HAVE been without all those controversies, without the difficulties. And Dick Allen said he did, he thought about it all the time.
But he was so good anyway.
No. 6: Lou Whitaker
Lou Whitaker’s 75.1 bWAR is the highest for any eligible and non-controversial modern every-day player not in the Hall of Fame. I realize that there are a few qualifiers in there, so let’s clarify. Here are the top five eligible bWAR players not in the Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds, 162.7 (controversial)
Alex Rodriguez, 117.5 (controversial)
Pete Rose, 79.6 (controversial)
Bill Dahlen, 75.2 (19th century player)
Lou Whitaker, 75.1
You see how Whitaker is really at the top of his own list, just ahead of guys like Bobby Grich and Scott Rolen and Kenny Lofton and Graig Nettles and Dwight Evans.
Was Whitaker really a 75.1 WAR player — meaning, was he really an automatic, no-doubt Hall of Famer?* FanGraphs doesn’t think he was quite THAT good, putting him at a still-impressive-but-not-AS-impressive 68.1 fWAR. And I’ve heard from others who feel sure that Baseball-Reference WAR overrates Whitaker, even if they are not quite sure of how.
*Whitaker’s bWAR is actually higher than Derek Jeter’s.
My feeling is: Whitaker really was that good but many people just didn’t notice. The reason he has been so underrated, I think, is because he didn’t do any one thing spectacularly well. He hit .320 in 1983, but he was generally more of a .275 kind of hitter, and he walked a lot. He hit 28 home runs in 1989, but he was more like a 15-20 home run guy. He won three Gold Gloves, but Frank White and Ryne Sandberg were more celebrated for their second base defense. He was an excellent base runner, but he stole 20 bases in a season just once. He had the arm to play shortstop or third base (he was actually drafted as a third baseman) but he played second.
And this is your reminder that someone who is above average at everything is a really special player — there are just not too many in baseball history you can say that about.
No. 7: Scott Rolen
To me, Rolen’s case is basically the same as Whitaker’s — well, I think, Rolen’s career was a bit more spectacular but also almost 400 games shorter. It’s a toss-up to me which one is MORE worthy of the Hall of Fame. I think it’s clear they are both worthy.
Rolen, like Whitaker, did everything well. He hit with power, was good on the basepaths, and he was a glorious one-of-a-kind defensive third baseman who won seven Gold Gloves in his career and realistically could have won one or two more.
The drawback is that Rolen’s career was injury-plagued — after being relatively strong and healthy until age 30 (he hit 25-plus home runs every year from 1998 to 2004), he averaged just 105 games per season over his last eight years. As such, he barely topped 2,000 hits in his career, though he did make them count — more than 42% of those hits were for extra bases, which is among the higher percentage for third basemen (ahead of, among others, Chipper Jones, Eddie Matthews and Evan Longoria).
Rolen does seem to be climbing the charts on the BBWAA ballot — he jumped over 50% last year, and he is only on his fifth go-around on the ballot. I think he gets in relatively soon.
No. 8: Dwight Evans
Dwight Evans was a walk machine at a time when absolutely nobody cared about walks. I think that more or less sums it up. When the 617 — as Howard Bryant so eloquently calls the Boston Red Sox hype machine — went to bat for a Hall of Fame candidate, they chose Jim Rice because he was ferocious, because he put up that 1978 season for the ages (with 406 total bases!), because he led the league in home runs three times and was widely regarded with fear.
I don’t think there’s any question that, all in all, Evans was a significantly better player than Jim Rice.
Certainly, WAR says Evans was the better player.
By Baseball-Reference WAR:
Dwight Evans, 67.1
Jim Rice: 47.7
By FanGraphs WAR:
Dwight Evans, 65.1
Jim Rice: 50.8
In both cases, it’s not especially close. A big reason is those walks — Evans walked more than twice as often as Rice.
A big reason is their defense — Rice was an average-to-slightly above average outfielder while Evans was a perennial Gold Glove winner.
A big reason is their extra-base power — Rice has a higher slugging percentage which suggests he was the more powerful hitter, but that difference is basically all singles. They ended up with roughly the same number of hits, but Evans had 100-plus more extra-base hits because he hit a lot more doubles.
And, just to throw it in there, Evans was not fast but Rice was a double-play machine.
Guys like Dwight Evans really speak to me. He was so absurdly underrated. And he also caught a terrible break in 1981 when he was well on his way to his best season and one of the great seasons of the decade — in 108 games, he hit .296/.415/.522 with 22 homers and 85 walks. Who knows how great that season could have been had it gone on for 162 games. But, alas, that was the strike year.
I remain convinced that had 1981 been played in full, Dwight Evans would already be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
No. 9: Dale Murphy
Dale is my friend, so I cannot and will not be unbiased — the last time I put together a list like this, I put together an insane paragraph that is unquestionably the most cherry-picked thing you will read today.
Still, I will use it again:
Name all the players in baseball history who have:
— Won multiple MVP awards
— Won multiple Gold Gloves
— Stolen 30 bases in a season
— Hit 40 homers in a season
— Been the leading vote-getter for an All-Star Game
— And won the Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente Awards for representing the game.
It’s easy to name them all, because there is only one: Dale Bryan Murphy.
No. 10: Tommy John
Tommy John has skyrocketed up my chart because, frankly, I cannot make any sense of a Hall of Fame that has Jim Kaat in it but not Tommy John. I’ve long been a Tommy John believer anyway, because he was an excellent pitcher for a very, very, very, very long time and because you simply cannot tell the story of baseball without him.
I imagine every year Tommy John’s name is mentioned more than just about any former player in baseball history.
I try to avoid comparing one player to another when it comes to the Hall of Fame because, as Springsteen said, it’s a death trap. Bill Mazeroski’s in so Frank White should be in. Kirby Puckett’s in so Don Mattingly should be in. Catfish Hunter is in so Luis Tiant should be in. Bruce Sutter is in so Dan Quisenberry should be in. You can play this game all day and all night, and I should know because I have.
That said — you simply cannot think of Jim Kaat without thinking of Tommy John. They were left-handed pitchers, near-perfect contemporaries, John won 288 games, Kaat won 283; John won 20 three times, Kaat won 20 three times; John threw 4,700 innings, Kaat threw 4,500; John threw 46 shutouts, Kaat threw 31; John induced 604 doubles plays (far and away the most ever), Kaat won 16 Gold Gloves (second only to Greg Maddux), Kaat became a beloved broadcaster, John was the first to have the elbow surgery that would change baseball and sports forever.
If you were putting them up, side by side, and can only choose one, I think you pick Tommy John as your Hall of Famer. I’m so happy for Jim Kaat, so glad that he is going to the Hall of Fame. I hope Tommy John joins him soon.
Not listed: Pete Rose
I cannot get over how self-destructive Pete Rose has been. There are roughly 500 different ways he could have played his cards so that he would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now — and I’m talking about AFTER he got caught up gambling on baseball and his own team while managing the Cincinnati Reds.
One of the words some people use when talking about the Hall of Fame is “deserve.” Does this player DESERVE to go to the Hall of Fame? That charged word, if you use it, defines the Hall of Fame in a very specific way: If a player has to DESERVE the Hall of Fame, that means the Hall is not only for the greatest players or even the players who best tell the story of the game. It is for DESERVING players.
I don’t think I need to run down the long, long, long list of people in history who do not DESERVE to be remembered because they were awful in one way or another, but we remember them anyway because they altered history.
Pete Rose definitely does not DESERVE to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Regarding baseball, he gambled, lied, gambled some more, lied some more, lied even more after that, etc. And his personal life, whew, nobody wants to open that box — we do know that a woman came forward in 2017 and said she had sex with Rose when she was 14 or 15 year old, to which Rose’s less-than-compelling response was that he believed she was actually 16.
No, he does not deserve to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
So many people have their childhoods tied to Pete Rose, to his headfirst slides, to the way he ran to first base on a walk, to his headlining the Big Red Machine, to his corny commercials, to his everyday baseball fury. If the Hall of Fame exists to honor and celebrate and remember the best players of all time, well, Pete Rose was one of those.
And the question now is: Who is going to fight for him to go into the Hall of Fame?