The 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony has been postponed to July of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will have to wait another year to see Derek Jeter enter the Hall. In the absence of a ceremony, the next best thing is clearly a debate over what should qualify a player for entry. I attended last year’s ceremony to see the obviously deserving relief pitching legend Mariano Rivera get inducted, but that meant I also watched the far less obviously and arguably wildly undeserving Harold Baines get inducted. Baines was a very good player for a very long time and seems like a good guy, but at no point was he one of the best players in the game. For Baines, Hall of Fame is also a misnomer, as he wasn’t very famous.
Here are some of Baines’ contemporaries who were more famous: Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser. You know what else all those guys have in common? They were much better players than Harold Baines. And do you know which of them are Hall of Famers? None. Here are some other players who are not in the Hall, but who were dominant for a number of years: Tony Oliva, Kenny Lofton, Johan Santana. If the Hall of Fame is to celebrate the legends of the game, well, these guys are all legends. Oliva was twice runner up for MVP and won three batting titles for the Twins. Lofton led the league in stolen bases five times, had the best WAR in the AL in 1994, and actually finished his career with a 68.4 career WAR, which is nearly as high as the average Hall of Fame center fielder WAR of 71.3, yet Lofton received just 3.2% of the Hall of Fame vote in 2013 and was thus dropped from the ballot.
Players like these guys won MVPs and Cy Young Awards and were for a time recognized as the best in the game at what they do. Many of them had their careers shortened or lessened after a time by injuries. Well, perhaps you’ve heard this phrase: “Injuries are part of the game.” If that’s the case, then why punish some of the game’s brightest stars for having not been able to shine brightly for quite so long as some other players simply because they had the bad luck to get hurt? I would argue that if you were one of the best there ever was for a period of five years, you made a mark that deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame despite a .299 career on-base percentage. He was an excellent defensive second baseman, but the reason his name was even famous before his election is that he won the 1960 World Series with one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. If one great moment can help snag a spot in the Hall of Fame, surely five great years should. While fame alone does not merit putting one in the Hall of Fame, it does seem rather incongruous to enshrine lesser players who weren’t that famous, while leaving out some of the most famous stars who were rightfully celebrated in their primes.