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Monday, July 27, 2015

5(ish) players who should be in the Hall of Fame, but (likely) won't make it

The 2015 National Baseball Hall of Fame honoured its newest inductees this past weekend, with bronze masterpieces bearing the likenesses of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio - worthy recipients all - now lining the hallowed halls.

However, despite 314 inductees filling the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, there are still players who should be enshrined, but due to a number of factors likely won't find themselves among the luminaries.

Here are five(ish) such cases:

Tim Raines
7-time All-Star, 7 seasons with MVP votes, 1 Silver Slugger, 3-time World Series champion
69.1 WAR, .294 BA, 808 SB, 1571 R, .810 OPS

Raines' exclusion from the Hall of Fame is nothing short of baffling.

Sure, Raines still has a chance at enshrinement - his percentage has steadily risen in recent years - but given the stacked lists of eligible players in coming years, the honour doesn't look likely before his 10-year limit on the ballot expires in 2018.

Raines' numbers rival those of Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson, both of whom were easily voted in on their first time on the ballot. Perhaps the issue is Raines' admitted cocaine use in the early-80s. Anything is possible, but he never lied about or downplayed his drug use, and appears to have avoided using since. Keep in mind, cocaine was  running rampant in baseball during the period and most importantly: it's not performance-enhancing.

Dealing in should'ves and would'ves is a fool's game, but here goes: If Raines didn't lose large chunks of six seasons to injury, he'd be well over 3,000 hits and in the discussion as one of the greatest players of all time.

Fred McGriff
5-time All-Star, 8 seasons with MVP votes, 2 Silver Sluggers, 1-time World Series champion
52.4 WAR, 493 HR, 1550 RBI, .284 BA, .886 OPS

The Crime Dog's numbers may not seem overwhelming, and McGriff has been on the receiving end of only middling voting numbers (a high of 23.9% in 2012), just enough to keep him on the ballot.

However, McGriff's solid career numbers show that he deserves serious consideration for induction. He was a relatively high-profile player who was a key contributor on some solid Toronto Blue Jays teams, and became an unmitigated star in his four-and-a-half years with the Atlanta Braves, including being part of the 1995 team - which was the lone World Series title the Braves enjoyed in their run of playoff appearances.

Following a still-productive 2002, McGriff's offensive output dropped precipitously in 2003, after which he retired. A subsequent (and ill-fated) 2004 comeback followed, seemingly in an attempt merely to reach the 500 home run plateau, which all but guarantees a plaque in Cooperstown. His comeback failed and he finished just shy, with 493 homers.

Perhaps McGriff's penchant to simply keep his head down while putting up big numbers in relative silence doomed him in a game - and era - of larger-than-life characters that received far more press.

Carlos Delgado
3-time All-Star, 7 seasons with MVP votes, 3 Silver Sluggers
44.3 WAR, 473 HR, 1512 RBI, .280 BA, .929 OPS

Given that PED-linked players - and their massive offensive numbers - are getting the short shrift, doesn't it stand to reason that clean players - whose numbers don't reach those artificially inflated ones - should get equal credit for their comparatively lower numbers? Case in point: Carlos Delgado, who was eliminated from HOF contention after his solitary appearance on the ballot, pulling down a minuscule 2.8% of votes. His voting percentage was incredibly low for a player with his numbers, especially given there was nary a whisper of PED use associated to him. He simply put up massive offensive numbers while playing alongside noted PED users, smack-dab in the middle of the Steroid Era.

After a couple of false starts in 1993, 94, and 95, Delgado was a major-leaguer for good in 1996, and finished up his career with an injury-shortened 2009. Some quick math tells us his major-league career was a criminally-short 13 full-time seasons. But during that baker's dozen? He was, quite simply, one of the best hitters in baseball.

A career cut short due to hip injuries surely robbed Delgado of a chance to pad his stats and bump them to the levels voters like to see, but is it worth considering his perceived anti-U.S. stance as a key contributing factor in his lack of votes? As a refresher: Delgado refused to stand in the dugout during the playing of God Bless America - a jingoistic practice instituted in U.S. ballparks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"The reason why I didn't stand for God Bless America was because I didn't like the way they tied God Bless America and 9/11 to the war in Iraq in baseball. I say God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in the world," Delgado famously said at the time.

One final note worth considering: Delgado didn't have single postseason at bat in the 17 seasons he had major-league playing time.

Pete Rose/Shoeless Joe Jackson
These two players - unquestionably two of the best to ever lace up the cleats - are being lumped together because they're two sides of the same coin. Both Rose and Jackson aren't in the Hall as a result of extra-curricular activities, Rose due to his famous gambling proclivities; Jackson due to the infamous Black Sox scandal. Their places in baseball lore are set - there's no debating on any quasi-intelligent level that their numbers aren't good enough.

Rose has admitting his wrongdoing and voiced all necessary mea-culpas, whereas Jackson hit .375 with a record 12 hits in the World Series he supposed tried to lose. At this point, nothing short of intervention from baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will see their plaques added to the walls of Cooperstown.

It's long past due that Manfred does just that and rights these two egregious wrongs.

This list includes - most notably - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but also extends to Mark McGuire, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, and surely Andy Pettitte when he's eligible. BBWAA writers (whose votes decide who makes the Hall of Fame) have shown time and again they're not willing to overlook the admitted use, overwhelming evidence of use, or simple suspicion in some cases of players who used steroids, HGH or the ilk.

Muddying the waters is the fact that players like Bonds and Clemens likely had HOF-quality numbers even before their alleged PED use. And that's not even to mention the fact that many of these affected players used their PEDs before 2004, when the use wasn't outlawed in MLB in any way, shape or form. Sure, it might have been cheating on a moral level, but prior to 2004 - in terms of the game of baseball and the rules that govern it - the players did nothing wrong.

Voters aren't likely to change their misguided opinions, so once again, any future honors will fall squarely on Manfred's Bud-Selig-free shoulders.

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