A few days back the baseball Hall of Fame released their list of candidates for induction this year. It’s still an embarrassing mess because of reasons, and you can rest easy assured that many totally deserving candidates will be on the list again next year (unless they are dropped entirely). I have a lot of cynical and embittered thoughts about the Hall of Fame, but I really want this to be a fun time for everyone to have fun, so let’s forget the gross stuff and just have fun.
You know what’s fun? All these guys:
Abreu has a pretty strong case for Most Overlooked Guy in His Time on this list. He played forever (his career spanned 18 seasons) but never really had an incredible eye-popping peak season to define himself. He made just two All-Star Games and never once cracked the top ten in MVP voting. He played in an era when everybody and his brother (*cough* Giambi) was slamming wangoes all over the place, but he never hit more than 31 in a given season.
One might quickly determine that he does not deserve a second look, but one might be really stupid.
Abreu made his bones doing the kinds of things that don’t often get much ink. From 1998 to 2010, he never played in fewer than 151 games in a season. In that span, he posted a slash of .295/.399/.484. For his career, he hit only 288 home runs, and again, this was the late 90s / early 00s when home runs were sold in bulk at the Sam’s Club. Instead, he spent all his time roping doubles and taking walks. He finished his career with 574 two-baggers, good for 25th all time. All of the fellas ahead of him on the list are either (1) already in the Hall of Fame (2) will be very soon, or (3) is Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, or Raffy Palmiero. He is 20th all time in walks, behind a bunch of Hall of Famers and Bonds, Rose, Ed Yost, and Darrell Evans. Oh, and he was a great base stealer. He swiped 400 bags in his career at a 76% success rate.
He looks an awful lot like our very own Joey Votto, though Votto hits better and Abreu added more value on defense and the bases. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I have my doubts he’ll make it.
Chavez is the emblem of those early 00s Oakland A’s ballclubs. When guys like Garret Anderson, Carlos Delgado, and Gary Sheffield were earning top-ticket MVP votes and hundreds of millions of dollars by crushing hundreds of dingers and driving in millions of RBIs and all but ignoring defense, Chavez won ballgames for his team with one of the very best hot corner gloves of his generation. He won the Gold Glove at 3B in the AL six-straight years from 2001 – 06.
But even so, there are plenty of guys who can play strong defense at 3B. What separated Chavez and made him actually great was that he did so while also being a great hitter. Now, he wasn’t a super elite hitter like Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez or his one-time teammate Jason Giambi, but he posted an OPS+ of 122 during those Gold Glove seasons. All that added up to about 5 WAR per season, which is MVP-level production. Of course, he never cracked the top ten in MVP voting for much the same reasons as Bobby Abreu never did, but he was clearly one of the best ballplayers in the world at his peak.
But then the injuries. His career was all but finished before he was 30. From 2000 through 2006, he averaged 148 games a season. From 2007 through the end of his career in 2014, he averaged only 56 games per season. Baseball has a whole bleak catalogue of “What If” stories and Chavez’s is certainly one of them. He will not be voted into the Hall of Fame this year or any future year, but what if, man.
I will never, indeed can never, pass up an opportunity to write about The Big Donkey. And yet, I find it nearly impossible to actually write about The Big Donkey. Where do you begin? Nobody in history produced Three True Outcomes at a better rate than he did. He hit so many home runs! He walked so many times! He struck out sooooooo many times!
As extreme as he was as a hitter, he was probably even more so as a fielder. According to Baseball-Reference’s Rfield metric (the way they calculate fielding runs for their WAR stat) Adam Dunn gave away more runs with his glove (-172) than every ballplayer in Major League history aside from Gary Sheffield (-195) and Derek Jeter (-243) (more on that jerk later).
He was hilarious and imminently likable! He was Adam from Milwaukee! And yet so many Reds fans hated him that 700 WLW created a special “good riddance to bad rubbish” promo when he was traded to Arizona.
Also did you know he played quarterback at the University of Texas? He lost his starting job to Major Applewhite. Even more hilarious is that despite his D1 quarterback cred, he had a pretty lousy outfield arm.
Figgins was one of those circus side-show oddity type ballplayers. He played all over the diamond (he started more than 220 games at CF, 2B, and 3B). He never hit for anything resembling power (his nine home runs in 2006 was his career high). And he led the league in walks once (in 2009, his only All Star appearance).
That ’09 season is what has come to define his career. With those 101 walks, he also stole 42 bases and his OBP (.395) outpaced his SLG (.393). At 32 years old, he parlayed it into a lucrative four-year, $36 million free agent contract with the Seattle Mariners. He was awful almost from the very start for the Ms, slashing .227/.302/.283 before getting DFAd at the end of the 2012 season.
He was a lot of fun there for a while, though.
There’s some hubbub that Jeter might be voted in unanimously this year. Giambi was safe.
Roberts was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2018 and that seems just about perfect. He made two All-Star appearances and got some down-ballot MVP votes in 2005, so Cooperstown seems a bridge too far. Even so, he was an incredible player in his day. He stole 20 or more bases every year from 2003 to 2009, peaking with 50 (leading the league) in ’07. Even more though, he was an absolute doubles machine. He led the league twice (’04 and ’09) averaging 46 across that span. And he played every year of his career as an Oriole (2014 never happened). He’s an awful lot like Brandon Phillips, actually.
I want to talk about Paul Konerko only because talking about Paul Konerko gives me a reason to talk about Mike Cameron. The Reds flipped Konerko to the White Sox in exchange for Cameron before the ’99 season, thus inexorably tying the two together for the rest of baseball history. The Reds had Sean Casey emerging as their 1B of the future and so didn’t have room for Konerko. He became a cornerstone for the White Sox, making six All-Star teams and earning MVP votes in five seasons.
Cameron, of course, played just one year in Cincinnati before being traded to Seattle in the Griffey deal.
A lot of folks see this Konerko / Cameron deal as a big loss for the Reds. Konerko became a star for the White Sox! Cameron became a respectable journeyman, at best!
Career bWAR: Konerko 28 / Cameron 47
Remember, kids: RBIs are meaningless.