Here’s something I’d never really thought about before this year.
We know, right, that the only real qualification for appearing on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot are that you (a) played in at least ten seasons, and (b) haven’t played in at least the last five seasons. But of course (and here’s the part I hadn’t given any thought to), that doesn’t mean that every player who played a full decade and retired five years ago gets on the ballot. Ten years is a long time in professional sports, but not that long. Every year, a bunch of guys retire who managed to play in parts of ten or more seasons; if they just slapped everybody up there, the ballot would be impossibly crowded and a voter’s eye might skip right over a totally obvious first ballot candidate (like, say, Jeff Bagwell).
So they have what’s called (by Wikipedia, anyway) a screening committee, which decides which names go on and which stay off. And, well, I get that, but it’s also sad. If you’ve managed to play at the highest level for (at least parts of) at least ten seasons, you ought to be recognized somehow.
So let’s do it here. Here, in alphabetical order, is what I believe to be every player (41 of them, give or take) who this year would be eligible for the ballot, but who is not on the ballot (for just the stats, see the hitters here and the pitchers here, though there are a few on those lists whose careers spanned ten-plus years but who didn’t actually play in each of ten seasons), and something in honor of the memory of each (disclaimer: there are a ton of journeyman middle relievers and backup catchers below, but, I think, some really interesting guys too):
Terry Adams: pretty good relief pitcher over most of eleven seasons, with a really nice year at age 23 with the 1996 Cubs (101 innings, 2.94 ERA, 148 ERA+). Interesting fact: he spent his entire career in the Wildcard era but never made a single postseason appearance.
Wilson Alvarez: actually a great–well, very good–pitcher when he was healthy enough to pitch, Alvarez sadly got only three years in with 30 or more starts. In his first career start, in 1989, Alvarez gave up three runs without retiring an out, so he entered his second career start, in 1991, with an infinite career ERA. Naturally, he pitched a no-hitter, walking five Orioles and fanning seven in a 7-0 victory. Alvarez also deserves extra credit for dedication; out of MLB at age 29, he fought back to a mildly successful four-year comeback three years later.
Brian Anderson: soft-tossing finesse guy who the advanced metrics were always down on. Put up extremely low strikeout totals for his era, and had good control, but not enough (the usual theory would go) to offset the total lack of Ks. But he managed to get very good results in 2000 and 2003, and had roughly an average ERA for his career, pretty consistently beating his FIP and (where available) xFIP. Usually only a #4 or #5 starter, though, he only managed to throw 200 innings twice.
James Baldwin: he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1996 (to Derek Jeter, the unanimous winner), and he made an All-Star team in 2000 after having compiled 11 wins in the first half (he went just 3-3 the rest of the way). Continuing what’s become something of a theme, he threw 200 innings once, was mostly a decent full-time starter for about six years, and then managed to hang on for parts of several years after that as a long reliever.
Pat Borders: one of the most unlikely World Series MVPs ever (in 1992), Borders was a pretty good defensive catcher who couldn’t hit at all (except in 1990 and that one Series) but lasted forever, albeit largely as a third-string catcher. I’m always impressed by that ability, even when I don’t understand it at all.
Ricky Bottalico: made an All-Star team in 1996, because he’d racked up 20 saves in the first half (with a mediocre 3.61 ERA; he was actually much better in the second half that season). Not clear what happened between 1997 and ’98, but he had an absolutely abysmal ’98 and was never a particularly good pitcher again.
Frank Castillo: a pretty good pitcher that had some pretty awful looking years, and appears to have suffered from some bad defense and bad luck. By baseball-reference’s version of WAR, Castillo gets just 8.1 for his career, while by FanGraphs’, he’s at 22.9. The former is tied more to actual runs scored and the latter to the specific elements we know a pitcher can control; to me, that means Castillo was getting a raw deal. Not that he was great or anything, but he deserved better than a 95 career ERA+. In 1995 — by the traditional numbers his finest season — Castillo threw a one-hitter that was an out away from being a no-hitter.
Roger Cedeno: it’s amazing how much Cedeno’s 1999 season stands out. He hit .313/.396/.408, scored 90 runs, walked 60 times and stole 66 bases, all career bests and absolutely nothing like the player he was for the rest of his career. The Mets were able to turn that season (and some other parts) into Mike Hampton, who helped lead the team to the 2000 World Series. Cedeno was also known as one of those perplexing cases, kind of like Lonnie Smith or Scott Podsednik, of a guy who could fly around the bases but didn’t seem to have any range in the outfield.
Jason Christiansen: used mostly as a lefty one-out guy (LOOGY), he seems miscast in that role, with a .722 OPS against vs. righties and .700 vs. lefties. Probably could have been stretched out a bit and put to better use, as he was a pretty effective pitcher no matter who he was facing.
Wil Cordero: had a huge sophomore season, in which he was a big part of the best team in Montreal history in that heartbreaking 1994 season. He was also named to the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger at short. Sadly, that was as good as it got for Cordero, who had 2.4 WAR that season and 3.2 for his whole career. Had a great bat for a shortstop, but unfortunately it was crazy to think he could actually play shortstop.
Midre Cummings: a former first-round pick of the Twins, he averaged 122 PA in his ten seasons. As a minor leaguer, the Twins traded him and Denny Neagle — who would go on to do very good things, but not in a time period when the Twins could’ve used him — for John Smiley, who was brilliant in his one season with the team. Cummings scored the tying run for the Diamondbacks in that memorable Game 7 of the 2001 World Series (he appeared twice in the series, both as a pinch runner, and scored twice).
Cal Eldred: the darling of my 1992 Strat-o-Matic set, when the rookie went 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 100 innings (14 starts). Understandably excited, the Brewers really pushed him that next year, when at 25 he led the league in innings pitched and batters faced. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he had injury troubles almost immediately thereafter and was never the same pitcher again. Put together a nice 2 1/2 years as a reliever to close out his career after missing almost all of 2001 and 2002 with injuries.
John Flaherty: a backup catcher who must’ve called a great game and had a ton of Veteran Presence. Flaherty never hit well, and didn’t throw particularly well. He gave up 125 steals in 124 games once, which is the kind of thing that happened in 1907, not 1997 (but he also threw out 50 guys, so it didn’t hurt his team much, if at all–it’s just interesting).
Buddy Groom: strictly a LOOGY, with fewer innings than games pitched, Groom predictably has some pretty seasons (1.60 ERA in 2002) and some ugly ones (7.44 in ’95). All in all a deceptively effective reliever who pitched in some terrible environments for pitchers. Neither here nor there: I remember flipping channels when Groom was with the A’s and seeing him interviewed on one of those really, really evangelistic low-budget Christian cable shows.
Jeffrey Hammonds: a fourth overall pick, Hammonds was one of those heralded five-tool players, but was never healthy long enough to put it all together. He did have a perfect early-Coors-Field season in 2000: .335/.395/.529, 106 RBI in only 122 games…111 OPS+.
Dave Hansen: if there’s going to be a career pinch hitter on the ballot (and I’m not advocating that), it should be Hansen, not Lenny Harris. He couldn’t do anything else very well, but he could hit right handed pitching well enough (sometimes very well). Which is more than can be said for Harris.
Felix Heredia: another journeyman reliever. In his best season, 2003, he put up a 3.00 ERA with the Reds in 72 innings before being flipped to the Yankees and turning in a 1.20 ERA in 15, then putting in five pretty effective postseason innings. He was out of the MLB for good about a year and a half later.
Denny Hocking: one of those scrappy little play-anywhere guys that Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire both adored. In 2000, Hocking played every position except pitcher and catcher and batted .298/.373/.416. That wasn’t anything like who Hocking actually was, but it was fun.
Al Levine: didn’t break into the majors until age 28, and had his only real full seasons from 1999 to 2003, ages 31 to 35, mostly with Anaheim. And like all Angels relief pitchers in that period, he was pretty damn good, peaking with a 2.38 ERA in 76 innings in 2003. His career ERA-FIP disparity (3.96-5.01) is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
Luis Lopez: Lopez’s -6.2 WAR looks simply absurd. He hit even less than Sanchez (see below), and at least according to Total Zone, fielded roughly as well as Cordero. That he got into parts of eleven seasons as a backup shortstop and second basemen — including with some pretty good Padres and Mets teams — might be the most impressive accomplishment on this list.
Matt Mantei: a great strikeout pitcher and a great closer when healthy, but he was almost never healthy. Another one that just barely meets the ten-season requirement.
Dave McCarty: the Twins’ third overall pick in 1991 (in their defense, the entire round is pretty ugly, though Manny Ramirez went ten picks later), great things were expected of McCarty, but he had just one season with more than one win above replacement. He did turn into a passable backup corner IF/OF late in his career, just enough to squeak onto this list.
Ramiro Mendoza: a good but often nerve-racking swingman, Mendoza is one of just sixteen players in history to have played for both the Yankees and Red Sox, and for only those two teams, and I have to believe he’s one of the only ones ever to earn a World Series ring with both teams. He meets the ten-season requirement only because he threw exactly one inning, in one game, back with the Yankees in 2005.
Jim Mecir: had two very good years as a middle reliever (1998 and 2000), and was a deadline pickup for the division-winning A’s (rescued from the dismal Devil Rays) in that second season. But that was two of only four times that he topped 50 innings.
Mike Mordecai: a utility infielder very much in the Hocking mold, though with less outfield experience. Mordecai played 60+ games for the 1995, ’96 and ’97 Braves and the 2003 Marlins, yet never once played an inning in the postseason.
Greg Myers: like Borders, a mostly backup-quality catcher who was able to hang around for a long time. I remember really liking him when he came to the Twins in 1996, and looking back, I’m not sure why (very possibly the over-.300 batting average he maintained until late in the season). The most interesting thing about Myers: at age 37, when most catchers can barely jog anymore, Myers had easily his best offensive season (.307/.374/.502, with a career high 15 homers in 369 PA). In the next two seasons, he played only fourteen games, the last fourteen of his career; he hurt himself in the first week of the 2004 season, missed an entire year, and decided to retire.
C.J. Nitkowski: honestly, my main reason for writing this post. Nitkowski didn’t have a great deal of success in his big-league career after being selected ninth overall by the Reds in 1993 — good strikeout numbers, but he struggled with control. He did have a pair of good years in ’98 (for the Astros) and ’99 (for the Tigers). More importantly, though, he’s a very smart and funny guy. He was the first active professional athlete to also be a blogger (as far as I know), and is now one of the only current or former pro athletes to be worth following on Twitter. Seriously, if you’re on Twitter but not following him, do it. He’s awfully entertaining, and accessible.
Jose Offerman: easily the most surprising omission, to me. Offerman made two All-Star teams and put up a .360 OBP in his fifteen seasons. His career WAR is dragged down by his being miscast as a shortstop early (he got some attention for his 42 errors in 149 games in 1992), but he had several at least superficially good years. Seems like that’s usually worth a one-and-done (see, e.g., David Segui last year).
Keith Osik: another backup catcher (but one who filled in at a surprising number of other positions), Osik never played more than 80 games in a season, and played just six games in his tenth and final one (but for the inaugural season of the Washington Nationals, so that’s something).
Antonio Osuna: from 1996 through ’98, Osuna threw 210 innings out of the Dodgers’ pen, putting up a 2.78 ERA (142 ERA+) and striking out 225. He managed fewer than five innings in each of 1999, 2001 and 2005, though, so it’s tough to argue he really lasted ten seasons.
Eddie Perez: best remembered as the personal catcher for Greg Maddux on the late nineties Braves teams. I hate, hate, hate the personal catcher idea — if you’ve got an impact player like Javy Lopez and insist on throwing to somebody else, that’s a bunch of lost runs that I think are directly chargeable to you — but I suppose if anyone had the right, it was Maddux. Perez had a great fluke short season in 1998, hitting .336/.404/.537 in 167 PA, bracketed by OPSes of .594 and .671. That was clearly the weirdest thing that happened in the NL that season.
Jay Powell: an effective but not particularly durable middle reliever, very much in the fashion of the day. Really only played nine seasons, with 12 innings pitched combined in his first and last “seasons.”
Paul Quantrill: an underappreciated middle reliever who appeared in games for seven different teams, Quantrill had a very impressive run from 2001 through 2004, he led his league (the AL, the NL, the NL again and the AL again) in games pitched in each of those four years and was extremely effective in the first three of those years, including a 1.75 ERA for the Dodgers in 2003. That was the same team that featured Cy Young winner Eric Gagne, and Guillermo Mota put up a 1.97 ERA in 105 innings. That was a damn good bullpen.
Steve Reed: if we’re putting Lenny Harrises on the ballot, why not make room for really good, long-lasting middle relievers too, like Quantrill and Reed? Reed had the same career ERA+ as Lee Smith (though didn’t pitch nearly as many innings). Hey, you’d take an 84-inning, 2.14 ERA year out of a setup guy, right? Reed did that in Coors Field. In 1995. It’s hard to imagine how that even happens. Guy was good. Somehow only 18 career saves.
Rey Sanchez: there are several players on this years’ ballot who were probably worse overall players than Sanchez, who probably couldn’t have hit decent college pitching (season high of 85 OPS+, career 69) but was a truly phenomenal defensive player at second, third or (especially) short. When he got lucky and put up a high-enough batting average for his overall line to go from abysmal to merely awful — as with the Mariners as a late-season add in 2003 — he was actually an awfully valuable piece to have around. Remarkably similar to, actually, though much less heralded for his defensive wizadry than, his namesake Rey Ordonez.
Ugueth Urbina: kind of became the poster boy for the fallacy of the Proven Closer — well, him and Todd Jones — but in the beginning, Urbina was really something. 94 Ks in 69 innings (and a 1.30 ERA). 100 in 75. Then he got hurt, and the Ks stopped, and he was very hit or miss. I thought Urbina was the one with six fingers on his hands, but no, that’s the equally assonant Antonio Alfonseca. Much less fun: Urbina is currently serving a fourteen-year prison sentence in Venezuela.
Ismael Valdez: easy to forget now: Valdez (then spelled Valdes) looked like a potential Hall of Famer at age 25, by which point he’d already made 150 career starts with 61 wins and a 3.38 ERA (113 ERA+). He had already slipped a bit from his very impressive first couple years, though, and he never really looked the same from there, putting up a 4.99 ERA (90 ERA+) from ages 26 to 31. Valdez was the Rangers’ opening day starter in 2003, a year in which he finished with a 6.10 ERA. That team’s ERA was 5.67, including 2010 rotation anchor Colby Lewis‘ incredible 7.30 in 26 starts.
Gabe White: a first-round pick of the Expos, another journeyman middle reliever. Had a 2000 in Coors Field that was just as impressive (at least superficially) as Reed’s ’95, maybe the most valuable relief pitcher in the NL that season.
Matt Whiteside: more points for tenacity! Whiteside makes this list only because, after putting up a 7.16 ERA in 16 innings in his ninth season in 2001, Whiteside appeared in two games four years later, at age 37, for his tenth and final season. He was terribly ineffective in those two appearances, but still.
Dan Wilson: another former first-round pick, Wilson became a fan favorite in Seattle as a key member of the fondly-remembered 1995 squad that beat the Yankees. Legitimately a good starter from 1995 through ’97, Wilson’s bat deserted him completely in an injury-plagued ’98, and he kept getting starts despite not really being a starting-quality player from ’98 through ’04.