100. Edgar Martinez
Should Edgar Martinez be in the Hall of Fame? For that matter, should a Designated Hitter be in the Hall of Fame? The first question is harder to answer than the second, so we will answer the second question first.
Yes, a Designated Hitter should be in the Hall of Fame. As a matter of fact, there already are Designated Hitters in the Hall of Fame. Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor had more career at-bats at DH than they did playing a position in the field, but *Spoiler Alert* we will get to them a little later in the list.
As far as Edgar Martinez is concerned, he has a good case. Martinez, or “Gar” as some called him, was a line drive machine. He wasn’t a large man. He was surprisingly normal in stature, but when Gar hit one of those famous line drives to the gap the ball would scream. He led the league in doubles twice and won two batting titles, hitting .343 in 1992 and .356 in 1995. He drove in 145 runs in 2000, the same season he hit a career high 37 homeruns. Martinez also led the American League in OBP three times thanks to his super human batting eye. He had more career walks (1,283) than strikeouts (1,202), which was almost unheard of in the era of small ballparks, juiced balls, and juiced players.
Of course, Edgar Martinez was a Hall of Fame hitter, but the question is “was he a Hall of Fame player?”
Martinez’s career began at third base before he became a full time DH due to an overwhelming lack of defensive ability and a hamstring injury in 1993. He committed 78 errors in 564 games (.946 fielding percentage) and posted a -9.7 dWAR according to baseball-reference.com.
But even with his obvious defensive shortcomings, Martinez earned a 68.3 WAR which is good for 75th all-time among position players. Let’s not forget that WAR carries a defensive component with it. So, that means that Edgar Martinez, who was atrocious in the field and played the majority of his games as a Designated Hitter, is still the 75th best position player all-time according to WAR. That just speaks volumes to the value his bat added to the Mariners offense.
Should Edgar Martinez be in the Hall of Fame?
His statistics say yes.
99. Robin Yount
Some players are born with the talent to hit a little white ball travelling at high rates of speed with a wooden stick, and some players have to work for that ability. It’s amazing that something so difficult can be made to look so easy by some. Robin Yount is one of those people with natural ability.
Robin Yount was born to be a baseball player.
He had all of the tools necessary to be great:
Superb hand eye coordination? Check
Foot Speed? Check
Arm Strength? Check
Yount was called up to the big leagues as an 18-year-old shortstop with the Milwaukee Brewers. He still remains the last 18-year-old to hit a homerun in the majors, and he broke Mel Ott’s 47-year-old record for most games played in the major leagues before turning 20.
He was a natural.
Yount spent 20 years in Milwaukee, but his 1982 season was one of those legendary seasons that seem more like fiction than fact. He batted .331 with 29 homers, 129 runs scored, and drove in 114 runs. All career highs. He led the league in hits (210), doubles (46), total bases (367), and slugging percentage (.578). Defensively he led all American League shortstops with 489 assists, and along with second baseman Jim Gantner he led the majors in double plays.
1982 saw Yount win his first of two MVP awards*, and his only Gold Glove. Had he had knocked a base hit in his final at-bat of the season instead of being plunked by Orioles reliever Dennis Martinez he would have also won the batting title that year as well.
*Yount won his second MVP in 1989 as a full-time outfielder, making him only the third player to win MVPs at two positions, joining Hank Greenberg and Stan Musial. Alex Rodriguez would be the fourth player to join this group in 2005.
Yount finished his career with 3,142 hits, 251 homeruns, 271 stolen bases, 583 doubles, a .285 batting average, and a .430 On Base Percentage. He was a 3-time All Star, and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1999 receiving 77.5% of the vote.
98. Willie McCovey
For people my age our cognitive baseball memory extends only to the early 1990’s. Maybe the late 80’s at most. So, when it comes to players whose careers were before our lifetime our only inputs into those players’ abilities are stories from others.
When I got to Willie McCovey I realized that I really didn’t know much about the man. I know that there is a cove named after him that mammoth homeruns get dunked into at AT&T Park in San Francisco. I know that he is a member of the 500 homerun club, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. That’s it.
Since the extent of my Willie McCovey knowledge is narrow I decided to turn to google to find out more about who he was and what made him so special. After hours of searching and reading I could only find one word that could appropriately describe Willie McCovey.
Willie McCovey was the most feared hitter of his generation. Pitchers and managers were afraid to pitch to him because if they did he would “ruin the baseball,” according to Reds manager Sparky Anderson.
Infielders always took a step back when McCovey stepped into the batter’s box. Edgar Martinez may have made a career hitting screaming line drives, but Willie McCovey invented them. He hit the ball so hard that even fans were in danger of a McCovey foul ball impaling them.
In 1959, appearing in just 52 games, McCovey hit .354 with 13 homeruns, 38 RBI, and a 1.085 OPS on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
The three seasons from 1968 to 1970 were arguably his best. Over those three years McCovey averaged 40 homeruns per season, 119 RBI, a .300 batting average, and a 1.028 OPS, while bringing home the National League MVP Award in 1969.
Over 22 seasons McCovey recorded 521 homeruns and 1,555 RBI. He was the greatest slugger of his era and one of the most feared hitters of all time.
97. Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith’s career batting average was only .262. He only batted .300 one time in his 19 year career. He accumulated 2,460 hits, but only averaged 129 hits per season. He bashed a whopping 28 homeruns and 793 RBI with a dreadful .337 On Base Percentage and even worse .328 Slugging Percentage.
Yes, his offensive numbers were atrocious, but he did accumulate 580 stolen bases, recording 57 in a season twice, and over 40 three other times.
But offense isn’t why The Wizard of Oz is on this list. He is on this list for his slick fielding ability. He won the Gold Glove 13 consecutive years from 1980 to 1992. His career defensive WAR is 43.4, good enough for first all-time.
Ozzie Smith may have been below average offensively, but what he brought defensively is something that has never been seen before or since.
96. Rod Carew
Rod Carew was a magician. He had an uncanny ability to place the ball anywhere on the field. If there was a spot where the defenders weren’t Carew would find it.
Employing what seemed like some to be thousands of batting stances Carew managed 3,053 career hits. His seven batting titles are surpassed by only Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, and Honus Wagner, and equaled only by Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial. He hit over .300 in 15 consecutive seasons, achieving a .328 lifetime average.
He was the 1967 AL Rookie of the Year, and 1977 AL MVP.
Before Carew there were great hitters. Rod Carew turned great hitting into an art form.
95. Harmon Killebrew
Harmon Killebrew may have been a quiet and soft-spoken man, but he was the epitome of raw power. He hit 40 or more homeruns eight times in his career, and retired with 573 homeruns ranking 11th all time. He developed this raw power by growing up on a farm in Idaho lifting ten-gallon milk jugs.
Killebrew led the AL in homeruns six times and RBI three times.
94. Wade Boggs
There are many legendary stories surrounding Wade Boggs. There is the urban legend claiming that he drank 64 beers on a road trip. There are the stories of his fried chicken habit. Wade wouldn’t take batting practice until 5:17, and he would run sprints at 7:17. He would draw the Hebrew word “Chai” in the batter’s box before each at bat.
Perhaps those superstitions are what made him great.
Boggs batted over .300 ten consecutive seasons to start his career, and over .325 in nine of those ten years. He finished with a career batting average of .328 and accumulated 3,010 hits over his 18 year career.
93. Reggie Jackson
They called him “Mr. October” because of his ability to hit in high pressure situations in the playoffs. In the 1977 World Series, while playing for the Yankees, Reggie hit five homeruns. He waited until game 4 against the Dodgers before he hit his first homerun. In game 5 he hit another. In the final game of the Series, game 6, he hit three homeruns. The Yankees won the Series four games to two.
Reggie Jackson ended his 21 year career with 563 homeruns, which was good for sixth all-time at the time of his retirement. But he was an all-or-nothing type of player. Reggie also struck out 2,597 times in his career, which was over 600 more than the player with the second most strikeouts at the time, Willie Stargell.
Jackson was a 14-time All-Star, 2-time World Series MVP, one-time league MVP, and one-time All-Star game MVP.
92. Ralph Kiner
From 2001 to 2003 the Texas Rangers played to a combined record of 216-270, that’s a .444 winning percentage. The Rangers were a last place team during this three year span. This was a last place team with a roster that included Ivan Rodriguez, Michael Young, and Rafael Palmeiro. This was a Rangers team that had past, present, and future All-Stars all over the roster. Nobody could figure out who to blame. They fired their manager Johnny Oates a quarter of the way into the 2001 season, but that didn’t change their fortunes. There was only one scapegoat left; Alex Rodriguez and his 22 million dollar per year contract.
In the three years Rodriguez was in Texas his average season was 190 hits, 52 homeruns, 132 RBI, 127 runs scored, and he slashed .305/.395/.615. He won two Gold Glove’s, three Silver Slugger’s, and an MVP. He also earned 66 million dollars in those three years, which is why he is the person most blamed for the failures of those Rangers teams. With a salary like that it is easy to be the villain, but with those statistics is easy to argue that Alex Rodriguez was the best player in baseball over those three seasons.
Ralph Kiner came into the league at 23 years old. He was already a legend. Scouts and writers would praise everything about his game. He was fast, he was strong, and his arm was better than everyone but DiMaggio’s. When he got to the majors the Pirates quickly found out that the only part of those claims that was true was the part about his bat.
Kiner batted only .247 in his rookie year, but he led the National League with 23 homers. He led the league in homeruns in each of his first seven seasons, the only player in Major League history to lead the league in homers seven consecutive times. Kiner also was the only player in the National League to hit 50 homeruns in two separate seasons until the season was extended to 162 games.
Ralph Kiner’s 14.11 at-bats per homerun ranks fifth all-time behind only McGwire, Ruth, Bonds, and Thome. His mammoth homeruns were the greatest attraction in baseball in the early 1950’s. Attendance in Pittsburgh and around the league began to rise to levels never before seen by Major League Baseball. As a result Kiner’s salary was increased from $5,000 per season to $90,000 per season in just a five season span. He was the highest paid player in the National League.
When Branch Rickey, the legendary general manager responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson to the Majors and building dynasties in St. Louis and Brooklyn, became the Pirates general manager the team fell to last place.
In 1952 the Pirates lost 112 games and Kiner’s batting average dropped dramatically despite still leading the league in homeruns. Branch Rickey immediately blamed Kiner’s large salary for the teams losing record. He dropped Kiner’s salary to $65,000 and traded Kiner to the Chicago Cubs.
Once Kiner turned 30 his body betrayed him. He suffered from back problems and was no longer able to hit mammoth homeruns. He retired at age 32, but his ten years were among the best ten years in the history of the game. Not only did he hit 369 homeruns in just ten seasons, but he also average over 100 RBI’s per season, and he walked over 250 more times than he struck out. Today’s sluggers could never possess that type of batting eye and plate discipline.
Though his career was short, Ralph Kiner’s impact on the game was legendary.
91. Tony Gwynn
How great was Tony Gwynn with the bat? Besides his .338 career batting average, which is the highest of any player whose career began after 1930, Gwynn had some amazing feats throughout his career.
Not only did Tony Gwynn win eight batting titles in his career, but he dominated the competition. He won batting titles by 32 points (1987), 30 points (1984), 28 points (1995), and 17 points (1996).
From July of 1991 to April of 1996, a five-year span, Gwynn never had an 0-for-12 at any time.
In 20 seasons he struck out a total of 434 times, which is an average of just 29 strikeouts per season. Read that sentence one more time. To put that in perspective, last season Chris Davis hit 53 homeruns with a .286 batting average. Davis struck out 199 times during his breakout year, the most strikeouts in a season in which the player hit 50+ homeruns in baseball history. It would have taken Tony Gwynn almost 7 seasons to accumulate that many strikeouts. Gwynn struck out twice in a game only 34 times, but he had 45 games with four or more hits. This means that it was more likely to see him get four hits than it was to see him strikeout more than once.
Look at Gwynn’s accomplishments against some of the greatest pitchers of his era. He batted .429 against Greg Maddux, and an amazing .444 against John Smoltz. Greg Maddux never struck Gwynn out. Not ever. Not even one time. Neither did Pedro Martinez. Nolan Ryan struck Gwynn out nine times, but Gwynn still managed to hit over .300 against him. In 287 plate appearances against the great Atlanta three of Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz, Gwynn only struck out three times while batting an incredible .381.