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A dozen dismissed: the best players left off the Hall of Fame ballot

Nov 26, 2013, 5:58 PM EDT

Keith Foulke AP

While the BBWAA screening committee was keeping up with the Joneses — Jacque and Todd, to be precised — it left a bunch of superior players off Tuesday’s Hall of Fame ballot reveal.

In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters who makes the ballot to be cast off after one year and who is left off altogether. But let’s give some recognition to those who won’t even get a token vote when the results are announced in January. Here are the best dozen players eligible but left off the Hall of Fame ballot.

Keith Foulke: Foulke was a more valuable pitcher than any of the three closers who made the ballot (Armando Benitez, Eric Gagne and Todd Jones), but he spent his first five years as a setup man and managed only 191 career saves. It seemed like he pretty much gave up his arm for the Red Sox’s run in 2004, when he pitched 83 innings in the regular season and 14 more in the postseason (allowing just one run). He pitched just three more seasons afterwards, none of them healthy, and stumbled to a 4.84 ERA. From 1999-2004, he was about as valuable as any reliever in the game, amassing a 2.43 ERA and 171 saves in 522 innings (Mariano Rivera, by comparison, had a 2.20 ERA those years, but threw 100 fewer innings).

Shannon Stewart: A dynamic player when he first arrived, Stewart swiped 51 bases in his first full season with the Blue Jays in 1998. Unfortunately, he lost his speed and eventually had his career cut short because of leg injuries, but not until after he was an above average regular for seven seasons, which is six more than Jacque Jones managed. He even finished fourth in the AL MVP balloting in 2003, though that was a misguided narrative driven vote based on him playing well for the Twins after a summer trade. From 2000-2004, he had an OPS+ between 112-118 every years.

Trot Nixon: The original Dirt Dog, Nixon was a bit of a late bloomer. He was the seventh overall selection in the 1993 draft, but he didn’t establish himself in Boston until he 1999, when he was 25. He went on to have his best year in 2003, hitting .306/.396/.578 to finish fourth in the AL with a .975 OPS. He also hit four homers in 11 postseason games that year. Nixon missed most of 2004 with back troubles, though he was back for the stretch run and the Red Sox’s postseason run. He managed just two decent seasons as a platoon player in his 30’s, but he did enough before then to justify a spot on the ballot.

Jon Lieber: Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and mixed in several other above average seasons to finish his career 131-124 with a 4.27 ERA (103 ERA+). The Pirates wasted some of his early seasons shuffling him between the pen and the rotation and he missed a year and a half in his 30s following Tommy John surgery, so his overall numbers aren’t overly impressive. Still, he was a rock solid pitcher.

Geoff Jenkins: The NL’s answer to Nixon, Jenkins had seven seasons of 20 homers for the Brewers and three times topped a .900 OPS. He always struggled against lefties, which is probably the biggest reason that he never drove in 100 runs, and he was done at age 33, but he was just as valuable as a player as his more famous teammate, Richie Sexson, who did make the ballot.

Jose Vidro: While not quite a Hall of Fame path, Vidro looked like a future Hall of Very Good guy through age 29, hitting .304/.367/.470 and making three All-Star teams in his career up to that point. And that was pretty much it. After six straight seasons of OPSs from .820-.920, he failed to top .780 again. In 2008, he hit .234/274/.338 in 85 games with the Mariners, got released and was never heard from again, even though he was just 33.

Steve Trachsel: Famed for being an incredibly slow worker on the mound, Trachsel is a punchline now, and he was never much recognized as a quality pitcher over the course of his career. Still, he lasted 16 years with an ERA+ of 99, which rates as a pretty good career from here.

Esteban Loaiza: As a 31-year-old journeyman, Loaiza suddenly came through with one of the most surprising seasons in memory in 2003, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA and an AL-leading 207 strikeouts for the White Sox to finish second in the Cy Young balloting. He had a 5.71 ERA the season prior and a 5.70 ERA the season afterwards, though he did have one more nice year with the Nationals in 2005. He ended a 14-year career 126-114 with a 4.65 ERA (98 ERA+).

Matt Morris: Morris went 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting as a 22-year-old with the Cardinals in 1997, but then blew out his elbow in 1998 and missed two years. Back at full strength in 2001, he went 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA to finish third in the NL Cy Young race. Morris, though, declined quickly from there, turning into a pretty average starter at 28 and failing to even stay at that level from age 31 onwards. He was done at 33 after going 121-91 with a 3.98 ERA (107 ERA+) in 11 seasons.

Jose Cruz Jr.: Since he spent most of his career hitting in the .240s, Cruz struggled to earn respect and bounced around a lot. Still, from the day he entered the league in 1997 until 2005, he was never worse than an average regular. In 2001, he had a 30 HR-30 SB season for the Blue  Jays. He scored 90 runs three times and walked 102 times in 2003. Like many of these guys, he was pretty much done by 32-33.

Damion Easley: Easley is an exception: he played 17 years before retiring at age 38. However, he was a role player from age 32 on, never batting more than 350 times in a season. From 1997-2001, he was the Tigers’ starting second baseman, topping 20 homers three times and driving in 100 runs in 1998, when he went to his lone All-Star Game.

Dmitri Young: OK, so at this point, I’ve run out of players clearly better than Jacque Jones and J.T. Snow to list here. Young is in their neighborhood, though. He hit .300 with 830+ OPSs for four straight seasons with the Reds and then later went to All-Star Games with the Tigers and Nationals. He didn’t add anything defensively at first base or in the outfield, but he was quite a hitter. He finished his career at .292/.351/.475.

  1. greymares - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    there’s not even an all-star on that list yet alone a hall of famer.

    • cohnjusack - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:17 PM

      I counted 14 All-Star appearances from those players thank you very much.

    • dan1111 - Nov 27, 2013 at 2:14 AM

      It is nice to remember some good players from years past who are in danger of being forgotten. Why all the negativity about that? No one is claiming they deserve to be in the Hall.

  2. pjmitch - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    Are you kidding? You think these guys should be in the HOF? Now I have heard everything. Most of these guys couldn’t and shouldn’t make their own teams HOF

    Damian Easley?
    Steve Trachsel?

    Hilarious. “Superior players”. You crack me up!

    • Kevin S. - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:22 PM

      Reading comprehension fail.

    • cohnjusack - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:22 PM

      Um…no. He very obviously does not think they belong in the hall.

      And yes, superior player is a fine term here. Matt Morris was an excellent pitcher who posted a 139 ERA+ his first four years. Stewart was a speedy outfielder with pop and on-base skills. Foulke was one of the best relievers in the game at his peak.

      No one is saying they belong in the Hall. But they were all had careers better than a most players who ever set foot on a baseball diamond.

      • dan1111 - Nov 27, 2013 at 5:25 AM

        Yeah. Also, Matthew clearly meant “superior to Todd/Jacque Jones” when he used the term “superior player”. For some of his picks, that is simply indisputable. There is no reasonable argument, for example, that Jacque Jones was better than Shannon Stewart. Stewart had far better stats in nearly every category, had a longer career, and was more than twice as valuable as Jacque by WAR.

    • cur68 - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:30 PM

      The post basically says: (TLDR version) They Should be in the conversation. They should be on the ballot. But that’s all.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:49 PM

        My feeling is it should be all or nothing. This year’s Hall of Fame ballot will have Jacque Jones, J.T. Snow, Todd Jones, Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagne, but none of the guys above. And that makes no sense.

        Either include everyone eligible (everyone who played 10 years) or don’t include anyone who doesn’t have a realistic chance of getting five percent of the vote.

      • cur68 - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:53 PM

        Honestly, this is what you get when outdated systems cannot keep up with a modern need. With expansion, training, diet control, lifestyle modification and plain old science there are going to be more HOF candidates. To keep up, requirements need to be adjusted. You don’t keep the highway speed limit at “Top Speed For a Horse & Wagon” when there are cars that idle faster than that.

  3. johnnysoda - Nov 26, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    I’ve found a few very good players not on Hall of Fame ballots over the years.

    My favorite snub was Ramon Martinez (brother of Pedro) who was not included in the 2007 ballot, despite a career including 135 wins (20 in 1990), two top-ten Cy Young votes, and an All-Star appearance.

    The kicker? Bobby Witt was on the ballot. He did win more games, but had a losing lifetime record (142-157), was never an All-Star, never got a Cy Young vote, won more than 15 games in a season only once (when he won 16 in 1996), and led the league in walks three times in his first four seasons. Strange.

  4. tuberippin - Nov 27, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Heh. Funny you mention Shannon Stewart. I was going through some old baseball items in my home earlier tonight and came upon a few items from the Rogers Centre in Toronto from 2001 or 2002, with Shannon Stewart on the cover. One of them has Esteban Loaiza’s autograph in it; I sure do wish I had sold that piece in 2003 when he won 21 games.

  5. umrguy42 - Nov 27, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    I was gonna ask – do they somehow “whittle down” the names on the ballot (obviously, yes), and if so, how? I agree with Matthew on this, should be all eligible (IIRC: 10+ years played, not on baseball’s permanently ineligible list, and not having already been on but received < 5% of votes cast)…

  6. kev86 - Nov 27, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    Dave Kingman should be in the Hall. 442 all natural BOMBS ( no juice).

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