Hall of Fame debates are some of the most fun arguments to have. Who belongs in? Who doesn’t belong? Why do we chose them. Some players are locks. They’re the players whose resumes are impeccable. They’re extremely rare. But some players have some knocks against them. Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax didn’t have incredibly long careers. Craig Biggio never had an MVP season. Duke Snider didn’t get to 500 home runs or 3,000 hits.
With all that in mind, let’s look at who are the best players not in the Hall of Fame at each position. We’ll start with first base.
The player has to have been eligible for at least one Hall of Fame vote. That’s it. So no current players. No recently retired players who the voters haven’t selected.
Which First Baseman are in the Hall of Fame?
Lou Gehrig is the best first baseman of all time. The Pride of the Yankees, he’s celebrated by both those who love and despise the Bronx Bombers. He played with grace while bashing 493 home runs and protecting Babe Ruth on the Murderer’s Row squad. The position is loaded with sluggers, including six men – Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Thomas, Willie McCovey and Eddie Murray – who launched more than 500 home runs apiece. Bill Terry, the last player to hit .400 in the National League, played first base. Cap Anson was probably the best hitter of the 1800s. The position was loaded with talent during the deadball era, including Roger Connor, Dan Brouthers, Jake Beckley and Frank Chance. George Sisler, Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Mize, Jeff Bagwell, Hank Greenburg and Tony Perez were fearsome sluggers who earned enshrinement in Cooperstown despite not cracking the major milestone clubs. The worst first basemen in the Hall of Fame at probably Jim Bottomley, who hit .310/.369/500 or High Pockets Kelly, who hit .297/.342/.452.
It goes without saying that he’s the greatest defensive first baseman. A two-time World Series champion and an MVP, Hernadez was a master at getting on-base. From 1979 to 1986, a time when on-base percentage wasn’t as popular, Hernandez had a .403 OBP. He ended up with a .384 mark for his career.
It’s rare that a first baseman without dramatic power can make an All Star team. But he did it five times. Had Hernandez’ prime lasted just one more season, there’s a chance he makes it into Cooperstown. Maybe someday the Veterans’ Committee will put him in.
The two-time home run champ has some impressive numbers, whether you like traditional numbers or sabrmetrics. He hit .284/.377/.509. In 2,460 games, he launched 493 home runs. He had four 10 ten seasons in WAR. He had seven seasons with a top 5 OPS.
In the post-season, he shined, bashing .303/.385/.532, with 10 home runs in 50 post-season games.
For comparison, the Crime Dog had a better OPS than Harmon Killebrew, Orlando Cepeda, George Sisler and Eddie Murray. Those four top 10 WAR seasons are better than Mark McGwire (3) and Eddie Murray (2), and equal to Jeff Bagwell.
McGriff is probably hurt most by never having played more than five seasons with one team and having suited up for six teams. Had he had half of that success with one team, he’d probably already be in. He’s also hurt by not having one campaign that stood out drastically among the others.
Big Mac was a master of the three true outcomes. In his career, 45 percent of his plate appearances ended up as a strikeout, walk or home run. He led the league in home runs four times. He led the league in walks twice. His 1998 season, though tainted, was riveting to watch. Those who lived it, won’t forget it.
But his connections to steroids will likely keep him out of Cooperstown.
The sweet-swinging first baseman was fine in the field and dominant at the plate, joining both the 500 home run and 3,000 hit clubs. Tainted by a failed drug test, he hasn’t sniffed the Hall of Fame. Palmiero showed some power his second year in the big leagues. As a 21-year-old he launched 14 home runs and slugged .542 in just 84 games. He hit just 30 home runs total over the next three years, however. He finally found his stroke, swatting 26, 22 and then 37 big flies the next three seasons. He also stole 22 bases one season.
Anyone who puts up those numbers and isn’t tainted by a failed drug test walks into the Hall of Fame.
I believe it was Bill James – but it could have been Joe Posnanski – who pointed out Garvey might be the player most called a Hall of Famer during his career who never made it in. When he played, the writer pointed out, the three stats that mattered most were batting average, runs batted in, home runs and hits. Well, Garvey had six 200-hit seasons. He drove in 100 runs five times. He hit .300 seven times. Garvey hit 272 home runs in his career.
Now, however, people care more about on-base percentage, runs scored and home runs. Garvey only had one 30-homer season. He retired with a .329 on-base percentage. He never scored 100 runs.
Garvey earned 10 trips to the mid-summer classic. He never topped 43 percent in Hall of Fame votes.
Which of these players would you most like to see in the Hall of Fame? Is there another first baseman you think belongs? Let me know in the comments.