Hall of Fame Hopefuls-Centerfield

Centerfield is the most glorious position on the diamond, so it should have the highest standards for induction to Cooperstown.  If a player is going to be in the same group as Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, then he better be one of the best of all-time.  That’s why the median score of 19553 seems like it’s lower than it should be, ranking between Kirby Puckett and Earl Averill.  It’s brought down quite a bit by having three players (Edd Roush, Hack Wilson and Lloyd Waner) rank in the bottom 200’s, and four additional players (Duke Snider, Max Carey, Earle Combs and Larry Doby) rank below 150.  So, it’s time to up the ante.  Snider is the worst CF that the BBWAA elected, and setting him as the bottom score resets the median to 28717, between Griffey and Hamilton.  Now, let’s see how some hopefuls do:

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#4- Willie Mays, CF

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Year Inducted: 1979 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 409/432)

Score: 60422

Greatness often leaves in the form of a whimper, rather than with a flourish.  In the 1973 World Series, the Mets and A’s were set to duel.  In right field for the Mets was a player that was clearly on his last legs, but wanted to go out a champion.  Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, as Willie Mays would only have an OPS of .571 in the series and, perhaps most unthinkable, saw a ball roll through his legs in the outfield.  That should not have been how the great career of the Say Hey Kid ended, but life sometimes isn’t fair.

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#5- Ty Cobb, CF

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Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 222/226)

Score: 59009

In 1992, Tom Seaver broke a record that many thought would never be broken.  Seaver had set the record for the largest voting percentage ever for Hall of Fame induction.  It was a record that was set all the way back in 1936, with the first ever induction class.  But, it wasn’t a record that was set by Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner.  It was set by the only player that could have challenged Ruth in his own time for being the greatest ever.  It was set by the one person that may possibly have more legends surrounding him that Ruth.  It was set by Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

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#10- Tris Speaker, CF

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Year Inducted: 1937 (BBWAA, ballot #2, 165/201)

Score: 49378

Centerfield is the glory position on the diamond.  It’s where Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle played.  It’s where Willie Mays was playing when he made his famous catch in the 1954 World Series.  It’s the position that Ken Griffey, Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones spent a lifetime redefining.  It’s got two popular songs written about it (Talkin’ Baseball [Willie, Mickey and the Duke] and Centerfield).  It’s a position that has seen so many great players that it can be difficult to determine who the best is.  Many will say that Willie Mays is the best centerfielder of all-time, while some will point to Ty Cobb.  Yet, one of Cobb’s contemporaries was also a fantastic center fielder.  While he wasn’t as good as Cobb with the stick, Tris Speaker was a superior defender.

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#25- Mickey Mantle, CF

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Year Inducted: 1974 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 322/365)

Score: 37107

There are some players that come up to the big leagues with all the hype in the world, and are expected to be great players.  Sometimes they are expected to become the best ever.  Joe DiMaggio was mostly like that, as were Ken Griffey and most recently Bryce Harper.  That can put an amazing amount of pressure on a kid, especially if he happens to play in New York.  In 1951, Joe D’s final season, the Yanks brought up the player they thought was going to replace him in center field to learn on the job from one of the greats.  They heaped a ton of pressure on this kid, and gave him the number 6 (following Ruth [3], Gehrig [4] and DiMaggio [5]).  After a rough start that season, they sent him back down to the minors.  When called back up later that year, he was sporting the number 7, and Mickey Mantle was off and running to be one of the greatest players of all-time.

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#28- Joe DiMaggio, CF

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Year Inducted: 1955 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 223/251)

Score: 36155

The Yankees have elevated several players to a status well beyond their numbers.  Players like Phil Rizzuto and Herb Pennock became Hall of Famers primarily due to the Pinstripes, but players like Whitey Ford and Bill Dickey are rightly recognized as legitimate legends.  There are two players, however, that are absolutely great players but their place in history can sometimes get overblown by fans and media.  One is, of course, Derek Jeter.  Jeter was a fantastic player, but not the greatest shortstop ever, and certainly not deserving of four Gold Gloves.  The other was a center fielder who, upon his retirement, had to always be referred to as the Greatest Living Player.  That was of course, Mr. Coffee himself, Joe DiMaggio.

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#51- Ken Griffey Jr, CF

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Year Inducted: 2016 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 437/440)

Score: 31109

It is mystifying that there still hasn’t been a single, solitary player that has been a unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame.  That hurts the credibility of the BBWAA for some fans, as the writers don’t have to explain their choices (even though most of them do) and don’t need to disclose who they voted for to the general public.  It would help the process in terms of transparency if the writers had to publish an apologia of their ballots not to be harassed for their opinions, but to explain them to the public that pays for the Hall of Fame.  Whether it’s just due to the politics of the ballot (with only 10 spots some writers won’t vote for an obvious candidate to help one that might need the help more) or the distinction of being a first ballot player, the fans deserve to know why a player they admired is or isn’t getting recognition for the Hall of Fame.  Perhaps, if something like this was implemented, Ken Griffey Jr may have gotten those missing three votes to be unanimous.

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