It’s easy to be overlooked this year

By Jeff Linville -
Jeff Linville News Editor -

Back before things got so busy with Turkey Day, Major League Baseball made an announcement about the Hall of Fame that got lost in the shuffle of cooking, family travel and Black Friday shopping.

The list of potential inductees was released for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting members have until the end of the year to submit their picks for the 10 most worthy candidates.

And boy is it a loaded field this year. As many as five players could be elected this time with several other worthy players getting overlooked because of the talent at the top of the board.

A guy needs 75 percent of the vote to get in the Hall. Vladimir Guerrero topped 71 percent as a rookie last year despite there being some kind of unwritten rule about not voting for guys in their first try. I mean, three people didn’t think Tom Seaver was worthy of the Hall on his first try?

Guerrero hit .318 with 449 homers as one of the greatest Latin-American hitters of all time.

Trevor Hoffman, with 600 career saves, missed by only five votes last year and seems a lock to get there in his third try.

Some other leftovers with great careers include Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and two guys who haven’t disappeared from the performance-enhancing drugs days: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The argument for Bonds and Clemens usually is that unlike other guys who had to have PEDs, those two players were well on their way to Hall of Fame careers before they ever tried human growth hormones.

And there’s the Veterans Committee, which could chose among guys like Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.

Then there are the three likely rookie inductees in Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.

Thome was a prodigious power hitter who, during an era that stank of steroids and HGH, wasn’t among the assumed guilty. Still, he finished seventh with 612 career homers while driving in 1,699 runs and a stellar On Base Plus Slugging of .956.

Vizquel was one of the greatest fielders at a position known for great fielders. He won 11 Gold Glove awards and turned more double plays than any SS in history, including the great Ozzie Smith. He also batted a respectable .272 with 2,877 hits.

Chipper was the first player in decades to rival Mickey Mantle’s title as the best switch hitter with power. He batted .303 with a slugging percentage of .529. He 468 HRs, second to Mantle’s 536 among switch hitters. And he helped lead the Braves’ offense into the playoffs year after year.

The announcement from MLB talks about Chipper, Thome and Vizquel. And then it just sort of mentions some other guys who were really great players in their day, too, like Johnny Damon, two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana and the other Jones for the Braves: Andruw.

By my rough estimate, a case could be made for a dozen different players (maybe as many as 14) deserving to be on the 10-name ballot. I’ll make my case for one of the underdogs who is being swept under the rug.

There used to be a saying that a baseball player’s peak is between 28 and 32 years old. He can still be effective after that, but not dominant. Andruw’s career was on the downslide by the time he hit 30 thanks to a cumulative effect from years of injuries and changing plate approaches. He was robbed of a couple more stellar years that might have swung momentum more in his favor.

Andruw broke in with the Braves as a 19-year-old at the end of the 1996 season. The Braves had already had success for a few years, but the bats in the lineup by ‘96 were all in their 30s: Dave Justice (30), Fred McGriff (32), Terry Pendleton (35) and Ron Gant (31), who had moved on to the Cardinals.

In 1997 Andruw won Rookie of the Year. In 1998 he won the first of 10 Gold Gloves for defensive excellence. He covered a lot of ground and made a lot of highlight-reel catches.

For years in that decade, Andruw was considered either the best or second-best CF in MLB by most who covered games.

He might have been even more impressive if the Braves hadn’t wasted a few years trying to make him a leadoff hitter. Andruw liked to swing away and never drew a lot of walks, which isn’t good for a leadoff man. However, he showed plenty of pop in his bat to drive someone else in.

He was dropped down into the heart of the lineup and immediately put together eight straight seasons with at least 90 RBIs. For 10 straight years he averaged 26 homers with a peak of 51.

Even with his career basically over by age 30, he still finished with 434 HRs, 1,289 RBIs and 1,204 runs scored.

He struggled to play six years past his prime, which killed his career averages. After being a solid .270 hitter for his Braves years, his career average is just .254.

Back before the steroid/HGH scandal of the late ’90s, 434 HRs would have been enough for serious consideration all on its own.

Throwing out any guy playing since 1990, Andruw would have placed 23rd all-time in homers instead of 47th (10 of the top 17 all-time have played since 1990).

Of the players before Jones’ era, 21 of the 22 above him in homers were inducted into the Hall of Fame — except for the unworthy Dave Kingman.

Want to talk today’s advanced stats? There is something called Total Zone Runs that measures overall defensive effectiveness at every position.

Between his glove and his arm, Andruw’s play makes him the MLB leader at CF six seasons. He is the all-time leader in this stat. Let me say that again, the all-time leader in this stat, which has been backtracked to 1953.

It ticks me off that Hall voters don’t give enough weight to great defensive plays in the outfield. If a shortstop can’t make a great play, a runner reaches first. If a CF can’t make a diving play, the runner can make it all the way around to third.

It can be a huge momentum swing to one side or the other. It’s like blocking a field goal in football. Sure it’s only three points, but it can change the whole outcome of a game.

For his defense and his power, Andruw Jones deserves serious consideration.

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.