Guest Post: Ex-Cubs Dominate the Hall of the Very Good

The following guest post is from Cubs Den reader/commenter Mike Partipilo. Mike has been a Cub fan all his life, worked as a sportswriter for the Belvidere Daily Republican and penned the action/conspiracy novel The Destination Project. He lives in Roscoe, IL, coached at the elite travel level and still gives private hitting tutorials. His son, John (Mike) was a catcher at Triton College. His father was a professional boxer and his (maternal) grandfather played minor league ball for the (gag) Cardinals. Crossover fans will recognize him as BleedinCubbyBlue (BCB) from the Cubs site.

As we look to the future on the manager decision, prospects, and then the offseason rumor mill, Mike takes a look back at some ex-Cubs who were very good — just not Hall-Of-Fame quality.

By Mike Partipilo 
Random thoughts in the middle of the night…In debates about Hall of Fame qualifications, I have often said that several very good major leaguers do not quite have what it takes for enshrinement, despite popularity with the fans. I believe that there are some, no matter how badly we fans want to immortalize them, fall just short of that elite status. The Hall of Fame is meant for the very best of the best. To sacrifice its integrity would be a crime.There are some outstanding ball players in recent memory that just don’t quite make the grade for Cooperstown, but still deserve special recognition for their achievements. I also do not hold all positions to the same standard. Because there is far less emphasis on defense for a left fielder or first baseman, they should be held to a higher offensive standard than a shortstop or catcher.

True five tool players seem to be rare, and I could never understand why the 1987 N.L. MVP Andre Dawson, a presumed clean and well respected outfielder, had such difficulty making his way onto the requisite 75% of ballots. The Hawk finished his distinguished career with 2774 hits and surely would have broken the elite 3000 plateau had a pair of bad knees not affected his career, both in duration and effectiveness. He also added more than 500 doubles, 1500 RBI, 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases. If that was not enough, he has eight Gold Glove awards on his mantle. Dawson’s enshrinement should have been a no-brainer.

But, back to the runners-up. The Hall of the Very Good seems well stocked with former Cubs. Such status appears serendipitous with the team’s “almost but not quite” finish in both 1984 and 2003. First baseman Mark Grace, who spent the vast majority of his career with the Cubs before finally winning a ring with Arizona, is one such player. Immensely popular among Cubs fans, Grace was a solid, but not spectacular player. He amassed 2445 career hits. A tidy sum, but not Hall worthy for someone who lacked home run power. Similar players like Wally Joyner and John Olerud would fit that same bill, as would another former Cub, Bill Buckner.

Comparing Buckner to Grace, it would appear Buckner’s 270 additional hits would help him build a better case for Hall of Fame consideration. But when we look deeper, we see that Buckner’s career OPS was a less than impressive .729. He made tremendous contact, but he didn’t draw a lot of walks and he didn’t hit the ball out of the yard very often either. One thing that does stand out about Buckner is that fact that while he drew just 450 free passes over a 22 year career, he also fanned just 453 times. By comparison, Grace struck out 642 times, which is also quite a low total, especially for the era in which he played. He also drew an impressive 1075 bases on balls and boasted a career .825 OPS. Grace had better standard metrics as well, such as a .303 career average, and he also led all of baseball in hits, doubles and sacrifice flies during the decade of the 1990’s. Ironically, his former teammate, Rafael Palmeiro was the runner up in both hits and doubles. Unlike Palmeiro, Grace has never been found guilty of PED use. Impressive as Grace’s numbers may be, a common barometer of HOF credentials is dominance at one’s position, during his era. Despite a .303 career average and four Gold Glove awards, Grace made just three All-Star teams. Of the first basemen mentioned, Olerud had the highest career OPS at .863.

Using another new metric to compare the group we see that Buckner may have been the weakest of the bunch, despite having the most hits. Not only did Buckner own the lowest career OPS, but in 22 years, had a cumulative career WAR (Wins Above Replacement player) of just 18.8. Joyner was far more impressive, scoring a 36.2 WAR over his 16 year career. Olerud’s 57.7 tops the group, handsomely edging Grace’s 45.2. While none of the four are quite worthy of a bust in Cooperstown, there is plenty of room for all four in the Hall of the Very Good.

Recent Cubs Aramis Ramirez (354 HR, .846 OPS, 37.4 WAR) and Alfonso Soriano (406 HR, 288 SB, .812 OPS, 39.7 WAR) would probably be on that list too. Perhaps over-scrutinized and underappreciated by Cubs fans, the two have had excellent careers. Ramirez was one of the most consistent hitters of the ’00 decade. He is a rare hitter in today’s game, consistently hitting for power, but striking out less than 100 times per season. Ramirez will likely finish his career with 400 homers and 1500 RBI. Very good numbers, even in today’s game. But again, it’s not quite enough.

Soriano is an interesting case as well. He has been a 40/40 man. He has led the A.L. in hits. Fonsie has already broken the 400 homer plateau and shows no signs of slowing down. Finishing 2013 with 34 home runs and 101 RBI, he enjoyed his second consecutive 30 HR/100 RBI season. Seemingly reborn at 37, Soriano even stole 18 bases, giving him 288 for his career. I once would have said no chance to his enshrinement, but if he keeps this up for another year or two, he’ll approach 500 HR and 300 SB and would have to garner strong Hall consideration. I also think that the well liked Paul Konerko (.854 OPS) and Omar Vizquel will eventually get in. But again, I digress.

Just for fun, I have compiled a list of Hall of the Very Good candidates. I can only go off what I’ve seen, so they’re all from the last 40 years or so. I’m sure you’ll also see there are a lot of Cubs connections, because quite honestly, I’ve seen a lot more Cubs baseball than any other team. In closing, I’d love to get your feedback and input and see who your selections would be.

Here’s a handful off my list: Mark Grace, Wally Joyner, Bill Buckner, Jon Olerud, Will Clark, Davey Lopes, Aramis Ramirez, Graig Nettles, Scott Rolen, Gary Gaetti, Fred Lynn, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ellis Burks.

I’m looking forward to seeing what names I’ve overlooked and any arguments that can be made for enshrinement into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

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  • Derrek Lee for sure should be there. Looking at some of the good cubs teams in 07 and 08, I'd say Lee, Jim Edmonds (though hes almost HOF), Ted lilly, are all good candidates for the HOVG. Maybe Dempster too, though his career path is just so odd.

    Next team I'd look at is the 04 team and I'd say Alou, Garciaparra, of course Sosa if hes not in the HOF.

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    In reply to Andrew:

    Good call on Lee, Andrew. 331 career homers, 3 Gold Glove awards and an OPS of .859 makes him the perfect HoVG candidate.

  • Also from Roscoe! Article was a really good read.

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    In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Thanks nmu. Glad you enjoyed it. When in Roscoe, look for me at Jime'Z. It's a great place to catch a game or two and I'm always looking to talk sports with other fans.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Will do!

  • Really enjoyed your write-up, Mike, thnx:) I hope you have more good topics.

    I'll throw out a couple of Cub players I saw as a kid---Hammerin' Hank Sauer[my avatar] & Andy Pafko.

  • Interesting read. Two my favorite Cubs to watch that you feathered was Grace and Ramirez. I liked the way that they were aggressive in the strike zone, but walked if given the option. Buckner was hard to walk.

    Another I liked to watch who may not quite qualify for the 'very good hall' was Manny Trillo. He didn't strike out much and saw a lot of pitches. He was better at hitting behind runners than for power.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    One thing I remember about Trillo was his buggy whip throws to first while turning a double play. Nobody rode in high on him because they would get a face full of baseball for trying. When Trillo was at the pivot, runners got down low.

    Trillo played for the Cubs from 1975-'78 and again from '86 to '88. Offensively, I don't think he stacks up to the other players in the conversation (.660 OPS), but he was a nice, steady player with excellent defense. Trillo won a trio of Gold Glove awards and was named to four all-star teams.

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    Good to hear from you Tobacco. Thanks for the kind words. Sauer, like many players from his era, lost playing time due to military service. Still, he finished his 15 year career with 288 home runs, and in 1952, led the league with 37 homers and 121 RBI, one of three times he topped the century mark in that department. I'm too young to have seen him play, but his .843 OPS, 25.1 WAR and other career totals suggest he belongs in the HoVG team photo.

  • Great article, Mike, thank you... John forgot to mention that former MLB all star gunned you down trying to steal 2B while playing amateur baseball lol.

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    In reply to Caps:

    Thanks Capi, that is true. lol. Dan Wilson once threw me out by so much you'd have thought I was walking to second. I was 16 at the time, He was 15 and even then possessed a cannon.

  • Bill Nicholson was an accomplished power hitter for the Cubs in an era when the home runs were much harder to come by (late 30's through mid 40's).

    Stan Hack was better than some third basemen in the HOF Kell, Lindstrom and even Traynor, but never got voter support. He was my dad's favorite player.

    Rick Reuschel certainly belongs in the HOVG.

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    I figured that you would be pushing for Jim Hickman.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Well, I appropriated his name as a nom de plume. I greatly enjoyed him with the Cubs, especially in 1970. But I have no illusions of greatness for his career.

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    I second Rick Reuschel. He's one of my favorite all-time Cubs. Not only was he a good pitcher, but he was amazing on the basepaths given his size.

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    A couple others that would have to be mentioned would be Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez. Larry may be overshadowed by the fact that he played in Colorado for alot of his career and Edgar will be overlooked because of the DH factor.....

  • Stan Hack, Bill Nicholson, Phil Cavaretta, Riggs Stephenson, Charlie Root, Rick Reuschel, Rick Sutcliffe, Moises Alou, and the aforementioned Grace, Ramirez, Soriano, Lee, Pafko and Gaetti are all ex-Cub HOVG candidates. And one more to consider if you're ready to give relievers their due as has been the case in recent years: Randall K. Myers. At his career peak, Myers was one helluva closer.

    Sad thing about Billy Buck was how good he could have been if his ankles had held up. When he came up with the Dodgers, dude could run like the wind. By the time he got to the Cubs, he was literally a bag of duct tape just to get on the playing field every day. He was a gamer, you can say that much about him.

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    Moyer would seem to fit.

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    Oh, and Lee Smith shouldn't be on the list because he deserves to be in the HoF.

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    You guys have thrown some great names out there. Despite a 4.25 ERA, Moyer gets points for longevity and his 269 career wins. Big Daddy Reuschel is the owner of 219 wins and a 3.39 ERA as well as a stellar 69.1 WAR. He definitely belongs in the HoVG. Ditto for Edgar Martinez (.312 Avg, .933 OPS, 65.6 WAR). I wrestled with the idea of including my favorite childhood player, and decided Rick Monday deserves an honorable mention. As a player, his 241 home runs, 924 bases on balls, .804 OPS and 31.1 WAR would suggest he was a very solid player, but borderline for this list. His heroics of April 25th, 1976 deserves recognition, however.

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    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Another childhood favorite player of mine was Ron Cey.... Never really stood out but was always solid and consistent

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    OMG, Mike.I was at that game. I remember Tommy Lasorda running after the pun k after Monday got the flag, and Jose Cardenal helping security nail the punk. The fans standing O for Monday was heartwarming.

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    Joe Carter, Bill Madlock,Milt Pappas, Ken Holtzman,Joe Niekro.

  • In reply to Ironman McGinnity:

    Guh. How could I forget Maddog? Four freaking batting titles, THAT'S impressive. Skinflint Wrigley traded him after #2 for washed-up Bobby Murcer and Steve Ontiveros. Wow. Still pisses me off to this day.

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    i think scott rolen and soriano both get in.

    I feel it was a joke that they made the hawk wait so long to get in.

    Give him two healthy knees, he would have been the first 40/40 guy

    Great article.....flow was excellent

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    In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Thank you, Jim. I appreciate the input and the kind words. Another healthy year or two, and Soriano will make it awful tough on the voters. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up as he approaches 40.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    I say Sori falls well short even if he lasts until 500 HR. Only two seasons in top 10 MVP voting, only once in top 5. His career WAR isn't too impressive either.

    Great hall of very good candidate.

  • Nice job, Mike. Stuff like this is always fun! I would add Glenn Beckert to the mix of Cubs players. Great bat control and solid at 2nd. And how about Dick Ellsworth? Not enough great years, but wow was he tough for a few. Then there is also Bobby Denier. He and Sandberg formed Harry's "Daily Double".

    And one non-Cubs player I have to bring up that should be in the Hall is Dennis Martinez. Stellar career.

  • Orel Hershiser?

  • After weeks of managerial non-news, your column was a refreshing relief. Thank you!

    Now, for my question : If the HOF sports writers put up another goose egg this year, do you think Bud takes the vote away from them and gives it to the fans?

  • That ornery old cuss Randy Hundley certainly deserves a nod.

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    First of all, I loved Andre Dawson but I would say he only got 75% of the HOF vote because he was an outs machine. His career OBP is very low, especially for a power hitter. He won his MVP because Jack Clark and Ozzie Smith were on the same team and split the vote. Look at WARs from that season. Dawson isn't even the best right fielder finishing far behind Tony Gwynn for instance.

    Players like Dawson and Jim Rice should be in a Hall Of The Very Good and many mentioned here are in a Hall Of A Few Good Seasons.

  • In reply to Harry Towns:

    I disagree and I'm a stat guy. What you're really boiling this down to is OBP which for Dawson, boils down to more walks. I think it gets overplayed at times. Dawson walks one more time a week and he's a .350 OBP guy and nobody questions it. Is that really worth keeping him out of the HOF considering the numerous way he impacted the game? I think sometimes we get carried away with certain benchmarks and that goes for both traditional stats and advanced metrics.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree. If you were looking at players with above average stats across the board there would be no one to consider for the HoVG. Most of these guys have a weak spot or two but it's what they were good at that gets them noticed. Great picks with Buckner , Joyner, Dawson. We'll see if Ramirez & Soriano get the recognition they deserve coming...

    Would love to read more articles posted by Mike!

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