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.
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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