Hall of Fame: Fred McGriff, yes. Honus Wagner, no?

I ended my post yesterday with a joke about baseball creating a B-Level Hall of Fame where lesser candidates could be lionized. It could be located some place like Cleveland, feature a statue of Paul O’Neill or Kevin McReynolds in its promenade and celebrate perennial close-but-not-quite teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and early ’50s or the Atlanta Braves of the ’90s.

Well, I have learned that such a place exists.

The Ted Williams Museum at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, features a Hitters Hall of Fame. To be sure, it includes most of the greatest players the game has ever known: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Williams himself, among many others. It also features a couple of players who for all intents and purposes also belong in baseball’s other Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and Dom DiMaggio, who I once interviewed.

Curiously, though, while the Hitters Hall of Fame honors a number of players with slim to no Cooperstown prospects, including Dwight Evans, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff, it currently excludes several Hall of Famers, chief among them Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie and Jackie Robinson.

This made me curious. McGriff had a beautiful left-handed pull swing, no doubt, and broke the heart of my San Francisco Giants with his work for the Braves in the 1993 pennant chase, but Wagner had 3,415 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .327. Lajoie had a similar number of hits, a better batting average, and routinely went head-to-head with Cobb for the annual batting title (Cobb got a new car for prevailing one year.) Robinson is honored in the museum itself, but didn’t meet the center’s criteria for inclusion in the Hitters Hall. One knock against Robinson, a lifetime .311 hitter, could be that he had a relatively short big league career, but then, so did Dom DiMaggio. In fact, looking through an old book I have on the Hall of Fame, I was able to count player after player not in the Hitter’s Hall. There are probably dozens.

Granted, being in enshrined in Cooperstown doesn’t automatically equal being an outstanding hitter. Rabbit Maranville, a shortstop from the Deadball Era, made it in with a .258 lifetime clip. Also, I wondered if Williams had only wanted to include players he had personally seen hit and could vouch for, but then, what to make of the inclusions of Cobb, Ruth, and Jackson, among others?

Curious, I looked up the phone number for the museum and reached the cell of the executive director, Dave McCarthy. He explained that save for the top 20 hitters that Williams himself had selected, the criteria for induction was that a player had to be alive and able to attend an induction ceremony and that the museum was limited by having only 10,000-square feet. McCarthy also said the museum was much for fans, which could explain the presence of McGriff, who spent much of his later career in Tampa.

The policy made sense from a business perspective, and I’m happy that nice guys like Murphy could be honored. Murphy belongs in a Hall of Fame somewhere. Also, if I were Ted Williams, I’d probably have anyone I wanted in my Hall of Fame. Will Clark anyone? All the same, the baseball purist in me is a little confounded, even as McCarthy told me there were plans in the works to induct players like Wagner.

Related posts: Other times I’ve written about the museum

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