Roberto Clemente: Almost criminally underrated and had he not died heroically in a plane crash in 1972, he’d be even less remembered. Despite amassing 3,000 hits, doing his best work at the plate in the 1960s when pitchers reigned supreme, and also being an outstanding right fielder, Clemente was not included in recent books I reviewed about the 25 greatest baseball players of all-time and the 20 greatest hitters.
Honus Wagner: In five or ten years, Alex Rodriguez will retire and debate will begin anew if he was the greatest shortstop ever. Some will say his power can’t be ignored, others will say the best is Derek Jeter who caused Rodriguez to shift to third base, and a few self-righteous sportswriters will probably pen columns saying Cal Ripken Jr. was more consistent– which is funny because Wagner lasted longer than any of those men and his .328 lifetime average and 3,420 hits is better too.
Tim Raines: Raines is Rickey Henderson if he played his best years in Montreal, had a well-documented drug problem, or hadn’t set the stolen base record.
Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker: A pair of great second basemen who were one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates, receiving less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America their only time on the Cooperstown ballot, disqualifying them from future votes.
Ted Simmons: Bill James ranks Simmons, another one-and-done, as the 10th best catcher in baseball history. I have a hunch Simmons and Whitaker might be future Veterans Committee picks, but it’s no sure thing.
Kevin Brown: Fans may remember Brown’s $15 million annual contract from the Dodgers or his prickly personality or his being mentioned in the Mitchell Report after he retired. When Brown hits the Hall of Fame ballot later this year, he may become the best pitcher shunned by voters. If Albert Belle peaked with less than eight percent of the BBWAA vote, I don’t see Brown faring much better, no matter his 211 wins, string of dominance from the late 1990s, or his having one of the best Wins Above Replacement ratings of non-inducted pitchers.
Rick Reuschel: A 214-game winner who had at least 17 victories four years and made three All Star teams, Reuschel received exactly two Hall of Fame votes in 1997. This earns him the nod here over Bert Blyleven, another hurler long since underrated but one who should finally get a call from Cooperstown in January.
Jeff Reardon: I hear talk of Dan Quisenberry being a superb relief pitcher ignored by most Hall of Fame voters. Reardon has over 100 more saves, twice as many strikeouts, and played four more seasons than Quisenberry even as both men debuted in 1979. Like Quisenberry, Reardon was a one-and-done Hall of Fame candidate.
Sammy Sosa: Meet the most underrated player of the Steroid Era. Sosa was the Chicago Cubs in his prime, having a hand in more than 30 percent of their runs in 2001. The New York Times reported Sosa flunked a steroid test in 2003, making him one of many in his era who probably juiced. Then again, most did so with more protection in the batting order.