The 10 Most Overrated Hall of Famers

Several months ago, when this site was in its infancy, I wrote a post, “The 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.” It remains my most popular post, by far, and has lead to other entries. When in doubt, I learned, the Hall of Fame makes for thought-provoking writing.

Today, I offer a new list. Let me preface this. Bill James used mathematical formulas, years ago, to make his own determinations in his book, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? I submit no such claim and, in fact, am deliberately not including his choices. There’s no sense in trying to compete with James, and I don’t know his methodology, sabermetrics.  It is one of those things I’ve meant to pick up but haven’t, like Spanish, HTML coding and guitar.  I also am putting a few players on in the hopes of stirring debate. I considered including Joe DiMaggio, but thought better of it.

Also, the following players aren’t necessarily the worst in Cooperstown. Some are, but most are simply guys who I feel got in unjustly, for one reason or another. Consider:

Jim Rice: He got in for what others did or, moreover, what he didn’t do. Probably. If it ever comes out that Rice used steroids, Cooperstown will have problems.

Bruce Sutter: After the floodgates opened on letting relievers in, Sutter was inducted. When I think of great relievers, I think Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and from this generation, Mariano Rivera and maybe Trevor Hoffman. That’s it. I tend to be hard on relievers, just as I am on defensive stars and designated hitters. True Hall of Famers, in my book, are multi-faceted, game-changing players, the kid I’d pick first on the playground, no question.

Rube Waddell: I love reading about Waddell in Ken Burns Baseball, hearing how the child-like star pitcher could be distracted with puppies and lured from the mound by the sound of firetrucks. If there were a Hall of Fame for storied characters in baseball history, Waddell would be a first-ballot inductee. But the facts are that he won 197 games and drank himself out of the big leagues while he was still young. This wasn’t as funny when it happened with Dwight Gooden.

Dizzy Dean: Ditto.

Lou Boudreau: As noted here before, Boudreau was an extremely similar hitter to Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera belongs in no Hall of Fame, not even the Montreal Expos team Hall of Fame (which is probably in an airport restroom somewhere.)

Gaylord Perry: So, yeah, this choice might be controversial. After all, Perry won 314 games and reinvented himself many times. Among his generation, he was one of the very few best pitchers in the game. But he did it in part by cheating, throwing a ball that had more grease on it than an engine. Had Perry played a generation later, he’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. Just look what’s happening to Roger Clemens.

Rabbit Maranville: When in doubt, Maranville is a name for angry supporters of a player who can’t get in the Hall of Fame, as in: “Why can’t Dale Murphy get in the Hall of Fame, if Rabbit Maranville can?” For good reason, as Maranville hit .258 lifetime. Granted, he was a solid defensive shortstop, but I’m generally against recognizing these sorts of players unless they’re Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel.  Aside from all that, perhaps the biggest injustice is that the year writers voted Maranville in, 1954, they declined to induct DiMaggio.

Phil Rizzuto: As noted before, Rizzuto falls into a class of players I like to call, “If they played for the Washington Senators…” As in, if they had played for the Senators, they’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. They can mostly be noted for holding down jobs for long stretches on hallowed clubs. Others in this class include Earle Combs, Pee Wee Reese, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez and Bill Dickey. If Gil Hodges gets in Cooperstown, he can be grouped here too. Rizzuto made his name playing shortstop for great Yankee teams in the 1940s and ’50s, in the same lineup as DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Rizzuto did an able job, seemed like a nice guy, and had a long career as a broadcaster after he retired. But he also hit .273 lifetime.

Dave Bancroft: Bancroft is in an opposite school to Rizzuto, one of those players who can mostly be noted for being the best member on really terrible teams. I don’t like this kind of recognition, just as I don’t think it’s right to have a token All Star from the Pittsburgh Pirates each year.

Tinker to Evers to Chance: I’ll group together these three– Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance– because they were a famed double play combination for the Chicago Cubs in the early twentieth century. Defensively adept though they may have been, none had more than 1,700 hits or hit .300 lifetime. Without each other, none would have made the Hall of Fame.

Making the Hall of Fame: One need only hit as well as Orlando Cabrera

I was just watching an ESPN video about the retirement of New York Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard, when I noticed something interesting.  Included in the feature was the lineup card from Sheppard’s first game, between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 1951.  Among the Sox was Lou Boudreau, who I never realized played for Boston.  I checked out Boudreau’s stats on and learned something else about the Hall of Fame shortstop: The batter most similar to him, according to his career numbers, is Orlando Cabrera.

To offer a Beatles metaphor, in the baseball world, Cabrera is kind of like Ringo Starr: He has surprising longevity despite questionable talent.  A veritable journeyman, on his sixth team at 35, Cabrera boasts a .275 career batting average and has never made an All Star game.  If he’s a Hall of Famer, then so are half the active players today.

Scanning the rest of the Top 10 list of similar batters to Boudreau, there are two Hall of Fame members, Travis Jackson and Phil Rizzuto. A lifetime .273 hitter, Rizzuto was little more than Orlando Cabrera in the same lineup as Joe DiMaggio.  Had he played for the Washington Senators, Rizzuto would be an afterthought today.  Other peer hitters to Boudreau include Mark Loretta, Mark Grudzielanek and Dick Groat, more guys who probably shouldn’t lose sleep writing induction speeches.

Granted, Boudreau arrived at Cooperstown with some impressive credentials when he made it on his ninth try on the writer’s ballot in 1970.  He was a seven-time All Star, Most Valuable Player in 1948 and led American League shortstops in fielding eight times (by comparison, Cabrera has won two Gold Gloves.)  As player-manager, Boudreau also helped the Cleveland Indians capture the ’48 World Series, and he devised a fielding shift to contain Ted Williams.  There are worse things in the world beside the fact that Boudreau has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown.

That being said, Boudreau appears to be one of the more overrated Hall of Famers, and I’m a little surprised the writers selected him, as opposed to the Veteran’s Committee. It’s also interesting to consider that Boudreau only has 99 more career hits than another celebrated fielder, Dom DiMaggio who can’t make it into Cooperstown, despite the fact that Boudreau got to play through World War II, while DiMaggio lost three prime seasons to military service.

Then again, maybe I’m just not giving Orlando Cabrera his due.