With the baseball Hall of Fame, one and done truly means that

Following the death of former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar on Friday, I reviewed his stats and saw he appeared on just one Hall of Fame ballot. Current rules state that any player who receives less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is dropped from future ballots but can be considered after twenty years of retirement by the Veterans Committee. The one year Cuellar was on the ballot, 1983, he received no votes despite going 185-130 lifetime and winning at least 20 games four times. It may have been a tough year, as a dozen future Hall of Famers were on the ballot, plus several All Stars who have yet to make it including Gil Hodges, Maury Wills and Thurman Munson. Still, I think Cuellar deserved at least a vote.

Other good players besides Cuellar fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one appearance. After reading a couple of good articles today, which I’ll reference in a minute, I made a list. As should be obvious, most of these players probably are not strong Cooperstown candidates, though I could lobby for a few. More on that momentarily. First, here are some notable One-and-Done players:

  • Bill Buckner (2.1 percent, 1996)
  • Ken Caminiti (0.4 percent, 2007)
  • Jose Canseco (1.1 percent, 2007)
  • Joe Carter (3.8 percent, 2004)
  • Norm Cash (1.6 percent, 1980)
  • Cesar Cedeno (0.5 percent, 1992)
  • Ron Cey (1.9 percent, 1993)
  • Will Clark (4.4 percent, 2006)
  • David Cone (3.9 percent, 2009
  • Cecil Cooper (0 percent, 1993)
  • Mike Cuellar (0 percent, 1983)
  • Darrell Evans (1.7 percent, 1995)
  • Tony Fernandez (0.7 percent, 2007)
  • Kirk Gibson (2.5 percent, 2001)
  • Dwight Gooden (3.3 percent, 2006)
  • Bobby Grich (2.6 percent, 1992)
  • Pedro Guerrero (1.3 percent, 1998)
  • Tom Henke (1.2 percent, 2001)
  • Frank Howard (1.4 percent, 1979)
  • Jimmy Key (0.6 percent , 2004)
  • Carney Lansford (0.6 percent, 1998)
  • Bill Madlock (4.5 percent, 1993)
  • Bobby Murcer (0.7 percent, 1989)
  • Milt Pappas (1.2 percent, 1979)
  • Boog Powell (1.3 percent, 1983)
  • Dan Quisenberry (3.8 percent, 1996)
  • Willie Randolph (1.1 percent, 1998)
  • Rick Reuschel (0.4 percent, 1997)
  • J.R. Richard (1.6 percent, 1986)
  • Bret Saberhagen (1.3 percent, 2007)
  • Ted Simmons (3.7 percent, 1994)
  • Dave Stieb (1.4 percent, 2004)
  • Dizzy Trout (0.5 percent, 1964)
  • Virgil Trucks (2 percent, 1964)
  • Bob Welch (0.2 percent, 2000)
  • Lou Whitaker (2.9 percent, 2001)
  • Frank White (3.8 percent, 1996)

There are many more I could list.

Looking over the names, I think two are destined for Cooperstown: Simmons and Whitaker. Both were mentioned in a Joe Posnanski piece for SI.com in December, detailing notable one-and-done players. Posnanski wrote about how Whitaker’s number one competitor at second base from his era, Ryne Sandberg, easily made the Hall of Fame; he also noted that Bill James ranked Simmons in the New Historical Abstract as the tenth best catcher of all-time. I’ve read a couple stories over the last year or two that suggest Whitaker got shorted by the writers, while the Times piece said other great catchers in Simmons’s era overshadowed him. The Veterans Committee exists to select players overlooked by the writers, and I think Whitaker and Simmons both fall into this category, strongly.

I could also make cases for Clark, Grich, Gooden, Madlock and Saberhagen, though I don’t think they’ll get into Cooperstown. Before I spell out why that is, let me offer credentials for each player, briefly. A 2008 New York Times piece makes a pitch for Grich, a power-hitting second baseman who also won four Gold Gloves. Clark and Madlock were among the best pure hitters of their respective generations with each man hitting over .300 lifetime with more than 2,000 hits; as the Times piece noted, Madlock also is the only non-Hall of Famer to win four batting titles.

Meanwhile, Saberhagen went 167-117 lifetime, won two Cy Young awards, and has the third-best career WHIP, 1.1406, among modern-era pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, not counting four active players. And I think Gooden would be a Hall of Famer had his career derailed due to injuries, like Dizzy Dean or Sandy Koufax, rather than cocaine abuse, or if he’d been like Rube Waddell and made people laugh while destroying his life. As it stands, Gooden has more career wins than any of those three.

I ranked Gooden last May among the ten best players not in the Hall of Fame and wrote a post in November predicting Grich would be among ten future Veterans Committee picks. However, they and most of the men named above have slim chances, at best. Since 1980, the Veterans Committee has enshrined 23 former big league players. Three of the honorees played before the modern era and never appeared on any writers ballots, seemingly forgotten by history. However, out of the remaining 20 honorees, all but two appeared on at least ten writer ballots. Seven men exhausted their fifteen years of eligibility.

The knock on the Veterans Committee has long been that it rewards cronies. However, looking over the players it tabbed in the past three decades, many fell just shy of being elected by the writers, including Nellie Fox and Jim Bunning who came within one percent of the 75 percent of votes needed for enshrinement. All of these players were thoroughly vetted by the writers, and this gave them time, I think, to build their future cases with the Veterans Committee.

Interestingly, ten of the Veterans Committee picks since 1980 received less than five percent of the writer vote their first time on the ballot after they retired. These men are:

  • Richie Ashburn
  • Bobby Doerr
  • Rick Ferrell
  • Joe Gordon
  • Travis Jackson
  • Chuck Klein
  • Tony Lazzeri
  • Ernie Lombardi
  • Hal Newhouser
  • Arky Vaughan

Due to Hall of Fame rules at the respective times, each man was allowed to remain on future ballots. In fact, eight of them went on to appear at least eleven times before their eventual recognition by the Veterans Committee. The one-and-dones could only wish these rules were still in effect. It’s better than the stretch in the mid-1990s to 2001 when any player with less than five percent of the vote was ruled permanently ineligible, before this was reversed. Still, I don’t think it’s better by much.

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