Which of today’s second basemen belong in the Hall of Fame? What, in fact, does a Hall of Fame second baseman look like? In this article we’ll compare the cream of the crop of recent second baseman with those already enshired in Cooperstown, and see what we can determine about the HOF cases of today’s stars.
Hall of Fame Second Basemen
There are seventeen players enshrined in Cooperstown as second baseman. In order to help us determine what constitutes a Fall of Fame second baseman, we’ll take a brief look at each of them, and then explore the more recent potential candidates.
Carew, who played a total of nineteen seasons, is the type of player the Hall of Fame was made for. He won a ROY award, an MVP award, and seven batting titles on his way to collecting over 3,000 career hits, 18 straight all star appearances, and a .328 career batting average. Carew played less than half of his career games at second base, however, converting to first base full time at age 29. While a second baseman, Carew’s fielding percentage was below the league average (.973 to .977), but his range factor was above the league average (4.87 to 4.54). He was elected to the hall by the writers in 1991 with 90.52% of the vote.
Collins, who played a post-1900 non-pitcher record twenty five seasons, finished his career with 3,315 hits, 744 stolen bases, and a .333 batting average. He won an MVP award, although he never won a batting title despite hitting over .340 ten times, as his career spanned the same years as Ty Cobb’s. Collins career fielding percentage and range factor were both well above the league average for his career. He was elected to the hall by the writers in 1939 with 77.74% of the vote.
Doerr, who played 14 seasons, hit .288 for his career with 223 home runs. He drove in over 100 runs six times, was an all star nine times, and was considered one of the better defensive second baseman of his era. The numbers back that up, with his fielding percentage and range factor both well above league averages. He also led the league in double plays five times, putouts four times, and assists three times. Doerr was elected to the hall of fame by the Veterans Committee in 1986.
Evers, from the famous Tinkers to Evers to Chance Cubs infield, was a .270 career hitter who won the 1914 NL MVP award. He was slightly above average defensively based on his fielding percentage and range factor numbers. He hit .316 in 20 career World Series games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1946. Many consider him a very borderline Hall of Famer, selected because of his place in prose, not on the field.
Fox played nineteen seasons in the majors, winning an MVP award and playing in twelve all star games. He led the league in hits four times, and won three gold glove awards. He struck out only 216 times in 9232 career at bats. He led the league in singles eight times, including seven in a row. He backed up his gold glove awards with well above average fielding percentage and range factor numbers, and led the league in putouts ten times and fielding percentage six times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1997.
Frisch played nineteen seasons in the majors, hitting .316 for his career with 2,880 career hits. He played in the first three all star games, and won an MVP award, and stole over 400 bases in his career. He was an above average fielder and hit .294 in 50 World Series games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Writers in 1947 with 84.47% of the vote.
Gehringer put up very impressive .320/.404/.480 rate stats to complement 2846 career hits, 574 career doubles, over 1400 career RBI, and an amazing 1186 to 372 walk to strikeout ratio. He also won an MVP award and played in the first six all star games. With the glove he was no slouch either, leading the league in assists and fielding percentage seven times each. He was elected to the Hall by the Writers in 1949 with 85.03% of the vote.
Considered a stellar defensive second baseman, Herman hit .304 over his fifteen year career. Herman, a ten time all star, led his league in putouts by a second baseman seven times, and is still the single season leader in the category. Herman was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975 by the Veterans Committee.
Hornsby was among the cream of the crop in all of baseball history. In his long career, he put up .358/.434/.577 rate stats and accumulated 2,930 hits and 301 home runs. A two time MVP and 2-time Triple Crown winner, Hornsby was a 7 time batting champion and is second all time behind Ty Cobb in career batting average. He hit over .400 three times, and still holds the single season record for highest batting average, at .424. He was elected to the hall of fame by the writer’s with 78.11% of the vote.
A native Rhode Islander, like your author, Lajoie was one of the biggest stars of the turn of the century. He won the Triple Crown in the American League’s first year of existence, and won five batting titles on his way to a career .338 career batting average. Ten times he hit over .350, and finished his career with 3,242 hits. He was known as one of the strongest defenders of his day. The reputation in the field is again backed up by the numbers, which show his career fielding percentage and range factor to be well above league average for the time. Lajoie was elected to the Hall in 1937 by the writers, with 83.58% of the vote.
Lazzeri, a teammate of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth on the Yankees “Murderers’ Row” teams of the early 1930’s, hit .300 or better five times on his way to a .292 lifetime mark. He also drove in 100 or more runs in seven seasons. He played in the first ever all star game in 1933, his only all star appearance. Statically speaking, his defense was below average. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1991.
Bill Mazeroski has one of the weaker offensive resumes in the Hall of Fame, but was elected because of his defense. He is considered quite possibly the best defensive second baseman ever. He had a career .983 fielding percentage, and led his league in assists nine times, fielding percentage three times, and double plays eight times. He was also a 10-time all star, and won eight gold glove awards. Amazingly, he is most known for a turn with the bat. His home run in the 1960 World Series was the first time a World Series was ever ended by a home run. Mazeroski was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans in 2001.
The last of the gloveless second baseman at the end of the last century, McPhee was considered among the best defensive players of his day. He was also solid enough with the bat, hitting between .271 and .281 lifetime, depending on whose statistics you believe. He was the top leadoff hitter of his day, scoring over 100 runs ten times. Due to the difficulties of comparing pre-1900 statistics with those of today, and the discrepancies in his statistics, I have not listed McPhee’s career numbers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2000.
A rare combination of power, speed, and defensive ability, Joe Morgan played for six teams in his long career, but is most known for his years as a major cog in the “Big Red Machine” of the mid 1970’s. Morgan had 268 career home runs, over 2,500 career hits, and had a .271 batting average and a .392 OBP for his career. He won two MVP awards and was a ten-time all star. His keen batting average led to him leading the league in OBP four times on the way to a .392 career mark. He also stole 689 bases and won five gold glove awards. Morgan was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers in 1990, with 81.76% of the vote.
Robinson, who broke baseball’s color line as a 28 year old rookie in 1947, put up very impressive numbers despite his late start and all the troubles that being the first black player in the major leagues obviously caused him. Despite the racism he dealt with, Robinson won the rookie of the year award, and two seasons later, the MVP award. His career rate stats of .311/.409/.474 are very impressive, and he stole 197 bases with a 87% success rate, twice leading the league in steals. A six time all star, Robinson was an above average defender. Robinson was elected to the Hall of Fame by the writer’s in 1962 with 77.5% of the vote.
The only Hall of Famer who was a contemporary of most of the modern players we’ll look at, Sandberg was a defensive whiz who hit for power and displayed good speed on the basepaths. Sandberg won an MVP award, was a ten time all star, nine straight gold gloves, and seven silver slugger awards. Sandberg was elected to Cooperstown in 2005 by the Writers, with 76.2% of the vote.
Schoendienst, a ten time all star, was a strong defensive second baseman who hit .300 or better seven times. He hit .289 over his long career, and was a tough out, striking out only 346 times in 8,479 at bats. He led the National League in fielding percentage six times, and his career fielding percentage and range factor are well above league average. Schoendienst was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1989.
There they are, the seventeen members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Nine were elected to the hall by the writers, and eight were selected by the veterans committee. There are several no-brainer selections in there, a few questionable picks, and a bunch in the middle. What can they tell us about what makes a Hall of Fame second baseman? That both offensive ability and defense come into the voter’s mind, and while offensive dominance is an easy ticket to Cooperstown, mixing a good glove with a solid bat can also get you in, especially with the Veterans. Now, let’s look at how the modern second baseman stack up.
The Current Crop
To gather a group of second baseman to consider as modern players who may be worthy of induction to Cooperstown, I went to the list of Silver Slugger winners from 1990 to date. Since 1990, six AL second baseman have won multiple Silver Slugger awards at second base; Julio Franco (2), Roberto Alomar (4), Carlos Baerga (2), Chuck Knoblauch (2), Bret Boone (2), and Alfonso Soriano (3). We’ll look at all of them but Soriano, who is still in the early stages of his career, and who’s future at second base is in doubt. In the NL, three players won multiple Silver Slugger awards since 1990; Ryne Sandberg (3 of his 9 straight) Craig Biggio (4), and Jeff Kent (4). Sandberg is already in the Hall, so we’ll look at the other two. We’ll also limit our look to players not yet eligible for HOF voting, so Lou Whitaker will have to wait for another article. Of the seven players we’ll look at, all but one started their career in 1988 or after. Julio Franco is the one not included, as he began his lengthy career in 1982. Let’s start with the National Leaguers.
Biggio enters 2006 at 40 years old. In 2005, he hit .264 with 26 HR, and helped lead the Houston Astros to the World Series. Biggio’s career stats are .285/.370/.437 and he has 2,795 career hits. 3,000 hits would more or less guarantee induction, but Biggio would probably need to play two more solid seasons to get the remaining 205 hits he needs. That might be a lot to ask of the versatile Biggio, who’s played his entire career with the Astros, converting to 2b from catcher after catching at the major league level for five years. Biggio also played the outfield for two years (at ages 37 and 38) to make room in Houston for Jeff Kent, another player on this list. Biggio adds 260 HR and 407 SB to his impressive hit total. His 604 doubles are 12th all time, as well, one behind two players tied for 10th.
Biggio won four silver slugger awards at second base, plus one as a catcher. He also won four gold glove awards, and his defense was well above average both behind the plate, at second, and in the outfield. He is a seven-time all star. Biggio also holds the post-1900 record for most career hit by pitch, with 273. In addition, Biggio has won both the Branch Rickey Award (for community service) and the Hutch Award (for fighting spirit and competitive desire).
Looking at Biggio’s “Similar Batters”, his top three are Roberto Alomar (who we’ll look at in a minute), and then two Hall of Famers, Joe Morgan and Robin Yount. Biggio’s Black and Gray Ink scores a little low for Hall of Famer, but both are well within range of the second baseman already inducted. His HOF Standards and HOF Monitor numbers point toward a very likely inductee.
Biggio appears to be a very likely inductee to Cooperstown. His high career hit total, combined with his speed and defense make him an excellent candidate. Add in the intangibles of playing his whole career for one team (and making position changes to help said team), plus his squeaky clean reputation and awards for spirit and service, and you have a very likely and deserving inductee.
Kent, who turns 38 at the beginning of the 2006 season, is coming off a solid year in 2005 in which he hit .289 with 29 HR and 105 RBI. 2006 will be his second season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his sixth team. Kent’s career rate stats are a very respectable .289/.354/.506 and he has 331 career home runs, 2070 hits, and 1312 RBI. Kent was originally considered a poor defensive second baseman, but has worked to make himself at least average at the position.
Kent has been an all star five times and won an MVP award in 2000. He has won four silver slugger awards at second base. Despite a late start, he was a rookie at 24 and didn’t have his first big year until he was 29, Kent has a nine year peak that is quite impressive. He was still at or near that peak level in 2005, so he could still add to it.
Looking at Kent’s “Similar Batters”, , his top three are Bobby Doerr (a borderline HOF second baseman inducted by the Vets), Ellis Burks, and Matt Williams. The later two are an OF/DH and a 3b who were both solid players during their careers, but neither have any chance of becoming members of the Hall of Fame.
Surprisingly, Kent has never led the league in any major offensive category, giving him no Black Ink score. His Gray Ink score (based on times in the top 10 in major offensive categories) is also low, beating out only two current HOF second baseman (borderline Vet’s inductees Evers and Mazeroski). His HOF Standards score of 42.0 puts him in the middle of the pack when compared to the current HOF members at the position. Likewise, his HOF Monitor numbers are better than five current Hall of Fame second baseman, but well below most others, and are pretty much at the level where a player will get strong consideration, but won’t be a lock for induction.
Where intangibles help Biggio, they probably hurt Kent. He isn’t known as the best teammate, having had well documented issues with Barry Bonds and (most recently) Milton Bradley. He also missed some playing time one year after a mysterious injury that he claimed he got washing his truck, but some suggest he got racing dirt bikes, which was prohibited in his contract. His lack of defensive skill also hurts his case at a position where defense is considered very important.
What can we conclude from this? Right now, Kent is a borderline case, and my impression is that if he retired today, he would not gain induction to the Hall of Fame on the writer’s vote, although the Veterans Committee might give him a chance. Of course, Kent isn’t done yet…he put up a strong season in 2005, and a couple more seasons like that would go a long way towards solidifying his case. A peak of 10+ seasons would be hard to ignore for the voters, surely.
Now, let’s look at American League Silver Slugger winners.
Roberto Alomar’s fine career came to an end when he was released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in spring training of 2005. Considered one of the better defensive second baseman ever, Alomar won ten gold glove awards. An all star twelve straight times, Alomar put up very impressive rate stats during his career, ending at .300/.371/.443. Alomar put up some impressive counting stats as well, with 2,724 career hits, 474 stolen bases, 210 HR, and over 500 doubles and 1500 runs scored. He is 40th all time in both doubles and stolen bases, and 51st all time in hits. Alomar added four silver slugger awards to his impressive career feats. Alomar also hit .313 in 58 postseason games, including an impressive 20-for-22 success rate on the basepaths.
Looking at Alomar’s “Similar Batters”, Craig Biggio is first (862), followed by Lou Whitaker (858) and Frankie Frisch (849). We’ve already looked at Biggio, who has a great chance of making the Hall of Fame, and Frisch is already in. Whitaker had a great career, but has not gotten much support from voters. His claim to fame was more longevity over dominance, and he might do better with the veterans. Going down the list a bit further we see Barry Larkin and Julio Franco (both 840), Ryne Sandberg (834), and Joe Morgan (828). Morgan and Sandberg are Hall of Fame second baseman, and Larkin is a SS who stands a good chance of being elected. We’ll look at Franco’s case in a little bit. Overall, that’s very good company to be in.
Looking to the Bill James Metrics, Alomar has only a 3 Black Ink score, having led the league only once in runs and once in sacrifice hits. His 95 in Gray Ink is below that of an average hall member, as well, but is still higher than that of four second baseman already inducted. His HOF Standards score of 56.8 is 39th all time, however, or one higher than Joe Morgan. His HOF Monitor score is 193.5, also 39th all time, tied with Hall of Famer Chuck Klein. Both his HOF metrics suggest a likely hall of fame inductee.
On the negative side, Alomar had a well documented incident on which he spit on an umpire while arguing a third strike call in 1996. Whether voters will remember this event when Alomar becomes eligible or not remains to be seen, and it’s while it may affect some writers, it’s doubtful it’d be enough to seriously hurt his hall case.
With his defensive wizardry, speed, and offensive prowess, despite not being a league leader much, all point towards a very likely election to Cooperstown for Alomar. It would not be surprising if he got elected in his first year of eligibility.
Julio Franco (1982-active)
Julio Franco began his career in 1982, the same year as several players either already in the Hall of Fame, or who will go in next year (Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn), and is STILL active. He’ll start 2006 as a bench player for the New York Mets, his 9th team, at the age of 47, unless, as often reported, he’s even OLDER than that. Franco’s story is an interesting one, for sure…he won four straight silver slugger awards at second base for the American League from 1988-1991, but has actually played more career games at shortstop than second base. The next home run he hits will make him the oldest to hit one in the history of major league baseball.
Franco had a solid ten year prime from 1983-1993, hitting over .300 five times, and making three all-star appearances in addition to the four silver slugger awards mentioned earlier (plus one more as a DH). He also won a batting title, hitting .341 in 1991. He is a career .299 hitter with over 2,500 career hits. But is he a hall of famer?
To answer this question, we need to look a bit more into Franco’s amazing career. After his prime seasons in 1983-1993, he had a solid season in 1994 in a part time role. At 36, no offers came in, however. He played the 1995 season in Japan, and then was back in the states for 1996 and 1997 putting up solid seasons as a part-timer. At age 38, he again found himself in Japan in 1998, and most of 1999. He had one at bat in 1999 with the Devil Rays, striking out. In 2000, he played in Korea at age 41. In 2001, he found himself in the Mexican League having a dominant season. The Atlanta Braves noticed and signed him, and he appeared in 25 games for them at the end of the 2001 season. From 2002-2005, he played four more partial seasons for the Atlanta Braves, platooning at first base and pinch hitting. He put up solid seasons, hitting .284, .294, .309, and .275. He signed a two year contract with the Mets this last off-season to play a similar role on that team. Franco’s long career featured a solid 10 year peak, and by the time it’s all said and done, will also feature 10 seasons as a part time player, not including his time in foreign leagues.
At first glance, .299/.366/.419 rate stats, 2,500 career hits, 274 career stolen bases, and the awards mentioned earlier might point to a likely Hall of Fame induction. In Franco’s case, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. His Black Ink score is only 5 and his Gray Ink score of 59 is well below that expected of a Hall of Famer. His HOF Standards and HOF Monitor scores are also well below those expected of a Hall of Famer. His top three “Similar Batters” are Buddy Bell (895), BJ Surhoff (895), and Alan Trammell (867). All three were solid major leaguers for a long time, but only Trammell stands a chance at getting elected to the Hall, and at this point, it looks he’ll have to wait for the Veterans Committee if he’s to have any chance.
So, it would appear that Franco was an excellent player for many years, in a variety of roles, and a great story, but probably is not worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His peak years were simply not dominant enough to put him over the top, even as he appears determined to play until he is at least 50 years old.
Boone, who announced his retirement very recently after starting 2006 in the New York Mets camp, garnered some impressive hardware during his career. He earned four gold gloves, two silver slugger awards, and was an all star three times. He had a monster year in 2001, hitting .331 with 37 2b, 37 HR, and 141 RBI, finishing 3rd in the MVP voting that year. He finished his career with 252 home runs.
Beyond that, though, Boone is not a strong case for Hall of Fame consideration at all. His career rate stats are .266/.325/.442, a far cry from Hall of Fame worthiness. His Jamesian Metrics show this further; with all four falling well below those expected by a Hall of Famer. His top 3 “Similar Batters” are Travis Fryman (924), Ken Caminiti (903), and Joe Gordon (899). Solid players all, but there is not a Hall of Famer in the group. In fact, the only Hall of Famer in Boone’s top 10 is Bobby Doerr, a questionable inductee at number nine on the list.
Boone did not play long enough or have a long enough peak to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate, but was a very solid player. He had two excellent seasons, and about five other solid ones.
Baerga makes this list on the merit of his two silver slugger awards at second base in the 1990’s, in 1993 and 1994. During those two years, plus the previous year, he was an all star. During his brief four year peak, Baerga was an impressive hitter for the second base position, hitting over .300 four straight years and topping fifteen home runs each year.
The drop-off for Baerga after those years was quick and severe. He logged 200 at bats in a season only once after the age of 30, and while he finished with a career .291 batting average, he is certainly not a candidate for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Knoblauch started his 12-year career by winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1991. A four time all star and the 1997 Gold Glove winner had a solid career, putting up .289/.378/.406 rate stats. He appeared in 5 World Series during his career, including being on the winning side four times. He also stole over 400 bases for his career.
A gold glove winner in 1997, Knoblauch feel apart defensively in 1998, developing a mental block with the short throw to first base. He piled up the errors until the Yankees eventually moved him the outfield. At that point in his career unable to hit enough to play regularly anywhere but the middle infield, was done at age 33.
Before his unfortunate downfall, Knoblauch had a very solid seven year peak, but with such a short career with such a rough ending, it won’t be enough to get Knoblauch any Hall of Fame consideration, despite his awards and playoff appearances. If he had not had the defensive issues, and had been able to play second base into his late 30’s, he may have been a solid candidate. As it stands, Knoblauch’s numbers are far off some second baseman elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Who knows, maybe future generations will look back and find him to be a worthy inductee, but it seems doubtful.
We have examined a large number of second baseman in this article, including those already in the Hall of Fame and a few current or recent players who may deserve induction. Of the current crop, it looks like Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio are very likely inductees to Cooperstown, with Jeff Kent also having a reasonable chance. Chuck Knoblauch and Julio Franco have the best chance of the others, but will probably fall well short. Two or three second baseman for the era making the Hall of Fame seems about right, and one should expect the second base ranks of the Hall of Fame to pass twenty in the next decade.
In any article about second baseman and the Hall of Fame, Lou Whitaker needs to be mentioned. Much has been written about his Hall of Fame chances, and he fell outside the scope of this article, but this writer would consider him a candidate somewhere between Jeff Kent and players like Knoblauch and Franco. It appears the Veterans Committee will determine his fate.