Joe Posnanski wrote the other day about the players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot who are unlikely to receive 5 percent of the vote and thus will get booted off future ballots. There are some very good players here, including Carlos Delgado (loved watching that guy hit), Brian Giles (sneaky awesome career), Jermaine Dye (Joe had a note that Dye's 2006 numbers would have won the 1988 National League Triple Crown), plus maybe Don Mattingly, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield.
Another interesting guy is Nomar Garciaparra. I agree with Joe that he won't get 5 percent. Joe wrote,
Among shortstops with 5,000 plate appearances, the highest OPS belongs to Nomah. Yep. Higher OPS than Wagner, Jeter, Larkin, Ripken, you name it. Of course, this is largely because of the time when he played, but let’s not miss that Nomah was a fantastic hitter in the late 1990s. His 1997 through 2000 seasons would absolutely fit right into even the greatest Hall of Famers careers -- combined he hit .337, averaged 28 homers, 110 runs, 105 RBIs, he slugged .577. In 2000, he hit .372 and hit the ball about as hard as anyone I’ve seen. After an injury-ruined 2001, he came back and hit 56 doubles in 2002 -- it seemed like every other minute he was whacking a ball off the Green Monster. Of course, he was traded in 2004, the year the Red Sox broke the curse, and I always thought that was a shame.
Garciaparra had six amazing seasons with the Red Sox; in those six seasons he finished eighth, second, seventh, ninth, 11th and seventh in the MVP voting and Baseball-Reference.com rates him as one of the five best position players in the American League all six seasons. Unfortunately, he didn't do much outside of the six seasons, other than a good partial season in 2004 and a solid year with the Dodgers in 2006. He was probably two more good seasons from being a Hall of Famer.
Anyway, I tweeted earlier today that he's one of just six shortstops to have six seasons with 6+ WAR. Honus Wagner had nine while Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Arky Vaughan and Alan Trammell each had six. Ernie Banks and Joe Cronin had five. Ozzie Smith and Troy Tulowitzki have had four. Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin both had three. It's a testament to Nomar's peak: At his best, he was one of the best shortstops in the game's long history.
I wondered if anyone -- at any position -- has had a peak like Garciaparra's and not made the Hall of Fame. Well, we already know about Trammell, who is on the ballot this year for the 14th time. Anybody else? Here are the number of players at each position since 1901 with at least six 6-WAR seasons:
Catcher: Nobody. Johnny Bench and Gary Carter both had five.
First base: Lou Gehrig (12), Johnny Mize and Jimmie Foxx (8), Albert Pujols (7 + 2 at other positions). Pujols will join the other three in Cooperstown. Frank Thomas, last year's Hall of Famer, had four 6-WAR seasons as a first baseman and two as a DH.
Third base: Mike Schmidt (13), Eddie Mathews (9), Wade Boggs (8), Ron Santo (6). Four more Hall of Famers, although Santo had to get in via the Veterans Committee.
Left field: Barry Bonds (16), Ted Williams (12 + 1), Rickey Henderson (8). Nobody else with more than four.
Center field: Willie Mays (15), Tris Speaker (14), Ty Cobb (10 + 3), Mickey Mantle (9), Joe DiMaggio (6), Ken Griffey Jr. (6). Two players with five -- Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn and ... Andruw Jones.
Right field: Hank Aaron (14), Babe Ruth (9 + 5), Roberto Clemente (8), Mel Ott (8).
Multi-position: Stan Musial (12), Frank Robinson (8), Hank Greenberg (6), Al Kaline (6).
You realize what this list shows, right? Essentially, it serves an an excellent proxy for what could be labeled the "inner circle" of the Hall of Fame. Thirty-six position players have had six seasons of 6+ WAR and nearly all are Hall of Famers, will be Hall of Famers or would be Hall of Famers if not for PEDs ... with two exceptions.
The first is Garciaparra. The second is the other shortstop, Trammell. So Garciaparra is, indeed, in rare company.
It's ironic: All these years we debated whether Jack Morris was a Hall of Famer when instead the attention should have gone to his Tigers teammate from the 1980s. Trammell had a great peak and the longevity that Garciaparra didn't have (70.4 career WAR versus 44.2 for Garciaparra).
In a way, I'd argue Trammell has a case as the most underrated player in history. He was overshadowed by his contemporary Ripken while active and then overshadowed by all the big-hitting shortstops that came up right after he retired, including Garciaparra. But he had a Hall of Fame career and should have been elected long ago.