Jim Edmonds announced his retirement on Friday, and in this space, Chad Dotson was all over it, making a very good argument that Edmonds belongs in the Hall of Fame (and that it’s not all that close). Commenters largely disagreed, a couple slapping the tired old “Hall of Very Good” label on him. (Why is that a thing, incidentally? “Fame” and “Very Good” are not related terms, not even the same part of speech. But I digress.)
Chad was right, though; Edmonds should (but won’t) be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. I think the biggest problem is one Chad didn’t have space to address; people don’t realize quite how rare it is to find a player who can hit like Edmonds did and play great defense at an important position like center field.
Contrary to what its detractors will tell you, absolutely nobody views Wins Above Replacement (WAR; using the version found on baseball-reference.com here) as an infallible, be-all and end-all measure of a player’s worth. It’s also certainly not necessary to see Edmonds as the great player he was; his 132 OPS+ and eight 30-homer seasons at a primarily defensive position, his eight Gold Gloves and his .874 OPS is 64 postseason games all speak to that, too. What WAR is, however, is a really convenient way to get an idea of how different skills like that come together to give a player value. And by WAR, among all players who played at least 50 percent of their games in center, Edmonds comes in eighth all-time, behind Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr. and Billy Hamilton -- six Hall of Famers, one no-doubt future Hall of Famer, and that’s it. Edmonds comes in just ahead of Duke Snider, and well ahead of several other Hall of Famers.
You can find ways to quibble with WAR -- doubt that his defense was really worth nearly 100 runs above average for his career, for instance, or punish him more than WAR does for all that time he missed to injury (totally unnecessary, but to each her own) -- but I don’t think you can find a way to argue that Edmonds was any less than the 10th greatest center fielder of all time.
There are currently 50 Hall of Famers (among those selected as players) who primarily played in the outfield, and of those, 16 were primarily center fielders. Given that, it seems to me that if a player ranks among the top 10 all-time at the most important outfield position, there’s little room to argue that he doesn’t belong.
Don’t believe in judging him by the position he played? OK, judge him by where he fits among the players at large. This is a list ranking all non-Hall of Famers according to career WAR. Edmonds sits 14. The only players ahead of him who are Hall-eligible are Bill Dahlen and Lou Whitaker (both clearly deserving Hall of Famers who have been criminally overlooked) and Barry Larkin, who very likely will be voted in next January. The nine active or recently retired players ahead of him all are clearly Hall of Famers. And Edmonds is ahead of likely Hall of Famers like Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez and Craig Biggio (not to mention a host of already-Hall of Famers like Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, and Ernie Banks).
Even if you’re a “small Hall” person, Edmonds’ almost historically rare combination of very good (often elite) offense and great defense fits comfortably within your boundaries. You just might not realize it yet.