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The Tuesday Discussion: What Former Yankee Most Belongs In the Hall-of-Fame?

August 24, 2021

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This week we asked our writers:

What former Yankees player who is not in the Hall-of-Fame most deserves to be there?

Let the debates begin. Great stuff!

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Tim Kabel – I believe Allie Reynolds should be in the Hall of Fame. He was the best pitcher on the five straight world championship Yankee teams from 1949 through 1953. His career was cut short by injuries but he had a magnificent career.

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Paul Semendinger – I’ll do this first by position and bWAR by looking at the highest ranked ex-Yankee at each position who is not in the Hall-of-Fame.

1b- Jason Giambi (John Olerud, a Yankee for a minute, ranks above him). Giambi has the 9th highest WAR of all first basemen not in the Hall. I would love to add Don Mattingly, but he’s not particularly close. (He’s 19th).

2b – Robinson Cano has the third highest WAR of the players not in. Willie Randolph is 4th.

SS – A-Rod is first (of the players not in). He didn’t play short for the Yankees, though. Bert Campaneris is 4th, but he wasn’t a Yankee for long. No long time Yankee is even close. Roger Peckinpaugh is 12th.

3b- (You knew this was coming) Graig Nettles is third.

LF – Roy White is 14th on the list of players not in. Some players like Bobby Veach, Lance Berkman, and Jose Cruz, who were Yankees for brief moments, rank ahead of Roy White.

CF – Johnny Damon is 7th. Short-term Yankees Carlos Beltran, Kenny Lofton, and Andruw Jones rank ahead of Damon. The highest long-term Yankee is Bernie Williams in 14th place.

RF – Ichiro is 3rd. Bobby Abreu is 6th. Bobby Bonds is 7th. Gary Sheffield is 8th. Jack Clark is 11th. Rocky Colavito is 13th…

C – Wally Schang is second. Thurman Munson is 4th.

SP – Roger Clemens is first.

RP – Tom Gordon is first. Bobby Shantz is second. I don’t think either have any Hall-of-Fame support.

Of that list… if you take out the players who won’t get voted in right now because of associations with steroids, the highest ranked long-time Yankees not in are Wally Schang, Graig Nettles, and Thurman Munson. Of that list, only Nettles is still living. It would be nice for him to live to see the honor that should eventually come his way. I vote (not surprisingly) for Nettles.

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Cary Greene – For me this is an easy question. I know there are those that will look at the backs of former Yankees greats and argue that Alex Rodriguez or Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, based on the era in which they played and given the widespread use of performance enhancing steroids that plagued baseball during the early 2000s. It’s been proven that players were using injectable anabolic steroids, injectable human growth hormone, post cycle therapy drugs and even amphetamines.

I grew up in the Catskills and frequented the Baseball Hall of Fame, located in Cooperstown, NY. I’ve walked the storied halls from childhood to adulthood. There is no place for blatant cheaters in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is a place for all-time greats. It’s a place where you take your kids and it’s a place where baseball heroes are honored and revered.

I’m against the Hall of Fame opening an asterisk lounge, dedicated to players who had great statistics but were cheaters, liars and illegal drug users. I don’t want my kids to be sent a message that, even though a player cheated, it’s now okay all these years later. I’m fine with forgiving a cheater but I’m dead-set against enshrining them.

Therefore, Graig Nettles is, in my humble opinion, the Yankee who is most deserving of enshrinement. Nettles played in the majors for 21 years. He has 390 homeruns and a .961 Fielding Percentage at the hot corner but the one stat that jumps out most to me, which makes Nettles a shoo-in is not his lifetime .248 batting average.

If we use 3,000 hits as the ultimate measure of a player’s sustained, offensive prowess, Graig Nettles will fall quite a bit a short. However, value is not solely derived from hits. After all, power, on base percentage, slugging percentage all factor in and that separates the singles hitters from the boppers. There’s also this thing called defense. How well does a player field his position?

Nettles’ career 67.9 WAR ranks 84th all time among position players. There are 264 players presently enshrined in the Hall of Fame, 83 of whom are pitchers. Subtract out the pitchers and that leaves 181 position players. Graig Nettles is actually 84th amongst them.

WAR is a cumulative statistic that is an especially indicative measure of a player’s entire body of work, be it after a long, grueling single season or in this case and most importantly, as the mother of all statistics which can and should be used to help us understand how valuable a player was on both sides of the ball.

Third base is the least acknowledged and hence represented position in the Hall of Fame. Surely there is room for a few more deserving names, such as Dick Allen, Scott Rolen, our beloved Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer and Sal Bando.

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Mike Whiteman – There are some modern Yankee legends who are a bit higher profile omissions from the Hall of Fame (Nettles, Mattingly, Munson) but I want to show some love to someone we don’t hear much about – Allie Reynolds

Reynolds had very good if not great career stats (182-107, 3.30 ERA, 48 saves). He may have been the best pitcher in baseball in 1951-52, when he combined for 37-16, 2.53 and 12 saves. The hard-throwing right-hander led the American League in shutouts both seasons, finished on the top three in MVP voting both years (pre-Cy Young award), and hurled two no-hitters in 1951.

He embraced the role of a swingman and was a true weapon for manager Casey Stengel to deploy either as a starter or reliever.

When the game got tight, Reynolds was at his best. His career ERA shrunk to 2.94 when receiving two or fewer runs of support. His OPS allowed was at its best when in high leverage situations. He excelled in “late and close” situations.

He was a crucial piece to six World Series champions, including five in a row from 1949-53. His October record was 7-2, 2.79 with four saves. So trusted by Stengel, Reynolds was awarded the Game One start four times and won or saved the series clinching game in relief three times.

A great Yankee. One of the top competitors of his time. Hall of Famer.

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Ed Botti – I can’t do just one. When discussing this topic, it is always two, for me. Two Captains.

Don Mattingly was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, first basemen of his generation.

Between 1983 and 1989 he posted a batting line of .327/.372/.530 and averaged 27 home runs a season and 114 RBIs, and that was back when 27 home runs meant something.

He led the majors with 717 RBIs and 272 doubles, and was third in overall hits (1,219) and in batting average, behind only Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Kirby Puckett during just that period.

I know some of you did not like that we compared Nettles to Baines last week, with respect to the Hall of Fame. But, you really do need to look at players stats that are in vs players stats they are not in. So, here we go.

Puckett and Mattingly share comparable stat lines. Mattingly had fewer hits (2153 to 2304) and runs (1007 to 1017), but he had more homers (222 to 207) and doubles (442 to 414), in 200 fewer at-bats.

Both won a batting title. Mattingly won an MVP in 1985 (and was runner-up the next year, even though he hit .352 and was robbed). Puckett never did.

Puckett was a World Series star, though. Mattingly only played in a single post-season series in his final year in the majors and hit .417 and drove in six runs in 5 games.

Both men are deserving Hall of Famers, but only one, Puckett, has made it in.

Also, Mattingly first became eligible for the Hall of Fame in the heart of the steroid era. In Don’s first year of eligibility (2001), Barry Bonds hit 73 homers. Sammy Sosa, 64. Luis Gonzalez 57.

41 players hit over 30 home runs and 13 hit over 40 during the 2001 season. In Mattingly’s MVP year, only one player hit 40 homers, and only 13 hit over 30.

Throw into the mix that he also played the best defensive first base in the American League, winning nine Gold Gloves.

There have been 11 players in baseball history to win nine Gold Gloves and win an MVP Award. Eight of them are in the Hall of Fame, the ninth is Ichiro Suzuki, and I think it’s safe to assume he will make it into the HOF. The other two are Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly.

A little anti-NY bias? Maybe.

Then there is Thurman Munson

Thurman won the 1970 American League Rookie of the Year Award, and the 1976 AL Most Valuable Player Award. He made seven All-Star teams in his almost 10 seasons, and won 3 three Gold Glove Awards.

In 1971, he committed one error in 615 chances and threw out 44% of baserunners.

A 2-time World Series Champion, in 30 postseason games, he batted .357 with three homers and 22 RBIs. A postseason slash line of .357/.378/.496 over 135 plate appearances

Thurman was only three months shy of having 10 years in the Major Leagues when he tragically died. The 10-year career is the benchmark for induction into the Hall.

Thurman’s career WAR relative to other excellent catchers is amazing. Thurman’s 46.1 career WAR ranks him eighth among players who caught in at least two-thirds of their career games. All seven ahead of him are all in the Hall of Fame.

When you include catchers of previous eras, Thurman’s career WAR exceeds that of five catchers who are all in the HOF.

If intangibles are a factor, Munson’s were unparalleled according to his teammates. Read my interview with Ron Blomberg for more on that.

Last week I was watching the Mets play the Giants, and Gary Cohen was making a case for Buster Posey as a Hall of Famer, Ron Darling completely agreed. So, I decided to compare Thurman to Posey.

In stats such as Games, WAR, Peak WAR, Hits, HR & RBI, Thurman wins them all with the exception of Home Runs (152-113).

They are tied in MVP awards & Top 10 MVP voting, both won Rookie of the Year, Thurman has 3 Gold Gloves, Posey 1, both won multiple World Series, Thurman made 7 all-star games Posey made 6.

With all due respect to Posey’s catching contemporaries, none of them will ever be mistaken for Johnny Bench or Carlton Fisk. This is a very important detail when considering the context: Posey’s career is arguably the best for a catcher from 2010 – 2021, but it definitely would not have been in Munson’s era.

It seems that Thurman has always been compared to Fisk and Bench.

Not only should Mattingly and Thurman be in the Hall of Fame, but I would challenge anyone to show me a better first baseman than Keith Hernandez.

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Chris O’Connor – I would say Willie Randolph, who had a very underrated career with a .374 OBP in 13 seasons with the Yankees. But it’s hard to believe that a player with no top-10 MVP finishes deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

So I’ll say Thurman Munson. I lean toward peak value when it comes to the Hall of Fame (though longevity is obviously still an important differentiator) and Munson’s seven year fWAR peak is 8th all-time among catchers. I would say that he is a legendary figure in the game, a Yankee star catcher who won three pennants and two championships with the team before tragically passing away in a plane crash at the age of 32. Leadership value is hard to quantify, but it is difficult to believe that the Yankees would have won those championships without the captainship of Munson during the height of the Bronx Zoo in the 1970s. I don’t know that his lack of inclusion in the Hall is egregious, but his case is certainly worthy of debate.

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Ethan Semendinger – There are a lot of good names to offer here that, across Yankee fandom, are often the players most considered being “snubbed” from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Older players like Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, and Don Mattingly make up part of this list, as do players like Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Robinson Cano make up a newer part of this list. However, I don’t think anybody has mentioned CC Sabathia yet.

While not due for induction until 2025 (along with Ichiro), his career features many highlights that make him an obvious candidate for the Hall. Sabathia’s 251 career wins ranks in the Top-50 for all pitchers (above HOFer’s Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz), his 62.1 bWAR ranks tied for 53rd all time, and his 3093 strikeouts ranks 16th all-time (while every pitcher above him besides Clemens and Schilling are already in the HOF). Sabathia also won a Cy Young award in 2007 and he was a major part in bringing the 2009 World Series to the Yankees. It’s a solid case to be made for Sabathia and one that could also open the door for other former Yankees like Andy Pettitte and Tommy John (who have very similar bWAR’s) to get more credibility towards their names as well.

#BaseballHallofFame

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