clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Futures: Mark McGwire Sinks, Jim Edmonds Still Awesome

Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer, and it wasn't even all that difficult—the Cincinnati Reds shortstop got votes from 86 percent of the BBWAA's notoriously eccentric voters in spite of his 939 career walks. There was a non-zero chance of Larkin getting the Tim Raines treatment when he first hit the ballot; he was frequently injured and by the end of his career felt like a part-time player even when he wasn't, and a lot of his value came from things BBWAA voters aren't quite known to value. But apparently there was enough of a difference between Larkin's last five seasons as a 95 OPS+, 95-games guy and Alan Trammell's last six seasons as a 94 OPS+, 76-games guy to keep Larkin out of the Raines Zone and Trammell in the Trammell Zone.

News was worse for Mark McGwire, who received 19.5% of the vote. It's my understanding that McGwire's admission of steroids use is still simply too much for most writers, who covered his 70-home-run season from about this far away and simply had no way of suspecting anything at the time. (Imagine my surprise when I learned the Shawn Michaels didn't really toss Marty Jannetty through that window during Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake's interview segment.)

I've run out of things to say about Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy. A consistent stance against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is reasonable, and a desire for a Hall of Fame boycott that flows from that is plausible to me, if impossible to enforce. But the turn the BBWAA as a group of writers has made in that direction from its near-unanimous adulation of the late 90s is embarrassing—at best it's an admission from the people who wrote those pieces that they lacked either the desire or the ability to ask some obvious questions that they now claim to be fundamentally important to our understanding of baseball; at its worst it's a crass move toward the allegorical moralizing that's animated bad baseball writing for 150 years.

I'd vote for him. That was baseball, and we loved it, and I want the people who come to Cooperstown after I'm dead to remember how much we loved it.

Other Cardinals passing and approaching the Hall of Fame window:

Juan Gonzalez (first year on ballot; 4.0%): There's a universe where Juan Gonzalez hit 500 home runs and retired as a beloved Cardinal vet in the Reggie Sanders-Larry Walker-Lance Berkman tradition, but I'm not sure I want to have lived in it.

Brian Jordan (first year on ballot; 0.0%): Not even a sympathy vote for Brian Jordan, who slugged .455 over 15 seasons, was very popular in two cities, and has a career home run-interception ratio of 36.8? Jordan has 162 fielding runs as a right fielder according to Total Zone, which is neat and probably not so accurate.

Lee Smith (10th year on ballot; 50.6%):

Possible Home Run Record Analogues for Lee Smith: A Mini-Essay

Roger Connor: Roger Connor was the last guy who held the all-time home run record before anybody cared about it—he retired in 1897, as a member of the incredibly terrible St. Louis Proto-Cardinals, with 138.

While nobody was particularly impressed about that at the time it's probably inaccurate to say he would have been forgotten without Babe Ruth; Ruth making home runs a thing certainly helped Connor out, but it didn't roll out much carpet in Cooperstown—he still didn't get into the Hall of Fame until the 1970s, 30 years after 1880s nemesis Dan Brouthers (106 home runs) managed the trick. Anyway, neither guy works for Smith; he's earned his fame in part as a function of Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera passing him by, but saves were already a thing when Lee Smith began accumulating them.

The save equivalent to Roger Connor is probably Johnny Murphy or Firpo Marberry, who each earned 100 saves and change before Lee Smith had quite finished walking very slowly out to the mound for the first time.

Ken Williams: One of my favorite Hall of Very Good guys, Ken Williams was one of the first players outside of New York to discover the home run, leading the American League with 39 (and 37 stolen bases) as a St. Louis Brown in 1922. (This means he also got to pull off that more-home-runs-than-an-entire-team trick, since the Indians managed 32.) Williams, like Lee Smith, is not a Hall of Famer, but that's probably because the live ball era—and his career—didn't start until he was 29 years old. If you're a peak guy and your career lacks that throat-clearing build-up of counting stats entirely it's hard to build up a Hall-looking body of work, whether you're qualified or not.

Cy Williams: I think this is as close as we'll get. Cy Williams showed up at the just-about-right moment—he was also pushing 30 at the start of the live ball era, but he was an accumulator and he lasted forever—and retired, in 1930, with 251 home runs, the third most in baseball history. He was only behind Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby, two of the very best hitters in the history of baseball.

Rk Player HR From To Age G AB R H BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 565 1914 1930 19-35 1935 6512 1717 2262 .347 .476 .710 1.186
2 Rogers Hornsby 279 1915 1930 19-34 2027 7558 1483 2737 .362 .436 .582 1.017
3 Cy Williams 251 1912 1930 24-42 2002 6780 1024 1981 .292 .365 .470 .835
4 Ken Williams 196 1915 1929 25-39 1398 4862 860 1552 .319 .393 .530 .924
5 Hack Wilson 193 1923 1930 23-30 910 3332 676 1072 .322 .408 .586 .994

Lee Smith is Cy Williams. He didn't show up at the ideal time for accruing saves—he was a 90-inning guy for a few years in Chicago before that age-36 season where he got 33 saves in 38 innings—but he hit his prime right when saves did, and he lasted forever.

He was a great closer, but he's probably not a Hall of Famer, and his place on the all-time saves list is a historical accident.

Larry Walker (second year on ballot; 22.9%): I think playing at Coors Field at the peak of its absurdity has confused Larry Walker's Hall of Fame candidacy, but I wouldn't say it's hurt it—when you imagine what he'd look like without those Planet Coors numbers, I think it'd be easier to claim they've helped. I don't think the BBWAA would be itching to induct a guy with 2040 "steroid era" hits and 357 sea-level home runs any more than the Walker actually in front of them, and as we move further into the Humidor Era younger sportswriters might look a little less askance than they should at that three-year stretch where he hit .369.

Walker's problem is more conventional than Coors—he's just another guy who did everything right and nothing especially wrong. The BBWAA's much better than it used to be, but they're still a ways from giving an injury-prone slugger huge baserunning and fielding bonuses; without that value he's a borderline case.

Tony Womack (first year on ballot; 0.0%): I liked bgh's post about the 2004 Cardinals rotation a lot. Here's another 2004 Cardinals stat: Tony Womack earned 3.2 of his 1.2 career bWAR that year. Thusly were Tony La Russa and Walt Jocketty rewarded for one of the dumbest attempts to fill a hole at second base ever made by two competent adults.

Jim Edmonds (Eligible 2016):

Previously on Jim Edmonds is a Hall of Famer and I Can't Stop Talking about It: A (Very Long) Guide to Jim Edmonds's Hall of Fame Candidacy; Bert Blyleven and Jim Edmonds; Some Jim Edmonds Novelties.

This was probably bad news: Bernie Williams, the answer to the question, "What would it be like if a less-valuable version of Jim Edmonds played for the Yankees, won a bunch of World Series titles, and played classical guitar?", got just 9.6% of the vote in his first attempt at Cooperstown.

Bernie isn't a perfect traditional-voter candidate himself; he ended his career as a noticeably terrible defender, and a lot of his value was tied up in his .381 on-base percentage. But Jim Edmonds is a Frankenstein's-monster candidate, an all-time-great center field peak grafted onto a Hall of Very Good body and followed up by a career-candidate's run as a part-time player until he was 40.

I'm also not sure how he'll be viewed by the steroid patrol; Edmonds didn't look anything like a steroid user, but his 30-35 peak will set the more sensitive Jeff Bagwell boycotters off, along with his association with Mark McGwire. The thing working most in Edmonds's favor as a Hall of Fame candidate is time. He won't be eligible for another four years, when whatever happens to Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—and, for that matter, Mark McGwire—will have begun happening.

That's four more years for the BBWAA to come to grips with Edmonds's career, the steroid era, and its own changing demography. Jim Edmonds will need every one.

Scott Rolen (Eligible ???): In his own time Rolen's superstardom seemed better understood by sportswriters than Edmonds's, but it'll be interesting to see whether that's worth more than all the years separating the end of Rolen's career from its peak. Right now Rolen looks a lot like Barry Larkin, without the MVP or the single-team bonus—an injury-prone star who ended his career an injury-prone-but-still-effective role player.

He's a Hall of Famer, but the shape of his career and the Hall of Fame's historical inability to understand third basemen are stacked against his candidacy. A big 2012 would help.

Lance Berkman (Eligible ???): Berkman looked like the perfect Hall of Very Good candidate this time last year, but that was before he had the sixth-best season of his career by bWAR (his best year ever by OPS+) and added 147 hits, 31 home runs, and 94 RBI to his counting stats. Those counting stats will still be a problem, unfortunately; he's 42 home runs from 400 and 178 hits from 2000, and those don't exactly scream Hall of Fame First Baseman anyway.

This is one of the rare cases in which a player's traditional and sabermetric cases for the Hall of Fame align at just-short; his 51.2 bWAR put him, among 1B/COF/DH types, between Jose Cruz and Fred McGriff, in the same zone as guys like Jack Clark, Mark Grace, J.D. Drew, and perennial New York candidates like Don Mattingly and Gil Hodges.

Some of those guys get in—Orlando Cepeda's behind him, along with Jim Rice and the peakier Ralph Kiner—but most of them don't. To be a no-doubt sabermetric candidate he'd probably need two more seasons like the one he just had; to be a no-doubt traditional candidate he'd have to do that, and then something much more interesting than that.

Matt Holliday (Eligible ???): With 30.9 bWAR through his age 31 season, Matt Holliday is well on his way to being Lance Berkman, if things break right.

Edgar Renteria (Eligible after 2026, when he earns his 3000th hit and the Hall of Fame explodes in a fireball): Edgar Renteria 3000 Hit Watch was a great Hall of Fame meme circa 2007; it's cooled off since, along with his bat, but he's still got 2327 of them—about a season's less than Ozzie Smith, if you aren't sufficiently spooked by that yet.

Bonus Candidate: Adam Carpenwright: If you graft Chris Carpenter's Cardinals career onto Adam Wainwright's elbow-surgery stub—the ages work out just right—you get an interesting all-peak Hall of Fame candidate, provided you squint and Chris Carpenter has a few more 15-win seasons. Adam Carpenwright has 20.5 bWAR through his Wainwright seasons, and, even after missing two years in the middle of Carpenter's prime, adds 24.2 more as Carpenter.

That's a short career, but his conventional stats are weirdly impressive—his record's 161-77, which would put him near the top of the career winning percentage chart—and his 24.5 bWAR five-year peak is, at least, better than anything Jack Morris can muster. If you add Jamie Moyer's 37-and-up seasons to that... but I've said too much already.