Pete Rose was recently asked who the greatest player not in the Baseball Hall of Fame was. Rose, who knows a thing or two about the subject, named “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. That got us to thinking. Who are the best MLB players not in the Hall of Fame.
To sort this out, we must establish two quick guidelines. First, we’re dealing exclusively with MLB players. Plenty of great Negro League players were deprived of the chance. Unfortunately, finding complete Negro League stats is nearly impossible. Fortunately, the Hall of Fame has done a decent job honoring them. Second, players who played in 2014 and on haven’t even been on a ballot. Since not everyone can be a first ballot Hall of Famer, we’ll exclude players who have played since 2010. Still, that leaves plenty of good options.
A good chunk of our players were in 2007’s Mitchell Report. Still, alleged PED use isn’t the only thing keeping players out. Rose and Jackson are both out for other reasons. A man who pitched against many of the best players listed in the Mitchell Report is also not in, despite having brilliant numbers. In one case, a potential Hall of Fame career was cut tragically short.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has an abundance of worthy candidates yet to be enshrined. These are the best players not in Cooperstown.
10. Thurman Munson
Munson passed away in 1979 when a plane that he was piloting crashed. Munson was a seven-time All-Star, won three Gold Gloves, the 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, the 1976 AL MVP, and caught for two World Series champions. He was also the captain of the New York Yankees since Lou Gehrig. That’s quite a distinction when we think of the great Yankees who played between Gehrig and Munson. While he hadn’t quite built a Hall of Fame resume at that the time of his death, Munson was well on his way.
9. Sammy Sosa
Sosa is one of only nine men in MLB history to have 600 career home runs. He’s also the only man to top 60 home runs in a season on three separate occasions. Sosa and Mark McGwire (more on him later) also renewed interest in baseball in 1998 when so many fans were still turned off from the 1994-95 strike. As huge as his impact was, Sosa was in the Mitchell Report. None of those players are in Cooperstown. Unfortunately for Sosa’s massive impact and gaudy stats just couldn’t overcome the Mitchell Report stain.
8. Gary Sheffield
Sheffield could be productive in any lineup hitting at any ballpark. After all, he played for eight teams. He was a career .292/.393/.514 hitter and hit 509 home runs. Sheffield just hit everywhere he played. Much like Sosa, Sheffield’s place in the Mitchell Report has done a lot to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Many of great hitters are in the Hall of Fame. More than just a select few were nowhere near as productive or as feared as Sheffield in their careers.
7. Rafael Palmeiro
Palmeiro finished his career with 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. For reference, only four other players (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and Eddie Murray) have notched both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Unfortunately for Palmeiro he’s not just a Mitchell Report guy. He’s one of its cover boys. Palmeiro was one of the first players (and the first star) to test positive for PEDs under the new policy in 2005. That flew in the face of what he had defiantly told Congress just before the season. The end result was a sad conclusion to a fantastic career.
6. Curt Schilling
Schilling is often labeled a big-game pitcher. While there are worse labels to have, Schilling was much more. In his career Schilling posted a 3.46 ERA, a 1.137 WHIP, and 3,116 strikeouts with an 8.6 K/9 rate. That compares very well to Tom Glavine (3.54 ERA, 1.314 WHIP, 2,607 strikeouts, 5.3 K/9) and stacks up reasonably well to Greg Maddux (3.16 ERA, 1.143 WHIP, 3,371 strikeouts, 6.1 K/9). Schilling has argued that his outspoken political views have kept him out. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. But Glavine and Maddux were first ballot Hall of Famers, receiving 91.9% and 97.2% of the vote, respectively. Schilling is still waiting for the call.
5. Mark McGwire
Always one of baseball’s most feared and powerful hitters, McGwire had issues staying healthy through much of his career. In 1998, that changed. He hit a then record 70 home runs and along with Sosa filled ballparks around MLB through the entire summer. While his career .263 average is not too impressive, the .394 OBP and .588 slugging percentage more than make up for it, especially when we add his 584 career homers. Like many others, McGwire’s alleged PED use has kept him out of Cooperstown. Whether that’s fair can be debated. McGwire’s impact on baseball at a time when it was needed was massive. That’s not up for debate.
4. Joe Jackson
Jackson was one of eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox to receive a lifetime ban for conspiring to throw that year’s World Series. While he’s not the only one with Hall of Fame caliber credentials, Jackson was the best player of that bunch. His .356 career batting average remains the third-highest in history. His career predated the home run boom that came with Babe Ruth. Still a career .517 slugging percentage tells us that Jackson was not simply a slap hitter. While his plight was overly romanticized in “Field of Dreams,” Shoeless Joe was undeniably one of the greatest players ever.
3. Roger Clemens
Like so many other superstars not in Cooperstown, Clemens is in the Mitchell Report. Unlike most (though not quite all) of them, the general consensus is that he was using PEDs late in his career. In other words, the PEDs might have helped him play at a high level late. Still, Clemens built his Hall of Fame credentials before any wrongdoing took place. All told, Clemens retired with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, 4,672 strikeouts, and a record seven Cy Young Awards, which he won with four different teams. That’s easily Hall of Fame worthy.
2. Pete Rose
Rose’s 4,256 hits are an MLB record. If we revisit this in 100 years, don’t expect that to change. Rose is a three-time World Series champ, made 17-time All-Star teams, claimed two Gold Gloves, and was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1963 and the MVP in 1975. For betting on baseball, Rose was banished in 1989. Like Jackson and the Black Sox, that ban includes the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for him. The no gambling rule didn’t sneak up on him. Still, looking solely at his playing credentials , Rose is clearly a Hall of Famer.
1. Barry Bonds
When 1998 ended, Bonds was a .290/.411/.556 career hitter, had 411 career homers, 445 steals, was an eight-time All-Star, won eight Gold Glove Awards and was a three-time MVP. At that point, the PED use began, at least according to the Mitchell Report. Over the next decade, Bonds would win four more MVPs (nobody else has more than three), got to 500-500 (he’s still the only 400-400 player), and became MLB’s home run king (both career and single-season). Whether he should be kept out of the Hall of Fame is debatable. But both before and after the alleged PED use, nobody out of Cooperstown is as good as Bonds. That’s clear.