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Who Does Tony Oliva Open The Hall of Fame Door For? – Part 3

Minnesota Twins’ Tony Oliva and Philadelphia Phillies’ Richie Allen (Dick Allen) holding awards.

This is Part 3 of “Who Does Tony Oliva Open The Hall of Fame Door For?”

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

Short Careers of Hitting Prowess

Although Tony Oliva won a Gold Glove in his career, the reason that he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame is because of his offense. Overall, for his career he has a negative defensive WAR (dWAR).

So who else fits this profile of having a short career by Hall of Fame standards, but was also considered one of the best hitters of their era?

Dick Allen is an obvious choice.

So in order to compile a list of non-Hall of Fame players, my criteria has to be something both Tony Oliva and Dick Allen have in common.

The one thing that stands out to me is that both Oliva and Allen led their leagues in Total Bases during the 1964 season. This was the same season they won Rookie of the Year honors in the AL and NL.

They also have multiple seasons of black ink, and both have multiple top 10 finishes in the MVP voting.

My criteria will be: non-Hall of Famers that averaged at least 275 total bases per 162 games while having at least 5 seasons of finishing in the top 10 of MVP votes and/or led the league in ten offensive categories in their careers.

Here is the list of those players:

PlayerPositionTotal Bases Per 162 Games# of Seasons in Top 10 of MVP VotingTimes Leading League in an Offense CategoryPlate Appearances
Dale MurphyCenter Field2774109041
Vern StephensShortstop282647243
Dave ParkerRight Field28961210184
Andres GalarragaFirst Base290678916
Tony OlivaRight Field2905156880
Fred McGriffFirst Base2946310174
Gary SheffieldRight Field2986410947
Lance BerkmanLeft Field300637814
Don MattinglyFirst Base3004117722
Ryan HowardFirst Base303666531
Dick AllenThird Base3133167315
Shoeless Joe JacksonRight Field3134115697
Mark McGwireFirst Base3155157660
Sammy SosaRight Field3247109896
Barry BondsLeft Field324134512606
Nomar GarciaparraShortstop329556116
Alex RodriguezShortstop338102512207
Manny RamirezLeft Field3409129774
Albert BelleLeft Field3475126676
Juan GonzalezRight Field353557155
Table Above: non-Hall of Famers that averaged at least 275 total bases per 162 games while having at least 5 seasons of finishing in the top 10 of MVP votes and/or led the league in ten offensive categories in their careers.

Players in Bold = have at least 5 seasons of finishing in the top 10 of MVP votes and led the league in at least ten offensive categories in their careers.

Offensive categories included are: Runs, Hits, Doubles, Triples, HR, RBI, SB, BB, AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, and Total Bases. Sacrifices and Hit By Pitches are not included.

For this set of data, I did not include active players, and I left off David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre (as we will wait to see if they get voted in). Jeff Kent, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, and Scott Rolen did not qualify.

Notes about players who just missed the criteria:

+Sherry Magee does not qualify (246 total bases); led league 14 times in an offense category.
+Dixie Walker does not qualify (251 total bases); had 5 top-10 finishes in MVP voting.
+Minnie Minoso (271 total bases) – had 5 top-10 MVP finishes and led league 11 times in an offense category (not counting Hit by Pitches).
+Jason Giambi (269 total bases) and Steve Garvey (274 total bases) just missed due to total bases.
+Will Clark (292 total bases) had 4 top-10 MVP finishes.
+George Foster (276 total bases) barely missed both criteria with 4 top-10 MVP finishes and 9 times leading league in an offense category.
+Dwight Evans (263 total bases) had 4 top-10 MVP finishes and 9 times leading league in an offense category.
+Pete Rose (262 total bases) did not qualify, but had 10 top-10 MVP finishes, and led the league 21 times in an offense category.
I left off players who played before 1911 (first season of MVP voting) and some Negro League players (no MVP awards).
These are the players who would have made it based off of Total Bases and leading the league in an offensive category 10 times: Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, Harry Stovey, Henry Kimbro, Tip O’Neill, Heavy Johnson, Paul Hines, Rap Dixon, Dave Orr, Pete Browning, and John Reilly.
Table Above: Notes about players who are left off the above list.

To go back to my original question of what non-Hall of Famers who have short careers of hitting prowess are comparable to Tony Oliva and Dick Allen…I need to eliminate the players who have 8,000 plate appearances or more from my initial data since they don’t fit the short career part of the equation.

For this next set of data, I’m going to compare Run Expectancy (RE24), Hits per Plate Appearance, wRC+, and WAR among non-Hall of Famers with less than 8,000 plate appearances that averaged at least 275 total bases per 162 games while having at least 5 seasons of finishing in the top 10 of MVP votes and/or led the league in ten offensive categories in their careers.

PlayerRE24RE24/PARE24 RankHits/PAwRC+wRC+ RankbWARfWARWARPAverage WARWAR Rank
Mark McGwire577.8.07510.21157262.266.358.862.41
Shoeless Joe JacksonN/AN/AN/A0.31165162.260.5N/A61.42
Dick Allen477.1.06530.25155358.761.359.159.73
Lance Berkman564.7.07220.2414445255.949.452.44
Tony Oliva315.8.04650.2812964340.747.843.86
Vern Stephens204.8.028100.261171146.448.639.544.85
Nomar Garciaparra229.4.03880.29124844.341.544.943.67
Albert Belle334.4.05040.26139540.14147.642.98
Juan Gonzalez275.9.03970.27129638.735.839.838.110
Don Mattingly242.5.03190.28124842.440.736.339.89
Ryan Howard292.7.04560.231211014.719.614.516.311
Ranking non-Hall of Famers with less than 8,000 plate appearances.

This is interesting as Oliva is fifth in RE24 per plate appearance and sixth among the group in wRC+ and WAR. He is in the middle of the pack which creates good clarity about who should be in this Hall of Fame discussion.

Above Oliva

Shoeless Joe Jackson and Mark McGwire are in the top two of each category. But they can be taken off this list as they have separate issues for being the reason they are not in the Hall of Fame. It is obvious that they are elite and would be in the Hall of Fame if not for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and PED issues.

That leaves Dick Allen as the top hitter in this group of non-Hall of Famers. He ranks third straight across the board, and averaged one hit for every four plate appearances. He also has the highest WARP on Baseball Prospectus, ahead of McGwire by a few decimal points. It is pretty clear that he is a front-runner when you consider players that have less than 8,000 plate appearances in the Major Leagues.

Lance Berkman is next after that. The more I look into Lance Berkman, the more I think he is definitely one of the top “one and done” BBWAA voting snubs. He is right up there with Lou Whitaker as being overlooked. His career RE24 almost matches Mark McGwire step for step. Berkman is 42nd all-time on the RE24 list. Now, there are some non-Hall of Famers ahead of him on the career RE24 list, but almost all of them are active or have PED/gambling issues as being the reason they are not in the Hall of Fame.

For example, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Abreu, and Jason Giambi are ahead of Berkman on the career RE24 list. However, if you take RE24 per plate appearance, Berkman tops them all.

Helton – .067 RE24/PA

Sheffield – .057 RE24/PA

Abreu – .0565 RE24/PA

Giambi – .064 RE24/PA

Berkman has a .072 RE24/PA. That is the highest for a non-Hall of Famer with at least 6,000 plate appearances outside of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. It is right above Manny Ramirez who has a .0716 RE24/PA. Even Larry Walker is behind Berkman with a .0696 RE24/PA. I have no idea why Berkman doesn’t receive more Hall of Fame consideration. The lack of hits is probably a big reason why. Now that Oliva has helped to break down the “Rule of 2,000”, I think Berkman needs to be included in the top tier of non-Hall of Famers along with Dick Allen.

Below Oliva

Holy cow…Vern Stephens! Vern Stephens is on another one of my lists of non-Hall of Famers. I honestly did not know anything about him until I started writing Part 1 of this article. He will most likely not even make the next Era Committee ballot of 10 names, but he sure has a good argument for being on the next ballot. He is fifth in WAR among this group.

Nomar Garciaparra had a few great seasons, but an even shorter career than Oliva. He won two batting titles, but then couldn’t stay on the field much longer than that. He ultimately ended up being traded in 2004, leaving Boston the same season they ended up finally winning the World Series. He needed two more top-10 MVP seasons in his career to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate.

Albert Belle and Juan Gonzalez evoke my adolescent memories, but they couldn’t sustain their runs. They obtained their great offensive numbers in the wrong era. If they had the numbers they had in Oliva’s era, then they would be closer to being in the Hall of Fame.

Don Mattingly is an interesting comparison to Oliva. They both had the same average of hits per plate appearances (0.28) in their career. They both had injuries. Oliva had knee injuries, while Mattingly had back injuries. They both had their best seasons during their age-25 campaign. Mattingly was better defensively with the 9 gold gloves, but Oliva has more batting titles and black ink. Unfortunately for Mattingly, there are several first basemen during his era that are also deserving. Although that really shouldn’t matter as long as the numbers hold up. Mattingly’s prime lasted six years and Oliva’s lasted eight years, and Mattingly’s career RE24 rank is not as impressive because of the two season difference. I think Gil Hodges and his days as a Manager are a better comparison for keeping Mattingly in the Hall of Fame discussion.

Ryan Howard is last among this group in WAR, and second to last in wRC+. His WAR statistic will never make him a serious Hall of Fame candidate, but he should be given credit for helping to lead Philadelphia to a World Series, and making them playoff contenders from 2007-2011.

Conclusion

After not knowing what to expect from the Era Committees, I believe Tony Oliva is a good choice. Dick Allen should have made it as well.

In terms of WAR, Oliva falls short of the average Hall of Fame standard.

However, as we’ve seen, his argument for the Hall of Fame is based on his black ink during his eight years before the knee injury. His Hall of Fame page states, “He totaled 1,917 hits, 329 doubles, 220 home runs and 947 RBI – and was named to the AL All-Star team in eight straight seasons (1964-71). During those eight seasons, he received MVP votes every year.”

The last sentence should read “During those eight seasons, he received at least 5 MVP vote points every year.” That gives him a little separation from the other seven names that we looked at in Part 1.

Anyway, it is obvious that Oliva was a pure hitter who would have better cumulative numbers if not for the injury. He is a welcome addition to the Hall of Fame.

Who does Tony Oliva open the door for now that he is a Hall of Famer?

In my opinion, Tony Oliva opens the door for: Dick Allen, Fred McGriff, Keith Hernandez, Vern Stephens, Ross Barnes, and Lance Berkman.

For the next Golden Era ballot, Dick Allen will have four less competitors on it. This should pave the way for his election. Also, Dick Allen had a short but productive career much like Oliva. It is a shame that they both didn’t get elected in 2022 to provide a full circle moment for the 1964 AL and NL Rookies of the Year.

By my own exercise of comparing players with eight consecutive MVP vote seasons, I would have to say that Fred McGriff, Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez, and Vern Stephens all have at least compelling arguments. McGriff is most likely getting the call soon anyway. He almost reached the 40 percent threshold in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot. If the rules still allowed for 15 years on the BBWAA ballot, McGriff might have made the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 anyway after the backlog dissipates this voting cycle. Once Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa are off the ballot this year, there is going to be less competition. I could see McGriff being one of the top 10 names if he were still included. The Today’s Game Era Committee will vote in December of 2022, and I have a feeling McGriff will get the required votes.

Keith Hernandez only lasted 9 years on the writers’ ballot and should be considered for the Hall of Fame. The problem is that there were so many great first basemen in his era that he doesn’t stand out as always being the best of his time. In the new 1986 New York Mets documentary, Once Upon A Time In Queens, it showed that Hernandez was the unspoken leader of that championship team. His power numbers are low for a first basemen, but his bWAR is 60.3 and his career RE24 is a solid 408.5. The Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985 is also a factor that might keep Hernandez (and Dave Parker) from gaining momentum with the Era Committees as they seem to push for the character clause. Harold Baines and Gil Hodges are recent examples.

Vern Stephens is not a name I thought I would be talking about when I started writing about this. However, he kept appearing when I went searching for specific criteria. With the “2,000 hit rule” being broken down after Oliva’s selection…I think it is fair to give Vern Stephens another look. I know that he doesn’t have the same WAR as Bobby Grich or Andruw Jones, but considering he played a skill position like Shortstop and had the same career drop-off that Andruw Jones had during his age-31 season, it is a somewhat fair comparison to make.

Ross Barnes should also be considered for the Hall of Fame. As I stated in Part 2, if quality over quantity is the trend, then Barnes falls under that category. The guy was obviously the best player from 1871-1876. Who cares if he perfected the “fair-foul hit” to take advantage of a long extinct rule? His dominance may have helped to change the rule going forward. Other players all played under the same rules, and he was the one who led in the most offensive categories. Hall of Famers Deacon White, Jim O’Rourke, and George Wright all played with Ross Barnes, and they could not match the statistics that Barnes had. Apparently, he came down with an illness that prevented him from being the same type of player he was in his 6-year dominant run.

Finally, Lance Berkman finished with 1,905 career hits over 15 seasons. Much like Oliva, Berkman was a line-drive doubles type of hitter. He may not have led the league in as many offensive categories as Oliva did, but Berkman deserves a second look. His RE24 per plate appearance is great. His postseason numbers were great as well.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly, Will Clark, and Dale Murphy.

Steve Garvey was on the writers’ ballot for 15 years but faded in support because of his low WAR and low OBP. I don’t see Garvey getting in, but he did receive six votes out of the required twelve needed for election on the 2020 Modern Era ballot. In my opinion, he is stuck in the transition of old traditional statistics and the new wave of modern statistics. It is questionable if he would receive as many MVP votes if the voting took place today. That said, I won’t ever laugh at anybody who thinks Garvey should be in the Hall of Fame. He is an outlier as far as someone averaging over 100 MVP vote points in an eight year span and not being in the Hall of Fame. It really comes down to his OBP being lower than most other candidates. Whenever I think about taking him off this list, I look at his postseason numbers and think he should stay.

Don Mattingly, statistically speaking, is very similar to Tony Oliva. In almost every category from home runs to batting average, there is little variance between the two players. Even in terms of WAR they are almost exact. Oliva has those extra batting titles and maybe one or two better seasons during his peak run, but they are close overall. If Mattingly either wins a World Series as a manager or gets to 1,500 wins, then he will have a plaque in Cooperstown.

Will Clark just missed some of the criteria I used in this article, but if you are arguing for Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly, then Clark makes it a trio. The overall offensive statistics for all three are pretty similar, and their careers overlap each other. Hernandez and Mattingly were better defensively, but Clark did win one Gold Glove. If you like Run Expectancy (RE24), then Clark leads the trio with a career RE24 of 455.4. Should Hernandez or Mattingly ever get elected to the Hall of Fame, then Clark deserves serious consideration soon after.

Dale Murphy was arguably the best player in the National League from 1982 to 1987. He could not sustain his run, and just missed out on the 400-home run milestone. Can short but dominant runs like Oliva had help Murphy gain extra support? While Murphy had more than 9,000 plate appearances in his career, voters would have to look at his prime seasons and pretend he retired in 1988. His batting average and rate stats suffered from playing a little too long. However, he still averaged 277 total bases per 162 games in his career, and has the MVP votes, Gold Gloves, and black ink to back up a solid Hall of Fame case.

The recent Hall of Fame election of Tony Oliva helps break down the barrier for players with legitimate Hall of Fame cases who lack benchmark cumulative milestones. For me, though, his argument is more about the eight straight seasons of MVP votes and black ink.

Who does Tony Oliva NOT open the door for?

In my opinion, Tony Oliva does not open the door for: all borderline players with less than 2,000 hits and the six players ahead of him on the JAWS Right Field leaderboard that are not in the Hall of Fame and are no longer on the writers’ ballot.

The fear about electing someone with less than 2,000 hits is now you have more players who didn’t quite reach that benchmark that are now included in the ever expanding Hall of Fame debates. Bobby Grich, Jim Edmonds, and Andruw Jones have long been names that come up in debates. Those players may have a better shot now that the “Rule of 2,000” has been lifted. Where does it end though? Are Bobby Bonds, Brian Giles, and Jack Clark legitimate candidates now?

I just think their argument needs to be in a different context. The argument for Grich is not that Oliva got in with less than 2,000 hits, and therefore he needs to be in because he accumulated a higher WAR in his career. Grich’s argument is that he was a plus-defender and a plus-offensive contributor for a certain amount of years when second basemen didn’t hit for power. If he stands out after trying to find comparisons as the best one of that group (much like we did with Oliva), then he deserves to be in.

Andruw Jones may actually be more of a fair comparison to Tony Oliva considering how their careers fell off a cliff in their early thirties. The hard thing to get past with Jones is the perception that he signed a lucrative contract for the Los Angeles Dodgers and then showed up to Spring Training overweight. His batting average was .158 in 2008 when he missed 76 games due to knee surgery, and the Dodgers paid him to play for another team the next season. His best days were behind him at age 31. Compare that with Oliva, who was on top of his game when he injured his knee on wet grass. He tried his best to rehab the knee, but had to have multiple surgeries. The Twins kept him on the roster as a designated hitter from 1973-75, and then he spent 1976 as a coach/pinch-hitter in his final season.

I think the support that Andruw Jones has been receiving on the BBWAA ballot the past couple of years, has helped to soften the stance on Oliva’s lack of 2,000 hits.

Last thoughts

It can be a slippery slope if you lose the narrative voice through which you tell a story. As a baseball fan it is important to keep a personal understanding of your own individual criteria for the Hall of Fame and use the data as guides and building blocks rather than blanket assumptions. Use WAR as a starting point, not the end point. I like to do my own digging. So keep digging!

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