What makes Vladimir Guerrero and the rest of this class Hall of Famers

ByDavid Schoenfield ESPN logo
Friday, July 27, 2018

I'm a big Hall of Fame type, so I love that six players will officially get enshrined into Cooperstown this weekend. Even better, it's six relatively recent stars who many of us enjoyed watching through the years: Jack Morris is the oldest of the six and began his major league career in 1977, pitching through the 1994 season. Believe me, this is a much more enjoyable Hall of Fame class than, say, 2013, when the inductees were an umpire who died in 1935, an owner who helped keep the color barrier intact and a catcher who played so long ago his SABR bio begins, "He caught baseball fever after the Civil War."

Still, maybe you are younger than me and didn't see these guys play, or at least missed some of their prime seasons. Let's review why each player who will be inducted this weekend is now called a Hall of Famer.

Jack Morris

Morris is the most controversial Hall of Famer since Jim Rice or maybe Phil Rizzuto ... or maybe ever. In contrast to Bert Blyleven, who became the pro-stathead cause célbre and eventually got elected in his 14th year of eligibility, Morris was a lightning rod for the statheads who argued against his case, pointing to his 3.90 career ERA and 44.0 career WAR.

Morris' ERA is the highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher, his adjusted ERA is better than only Catfish Hunter and Rube Marquard, and his WAR is the lowest for any non-reliever since Hunter was elected in 1987. Every other starting pitcher elected since 1980 has a career WAR of at least 60.0 except for Hunter, Morris and Addie Joss (and he died two days after his 31st birthday from tubercular meningitis).

So why did Morris get elected? Maybe the root of the argument spins around this idea, something I've come around on as a plausible Hall of Fame discussion point: Can you tell the story of the player's era without that player being a prominent part of that story? A recent example is David Ortiz. If you're going strictly by career value, Ortiz's Hall of Fame case is murky, with just 55.3 WAR. But he obviously towered over the game; you can't tell the story of 2004 to 2016 without Ortiz as a central figure. You could make a similar argument for Yadier Molina, a player whose Hall of Fame case is better than his numbers.

That's kind of the Morris argument. He pitched one of the most famous games in baseball history. He won two games in the 1984 World Series for the Tigers, one of the best and most famous teams of the '80s. He was a workhorse in a decade in which many of the other top pitchers didn't stay healthy enough to cement their Hall of Fame cases. You can't really tell the story of the 1980s and 1991 without Morris as a main character.

Now, the question is whether he actually accomplished enough for that other stuff to matter. The BBWAA said no; the Modern Era Committee said yes.

Alan Trammell

Morris' longtime Tigers teammate was the better player. With 70.7 career WAR, including six seasons at 6.0 or higher, Trammell should have been a fairly easy selection for the BBWAA, but he didn't even get to 40 percent of the vote until his final year of eligibility. It never made sense that Barry Larkin, with similar career stats and value, made it on his third try, while Trammell, like Morris, had to go the special committee route.

The reason for this, I think, is pretty clear: Trammell was sort of the No. 2 AL shortstop behind Cal Ripken, while Larkin basically succeeded Ozzie Smith as the perceived No. 1 NL shortstop. It was more about timing than numbers (and it didn't help that Trammell hit the ballot in 2002, when shortstops like Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada were putting up huge offensive numbers).

As a player, I would describe Trammell as quietly smooth. He had good range and a good arm, although I don't think anyone would call him flashy. He never said much, was never controversial, played on a lot of good teams in Detroit and should have won the 1987 AL MVP award (he finished second). He's maybe similar to Brandon Crawford in some ways, except a better hitter for his era (Trammell had a 110 career OPS+ whereas Crawford is at 99). Trammell was good enough to reach the majors at 19 and play until he was 38, with that big peak in the middle.

Vladimir Guerrero

By the numbers, Guerrero wasn't necessarily a slam-dunk Hall of Famer:

Guerrero: .318, 449 HRs, 1496 RBIs, 1328 R, 140 OPS+, 59.4 WAR

Larry Walker: .313, 383 HRs, 1311 RBIs, 1355 R, 141 OPS+, 72.7 WAR

Dwight Evans: .272, 385 HRs, 1384 RBIs, 1470 R, 127 OPS+, 67.1 WAR

Andruw Jones: .254, 434 HRs, 1289 RBIs, 1204 R, 111 OPS+, 62.4 WAR

Jim Edmonds: .284, 393 HRs, 1199 RBIs, 1251 R, 132 OPS+, 60.4 WAR

Guerrero's defense was more exciting than effective at times. His knees went bad and his last 5-WAR season came at age 30. He had to DH his final three seasons and was done at 36. He didn't hit 500 home runs in an era when many of the top sluggers did.

Yet, Guerrero was elected on his second try while those other outfielders haven't sniffed the Hall of Fame. Sometimes you have to go beyond the numbers; it doesn't have to be an accounting class (even if the ultimate objective is to elect the best players). When you watched Vlad with the Expos and his first couple of seasons with the Angels, you knew you were watching a Hall of Famer. He put up monster numbers, hitting for average and power while never striking out 100 times and swinging at pretty much any pitch his long arms could reach. He was dynamic and reckless and amazing and one of a kind.

Jim Thome

The first-ballot choice epitomizes modern baseball: home runs, walks and strikeouts, doing all three with one of the most powerful left-handed swings ever seen. He reached 40 home runs six times on his way to 612 career blasts and was never tainted by steroids speculation -- unlike many of his slugging peers from his era -- making his selection an easy one. He was a big ol' country boy who swung really hard.

In another time, maybe Thome wouldn't have been as appreciated. He hit .276 for his career, but his 1,747 walks (seventh all time) pushed his on-base percentage to .402. He couldn't run much (although he was athletic enough to come up as a third baseman for a few years), but he scored over 1,500 runs because he hit home runs and got on base. By the early 2000s, the immense value this type of player produced became better understood (even though Bill James and others had been writing about this since the 1980s), and by the time Thome reached the Hall of Fame ballot, his status as one of the best hitters of the past 25 years was clear. And beyond all that: 612 home runs is a huge, huge number.

Chipper Jones

As one of the best third basemen in the game's history and the key position player on the long-running Braves dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s, Jones was an easy first-ballot selection, finishing with 97.2 percent of the votes, leaving you to wonder why 12 voters failed to mark his name. Maybe they were Mets fans.

Jones becomes the second first overall pick of the draft to get elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Ken Griffey Jr. He hit .303/.401/.529 in his career with 468 home runs, 1,623 RBIs and 1,619 runs. Among players who were primarily third basemen, only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews hit more home runs (Adrian Beltre is one behind), only Beltre has more RBIs, and nobody has more runs. During his 1996-2003 peak, he averaged 32 home runs and 107 RBIs (reaching 100 RBIs every season) and 5.7 WAR per season. He bounced back from some injuries to then post two 7-WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008 (winning a batting title in 2008 with a .364 mark). The man could flat-out rake.

Of course, he was a constant presence on our TV screens in the fall, appearing in 12 postseasons with the Braves (and hitting .287 with a .409 OBP and more walks than strikeouts). The Braves won the World Series only in his rookie season in 1995, but it wasn't Chipper's fault that they never won again, and now he joins the great pitching trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in Cooperstown.

Trevor Hoffman

Closers come and go, often burning out rapidly after a few good seasons. Hoffman, a one-time minor league shortstop, recorded his first 20-save season in 1994 and his final one in 2009. His changeup was one of the best in the game's history, allowing him to succeed into his 40s even as his fastball diminished.

I get the argument against closers: Hoffman certainly didn't have the career value of a starting pitcher like Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling, two contemporaries who have to get elected to Cooperstown, but Hoffman and Mariano Rivera are so far ahead of everyone else on the all-time saves list that Hoffman was finally rewarded on his third ballot. Rivera has 652 saves while Hoffman is second at 601, but third on the list is Lee Smith, way down at 478, and only three others have exceeded 400. The top active guy is Craig Kimbrel with 322 saves, meaning he's only 53.5 percent of the way to Hoffman. Plus, he had the best entry song of all time, and I hope some Padres fan brings a boom box and plays "Hells Bells" as he walks up to the podium for his speech.