With all the recent talk about Mark McGwire, I’ve decided to think about first basemen and the Hall of Fame. The last MLB first baseman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was Eddie Murray in 2003. Therefore, when the Class of 2010 was announced last week and only Andre Dawson was voted in, it marked the seventh consecutive season in which no MLB first baseman was inducted. (I mention MLB because two Negro League first basemen, Mule Suttles and Ben Taylor, were inducted in 2006.)
Mark McGwire and Fred McGriff were the two highest vote getters among first basemen in last week’s Hall of Fame election, with McGwire receiving 128 votes (23.7%) and McGriff receiving 116 votes (21.5%). Carlos Delgado is still active, having last played for the Mets in 2009. Let’s first compare the career numbers of McGwire and McGriff before we talk about Delgado.
Mark McGwire finished his career with a .263 batting average, .394 OBP and .982 OPS. He hit 583 HR from his late season call-up in 1986 until his retirement in 2001 (currently tying him with Alex Rodriguez for eighth on the all-time career home run list). He also scored 1,167 runs and drove in 1,414 runs. He won the 1987 AL Rookie of The Year Award and the 1990 AL Gold Glove Award. During his 15-year career, he was selected to participate in 12 All-Star Games. He also helped his Oakland Athletics team to three consecutive American League pennants from 1988-1990, winning the World Series in 1989.
Despite all his power, he only won three Silver Slugger Awards (1992, 1996, 1998). Furthermore, he never won an MVP Award and only finished in the top ten in the MVP voting on five occasions. He also never hit more than 28 doubles in a season. Also, he only scored 584 runs over his career when he DIDN’T drive himself in with a home run. He finished his career with 1,596 strikeouts, which was only thirty fewer than his lifetime hit total of 1,626.
Fred McGriff retired in 2004 with a .284 lifetime batting average, .377 OBP and .886 OPS. He hit 493 HR over his 18-year career. McGriff finished with a lifetime total of 2,490 hits, 1,349 runs scored and 1,550 RBI. He was selected to five All-Star teams and helped the Atlanta Braves win two National League pennants, including their only World Series title in Atlanta when they won it all in 1995.
Like Mark McGwire, McGriff’s prodigious power only won him three Silver Slugger Awards, but he did finish in the top ten in the MVP voting six times. He never hit 40 HR in a season (his career high was 37 when he split his 1993 season between the San Diego Padres and the Atlanta Braves), scored over 100 runs in a season only once and never collected more than 107 RBI in a single season. Consistency from season to season, not gaudy numbers, was the trademark of Fred McGriff. This was similar to the approach taken by Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who hit 504 HR over his career, but never hit more than 33 in any individual season.
So when we compare McGwire and McGriff, it appears that McGwire was far more of a one-dimensional player than McGriff was. It was all or nothing for Big Mac, whereas McGriff could beat you with a home run as well as with a two-run single. McGwire hit 90 more home runs than McGriff, yet the Crime Dog scored 182 more runs and had 136 more RBI than McGwire. McGwire had slightly over 1,000 hits that weren’t home runs, while McGriff had almost 2,000 hits that weren’t homers.
Now let’s look at Carlos Delgado. Remember that his cumulative numbers will continue to go up as he continues to play in the major leagues.
Going into the 2010 season, Delgado’s career batting average stands at .280. He also has a .383 OBP and .929 OPS. He has hit 473 HR since making his debut for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 and has racked up 2,038 hits. Delgado has scored 1,241 runs and has driven in 1,512 runs.
Unfortunately, Delgado has only appeared in the postseason once, with the 2006 Mets (Toronto won the World Series in 1993, but Delgado was not on their postseason roster). He has four top ten finishes in the MVP voting, but only has three Silver Slugger Awards (a recurring theme in this blog) and two All-Star Game appearances to show for it.
Another negative about Delgado is his lofty strikeout total. He has struck out 1,745 times in his career (first full season was 1996), including a stretch of 13 consecutive seasons in which he fanned over 100 times; a streak that only came to an end last year when he spent over four months on the disabled list for the Mets.
So who gets into the Hall of Fame first between McGwire, McGriff and Delgado? Do any of them make it? I think Delgado has the best chance of the three. Here are some more stats that might help his cause.
Harold Baines has the most RBI for any player eligible for the Hall of Fame who has not been elected. Over his career, Baines collected 1,626 RBI. Delgado needs 114 RBI to tie Baines. It might be difficult for Delgado to do it in one season because of the uncertainty due to his hip injury, but if he doesn’t spend another four months on the DL, he should easily surpass 1,626 RBI before he retires. Even two half-seasons should give him enough time to surpass Baines.
Al Oliver has the most doubles for any Hall of Fame eligible player who has not yet entered its hallowed halls. He hit 529 doubles over his career. Delgado has 483 doubles entering the 2010 season. With 46 doubles, he will tie Oliver on the all-time doubles list. This can be achieved in approximately two seasons, especially considering that Delgado has hit at least 26 doubles in every full season he has played.
Every 500 HR hitter who is eligible for the Hall of Fame has been enshrined except for Mark McGwire, who has the steroid cloud raining down upon him. Delgado is only 27 HR short of the coveted 500 HR plateau.
Only ten players in major league history have hit at least 500 doubles and 500 HR. Those players are Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Ted Williams and Eddie Murray. Of those ten, six are in the Hall of Fame, two are not yet eligible (Bonds and Palmeiro) and two are still playing (Griffey and Ramirez). Carlos Delgado needs only 17 doubles and 27 HR to become the 11th member of this esteemed club.
Delgado has hit at least 30 HR in a season 11 times and has driven in 100 or more runs in a season nine times (plus three additional seasons where he drove in at least 90 runs). These figures may still go up before he retires.
Mark McGwire was too one-dimensional and has too much controversy surrounding him. Fred McGriff was consistently good, but never consistently great. Carlos Delgado, however, has been putting up numbers that have been great for over a decade. When you put Delgado’s stats against those of power hitters currently in the Hall of Fame, it should be clear that not only does Delgado get into the Hall of Fame before McGwire and McGriff, but he should go in on the first ballot. With good health (certainly a question after the events of 2009), Delgado might put up numbers that put him among the best offensive first basemen of all-time.