The Hall of Very Good and the Curious Case of Nick Markakis

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Try as I might, I’m still struggling to get past Harold Baines being voted into the MLB Hall of Fame. Yes, pitchers and catchers have reported, and there are a lot of really good baseball stories that should be occupying my mind right now, but I…just…can’t.

So one last post, aimed directly at those “participation trophy” voters who load their ballots with ten names regardless of worthiness, and who I blame this entire mess on. They have created The Hall of Very Good, and like it or not, Harold Baines is their poster child.

And if Baines is in the Hall of Fame, who next? In a clear sign that I am spending way too much time in my own head, I can’t stop thinking about the clear threat Nick Markakis represents to the National Pastime these days.

We all know Markakis. He’s a very good (remember that term), not great, outfielder, who currently calls Atlanta home. He’s best known as a good player on a lot of terrible Orioles teams over the past decade, and in the occasional year where the O’s somehow managed to cobble together a contender, Markakis was usually a key contributor. He plays a solid to above average right field (three gold gloves, including last season) and possesses a plus arm.

In 2018, Markakis’ first with Atlanta, he played all 162 games (no small feat these days), and following a blistering first half made the All Star team for the first time in his career. He cooled off in the season’s second half, but still put up a very good year, hitting .297 with 14 dingers, 93 RBI’s and 43 doubles. His OPS was .806, the fourth highest of his 12-year career.

Okay, so why is this very good, but otherwise unremarkable, outfielder occupying space in my tortured mind?

Because Markakis only recently turned 35 and already has accumulated 2237 hits (474 of them doubles) for his career, that’s why!

Join me in making a few assumptions here. Let’s assume Markakis can put up two more solid years as a starter, two more after that as a platoon player, and one last “hanging on for a final payday” season in his age 39 year.

That’s potentially 600 more hits for his very good career (call it 160 a year as a starter, 100 a year as a platoon player and 80 more before he calls it a career in his final season). Let’s take our assumptions one step further, and anticipate that within those 600 hits, there’s another 120 doubles, 50 HR’s and 300 RBI’s.

Meaning at the conclusion of the 2023 MLB season, Nick Markakis hangs up his spikes with career totals of 2800+ hits, 600 doubles, 230 or so HR’s and 1300 RBI’s. All this to go along with a .280+ batting average and a .775 or so career OPS. Plus the assorted Gold Gloves and aforementioned above-average skillset when he patrolled right field on defense.

By now you know exactly where I’m heading with this. Yup, Harold Baines.

Our newly minted Hall of Very Good inductee enters Cooperstown with career numbers of 2866 hits, 488 doubles, 384 HR’s and 1628 RBI’s, along with a .289 average and an .820 OPS. While rarely playing the field and earning zero Gold Gloves. However, in defense of the very good Mr. Baines, he was a 6-time All Star and finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting twice (even if it was a ninth and tenth place finish).

Harold Baines was a great player. Harold Baines was not a Hall of Fame player.

My fear is that these bozos who’ve been awarded HOF ballots are already rubbing their hands together in eager anticipation of including Markakis on their ballots somewhere around Christmas of 2028. And cue the ghosts of Ty Cobb (currently writhing in flaming agony in one of the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno), Christy Mathewson and The Babe, as they shake their immortal heads in dismay.

The bozos are gonna do it — mark my words. And the way things are going, when the caretakers at Cooperstown clear out room for Markakis’ HOF bust, it will be placed alongside a number of other undeserving recent inductees who will benefit from the voters largesse the same way Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Roy Halladay have.

What to do about this seemingly irreversible negative momentum that’s currently watering down Hall of Fame enshrinement? Well, how about pointing out some baselines for voters to consider prior to eagerly scribbling in the maximum ten names on their ballots every year?

If we can agree that two of the better pitching resumes on the outside looking in at our hallowed Hall belong to Tommy John (288 wins, three 20-win seasons, 3.34 ERA) and Jim Kaat (283 wins, three 20-win seasons, 3.45 ERA, not to mention an unprecedented 16 consecutive Gold Gloves), then how about putting one out there for the position players?

Let’s call it the Dave Parker Test.

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If a voter, after carefully considering the candidacy of a player they plan on adding to their overstuffed ballot, can with a straight face tell us that the vote they are casting is for a player of  superior skills and statistics to those of The Cobra, then I’ll give that vote my seal of approval.

You remember Parker, right? Dominant right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ’70’s? Somehow Dave Parker is not in the Hall of Fame. And I’m okay with that, despite his awesome career and the fact that I would have cast a vote for him, because we are talking about the Hall of Fame.

All Cobra did over his 19 year career was hit .290 with an .810 OPS. Inferior stats to Baines, you say? Okay, well consider that in three fewer seasons, Parker accumulated 526 doubles, 339 HR’s, 1493 RBI’s and 2712 hits. He made seven All Star squads (winning MVP in 1979), took home NL MVP honors in 1978 (was a Top 10 vote getter six times) and won the 1977 batting title. Oh, and he had a cannon for an arm in right field, and earned three Gold Gloves while he was at it.

And Parker was a visible and dominant figure of the era. Yes, there was the cocaine scandal in the ’80’s, and maybe his Hall candidacy suffered from that, but I have a hard time understanding why Parker isn’t in Cooperstown, but Harold Baines (not to mention Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines) is.

Here are a few more to think about.

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The sad news from last week that Hall of Famer Frank Robinson had passed away brought to mind his outfield mate with the Reds in the early ’60’s, Vada Pinson.

In an 18-year career, Pinson stroked 2757 hits (leading the league twice, and four times exceeding 200 hits in a season), including 485 doubles, 127 triples, and 256 HR’s. A speedster, he also stole 305 bases, while hitting .286 on his career with a .769 OPS. He appeared in 4 All Star games, and took home a Gold Glove in 1961, the same year he finished third in MVP voting (he was also 10th in 1963). Pinson’s Hall candidacy was hurt by the shadow of Robinson during his Reds days, as well as the fact that he only saw the postseason once, when Cincy was swept by the ’61 Yanks.

Was Vada Pinson a Hall of Famer? Probably not, but you could argue his career surpassed that of Baines and Raines.

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How about Al Oliver? Like Harold Baines, this man could rake.

In a 17-year career, Oliver appeared in seven All Star games and amassed 2743 hits (529 of them doubles). He had a career .303 average (.795 OPS) with 219 dingers and 1326 RBI’s, and made the Top Ten of MVP voting three times. Is Oliver a Hall of Famer? No, to me he’s a classic Hall of Very Good guy, beloved by Pirates fans, overshadowed by Pops and Cobra on those iconic Bucs teams, but no denying he was a very good player in his day.

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And one can’t complete this discussion without taking a quick look at Richie/Dick Allen.

Allen was a statistical monster when he felt like playing. In 15 seasons, he had a lifetime .292 average, and .912 (not a misprint) OPS. He took home Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 and was the AL MVP in 1972 (one of three times he appeared in the Top 10). He appeared in seven All Star Games, and six times finished among the Top 10 in triples in his league (he even led the NL once). For his career, he belted 351 homers and drove in 1119 runs. He “only” tallied 1848 hits, and his annual belly aching likely turned off a number of voters, but Allen may be the closest of them all to belonging in The Hall, certainly more deserving than many of the recent inductees.

My humble request to those holding the honor of casting a Hall of Fame ballot is a simple one: think a little, and don’t view ten slots as a requirement to enter ten names for induction.

Think about Dave Parker and Richie Allen. About Kitty Kaat and Tommy John. And about Willie, Mickey and Joltin’ Joe. Enshrinement at Cooperstown is and always will be an honor, and the voters are entrusted with protecting that honor, not watering it down.

And while you’re at it voters, figure out a way to get Gil Hodges into The Hall!

As a player Hodges maxed out as a first baseman worthy of the tippy top of the Hall of Very Good. But add in the work he did as skipper during the Miracle Mets run of 50 seasons ago, and you can’t tell me he hasn’t earned legendary status (heck, the guy even won 76 games managing the Senators in 1967 for gosh sakes!). Put him in.

That’s it (for another year anyway). Back to pitchers and catchers — play ball!

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