Jeff Mordock / Hall of Fame
[Editor's Note: The following article received lots of feedback from knowledgeable baseball fans. Please read their comments for additional points of view and some corrections to the numbers. You can also email Jeff at directly JMordock@baseballguru.com with any new comments.]
NO WAY, JOSE
by Jeff Mordock
Yesterday (May 14, 2002) was not only the last day of Jose Canseco's controversial career. It was also the first day of his controversial Hall of Fame candidacy. If preliminary debates are any indication, this could develop into one of baseball's greatest controversies. ESPN.com polled 69,058 readers and found that 49.3% believe Canseco should be enshrined in Cooperstown, compared to 50.6% who say, "no."
The real question is not "Should Canseco be enshrined in the Hall of Fame?" but rather, "What is wrong with the 49.3% who believe he belongs there?" Advocates can argue that he hit 462 home runs, knocked in 1,407 runs, earned both MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, and inaugurated the 40 homer/40 steal club. But those gaudy power numbers overshadow a career that was nothing but wasted potential.
During Canseco's 16 full seasons, only his 1988 campaign can truly be considered a dominant season. He only produced two other seasons (1990 and 1991) that can even be viewed as productive. The other 13 seasons were injury-plagued with mediocre power numbers for the live ball era. Canseco exceeded 130 games only six times in his career, making him a part-time player for more than nearly two-thirds of his career. After capturing the MVP award in 1988, Canseco placed among the top 10 in MVP votes during one other season. Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski are the only modern-era Hall of Famers who finished with less top ten MVP finishes, but at least they have 21 Gold Gloves between them. Canseco's value to a team was so trivial that two last place organizations (1997 A's and 2000 Devil Rays) couldn't wait to dump him.
Canseco's fielding was too suspect for Hall of Fame consideration. Only 3 times in 16 full seasons did Canseco play at least 130 games in the outfield. That means Canseco didn't play the field for the two-thirds of his career in which he was capable of being in the lineup. Of all the Hall of Famers active since the American League introduced the designated hitter, no player spent more than a third of their career as a designated hitter. Reggie Jackson has played the most games at DH among Hall of Famers, appearing in the lineup as a DH in 630 of his 2102 total games. George Brett ranks second, appearing as DH in 506 of his 2200 total games. In contrast, Canseco was a DH in 837 of his 1018 career games. That's practically his entire career.
Although Canseco's .266 lifetime batting average ranks higher than Harmon Killebrew (.256) and Reggie Jackson (.263) and compares favorably to Mike Schmidt (.267), this is the only area where Canseco can compete with those players. Killebrew ranked among the top five home run leaders in 12 of his 16 full seasons, capturing 6 titles. Mike Schmidt placed among the top five home run leaders in 12 of his 16 full seasons, with 8 home run titles. Reggie Jackson finished in the top five home leaders during 11 of his 20 full seasons, winning 4 titles. Canseco? He finished among the top five only 6 times during his 16 full seasons and snagged only 2 home run titles. Even Dave Kingman was more consistent, placing in the top five during 9 of his 15 full seasons and capturing 2 home run titles. While his career power totals may be high, Canseco's season power totals are remarkably inconsistent.
The true measure of a power hitter's value is their OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). Canseco's OPS is .867, which doesn't even place him the top 100. Players who have a higher OPS than Canseco include Rusty Greer, Tommy Henrich, Dick Allen, Al Rosen, and Will Clark. Even Chick Hafey, Larry Doby, and Jim Bottomley-all Hall of Famers with half as many home runs as Canseco-have a higher OPS.
Another nail in Canseco's coffin is his lack of post-season production. Jackson may possess a lower lifetime batting average and more strike outs, but he owns 10 World Series home runs and .357 World Series average. Canseco's lifetime World Series batting average is .156 and he only hit .184 overall in the post-season. Of his 7 post-season home runs, 4 came during his magical 1988 season. Canseco was a non-entity in the 1995 American League Division Series, failing to get a hit in 13 at-bats. People watching the series on television got as many hits as he did during that series. His reputation for choking in the post-season was so bad that the 2000 Yankees did not add him to their post-season roster until the World Series. Even then, Joe Torre limited him to one at-bat (a strikeout).
Hall of Famers should be remembered for their on-field heroics, but does anyone remember Canseco hitting the first Upper Deck home run at the Skydome during the 1989 American League Championship Series? Who remembers Canseco denting an NBC camera with a towering home run? Fans do remember a ball bouncing off his head for a home run. They remember him begging Kevin Kennedy to let him pitch, then watching him blow out his arm. They know he dated Madonna and was arrested for speeding. This is not the way fans should remember a Hall of Famer.
The only argument in favor of enshrining Canseco is that if he continued to play he would have hit 500 home runs. Well he didn't. A common knock on most Hall of Famers is that they hung around too long and padded their statistics. But that means someone wants them. An organization believes the Hall of Famer can teach their younger players, boost morale, or attract fans who know they won't have many opportunities left to watch that player. Yet no one wanted Canseco. He begged for a job, but no one would listen. This highlights the lack of value he brought to his teams.
A Hall of Famer is someone who consistently brought value to their teams
either in the field, at the plate, or in the clubhouse. Canseco never provided
value in those areas, and as a result, is clearly not a Hall of Famer.