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Ballot 28: Melvin Mora


Melvin Mora

Played 13 years for four different teams

Two-time All-Star finished with 277 average with 1,503 hits. 27.3 WAR, 7.2 WAA

Pro argument: Had a Hall of Fame caliber season in 2004 and three other seasons that were almost as good.

Con argument:  He was not good enough for long enough.

Deserves to be in Hall?: No

Will get elected this year?: No

Will ever get elected?: No

* * *

Melvin Mora is another one of those good players who took a long time to get to the Major Leagues. The thing about the Hall of Fame is: you better start young. This should be no surprise, but there are only a couple of every day players in the Hall of Fame who did not get fully started until they were 28 years old. One, Jackie Robinson, was obviously a special case. The other was Sam Rice, who enlisted in the Navy, began his career at a pitcher and served in World War I.

Mora grew up in Venezuela and signed with Houston when he was 19 years old. And for the next nine of so years he plodded around the minor leagues, he played in Taiwan, he was let go by the Astros, he signed with the Mets, he was let go by the Mets, he signed again with the Mets. In 1999, finally, after all the struggling, after all the sacrifices, after all those years when people told him to give up already, he had an all-world spring training and was so sure he had made the Mets that he packed his bags to go with the team to their final exhibition game.

It was only then that Mora was told, uh, no, he had not made the team. Mets’ manager Bobby Valentine had just forgotten to cut him.

“I feel like I want to go to a bridge and jump off,” Mora would tell a friend.

Well. Mora did make it up to the Mets later in the year, but he and Bobby Valentine would never quite figure out how to communicate. Once, Mora would remember, Valentine told him to go to second base. But Mora’s English was not fully developed, and he went to left field instead. He would later call that his most embarrassing moment.

Later — in the National League Championship Series, no less — Valentine forgot to take Rickey Henderson out of the game between innings. So, just as the inning was about to begin, he sent Mora out to left to alert Rickey who, you might say, was not happy.

He probably was not too troubled when the Mets traded him to Baltimore along with three others for Mike Bordick.

He became an everyday player (more or less) with the Orioles in 2001 — that was the same year that his wife, Gisel, had quintuplets. Yeah, quintuplets. Some years later, a reporter wanted to do a story on Mora for Father’s Day. “Every day is Father’s Day for me,” Mora said.

Anyway, he became an everyday player, and he put up two mostly forgettable seasons offensively but proved to be a defensive maestro who could play every position. In 2002, he played 41 games at shortstop, 12 games at second, 31 games in center, 74 games in left and five games in right. The most incredible part of that — and I suspect it would be hard to find a player who played so many games at so many different key defensive positions — was that he didn’t even play a single game at third base, which would turn out to be his natural position.

So, Mora was a valuable player even before he started really hitting. Then in 2003, he started really hitting. Mora only played 96 games that year because of a couple of injuries, but if he had played a full season he probably would have had a viable case for MVP (over A-Rod!). He hit .317/.418/.503. He played six positions and displayed above average range at all six of them. He was fantastic.

And then he had his greatest year, 2004. The Orioles finally found him a position, the one he had not played either of the two previous years, third base. And, all settled in there, Mora hit .340, led the league with a .419 on-base percentage. He slugged .562. He hit 41 doubles and 27 homers, scored 111 runs, drove in 104. That’s a Chipper Jones kind of season. That’s a George Brett kind of season.

He fell off considerably the next year, and basically was never the same player again after that … because that’s what happens when you start late. That’s why it’s so hard to make the Hall of Fame if you are a late bloomer … it’s difficult to maintain Hall of Fame level excellence as you progress through your mid-to-late 30s. He did have a good year in 2008, hitting .285 with 23 homers and 104 RBIs, but he wasn’t the Melvin Mora of 2004. He played a year in Colorado and another in Arizona and called it a career at 39.

Melvin Mora’s career is an inspiration. When he was 6, he watched someone pull a gun and kill his father — a tragic case of mistaken identity. He spent his childhood moving from home to home. He was something of a soccer prodigy but, surprisingly, there weren’t many financial opportunities for a young soccer star in Venezuela then. He played baseball as a way to get his family out of poverty. And it was a long journey.

And so you almost wish there was a different kind of Hall of Fame too, one you might put in Hoboken, N.J. or on the West side of Cincinnati, and it doesn’t celebrate the greatest players exactly. It doesn’t even celebrate the Hall of Very Good. It celebrates those players who overcame the most to make it to the big leagues, the ones who kept going through sheer ambition or hunger or love.

Every vote Melvin Mora gets, if he gets any, will be misplaced because there are at least 25 players on the ballot who had better big league careers. But if I was starting that other Hall of Fame, the Striver’s Hall of Fame, Mora would be a first ballot inductee.


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40 Responses to Ballot 28: Melvin Mora

  1. dtslcd says:

    Joe, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this gargantuan effort of yours to highlight these non HOFers. Frankly I did not know the back story of any of the players you have profiled, and I never would have – thank you!

  2. DJ MC says:

    Melvin Mora is, arguably, the second-best third baseman in Orioles history. He won’t be for long thanks to another double-M ex-shortstop, but right now he’s the #2. Granted, the number one is one of the greatest to ever play the game, but the Orioles’ third basemen over the years have tended to run very hot-and-cold. They are greats: Brooks (duh), Ripken (double-duh), Machado, DeCinces. Or, they are just bad: Leo Gomez, Craig Worthington, Tony Batista, Mark Reynolds.

    Mora likely will get a bit lost in the memory of the bad years, even though he was one of the brightest spots in an era of darkness. He went into the Orioles Hall of Fame last year, and deserved that spot.

    • invitro says:

      DeCinces obliterates Mora in WAR and WAA. Even just counting his years on the O’s, he out-WAA’s Mora, 11.8 to 10.3. And Machado already obliterates them both. So Mora can’t be any higher than #4. (And if you include the St. Louis Browns, Harlond Clift is way ahead of DeCinces and Mora. There might be more, but it looks like: BRob >> Machado > Clift > DeCinces > Mora.)

  3. Edwin says:

    Great post as usual. My guess is that next up will be Jason Varitek.

  4. Darrel says:

    The whole starting late, or at least figuring it out late, leads me to think about two of the biggest free agents this year and how their HoF cases will play out. I’m talking about Bautista and Encarnacion. 2 guys who have been elite power guys since about 2010. Any list of the power categories over the last 6 seasons is dominated by them, and Miggy of course, yet I suspect they will both be one and done on the HoF ballot. For various reasons neither guy figured it out until his late 20’s and with decline already showing for Bautista and EE probably not far behind in that regard the career numbers will never add up to HoF worthy despite the 5-7 year run of excellence.

    Another Blue Jay will probably suffer the same fate as Josh Donaldson likely doesnt have enough MVP caliber years left to get into the Hall. It all leads back to the discussion about whether a short run of dominance should be rewarded or if 15 years of very good is more important. Suspect we have folks here on both sides of that particular argument.

    • invitro says:

      I’m fine with rewarding short runs of dominance. The problem with what you’re saying is that neither Mora nor Encarnacion were anything remotely close to dominating in their best short runs. They were average All-Stars, and that’s great, but “dominating” usually means playing at a HoF level, and they weren’t anywhere near that.

      Bautista might have a case… his peak does fit in with that of some RF’s that have been mentioned as HoF for a short term: Strawberry, DwEvans, Parker. (Still, at RF, you have non-HoFers like Walker and Abreu that utterly destroy these guys’ peaks, so I’m shrugging these guys off until the HoF voters get some sanity and enshrine Larry and Bobby. I know Abreu isn’t up for three more years, but I’ll predict he doesn’t break 20%.)

      • Darrel says:

        Oh I’m not saying that either guy should make it but if you add 5 years of EE’s recent production to the front end of his career the numbers start getting interesting. Seriously add 150 HR(30 a year)or so to his current number and tack on 3 or 4 years of decline phase in which he hits say 20 a year and all of a sudden you have a 500 HR guy mostly in an era where power has been hard to come by. No D value etc. makes him not a Hof guy IMO but it does get interesting without the late start.

        • invitro says:

          Sorry, I’m not buying it. EEE’s last five years are great, All-Star level, but even if he’d been this great while in Cincy, he’d still not have much of a HoF argument. And this is one HUGE if… to assume you can duplicate a player’s best five seasons. And it’s not like he didn’t have a chance when he was young… he played three full seasons in Cincy, he got to be a regular at a young age. I find What If games with guys like my childhood heroes J.R. Richard and Dickie Thon to be much more interesting.

          • Darrel says:

            Right but that gets to the crux of the discussion. I agree that EE is not a HoF guy. He just hasnt been good enough and due to the age of his breakout years wont have the career benchmark numbers. My point was more about longevity being such a factor in inclusion. I was and am against Joe’s poster boy Bert being in the Hall. He was the pitching version of EE’s last 5 years but for an absurdly long time. Which is to say very good, great even, but not elite. I personally come down on the side of rewarding dominance over shorter time periods than rewarding long term above averageness. The guys I mentioned were examples of players whose relatively short careers will doom their HoF cases when simply extending their runs of production might have been enough to get real consideration despite never being truly elite.

        • invitro says:

          Sorry, I’ll be real quick… if you want to give credit for Bautista & EEE, maybe the best place to look is the Toronto management & staff, to find whoever (if anyone) is responsible for turning those guys into All-Stars.

    • Douglas Bisson says:

      I think the Hall has room for both types. Bill James made this point in THE HISTORICAL BASEBALL ABSTRACT (first edition) when he compared the careers of Warren Spahn and Sandy Koufax. Of course, Koufax was spectacular from 1962-1966 and Spahn was awesome for almost twenty seasons. Bautista and Encarnacion don’t quite rise to the spectacular level. It will be interesting to see the “decline years” of EE and Donaldson. In retrospect, will Donaldson at his peak prove to have been better than Beltre (a certain Hall of Famer) or closer to a Scott Rolen?

      • Darrel says:

        I fear Scott Rolen won’t get enough consideration when he comes up over the same longevity issues I mentioned earlier. In his case though it wont be because of a late career start but games missed due to injury. He was a truly great defensive 3B who finished his career with a 122 ops+. A quick glance at his B-ref page suggests at least 2 years worth of missed games in his prime and many more in his decline phase. Give him most of those games back and all of a sudden you have 2500 hits and 400 HR or close to it. Whole different discussion then I suspect. But as they say getting on the field is a players most important skill.

        • moviegoer74 says:

          Rolen’s case is very similar to David Wright’s. Rolen better with the golve, Wright a little better with the bat (career OPS+ of 133 to date) but both truly great 3Bs, better at their peaks than most 3Bs in MLB history, got started plenty early, but just too many injuries once they hit their late 20s. (Actually, Rolen missed some time in his Age 24 and 25 seasons, too, which Wright did not).

      • Pat says:

        If you like Bill James and haven’t read The Politics of Glory a/k/a Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? yet, well, you’ve just decided what to get yourself for Christmas.

  5. invitro says:

    Fun fact: An anagram for Melvin Mora is I’m Loverman.

  6. Anon says:

    Fun fact: Mora’s 6.2 fWAR in 2004 is higher than all but one ManRam season thanks to Manny’s utterly dreadful defense.

    • Donald a. Coffin says:

      Manny himself had only one season in which his oWAR (BBRef flavor) was above 6.4…

      • nightfly says:

        Due to the positional adjustment… and this is where I do find something of an issue with WAR.

        I get the idea behind the adjustment – since it’s harder to play certain positions, it’s harder to find credible hitters for those positions, and it’s harder to replace good production from (say) your middle infielders than your corner outfielders. And it’s harder to get them from more demanding positions because of the wear and tear of playing the field.

        BUT when it comes to the bottom line, 35 homers is 35 homers. The scoreboard doesn’t care if Manny or Nomar or Varitek are hitting, and a dinger from Pedroia doesn’t count more than one from Ortiz just because one of them is a DH.

        • minstrel says:

          WAR isn’t really measuring “scoreboard value,” though. It measures something closer to roster-building value. While a home run from Ramirez is equal value during a game to a home run from Garciaparra, a left fielder that can hit .300/.400/.500 is not equal to a shortstop who can hit .300/.400/.500 in value to a baseball team. That’s what WAR is saying, basically.

  7. PS says:

    If you told me that some of the most enjoyable writing I’d find anywhere was a review of low-level 2016 Hall of Fame candidates, I’d be very skeptical.

    Yet these are GREAT. Each one that comes out is such a treat. Thank you, Joe, for entertaining us with your skillful writing and remarkable insights.

  8. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I can’t complain (too much) about Mora making the ballot–he did have that one awesome year. Bu…Javier Vasquez couldn’t make it onto the ballot?

    • moviegoer74 says:

      Agreed. Vazquez (with a z) should’ve been on. Joe has commented on this as well. It’s inexplicable that he was left off. In fact, Vazquez is probably the best eligible player ever to be left off the ballot.

  9. poscastfan says:

    Maybe a poor memory, but from here in the UK, when we had regular Channel5 coverage of MLB, I seem to remember Melvin Mora getting praise for raising his BA in 6 successive seasons.

  10. Alejo says:

    It isn’t surprising Mora was unable to find a chance as a football player in Venezuela.

    Venezuela is baseball country and at the time Mora was growing up there were several MLB academies there, as well as dozens of scouts looking out for kids like him. There were no football scouts or academies like there are in Brazil or Argentina.

    It is also with mentioning the Melvin Mora played winter baseball with Navegantes del Magallanes, a popular Venezuelan team. He is one the franchise heroes.

    He was born into an extremely poor family, but made more than 40 million dollars playing baseball, giving his all every day both in the US and at home. Unassuming, he would kill your team with an impossible catch or a line drive out of nowhere. His defensive prowess in multiple positions indicates superb athletic ability (even more remarkable considering the limitations of his upbringing) and a deep knowledge of the game.

  11. ajnrules says:

    Melvin Mora is one of those players that you always take for granted or overlook, even in 2004 when he was having his magical year. It may have been because the Orioles were so bad when he played for them.

    I will note that Melvin More is one of two players on this ballot that played in Taiwan. Manny played there at the end of his Major League career in 2013, while Mora played there before making the majors in 1998. I once read a story where Chien-Ming Wang heard that Mora had played in Taiwan, and said “No wonder he is so familiar with my pitches.” Mora did pound Wang to a tune of .455/.478/.455.

  12. Ed says:

    Joe is on to something. It sure would be great if the folks in Cooperatown has a section on unlikely baseball stars. Melvin Mora would make for a great story of perseverance for visitors to Cooperstown.

  13. Dan says:

    Any man who can say, “Every day is Father’s Day,” already has it all.

  14. Herbert Smith says:

    Lots of great responses in the comments today. That was a particularly wonderful article, Joe. Anyway in the tiny “late bloomer” wing of he Hall of Fame, Mr. Dazzy Vance certainly deserves mention. Yes, he did actually get a cup of coffee in the Bigs when he was about 24; he went 0-4, with a 4.11 ERA (this was during Deadball, so his ERA+ was 62). Then a few years later, he got another shot (2 whole innings) and got hammered mercilessly, and sent back to sticks.
    At age 31, he fell to the floor while playing poker, landing directly on his elbow. (Methinks some imbibing was involved, but since this was during Prohibition, Dazzy and his buddies couldn’t possibly have been drinking liquor).
    You probably know the rest of this story…his decade of searing pain in his arm simply vanished, and within a couple years, he was the NL MVP, earning 10.3 WAR, going 28-6, 2.16 ERA, with 262 strike-outs (2nd place was 135 K, and no other pitcher in the NL had even 100). So, yeah.

    • Hudson Valley Slim says:

      Thanks Herb, Joe & Dazzy – I love this series and commentary. Should be required reading for all HOF voters. Hopefully they research as deep as the Pos does. Mora and Dazzy (if I have a son I’ll name him Dazzy!) may not be Hall of Famers, but they’ve got great stories and remarkable careers, worthy of being heard and remembered.

      Far as the ‘you better start young’ thing, maybe it was mentioned, but another exception was Ichiro. Started MLB at age 27, and got 3000 hits. A first ballot guy I think.

  15. the_slasher14 says:

    The play that I’ll always remember Mora for took place in game 6 for the 1999 NLCS. Mora was a rookie, who played mostly as a defensive replacement. He batted exactly 31 times that year.

    In the bottom of the 10th inning, with the Mets ahead by a run, the Braves had Andruw Jones on second and Ryan Klesko on first, and Ozzie Guillen singled to right, where Mora was playing as a defensive replacement. Mora never hesitated. He fielded the ball and threw a strike to THIRD, cutting down Klesko with the winning run. He knew he had no shot at Jones at the plate, and all those years kicking around the minors had given him the instinct to do with only thing that would help, and he did it. Joe Morgan, commenting on the game, went nuts at the idea that a ROOKIE would make that play, but of course Mora wasn’t really a rookie by then.

    After that, I was never surprised that he stuck around, though I never expected anything like his 2004 season. He had paid his dues and absorbed what the game was about, and used everything he had.

    • moviegoer74 says:

      Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS ranks very high on the list of all-time most frustrating Mets games. To put themselves in that hole (thanks to SP Al Leiter who gave up 5 rins and got 0 batters out), come all the way back, actually take the lead in the late innings not once but twice, and knowing the enormous pressure the Braves would be under in Game 7 (staring at the possibility of being the first team ever to blow a 3-0 lead), only to have Kenny Rogers walk in the winning run because Bobby V. didn’t want to bring in young fireballer Octavio Dotel.

      That was the only time in 1999 in which John Franco and Armando Benitez both blew leads in the same game. It was a fine play by Mora though to get the game to the 11th.

      • Pete R says:

        Apologies for the late comment…that throw to get Klesko turned out to be the last time that Mora would ever touch the ball in a postseason game. His rookie year was still to come, but the trade to the Orioles kept him away from the postseason, forever.

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