BR Hall of Fame
The Brilliant Readers Hall of Fame is made up of players who got 75% of the vote of the Brilliant Readers — praise, indeed, if you think how hard it is to get 75% of ANYTHING in an Internet poll. The voting continues, and it will be fascinating (at least to me) to see how many players get in to the BR Hall of Fame.
I am updating this as the voting goes. It will take time to get little bios written on everyone, especially as BR’s keep adding players. But we are now getting to the point where fewer and fewer players are getting inducted. So, that should make things a little bit easier.
Johnny Bench — One of the first one-handed catchers, Bench redefined the catching position. He was spectacularly quick around the plate and he had a spectacular arm. In 1970, he threw out 40 of the 70 men who tried to steal a base; after that teams generally stopped trying to steal against the Reds. Bench won Gold Gloves his first 10 years in the league. He was also a powerful hitter, especially in his early years, and twice led the league in home runs and three times led in RBIs. He was a two-time MVP and he still has the highest WAR among catchers in baseball history.
Yogi Berra — One of the best leaders — and bad-ball hitters — in baseball history. He played in 14 World Series, and his Yankees won 10 of them. I wrote a lot about him here.
Roy Campanella — The first African-American catcher in Major League baseball. Campanella joined the Dodgers in 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson, and he won three MVP awards between 1951 and 1955. He had a the odd-year, even-year thing going for a while. In 1951, he hit .325 with 33 homers. After an off year in ’52, he hit .312 with 41 homers and a league-leading 141 RBIs in 1953. After a nightmarish season, he came back in 1955 and hit .318 with 21 homers. He said this: “To be good, you’ve gotta have a lot of little boy in you.”
Gary Carter — They called him “Kid” after he came up to Montreal as a 20-year-old and crushed the ball for nine games. He was a rare combination of offense and defenses — he won three Gold Gloves and won six Silver Sluggers as the best-hitting catcher. His career almost perfectly merges with Johnny Bench; just when Bench began to decline as a player, Carter began to ascend. His best years were with the Expos in the early 1980s, but people might remember him better with the great 1986 Mets team. His 69.7 career WAR is second all-time to Bench.
Carlton Fisk — The original “Pudge,” only Pudge v2.0 Ivan Rodriguez played more games at catcher. Fisk was an athletic marvel. In 1972, as a 24-year-old, he actually led the league in triples — Tim McCarver was the only other catcher to do that. But as a 37-year-old, Fisk hit a career high 37 home runs. During the 1975 World Series, Reds manager Sparky Anderson famous said while Fisk was a fine player it was embarrassing to compare him with Johnny Bench. Fisk was never as good as Bench from 1970 and 1972 — Bench’s MVP seasons – but the rest of their careers match up more or less, and Fisk was a good player longer than Bench.
Josh Gibson — The most famous hitter in the history of the Negro Leagues, Gibson’s power has sparked countless stories. It is said he’s the only man to ever hit a ball out of the old Yankee Stadium. It is also said he hit a ball so high in Pittsburgh, that it landed a day later in Philadelphia. Negro Leagues stats are hard to encapsulate because the teams played so many non-league games, but the best estimates had Gibson hitting .350 and slugging .624 in games against the highest Negro Leagues competition. James Riley, the Negro Leagues historian, calculated that if you include non-league games he hit 962 careers in remarkable career, including 75 in one season.
Mike Piazza — He is probably the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history, though Bill Dickey — who is not yet in the BR Hall of Fame — tends to be forgotten. Piazza mashed baseballs. From 1993 to 2000, he hit a ridiculous .330/.394/.584 and averaged 35 home runs and 110 RBIs a season, even though he missed games for the various strikes and for being a National League catcher. Piazza was a 62nd round draft pick, a personal favor from Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father, and though he had his limitations as a defender (he couldn’t really throw, for one thing), he was a dominant hitter.
Jeff Bagwell —
Jimmie Foxx —
Lou Gehrig — The Iron Horse, one of the most admired players in baseball history. He hit .340/.447/.632 in his remarkable 17-year career and led the league in on-base percentage five times and OPS+ three times. He also led the league in WAR three consecutive years, from 1934 to 1936. He won the Triple Crown in 1934. He played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record for almost 60 years until it was broken by Cal Ripken. An debilitating illness that would soon be named for him, ALS, forced him to quit the game, and he exited with one of the most touching speeches in American history. “Fans, for the past few weeks you’ve been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”
Hank Greenberg —
Harmon Killebrew —
Willie McCovey —
Frank Thomas —
Roberto Alomar —
Craig Biggio —
Rod Carew —
Eddie Collins — He was known for his intelligence and his arrogance in equal parts — people nicknamed him “Cocky” — and he was a dominant player during and after the Deadball period. Bill James has said that he was, in his own less dramatic way, as competitive a player as Ty Cobb. He is credited as the first “modern” player to steal 80 bases, he was a brilliant hit-and-run man (he struck out just 468 times in more than 12,000 plate appearances) and he was probably the best bunter who ever lived (his 512 sacrifice hits in a record that will never be broken).
He hit .333 and had an on-base percentage of .424 despite playing most of his career in Deadball (after Deadball, he hit .346 and on-based .436) and he was an amazing defender, and he played in six World Series, his teams winning four of them. One of the losses, though, was the 1919 World Series with the White Sox, and Collins — who had nothing to do with throwing the series — hit only .226. This led to John Cusack’s classic line in “Eight Men Out: “College boy didn’t even hit his weight!”
Rogers Hornsby — The Rajah led the league in hitting seven times, twice with a batting average over .400. He also won two Triple Crowns. He famously would not go to the movies or read newspapers because he did not want anything to affect his eyesight. He was a severe man, thoroughly unlikable, egotistical to the point of self -parody, which led to his being the spotlighted in Tom Hanks famous “There’s no crying in baseball” speech in “A League Of Their Own.”
“Rogers Hornsby was my manager, and he called me a talking pile of pig-s—. And that, that, that, was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game. And did I cry? No!”
Nap Lajoie —
Joe Morgan — Two-time MVP who was one of the most sabermetrically spectacular players in baseball history. He got on base. He played an all-around game. His true value wasn’t told in traditional numbers like batting averages and RBIs. Ironically, as an announcer, he was often hostile toward sabermetrics. No, that’s not really fair. He was always hostile toward sabermetrics.
Jackie Robinson —
Ryne Sandberg —
Ernie Banks —
Barry Larkin —
Cal Ripken —
Ozzie Smith —
Honus Wagner — The Flying Dutchman is still widely regarded as the greatest shortstop who ever lived. He was an eight-tine batting champion when that was the greatest thing a baseball player could be, he was a brilliant defensive shortstop, he stole 723 bases, and he was deeply beloved throughout the game. When the Hall of Fame had its original ballot, Wagner received the second-most votes, just behind Cobb and ahead of, among others, Babe Ruth.
Robin Yount —
George Brett — They called him “Mullet” and he was one of the enduring players of his era. He won batting titles in three different decades and in 1980 made a vivid run at hitting .400. He He also hit the famous Pine Tar Homer. He collected 3,000 hits and is in the Top 20 all-time in hits (16th), total bases (18th), doubles (6th) and extra base hits (15th). He was actually a very good defensive third baseman — he made a lot of throwing errors early in his career and was labeled unfairly as subpar.
But perhaps Brett is best known for his performances in the big moments. He hit .375 and .370 in his two World Series. He hit the home run off Goose Gossage that clinched the 1980 ALCS, and he hit three homers in a playoff game off Catfish Hunter. Bill James once said that he did not believe clutch hitting (as opposed to hitting in all situations) was a repeatable skill … but George Brett made him think twice about it.
Chipper Jones —
Eddie Mathews —
Brooks Robinson —
Mike Schmidt — Schmitty led the National League in home runs eight times and won 10 Gold Gloves. He won three MVP awards, but there was something about him that seemed to leave people cold. He was often booed in Philadelphia. My own opinion is that it was his low batting average — he hit .267 for his career. He more than made up for this with his remarkable plate discipline. He led the league in on-base percentage three times and walks four times. But Schmidt’s awe-inspiring swing — so short and crisp and powerful, like a perfectly throw right hook — his great defense, his overall athleticism (he stole 174 bases and as many as 29 in a season) led some to think he should have been even better. He was probably the best third baseman in baseball history, so that’s pretty good.
Wade Boggs —
Rickey Henderson —
Stan Musial — Stan the Man.
Tim Raines —
Ted Williams — The Splendid Splinter, The Kid, Teddy Ballgame finished with a career .482 on-base percentage, the highest in baseball history. He wanted for people to see him on the street and say, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.” He probably achieved that goal. He was the last batter to hit .400. He twice won the Triple Crown. He missed three full seasons and the better part of two more fighting in wars, and still finished with more than 500 homers and more than 2,000 walks.
Carl Yastrzemski —
Cool Papa Bell —
Oscar Charleston —
Ty Cobb — The Georgia Peach was widely regarded, among contemporaries, as the greatest (and meanest) baseball player of them all. His 4,189 hits was the record for more than a half century. His 897 stolen bases was a record for almost as long. His .366 career batting average is a record that will likely never be broken, and he once won nine batting titles in a row. There are those now who say he was misunderstood, and that his reputation as a racist and vicious man is exaggerated while the many good and charitable things he did have been forgotten. He was undeniably a hard man who played the game with unmatched fury.
Joe DiMaggio —
Ken Griffey Jr. —
Mickey Mantle —
Willie Mays — The Say Hey Kid was, perhaps, the most wonderful player who ever lived. He played the game with unfiltered joy, and he could do everything. He hit .302 for his career. He smashed 660 home runs. He led the league in stolen bases four times and triples three. He won 12 Gold Gloves and would have won more but they did not start giving them out until 1957. He is widely regarded as the best defensive center fielder ever. Buck O’Neil said of him: “Willie Mays could beat you every way you could be beaten.”
Tris Speaker — The Grey Eagle was the premier defensive center fielder of his day and he still has the record with 792 doubles. He was the “S” in Ogden Nash’s famous “Line-up For Yesterday” and his verse went like so:
S is for Speaker
Swift centerfield tender
When the ball saw him coming
It said: “I surrender.”
Henry Aaron — The Hammer has too many records to recount, but perhaps the most remarkable is his 6,856 total bases, which is almost 700 more than anyone in baseball history. Aaron’s greatness was in his consistency: He was great every single season. He overcame an awful surge of racist letters and threats to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time home run leader. His 755 home runs is still one of the most famous marks in sports, even if his home run record has been eclipsed by Barry Bonds.
Roberto Clemente —
Tony Gwynn —
Reggie Jackson —
Al Kaline —
Mel Ott — Led his league in home runs six times and in on-base percentage four. Leo Durocher said of him: “I never knew of a baseball player so universally loved.”
Frank Robinson —
Babe Ruth — The Sultan of Swat will probably always be viewed by a large number of people as the greatest baseball player who ever lived. For one thing, he was a dominant pitcher — he went 3-0 with an 0.87 ERA in two World Series — before he revolutionized the game as a home run hitter. In 1920, widely acknowledged as the first year after Deadball, he hit 54 home runs, which was more than any TEAM in the American League. His .690 slugging percentage is still a record, as is his 205 OPS+. He’s as close as any American athlete to being a folk hero.
Pete (Grover Cleveland) Alexander —
Bob Feller —
Bob Gibson —
Walter Johnson — The Big Train still has a strong argument as the greatest pitcher ever, even though he pitched most of his career in the Deadball Era. Nobody knew how fast Johnson threw, but he led his league in strikeouts 12 times, and people often said that Bob Feller did not throw as hard. In 1913, perhaps his greatest season, he went 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA, a .780 WHIP and a 243-to-38 strikeout to walk ratio. Many consider it the greatest season ever for a pitcher.
Greg Maddux — Called Mad Dog and The Professor (has any player ever had two nicknames so divergent), he won 355 games in his career along with four consecutive Cy Youngs. Though it crossed through Steroid Era, his ERA from 1992 to 1998 was a stunning 2.15. Perhaps the greatest thing about Maddux was how mysterious his success was — he did not throw especially hard or dazzle people with a legendary curveball or slider. After games, hitters would often talk about how they “just missed.” But they kept missing.
Juan Marichal —
Pedro Martinez —
Christy Mathewson — Matty won 373 games with a career 2.13 ERA as he dominated the Deadball Era. He also wrote the book, “Pitching in a Pinch,” which is still one of the best baseball reads you will find.
Satchel Paige —
Jim Palmer —
Nolan Ryan —
Tom Seaver — Tom Terrific might have had the most perfect windup and delivery in baseball history. It was like an instruction book come to life. Seaver won three Cy Young awards and a rookie of the year, he led the Miracle Mets to the 1969 World Series championship and the 1973 “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets to the National League pennant. His sixth all-time in strikeouts (3,640), seventh all-time in shutouts (61) and he won 311 games in his career.
Cy Young —
Steve Carlton —
Whitey Ford —
Tom Glavine —
Lefty Grove — He too has an argument as the greatest pitcher ever. He led the league in strikeouts in his first seven seasons. He led the league in ERA nine times. He won exactly 300 games in an era that was dominated by offense. His 148 ERA+ is fourth all-time.
Carl Hubbell —
Randy Johnson —
Sandy Koufax —
Warren Spahn —
Mariano Rivera —