One-and-Done: Some of baseball's best didn't stay long on Hall of Fame ballot

1:06 | MLB
"Touch 'Em All, Joe"
Friday January 6th, 2017

It's a cruel fact of Hall of Fame voting that most first-year candidates fall off the BBWAA ballot after their initial go-round, having failed to receive the minimum 5% of the vote. In the past decade alone it's happened to 83% of those who make the ballot at all. I've highlighted some of the best one-and-done players in my JAWS system and have written more about them in my upcoming tome, The Cooperstown Casebook.

Three years ago on SI.com I picked an All-One-and-Done starting nine, but because things haven't changed a whole lot since then—one could make a case for 2016 candidate Jim Edmonds over Jimmy Wynn—this time around I wanted to highlight a different handful of players. As candidates, they don't necessarily measure up well via JAWS, but each left a significant mark on baseball history. I am limiting this to players who debuted on the ballot in 2000 or later, which means that their careers ended in 1994 or later. Players are presented alphabetically.

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Joe Carter: World Series hero

"Touch 'em all, Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"

Those words, from Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek, followed Carter's 1993 World Series-winning walkoff homer, just the second in World Series history; Bill Mazeroski's 1960 shot for the Pirates against the Yankees was first. Unlike Maz, Carter was unable to parlay such a famous moment into a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. Over the course of his 18-year career (1983 to '98) with six teams, he bopped 396 homers, drove in at least 100 runs 10 times and made five All-Star teams, but his low slash stats (.259 batting average/.306 on-base percentage/.464 slugging percentage career) and dreadful defense (-85 runs) sapped his value. He's the only player with four sub-replacement level 20-homer seasons, and he finished with a modest 19.3 career WAR. Of course, BBWAA voters knew nothing about WAR when he hit the ballot in 2004, but he still received just 3.8% of the vote. 

David Cone: Cy Young Award winner, 5-time champion

According to baseball-reference.com, 55 players have played on the winning side in at least five World Series, and all nine whose careers crossed into the current millennium were connected to the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty, including Hall of Fame locks Mariano Rivera (eligible in 2019), Derek Jeter ('20), and one of this year's likely one-and-done players, Jorge Posada.

The only one of the nine to win an individual regular season award is Cone, the 1994 AL Cy Young winner while with the Royals. The hard-throwing righty was an October staple who pitched for eight postseason teams during his 17-year career (1986 to 2001, '03), starting with the 1988 Mets, for whom he went 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA. Late in the 1992 season, he was dealt to the Blue Jays, whom he helped beat the Braves in that year's Fall Classic; he also led the majors in strikeouts that year with 261, after having led the NL in both 1990 and ’91. A two-year detour to his hometown of Kansas City, with whom he had started his professional career, followed. He won the Cy Young for going 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA during the strike-shortened season, and after being traded back to the Blue Jays and then the Yankees in 1995, pitched for the New York's ’96, ’98, ’99 and 2000 champions; he posted a 2.12 ERA in 29 2/3 innings over his five World Series, and threw in a perfect game in 1999 for good measure.

Cone finished with a career record of 194-126, a 3.46 ERA and a 62.5 career WAR/43.5 peak WAR/53.0 JAWS line, good for 60th among starting pitchers but not quite Hall caliber; he received 3.9% of the vote in 2009.

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Julio Franco: Three-decade career

One of the most fascinating players of recent vintage is Franco, who played an astounding 32 seasons of professional baseball from 1978 to 2008 with a brief cameo in The Baseball Challenge League in 2015. In a career that included detours to Japan, Korea and Mexico, Franco is credited by baseball-reference.com with having picked up 3,870 hits, including 2,586 at the major league level.

Signed by the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in 1978, Franco made his major league debut in 1982, but that winter he was shipped to Cleveland as one of five players in exchange for outfielder Von Hayes. He topped a .300 batting average three times for the Indians, made three All-Star teams for the Rangers and thereafter trotted the globe. From 1998-2000, he made just one major league plate appearance, but in 2001, the 42-year-old wonder began a five-year run as a useful part-time player for the Braves, hitting a combined .292/.365/.428 in 486 games. He still wasn't done, spending 2006 and part of '07 with the Mets. In May 4 of that latter season he hit the last of his 173 major league homers, off the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson, making him—at 48 years and 254 days old—the oldest player to go yard in the bigs. He's also the he oldest player ever to hit a grand slam, a pinch-hit home run (both of those at 46 years and 308 days) and two home runs in one game (46 years and 299 days).

At last report, he was a 57-year-old player-manager for a Japanese independent league team, the Ishikawa Million Stars, in 2015. He got just 1.1% of the BBWAA vote in 2013, but even if he's not Hall-worthy, he at least belongs in Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum.

Kirk Gibson: MVP, World Series hero

During his 17-year career (1979 to '95), Gibson clouted not one but two of the most famous World Series homers in recent memory. His three-run upper deck shot off the Padres' Goose Gossage in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 1984 World Series sealed the Tigers' championship. Four years later, he hit a walkoff, pinch-hit homer off the Athletics' Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, at a point when he could barely walk due to left hamstring and right knee injuries, that is the stuff of legend, keying the Dodgers' upset victory.

Gibson, who had signed with Los Angeles as a free agent that year and won NL MVP honors, struggled with injuries over the remaining seven seasons of his career, playing in more than 116 games just once more. Thus, his career totals (1,553 hits and 255 homers, not to mention 38.1 WAR) didn't do much to impress BBWAA voters, who gave him just 2.5% in 2001.

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Dwight Gooden: Phenom for the ages

Few young pitchers have ever burned so brightly or flamed out so dramatically as Gooden. As a 19-year-old with the Mets in 1984, he went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and a league-high 268 strikeouts en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors. The next year he was even better: 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 276 strikeouts—good for the pitching Triple Crown—and 12.1 WAR, tied with Steve Carlton's 1972 and Pete Alexander's 1920 for the highest single-season total of the live-ball era. He came back to earth somewhat in 1986 but still finished 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA and 200 Ks while helping New York win the World Series. At 21, he still seemed well on his way to the Hall of Fame.

But after testing positive for cocaine the following spring and spending two months in rehab, his career took a darker turn. He still put together impressive seasons such as in 1988 (18-9, 3.19 ERA) and '90 (19-7, 3.83 ERA, 223 strikeouts), but further drug problems interrupted his career; he pitched just seven major league games in 1994 and none in '95 while serving a year-long suspension. He came back with the Yankees in 1996 and pitched a no-hitter during a stretch in which he emerged as New York's temporary ace, but he suffered from arm fatigue and missed the team's run to the world championship. The final four seasons of Gooden's career (1997 to 2000) were pedestrian ones. He finished with a career record of 194-112, a 3.51 ERA and 53.2 career WAR. His 46.1 JAWS ranks 95th all-time, but that was far short of Cooperstown material, and he received just 3.3% of the vote in 2006. 

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Jesse Orosco: All-time games pitched leader

Jesse Orosco proved that if you're lefthanded and can throw at least 80 mph, you can pitch forever. Orosco spent 24 years (1979, '81-2003) in the majors, tossing for nine teams. Drafted by the Twins in 1978, he was traded to the Mets for lefty Jerry Koosman the following year and became a mainstay of their bullpen, topping 100 innings in both 1982 and '83, making the NL All-Star team in '83 and '84 and reaching double digits in saves ever year from '83 to '87. He was a crucial part of the 1986 world champions' bullpen, saving 21 games with a 2.33 ERA in the regular season, collecting three wins in the NLCS against the Astros—including the decisive Game 6—and closing out Game 7 of the World Series against the Red Sox. The shot of him kneeling, arms aloft in celebration after the final out became a ballpark staple, first at Shea Stadium and now at Citi Field.

In December 1987, Orosco was dealt to the Dodgers, whom he helped to the 1988 championship. That began a decade-and-a-half run as a lefty specialist as he passed through Cleveland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, St. Louis, Los Angeles (again), San Diego, the Bronx and—taking things full circle in his final season—back to Minnesota. In 1999, he broke Dennis Eckersley's career mark of 1,071 games pitched, and he furthered that to a total of 1,252 while pitching past his 46th birthday. That record could last a long time, but it translated to just a single Hall of Fame vote in 2009. 

Jeff Reardon: Former all-time saves leader

A four-time All-Star during his 16-year career (1979 to '94) with seven teams, including the 1987 champion Twins, Reardon only led his league in saves once (the NL, in 1985, with 41 for the Expos), but he placed among his league's top four six other times. In 1992 while pitching for the Red Sox, he broke Rollie Fingers' career saves record with his 342nd; two months later, he was traded to the Braves, who won the NL pennant, but he took the loss in Game 2 of the World Series against the Blue Jays, then gave up the game-winning hit in Game 3, allowing an inherited runner to score. The next year, after Reardon lost the closer's job in Cincinnati, Lee Smith surpassed his saves record (357); Trevor Hoffman passed Smith in 2006 and Mariano Rivera took over the top spot five years later. Reardon finished with 367 saves (but just 19.2 WAR), and that was almost good enough to keep him on the Hall of Fame ballot; he received 4.8% in 2000, falling a single vote short of a return engagement.

Bret Saberhagen: Two-time Cy Young Award winner

Eighteen pitchers have won multiple Cy Young awards. Ten of those men are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, three (Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer) are still active, two (Roy Halladay and Johan Santana) are not yet eligible and another one (seven-time winner Roger Clemens) is languishing on the ballot due to his connections to performance-enhancing drugs. That leaves just two, Denny McLain and Bret Saberhagen, whose Cooperstown fate has been sealed.

McLain stuck around for three ballots before the five percent rule was adopted, making Saberhagen the only member of that elite fraternity who appeared on just a single Hall of Fame ballot before disappearing into the ether. His career spanned from 1984 to 2001, albeit with two full seasons and several partial ones missed due to injuries. For the first six years of his career, he looked to be Cooperstown-bound. He debuted a week before his 20th birthday, won his first AL Cy Young the next season on the strength of a 20-6, 2.87 ERA season while leading the Royals to their first world championship, and added a second Cy at age 25 in 1989, when he went 23-6 with a league-best 2.16 ERA and 9.7 WAR.

To that point, Saberhagen was 92-61 with a 3.23 ERA and 32.2 WAR, the last tied with Clayton Kershaw for the fourth-highest total through an age-25 season since 1960. Unfortunately, a variety of arm injuries prevented him from ever making 30 starts in a season again, and in fact he set a record for the most games missed on the disabled list (1,016 according to Gary Gillette of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia). Saberhagen finished with 167 wins and a respectable 59.2 career WAR/43.3 peak WAR/51.3 JAWS line, the last of which ranks 66th among starting pitchers. Nonetheless, he received just 1.3% of the vote in 2007. 

Darryl Strawberry: No. 1 overall pick, Rookie of the Year

Like his fellow phenom Dwight Gooden, Strawberry won a Rookie of the Year award for the Mets and helped them win the 1986 World Series, but life in the fast lane eventually caught up to him, and a career that was supposed to culminate with a Hall of Fame berth instead resulted in a curt dismissal by voters.

The No. 1 pick of the 1980 draft out of Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School, Strawberry preceded Gooden's Rookie of the Year campaign of '84 by winning the award himself in 1983, when as a 21-year-old he hit .257/.336/.512 with 26 homers. That was the first year of an eight-year Big Apple run during which he averaged 32 homers, a 145 OPS+ and 4.6 WAR while making seven straight All-Star teams. By the end of that stretch, however, his troubles had come to the surface via a January 1990 trip to alcohol rehab following an altercation with his wife. A free agent after the 1990 season, Strawberry signed a five-year $22.25 million deal with the Dodgers, and put together another All-Star season in his first year back home, but he played just 335 games over the remaining eight years of his career—most notably as a prominent part-timer with the 1996, '98 and '99 champion Yankees—and spent most of that time battling cocaine, legal and health problems. While he finished with 335 homers and a 138 OPS+, his career was too short to draw serious Hall consideration, and he got just 1.2% of the vote in 2005.

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Devon White: Seven-time Gold Glove winner

Gold Gloves don't necessarily translate to Hall of Fame plaques. Of the 38 players to win at least seven, just 15 are in the Hall of Fame, with two more (catcher Ivan Rodriguez and rightfielder Larry Walker) on this year's ballot. White, a standard-setting flychaser with six teams during his 17-year career (1985 to 2001) took home seven Gold Gloves, but unlike the other nine players on this list, he never got a single vote. (Outfielder Gary Maddox, who won eight, is the only other player with at least seven Gold Gloves to be shut out entirely.)

Drafted and developed by the Angels, he finally stuck in the majors in 1987, won his first Gold Glove the next year, and made the first of three All-Star teams in '88. He didn't hit much during his time in Anaheim, but after being traded to the Blue Jays in December 1990, he emerged as a legitimate two-way threat. He ranked among the AL's top 10 in WAR every year from 1991 to '93 while helping Toronto win the AL East every season and the World Series in the latter two of those years. He hit .292/.393/.708 with six extra-base hits in the '93 Fall Classic against Philadelphia. He signed with the Marlins following the 1995 season and started in centerfield for their unlikely championship team in 1997, then made stops in Arizona, Los Angeles and Milwaukee to round out his career. Defensively, White's 133 runs above average ranks fifth all-time among centerfielders behind Andruw Jones, Willie Mays, Paul Blair and Jimmy Piersall, but he's just 30th in JAWS at the position, and he got shut out on the 2007 ballot.

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