Gone without a trace: 10 of the best players never to get a single Hall of Fame vote

Tuesday January 10th, 2017

Last week, I highlighted a selection of 10 popular players of recent vintage who fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after their first year of eligibility because they failed to receive the minimum 5% of the vote. The appearance of seven-time Gold Glove winner Devon White—the only one I profiled who failed to receive a single vote—spurred me to dig even deeper through modern voting history. In doing so, I noticed something that had never caught my attention in all of my years of research: Until 1978, the names of players who didn't receive a vote weren't even reported, presumably so as not to embarrass anyone. It was only a year later that the first iteration of the "Five Percent Rule" was even put into place.

What follows here is another batch of 10 very good-to-great players who couldn't sustain their greatness long enough to assemble strong enough Hall of Fame cases to avoid being completely shut out by the voters. With more than 200 such players to choose from, it's far from a comprehensive list, but it should help one appreciate just how hard it is even to make a dent in the Hall of Fame voting, let alone get to the 75% needed for election. Players are presented alphabetically, and JAWS wasn’t my sole consideration, as I wanted to highlight things such as postseason heroics, great individual seasons and other slices of baseball history.

Scott Brosius

The MVP of the 1998 World Series with the Yankees, Brosius didn't play anywhere near long enough to mount a full-scale Hall of Fame case, but he manned the hot corner during New York's run of four straight pennants ('98–2001) and three titles. Brosius came up with the A's, debuting in 1991 but not sticking until late '93 due to illness and injuries, then bounced around the diamond, playing primarily at third base. After a breakout 1996 season (.304/.393/.516 with a career-high 22 homers and 5.3 WAR) that was nonetheless interrupted by a right wrist fracture, he endured a miserable follow-up campaign (.203/.259/.317, marred by a knee injury and some tinkering with his swing). The Yankees, who had just traded Charlie Hayes to the Giants and let Wade Boggs walk in free agency, had a vacancy at third and took Brosius as the player to be named later in a deal that sent Kenny Rogers to Oakland.

Initially expected to platoon with either Dale Sveum or prospect Mike Lowell, Brosius won the job outright in 1998 and enjoyed a storybook season with the 114-win juggernaut, batting .300/.371/.472 with 19 homers, 5.3 WAR, and his lone All-Star appearance. He caught fire in the postseason, hitting a combined .383/.400/.660 with four homers, including .471/.471/.824 in the World Series sweep of the Padres; his pair of late-inning homers in Game 3, including a three-run go-ahead shot off Trevor Hoffman, helped him take home MVP honors. Though he won a Gold Glove the following season, Brosius's offense took a tumble due to back troubles, but he served as a solid defender as the team won again in 1999 and 2000. He hit 314/.333/.529 in four World Series, and even amid a .167 struggle against the Diamondbacks in 2001, he smacked a dramatic, game-tying, two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 5. That was his final major-league hit; at age 35, he retired to return to his family in Oregon. His ballot stay in 2007 was brief.

Cecil Cooper

From 1977 to '83, only Rod Carew (.337) and George Brett (.321) posted a higher batting average than Cooper (.316). But the sweet-swinging Brewers first baseman, who finished among the AL's top five in the batting race three times in that span, couldn't break through to win it; when he hit .352 in 1980, it was the year Brett hit .390. Drafted and developed by the Red Sox, Cooper spent parts of six seasons (1971–76) in Boston, but even while contributing to the '75 pennant-winners, he was typecast as a platoon player. Dealt to the Brewers in a pivotal December 1976 trade for Bernie Carbo and the rapidly aging and expanding George Scott (an eight-time Gold Glove winner who could occupy a spot here himself), Cooper blossomed into a superstar, making five All-Star teams over the next nine seasons and hitting a combined .309/.345/.485 with a 129 OPS+ and averages of 20 homers and 3.5 WAR.

Cooper led the AL in RBIs in both 1980 and '83 and was runner up in '82, when he hit a career-high 32 homers and helped the Brewers to their first pennant. That squad—named "Harvey's Wallbangers" for manager Harvey Kuenn—featured some of the more memorable no-vote clubbers, including sluggers Gorman Thomas and Ben Oglivie and Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich. Cooper played through 1987 and hit .298 /.337/.466 with 2,192 hits for his career (he slipped below .300 in his final season). His one year on the ballot in 1993 added up to nothing, but he later surfaced as the manager of the Astros, piloting the team from late 2007 to late '09.

Jermaine Dye

Dye played for six playoff-bound teams in 14 years in the majors (1996–2009) and hit at least 23 homers in all 10 seasons in which he was healthy enough to play 100 games. Drafted and developed by the Braves, he was a top prospect who homered in his first major league plate appearance, but after just one season in Atlanta's crowded outfield, he was dealt Kansas City, where he earned his first All-Star appearance and lone Gold Glove in 2000. Traded to the Moneyball-era Athletics in mid-2001, he was part of three straight postseason teams but suffered a broken tibia when he fouled a ball off his knee during the Division Series against the Yankees. That cut into his 2002 season, and he was even more wracked by injuries in '03, but Dye finally enjoyed a long run of decent health with the A's in '04 and then the White Sox for the remainder of his career, hitting a combined .276/.342/.515 with a 119 OPS+ and an average of 31 homers.

Dye hit 31 homers for Chicago in 2005 and won World Series MVP honors by batting .438/.526/.688 in the team's four-game sweep of the Astros, then followed that up by bashing a career-high 44 homers the following year—good for second in the league—and made his second All-Star team. His 34-homer 2008 helped the White Sox to another AL Central title, but while he hit 27 in 2009, a second-half slump and continued decline in the field cooled interest in him once the White Sox declined his option. Despite frequent rumors, he never found another contract to his liking and slipped off his first and only ballot in 2015 with no votes to his name.

One and done: The best players to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year

Brian Giles

Giles spent most of his 15-year career (1995–2009) flying below the radar outside major media markets, playing for the Indians, Pirates and Padres. He hit more than 35 homers for four straight years in Pittsburgh, totaled over 100 walks five times, topped a .400 on-base percentage six times in seven years and made five trips to the postseason. Yet he made only two All-Star teams and only once cracked the top 10 in an MVP vote. Drafted by the Indians in 1989 as part of a bumper crop that also yielded Jim Thome and current Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, Giles debuted in late '95 but couldn't crack the lineup until Albert Belle departed via free agency after the ’96 season. In his first full year, the Indians won the AL pennant and just missed beating the Marlins in a thrilling seven-game World Series. The Pirates stole Giles from the Indians in a November 1998 swap for lefty reliever Ricardo Rincon, and he put up big numbers as one of the bright-spots on the nowhere-bound Bucs, hitting a combined .308/.426/.591 for a 158 OPS+ and 26.0 WAR over nearly five seasons.

On Aug. 26, 2003, Giles was traded to the Padres in a four-player deal that sent outfielder Jason Bay and lefty Oliver Perez to Pittsburgh, where they flourished. Giles's power took a dip in the new Petco Park, but he remained an on-base machine, drawing more than 100 walks in both 2005 and '06 and helping the team win back-to-back NL West titles. In 2007, he was joined in San Diego by younger brother Marcus, which set off one of the all-time spit-take quotes: "The first thing my mother was saying was, 'Oh gosh, you guys get to shower again together.'" Not funny at all was a domestic violence incident between Giles and his girlfriend, partially captured by a security camera. Knee problems shortened his career; he finished with a .291/.400/.502 batting line with 287 homers, a 136 OPS+ and a 50.9/37.3/44.1 JAWS line. That added up to a one-and-done appearance on the 2015 ballot.

Garry Maddox

Whether it was Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas or Hall of Famer and Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner (the attribution has been disputed), the observation that "two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water; the other third is covered by Garry Maddox" rang true in his day, as Maddox was considered to be the game's top centerfielder in the late 1970s and early '80s. Drafted by the Giants in 1968, he was saddled with the impossible task of taking over the position from Willie Mays in '72. Though he hit .319/.350/.460 with 11 homers, 24 steals and 4.7 WAR in 1973, he otherwise couldn’t live up to that showing, and in May of '75, he was traded to Philadelphia. There, Maddox joined a team on the upswing, one centered around future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, slugger Greg Luzinksi, slick-fielding shortstop Larry Bowa and more. Maddox won his first of eight straight Gold Gloves that year, and during that run, he helped the Phillies to six NL East titles (including the 1981 first-half title in a split season), two pennants and the '80 championship.

From 1975 to '79, Maddox hit .293/.336/.430 and averaged 10 homers, 27 steals and 4.7 WAR before injuries and inconsistency cut into his offensive production. He had a couple of big postseason moments: In the top of the 10th inning of Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS against the Astros, he doubled in the pennant-clinching run, and in Game 1 of the 1983 World Series against the Orioles, his eighth-inning solo homer off Scott McGregor proved decisive. Maddox finished his career with a .285/.320/.413 line, 1,820 hits, 117 homers and 248 steals. Via Baseball-Reference's Total Zone, his 100 fielding runs ranks ninth at the position. But despite that superlative defense, he vanished off the 1992 ballot without a single vote to his name.

Raul Mondesi

Mondesi was a five-tool standout from the Dominican Republic—six, if you count his scowl—who reached the majors with the Dodgers in 1993 and won Rookie of the Year honors the following year after batting .306/.333/.516 with 16 homers. He was the third in a string of five straight Dodgers to win the award, following Eric Karros and Mike Piazza and preceding Hideo Nomo and Todd Hollandsworth. Though he was a free swinger, his power made him a mid-lineup threat, and his defense only added to that value. From 1995 to '98, he hit .293/.335/.508, averaging 28 homers and 4.4 WAR. In a 1995 Sports Illustrated article by Johnette Howard, Dodgers coach Manny Mota compared his powerful arm and raw approach at the plate to none other than Roberto Clemente.

Mondesi reached the 30-homer, 30-stolen base plateau twice (1997 and ’99), but injuries and weight gain began to erode his value. Traded to the Blue Jays for Shawn Green in November 1999, he bounced to the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Pirates and Braves in quick succession. He still had some power and a cannon for an arm late in his career; watching him cock his gun after fielding a rebound off the rightfield wall, just daring a sucker to try to take the extra base on him, was almost worth the price of admission itself. He got no support on the 2011 ballot, but his post-career life has turned out alright: He's now the mayor of his Dominican hometown, San Cristóbal, and his son, Raul A. Mondesi, is an infielder with the Royals.

Ken Singleton

Well known now as a longtime broadcaster with the Yankees, Singleton in his playing days was a smooth-swinging, switch-hitting, on-base machine. The No. 3 pick of the 1967 draft by the Mets, he spent five years in New York ('70–71) and Montreal ('72–74) before being traded to the Orioles, where he emerged as an outstanding complementary piece for Earl Weaver's perennial contenders. From 1975 to '83, the Orioles posted the majors' highest winning percentage (.587), with five seasons of at least 90 wins and two more of at least 100, but they only made the postseason twice: in '79, when they lost to the Pirates in a seven-game World Series, and in '83, when they beat the Phillies in five. Singleton, the regular rightfielder on those teams, hit .290/.396/.456 for a 141 OPS+ during that run, within one point in either direction of teammate Eddie Murray, batting champ Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson—all future Hall of Famers. Singleton made three All-Star teams and placed among the league's top 10 in on-base percentage seven times in that span, topping .400 four times. From 1977 to '79, he was in the top three in OPS+ and had two strong finishes in the MVP voting—third in '77, then second in '79 behind Don Baylor on the strength of a career-high 35 homers to go with a .295/.405/.533 line.

After going 10-for-28 in the 1979 World Series in a losing cause, Singleton was limited to two plate appearances in '83 due to the lack of a DH. He hung up his spikes at age 37 after struggling in 1984, finishing with career totals of 246 homers and 2,029 hits, with a .282/.388/.436 line and a 132 OPS+. Those numbers weren't enough to earn him any supporters in his first and only year on the ballot in 1990.

Frank Tanana

Early in his career, this flame-throwing lefty appeared to be on a path to Cooperstown. Tanana debuted for the Angels as a 20-year-old in September 1973, a southpaw who could pump his fastball into triple digits to pair with righty teammate Nolan Ryan, albeit with much better control. Through 1978, his age-24 season, he made three All-Star appearances, won strikeout and ERA titles (1975, with 269, and '77, with 2.54, respectively) and notched 84 wins, the fourth-most of any postwar pitcher besides cautionary tale Dwight Gooden (100), Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven (95) and two-time Cy Young winner Denny McLain (90).

Alas, Tanana was used heavily, averaging 259 innings and 16 complete games over the previous five seasons, and by that point—still a primitive time for sports medicine—he had already battled elbow inflammation and started losing velocity. Forced to reinvent himself as a junkballer, he developed an outstanding slow curve but missed two months with a rotator cuff injury in 1979. He still stuck around the majors until 1993, spending time with the Red Sox, Tigers, Mets and Yankees and finishing with a 240–236 record, a 3.66 ERA (106 ERA+) and 2,773 strikeouts (14th all-time when he retired, and still a respectable 21st). He made his ballot debut (and exit) in 1999.

Andy Van Slyke

A five-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star, Van Slyke spent 13 years in the majors (1983–95), breaking in with the Cardinals, who chose him sixth in the '79 draft out of a New York high school. He was the regular rightfielder on St. Louis' 1985 pennant-winners, who were robbed of a championship by Don Denkinger's infamous blown call in Game 6 against the Royals. Traded to the Pirates in 1987, he shifted to centerfield began a string of five straight Gold Gloves the following season and helped Pittsburgh win three straight NL East titles ('90–92), generally batting third (!) ahead of Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds.

Van Slyke placed fourth in the MVP voting in both 1988 (.288/.345/.506 with 25 homers, 100 RBIs and 6.4 WAR) and '92 (.324/.381/.505 with a league-high 199 hits, 14 homers and 6.0 WAR), the latter after finally making headway against lefties, against whom he struggled most of his career. After making his final All-Star appearance in 1993, chronic back troubles soon caught up to him; he retired at age 34 after a '95 season split between Baltimore and Philadelphia, then fell off the ballot in 2001.

Jimmy Wynn

By my system, Wynn (55.7 career WAR/43.3 peak/49.5 JAWS, 16th among centerfielders) is the best player I've found to have gone voteless during this timeframe—so good that he was the centerfielder on my All One-and-Done Team a few years ago (Kenny Lofton, who received 3.2% in his lone ballot appearance, was on the companion All-Overlooked Team). Known as "The Toy Cannon," Wynn was a 5'10" sparkplug with power, outstanding control of the strike zone and good defense, a player whom Bill James compared to early-career teammate Joe Morgan. He spent the first 11 years of his career (1963–73) playing in the Astrodome, the game's toughest pitchers' park, then another two in Dodger Stadium, which wasn't much easier. In that difficult context, his career line of .250/.366/.436 translates to a solid 129 OPS+.

Because of his low batting averages and high walk totals, Wynn went largely unheralded in his time, making just three All-Star teams, but he did reach 20 homers eight times and 30 homers three times. He also walked more than 100 times in a season six times, leading the league twice. In 1969, he had more walks (148) than hits (133) to go with 33 homers en route to a .269/.436/.507 line, a 166 OPS+ and 7.1 WAR, one of three seven-win seasons and four in his league's top 10. Alas, shoulder woes cut his career short at age 35; he finished with 291 homers and 1,665 hits along with his 1,224 walks. All of that amounted to a voteless year on the ballot in 1983.

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