How long has it been?
The last time multiple Cleveland Indians were inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in the same year, the induction class also included Connie Mack, who was born the year before the Battle of Gettysburg.
It was so long ago that when it last happened there were only five players IN the Hall of Fame. Total.
It was 1937.
The Hall of Fame opened in 1936 and the first induction class included Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.
The following year, eight more were inducted. One was Mack. Three others were Cleveland Indians: Napoleon Lajoie, Tris Speaker and Cy Young.
Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
That was the last time — the ONLY time — multiple Indians were inducted into the Hall of Fame in a single year.
Until now … maybe.
On the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year are Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, who, for the 1995 American League champions, hit No. 6 and No. 2 in the most powerful lineup in Indians history.
If the voting breaks right, Thome and Vizquel could give the Indians multiple Hall of Fame inductees for the first time in 80 years.
Thome should sail into Cooperstown in his first year on the ballot. His 612 untarnished career home runs rank eighth on the all-time list, sixth on the non-steroids list. Among non-steroids-tainted sluggers with more than 300 career home runs, only Babe Ruth hit home runs more often than Thome, who in his 22 years in the majors averaged one every 13.76 at bats. The Babe is at 11.76.
Thome’s 1,747 career walks rank sixth on the all-time non-steroids list, and the five players ahead of him (Rickey Henderson, Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Morgan and Carl Yastrzemski), plus the two immediately behind him (Mickey Mantle and Mel Ott), are all in the Hall of Fame.
In his 22-year career, which encompassed the steroids era, Thome made it through with his reputation intact as one of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game.
If Thome gets in this year, he would join Bob Feller (1962) as the only Indians players who were first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Vizquel, however, is going to be a battleground candidate between the old school vs. new school player evaluation camps. Indeed, it seems doubtful he’ll be a first ballot inductee, although he’ll get my vote.
However, the Hall of Fame electorate has a growing number of younger voters, who are hardcore metrics loyalists and believe Vizquel is not worthy.
The No-Omar cartel site defensive metrics that say Vizquel was simply not a Hall of Fame-caliber shortstop. That flies in the face of the visual evidence Vizquel provided through most of his 24-year career, when he was the best defensive shortstop of his generation.
I respect analytics, but have never liked most defensive metrics, because I don’t think all aspects of defense are quantifiable.
Having covered virtually all of the 1,535 games Vizquel played with the Indians (counting postseason), when I hear a metrics-based argument that Vizquel should not even be in the Hall of Fame discussion, I question the metrics, not the player.
As it is, in addition to producing a career that passes the eye test in spectacular fashion, Vizquel’s resume, in my opinion, is swollen with evidence that he’s Cooperstown quality.
Start with the fact he’s 10th all-time in defensive WAR (28.8) for any position and eight of the nine players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. Among shortstops he’s eighth all-time in defensive WAR and six of the seven ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.
Vizquel played more games (2,709), turned more double plays and has the highest fielding percentage of any shortstop in history. Granted, fielding percentage isn’t the greatest of stats, but for what it’s worth, Omar is first and Ozzie Smith is 17th.
Vizquel ranks fifth all-time in assists for any position, third among shortstops, behind Smith and Luis Aparicio, who are both in the Hall of Fame.
Gold Gloves? Vizquel won nine in a row and 11 overall. Only two infielders in history won more: Brooks Robinson (16) and Smith (13).
Vizquel finished just 123 hits shy of 3,000. His 2,877 hits — four more than Babe Ruth — are the most of any shortstop in history not named Derek Jeter.
Finally, there’s this: he played, at an elite level, a premium position — after catcher, the most physically demanding position on the field — for almost a quarter of a century.
He made defense sexy, was arguably the most popular player on some Indians teams loaded with star power and, like Thome, emerged from the steroids era with his reputation unscathed.
Not that that makes him a Hall of Famer, but these days, it doesn’t hurt.
Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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