20. Gary Sheffield
Sheffield’s ferocious bat waggle sticks in my mind as one of the most memorable batting stances of the ‘90s. Really it was more of a menacing animal warning sign, cautioning pitchers to steer clear. Largely, they weren’t able to, as Sheff went on to rack up some very impressive career counting stats: 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI, 253 steals, 2,689 hits – all while carrying a .292/.393/.514 slash line. But he was never the best player in the game, or really even in the top handful, despite a few top-five MVP finishes. Had he been a good enough defender to stick at third base, his Cooperstown case would be much stronger, but as an outfielder, his offensive numbers just don’t seem as impressive. That 500 home run threshold ain’t what it used to be, and the BBWAA voters have acknowledged that, as Sheffield has languished on the ballot, topping out at 13.3% of the vote in his third go-round last year.
19. Ted Simmons
Simmons is one of the best catchers of all time, but isn’t exactly a household name for most baseball fans. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system has him ranked 10th out of all catchers, ahead of seven different Hall of Famers. So why did he barely get any ballot support when it was his time? He was overshadowed by Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter during his playing days. Now the eight-time All-Star finds himself on the Modern Era Committee ballot, with a chance at the fair look that he never got. He was a stronger hitter than defender, which probably hurt his odds when the BBWAA only gave him 3.7% of the vote in 1994. He’s definitely an underdog to make it, but there’s a very valid argument here.
18. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog should probably just be in the Hall on the basis of one of the sport’s top nicknames. He also had a sweet mustache, and an even sweeter uppercut swing. In all seriousness though, McGriff resides in the space just below where most voters draw the line for Cooperstown, and I tend to agree. The counting stats are great, but he suffers from the statistical inflation of the Steroid Era, which immediately followed his best seasons. Both his peak and overall WAR fall well below the JAWS standard for the Hall. JAWS isn’t ironclad, but with first base being such a loaded offensive position through the years, McGriff will likely end up on the outside looking in.
17. John Donaldson
You’ve probably never heard of John Donaldson. I hadn’t either, until very recently. He was one of the Negro League’s greatest players, but one whose achievements have been lost to history. Paul Irmiter and Peter Gorton are creating the documentary about Donaldson, and have undertaken a massive crowd-sourced research project to gather information about one of baseball’s mysterious heroes. As much as MLB loves to elevate Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey and self-congratulate because of the sport’s integration, there is a lot of discrimination and worse in baseball’s past, and Donaldson is an example of a man and a fantastic ballplayer who was subject to the whims of that system. He deserves to be in the Hall, and I hope the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues honors him.