Roberto Alomar is getting in the Hall of Fame this year, and while it would be foolish to question the greatness of his career, was it really a Hall of Fame career? Before the gnashing of teeth and composing of hate mail by pro-Alomar types begin, let’s examine his career a little closer, and compare it to careers of other HOF second basemen, plus some solid non-HOFers who may or may not get in.
First, let’s all understand that these HOF or non-HOF second basemen are not judged in a vacuum. They must be judged alongside other players that play other positions. Let’s also understand that I haven’t lost much sleep worrying about Robbie’s HOF credentials, but on the surface, while he had a great career, it is hard for me to place him in the immortal class of souls that are in the HOF.
Are they letting these guys in too easily? Or am I just completely out of the loop on who gets selected for the hall.
No one can question that Robbie had a great career, and you can even say he was the best second baseman of his generation. He played a key role in helping the Blue Jays win the World Series in 1992 and 1993 and was also one of the centerpieces of the fine Indians teams of the late 1990s. His combining with Omar Vizquel made up one of the best middle infield combos in that time period.
He hit over .300 nine times in his career, and did so over a ten-season span between 1992 and 2001. He had speed, stealing over 30 bases eight times, and he also brought power, having an SLG over .500 four times and an OPS over .800 nine times.
He was considered one of the best fielders in his era. He was in the top five for Range Factor/per nine innings (RF/G) six times, led the league in fielding percentage three times and won ten Gold Gloves (more than any other second baseman). Having guys like Vizquel and a young Tony Fernandez playing next to him much of his career helped, and he was usually near the top of the list at his position for errors committed, but he was still a very good fielder.
The John Hirshbeck spitting incident, as outrageous as it seemed when it happened, didn’t hurt his chances getting in the hall on the second try. While we will discuss it further, Alomar was offensively, and quite possbily defensively, the best all-around second baseman of his era.
It would be hard to have a conversation about Hall-of Fame second basemen without mentioning Rogers Hornsby’s name. Hornsby was perhaps the best pure hitter of the game besides Ty Cobb. He was so obsessed with hitting that he wouldn’t read newspapers or watch movies in fear of endangering his eyesight. As a full-time player, he hit over .400 three times, including .424 in 1924. He also regularly hit over .300, doing so for 13 straight seasons.
He certainly was not a one-dimensional hitter. Seven times he hit over 40 doubles, and he reached double figures in triples eight times. He could also be reasonably counted on to hit double figures in homers, including 42 in 1922 and 39 in 1925.
His OBP was over .400 ten times, including a .507 mark in 1924, and he led the league in OBP nine times. The fact that he hit in the live-ball era of the 1920s may diminish his power numbers somewhat, but his career batting line of .358/.424/.577/1.010 would be difficult to reach for anyone.
It would be impossible to expect anyone to live up to these expectations; Hornsby’s numbers were iconic. The age-old question is whether the Hall of Fame should reserve itself for players like him or make room for others who had great careers but may not necessarily live up to such iconic status. The hall voters have already answered this question for us, so for players like Alomar, do they reach the heights of the many second-tier Hall of Famers?
One contemporary of Hornsby’s who made it in the hall was Frankie Frisch, the “Fordham Flash,” whose baserunning and hitting skills made him the mover and shaker for early 1930s Cardinals Gashouse Gang teams. He hit over .300 eleven straight times. He also had over 20 stolen bases eleven times, including 49 in 1921 and 48 in 1927. Overall, he led the league in steals three times.
One of Frisch’s best abilities was avoiding strikeouts. His at-bat-per-strikeout figure of 33.5 is 14th-best all-time, and he led the league in that regard three times. He also had some power. While he didn’t hit a ridiculous amount of homers, he did hit over 30 doubles eight times in his career and had double figures in triples six times. His career OPS of .801 reflects this pretty well.
Frisch had over 100 RBI three times in his career, pretty remarkable for a leadoff hitter. He was also strong defensively. Eight times he finished in the top five in the league in defensive WAR, leading the league in 1923 and 1927. He also led the league in Range Factor four times. He was part of four World Series winners, twice with the New York Giants early in his career, and later with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Tigers.
Frisch’s numbers are very comparable to Alomar’s. Alomar had more power, Frisch was perhaps a stronger fielder, but in most other ways they were similar. It took Frisch five times to make it in the hall, and he stayed active in the game after his retirement in 1937 as a manager and announcer.
How does Alomar compare with more contemporary players? While not exactly a contemporary, Joe Morgan was a modern era Hall of Fame second baseman with a unique skill set who deserves perusal.
To many people, Morgan is best known as the ESPN guy who enlightened and/or annoyed them until last season on their twice-weekly broadcasts. “Little Joe,” who was only 5’ 7″, played 22 seasons, most memorably as part of the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. Morgan, along with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion, led the Reds to consecutive World Series titles. Morgan was also the NL MVP in 1975 and ’76, the first second baseman in the NL to do that.
Morgan was a very, very good hitter. While his lifetime average was only .271, he hit between .288 and .327 during his peak years with the Reds, and his mildly disappointing batting average may be partially explained by him playing much of his career in the dead-ball 1960s.
He was considered by some the finest base stealer of his generation, as he stole over 30 bases nine times, including 60-plus in 1973, 1975 and 1976. For his career, he swiped 689 bases at greater than an 80% success rate.
Morgan drew many walks, leading the league three times and being in the top five 18 times. His hitting and plate discipline resulted in an excellent .392 on-base percentage, and his seasonal OBP was over .400 nine times. Morgan scored over 100 runs eight times, perhaps as much due to his fine OBP and baserunning as to having guys like Bench and Perez batting behind him.
Morgan also had good power. He hit 268 home runs to go with 449 doubles and 96 triples, excellent power for a middle infielder of his era. His OPS was over .800 eight times, and Morgan led the league in SLG with a score of .576 in 1976.
He also very good defensively—winning five Gold Gloves—and in the early 1970s was regularly in the top five among second basemen for Range Factor and Total Zone Runs.
One number that stands out for Morgan is his power/speed number of 385.9, which puts him at No. 6 all-time.
His OBP dwarfs anyone on this list not named Hornsby, and while there are many corner infielders and outfielders who have a higher mark, there aren’t many middle infielders. His speed and power were similar to Alomar’s, and Morgan was probably the superior fielder.
So it looks like Alomar compares fairly well to Hall of Fame second basemen of previous eras. How does he compare to his own era? How does he match up to Ryne Sandberg, who was sort of in Alomar’s era, sort of in the generation before, and how does he match up with contemporaries like Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent, two guys who may get some consideration when they are eligible in the coming years?
If Robbie was the best second baseman of the 1990s, Sandberg was the best of the 1980s. Their careers did overlap some, but Ryno was on his way out when Alomar’s career was about to take off. Like Robbie, Sandberg could hit for average, had speed and power and could field. He was undoubtedly the offensive leader of the Cubs, pacing the team in offensive WAR five times, and he led the perennially mediocre Cubs to their first two playoff appearances since 1945.
Sandberg scored over 100 runs seven times, and had 30-plus stolen bases five times in his career. He hit over 20 HR five times in his career, including 40 in 1990. He was only the third second baseman in National League history to do this, joining Hornsby and Davey Johnson.
He was a very strong fielder, winning the Gold Glove nine times in a row, and his defensive numbers back that up well. Ten times in his career he was in the top five among second basemen for RF/G, and he led the league in Zone Runs four times, being in the top five eight times.
Alomar was perhaps a better pure hitter than Sandberg, which his career mark of a .300 average and a .371 OBP reveal, compared to .285/.344 for Sandberg. Power numbers had Sandberg at a slight advantage, with his .452 SLG at a slight advantage over Alomar’s .443. Sandberg had more of a home run stroke, hitting 282 in 16 seasons, while Alomar hit 210 in 17 seasons, while Alomar was stronger with doubles (504-410), and they were roughly equal on triples. Alomar was a stronger base stealer (474-344).
The end result was Alomar’s stats being slightly superior to those of Sandberg’s but still very close and comparable.
Craig Biggio’s career was roughly in the same time frame as Alomar’s, playing his first game with the Astros in 1988 and retiring in 2007. Biggio was a catcher when he first came up, played 2B the bulk of his career, and played in the outfield his last couple of seasons.
He played a similar role on his teams as Sandberg and Alomar did. As a leadoff hitter, Biggio set the table well, hitting over .300 four times and having an OBP over .400 four times, with his OBP topping .350 11 years in a row. He was a top-10 base stealer five times, including leading the league with 39 in 1994.
Biggio hit over 20 homers eight times and 40-plus doubles five times, leading the league on three different occasions. He was an underrated fielder, regularly finishing in the top 10 in range factor and the top five in his position in fielding percentage.
Is Biggio Hall of Fame material? Measured against Alomar and Sandberg, he hit more homers (290) than Sandberg, but did it in 20 seasons. Sandberg’s and Biggio’s averages were about the same (.285/.281), while Biggio’s .363 OBP was superior to that of Sandberg’s .344. (All the times Biggio was plunked by pitches contributed to this). Sandberg had a stronger SLG (.452-.433) and their OPS rates were the similar. Sandberg was probably the superior fielder of the two. Sandberg’s power and fielding probably give him a slight edge, but Biggio’s stats are very comparable.
Jeff Kent is a very interesting case. While he didn’t have the speed of Alomar, Sandberg or Biggio and was not a leadoff hitter type, his power numbers are superior and, at least in his prime, he was a decent fielder.
While in some years he had the luxury of hitting around Barry Bonds, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and Carlos Beltran, hitting 20-plus homers 12 times can’t be ignored. Having 100-plus RBI eight times can’t be overlooked, either. Kent could be counted on during his peak years to have an OPS of better than .800, including over .900 three times and 1.000 once.
His career numbers of .290/.356/.500/.855 are close to, as good as, or better than any of the modern guys, so if Sandberg is in the hall and you’re talking about putting Biggio there, Kent should be in that conversation, also. Kent was known as a curmudgeon, at least compared to the all-American Biggio and Sandberg, but no one can question that he meant business when he was between the lines.
From perusing all the statistics of all the second basemen previously mentioned, one cannot question Alomar’s belonging in the hall. There is a continuing debate on who is hall-worthy and who isn’t, but based on the current standards, he belongs.
His career numbers hold up well to Frisch and Morgan, if not Hornsby. Compared to his contemporaries, his numbers range from comparable to superior when weighed against Sandberg, Biggio and Kent. So he does belong, even if that aura of immortality doesn’t follow him around the way it does others.