Astros' Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman should be in the Hall of Fame
I'm not going to waste your time debating the Hall of Fame cases of former baseball players that have had their names linked to PED use since their playing days.
Every argument that could be made for or against the Cooperstown enshrinement of the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others have already been made somewhere. The topic has been tirelessly debated for the last 15-20 years, long before the release of the 2007 Mitchell Report and the book Game of Shadows was released to shelves in 2006. Chances are, you've already formed your opinion on this subject and it cannot be swayed, and that's fine.
But has the annual discussion revolving around these polarizing figures prevented us from looking closer at the Hall of Fame cases from other fringe HOF'ers?
This year, two terrific players from the 2000s hit the ballot for the first time. Neither received more than 5 votes and both are now off the ballot moving forward.
Should they both have gotten in on the first ballot? Probably not. But the careers of Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt should at least warrant some future consideration. We've seen many players start on the ballot with a low vote percentage, only to gain momentum over the years and make a push towards the top as baseball writers look closer at their careers.
Let's start with Roy Oswalt.
Listed at 6-foot-0 (but may have likely been 5-9 or 5-10), this right-hander was often perceived as undersized and wasn't picked until the 23rd round of the 1996 draft out of junior college. He burst onto the Major League scene at 23 years-old in 2001, going 14-3 in his rookie campaign with a 2.73 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
In his first ten seasons (2001-2010), he was about as dominant as any starting pitcher from his era. He posted a sub-3 ERA in five separate seasons, and only had one season with an ERA higher than 3.55. He was top 6 in Cy Young voting on six different occasions. With the Astros, Oswalt delivered several gritty playoff performances, including two starts in the 2005 NLCS where he held a 100-win Cardinals team to just two runs and eight hits over 14 innings, which propelled the Astros to their first ever World Series appearance and earned him NLCS MVP honors.
A string of injuries began to derail Oswalt's career in his mid-30s, and by the end of 2013 he had retired from baseball. Oswalt hung up his cleats with 163 wins and a lifetime ERA of 3.36, two points lower than the career ERA of first ballot HOF'er Roy Halladay.
Oswalt was likely penalized because his career did not contain the same longevity that his counterparts' did. Soon to be inducted Halladay and Mike Mussina stuck around for 16 and 18 years respectively. Halladay was an obvious first ballot choice; a one of a kind pitcher that won two Cy Youngs, threw a perfect game, and delivered a no-hitter in a playoff game. Mussina, however, gradually rose from 20% from his first year on the ballot to just over the needed 75% five years later. Given the same opportunity, Oswalt could have experienced a similar jump over time.
Berkman's case is even more interesting. As pointed out by the Twitter user @RGBIII, Berkman and 2019 Hall of Fame class member Edgar Martinez's career numbers aren't very far off from each other.
In addition to what @RGBIII notes, both players had a .400+ career OBP. Martinez was a seven-time All-Star; Berkman garnered six All-Star selections. Berkman was top 5 in MVP voting four times. Martinez only finished top 10 in MVP votes twice. Berkman was even the best position player on a team that reached the World Series, and later won a World Series as a key member of the Cardinals (batting .301 on the season with 31 homers and 94 RBI's).
Martinez received 85.4% of the vote. Berkman received 1.2%.
The distinct difference between Berkman and Martinez is that Berkman played a defensive position, while Martinez had the luxury of DH-ing for over half his career. The status of designated hitter has stained the resumes of several prospective Hall of Famers in the past for the reason that designated hitters are perceived to hold an advantage over non DHs. The threat of injury in the field is entirely eliminated, and they can't be subjected to criticism from the public for weaknesses in the field. That player is never going to be in a situation where a ball can roll through his legs and cost his team the game. DH's are able to play longer into their careers due to their role not being as physically demanding. Martinez's career is very unique because his batting average, OBP., SLG, and OPS all went up in the second half of his career (when he became a full-time DH) from the first half (when he primarily played in the field). Both parts of his career were very strong, however.
For me, personally, I've never had a big issue with DH's making the Hall, but the baseball writers have. So to see an 85% gap between these two players was startling to say the least.
To be clear, I am in no way saying that Berkman was better than Martinez, and that one should be in the Hall and the other shouldn't. What I don't understand however is what exactly the baseball writers are looking for, because sometimes the voting patterns are inconsistent. Given the statistics and evidence that we have, you would not expect there to be that big of a perspective gap between two excellent players. Unfortunately for Berkman, there is.
Perhaps Berkman was hurt by the fact that even in his heyday, he was overshadowed by other stars at his position, some in bigger markets. In the late 2000's, the NL Central boasted of an outstanding crop of first baseman, including Berkman, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Derrek Lee and Joey Votto.
Perhaps Oswalt and Berkman were victims of playing in a smaller market in Houston. Bigger market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers typically receive more attention, and typically play on prime-time more often than teams like Cincinnati and San Diego.
Whatever the reason was, I wish the voters had taken a closer look at Oswalt and Berkman. Perhaps the Veterans Committee will someday.
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(Photo via Eric Kayne/Chronicle)