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Friday, March 18, 2011
Underappreciated non-Hall of Famers

By Bill Parker

Our friend Craig Calcaterra had a very interesting post over on Hardball Times the other day, in which he attempted to identify the greatest living player from each team . His answer for the Angels really caught my eye:
Angels: Another toughie for me. Jim Edmonds, unless you think he had too much time in St. Louis. Tim Salmon? Yikes.

And it’s true that the Angels haven’t really had a great player who has stayed with the team for long enough to really jump out as you as their greatest ever, but Edmonds and Salmon? That seems a stretch. Nolan Ryan? Chuck Finley?

The answer that came to me right away, though, was Jim Fregosi, a shortstop who made six All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and was mentioned on MVP ballots in eight different seasons with the team. Fregosi’s largely been forgotten today, in part because he was done as a full-time player at just 29 and never came particularly close to compiling a Hall of Fame career, and in part because he wasn’t flashy. His .268/.340/.403 Angels line was great for a 1960s shortstop (116 OPS+), but certainly isn’t eye-catching, and he didn’t have the defensive wizardry or speed of a Luis Aparicio. Fregosi was simply a very good player and for a fairly long time.

Dave Stieb
Dave Stieb won 175 games for the Blue Jays during his career.
It happens that that’s one of my favorite subjects: players who may not be Hall of Famers, but who were very good (sometimes great) players who have been unfairly forgotten by fans. This ignores guys who I think are terribly underrated but SHOULD be in the Hall -- Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell -- but those players are talked about often enough in Hall discussions.

So here’s a randomly ordered and by no means exclusive list of players -- all still living and all active at a time when many of us were around to see them -- who, like Fregosi, were very good players who I think should be remembered more than they are:

Dave Stieb: My personal crusade. In my opinion, Stieb was both the greatest player in Blue Jay history and the greatest pitcher of the 1980s -- leading the decade (minimum 1,500 innings) with his 127 ERA+ and his 45.2 WAR -- but he never gets credited as either. Stieb had a legitimate case to win the Cy Young Award three different times, but never finished higher than seventh.

Reggie Smith: One of those guys who did everything pretty well, but nothing exceptionally well. He hit for a high average, but didn’t hit .300; had good patience, but didn’t post .400 OBPs; had good power, but topped 30 homers only twice and 100 RBIs only once (he did post 90-plus three other times); he played pretty good defense, but wasn’t a Gold Glover. That’s pretty much the recipe for an underappreciated player.

Jim Wynn: Much the same story as Smith, but then add in that he was hitting in the Astrodome, which pulled his numbers down across the board. Put him in Enron/Minute Maid over the past decade and he’s a superstar.

Robin Ventura: We haven’t “forgotten” him, but his 1.3 percent showing on the 2010 ballot shows how quickly we’ve forgotten (if we ever really appreciated) how much his on-base ability, power and (especially) defense brought to the table. I wouldn’t have voted for him with so many better third basemen on the outside looking in, but he’s closer than he’s ever been given credit for.

Kevin Appier: He suffers from having his best years with Kansas City (which was better than it is now, but still not great), and from not being Maddux, Unit, Pedro, Clemens, Mussina or Schilling. But he was brilliant from 1990-97 and was robbed of the ‘93 Cy Young.

Keith Hernandez, Will Clark and John Olerud: I consider them as about the same player. All three are underrated because they didn’t do much of the one thing first basemen were expected to do: hit home runs. They did almost everything else very well, though, and you could make Hall cases for each (I think they fall just short).

Shane Mack: Yes, there are much more deserving candidates for this last spot than Mack. Plug in Eric Davis or even Ray Lankford for the same reasons (similar to the reasons Smith and Wynn get overlooked). But as a Twins fan, it pains me to see how quickly Mack has been forgotten even by my fellow fans. He was a key part of the 1991 champs, and you could make a good argument that he was the team’s best player throughout his four-and-a-half seasons with the club.

That’s 10 total names (including Fregosi), but doesn’t purport to be a top 10 (the exercise is much too subjective for that). Let me know in the comments section if you’ve got any great non-Hall players YOU think need to be recognized.

Bill Parker blogs at The Platoon Advantage and rants about Dave Stieb and Shane Mack quite regularly on Twitter.