The election of Craig Biggio this year to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame makes me more convinced than ever that former St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Jim Edmonds deserves to be there as well.
Biggio was a very good offensive player, as evidenced by his 3,060 hits. But I wouldn't call him a dominant hitter. He batted over .300 only four times in his 20-year career. His total of 291 career home runs was impressive for a guy who was primarily a second baseman, even if he did play most of his home games in one of the most homer happy ballparks ever built. But it was the complete package -- Biggo's bat, glove and legs -- that earned him enough votes to be enshrined.
So why do I hear over and over that Edmonds didn't put up good enough offensive numbers in the steroid era to impress the voters? People talk about Jimmy Ballgame as if he was a one-dimensional player.
Edmonds wasn't a plodding corner outfielder. He played a premium defensive position as well or better than any player of his generation. And, as a centerfielder, few could compare to his offensive output. The only guy who played the same position and who out-shined Edmonds at the plate during his playing days was Ken Griffey Jr. It seems unanimous that Griffey will be elected on the first ballot for which he is eligible.
Because someone else was better doesn't mean Edmonds wasn't great enough in his own right to make the Hall of Fame. Mickey Mantle didn't get shut out of the Hall of Fame because Willie Mays was a little bit better all-around player.
(I would argue that, while the consensus was that Griffey was a better all-around player than Edmonds, Jimmy Ballgame could make a pretty good case for himself. According to legend, Griffey used to complain to ESPN that he got tired of seeing all the Edmonds highlights on TV every night. Edmonds also earned a Championship and played in two World Series, which seems to be a big factor for some voters. And while he had fewer hits than Griffey, there was certainly no shortage of clutch successes.)
If you compare Edmonds to centerfielders throughout history instead of just to Griffey, in many ways the former St. Louis centerfielder stands out among centerfielders already in the Hall.
Edmonds hit 393 homers in the big leagues. That falls well short of the pre-steroid era standard of 500 home runs for a free Hall pass regardless of position. But of the 17 centerfielders previously enshrined, only three have more round trippers than Jimmy Ballgame: Mays (660), Mantle (536) and Duke Snider (409). Edmonds' 1,251 runs scored is more than seven of the centerfielders in the Hall and his 1,199 RBIs totaled more than 10 of the HOF centerfielders.
That's pretty rare company.
His .284 average falls 11 points short of the lowest man on the list of centerfielders in the Hall, Duke Snider. But that doesn't change the fact that, when you consider his power and his glove, Edmonds is certainly one of the top 25 all-around centerfielders in the history of baseball.
Saying Edmonds doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he didn't hit 500 homers or collect 3,000 hits is a little bit like saying Ozzie Smith doesn't deserve to be enshrined because he didn't hit for as much power as Mike Schmidt or George Brett. Ozzie and Edmonds did things to save runs at their key defensive positions that Schmidt and Brett weren't required to do on the infield corners (or, in Brett's case, as a designated hitter.)
Anyway... I don't think Edmonds has a prayer to make the Hall because there are so many great players who got a lot more publicity during their active days who will be considered over the next few years. Edmonds will get lost in the crowd. But, if he played for the New York Yankees instead of St. Louis, writers would be comparing him to Joe DiMaggio and his election would be a shoe-in.