The official announcement of Jim Edmonds’ retirement on Friday went largely unnoticed, which was kind of fitting because that’s mostly how the All Star centerfielder’s 17-year career was treated. Edmonds has always been a player best known for either making highlight reel catches or coming down with a nagging injury (he only had four seasons with 150 or more games played), sometimes doing both on the same play. A closer look, however, reveals what Edmonds really was: a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame.
When most people think about Hall of Fame centerfielders, names like Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle come to mind. For that reason, it’s easy to understand why the immediate reaction to Edmonds’ candidacy would be dismissive. Once you get past that immortal quintet, however, Edmonds follows very closely behind, at least according to Sean Smith’s version of WAR.
Hall of Fame Centerfielders (and Upcoming Candidates), Ranked by WAR
|Ken Griffey Jr.||2671||11304||78.5||630||1836||0.284||0.370||0.538||135|
Note: Includes Hall of Famers who played at least 50% of total games in centerfield.
Despite being sabermetrically inclined, I still have my suspicions regarding both predominant versions of WAR. However, when any metric states a player ranks among the best at his position, it is wise to take notice. Using more traditional statistics, Edmonds would still rank among the top-10 Hall of Fame centerfielders in terms of OPS+, runs and RBIs, not to mention fourth in homeruns. By just about any measure, Edmonds was one of the best centerfielders to every play the game. But, is that enough to warrant election to the Hall of Fame?
A good test case for Edmonds will come next January, when former Yankees’ centerfielder Bernie Williams first appears on the ballot. Like his contemporary Edmonds, Williams doesn’t rank among the elite centerfielders, but he more than holds his own against the rest of the position’s Hall of Famers. Among the current class of Cooperstown centerfielders, Williams would rank in the top-10 for offensive WAR, runs, RBIs and homeruns. Also, although both versions of WAR give Williams demerits for defense, he is the proud owner of four Gold Glove awards, which, rightly or wrongly, still hold sway with the Cooperstown electorate.
One area that could boost Williams’ candidacy is his .850 OPS over 545 post season plate appearances, not to mention his four World Series rings. However, Edmonds also has an impressive post season resume. In 263 times to the plate, Edmond posted an OPS of .874 in October, and although he doesn’t have a handful of jewelry, he was part of the Cardinals’ 2006 championship.
Bernie Williams’ vote totals over the next five years will likely serve as a good bellwether for Edmonds (although Williams’ case is probably a little stronger), but the underrated centerfielder is still likely to find himself in a familiar position when he first become eligible for Cooperstown. In 2016, not only will Edmonds join the ballot, but he’ll do so alongside Ken Griffey Jr., who is all but assured of a first ballot election. As a result, Edmonds may not only have to vie against Williams, assuming he hasn’t been elected already, but he’ll also have an uphill battle simply emerging from the shadow of Griffey.
Maybe Jim Edmonds is destined to never fully receive the appreciation his wonderful career deserves, but that doesn’t change what he accomplished on the field. As the popular song about the fabled centerfield trio one stated, “If Cooperstown is calling, it’d be no fluke” because Edmonds wouldn’t be out of place among Willie, Mickey and the Duke.
Hall of Fame Centerfielders (and Upcoming Candidates), Ranked by HoF Standards Test
|Hall of Fame||Post Season|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||13||10||235||61||79||0.947||0|
Note: First Gold Gloves were awarded in 1957. The first All Star Game was played in 1933. Hall of Fame Monitor measures worthiness (average Hall of Famer’s score is approximately 50), while the Standards test measures likelihood of election (likely Hall of Famer’s score is approximately 100).