With the latest crop of Major League Hall of Famers set to be announced later in the day, this will be the last in a series of four making the cases for some Indians greats to be included. All of these players have already missed out on the voting process, but could be considered in the future on the veteran’s ballot, although they are now considered long shots. Today’s version will feature one of the greatest catchers in Indians history, one of the most popular players overall in team history and the team’s current first base coach, Sandy Alomar, Jr.
While his full biography is located at the link above, Alomar’s quick accolades are that he played 20 seasons, not missing a year from 1988 through 2007 and made six All-Star teams including one, in 1997, where he won the MVP. In 1990, Alomar won the Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove at catcher, with the only thing keeping him from a closet full of the latter being Pudge Rodriguez. From 1990 through 2000, Alomar played 11 seasons, all in Cleveland, in which he hit 92 of his 112 home runs, batted .277 and hit 194 doubles. Alomar had a career WAR of 13.7 with 10.3 of that coming during his seven year peak in Cleveland between 1992 through 1998.
It is important to discuss Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez in Sandy’s Hall of Fame case, because the Ranger catcher was Alomar’s primary competition in the American League. From 1992 through 2001, Rodriguez went to the All-Star Game every year, won every single catcher Gold Glove and six Silver Sluggers. Without him, Alomar has an argument for the Silver Sluggers from 1994 and 1997 and the Gold Glove from almost every other year during that span. While Alomar still got into a couple All-Star games, with Rodriguez as the almost guaranteed starting catcher, it was more of a battle for Alomar to get on the roster than it would have been without him. Rodriguez retired after the 2011 season and should easily be a first ballot Hall of Famer. If for some reason, the voters do not put him in during his first eligible year, then Alomar has no case for the Hall.
Comparing to those already in, Alomar looks a little more favorably at the low end, but terrible on the higher tier. The top ten catchers by WAR all time are all above 50 in their career and yet one, Ted Simmons, has already been excluded. Simmons is a great comparison for Alomar as Sandy could likely have achieved Simmons’ greater numbers had he not lost so much time to injury during his career. The two are compared below and in general Simmons appears double the player Alomar was. Even so, back in 1994 when Simmons was up for selection, he received just 3.7% of the vote, near what Alomar got in 2013. The extra value awarded to Alomar was likely due to his defense as Simmons was near the league lead in errors almost every year.
While Alomar really doesn’t compare to the greatest catchers ever, there is still a question as to why there are so few catchers in the Hall of Fame. Over near 150 years of professional baseball, there are just 13 players in the Hall of Fame as a catcher. That number could increase today as Mike Piazza, owner of a 59.4 career WAR and 427 home runs is in his first year of eligibility, but he will likely be kept out for now due to a stacked ballot and poor defensive numbers. For those in favor of a small Hall, this may be fine, but it is hard to defend less than one player per decade making it into the Hall of Fame at what could be considered the second most important position in baseball.
Much like the offensive line men in the NFL, catchers are largely underrated due to the lack of determinate stats for evaluating how a catcher calls a game or aids the pitcher. For this, it would require a number comparing ERA of all pitchers caught with those pitchers being caught by other catchers. Because most teams carry only two catchers and the primary catcher will take the majority of the starts, this kind of stat is just about impossible, so it remains difficult to decipher a catcher’s actual effect on the pitcher. Alomar is considered to have been one of the best at this, a major reason he is currently being considered for managerial roles around the league. While he is currently just a base coach for the Indians, he will almost certainly end up as at least a pitching coach somewhere due to his knowledge of the game and his handling of pitchers.
With the acknowledgement that Alomar has very little chance of making the Hall, it is worth looking at a couple other Indians catchers who may have or have had Hall of Fame hopes. Based on WAR alone, Alomar isn’t even the top Indians catcher. Steve O’Neill, the Cleveland catcher for the first World Series team in 1920 ranks 57th among catchers with a 34.2 WAR while the 20 year veteran, Jim Hegan, has a WAR of just 3.7. Retired Indians catchers who are superior in WAR to Alomar also include Chief Zimmer (Spiders 22.8), Johnny Romano (20.9), Al Lopez (16.6, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager) and Ron Hassey (14.7). There is no argument that any of these players deserve Hall of Fame, but they do provide a reason Alomar shouldn’t be. Even with his incredible skills behind the plate, it can’t over shadow his lack of numbers beside it.
Showing how defense is completely underrated in catcher’s WAR, there are two active players worth mentioning as well. Victor Martinez currently ranks 26th in baseball history in WAR as a catcher with a 34.4 and he was terrible defensively behind the plate. In addition, he has played a large part of his career at first base and DH and it is unfair to compare his offensive prominence with those who have worked much harder defensively. In a similar situation is current catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana. Santana was also such a poor catcher that he was moved to first and also already has a higher WAR than Alomar at 17.3.
After all this, Alomar still doesn’t really deserve a place in Cooperstown, but he deserves a lot more than 2% of a thought. If nothing else, hopefully this and the upcoming voting process for Rodriguez, Javy Lopez and other modern catchers will help the writers look past home runs and treat catchers a little more equally compared to other positions.