A Tip of the Cap to Carlos Delgado, A Surprising One-and-Done on the Hall of Fame Ballot

By: Brian Mangan

In the midst of all the hand-wringing and moral outrage over the Hall of Fame, I’d like to take a brief timeout and tip my cap to a player who I really enjoyed watching, who fell off the ballot today after only one election: Carlos Delgado.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the body empowered to elect players to the Hall, has a rule whereby any player who does not receive 5% of the vote gets removed from the ballot before the next election. Delgado finished with only 3.8% of the vote, and will not be on next year’s ballot. Although nobody expected Delgado to make the Hall of Fame, or even make a strong run at it this year, the fact that he was one-and-done was a huge surprise and disappointment to me.

Delgado’s resume speaks for itself, as he spent a decade as one of the most feared hitters in the game. In his career, Delgado hit 472 home runs and batted .280/.383/.546. He accumulated 1,512 RBI and 2,038 hits, while finishing in the Top 10 of the MVP vote four times (and getting MVP votes in seven separate seasons). He won three Silver Sluggers at first base at the height of the Steroid Era, and in his best season, smashed 99 extra base hits (41 HR) and posted a 1134 OPS. In another year, 2003, he was the league’s RBI champion and OPS leader. Overall, Delgado posted 44.3 bWAR or 43.5 fWAR, short of what you’d expect from a Hall of Famer, even though he scored a 110 on the Hall of Fame Monitor (over 100 means you are a “likely” Hall of Famer).

Unfortunately for Delgado, his career was unfortunately cut short by injuries, preventing him from doing the final accumulation that often helps players pad their resume somewhat.  He played only 26 games his final season at the age of 37, but make no mistake, the man could still hit — he posted a .298/.393/.521 slash line, good for a 914 OPS and 142 OPS+.  The season before, at age 36, he crushed 38 HR, good for 2nd in the National League while his 115 RBI ranked 5th. He also did it, and I hate to even mention this, while avoiding any steroid-related whispers.

Is it possible that Delgado, had he been healthy, could have put up another two or three 30+ HR seasons had he not been forced into retirement?  And what if Delgado had been a DH instead of a first baseman? Frank Thomas was primarily a DH from 1998 onward, while Delgado remained at first base, and Delgado had a whopping four seasons where his defensive value graded out worse than the DH adjustment. If Delgado put up three more 3.5 WAR seasons to end with 55 WAR instead of 44.5, are we having a different conversation?

Delgado might not have been a Hall of Famer, but what should have been a thoughtful “I’ll think about it” or “close but no” ended up being nothing at all thanks to the overcrowded ballot. At the very least, he compares favorably to players still on the ballot in a lot of regards:

delgado

Even despite playing the field and his early retirement, Delgado finished with more WAR and a higher OPS than Don Mattingly and Nomar Garciaparra, both of whom remain on the ballot. He had essentially the same peak as Fred McGriff, who hung on with the Devil Rays, Cubs, and Dodgers after his 37th birthday and cranked out an additional 76 HR and 7+ WAR. He had a career similar to Jim Rice, who not only hung around on the ballot, but was eventually elected.

So consider this my tribute to a player who I respected very much and who I think should have gotten more consideration and admiration both as a player, and as a Hall of Fame candidate.

Thank you, Carlos Delgado, for your time as a Met. Thank you for your principles and for using your platform to respectfully protest of the war in Iraq. Thank you for your charity work in Vieques. Thank you for playing hurt and for being a good man and role model.