On Sunday afternoon, the National Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed five men who played outsized roles in the past 35 years of baseball: Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, John Schuerholz and Bud Selig. Three great players, one deeply accomplished general manager and a commissioner who may not have been popular but certainly shaped the game.
You may feel Selig deserves blame for the Steroid Era, that Pudge had a few too many PED clouds swirling around him or that Raines’ numbers aren’t quite Hall-worthy. Those are conversations for another time. For now, on induction day, let’s simply stop to honor what these guys accomplished. We’ll go alphabetical, starting with an all-time great first baseman.
Not everyone realizes just how incredible Jeff Bagwell was. As with many players who are very good at everything and otherworldly at nothing, his greatness is sometimes obscured. But this guy hit for average and power—knocking 445 home runs and posting a .948 career OPS despite playing mostly in a pitcher’s park—got on base, stole more than 200 bags, played excellent defense and won an MVP award. Add that all up, and his 79.6 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) ranks fourth all-time among modern-era third basemen, after only Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Albert Pujols.
Overshadowed a bit by Rickey Henderson during his career, Tim Raines was a top-notch star in his own right. The speedy outfielder posted a career .810 OPS thanks to great plate discipline and true extra-base power. He really made his name on the base paths, swiping 808 bags with a totally insane 85 percent success rate. Hall of Fame recognition came late for this seven-time All-Star, but on Sunday he finally got what he has long deserved.
Pudge is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time, with an arm that will always be the first thing on his highlight reel. And as anyone who pitched in the American League in the 1990s knows, the guy could also rake. He batted .296 for his career, with a .798 OPS, and his 2,844 hits ranks first all-time among backstops. He was a 14-time All-Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner and the 1999 AL MVP. Few catchers in the game’s history have a better resume
John Schuerholz was the mastermind behind one of the most impressive dynasties in baseball history: the 1990s Atlanta Braves, who won a remarkable 14 consecutive division titles, capturing five pennants and one World Series in that time. Schuerholz traded for Greg Maddux, discovered Andruw Jones, nurtured Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine and kept the Braves humming for an almost unprecedented period of time
Bud Selig’s legacy is complicated, but while we’re focusing on the positives, here are some: he ushered in interleague play and playoff expansion, avoided any work stoppages and didn’t get in the way of baseball’s booming revenues. For his notable faults, Selig steered baseball into the 21st century and left the game more healthy than it was when he found it.