I’m sorry, guys, but this ain’t it. Andruw Jones‘ case for the Hall of Fame is borderline at best. And he has no place in Cooperstown before other Braves-related unfinished business gets addressed.
Andruw Jones has this feverish cult following, or as feverish as cult followings go these days short of red caps and F*ck your feelings bumper stickers. I was never an Andruw Jones fan while he was playing, partially because of a built-in anti-Braves bias dating back to the ’91 World Series, partially because those Braves routinely beat up on the Brewers in the years he was at his peak, partially because, to me, it just didn’t look like he cared that much to be there. Some might say that can be chalked up to how effortless he made the game seem, but that’s an argument I’d reserve for Roberto Clemente or Mickey Mantle, players who seemingly bent the game to their will.
I wanted this series to focus on the players for whom I voted in IBWAA’s Hall of Fame balloting, but I saw a since-deleted tweet from a BBWAA voting member discussing Jones’ averages over ten years and I realized that fun with numbers cuts both ways.
Averages are great, and the point on its face has merit: if we take Jones from 1998-2007, we have good averages: he averaged 158 games per season, the traditional slash averages out to .266/.344/.503 with a 115 OPS+ from 34 HRs a season and 103 RBI.
The problem with averages, though, is that averages don’t exist: they’re a composite reflective of data, and reflections are not necessarily accurate to a player’s career. To wit, Jones never had a season with a 115 OPS+, his median was 114, meaning that his highs (topped with an outlier 136 in 2005) disproportionately skew his numbers higher. Jones’ median batting average was .251, 26 median dingers, with a pedestran, Vizquel-esque .338 OBP. When he was good, he was good. For two seasons was he an actual offensive force, 2000 for contact, such as it was with a .303 average and 2005, when he had a Cecil Fielder-esque 51 dingers (and a .240 BAbip with outsized ISO to boot.)
Jones looks like a beneficiary of being on great teams and well protected by the likes of Chipper Jones and a motley crew of bit players including Gary Sheffield, Marcus Giles(!!), Brian McCann, Rafael Furcal(!!!!!) and a boffo year from J.D. Drew (where Andruw had the fourth-best OPS+ on the club). There’s nothing wrong with being a beneficiary of being on great teams — with apologies to Lou Whitaker and Fred McGriff, who I’ll get to later — but did anyone ever look at Andruw Jones and say, ‘That’s a Hall of Famer’?
To be sure, the eye test is a bad barometer — Ken Griffey, Jr. is overrated, while I’ve argued Harold Baines‘ merit on this site before, and Craig Biggio and Adrian Beltre alike quietly built Hall of Fame resumes no one noticed until it was right there in front of their faces — and I’m as ardent of a big Hall proponent as one can find. Jones’ argument has to go beyond offense, because the offense frankly wasn’t Hall of Fame caliber in his era for long enough to be whisked into Cooperstown.
Player A: .266/.344/.503, 115 OPS+, 1568 H, 305 2B, 345 HR, 1034 RBI, 974 R, 10 Gold Gloves, 1 Silver Slugger, 5x All-Star
Player B: .276/.335/.482, 114 OPS+, 1471 H, 326 2B, 244 HR, 888 RBI, 811 R, 9 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers, 5x All-Star
Player A, of course, is Jones. Player B is Torii Hunter age 25-34, with an injury-abbreviated 2005. If you put Jones on those inconsistent Minnesota Twins teams, would you have the same results? If you put Hunter on those juggernaut Braves teams, would Hunter elicit the same cult following Jones has amassed? Further, consider Hunter’s career was far more consistent than Jones, whose decline is well-documented and granted across the board. Hunter likely won’t see the ballot next season, while Jones will likely snowball toward induction.
What Jones has is a good career with that generation of great Braves teams and highly-regarded defense that puts him over the top with most in his camp. And if defense is such a key, where is the groundswell of support for Hunter, who comes from a lineage of strong defensive center fielders from Kirby Puckett to Byron Buxton? If Jones’ case is compelling, so necessarily is Hunter’s.
More to the point, we continue to criminally overlook Kenny Lofton.
But when it comes to the Braves, Jones’ case pales in comparison to two other Braves who continually got shafted by the BBWAA voters: Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff. Murphy was a two-time MVP in an era of gawd-awful Braves baseball, while McGriff enjoyed success wherever he went, but was apparently nowhere long enough to warrant remembrance. If we’re talking good players on great teams, McGriff was a better hitter than Jones for a longer time and almost certainly would be enshrined already had he hit seven more dingers and three more singles (11 of 17 who reached 2500 hits and 500 HRs are in the Hall; the others are Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.) Murphy was the heart and soul of those otherwise impotent 80s Braves clubs.
Arguing Jones’ Hall of Fame merits before Murphy and McGriff’s wrongs are righted is like complaining that Scott Stapp’s great-grandparents procreated, thus giving the world Creed. And while I understand that Murphy and McGriff were screwed by a deeply-flawed electoral process, and eventual Hall of Fame inductee Andruw Jones will render these points moot, the Hall of Fame credentials just aren’t obviously there aside from crunching numbers and the loud chorus of those who paid attention to Braves baseball because they were perennial division winners.
Jones won’t get my vote, but as with Baines, I won’t consider the Hall tainted if and when he gains induction. Sometimes, fun with numbers just isn’t that fun.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.