During last year’s Hall of Fame discussions, I wrote about how, despite much bigger and better names on the ballot, Bill Mueller was my own personal favourite player on the list. In a similar vein, this year’s historically stacked ballot means a number of excellent players are going to little to no attention in the voting. Reggie Sanders is one such player, who, in all likelihood will be dropping straight off the ballot in his first year of eligibility.
Sanders may not have had a Hall of Fame calibre career, but he was a seriously good and often overlooked player. His talent is quite nicely summed up by the symmetry of his final career numbers of 305 home runs and 304 stolen bases, one of only eight players ever to surpass 300 in both of those categories. The similarity of those numbers gives a good impression of what Sanders could do. He wasn’t the biggest, listed as 6’0 and 180 lbs, but he always appeared to be an outstanding athlete, even towards the end of his career.
As Joe Posnanski describes, Sanders wasn’t athletic in the graceful and fluid way of a Carlos Beltran, he had far more physicality about him than that, in some ways closer to the athleticism of a football player rather than a baseball star. Maybe because of this physicality, Sanders had trouble staying healthy and only once reached 140 games played in a season. Baseball Reference lists his 162 game averages as being a 28/28 season. If he could have been less injury prone his Hall of Fame case might have been considerably stronger.
As it is, Sanders can look back on an excellent career, even if it didn’t reach Hall of Fame levels. He made it to three World Series, winning one ring, and only twice was he a below average hitter with one of those seasons coming at the age of 38. His final career OPS of .830 compares reasonably favourably with that of recent Hall inductee Jim Rice’s .854 mark. The difference in eras means Rice has a bigger edge in OPS+, 128 to 115, but Sanders excellent defence and superior baserunner also negates some of that difference.
The jam-packed ballot for voters to deal with this year means it is less likely that Sanders will receive the sort of ‘courtesy’ votes that players of his calibre often receive, but while his career might fall short of Cooperstown, it’s worth acknowledging his 17 years of superb Major League play.