During the last two year, two outfielders who were rough contemporaries were inaugurated into the baseball Hall of Fame. Jim Rice and Andre Dawson’s careers overlapped from 1976-1989. Rice made his debut in 1974, while Dawson started in 1976 and played a few years after Rice retired, but for a fourteen year period they were both playing at the major league level. Rice and Dawson have both been controversial Hall of Fame selections as some have argued that some of their contemporaries such as Dwight Evans, Dale Murphy or Tim Raines are at least as deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Rice and Dawson are not the worst selections in Hall of Fame history, but they are definitely among the weaker outfielders in the Hall of Fame. One way to see this is to compare Rice and Dawson not to other Hall of Famers, or borderline candidates like Evans, but to a player who clearly did not have a Hall of Fame career. There was another slugging outfielder who was also active from 1976-1989, but whose entire career lasted from 1975-1992 thus overlapping significantly with Rice and Dawson.
This player retired early and had injury problems throughout his career so came to bat almost 2,500 times fewer than Dawson 800 times fewer than Rice. However, he retired with a higher on base percentage, OPS+, runs created per game and offensive winning percentage than either Rice or Dawson. This player was no great defender but was no worse than Jim Rice in the outfield and was adept at first base after a mid-career switch to that position.
A difference of 2,500 plate appearances is a lot, and in the case of Dawson constitutes the decline phase of his career. If Dawson’s career had ended after the 1990 season, he would have had only 8480 plate appearances, but his OPS+ would still have been a full .013 lower than this player. Interestingly, in 1987, the year Dawson won the MVP and sealed his Hall of Fame resume, this player was with another NL East team, but only played in 131 games, to Dawson’s 153. However, this player led the league in slugging and on base percentage while playing in a pitcher’s park and leading his team to an NL pennant.
This player is Jack Clark who nobody thinks should be in the Hall of Fame. Clark was a very good player who had trouble staying healthy, played for a lot of different teams and hit everywhere he went. His career counting numbers are diminished by injury as he only played in 150 games or more three times. Additionally, he played all but the last two years of his career, when he was with the Red Sox, in parks that were unfriendly to right handed power hitters. Clark’s legacy with the San Francisco Giants, the team with which he started and played more than half his career, is confusing because after he was traded, he was replaced as the best hitter on the team by the similarly named Will Clark. The Giants enjoyed almost twenty years of great offense in the middle of their lineup provided by Clarks, but it was from two different players.
Because Clark played for many different teams, stayed in small media markets until the end of his career, did not hit for a very high batting average, and, other than during his stint with the Cardinals, was never in the post-season, he is an easy player to overlook. However, he was a great hitter who still ranks 45th, coincidentally in a tie with the aforementioned Will Clark, for career OPS+ among players with 7,500 or more at bats. He was certainly a better hitter than Rice or Dawson, but Clark did not last as long or stay as healthy as either of them. Clark, despite being at least as good as Rice and Dawson with the bat, is an archetypal member of the Hall of Very Good, but not a real candidate for Cooperstown. Clark is rightfully on the outside looking in to the Hall of Fame, which only underscores how strange it is that two of his contemporaries, who were no better, are in.