The hallowed halls of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown contain the plaques of eight men who donned a Blue Jays jersey. Some of them, like Roy Halladay and Roberto Alomar, made a lasting contribution to the club. Others, like Phil Niekro, were just passing through.
One name that is missing, though, just might be the best offensive talent to ever call Toronto home. The fact Carlos Delgado hasn’t been voted into the Hall of Fame isn’t a surprise. Playing in the middle of the most prolific offensive era in history, hitting 473 career home runs just isn’t what it used to be. It’s that Delgado never even came close, his dreams of one day joining the pantheon of the game’s greats dashed before they really even began.
When Delgado, who played his last game in 2009, first became eligible for the Hall ballot in 2015, he received 3.8 percent of the vote. Read that number again. Just 3.8 percent of the writers believed the Blue Jays star who four times finished in the top-10 in MVP balloting, 11 times hit more than 30 home runs and had three different seasons in which he drove in at least 130 runs, was worthy of baseball’s highest honour.
Former Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado serves as a perfect example of how the baseball writers sometimes don’t get Hall of Fame voting right
Delgado fell off the ballot, failing to clear the five percent threshold. At the time, he was only the third member of the 400-home run club to drop off in his first year of eligibility, joining the profuse PED user Jose Canseco and Darrell Evans. Since 2000, 276 players have failed to get five percent of the vote their first year. Delgado’s 473 homers lead all of them; his .929 OPS trails only Lance Berkman.
Part of the blame is just bad timing. Delgado became eligible the same year four players—Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio—got the 75 percent necessary to earn induction. With each writer allowed 10 votes, a player could easily fall through the cracks on such a loaded ballot.
But Delgado’s case is different because he was such a special talent. Only 19 players in MLB history retired with at least 400 career home runs, a .280 batting average, and a .925 OPS. Fourteen of them are in the Hall. Three have been kept out because of their connections to PEDs. Another, David Ortiz, is poised to be elected on Tuesday. The other is Delgado.
Delgado and Ortiz were treated differently by the writers
It’s the comparison to Ortiz, who’s about to stroll into the Hall in his first year, that makes what happened to Delgado so jarring. Their batting averages, OPS, and OPS+ are remarkably similar. Ortiz had 10 30-home run seasons, Delgado 11. Ortiz finished with 541 homers, 68 more than Delgado, but Delgado actually hit homers at a more prolific pace. He played in 2,035 games. When Ortiz played that many games, he only had 446 homers.
What Delgado lacks is the postseason resume of Ortiz; Ortiz became an October legend with the Boston Red Sox, while Delgado made the postseason only once in his 17-year career. Ortiz also spent his prime years playing for a club that was constantly on ESPN’s national broadcasts. Perception is heavily influenced by visibility. In the nine years, Delgado was a regular part of their lineup, the Blue Jays never finished higher than third in the division.
Between 1997, Delgado’s first 30-homer season, and his last in 2008 with the New York Mets, only four players hit more homers than Delgado. Three of them are directly linked to PEDs. He was tied with Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome for most years with at least 30 over that span. From 1996 to the end of his career, Delgado had the third-most RBI in the league, behind only Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez (again, two players suspended for steroid use).
Delgado was done a disservice by the writers. He’s arguably the best player not tied to steroids who never got a second chance on the Hall of Fame ballot. His lone opportunity came and went in a flash. “I’m a little disappointed to say the least,” Delgado told the Toronto Star at the time. “Sometimes there’s things in life you can’t control. This is one of them. I’m not going to let it overshadow what I’ve done in my career.”
There will come a day, possibly as soon as this year, when Delgado’s name appears before the Veterans Committee. It will be a more select group, containing men who actually competed and managed against Delgado, who saw him hit four home runs in a game, who know he was one of the most feared hitters in the league for an entire decade. It’s the Blue Jays slugger’s only chance, because the writers never gave him one.