I was born and raised in Fargo, ND. If you ever have a chance to live in Fargo, and if you are a baseball fan, chances are pretty good that you’ll hear Maris’s name mentioned a time or two. You will also find some rabid fans who insist that, career-be-damned, Maris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
There are a handful of things I look at when rating HOF considerations. Overall career numbers is a good starting point. You have certain qualifiers like 3,000 hits, 500 HRs, 1500 RBIs or runs which, for a batter, usually (not always) ensure induction. Maris most certainly doesn’t qualify here. He barely made it halfway in any of those benchmark categories.
Overall dominance is also a key part of this formula. The way I look at it, anyone who is considered the best int the game at his position for an extended period of time deserves consideration. Of course, this opens the door for a considerable number of second basemen, of which there seems to be relatively few of in the Hall of Fame. While Bill Mazeroski did finally get in, I believe that players like Bobby Grich and Chase Utley also deserve consideration simply because, while they were playing, they were in an elite class of second basemen.
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How does Maris fare in that regard? Well, Maris did rank 5th in overall WAR in 1960, a year in which he won the MVP award. Amazingly, he never finished in the top 10 again. That’s not good enough for a hall of fame right fielder. To give an example of how important this is, in 1961, which most players consider to be Maris’s best, he didn’t rank in the top 10 in overall wins against replacement. In fact, if I was drafting outfielders based solely upon their 1961 performances, I would take Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle over Maris. Yup, that’s right. In 1961, when Maris was allegedly having the career year upon which his entire Hall of Fame worthiness is supposed to be based, he wasn’t even the best player in his own outfield.
The third part of the formula has to do with how much a player contributed to the long term success of a team. Multiple championships are a big part of this criteria, and a good argument can be made that this is the reason why players like Bill Dickey and Phil Rizzuto are in the Hall. They were both a significant part of several Yankees championships, as they both won 8 rings while playing in the Majors. This is far less of a factor in the modern post-expansion era, but it does play a factor with voting. Roger Maris only won three total championships playing at a time when Yogi Berra 10 and Mickey Mantle had 7. That doesn’t give him any bonus points here, either.
The bottom line is that Maris never made it into the Hall of Fame simply because his career marks weren’t good enough. To the contrary, the only reason he ever even gets mentioned is simply because that one number mentioned twice in succession: “61 in ‘61″.