Last week, in my first Hall of Fame piece, I talked about Slammin' Sammy Sosa, a player I loved watching as a displaced Clevelander living in Chicago. Today I get to talk about a who I loved even more.
When Brian Giles first came up to the big leagues, he was joining a truly great team. He played 56 games for the Indians between 1995 and 1996, stuck behind a slew of all-time great OF, before breaking into the lineup in 1997. Over the next two years he accrued over 6 WAR playing at Jacobs Field, before the Indians made a pretty terrible trade, giving up Giles for LOOGY Ricardo Rincon. The trade felt rough at the time, at least to a 16-year-old kid who loved Giles, and looks awful in retrospect.
Rincon would go on to be a solid LOOGY. Giles would be good enough to at least merit this conversation.
The case for Giles as a Hall of Famer
Maybe the strongest argument is his career .400 OBP, an impressive number that puts him in impressive company among RF - Ruth, Jackson, Musial, Ott, Harry Hielmann, Paul Waner, Larry Walker and Giles are the only RF in MLB history with 5000+ PA and a .400 OBP. They are all in the Hall except Jackson (which has nothing to do with his play), Walker (who will be) and Giles.
Giles is 31st all-time among RF in WAR and his peak WAR is 26th. On both lists, the names above him are either Hall of Famers themselves or certainly have strong arguments - Shoeless Joe Jackson, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero, and there are a handful of Hall of Famers who don't match his numbers.
This is despite the fact that his career took forever to get off the ground, through no fault of his own. As a 23-year-old, Giles put up an excellent season in AAA in the Indians organization, posting a .313/.390/.479 line that certainly suggested a player ready for primetime. For a guy who could play all three OF positions, it should have been merely a case of finding a spot.
But in 1994, the Indians featured three relatively young OF you may have heard of - Albert Belle (who would be a Hall of Fame candidate if not for health issues), Manny Ramirez (who should be in before long), and Kenny Lofton (who will go down as one of the bigger snubs in Hall of Fame voting). In 1995 and 1996, while Giles continued to mash AAA pitching, those three continued to patrol the OF.
Finally, in 1997, Giles got a real shot. He posted a 2 WAR season in just 451 PA, followed by a 3.9 WAR season in 430 PA. Imagine Giles had played full time starting in 1995 - full 600 PA seasons. Based on what he did with his first full season (6.6 WAR in 1999), it is not hard to imagine he lost ~2 WAR in 1995, ~3 WAR in 1996, and 1 each in 1997 and 1998. Add those to his career totals and instead of 31st all time, he is 24th, just below Sammy Sosa.
Is it really fair to say he is less deserving than Sosa because he has the misfortune to be stuck in AAA behind three absolute studs?
The case against Giles as a Hall of Famer
In short, yes. The reality is, we can't just assign 7 extra WAR to Giles's career. We have no idea what would have happened. And part of getting into Cooperstown is that you are the best of the best of the best, and everything has to go right for that to happen. Getting a late start can keep you out.
Besides, just last week I told you that I thought Sosa fell short. And Giles, even with my bonus WAR, falls short of Sosa. Not only that, but he lacks the gaudy HR numbers, finishing his career with just 287. And it's not like he was a speed demon or a defensive wizard. He stole just 109 bases and his defense was more solid than good.
Giles was an excellent player and his one truly great skill was getting on-base, which may well be the single most important skill in the game, but there is NOTHING else in his resume that suggests "Hall of Fame."
My two cents
I could not, in good faith, vote Brian Giles into the Hall of Fame. I wish I could. I really tried to squint above and see the case. I almost convinced myself - he's a top 25 RF in OPS+ among those with 5000+ PA, that OBP is elite (which is driving that OPS+, by the way) but he really just didn't do enough.
Brian Giles is one of my all-time favorites and it still bugs me that my favorite team gave him up for so little (he was a 27-year-old OF coming off a 4 WAR year - this year, Starling Marte and Justin Upton are 26 and 27 and coming off 4.1 and 3.9 WAR seasons - you are not getting either of them for a LOOGY). But he's just not a legitimate Cooperstown candidate.