Whether it be a career that was very good, but not all-time great, perhaps interrupted by injury, impacted by off-field decisions, or just some flat-out misses by voters, there is an impressive group of players on behalf of every MLB team that has NOT been inducted into Cooperstown. But who is the best player left out in the proverbial cold for every franchise? For the purposes of this list, we’ll use career WAR compiled during their team with the given team the deciding stat for who the top, non-inducted player all-time –with a few explained exceptions.
Technically, Paul Goldschmidt owns the highest WAR of any ex-Diamondback, but since he’s still crafting out his legacy in St. Louis, Webb is next up. A three-time All-Star in his own right, Webb topped 200 innings for five straight seasons from 2004-2008, twice leading the NL in wins as well. His best season came in 2006 when captured the NL Cy Young Award, opening the season 8-0 over his first 13 starts and posting a 30-inning scoreless streak along the way.
Jones burst onto the scene as a teenager, becoming the youngest player in MLB postseason history with a multi-home run game in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. He would go on to top 30 homers in seven of his 12 seasons in Atlanta, with a high of 51 in 2008, when he finished as NL MVP runner-up. However, his main calling card was with the glove, where Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards in center field from 1998 to 2007, tied for second-most ever among outfielders.
Going back to their days as the St. Louis Browns, Bobby Wallace has the highest non-Cooperstown WAR in franchise history. However, we are going to limit this to the Orioles incarnation of the team and go with the defensive whiz that was Belanger. Although he was only a .228 hitter in his career, the eight-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop is second behind only Ozzie Smith in defensive WAR (39.5) all-time.
Counting only his Boston career alone, Clemens is at the least in the conversation as Hall of Famer. The Red Sox ace for his first 12 seasons, he won the first three of his seven record seven Cy Young Awards, including winning it consecutively in 1986 and ’87. In ’86, he also became the first pitcher since Vida Blue in 1971 to win MVP as well. Additional highlights of his Boston run included becoming the first pitcher to rack up 20 strikeouts in a game, winning 20 games three times while also capturing four ERA titles.
Sosa hit 545 homers over his 13 seasons on the north side of Chicago, but his highlight came amid the most prodigious power run in MLB history. One half of the historic home run race of 1998, a season where he won NL MVP. Sosa hit the most home runs in history over a three-year span, connecting for 179 from ’98 to 2000. He is the only player to hit 60 home runs three times and has the second-most career home runs by a foreign-born player with 609.
After spending his early years with the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates, Wood transformed his career after becoming a knuckleballer when he reached Chicago in 1967. Over the course of the next 12 seasons, he would first become a dominant reliever, pitching a modern-record of 88 games in 1968. After converting to a starter in 1971, Wood became a three-time All-Star, twice finished as a top 3 Cy Young finalist, and started over 40 games for five consecutive seasons from 1971-5.
Although Joey Votto is the most accomplished non-HOFer for the Reds, his Cincinnati career is ongoing. Instead, this distinction shifts to Pinson, who manned the outfield of Crosley Field for 11 seasons. He posted five seasons where he had 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, won one Gold Glove, and earned four All-Star selections. In 1977, he was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame.
One of the great disrespects in recent Hall of Fame history came in 2013 when Lofton appeared on only 3.2% of ballots and failed to remain eligible. This came after a career where he led the AL in stolen bases five times, won four Gold Glove Awards, and made 11 postseason appearances. A career .299 hitter, Lofton totaled 2,428 hits in his career, while his 622 stolen bases are 15th all-time.
A five-time All-Star who finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting three times between 2000 and 2004, Helton’s status as a non-Hall of Famer is beginning to look like a temporary tag. His performance on ballots has increased annually over his first three seasons from 16.5% to 44.9% in 2020. Helton is the Rockies’ all-time lead in a host of categories, including hits (2,519), home runs (369), extra-base hits (998), total bases (4,292), and games played (2,247).
Whitaker played 1,918 games alongside Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, becoming the greatest double-play combination in history along the way. Over the course of 19 seasons, they turned two together over 1,300 times, with Whitaker winning Rookie of the Year in 1978, picking up three Gold Glove Awards, making five consecutive All-Star Games. Considering this, it is increasingly curious that he hasn’t yet joined Trammell in Cooperstown, as his 75.1 WAR is the highest among any second baseman since 1900 to not be inducted yet.
“Cheo” is one of the most famous and respected Puerto Rican ballplayers of all-time. He spent 13 of his 18 seasons in Houston, finishing in the top 10 in NL MVP voting three times and leading the league in hits in 1983. All-time, he is behind only Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in hits, with 1,937. His number 25 was retired by the Astros in 1992.
Appier owned the dubious distinction of being one of the best pitchers on bad teams through the 90s, reaching double digits in wins six times. He posted an ERA under 3.00 in three different seasons, with his 2.56 mark in 1993 being the lowest in the American League – one of two times KC posted a winning record during his tenure. Appier’s career 3.49 ERA is second-best in franchise history for pitchers with at least 220 starts.
The obvious choice here is Mike Trout, whose future in Cooperstown is already a foregone conclusion despite still being shy of his 30th birthday. Instead, we’ll pivot to Finley, who is the all-time leader in nearly every pitching category. Over his 14 seasons in Anaheim, Finley became the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (165), innings pitched (2,675) games started (379), and made four All-Star appearances. Over the course of his Angels’ tenure, only two left-handers in all of baseball had more strikeouts than his 2,151.
Among the star-studded ranks of the Dodgers, it is easy to overlook the impact of Davis’s career. However, during his 13 seasons in L.A., he put together an impressive resume that included a pair of World Series titles, three Gold Glove Awards, and a franchise-record 31-game hitting streak in 1969. For the Los Angeles era of the franchise, Davis is the club’s leader in numerous categories, including hits (2,091), runs scored (1,004), and total bases (3,094).
Giancarlo Stanton’s 35.7 career wins in a Marlins uniform are the most in club history, but it is Ramirez who is the best among the retired Fish. After winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2006, Ramirez ascended to being one of the elite shortstops in baseball. A three-time All-Star before turning 27, Ramirez’s best season came during his NL MVP runner-up campaign of 2009, when he hit an NL-best .342, with 42 doubles and 24 homers, while driving in 106 and stealing 27 bases.
Braun is non-committal about if he will continue playing in 2021, so due to that he qualifies for this list currently. Over the course of his 14-year career in Milwaukee, Braun hit .296, with 352 homers, 1,154 RBI, and 216 stolen bases. In his first six seasons, he made five All-Star appearances, won NL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and MVP in 2011. Under normal circumstances, his resume is that of a Hall of Famer, but his involvement (and subsequent suspension) in the Biogenesis PED scandal of 2011, complicated that forecast.
Mauer is eligible for election in three years, so for the time being this title is his for the Twins/Senators. The 2009 AL MVP, the Minnesota-native spent his entire 15-year career with the club, earning six All-Star appearances and becoming the only catcher to win a batting title – something he did three times in his career, a record for the position.
A seven-time All-Star, who is the Mets all-time leader in over 10 significant career categories, Wright certainly made a memorable mark on Flushing. In his prime, Wright was without a doubt one of the best players in the game, as his 39.6 WAR checking in second among all third basemen, behind only future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. Wright spent his entire 14-year career with the Mets, although injuries cost him a significant part of 5 seasons and the entirety of another.
Alex Rodriguez equaled Randolph’s career WAR in pinstripes, but since he’ll appear again later on this list, let's lock in on Randolph for this slot. He spent 13 years at second in the Bronx, being named to five All-Star teams in the process (tied for the most by a 2B in Yankees history). Overall, Randolph finished his career fifth in MLB history in games at second base and had the third-highest WAR of any third baseman of the 80s.
The captain of the A’s team that won three consecutive World Series from 1972-74, Bando spent 11 years with the franchise. He made the All-Star team in each of those championship seasons, finishing in the top four of MVP voting in the latter two seasons. He also was MVP runner-up in 1971. For his career, Bando was the second third baseman in history to reach 200 career home runs.
The heart and soul of the great Phillies’ teams of the 2000s, Utley’s all-out, gritty style of play endeared him deeply to the City of Brotherly Love. Between 2005-09, Utley averaged a .301 average, 29 home runs, 101 RBI, and 15 stolen bases per season, winning the NL Silver Slugger at second base each season. For the decade of 2000-09, Utley’s 42.2 WAR and .902 OPS was best among MLB second basemen, In the postseason, his seven career home runs are the most by a second baseman in MLB history.
Adams spent all but one game of his 19-year MLB career in Pittsburgh, where he compiled a 194-140 record. Although he pitched his last game in 1926, he still ranks second among Pirates pitchers all-time in victories. He also checks in at first in shutouts (44), third in innings pitched (2,991) and fifth in games pitched (481). An extraordinary control artist, his 1.09 WHIP checks in at third all-time.
Early in his career, Peavy was one of the most dominant young pitchers in the game, winning the NL Cy Young in 2007 after capturing the pitching Triple Crown. Peavy went 19-6, with a 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts for the year, one of two seasons that he led the NL in strikeouts or in ERA. His 1,348 strikeouts remain a franchise record, as does his 16-strikeout game from 2006.
During his 15 years in the Bay, Bonds won the final five of his record seven MVP awards – including four consecutive between 2001-04. He topped 30 home runs in his first 12 seasons with the Giants, including the single-season record of 73 in 2001. Among his other notable feats during his tenure include setting the MLB all-time season record for walks (232) in 2001, single-season on-base % (.609), and postseason home runs (8) in 2002, among many others.
With Ichiro being a no-doubt future first-ballot pick among retired Mariners, let's dig a bit deeper in the crates. After breaking in with the Mariners at 18, A-Rod quickly changed the expectations of offense from a shortstop in his early career in Seattle. He became the third-youngest batting champion ever when he hit .358 at 21. In 2000, he became the first shortstop in history to hit 40 home runs in three consecutive years. In the same season, Rodriguez became the first shortstop ever to total 100 runs, RBI, and walks in the same season.
While Flood is best known for how his challenge of the Reserve Clause that ultimately led to free agency, but effectively cost him his career in the process. Yet what gets lost in the mix is how excellent Flood was on the field prior to that. A member of two World Series championship teams in St. Louis, Flood won the NL Gold Glove in center field in each of his final seven seasons and made the All-Star Game in 1964, 1966, and 1968. At the plate, he hit .300 or better in six of his 12 Cardinal seasons and led the NL with 211 hits in ’64.
In the relatively brief history of the Rays, they have yet to produce a Hall of Famer from their ranks. However, the most accomplished retired Ray is Crawford, who was one of the most dynamic players in the game during his Tampa career. The speedy outfielder led the AL in triples and stolen bases four times, doing so simultaneously in 2004 and 2006. A four-time All-Star, Crawford is the Rays all-time leader in 10 categories to date.
Palmeiro hit 321 of his 569 career home runs with the Rangers, who he suited up for between 1989 to 1993, then again from 1999 to 2003. During his second stint with the club, he topped 40 home runs three times, averaged 122 RBI per season, and hit his 500th career homer in the uniform in 2003. All-time, he ranks second in home runs, runs scored, and RBI in Rangers history.
The long-time Blue Jay ace, Stieb pitched all but one of his 16 seasons with the Blue Jays cap on. His 140 wins during the 1980s are the second-most by any pitcher, while his 175 are a club record for Toronto. Stieb represented the club as an All-Star on seven occasions finished in the top five in AL Cy Young voting twice and threw the first no-hitter in Jays history in 1990, after twice losing bids for one in the ninth inning previously.
The history of the franchise as the Nationals is too new to have many notable non-Hall of Fame careers yet, so let’s turn the page back to the days of the Expos. A five-time All-Star, Rogers pitched his entire 13-year career in Montreal, winning 158 games to go with a 3.17 ERA. A workhorse, he completed 129 games in his career and topped 230 innings in a season nine times, and had 37 shutouts.
Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.