Bill Mazeroski played long before my baseball fandom began, as he retired seven years before I was even born. Yet, even without having seen him play, I knew who he was fairly early on. His iconic home run, the first home run to win a World Series, was one of those moments that as lived on in baseball history. Any Game Seven in baseball now features that highlight in the pregame montage, as it is a symbol of how anything can truly happen.
While that highlight is what Mazeroski is best known for, his career was so much more than that one home run. He was a solid offensive player, finishing with 2016 hits and 138 home runs. Yet, it was his defense that truly set Mazeroski apart, as he won eight Gold Glove awards and is still one of the best defensive second basemen in history.
Yet, being a solid player does not always equate to being considered one of the all time greats. While Bill Mazeroski was easily the top second baseman in Pittsburgh Pirates history, that does not mean that he was more than just a very good player. That would not necessarily mean that Mazeroski is worthy of the immortality he received in 2001, when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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Offensively, the numbers certainly do not warrant enshrinement. Mazeroski was a .260/.299/.367 hitter, and actually possesses the fourth lowest batting average of any player who entered the Hall as a position player. His .667 OPS is the fifth worst. While Mazeroski had a bit of pop for a second baseman in his day, he was not a stellar offensive player. Even in his era, which may be considered a second Dead Ball Era, Mazeroski’s 84 OPS+ is thoroughly underwhelming.
Where Bill Mazeroski is considered a Hall of Fame player is defensively. He has the most defensive runs saved in a career at second, and is among the leaders in virtually every defensive category at his position. He was the Ozzie Smith of second base before Ozzie Smith was Ozzie Smith. If a player like that can get into the Hall, then why not Mazeroski?
The problem is, a look at the Baseball Reference list of similar players to Mazeroski is, obviously, going to be filled with similar players. Yet, players like Frank White, Leo Cardenas and Tony Taylor, all of whom were solid offensive players and stellar defensively, never sniffed the Hall. What was it that made Mazeroski, ranked 50th all time at second base according to the JAWS system, behind players such as Tony Phillips and Don Buford, a Hall of Fame player?
It may well have been the mystique of that home run in 1960. While there have been other iconic World Series home runs, like the one off the bat of a hobbled Kirk Gibson, none of them won Game Seven of the World Series against the dreaded New York Yankees. That one home run, perhaps more than anything else, may have cemented Bill Mazeroski’s enshrinement.
At a time when we see players that appear to be obvious members of the Hall of Fame shunned for the mere thought of suspicion of some sort of enhancement, it is interesting to look back at some of the borderline members, such as a Mazeroski, and debate whether or not they truly deserved to be Hall of Fame players.
Should Bill Mazeroski be in the Hall of Fame? The numbers certainly do not indicate as such, at least on offense, but he was arguably the greatest defensive second baseman ever to play the game. Personally, as a Small Hall person who feels that far too many players have been added, I do not think Mazeroski fits. However, that is just my opinion. What do you think?