Today is former Orioles’ and Angels’ infielder Bobby Grich’s 73rd birthday. Grich retired in 1986 after a near two decade career that began with the Orioles in 1970. Despite an incredibly productive and long career, Grich barely got any recognition for Hall of Fame honors after his retirement. Since making his way onto the ballot five years after his retirement, Grich only earned 2.6 percent of the Hall vote in his first and only year on the ballot.
The Veterans’ Committee and Era’s committees have not seemed eager to debate his candidacy either, as he’s yet to be nominated for any of the four Veterans Committee (now called Eras Committee) ballots for which he’s been eligible so far.
Admittedly, I knew little of Grich’s career before poking around his Baseball Reference page last week in advance of his birthday. With numerous All Star appearances, a handful of Gold Gloves, and an annual OPS+ well over 100 (career 125) , I began to wonder why a middle infielder with a strong bat during a period mostly dominated by pitchers is overlooked. The more I peeled back the onion and looked at the numbers, the more I wondered why he was barely even considered for Hall induction.
There are many philosophies regarding induction into the Hall of Fame, but in this post, what I wish to accomplish is to put the career of Bobby Grich into context of his contemporaries, as well as in the context of the other second basemen enshrined in Cooperstown.
From a traditional numbers standpoint, Grich does not have any of the golden numbers that essentially thrust a player to Hall status. He amassed only 1,833 hits and 224 home runs during his 17 year career. Grich was defined by his excellent defense, with his bat overlooked due to his strong on base percentage numbers at a time when batting average and RBIs were considered king.
It’s also worth noting that Grich’s timing was unfortunate, as he was on the ballot for the first time in 1992, the same year as Joe Morgan, who is undoubtedly a better second baseman than Grich by nearly any measure.
Grich led the league in home runs in 1981 with a grand total of…22, which tells us quite a bit about the offensive environment of the late-80s and early-80s. His career 224 home runs is better than 15 of the 20 second base Hall of Famers. During his career from 1970 to 1986. During this time, even Joe Morgan only hit 228 home runs, just four more than Grich.
Due to this low offense period, Grich’s career .794 OPS bests all but six Hall of Fame second basement. In 14 of his 17 seasons, Grich posted an OPS+ of at least 109, with his peak seasons at 165 in 1981, 145 in 1979, and 142 in 1983. Grich’s wRC+ numbers are similarly excellent, with a career 129 wRC+, and an entire career of an annual wRC+ over 100 (sometimes significantly so) from 1971 to 1986.
A glove-first second baseman who plays every day, gets on base at a .370 OBP clip, and who hits for some power in an environment derived of power sounds pretty darn good! Compared to other second basemen in the Hall of Fame, Grich’s case looks pretty solid as well.
By bWAR, Grich’s 71 Wins and 58.7 JAWS ranks eighth for second baseman in MLB history. His WAR metrics are more than all three second baseman who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 1992: Ryne Sandburg, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio.
Considering the lack of momentum and attention in even debating his as a Hall of Fame candidate, Grich is a longshot to ever make the Hall of Fame. unlike Bert Blyleven or Jim Rice, Grich himself is not rallying people around his cause which is part of the reason he quietly and unceremoniously went one-and-done on the Hall ballot. To further the point, Grich himself points out that he never had a career-defining moment that can propel even a mediocre player to the Hall of Fame (see Mazeroski, Bill).
Unfortunately it seems Grich is destined to be remembered as a very good player, if he’s remembered much at all.