ST. MARYS, Ont. — The greatest power hitter to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform is finally in the hall of fame. Just not that Hall of Fame.
Carlos Delgado was ushered into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Saturday in an outdoor ceremony in St. Marys, Ont., just a few short months after his first-round snub by the voters of Major League Baseball’s shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Delgado, the Blue Jays’ career leader in home runs, RBIs, doubles, walks, runs scored and on-base-plus-slugging percentage, was all smiles in St. Marys, where thousands of baseball fans flocked to cheer on this year’s inductees.
He said being so warmly celebrated in the country where he spent the bulk of his playing career helps take some of the sting out of being a one-and-done on the ballot for Cooperstown.
“This is a special day for me. Even though I’m not Canadian, I feel very honoured,” he said. “Toronto really embraced me, and I felt like it was a second home for me. The support I got from Canadians across the country was always great, and it made that transition as a kid coming from Puerto Rico trying to make it in the major leagues that much easier.”
When Delgado didn’t secure enough votes in January to get a second shot at eligibility for Cooperstown, it led some critics to say he was the best player to ever get kicked off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first year.
“I thought it was unfair, but there’s very little I can do about that. I understood I was going in with a really tough class,” he said. “It didn’t happen, and I can’t get another hit, I can’t drive anyone in anymore, but I’m not going to let that overshadow what I did in my career.”
The Puerto Rican star, with 473 career home runs, needed five per cent of votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to remain eligible for Cooperstown. He got 3.8 per cent — just seven votes shy of the number required for another shot next year.
Some suggested if an elite hitter like Delgado couldn’t get past his first year of eligibility, it was a sign the voting system for the Hall of Fame needed to change.
Delgado agrees it’s time to take another look at how players are selected for the Hall of Fame. He thinks the rules that limit votes to just 10 players need to be relaxed, because the class of eligible players varies so greatly from year to year.
“I think it’s unfair to marry yourself to only 10 votes. Because you can’t control who’s coming in, and maybe in some classes more than 10 guys deserve to get a vote,” he said. “But that’s just my opinion, and I’m not saying it just because I didn’t make it.”
While Delgado’s accomplishments might have been overlooked in the U.S., he was an unquestionable star in Canada. After signing with the Blue Jays at age 16, his raw power made him a fan favourite for over 11 years with the team, and his batting practice exhibitions were a thing of legend.
The first baseman, who was inducted alongside Felipe Alou, Corey Koskie, Matt Stairs and journalist Bob Elliott, had an OPS of over .900 for nine years in a row. He was named an all-star twice.
“He was a guy who wasn’t fun to play against,” said Koskie, a former Blue Jay who played most of his nine years in the majors with Minnesota. “But it was really fun to see his approach in at-bats. He had the ability to hit any pitch, inside, outside, you didn’t really know where to pitch him.”
Delgado hit 30-plus home runs for 10 straight seasons. Only seven other players in the history of the game have come close to that kind of consistency. Four of them — Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt and Eddie Matthews — are in the Hall of Fame.
The other three — Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro — have the cloud of steroid suspicion hanging over them, something that has never been linked to Delgado.
Of course, the Jays never saw the post-season while Delgado played in Toronto. The big slugger made to the post-season only once, with the Mets in 2006, where he hit .351, with four homers, 11 RBIs and an 1.199 OPS — and ended just one win short of going to the World Series.
Does the prolific power hitter, who retired in 2009, think he deserved better from the writers who control access to Cooperstown? Sure. But he says he’s been boosted by the support from Canadian fans, and from other former players who say he was one of the best they ever played against.
“I had a lot of friends send emails, and text messages and calls, saying ‘you got shafted.’ It means a lot that your peers recognize what you did, and how you carried yourself,” he said.
“At the end of the day, that’s all you can do. The other stuff is beyond your control. I understood that, and I turned the page.”