By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
In an era dominated by self-absorbed, steroid-supported sluggers, Carlos Delgado might be best remembered for his smile.
The charismatic ex-Toronto Blue Jay even managed to smile throughout his retirement press conference in April 2011, when he finally conceded that his 38-year-old body would no longer permit him to play the game he loved so dearly.
The recurring hip woes that forced him to hang up his spikes was just another in a series of setbacks that might have rendered a lesser person bitter and jaded.
Despite his excellent, 17-year big league career, the baseball Gods have never truly smiled upon Delgado. His 473 clean home runs may seem ordinary – though they definitely shouldn’t – compared to the quantities belted by steroid abusers from his era.
The Puerto Rican superstar was the runner-up in the 2003 American League MVP voting to Alex Rodriguez, who later confessed to using steroids that season. And surely someone who owns the 29th best slugging percentage (.546) in major league history deserved better than two All-Star selections, being low-balled out of Toronto by J.P. Ricciardi and being dropped from the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s writers’ ballot after his first year of eligibility.
Fortunately, Delgado’s accomplishments have not been forgotten in Canada. His name was added to the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence in 2013 and two years later, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont.
But Delgado was far more than just a baseball player. No, he may not have won an MVP award, but he did capture the Roberto Clemente Award in 2006 for his charitable and humanitarian efforts. I can vouch first-hand for his kindness. In the spring of 2015, my dad, my wonderful nephew Kalin, who has cerebral palsy, and myself trekked to the Blue Jays’ minor league complex in Dunedin, Fla. Delgado, who was working as a roving instructor for the Blue Jays that spring, spotted my nephew and came over and couldn’t have been kinder or more patient as my dad fumbled with his camera to snap a photo.
And in today’s tumultuous times, I can’t help but remember that Delgado was brave enough to speak out about social and political causes well before it became mainstream for a professional athlete to do so. More than a decade before Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the American national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality in his country, Delgado chose to remain in the dugout during the playing of “God Bless America” in 2004 to demonstrate his disapproval of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I say God bless America,” Delgado explained to reporters at the time. “God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in the world.”
Delgado was also vocal in his opposition to the U.S. Navy using part of Puerto Rico to practice detonating bombs.
With these stances, Delgado unintentionally became a trailblazer among modern athletes – a man who was courageous enough to exhibit a social and political conscience in an era when athletes were discouraged from doing so.
Unfortunately being a Hall of Fame person doesn’t guarantee him a plaque in Cooperstown. He learned that the hard way in 2015 when in his first year of eligibility, he garnered just 21 votes on a stacked ballot, leaving him shy of the five per cent required to remain on the writers’ ballot for future consideration.
I realize I’ve talked much about Delgado the person in this column, but he deserves to be inducted on the strength of his playing record alone. I’m not going to bombard you with a long list of advanced stats. There are better sites than mine for that. But there’s this:
And there’s also the fact that Delgado ranks in the top 50 in several all-time offensive categories, including the aforementioned slugging percentage (29th), home runs (34th), extra base hits (44th) and OPS (42nd). And though Delgado didn’t reach the magical 500-home run milestone, he averaged more home runs and RBIs per 162-game season than at least four first basemen that have already been elected to the Hall of Fame (See chart).
|Name||Average||Home Runs||RBI||OBP||Slugging Percentage||OPS|
Delgado was also a model of consistency over the course of his career. So maybe baseball writers took that for granted. He tallied nine 100-RBI seasons and is one of just six players in major league history to rack up 10 consecutive 30-home run campaigns. And though he’s sometimes knocked for never winning a championship, the good-hearted infielder excelled in his only post-season appearance, hitting .351 and belting four homers in 10 playoff games with the New York Mets in 2006.
So with all of this in mind, how is it possible that Delgado dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility?
Well, the fact that he played 13 of his 17 seasons in the relative obscurity of Toronto and Miami, on non-post-season teams, likely hindered his profile, as did the absence of magical milestones – such as 500 homers or 3,000 hits – from his resume. And a particularly stacked 2015 ballot and the Hall’s rule restricting writers to voting for 10 former players also hurt him.
Sabermetricians will be quick to point to Delgado’s career WAR – a statistic that measures how many wins a player adds above what a triple-A replacement player at their position would contribute – which is, in their minds, a modest 44.4. Personally, I think this is a case where WAR doesn’t properly reflect the value of the player, but with that said, Delgado’s WAR is still higher than Hall of Famers like Harold Baines (38.7) and Bill Mazeroski (36.4) who played far more big league games than him. Also, to put it in better perspective, Lou Brock was a first-ballot inductee in 1985. He played almost 600 more games than Delgado and his WAR was less than 1.0 higher.
So Delgado’s Hall of Fame fate will now reside in the hands of the museum’s Contemporary Era Players Veterans Committee which doesn’t meet again until December 2025. My plea would be that if a committee member is sitting on the fence about Delgado, they should consider his character. In an era tainted by steroids, Delgado was never linked to performance-enhancing drugs. He was a courageous athlete with a strong social and political conscience who was ahead of his time. And his well-documented charitable and humanitarian efforts continue today through Extra Bases, his not-for-profit organization that helps underprivileged children in Puerto Rico and in various cities in North America.
And most of all during these tumultuous social times, I’d like to see him inducted because we need role models and leaders. Now more than ever, when I walk into the plaque gallery in Cooperstown, I want to feel inspired by the legends that have been honoured. I want to feel hope and admiration. I want to respect the inductees I read about on those plaques.
And I would definitely feel all of those emotions if Delgado’s face was smiling back at me in bronze.