Class of ’18: Hall of Fame Preview

Hall of Fame voting doesn’t start until December, but we take a sneak peek at the newest eligible retired players, recap their exploits, and opine on whether or not they deserve a cherished plaque in the hallowed halls of Bull League baseball history.

There are four new faces on the ballot, but of them just three have a realistic shot at being elected – a potential Hall of Fame outfield of Dave Norman, Joe Balaski and Andrew White.

DAVE ‘THE DOMINATOR’ NORMAN – #76 – RF

Dave Norman tops the list of eligible names on the 2018 HOF ballot, and although he had a very solid career, putting up respectable offensive numbers, including a career average of .310 through his 20 years of service, the Dominator is most well-known for his long-standing career record in stolen bases, with 303.

Only five other players can boast over 200 career steals, including Hall of Famers Sean ‘Speed’ Lewis (263) and Chris ‘Easy’ Felix (214). None, other than Norman, have more than 300.

The vast majority of his steals came in his first five seasons, when he would regularly swipe 34 or more bases, including a career high 44 in 1999 with the Chicoutimi Cinquantes. Though his steals dropped off considerably after 2002, when he picked up 20 steals, the Dominator continued to hit effectively and use his speed to gather up triples.  He is third on the career triples list with 66, behind Lewis again (69), and just one active player, Norfolk’s Miguel Ortega (83). He then spent several seasons as one of the top hitters for the Calgary Chinooks (later Inferno).

Norman set the record for single-season steals with his 44 swipes in 1999, a year after he tied the previous record of 41 set by Speed Lewis in 1995.

The Dominator is a sure lock for the Hall of Fame, but possibly not on the first ballot. Aside from five All-Star appearances, and two Gold Crowns (one at C and one at CF), he never won any major awards, and was not as popular as some of his cohorts. The native of Victoriaville, QC, will likely have to wait until 2019 to see his name on a plaque in the Hall.

JOE BALASKI – #22 – CF

A 7-time All-Star and 6-time Gold Crown winner (CF/LF), Balaski played most of his career with the Chicoutimi Cinquantes, where he also took home two Bull Cups (2004 and 2005) and was the LLCS MVP in 2004.

He started his career in 1995 as a 2nd overall draft pick with the Cinq’s, working his way up through AAA-level (the only minor league level at that time) and eventually becoming the #7 prospect in the Bull League. He made his major level debut in 1998, contributing 11 stolen bases and 11 RBIs while batting .250 in just 32 games.

But with Chicoutimi he blossomed into much more than a bench feature, eventually becoming the regular starting CF by 2000. In 2001 he hit a career high .342, and stayed above .300 for most of his seasons there. He became a two-way threat, hitting double-digit home runs and swiping double-digit bases four times with Chicoutimi, where he also still holds club records for OBP (.386), triples (23), and walks (335).

Team records are fine, but it’s league records that get players into the Hall, and Balaski comes up short in that department. Sill, his contributions may see him elected in a few seasons, but it’s doubtful he will be in for 2018.

ANDREW WHITE – #16 – LF

The trophy cabinet for left fielder Andrew White is certainly crowded – AEL Most Valuable Player (2003), five-time Platinum Glove at LF, seven-time All-Star and Gold Crown at LF and DH, and two-time Bull Cup Champion.

But White, who played five seasons each with the Nevada Speeders and the Chicoutimi Cinquantes, and another four with the California Tidals, holds no significant team or league records despite his solid contributions.

The records he does hold are dubious, at best. While with the Speeders, he was caught stealing 13 times in 2006, setting a single-season team record. He also holds the Nevada career record for most times hit by a pitch at 36.

White was overshadowed on all three teams by other stellar players. With Nevada, it was Carl Simms, Takeo Otomo or Zenjiro Suga. While with Chicoutimi it was fellow HOF ballot star Joe Balaski, or recent inductee Mike Lapi. At California, it was the iconic George Slammer.

But White does have some possible advantages going for him. His seven career grand slams would put him among the top in the league. In addition, he was among the top outfielders of his time, as evidenced by his five Platinum Glove awards. He accumulated a career zone rating of +42.7 at LF, with three double-plays from that position and many error-free seasons to show for his efforts. He was known for his incredible range, covering acres of outfield and often making breath-taking diving catches to get the outs.

His MVP season was his second year in the Bull League, at age 23, hitting his career-best 37 home runs, which still remains the top among left fielders in the league, and good enough for a tie for 7th among all Bull League players.

White may not be a first-time ballot inductee, but there is a solid chance that his career will be recognized and honored among the greats of the league with an eventual admission into the hallowed Hall of Fame.

Voting opens December 3rd.

 

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