Pirates’ top players with a case for the Hall
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates’ greatest players have a place in Cooperstown.
Honus Wagner was part of the Hall of Fame’s first class. The Hall waived its mandatory five-year waiting period to elect Roberto Clemente in 1973, less than a year after his tragic death. Willie Stargell, Paul Waner, Arky Vaughan, Bill Mazeroski, Pie Traynor, Max Carey, Fred Clarke, Ralph Kiner -- they all achieved baseball immortality by being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But not all the best players to take the field in Pittsburgh have received that recognition. There are Hall of Fame “snubs” -- players who deserved (or still deserve) to be inducted but were simply overlooked. And there are others who had careers worth remembering, even if their credentials don’t quite compare to their Hall of Fame peers.
Here, we’ll take a look at five of the Pirates’ best players you won’t find represented in Cooperstown. We’re trying to highlight some of their best overall players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, not just those with the greatest careers in black and gold, but we’re only considering retired players who had real history with the club (so not, for instance, Kenny Lofton, whose superb 17-year career included just an 84-game stop through Pittsburgh).
1. Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds still has a chance to get off this list, but it won’t come through Hall of Fame balloting. In 2022, his final year on the ballot, Bonds was named on 66 percent of the ballots -- a solid jump from past years, but still well shy of the 75 percent threshold. A relatively unclogged ballot appeared to give players like him and Roger Clemens their best chance yet in 2022, but it wasn’t enough. His fate is now in the hands of special committees, including the Today’s Game Era committee.
Bonds’ progress toward Cooperstown has been slow -- and may have stalled out -- because of his ties to performance-enhancing drugs, but there’s no doubt his numbers are worthy of the Hall of Fame. The outfielder finished his playing career after spending seven years with the Pirates and 15 with the Giants, retiring with seven MVP Awards, eight Gold Gloves, two batting titles, 14 All-Star nods, a MLB-record 2,558 walks and both the single-season (73) and career (762) home run records.
He was named National League MVP as a Pirate in 1990 and ’92, and finished as the runner up in ’91, while winning Gold Glove Awards and Silver Slugger honors all three years. He still ranks ninth in Pirates history with 50.3 wins above replacement. For Pittsburgh, he slugged 176 homers, drove in 556 runs, stole 251 bases and posted a .275/.380/.503 slash line from 1986-92.
2. Dave Parker
There was a recent groundswell of support to get Dave Parker in the Hall of Fame, but the former right fielder fell short on 2020's Modern Baseball Era ballot. Before that decision, the formidable slugger known as “Cobra” said, “The numbers are there. I was reflected in baseball as one of the No. 1 players of my era. You can’t do no more.”
Indeed, the numbers are quite impressive. During his 19-year career, Parker hit .290 with an .810 OPS, 339 homers, 526 doubles, 154 steals and 1,493 RBIs. There’s no denying that Parker was one of the most feared hitters of his era while serving as one of the game’s most charismatic stars. He played and spoke with swagger. His legendary exploits and iconic quotes provided more personality than many Hall of Famers.
In 11 years with the Pirates, he hit .305/.353/.494 with 166 homers, 758 RBIs and 123 steals. He won the NL MVP Award in 1978, and he was nearly just as good in ’77 and ’79. He won two batting crowns with the Pirates, in ’77 and ’78, and he took home three straight Gold Glove Awards from ’77-79. He earned his first Gold Glove by racking up a remarkable 26 outfield assists. He was a key member of the ’79 Pirates, batting .341 in the postseason as the Bucs marched to World Series victory.
Parker’s time in Pittsburgh came to an unceremonious end becaue of injuries, weight gain and his involvement in a drug scandal, a period that has likely affected his chances of entering the Hall of Fame. He bounced back later in his career with the Reds, A’s and Brewers. He won another World Series in Oakland in 1989, a decade after securing his first ring, and he won his final Silver Slugger Award with Milwaukee in 1990.
3. Babe Adams
Here we must note that the Pirates, for all their Hall of Fame history, don’t have a long track record of producing all-time great pitchers. They haven’t retired a number that was worn by a pitcher, and no pitchers have been enshrined in Cooperstown wearing a Pirates cap.
Some Hall of Fame pitchers, like Bert Blyleven and Rich Gossage, played prominent roles for the Pirates at some point during their careers. But Babe Adams is the franchise’s most accomplished pitcher by many standards, including WAR. He ranks sixth in Pirates history, between Hall of Famers Stargell and Carey, with 52.9 WAR.
But Adams received little support from the Hall of Fame voting bodies despite finishing his 19-year career with 194 wins, a 2.76 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 2,995 1/3 innings.
As a rookie in 1909, Charles Benjamin Adams went 12-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 130 innings over 25 appearances. He then dominated in Pittsburgh’s World Series victory with three complete-game wins, capped by a Game 7 shutout. He was also around to win another ring with the Pirates in 1925.
4. Wilbur Cooper
Was Wilbur Cooper overlooked by Hall of Fame voters? He is one of only five left-handers in Major League history to work more than 3,000 innings while posting a career ERA below 3.00, yet the 15-year veteran’s support from the BBWAA maxed out at just 4.4% in 1955 before he fell off the ballot.
Like Adams, Cooper is one of the most accomplished pitchers in franchise history. But he never captured a World Series championship in his career, having pitched for the Pirates from 1912-24 before finishing his career with the Cubs and Tigers. Cooper is the Pirates’ all-time leader in wins (202) and complete games (263) and leads Pirates left-handed pitchers with 48.2 WAR.
5. Al Oliver
There might be other players who deserve the fifth spot on this list, but let’s direct some attention toward the consistently overlooked Al Oliver -- the seven-time All-Star and 1971 World Series champion who finished his 18-year career with a .303 batting average. He bounced around to six teams after leaving the Pirates, winning three Silver Slugger Awards and one batting title (1982) in a career that spanned from 1968-85.
For whatever reason, Oliver only got one chance with the BBWAA voting body, received just 4.3% of the vote in 1991 then immediately fell off the ballot. And that feels like a bit of a tough break for someone who, while never the best player in the game, was consistently one of the best hitters and received MVP votes in 10 different seasons.
Maybe it’s his career WAR total of 43.7, which -- for the sake of comparison -- falls below that of Andrew McCutchen. Maybe it’s his unimpressive home run total (219) or the fact that his hits total (2,743) fell short of that round number voters look for in a Hall of Famer.
But consider this: Oliver ranks 58th on the all-time hits list, and only nine of the non-active players ahead of him -- Pete Rose, Adrián Beltré (eligible in 2024), Alex Rodriguez (eligible in ‘22), Ichiro Suzuki (eligible in ’25), Rafael Palmeiro, Bonds, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon and Vada Pinson -- aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame.