In the Rays victory over the Florida Marlins on June 18th, Johnny Damon blooped a double into left field which pushed him into the following impressive chart:
All of the players listed here are in the Hall of Fame -- except, of course, the still active Johnny Damon. Only 11 players in the history of baseball (or at least since 1901) have accomplished what Damon did almost on accident last Saturday: 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2500 hits.
The other 10 players above Damon on that list enjoy Hall of Fame busts in Cooperstown. This off-season, there was a fair amount of discussion circulating about whether or not Damon himself was Hall-bound. In general, most writers felt Damon's career was well above average, but not really Hall-worthy.
His latest feet, however, and the fact he is the only active player on that list, implies his chances grow greater with each passing day. The only problem is: Johnny Damon is still not spectacular. If he makes it into the Hall of Fame, it would be on the merit of his staying power, not his dominant abilities.
The above chart illustrates how disparate Damon is from the Hall Crowd. Sorted by OPS+ (on-base plus slugging plus), the chart puts Damon firmly in last place. OPS+ combines both elements of patience (the on-base part) and power (the slugging part) and then normalizes them according to the league.
For instance, the player nearest to Damon, Robin Yount, had an OPS+ of 115, meaning he was 15% above his average-hitting peers. Damon, for his career, has only been 5% above average. If he continues to hit as well as he has the last 5 years, though, that could reasonably increase to 7% or even 8%. It is very unlikely he would reach Yount's level though.
So only Yount really compares well to Damon. Yount stole far fewer bases than Damon, and Damon was much more efficient in his steals, but Yount's similarities to the Rays' DH look more like a knock on Yount than a feather in Damon's cap.
Consider the case of Babe Ruth, whose stats nearly break the chart. Playing through the end of the Dead Ball Era, Ruth dominated his peers, owning an OPS 106% higher than league average. The fact that Damon shares a chart with the great Ruth signifies the error in the chart: These milestones are completely arbitrary.
If we lop off just 15 doubles, suddenly Vada Pinson joins the chart. Pinson, the former Reds outfielder, had a fine career, but not a Hall of Fame one. If we slice off 25 triples (a not-insignificant amount of triples, mind you), then Al Olver and Dave Parker join the list -- two All-Stars, but not Hall of Famers.
The simple truth is this: Damon has had a great career, but has played in an era where doubles, triples, homers, and long careers are easier to find. If he wants a shot at the Hall, he needs to keep starting and producing for a few more years.
In the meantime, though, Damon's stats continue to push him ever closer to the coveted title of Best Rays DH Ever: