Our sixth Hall of Fame profile examines the career of third baseman Robin Ventura. You can find the first five parts of the series at the links below.
The Mets signed Ventura as a free agent prior to the 1999 season. Ventura had a strong three-year run in Queens, hitting .260/.360/.468 (111 wRC+), and averaging 26 home runs, 88 RBIs, 73 runs scored, 27 doubles, 13 total zone runs (TZ), and 4.0 fWAR per season. Admittedly, much of that value came from his 1999 season, his best in the big leagues, when he hit .301/.379/.529 (129 wRC+), with 32 homers, 120 RBIs, 88 runs scored, 38 doubles, a remarkable 27 TZ, and a career-high 7.3 fWAR. By WAR, Ventura was the best player on that ’99 Mets team, the first in 11 years to make the playoffs. That year, he won a Gold Glove Award, finished sixth in MVP voting, and had one of the greatest postseason moments of all time. He also manned the hot corner for the Mets the following year, when the team played in its first World Series since 1986.
The case for
Ventura was one of the best defensive third basemen to ever play the game. His 154 TZ as a third baseman are the fourth most of all time, behind only those of Brooks Robinson, Buddy Bell, and Clete Boyer. Ventura had five seasons of double-digit TZ, including an outstanding 33 in 1998 and 27 in 1999. To put that in perspective, zero is considered league-average, while 15 is Gold Glove caliber. Ventura was rewarded for his exceptional defense with six Gold Glove Awards—five with the White Sox and one with the Mets. You can watch one of Ventura’s many defensive gems in the clip below:
In addition to being an excellent defensive third baseman, Ventura was a very good offensive player. In his 16 seasons in the big leagues, Ventura hit .267/.362/.444 (113 wRC+), with 294 home runs, 1,182 RBIs, 1,885 hits, 1,006 runs scored, and 56.7 fWAR, and made two All-Star Teams. Ventura's home run total ranks 22nd among all third basemen in the history of the game, and his RBI total ranks 23rd. During his peak, which lasted from 1991 to 1999, Ventura hit .281/.372/.467 (121 wRC+), and averaged 22 home runs, 89 RBIs, 77 runs scored, 26 doubles, 14 TZ, and 5.0 fWAR per year for the White Sox and Mets.
Ventura was also a prolific grand slam hitter. His 18 grand slams are tied with Willie McCovey for fifth all time, behind only Alex Rodriguez, Lou Gehrig, Manny Ramirez, and Eddie Murray. The players immediately following Ventura on the all-time grand slam list are Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Carlos Lee, Dave Kingman, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth. That’s pretty good company in which to be.
Ventura developed a flair for the dramatic when it came to hitting grand slams. In an early-September game in 1995, he became one of only 13 players in history to hit two grand slams in one game. In fact, they came in consecutive innings—the fourth and fifth—off the Rangers’ Dennis Cook and Danny Darwin, respectively:
On May 20, 1999, Ventura became the first and only player in major league history to hit grand slams in both ends of a doubleheader. He did so at Shea Stadium off the Brewers’ Jim Abbott in Game 1, and Horacio Estrada in Game 2:
Ventura played in five postseasons for the White Sox, Mets, Yankees, and Dodgers. While he didn’t hit particularly well overall, he did have one of the signature playoff moments of all time. In the 15th inning of a wild, rainy 1999 NLCS Game 5, Ventura hit his famous grand slam single off the Braves’ Kevin McGlinchy to send the series back to Atlanta after cutting the Braves’ series lead to 3-2:
Ventura’s outstanding career earned him recognition as the 19th-best third baseman in the history of the game, according to JAWS. Ventura ranks higher than five Hall of Fame third basemen, including George Kell and Pie Traynor. He also ranks ahead of prominent non-Hall-of-Famers like Ron Cey, Matt Williams, Troy Glaus, Gary Gaetti, and Bill Madlock.
Ventura’s Hall of Fame case is strengthened by the fact that there is arguably a shortage of third basemen in the Hall. Of the eight non-pitcher positions on the diamond, there are 18 Hall of Famers at each position, on average. At third base, there are just 13. If you believe that third basemen are underrepresented, and that there should be closer to the average of 18 of them in the Hall, suddenly Ventura’s 19th-place ranking puts him much more seriously in that discussion.
The case against
While Ventura had some great offensive years, he was never a dominant offensive player in the way that most other Hall of Fame third basemen—think Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Ron Santo, and Paul Molitor—were at points in their careers. For example, although he came close a few times, Ventura never posted a 130 wRC+. That means that he was never 30% better than the league-average hitter, a mark that each of those other third basemen reached numerous times. Ventura also never led his league in any major offensive category.
As a result, Ventura’s 47.2 JAWS ranks well below the average Hall of Fame third baseman’s score of 55.0. Ventura ranks lower than eight of the 13 third basemen in the Hall—including all of those mentioned above—as well as non-Hall-of-Famers like Darrell Evans, Dick Allen, Sal Bando, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, and Graig Nettles. By JAWS’s rankings, while Ventura should certainly be in the Hall of Fame discussion, there are a number of other third basemen who should be considered first.
Prospects for induction
Ventura’s first year of eligibility was in 2010, when he got the support of just 1.3% of Hall of Fame voters. He did not reach the 5.0% needed to stay on ballot for another year, and his next opportunity for consideration will be in 2023—and every third year after that—by the Expansion Era Committee.
Ventura is now the manager of the Chicago White Sox. Technically, Hall voters are supposed to consider each candidate as either a player or a manager. Obviously, however, there is no practical way to enforce this. If Ventura achieves a great deal of success as a manager, and voters consider the totality of his long and distinguished career in the game, perhaps Ventura’s candidacy can get a second wind at some point in the future.