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10 good Hall of Fame candidates most MLB fans have never heard of

Sporting News logo Sporting News 5/10/2017 Graham Womack
Home Run Johnson © (Getty Images) Home Run Johnson

The Baseball Hall of Fame has done a fairly good job in recent years of recognizing high-profile contributors. Induction ceremonies have been packed the past few years with outstanding players and managers.

It was a different story, however, in the early years of the Hall of Fame that followed the first election in 1936. Even now, more than 80 years later, a number of baseball pioneers remain unrecognized by Cooperstown.

Here are 10 good Hall of Fame candidates most Major League Baseball fans have never heard of.

MORE: Hall of Fame is shorting stars from the '50s, '60s

Jim Creighton

Look fast in the classic 1992 Simpsons episode "Homer at the Bat" for a reference to Creighton as C. Montgomery Burns' prospective right fielder who's been dead for 130 years. Creighton was baseball's first great superstar, at least its first known one. He once purportedly went an entire season without striking out. Alas, a mighty swing is said to have ruptured an abdominal hernia and Creighton died at 21 in 1862.

Doc Adams

"Baseball had no fadder. It jest growed," one of the game's pioneers, Henry Chadwick, said in 1904. Baseball would soon beg to differ with Chadwick, creating a commission in 1905 to investigate the game's origins. With scant evidence, baseball wrongly proclaimed Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday the game's founder in 1908. Credit began to shift to Alexander Cartwright in the 1930s, culminating with his induction to Cooperstown in 1938.

More credit might be due to Doc Adams, who served as chairman of the inaugural Committee on Rules and Regulations in May 1857 and might have done some of the things Cartwright is credited with on his Hall of Fame plaque, such as establishing the distance between bases. Major League Baseball historian John Thorn rediscovered Adams in the early 1980s and highlighted him in his outstanding 2012 book, "Baseball in the Garden of Eden." Adams fell one vote shy of Hall of Fame induction in December 2015. It will be interesting to see what happens when he's eligible again in fall 2020.

Bud Fowler

Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, becoming the first African-American since 1884 to play in the majors. During the Reconstruction Era, though, a number of blacks played with whites, Fowler among them. "Fowler was the first African-American in Organized Baseball," Brian McKenna wrote in Fowler's SABR biography. "He also had the widest traveled career and longest, of the early players, by any qualification. Shocking to some, he was the first African-American to captain an integrated club. He was also one of the first significant black promoters, forming the heralded Page Fence Giants and other clubs and leagues."

Lip Pike

Pike signed baseball's first professional contract in 1866, $20 with Philadelphia and ranks among the game's brightest early stars. But baseball's first league, the National Association didn't come along until 1871. There's been some dissension in the historical community about whether to treat this short-lived league as a professional circuit. The first league everyone agrees on, the National League, didn't come along until 1876. By then, Pike's best years were almost behind him, though he shined a few more years. Early seasons were also considerably shorter than they are today. Thus, Pike's stats, at least as officially recorded, look nothing like that of a Hall of Famer.

MORE: The most likely Hall of Famer on every team in 2017

Ross Barnes

How does someone with a lifetime .360 batting average wind up underrated? Like Creighton and Pike, the beginning of Barnes' career predates the National Association's founding in 1871. For the Hall's purposes, Barnes has just nine recognized seasons, with players needing at least 10 seasons to be eligible for consideration. Cooperstown would do well to revisit this rule at some point as it applies to pre-1871 stars such as Barnes.

John Donaldson

What the 1860s are for white Hall of Fame candidates, anything before Rube Foster founded the first lasting black circuit, the Negro National League in 1920 is for African-Americans. After blacks were excised from the majors in the 1880s, they played in obscurity for decades. Donaldson starred in the 1910s, pitching for racially-mixed semi-pro teams that traveled throughout the Midwest. He would prove himself durable enough to pitch multiple decades in the Negro Leagues and log more than 300 known wins. One has to wonder, though, what Donaldson's case would like with a full record of his contributions.

Home Run Johnson

Most underrated player in baseball history? Every player mentioned here might have a case, though Johnson could lay the most claim. In the special Negro League induction for the Hall of Fame in 2006, the last time Johnson was up for consideration, his candidate profile noted, "Johnson may have acquired his "Home Run" nickname in his Findlay semi-pro days, when he reportedly hit 60 round trippers in a single season. His constant production at bat in high-level black ball may have also led to the nickname - he is credited with season batting averages of .371, .374, .397 and .413 while in his prime. He also spent five years in the Cuban Winter League before 1910, winning a batting championship and hitting .319 overall." 

Alexander Cleland

A number of people helped establish the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Cleland, the first director for the museum, might be more responsible than anyone. He worked much of the 1930s to assemble a collection, oversee construction and handle many other duties ahead of Cooperstown's first induction day in 1939. Other sports, such as hockey, have put people in its Hall of Fame who contributed to it. Alas, Cooperstown has been light on honoring its pioneers.

Charlie Bennett

Baseball researcher Adam Darowski, who chairs the 19th Century Committee for the Society for American Baseball Research, recently lamented that Bennett is so overlooked as to not even qualify for the committee's annual honor for most overlooked 19th century legend. Statistically, though, he rates among the best catchers in baseball history and did so in a bare-knuckled era where backstops played with little protection. Darowski elaborated on Bennett's case in a recent article on his website.

Spottswood Poles

Josh Gibson, referred to by some as the black Babe Ruth, was among the first Negro Leaguers selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the early 1970s. Poles, who was known as the black Ty Cobb, remains a more obscure figure, though baseball researcher John Holway noted that Paul Robeson grouped Poles, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson and Jesse Owens as the four greatest black athletes of all-time. Poles' known, likely forever incomplete statistics available via Baseball-Reference.com hint at his greatness: a .318 batting average and .386 on-base percentage over parts of 11 seasons between 1910 and 1923.

Related slideshow: 2017 MLB season (Provided by photo services)

The Mariners' Nelson Cruz celebrates while crossing home plate after hitting a three run home run against the Nationals on May 25 in Washington. The Mariners won 4-2. 2017 MLB Season
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