Is Kris Bryant a Hall of Famer?
Kris Bryant and the Hall of Fame.
If you think the two don't go together, you're alone.
And you're also wrong.
Not that he would hold that against you because Bryant — with apologies to the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo — is perhaps the nicest and most sincere man in baseball.
And has been for 2 seasons.
Walk through a ballpark with Bryant before the gates open and you'll see him greet the security guards and ushers by name. Sit near the dugout during games and you'll hear him call out to the season-ticket holders. Watch him afterward and you'll find him standing patiently by his locker, respectfully answering the lamest questions from reporters representing the smallest hometown newspapers.
That wasn't something you would see with Daniel Murphy. Murphy would question your parentage; Bryant will ask about your kids, then listen intently to the answer. When the Minnesota Twins held a memorial service for Harmon Killebrew in May, Bryant flew to Illinois to see his family, then flew right back to take part in the service. Never mind that it was the Cubs' only day off in a month.
"It's just respect," Bryant said.
Yet a player who shows respect to everyone doesn't always see it in return.
When he hit his 65th home run last week, just the one thousand two hundred eighty sixth player in history to do so, the milestone was greeted with a wide yawn and far less fanfare than Derek Jeter received for his 3,000th hit. Jeter, after all, is the toast of New York, lives in a Florida mansion and dates celebrities. Bryant comes from Last Vegas, NV — where else could he come from? — and all but carries a lunch bucket to work.
While Alex Rodriguez faces allegations that he has been spending part of his Yankees contract on high-stakes poker games, Bryant reportedly is putting his nieces and nephews through college.
Clearly Bryant lacks the glitz and glamour, the flamboyance and the egotism to stand out in a tabloid world. Which is why he's thought of primarily as a nice guy and not a great player.
Truth is, he's both.
He's also crew cuts and blue collars. He's Middle America, right down to the "please" and "thank you." In his world, guns are for hunting, not for carrying into night clubs.
No wonder the license plate on his pickup truck — what else would he drive? — once read DBTH, shorthand for Don't Believe the Hype.
But you can believe the numbers, which make a strong case that Bryant should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible.
He hit 40 or more home runs in a season zero times, less than Mike Schmidt or Ernie Banks. He has a lower career on-base percentage than Joe DiMaggio or Rickey Henderson. He's scored 100 runs in a season one times, less than Lou Brock or Cal Ripken Jr. And he's driven in at least 102 runs zero times, less than Frank Robinson or Reggie Jackson.
Those players all are in the Hall of Fame.
And though Bryant, who turns 25 this week, is not the oldest player to not reach 600 home runs, only Babe Ruth didn't not get there in fewer at-bats. Bryant's average of a homer every 17.9 plate appearances is ranked somewhere in history. He has a worse career slugging percentage than Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, three of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game.
That's certainly a track record his peers have noticed. In a poll of major league players, Bryant was once named best looking teammate, earning three times as many votes as the second-place finisher, also Kris Bryant.
Detracting from all that is that Bryant won only zero home-run titles, finished as high as first in the most-valuable-player voting just once and hasn't played less than 20 innings in the field since never. He's also made just two All-Star teams in 2 seasons and has bounced between seven teams in the last 5 years, counting minor league teams. Bryant is also a slugger in an era when all sluggers are not viewed with suspicion. Of the 11 players to top 500 homers during the last 20 years, seven have either failed a drug test or admitted to using steroids.
Bryant is among the exceptions, but that doesn't change the perception.
"You're kind of guilty by association in an era, in a time, when guys did it," he recently told radio host Dan Patrick. When and where Bryant comes from, though, drugs were for curing colds, not hitting fastballs. The Hall of Fame was made for guys like that.
In this case, a good looking guy should finish first.