Continuing our multi-part series on players who were eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot this year but were left completely off, today we examine three players who all made All-Star teams during their careers, but didn't put together enough of a career to justify their inclusion on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Danny Graves (P)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1996-1997, 2006), Cincinnati Reds (1997-2005), New York Mets (2005)
Best Season: 2000 (10-5, 2.56 ERA, 30 saves)
All-Star Appearences: 2 (2000, 2004)
Claim To Fame: Best player in major league history born in South Vietnam. Also, the only one.
Graves was a decent prospect in the Cleveland system (as much as a reliever can be a prospect), but was dealt to the Reds at the '97 trade deadline. The Reds used him as a closer for four seasons, first as a co-closer with Scott Williamson, then handing the job completely over to him. He started four games late in the 2002 season, then was used as a starter for the 2003 season, which didn't go so well (4-15, 5.33 ERA). Graves would return to the closer role in 2004 and make another All-Star team, but 2005 would be his worst season, seeing him released by both Cincinnati and later the Mets, who picked him up a few weeks after the Reds released him. He had one more season in the majors with the Indians, then continued playing in the minors and independent leagues, but would never see a major league roster again.
Paradox time: Graves was awarded the 2002 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, which is given each year to a major league player who "best exemplifies the spirit and character of... Lou Gehrig, both on and off the field". Two and a half years later, Graves would be designated for assignment the day after flipping off a fan after a bad outing.
Matt Lawton (OF)
Teams: Minnesota Twins (1995–2001), New York Mets (2001), Cleveland Indians (2002–2004), Pittsburgh Pirates (2005), Chicago Cubs (2005), New York Yankees (2005), Seattle Mariners (2006)
Best Season: 1998 (.278/.387/.478, 21 HR, 16 SB)
All-Star Appearences: 2 (2000, 2004)
Claim To Fame: Once traded for Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar
Lawton spent the first part of his career as the starting right fielder for the bad late 90s Minnesota Twins teams. Lawton was one of the best hitters on those teams, using a strong eye (he managed a .379 OBP during his time with the Twins), speed, and occasional power to put him near the top of various Twins statistical categories. The Twins dealt him at the 2001 trade deadline to the Mets for Rick Reed, then the Mets dealt him that offseason to Cleveland in a multiple-player deal to acquire Roberto Alomar. Lawton struggled in New York and his first few seasons with Cleveland, but turned it around somewhat in the 2004 season, earning himself another trip to the All-Star Game. Despite that good season, the Indians dealt him to Pittsburgh the following offseason for Arthur Rhodes. This time, Lawton continued to put up decent numbers after the trade, but the Pirates dealt him at the 2005 trade deadline to the Chicago Cubs, where he struggled. The Cubs then shipped him off to the Yankees a little less than a month later, where he struggled even more and was left off the playoff roster.
In November of 2005, MLB announced that Lawton had tested positive for steroids and would need to serve a 10 game suspension at the beginning of the 2006 season. Lawton signed with Seattle despite the suspension, although he would only play in 11 games for them before his release, ending his career.
Jose Lima (P)
Teams: Detroit Tigers (1994–1996), Houston Astros (1997–2001), Detroit Tigers (2001–2002), Kansas City Royals (2003), Los Angeles Dodgers (2004), Kansas City Royals (2005), New York Mets (2006)
Best Season: 1999 (21-10, 3.58 ERA, 4th in NL Cy Young balloting)
All-Star Appearences: 1 (1999)
Claim To Fame: His wife, in THAT picture.
To bastardize the old expression, when Jose Lima was good, he was very very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid. To give you an idea, Lima's two best seasons - 1998 and 1999 with the Astros - netted him a total pitching WAR (wins over replacement) of 7.8, which is pretty good. For the rest of his career, he was -4.6. Lima began his career with the Tigers but was shipped out in one of the hundred or so deals the Tigers and Astros would make that would always involve Doug Brocail and Brad Ausmus for some reason. After another bad Lima-like season, something clicked, and Lima put up two very good seasons for the Astros, then crashed and burned again in 2000 and 2001, leading to a trade back to his original team, the Tigers. He pitched OK for the Tigers, then crashed again the following year, and found himself out of baseball. This would be like the rest of Lima's career - flashes of brilliance, then hard doses of reality.
Outside of that, Lima was a flashy, animated player who was popular with teammates and fans (at least, when he was pitching well). He said he wanted to have a singing career after his career ended, and once sang the national anthem before the start of a Dodgers game, which gave us the picture of his then-wife that is referenced above.
Sadly, Lima passed away at the age of 37 from a massive heart attack.