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Larry Bowa on Bobby Abreu: ‘Eventually, this guy should be in the Hall of Fame’


Bobby Abreu spent the bulk of his career with the Phillies. (Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Count one of Bobby Abreu’s former managers among those who believe that the Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Famer should one day be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Larry Bowa — who managed Abreu from 2001-2004, and then was part of Joe Torre’s staff with the New York Yankees in 2006 and 2007 when Abreu was traded to the Bronx — appeared on “Loud Outs” with Ryan Spilborghs and Brad Lidge on MLB Network Radio last week. Bowa gave a glowing assessment as he looked back on Abreu’s 18-year career, and endorsed the sweet-swinging lefty’s Hall of Fame case.

“I realized that when I first saw him play,” Bowa said when asked when he recognized how gifted of a hitter Abreu was.

“The one thing when you’re the manager of a baseball team and you don’t have what you call a set lineup every day, you go in on the particular day, you put the pitcher the nine spot. And, I did that, and I always put the three hole, I put Bobby Abreu. And then I filled my lineup out accordingly.

“This guy had a tremendous eye at the plate … very disciplined … clutch hitter … could run the bases … steal you a base … hit a home run … hit for average … there’s really nothing this guy couldn’t do on the baseball field.

“And he loved to play. If you check his games played every year out, this guy wanted to be in the lineup — it didn’t matter if Randy Johnson was pitching. He wanted to play.

“I think the one knock against Bobby — a lot of times he would hit with a man on third base and less than two outs and he’d take pitches like two inches off the plate. And I told him, I said ‘Bobby, I need you to drive that run in, man. You can expand the zone a little bit.’ And he said ‘Bo, I know what the strike zone is, I’m not going out of my element there.’

“And, you know, that’s what made him successful. He was very patient. He couldn’t care less if the count was 0-2, because every time you looked up, the count seemed to be 1-2 or 0-2 and then the next time you looked up, it was 3-2. I mean, this guy could work a pitcher.

“But, his work ethic, people took him for granted a lot. I know he would get a bad rap for playing defense. He hit the wall a few times, and obviously he got a little gun shy out there.

“But for the most part, every time I see his name and people ask if he’s a Hall of Famer, I look at these numbers and they are eye-popping numbers, believe me. I’m not saying he’s a first-time ballot Hall of Famer, but I think eventually, this guy should be in the Hall of Fame.”

2022 will be Abreu’s third year on the ballot, having received 5.5% of the vote in 2020 and 8.7% of the vote in 2021. Candidates need to garner at least 5% of votes in a given year to return to the ballot the next year. At the time of publication, 12.8% of 2022’s ballots are public. Abreu has received votes on 18% of the ballots who have been made public thus far.

Realistically, if Abreu is going to make a large jump in terms of percentage of votes garnered, 2022 probably won’t be the year to do it. Abreu’s former teammate, Curt Schilling, is in his final year of eligibility on the ballot. As are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, some of the game’s most productive players ever, but ones with ties to performance-enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz — two slam-dunk Hall of Famers from a statistical sense who also have PED connections — are debuting on 2022’s ballot.

If you’re an under-the-radar candidate, like Abreu, 2022 probably isn’t going to be the cycle to get the full attention of undecided voters.

In many ways, though, this conundrum represents Abreu’s career — he pretty consistently put up what would be considered elite numbers in most eras, but they paled in comparison to others during The Steroid Era.

During Abreu’s peak — which we’ll call 1998-2005 — he finished fourth among all position players in fWAR, trailing only Bonds, Rodriguez and Andruw Jones. He made just two All-Star teams during that period.

In 2000, Abreu slashed .316/.416/.554 with 25 home runs, 79 RBIs, 28 stolen bases, 100 walks and a 6.9 fWAR, which was 12th among all position players in baseball. And yet, he didn’t finish the top 25 in National League MVP voting.

Compare that to 2021, when Bryce Harper slashed .309/.429/.615 with 35 home runs, 84 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, 100 walks and a 6.6 fWAR, the third-best mark among all position players. Harper — deservedly so — won the National League MVP Award.

Abreu was a victim of playing during an era where players were putting up video game-like numbers, many of whom were using PEDs. He also was probably ahead of his time, given that the sport now values players who get on base at a high clip and put up high WAR totals much more than they did 15 or 20 years ago.

Whether he ever is elected to the Hall of Fame or not, Abreu’s case is certainly worth a long look. Had he put up the same numbers during this era, he likely would have made significantly more All-Star teams, and been properly recognized as one of the best offensive players of his time.

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