It’s early January, which means we’re in the middle of baseball’s winter solstice. The major free agents have (mostly) signed, news is at a trickle and we’re nearly two months away from any semblance of recognizable baseball. In other words, it’s Hall of Fame season.
The official deadline for Hall of Fame ballots was December 31, 2016, which makes this a week late. Luckily, this ballot is fake.
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
For a long time it seemed that the dividing lines between Bonds/Clemens supporters and detractors were drawn in cement. Thanks to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker though, it appears the PED-resentment may finally be beginning to thaw. Maybe the election of the man who presided over the so-called steroid era, Bud Selig, has forced some voters to confront the hypocrisy. Maybe the electorate is simply evolving with a new generation of voters. Either way, if Bonds and Clemens break the 60% barrier this year (as looks likely), it puts them on a track to induction before they fall off the ballot in 2022.
About. Damn. Time.
There’s a strong case to be made that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are respectively the greatest position player and pitcher any of us has ever seen. That greatness was not born in a syringe. Bonds and Clemens were real people that did real things on real baseball fields. All those baseballs that Bonds sent crashing like meteors into McCovey Cove, all those splitters that Clemens unfurled to make hitters look foolish…those really happened. The notion that an entire generation should be whitewashed from history because we arbitrarily decided that they should be held to a higher standard than previous generations, is ridiculous.
A Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is no Hall of Fame.
3. Jeff Bagwell
Bagwell has come to symbolize the absurdity of the PED witch hunt, having his vote total stifled by the same kinds of vague rumors that dogged Mike Piazza for years. There is no leaked 2003 test here, no BALCO investigation, no Mitchell Report…just whispers and rumors and what-ifs. I have no idea whether Jeff Bagwell ever used PEDs, but there needs to be a tougher litmus test than ‘he had muscles and played in the 90s.’
Bagwell falls short of the traditional Hall of Fame milestones (2,314 career hits, 449 home runs) and manages to be one of the five best first basemen of all-time anyway. Since World War II, only Albert Pujols eclipses him in Wins Above Replacement at the position (79.6). He owns a career slash line of .297/.408/.540 despite playing the majority of his career in the hitter’s hell that was the Astrodome, and as Joe Posnanski wrote recently, he’s provided more baserunning value than any first baseman in history. The good news is that Bags fell just 3.4% short of induction last year, which makes him a near-lock to gain entry this time around. The fact that it will have taken until his seventh year of eligibility, though, underlines just how silly this has all become.
4. Curt Schilling
5. Mike Mussina
Schilling’s support has waned significantly during this voting cycle in light of his many controversial (read: dumb) remarks over the past year. On a personal level, there was not a player in baseball I disliked more than Schilling while he played, and still my opinion of him has found a way to plummet to uncharted depths since his retirement. That said, his political affiliation, shady dealings with the state of Rhode Island, offensive social media posts and general dickishness have no bearing on his Hall of Fame candidacy in my view. On the field, Schilling was one of the 25 best pitchers in history before you even account for his otherworldly postseason record (133.1 IP, 2.23 ERA, 120:25 K/BB ratio). No tears will be shed if Schilling’s support continues to regress, but he belongs in.
In many ways, Mussina’s relatively quiet and understated career was in direct contrast to the abrasive Schilling, and yet their Hall resumes wound up nearly identical.
Mussina may be the most underrated starter of the last 30 years, having pitched his entire career in the American League East during the steroid era. For nearly his entire prime, he shared a league with three of the greatest arms in baseball history (Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez), suppressing his opportunity to earn the kind of hardware that helped guys like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz sail in on their first ballot despite slightly inferior careers.
While Schilling’s mouth continues to get him in trouble though, Mussina seems poised to gain ground for the third consecutive year (20.3% of the vote in 2014 up to 43% last year), making his eventual induction more likely than not.
6. Tim Raines
Like Mussina, Raines suffers first and foremost from having been contemporaries with one of the greatest of all-time: in this case Rickey Henderson. In almost any other era, Raines gets the recognition he deserves as an absolute on-base machine (.385 career OBP) and the highest percentage base-stealer in history (84.7%). Instead, he unfairly developed a reputation as a poor man’s Henderson. It’s been a decade-long trek for Rock, but after maxing out at 69.8% of the vote last year, the early returns suggest he’ll finally get his long-awaited enshrinement in 2017, his final year of eligibility.
7. Edgar Martinez
The retirement of David Ortiz this past season has forced many to confront the idea of a DH in the Hall of Fame. If Ortiz is the lock for Cooperstown that many suspect, then the writers have just three more chances to get it right with Martinez.
Postseason accomplishments certainly add a ton of ink to Big Papi’s ledger, but Edgar was pretty clearly the superior hitter over the course of his career, and even played 592 games in the field compared to just 278 for Ortiz. I’m on board with DH’s needing to clear a higher bar than position players to earn induction. As one very best hitters of his generation, Edgar clears that bar for me.
8. Ivan Rodriguez
9. Manny Ramirez
It will be interesting to see how the electorate handles these two as they hit the ballot for the first time. Both have varying degrees of PED stigma attached to them…Pudge belonging in the Bagwell/Piazza hearsay camp, Manny in the rare category of those actually caught red-handed.
We’ve already talked about the former, so it should come as no surprise that Pudge makes my ballot as one of the most feared defensive catchers of all-time. Only Johnny Bench and Gary Carter amassed more career WAR as a backstop than Rodriguez, so unless you’re really clinging to the PED stuff, there is no reason to keep him out.
I consider it much more reasonable to want to draw a line separating those who used before testing was implemented and those who used after. In that sense, I’m more sympathetic to voters who disqualify Manny on the grounds that he failed two tests after the joint drug agreement was in place, and have wavered on the issue myself.
Mike Salfino of the Wall Street Journal said on a recent Breakfast Table Podcast that he views the Hall of Fame as a museum that tells the story of the sport. I agree, and ultimately that’s what swings my vote in favor of Manny. Can you tell the story of baseball without him? Maybe, but it would be a whole lot less fun.
10. Larry Walker
Vladimir Guerrero will likely get a ton of support this year, maybe enough to get him elected on his very first ballot. While I think Vlad is probably a Hall of Famer (borderline statistical case pushed over the edge by how much fun he was to watch), it’s puzzling that Larry Walker will simultaneously struggle to maintain 20% of the vote.
There are two primary knocks on Walker. The first is durability, as he managed to play more than 140 games in a season just four times in his 17-year career. The second is the notion that he was a product of Coors Field, where the Rocky Mountain air helped even mediocre hitters post cartoonish batting lines. While the altitude certainly helped Walker’s raw numbers, the theory fails to account for the fact that he was equally as good on the road as at home during his MVP 1997 season, and that even his park-adjusted numbers regard him as one of the best corner outfielders of the era.
By WAR, Walker was more productive than every other position player on the ballot save Bonds and Bagwell, even despite his suppressed playing time. At this rate, Walker will almost certainly not get elected by the writers before his ten years are up though, and that’s a shame.
Those are the ten players I consider most worthy of induction, but as mentioned above, there are even more that I think deserve consideration. I would have voted for Vlad and probably Sammy Sosa as well if there weren’t a ten-player limit, but rules are rules, even for fake ballots. I think players like Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent and even Jorge Posada have interesting cases. Ultimately those guys fall just on the other side of the fence for me, though I would not argue with someone who thought they belonged as well.