Writers with a vote for the baseball hall of fame had to submit their ballots by a Dec. 31 postmark deadline. I do not have a vote – voters need 10 years of service covering major league baseball as a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America to qualify – but I thought it might be fun to break down the ballot and take a look at who I might pick had I the chance.
The real results will be announced on January 9.
Here are the rules:
Players need to get 75 percent of the votes to be enshrined at Cooperstown. Players remain on the ballot for up to 15 years as long as they receive at least five percent of the vote in the previous year. Voters may only select up to 10 players on the ballot. This year’s ballot featured 37 players.
Here are the only instructions included with each ballot:
Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
That single sentence makes this latest ballot very interesting. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are both on the ballot for the first time. Both have been accused of taking steroids and their chances of being selected for the hall of fame appear to fall short of the 75 percent threshold at this point.
There is no doubt that Clemens and Bonds had hall of fame careers. The question is: what about their “integrity, sportsmanship, character?”
Part of the problem stems from the fact that Clemens and Bonds allegedly used steroids during an era when major league baseball was not testing for those substances. Were they really cheating if what they were doing was not illegal through MLB rules? That’s where integrity and character come into play.
On top of that, the hall of fame also has a precedent in the form of Pete Rose, who admitted to gambling on baseball while manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Rose, the all-time hits leader, does not have a plaque at Cooperstown.
Personally, I think I would vote for Clemens and Bonds if I had a ballot. They were both hall of fame-caliber players before they turned to steroids and since MLB didn’t test while they were using, what they were doing wasn’t so much illegal as it was morally wrong. That makes it very hard to pin something on those two players specifically, because we don’t know just how many other players were also using steroids at that time.
To me, Rose, Bonds and Clemens were a few of the greatest players of all time. Putting them in the hall of fame doesn’t suddenly wipe away their transgressions. Those doubts and concerns will always surround their names. Still, their careers deserve a spot among baseball’s best. Their mistakes along the way are included as a part of that.
Now, to the ballot.
Of the 37 players, I narrowed down a group of 13 that likely won’t get the necessary five percent to be back on the ballot next year. These players certainly made a mark in the majors, but their peaks were either too short or they failed to accomplish enough over the long haul to merit inclusion in Cooperstown.
Don’t make the cut:
Sandy Alomar Jr.
The following players have certain hall of fame credentials in a single category (Lofton’s stolen bases, McGwire’s home runs, Williams’ success in the middle of the lineup on World Series-winning teams, Walker playing most of his career in pre-humidor Denver, etc.) but they aren’t the most well-rounded candidates. All of these players could easily get more than five percent of the vote, but I don’t see many getting close to the 75 percent needed.
On the fence
If I had a vote, again, I don’t, but if I did, here are the ten guys I would have voted for this year. I give my brief reasoning in each case.
My top 10
Jeff Bagwell - Bagwell played his entire 15-year career in Houston, finishing with 449 home runs, 2,314 hits and a .297 average. His career on-base percentage was .408. Bagwell was the NL rookie of the year in 1991, won the NL MVP in 1994 and was a four-time all-star with one gold glove and three sliver sluggers. Bagwell was a home run hitter, yes, but he was also an on-base machine and a guy that played in all 162 games in four separate seasons. I don’t think he’s a slam-dunk case, but I think he had a terrifically consistent career and scored 1,517 runs, 350 more runs than a solid comparison, Mark McGwire, scored.
Craig Biggio - Biggio played his entire 20-year career with the Astros and finished with 3,060 hits 291 home runs and a .281 average. He twice led the NL in runs scored and three times led the senior circuit in doubles. His career offensive WAR (Baseball-Reference) ranks 44th all-time. A seven-time all-star, Biggio was also a terrific defender at three of the most challenging positions on the field: second base, catcher and center field.
Barry Bonds - Bonds retired following the 2007 season as baseball’s all-time leader in home runs (762), walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688). He won four straight MVPs from 2001 through 2004 to go along with his MVPs from 1990, 1992 and 1993. He also had 514 stolen bases and 2,935 hits. Say what you will about his issues with steroids and his off-putting personality, but Bonds finished his career with the third-highest WAR of all-time, trailing only Babe Ruth and Cy Young.
Roger Clemens - Clemens has the highest WAR of any pitcher from the modern era (133.9, which ranks eighth all-time among all players). He was 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA, striking out 4,672 hitters in 4,916 2/3 innings. He won seven Cy Young awards and won World Series in New York in 1999 and 2000.
Edgar Martinez - Martinez was a designated hitter for most of his career, yet his final WAR of 64.4 ranks 108th all-time, tying him with Jim Palmer. Had Martinez ever contributed in the field or on the basepaths, his WAR would be much, much higher. Martinez never hit for a ton of power, as he finished with 309 home runs over an 18-year career, but he did hit 514 doubles and had a .312 average. The seven-time all-star had a .418 on-base percentage. For the entire 1990s, Martinez was one of the most terrifying right-handed hitters in baseball.
Jack Morris – Morris has been on the ballot since 2000, but has never gotten to 75 percent. His votes, however, have slowly risen to the 67 percent he received last year. Consider this about Morris: he was 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA in his career, but finished an 18-year career with 2,478 strikeouts. A career American Leaguer who played prior to interleague play, Morris never faced an opposing pitcher on the mound during the regular season. Of his 527 career starts, 175 were complete games. He made 14 opening day starts and finished with four World Series rings, including in 1991 when he pitched 10 shutout innings against Atlanta as the Twins won the title in the bottom of the 10th. Morris never quite had a peak in his career like Dwight Gooden did when he emerged for the Mets, but Morris was the most consistent starting pitcher in baseball through the entire 1980s.
Rafael Palmeiro - Palmeiro was an everyday player from 1988 through 2004 – although he did spend a serious amount of time at DH later in his career – and he finished with 3,020 hits, 569 home runs and a .288 batting average. Of course, Palmeiro testified in front of a congressional committee that he had never used steroids and tested positive a few months later. That 2005 season wound up being his last.
Mike Piazza - Piazza was the best offensive catcher of all-time, finishing with 427 home runs, 2,127 hits and a .308 batting average. He was the 1993 NL rookie of the year and went on to 12 all-star game appearances. He hit .348 with 23 home runs and 76 RBI in 109 games after being traded to the New York Mets in 1998. Piazza’s numbers may have been even greater had he moved out from behind the plate earlier in his career. In all, he played 70 games at first base and appeared as a DH 120 times. He made 73 of those DH appearances with Oakland during his final year in 2007.
Tim Raines - Raines was basically a poor man’s Rickey Henderson, as the two played during the same era. Raines finished with 2,605 hits, a .294 average and 808 stolen bases. While Henderson had more of everything (except a lower batting average: .279). Raines was more efficient on the bases, being caught 14 percent of the time to Henderson’s 19 percent. Raines made seven straight all-star teams from 1981 through 1987. Also to Raines’ detriment was that he was not an especially great defender and played most of his career in left field, the weakest spot on the diamond.
Lee Smith - Smith had a 16-year run as one of the best closers in baseball in an era when closers mattered. He’s third all-time with 478 saves. The active player with the best chance to catch him is Jonathan Papelbon, who has 257 saves at age 31.
Your thoughts? Let me know on Twitter: @THR_Montgomery.