Jan 9, 2013, 7:08 PM EST
Let’s forgo pleasantries and cut immediately to the chase: There’s no right answer to this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.
Anyone who tries to tell you there’s a right answer to the biggest conundrum since Cooperstown first opened its doors eight decades ago simply hasn’t devoted enough time and consideration to this topic. Lord knows there are a whole lot of Hall of Fame voters plenty smarter than me who have spent days, weeks and months trying to find the right answer to this problem and have been unsuccessful. How am I to believe I’m capable of solving what they have not?
Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Sammy Sosa. Mike Piazza. All appeared on the ballot for the first time this year. All produced careers worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame. But all have been connected to varying degrees with steroids.
What is a voter — members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with at least 10 consecutive years of service — to do? Place check marks next to each of those players’ names based solely on their performance between the lines? Leave them out altogether based on the Hall’s explicit instructions that voters are to consider “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played” when filling out their ballots?
What’s the right thing to do? Does the fact that some of these players would have produced Hall of Fame caliber stats even without the use of PEDs make a difference? Does the fact it’s becoming more and more clear just how many of their peers also were using PEDs?
Or does the fact these players knowingly and purposely broke MLB rules — yes, steroids have been banned by MLB since 1991, even though there was no testing or punishment for use until 2002 — and U.S. law supersede whatever they accomplished on the field?
There’s no right answer, and the wide variety of explanations that have already been put forth by my fellow BBWAA members only underscore that point. Some decided not to include anyone on this year’s ballot. Some decided to vote for the maximum 10 players allowed, steroid users or not. Most fall somewhere between those two extremes, and that’s exactly where I fell.
After much research, consultation with other writers, current and former players and plenty of soul-searching, I came to the following conclusion: I won’t vote for any players for whom there is actual evidence of PED use. For now. I may very well change my mind in future years, as we continue to develop a better grasp for this difficult subject.
Now, “actual evidence” varies among these players. Rafael Palmeiro failed an MLB-issued drug test. Mark McGwire publicly admitted taking steroids and HGH. Bonds admitted to a grand jury he took PEDs (though he claims he didn’t know they were PEDs at the time). Clemens may have been found not guilty of lying to Congress by a federal jury, but he was named 82 times in the Mitchell Report and was named by former trainer Brian McNamee and two former teammates as a PED user. Sosa, according to a comprehensive New York Times investigation, tested positive for a PED in 2003.
On the other hand, there is no actual evidence to date implicating Piazza or Jeff Bagwell, only whispers and speculation in some corners of the baseball world that either slugger could have been juiced. Is that enough to keep them out of the Hall of Fame? Some voters say yes. I say no.
Again, there’s no right answer.
And that only covers the potential PED users. We haven’t even begun talking about the old-fashioned borderline cases that also dotted this year’s ballot, players who put forth stellar careers worthy of Cooperstown consideration but not in every case worthy of actual induction. Craig Biggio. Edgar Martinez. Fred McGriff. Jack Morris. Tim Raines. Curt Schilling. Lee Smith. Larry Walker.
In the end, the 569 BBWAA members who submitted ballots this year deemed none of them worthy of induction. Yup, not one of the 37 players listed for our consideration crossed the necessary 75 percent vote threshold, the eighth time that’s ever happened and the first time it’s happened since 1996.
I can assure you that’s not an outcome the overwhelming majority of my colleagues wanted. And I can only hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon, that those who came oh-so-close to induction this year will gain enough votes to make it next year, along with three first-time candidates who should have no trouble getting in: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.
I certainly hoped at least one of the six men I voted for would garner enough support for induction, but alas I’ll have to take up their cause again next year.
Until then, here is my complete ballot and explanation for why I voted or didn’t vote for each candidate…
SANDY ALOMAR JR. — NO
Though he didn’t sustain the kind of dominant career that got his brother, Roberto, elected to the Hall of Fame two years ago, Sandy was no slouch behind the plate. A six-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year winner in 1990, he enjoyed his best success with the Indians in the mid-90s, including a fantastic 1997 season in which he hit .324 with 21 homers and a .900 OPS.
JEFF BAGWELL — YES
This is the third year Bagwell has been on the ballot, it’s the third year I’ve voted for him and I’m hopeful his tally continues to climb toward the magic 75 percent threshold. (He received 42 percent in 2011, 56 percent in 2012 and 59.6 percent this year.) On performance alone, he should be close to a slam-dunk candidate. He’s one of only 10 players in history with 400 homers, 400 doubles and 200 stolen bases. He ranks 22nd all-time with a .948 OPS (better than Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Schmidt, among others). He had a better career slugging percentage (.540) than Duke Snider, Chipper Jones, Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey, among others. He ranks second all-time in assists by a first baseman. So the only real justification for keeping him off a ballot is because of his connection to steroids. Except there is no actual, published connection, only speculation and whispers. Is it possible Bagwell took PEDs during his career? Sure. But until someone produces some actual evidence of it, I can’t in good conscience leave him off my ballot.
CRAIG BIGGIO — YES
There are some voters out there who don’t believe Biggio has a strong enough case for Cooperstown. To them, I ask a simple question: Have you actually examined his case? Because it’s pretty air-tight, as far as I’m concerned. How about 3,060 hits, 21st all-time? How about 1,844 runs scored, 15th all-time? How about 668 doubles, fifth-most in baseball history? How about 414 stolen bases, making him one of only seven players ever with at least 3,000 hits and 400 steals? How about the fact he produced more extra-base hits in his career (1,014) than Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Honus Wager, Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle? How about the fact he played three distinctly different and difficult positions in the big leagues: catcher, second base and center field? And, just for good measure, how about the fact he always conducted himself with class and dignity, winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 2007 for his community service? The Hall of Fame was made for guys like Craig Biggio, and I certainly hope he gets through the door someday soon. He came closest of anyone this year at 68.2 percent.
BARRY BONDS — NO
It’s kind of pointless to run through his career numbers, because there isn’t a man, woman or child on this planet who wouldn’t deem them above and beyond the minimum requirement for induction. But for posterity’s sake, let’s not lose sight of the fact this man hit more home runs (762) and drew more walks (2,558) than anyone in baseball history, ranks third all-time in runs scored (2,227), fourth all-time in RBI (1,996), total bases (5,976) and OPS (1.051) and sixth all-time in on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.607). He won a record seven NL MVP awards, including four in a row. He won two batting titles, eight Gold Gloves and 12 Silver Sluggers. Above all else, he perfected the art of hitting a baseball unlike perhaps anyone in the history of the sport, certainly unlike anyone since Ted Williams. But the best seasons of his career came while he was taking PEDs. Of that there is no doubt. The shame, of course, is that Bonds was already a Hall of Fame caliber player before he is believed to have begun taking PEDs. That doesn’t, however, make his choice right. And — in my opinion — that doesn’t absolve him from meeting the Hall’s “character clause.” The vast majority of voters shared my opinion, resulting in Bonds receiving only 36.2 percent of the vote.
JEFF CIRILLO — NO
You may be surprised to learn he boasted a career .296 batting average and actually put forth four or five seasons that at least merit Cooperstown consideration (1996, 1998-2001). But that’s still not nearly enough to put him in the serious discussion for this honor.
ROYCE CLAYTON — NO
The Nationals’ starting shortstop through the first half of the 2006 season — before he was part of the eight-player trade with the Reds that brought the illustrious Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to Washington — he was a solid defensive shortstop who managed only a .258 career batting average and paltry .679 career OPS.
ROGER CLEMENS — NO
Like Bonds, there’s no debating his statistical merits. Seven Cy Young Awards. Seven ERA titles. Five strikeout titles. Three hundred fifty-four wins, ninth all-time. Four thousand six hundred seventy-two strikeouts, third all-time. A 3.12 ERA that ranked third among all pitchers during his career (behind only Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux). But like Bonds, the latter half of his career during which he compiled many of those records was marred by PED use. There will be those who say there’s no proof he took drugs, especially after that federal jury found him not guilty of lying to Congress. The accounts of Brian McNamee, Andy Pettitte and Jason Grimsley suggest otherwise. And I don’t question the validity of their accounts, or of the material gathered by George Mitchell in his exhaustive 2007 report on PED use in baseball. Perhaps I’ll change my mind about the Rocket some day. But not today. Like Bonds, Clemens came nowhere close to induction today, receiving 37.6 percent of the vote.
JEFF CONINE — NO
I had the distinct pleasure of covering Conine for two seasons in Baltimore, and I mean it when I say distinct pleasure. He’s one of the nicest ballplayers I’ve ever encountered, and he was beloved by teammates. He was also a pretty darn good ballplayer who hit .285 for his career but saved his best work for the postseason, when he hit .304 and twice led the Marlins to World Series titles.
STEVE FINLEY — NO
One of the best center fielders of his time, Finley won five Gold Gloves in his career. He also turned into a potent power hitter late in his career with the Padres and Diamondbacks and hit .365 with nine RBI during Arizona’s 2001 World Series run.
JULIO FRANCO — NO
Let’s stop and appreciate the mere fact this guy played 23 seasons in the big leagues, straight through age 48. That’s absolutely remarkable, though it does probably cloud his career achievements. Though he’ll most likely be remembered for his longevity, Franco was a career .298 hitter and a truly great player early on with the Indians and Rangers before he decided to just keep playing and playing and playing until nobody would offer him a contract anymore.
SHAWN GREEN — NO
During a tremendous five-year peak from 1998-2002, Green averaged 38 homers and 112 RBI. That wasn’t enough peak, however, to merit serious Cooperstown consideration.
ROBERTO HERNANDEZ — NO
You may remember that he made 1,010 career appearances (10th most in baseball history) and saved 326 games. You may not remember that he also blew 94 career saves, not an especially impressive rate of success.
RYAN KLESKO — NO
The slugger had a nice peak from 1996-2002 in which he averaged 26 homers and 90 RBI. His .871 OPS, however, ranked only 50th among all qualifying players during his career, behind such luminaries as Dante Bichette and Ray Lankford.
KENNY LOFTON — NO
Here’s a player who probably doesn’t get enough credit for being as good as he was. Lofton absolutely was a complete player for a long time, owner of a career .299 batting average and .372 on-base percentage, not to mention 622 stolen bases (15th all-time). Don’t be fooled by that last stat, though, because Lofton was successful on less than 80 percent of his career stolen base attempts, ranking 59th all-time. Still, this is a player who probably deserved a higher percentage of the votes than he received.
EDGAR MARTINEZ — NO
I agonize over his candidacy every year, I really do. He’s got a lot going for him. A whole lot. The man did, after all, hit .312 for his career, with a stellar .418 on-base percentage. And he produced probably eight great seasons, two of which resulted in AL batting titles. But I still can’t get over my two biggest hang-ups with Martinez: 1) He was such a late bloomer that his career totals (2,247 hits, 309 home runs) don’t quite stack up with the true greats, and 2) He spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter, meaning there’s nothing to judge him on outside of his offensive performance. His offensive performance was really, really good, to be sure. But enough to overcome the fact he was a true one-dimensional player? Not quite, in my opinion.
DON MATTINGLY — NO
There may not have been a better all-around player in the game from 1984-89 than Donny Baseball. But he simply couldn’t sustain that level of play for any more than those six fantastic seasons. And I believe you need more than a six-year career to merit a place among the immortals.
FRED McGRIFF — NO
The Crime Dog was the consummate professional, a steady-as-she-goes slugger who consistently put up big numbers throughout his career. So, shouldn’t that put him in the conversation? Well, not quite. His just wasn’t a career of dominance, as evidenced by the fact he never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting, not to mention ranked 31st among all players during his career in slugging percentage (behind Klesko and Green).
MARK McGWIRE — NO
There is no debating McGwire’s importance in baseball history. Along with Cal Ripken Jr. and Sammy Sosa, he helped bring the sport back to a fan base that threatened to leave forever following the 1994 strike. His breaking of the single-season home run record in 1998 captivated the entire nation. That it turns out he did so while (he later confessed) taking steroids was heartbreaking to millions of fans who wanted to believe his record was pure. McGwire has paid the price for his mistake, and it doesn’t appear he’ll ever come close to the 75 percent threshold. After holding firm in the low-20 percent range in recent years, he fell to 16.9 percent this year.
JOSE MESA — NO
One of several high-wire-act closers of the 1990s, Mesa did save 321 games in his career, good for 14th on the all-time list. But he never once led his league in that category, and in fact he only finished runner-up twice.
JACK MORRIS — NO
Morris has his supporters, plenty of them, who have for 14 years insisted he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Trouble is, their case for him just ignores way too many detracting facts. Yes, he won more games than anyone in the 1980s. But did you know he ranked 43rd among all big-league pitchers with at least 1,000 innings during that decade in ERA (behind Pascual Perez, Danny Darwin and Scott Sanderson)? Did you know his ERA was worse than the league average in nine of his 17 full seasons in the majors? And about that argument that he was the ace of three World Series champions … well, yes, that’s factually correct. But it also glosses over the fact he owned a 7-4 record and 3.80 ERA in 13 career postseason starts. Only eight of those 13 starts, by the way, were “quality starts.” And only three of those 13 starts were dominant outings in which he surrendered zero or one earned run. Yes, he pitched perhaps the greatest game in World Series history, and he’s rightfully celebrated for it. But his overall case — both regular season and postseason — simply doesn’t stack up with the all-time greats. Morris will get one more crack at it next year, hoping to move up from 67.7 percent to the 75 percent threshold.
DALE MURPHY — NO
For a six-year stretch in the 1980s, Murphy was among the very best players in the NL, a two-time MVP and home run title winner. But his dominant period abruptly ended after age 31, and his final batting average of .265 leaves plenty to be desired. It should be noted that there have been fewer men in baseball history who displayed better character on and off the field, and Murphy should be resoundingly applauded for that. But that alone isn’t enough to get him into Cooperstown. The playing performance just doesn’t quite meet the standard.
RAFAEL PALMEIRO — NO
I didn’t vote for Raffy either of the last two years — based on the fact he failed an MLB-issued drug test in 2005 — and nothing has changed since to convince me to change my mind. Palmeiro has insisted all along he never knowingly took anything and that the shot of B-12 he claims was given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada was tainted, but he’s never been able (or willing) to tell his full story in public and make a compelling case for himself. So based on the information we have at this point, I’m not comfortable voting for him.
MIKE PIAZZA — YES
There has been no more productive offensive catcher in baseball history than Piazza, who hit more homers and posted a better slugging percentage and OPS than anyone who has ever strapped on the tools of ignorance. A 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger with a career .308 batting average, his credentials are impeccable. Was he a defensive liability behind the plate? His throwing stats are atrocious, but those who pitched to him insist he was a fantastic game-caller. Regardless, the offensive numbers far outweigh what he lacked in defensive skills. Now, what about his potential PED use? Like Bagwell, it’s all speculation and whispers, with no actual evidence or formal accusation ever levied against him. There is one notable difference with Piazza: He admitted to briefly using androstendione early in his career. Though andro is now banned by MLB, it was not at the time. So I can’t in good conscious withhold my vote for something he was allowed to do both by MLB rules and U.S. laws. Is it possible Piazza took banned PEDs later in his career? Absolutely. But until someone provides actual evidence of such use, he gets my vote. A majority of voters felt the same way, giving him 57.8 percent of the vote.
TIM RAINES — YES
There are two seemingly borderline candidates who have become my two pet projects, and by sheer coincidence each played a good portion of his career in Montreal for the franchise that has since moved to Washington. Raines may very well be the most under-appreciated ballplayer in history, legitimately one of the best players of his era and among the very best leadoff hitters ever. No, he wasn’t Rickey Henderson, but who else was? He was only a notch below that greatest of the great leadoff men, and here are the numbers to back it up. Career on-base percentage: .385. He won a batting title and led his league in OBP, doubles and runs scored while leading the league in stolen bases four times. He is fourth all-time with 808 steals, but more importantly is No. 1 all-time with an 85 percent success rate on stolen base attempts. Let me repeat that: Raines is the most successful basestealer in baseball history. And now for my absolute favorite stat: Tim Raines reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn. Let me repeat that: Tim Raines reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn (in almost an identical number of plate appearances, by the way). There is one red flag involving drugs: Raines was admittedly a cocaine addict early in his career and was in rehab in 1982 for his addiction. Some will say that should preclude him from Cooperstown because he fails the character test. Here’s why I don’t agree with that line of thinking: There is nothing to suggest Raines took cocaine in an attempt to enhance his playing performance. If anything, he has since said he believes his drug use actually hindered his playing performance. Look, there have been plenty of less-than-reputable characters in baseball history, many of them already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. I don’t believe the doors to the Hall should only be opened for saints. I just believe they shouldn’t be opened for those who knowingly broke the rules of the sport and U.S. law in an attempt to enhance their personal careers. Best as I can tell, Raines didn’t do that.
REGGIE SANDERS — NO
Sanders’ career numbers — .267 average, 305 homers, .830 OPS — really weren’t anything special. But this guy did put together a very nice career, highlighted by the fact he somehow always found himself playing for winners. He remarkably made the postseason six times with five different franchises.
CURT SCHILLING — YES
Say what you want about the guy — and there’s plenty you can say — but he was one of the best pitchers of his time and legitimately one of the best pitchers in baseball history. No, his 216-143 record doesn’t stand out. But his 3.46 ERA (while a tad higher than most of the great pitchers of previous generations) was among the best of his generation. Schilling’s only contemporaries with better ERAs: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Kevin Brown and Roger Clemens. Only Martinez, Johnson and Greg Maddux bested Schilling’s 1.137 WHIP. And only Johnson and Martinez struck out more batters per nine innings. There are two areas in which Schilling truly stands out above everyone else. His 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks second in the history of baseball, behind only Tommy Bond (best known for his pitching prowess in the 1870s with the Worcester Ruby Legs). And then there’s Schilling’s postseason record, a phenomenal 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. Fifteen of his 19 career postseason starts were quality starts. He surrendered zero or one earned run in an astounding 12 of those 19 October starts. People try to compare Schilling to Jack Morris, but compare the postseason numbers between the two There is no comparison. Both had reputations as “big game pitchers.” Schilling truly deserves the reputation. And he gets my Hall of Fame vote.
AARON SELE — NO
A 4.61 career ERA? And he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot? Uh, sorry, but I don’t get this one.
LEE SMITH — NO
One of the great closers of a previous generation, Smith has a good number of supporters and perhaps will reach the magic 75 percent threshold some day. But he doesn’t make the cut for me. Though he once held the career saves record, he wasn’t nearly as effective closing out games as the very best closers of the last three decades. Smith’s career save rate: 82 percent. That’s worse than Armando Benitez and Jason Isringhausen.
SAMMY SOSA — NO
Some say he wouldn’t be Hall-of-Fame worthy regardless of his steroids connection, that his complete record isn’t strong enough. I disagree. The guy does rank eighth all-time with 609 home runs, 27th all-time with 1,667 RBI, was a seven-time All-Star and seven-time Top-10 finisher in MVP voting. So I do believe his numbers are good enough. But that’s not good enough to get my vote. Sosa was one of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in MLB’s anonymous 2003 drug program, according to a 2009 New York Times report whose accuracy has never been questioned. So Slammy Sammy doesn’t get my vote, and he barely got any at all, tallying a disappointing 12.5 percent.
MIKE STANTON — NO
A member of the 2005 and 2006 Nationals (who famously balked in a game-winning run in before ever throwing his first pitch in a Washington uniform), Stanton ranks second only to Jesse Orosco with 1,178 career appearances. He wasn’t a dominant reliever, but he did fashion a mighty impressive and lengthy career. He also was named in the Mitchell Report as one of Kirk Radomski’s HGH customers.
ALAN TRAMMELL — NO
Trammell was a fine, all-around shortstop who produced a career that absolutely is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. In the end, though, I don’t agree with a number of my colleagues who give him their annual vote. During his career, Trammell ranked 47th in the majors in batting average (behind Johnny Ray and Steve Sax), 58th in OBP (behind Bill Doran and Rance Mulliniks) and 98th in slugging (behind Von Hayes and Roy Smalley). He just doesn’t quite make the cut.
LARRY WALKER — YES
Here’s Pet Project No. 2 of mine, second only to Raines. I’m not sure people out there truly appreciate just how great a player Walker was. A complete player, dating all the way back to his Montreal days when he possessed all five tools. He ranks 13th in baseball history with a .565 slugging percentage (better than some guys named Alex Rodriguez, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron). He ranks 16th all-time with a .965 OPS (better than Mays, Aaron, Rodriguez and Frank Robinson). He produced more extra-base hits in his career than Joe DiMaggio, Duke Snider and Roberto Clemente. Over the 13 best years of his career, Walker had a higher batting average, OBP and OPS than A-Rod did over his best 13 years. Think about that for a moment. Now, Walker is penalized because he played parts of 10 seasons in the thin Colorado air, where he posted ridiculously good offensive numbers. Fine. But if you’re going to penalize him for taking advantage of Coors Field, you also have to penalize Ted Williams for taking advantage of Fenway Park, Babe Ruth for taking advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch and Sandy Koufax for taking advantage of Dodger Stadium’s spacious outfield and thick marine air. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? Besides, Walker’s Hall of Fame case extends beyond his Rockies tenure. Did you know his slugging percentage during his final four seasons in Montreal (not exactly a hitter’s haven) was .501? That’s better than the career slugging percentages of Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Al Kaline and Eddie Murray.
TODD WALKER — NO
In 12 seasons with seven different clubs, he hit .289. He had a very nice postseason for the Red Sox in 2003 (five homers in 12 games). And he owns the 81st-best fielding percentage all-time among second basemen. Sorry, that’s all I could come up with.
DAVID WELLS — NO
Here’s perhaps the best evidence ever that a pitcher’s won-loss record needs to be taken with a grain of salt: Wells was 239-157 in his career, an impressive .604 winning percentage. Wow, doesn’t that make him Cooperstown worthy? Um, no, not when you realize his career ERA was 4.13. Talk about benefiting from pitching on some really good teams over the years.
RONDELL WHITE — NO
Little known fact: He was a 2003 All-Star with the Padres … who was subsequently traded to the Royals later that summer. Sorry, that’s all I could come up with.
BERNIE WILLIAMS — NO
A key member of four Yankees clubs that won the World Series, he was a fantastic, all-around center fielder. Who still had a worse batting average than Jeff Cirillo and Frank Catalanotto, a worse OBP than Chili Davis and Jason Kendall and a worse slugging percentage than Trot Nixon and Rusty Greer.
WOODY WILLIAMS — NO
Little known fact: His real name is Gregory Scott Williams. More pertinent fact: His career ERA was 4.19.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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