Jan 8, 2014, 2:12 PM EDT
There is no greater honor in baseball than election to the Hall of Fame. And there’s no greater Hall of Fame in sports than the original, the one that first opened its doors in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1936. So you’d think the annual election of new members to baseball immortality would be a joyous occasion, one in which the greatest of the greats are celebrated for their remarkable careers.
Sadly, that’s no longer the case. The annual Hall of Fame election has become an exercise in misery, thanks to an unfortunate combination of steroid use in the sport for which there is no consensus opinion, an arcane rule that prohibits voters from selecting more than 10 players on a ballot and a growing and disturbing trend of voters and non-voters spewing all sorts of vitriol at each other over any opinion that dares to differ from their own.
I’d like to briefly address all three of those subjects before revealing my own ballot…
Steroid use: There remains no right answer to this dilemma. Everybody has an opinion, and none of them is wrong. There’s validity to the idea of voting for proven PED users, on the grounds that MLB didn’t do much of anything to stop guys from taking the stuff during their careers and that so many players were doing it that it’s impossible to know what effect any of it actually had. And there’s validity to the idea of keeping proven PED users out, on the grounds that the Hall of Fame’s longstanding criteria for election include “integrity, sportsmanship and character.”
I respect those who vote for the users, but I can’t do it myself. If I’m supposed to adhere to the Hall of Fame’s instructions, then I can’t in good conscience vote for anybody who knowingly broke the rules — yes, steroids have been banned by MLB since 1991 even though there was no testing until 2002 — and U.S. law in an attempt to enhance their personal performance. So, no to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro.
But I also can’t in good conscience deny votes to players who are merely suspected of PED use, with no actual evidence of use. So, yes to Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and others who may very well have broken the rules but haven’t been caught. Does that mean there’s a chance I’ve put PED users into the Hall of Fame? Yeah, but I have an easier time living with that fear than living with the fear I kept a worthy candidate out based purely on suspicion.
The 10-player limit: This hadn’t ever been a particularly hot-button topic, but it sure was this year and promises to be moving forward because the ballot has become so overstuffed with legitimate candidates that it’s almost impossible to whittle the list down to 10 players. In three previous years as a voter — by the way, you become a voter after serving 10 consecutive years as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and you’re entitled to keep that vote for life — I had never voted for more than six players. That changed this year, when I used up all 10 slots and might well have voted for an 11th player if the rules allowed.
I wasn’t alone in this regard. A record number voters submitted 10-man ballots, and many of those would have added more names to the list if allowed. And the problem isn’t about to go away, not with Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield joining the ballot in 2015 and Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez set to be included by 2017.
The BBWAA has created a committee to explore changes to the voting procedure, and there seems a good chance the 10-man limit will be gone, hopefully by next year. It certainly makes sense. There are twice as many MLB clubs (and players) now than there were when the original limit was instituted. We shouldn’t have to use any strategy in completing our ballots. There should be only one question to consider: Was Player X a Hall of Famer or not?
The vitriol: This, to be honest, bothers me more than the others and has taken more joy out of the voting process than the other issues. Too many people who write and talk about baseball — both BBWAA members and non-members — have turned the annual Hall of Fame vote into an excuse to trash each other. Why? Because they don’t agree with somebody else’s opinion.
Look, I don’t agree with somebody who didn’t vote for Greg Maddux or somebody else who did vote for Aaron Sele. But those people earned the right to vote with 10 or more years of service as a BBWAA member. And more than that, they earned the right to have an opinion. Just as we all have, voters and non-voters.
There were 571 ballots cast this year. Do we really expect all 571 ballots to look identical? Would anyone prefer that? Isn’t the point of having so many voters to prevent a couple of outliers from altering the election results? Best as I can tell, Greg Maddux isn’t being denied entry because he only received 97.2 percent of the vote instead of 100 percent. And Jacque Jones doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown because 1 out of 571 voters put a check next to his name.
Sadly, I’m afraid there will be more time wasted today arguing stuff like that than time spent celebrating the careers of the Hall of Fame’s three newest members: Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, each of whom surpassed the magic 75 percent threshold for election. I hope I’m wrong and that those three men get their day in the sun. Because they deserve it.
With that, here’s how I voted on all 36 players on this year’s ballot. I don’t expect anybody to agree 100 percent with me, but I do expect everybody to respect the time and effort I and all of my fellow voters put into this endeavor and to respect our well-reasoned opinions…
MOISES ALOU — NO
A career .303 hitter with 332 homers, two Silver Slugger Awards, two top-3 finishes in MVP voting and six All-Star selections. A much better player than most probably remember.
JEFF BAGWELL — YES
Bagwell’s path to Cooperstown has unfortunately been slower than you’d hope (he’s been on the ballot four years now) and the only logical explanation for that must be whispers about steroids use. Problem is, there’s never been any actual evidence linking Bagwell to PEDs, only speculation from those who note his body type and power numbers. Could he have taken them? Sure. Did he take them? I have no idea. So unless somebody proves otherwise, I’ll keep voting for one of only 10 players in baseball history with 400 homers, 400 doubles and 200 stolen bases.
ARMANDO BENITEZ — NO
His name alone probably sends shivers down the spines of Orioles and Mets fans, but Benitez was a very good reliever for a long time. Unfortunately, more people likely remember his 59 career blown saves than his 289 career actual saves.
CRAIG BIGGIO — YES
Like his longtime teammate Bagwell, Biggio unfortunately has seen his vote totals held back a bit by speculation of PED use. At least, I assume that’s the reason, because his baseball credentials are impeccable. He ranks 21st all-time in hits 3,060), 15th all-time in runs (1,844) and fifth all-time in doubles (668). He’s one of only seven players in history with 3,000 hits and 400 stolen bases. And he was an All-Star catcher, then a Gold Glove second baseman, then an everyday center fielder. One of the most versatile players ever. And, get this, he finished with 74.8 percent. He missed out by two votes. Wow. That is incredibly unfortunate, though I suppose you can take solace knowing he’ll get in soon, probably next year.
BARRY BONDS — NO
Obviously, his playing performance meets the Cooperstown standard. It clears the bar with as much room to spare as anybody in the game’s history. But when the Hall of Fame instructs me to consider a player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character when making my selections, I take that to heart. Bonds knowingly broke baseball rules and U.S. law for the sole purpose of enhancing his personal performance. To me, that keeps him out. For now. I may very well change my mind about this some day. But not yet.
SEAN CASEY — NO
Affectionately known as “The Mayor,” the always gregarious Casey was one of the better pure hitters of the last 15 years. He hit .302 over his career and hit .290 or better in eight of his 11 big-league seasons.
ROGER CLEMENS — NO
See my explanation on Bonds and just insert Clemens’ name. One of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, without question. But he knowingly cheated for his own personal gain. But wait, what about the federal jury that found him not guilty of lying to Congress? Well, they found him not guilty of lying, not of taking PEDs. I don’t question the validity of the Mitchell Report on this matter, not to mention Andy Pettitte’s implicating testimony.
RAY DURHAM — NO
A stalwart second baseman and leadoff man for the White Sox and Giants, Durham had the rare (and valuable) combo of power (711 career extra-base hits) and speed (273 career stolen bases).
ERIC GAGNE — NO
Greatest season by a relief pitcher in history? Eric Gagne in 2003: 1.20 ERA, 55-for-55 in save opportunities, 137 strikeouts and only 37 hits allowed in 82 1/3 innings. But as is the case with so many relievers, he couldn’t sustain his success over a prolonged period. Was named in Mitchell Report for having purchased HGH from former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski.
TOM GLAVINE — YES
This may come as a surprise, but Glavine wasn’t nearly the slam-dunk I expected him to be. Once I started looking at his career, it didn’t look quite as dominant as I would have guessed. He never won his league’s ERA title. He never lead his league in innings pitched. His 3.54 career ERA, while very good given the era in which he pitched, wasn’t nearly as good as the very best pitchers of his era (Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz). Now, having said all that, Glavine still did get my vote because while he wasn’t quite in that crust-of-the-crust group, he was only one notch below it. He won 305 games. He won two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top three in voting four more times. He made 10 All-Star appearances. And he had a strong postseason resume that included a 3.30 ERA in 35 starts. (Stop and think about that for a moment, by the way. Thirty-five starts is the equivalent of a full, big-league season. Glavine pitched a full season’s worth of postseason games. Remarkable.)
LUIS GONZALEZ — NO
Gonzo was a fairly average big leaguer until he joined the Diamondbacks in 1999, after which he turned into one of the most productive hitters in the game. From ’99-’03, he averaged 34 homers, 115 RBI and a .969 OPS. He also got to live out the dream of every baseball-loving child: Game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, tie game. Not a bad way to be remembered.
JACQUE JONES — NO
Ranked eighth in the AL in WAR in 2002. Sorry, that’s the only positive accomplishment I can come up with.
TODD JONES — NO
When you think of the great closers of the late ’90s and early 2000s, you think of names like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner. Todd Jones isn’t a name you think of.
JEFF KENT — NO
Part of me feels bad, because this guy deserves serious consideration but wound up getting lost on this overcrowded ballot. Kent hit more homers (351) than any second baseman in history, and his .509 slugging percentage trails only Rogers Hornsby among all second basemen. He was a big-time power producer at a position not known at all for producing power hitters. Problem is, there were tons of more-productive offensive players during his era. Among all qualifying hitters during his career, Kent ranked 74th in batting average (behind Frank Catalanotto and Mark Grudzielanek) and 49th in slugging percentage (behind Carlos Lee and J.D. Drew). And he really didn’t bring much else to the table, not in the field and not on the bases. I’m certainly willing to reconsider him in the future, but this feels like somebody who is going to get lost in the shuffle.
PAUL LO DUCA — NO
There was a time when Lo Duca was one the best offensive catchers in baseball. Sadly, that was long before Jim Bowden gave him $5 million to catch for the Nationals, a signing that was announced two days before Lo Duca was named in the Mitchell Report.
GREG MADDUX — YES
Who’s the greatest pitcher of the last 50 years? I’m not saying it’s definitely Maddux, but he’s unquestionably in the conversation. I could fill up this space with his overwhelming career achievements, but you don’t need me to convince you he’s a Hall of Famer. So instead let me share a personal memory of this wizard of the mound. In the summer of 1997, I was an intern at the now-defunct Daily Southtown, a suburban Chicago newspaper. And through pure dumb luck, I wound up getting to spend most of that summer covering an awful Cubs team (which, as it turned out, was managed by a fellow named Jim Riggleman). On July 22, the Cubs hosted the Braves for a doubleheader, and Maddux pitched the opener. He completely carved up Chicago’s lineup, allowing one run on five hits without walking anybody, to earn the win. He wound up with a complete game. On 76 pitches. Yes, a 76-pitch complete game. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again. Congrats to the Mad Dog on his near-unanimous selection as a Hall of Famer.
EDGAR MARTINEZ — YES
I’ve always maintained I would reconsider guys I didn’t vote for in previous years, and truth be told, this guy was the No. 1 reason I said that. For three years, I tried to convince myself he was a Hall of Famer, and each time I couldn’t get past the fact that his career totals were a tad flimsy because he was a late bloomer. And given the fact he spent the vast majority of his career as a DH, I felt like he needed overwhelming offensive numbers to win me over. Well, I’m happy to report I changed my mind this time around. What swayed me? A couple of things. First of all, I took a closer look at Martinez’s early career, before he became a full-time big leaguer. I assumed the Mariners didn’t play him more either because of poor performance or because of injury. I was wrong. He played in 276 games at Class AAA between 1985-89, during which time he hit an astounding .344 with a .450 on-base percentage! Why wasn’t he promoted? Because Seattle had a logjam on the big-league roster, with Jim Presley entrenched at third base. It wasn’t until after Presley was traded to Atlanta in 1990 that the door opened up for Edgar, who then turned into one of the very best offensive players in baseball history. He finished with a .312 batting average, two AL batting titles, 514 doubles, 309 homers and a stunningly good .418 on-base percentage. That last number was key for me, and here’s why: Among all major leaguers who have ever stepped to the plate as many times as Edgar Martinez, only 11 owned a higher OBP. Ten of those 11 are Hall of Famers, including the now-elected Frank Thomas. And the 11th is Barry Bonds. Frank Thomas earned a place in Cooperstown because he was one of the two best DHs in history. Edgar Martinez was the other, and for that he deserves to join the Big Hurt some day.
DON MATTINGLY — NO
From 1984-89, Mattingly’s offensive numbers were off the charts: .327/.372/.530, averaged 27 homers and 114 RBI. Then came the ’90s, which were not nearly as kind to Donnie Baseball: .286/.345/.405, averaged 10 homers and 64 RBI. Had he just sustained his peak pace a bit longer, he’d have a strong case here.
FRED McGRIFF — NO
A very good, and consistent, power hitter over a long period of time. But he just didn’t stack up to the truly elite hitters of his generation.
MARK McGWIRE — NO
I’ve been surprised to see so many voters bypass Big Mac not because he was an admitted PED user, but because they don’t think his playing performance met the Cooperstown standard. Wow, really? The man hit home runs with more frequency than anybody in baseball history, once every 10.6 at-bats. And you can’t say his record-shattering run in 1998 didn’t have a tremendous impact on the sport. You can, however, say he was an admitted PED user, and so you can (as I do) choose not to vote for him on those grounds alone.
JACK MORRIS — NO
I feel bad for Morris, I genuinely do. All the guy did was pitch his rear end off for 18 seasons, serve as the ace of three World Series champions and win maybe the greatest game in World Series history. Yet he has been subjected to more scrutiny than perhaps any player in the history of the Hall of Fame ballot. This was his final chance at election via the BBWAA, his 15th time on the ballot, and he again came up a little bit short. I, like the other Morris dissenters, couldn’t get over his career 3.90 ERA (during a time in which a 3.90 ERA was not something to brag about). I also couldn’t get over his postseason record, which wasn’t nearly as dominant as legend would have you believe. Yes, he twirled that famous, 10-inning gem for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. But of his 13 career postseason starts, only eight met the minimum standard to be considered a “quality start.” And in only three of those 13 starts did Morris allow fewer than two earned runs. Compare those numbers to Curt Schilling (see below) and you realize there is no real comparison between the two. I’m sorry Morris wound up a figure of such derision these last few years, but in the end he just wasn’t quite good enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
MIKE MUSSINA — NO
A colleague of mine in the Baltimore-Washington sports media corps has insisted for years that Mussina was a Hall of Famer, a statement I always greeted with mock. (Mock directed at my colleague, mind you, not Mussina.) I just didn’t think of him as a Hall of Famer, and I was sure the overwhelming majority of fellow voters would feel the same way. Well, a funny thing happened once I actually started examining Mussina’s career last month: I realized he truly does have a case. He may not have the awards and reputation of Tom Glavine, but the two were quite similar pitchers. No, he never won the AL ERA title, but he finished in the top five an impressive seven times. He has one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in history. He’s got a strong postseason record. And, yes, he pitched his whole career in hitter-friendly ballparks against tough AL East lineups. (Though I think that last point is exaggerated a bit. He didn’t have to face the Orioles’ explosive lineup while pitching for Baltimore, and he didn’t have to face the Yankees’ modern murderer’s row while pitching for New York.) But I will admit I seriously considered this guy and might very well have voted for him … if not for that pesky, 10-player limit rule. Mussina was definitely the 11th guy on my ballot. If I was allowed to vote for 11 players, I very well might have included him. But I’m only allowed to vote for 10, so he unfortunately got caught in the numbers game.
HIDEO NOMO — NO
Remember Nomo-mania? It was real, and it was spectacular, but it didn’t last very long. After going 29-17 with a 2.90 ERA in his first two seasons with the Dodgers, he went 53-54 with a 4.57 ERA over the next five seasons with five different clubs. He did have a nice little bounce-back late in his career, including his second career no-hitter: April 4, 2001, with the Red Sox at Camden Yards. True story: That was my second game ever as a baseball beat writer, my first night game on deadline. My head is still spinning from the chaos of that night and my complete lack of unpreparedness for it. But it’s the only no-hitter I’ve ever witnessed, and for all I know it’s the only one I’ll ever see in person.
RAFAEL PALMEIRO — NO
As is the case with McGwire, I don’t understand why so many voters say he wasn’t a good enough player to get in. As if 3,000 hits and 500 homers weren’t automatic tickets to Cooperstown for anybody unconnected to PEDs. Raffy, of course, famously told Congress he never took steroids in his life, then shortly thereafter tested positive and was suspended by MLB. I know he insists something fishy happened and he was wronged. But until he makes a compelling case for himself, I just can’t vote for him. And, sadly, I can’t vote for him anymore anyway, because he failed to crack the 5 percent minimum needed to remain on the ballot. That is incredibly unfortunate.
MIKE PIAZZA — YES
The greatest-hitting catcher of all-time came up a bit short in his first crack on the ballot, but he figured to be right around the 75 percent mark this year. Turns out he wasn’t that close, getting 62.2 percent. Those who didn’t vote for Piazza likely did so because of suspicions of PED use. But just like Bagwell, there has never been any actual evidence against Piazza, only whispers about body type and skin conditions. Is there a chance he took PEDs during his career? Yeah, of course. Can anyone say say definitively that he did? Nope. I can’t deny him a vote based on that.
TIM RAINES — YES
Ah, my favorite Hall of Fame pet project. Though I’m certainly not alone in this camp, because Raines has become a highly popular choice over the last few years and keeps inching closer to the magic 75 percent mark. He’s not there yet, but I do believe he’ll get there some day as more and more voters come to appreciate just how great a player he was. Raines combined power and speed during a time when few others did. Only 22 players in history have stolen 500 or more bases. Of those, only seven recorded more extra-base hits than Raines: Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, Honus Wagner and Lou Brock. All Hall of Famers, except for Bonds. And Raines wasn’t just any old basestealer. He was the greatest basestealer in baseball history. Yes, his 85 percent success rate tops everyone else, and nobody else is even close. I’ll leave you with another of my favorite stats: Tim Raines reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn did in an almost identical number of plate appearances.
KENNY ROGERS — NO
A true workhorse, “The Gambler” started 30 or more games 12 times in a 16-year span. Unfortunately, he posted a sub-4.00 ERA in only five of those seasons. Even in the inflated offense era of the ’90s and early 2000s, that’s just not going to cut it. No worries, Kenny did enjoy a profitable second career churning out tasty rotisserie chicken!
CURT SCHILLING — YES
Plain and simple, one of the very best pitchers of his generation and one of the very best postseason pitchers ever. Among those who pitched during his time, Schilling’s 3.46 ERA ranks behind only Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Kevin Brown and Roger Clemens. His 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks behind nobody in baseball history (unless you want to include Tommy Bond of the 1870s Worcester Ruby Legs). His 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in 19 career postseason starts (4-1, 2.06 in seven World Series starts) is staggeringly dominant. As is the fact he allowed one or fewer earned runs in 12 of those 19 postseason starts. Put that all together, and Schilling is a Hall of Famer.
RICHIE SEXSON — NO
That he appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot at age 38 underscores just how abruptly his career ended. Slugged 242 homers between his age 24-31 seasons. Slugged just 33 more after that before retiring.
LEE SMITH — NO
Yes, he was one of the best closers of his time. But he wasn’t one of the very best closers of all-time. Smith’s career save rate of 82 percent ranks behind Armando Benitez and Jason Isringhausen.
J.T. SNOW — NO
A six-time Gold Glover, Snow just never really hit enough (career .268 batting average, .784 OPS) to be considered an elite first baseman. He did, however, save Dusty Baker’s son’s life during the World Series. So he’ll always have that going for him.
SAMMY SOSA — NO
He hit 609 homers, drove in 1,667 runs, made seven All-Star teams and finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting seven times. Plus there was that whole joint pursuit of Roger Maris’ home run record with Mark McGwire. I say he’s got the stats to send him to Cooperstown. But he won’t be going there anytime soon, if ever, because he was one of 104 MLB players who tested positive for PEDs during what was supposed to be an anonymous drug program in 2003 but was uncovered by the New York Times in a thorough report whose validity has never been questioned.
FRANK THOMAS — YES
How great of a hitter was Frank Thomas? Here’s how great: With only five more doubles, he would have been the sixth player ever to hit .300 with 500 homers and 500 doubles, joining a club that includes only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez. I won’t hold those lack of five more doubles against the guy. Besides, he clears the bar in several other ways, such as his two AL MVPs, his 1997 AL batting title and the four times he led the league in on-base percentage and OPS. Also consider this: During his first eight major-league seasons, the Big Hurt hit .330 and slugged .600. I mean, the guy owned a .330 batting average eight seasons into his career! Yes, he spent most of his career as a DH, and the times he did wear a first baseman’s mitt weren’t pretty. But this is a case of a player whose offensive production was so immense, it didn’t matter what else he did on the field. And my colleagues agreed, sending Thomas off to Cooperstown on his first ballot.
MIKE TIMLIN — NO
Quick: Name the best setup man in baseball history. This guy would certainly be in the conversation. Occasionally a closer, Timlin put together one of the most consistent and impressive performances by any reliever who didn’t regularly pitch the ninth inning, finishing with a 3.63 ERA over 18 seasons. That doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer, but that doesn’t diminish what was a very strong career.
ALAN TRAMMELL — NO
A lot of people make some very compelling cases for Trammell, but I’ve just never been able to get over that hump. During his career, he 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). Trammell was an incredibly good, all-around shortstop for a long time. One of the best ever. Just not one of the very best ever as far as I’m concerned.
LARRY WALKER — YES
And we close this year’s ballot with my other annual pet project, a player who either is severely under-appreciated or is unfairly punished for playing a chunk of his career at Coors Field. His .565 career slugging percentage ranks 13th all-time. His .965 OPS ranks 16th all-time. Over the 13 best years of his career, Walker had a higher batting average, OBP and OPS than Alex Rodriguez did over his best 13 years. Yeah, that’s right. He also was a three-time batting champ, a seven-time Gold Glove winner and he stole 230 bases. Truly a complete player. Now, about that Coors Field conundrum. Yes, his career numbers there were video-game-like (.381/.462/.710). But his career numbers in every other ballpark he ever played in were really good, too (.282/.372/.500). And why do we feel the need to punish someone for playing in one specific, hitter-friendly park but not others? Ted Williams hit .361 in his career at Fenway Park. Ernie Banks’ OPS was 113 points higher at Wrigley Field than it was anywhere else. And Sandy Koufax’s career ERA at Dodger Stadium was 1.37 … and 3.38 everywhere else. Has anyone ever claimed those all-time greats were merely a product of their favorable home ballparks? No. So why should we hold it against Walker, who was a fantastic ballplayer no matter the venue.
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