Hall of Fame Time!
The Hall of Fame announcement comes out Tuesday! It’s always exciting when that happens. I’ll tell you who I voted for here and, at the end, I’ll make my Hall of Fame predictions. But first … let’s catch up a bit.
At The Athletic
The Baseball 100 continues on to the background music of joy and fury. That’s what you want, right? I realize that I’ve never explained the system Tom Tango helped me come up with because the rankings are not at all my focus for this series. Each of these essays really are lovingly crafted and the the entire point of this loony exercise.
But I will tell you that the system is WAR based — peak WAR and career WAR — thrown in with a bunch of other factors thrown in such as era, postseason performances, all-around skill, impact on the game and so on.
I tell you this for two reasons.
For all those people who are furious about the rankings, most of the time you can just look at WAR and pretty quickly figure out why the player is ranked around there. It’s really not that mysterious.
As we get closer to the top players, I think and hope it will become clear that I’m not so much ranking the players as assigning them numbers. That might not make sense now but I think it will very soon.
Anyway, to catch you up:
I also wrote a little something about the Browns new coach Kevin Stefansky and what we can learn from his press conference (spoiler: not much).
I had such a blast at Magi-Fest in Columbus over the weekend. I was there in part to sell my book, which I might have mentioned, called The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. But mostly I was there because it is such a joy to be around magic and magicians. I even bought a couple of tricks that I’ll be happy to perform for you if I happen to run into you …
All right — Hall of Fame Time!
This was, in many ways, the oddest ballot that I’ve filled out in my 15 or so years of being a Hall of Fame voter. It was odd, illogically, because it wasn’t odd at all, it was what a Hall of Fame ballot SHOULD be.
That is to say that unlike the ballots of the past few years, there was not a glut of overqualified candidates. I had never really thought about how those overstuffed ballots actually made it easier to vote in so many ways — I didn’t have to think too hard about whether Sammy Sosa or Gary Sheffield or Omar Vizquel or others were Hall of Famers because to me they were clearly not among the Top 10 players on the ballot. The only real decision I had to make was whether this guy or that guy was No. 10 or No. 11.
But on this ballot, well, I see only five players who I would consider slam dunk candidates — and even those five include three controversial players who many others would not vote for.
My Slam Dunk Five include:
— Derek Jeter. Yes, for people who appreciate WAR, it must feel strange that the two players elected unanimously will be a shortstop with 72.4 bWAR (88th all time) and a reliever with 56.2 bWAR (229th all-time). But, in a larger sense, Jeter should be elected unanimously — as should have probably 25 others from Aaron to Yaz. You can’t go back and right wrongs from the past, no, but there’s no viable reason I know to pass on Jeter as a Hall of Famer.
— Barry Bonds. Yes, I know. I’ve written about this a jillion times. I think the Hall of Fame should include the greatest baseball players ever, flaws and cheats and personality deficiencies inclusive. I appreciate that others disagree and am not looking to convince anyone that I’m right. I know all the reasons to not vote for Barry Bonds. But to me, it’s simple: Bonds was the greatest baseball player of my lifetime. How much of that was real and how much wasn’t — none of us know for sure. His extraordinary play, that we do know.
— Roger Clemens. Yes, I know. I’ve written about this a jillion times. Same as last guy. But I will add that I tend to believe that Clemens, in addition to being the greatest pitcher of my lifetime, is actually under-appreciated as a pitcher. If you take the career of Pedro Martinez and add it to the career of Johan Santana, you still don’t get to Roger Clemens.
— Larry Walker. Yes, he got hurt a lot. Yes, his numbers were inflated by Coors Field. But he was a five-tool force of nature who should have been elected long ago. Will he get elected now? More on that in a bit.
— Curt Schilling. With his incredible strikeout-to-walk ratio and his all-time postseason performances, I would have put him in the Hall before Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Roy Halladay or Mike Mussina. But I appreciate he only has himself to blame for people who don’t want to give him the honor.
After that, I’m left with five votes — if I want them. And, yes, I want them because I’m a big Hall of Fame guy. I’m more of a big Hall of Fame guy now than ever because of the way the Hall of Fame’s veteran committees are just electing players like it’s going out of style.
Look: While the BBWAA is dithering over superbly qualified Hall of Fame candidates like Walker and Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines (not to mention some of the greatest players in the game’s history like Bonds and Clemens), the Vet’s committees have elected Ted Simmons, Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris in just the last three years, not to mention Bud Selig and Marvin Miller. We’re comically keeping a tight lock on the front door and the back door is WIDE OPEN.
I think in many ways the Vet’s Committee has it more right than the BBWAA does. I mean, no, I wouldn’t have voted in Harold Baines, among others, but think how cool it will be for the fan who grew up loving Harold Baines to see that name in the plaque room. How cool is it to think, “Wow, I got to see a Hall of Famer!”
So, to be honest, if I had an unlimited ballot — if it was a pure “Yes or No” vote like my friend Derrick Goold has suggested — I might vote Yes for 15 players on this year’s ballot. But alas, I have 10. So I voted for 10.
My other five votes went to:
— Scott Rolen. He — like Kenny Boyer, Graig Nettles and, for the longest time, Ron Santo — faces the third-base conundrum. A great fielding third baseman is just not considered in the same way as a great-fielding shortstop. Up to this year, Omar Vizquel as a great fielding shortstop who couldn’t hit much, was getting twice the support of Rolen, a great fielding third baseman who was also a superb power hitter. Rolen’s 25-win advantage in WAR didn’t seem to sway people.
— Todd Helton. Like with Walker, people will overlook Helton’s incredible numbers (.316/.414/.539 — this even AFTER he declined his last four seasons) because of Coors Field. They shouldn’t: He was a fantastic first baseman, he walked 160 more times than he struck out, he is 19th all-time in doubles and 40th all-time in extra base hits. Sure, he was much better at Coors Field than on the road, but that was HIS JOB. If you play for the Rockies you have to take advantage of Coors or you won’t last long.
— Manny Ramirez. Yes, I see the argument that Ramirez’s case is different from Bonds and Clemens because he actually tested positive for PEDs — twice. I can see the argument that while what Bonds and Clemens (and Sosa and McGwire) did was wrong and clearly cheating, it was tacitly encouraged by MLB and the player’s union while what Ramirez did was defiantly against the rules.
But I do think there’s a counter-argument to be made: Ramirez paid a price for his cheating. He was suspended for 50 and then 100 games. There’s a principle that says that once you pay for your transgression, you are supposed to be able to go on. I think that’s one of the problems people have with Bonds and Clemens — they never had to pay a price for whatever they did, and so denying them the Hall of Fame seems like a suitable punishment.
Anyway, that’s all pretty complicated ethics, and I’m no ethicist. Manny Ramirez was one of the greatest hitters I ever saw, an absolute genius at the plate, and even if he was a defensive fiasco and a knucklehead his teams somehow ALWAYS won.
— Gary Sheffield. He, like Ramirez, was a genius at the plate. He bashed 500 home runs and walked 300 times more often than he struck out and was just about the scariest hitter ever to face. He was a defensive liability, which just crushes his WAR total (bringing it down to 60.8), but I’m not entirely convinced that he hurt teams quite that much defensively. And as a hitter: Incredible. He’s 29th all-time in WAR runs batting, placing him just ahead of Chipper Jones and Ricky Henderson and Edgar Martinez and Mike Schmidt.
— Sammy Sosa. The last choice for me came down to Sosa and Andruw Jones. I hated having to make the choice. Jones’ incredible centerfield defense along with his home run power makes him a fascinating Hall of Fame candidate. But Sosa’s 600-plus home runs and the enormous impact he had on the game when matching homers with Mark McGwire in the Summer of ‘98 makes him a fascinating candidate. Sosa has been connected with steroids — his name was leaked as one of 104 players who tested positive in 2003 when the results were supposed to remain anonymous — while Jones’ has not. I can see how you would fervently argue for one over the other but to me I find it a virtual toss-up. I took Sosa because over four years, from 1998-2001, he AVERAGED 61 homers per season. No one else, not even Ruth, Bonds or McGwire, did that.
With an unlimited ballot, I would definitely vote for:
— Andruw Jones. The career was short and the hitting went South at age 30, but he was some kind of centerfielder.
— Billy Wagner. I’m simply not pro-reliever for the Hall of Fame. If I could go back and redo the Hall of Fame, I think the only relievers I’d want in there would be Rivera and Hoyt Wilhelm. But there have been numerous other relievers put in the Hall of Fame, and I’d probably take Billy Wagner as soon as I would take any of them. He was an absurd force of nature, and he retired at the very top of his game, and if I had enough votes I would give him one.
With an unlimited ballot, I might vote for:
— Bobby Abreu. I used to call him the MBGPIBH — Most Boring Good Player In Baseball History. And he WAS boring, taking all those pitches, fouling off all those pitches, etc. But he was really good too. Through age 32, he hit .302/.412/.507, bashed 205 homers while stealing 271 bases, he was good for 100 runs and 100 RBIs pretty much every year, and he was a dazzling fielder for many of those seasons. he did decline rapidly from that point on but I can see a good argument.
— Jeff Kent. I have never been in love with his Hall of Fame case, but he does have more homers than any second-baseman ever, and he did win that MVP (even if it should have gone to Bonds) and I certainly get it.
— Omar Vizquel. Vizquel is one of those players that many baseball fans want to wish into being even greater than he was. He was a dazzling defensive shortstop who made so many wonderful plays — nobody made the barehanded plays like him — and he cracked 2,877 hits and that FEELS like a Hall of Fame career. There are many complicating factors including his 82 OPS+ and 45.6 WAR but his enshrinement into Cooperstown would make so many people happy.
All of which leads us to the big question: Who WILL get elected? What will this ballot look like?
— We know Derek Jeter will get elected and I would be stunned if it isn’t unanimous.
— I think Larry Walker will get elected. If you are a devoted follower of Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, you know that it projects to be nerve-shatteringly close. It could come down to one or two votes on either side. But I actually believe he will make it with small margin to spare for two reasons.
This ballot is so much leaner than the ballots over the last few years and Walker’s name stands out in a way that it didn’t before.
It’s his last time on the ballot, which should bring along a few stragglers.
Anyway, we’ll see if I’m right.
— I don’t think Schilling will quite make it this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break 70 percent, putting him on the doorstep for next year.
— I don’t think Bonds or Clemens will make much progress this year.
— I don’t think Bobby Abreu will get the 5 percent necessary to make next year’s ballot.
— I do think that Scott Rolen and Omar Vizquel will each take pretty giant leaps forward, followed by Sheffield, Helton, MannyBManny and Wagner.
— I wonder if Alfonso Soriano will get a vote. I mean — 400 homers, 289 steals, a 40-40 season, a .500 career slugging percentage, will that get him a single vote? Ah the mysteries of the Hall of Fame.