On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, the Baseball Writers vote for the 2013 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed. Holding the keys to such an elite fraternity must be a daunting task. You’re voting on players to proverbially sit next to Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mathewson and the like.
The pervasive theme this year is the specter of performance enhancing drugs that infiltrated the league during the so called “Steroid Era”. On the bubble now are the first generation “users”, ones that presumably were clean earlier in their career but found a “fountain of youth” late which contributed significantly to jaw-dropping numbers. Many, by all counts, were no doubt Hall of Famers before their transgressions. But how do you handle this? In my opinion, with little mercy.
If I were asked to vote (and of course I believe I should be), below reflects my ballot. The players on the ballots these days usually span my late childhood through young adulthood. I watched and attended a lot
of games and have memories of all these players. I don’t think I would be alone in allowing my personal (but not biased) “feeling” about a player influence the vote. What I mean by that is, when this player came to the plate or pitched, what was my feeling of how they would perform? Did they always seem to get the big hit, pitch their team to victory, make the heartbreaking defensive play, etc.? Were they a feared entity anytime they stepped between the lines?
Players I would put on my ballot (in order of credibility)
1) Craig Biggio – The biggest cred Biggio brings is his membership in the 3,000 hit club. Only Rafael Palmiero (positive PED test), Derek Jeter (still active, sure-fire first ballot) and Pete Rose (lifetime ban from the game) are members of that club, but not the Hall of Fame. His batting average (.281 lifetime) or power numbers (291 home runs) won’t wow you, but another feather in his cap is playing three (defensively challenging) positions as a regular in his career (C, CF, 2B). He also has seven All Star nods, three Top 10 MVP finishes, and four Gold Gloves. Finished his career 5th in doubles all time.
Factors against him: Ordinary batting average, playing in a small market, lack of postseason success
As a member of the 3,000 hit club and someone who played the game with hustle and humbleness, I expect him to get in first ballot.
2) Mike Piazza – He is probably the best power hitting catcher in history not named Johnny Bench. He smacked 427 career home runs and a .308 batting average while playing all but 70 games behind the plate. Both those numbers far exceed Bench (albeit in a different era). He played in 14 All Star games (over a 15-year span) and finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting seven times.
Factors against him: Perceived use of PEDs, below-average defensively
3) Jeff Bagwell – He was an offensive machine in the mid-1990′s, career numbers reflect that (.297, 449, 1529 RBI). Only Palmeiro, Bonds, Sosa, and McGriff on the ballot have more RBI. More walks than anyone else on the ballot besides Bonds (fear factor and eye), .409 OBP. He also stole 200 bases and was an above average 1B (Gold Glove in the closet). No hard evidence of PED’s, he was a weight-lifting machine and didn’t see anything late in his career that would lead one to believe he was juicing.
Factors against him: Perceived use of PEDs, playing in a small market, lack of postseason success.
He garnered 41% of the vote last year in his first eligibility, then up to 56%. He seems to be trending up, but 19% more would be a stretch.
Both Bagwell and Piazza seem to fit the category of “they just look like they did steroids”. Which gets to the point of a witch hunt. If evidence surfaces of positive use, I’ll gladly move him down to the PED line below. Otherwise, no question, their numbers are good enough to get in. Period.
4) Larry Walker – He was another 5-tool player, finished his career with a .313 batting average, higher than anyone else on the ballot. Also stole 200 bases, also hit 383 home runs. He has so many gold gloves he probably had to build an extra wing on his trophy case. Like Bagwell, he won one MVP. He’s also a member of the .400 OBP club (he, Bagwell, Bonds, and Edgar Martinez the only four on the ballot).
Factors against him: Perceived higher numbers due to Colorado, soft-spoken personality, injury-prone (only 4 seasons of 140+ games).
He only received 23% of the vote last year, that needs to trend up significantly for people to start noticing.
5) Edgar Martinez – He’s of the mold of the previous two players. Hit for high average, good (but not awe inspiring) power, gets on base all the time. While I am not a fan of the DH, if MLB has it as a position, you can’t hold that
against him. With the previous two, defense pushes their case, for Edgar it can’t but he still deserves it. Career .312 hitter, .418 OBP, slugged .515 (more than McGriff). He’s also a member of the 300 HR club
for a guy who didn’t try to lift the ball as much as others.
Factors against him: Primarily a DH, played in small market, lack of speed.
He was voted for the affirmative on 36.5% of last years ballots, he needs to get closer to 50% to continue the momentum, now in his fourth year and not moving much.
6) Lee Smith – The Hall of Fame is still figuring out how to accommodate closers, it’s my opinion that they are indeed a key element to the game and the best of the best should be included. With Smith, it’s not about the numbers (ERA, W-L) as much as the raw pile of saves he accumulated. No matter where he played, he never seemed phase by a momentary lapse of success. Fourteen seasons in a row of 25 or more saves shows a level of consistency matched by few. If there are going to be closers in the HoF, Smith should be there.
Factors against him: Voters don’t trend toward closers, wasn’t overpowering, played for a lot of teams.
Received 50.6% of the vote last year, might start to trail off now in his 11th year. Half the people isn’t enough!
First four out
7) Tim Raines – Rock is another guy who falls just short on the numbers. Besides SB’s (of which he is more than deserving), his average and power are lackluster, no Gold Gloves. He did accumulate the most
hits of anyone on the ballot (besides Palmeiro, Bonds, and Biggio) playing to the age of 40. Not a feared hitter.
Factors against him: Played in Montreal during his prime, average defense, never was higher than 5th in an MVP vote.
At 38.7% now in his sixth year, needs to get close to 50% or his candidacy may lose support.
8) Jack Morris – He was a gamer who was consistent, just not consistently great. A three-time 20-game winner, but 3.90 ERA shows me he outlasted a lot of opponents for those wins instead of dominating them. Never had an ERA below 3.05 in a single season. I probably hold starting pitchers to the highest standard when considering Hall of Fame, if you start to take 250 game winners and folks with ERA’s near 4.00, you start to let in a lot of slightly better than average pitchers.
Factors against him: ERA, lack of dominating presence, allowed a lot of baserunners (WHIP).
At 66.7% last year, I think he makes it this year.
9) Fred McGriff – You can’t ignore the near 500 home runs, but he hung on a while to get so close and wasn’t elite enough in his prime to warrant the Hall. Average defense, below average speed, not an outstanding OBP. He also
never broke 110 RBI in a season.
Factors against him: Low average, lack of dominating seasons, lack of speed.
At only 23.9% last year and only up 5% from the year before. Numbers are inferior when compared to the five hitters I would vote in, I doubt many voters put 6 or 7 hitters on their ballot.
10) Julio Franco – He is an enigma to be sure. Franco batted .298 for his career with over 2,500 hits, just a tad below Roberto Alomar in both categories. What Franco did that nobody else did, was play until he was almost 50 years old. In his youth, he was an above average baserunner and above average defender (who could play a lot of positions). I don’t think he is worthy in the end, but definitely worth a mention.
Factors against him: Never an elite player, lifetime numbers inflated by career longevity.
I hope he exceeds 10% and stays on the ballot for a few years (thus stirring future debate). He deserves at least that, but not really a Hall of Famer by any stretch.
Last year on the ballot
Dale Murphy – Just a case of not enough “oomph” (code for numbers, clout) to warrant induction. A great guy, one of the top players of his era (a dead ball era, mind you), but joins a long list of players who were pretty good, just not quite good enough. Almost 400 career home runs, but the .265 average was pretty ordinary. Two MVP’s, five gold gloves are nothing to shake a stick at, for sure.
Factors against him: Low batting average
He’s only been tickling the low teens (14.5% last year) that might double, but otherwise, he’s had a good 15-year run, but just not good enough.
The remaining repeat candidates fall into two categories, steroid specter or double digit ballot opportunities, the numbers aren’t there.
Steroid specter (stats more than deserving but would not get my vote): Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire
Vets with short stats: Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams
There is dearth of good pitching candidates, Clemens plus Schilling hit the ballot (neither probable) hard to believe Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, David Wells, Woody Williams, and Roberto Hernandez are some of the better new candidates (none are really that close).
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