It is time once again for the Baseball Hall of Fame election process to take over baseball’s airwaves. And while the process over determining inductees has turned away simply from on-field evaluations to a mixture between old-fashioned baseball card stats and an assimilation of a morality based war on “baseball crimes”, the voting game has never been more convoluted.
For the past four years I have tackled the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot on behalf of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s annual counsel-wide vote. While it remains an enjoyable look back at baseball’s past—and increasingly one that I have a vivid memory of—it has never been more difficult to sort through, due to both an increasing pool of talent and having to regularly sort out my stance on each player’s past.
But all things considered, it is still the most intricate and important effort that anyone who considers themselves a purveyor of the game’s story and how it is told should take a crack at. Who should stand among the MLB’s immortals based on their own take on what exactly makes a Hall of Famer from the available options in a given year.
The 2015 Ballot
Returning Ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell.
First Timers: Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Carlos Delgado, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Cliff Floyd, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Troy Percival, Jason Schmidt, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz
Starting the Process of Elimination
The Immediate Cuts: Of the first year class as always, there is the golf clap group. The guys that get the ballot recognition for a variety of reasons, which can range from lengthy, solid and steady careers, to others that had a major runs during their career, to even former Most Valuable Players and Cy Young winners.
There is a mixture of all of these elements among this year’s first year candidates, but this is always the easiest portion to weed apart. So at this point the cuts are: Aurilia, Boone, Clark, Dye, Erstad, Garciaparra (all-time “What If Team” member), Giles, Gordon, Guardado, Floyd, Percival and Schmidt.
This makes the first year survivors out to be: Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz
Returning Nominees Previously Passed On: There also are players that I have evaluated previously and still feel do not feel compelled to vote on any stronger from years past. The candidates that fall under this purview are:Mattingly, Kent, Martinez, Sosa and Trammell.
Previously Voted In: There players that remain on the ballot that I have previously voted for as well, therefore I will continue to move them along to the final cuts fall in here. Further evaluation of their standing I will go into further depth on why or why not they did not make my 2015 ballot later. They are: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Mussina, Piazza, Schilling and Smith
This is usually where the chopping block comes for truly tough calls for first-timers and the rare carryovers from previous years that were among the annual toughest to leave off of the ballot annually group. For all intents and purposes, this is the purgatory between true borderline Hall of Famers and no-brainer Hall of Very Good-ers. The case for each member in this particular purgatory this year goes like this….
Carlos Delgado: While the highlight of his career was without a doubt his 2003 season where his 145 RBI and 42 home runs made him the runner-up for MVP honors, he was without a doubt one of the steadiest hitters of an offense-heavy era. He topped 30 home runs for 10 consecutive years from 1997 to 2006, and didn’t fall below 24 long balls for 13 straight years. He topped 40 homers in three separate years and drove in over 1,500 runs. He is the all-time leader for Puerto Ricans in HRs and RBI.
The knock against him is the obvious skepticism of the era he played in, as well as the Blue Jay teams he made his major bones with never did much in the standings. He never recovered from a hip injury after the 2008 season and his career ended suddenly in 2009. He finished his career short of the “magic number” of 500 home runs and was only a two-time All-Star during a competitive era of first base play.
Fred McGriff: The main power conduit for the Atlanta Braves, the case for McGriff is perhaps one whose perception is most damaged by the strike of 1994. While he was a five-time All-Star, twice led the National League in home runs as a member of the San Diego Padres and ultimately hit 493 homers in his career, he ended up seven short of joining the iconic “500 home run club”.
This is a mark that he would have most certainly met in ’94 when he lost the final seven weeks of the season. Combined with the fact he hit 10 more long balls in postseason play and carried a .303 career October batting average, there is certainly a case that McGriff’s body of work deserves stronger consideration.
Gary Sheffield: A divisive figure for his unapologetic attitude and strong social opinions, as well as being named on the Mitchell Report as being associated with steroids, Sheffield’s strong numbers have been dulled down over time. But Sheffield finished with 509 home runs, was the 1992 National League Batting Champion and drove in 1,676 runs. From 1995 to 2003, he hit under .300 only once and topped 30 home runs five times during the stretch as well.
A nine-time All-Star and central part of the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins, Sheffield was an excellent producer at all eight of his stops along his 22-year career.
Tim Raines: “Rock” possesses the strongest case of the veteran members of the ballot, as he is on his eighth year on the ballot. He has a unique case that makes him more and more worthy of repeated looks back at his accomplishments. He was the premier non-Rickey Henderson leadoff hitter of the 1980’s, which makes his accomplishments stand in a considerable shadow, albeit the shadow of the greatest to ever play the part, which means something.
While I am not a fan of the long-time remnants on the ballot, Raines is a guy that is worth keeping around in case the right year of openings shows itself. He is fourth all-time in stolen bases with 808 (including five straight years of better than 70 swipes), had over 2,600 hits and made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1981-87. Add in his status as 1986 batting champ (.334) and status as the greatest Montreal Expo of all-time, and there is much credence to his status as player with the greatest lost legacy of any on the ballot.
With all things considered here, I believe that McGriff, Sheffield and Raines each make a compelling enough case to move to be considered among the final class for this year. Delgado was steady and often stunningly impactful, but not at the level that truly left an indelible mark on the history of the game, or was consistently excellent long enough to craft a unique place in the game’s history. Those are the elements that make a Hall of Famer for me, and he falls just short.
The True Class
After all of the deliberation has concluded, my actual final pool to choose from is this 14 man class: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, McGriff, McGwire, Martinez, Mussina, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Smith andSmoltz
This is the toughest line to draw, and often sees many the return to this point over and over again. But hairs must be split and cream must find its way to the top.
Casting The Ballot
Some make the Hall without deliberation, others have to take the marathon route; it’s the way of the world. So with all of this process and prestige firmly set, here is who I am supporting this year and why:
Craig Biggio—Somehow it has taken three years to sort this out, but it finally feels like it is inevitable the National League’s top post-Sandberg second baseman gets his due this year. The numbers are certainly there, as is the respectable approach to the game and the tenure. He is a member of the 3,000 hit club, which used to be a VIP line to Cooperstown, but perhaps it is the fact that his numbers never jumped off the page in any one area that holds him back. But he is the only member of the 3,000 hit/250 home run/1,000 RBI/600 double/400 stolen base club, which further speaks to the versatility that he perfected.
Barry Bonds—As long as he’s alive, not in the Hall and I am still weighing in on the situation, he has a place on my list etched in stone. 762 home runs, 1996 RBI, 2227 runs and 2935 hits didn’t all happen under the now gluttonous microscope of conviction for him. But the ultimate irony is that the same mob that is now dead set on blocking his entry to Cooperstown is the same pack bestowing him the seven Most Valuable Player nods he set yet another record with. Funny times.
Roger Clemens—Clemens was a seven-time Cy Young winner and Most Valuable Player. He won 354 games and ran up 4,672 strikeouts over the course of running up that treasure trove of (voted upon) accolades. He is the most decorated pitcher of his time and by many accounts the best as well. He was great for four different clubs and won a Cy Young at three stops. Performance outweighs moral platforms for me, and Clemens was already an all-time great by the time anybody raised their first eyebrow in suspicion. I’m not big on revisionist history, so I will refrain from engaging in it here as well.
Randy Johnson—Standing in at immense 6’10” and whipping down with an explosive motion which unleashed triple digit speed fastballs and knee-buckling sliders with the same ease, “The Big Unit” was the most intimidating and overwhelming pitcher in history. There will be no delay on Johnson reaching Cooperstown, and he should receive the highest vote total of anyone on the ballot this year.
He dominated both leagues with the same effectiveness, was a 10-time All-Star, 9-time All-Star, 4-time ERA champion and author of a no-hitter in 1990 and a perfect game 14 years later. His run with the Diamondbacks from 1999 through 2002 was one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in history, going 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA and 1417 strikeouts—an average year of a 20-7 record and 354 strikeouts in 258 innings. During that stretch he won a World Series, four consecutive Cy Young honors, three ERA titles and the pitching Triple Crown in 2002.
Pedro Martinez—Often a pitcher’s career is graded based on volume of statistics. 300 wins or vast strikeout titles are the most common marks to assure consideration as a pitching immortal. However, Pedro’s body of work was far more brilliant than it was vast (219 career wins), but he was easily one of the most overwhelmingly complete pitchers of all-time. At his best, everything he threw was an out pitch: whether it was his time stopping change up, knee buckling curveball or his plethora of fastball variety. He could overpower or confound with equal ease.
In his final season as an Expo, he lead the National League with a 1.90 ERA and 13 complete games and won his first Cy Young before departing for the American League where he was even more dominant. The following season he headed to Boston, where over the next seven seasons he would win 76% of his starts and would win take the American League ERA title four times, win 16 or more games in six of his seven years. His 1999 and 2000 seasons were perhaps the two greatest consecutive years ever, and he easily won the AL Cy Young in each year. Over 58 starts, he totaled a 41-10 record on a 1.90 ERA over 430 innings. During the run he ran up an incredible 597 strikeouts against only 69 walks. His .760 win percentage as a Red Sox is the highest for a player with one franchise in MLB history.
Mike Mussina—He is the last guy I added to the list for the second year in a row, because quite frankly, there is nothing flashy about Moose and his greatness is built on being steady. There are no Cy Young nods, only one time did he lead his league wins and only once did he meet the 20-win mark. But there is a certain remarkable point to being stunningly above average; a point where it becomes great. Mussina won at least 10 games for 17 straight years, a mark only four others (all HOFers) have met. In 11 of those years, he won at least 15 contests. He was a lowkey workhorse (11 years of 200 innings) and a brilliant fielder (six Gold Gloves). Not the flashiest package, but there’s plenty of content to it.
Mike Piazza— It is odd that it continues to take Piazza—the all-time leader in home runs amongst catchers—so long to garner respect to get into the Hall. There has been an odd tie to him to the substance abusers of his era that has plagued his HOF considerations since he came up on the ballot, despite never being specifically tied to any allegations as a player. His support has inched forward on the ballot slightly each year and while he may still be a few years away, he’ll make it—but it is still two years (and counting) too late.
Tim Raines—The reasons why have already been broken out, but Rock finally makes the breakthrough on my ballot out of a mixture of matured appreciation as well as the right year to breakthrough for the vote. While I still do not think he is an absolute no brainer, he is a solid right place, right time candidate and is worthy of the admission.
Curt Schilling—A study in the importance on understanding the context of performance in a career, Schilling turned a varied yet undeniably pivotal role in the game. He was one of the great postseason pitchers of all-time, going 11-2 for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox and won two World Series along the way. In addition his career showed progressive excellence along the way: in Philadelphia he established himself as a frontline starter, in Arizona he affirmed himself as one of the game’s top arms and began his postseason legend and finally in Boston he brought it all together and finalized the case for being one of the great all-around, all-season pitchers ever.
John Smoltz—Perhaps the greatest dual purpose arm of all-time, Smoltz went from great starter to dominant closer and back to standing among the game’s best starters. He is one of two pitchers to ever have both a 20-win and 50 save season on his resume. Smoltz stands alone as the only pitcher to have won at least 200 games and saved 150. He twice led the National League in wins and won the league’s 1996 Cy Young Award when he won 24 games for the Braves. After missing the 2000 season with an injury he returned as Atlanta’s closer and set the NL single-season saves record with 55 in 2002.
A portion of the Braves’ famed pitching trio with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz was the most distinguished postseason performer of the group. His 1991 postseason exploits were stuff of legend and launched a career where he won 15 October contests—the second highest total of all-time—along with carrying a 2.67 ERA in 209 postseason innings.
There are four candidates that exceed the 10-man limit of the ballot that remain after ciphering through the accolades of each player. And while 10 players are not required for a ballot to be considered complete, once again there are just too many worthy candidates for me to not turn in a class that is at capacity in my person opinion.
Jeff Bagwell—Bagwell was certainly one of the premier run producers of his time and the 1994 NL MVP, but his career was also one that was hurt by being both impacted and abbreviated by injury. This is not to say that he does not garner consideration—449 homers, 488 doubles, 1529 RBI and a .297 career average justify that—he is simply a victim of the numbers game this year for me.
Mark McGwire—The shadow of the PEDs cloud’s McGwire’s candidacy as well. While he does fall into my exempt list as well due to the fact that he constantly hit the ball over the fence at every level of baseball he played at (six seasons of 40 or more homers, including three north of 50) it’s hard to say he is more qualified for the Hall currently over the other candidates that did it on the up and up.
Lee Smith—Each year that passes makes it tougher for Big Lee to make it on, especially with Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera looming. He was the all-time saves leader from 1993 to 2006 when Hoffman passed his record of 478 and revolutionized the job of being a closer, making it the ultimate specialist role in the game.
Gary Sheffield—In many ways, Sheffield is sort of the Jim Rice or Tim Raines of his era: an indisputably effective and consistent hitter who’s total body of work is shockingly good when looked back at on paper. However in context of what he did in regards to impact, he never was considered to be “The Man” at any point and also has the cloud of suspicion over him as well regarding PED usage. However, Sheffield was the final cut that made and it was very hard to draw a line between him and Mussina for the 10th name to make it on. I am more than sure that he will make my ballot in upcoming years.