Shoutout to Bill James for the title, a man without whom this piece (and site) would never have existed.
Anyway, let’s get into it. Last two elections, I’ve come here to offer predictions, put forth compelling(?) arguments and complain about the BBWAA. To be honest, I’m tired. Tired of refreshing Baseball Think Factory’s Ballot Collecting Gizmo. Tired of getting worked up about writers leaving open space on their ballots. Mostly, I’m tired of the “whispers” about several players on the ballot when it comes to alleged PED usage.
Why, then, do I allow myself every year to focus so much time and energy into the Hall of Fame ballot? As much as I may wish I did, I don’t have the clout to change anyone with a vote’s mind. Individual players will likely never know of my love for their on-field performance and support for their candidacies.
I do it simply because I love the game.
There are few things in life more enjoyable to me than the game of baseball. As a result, I take very seriously the thought of which players deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown. It pains me to see the (10-plus-year) members of the BBWAA, as a collective, significantly blot out a sizable chunk of baseball history with their votes. Superstar-caliber players I grew up watching and rooting for or against are falling short of election to varying degrees. Effectively, the writers are choosing to believe that this era hardly ever happened. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum and should reflect history, for better or worse.
This year’s ballot bears 34 names, 17 first-timers and 17 holdovers. Two players, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez will sail in, likely receiving percentages in the low-mid 90s. John Smoltz, the third piece of an incredibly dominant Atlanta triumvirate, will almost certainly be enshrined. Craig Biggio, who missed induction by a scant two votes last cycle, is currently polling at 84 percent among voters who have made their ballots public (or at least available to ballot aggregators). He won’t end up with that percentage, but it is fairly safe to say he will get in.
Four inductees sounds fine — it would be the most we’ve had from the writers since 1955. But the ballot is crowded more than likely any of us have ever witnessed. A case can be made for, by my estimate, 24 of the 34 names on this ballot. (My apologies to Darin Erstad, Tom Gordon, Jason Schmidt, Cliff Floyd, Jermaine Dye, Rich Aurilia, Troy Percival, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark and Eddie Guardado.)
Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez may have been the two most dominant pitchers I’ve ever seen. Their seven-year peaks nearly overlapped and are pretty much unparalleled in the sport. To wit, Pedro was 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA (213 ERA+), 2.26 FIP and a 5.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1997 to 2003. Johnson had 51+ WAR in any seven-year block you care to choose between 1995 and 2005.
So much ink has been spilled about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They’re far and away the two best players on this ballot and will very likely not get the 75% from the BBWAA. No point in talking about either of them. Even if Bonds would still have more WAR than Don Mattingly if the seven-time MVP were a league average hitter. Even if Clemens had about five greater WAR in the 80s than Jack Morris despite not debuting until May 1984. Ah, but there I go again. Some things are just too good to not print.
Moving down the ballot a bit you’ve got Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Jeff Bagwell. Why the BBWAA passes Smoltz with flying colors and continues to stymie Moose and Schill is beyond me. The postseason argument in favor of Smoltz is often cited, but Schilling’s time in the playoffs was just as good, if not better. As far as the regular season is concerned, the divisive Schilling notched six 6 WAR seasons to Smoltz’s one. And for the traditionalists among you, Schilling has three 20-win seasons to Smoltz’s one. Speaking of one 20-win season, let’s move on to Mussina. Moose may have won 20 games just once, but he won at least 17 on eight separate occasions and notched 35 victories in the strike-shortened 1994-95 seasons. And as a frequent visitor to the site may note, this is a weak argument for him. The longtime Oriole/Yankee has 10 five-plus-WAR seasons and registered a 123 ERA+ in perhaps the hardest pitching environment in history: the AL East from 1991 to 2008. With Bagwell, you’re looking at the best first baseman not named Albert Pujols since World War II. Enough said. Whisper this, BBWAA.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to blitz through a few players, highlighting the best arguments for and against their candidacy.
Tim Raines – For: Second-greatest leadoff man of all-time, best SB% among players with over 800 (or even 311) steals. Against: No “magic” numbers and largely unspectacular after age-27 season.
Edgar Martinez – For: One of 17 players with over 500 Batting Runs and a career .300/.400/.500 line. Against: Didn’t play the field for the bulk of his career.
Mike Piazza – For: Most Batting Runs by a catcher in history, surpassing the runner-up by over 150. Against: I dunno, bacne?
Alan Trammell – For: One of just four shortstops since integration to post four six-WAR seasons. Against: Not spectacular in any one area.
Jeff Kent – For: All-time home run leader at his position. Against: Not a particularly great fielder.
Mark McGwire – For: Best at-bats-per-home-run of all-time, first man to break Maris’ record. Against: Admitted steroid user, relatively one-dimensional.
Gary Sheffield – For: Over 500 homers, one of 10 retired players with over 9000 ABs and a .900 OPS. Against: BALCO connection, dreadful in the field.
The four guys who will make it (Johnson, P. Martinez, Smoltz, Biggio) and the 13 analyzed above all would have my vote on an unlimited ballot. That’s bananas.
But let’s take a moment to step away from the numbers. Could the bulk of us who frequent sites like this be looking at the whole situation the wrong way? Consider for a minute the “WOW” factor. This is something we often rail against, for better or worse. This is what put Bill Mazeroski in the Hall of Fame and kept Jack Morris threatening to sneak in (Sidenote: Are we happy or sad he’s off the ballot? Sure, he really shouldn’t be in, but isn’t there some fun in having an easy target in the battle against traditionalists? Who fills that role for us now, Lee Smith?). The word “Fame” is in the building’s title — should the votes have as much to do with fame as they do for tangible on-field performance?
For example: the numbers say that Brian Giles was worth about six-and-a-half wins more than Carlos Delgado. If you’re being honest with yourself, was there ever a moment in their careers where Giles blew you away and Delgado didn’t? Delgado, although in an incredibly slugging-heavy era, did belt 473 career home runs. That’s amazing. People remember him for being a power hitter. Maybe not the best, or even close, but still. That’s a lot of dingers.
Lee Smith was once the all-time leader in saves. That’s a WOW fact, but when you realize saves are somewhat of a junk stat, it falls by the wayside. Plus, he now sits third on that list, a position he will stay in until he falls off the ballot. Fred McGriff is another player where the 493 home run figures is incredibly impressive, but for a guy whose best case for induction is his power to never top 37 long balls? No WOW from me. Sammy Sosa had the WOW alright. 600+ homers? Should be a shoo-in, but he rests on the borderline for me. A player that goes from 20 Batting/107 Fielding Runs from 1989-97 to 313/-22 from 1998-2007 is too much of a PED red flag to get over. This case, though, someone could sway me the other way.
Personally, I would never let the WOW factor alone dictate the way I would vote. Could it be used one way or another to tip a close call? Absolutely. Jeff Kent would be the kind of player to test this. The numbers say he’s a borderline Hall of Famer, but there’s no WOW to him. Granted, there’s no notable WOW to a guy like Mike Mussina, but his numbers are far too good to ignore. Nomar Garciaparra and Don Mattingly both had this factor to a degree, putting up tremendous peaks. However, they combined for -3 WAA apiece outside of their peaks. In fact, let’s take a look at the two peaks, because in my mind, you can’t vote for one and not the other and still be taken seriously:
Garciaparra peak (904 games, 1997-03): 169 HR, 653 RBI, 77 SB, .325/.372/.559, 41.0 WAR.
Mattingly peak (917 games, 1984-89): 160 HR, 864 RBI, 8 SB, .327/.372/.530, 32.8 WAR.
Both will fall off the ballot this year, Garciaparra in his first attempt, Mattingly in his 15th.
We’re hovering around the 1500-word mark at this point, and I know you’re all busy people. But for fun, let’s take a look at the upcoming ballots and the five most qualified players (ranked by how I assume they’ll fare with the writers) on each:
2016 – Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds, Billy Wagner, Jason Kendall
2017 – Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez
2018 – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel*
2019 – Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt
*Replace with Johan Santana if he never pitches again.
This logjam isn’t going away any time soon, but neither are the growing legions of forward-thinking baseball fans in spaces like these. Will we push Larry Walker into the Hall of Fame? No. But without people like us, would Tim Raines have a legitimate chance?
For those who scrolled here immediately looking for a “tl;dr” or have arrived naturally, here’s my Hall of Fame hierarchy:
Please comment below telling me I’m great or short-sighted or what-have-you. Point is, let’s get a civil discussion going.