Tuesday, January 8, 2013
My 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot
I can't claim to know exactly what impact PEDs have had upon baseball over the last twenty years or so. Anyone who tells you they can is full of it. If I could snap my fingers, wave my wand, cluck my tongue and prevent them from ever having been used by baseball players, I would. Alas, I cannot. As is, we all live in a world in which many, many professional players used drugs that are now banned by Major League Baseball (note my use of the word "now," as baseball did not explicitly ban many of them until recently). For years now, the hunt has been on for players who have failed a test, been accused of using, played on the same team as a known user, or once met a guy whose initials are P.E.D.
Barry Bonds almost certainly used various PEDs starting in 1999. Bonds was probably better at baseball between 2001 and 2004 than any human in recorded history (and probably unrecorded history, but I don't want to assume). It's worth pointing out that Bonds was also better at baseball than 99.9999999% of all humans BEFORE 1999, and could have retired after 1998 and cruised into the Hall. I'm not going to argue that whatever substances he used didn't aid his play in any way, but I'm also not going to listen to anyone who claims he was just some sort of PED creation. If it were that easy, he wouldn't have been so much better than everyone else.
Point is, I'm not withholding my vote for PED connections. Many feel otherwise, and are certainly allowed to vote with their conscience by omitting players who've failed tests or had their names (illegally) leaked on the list of players who tested positive when those things weren't made public. Of course, that doesn't explain why someone like Jeff Bagwell doesn't get more support than he did last year. Bagwell failed no tests, his name appeared on no lists. Many have withheld their support only because he was a strong guy who hit a lot of home runs, and isn't that suspicious? It's a witch hunt.
Voters who are unwilling to vote for anyone strongly suspected of PED use should also explain how they feel about the known amphetamine users already inducted in the Hall, including Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays, players even my mother is vaguely familiar with. If you don't believe Bonds belongs, are you also in favor of kicking Mays out? If not, how to you explain such intellectual inconsistency?
There are 37 candidates on this year's ballot (most players who stick in the Major Leagues for 10+ seasons are put on the list once they've been retired for at least five years). 24 of them are new to the ballot this time around, the other 13 were all on the ballot last year, but did not receive the 75% of the vote needed for enshrinement.
*For anyone interested in getting a more complete sense of the case for any of these players, I cannot recommend highly enough that you look at Jay Jaffe's JAWS system over at Baseball-Reference. It is well thought out and allows for fairly easy comparisons across eras at each position on the field.
Among the 24 new candidates, most can be dismissed pretty easily (no disrespect to them intended, but they clearly were not at or close to the Hall of Fame standard). Those players include: Sandy Alomar, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Jose Mesa, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Rondell White, Woody Williams.
That leaves 11 new candidates and 13 returnees worth at least a bit of attention:
Jeff Bagwell - As I said above, there's no solid footing for any case against him. One of the five best first basemen ever. 969 extra-base hits and he was probably the finest base runner ever to play the position: YES
Craig Biggio - A truly great player in his prime who was under-appreciated at the time. He hung around a little longer than he should have (in order to reach 3,000 hits), but that shouldn't diminish his standing: YES
Barry Bonds - Certainly the best baseball player of the last fifty years and arguably the greatest ever. Either put him in or close down shop.
Roger Clemens - One of the ten greatest pitchers in baseball history, maybe top five. Like Bonds, he was a HOF player long before whatever PED use he may (or may not) been involved with.
Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders - These are two of the only eight players in history with 300+ career home runs and 300+ career stolen bases. I love a good power/speed combo, but it's not enough: NO and NO:
Julio Franco - He was one of my first favorite players and he played til he was a thousand years old. I'd love to support his candidacy, but cannot: NO
Kenny Lofton - You can read the medium version of my case at Baseball Past and Present and the long version of my case at Let's Go Tribe. A good hitter, great fielder, and tremendous base runner: YES
Edgar Martinez - Basically a career designated hitter, which would mean he'd have needed to be one hell of a hitter to justify going to the Hall. Well, he was one of the 40 or so greatest hitters ever: YES
Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy - These guys were great players when I was a kid, but not as great as I thought when I was ten, and for too short a time to justify induction: NO and NO
Fred McGriff - The Crime Dog. If there were a Hall of Fame for baseball nicknames, he'd be a first ballot candidate. As a player though, his career falls just a little short of the standard for first basemen: NO
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa - Their 1998 home run spree brought a ton of excitement to baseball. I will long remember watching McGwire break Roger Maris' single-season home run record in my dorm room as a freshman. Both put up huge power numbers. McGwire augmented that with an outstanding on-base percentage, Sosa with a strong defensive game in right field. Neither is a slam dunk case, but: YES and YES
Jack Morris - Too much digital ink has already been spilled. For the millionth time: NO
Rafael Palmeiro - One of just four players in history with 3,000+ hits and 500+ home runs. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray. He wasn't as good as those guys, and was more of a "very good for a long time" player than a "GREAT" one, but he was good enough, long enough for me: YES
Mike Piazza - The greatest hitting catcher in history and it's not even close. He couldn't throw base-stealers out, but otherwise fought defense to something close to a draw. He's an easy decision for me: YES
Tim Raines - Raines has been under-rated by the masses and many writers to the extent that he's now become almost over-rated by his growing supporters. In any case, he was a great player who got on base at a tremendous clip and stole bases better than all but two or three players in history: YES
Curt Schilling - One of the great postseason pitchers in history, along with a great regular season resume that's been overlooked because it doesn't match that of his former teammates, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. I think he's an asshole, but that's no reason to keep a deserving candidate out: YES
Lee Smith - His candidacy is largely based on his once having been the all-time leader in career saves. Saves aren't all that important though, and he isn't the record holder anymore anyway: NO
Alan Trammell - When I was 16 years old, my big Christmas present was the massive Baseball Encyclopedia, over 3,000 pages of 8-point font, most of it statistics. I spent hours and hours going through it, looking at different players, making lists and such and such (I also managed to be marginally popular in high school, but it's not clear how). I remember thinking Alan Trammell seemed underrated. I even named him as shortstop to my all-1980's team (not an unreasonable choice). He's not getting in, but he should: YES
Larry Walker - It's easy to say he was a product of playing in the greatest hitting park in the greatest hitting era in history, but metrics that adjust for park and era are high on him too, plus he was a very good fielder: YES
David Wells - Probably a little better than you remember, but not nearly to the level of belonging in the Hall: NO
Bernie Williams - A very, very good player with some very, very big postseason moments. I won't hold it against him that he did that all while a Yankee. Nevertheless: NO
If you've been keeping track, that's fourteen players I'd vote for if I could. The thing is, even if I had a ballot, I couldn't vote for them all, because there's a rule that no voter can choose more than ten players in a given season. There are a lot of actual voters running into this very situation. It seems like the most fair solution to this problem is to rank the deserving players and vote for the top ten (well, the most fair thing would be to change the rule and allow voters to select as many candidates as they rate deserving of it). Forced to cut down my list to just ten, here are the names I would punch for my 2013 Hall of Fame ballot:
(with apologies to Martinez, Palmeiro, Sosa, and Walker)
I expect none of them to get in, so when Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina (among others) all hit the ballot next year.
Something's got to give.