I admit it. My Hall of Fame ballot stinks.
No excuses, either. At least not good ones — except that everyone’s ballot stinks (at least it stinks to someone).
There’s the eye test, and the saber guys. There are old stats and new. And of course there are proven cheaters and presumed-to-be non-cheaters.
The steroid debate has made this a polarizing event for all of us, along with just about everything else in this country now. There are just so many levels of steroid usage (and cheating), and everyone has their own set of rules.
I have Barry Bonds on the ballot, but no Roger Clemens.
I had Edgar Martinez off the ballot when he first went on it, then on it, and now off again. And I would have had him if I were allowed to vote for 11.
Once again, no excuses.
The writers (myself included) did a terrible job reporting about steroids when they were being used right under our noses (if you believe Jose Canseco’s book). Now we have to decide who took them, how much they affected them and whether it matters a whit.
The Hall of Fame limits us to 10 choices, and that’s not enough. Not now it isn’t.
I’m not going to blame the institution, but the writers for this. The steroid users have caused a backlog of players on the ballot. But that’s not the only thing that caused it. Our own idiotic voting has caused it, as well.
For instance, how did Vladimir Guerrero not get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot? Stupidity is all I can come up with there.
I voted for 10 last year. But this is the first time I voted for 10 and wanted to vote for more. One more would have fit if Guerrero had already been in, as he should have been.
OK, that was harsh about our stupidity. Fairly, any of 16 guys on this year’s ballot have a strong Hall case (20 if you completely disregard steroids), so any ballot with several players in this group of 16 (or 20) is reasonable from here.
I realize that emotions run high when it comes to these debates. But I’d like to stay away from name-calling (particularly when it is aimed at me).
If someone wants to vote for a litany of steroid abusers, be my guest. The accomplishments and stats of these players often easily outstrips the legit stars, so I get it. Plus, in some cases, it’s hard to tell who took them.
If someone wants to take WAR or JAWS or any of the all-inclusive stats into greater account, I get that, too. But here, while we take a long look at those comprehensive numbers, we look at other things, too. Here, we also grade impact. All-Star appearances count. MVPs count. Postseason performance counts big-time.
So without further ado, here is my very flawed ballot, in order.
1. Vladimir Guerrero. I am not sure how 29 percent of the electorate decided he was unworthy last year. But he was simply an incredible player – an MVP with amazing flair. If someone wants to downgrade him for not walking enough, well, that’s just plain silly. Thanks to that career .318 batting average, his on-base percentage was still an excellent .379.
2. Chipper Jones. I have seen a ballot out there in Ryan Thibodaux’s excellent and comprehensive survey on Twitter without Chipper’s name on it, and I couldn’t believe it. He was a consistent producer for those great Braves teams, the one constant in their lineup. The numbers are clearly Hall worthy, and the nine times he finished in the top-12 in MVP voting is especially impressive. But it looks like we will not have our first unanimous selection. I am still thinking that will be Derek Jeter.
3. Curt Schilling. Schilling returns from his one-year hiatus from my ballot (I voted for him the first four years before leaving him off after he suggested he wished the media dead on Twitter — and I obviously wasn’t alone). And just to be crystal clear as it if weren’t, no, I didn’t omit Schilling due to his politics last year; I omitted him because he suggested he wanted me (and other journalists) dead on Twitter.
I have always known his politics – how could you not? – and I voted for him in every year but the one where he made it clear he wanted me dead. I assume he still does, but at least he’s keeping his mouth shut about it now.
Postseason success is a big plus for me, and very few performed like Schilling in October (2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP). Even if you believe the bloody sock was actually colored by Heinz (and I have my beliefs), the guy got the outs when he needed them. He also had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.38:1) in big-league history for inactive pitchers with 1,000 innings, though Clayton Kershaw will obliterate that mark.
4. Mike Mussina. Sure, that 3.68 ERA isn’t exactly great. But consider that he pitched in the steroid era in the toughest division (at the time). His ERA+ of 123 ranks with several obvious Hall of Famers, and let’s face, there’s no chance he took steroids. He was almost as consistent as they come, too, with five top-six Cy Young finishes. His 83 WAR ranks him smack between Ken Griffey Jr. and Nolan Ryan. Good enough for me.
5. Fred McGriff. Another consistent performer, and one who gets overlooked. He didn’t quite make it to 500 home runs, and his numbers pale compared to the cheaters. But from here, he lost home run crowns and more by being clean, and there’s no good reason he should be disregarded again.
6. Trevor Hoffman. He’s on the verge of inclusion, and while he’s not Mariano Rivera, he’s as close as anyone else comes.
7. Andruw Jones. We like greatness around here, and he is at least in the conversation for the greatest center fielder of all-time. Talk to any of those great Braves pitchers and they will gladly tell you about Jones’ value during that 10-year run where he won the Gold Glove each year.
8. Jim Thome. The ever-personable Thome hit 612 home runs and had a career .956 OPS. He’s gotta be on the ballot.
9. Scott Rolen. I credit the saber guys here. Of course, they may wind up blaming me, because Rolen’s inclusion knocked Martinez, another of their favorites who I voted for last year, off the ballot. Via WAR and JAWS, they confirmed what I suspected, which was that Rolen was a lot more valuable than we realized at the time. His 70.0 WAR is actually slightly higher than that of Martinez (68.3) He was overshadowed in his best years in St. Louis by Albert Pujols and at times Jim Edmonds (who should still be on the ballot if not for that dumb 10-max rule). While he wasn’t as great as some others in terms of offensive stats, putting up these numbers while playing one of the best third bases ever put him over the top, even on a ballot that’s bursting past 10.
10. Barry Bonds. I didn’t vote for any steroid guys but recently began voting for Bonds because I am buying into the narrative that he didn’t take steroids until he saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa passing him. I could be wrong, but numerical and even physical changes suggest that’s when they transformation occurred. And in my estimation, by then he was a Hall of Famer. I realize I am one of the few who separate Bonds and Clemens, but I am just not sure what to believe with Clemens since he was willing to go into Congress and court and lie about his steroid abuse even if it meant ruining the trainer who aided his career.
11. Edgar Martinez. He made my ballot last year for the first time, and if I had room, would have made it again. Some of the stats pointed out by Ryan Spaeder are pretty compelling. And if I’d had room I would have voted for him. But it came down to Rolen, Bonds and Martinez for the final spots, and with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. He is one of the greatest hitters of his era, no doubt about it, but a combination of limited innings in the field and lifetime totals that were less than overwhelming when compared to other Hall of Famers whose candidacy is based mostly on their hitting exploits kept him off the ballot this time.
12. Johan Santana. At his best he is one of the greatest pitchers in the last half century. That ERA+ of 136 ranks with the all-time best, even above Sandy Koufax, who also had a shortened career. Yes, the career totals were curtailed by an early injury that may or may not have been hastened by his interminable no-hitter, still the only one in Mets history. But given two more votes, I would have liked to have included him. Someone wrote on Twitter, after it surfaced on Ryan Thibodaux’s great Hall survey that Santana was 0-for-the-first-15, that the reason is because voters are stupid. Perhaps we are. Or maybe there just isn’t room.
13. Larry Walker. No doubt he has amazing numbers and was an incredible all-around talent. But injuries curtailed the career just enough to miss.
14. Omar Vizquel. He’s probably the second-best shortstop defensively, and he obviously had amazing longevity. A great player, and it’s not fair to include negative stats, but since the standards are sky-high here, that 82 OPS+ is a little rough. No, he’s not quite Ozzie Smith, though this may be a case like Tim Raines, who wasn’t quite Rickey Henderson but still got in later.
15. Billy Wagner. Great guy, and a great story, who broke his arm as a kid, then switched arms and found magic. There’s no prejudice here against specialists, but career totals are just short.
16. Jeff Kent. One of the best-hitting second basemen going. Good enough that he’d have to be more seriously considered on a ballot that’s less stacked.
Excellent Players (But Not Quite Hall of Famers)
17. Johnny Damon. He had a really fine career and amassed a lot of hits. Plenty to be proud of.
18. Chris Carpenter. Tough-as-nails pitcher threw one of the best games I saw in person when he beat the Phillies in an elimination game in Philly. In some ways the heart of those tough Cardinals teams.
19. Hideki Matsui. Terrific guy and great clutch hitter who was only a credit to the game. Not enough ABs in MLB, however.
Really Good Players
20. Carlos Lee. He put up some big numbers and signed an early $100 million deal.
21. Brad Lidge. One of the better closers of his era had one of the best closing seasons of all-time.
22. Kerry Wood. Incredible talent who threw one of the greatest games of all-time. It’s interesting to wonder what might have been.
23. Jamie Moyer. Speaking of amazing, he pitched effectively well into middle age.
24. Carlos Zambrano. He definitely had his moments.
25. Jason Isringhausen. Put together nice career and certainly turned out to be the best of Generation K.
26. Livan Hernandez. He had an excellent postseason and could hit.
27. Aubrey Huff. Professional hitter may have had quirks, but he produced.
28. Kevin Millwood. Solid above-average starter.
29. Orlando Hudson. Colorful personality, decent career.
30. Roger Clemens. I remain one of the few who separates Bonds and Clemens, and understand the complaints. Here’s the differences for me: 1) I buy the Bonds narrative, and 2) Clemens took extra steps with his extra willingness to lie and ruin his own trainer, who was obviously telling the truth (as George Mitchell understood).
31. Manny Ramirez. Just can’t do it after two failed tests.
32. Sammy Sosa. Too much smoke for an otherwise Fame-worthy career.
33. Gary Sheffield. BALCO guy who blamed it on Bonds.