Because I’m a baseball writer with a public outlet, I am legally obligated to share my picks for the Hall of Fame. It’s important to note that I am not a member of the BBWAA (someday!), so this is just one man’s opinion, rather than anything that will affect the real balloting. However, I did turn this ballot into the IBWAA, so it’s at least going somewhere, and the rules are the same as for the real thing. (Mostly – Mike Piazza gained entry there last year, so he’s not on the ballot I submitted, but for the purposes of aligning with the real thing in this article, he is.)
I’m going to do my best to not make this 20,000 words — which I could easily do, with probably 19,890 of those words registering my disgust with the BBWAA and the entire process — but first let’s start with cutting down the list from 36 eligible names into something more manageable.
The “Nice career, not going to happen” division (15): Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Eric Gagne, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Hideo Nomo, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, Lee Smith, J.T. Snow, Mike Timlin. Alou and Smith are the two that stand out here, but in a ballot like we have this year, there’s just no chance.
The “Is Jack Morris” division (1): Jack Morris. I don’t imagine the world needs another discussion of why wins don’t matter and how Morris’ case isn’t remarkably better than that of Kevin Brown or Orel Hershiser or Dave Stieb, so I’ll sum it up briefly: I wouldn’t vote for Morris if he were the only one on the ballot, because I don’t consider him a Hall of Famer. Even if I did, I especially can’t consider him as one of the 10 best when this list is so overstuffed, and that means there is no legitimate case to be made for him.
Right there, that’s 21 names off the list. But there’s 15 left, and the rules state you can list only 10. I believe there’s actually a very good case to be made for each of the remaining 15, and so you can see how this is going to get difficult.
So let’s start by sharing the 10 I came to…
- Jeff Bagwell
- Craig Biggio
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Tom Glavine
- Jeff Kent
- Mike Mussina
- Mike Piazza
- Tim Raines
- Frank Thomas
…and explaining how I got there. (Briefly. If you want thousands of words on each candidate, do check out Jay Jaffe’s excellent series at SI.)
For Bonds and Clemens, well, you don’t need me to explain their credentials. They may very well be the best hitter and pitcher of all time, and if not, they’re at least in the conversation. On merit alone, they are unquestionably inner-circle elites. The only reason not to vote for them is because of their association with PEDs, and while I can’t condone it, it’s my opinion that hysteria over the effects they have on baseball players is far overblown (not to mention any confidence I may have had in MLB’s handling of the issue has disappeared with the Alex Rodriguez case). The Hall of Fame should be a register of the game’s history. It’s insane to not include two of the best players ever — ones who are eligible to be voted for, unlike Pete Rose, and that’s an important distinction to me – particularly when people had no problem inducting spitballers and cokeheads, and while the BBWAA voters include at least one alleged child molester.
Bagwell, Piazza, and Thomas comprise a group of obvious yes votes for me as well — not only because they were contemporaries, but because they’re three of the best hitters of all time. Piazza probably is the best-hitting catcher who ever played, and he really should have gotten in last year on his first try. Bagwell and Thomas, who famously were born on the same day, are arguably two of the top ten first basemen ever. Any speculation for PED use about this trio is exactly that — unfounded speculation — and again, not enough to keep them out in my book.
Those five are slam dunks, and really, so is Raines for me. I could go on forever about why he deserves to be in, but in the interest of brevity, I can say this: Raines compares extremely similarly with Tony Gwynn, trading in a bit of batting average for a huge advantage on the basepaths. Gwynn made it into the Hall on 97.6% of ballots, largely due to batting average. There’s no reason one is in and not the other.
Biggio‘s a solid choice as well. 3,000 hits is still a magic number, and everyone who made it that far (other than Rose & Palmeiro, for obvious reasons) is in. Hits alone aren’t enough, but 14 years of double-digit homers and a .363 career OBP, playing into his 40s, from three up-the-middle positions, makes him a viable choice. (20 years spent with one team is a nice bonus, if you care about that sort of thing.) He should have made it in last year, and he will this year.
Glavine isn’t really a hard call either. Six top-three Cy Young finishes (and two wins) is a pretty nice start to your candidacy, along with 20 straight years of 29 starts or more. Again, for brevity, I’m not going too deeply into these guys here in writing, but I’ve done the research, and he’s obviously deserving, though probably not as much of a slam-dunk as I think a lot of people think he is.
That’s eight, and now it’s starting to get tough. Kent is a borderline call for me, often overshadowed by Bonds in his time, but he did remain productive until age 39 with the most homers ever hit by a second baseman and better defense than you remember. (Though still hardly great.) In his entire 30s, his lowest seasonal OPS was 2006′ .861, and the history of second base throughout history is relatively thin, enough that it’s easy to look at him as one of the best who ever played. It’s not a slam dunk for me, and he won’t get in this year, but he gets my vote, mostly because I worry that he’s going to get himself 5%’d off the ballot before there’s even a realistic discussion about him.
The final spot on my ballot went back and forth between Mussina and Curt Schilling, who had nearly identical careers. In fact, I was shocked at how similar they ended up being, and I can’t honestly say that there’s a reason to include one and not the other. If I had more spots, they would both be included, because they’re both deserving, and there’s clearly no argument to be made for Morris over either. I’m going Mussina here because Schilling at least made it on 38% of the ballot last year, and that should be enough to keep him around for years to come. Mussina needs the vote here more, and if you’re asking why not just ditch Kent and include both, well, perhaps I should have, but there’s unfortunately some strategy required here.
So with apologies to Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker, each of whom have cases to be made but are stuck in an incredibly deep field, and might have received my vote had there been no limits, there’s my ballot.
But we’re not done yet. Obviously.
At this point, you may have noticed that Greg Maddux is not on my ballot. That’s the case despite the fact that he is basically the perfect HOF candidate. He has everything. He has the peak (four Cy Youngs in a row). He has the longevity (23 years in the bigs). He has the wins that the traditionalists want; he has the advanced stats the new generation wants. He won a ring, he performed in the postseason, he was a great all-around athlete who could handle the bat and was a fantastic fielder, he had absolutely none of the personal issues that set back other candidates, and he did this all in the face of one of the highest-offense eras ever. There is almost literally nothing you could say with a straight face to make a serious case that he doesn’t belong.
In fact, his case is so strong that he should be the first player to make it in unanimously. But he won’t be, thanks to the BBWAA’s antiquated limit of 10 players per ballot. It’s a rule that serves no one, it’s a huge detriment in a year like this where I could make a case for 15-17 players, and this could have been avoided had anyone actually been voted in last year.
And so I’m left with a decision for my hypothetical ballot. Do I vote for Maddux, pushing him from something like 98.7% to 98.8%? (I’m assuming a few others leave him off, either for the same reason or because of the ludicrous stance some of have of never voting for first-year guys.) Or do I use it to help ensure that a deserving second-level guy like Kent merely gets the 5% needed to stay in the discussion next year?
Really, having to think that way is insane. This should be as simple as “is this player worthy of the honor,” without having to factor in whomever else is on the ballot. Instead, we have to bring in strategy and decide not only who is a Hall of Famer, but who really needs that vote. It’s a decision that shouldn’t need to be made, yet here we are. Greg Maddux, Hall of Famer… and not on my ballot. Thanks, BBWAA. You did this.