Hall of Fame ballots are due today, so it won’t be long before we learn which players will be memorialized with plaques in Cooperstown this coming summer. I don’t have an official vote (maybe someday; a boy can dream), but I wanted to share my hypothetical ballot – the one I would have filled out had I been given a chance – with you on this the day of the voting deadline.
Before jumping into the ballot itself, I’d first like to refresh everyone on the Hall of Fame election process. Players become eligible to appear on the ballot five years after retirement. They must have 10 years of major league experience and pass a screening committee (which removes from consideration players who are clearly unqualified). Players are inducted through election by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) who have at least 10 years’ membership. Each writer may vote for up to 10 players on the year’s ballot. A player receiving a vote on at least 75 percent of all ballots cast are elected to the Hall of Fame. A player receiving a vote on less than 5 percent of all ballots cast is removed from the ballot for future elections. There are some exceptions to these general rules that I won’t go into today, but that is basically how the process works.
Last year’s voting resulted in no Hall of Fame selections for the first time since 1996. This year there will undoubtedly be selections, and likely more than a couple. With that introduction out of the way:
There were a couple of obvious slam dunks on this year’s ballot. First year candidates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were automatic votes for me. With regard to Maddux and Glavine, I discussed those guys at length with my brothers Philip and Brian on Podcast Episode 7. Thomas, nicknamed “The Big Hurt”, was one of the game’s biggest stars of the 1990s. A lifetime .301 hitter with 521 home runs 1,704 RBIs and 2,468 hits, his numbers are clearly at the level of other Hall of Famers. He is a five-time All Star, four time Silver Slugger winner, two time AL MVP, former batting champion and former Home Run Derby champion. His number (35) is retired in the Chicago White Sox organization, and his face will soon be smiling from the walls of the Hall of Fame. He gets in this year. Lock that up.
My next series of picks will be controversial among some of you because of those individuals’ reputations and because of the suspicion that surrounds them. For that reason, I feel a need to explain my rationale.
I am not one of those guys who will intentionally omit a player because there exist strong links between said player and performance enhancing drugs. For starters, I’m not the righteous type, and without hard evidence that a player was using performance enhancing drugs and that those drugs fueled said player’s Hall of Fame worthy, on-field performance. The actual impact of PED use on a player’s performance is impossible to measure.
For another thing, we will NEVER know the true scope of PED use, not just in this generation but throughout the history of the game. Evidence of PED use varies among all of the “suspected”, but in truth we don’t know who did what, to what extent or for how long. And we certainly don’t know to what benefits. It’s presumable the users got an unfair competitive advantage over non-users, but at one point it was rumored that nearly 80 percent of baseball was using. I couldn’t justify NOT voting for Barry Bonds –arguably the greatest hitter of all time and a Hall of Famer even before his home run boon in the 2000s – on grounds that it’s likely he used the “cream” and the “clear” at some point in his career when, looking at the list of other names on the ballot, I cannot say for certain any of them were completely clean. I cannot say for certain that any of the players already in the Hall of Fame were clean. The hunt for a competitive edge is as old as sport itself. Without the absolute truth, I feel it’s best to vote for the best players of each generation, while educating the masses that steroids and PED use was a central issue that existed during that generation. After all, the Hall of Fame is a museum chronicling the game. It makes little sense to ignore such a large part of baseball history.
In accordance with that line of thought, I voted for Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Had it not been for the cloud of PED suspicion surrounding these guys, each likely would have been first-ballot entrants to Cooperstown. Bonds is arguably the best hitter ever. Clemens is the most feared pitcher since Nolan Ryan. McGwire and Sosa collectively rescued baseball from the fallout surrounding the 1994 players strike with their breathtaking displays of power and admiration for one another. Whether you love them or hate them, these four guys are among the greatest on-field talents my generation has seen. If ignoring PED speculation, they have to be in.
That left me with three more votes to cast. My next selection was catcher Mike Piazza. He’s a 12-time All Star who is widely regarded as the best offensive catcher in history. In fact, he sort of revolutionized the catcher position, one that historically had been all about defense and controlling the pitching game and had never been the source of much production in the lineup. Since Piazza, we have almost come to expect our catchers to be middle of the lineup hitters. If that type of impact doesn’t scream Hall of Fame, I don’t know what does.
With two to go, I picked DH Edgar Martinez. If elected, he will be the first designated hitter to make it to the Hall. For years, the knock on Martinez has been the position he played: as designated hitter he only plays offense; he doesn’t play in the field. For many voters, it’s sacrilege to honor a player who did not contribute to his team in the field as one of the greatest players of all time. Personally, I don’t get it.
Designated hitter has been an important position amongst American League teams since its implementation in 1973. Martinez is the greatest designated hitter in history so far, so it only makes sense that he be honored as such in the Hall, right? Relief pitchers are allowed to be enshrined, despite only impacting the game one dimensionally (pitching and in the field) and in limited spurts (one, two maybe three innings at a time). Logically, if relief pitchers are worthy candidates, it follows that designated hitters should be as well. If the baseball writers could get over the anti-DH stigma they have harbored through the years, Martinez is an obvious choice.
My final HOF vote came down to a couple of second basemen: Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent. When I began to dig into the numbers – and to my surprise – Biggio got the nod. Biggio played more seasons (20 to 17), in more games (2,850 to 2,298), had more at bats (10,876 to 8,498), more hits (3,060 to 2,461), a higher on-base percentage (.363 to .356), more runs scored (1,844 to 1,320), fewer errors (156 to 194) and a higher fielding percentage (.984 to .980). Kent had more home runs (377 to 291), a higher batting average (.290 to .281), a higher slugging percentage (.500 to .433) and more RBIs (1,518 to 1,175).
There are 17 second basemen currently in the Hall of Fame, and both Biggio and Kent are well within the company of those men. Both will eventually make it in, but with only one vote remaining for this year’s ballot I felt the Biggio was just a tad more deserving based on my take on the above numbers alone. Next year, I’ll be hypothetically voting for Kent for sure.
Some of you may be crying foul about omissions, and I welcome you to discuss it with me in the comments below. Pitchers Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina seems to be gaining lots of momentum among voters. While they both were extremely productive, championship winning starters, I think it’s safe to say they aren’t on the level of a Maddux or Glavine or Clemens. Not in terms of numbers. Not in terms of achievements. And not in terms of simply thinking about who the most dominant starting pitchers of that generation were.
Jack Morris and Tim Raines both earned more than 50 percent of the vote last year. Hall of Fame voting is often a war of attrition, with players slowly climbing the ladder before finally accumulating that necessary 75 percent. I think Morris actually gets in this year, and Raines may as well, simply because most members of the BBWAA refuse to vote for any player even loosely rumored to be involved with PEDs. Because I take the opposite approach, and because of the slam dunk first year players, I simply didn’t have the extra votes needed to allocate to these guys. Maybe next year.