The 2013 ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame was released last week. I, of course, don't have a vote. Neither does my esteemed colleague, the Colonel. But that ain't gonna stop us from shoving our two cents into the debate of who goes in (or should) and who doesn't. This is a very, VERY interesting year for the Hall of Fame vote. There are some incredibly interesting holdovers from previous years and the new crop of retired players who are eligible for the first time is amazing. Here is the list:
Player Years on Ballot 2012 % of Ballots
Jack Morris 14th 66.7%
Jeff Bagwell 3rd 56.0%
Lee Smith 11th 50.6%
Tim Raines 6th 48.7%
Alan Trammell 12th 36.8%
Edgar Martinez 4th 36.5%
Fred McGriff 4th 23.9%
Larry Walker 3rd 22.9%
Mark McGwire 7th 19.5%
Don Mattingly 13th 17.8%
Dale Murphy 15th 14.5%
Rafael Palmeiro 3rd 12.6%
Bernie Williams 2nd 9.6%
Barry Bonds 1st
Roger Clemens 1st
Mike Piazza 1st
Curt Schilling 1st
Kenny Lofton 1st
Craig Biggio 1st
Sammy Sosa 1st
David Wells 1st
Steve Finley 1st
Julio Franco 1st
Reggie Sanders 1st
Shawn Green 1st
Jeff Cirillo 1st
Woody Williams 1st
Rondell White 1st
Ryan Klesko 1st
Aaron Sele 1st
Roberto Hernandez 1st
Royce Clayton 1st
Jeff Coninie 1st
Mike Stanton 1st
Sandy Alomar 1st
Jose Mesa 1st
Todd Walker 1st
Let's begin with a little primer on the voting, the ballot and the rules. The members of the Baseball Writer's Association of America (BBWAA) are authorized to vote on recently retired players. To be eligible, players had to have played in at least 10 major league seasons after a 5-year waiting period subsequent to their last year. BBWAA members can vote for up to 10 players on their ballot with the results being reported this coming January. If a player is mentioned on 75% of the ballots, he will be inducted into Cooperstown. If a player is mentioned on at least 5% of the ballots, he will be included on next year's ballot. A player falls off the ballot if he receives less than 5% recognition or after 15 years on the ballot. For example, this will be Dale Murphy's last year on the ballot regardless of how well he does in the vote.
Here's the interesting thing about the voting. It's EXTREMELY subjective. According to the rules, well...let's just see what they say.
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
That's what voters are asked to judge. Record, playing ability and their contributions to the teams(s) on which the player played are all fairly easy to judge. Especially for players who have recently retired. We have all kinds of statistic websites to review their careers along those paths. But integrity, sportsmanship and character? Besides the fact that all three things roughly mean the same thing, those can be pretty hard to judge. Which leads us to our first topic of conversation on the subject.
Cheating, PEDs and the Hall of Fame
Because this is the first Hall of Fame ballot to include such a wealth of players who have either admitted to using Performance Enhancing Drugs or have been (fairly or unfairly) associated with their use, the topic of cheating is at the forefront of this year's vote. More so than it ever has in the past. To be sure, there were cheaters on previous ballots. To be sure, there ARE cheaters already in the Hall of Fame. Legend has it that Babe Ruth used a corked bat at times. Gaylord Perry made a career out of the use and/or the threat of using the spitball. Don Sutton and Whitey Ford both admitted to doctoring balls later in their careers. Not to mention the many, many, many players who gobbled "greenies" like popcorn during their careers. The thing with cheating and baseball, as Joe Posnanski recently pointed out, is that cheating has always been a part of baseball. And, until recently, it has always been kind of a cherished part of baseball.
But now, in the waning dusk hours of the Steroid Era, cheating is suddenly frowned upon. Nevermind that baseball all but encouraged the use of steroids and other PEDs. Sure, they called it "illegal", but they didn't begin testing for their use until 2004. In the wake of the 1994 Player's Strike, baseball needed something like the Summer of 1998 to bring the fans back. Everyone marveled at the distance and frequency of the home runs hit that summer by Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the rest of the league. And we all saw how big these guys had become. It wasn't until after that year that we began to question the ethics behind their feats. But make no mistake, baseball wasn't interested in punishing these players at that time. It took nearly a decade of juiced players and broken sacred records for them to get involved in fixing the situation. Clearly a reactive rather than proactive movie on MLB's part.
So the question, in many voters minds this year, is whether or not it is fair to punish these cheaters and suspected cheaters by denying them induction to the Hall of Fame. There will be some voters who will refuse to vote for ANY player who played during the Steroid Era. Guilty by association, they will say. Or they might give a blanket explanation that they can't be sure who cheated and who didn't during that era, so they can't reasonably vote for anyone. Again, regardless of the fact that many of these guys voted for players who cheated in the past. Back when it was acceptable.
And while we are on the subject of integrity, sportsmanship and character, here's something else that bothers me. The "Good Guy" vote. Maybe a player who doesn't quite have the statistics to get into the Hall of Fame, but he was a good guy and well respected by the rest of the league and the media. Most of those inclusions in the Hall have come from the Veteran's Committee. But I'll outline another famous example and how it sometimes can come back to bite the BBWAA in the ass.
PA Runs Hits HR RBI BA OBP SLG rWAR
Player A 7,772 1,007 2,153 222 1,099 .307 .358 .471 39.8
Player B 7,831 1,071 2,304 207 1,085 .318 .360 .477 48.2
Both players had roughly the same counting stats over injury-shortened careers. Player B had a few more hits resulting in a bit higher batting average, but these two players have nearly identical "classic" baseball numbers. That last number is something called WAR or Wins Above Replacement. It's one way of determining how many wins better than a replacement level player. Think of a career 4th outfielder type or the so-called AAAA player, a player who excels at the AAA level in the minors but fails to produce in the majors. It's adjusted for era, park effects, position, baserunning and defense. Player B played a premium defensive position (although he was not considered to be an excellent defender) while Player A did not (although he was considered to be an excellent defender). But Player B's injury that shortened his career was more sudden and his peak lasted a bit longer than Player A. Plus he was a "good guy", so he was voted into the Hall of Fame on his very first ballot while Player A has lingered near the bottom of the ballot for 13 years.
Player A, of course, is Don Mattingly. Player B is Kirby Puckett. Now I don't believe that either of these guys belongs in the Hall. I think the breadth of their careers each falls short of the kind of numbers I like to see for members of the Hall of Fame. And injuries certainly had a lot to do with that. There are exceptions to the rule when it comes to career numbers. No one argues about Sandy Koufax being in the Hall even though he "only" has 165 career wins. But his peak was SOOOO incredible and he left the game on top due to an arthritic condition in his throwing arm. But Kirby Puckett was no Sandy Koufax. He was a great player and a joy to watch. And the media loved him. So not a lot of eyebrows were raised when he was voted in on his first ballot. We later found out that Puckett might not have been such a "good guy" after all. Marital affairs, charges of false imprisonment, criminal sexual conduct and assault began to erode his cherished public image. He died at the age of 45 from a stroke after taking himself out of the public eye.
That was a long way to go to make a point, but basically it's this. Basing your vote on the integrity or lack thereof of a player is slippery slope. Maybe everyone who voted for Puckett still believes that he was and is a Hall of Famer. But the statistics just don't prove it for him. It was that intangible element that put him into Cooperstown.
Now we have the PED arguments. And one of the major issues is that much of it is speculative. Jeff Bagwell, an immense talent who put of easily defended Hall of Fame numbers, is now in his third year on the ballot. In the past, a player with his numbers would have been a first ballot lock. But because he played in the Steroid Era and because he had a muscle-bound physique, there are voters who are are lumping him in with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens (we'll get to them later on) even though he was never mentioned in any report that ever linked him to steroids. He is being punished purely on speculation. Did he use steroids? We have no idea what the answer is to that. He has denied it, but so have most athletes who later test positive or come clean with an admission. But nearly half of the BBWAA voters left him off their ballots last year anyway.
And now we have Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa on the ballot for the first time. The first wave of all-time talents that have been linked to PEDs in one way or another. Bonds in the book Game of Shadows. Clemens in his 300 or so court appearances defending is name. Piazza has Murray Chass and back acne. And Sosa famously forgot how to speak English in front of Congress. They all have varying degrees of evidence against them for PED use. As does Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. What do we do with these guys now?
I say we vote them in. At least the ones who have the numbers for it. The Hall of Fame vote shouldn't be a morality play. And it shouldn't be up to the voters to punish players for something that the league itself couldn't and wouldn't do. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe sums this up perfectly here. And I totally agree with him. Judge the players on what they did on the field. Don't totally discount their PED use is something I believe as well. Especially if they tested positive after MLB instituted drug testing. Such is the case of Rafael Palmeiro. Although he amassed 3,000+ hits and 500+ home runs, both were yardsticks by which automatic induction used to be measured, he was a borderline candidate for me. Mostly because his statistics were generated in an era of inflated offense. That is something we can consider. But throw in his positive test in 2004 and he becomes a clear no vote. For me, at least.
So that's my thinking. Take a look at each case separately. Judge the players by their statistics and on-field accomplishments. Don't totally ignore the PED situation, but don't judge them solely by it either. That's what I'm going to try to do here. Let's give it a whirl.
1. Barry Bonds. The all-time leader in so many categories, most notably home runs. I saw most notably because it was after his alleged use of PEDs around 1999 that he became a human wrecking crew with hitting the ball out of the park. But he was an all-time great prior to 1999 as well. He was 33 at that point and he had already amassed 411 HR and 445 stolen bases. The only player in history with 400+ of each. And he had already won three league MVP awards. He would go on to win 4 more after his alleged use of PEDs began, and he went from an all-time great to a legend.. His career war of 158.1 is the third highest total ever. But 96.9 of it was earned prior to 1999. At that point, I was sure he was already a first-ballot Hall of Fame guy. His PED years are just icing on the cake. The Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds isn't worthy of the name. It make take some time for voters to "forgive" Bonds, but he will eventually get in. He should get in this year, but he won't.
2. Roger Clemens. I can make almost exactly the same argument for Clemens. His PED usage began around the same age as Bonds when he was 33 prior to his tenure in Toronto. But before that? Well, he was fucking great! Three Cy Young Awards and close to 200 wins. Led the league in ERA four times and in ERA+ (ERA adjusted to the league) five times. And he amassed 2,590 strikeouts in that time. For a bit of reference, that total would now be good for 25th on the all-time list. Of course, he would finish with a lot more. 4,672 in total. The 3rd most in history after Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. And he would win four more Cy Young Awards. Yeah, Roger Clemens is in the conversation for the greatest pitcher of all-time. His numbers are massively amazing. And he much of his success in his later years occurred during the higher offensive environment of the Steroid Era. So there's that. He may be just as disliked as Bonds in the media, but that shouldn't matter. Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame.
3. Jeff Bagwell. His third year on the ballot, and it may take him a few more years to make it. But, as I stated above, he never tested positive or had any allegation of PED use during his career. All he did was bat .297 with a .408 OBP and a .540 SLG. That's amazing. Plus he was a premium defender at first base and he ran the bases awfully well to boot with 202 career stolen bases. Sure, he didn't reach the magical milestones of 500 HR or 3,000 hits. But according to WAR, his total of 76.7 is fourth best all-time for first basemen. Behind guys named Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols. And his total is ahead of guys named Johnny Mize, Eddie Murray and Willie McCovey. All Hall of Famers. Yeah, I think the Hall of Fame is big enough to include the 4th greatest first baseman of all-time. He should have been inducted in 2011.
4. Mike Piazza. They guy was supposedly atrocious on defense. I saw him play a lot, and I would have to agree with that assumption. Yet his teams finished in the top third in league ERA most every year that he played. Sure, that has a lot to do with the pitchers. But could his defense and game-calling really have hurt his teams that much? And he was simply the greatest hitting catcher of all-time. Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez and Carlton Fisk may have all accumulated more WAR than Piazza, but what Piazza earned he earned with his bat. A slash line of .308/.377/.545? For a freakin' catcher? That's beyond ridiculous. His OPS+ (OBP and SLG adjusted to league average) was 143. The highest ever for a catcher. Yes, higher than Bench, Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane and anyone else whomever donned the tools of ignorance. His defense hurts him, yes. But not enough to take away what he accomplished as a hitter.
5. Craig Biggio. Jeff Bagwell's Astros teammate for all those years. He might not be an all-time talent at second base like Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins or Joe Morgan. But he is comfortably in that next group with Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker (more on him in a bit) and Ryne Sandberg. 3,000 hits, nearly 300 HR and over 400 stolen bases. He's got the counting stats for sure. Add that to the fact that he played all over the field, starting as a catcher before moving to second base. Then to the outfield for a few years before moving back to second base. There are a lot of great second basemen in the Hall of Fame. There are a lot of great second basemen who are not in the Hall of Fame (Whitaker, Grich, etc...). I think Craig Biggio's induction might make people appreciate the latter group a bit more.
6. Tim Raines. He is simply the second-greatest leadoff man of all-time after Rickey Henderson. And he is so under-appreciated. He finished his career with the 5th most stolen bases of all-time and although he didn't reach the magic plateau of 3,000 hits, he did get on base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn. And Gwynn was a slam-dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. And Raines was better at some many other things than Gwynn except for batting average. Judging by WAR, Gwynn is the 24th greatest outfielder of all-time. A worthy inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Tim Raines is right above him at 23rd (66.2 vs 65.3). Tim Raines belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period.
7. Curt Schilling. Man, I hate this guy. Hated him as a player, hate him as a business owner and an MLB analyst. Hate his political beliefs. But look at the bones, man! His career WAR total of 76.9 is the 26th best all-time even though he "only" finished his career with 216 victories. His career average of Strikeouts to Base on Balls is 4.383. Besides a guy named Tommy Bond who pitched in the 1870's, that's the best average ever for a pitcher. EVER! There are other metrics to compare players from different eras. Adjusted Pitching Wins, Win Probability Added...things like that. Schilling ranks in the top 20 all-time in most of them. Is he one of the greatest 20 pitchers of all-time? Maybe. He certainly was one of the best post-season peformers of all-time. I didn't appreciate how good he was while he pitched. And there is that damned bloody sock. But he gets my vote. And he should get plenty more from the BBWAA because he was generally considered one of the "clean guys" in the game. Being an outspoken opponent of PEDs while he played probably helped cement that image. I say he's in.
8. Alan Trammel. I mentioned Lou Whitaker above. Whitaker only appeared on 2.9% of the ballots in his only year on the ballot in 2001. Ridiculous, as he is clearly one of the ten best second basemen of all-time. His double-play partner in crime has done a bit better in the voting, but not nearly good enough. For years, I wasn't sure that Trammel belonged in the Hall. But my mind has been changed by various writers and analysts. Trammel is just too good to be left out of the Hall. Especially considering that Barry Larkin, a shortstop with similar career totals, easily just made it in. Trammel is one of those guys that just about everything well. Got on base, hit for a bit of power, ran the bases well, played outstanding defense. But he was always a bit under the radar. Maybe because he played in a down offensive environment. Maybe because his basic numbers don't pop. But he is one of the 10 greatest shortstops of all-time, and (as I keep repeating) surely the Hall is big enough to include someone like him.
9. Larry Walker. Here's where things get mighty interesting. Everyone knows about the Coors Field Effect. In his career, Walker batted .381/.462/.710 at Coors Field. That's...Ruthian! But he also hit pretty much every else. A true five-tool guy early in his career, Walker would hit for average and power, run the bases well and play superb defense in the outfield. Remember me talking about the greatest outfielders of all-time up there with Tim Raines? Well, Walker is 19th all-time for outfielders in WAR. Right around where Reggie Jackson sit. He's another guy who I used to never consider for the Hall. A deeper look at the numbers away from Coors Field have me now in his corner.
10. Kenny Lofton. Wow. I didn't see this coming. And I'm still not 100% convinced of my decision here. But here goes: Lofton, in terms of career WAR ranks 25th all-time for outfielders. And much of that is tied to his 622 career stolen bases which is 15th on the all-time list. And he was considered a superior defender, so that is a part of it too. Let's take a look at just centerfielders for a moment. Here are the greatest CFers by WAR all-time:
- Willie Mays 150.8
- Ty Cobb 144.9
- Tris Speaker 127.8
- Mickey Mantle 105.5
- Ken Griffey 79.2
- Joe DiMaggio 75.1
- Kenny Lofton 64.9
- Duke Snider 63.1
- Carlos Beltran 62.3
- Richie Ashburn 60.2
Close But No Cigar
There are arguments to be made for a handful of guys that I left off of my ballot. Let's tackle some of them here.
Jack Morris - I simply have never felt that Morris was anything more than a really good pitcher who played for a long time. I know all about Game 7 and his reputation as a big game pitcher. But, for me, a guy like David Wells was just as valuable if not moreso than Jack Morris. He probably gets in this year, and that's a shame. He doesn't belong.
Lee Smith - The all-time leader in Saves at the time of his retirement. Closer, in general, are overrated. And Smith was one of the more overrated closers in the game. Shocking that he garnered over 50% approval in last year's ballot. That number means he will probably eventually get in. Another shame.
Edgar Martinez - I think Edgar Martinez is the greatest DH of all-time. And I was this close to including him on my ballot. But, for now, I think he comes up just short. Maybe because he was such a unique player. I can only think of a handful of guys who DHed for most of their careers. He's the best, and I think he will eventually get in. But he falls just short of my ballot this year.
Mark McGwire - Hit a ton of HR, got on base at an incredible rate and played a bit better defense than he is usually given credit for. All that said, he played in a high offensive era and has admitted to using PEDs. I could look past both of those, but maybe if he had been a little less injury prone in his career he would have had enough numbers for my vote. As it was, he wound up just short.
Rafael Palmeiro - As I mentioned above, fuck him.
Sammy Sosa - Sosa is an interesting argument. The only player in MLB history to hit 60+ HR in three seasons, and he finished his career with 609 of them. Both amazing numbers. Using WAR, he's only the 47th best OFer of all-time. So he didn't do much besides hit home runs. And he is a guy who you could clearly see benefited from his alleged PED use. Blew up like a tick on a hound's ass and started jacking HRs all over the place. Before he got big? Yeah, he was a fine player. But not a Hall of Fame guy. And it's pretty damning that he fell off a cliff once testing began. He certainly will go down as one of the great power hitters of all-time. I just don't think he did enough of everything else to get on my ballot. But maybe one day.