The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Class of 2014 should be the biggest and best that has ever earned induction into the hallowed Hall (since the earliest days, of course, when they had to make up for decades of missed time), but instead it’s likely to be the most-heatedly debated and to leave most observers frustrated at the reasoning (or lack thereof) of the voters’ selections.
I do not have a Hall of Fame vote. I have been covering Major League Baseball, specifically the Toronto Blue Jays, for 26 seasons, but having worked almost exclusively in radio, I’m obviously not a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (writing a column on the internet for the last six years doesn’t count, in their eyes).
In order to be eligible to cast a Hall of Fame vote, one must have been a member of the BBWAA for ten years. Why the writers, and only the print writers (mostly), remain the guardians of Hall membership is a mystery and the privilege is not limited to beat writers who cover the team on a daily basis – but that’s a whole other debate, and the one about the ballot itself is a big enough one for now.
The problem, of course, is “The Steroid Era”. It was a time when it was hard to tell whether you were looking at a baseball card or a picture of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, when records were shattered on a seemingly daily basis and fans loved every minute of it, until it was decided that everyone should be really upset about it.
Many of the very same writers who wrote pieces lauding the great achievements of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and their contemporaries are now refusing to acknowledge their greatness with a Hall of Fame vote.
It’s simple for me, because I see the Hall of Fame as what it is – a museum of the history of baseball. It’s not a shrine to heroes (almost all of whom have feet of clay), it’s not a place where only the righteous are welcome. It’s a museum of history, and The Steroid Era is as much a part of the history of baseball as was the cocaine era, or the amphetamine era or the spitball era. There are known cheaters who have been enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Among the honoured members are murderers (according to legend, anyway), rapists, racists and other assorted horrible human beings. It’s not the Hall of Heroes, or even of Nice People.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that the playing field during The Steroid Era was still relatively level – almost everyone was doing something – and that the best players of that era should be, like the best players of any other era, elected to the Hall of Fame. For those who were actually proven to have used illegal performance enhancing drugs, whether by a failed test, in court or by their own admission, I believe there should absolutely be a notation on their plaque that says something along the lines of "Implicated in MLB’s Steroid Scandal of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries." Whitewashing over a couple of decades by not allowing in the biggest stars (save for the ones who either didn’t do anything or were really good at hiding the fact that they did anything) doesn’t make the scandal go away.
With that said, there are a ton of players on this year’s ballot who were among the best of the best of the best and would be getting my vote for the Hall of Fame. But there is a restriction. Each voter can list no more than ten names on his or her ballot.
Most voters never use all ten spots. Some only vote for one player per year, some for no more than three. And most years, there certainly aren’t ten players on the ballot who are worthy of enshrinement. Some voters seriously abuse the process by refusing to vote for anyone who is on the ballot for the first time – and those people need to take a good look in the mirror and realize that they aren’t nearly as big a deal as they think they are. Then they should have their ballots revoked.
Anyway, if there’s any year to use all ten spots, this is it. I’m limiting myself to nine, though, because of the presence of my broadcast partner Jack Morris on the ballot. This is Jack’s 15th and final year on the ballot, and I believe he will finally be elected to the Hall of Fame this time. I don’t feel it’s fair of me to render my opinion on his candidacy, though, because I’m clearly biased after having spent pretty much every day of the last year with the guy and having really enjoyed working with him. Those sorts of friendships and personal connections should be balanced out by the fact that in order to be elected, a player must be named on 75 per cent of ballots cast. It’s pretty much impossible to be friends with three-quarters of the eligible voters – and no one can tell me that the voters take their duty seriously enough that all personal feelings are set aside when casting their ballots when we have seen cases of outrageous additions to or omissions from the balloting every year.
Greg Maddux will not be a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame this year, and there is literally no earthly reason not to vote for him.
I’ve already gone on too long, so I won’t go into a detailed explanation of all my "votes", but I’ll say this – nine isn’t enough.
If I had an unlimited ballot, I would vote for the following players:
Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas and Larry Walker.
I believe that the cases of Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell warrant very serious consideration, as well, but since I’m going to already have to cut four of the 13 names on the list above, I’ll consider them more strongly next year.
So who gets dropped? Well, first let’s see if we can figure out who the automatics are. Maddux and Bonds, without question, are in. An argument could be made that they’re the best ever at what they did. Off-the-chart Hall of Famers, both.
Also automatic, though on a lower tier, are Clemens, Kent, Piazza and Raines.
As detestable a human as he seems to be, Clemens’ qualifications are impeccable. Piazza may well have been the greatest offensive catcher in history – and while he was never a good defensive backstop, he caught well enough to stay behind the plate his entire career except for his final season. Kent is right there with Joe Morgan as an all-time offensive second baseman and Raines is the greatest leadoff man in the history of anything who is not named Rickey Henderson.
That’s six, and that leaves me just three spots for the seven remaining players: Bagwell, Biggio, Glavine, Martinez, McGwire, Thomas and Walker.
Two names jump out of that group to me immediately – Glavine and Thomas.
Thomas had a ridiculous 10-year peak over which his OPS was 1.012. He had an incredible career overall, hitting more than 500 home runs while batting over .300, posting an on-base percentage over .400 and walking more often than he struck out.
Glavine jumps out because of the magic number for pitchers – 300 wins. But in our enlightened age, was Glavine really that much better than Schilling, who isn’t even in my top 13? Schilling has Glavine in ERA, WHIP, hit rate, walk rate and strikeout rate. Also, their post-season numbers aren’t close. Schilling is one of the greatest playoff pitchers ever, and while Glavine was good, he was just good. Glavine did throw almost 1,200 more innings than Schilling, though, with more than twice as many complete games. Maybe Schilling should have been on my top 13 instead of Glavine.
Ok, so Thomas is the seventh, which pair gets the last two spots?
I have a soft spot for McGwire, Martinez and Walker.
I think McGwire has been victimized by the revisionist historians who claim that his numbers aren’t necessarily Hall-worthy, steroids or otherwise. That he was too one-dimensional, only hitting home runs.
With all due respect to those putting those opinions forth, that’s a massive pile, and there’s steam coming out of it. If not for being one of the faces of The Steroid Era, McGwire is a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer. Dave Kingman was a one-dimensional player – all he did was hit home runs. Until recently, Kingman’s 442 home runs was the highest total of any player not to be elected to the Hall of Fame. But Kingman had a career batting average of .236 with an on-base percentage of .302. He struck out in nearly a quarter of his over 7,000 plate appearances. He couldn’t play defence.
McGwire, on the other hand, hit .263 with an incredible .394 on-base percentage to go with the 583 home runs he hit, which happens to be 10th on the all-time list. He’s also 10th on the all-time career OPS list and is tops on the all-time list of home runs per at-bat. He even won a Gold Glove, for whatever that’s worth (not much). He wasn’t a one-dimensional player – he was really good at hitting home runs and really good at not getting out, and could also field his position just fine, thank you. He should already be a Hall of Famer, so I sort of have to put him on my ballot.
One left, and it’s a tough choice. Bagwell’s numbers are close to Thomas’, Biggio had over 3,000 hits, is fifth on the all-time doubles list and in the top 50 all-time in offensive WAR, Martinez is the greatest designated hitter of all-time and Larry Walker is Larry Walker.
Which is why I’d be voting for Larry Walker, and not because he’s Canadian.
Walker’s Hall of Fame candidacy is often overlooked because he failed to reach any of the magic numbers (only 2,160 hits and 383 home runs) and because his best years came in the hitters’ haven that is Denver, Colorado, but he posted a .313/.400/.565 line over a 17-year career while being one of the best defensive right fielders of all-time. Walker had an 11-year peak from 1994-2004 over which he hit an incredible .331/.422/.614. He had an on-base percentage over .400 in nine consecutive seasons. He won three batting titles and an MVP award and is 16th on the all-time OPS list.
He got hurt a lot, which meant he wasn’t able to reach those major milestones in the counting stats, but his injuries shouldn’t be held against him. Walker only played in 150 games in a season once, he missed at least 25 games in a season 11 times and had four seasons in which he wasn’t healthy enough to play more than 100 games.
The reason that I have to have Walker on my list that I’m afraid that he might slip beneath the five per cent threshold that players need to remain on the ballot. This class is going to make it tough for some very good players to stay above five per cent, and I want to keep Walker on the ballot so that he has a legitimate shot to make it once the logjam is clear because I believe that he’s a worthy Hall of Famer.
It hurts having to leave off Edgar Martinez, because he gets the shaft for having been a designated hitter most of his career. Many hall of fame voters simply won’t vote for a DH, period (until David Ortiz is eligible, one assumes), because they don’t play "the whole game". But I have seen no such bias against American League starting pitchers, or relievers of any kind. How many voters will take into account the fact that Mariano Rivera only had three career at-bats? The bias against the greatest DH of all-time is unfair and unreasonable, and that conversation should be had.
So there’s my virtual ballot of nine, if I had a vote:
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas and Larry Walker.
Who will the actual voters put in? If I were a gambler, I would say that we see a class of five. I think the Class of 2014 will consist of Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Maddux, Jack Morris and Thomas.