Hall of Fame Takeaways: Walker may beat Bonds, Clemens to Cooperstown

Colorado Rockies' Larry Walker breaks from the batter's box after laying down a bunt single on a pitch from Cincinnati Reds' Mike Remlinger. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Somehow, nights that Roy Halladay started felt different. The Blue Jays teams he starred on were otherwise ordinary, but with Halladay on the mound they reached another level.

Fans could feel it, and so could players. As Jose Cruz Jr. recently said, “It was like you knew you were going to win that day.”

The numbers back that feeling up. During Halladay’s prime from 2002-11, he averaged a 2.97 ERA with 219 innings pitched and 6.3 wins above replacement. On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America recognized that consistency and Halladay became a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. Joining him in Cooperstown this summer are three others: closer Mariano Rivera, designated hitter Edgar Martinez and starter Mike Mussina.

It’s an honour, but a bittersweet one less than a year and a half after Halladay’s tragic death in a 2017 plane crash. As his wife Brandy Halladay said Tuesday, “If only Roy were here to personally express his gratitude for this honor, what an even more amazing day this would be.”

With Halladay now rightfully headed to Cooperstown, the focus turns to the rest of the 2019 class and a look ahead at 2020…

Rivera becomes first unanimous inductee

As the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera’s an easy call for Hall of Fame induction. He’s the all-time saves leader, the all-time adjusted ERA leader and a five-time World Series winner. To borrow the description of longtime teammate Bernie Williams, Rivera’s excellence was ‘mindboggling.’

Given those accomplishments, it’s fitting that Rivera would be voted in unanimously, but I was surprised to see it happen. After all, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. were left off some ballots, as were Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr.

Leading up to the election, it seemed all but certain that at least one voter would omit Rivera to spite him, seek attention or make a poorly reasoned point. Instead, he adds a little more history to his resume.

On At the Letters, Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take fans inside the Blue Jays and around MLB with news, analysis and interviews.

Walker makes huge gains

Meaningful support continues building behind Larry Walker, who appeared on 54.6 per cent of ballots one year after appearing on just 34.1 per cent. He’ll need to replicate that increase to reach the 75 per cent minimum next year, when he appears on the ballot for the 10th and final time.

It’s a lot to ask, and historically speaking it takes more than two years to win over 40 per cent of voters, but a path to Cooperstown exists for a couple of reasons. First of all, the ballot finally has room to breathe now that 11 players have been elected in the last three years (along with this year’s class of four, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez entered in 2017 while Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman entered in 2018).

Then there are the voices speaking up in support of Walker. Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs, an influential name when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, recently wrote “I’ve become increasingly convinced that he is worthy.” Plus, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame continues promoting Walker’s case for Cooperstown.

We’ve seen the likes of Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Bert Blyleven benefit from this kind of support in recent years. With another year of big gains, Walker would join them.

Jeter headlines 2020 class

Next year’s class features one easy call and a collection of players who seem likely to fall short of Cooperstown.

Leading the way is Derek Jeter, the 14-time all-star and lifetime .310 hitter who collected 200 post-season hits on his way to five World Series titles. No discussion required here; that’s an easy first-ballot selection.

Beyond Jeter, next year’s class is a little thin, though. Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Jason Giambi, Rafael Furcal, Josh Beckett and Alfonso Soriano all had some great seasons, but their careers may fall short of the Hall of Fame.

Maybe Bonds and Clemens won’t get in…

The gradual gains of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens continued Tuesday, but they’re going to need bigger jumps at some point in the near future if they’re going to be elected by the BBWAA.

Support for Clemens rose to 59.5 per cent (up from 57.3) while Bonds climbed to 59.1 per cent (up from 56.4). Those gains are relatively small, and with just three more years on the ballot, they can’t afford to plateau now.

A new wave of writers gains votes every year, but there’s clearly still a segment of voters that chooses to disregard Bonds’ seven MVP awards and Clemens’ seven Cy Youngs because of their connections to performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t have a vote yet, and won’t until after Bonds and Clemens are off the ballot, but to me they’d be easy yesses. Simply put, they’re among the best ever and their accomplishments (and shortcomings) should be recognized in a museum about the sport’s history.

At this point, however, it seems unlikely that Jeter will be sharing the dais with them in 2020.

Meanwhile, Curt Schilling gained considerable support and now has 60.9 per cent of the vote (up from 51.2). The elections of Mussina and Halladay could help Schilling, a contemporary with similarly strong numbers.

Spoiler alert…

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Hall of Fame announcement was news. Now that every public vote enters Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker, we know most of the details weeks ahead of time. Only the borderline cases hold much suspense.

There’s no doubt that the official announcement means less than ever now, but I wouldn’t go back to the old way if given the choice. In baseball we know everything, from spin rate and sprint speed to arbitration projections and amateur draft bonus thresholds, all of which adds to the enjoyment of the game.

It’s only appropriate that we’d track Hall of Fame voting just as closely.

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