Going into my 30th year covering MLB, I would love to be able to cast a ballot in the election for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but I get why broadcasters aren’t eligible. Many of them are team employees, which can definitely lead to bias. Of course, over the past decade, there has been a Hall of Fame vote cast for Jacque Jones, Aaron Sele and Carlos Lee, among others. Placido Polanco even got two! If that’s not bias, then I’m not sure what else one can call it. But that’s a debate for another day.
With many writers making their ballots public (including our own Jeff Blair and Shi Davidi), I’ve debated the merits of certain ones on social media. It’s not fair to critique without putting one’s figurative money where one’s keyboard is, though, so I felt it was only right for me to produce a pseudo-ballot of my own.
So, if they were to let me vote, here is how my ballot would have looked:
Derek Jeter (first appearance on ballot): Yes, the Great Yankee Captain absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame. I have had my criticisms of him over the years – there was a time when he was legitimately the third-best defensive shortstop on his own team, his intransigence about moving down in the batting order ultimately hurt his team, and he’s not in the upper tier of all-time greats, though he’ll be celebrated as such. But he’s a Hall of Famer to be sure, and so there’s no reason not to vote for him.
Larry Walker (10th and final appearance – 54.6 per cent in 2019): It’s been wonderful to see the growth in Walker’s vote totals over the past couple of years, and there seems to be another surge this year that could hopefully get him over the hump. If players were still allowed 15 years on the ballot, he’d be in for sure, but this is his last shot with the writers.
Walker was a supreme six-tool talent (the sixth being the ability to think the game), and many who played with and against him say he was the best they ever saw. His numbers are beyond reproach: A career .313/.400/.565 hitter who was a defensive wizard in right field with a cannon arm and who ran the bases as well as anyone.
The only reasons not to vote for him are the fact that he was a Colorado Rockie, playing in the thin air of Denver, and that he got hurt a lot. But Walker’s career road OPS is higher than Ken Griffey Jr.’s, for one. Was Griffey a Kingdome/Cinergy creation? No one would ever argue that. Walker also averaged more games played per season than Willie Stargell, the great Pittsburgh Pirate, who was elected in his first year of eligibility.
Barry Bonds (8th appearance – 59.1 per cent in 2019) and Roger Clemens (8th appearance – 59.5 per cent in 2019): Although both have strong links to PEDs, Bonds and Clemens were head and shoulders ahead of their peers, many of whom were doing the same, with Bonds winning seven MVPs and Clemens seven Cy Youngs. I understand the controversy, and I get the desire to not reward cheating, but if Bonds and Clemens don’t get in then not only does what’s supposed to be a museum of baseball history have a giant hole in its story, but it also means we’re rewarding only the best cheaters. Those who didn’t get caught are in. I don’t know who did bad things and who didn’t, but neither does anybody else except the players themselves and those who aided and abetted them.
Tom Verducci, the great writer from Sports Illustrated, appeared on MLB Network on Monday afternoon and, in making a point about not voting for Bonds and Clemens, mentioned the fact that the Track and Field Hall of Fame wouldn’t want someone like Ben Johnson. He’s right, it wouldn’t. But that point makes my argument for me. Because while Johnson isn’t a member of the International Amateur Athletics Federation Hall of Fame, Carl Lewis most definitely is. Lewis, Johnson’s rival, won nine Olympic gold medals in his storied career. He also has admitted that he failed multiple drug tests at the 1988 Olympic trials and the results were covered up by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Better cheater (or better help cheating), still a hero.
Manny Ramirez (4th appearance – 22.8 per cent in 2019): It feels hypocritical to say yes to the better cheaters and no to someone who was really bad at it, like Manny, who was caught three times. Manny hit .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs and despite the fact that he was a terrible defensive outfielder, he would be a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer had he been a smarter cheater. I don’t want to vote for him because of the suspensions, but intellectual consistency says I have to. It also says I have to plug my nose and vote for….
Sammy Sosa (8th year – 8.5 per cent in 2019): Why does Sosa lag behind Clemens and Bonds so much in the voting, when they were all superstars of the same era and caught up in the same scandal? I don’t know for sure, but it certainly feels as though Sosa was more of a steroid creation than the others. One could argue that Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before the drugs.
Sosa, on the other hand, was a skinny, speedy kid who hit 37 homers in 394 big-league games over parts of four seasons to start his career, with a .662 OPS, before hitting 58 home runs the next two years, then embarking on a 10-year run in which he hit at least 35 every season, including three years with more than 60. I don’t want to vote for him, but I have to.
Four spots are left, and I will use them all. In alphabetical order:
Jeff Kent (7th year – 18.1 per cent in 2019): One of the best offensive second basemen to ever play the game. A career .500 slugging percentage and the all-time leader among second basemen in home runs and extra-base hits. Sure, he was a below-average defender, likely even well-below-average, but so were guys like Frank Thomas and Reggie Jackson, and Edgar Martinez didn’t even play defence. They’re all in on the strength of their bats alone, and so too should Kent be.
Andruw Jones (3rd year – 7.5 per cent in 2019): I look forward to future Hall of Fame debates when people start looking at how important run prevention is relative to run creation. For a decade, there was no better run preventer in the outfield than Jones, who was simply the best defensive centre fielder in the game. For me, his glove alone makes him Hall-worthy, but he also hit 434 home runs and had a career OPS+ of 116 (16% better hitter than average) until he fell off a cliff at the age of 30. If he retires after 2006, he’s in, so he should be in.
Scott Rolen (3rd year – 17.2 per cent in 2019): There is an argument to be made that Rolen was the best third baseman of all time. When that happens, whether you win the argument or not, you’re a Hall of Famer. A superb defender, tremendous base runner and well-above-average hitter for his career (122 OPS+). Hurt a lot, but like Walker, played more games per season than Stargell.
Billy Wagner (5th year – 16.7 per cent in 2019): How is Trevor Hoffman in and not Wagner, who is right there with Mariano Rivera as the best closer ever? No one in the history of the game threw as many innings as he did (903) while allowing fewer base runners or striking out as many batters per nine innings. Over the entirety of his 16-year career, batters hit .187 against him. Yes, he gave up a post-season homer to Albert Pujols in 2006 that still hasn’t landed, but that can’t be enough to keep him out.
That’s ten, and my ballot is full. I considered Todd Helton, who posted great numbers with the Rockies over 17 years and had a strong .855 OPS on the road, but couldn’t squeeze him in. Omar Vizquel is interesting, with the whole run prevention versus run creation thing, couldn’t fit him either.
Gary Sheffield certainly has the offensive numbers, and while I’m forced to ignore the Balco stain, I can’t get over the fact that he admitted to making intentional errors in the infield while he played for Milwaukee in order to spite the official scorer, at least not when I have a full ballot. And if I can’t get past that with Sheffield, I certainly can’t get past Curt Schilling’s “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” post. Bobby Abreu also deserves consideration, and hopefully he gets the five per cent needed to stick around so can be considered on a less-full ballot.