When I began doing the homework for my 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, some of the decisions were easy.
There were five players I voted for last winter — my first time eligible to vote for the Hall — who didn’t receive induction into the 2017 class. Those five, without question, found their way back on my ballot for this year. But while it’s easy to simply carry over players you voted for the previous year, it’s a trickier proposition deciding which players to re-consider if you’ve passed them over previously.
Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame case is a complicated one. He didn’t play his first full major league season until he was 27, so he didn’t stockpile some of the gaudy cumulative numbers that often pave the way to Cooperstown. He also spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter, and Frank Thomas is the only player inducted who spent most of his career as a DH.
But the career-long Mariner’s candidacy was worth revisiting in my mind. After passing on him last year, I checked the box next to Martinez’s name this time around. That’s the most newsworthy feature of my 2018 ballot, which includes votes for two first-time eligible candidates. I voted for eight players total on a ballot that allows a max of 10.
Here’s a glance at those I gave the thumbs-up:
Edgar Martinez: He’s on his ninth year of eligibility, meaning he’s got one year left after this to reach the 75 percent of votes needed for induction or else he falls off the ballot. There’s an aggressive P.R. push to get Martinez to Cooperstown, but that’s not my motivation for putting him in. Martinez has the body of work. Consider he’s one of just nine players in Major League history with 300 homers, 500 doubles, a career batting average above .300, an on-base percentage higher than .400 and a career slugging percentage higher than .500. Martinez claimed two batting titles, and though his 309 home runs don’t jump off the page, Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez called him the toughest hitter he ever faced. That’s quite the endorsement.
Chipper Jones: An eight-time All-Star and 1999 NL MVP, Jones hit .303 for his career and his 468 homers are the most by a switch hitter in National League history. And it didn’t matter which side the Atlanta Braves’ third baseman/outfielder was hitting from. Jones batted .303 left-handed and .304 right-handed. Like Edgar Martinez, Jones spent his entire career with one team, and that’s something fewer and fewer Hall of Famers will be able to boast.
Jim Thome: One of just nine players in the 600-homer club, the first baseman/DH played in the heart of the steroid era but was never connected to performance-enhancing drugs. That makes his 612 home runs, eighth most all-time, even more impressive. Thome’s a no-brainer. Like Jones, he should be a first-ballot inductee.
And here’s the five that return from my ballot last year, in alphabetical order:
Barry Bonds: As I detailed in my Hall of Fame story last winter, Bonds was dominating with his all-around skills long before he was linked to PEDs. In the 13-year period from 1986-98, Bonds won three MVP awards and averaged a 30-30 season. There’s no debate for me here.
Roger Clemens: The same PED cloud hovers over Clemens as Bonds, but I take the same stance with him. The dominant numbers were there before he was ever thought to have taken performance-enhancers. From 1984-97, Clemens claimed four Cy Young awards, won 213 games and struck out 2,882. That strikeout total alone would rank 15th among Hall of Fame pitchers.
Vladimir Guerrero: In his first year of eligibility last year, Guerrero earned an impressive 71.7 percent of votes, making it a strong possibility his ticket gets punched this year. It’s easy to see why. The outfielder with the rocket arm hit .318 for his career with 449 homers and was the 2004 AL MVP with the Angels.
Trevor Hoffman: The longtime Padres closer scored even higher than Guerrero last season, grabbing 74 percent of the vote. So his plaque in Cooperstown is inevitable. Hoffman’s 601 saves rank second all-time behind Mariano Rivera’s 652.
Curt Schilling: He’s created the wrong kind of headlines in recent years with his social media rants, but Schilling deserves the nod to me based on his outstanding postseason resume. That includes an 11-2 record, 2.23 ERA and two shutouts in the playoffs. He also won 216 games in the regular season and topped 3,100 strikeouts.