In what has become an annual tradition, I hereby cast my Hall of Fame ballot. Or, at the very least, write about the ballot I would cast if I had a vote. Which I do not. Don’t judge me. Most of you guys play fantasy baseball. I can play fantasy Hall of Fame voter.
The biggest issue which comes up when I talk about this stuff is the ten-vote limit to which actual voters are subject. This has become quite controversial in recent years given how many worthy candidates there are on the ballot. While my not having an actual vote means that I could, if I wanted to, vote for more than ten, I’m going to stick with the 10-vote limit. Why? The same reason you activate a catcher in your fantasy lineup: rules are rules and if you’re going to play “fantasy” sports you gotta follow the rules. As you will see from my comments, however, there are far more than ten who I think are worthy.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the candidates:
THE NEW GUYS:
Ken Griffey, Jr.: One of the better chances at a 100% vote than we’ve seen in while. He won’t get there because there are always going to be voters who either submit blank ballots or who leave him off for strategic reasons having to do with a ten-vote limit (i.e. since it’s obvious Griffey will get in, someone may not name him but, instead, use that freed-up vote for Tim Raines or someone), but he’ll be pretty close. Which, with it being understood that he is without question a Hall of Famer and I would vote for him without reservation, is weird. And sort of telling. He’s not Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. He’s not Greg Maddux or Tom Seaver. But he could outpace their vote totals. Why? Because of what the politics of performance enhancing drugs and the Hall of Fame have become in recent years.
So many angry voters have used Griffey as the positive counterexample when slamming Barry Bonds and everyone. There has been pent-up desire to vote in “The Clean Superstar” which Griffey is perceived to be. Some even think that Bonds, somehow, stole something from Griffey when he improved while Griffey declined in the 2000s. Some rightful title as Baseball’s Best or something. It’s all rather dumb, in no small part because no one knows that Griffey didn’t use drugs at some point -- no one can know such a thing for certain -- but that’s how it goes. All that aside, he’s a no-brainer.
Jim Edmonds: He may be one of the best one-and-done players of all time if early vote trackers are any indication. He’s just not getting any support, partially because of a full ballot, partially because people just don’t realize how good he was. His career numbers are comparable to Duke Snider’s, though. Really. He’s more likely to wind up in Lou Whitaker land, however. This despite the fact that he was an eight-time Gold Glove center fielder with 393 career home runs and despite being third in WAR between 1995 and 2005 behind only Bonds and A-Rod.
Trevor Hoffman: As Joe Posnanski recently wrote, it all comes down to what you think of saves. I’m a big hall guy and I won’t be upset if Hoffman gets in, as I think he will. And if the ballot were less crowded I’d probably vote for him eventually. But make no mistake: a lot of the same voters who think Craig Biggio was a “complier” will vote for Hoffman without batting an eye because saves are Special and Magical Stats which are somehow better to compile. Truth is, though, he’s not even the best relief pitcher on this ballot.
Billy Wagner: He is. Really, by measures other than saves, Wagner was better. He won’t get a sniff, though, because he didn’t save 600 games and have “Hells Bells” as his theme song and stuff. Not sure I’d vote for him this year given stronger options.
Garret Anderson: When he retired he was the Angels’ all-time leader in games (2,013), plate appearances (8,480), runs (1,024), RBIs (1,292), hits (2,368), and total bases (3,743). Which may get him into the Angels’ Hall of Fame. He doesn’t cut it for Cooperstown, however.
Brad Ausmus: The most handsome candidate on this ballot.
Mike Hampton: He would like to be inducted into the Hall of Fame because he heard that the schools in Cooperstown are most excellent. In other news, I can’t think of a player other than Derek “Operation Shutdown” Bell who has had their career overshadowed by an ill-considered comment to the media more than Hampton has. And it was actually a pretty nice career, so that’s saying something.
Luis Castillo, David Eckstein, Troy Glaus, Mark Grudzielanek, Jason Kendall, Mike Lowell, Mike Sweeney and Randy Winn: Every year some totally undeserving candidates get votes because they’re nice guys. Pedro Gomez of ESPN is notorious for throwing a vote at a guy like that, probably because he gave Gomez good quotes back when he was working the beat. One of these guys is likely to get that vote from Gomez this year. Which was cute back when there were only a few otherwise worthy candidates on the ballot. Now that there are way more than 10 deserving candidates, this little gesture is voting malpractice. But then again, guys like Gomez aren’t exactly known for their well-reasoned Hall of Fame decisions.
THE HOLDOVERS (last year’s vote total in parenthesis):
Mike Piazza (69.9%): The best-hitting catcher of all time. He was very close to induction last year and has been listed on the vast, vast majority of public ballots so far. Congrats, Mike, you’re finally gonna make it.
Jeff Bagwell (55.7%): Normally you have to get into the 60s or so to make the leap the following year, but given the Hall of Fame Voter Purge, it will be way easier for players to make bigger leaps in vote totals this year. Especially guys like Bagwell, who are subject to the anti-PED prejudices of some voters. Particularly older ones. He could make it. He’s certainly deserving. As I said last year: he’s Frank Thomas South.
Tim Raines (55.0%): This sort of says it all:
Now that Grantland has been shut down, Jonah has more time to hunt you down too. Take this threat seriously.
Curt Schilling (39.2%); Mike Mussina (24.6%): Voters are simply missing the value with these two. I suppose it’s because they’re caught up in old ideas like “a good pitcher gets 300 wins” and stuff like that. Or because they have totally missed the fact that, despite the 90s and 2000s being a BIG offensive era and tomato cans were routinely lit up for 5.89 ERAs and STILL managed to stick in rotations, it was also an era which arguably featured the best star pitchers of all time. I suppose if you are comparing Schilling and Mussina to Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and those guys they don’t look as spectacular. But that’s a pretty unfair comparison. There are oodles of worse pitchers in the Hall of Fame and these two are two of the best to ever hurl the horsehide.
Roger Clemens (37.5%) Barry Bonds (36.8%): I have dealt with these two at length. There’s nothing else left to say.
Lee Smith (30.2%): Trevor Hoffman and him have a lot more in common than their vote totals will suggest. Hoffman just complied more saves.
Edgar Martinez (27.0%): While there are other factors - playing in Seattle, playing in a high-offensive era -- DH prejudice has a lot to do with why Martinez is so overlooked by voters. Voters who somehow think he’s not a “complete” player since he only played on offense for most of his career. Of course he has 500-600 plate appearances, year-in, year-out. Trevor Hoffman, meanwhile, only faced more than 300 batters in a season four times. But sure, tell me about how closers are worthy and DHs are some gimmicky non-position.
Alan Trammell (25.1%): Remember kids, if you want to be famous, do one thing really super, duper well. Do not do everything merely super well. The former gets you in the Hall of Fame. The latter puts you in purgatory like Trammell. It’s his last year on the ballot, by the way. Here’s hoping a re-jiggered veterans committee does him justice at some point in the future.
Jeff Kent (14.0%): He’s always been borderline. His bat always played and was good enough to let him stick at second base where he was mostly a liability. A great hitter for a second baseman, but there are second baseman -- Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich -- who were way better overall players than Kent and they didn’t get in, so it’s no injustice for Kent to be on the outside.
Fred McGriff (12.9%): The Generation X of ballplayers. Too old to get all of the attention the big 1990s-2000s sluggers/Millennials got and just sort of fell between the cracks. Now I’m picturing McGriff listening to Pearl Jam and complaining about Millennials. McGriff always did make me smile.
Larry Walker (11.8%): An MVP and three batting titles. Power, defense and speed. But a guy who missed a lot of time due to injuries and a guy who most people never thought of as a Hall of Famer when he played. That tends to matter so much with this sort of thing. Bill James’ Hall of Fame book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame” was originally titled “The Politics of Glory.” Never forget that there are politics involved and that perception matters a lot to voters. He’d get my vote on a less-crowded ballot.
Gary Sheffield (11.75%): Dick Allen didn’t make it in via the Veterans Committee last year. Having the two of them on the outside looking in together is somehow appropriate. Then they can get into a cool car and travel around the country getting into adventures and stuff.
Mark McGwire (10.0%); Sammy Sosa (6.6%): If there were room on the ballot I’d vote for these two on the “how can you tell the story of baseball without them?” basis. And not just the PEDs story. I’m talking about the “millions of people watched them play and enjoyed their exploits and in many ways helped return baseball to prominence following the labor battles of the mid-90s” story. Voters and journalists now brush that off as something fueled by fraudulence, but those games happened, those memories were made and people who witnessed it will still be talking about it until the day they die. How silly it seems to deny it all happened.
Nomar Garciaparra (5.5%): You have to have 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot for another year. After this year, I suspect, that means there will be no more Nomar. Say that five times really fast.
THE IMAGINARY VOTE: I obviously came up with way more guys who I think are deserving than I could fit on an imaginary ballot. But let’s pretend we only have ten votes. If so — and keeping in mind that I’m forced to cut off several guys who are 100% Hall of Famers in my mind, I’ll go with: Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Edgar Martinez. Just missing the cut are Walker, Trammell, McGwire and Sosa.