Greetings, it's time once again for my annual deep dive into Baseball's Big Honor, also known as the Hall of Fame (HOF or BBHOF from this point forward, because obviously). For the newbies, I don't really talk about who I *think* will get the nod, but who I think *should* get it. How my vote would look, if I had one. Last year, my ballot would have been:
My prediction was that the first four would make it, and they did. As to the remaining six,
Bagwell - Won a Rookie of the Year and an MVP, plus consistently showed up in the MVP voting. Put a ton of runs on the board by both getting on base and pounding people home. An easy choice. In.
McGriff and Mussina - both had long, extremely consistent careers, and were both generally very highly regarded but never really sniffed "best in baseball" status and were never "man, that guy really scares me" guys. I had them both 'in' a year ago, but wasn't all that excited about it. Less excited today. Out.
Piazza - I've had him as an easy 'in' since he showed up on the ballot, and nothing has changed. One of the greatest hitting catchers ever (behind Bench and Berra, certainly, and - in my weird opinion - Ernie Lombardi), and that's a good enough qualification. In.
Clemens and Bonds - similar in that they were easy, first-ballot HOFers long before they are believed to have started the PEDs. Also similar in that they are both colossal assholes, but that's not a disqualification.
So we start with Piazza, Bagwell, Clemens, and Bonds.
As to my previous 'outs', some are still easy choices:
Lee Smith - closers, man. can't stand 'em.
Edgar Martinez - a historically good DH...but what is that worth?
Alan Trammell - not without Lou Whitaker, who was a better player.
Larry Walker - pretty good, possibly great, but the fact that he was in Colorado makes me think his numbers were inflated. No idea if that's actually the case, but that's reasonable doubt for me.
Mark McGwire / Sammy Sosa - good players who we wouldn’t be considering if they hadn't discovered PEDs.
Some are still 'out,' but I could be convinced otherwise...some have moved in:
Jonah Keri thinks it's a miscarriage of justice that Tim Raines is not in already, and while I loved the guy when he was playing, I'm just not 100% onboard. One of the all-time great leadoff hitters, got on base like crazy and ran you ragged. Put a ton of runs on the board. Outstanding left fielder. Okay, fine. I'm in...but I don't think he's going to get there this time. A jump from 55% to 75% in voting would be pretty unusual, although not unprecedented.
I can't stand Curt Schilling and his magic-markered sock, for one thing, but I'll point it out again - very, very few HOFers have ever had as many crappy seasons sprinkled among the great ones. 2-8, 7-5, 9-10, 11-12, 8-9, 8-8. That's a lot of mediocrity. If he wasn't such a douchebag, I might feel otherwise. Still out, and I'm still not wavering.
Jeff Kent won an MVP, made a run at a couple of others, but make a wild guess on his black ink score - zero. He never, not once led the league in a major offensive category. A really good player for a good long time, but a mediocre fielder and legendary a-hole. Comps are guys like Aramiz Ramirez, which seems about right. Still out, and it's not looking too likely.
Gary Sheffield was tarred by the the crazy numbers around him, and unfortunately never had that one blast-across-the-sky season, but a tremendously intimidating and productive offensive player. Played for eight teams - as good as he was, most teams just didn't want to keep him around. A personal favorite, but still out.
Nomah left his HOF career in the trainer's office and inside a syringe. These things are not related. Will likely fall off the ballot this year, but man - for a couple years there he looked like a lock for the Hall. What might have been...out, in any case.
NOW, the first-year guys. First, the easy outs:
Brad Ausmus played for 18 seasons, won three Gold Gloves. Terrible offensive player.
Once upon a time, for a few weeks, the possible trade destination of Mike Lowell was in near-constant rotation on ESPN. ESPN is dumb. Out.
From 2001 to 2003, Garrett Anderson's per-162 averages were .303, 85 runs, 48 doubles (!), 29 HR, 121 RBI. That's an MVP-caliber player, if things break right, and if he'd had three more seasons like that, he'd be a strong candidate. He'll get some votes, but not enough to stick around.
Randy Winn was good, but never great. He was okay.
Luis Castillo was actually quite a bit better than I remember. Had some .300 seasons, drew some walks, could run, won some gold gloves. Had 1889 hits! No power whatsoever.
I could've sworn that David Eckstein hung around for 20 years as a Enos Cabell-type clubhouse guy...in other words, grit and toughness but zero production. I thought he had a longer career because I, you know, hated him so much. Turns out he only lasted 10 seasons - how he concentrated that much slappability in such a short time period is beyond me, but seriously one of the worst players to ever appear on a HOF ballot.
I think of Mark Grudzielanek as identical to Eckstein, but he was definitely a better player. Had some pop, could run a bit, beat into a ton of double plays for a guy that hit doubles but not much else. A spare part.
Mike Sweeney was the best player on a whole series of lousy Royals teams, constantly mentioned as trade bait but toiled in obscurity for almost his entire career - his only postseason at bat was a pinch single for the Phils as a 36-year-old. Got some MVP votes. Most of his at bats were as a DH, and if Edgar Martinez isn't making it Mike Sweeney sure as hell isn't, either.
In 1999, Mike Hampton had one of the great fluke seasons of all time, going 22-4 with 2.90 ERA for the Astros, but still lost the Cy Young to Randy Johnson who went 17-9 with 2.48 ERA and 364 Ks. The signs that it was a bit of a fluke were there - he allowed 206 hits and walked 101 in 239 innings - but he parlayed it into a huge contract with...Colorado. Ouch. He never got another Cy Young vote, at least partially due to the fact that he got hurt and missed two seasons, but he was already done by that point. Think Steve Stone.
Jason Kendall once broke the record for steals by a catcher. I think. Was pretty highly regarded for a while, but I think it was because for several years he was literally the only good player on some legendarily bad Pirates teams. Was never a great fielder or offensive player. A good player, but clearly out.
On to the real conversations.
Billy Wagner was a little guy who threw really hard. A closer, and a good one, for a good long time, and if he was never quite the best in baseball was still one of those guys that made you think 'game over' when he opened the bullpen door. Can't bring myself to say yes, though, at least not with Lee Smith still waiting out there.
Troy Glaus was a big, bad masher of a third baseman, really a very good offensive player. At age 23, in that weird 2000 season, he hit .284 with 112 walks, 120 runs scored, and 47 home runs (which led the league). If he'd kept normal career progression from that point, he'd be in. But that was as good as it got - .284, 47 HR and 120 runs were all easily his career highs. And, it's hard not to notice that the AL home run champion with a 1008 OPS got a grand total of ZERO MVP votes that season. Travis Fryman, Johnny Damon, and Mike Sweeney got MVP votes that year, but Troy Glaus didn't. I wonder if a HOFer ever led the league in homers but didn’t get a single MVP vote.
Jim Edmonds was a good-to-great player, for a long time. What made him really good was not that he was the best at anything, but that he did a lot of things well. An outstanding center fielder who made some of the greatest catches you will ever see, could hit for average (sometimes), had very good double and home run power, drew a ton of walks, scored runs, drove in runs, generally avoided the double play. A pretty consistent OPS of 900, all told. Was in the mix for a few MVPs. Legendary hard-ass, and I think it hurt him somewhat - he seemed to be running into walls constantly and had a bunch of injuries, large and small, which knock down his career totals a bit too much for him to make it. But a very, very good, memorable player.
Trevor Hoffman is one of the five greatest closers of all time and was consistently at least the second-best in baseball for...what? 15 years? He's in.
Ken Griffey is one of the biggest "no duh" selections ever. One of the greatest centerfield gloves ever, won a whole pile of gold gloves, won an MVP, multiple home run titles, drew a ton of walks, stole bases, drove in runs, scored runs...pretty much the canonical Hall of Famer. Too bad he played in an era where everyone around him was juicing, because otherwise we'd be looking at his numbers and saying he might be the greatest ever. We've become numb to 50-HR seasons. Thanks, McGwire, you overrated turd.
Anyway. Here's my ballot:
Prediction - Griffey and Piazza in, Raines and Hoffman just miss, Bagwell stays steady, and Clemens / Bonds drop from last year's totals.
UPDATE: Got it mostly right, again. Griffey and Piazza are in. Raines, Hoffman and Bagwell all got a little closer and are now all at 65%-plus, the spot at which, if they have enough eligibility left, will probably make it. I'm guessing 2018 at the latest for all three. Schilling bumped above 50%, so with normal progression he'll probably get in. Mussina and Martinez also got good bumps, but stayed tuned. The drumbeats are not deafening, not yet. Nomar dropped off, as did Jim Edmonds (slightly surprised by that one). Two idiots wrote the name 'David Eckstein' on their ballots. A more damning indictment of the BBWAA you will not find.
The interesting ones are Clemens and Bonds - both bumped up again, to the point where it feels like the oppostion is softening and they'll probably get in. At some point the BBWAA guys will remember that "hey, those guys were really great before they juiced," and start voting them in (we'll also see a shitload of revisionist history and sanctimony from those idiots, but that's another subject).
McGwire and Sosa both stayed constant at 12% and 7%, respectively. They ain't getting in.
2017 looks interesting. Let's say that Raines, Hoffman, and Bagwell get in. First-timers include two juicers with otherwise good-to-great qualifications (Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez), a great, fun-to-watch player with major negatives (Vlad Guerrero), and the most overrated catcher of his generation (Jorge Posada). All latin players, too, which brings up some...oh, how shall I it? Let's just say that there might be an undercurrent of code words next year. The best pitcher coming in is probably Javy Vasquez, and that ain't much. I'm guessing that no newcomers make it - Manny and Pudge will have to endure a few years of handwringing (and Manny might not ever make it), and Vlad will need a couple years to get momentum. Posada might make it on name recognition.
Guess I need to dig out my Ken Griffey rookie card and plan my trip to Cooperstown.