Baseball's Big Honor, 2017 (updated)

It’s time once again for my favorite blog post. It also happens to be the only one I write every year, but hey. Maybe someday I’ll get a consistent groove on.

Anyway. A reminder of where I’m coming from. Last year, my ballot was:

·         Ken Griffey - made it, with one of the highest totals ever. An obvious choice almost from the moment he made the bigs.

·         Roger Clemens - I don’t have much more to add that hasn’t already been said; a juicer, and an all-around asshole. Also a clear HOFer long before he started juicing.

·         Barry Bonds - ditto, to an absurd degree.

·         Jeff Bagwell - an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, was responsible for a huge number of runs. I said ‘easy in’, and I still believe that.

·         Mike Piazza - made it. At the time, I said he was one of the greatest-hitting catchers ever, which he was.

·         Trevor Hoffman - my disdain for closers is longstanding and intense. Still, Hoffman was one of the best ever, and for a good long time. Still in.

·         Tim Raines - I had to be convinced. Still do, on some level…but he was one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever, and when he added some pop later, he became a great all-around offensive player. Still in. I guess.

 

 

As to the holdovers from last year’s ballot:

·         Sammy Sosa - we wouldn’t even be talking about Sammy Sosa if he hadn’t juiced. Out. Obviously.

·         Lee Smith / Billy Wagner - again, closers. Both were good-to-great for a long time. I guess I can see Lee Smith based on his appearance on the all-time leaders lists, but still not on my ballot.

·         Larry Walker – I’m sorry, but I can’t get past the fact that his best years were all in Coors Field, at the height of its crazy offense inflation.  Dante Bichette was going 40 / 128 / .340, for heaven’s sake.  It’s unfair, but Dante Bichette keeps Larry Walker off my ballot.

·         Gary Sheffield – a personal favorite, but tarred by the juicers around him.  His numbers are terrific, but in the context of that era?  Out.  unfortunately.

·         Fred McGriff – a terrific hitter, put a bunch of runs on the board.  The canonical McGriff season:  .285, 75 walks, 35 homers, 100 RBI, and 6th in the MVP voting.  He’s hurt by the fact that he didn’t quite have that one blazing season – he had 35 homers four times but never 40, had 100 RBI eight times but never 110, finished in the top ten of the MVP voting seven times but never won and was never that close.  Close, not quite.

·         Jeff Kent – won an MVP, made a couple of other runs, but never led the league in a single offensive category, was so-so defensively and oh, by the way, was a colossal a-hole.  Out.

·         Edgar Martinez – I don’t know, man.  A great hitter that did a lot of things well, but a DH nonetheless…on some level I see DHs the way I see closers – partial players.  Martinez is obviously more qualified than any DH in history (up to and including Ortiz), so I can see it, but he’s not on my ballot.

·         Mike Mussina – see McGriff, Fred, above…some of the same conversation applies, although at a higher level.  Was a real hoss, consistent and an inning-eater.  Finished in the top seven of CYA voting nine times (!), including once as a 23-year old and once when he was 39 (also !).  Last year I took him off my ballot, but I’m going to put him ‘in’ again.

·         Curt Schilling – AGAIN, his peaks were very high…but he also had seasons of 2-8, 7-5, 9-10, 11-12, 8-9, and 8-8.  Very, very few HOF pitchers have that many mediocre-to-bad seasons.  His career totals don’t make up for that, at least in my book.  PLUS HE’S A NAZI-LOVING A-HOLE.  Out.

 

Now for the first-timers that are obviously out, with comments as appropriate:

·         Julio Lugo, Danys Baez, Freddy Sanchez, Aaron Rowand, Casey Blake – if I have only passing recollection of you as a player, you are by definition not ‘famous’ enough for a “Hall of Fame.”

·         Arthur Rhodes – he could be a valuable piece of your team, but you weren’t going to go in to the season thinking “man, we’re lucky we’ve got Arthur Rhodes.” Out.

·         Pat Burrell – a good player, but never great.

·         Orlando Cabrera – there was a point – 2001, when he was 26 – that Cabrera looked like a candidate.  .276, 14 homers, 96 RBI, 19 stolen bases, and a Gold Glove on a team with a lot of good young talent.  But he took a step back in 2002, and never quite got back to that level.  Out.

·         Jason Varitek – I always kinda liked him, even though I hated the Red Sox.  A good player, a major piece of the jinx-breakers, and a famous hardass, but not a HOFer.

·         Carlos Guillen – an important part of some good Tiger teams, made some All-Star teams, was a good post-seaon player...still, out.

·         Melvin Mora – yet another good player but not great enough to make the Hall.

·         Derrek Lee – had the one huge season – 2005, where he won the batting and slugging titles, hit 50 goubles, 393 total bases – and had a few other very good ones, but clearly a notch below the production a first baseman needs to make the Hall.  A good player – you could win a title with him, but out.

·         Edgar Renteria – after the 1997 season, Renteria was 20, with lifetime per162 averages of .290, 49 BB, 30 SB, and was a sometimes-dazzling shortstop.  If he had pushed his production to a higher level (and added some power, as he had none whatsoever), he might have had a shot.  And he did, but not quite enough.  His comps are guys like Trammell, Tony Fernandez, Barry Larkin, Pee Wee Reese, and Orlando Cabrera, which seem about right.  He was very good, but I don’t have him in.

·         Tim Wakefield – a knuckleballer, and who doesn’t love that?  Had a nice long, productive career as a #3 starter, and you’d be totally fine handing him the ball in just about any game.  But not a HOFer.

·         JD Drew – ah, yes.  JD Drew was good, and always seemed to be in trade and free agent demand…because everyone thought that this might be The Year.  The year that he doesn’t get hurt, that he’s not half-assing it, and bumps up from his annual .280 / 25 / 85 to .310 / 35 / 120…which he never quite did.  He was good, and you could win a title with him in right field, but you weren’t going to ride him.  Out.

·         Mike Cameron – He was good.  Good power, good speed, but low-average and struck out too much.  Never hit .300 (never hit .280. actually), never 30 HR, never scored 100, had 100 RBI once...out.

·         Magglio Ordonez – I always liked Maggs, even before he came to Detroit.  Got on base, drove in and scored runs, could run a bit when he was young.  Really just a flat-out good offensive player.  Won a batting title, consistent OPS+ over a 100, almost won an MVP.  Very good, but just a tiny bit below HOF level.

 

Now for the interesting ones:

Manny Ramirez was an absolutely devastating offensive player, and for a long time.  He never won an MVP, which is pretty surprising, but finished in the top-10 nine times and has the 3rd highest MVP award shares total of anyone who never won one (Eddie Murray and Mike Piazza were higher).  His 1999 season in Cleveland was truly spectacular - .333, 44 HR, 96 walks (only 9 intentional), and took the first run at Hack Wilson’s RBI record in decades.  He and Robby Almoar tied for third in the voting, behind Pudge Rodriguez (more on him in a few), and Pedro Martinez in one of the stranger votes in history.  Pedro and Manny were clearly the best players in the league that season.

So, why didn’t he ever win an MVP?  Well, there are a few reasons.  First, he was a legendary flake, and I don’t think the writers like to vote for those guys.  And he was a terrible outfielder – he put lots of runs up on the board for, you know, both teams.  And there was also already an undercurrent of the “yeah but” that you heard with other juicers, both confirmed and not.

So where do we land on him?  This one is tough…on one level, he was as scary a guy as you could see coming up, just super-powerful but also very willing to take a pitch and line drive it, and he could take a walk.  But he was a convicted juicer, too, and here’s where I pull out my trusty “would he have gone in without the juice” question.  Unfortunately, the Magic 8-Ball says “ask again later.”  I look at his minor league stats, and the thing is, he beat holy hell out of minor league pitching for 1 ½ seasons before coming up to Cleveland and continuing almost without missing a beat.  The guy hit everywhere, including as a 19-year-old in the Appalachian League.  I guess he could have been doing steroids in 1991, right out of high school, but it seems like a stretch.  Somehow.  And he didn’t really break down over time the way the “juicer and so he’s not in” guys like McGwire and Sosa…

Still haven’t answered it, huh?  I guess I have him as a grudging ‘in,’ yes?  No?  Yes.  In.

 Jorge Posada will clearly get in at some point.  The media loved him; loved that he played for the best team in baseball, loved that he didn’t hop teams, loved that his kid was sick, loved that he played catcher.  For my part (and I’m a Yankee fan), he was always a “meh.”  I mean, he was a good hitter, but not great (.273 / 24 / 94 per 162 games are not eye-popping numbers).  He had a good rep in the field, but was clearly nowhere near as good as Pudge.  His ten comps are four HOFers (Hartnett, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey and, for some reason, Joe Gordon), but mostly guys like Javy Lopez and Lance Parrish, all of whom were fine, but come on.  Hall of Famers?  Nope.  And that’s where I land on him, too.  Nope.

Pudge Rodriguez was as good a catcher as there was, for a good long time.  If he’d been a great hitter we’d be talking about him as one of the greatest *players* of all time.  As it is, he was…okay.  He’d usually hit about .300, but with precious few walks and just a smidge of pop.   He was okay.  He’d hit seventh on a really good offensive team, except for that one year that he hit .332 with 35 homers (a career best by 8), 113 RBI (career best by 22), 25 SB (best by 15)…and that year is dogged by rumors of juicing.

Still, an above-average hitter with 13 Gold Gloves?  As a catcher?  He’s in.

I loved watching Vladimir Guerrero play, both in the field and at the plate.  He had one of those all-time great arms in right field, for one, which has always been a weakness of mine.

But that bat.  And that swing – he was like Sheffield, in that you knew he was never going to get cheated up there.  He was going to hack, and if he hit it on the nose, it was going to be a rocket.  Just a delight to see.   The bat would go flying over his shoulder, and off he’d go, where he’d either stretch a single to a double or a double to an out.  So much fun to watch.

Beyond that, though, he was super-productive.  Huge power, could run, drew many more walks than you remember…he’s in, easily (for me).

 

So, my ballot:

Jeff Bagwell

Tim Raines

Trevor Hoffman

Roger Clemens

Barry Bonds

Mike Mussina

Ivan Rodriguez

Manny Ramirez

Vlad Guerrero

That's my ballot, but what I think will happen is this:  Raines, Bagwell, and Hoffman get in.  Clemens and Bonds get closer, to the point where they will both get in in 2018.  Pudge gets close, but not quite.  Mussina and Edgar Martinez get slight bumps but are not yet in range of election.  Schilling stays around 50% or goes down a bit - the writers like his stats but not his personality.  Ramirez starts out in Sammy Sosa land and will have a long way to go.  Vladdy is a weird one - something like Dale Murphy in that he was much loved and feared as a player, but the echoes are not loud.  Maybe 15% to start, with momentum bulding over the years a la Raines.

2018 doesn't bring a lot of new can't miss guys - Chipper Jones is about the only one with a shot at first-year induction; the rest are guys like Jim Thome, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones, good but not clear HOFers.

UPDATE:  close, but not quite.  Raines and Bagwell did indeed make it, but Hoffman didn't quite get there (missed by 5 total votes).  Pudge made it by a hair.  Clemens and Bonds made strides and Schilling went down a few points.  Vlad got a lot more support than I expected and will get in.  Posada won't - he didn't get enough votes to stay on the ballot next year, and nobody really mentioned him in the aftermath.  Weird.  Manny got more than i expected, too, and will have a shot.  Sosa ain't getting in, happily.

Interestingly, the "who's coming up in 2018" stories mentioned Thome, Andruw Jones and Chipper, sure...but also Omar Vizquel, which will be...interesting, at least to me.  Holy hell was he a terrible offensive player - was that enough to offset his supposedly great glove?  Not to me, particularly when his defensive stats are, frankly, not as spectacular as you might believe.  He played a ton of games at shortstop - the most ever, in fact - but is 4th all-time in assists and 11th in putouts.  He's - get this - SEVENTY-SECOND all time in PO+A/9 innings, which is a quick dirty way to measure overall range.  He led the league in double plays once, and he led the league in putouts once.  He just didn't turn that many base hits into outs.  He avoided errors.  That's it - and he did it by not getting to very many balls in the field.  He's an obvious out, and I'm already getting angry, dreading the idiotic "what about Omar" articles.  Argh.