Jacob Ruppert. Deacon White. Hank O’Day.
Recognize any of those names? You shouldn’t because these guys played in the late 1800′s. Yet this July, all three of them will be heading to Cooperstown, NY, home of Baseball Hall of Fame, thanks to the Pre-Integration Ballot (pre-1901 players, umpires and executives). But before that, there is other work to be done.
On Wednesday, the results of the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame vote will be released, and this year’s Hall of Fame vote maybe the most intriguing Hall vote in not just baseball, but sports history. The biggest reason for this is because of the first timers on this ballot. While many of these players were very productive (some notable guys who probably won’t sniff the Hall include Shawn Green, Steve Finley, Kenny Lofton, and David “Boomer” Wells), there were three in particular who should be automatic locks for the Hall in Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. The only problem is that they are suspected steroid users because of their outrageous performances at advanced ages in the latter stages of their playing days.
There will probably be over 600 BBWAA voters putting in their ballots (the numbers vary every year), and I can guarantee you almost every single one of them are conflicted about whether or not they should vote players suspected of steroid use into the Hall of Fame. Part of the criteria for voting on the Hall of Fame is to take into consideration the player’s “character, integrity and sportsmanship”. While all of that says that the players mentioned above shouldn’t be in the Hall, I still believe that this process is all wrong. First off, the writers shouldn’t be voting for the Hall of Fame because they are writers that will just cause more controversy, and a more ideal system would have fans and former players casting ballots. Secondly, and this is my biggest tiff, you cannot vote off of suspicion and eliminate an entire generation of players.
With all that being said, I have decided to create my own “official” ballot for you, Stoopnation. Other than following the criteria on how to vote for a player (numbers, character, etc.), let me explain a few things. The first thing is that I can vote for anybody who has been retired no earlier than after the 2007 season and no later than after the 1993 season. This means a player has 15 years on the ballot to get in via vote from the writers before he has to wait for specialty votes based on the era that he played in. For Dale Murphy, a power-hitting 2-time MVP, this is his 15th and final year on the ballot and sadly, he will probably not get in. Also I have to vote for at least one player and can put a maximum of 10 players on my ballot. For example, I learned recently that Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer only wrote down Murphy on his ballot, while some voted for five, seven, or the max of ten players. I decided to vote for nine players because it just seems fitting for the game (nine players, nine innings). To be voted into the Hall of Fame, a player has to be on 75% of the writers’ ballots, and what eliminates players from future ballots is if they are on less than 5% of ballots. So now, I reveal to you the nine players on my 2013 ballot, including my two “stone cold locks” for the Hall.
OF Barry Bonds and RHP Roger Clemens (Both 1st year on ballot): I’m talking about these guys together because both have the same case. I could go over all of the numbers and awards and honors these two have earned over their careers but we, including the voters, know all of this already. These guys should, without a doubt get into Cooperstown on their FIRST BALLOT. Alas, there is one problem: both are the poster children for what everyone calls the “Steroid Era”. While there is no physical evidence in DNA results, there have been witnesses connected to both players that have raised suspicion surrounding performance enhancing drugs. However, these guys were great at what they did and I would vote for them over and over on my ballot, regardless of the speculation. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of what they did by lying to the public about their usage, but I understand why they did it, you know, besides the whole “it’s trending” thing.
I’ll go back to after the 1999 season because this is when I think it all started. After Mcgwire and Sosa battled it out for the home run title with 60+ HR, they started to gain fame and fortune for their famous power battles. But for Barry, he was coming off an injury plagued season at 34 years old and as far as I can see, was also becoming jealous of the millions that those two were making on new contracts. You’d be surprised how much competition there is between players and salaries in baseball, and over the last decade Bonds was without question the best in the game, he just never made the same buzz that Mcgwire and Sosa did. With all of that taken into account it almost seems normal for a guy like Barry to do what he did and take steroids at that time. As for Roger, I think it was just about lasting a little longer so he could achieve some big pitching milestones, as he was already being paid handsomely by Mr. Steinbrenner in New York.
In a way both have either cleared their names or indirectly admitted to substance abuse. Bonds did admit that he probably did take steroids, but claims “he didn’t know that he took them”. For Clemens, he was acquitted of all perjury charges after telling Congress years ago that he didn’t take anything. Were these both perfect apologies? Absolutely not, but it does begin the healing process. I don’t think they will get in this year, but I would be shocked if both players ended up with less than 30-40% each. If that happens, then the voters will have made their statement on steroid suspected players; but guys, they were just too damn good at what they did.
Notable Accolades for Bonds: All-time Home Run king (762) and walks leader, only member of the 500 HR club with 500 SB, 7-time NL MVP, 2-time NL Batting Champ, 14-time All Star, 12-time Silver Slugger in OF, 8-time Gold Glove winner in OF
Notable Accolades for Clemens: 1986 AL MVP, 7 Cy Young Awards, one of four pitchers with 300 wins and 4,000 K, 11-time All Star, 2-time World Series Champ, 2 pitching Triple Crown winner, 7-time ERA Champ
2B Craig Biggio (My Stone-Cold Lock; 1st year): For me, it’s more than the 3,060 hits (21st all-time), 668 doubles (5th) and 1,844 runs scored (15th) that makes this man my automatic lock for the Hall of Fame. It’s the fact that he started his career as a catcher (.989 fielding % in 428 games) until the Astros asked him to move to 2B, where he made a seamless transition earning 4 career Gold Gloves (.984 career fielding %). He even played a full season in CF at 37 years old because the team didn’t have anybody else who could do it. When you play most of your career at the premium up the middle positions and play above average in three of them, you’re a lock in my book. Biggio is without a doubt the most versatile and durable (hit by a pitch 285 times, 2nd most) player on this list, playing in 2,850 games, all with the team that drafted him in the 1st round in 1987. Biggio screams Hall of Famer and I hope he gets the 75% he needs this year.
DH Edgar Martinez (4th year, last year 36.5%): Something tells me he won’t get in this year, but the voters are wrong for leaving him out this long. The reason voters are having difficulty putting Edgar on their ballots isn’t because he was a borderline Hall of Fame hitter, it’s because he was primarily a designated hitter (over 71% of his games at that position). Yes, there are Hall of Famers who have been DH’s for multiple seasons, but all of them played that role because they couldn’t play defense for a full nine at their advanced ages. While Edgar could hit early in his career he was always a defensive liability at 3B. After a few years primarily handling the position, the Mariners told him in ‘95 that he would just be the DH so he could focus on hitting and not make defensive mistakes.
Turns out it was the right call, because the M’s would make their first four trips to the postseason in the franchise’s history. While they had guys like Griffey, A-Rod and Ichiro on their lineup, Edgar was the biggest threat of them all, posting a .312/.418/.515 career slash line. No pitcher had any clue if they wanted to face one of those players or Martinez, a testament to how dangerous he really was. while he wasn’t mashing 30-40 HR a season (only one season of more than 30 HR), he ripped a lot of balls into the gaps and over the fences in Seattle (514 doubles, 309 HR). He was also one of the most well-liked and charitable players in the game, receiving the Roberto Clemente Award in 2004, the year of his retirement. If saves are beginning to be valued by the voters with closers like Gossage and Sutter getting in in recent years, than it’s time for the first DH to be enshrined into the Hall as Martinez certainly exonerates a Hall of Fame hitter: a feared and very productive run-producer.
Notable Accolades: 5-time Silver Slugger (4 at DH, 1 at 3B), 2-time AL Batting Champ, 7-time All-Star, 2004 Roberto Clemente Award
Tim Raines (6th year, last year 48.7%): Raines was everything you could ask in a leadoff hitter throughout his 23 seasons. He got on-base consistently (.385 career on-base percentage), stole a ton of bases (808, 5th all-time with six 70-steal seasons), walked more than he struck out (162 game average of 83 BB and 63 K) and made consistent contact with the ball (2,605 hits and a .294 career average).
So why hasn’t he made the Hall of Fame yet? Part of the reason may be that he spent 13 seasons in Montreal mostly in the 80′s. Another reason is because he played next to Rickey Henderson, who is widely regarded as the best leadoff hitter of all-time. Those two reasons combined have hurt his stock and are the general reasons as to why he hasn’t been voted in in his first five ballots . While I’m voting him in, it doesn’t mean he will get the 75% he needs this year. If he doesn’t, the law of averages says he will get in over the next year or two.
Notable Accolades: 7-time All-Star, NL Batting Champ and Silver Slugger in OF in 1986, led NL in steals 4 times (1981-84)
C Mike Piazza (1st year): I was recently asked by one of my colleagues why Piazza was not one of my stone cold locks. The reason he is not a stone cold is because he was a below average catcher defensively, leading the league in errors four times and allowing the most steals in a season ten times. That tells me that when he was behind the plate, nobody exactly feared him. However he is just below my bar for being a lock this year because of his offensive prowess at a premium position. In over 1600 career games behind the plate he mashed the most home runs ever by a catcher with 396 (427 total home runs) and 1,205 RBI (1,335 total RBI) with a career slash line of .313/.382/.560 (total .308/.377/.545). He will go down as the greatest OFFENSIVE catcher ever, but not the greatest all-around catcher by any means. There’s a good chance he gets in this year or, and if not, in the next two years.
Notable Accolades: 1993 NL Rookie of the Year, 12-time All Star, 10-time Silver Slugger at C, seven top 10 MVP finishes
RHP Jack Morris (The voters’ Stone-Cold Lock; 14th year, last year: 66.7%): I think most experts believe that Morris is a lock for the Hall this year, only because the law of averages says he should be. Morris should have been elected years ago, but I think voters have hesitant because of his 3.90 ERA (the highest currently is 3.80), and the fact he won just 254 games playing most of his career in the late 70′s and 80′s. He appears to be having the same problems Bert Blyleven was having until he got in two years ago, and while Morris doesn’t seem like a Hall of Famer with those numbers he was what I call a “workhorse” ace.
In a 162 game average (33 starts) his numbers translate to 16 wins and 242 innings pitched per season. If a team needed a guy to pitch deep into ball games, Morris was the guy to call upon with 175 career complete games and ten seasons with ten complete games pitched. More importantly, he was the guy you wanted on the mound in the postseason, going 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 13 starts (5 CG), while helping three different teams win World Series titles. And if Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall for his famous World Series clinching long ball, then Morris should be in for his 10-inning shutout performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. He should get in with Biggio this year, and if he doesn’t then next year will be his final chance to be inducted by the BBWAA.
Notable Accolades: 5-time All Star, 3-time 20 game winner, 3 World Series Rings, 1991 World Series MVP
1B Jeff Bagwell (3rd year, last year 56%): If you think that Biggio was alone in Houston throughout his career, he wasn’t. He had a partner in crime named Jeff Bagwell and together they formed the devastating Killer B’s from 1991-2004. While Biggio was the scrappy leadoff/two-hole hitter, Bagwell was the big forearmed power hitter (449 HR, .294/.408/.540) slotted in the three hole, who seemed to be sitting on the toilet with his unusually wide stance.
One of the most intriguing stat I have heard about Bagwell is that he is one of only 31 players to record 1500 RBIs and score 1500 runs, and most of the players on that list are either Hall of Famers or should be Hall of Famers. Going even further than that, he is only one of eight to do so with fewer than 10,000 plate appearances, and while he has just one Gold Glove to his name, he was also an above average defender. Everything that was stated above should have him already in the Hall, but one thing that has held him out of the Hall so far is those suspiciously large forearms (figures, right?). But Bagwell was just a standup guy and the fact that he got 56% last year tells me that he will get in sooner rather than later. I wonder what Boston fans are thinking of that late season trade in 1990 for now Phillies broadcaster Larry Anderson.
Notable Accolades: 1994 NL MVP, 1991 NL Rookie of the Year, 4-time All-Star, 3-time Silver Slugger, Gold Glove winner in 1994, two 30 HR/30 SB campaigns
RHP Curt Schilling (1st year): This is not just me being a Phillies fan and wanting to see somebody I rooted for get in, because the fact is that Schilling was simply dominate. Schilling falls into the same category as Morris and Blyleven with voters however, because he doesn’t have enough wins. If it weren’t for some injuries and him playing most of the 90′s with bad teams, he would most likely have 250 wins rather than his career total of 216. But with wins being valued a little less these days with sabermetrics, we have to look at all of the other numbers.
His 3.46 ERA and 1.13 WHIP are certainly Hall of Fame numbers and his 3,116 K put him in rare company. But the number I’d look hard at is the 4.38 strikeout/walk ratio, which is the best ever in the modern era of the game (after 1900). He didn’t just strike batters out, he also rarely allowed baserunners to get on the easy way, since he was not afraid of pounding the strike zone. Then there was his incredible postseason resume (11-2, 2.23 ERA, 120 K in 19 starts), helping the Diamondbacks win their first and only title and the Red Sox end their dreaded 86 year drought in 2004, than also winning again with the Sox in 2007. When people remember Schilling though, they will always go back to Game 6 of the ALCS in 2004, when he pitched effectively with a bloody sock because a stitching came loose. But Schilling’s legacy is so much more than that, as he just dominated the 1990′s and early 2000′s. He is the beginning of a trend that winning less than 250 games can get a pitcher into Cooperstown, as he shows that you can dominate statistically in your era nonetheless.
Notable Accolades: 2001 co-World Series MVP, 3-time World Series Champ, 6-time All Star, 3-time 20 game winner
So there you have it. Some of you are probably wondering that if Bonds and Clemens are on my ballot, why am I not voting for Mcgwire or Sosa? Well other than the fact I could only put a maximum of ten players on the ballot, I look at those two and say that all those two did was launch home runs. I want all of you to go baseball-reference.com and look at those two and tell me they aren’t true by-products of the steroid era. While Mcgwire was consistent with his power numbers and sort of admitted to a “past mistake”, I can’t put him in my top ten. As for Sosa, he was a nobody to start his career until the late 90′s came around and his numbers spiked. But then there was the corked bat incident and the whole “I don’t speak English/don’t understand” thing when he clearly knows English very well. He was probably the biggest mess of them all, which is why he is still heavily suspected of steroid use despite a lack of evidence and witnesses against him. The ballot this year is just too good to vote either of these guys in, and I actually have another steroid user ahead of those two named Rafael Palmeiro, one of the few members of the 500 HR/3000 hit club. Palmeiro is probably bundled somewhere in between the 10 to 12 spot for me along with fireball closer Lee Smith and Tigers’ short stop Alan Trammell, which means that he is close to making it in my book. I’m sure Yankees fans are screaming at me about Bernie Williams right now, but I’d have to omit him for a couple of years because he wasn’t a star or a revolution at his position compared to some of these other guys.
I know many of you will have you debates on my list so I encourage you guys to comment below and tell me where I am wrong, or create your own list of 1-10 players you’d put in the Hall from this year’s class. I know I can’t wait for Wednesday afternoon’s announcement of this year’s Hall members, and no matter what happens, the debate will continue to rage on, especially on the steroid era players and about those who both are inducted and once again left out.