The Hall of Fame vote is a privilege. That’s why I feel guilty every year.
My ballot is wholly imperfect. Some might even call it a mess.
And it is no one’s fault but my own. I (along with a few others I won’t name) did a terrible job covering steroids throughout the steroid era. We actually didn’t cover them. We didn’t worry about them, and didn’t write about them.
That’s on us.
When players were hitting homers out of Miller Park in the All-Star Game warmup, I was marveling about them rather than asking questions about them. It was too good to be true, and should have been obvious.
That’s on us, too.
But it’s too late now.
It was all bad for baseball, and ultimately it was horrendous for baseball’s Hall of Fame ballots.
Now, on top of deciding which players were best, which had the best numbers and who made the greatest impact, we are making judgments about which players cheated, which players cheated most (was it failed tests, court cases, testimony or word of mouth?), which players benefited most by cheating and which (if any) should be excluded due to their cheating?
My basic position is that I am against cheating, and generally exclude players who in my estimation have clearly cheated, though I have made an exception or two over the years (see Barry Bonds below). I believe that players who took steroids (or even HGH) helped themselves to more money and more honors already, and I don’t wish to add to their haul by helping to bestow the greatest honor of all on them. I am not making a moral judgment (in fact, I voted for person I’d guess to be the worst person on this ballot; no, not Bonds). Regarding steroids, as the great Bob Costas tells us, it’s a matter of legitimacy, not a matter of morality. It’s not that you can’t trust the players, it’s that you can’t trust their numbers.
I also don’t begrudge anyone who votes for the “steroid guys.” It certainly makes the ballot easier – and far less messy – to just go by the numbers. But is it fair?
Oh yes, one more thing: I pledged a few years ago to vote for a full slate of 10 players in foreseeable years, and I fulfilled that again this year (what kind of pledge would it be if I didn’t do that?) The stats/analytics guys pointed out several years ago that we have been too tough in recent years, excluding and even voting off the ballot many worthy candidates, and the numbers back that up (you wouldn’t expect the numbers guys to be wrong there, would you?)
I was glad to see the new-style veterans committee put Jack Morris and Alan Trammell into the Hall, and even though Morris wasn’t one of the ones the numbers/analytics guys believed we overlooked (in fact some of them argue against him to this day, even after his induction), I hope we continue to try to honor the most recent eras that have been judged too harshly in their opinion – and now mine, too.
In fact, I think we should loosen the rule that removes players from the ballot who fail to get five percent in any year, and also the rule that limits “yes” votes to 10 players. There is no good reason for either rule, especially the one that removes excellent players prematurely. Jorge Keith Hernandez, Bobby Grich, Jorge Posada, Johan Santana, Jim Edmonds, David Cone, Dwight Evans, Carlos Delgado, Bernie Williams and many other excellent players were prematurely booted from the ballot. That is one reason I voted for Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen last year (though I am continuing to vote for them), and that’s one reason I am voting for Lance Berkman this year.
Yes, Lance Berkman.
Take a look at his career, and as Ron Darling of MLB Network and SNY first pointed out, it is uncannily similar to the career of Edgar Martinez, who I think is a Hall of Famer and is all but certain to go in this year, in his 10thand final year on the ballot. (More on Berkman vs. Martinez below).
I will try to explain some of my reasoning on all 35 players on the ballot this year. All of them posted excellent baseball careers, so being left out of the top 10 on my ballot is not intended as any sort of insult or slight, though it may be taken that way by some.
But before we get to the ballot (and non ballot), here’s a discussion of trio of controversies …
1) Bonds vs. Clemens: They are a package deal for almost everyone, and that’s understandable. They are a couple of alltime great who took steroids and lied about it, so it makes sense most see them together. I voted for neither the first few years they were on the ballot (justly, they went on together) but have begun to vote for Bonds. The main reason I vote for Bonds is that I believe the narrative that Bonds didn’t take steroids until he saw two great but lesser players (Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) start to surpass him via their own use of illegal chemicals and I don’t know what to believe with Clemens, whose lying far outstripped that of Bonds. Clemens went to the point of volunteering to lie on “60 Minutes,” and lying before Congress, which is of course a crime. Ultimately Clemens was found not guilty of perjury, but the standards aren’t the same here as there. He did lie. Many times.
2) Berkman vs Martinez: The analysts/stat guys (as have the Mariners) have taken up the cause for Martinez, it’s almost a crusade in some cases and I have been swayed that he is deserving. I voted for him once or twice in the past after initially resisting due to a combination of his position as DH and low bulk totals for a Hall of Famer (last year, he just didn’t quite make my top 10), and I voted for him again this year in his final year of eligibility, which is the time when we all need to take a closer look. But if I vote for Martinez, after a close review of their careers, I conclude that I must also vote for Berkman, whose career was so similar it’s hard to decide who is better. Some might even say Berkman’s career is slightly better due to the fact he did much better in MVP voting, which suggests greater impact (six times in the top seven, for Berkman to only two for Martinez, and no, it’s not because as some would have you believe, that the voters messed up), he played the field except for his brief time with the Yankees (and even played center field), and while he wasn’t a great defensive player, there’s a value taking a position and doing it adequately, he is a World Champion by virtue of his vital single that kept the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals alive.
Yet, Martinez will probably get more than 80 percent of the vote while the guess here is that Berkman falls of the ballot. The guess here is that the reason for that is that while both were Hall of Fame hitters Martinez was slightly better (a 147 OPS plus compared to 144 OPS plus); plus he led the league once in batting average, RBI, OBP and OPS while Berkman only led in in RBI), Martinez achieved the rare accomplishment of .300 batting average .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage (Berkman missed on batting average by. Scant seven points, though his OPS was actually slightly higher), he is a darling of the analytics guys due to his offensive numbers, the great Mariano Rovera has cited Martinez as his toughest out (Martinez did crush him). Plus, Martinez not only played on one team but has benefited by the Mariners’ p.r. machine which has been overdrive on this cause (I don’t blame the Astros for not matching the Mariners as they did a great job on Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and probably correctly sense there is no chance and want to save their bullets).
3) Curt Schilling: I feel I have to vote for this guy, as much as I’d prefer not to. The vote is based on baseball accomplishments, not personal taste, and by my criteria which out a premium on impact he is a Hall of Famer; he was a key man in helping his teams win three World Series titles and is one of the greatest postseason pitchers of alltime. I excluded him the one year he implied he’d like to see writers dead with a tweet (I voted for 10 other worthy candidates that year) as that was a bit too much, but my standards are generally low for personal demeanor and the Hall of Fame, as I believe they should be. I didn’t exclude him because he is a political conservative as some goofballs have insinuated (political persuasion has nothing to do with this. And I wouldn’t consider excluding him because he blocked me on twitter (and he has). I certainly won’t celebrate the day he gets in. But I am not the arbiter of good taste, and I think he belongs.
1) Mariano Rivera — He is inarguably the greatest closer of alltime (even if Craig Kimbrel has some better regular-season stats). As a bonus, he is a true gentleman (though as I mentioned, that isn’t a prerquisite). Straight-faced I told him at the World Series I thought he had a decent chance to make the Hall of Fame, and rather than call me an idiot for stating the obvious, he politely responded, “Thank you.”
2) Barry Bonds — One of the greatest players in baseball history, he was so good he earned it before even hearing about the “cream” and the “clear.”
3) Mike Mussina — He was consistently excellent despite pitching in the toughest division in baseball and against many hitters on the juice. The 83 WAR total bears that out (Pedro is 84). And by the way, no shot he ever touched the stuff himself.
4) Roy Halladay — The late and great Halladay was baseball’s best pitcher over a 10-year period. With seven top-five Cy Young finishes, he is deserving.
5) Fred McGriff — I can’t figure out why he hasn’t gotten more traction, but the potential culprits may be 1) He missed 500 home runs by seven
(the 1994-95 strike cost him there) 2) he played first base, and 3) he played for five teams, none for more than five years, meaning there’s been no campaign. None of these is a good reason. The reality is that he has better stats than Eddie Murray (though clearly not the cache) and was absolutely brilliant in the postseason, with a .917 OPS in October compared to a still-great .886 in the other months. It’s nothing short of a disgrace he gets less than 25 percent of the vote.
6) Schilling — Not only was he an alltime great postseason pitcher, he was excellent (if occasionally inhibited by injury) in the regular season, with the record for best strikeout-to-walk ratio, plus three seasons leading the league in strikeouts, two leading in strikeouts and three finishing second in Cy Young voting.
7) Scott Rolen — An excellent two-way player, he was overshadowed by being the third best player on excellent Cardinals teams (behind alltime great Albert Pujols plus the more spectacular Jim Edmonds, who was unfairly voted off the ballot) and who split his career somewhat evenly between three teams. His 70 WAR is shared by six other players, all of whom are in the Hall (Gary Carter, Barry Larkin, Frankie Frisch, Ron Santo, Johnny Mize and Alan Trammell). Jay Jaffe(link) makes a better case than I do. One more thing: Third base has been under-represented in the Hall.
8) Andruw Jones — Greatness is recognized here, especially alltime greatness. And there is a decent case that he is the best center fielder of alltime (he’s certainly in the top five at the very least), and he wasn’t a slouch on offense either (434 home runs), except for that one odd year in L.A., where he was a slouch. Though he had a quick comedown, the peak was fantastic, and his WAR over a 10-year period (1998-07) was better than everyone but Barry Bonds and A-Rod, Mark Bowman of MLB.com noted.
9) Edgar Martinez — That .300/.400/.500 slash line is hard to ignore (at least not for all 10 years).
10) Lance Berkman — Don’t sell him short. Six times he finished in the top seven in MVP voting, and that .943 lifetime OPS is Hall of Fame worthy. Not enough buzz will probably knock him off the ballot, undeservedly so.
Close, Maybe with a Bigger Ballot
11) Omar Vizquel — As with Jones, he is an alltime great at his position. The 10-man ballot is the main reason he’s excluded, but the other is that his offense just wasn’t as good as Jones (82 OPS plus), even relative to his peers at his position.
12) Jeff Kent — One of the best hitting second basemen ever, he just misses due to the limited ballot and average defense.
13) Larry Walker — An amazing talent, he certainly has the backing of the analytics/stats guys. Very close, and just short of the top 10 here, mostly because he only played 145 games once.
14) Todd Helton — Another ex-Rockie who’s very close. Some might get the idea I’m anti-Coors, and I think it’s fair to admit it gets factored in.
15) Billy Wagner — A case may be made based on the percentages, and he was about the hardest to hit among all pitchers.
Really, really good players but a little below those first two groups
16) Michael Young — You have to love a shortstop who posts .300 season after .300 season (with 200 hits no less). Six times he accomplished each feat.
17) Roy Oswalt — Terrific pitcher but a little short in years.
18) Miguel Tejada — He certainly had his moments (and deserved a bigger role in Moneyball), with six All-Star appearances and an MVP, and though he was mentioned him as a vitamins user, it’s hard to know for sure. For six years he played every game, so he was certainly taking care of himself.
19) Juan Pierre — Kenny Lofton light, and that’s no insult. Terrific career. Five straight years he played every game, and in different years he led in plate appearances, at-bats, hits, triples, steals, sacrifice bunts and hit by pitch.
Great players but hard to see a case
20) Kevin Youkilis — The Greek God of Walks did make “Moneyball,” (book version) for his keen eye.
21) Vernon Wells — Not his fault he was overvalued both at contract time and trade time. Very good player.
22) Freddy Garcia — Tough pitcher for a long time.
23) Derek Lowe — Under-rated pitcher.
24) Jon Garland — One of the starters on the White Sox 2005 championship team.
25) Freddy Garcia — Tough pitcher for a long time.
26) Rick Ankiel — Two-way player flashed amazing pitching talent before becoming a productive power hitter. Hoping for a comeback .
27) Travis Hafner — Had some big years in Cleveland.
28) Ted Lilly — Feisty hurler had some nice year.
30) Jason Bay — That concussion he suffered diving into the fence at Dodger Stadium may have derailed his career. But before that he wasn’t that far behind Matt Holiday, which is pretty darned good.
31) Placido Polanco — Bill Madden of the New York Daily News made a case(link) and it was interesting. But we are not there.
32) Darren Oliver — Nice long career but not a Hall of Famer by any standard.
If not for PEDs …
33) Roger Clemens — An alltime great. But who knows when he started to use?
34) Andy Pettitte — We appreciated the (occasional) honesty. From here, he’d have made it without the HGH. Blame Roj.
35) Sammy Sosa — He’s an easy Hall of Famer on the numbers and there really isn’t any proof positive, but he barely gets 10 percent of the vote, likely due to understandable assumptions based on his performance in front of Congress (and maybe also his corked bat). To me his case isn’t all that different than Jeff Bagwell’s, except that Bagwell got in. I didn’t vote for him, however, so I am being consistent.
36) Manny Ramirez — Hard to make the case here if you’re anti-steroid, not with two PED failures.
37) Gary Sheffield — He has the numbers, but also the BALCO connection. His explanation didn’t hold water. No one sends cash to Victor Conte with good intentions.
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.