Believe it or not, I don’t have an actual Hall of Fame vote. But if I did, here’s what mine would look like.
On the Ballot
Barry Bonds—In 2004, Bonds’ worst month was May, where he hit .250/.532/.542. He had 29 walks and four strikeouts in 77 plate appearances . . . in his worst month of the season. At one point in 2002, Bonds—the game’s preeminent power hitter—went 20 straight games without striking out, racking up nine home runs, 24 walks, and a 1.622 OPS over the stretch. Warts and all, you can’t have a respectable Hall of Fame without Bonds.
Bonus points for:
- Posting a .480 on-base percentage in his final season, at age 42.
- Going 30-for-33 on steal attempts over the last six years of his career.
Roger Clemens—Clemens won at least one Cy Young award on four different teams (he won seven total), spanning three decades. And he should have won more. In 1990, he lost out to Bob Welch, despite racking up over seven bWAR more than Welch (Welch went 27-6 vs. Clemens’ 21-6); that’s like a full Max Scherzer of separation. He also could have/should have won in 1988 (finished 6th), 1992 (3rd), 1996 (no votes), and 2005 (3rd). Sure, there’s a big ol’ elephant in the room here, but like with Bonds, Clemens was too good to keep out.
Jeff Bagwell—It seems like so many great seasons were cut short by the 1994 strike. There was Tony Gwynn’s run at .400, of course, and Matt Williams’ 43 home runs (and Ken Griffey Jr’s 40). Players like Frank Thomas and Kenny Lofton were having career years. And there’s Bagwell. He hit .368/.451/.750, leading the league in OPS, OPS+, runs, and RBI, and he had 39 home runs of his own. He’d never quite reach those levels again, but Bagwell would go on to eclipse the 40-homer mark three times and provide better-than-expected defense and base running for a first baseman. An easy yes.
Edgar Martinez—One of my favorite baseball plays is this one. Griffey Jr. probably gets remembered more for that highlight (maybe it was the shot that cut to him racing toward third or Brent Musberger’s enthusiastic “Griffey’s comin’ around” call), but it was Martinez who got the double. Martinez got a lot of doubles, in fact—521 of them, in total, if you count the one referenced above and his other six from scant postseason opportunities. Martinez’s on-base percentage ranks 21st all-time, too, right between Frank Thomas and Stan Musial. Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer, even though he didn’t play the field throughout much of his career.
Tim Raines—Raines, in his final year on the ballot, was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson and spent his entire peak in a small market and away from the spotlight of the playoffs. He’s not a slam-dunk candidate (sorry Jonah) either—he played a so-so left field and was a good-not-great hitter, a profile that doesn’t guarantee a trip to Cooperstown. But he also swiped 808 career bags on an 85 percent success rate (once leading the league four years in a row from 1981 through 1984), posted a .385 on-base percentage, and scored over 1,500 runs. More of a fancy lay-up candidate.
Mike Mussina—Mussina pitched in an offense-friendly era and he wasn’t Pedro Martinez. His mid-threes ERAs don’t exactly jump off the page at you, and there’s little black ink on his Baseball Reference page. He never won a Cy Young and it took him to his final season to win 20 games. But, inning for inning, he was as good as someone like Tom Glavine, almost annoyingly consistent and well clear of average year after year. And in his final season, as a 39-year-old, he racked up 5.2 bWAR with a 4.84 K:BB ratio, making you wonder how long he could have kept it up. Mussina has more career bWAR than HoFers like Glavine, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, and Juan Marichal. In fact, the only non-Hall of Famers ahead of him, by Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, are Clemens, Curt Schilling, and 1800s dude Jim McCormick, who once threw 657 2/3 innings in a single season and, perhaps predictably, didn’t pitch past 30.
Larry Walker—1994 strikes again. Walker had 44 doubles in 103 games that season, which put him well within reach of Earl Webb’s doubles record (67) set in 1931. Not sure if anyone lost sleep over the single-season doubles record, but shoot, it would have been fun to follow. Walker has his marks against—he played in Colorado for most of his career and he was hurt more than your typical Hall of Famer. From 1997 through 2002, though, he hit .353/.441/.648, and it’s hard to keep someone like that out of the Hall, especially when you factor in the plus secondary aspects of his game. Was also super-underrated on Backyard Baseball 2001.
Manny Ramirez—Ramirez hit the longest home run I’ve seen in person (right here, the second one), or at least it would have been if not for the light tower. The eyes of a 14-year-old baseball fan can be deceiving, I know, but I swear that ball was still going up when it collided with the tower, and I remember reciting as much to my mother as Ramirez rounded the bases. Not many other players could make big-league parks look so small.
Here’s how he compares to some of his competition on this ballot:
Bonus points for:
- Hitting the longest-if-not-for-light-tower home run I’ve ever seen in person.
- Playing a major part on the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox plus the mid-to-late ‘90s Indians teams.
- Hitting .285/.394/.544 in the postseason, including 29 homers in 111 games.
- Hitting this home run, which might qualify as the most no-doubt home run ever.
- Finishing 4th in the 2008 NL MVP despite only 53 games with the Dodgers.
His defense in the outfield mostly stunk, especially once he got to Boston (his arm was accurate, at least, and he played balls off the Monster quite well). And the steroid stuff. Lots of steroid stuff later in his career. I mostly don’t know how to handle the steroid stuff, so I do the old shrug-face. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important or that he shouldn’t get dinged for it, I just don’t know how to handle it. For the most part, I choose to look at what the player accomplished on the field, and whether that merits inclusion (then I mesh in things like light-tower home runs). It’s an imperfect system, sure, but it works.
Or it doesn’t.
Vladimir Guerrero—If you’re gonna have a Hall of Fame, you’ve gotta put Guerrero in it. He was long and lanky; he swung at everything; he was sometimes reckless; he had a helluva arm; he was the last great Expo. His numbers are probably more borderline than you’d think, but he just feels like the kind of player who should be celebrated in that little town in upstate New York.
Bonus points for:
- His (sort of) involvement in this play, at Shea Stadium, which resulted in a game-tying Marlon Anderson home run and . . . the most exciting baseball play I’ve seen in person. (I still don’t understand how Molina thought Anderson was out.)
Ivan Rodriguez—In his prime, Rodriguez was great on both sides of the ball. He hit .320/.363/.530 from 1997 through 2004, and you already know about his arm behind the dish. In 2001, he threw out 60 percent of would-be base stealers, a career-high and one of nine times he led the league in caught stealing rate. He just squeaks on here for a few reasons: whispers about ‘roids (remember, I don’t know how to handle that), whispers that he wasn’t great at handling a pitching staff, so-so pitch framing numbers, and the last seven or so years of his career, where his OPS+ was like 85.
The Close Calls (and the players I would probably vote for soon, or if the voting rules allowed for more than 10 players)
Trevor Hoffman—I don’t really care much about saves, I must admit. It’s a strange, arbitrary statistic, probably no better than the pitcher win. In some respects, it can measure a notable feat—say, going through the middle of the Red Sox order, on the road in Fenway Park, to protect a one-run lead. In another, though, it measures something almost any competent professional pitcher should be able to accomplish—say, going through the bottom of the Marlins order, at home, with a three-run margin. In his newsletter the other day, Joe Sheehan made some interesting notes about the closer role, which he dubbed one of the cushiest jobs in sports:
- They generally face the bottom of the order more often than set-up men.
- They often enter clean innings, with nobody on base.
- And, adding one of my own: they often pitch with an optimized defensive line-up behind them.
I’m not as staunchly opposed to relievers in the Hall as Sheehan (or, say, Jeff Passan), but I certainly understand the argument and agree, in general, that outside of Mariano Rivera, it’s tough for a closer to turn in a sure-thing Hall-worthy resume. That’s why I put Hoffman here—he’s under strong consideration and, once the ballot clears some, he’ll likely earn my (virtual) vote. For what it’s worth—and ya’ll know this already—Hoffman was an excellent reliever, recording a 2.87 ERA, 141 ERA+, and (yes, we’ll mention them) 601 saves over nearly 1,100 career innings.
Bonus points for:
- The entrance.
- The changeup being his best pitch, when we normally associate shut-down closers with Ricky Vaughn-like velocity.
Read David, from last week, for more on Hoffman.
Billy Wagner—If Hoffman gets the nod, Wagner almost must follow.
Hoffman’s lone edge is career length—and 186 innings is like three full closer seasons, no small thing. Wagner was a better pitcher, though; just better at preventing runs, thanks, in large part, to nearly unparalleled left-handed velocity.
Bonus points for:
- Finishing his career, at 38, with arguably his best season: 69 1/3 innings, 1.43 ERA, 275 ERA+, 4.73 K:BB ratio.
Curt Schilling—Schilling is a clear notch above Mussina. At one point, later in his career, he led the league five of six years in strikeout-to-walk ratio, peaking at nearly 10 whiffs per free pass in 2002. He also owns a ridiculous postseason track record, which includes a 2.23 ERA, a 4.8 K:BB ratio, and one red-colored sock. He’s also a giant pain-in-the-ass, so let’s make him wait another year or six.
Gary Sheffield—Sheffield had some walk and strikeout numbers you just don’t see anymore. In 1996, his finest season, he walked 142 times and struck out just 66, all while smashing 42 home runs. In fact—channeling Play Index—only seven other players have hit 40-plus homers with fewer than 70 strikeouts since 1990, and Sheffield got close to doing it on three other occasions.
Bonus points for:
- A super long peak, which essentially lasted from 1992 through 2005, spanning five different teams. During that stretch, his OPS+ sat at 153, only dipping below 120 once, and he accumulated 1,183 walks to just 859 strikeouts.
- The bat waggle.
Close-ish But No Thanks
Sammy Sosa—During Sosa’s relatively short peak (1998-2003), he was only a few ticks better than Ramirez was for his entire career. In 1998, when he hit 66 home runs, he “only” OPSed 1.024. When the dust settled on his numbers, they just weren’t as good as you’d think, and that’s before trying to untangle the steroid problem.
Lee Smith—We’ve gotta cut off relievers at some point, and this is it. By Baseball Reference, Smith out-WARed Hoffman by 1.4 . . . but it took him 200 more innings. In short, Smith just wasn’t good enough at preventing runs, with all the aforementioned (and some not mentioned) perks of being a late-inning reliever, to make the Hall.
Fred McGriff—McGriff fully endorsed Tom Emanski’s instructional videos, which is at least enough to earn him a careful look in my book. He also hit at least 30 home runs in 10 different seasons, but never 40.
Jeff Kent—Kent was an excellent offense-first second basemen for a long time, but the Hall isn’t big enough for everybody. Could get bumped up to the next group on the right day.
Mike Cameron—Cameron’s a Hall of Very Good-er, but he’s merits mention here for once hitting four home runs in a game and always playing spectacular defense in center field.
J.D. Drew—Like Cameron, Drew’s skill-set wasn’t always appreciated. Sort of a poor-man’s Larry Walker, Drew could do a little bit of everything well. At his absolute peak, he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer (but we only got about two years of that peak).
Jorge Posada—A great hitting catcher, Posada brought the importance of pitch framing to the forefront before anyone was really thinking about it. He wasn’t good at it.