The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2014 induction class Wednesday, with the Baseball Writers Association of America voting in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. There were many deserving names missing from the list of those who received the requisite 75-percent support for entry, but those three players received baseball’s highest honor. That’s good. Each is deserving, and getting them all off the ballot for next year is important: The logjam of worthy names must be alleviated somehow.
That said, I’m not sure Glavine is among the 10 most qualified, eligible candidates for the Hall. In order to determine whether he was or not, once and for all, I’m putting myself in the place of a real Hall voter (basically, writers who have been BBWAA members for 10 consecutive seasons, although many of those who vote have actually been off the baseball beat for some time). Here are my thoughts on each of the players who appeared on this year’s ballot (ranging from a sentence to an essay). I’ll indicate whether each is deserving within their individual writeup, but note that, since the Hall allows only 10 spots to be filled on an eligible ballot, I’ll be indicating only after all the players get their due which ones I’m actually voting for. So read to the end!
Moises Alou – It’s important, sometimes, to differentiate Hall of Fame careers with those that clearly fall short of that standard, but still demand to be well-remembered. Alou is a perfect example. He produced impressive offensive numbers, even accounting for the extremely high offensive levels leaguewide during his career. On the list of players whose careers have (at least allegedly) been marred and cruelly diminished by a first act spent patrolling the thinly-veiled concrete outfields of Montreal, Alou falls somewhere between Rondell White and Vladimir Guerrero, well short of Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, but closer to those three than to White.
Few hitters in baseball history have had such a distinctive look. Alou ritually urinated on his hands, to toughen them, and so never wore batting gloves. He stood knock-kneed in the box, his feet more than shoulder-width apart, but both knees beneath his torso. As he awaited a pitch, he would draw his bat in a circle, of sorts, over and over, swinging it down in front of his legs, then slowly swooping it back upward. His hands would settle, quite still, behind his right ear, with the bat nearly perpendicular to the ground.
From there, when a pitch that appealed to him came in, he could uncoil as easily and as fluidly as any hitter you’ll ever see. He strode not at all. He simply turned his hips, putting his weight momentarily on the back leg, twisting into the classic hitter’s pose at the point of contact: hips square to the pitcher, back leg bent but not collapsed, front leg straight but not locked. As strange as he looked in his setup, he was quick to the ball, walked enough and was tough to strike out, and he got plenty of power from that swing. Alou is, of course, the son of Felipe Alou, and nephew of Matty and Jesus. It’s odd for a player with so much baseball pedigree to be so unorthodox, but Alou more than made it work: He became the best player in the history of his family.
His best season came in 1998, when he hit 38 home runs for a very, very good Astros team, even though they still played their home games in the homer-swallowing Astrodome. He missed the entire 1999 season with a knee injury, though, and as that was his age-32 season that disappeared, it looked like Alou might be finished as a productive player. He wasn’t.
In fact, from age 33 onward, Alou hit 187 home runs, and 220 doubles. He hit .300 six more times (though only three of those were in 100 or more games). He played for the 2003 Chicago Cubs, and would have made the playoff catch of the decade but for the interference of Steve Bartman in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. He amassed 39 homers and 78 total extra-base hits for the 2004 Cubs. He’s still not close to a Hall of Famer, but Alou played very well for five different teams, won a World Series ring with the 1997 Marlins and hit .303, with over 2,100 hits. Remember him fondly.
Jeff Bagwell – It’s tempting to say that Bagwell’s Hall of Fame case rests on his tremendous peak, rather than a long career of accomplishment and accumulation, because he fell short of many of the landmark numbers—500 (or even 450) home runs, 3,000 (or even 2,500) hits—that mark longevity of excellence at the plate. The numbers refute that, though. Although Bagwell seemed to disappear sooner, and faster, than a typical superstar, and although he didn’t debut until he was nearly 23 years old, he played over 200 more games than sometime teammate Alou, and batted more than 1,500 times more. There are guys who played much longer than Bagwell, but Bagwell isn’t short on good seasons.
He isn’t, in fact, short on anything. The fact that he has twice been left out of the Hall thus far is a sham. Bagwell’s 1994, cut short by the strike, had a chance to go down as one of the best offensive seasons ever, by a first baseman. He hit .367/.451/.750 that year, with 39 home runs in 110 games. That’s despite playing his home games in, again, the cavernous Astrodome.
From 1996 through 2002, Bagwell drew at least 100 walks every year, peaking at 149 in 1999. He also got hit by pitches quite often, one of those hidden ways that players can get on base without glory. In fact, Bagwell was hit 11 times in 1999, and had 171 hits. That’s 331 times reaching base, not counting fielder’s choices or times reaching on errors. From 1996-2000, his lowest on-base percentage was .424.
Park factors, the strike and career-ending shoulder trouble kept Bagwell from compiling the numbers that help make it obvious, but if you watched Bagwell rise out of that nearly incomprehensible crouch, with those batting gloves padding the backs of his hands, and launch the ball, and didn’t see a Hall of Famer, I seriously question your ability to enjoy baseball, let alone analyze it.
Armando Benitez – A fine, long-lasting reliever with a blazing fastball, an absolute rocket of a fastball. Laughable as a Hall of Fame candidate.
Craig Biggio – Alou. Bagwell. Biggio. For a while there, the Astros had not only a great collection of sheer offensive talent, but some of the game’s most interesting players, aesthetically. Biggio’s batting-helmet shtick may have been a bit contrived, but the overall mentality of which it was a part was real, and valuable. Biggio was, at his best, a very prolific and plenty efficient basestealer, a solid fielder (after his move from catcher to second base) and a great OBP guy.
In 1997, Biggio played all 162 games, had 69 extra-base hits (22 of them homers), reached base over 300 times (including 34 times being hit by a pitch), stole 47 bases and did not ground into a single double play.
Biggio had at least 20 home runs eight times, and at least 40 doubles seven times, including seasons of 56 and 51 doubles. He stole 414 bases, peaking at 50. He surpassed 3,000 hits, and was hit by more pitches during his career than any other player, ever.
All of that is true, but it’s also a bit misleading. Biggio did everything well for a while there, but there was only a year or two in which he was one of the game’s five or 10 best players. He didn’t walk a ton for a leadoff hitter. He racked up a lot of those big, round numbers thanks to consistently batting more than anyone else batted. Counting stats are tricky that way. Biggio’s .281/.363/.433 rate stats, for his career, illustrate that he wasn’t in league with Bagwell, or even Alou, as a batter. He played premium defensive positions, but he wasn’t an elite defender at any of them. His peak was shorter than it might seem.
Doubles hitters, in general, are often underrated, but the very best of them sometimes get the opposite treatment. Biggio has a lot in common with Pete Rose, as a player, though he was better in the non-batting facets of the game than Rose was. Both players are remembered as better players than they were, because they played forever and painted over their warts and rough aging with longevity and versatility. Biggio is a Hall of Famer, by historical standards, but by a small margin.
Barry Bonds – I’m torn here. I really am. Bonds is one of the three or four best players of all time. He’s a clear Hall of Famer, on the merits, and is so without crediting him for any of the things steroids may have helped him accomplish, almost no matter when you believe he began using. Bonds was a Hall of Famer by the end of 1995, if not sooner. He was the best player in baseball for four straight seasons, 1990-93, and had a case for the same title from 1996-98. He won the NL MVP award in 1990-1992 and 1993.
All that said, I don’t like the cop-out that the Hall, as a museum of baseball history, must include Bonds and others who abused substances, people and the rules of the game. In fact, it already does, since the Hall has memorabilia and photographs from both the single-season and career home-run record moments for Bonds, among tons of other things that document the accomplishments of those we know used steroids.
No, induction into the Hall of Fame, having a place in the plaque room, is a distinct honor, and although it’s no longer a matter of actual importance to players—it used to be that reaching the Hall was the difference between retiring to the lecture/autograph/handshake circuit, and working the dusty diamonds of the minor leagues until you died—it still seems to matter a great deal to them. A part of me doesn’t want Bonds, or Roger Clemens, to have that moment.
A part of me doesn’t want to put baseball through the fractious ordeal of an induction weekend that would almost certainly include both Bonds and some player (be it Ken Griffey, Jr., or Randy Johnson, or Chipper Jones) who didn’t use, and who was also considerably better to people than Bonds has been. A part of me doesn’t want to see Bonds humiliated by booing at his own induction ceremony. A part of me doesn’t want to see the smugness on his face as he gives his acceptance speech. A part of me fears that speech would be bilious and obnoxious.
Bonds is an exceptional baseball player, a Hall of Famer by every statistical measure. He didn’t need to use anything to extend his prime in order to reach that level. He could have retired at age 35, and he’d be a better Cooperstown candidate than Jeff Bagwell. That he chose, instead, to pay whatever price the fates charged him for immortality, instead of mere heroism, complicates things.
Bonds is a different cat. He always has been. Michael Jordan was a compulsive gambler, and was unfaithful to his wife. Brett Favre got addicted to alcohol and painkillers, and was unfaithful to his wife. Pete Rose gambled maniacally. Tigers Woods was bonus-points unfaithful to his wife. These are great competitors who simply couldn’t find the challenge or the variety they craved in their chosen fields of endeavor, and for whom the effort to contain their tenacity was in vain. It’s an ugly flaw, but it’s forgivable, insofar as society rewarded their extreme intensity with idol worship for what it wrought in their arenas, and especially because part of their reward was the type of money and attention that facilitated their vices.
In contrast, Bonds doesn’t seem to have been made into a competitive monster. He seems to have been born into too many expectations and too little paternal attention. He achieved, acted out and even occasionally secluded himself in efforts to win the love and approval of his father, and then, of the world. He needed the respect of everyone he met, and if they so much as signaled that he may have to earn that respect, he threw a fit.
Bonds was unfaithful to his wives, too, but only because he was so desperate as to need the love and admiration of more than one woman at once. He wasn’t an inveterate competitor. He violated the egalitarian expectations of the fans who adored him, and of the men who bravely faced him, even though he was clearly their superior. For all their flaws, Jordan, Woods and Favre never (to our knowledge) cheated in any way. They competed honestly at all times. Bonds didn’t. He’s still great, and would have been with or without the substances he used to break baseball, but that black mark stands on his record, and I’m struggling with it still, even now, as I type this.
Sean Casey – One of those burly, bearded first baseman who just break your heart when you see them swing, because blech, this guy should have more power and leverage and bat speed than that. He was fine, but he’s not one of the 25 best players on this ballot.
Roger Clemens – Everything I said of Bonds is true of Clemens, with the aggravating addendum that Clemens, as a pitcher, probably got a lot more out of his late-career substance abuse than Bonds did. Pitchers are supposed to break or weaken. Their arms are supposed to gradually slow down, or pinwheel off toward the first-base dugout one autumn day. They’re supposed to have interesting career arcs, metamorphoses, desperate adjustments in the name of staying dominant, then even more desperate ones in the name of staying relevant. Clemens robbed us of that. He’s still the best right-handed pitcher of all time, but his use grinds on me even more sharply than Bonds’s does.
Ray Durham – A fine second baseman. Half a Hall of Famer if you like his glove, less if you don’t, really. Underrated, though. Has gotten some ribbing for being on the ballot at all, but from 1996-2004, he was a very good player. Not great, and never close to transcendent, but very good.
Eric Gagne – In a weird way, Gagne almost deserves real consideration. People are way too hard on relievers. Yes, they’re fundamentally less valuable than starters or position players, but they are what they are, and Gagne was one of the best ever.
There are two important premises that underpin a Gagne Hall of Fame case:
- Relievers are a subset of players that can’t fairly be compared to others, like a kicker in football.
- Because relievers who have long careers of excellence very nearly do not exist, and because the guys who do have such careers tend not to be as dominant at their peak, the right way to evaluate a closer’s Hall of Fame case is by what he did at his absolute best, say a three-year peak.
I won’t be making a Hall case for Gagne, but if I really wanted to, I feel I could defend one. He had only three really good seasons, 2002-04, but he was such a phenomenon (from the wild saves streak to the insane strikeout-to-walk ratio) during that time that I think he deserves to be remembered well. Put it this way: I’m not sure Gagne belongs in the Hall, but he belongs there more than Bruce Sutter or Lee Smith, and one of those two is in.
Tom Glavine – The last of his kind, at least on his level. Glavine was dominant in a truly peculiar way. He didn’t rack up strikeouts at the rate we associate with dominant starters, except perhaps the strange breed that overran the league in the 1970s and early 1980s. He didn’t even avert walks the way many people assume he did, based on his profile. Glavine was a control pitcher who walked 70-80 batters a season. He got by, in fact, because he almost never threw strikes. That induced a lot of bad contact. It also made it very hard for teams to bring the guys who got on base so often around to score. Walks were easy enough to come by with Glavine on the mound. It was hits that disappeared.
That’s not how the game works anymore. Good pitchers miss bats. Pitchers who don’t miss bats pay the price. There are still exceptions, but no Glavine-sized exceptions, and I think that’s because it’s now structurally impossible to do what Glavine did.
His singularity, to me, is a big part of his Hall of Fame case. Glavine deserves to be honored and remembered for what he was, because there are so few like him, and because it was fun to watch the way he got batters out. He’s not a clear-cut Hall of Famer in terms of sheer statistics, but he’s still a Hall of Famer on that basis, and the externalities make it a much easier decision, for me.
Luis Gonzalez – Extremely underrated. Gonzalez was an elite defensive outfielder early in his career, and an elite power hitter during his peak. He wasn’t a terribly complete player, but he also didn’t have any glaring deficiencies. There has never been any more than hearsay suggesting Gonzalez used performance-enhancing drugs, and Gonzalez angrily denied those non-allegations. He might well have used, but it’s unfair to assume that he did. He’s only fringe top-20 on this ballot, but he’s worthy of a discussion (that will never happen). If he wasn’t Hall-worthy, he was 85-90 percent of it.
Jacque Jones – On August 17, 2007, I was at Wrigley Field for the Jacque Jones Game. Jones started in center field, as he did for much of the second half of that season, and made a terrific catch—the best catch I have ever seen live—in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and two outs, Brendan Ryan cranked a ball. It should have hit the wall in left-center field on the fly, to break a scoreless tie. Instead, though, Jones ran it down, despite having (properly) played Ryan very shallow. He slammed into the wall, just full-speed nailed it, but he made the catch.
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth, though, when Albert Pujols put one out of even Jones’s reach. In the bottom of the sixth, Jones hit a two-run home run. The final score was 2-1 Cubs. Jones won that game on his own, and that win put the Cubs ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and into first place for the first time. As it turned out, they wouldn’t relinquish that advantage.
I went to that game with my dad, made the drive 180 miles down from Appleton, Wis. for it. I’d had the tickets for a long time, since before the season, so we went, even though it meant missing the funeral of a high-school classmate whose death had come as a terrible shock. (I did get to attend the visitation a few days earlier, or I probably wouldn’t have gone.) Five days later, I moved to Chicago to begin my freshman year at Loyola University.
I have attended no fewer than 40 games at Wrigley since then, plenty of them with my dad, but none with only him. I haven’t made a three-hour trek to a game, with knucklehead sports-talk radio fueling our chatter. I haven’t lived the same life since that game that I lived before it. I love the life I have, and wouldn’t trade back. Still, that game will always be one of the most important I remember. Jones is nothing closely resembling a Hall of Famer.
Todd Jones – I won’t dredge up the link, because it wasn’t all that well-executed, but Jones himself made a public note of the fact that he didn’t want any Hall of Fame votes. He’s a good guy with a good sense of humor who pitched pretty well for a long time, out of a lot of bullpens. He was in very little danger of getting votes, anyway.
Jeff Kent – As a group, second basemen peak early and age badly. Kent is the exception to each rule. He didn’t play his first full season until he was 25, and he had his best season at 34—plus five good seasons after that. In 2001, Kent had 49 doubles and six triples. In fact, he doubled at least 34 times in nine straight seasons, from 1997-2005, and topped 40 four times. He also hit 377 career home runs, an impressive total for a second baseman.
While his value takes a very different shape, and he wasn’t nearly the ideal of the well-rounded up-the-middle guy that Biggio was, Kent is a nearly identical candidate to Biggio, for total value. The question will be whether there’s room for either on the ballot. Biggio will get the first spot, because he was more fun to watch, and affected the game in more facets.
Paul Lo Duca – Lo Duca had about seven full seasons in the big leagues. He was never a five-win player. Arguably the least interesting name on the ballot, along with Benitez.
Greg Maddux – We all know Maddux deserves to get in. We all know he will get in. After Ken Gurnick became the first writer to make known that he didn’t vote for Maddux, though, the issue has arisen, and the question must be answered: Does it matter whether Maddux, clearly deserving of it, gets unanimous support for his candidacy?
I’ll answer that question as briefly as I can: No. Maddux will be inducted. Easily. Seventy-five percent ballot support is all you need. If historians of the future spend a moment tabulating or analyzing the percentages of the vote received by various Hall members, it will be a moment too many. If a guy gets in, he’s in. Maddux is in. A right-handed Glavine with the stuff to succeed in the strike zone, and therefore many fewer walks, Maddux is also one of the underrated ground-ball mavens of baseball history. He’s famous for his intellect, efficiency and durability, but what I’ll always remember is the way he could manipulate the ball.
He threw pitches, of various speeds, that drifted in ways batters couldn’t account for, and therefore, couldn’t combat. Breaking balls are one thing, but when a pitcher has the finger and hand strength, the dexterity, the touch and timing to make the ball move laterally and vertically on a fairly constant path, in several directions, from the same arm speed and arm slot, it’s impossible to do anything with it. Maddux’s delivery was mechanical perfection, a weapon he wielded against hitters every bit as much as he wielded his fastball, cutter, changeup, slider and curve.
UPDATE: Obviously, I wrote up Maddux before the balloting was revealed. As it turned out, 15 other guys also didn’t vote for Maddux, some of them probably for strategic reasons. So the point about Gurnick, in this regard anyway, is moot.
Edgar Martinez – The most difficult and valuable thing to do in baseball is to hit well. The question we still need to answer, though, is whether being a great hitter, alone, is enough to put a player in the Hall of Fame.
Okay, actually, we have the answer to that. Ted Williams was a pretty crummy fielder at an utterly unimportant defensive position, but he was an absolute Hall of Famer, and made it in easily. Eddie Murray never had any defensive value, but was a deserving inductee, and had no problem.
What really trips us up, as a community, is when the player up for consideration hasn’t even played the field, and gone through the motions of accruing defensive value. For that, Edgar Martinez might be the best test case to date.
Martinez actually played a fair amount of third base through age 30 or 31, but virtually his entire Hall of Fame case is built on what he did once he became a full-time DH, in or about 1995. He played 10 great seasons as a DH, posting high doubles totals and higher on-base percentages, but never playing 160 games, even in his protected role.
To me, he’s not a Hall of Famer, and it isn’t all that close. I’m open to putting a DH in the Hall, but Martinez isn’t the right DH. His peak wasn’t high enough, and his productive career wasn’t long enough. I like Martinez, but he fails to set himself apart.
Don Mattingly – A DH who just happened to play first base, instead of DH, Mattingly is like Martinez, but a bit worse. He had a strong peak, but it was very brief, and the tail on his career is unimpressive. He’s as good or better than Moises Alou and Luis Gonzalez, but below Martinez, and off the radar of a legitimate Hall of Fame discussion.
Fred McGriff – When I said Mattingly was a DH who took the field, I meant that, as a first baseman of roughly average fielding aptitude, he neither added nor subtracted value with his glove. McGriff is unlike Martinez or Mattingly, though, because he actively hurt his teams with miserable defensive work at first. I’m a huge fan of McGriff, a classic lefty power hitter with a very distinct physical style. His 1988-94 puts him in a very real conversation. Because of his terrible defense, though, and because he was on the fence for reasonable induction in the first place, I have to put McGriff in the first tier of the unqualified, alongside Martinez.
Mark McGwire – I don’t categorize Mark McGwire as one of the bad guys of the Steroid Era. He admitted he used, but there doesn’t seem to have been malice or even greed in his heart when he did so. I still make note of his use, and consider that, given his health problems in the years preceding his historic home-run tear, he might not have scaled the heights the way he did without the chemicals he said he used to aid in injury prevention and recovery. I won’t discount his performance, though, and wouldn’t bar him from the Hall for his use.
I think he falls short, statistically. It’s breathlessly close, but he was so one-dimensional that I think he falls short. He had 583 career home runs, but only 252 doubles. He only had 91 doubles and triples from 1996 to 1999, four years over which he hit 245 homers. He did draw walks, but not at the remarkable rate that some of his competitors did.
Call me crazy, but I put McGwire—a steroid cheat!—on the bubble, instead of just off it, because I think his contributions to the game run a little bit deeper than the numbers. The home-run chase of 1998 was a delightful experience, handled with class and good humor, and the fact that the man who made the history was engaged in steroid use doesn’t particularly dampen my memory of it. McGwire hit 583 home runs, and 70 of them in one insane, magical summer. He’s not a Hall of Famer, by the numbers, and I doubt I’ll find room for him on my 10-man ballot, but I think I want him in the plaque room, someday.
Jack Morris – It’s not even that close. Morris compiled a lot of innings, but he wasn’t actually that good. According to Baseball Prospectus WARP, Morris was never even a four-win pitcher. He’s scarcely more than half a Hall of Famer, in terms of really good seasons. He was an innings eater, for a long time. He was nothing more. Something like three dozen contemporary pitchers who either share the ballot with him or have already fallen off of it are better Hall of Fame candidates than Jack Morris.
Mike Mussina – With pitchers, I like to look for great seasons. So much can happen to derail or dampen a pitcher’s career that the best way to measure the worth of one is to tally up the number of times he was one of the two or three best pitchers in his league.
Mike Mussina was one of those guys three or four times. His best stretch, the thing we can most accurately call his prime, came from 1998-2003. He was never clearly the best in the league, which is a mark against him, but he was consistently very, very good. Even when he walked away, at 39, there was really no sign of serious decline. He was simply done.
It doesn’t seem to me that Mussina took much of a position on himself, which makes it tough to take a position on him. He was great in the postseason, great for the Orioles, great for the Yankees, but he definitely didn’t provide the anecdotes. He compiled great grades, and even participated in extracurricular activities, but his application seems to be missing its essay portion.
Still, I see Mussina as a Hall of Famer. He was overlooked during his career; that’s not his fault. His IQ far surpassed those of most of his contemporaries, but he wasn’t afflicted by a terribly strong personality, so his thoughtfulness didn’t get to shine through very often. He did everything well, on the mound, but doesn’t have a trademark skill, a category or single number that evokes, “Wow.” These things held him back from superstardom, but don’t disqualify him from a lifetime achievement honor. I think he’s earned that.
Hideo Nomo – Soft factors make Nomo worth remembering. At his best, he was a sensation, with the delivery that earned him the nickname “The Tornado” and the no-hitter and the big-strikeout games. He wasn’t at his best for long, though, at least Stateside. Not a legitimate candidate.
Rafael Palmeiro – Some people have the misfortune to be stained by certain scandals more permanently, and more darkly, than everyone else. They become the symbol of a systemic failure, and they pay a disproportionate price for the same crimes many around them committed. This is the nature of scandal, I suppose, and if people understood it better, maybe we wouldn’t have so many scandals in the first place. You never know who will end up with the darkest mark on their record. It’s cruelly random.
Palmeiro wears the blackest hat of anyone who used these substances, or facilitated their use. That’s impossible to ignore, now that he’s been booted from the ballot, utterly unsupported. In my view, though, he was a fringe Hall of Famer, anyway. The counting numbers look great, and his consistency was admirable, but he was never truly elite, one of the three best players in his league. I can get McGwire or Palmeiro into the Hall, depending on how I weigh peak and longevity as virtues of a candidate, but it’s tough to get both over the bar. Neither is a top-10 candidate in this class, under any circumstances.
Mike Piazza – Whereas Bonds and Clemens face overwhelming factual evidence, and Palmeiro tested positive, and McGwire admitted to using PEDs, Piazza falls alongside Bagwell and Gonzalez, among those who have only vaguely or baselessly been tied to the substances. There’s no sound basis for the suspicion that he used, other than guilt by broad association.
Nor is there a reasonable performance-based argument for excluding him. Piazza was one of the two best offensive catchers ever, and despite some of the occasional moaning over his arm and his rapport with pitchers, he was roughly an average defender. He had seven five-win seasons, according to Baseball Prospectus, and his 1996-98 stretch is the best by a catcher since Johnny Bench was at the height of his powers.
That Piazza has been denied entry to the Hall twice, now, is a travesty. Hopefully, he’ll take a step forward as some of the ultra-deserving candidates ahead of him (Maddux, Glavine and Thomas this year, presumably Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz next year) get into the Hall and out of his way.
Tim Raines – The longer you play baseball, the farther past your peak you are when you finally retire. In the case of Tim Raines, whose blazing speed and on-base skills meant he peaked fairly early, he probably played 15 years past his true peak. That’s hard on Hall of Fame voters, who have to try to remember how great he was, but must sift through a decade of being just okay to get back to when he was worth serious consideration.
He was, though. From 1981-89, Raines had seven seasons with an OBP north of .390, and his worst was .350. In fact, he maintained OBPs over .350 until 1999, when he was 39 and only batted 164 times. Raines also stole at least 70 bases each year, 1981-86, including 71 in his rookie year of 1981—in 88 games!
Raines was easily the second-best leadoff hitter in baseball, for over 10 years. The existence of Rickey Henderson made Raines less of a superstar than he would have been otherwise. So did playing his best years in Montreal. Neither of those things, though, is an argument against Raines as a Hall of Famer. He’s not an elite candidate, but he’s an obvious choice.
Kenny Rogers – Kenny Rogers wasn’t great, but he was substantially better than Jack Morris. He didn’t become a starting pitcher until 1993, at the age of 28, but still started for 15 years. He was a fierce competitor, and he held his own in hitter’s parks during the height of the offensive explosion of the late 1990s and early 2000s. He even flashed occasional dominance. He’s Jack Morris, just without the mustache, the trademark playoff victories and the sportswriter mythos. Oh, and with more talent.
Curt Schilling – From 1997-02, Schilling put up video-game numbers. The combination of him and Randy Johnson for those two seasons in Arizona might stand as the most dominant starting tandem in big-league history. Schilling didn’t get terribly close to induction this time around, but maybe he can make the leap and join Johnson on induction weekend in 2015. That’d be neat.
Though he suffered a number of injuries, Schilling always went deep into games when healthy. His numbers look a little bit strange, for that reason. Looking just at the seasons during which he made his full complement of starts, though, you can see how dominant he could be. His post-season resume should only cement his candidacy.
Richie Sexson – Richie Sexson hit 45 homers in a season twice, a testament to the remarkable power levels baseball reached during his career. Sexson might be Mr. Irrelevant, on this ballot.
Lee Smith – As a Cubs fan, a high-school version of me would argue fervently that Smith’s exclusion is a crime, given Bruce Sutter’s presence in the Hall. That’s true, as far as it goes, but Sutter doesn’t belong in the Hall himself, and the greater injustice to baseball fans would be to pretend both belong, just because one snuck in somehow.
J.T. Snow – Was probably meaningfully worse than Sexson. If there IS a player on this ballot who doesn’t belong, it’s Snow. A very poor man’s Sean Casey.
Sammy Sosa – Even with historical hindsight to provide distance, I can’t see this one with clear eyes. Sosa was simply a joy to watch, and if I’m biased by the deep allegiance to the Cubs that so scarred my childhood, so be it.
Sosa was Yasiel Puig, and Puig is Sosa. Each is exceptionally gifted, but overly exuberant, on and off the field. Each is generous and big-hearted, but also very much in love with being loved. Sosa’s power-speed combination was marvelous, even if he got thrown out too often to add much value with his legs. His arm was exciting, when he got off a good throw, and you just had to learn to deal with the occasional missed cutoff man. Sosa’s range in right field might be the most underrated aspect of his game; he was miles better than his defensive reputation.
There was more flash than substance, sometimes, both in terms of performance and in terms of personality. It all ended badly, and strangely, and Sosa’s day on the dais would be as strange as Bonds’s, if somewhat less ugly. Still, I want Sammy Sosa to reach the Hall of Fame someday. He narrowly remained on the ballot this time around, which is about right, because he’s clearly not one of the 10 most deserving candidates on this ballot. He might not stay on after next year, depending on a few things that are hard to foresee. But Sosa was a great player, a multidimensional talent early in his career and the greatest power hitter in Cubs history later.
Frank Thomas – The foil of Bagwell in every way.
Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell
Down and through ball
Utter lack of suspicion, despite massive physique
Unfounded accusations left and right
I’m not sure which guy had the better true Hall of Fame case. Bagwell was a magnificent defender. Thomas was a slightly better hitter, and had superior longevity. I don’t want to imply that I think Thomas took performance enhancers. There’s no evidence of that. It’s just that there’s also no evidence that Bagwell did, yet he gets tarred and Thomas gets nothing. They should have gone into the Hall together. Instead, Thomas easily earned election, and Bagwell has to wait another year for some of the fools to wise up.
Mike Timlin – A career middle reliever. Was member of Blue Jays of 1992-93, and of Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. Can’t imagine he pops up on this ballot if not for those facts.
Alan Trammell – Like Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker and probably Mickey Tettleton, Trammell better deserves the Hall of Fame consideration that mostly went to Jack Morris during their time on the ballot. Trammell still has a shot, but it seems to be a very, very long one now.
None of the major stats favor Trammell’s case for the Hall of Fame. He hit .285 for his career, which is perfectly good, given that he also drew some walks and hit for a modicum of power. It takes context, though, to illuminate the real value there. It takes a nuanced approach that accounts for the value of his playing shortstop, and playing it pretty well. It takes an understanding of the era, and the fact that Trammell was no worse than Ozzie Smith during the 1980s, but merely less famous, and only that because Cal Ripken, Jr. overshadowed him.
Even accounting for all of that, Trammell is no inner-circle Hall of Famer. He does belong, though. He deserved the 1987 AL MVP award. He was as good from 1986-90 as a whole lot of Hall of Fame shortstops ever were. He’ll have a tough time getting past the logjam of all-time greats that have piled up on the ballot, but he should be a member of the Hall one day.
Larry Walker – On a rate basis, Walker is clearly a worthy candidate. He hit .313/.400/.565 for his career. Those are staggering numbers. They were also compiled primarily during the height of the offensive spike, though, and primarily in Colorado, before the humidor made Coors Field even a facsimile of a big-league ballpark.
Walker struggled to stay healthy, especially after he turned 30. In fact, he only once(!) played 150 games or more. I don’t like to unduly punish players for their injury problems, but there are too many players whose careers failed for just that one reason to remove it from consideration altogether. Walker was very good, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the Hall of Fame, but I place him alongside Edgar Martinez among those who fall just short, for me.
Drum roll, please…
- Greg Maddux
- Jeff Bagwell
- Frank Thomas
- Tom Glavine
- Mike Piazza
- Mike Mussina
- Tim Raines
- Curt Schilling
- Craig Biggio
- Alan Trammell
Yes, I ended up leaving off Bonds and Clemens. I reserve the right to (fake) vote for them down the road, but for now, I’m prioritizing the many deserving guys whose inductions I could applaud more unreservedly. The Hall of Fame is, first and foremost, a repository of the things we love about baseball, and though I might be upset next week that neither Bonds nor Clemens got elected, at this moment, I like that there’s nothing about the class that got elected that makes me the least bit uneasy.
I would also, as indicated in the player summaries above, have voted in a few other guys, probably in the following order:
- Mark McGwire
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Sammy Sosa
- Jeff Kent
And would probably not have voted for, but would have seriously anguished over:
- Edgar Martinez
- Larry Walker
- Fred McGriff
That’s what I’ve got. These conversations used to be fun, before they all became, on some level, about steroids and egos. I enjoyed running through all of these players, though, and even the process of sifting through my thoughts about steroids, and egos. I hope you did, too.