There are many out there who feel the Hall of Fame has lost a bit of its luster of late. There are many great players, including many of a certain generation, who have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame despite their greatness due to suspicions and admissions regarding performance-enhancing drugs. While I tend to agree with those who believe that the best players on the field should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the museum and the history it tells, or is currently omitting, still retains that mystique for me.
The Hall of Fame is important to me because it represents the very best of the sport I love. While Mark McGwire is off the ballot, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds haven’t gotten in, and my own personal favorite Jim Edmonds fell off the ballot after one season, I still think the Hall of Fame matters. It is still an incredible honor, and I hope in the next decade or so, we will see significant improvements in those admitted to the Hall.
While I’ve written a decent amount on the Hall of Fame this year, and you could piece together my hypothetical ballot, I thought I’d write a little on each candidate I would have voted for if given the chance. I rely considerably on a point system I devised, but I realize it is not the be-all end-all, and there are some important measures a system like that might not catch and postseason, while unfair to those with fewer opportunities, does matter. For an example, consider this piece on Lou Brock, who might have been underrated
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
Their on-field argument is pristine. They are arguably the best position player and pitcher ever, respectively. While allegations of PED cheating mar their campaigns for induction, that doesn’t matter to me. They were allowed to play, just as previous generations were allowed to use amphetamines, and their on-field performance is what matters. There was no testing, and no suspensions. If the players or MLB had wanted it out of the game, they could have opted to do so. They did not, and so we are left to judge what happened on the field. Easy decision.
How it has taken this long for Bagwell to reach induction should be a bit of an embarrassment. He is one of the greatest first baseman to play the game. While he lacks some of the monster homer numbers other have in his generation, his ISO for his career was .244 and his walk rate was 15%. Taken together, and toss in the difficult hitting conditions of the old Astrodome and Bagwell’s wRC+ was an incredible 149 for his career. His 80 career WAR is fantastic and he came about it with a great peak where he averaged 7 wins a season from 1994 through 1999.
This is Raines’ last shot on the ballot and it looks like he has a good shot of making it in. Raines has 364 more walks than strikeouts in his career and fantastic .385 on-base percentage. Add in more than 800 steals to his 125 wRC+ and he’s one of the top-20 offensive players of the last 40 years. His defense wasn’t great, but he had a long career, playing in more than 2500 games and managed a solid peak with five straight six-win seasons from 1983 to 1987. Jonah Keri has been fighting hard for Raines to make it in the Hall, and this year it looks like Raines will receive a well-deserved 75% of the vote.
Martinez, who did play a quarter of his career at third base, is known mainly as a designated hitter. Like Raines, he was an OBP guy, though he packed in a bit more power with more than 300 homers and 500 doubles. His 147 wRC+ is nearly as high as Bagwell’s, and even though he lost a ton of value on the basepaths and due to the large positional adjustment from being a designated hitter, he still managed to put up 66 WAR. For reference, David Ortiz’s career wRC+ is 140 and he accumulated 51 WAR. Martinez didn’t have a complete game, but he was good enough without defense to compensate and still put up an HOF-worthy WAR.
Walker is maligned a bit for two things: a) he played a bunch of his career in Colorado, he didn’t often play a complete season due to injuries. If we were to look solely at counting stats, then the former might have merit. However, wRC+ compensates for park effects and Walker’s career total is 140 (just like David Ortiz). While he might not have been as good as Edgar Martinez offensively, he also played a very good right field. and ran the bases well. As for the latter, while setting an arbitrary number of games played per season might make it seem like Walker wasn’t playing, he averaged 500 plate appearances per season over his career, including one shortened by the strike. He put up 69 WAR over the course of his career so even if he was injury prone, his brilliance made up for it. He has had low vote totals over the past few years, though clearing up some of the backlog might get him enough momentum to get close by the end of his run on the ballot.
This is Ivan Rodriguez’s first time on the ballot and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at his high vote totals thus far. That Rodriguez managed to catch more than 2300 games might be a feat worthy of Hall of Fame status on its own. That he was able to catch at a high level adds more to his case. That, from the catcher position, he was able to be an above-average hitter year in and year out with a wRC+ of 104 is more than enough to get him to the Hall of Fame. With 69 WAR and eight seasons of at least four wins, he is well above the standard for catchers in the Hall of Fame. He probably has a better case than Mike Piazza, and the Hall voted Piazza in last year.
The standards for Hall of Fame pitchers have gotten ridiculous over the past few decades. While some say Mussina was never great, it is more than Mussina was never Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux, which is an unfair standard to hold any pitcher to. His ERA at 3.68 might not scream Hall of Famer, but look at the competition he faced and the parks he played in. Hall of Fame voters changed their standards, whether consciously, unconsciously, or just that the electorate changed, it became a lot harder to become a Hall of Fame pitcher in the last two dozen years. When you look at ERA compared to the run environment, then Mussina looks a whole lot like Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal and a host of other Hall of Famers. He appears to be gaining some momentum, but those arguing against Mussina are ignoring baseball’s history and the environment Mussina played in compared to those before him.
Schilling has lost some of his votes for saying and tweeting reprehensible things. On the field, Schilling was a Hall of Famer. While he never won a Cy Young, he finished second four times. He has three eight-WAR seasons. Since World War II, only Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson have more, and only Sandy Koufax, Ferguson Jenkins, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and Pedro Martinez have as many eight-win seasons as Schilling. His 3.46 ERA is 20% better than league average over the course of his career and his nearly 80 WAR is clearly worthy of Cooperstown. I’m not going to mention his performance in the playoffs.
If we are going to get into a gray area with PEDs, Manny Ramirez is the place to go. He not only played in the steroid era, he was caught multiple times and suspended. Due to his atrocious defense, he slides closer to borderline candidate than one might think given his 153 wRC+ and 555 homers. His 66 wins above replacement despite being one of the worst defenders in history is somewhat amazing. As for the steroids, I choose to judge players for what they did on the field. If the players and MLB didn’t decide to remove those players earlier, then what they did on the field counts and it should be considered. I would have no problem mentioning any players misdeeds—whether on or off the field—on their plaque in Cooperstown.
Gaming the Ballot
Dan Szymborski wrote a really interesting piece over at ESPN making the argument that if you wanted Larry Walker in the Hall of Fame, you were better off voting for Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman to get them off. While that might be true, I would still have a problem voting for players who I’m not sure are worthy of the Hall. As for Hoffman, I think the standard for closers should be incredibly high and while Hoffman was very good for a long period time, that isn’t enough to get my fake vote. The same is true for Lee Smith and Billy Wagner, although that isn’t the case for Mariano Rivera.
As for Guerrero, you can make a credible argument that he is worthy, given his defensive shortcomings and that his career was more or less over at 33 hurts his case for me. For the rest of the guys on the ballot, feel free to read the pieces I linked to at the beginning of this post.
Regarding procedural changes, I am happy there will be more transparency on the voting next year, and I would be happy to see voters allowed to vote for however many candidates they wish, a cause that has been popularized by Derrick Goold. I also hope the Eras Committee takes a more active role in filling in the gaps left by voting writers. In sum, I think the Hall of Fame is great. It is evolving, and while the voting has taken a step back in recent years, there is still plenty of time for improvement that I believe will happen over time.