The results from the most controversial election in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame are due shortly and our Jason Tabrys took some time to look over the candidates and tell you who he thinks should be granted baseball immortality.
There are those who believe that no one will get elected to the Hall this year, those who think that that is probably for the best. After all, in an era that is rife with suspicion and inflated stats, how can we really be sure that the sanctity of the Hall is protected unless we paint a red X across this entire era and overly scrutinize every single candidate to the point of ridiculousness?
Honestly, I understand that view and I used to subscribe to it, but suspicion does not mean guilt and if anyone thinks that there aren’t cheaters — in one way or another — already enshrined in the Hall, they are thoroughly diluted. Baseball is an imperfect game and it’s Hall should reflect that. It should also reflect the best players from every era — the 80s, 90s, and 00s included.
That doesn’t mean we should give everyone connected to PED’s a free pass, it just means that those who admittedly used, who tested positive, and those who were accused of using in the Mitchell Report should be looked at for the period of their careers that wasn’t brushed by the taint of cheating.
Now, why am I willing to put so much faith into the much maligned Mitchell Report? Well, this isn’t a court of law and the rules of “innocent until proven guilty” don’t apply. The Mitchell Report has it’s flaws, but it is the most widespread and impactful investigation into the steroids issue and it offers real evidence against a wide swath of players. Not just whispers, evidence.
As for everyone else, even the ones for whom there are those loud whispers? Well, those whispers matter, but those players should rise or fall on their own merits, and shame on Major League Baseball for never turning those whispers into hard proof.
There is another thing to consider: steroids wasn’t banned until 1991 (after many of the players on this years ballot had begun their careers) and the league didn’t conduct widespread testing until 2003. That lax approach to regulation and enforcement has a lot to do with this whole mess and a lot of the blame falls on the game and Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing this to fester.
With that said, lets take a look at the players on this years ballot.
Let’s rule out those players that obviously fall short due to either the length or content of their careers. There will be no plaque in Cooperstown for Mike Stanton, Woody Williams, Rondell White, Todd Walker, Reggie Sanders, Jose Mesa, Ryan Klesko, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Conine, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, or Julio Franco (unless he comes back again).
Those guys had decent careers, but they just don’t measure up and there really isn’t any reason to look any closer at their candidacy.
The next tier of players seemed like sure bets at one point in their career, but due to injury or ineffectiveness, they never quite met their potential, and so they live in The Hall of Very Good.
For me, the quintessential Hall of Very Good member is Don Mattingly, a player whose trajectory was altered by a bad back. Mattingly retired at 34 after 14 seasons (12 of which were full), had he played another 6 years to his 40th birthday, even with average production he would have gotten to 3,000 hits and 250 homeruns, likely earning him a spot in the hall.
Here are some of the other members of The Hall of Very Good:
David Wells, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar Jr., Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, and Edgar Martinez.
That brings us to the just misses.
Sammy Sosa: Has a better case, statistically, than McGwire, but Sosa misses because of the steroid issue. He may not be in the Mitchell Report, but according to a New York Times report, he tested positive in the 2003 PED survey and that’s enough to get a no out of me.
Rafael Palmeiro: 3,020 hits, 569 homers and 1,835 RBIs. Palmeiro has the stats, but a positive PED test ended his career and confirmed suspicions about him that had existed since his early days in Texas. Not for nothing, but he also was never a dominant player, just a really great compiler with a little bit of help.
Dale Murphy: Murph peaked too soon and limped to the end. Just a really great player that falls just shy. Another coupe of seasons like he had in 1982 or 1983 and he’d be a slam dunk.
Mark McGwire: Admitted user. His numbers are tainted and honestly, with only 1600+ hits, he wasn’t likely to make it in anyway.
There are more guys (10) that I’d vote for than I imagined there would be, but as I went over their careers, I found myself making allowances for guys in a way that was unexpected, especially in that I used to be a hard ass when it came to the Hall. The bottom line is, I saw all these guys play and I remember them dominating the game in a way that screams out “legend” and that’s what the Hall is.
I also feel like the prospect of no one going in this year is a tragedy for baseball and I feel like the Hall should be more inclusive and not exclusive — again, I’ve turned around a bit on this for whatever reason, but I’m hopeful that one day all 10 of the players listed below will have plaques in Cooperstown, and for those who deserve asterisks for their achievements, I certainly favor those as well. The steroid era happened, time to stop pretending like it didn’t touch the highest reaches of the game.
Jeff Bagwell: 449 homers and 1,529 RBIs with a nearly .300 lifetime average (.297) and a .408 career OBP with 202 steals. Bagwell was an elite ballplayer, and though there are PED whispers, he should make it in.
Curt Schilling: A postseason legend, Schilling pitched for 20 years and unlike Wells, he was actually considered a dominant pitcher. Still, only 218 wins in 20 years feels like compiler territory until you remember that Schilling only started 5 of his first 100 games from 1988-1991, and the number becomes more impressive. His 3,116 strikeouts help out too. So yeah, I think Schilling should make it in, but I think it’ll be awhile.
Alan Trammell: Here’s the thing about Detroit’s longtime shortstop, I don’t remember him being a dominant force, but his numbers are extremely close to Barry Larkin’s and I considered him to be dominant, so I’ll say Trammell should get in too since they are contemporaries.
Roger Clemens: In my view, Clemens was a borderline Hall of Famer by the time he left Boston, and there has never been speculation about him trying PEDs before then, so I say he should get in when you look at his overall career and the fact that he received some form of vindication regarding charges that he used. I still think it’s unlikely, but Roger Clemens is the most dominant right handed starter I’ve ever seen and he should be in the Hall.
Lee Smith: Eckersley is in. Sutter is in. Smith should be in. Saved 25 or more games every year from 1983 to 1995. Dominant, feared, one of the 5 best 9th inning closers in the history of the game. Third all-time with 487 saves. He should be in already.
Fred McGriff: Just under 500 home runs, just over 1,500 RBIs and a lifetime OBP of .377. A feared hitter and a guy with an impeccable reputation. Of all the choices, he’s probably the one that is least likely to actually make it in to Cooperstown and that confuses the hell out of me, especially when you consider that his numbers are pretty damn close to Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey’s.
Barry Bonds: Similar to Clemens, suspicions about Bonds didn’t begin until later in his career, 1998 to be specific. By then he had already assured enshrinement. Still, a divisive figure, I think hell will freeze over before he gets in, but he was one of the greats before his alleged use, and that should count for something. I can’t believe I just wrote this. This is a major change of heart for me, but Barry Bonds was a Hall of Fame caliber player.
Mike Piazza: The best offensive catcher of all time. Piazza should be first ballot but rumors will slow his ascent. Ridiculous. Of all the victims of paranoia and the activist fist of the writers who want to “punish” this era, Piazza is paying the largest price at this point in time.
Craig Biggio: Another possible victim of his era. Biggio had 3,000 hits, almost 300 homers and 400+ steals, plus he spent time as a catcher, second baseman, and outfielder. No proof. No real allegations, though his late-career uptick in power fits the profile of a cheater. With that said, Biggio should be in.
Jack Morris: I was talking to Screen Invasion’s very own Gabriel Ruzin the other night and the topic turned to the Twins and the 1991 World Series and we both sort of agreed that Jack Morris would still be out there on that mound if the Twins hadn’t won. The ultimate gamer, Morris was one of a dying breed, the pitcher who would take the ball and never let it go. His numbers aren’t perfect, he could have given up less runs and struck out more guys, but he double digit win totals every year from 1979 to 1994 save for 1993 and 1989. Had Morris pitched in an era with more specialized relievers, I can’t even imagine his win total and his ERA. He was a gamer, he’s the guy you’d give the ball too in the playoffs, and he’s a Hall of Famer.
Tim Raines: I don’t really go for the Rickey Henderson comparisons because Henderson did it for much longer than… well, anyone, but Raines was among one of the best players in the game for a time, a true threat on the basepaths, and he is worthy. More importantly though, he will absolutely get in. Did he stick around too long? Yes, and by the mid 90s he was little more than a part time player, so those 2,605 hits are a bit of a misnomer, still that .385 career OBP is damn impressive as his 5th place rank on the career steal list and his unbelievable 85% success rate should be enough.
So there it is, for whatever it’s worth, my look at the candidates for the Hall of Fame in 2013. Stay tuned to Sports Invasion for the results of today’s ballot and get ready to welcome Mark McGwire and Royce Clayton to Cooperstown! What? It could happen…