On the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot

I have always been fascinated and enamored with the Baseball Hall of Fame. My family went on a vacation to Cooperstown when I was young – seven or eight – and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. There’s something about the place. It’s not just sports history, but it’s truly American history, and there’s an aura around the Baseball Hall of Fame that makes it special.

Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Pretty soon, there will (probably) be some new additions to the Hall of Fame. You may have heard that there is a little bit of controversy over who these new additions should be. It’s a common issue with Hall of Fame voting – should Jim Rice get in or not? What about Bert Blyleven? Is Jack Morris’s resume good enough for induction? Why should they get in on their thirteenth or fourteenth or fifteenth try if they weren’t deemed worthy in their first twelve tries?

The debate this year won’t really be like that. Indeed, it’s been different the last few years, with the names of known and strongly suspected steroid users coming into play. Players who, in a different time, would be lock hall of famers – Rafael Palmeiro, who finished his career with 569 home runs and 3,020 hits, garnered just 12.6 percent of the vote last year, his second on the ballot. Mark McGwire, who hit 583 home runs and rejuvenated baseball in 1998 with his legendary quest to break Roger Maris’s single season home run record, only got 19.5 percent, in his sixth attempt. Jeff Bagwell, who hasn’t even been linked to steroids, only got 56 percent of the vote, despite a .297/.408/.540 career batting line with 449 home runs. Bagwell will probably get in someday – 56 percent is a lot for your second year – but the point is, power hitters from the steroid era are being looked at differently even if no one has ever accused them of juicing.

This year, the steroid-user-in-the-hall argument will be defined much more clearly. For the first time, the best hitter and best pitcher of the steroid era will be on the ballot – both players who are strongly believed to have been steroid users. We will really, truly find out how the BBWAA feels about these guys this year. These guys who probably would have had hall of fame careers without steroids.

With that being said, I will let you know who I would vote for, if I were voting for the hall of fame:

Barry Bonds (First year on ballot)

Bonds is, arguably, the greatest hitter of all time. He is the all time leader in home runs. Bonds’ 2001 and 2002 seasons rank first and fourth in offensive WAR all time, respectively. The only other player in the top five? Babe Ruth. Bonds holds the top two single-season on base percentage totals – his all time record of .609 outpaces the only other non-Bonds player, Ted Williams in 1941, by .057, which is a staggeringly large amount. He holds three of the top five single-season slugging percentage records. Naturally, three of the top five all time single-season OPS totals belong to Bonds, and his record of 1.422 in 2004 is unprecedented: the next highest total by any player not named Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth is 1.288.

I could go on. Bonds is second all time in WAR among position players, only to Babe Ruth. He is the only player to ever hit 500 home runs and steal 500 bases. Which also makes him the only player to have 700 home runs and 500 stolen bases. Bonds finished his career behind only Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig in OPS. He has the most walks in baseball history by almost four hundred. He is fourth in runs batted in. He finished his career with 2,935 hits, and would certainly have passed the 3,000 hit threshold if not for the fact that he led the league in walks twelve times in his last sixteen seasons. In the four seasons over sixteen years that he didn’t lead the league in walks, two were shortened significantly by injuries.

People who don’t think Barry Bonds should be in the hall of fame don’t say that because of his numbers, so why bother telling you all of these things? The point is, the numbers are staggering. They are otherworldly. Bonds, between 2001 and 2004, did some of the most amazing things that have ever been done in baseball. Was he juicing at the time? Yes, probably. Was Willie Mays using greenies? Yes, probably. Is Bonds a bad guy? Maybe, but he never ran into the stands and assaulted a handicapped man. I’m looking at you, Ty Cobb.

The fact is, the hall is filled with cheaters, racists, and generally bad people. Joe Jackson and Pete Rose should probably be let in, too. I agree that Bonds almost certainly would not have broken Hank Aaron’s home run record if not for performance enhancing drugs, but my point here is that Bonds was so good that even considering potential steroid use, he should be in the hall. In fact, to not admit him would be censorship of an entire era of baseball history.

Roger Clemens (First year on ballot)

Many of the same things I have just said ring true for Clemens. I really don’t like Clemens, I never have. He seems like an even slimier guy than Bonds. But again, the numbers are incredible. 354 wins, 3.12 career ERA, 2.96 career K/BB. Seven Cy Young awards, with eighteen years between the outside ones. He won two world series. He was the most dominant pitcher in baseball for twenty years. That cannot be ignored by the Hall. Oh, and in case you were wondering, you could triple Jack Morris’s career WAR… and you’d still be short of Clemens by sixteen.

Jeff Bagwell (Third year on ballot)

Bagwell was a terrific player. And, even if I were uptight about keeping steroid users out of the hall of fame, which I’m not, I wouldn’t even have to worry about it, because Bagwell has been outside of most suspicion. The numbers were mentioned earlier: a .297/.408/.540 and 449 home runs over a fifteen year career. He won Rookie of the Year and an MVP, and finished in the top twenty in MVP voting as early as 1992 and as late as 2003. He was an above average fielder for his career, even if it was at first base, and he won a gold glove in his MVP 1994 season. Bagwell didn’t have a ton of postseason success, but he did play in the World Series in 2005, his last season.

Curt Schilling (First year on ballot)

Curt Schilling is an interesting case for me. He won “only” 216 games in his career, so he’s far away from the 300 benchmark often used for pitchers. He never won a Cy Young award. He is, however, fifteenth all time in strikeouts, falling between Bob Gibson and John Smoltz. Some of his peripherals are incredible: a career K/BB ratio of 4.38, with a 1.137 WHIP. And, where he lacked individual hardware in the form of Cy Youngs, Schilling played a huge part in World Series victories for Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007. In the playoffs in his career, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, and .968 WHIP. He is part of some legendary playoff performances: he was co-MVP of the 2001 series when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in seven games, in which he started three games, two of which were won by his team, one of which was blown late. And everyone remembers game six of the 2004 ALCS, in which Schilling pitched seven innings of one-run ball with blood soaking through his sock. Schilling was an incredible pitcher with some truly iconic performances who just happens to fall short of some of the regular measuring sticks for baseball hall of famers. I would vote for him.

Craig Biggio (First year on ballot)

Biggio is another one that could go either way, but Biggio was a great player for a long time for pretty good teams and ended his career with over 3,000 hits. Biggio was a decent power threat, especially for a second baseman, and stole over 400 bases. He was a questionable fielder, never won an MVP or a world series, and finished with a career batting average of .281. Biggio did, however, make seven all-star apperances, won five silver sluggers and four gold gloves. Biggio wasn’t a transcendent star, but there is something to be said for his longevity, and despite my potential breaking of many hall of fame rules today, I’m still a sucker for those 3,000 hits, as long as they aren’t by Rafael Palmeiro.

Sammy Sosa (First year on ballot)

This one I went back and forth on. Despite all my general nonchalance towards steroids and steroid-users being admitted into the hall of fame, Sosa, unlike Bonds and Clemens, sort of reeks of a player who wouldn’t have been close to a hall of fame talent without help. But the more I think about it, 609 home runs is a lot. And it’s not like Sosa didn’t do anything else to help out. He was an integral part of one of the most exciting seasons in baseball history, he helped bring the Cubs back to relevance, and he became an icon in the city of Chicago. He was a decent fielder who struck out too much and didn’t walk enough, but, like I said, 609 home runs is a lot. Eighth all time. That’s enough for me.

And that’s it. Those are the guys I would vote for. Notably absent are Jack Morris, Tim Raines, and Mike Piazza. I could accept arguments for them. Piazza could be the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Heck, even Kenny Lofton had more career WAR than Biggio. And I love Kenny Lofton. I could perhaps be talked into these guys eventually. Not Morris, though. At this time, I would vote for six guys, and they would be Bagwell, Bonds, Schilling, Clemens, Biggio, and Sosa. Keeping out Bonds and Clemens especially would be a mistake. I have no interest in shielding the hall from an entire era of baseball and censoring that era’s stars.


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