MLB Hall of Fame 2017: Andy’s Ballot

By my estimation, there are ten players on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot that, based on the criteria for enshrinement established by the Hall of Fame and precedent, are worthy of the vote.

In addition, there are seven other candidates that are borderline candidates that if enshrined would not weaken the standards established by the Hall — there are weaker candidates already enshrined. I would not vote for those seven candidates, but I would not necessarily begrudge others for doing so.

But First, Let’s Talk About Drugs

Before I start, I probably need to explain by feelings about the so-called “steroid era” and voting for players that likely took steroids to gain a competitive edge. It’s not a topic I enjoy, but if you are reading this and are interested in my Hall of Fame opinion, you should know this going in.

In any competitive endeavor, there are going to be people who use methods that skirt and/or break the rules to gain an advantage. Baseball is no different of course. Baseball players have taken testosterone supplements since the 19th century. Amphetamines have been used by some of the best players of all time to help get through the grind of a season. Today, it’s becoming an increasingly common surgical practice to replace the shredded ulnar collateral ligament of a player, usually a pitcher, with a healthy one from a cadaver. If that’s not an unnatural method of prolonging a career, I don’t know what is.

Today, the first two examples are explicitly forbidden by the Joint Drug Agreement. Steroids were officially banned by major league baseball in 1991. Testing for steroids began in 2005. I think, however, we need to be clear on why they are banned. They are not banned because they give the players that take them a performance boost; if that were the only consideration, every player would take them. They are banned because of the long-term health problems that steroid abuse can cause. This creates an unfair situation where a player has to choose between better, short-term performance versus their long-term health. Banning steroids removes that unfair choice.

So here are my feelings about players from the “steroid era”:

  • Players who took steroids before 1991 were not cheating because it wasn’t against the rules.
  • Players who never tested positive on a drug test, admitted to taking steroids, or were positively identified by someone under oath in a court of law will not to be assumed to have taken steroids.
  • Players who tested positive for steroids after 2005 were caught cheating, and that will be weighed into the factoring for enshrinement.
  • Players who admitted to taking steroids or were positively identified by someone under oath in a court of law as taking steroids between 1991 and 2005 will be considered cheaters, and that will be weighed into the factoring for enshrinement.

When I say “weighed into the factoring for enshrinement,” I am following the Hall of Fame voting guidelines that tasks voters to base their vote “upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played”. Cheating is, of course, a black mark on the player’s integrity. That said, I don’t consider cheating an automatic veto of a player’s record. If everything else is clearly Hall-worthy, cheating, by itself, may not disqualify him, at least in my reckoning.

So with that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, let’s talk about the candidates.

Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell (Photo: Tom DiPace, USA TODAY)

When I look at a player and ask myself if I would vote him into the Hall of Fame, I ask myself a series of questions, and each “yes” answer is a strong tick in that player’s favor (this is a modified technique derived from Bill James‘s Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?). So let’s go through that exercise with Bagwell.

  1. Is this player arguably the best player of all time? Answer: No.
  2. Is this player arguably the best player at his position of all time? Answer: Yes.
  3. Is this player arguably the best player for his franchise of all time? Answer: Yes.
  4. Did this player have a significant post-season impact? Answer: No.
  5. Is he arguably the best player in baseball not enshrined in the Hall of Fame? Answer: No.
  6. Is he arguably the best player at his position not enshrined in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.
  7. Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.
  8. Was he recognized as a premiere player while he was active? Answer: Yes.
  9. Did the player have any significant positive impact on the game not reflected in his playing record? Answer: No.
  10. Did this player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character? Answer: Yes

Obviously that first question is a tough one to hurdle. That Bagwell ticks the “yes” box to the “best player at his position” and “best player for his franchise” questions are huge and at that point you’d have to really look hard to find reasons not to put him in the Hall.

Is this player arguably the best player at his position of all time? Answer: Yes.

Bagwell comes in sixth in bWAR and seventh in fWAR for first basemen, and two of the players in front of him, Hall of Famers Roger Connor and Cap Anson, are from the 19th-century. All of Bagwell’s first base comparisons in peak value are Hall of Famers (Johnny Mize, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg). If I were to list who I thought were the best first basemen of all time, Bagwell would probably be in my top five. While his career ended early short due to a chronic arthritic shoulder, on a rate basis Bagwell is very close to the recently inducted Frank Thomas, but was a far better defender and baserunner.

Is this player arguably the best player for his franchise of all time? Answer: Yes.

Bagwell played on only one team during his career – the Houston Astros – and the only real competition Bagwell has in this category is former teammate and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. The two were very different players, of course, and I don’t want to bog down in parsing the meaning of value. Suffice to say, this argument is between those two, and Bagwell has a lot of things going to his side of the ledger.

I believe these two questions alone give Bagwell a strong candidacy, and he would earn my vote if I had one.

Barry Bonds

Is this player arguably the best player of all time? Answer: Yes.

Barry Bonds. (Photo: Brad Mangin/SI)

There’s really no need to go beyond this question. Bonds can, and should, be talked about with other greats like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, and his godfather Willie Mays. Bonds had an uncanny feel for the strike zone, tremendous power, was a tremendous base runner, and possibly the greatest fielding left fielder of all time. Everyone knows that he holds both the single-season and career home run records, but he also holds both the career walk and intentional walk records, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about how much he was feared in his day. On his playing record alone, Bonds is more credentialed for enshrinement than any current non-Hall player on the planet. So really, there’s only one more question to ask about Bonds, but it’s a doozy.

Did this player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character? Answer: No.

For some part of his career, Bonds cheated by using steroids. This was sworn under oath in a court by the VP of BALCO, a San Francisco laboratory that had extensive ties with Bonds’s personal trainer, Greg Anderson (both of the founders of BALCO and Anderson would later serve jail terms for illegal distribution of steroids). Bonds himself admitted under oath to taking two different steroid compounds that BALCO referred to as “the cream” and “the clear”, but has maintained that he did not know that they were steroids. There are many, many other allegations as well, enough to fill a book. In fact, that book is called Game of Shadows.

The question then becomes, is this enough of a black mark against Bonds to deny him enshrinement? By all reports, the earliest Bonds started taking PEDs was 1999. Simply taking his playing record prior to that season, Bonds is a borderline Hall-of-Famer, with a better case than many outfielders already enshrined. Add to that his 2005-2007 seasons where he was playing after PED testing by MLB and he had a 163 OPS+ and tacked on another 59 home runs, and he gets pushed into the definite Hall-of-Famer category. I am also not ready to completely discount all the seasons in between either. In the end, it seems nonsensical that one of the greatest players of all time isn’t in the Hall of Fame, while the commissioner that largely turned a blind eye on the “steroid era” was just voted in overwhelmingly.

Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens. (Photo: T.G. Higgins/Getty Images)

Is this player arguably the best player at his position of all time? Answer: Yes.

In an extraordinary 24-year career, Clemens finished 3rd all-time in strikeouts, 9th among starting pitchers in ERA+, won seven Cy Youngs, an MVP, was an 11-time All-Star, and lead his league in ERA seven times. He set a major league record when he struck out 20 batters in a game. Considering the numbers only, Clemens is likely a Top Five starting pitcher of all-time and that makes him, like Bonds, beyond credentialed based on his playing record.

Did this player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character? Answer: No

Like Bonds, Clemens is most likely a cheater from taking steroids, starting at some point during his 1997-1998 tenure with Toronto, but ending before the start of testing in 2005. This, plus his overall poor sportsmanship, blemish an otherwise obvious Hall of Fame candidacy. Clemens would have a good case just considering his 13 seasons in Boston, and his Houston years, including leading the league with a 1.87 ERA in 2005. Enshrining Clemens would not weaken the Hall’s standards, and despite him being the absolute least favorite opposing player to this young Orioles fan from the ‘80s, I would have to support Clemens’ enshrinement.

Tim Raines

Is this player arguably the best player for his franchise of all time? Answer: Yes.

Tim Raines. (Photo: Ron Vesely)

Raines doesn’t pass the “best of all time” or “best at his position” tests, but Raines is definitely in the argument for being the best Montreal Expo. In a low-offense period, 1981-1990, Raines had a .302/.391/.439 slash line during that run with the 6th-best fWAR at 48.9, trailing only four Hall-of-Famers (Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, and Eddie Murray), and Alan Trammell, who should be one. If not for the presence of his contemporary, Rickey Henderson, it’s likely that Raines would be remembered as one of, if not THE, greatest lead-off hitter of the ‘80s, stealing 70 or more bases six  times, Raines ended his career with the fourth-highest wRC+ among lead-off hitters (minimum 5000 plate appearances in the #1 spot in the order).

Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

The most comparable players to Tim Raines — Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock — are in the Hall. Henderson was a better player, but Raines was a better player than Brock.

Was he recognized as a premiere player while he was active? Answer: Yes.

Seven consecutive All-Star appearances from 1981 through 1987 would point to a big “yes” on this one.

Did this player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character? Answer: Yes.

In the early ’80s, when Raines was young and stupid, he got hooked on cocaine, at a time when the game was awash with the drug. To his credit he sought out help and found it in the form of his teammate, Hall of Famer, and lifelong friend Andre Dawson. With his help, Raines successfully completed rehab before the 1982 season. Since then, he’s been lauded as a teammate and professional, and his mentorship of the young Yankees during his 1996-98 tenure with the team is mentioned by no less an authority than Derek Jeter as a reason for the team’s success.

Raines lacks a lot of the “counting stats” that people tend to judge Hall-of-Famers by, like 500 homers or 3000 hits. But in the context of the era in which he played his prime years, he is arguably one of the top five batters of that era. His skill set was nuanced and is better understood and appreciated through the lens of advanced metrics, but that doesn’t make him any less of a remarkable player, and someone worthy of Hall of Fame induction.

Mike Mussina

Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

Mike Mussina. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Because of the presence of Clemens still on the ballot, Mussina misses out on a lot of the higher-level questions. However, Mussina does fair well with his comparisons. He most closely matches up with some Hall-of-Famers, like Jim Palmer and Tom Glavine, and is well above Hall-of-Fame average in terms of counting stats and value estimators like WAR.

Was he recognized as a premiere player while he was active? Answer: Yes.

Mussina never won a Cy Young Award, but probably should have (specifically in 2001). He finished in the top five in Cy voting six times and in the top 10 nine times. He made six All-Star games and won seven Gold Gloves.

The biggest knock on Mussina is his career 3.68 ERA, which would put him only ahead of Red Ruffing among Hall of Famers if elected. Given the context of the offensive era in which he played the majority of his career however, that 3.68 ERA looks a lot better than, say, the 3.90 ERA of Jack Morris, who played in an offensively repressed era. Otherwise his counting stats put him in the same class as his contemporaries, like Glavine and Pedro Martinez, both of whom have been enshrined and had more post-season exposure.

Curt Schilling

Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

Curt Schilling. (Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

Quite frankly, the arguments for Schilling are essentially the same for Mussina. Schilling compares well with contemporaries like Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez. Schilling didn’t do as well as Mussina in Cy Young voting, however, and was generally less recognized during his playing career as a premiere player.

Did this player have a significant post-season impact? Answer: Yes.

The biggest area that Schilling has a leg up on Mussina however is the post-season. My philosophy is that lack of post-season success isn’t necessarily a mark against a player, but superlative post-season work can be a huge positive. Schilling is one of the greatest post-season pitchers of all time, with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts, with 120 strikeouts. He was a pivotal player in three separate World Series, including being the 2001 World Series MVP. The “bloody sock” incident during the 2004 World Series simply added to Schilling’s lore.

Did this player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character? Answer: Yes.

Some writers are clearly allowing Schilling’s post-career choices and public persona to impact their votes. Personally, I find Schilling’s politics repugnant. I also find them completely immaterial to determining if he should be enshrined. During his career, he was regarded as a fine teammate and a fierce competitor, and there’s no evidence that he ever cheated, either with steroids or by other means.

Ivan Rodriguez

Is this player arguably the best player at his position of all time? Answer: Yes.

Is he arguably the best player at his position not enshrined in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

Ivan Rodriguez. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The discussion regarding who is the greatest catcher basically comes down to four names: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, and Rodriguez. I’d also argue that catcher is an under-represented position in the Hall, and Rodriguez’s enshrinement would help other high defensively-valued candidates like Yadier Molina and Brian McCann down the road.

Is this player arguably the best player for his franchise of all time? Answer: Yes.

The Texas Rangers have a relatively short history, but Rodriguez is far and away the best player in that history.

Was he recognized as a premiere player while he was active? Answer: Yes.

Fourteen All-Star appearances, five top-10 MVP placings including an MVP win in 1999, and an astounding 13 Gold Gloves.

Did this player uphold high standards of sportsmanship and character? Answer: Yes.

Rodriguez never tested positive for steroids or was accused by anyone other than Jose Canseco. On the flip side, Rodriguez has spend a lot of time and money helping people fight cancer.

Edgar Martinez

Is this player arguably the best player at his position of all time? Answer: Yes.

Edgar Martinez. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Let me get this out of the way first: in my opinion, the Designated Hitter is an abomination to the game and should be removed. If baseball doesn’t want pitchers to hit, simply shorten the line-up to 8 players. That said, the existence of the Designated Hitter position is not the fault of Edgar Martinez, and I do not hold it against him that he accumulated most of his playing value while being a Designated Hitter. He is the greatest DH of all time (sorry Big Papi).

Of course, to provide value as a DH, the bat has to be superlative, and Martinez’s .312/.418/.515 slash line over 18 seasons is ridiculously good.

Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez are very similar players. Molitor played the field more (mostly poorly), while Martinez was a better hitter.

Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero (Photo: MLB.com)

Is this player arguably the best player for his franchise of all time? Answer: Yes.

While I think Raines (and Gary Carter and Andre Dawson) have better cases, Guerrero should also get consideration as the greatest Expo. From a rate standpoint he was definitely the greatest, but he only spent six full years with the Expos before flying off to La-La land.

Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

Guerrero compares well to Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield and Al Kaline, and right below Reggie Jackson.

Guerrero will always be a fascinating hitter to me because I have never seen a player swing at so many pitches, yet strike out so little, while also hitting for power.

Larry Walker

Larry Walker. (Brad Mangin/National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Is this player arguably the best player for his franchise of all time? Answer: Yes.

OK, it’s the Rockies so it may not really count. But like Guerrero, he’s also in the running for greatest Expo, and only his short career there keeps him from being mentioned with Raines, Carter, and Dawson.

Are most of the players comparable to this player in the Hall of Fame? Answer: Yes.

Like Guerrero, Walker compares well with Dave Winfield and Al Kaline. Valuewise he’s probably also better than Tony Gwynn, but without the standout hit tool that made Gwynn a household name.

Was he recognized as a premiere player while he was active? Answer: Yes.

For a guy that seems to have faded a bit from the spotlight, Walker did very well with recognition in his time. He won an MVP in 1997 and made five All-Star games.

About Andy Harris 46 Articles
Andy Harris has been a baseball fan since seeing the Big Red Machine in 1978 and hardcore baseball fan since reading Bill James's Historical Baseball Abstract in 1990. Andy moved to the Atlanta area in 1991, which turned out to be a pretty good year for the local team.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

[sc name="HeaderGoogleAnlytics"]