by Julian Spivey
The National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions always seem to be the subject of controversy, even though out of all the sports hall of fames, the baseball one is actually the best in terms of getting thing right. But, controversy surrounds the process, because baseball’s fans and media alike take the sport more seriously than those of other sports seem to do. It also doesn’t help that the constant controversy of performance enhancing drugs and players who either used or supposedly used PEDs remain on the ballot with some believing no PEDs user should ever be inducted, others thinking they should and even some writers who believe some PED users should be inducted, while others should not. Let me be clear, I do not believe PED users belong in the hall of fame so you won’t see Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens on my fictional ballot (because I obviously don’t have a real vote) below.
I do, however, believe there are 10 worthy players (actually there are more than 10, but I’ll follow the rules the BBWA writers must for my ballot) who should be in the hall – some of them will almost certainly get the call on Jan. 18, while others unfortunately won’t even get close.
Here is my ballot:
Vladimir Guerrero was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for the entirety of his 16-season career with the Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. Guerrero was the 2004 American League MVP with the Angels and a nine-time All-Star who finished his career with a .318 average, 449 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs on 10 different occasions. Guerrero should be a no-brainer first ballot hall of famer and interestingly could be the last ever Expo to enter Cooperstown.
Ivan Rodriguez caught more games than any other catcher in baseball history and is one of the five greatest to ever play that position. That should make him a no-brainer first ballot hall of famer, but there are unfortunately some unfounded PED rumors surrounding him that could impact his chances. They shouldn’t. There’s absolutely no evidence he cheated. He did, however, make 14 All-Star teams, win the 1999 American League MVP and win a catcher record 13 Gold Gloves. I-Rod finished his career hitting .296 (terrific for a catcher), with 311 homers, 1332 RBI and almost 3,000 hits.
Tim Raines just missed hall of fame induction in 2016 by about six percent on the ballot. With 2017 being his final year of eligibility there’s a great chance he’ll bump up to the 75 percent number he needs. Raines played 23 seasons, but what’s hurt his chances of the years has been the fact that only about the first 10 to 11 of those years were really hall of fame caliber and he hung around for the second half of his career collecting stats. But, what he did in the first half of his career, especially on the basepaths stealing the bulk of his 808 career bases (fifth all-time) has him deserving the honor.
When you finish your career as the all-time leader in the most important statistical category in your field you deserve enshrinement into the hall of fame. Lee Smith did that with 478 saves, which is now third all-time. The three-time reliever of the year, who also finished as a reliever in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four different times isn’t going to make the hall of fame in his final year on the ballot this year, I know, but he gets a spot on my ballot.
Trevor Hoffman is one of two all-time great baseball closers on the ballot this year, in his second year of eligibility, who finished his career as the all-time MLB leader in saves with 601. This alone should make him worthy of enshrinement. Hoffman was a seven-time All Star, who finished four times in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. Hoffman, along with future no-brainer hall of famer Mariano Rivera, is likely one of the two greatest closers in baseball history.
Jeff Bagwell was the closest player to induction in 2016 not to get elected, missing out by just 3.5 percent. This should make him a virtual lock to be induction this year. Bagwell, who spent his entire major league career with the Houston Astros, was one of the most feared first basemen of his era. The four-time All Star was the unanimous choice for National League MVP in 1994 and won the NL Rookie the Year award in 1991. Bagwell finished his career with an Astros franchise record 449 homers, which barring late career injuries would’ve probably been over 500, and a .297 career average.
Edgar Martinez is likely one of the two greatest designated hitters in the history of the American League, alongside the recently retired David Ortiz. The fact that he mostly spent his career as a DH has hurt him among hall of fame voters. Paul Molitor is the only current hall of famer who played most his games as a DH. With only three years remaining on the ballot Martinez has never come within 30 percent of induction and that number will only rise by a small margin this year, if it does at all. Martinez was a seven-time All-Star with five Silver Slugger Awards and finished his career with a terrific .312 average.
Fred McGriff is maybe the most screwed player in the history of baseball, in my opinion, outside of arguably Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. He will not ever get anywhere close to receiving the 75 percent needed to be a hall of famer, with about 21 percent being the closest he’s been. He should be in the hall of fame, but gets screwed by the era of PEDs he played in. Because he wasn’t a PED user his numbers aren’t as impressive as some of the first basemen of his era, but he finished just seven homers shy of the 500-club, which might have given him the boost he needed to make the hall. By the way, those 493 career homers were the same amount Lou Gehrig finished his career with.
I truly don’t get why Jeff Kent isn’t getting more love from the BBWA. For the sheer fact that Kent finished his career with the most home runs of anybody to ever play his position (second base) he should be getting more than just the 14 percent he’s been hovering around on ballots. Kent was the 2000 National League MVP for the San Francisco Giants who made five All-Star teams and won the Silver Slugger Award four times. The issue with Kent is likely that a lot of voters don’t trust him. From 1992-1996 he was average at best, but starting in 1997 when he teamed with PED user Barry Bonds with the Giants his power numbers went up.
The final spot on my ballot comes down to between two worthy pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. The career numbers between the two are similar, with the exception that Mussina won 54 more games and Schilling had about a 20-point lower career ERA. You could argue that Schilling is more worthy because he led two different teams – the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and 2004 Boston Red Sox to World Series titles, but I’m going to go with Mussina for two reasons. I like Mussina’s 54 more wins and better winning percentage a little more and Mussina is just more likable. Neither will make the hall this year, if ever.