For the seventh straight year I hereby cast my Hall of Fame ballot. Or, at the very least, write about the ballot I would cast if I had a vote. Which I do not, because the BBWAA can’t handle the truth or something. Anyway, don’t judge me. Most of you guys play fantasy baseball. I can play fantasy Hall of Fame voter.
Since my vote is imaginary I could, if I wanted to, vote for more than ten players. I don’t, though, for the same reason you don’t play a left fielder at catcher on your fantasy team. There are rules, even when you’re playing pretend. That’s what separates us from the animals who play pretend. Of curse, as you will see from my comments below, there are far more than ten who I think are worthy, even if I can’t imaginarily vote for them all.
Without further ado, my take for every candidate on the ballot. If you don’t want to wade through it all, the ten I choose will be listed at the end.
THE NEW GUYS
Casey Blake: Blake’s career line of .264/.336/.442 and an average of 21 homers every 162 games is, without question, the exact numbers you would come up with on the spot if someone put a gun to your head and ordered you to invent a line for a pretty good but by no means great corner guy from the first decade of the 2000s.
Pat Burrell: Pat The Bat — a pretty big fan favorite for a couple of World Series winners and a guy who, it seems anyway, everyone from Philly has some off-the-field story about that is simultaneously hilarious and troubling. In a few years a lot of teenagers are going to cringe when their moms talk about their feelings for Burrell circa 2006 or so. Even more will cringe at how their dads talk about him.
Orlando Cabrera: I’m not sure what the record is for “number of teams a guy on a Hall of Fame ballot played for,” but Cabrera played for nine and I bet that’s up there. He won a couple of gold gloves but only hit above league average, OPS+ wise, in one season. As such, he was a throwback: a traditional glove-first shortstop in an age when shortstops did crap like hit .340 and smack 45 homers.
Mike Cameron: He was traded for the guy who set the record last year for the highest percentage of the Hall of Fame vote ever. Yet the team which traded Cameron away and got Mr. Hall of Fame ended up losing the trade. Baseball is weird like that sometimes. Cameron was an amazing glove man at a premium defensive position who was consistently above average offensively and, at times, pretty dang good. He never played in the World Series but he’s certainly a guy a team could win a World Series or three with if he was their center fielder. If that makes any sense.
J.D. Drew: A guy whose reputation as a greedy slacker always has and likely always will outweigh his tremendous talent. I get that, but I think there’s a debate to be had about that label, if not for him, than for others who get slapped with it.
A huge portion of Drew’s reputation comes from him doing what few if any players ever have done: using his leverage to play where he wanted and to make as much money as he could. We never balk at a team owner or GM doing that, but when a player does it he’s apparently a monster. If anything, I think Drew’s and Scott Boras’ gambit was a pretty sweet one.
Another big part of that comes from some comments Tony La Russa made about him in a book written by Buzz Bissinger, saying that Drew only gave 75% and seemed satisfied with that. Over time we have learned that La Russa is no different than anyone else when it comes to liking people or not liking them, so we should always be somewhat wary of such assessments, but I figure La Russa was in a pretty good position to judge his player’s effort level and no one has ever pushed back on it.
Finally, there is the old eye test from fans who, watching Drew, always seemed to think he was lackadaisical and lazy. I get that too — he played for the team I rooted for for a season and it’s not like he was an electrifying presence, even if he was putting up a fantastic year — but fans always seem to think that the only form of intensity an athlete can have is the fist-pumping, rah-rah kind and that’s always troubled me.
Eh, I’m not trying to rehabilitate Drew’s reputation here. It’s more than likely well-earned. I just think he’s a good jumping off point for us to consider what passion and intensity for the game is supposed to look like and whether we always get that right.
Carlos Guillen: Had some really fine seasons with the Tigers, but will likely always be best known as one of the guys traded to the Seattle Mariners in the deal that sent Randy Johnson to the Astros. He and Mike Cameron should probably form a support group for that kind of thing.
Vladimir Guerrero: He’ll get in, possibly even this year, and I would vote for him, because he was a fantastic player who I believe to be worthy. A lot of my friends in the online writing and/or analytics community would vote for him too. Indeed, they seem to be far more enthusiastic about his candidacy than they have been about a lot of other players who have come down the pike in the past few years. Far more enthusiastic than a lot of BBWAA voters too. Which is fine — statheads can get excited about a player too — but it’s probably worth observing that a lot of Guerrero’s case is based on older, traditional stats, the eyeball test and the fact that he was fun as hell to watch. Meanwhile, more advanced metrics aren’t as kind to him as they are to many other candidates. In this, Guerrero is an odd duck, is he not? The guy for whom it’s the statheads yelling at others to get their heads out of the spreadsheets and watch the highlights for once in their lives? Like I said: I think he’s Hall of Fame worthy and belongs in Cooperstown. But if you didn’t know any better and read some of the stuff online and otherwise sabermetric-oriented writers say about him, you could easily be confused into thinking he was some inner-circle, Willie Mays type which, well, he was not.
Derrek Lee: I bet if you asked people to guess who, in 2005, led the National League in average, slugging, OPS and total bases while smacking 46 homers and hitting 50 doubles, not a single one would guess it was Derrek Lee. At least not a single one outside of Chicago. That has to be one of the most anonymous truly great seasons in the past 20 years, right? That’s approaching Norm Cash in 1961 territory as far as “wait, really?” factor goes.
Melvin Mora: A utility guy for years who blossomed once the O’s made him their everyday third baseman. He ended up playing more games at third base for the Orioles than anyone besides Brooks Robinson. Overall he played every position except pitcher and catcher. And it’s not like he was just a gimmick elsewhere. He played all of the defensive positions at least 27 times and DH’d on 14 occasions. Every utility guy in the bigs should have a photo of Mora in their locker and give it an offering every morning to improve their own chances of making it as a regular.
Magglio Ordonez: There were a few years there where it was reasonable to ask whether Ordonez was going to make the Hall of Fame. It wasn’t meant to be — he probably needed to start a couple of years earlier, last a couple of years longer and avoid the injuries he dealt with in the middle of his career — but that’s a story we could tell about a lot of guys. When he was on and healthy, though, he was among the best hitters in the AL and he was a fan favorite for both the White Sox and the Tigers. Solid Hall of Very Good choice.
Jorge Posada: He’ll probably get more votes than he’d get if he had the same stat line in a uniform that didn’t have pinstripes on it — his status as a “Core Four” member of the 1990s-2000s Yankee dynasty will not go unnoticed by some voters — but he falls just short in my mind. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he was not a regular until he was 26, which cut down on his counting stats. Still, he was an excellent hitter for a catcher and a well-respected handler of the Yankees pitching staff. I suspect, however, that the superior Mike Piazza getting in last year and the superior Ivan Rodriguez’s presence on the ballot now will harm Posada’s chances. He’d be someone I’d look at more than once, but with a ten-vote limit, he wouldn’t make the cut for me.
Manny Ramirez: He’ll get virtually no support as a mutli-time PED offender in the testing/suspension era. Which I understand, but is it not also worth asking whether, if a guy was punished and served his time under the testing regime, Hall of Fame voters should punish him again. I mean, hasn’t the case against Bonds, Clemens and McGwire been partially based on exacting discipline that Major League Baseball never bothered to? Well, with Manny, MLB dished out what it thought was appropriate punishment and moved on. That Hall of Fame voters won’t seems . . . somewhat inconsistent. Oh well, as you know, however, I’m a PED dove so that’s not going to bother me. The fact remains that the guy could rake like crazy: .312/.411/.585 (OPS+ of 154) 555 homers and 1,831 RBI says it all to me. He was simply better than all but a handful of his peers with the bat and that’s the stuff of a Hall of Famer in my book.
Edgar Renteria: He was a nice player with a couple of big World Series moments that a lot of guys who actually did and will make the Hall of Fame probably wish they had. Not too shabby.
Arthur Rhodes: If, before the ballots came out last month, you asked me what Arthur Rhodes was up to these days, I probably would’ve squinted, thought hard and answered that, as far as I knew, he was a non-roster invite on a minor league deal at some big league camp in February 2016. I mean, it would’ve seemed plausible, would it not? Indeed, I’m not 100% convinced that he didn’t pitch in 2016 and that his presence on the ballot isn’t a glitch of some kind.
Ivan Rodriguez: The best defensive catcher of his era and maybe any era who, for eight or nine years, was likewise one of the better hitters around too. If he gets in it will take several years, I suspect, due to PED suspicions. The basis for them — Jose Canseco’s book and a mysterious mid-career slimming down that coincided with the advent of drug testing — is less solid than, in descending order, an admission, a positive test, implication in a legal investigation and the Mitchell Report, but it’ll be enough to cause many voters to bypass him, at least for now. He’s a Hall of Famer in my book based on his defense, his longevity and the fact that, even if those offensive numbers were a bit inflated, he was solid for most of his career. See below, however, if he’d crack my top-10 this year.
Freddy Sanchez: Once, in the mid-2000s, I was on a business trip to Wisconsin and I impulsively went to a Brewers/Pirates game. It was a mid-week game, both teams sucked and I walked up to the ticket office five minutes before first pitch and got a behind home plate seat for like $25. Sanchez was one of the few credible major league players in the game that night. He won a batting title once. Maybe someone throws him a single vote for being classy or whatever it is writers throw players single votes for.
Matt Stairs: That comment about Orlando Cabrera and his nine teams? Well, Stairs played for 12. So he has to have the record for a Hall of Fame ballot guy. A career OBP of .356, some nice pop and the dude played until he was 43, even if he looked like he was 45 for all 19 years of his career. Baseball will always have some, superficially non-athletic-looking guys like Matt Stairs, humanizing the game 100 times better than super athletic specimens ever will.
Jason Varitek: He’ll get a lot Posada-style votes: votes based on where he played and what the team accomplished that he would not have gotten if he played elsewhere. Maybe he’ll get more because he was the captain of the team, the writers liked him and he got into a famous fight with A-Rod back when A-Rod was thought of as the most evil player in baseball. Fifteen years is a short career for a Hall of Famer, though, and he posted a career OPS+ of 99. I’m not a WAR devotee, but based on that metric he’d be one of the weakest catchers ever inducted, beating out only Rick Farrell, Ray Schalk and Al Lopez. Unless you count storylines, team accomplishments and his status as a fan favorite, there is not anything approaching a compelling Hall of Fame case here.
Tim Wakefield: Everyone likes knuckleballers and he pitched forever, but he’s obviously not getting in.
THE HOLDOVERS (last year’s vote totals)
Jeff Bagwell (71.6%): For about a decade he was the third or fourth best hitter in baseball, behind only Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas and, at times, Griffey and A-Rod. His case is so similar to Frank Thomas’ with the added fact that he played more defense, it’s a crime he’s not in already. He’ll likely make it in this year, however.
Barry Bonds (44.3%); Roger Clemens (45.2%): The second or third greatest hitter of all time and one of the top five players of all time along with one of the greatest pitchers of all time. I have dealt with these two at length, so I’m past arguing about these two. There’s nothing else left to say. It’s possible the BBWAA is getting there too.
Trevor Hoffman (67.3%): I won’t cry if and when he gets in, but his case is tied up very much in saves and compiling them, much in the manner which many voters disdain when it comes to hitters compiling stats. If you had to get one out to save the Earth, would Hoffman even be the relief pitcher on this year’s ballot you’d want trying to get it? I’d probably go with Billy Wagner, actually.
Jeff Kent (16.6%): A lotta offensive value. Way less defensive value. A guy whose numbers aren’t as gaudy as they seem once you adjust for era. I’d rather see Lou Whitaker in than Kent. Maybe some other guys too.
Edgar Martinez (43.4%): Now that Alan Trammell is off the ballot, he’s maybe the most disrespected Hall of Fame-worthy dude still hanging on. The case against him boils down to him just being a DH. It’s incoherent already as Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor, though they played other positions, were hitting-only inductees. It’ll be even more incoherent when David Ortiz waltzes in his first year on the ballot.
Fred McGriff (20.9%): One of my favorites, but a borderline case who, unfortunately, suffered for having the prime of his career straddle the low-offense/high-offense eras between the late 80s and early 90s. On a less-crowded ballot I’d strongly consider a vote for him. He’s not a lock for the top-10, though.
Mike Mussina (43.0%): An outstanding pitcher who was outstanding despite pitching in the most offensive-first era in history and while pitching in the division with some offensive juggernauts. Hall of Fame voters have routinely, and appropriately, adjusted downward for hitters with big numbers in big offensive eras. They have never seemed to adjust upwards for pitchers in those same eras. He’s a Hall of Famer by just about any comparison to existing inductees. That he’s still on the outside looking in is sad.
Tim Raines (69.8%): It’s his last year on the ballot and he may finally make it in. He deserves it for reasons people have written about frequently in recent years. He got on base. He was an amazing base runner and base stealer. He had some pop. He was a good defender early on. Only one man had his combination of skills in greater supply and that was Rickey Henderson. That Raines was not as good as one of the best players in the game’s history should not be a knock against him.
Curt Schilling (52.3%): You all know that I have no love for this guy based on his off-the-field comments and conduct, but I gotta be consistent when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. I have never liked the character clause which gives voters cover to knock players they don’t like so I’m not going to use the imaginary character clause to knock a guy I don’t like. He was about as valuable a pitcher, overall, as John Smoltz, who waltzed into the Hall of Fame. I think Schilling deserves to waltz in too. If he ever does, I just hope they turn off his microphone at the induction ceremony.
Gary Sheffield (11.6%): A great hitter, a poor fielder and a world class piece of work. That’s not a good combination, historically, for one who wishes to get into the Hall of Fame.
Lee Smith (34.1%): He’s the mayor of the Hall of Fame ballot at this point. He reached his high point years ago, though. A candidate who looked a lot better when we were, collectively, a lot more impressed with saves and when plus fastballs were a lot more rare than they are today.
Sammy Sosa (7%): He continues to pay a much higher price for PEDs, despite not having any hard and fast evidence against him, than just about any other player. What’s more, the new look the BBWAA voters seem to be giving Bonds and Clemens in light of Bud Selig’s induction is not, apparently, being cast on Sosa. It’s bizarre. As is the Cubs’ continued distancing of themselves from him. Who did Sosa kill? Apart from over 600 baseballs which, in the grand scheme of things, should’ve landed him in the Hall a long time ago?
Billy Wagner (10.5%): He struck out guys like it was his job. Which, when you’re a relief pitcher, it really and truly is, and that he has gotten very little support compared to the guys with higher save totals tells you everything you need to know about voters’ misunderstanding of a relief pitcher’s role. Wagner played in Atlanta in 2010. He was 38. He posted 1.43 ERA in 71 games, a 0.865 WHIP and struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings and made the All-Star team. Then he walked the hell off into the sunset. He could’ve been embarrassing batters for three or four more years if he wanted to but he didn’t. I don’t think he’ll make the Hall of Fame but something tells me he won’t care. He’ll be off being awesome at something else.
Larry Walker (15.5%): An MVP and three batting titles. Power, defense and speed. Often overlooked and often injured, which is a bad thing for Hall of Fame cases, even if one is worthy by the numbers. He’s been left off of my imaginary ballot in the past due to me running out of room. Is there room for him this year?
MY IMAGINARY HALL OF FAME BALLOT: Last year I had to keep a lot of worthy guys off, but there were also a few of them who either got inducted, ran out of eligibility or fell off due to not getting 5%. That makes more room! Room for these guys: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez. Just falling short but who I would consider if there were more than ten slots: Billy Wagner, Ivan Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman and Sammy Sosa.
Have at me in the comments.