On Wednesday evening, the Hall of Fame will announce who will join Alan Trammell and Jack Morris for induction this summer. For the eighth 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 of reasons.
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. Heck, I can eyeball at least 15 I’d put on my ballot if I could. 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 course, 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 — some less thorough than others — 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
Chris Carpenter: He was pretty darn good for a while, but neither good enough for the time he was good nor around long enough to overcome that. Jack Morris never had a season close to as good as Carpenter’s 2009 campaign. Carpenter’s health kept him from the lifetime totals Morris had. He’s a guy who would’ve been really interesting to talk about for these purposes if he had been more durable.
Johnny Damon: He was famous — winning rings with the Yankees and Red Sox will do that for you — but not as close as a case as his 2,700+ hits might make you think. If he had hung around and got those 3,000 hits he’d almost certainly be the first non-banned or non-PED guy with 3,000 hits to not make the Hall.
Livan Hernandez: He’d make the innings eater Hall of Fame if there was one. Not that that’s a criticism. There are lots of innings that need to be eaten and he ate them with the best of them. Between that and that 1997 NLCS game which is, easily, the worst-called game in playoff history, he’ll always be remembered, even if he’s never inducted.
Orlando Hudson: He was very nice to me in the Padres clubhouse during spring training in either 2011 or 2012. Great leather. Amazing enough that he made the bigs given that he was a 43rd round draft pick. None of those things get you into Cooperstown.
Aubrey Huff: He never made an All-Star team but he was plenty famous thanks to his 2010 World Series performance and the sort of notoriety one gets by being among the best players on some really bad teams. Like a lot of guys who will fall off the ballot this year, he had the sort of career that, in the past, would be largely lost to history given how we tend to forget good-but-not-great players, but who will always live on, at least in text, thanks to the Internet and social media and stuff. I bet you could go back to the 1940s or 50s and find a lot of Aubrey Huff-like careers that no one ever talks about anymore.
Andruw Jones: There’s been a lot of talk about his case. A lot more talk than one usually sees for a guy who will either fall off the ballot in his first year or just barely hang on, only to fall off in the future. The talk has been about defense, of course, and (a) whether you believe that Jones’ center field defense was as good as you either remember it being or as good as the numbers say it was; and (b) whether that defense was enough, in the face of his early falloff, to put a guy in the Hall. As a person who did watch scores of his games every year between 1996 and the mid-2000s, I will say that, if he was not the best center fielder ever, he was the best in my lifetime. I do not know how much I trust the defensive metrics on this — I really am not an expert on it — but I have no problem saying he was beyond exceptional. He fell off a cliff offensively and defensively following his age-29 season — and that 2006 Gold Glove may have been based on reputation as it was — and that makes it really tough to throw him a vote, even if he started young. I’m a big Hall guy and I’d make room for Jones. See below, however, if he can crack the top 10.
Chipper Jones: He was the 1999 MVP, one of the best switch-hitters of all time and the unparalleled offensive star of the great Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s Playing for the same team for his entire career helps his case with many voters, but that shouldn’t matter. He’d be an easy call if he played for six different teams.
Jason Isringhausen: Let us stipulate that Isringhausen had a pretty nice career. With that out of the way, wanna see the power of fandom? My friend’s dad is a Cardinals fan and he found room for both Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen on his imaginary Hall ballot. Makes me wonder who else is walking around out there, thinking that some dude who had a couple of good seasons for their team is a Hall of Famer. Like, are there Tigers fans who would vote for Brandon Inge or Don Kelly? On second thought, don’t answer that.
Carlos Lee: He hit 358 homers, which is pretty good. The best part of Lee’s career, though, came at the end. In 2012 the Astros were on their way to 107 losses. The Astros had embarked on a rebuild and obviously needed to get rid of Lee’s massive contract or, at the very least, get rid of him and free up a roster space for someone better and younger. At the time I would’ve bet my life that they’d just release him, but Jeff Luhnow actually struck a deal with the Dodgers. Lee was on his way to a playoff contender! Except he vetoed the trade, as was his right, because he has a cattle ranch in Houston and he didn’t want to be that far away from it. Heck, the deal the former Astros GM to him included a clause allowing him to miss part of spring training so he could get back to Houston for a livestock show that takes place in March. Lee owns a cattle ranch in Panama too. The dude is committed as hell to his cattle. Even if there is no room in Cooperstown for him, he may make the cattle rancher’s Hall of Fame one day.
Brad Lidge: Everyone talks about that time Albert Pujols destroyed a Brad Lidge pitch in the 2005 playoffs but if you hear that story enough you can almost be excused if you forget that Lidge’s Astros made it past Pujols’ Cardinals to the World Series all the same that year. Oh well, the pitch was crushed, but let’s not overstate it, OK? Lidge was not himself the following year and was up and down for the rest of his career, but when he was up — such as when he saved 41 games for the Phillies in 2008 and saved the World Series-clinching Game 5 — he was really up.
Hideki Matsui: A fun as all-get-out player. He was definitely famous and, between Japan and the U.S., he had Hall of Fame numbers. It just so happened that most of them came in Japan. Such is life. He got here for his age-29 season and played through age-38. I wonder what he’d do in the United States in his prime.
Kevin Millwood: If you could bottle his 1999 season — a 2.56 ERA and a 0.996 WHIP at the height of the steroid era, while pitching better than his three Hall of Fame rotation mates on the Braves — and distribute it more evenly over his career you’d have a case for a Hall of Famer. As it was, that was an outlier for him, even if he had several other quite good seasons scattered over the course of his career. Everyone always assumed they could get at least part of the way back to the early Millwood, as evidenced by one-year stints in Baltimore, Seattle, Colorado and Cleveland. The Cleveland season was actually really good, though.
Jamie Moyer: Among the oldest first-timers on the ballot, but then again, being the oldest was sort of his calling card for a long time. Thing that no one will talk about in Cooperstown on induction weekend: that in a lot of ways, Moyer was just as good a pitcher as Jack Morris but did it for much longer. I suppose we’re past the point of arguing against Jack Morris, though, so let’s just nod at Moyer with a smile and say that, even if he never gets in — and he won’t — he’s up there with the Hall of Famers. Or at least a Hall of Famer.
Scott Rolen: Another defense-heavy case that will be under-appreciated by the BBWAA voters. He appeared in seven All-Star Games and won eight Gold Gloves at third base. He was the 1997 Rookie of the Year and won one Silver Slugger. While an excellent hitter — he had a .364 career OBP and an OPS+ of 122 — the strength of his Hall case comes from a defensive-heavy component of his WAR, which places him among the top-10 all-time third basemen, with only Chipper Jones and Adrian Beltre not being in the Hall of Fame already. He won’t make it in any time soon and maybe ever because, when he played, most people didn’t think of him as a Hall of Famer. He may very well deserve it on the merits, however.
Johan Santana: Great peak but a short career because shoulders are dumb. He’s still only 38 years old. In an alternate universe he continued to star past 2010, pitched well enough to be a mid-rotation starter last year and will spend two more seasons banging around and finishing with 240 or 250 wins before a five-year wait for induction. Did I mention that shoulders are dumb?
Jim Thome: HE’S A FI
Omar Vizquel: The opposite of Rolen. A guy everyone wanted to call a future Hall of Famer at the end of his career for some reason but whose numbers do not in any way support it. Yes, he was a good defender, but he wasn’t as good as the best defenders at his position AND he hit worse than most of them. So what is the argument again? I hate to be cynical, but I think it has a lot to do with Omar (a) lasting a long time in the game, which is nice, but not everything; (b) his being friendly and approachable when it came to media time; (c) his willingness to talk openly, without cliches, including saying negative things about other players on occasion, which makes him “a straight shooter”; and (d) his having personal tastes, interests and an intellect that are somewhat unusual for a professional athlete (Vizquel is a noted art aficionado, for example). All of that made him very interesting to cover as both a player and a coach, and when sports writers have someone interesting to cover, they really, really like it, especially if the guy is both interesting and friendly, which Vizquel has always been. All of which is to say that sportswriters can be super hard on some players, but sometimes they’re cheap dates.
Kerry Wood: An other-worldly starter when he broke on to the scene and an excellent reliever later in his career, interrupted by arm trouble which kept either side of his career from being long enough or good enough to be Hall of Fame worthy.
Carlos Zambrano: I wish he had a Hall of Fame case because he’d stand the best chance of all of these guys of being the first Hall of Fame inductee to throw a punch at someone on the stage during the ceremony. Alas.
THE HOLDOVERS (last year’s vote percentage)
Barry Bonds (53.8) and Roger Clemens (54.1): 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 ridiculous that they’re not already in and their continued presence on the ballot is taking up opportunities for others to get much-needed votes.
Vladimir Guerrero (71.1): Almost certainly to make it this year, and he should, because he is worthy. I still smile, though, because my contemporaries and people a bit younger than me who grew up during his career tend to talk about him a lot like Baby Boomers talked about certain players in the 50s, 60s and 70s. There’s a lot of “you had to be there” and “the numbers don’t tell the whole story” and references to a couple of highlights that, however amazing, do not make a Hall of Fame case in and of themselves. This is not to take away from Vlad — as I said, he belongs on the merits — but to note, with amusement, that the “back in my day”-ism of the previous generation isn’t limited to the previous generation. We all fall victim to it sometimes, to greater or lesser degrees.
Trevor Hoffman (74.0): 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. Still, as a big-Hall guy, I have no problem with one of the top saves guys getting inducted. I just don’t know that he’s a top-10 on this list. He may not even be the top relief pitcher.
Jeff Kent (16.7): Big offensive numbers that were partially a function of his big offensive era and little or no defensive value. I need more from a middle infielder.
Edgar Martinez (58.6): He’s still criminally underrated, getting lower vote totals because he happened to be a DH, which has been a recognized position in baseball for half a century now. No one holds the limited role closers play in a game against them. Just the DHs. Or at least they will until David Ortiz is on the ballot and waltzes in on his first try, despite the fact that Martinez was a better hitter than him (note: I think Ortiz SHOULD waltz in on his first ballot). What will the voters’ excuse be for changing their tune then?
Fred McGriff (21.7): 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 (51.8): 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 a disgrace.
Manny Ramirez (23.8): That the guy was a career .312/.411/.585 (OPS+ of 154) hitter with 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. Of course he’ll never make it because of those positive PED tests. I get that, but there are already PED users in the Hall and there will be other PED users in the future. The difference between Manny and them: he was actually punished for his PED use. They weren’t. I guess you get punished twice if you’re not as good at hiding it?
Curt Schilling (45.0): A world class jackass, but as I’ve noted many times in this space, I consider the Hall of Fame to be a place for baseball performance to be honored, not for poor character to be punished. Given how odious Schilling’s character has been revealed to be, I’ve had to think about my standard about all of this a few times, but I’m not gonna change it just for him. On the baseball side, 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, for many of the reasons Mike Mussina should: he was better than most of the guys of his era and his era was tough for pitchers. He was great at his best and above average most of the time.
Gary Sheffield (13.3): 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. Like McGriff, I’d consider him more strongly if there was more room on the ballot. But there isn’t.
Sammy Sosa (8.6): He continues to pay a much higher price for PEDs than just about any other player. This despite the fact that he never tested positive for anything when there was active drug testing with punishments attached and was not named in any of the investigative reports on the matter. Do I think he used? Probably. But if you’re going to dock Manny Ramirez because he tested positive under the testing regime and give Bonds and Clemens a fresh hearing despite their well-documented PED use, what’s the rationale for Sosa? The guy hit 600 homers. Meanwhile, a guy who now owns the team Sosa used to play for but never owned it when he did, now claims that Sosa owes an apology or else he’s not welcome back to Wrigley Field. Where he hell does he get off? The manner in which Sosa has been treated after single-handedly reviving baseball in Chicago and in the majors at large in the 1990s and early 2000s is atrocious.
Billy Wagner (10.2): In Wagner’s last season, in 2010 with Atlanta when 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 retired. That season — the one after which he decided he was done with baseball — was better than all but a handful of Trevor Hoffman’s best seasons. Wagner, meanwhile, had some better ones too. One of those guys will be inducted this year. One never will be. Remember that the next time a BBWAA voter tells you that he knows anything about relief pitchers.
Larry Walker (21.9): Another all-around guy with a lot of defensive value who voters just don’t seem to like for whatever reason. It’s better to be spectacular at one thing than excellent at everything, I suppose. You just stick out more. Not that he didn’t stick out — he won an MVP and three batting titles, while flashing power, defense and speed. I suppose playing in Colorado hurts him too, even though he showed throughout his career that he could hit anyplace.
Those are the candidates. Here are my votes:
MY IMAGINARY HALL OF FAME BALLOT: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, 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: Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman and Sammy Sosa.
Have at me.