We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
Every year’s Hall of Fame class is a big news, but 2017’s was bigger news because the class itself was big. Indeed, it was among the biggest induction classes — by number of inductees — in recent years with five inductees making they way to the stage in Cooperstown: Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, Bud Selig and John Schuerholz. Another candidate — Trevor Hoffman — fell five votes short of induction himself.
Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87. WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy, all of whom got more plaudits at the time. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that period and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Rickey Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). That Raines had to wait until his last year of eligibility was in large part due to him being a very similar player to Henderson. Which is kind of an unfair comparison — Henderson is one of the best players of all time — but that’s how the voters operate sometimes.
Bagwell likewise had to wait a bit longer than he should’ve, mostly due to thus far evidence-free beliefs that he used PEDs. On the merits, Bagwell was one of the best first basemen of all time, with a career line of .297/.408/.540, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI. Between 1994 and 2001, he averaged — averaged! — a line of .306/.428/.589, 37 homers and 120 RBI while playing in perhaps the worst hitters park in history in the Astrodome.
People whispered about Rodriguez and PEDs just as much as they did Bagwell, but he got in on the first ballot, suggesting that the BBWAA is getting over its hangups. He is also clearly deserving of induction. Rodriguez, the 1999 AL MVP, was named to 14 All-Star teams and he won 13 Gold Gloves. He finished his career with a .296/.334/.464 line, 311 homers and 1,332 RBI. His 2,427 games caught is a major league record. He was, without question, the best defensive catcher of his era and many believe he was the best of all time. If he’s not, he’s in the top two or three.
Then there’s Bud Selig, who got elected despite the fact that he helped spearhead a three-year-long collusion scheme that cost his fellow owners hundreds of millions in legal damages and mounted an aggressive, and unsuccessful, union-busting campaign that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. While that seems like a less-than-Hall-worthy resumé, the Hall of Fame has tended to view induction as part of retiring commissioners’ severance package. If there was any remaining doubt about him getting in, the fact that the committee which elected Selig was, more or less, hand-picked by people loyal to Selig and/or Major League Baseball put it to rest.
John Schuerholz was inducted by virtue of his being one of the top executives of the past half century, starting out with the Orioles and then building winners in both Kansas City and Atlanta, sustaining those organizations’ success for far longer periods than most teams experience success even approaching that level.
Beyond those two, ESPN’s Claire Smith took the stage to accept the 2017 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. She was the first woman to be given baseball writing’s highest honor. Athletics broadcaster Bill King, who passed away in 2005, was honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting.