Today the Hall of Fame will announce who will join Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons for induction this summer. For the tenth straight year I hereby cast my Hall of Fame ballot. Or, rather, I 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. 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.
Without further ado, my take — some less thorough than others — for almost every candidate on the ballot and definitely all the serious candidates. If you don’t want to wade through it all, the ten I choose will be listed at the end.
THE NEW GUYS
Derek Jeter is the only one I’d throw a vote to. And, in the real voting, I’d bet more money than I actually have that he’ll be the only one of the new guys who makes it in. Heck, he stands a chance of being the only guy to make it in apart from Eras Committee inductees Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons.
I hope we don’t have to rehash Jeter’s numbers here. If you really feel we need to, you can start at a line of .310/.377/.440, 3,465 career hits, 72.4 career WAR, five World Series rings, and his status as the face of Major League Baseball for basically 20 years. Despite the fact that discussions of Derek Jeter’s career often lead to controversy — some say he was overrated, some say he was the best ever, and lots of people either focus on his faults over his accomplishments or his team’s accomplishments over his individual ones — I hope we can all agree that he’s a Hall of Famer. Like, if you objectively look at his personal credentials, his highlights, his numbers, his fame, and everything else one looks at in Hall of Fame voting and you come out saying “eh, I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer,” please go seek medical attention, because you’re suffering from a case of Impossibly High Standards-itis.
People argue about whether he should be a first ballot guy, but I don’t believe such distinctions matter, as you’re either a Hall of Famer or you’re not. People argue about whether he deserves unanimous induction, but that’s even a sillier, more artificial standard that should not prey on the minds of those who vote, for real or pretend-like as I do. The only possible argument I can see for not including Jeter on your ballot is that you have more than ten guys you sincerely think warrant induction, you realize that Jeter is a lock to make it anyway, and so you free up the space you’d use to vote for him to pencil in someone else. I feel like at least a few voters will do that to The Captain this year, and that’s fine, but I don’t personally believe in playing that kind of game. I frankly don’t feel I’m smart enough — or that that the Hall of Fame is important enough — to warrant high-level game theory or three dimensional chess.
So yeah, Jeter gets my imaginary vote. As for the rest of the newcomers on the list:
Abreu, as Bill wrote recently, has a better Hall of Fame case than you might think. He posted 60 career Wins Above Replacement and, among Hall of Famers who played at least 50 percent of their games in the outfield, Abreu is in the same neighborhood as Andre Dawson (64.8 WAR), Dave Winfield (64.2), Vladimir Guerrero (59.4), Willie Stargell (57.5), and is substantially ahead of Kirby Puckett (51.1). Of course he was also underrated for most of his career and thus never got the ink those guys got for their accomplishments. In part because a lot of Abreu’s game — on-base ability, defense — weren’t as appreciated during the bulk of Abreu’s career.
Still, his peak was not what I tend to like to see in a Hall of Famer and, unlike Andruw Jones (mentioned below) he wasn’t a transcendent, generational talent in any one area. Either way, I tend to prefer a guy whose career you can look at and say, at least for a few years, “that guy was one of the best in the game.” We don’t really have that with Abreu, even if we do underrate him.
The best of the rest of the newcomers are Jason Giambi and Cliff Lee. The former’s PED associations likely doom his chances with the real voters. His overall career value after that peak in Oakland tends to underwhelm me. He played in 20 seasons but a great many of them were as a part time guy or an otherwise forgettable player, often kept in the fold because he was like an extra coach rather than because of his baseball value. The latter, Lee, had a Hall of Fame peak but he only played 13 seasons and his career did not have the sort of Hall of Fame duration I like to see beyond that, so again no.
The rest of the new guys are players about whom most of us can say a couple of nice things but it takes more than a couple of nice things to make you a Hall of Famer in my book.
Here are the returnees from last year’s ballot, with last year’s percentage of the vote and the number of years they’ve been on the ballot. Remember: you only get 10 years these days:
Curt Schilling (60.9%) 8th year
Roger Clemens (59.5%) 8th year
Barry Bonds (59.1%) 8th year
Larry Walker (54.6%) 10th year
Omar Vizquel (42.8%) 3rd year
Manny Ramírez (22.8%) 4th year
Jeff Kent (18.1%) 7th year
Scott Rolen (17.2%) 3rd year
Billy Wagner (16.7%) 5th year
Todd Helton (16.5%) 2nd year
Gary Sheffield (13.6%) 6th year
Andy Pettitte (9.9%) 2nd year
Sammy Sosa (8.5%) 8th year
Andruw Jones (7.5%) 3rd year
I and many others have argued the merits of these guys for years, so there’s no need to go over it in brutal detail. Well, except with Curt Schilling, who I spend a lot of time on this year.
Bonds and Clemens:
Bonds is the second or third greatest hitter of all time and one of the top five overall players of all time. Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. No one seriously disputes this even if a lot of people un-seriously do. I have dealt with all of this at length, so won’t do it again here. There’s nothing else left to say on the substance. All that’s left if the PED stuff.
If you have read my work for even ten minutes you know that I am not a “PEDs is a disqualifier” guy, nor am I a strong adherent to the so-called “character clause” when it comes to Hall of Fame candidates, with possible extreme exceptions (see Curt Schilling below). If you are one of those voters, fine, I understand why you’d leave Bonds and Clemens off, both of whom used PEDs and both of whom are less-than-great people, but I personally feel like that overcomplicates matters. If you have a Hall of Fame and don’t include the two greatest players of their era, your Hall of Fame is dumb.
Like so many players for whom I have advocated over the years, Walker had a lot of value tied up in things that weren’t, historically, quantified well. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that he was an all-around great player who — while yes, had fantastic plate discipline, defensive value and base running skills — also happened to check a lot of the boxes for things that the so-called experts have always valued. He won an MVP award and three batting titles while flashing power, defense and speed. His Coors Field splits were far less pronounced than other Rockies players whose career accomplishments were discounted. Walker was great away from the Rockies and away from Coors as well. He’s a Hall of Famer to me.
On the pure baseball merits I think Schilling is a good enough pitcher to be in the Hall of Fame. As I’ve noted in the past, he was about as valuable a pitcher, overall, as John Smoltz, who waltzed into Cooperstown. And, like Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, he was (a) better than most of the guys of his era; and (b) his era was historically tough for pitchers. He was great at his best and above average most of the rest of the time, giving him a number of peak seasons, even if they were a tad scattered, with good overall career value. He’s not inner-circle like Pedro, Maddux, or The Big Unit, but you don’t have to be inner-circle to be a Hall of Famer. In light of all of that, in the past, I have said that if I had a Hall of Fame ballot I’d cast a vote for Schilling.
On this point, however, I have changed my mind. Upon greater reflection — reflection in which I probably should’ve engaged some time ago, but better late than never — I’d not vote for Schilling and I’m going to explain why. But before I do that, I’m going to explain what I am not doing.
I’m not invoking the Hall of Fame ballot’s famous “character clause,” at least formally. As I said, I tend not to put much if any stock in the character clause because of how arbitrarily it can be and has been historically applied combined with how little, in reality, we actually know of most players’ true characters and how ill-positioned any of us are to judge such a thing. I don’t need a museum board of directors who serves at the pleasure of some old money and Rob Manfred of all people to tell me what to do with my conscience and I will refuse to do so out of any sort of obligation.
I am also, in saying I would not support Schilling for the Hall of Fame, not making this about politics, which is a thing people tend to say you’re doing when you say you wouldn’t vote for Schilling. The claim goes that Schilling detractors are liberals, he’s a conservative and that that’s why we dislike him and oppose his Hall of Fame candidacy. Such a charge is preposterous.
Most players are pretty conservative. The clear majority in the modern game at least, I’d reckon. I do not withhold my praise or admiration of any players because of what political party they support or their views on taxes, or abortion, or religion, or the proper role of the military, or government regulation or whatever else has been the subject of legitimate political discourse or controversy in this country over the years, nor would I withhold an awards or Hall of Fame vote if I had one. I would not withhold a vote because a guy was a Trump supporter like Schilling is. Mariano Rivera is an extraordinarily open Trump supporter, wearing the MAGA hat and attending Trump rallies and all, and I’d vote for him ten times if someone gave me a ballot to do so. I’d guess that Trump support among ballplayers runs markedly higher than in the population at large and even higher than it does among Republicans at large, and my appreciation of a ballplayer’s career has never hinged on that. In light of that, the argument that I or anyone else discount a ballplayer’s career because of “politics” is utter baloney.
My problem with Schilling is not that he’s got bad politics as such. It’s that he has gone out of his way over the past several years to show himself to be a demonstrably awful human being who has used his considerable platform to propagate hatred.
Schilling has spread conspiracy theories that survivors of school massacres were paid crisis actors and has voiced his support of the so-called “QAnon theory” which holds that a cabal of “globalist elites” — transparent antisemitic code — are engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring and wish to commit a coup d’état in America. He has espoused transphobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, antisemitism, racism, and has promoted the idea that violence against those with whom he disagrees — particularly the media — is at best a laughing matter and, arguably, is a good idea.
I don’t know what Schilling considers himself to be, politically speaking, but such views are objectively extremist and could properly be considered fascist. I have no idea if Schilling is “joking” when he espouses these views. I do not know if, in his heart of hearts, he believes them or if he believes other things and thinks that he’s actually a good and compassionate person. But we are not what we believe in our heart of hearts. We are what we do, and what he has done is to use his considerable celebrity to spread lies, conspiracy theories and hatred, the sort of which have gotten people killed in the past and will get more people killed in the future. He has not done this as some dumb, one-off comment in an interview nor has he done it ignorantly in a way that might lead one to believe he’s simply uninformed, easily swayed, or perhaps not well, mentally speaking. He is an intelligent man who has consciously pursued the agenda he has followed as a means of making himself a media star or, potentially, a political candidate. It’s odious. And it’s dangerous.
We may live in a time in which people claim that even the most extreme views are legitimate, but that’s a lie too. There is still right and wrong in the world and that which Curt Schilling has made the conscious decision to stand for is wrong. It is evil. He’s free to stand for it as we have the freedom in this country to be wrong, but it in no way obligates anyone to nod at him and to say his views are just as good as anyone else’s. It certainly does not obligate anyone to say that he is entitled to the highest honor in what once was his field but which he has abandoned because he’s more interested in spreading toxicity than anything else.
I know there are those among you who will counter this by saying that the Hall of Fame should only be about baseball and nothing else. I almost always agree with that. But in Curt Schilling’s case I am making an exception. One I should’ve made long ago but one I am happy to make now. Yes, he was a fantastic ballplayer. Yes, there are a lot of bad guys in the Hall of Fame. Indeed, there are even some bad guys on this year’s ballot. But that in no way requires me to support the candidacy of a guy who spreads the type of poison Curt Schilling spreads. The type of poison that takes this far afield from just political differences or mere character deficiencies and makes it a matter of supporting evil or not. I choose not to support evil, especially when it’s not even a close case.
He’s 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. I just don’t get it.
A career .312/.411/.585 (OPS+ of 154) hitter with 555 homers and 1,831 RBI. 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. 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. People like bright lines, and testing positive in the post-testing era seems to be the brightest of lines for Hall of Fame voters. I’d vote for him anyway.
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.
A great hitter — probably better than you remember — but a poor fielder and a world class piece of work. That’s not a good combination for a guy who wishes to get into the Hall of Fame, but Schilling aside, I tend to ignore the “piece of work” part. He would not be the worst player or the only one-dimensional player in the Hall. In the past he’s been off my ballot because there were ten better candidates, but the field has thinned out with larger induction classes over the past few years and my jettisoning of Schilling frees up space. I’d throw Sheffield a vote.
Man he was good. He threw harder than his contemporaries, struck out dudes at a much higher pace than his contemporaries and was more reliable than most of his contemporaries. Dude was still at the top of his game when he retired. If he had decided to hang on a bit longer and climb that all-time saves list a bit — two more average seasons and he’s third behind Rivera and Trevor Hoffman — he’d likely already be in. Or at least close to it. There are a lot of relievers who have been inducted who were described as dominant and fierce and all of that. Wagner was better than almost all of them. He’s in as far as I’m concerned.
Seven All-Star Games and 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. Of that group, only Adirán Beltré is not in the Hall of Fame already, and he will be eventually. Rolen is a Hall of Famer in my book.
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 them, was not named in the Mitchell Report and was not part of any of the other PED investigations like BALCO and the Biogenesis stuff. Yeah, I strongly suspect he used, but there is no player in that gray area whose Hall of Fame vote total has been as impacted as Sosa’s. Heck, he gets way less support than even Manny does, and Manny crossed that bright line we talked about. Very weird for a guy with 600 career homers. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sosa’s exile from the world of baseball since the end of his playing career — the Cubs have cast him out even though the current owners and front office weren’t around when Sosa was there — has hurt him quite a bit. Then, of course, some voters are just racist jackwagons. Bottom line: he was among the best of his era, he was unquestionably one of the most famous, and he is owed a great deal of credit for baseball bouncing back after the 1994-95 strike. Just because you think he’s weird does not change what he did on the field. He’s in for me.
A very good offensive player at times but, obviously, defense was his calling card. Extraordinary defense at arguably the most important defensive position. If he was not the best center fielder ever — and some have said so — he was certainly the best in my lifetime. He fell off a cliff offensively and defensively following his age-29 season, of course. Had he not done that we’d be having a very different conversation, but he did start young and some guys only have so much on the odometer. I have room for a 62.8 WAR player who was the best center fielder in decades on my ballot. I wish more people did.
Gaudy numbers for sure, more inflated by Coors Field than Walker’s were but still not SO insane that you can call him a mere Coors Field creation ( 1.048 OPS at Coors, a very good .855 OPS on the road). I still think he falls a tad short too, partially because of his park. There aren’t a ton of guys with home/road splits as extreme as his in the Hall of Fame, and all of them were elected before people understood park effects in any sort of statistically-specific way. None of that should be considered a knock on Helton, though. He’s the greatest player in Rockies history — a lot of Walker’s value came in Montreal and he finished in St. Louis — and was among the best players of his era. But I don’t think he’s quite there.
For years I assumed he’d get a ton of Hall of Fame support thanks to his reputation as a big-game pitcher, a career win total that owes a hell of a lot to pitching for stacked Yankees teams and his reputation as a good guy. I also assumed that, to get that Hall of Fame support, a lot of voters would have to engage in some serious cognitive dissonance regarding Pettitte’s PED history, which is nowhere near as mea culpa-ful as it’s often portrayed. Seems I was wrong to assume that given that he only got 9.9% of the vote last year. I wrote up a very long thing on his candidacy right after he retired, and I stand by it. Short version: he was a very good but not great pitcher in my view. It appears the real voters believe that too.
MY BALLOT: Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa.
I suspect, however, that the actual voters will just go with Jeter and maybe — hopefully — walker. We’ll know this evening. And we’ll see inductions take place on Sunday, July 26, at 1:30 p.m. in Cooperstown.