The only appropriate question to ask about the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot is, "Which ten players should receive a vote?"
There are 36 players on the ballot, with probably 22 of them having some kind of case worth being made. No one can vote for more than ten. Those are the rules. They are dumb rules, but they are the rules.
The Baseball Hall of Fame voting privileges are extended to ten-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. They don't even have to keep writing about baseball to keep their vote. There are at least three golf writers with ballots. That sounds like a joke but it actually isn't.
A player must be named on 75% of the returned ballots to be inducted. No one was inducted last year, creating a logjam this year that will only worsen next time around. Players who are named on fewer than 5% of ballots are dropped off. There were worries this could happen with Mike Mussina. Players who have been on the ballot for 15 years are also dropped off. Jack Morris, the focal point of many Hall of Fame-related arguments, is in his final year.
There are good and bad reasons to vote for or against any of the players. Everyone has their own. If it were up to me, there would be 16 names I would be tempted to include. They are:
Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker.
Glavine, Maddux, Piazza and Thomas are such no-brainers that no one should even need to explain why they're getting a vote. Bonds and Clemens exist under the cloud of PED near-certainty, but their numbers are so insane that it's impossible for me not to recognize their greatness with a place on a hypothetical ballot. You could give me every steroid in existence and I would not be putting up a 1.87 ERA at any point in my life, let alone at age 42. I would also have not hit a single home run, let alone 762.
That's six players out of the maximum ten just in the automatic category. The rest need some consideration to decide how to round out the ballot.
Jeff Bagwell: Batted .297/.408/.540 over a 15-year career. It will be a recurring theme that I find .300/.400/.500 players over long careers to be impressive, even considering that it was an era full of offense. Suffers due to unfair steroid suspicion; some writers seem to think any power hitter from the era must have been juicing.
Craig Biggio: Received the most votes of anyone last year at 68.2%. A member of the 3,000 hit club, more or less an automatic benchmark until now. He snuck in at age 41, a year in which he batted .251/.285/.381. Had a number of good offensive seasons as a second baseman, also spending time at catcher early in his career and in the outfield late. He strikes me as being like Cal Ripken, only without the MVP awards, World Series ring, local connection to his team, or The Streak.
Edgar Martinez: Knocked by many and never really supported in his time for being primarly a DH, Martinez nevertheless batted .312/.418/.515 over a career that spanned 2,055 games. He was so good at hitting that it makes up for the fact that hitting is all he contributed to his teams. He had an amazing peak. With unlimited space, there would be no question of including Martinez, but he could be squeezed out when dropping down to 10 names.
Mark McGwire: Has a lot of home runs in his favor and that's about it. He is the lone of the notorious figures from the era to come out and admit and apologize for using. 500 home runs was more or less automatic induction until those guys came along. Most seem to think that without PEDs, there would have never been a chase of Maris, and without that, there would be no HOF case for McGwire. I can't say that they're wrong.
Mike Mussina: He's automatic, at least in my mind. I only didn't list him in the automatics above because I don't want to seem like a total homer. The baseball writer world has to come around to this opinion still, which says more about them than it says about Mussina. In terms of actually preventing baserunners, Mussina had a better career than a no-doubt player like Glavine - so why isn't Mussina no-doubt also?
Rafael Palmeiro: Has the distinction of being the only one of the suspected PED players of the era to actually test positive for PEDs. Where others are merely suspected, Palmeiro is known to have used at least once thanks to his positive test for stanozolol. 3,000 hits and 500 home runs were called into question, though he may well have been telling the truth when he wagged his finger in front of Congress. Given a crowded ballot, it's hard to justify keeping him on with his circumstances.
Tim Raines: Unappreciated in his time because he did things like walk and steal bases that did not garner recognition from writers; if you replaced half his walks with singles, he'd have over 3,300 hits and would probably be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer long before now, his seventh year on the ballot. A career batting line of .294/.385/.425 with 808 stolen bases in 954 attempts (an 85% success rate), plus he took the extra base a full 50% of the time he had the opportunity to do so. His skills have yet to be honored by the BBWAA, but they should have been.
Curt Schilling: A good-to-great pitcher with a long career and some signature postseason moments, Schilling is basically a pitcher who actually represents what writers seem to think Jack Morris is. He had a 1.137 WHIP while pitching 3,261 innings through a high-offense ERA - his career ERA was lower than Morris by nearly half a run even despite the difference in era that they pitched. Another great candidate who may get squeezed off by the limit of ten names per ballot.
Alan Trammell: He is in his 13th year on the ballot and is a long-shot for induction. In his JAWS series on the Hall of Fame, Jay Jaffe lays out the case for Trammell. I find it persuasive, but may not be able to include him in the final ballot.
Larry Walker: Another player who was a .300/.400/.500 player for his career. Walker played for ten years in the high altitude of Coors Field, which probably inflated his numbers by some amount, but he's still in that impressive category for me. No impressive benchmarks. 383 career home runs, 2,160 hits. According to Jaffe's JAWS, he had a HOF-worthy peak and would be right about average for a HOF first baseman.
Considering Mussina as an automatic gives us three spots left for nine players.
While I gave token consideration to McGwire and Palmeiro, I can't vote for them when limited to ten when it feels like there are better choices. Walker and Martinez fall off because of the Coors and the DH effect, respectively; I don't think either of these should exclude someone from HOF consideration, but the ballot crunch makes for tough choices.
I am now left to consider Bagwell, Biggio, Raines, Schilling, and Trammell for three spots that remain. I've already given away my opinion on Biggio by thinking of him as Cal Ripken only without everything that makes Cal a Hall of Famer. I am in the minority in leaving off Biggio. If I had twelve spots, he'd be in, but I can't give him the nod with only ten.
Compared to the set of all baseball players, ever, Biggio is one of the best - enough for Hall of Fame induction, even. But the logjam means someone gets left out. Biggio is one of those someones for me. So is Trammell, probably because he played most of his career before I ever watched a baseball game. He deserves induction, too, but he's not one of the ten most-deserving on this ballot.
So, if I were a Hall of Fame-voting member of the BBWAA, that would leave me faxing in a ballot with these boxes checked:
Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Glavine, Maddux, Mussina, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Thomas.
The remark about faxing in the ballot is another thing that probably seems like a joke but it isn't.
Voters have until today to submit their ballots, with results to be announced on January 8, 2014.
Who would you vote for? Who do you think will get inducted out of this year's candidates?
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