The Hall of Fame will announce its 2020 inductees on Tuesday, and there probably won’t be much talk of steroids.
MLB has bigger scandals gnawing at its credibility.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will get in, and perhaps unanimously, which should put to rest Yankees’ fans suggestions of anti-Yankee bias. Maybe a monument is more than enough honor for Andy Pettitte.
Larry Walker might get in, and maybe he should. That 141 OPS+ wasn’t built entirely on 10 seasons at Coors Field, as an .865 away split attests. But, as with steroids, who’s to say how much is Walker and how much Coors?
And Curt Schilling, who deserves induction, will come as close as he ever has, which goes to show that joking about lynching journalists, which he did in 2016, is probably not the way to win the hearts and minds of voters.
And somewhere down ballot someone might vote for J.J. Putz. That will be the story worth noting. Here’s a look at the first-year candidates on this year’s ballot.
- Bobby Abreu: Longtime Phillies outfielder nicknamed El Come Dulce, which despite what fans in the 700 level at Veterans Stadium thought, did not translate to shies away from walls. If my Spanish, perhaps as limited as Abreu’s defense, is correct, it means eat sweet. Abreu had a very sweet swing, and even better, a very sweet take — more discipline than his 220-pound body would imply. Abreu walked 100 times or more six seasons in a row, including 124 in 2006. He also homered 20 times or more seven seasons in a row, stole 20 or more bases 14 times in a row, knocked in 100 runs or more eight times, and batted .300 six times. In total, a .291 average, .395 on-base percentage, .870 OPS, 288 homers and 400 steals. Alas, it was the Steroid Era, and Abreu’s defensive shortcomings and bad timing hurt. The Phillies traded him 21 months before they won the 2008 World Series (they got four guys who combined to pitch 113 innings in the majors), and he left the Yankees as a free agent the year before they won the 2009 World Series. Abreu was never appreciated by fans in Philly, who prefer their outfielders to play like Aaron Rowand and run face first into walls, no matter how much time they spend on the disabled list. Too bad, because getting Abreu for Kevin Stocker, a middling shortstop loved in town for starting as a rookie on the 1993 pennant winners, is one of the team’s underappreciated great trades. And Abreu is a lot closer to the Hall than his detractors think. No.
- Josh Beckett: Hall of Fame prospects looked better at age 23 after his 2003 Game 6 World Series-clinching shutout of the Yankees for the Marlins. But Beckett’s career is undistinguished, especially for someone so accomplished so young. Some of that was certainly due to injuries, and some to Beckett’s own attitude, which was offputting at best. He won 20 games, another World Series and nearly a Cy Young in 2007, when he was second to CC Sabathia, whom he beat twice in that season’s ALCS Beckett was MVP of, the second time down three games to one. Beckett had a 4.17 ERA and 109 ERA+ and won 89 games in seven seasons with the Red Sox, but is best remembered for his diet. He’s one of three pitchers who ate fried chicken and drank rally beer in the clubhouse and was dumped with his contract on the Dodgers like a plate full of chicken bones in 2012. No.
- Heath Bell: Bell pitched for five teams, but only pitched well for one. In five seasons with the Padres Bell saved 197 games, 40 or more three times, and had a 2.53 ERA. With everyone else, Bell saved 34 games, never topped 19, and had a 4.91 ERA. While coming up with the Mets, Bell said a Mets coach told him he had to get out of the organization to fulfill his potential. That’s Hall of Fame career advice even if it didn’t lead to a Hall of Fame career. No.
- Eric Chávez: Chavez was a Gold Glove third baseman for six straight seasons from ages 23-28 and had an OPS of .850 or greater from ages 22-26 — a Hall of Fame start. Then just as his career entered what should have been his best years, his performance trickled off, largely due to back injuries. After age 28, he hit just 48 of his career 230 home runs; of his career 37.5 WAR, 35.3 of it was accumulated by his 30th birthday. A Hall of Fame what if. No.
- Adam Dunn: I argued about no player with my late longtime Reds fan father as much as Dunn. The idea that Dunn could be valuable by hitting 40 home runs (five straight years) and walking 100 times (all five of those seasons), while he struck out 180 times and batted .230 was as illogical to him as the idea Pete Rose wasn’t betting on baseball but doing charity work for bookmakers. I should have invested in Moneyball as a Father’s Day present. Dunn stood out, not because he was 6-foot-6, but because he struck out so much. He led his league four times, missed a career-high 222 times in 539 at-bats with the White Sox in 2012 and ranks third all-time with 2,379 strikeouts behind Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Jim Thome. In the same way you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in a season, you have to be a pretty productive hitter to strike out 2,379 times in a career. Dunn struck out in 28.6% of his plate appearances, which is anathema to the small ball folks. Today, Dunn’s results are common; the landscape is littered with three-outcome batters. Dunn retired after his age 34 season with 462 career home runs, and in two more seasons he could have easily topped 500 home runs and Jackson’s MLB-high 2,597 strikeouts. Too bad he didn’t. As for his Hall of Fame candidacy, belatedly I have to agree with dad. No.
- Chone Figgins: Figgins got MVP votes four times, which isn’t easy with a 92 career OPS+. But he had 250 or more games at center field, second base and third base, walked 540 times, stole 341 bases and had more triples (58) than homers (35). He parlayed that into a $35-million free agent contract with the Mariners, which may not sound like much, but was in 2010. He then slashed .227/302/283 in his time in Seattle, from where it’s a good bet he won’t be getting any votes. No.
- Rafael Furcal: Furcal jumped from Class A in 1999 to win the Rookie of the Year award with the Braves in 2000 as a 20-year-old when he batted .295, walked 73 times and stole 40 bases. That improbable rise was better explained a couple of years later when it was revealed Furcal was two years older than he acknowledged. The rest of Furcal’s career was a lot like his rookie season — it looked better the less it was examined. He had a career .281 average, but his power peaked with a couple of 15 home run seasons and he stole just 63 of his 314 bases after age 30. No.
- Jason Giambi: Giambi admitted taking steroids, apologized for it, and said in 2007, “Maybe one day I’ll talk about it, but not now.” We’re still waiting. Which maybe is the point. What’s to talk about? Players like Giambi took PEDs to get better and richer, which Giambi did. He was the MVP in 2000 (43 homers, 137 walks, . 333 average, 1.123 OPS) and runner-up in 2001 (38 homers, 129 walks, .342 average, 1.137 OPS) and made $120 million over the next seven seasons from the Yankees. The returns were mixed. Giambi was a month shy of his 31st birthday when he signed with the Yankees and after a comparable 2002 (41 homers, 109 walks, . 314 average, 1.034 OPS), the slide accelerated. The Yankees won no World Series with Giambi, and when the contract expired, they let him return to Oakland. Giambi hit 440 career home runs (43rd all-time) and walked 1,366 times (32nd all-time); his 139 OPS+ is tied for 81st all-time with Reggie Jackson, among others. Too bad the Yankees didn’t benefit from it much. No.
- Raúl Ibañez: Ibanez played 19 seasons and hit 305 home runs, a lengthy if average career topped by a 33 home run season with the Mariners and 34 home run season for the Phillies. He played a single season with the Yankees in 2012 but is probably more beloved by Yankees fans than Giambi. Ibanez followed a pedestrian .240/308/453 age 40 season with an heroic postseason of three home runs in the ninth inning or later. His first two tied and then beat the Orioles in 12 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS, and then his third off fellow 2020 Hall of Fame candidate Jose Valverde (see below) tied Game 1 of the ALCS. He hit 29 more in 2013 at age 41 with the Mariners; in all he hit 267 of his home runs after age 30. A post-30 Hall of Famer, but not overall. No.
- Derek Jeter: Jeter batted .316 and had an AL-best 216 hits at age 38 and ended the season with 3,304 hits. That’s still a long way to Pete Rose’s 4,256, but a Yankee fan could dream. The rest of Jeter’s career was nightmarish. He lost the next season, 2013, to assorted leg, foot and ankle injuries and returned in 2014 just a facsimile of his Hall of Fame self. His 149 hits in 2014 pushed him to 3,465, sixth all-time, and past Paul Molitor, Carl Yastrzemski, Honus Wagner and Cap Anson. Dropping Anson, famous for his part in establishing the color barrier, was worth it. Jeter batted .310 in his career, hit 260 home runs, stole 358 bases, won five Gold Gloves and received MVP votes 12 times, nearly winning in 2006. Twins first baseman Justin Morneau’s MVP that year remains a mystery. No such enigmas on Tuesday. Yes.
- Paul Konerko: Konerko was traded twice by his 23rd birthday, and then spent the rest of his career — 16 more seasons — with the White Sox. Loyalty has its privileges. Konerko hit 439 home runs and received MVP votes five times, including two top-six finishes. But the only thing he ever led the AL in was double plays grounded into (28 in 2003 among 282 for his career, 17th all-time), and his 118 OPS+ is tied for 431st all-time. That’s not even as good as Hall of Fame imposter Harold Baines (121). No.
- Cliff Lee: Lee had one of the great turnarounds ever, going 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA and getting farmed as the Indians came within a game in 2007 of winning the AL pennant, and returning the next year to go 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and win the AL Cy Young. The Indians finished third in 2008 at .500. Where was Lee when the Indians needed him? Lee won his first four postseason games in 2009 with the Phillies, who didn’t win any Lee didn’t start in the Series and lost to the Yankees in six. He won his next three postseason starts for the Rangers in 2010, but then got drubbed twice as they lost to the Giants in the World Series in five. Lee had 17 wins and six shutouts for the Phils in 2011 (and a final postseason loss), won 14 with a 2.87 ERA in 2013 and endured an injury-shortened 2014. That was it. No.
- Carlos Peña: About as close as Northeastern University will get to the Hall of Fame, unless you count former Huskie Mike Glavine, who combined with his brother for 305 wins, all by Tom. Mike settled for seven big-league at-bats with the Mets, if that counts. Carlos hit 286 home runs, including an AL-best 39 in 2009 for the Rays and 46 in 2007 for the Devil Rays. The 2007 season was his best — 121 RBIs, 103 walks, .627 slugging percentage, 1.027 OPS, 7.2 WAR — for a last-place team. He hit 31 homers for the Rays’ 2008 pennant winners, and three more vs. the Red Sox in the ALCS’ first five games. But he finished the ALCS 0-for-his-last-8 and then went homerless in a 2-20 World Series. Pena held a job from 2010-12 and hit 75 home runs while batting .206. Then he stopped hitting home runs. You can guess what came next. No.
- Brad Penny: According to fangraphs,com, Penny had the fastest fastball in the National League in 2007, at 93.9 mph. How quaint those days seem. Penny used it for what was his best season — 16-4, 3.03 ERA, 208 innings, a .685 OPS against, 147 ERA+ and a 6.0 WAR, about a third of his 18.8 career total. Won two World Series games for the 2003 Marlins. As much as the Marlins stripped their championship team of that year, a rotation of Penny, Beckett, Carl Pavano and Mark Redman — their four World Series starters — and Dontrelle Willis, limited to relief against the Yankees, probably would never have won another. Maybe in 2007. No.
- J.J. Putz: Yiddish scholars’ favorite player on the ballot. Too bad not many of them are voting. Putz pitched better than the translation of his last name might indicate — he had two 40-save seasons and 189 in all, threw 25 consecutive scoreless innings for the White Sox in 2010, and had a career 3.08 ERA, 138 ERA+ and .638 OPS against in an offensive era. But it’s Ok to be dismissive of Putz’s Hall of Fame bid. No.
- Brian Roberts: Not the Brian Roberts who runs Comcast, who would have a better chance. Named in the Mitchell Report and an admitted steroid user, but that won’t be why he doesn’t get in. Might have more to do with his career .756 OPS, 101 OPS+ and 97 career homers. Roberts had two 50-double seasons and a 50-steal season, and a .903 OPS in 2005 when he slashed .314/387/515 and was just 18th in the MVP vote despite a 7.3 WAR that was second. He deserved better then. Not now. No.
- Alfonso Soriano: He was traded for Alex Rodriguez and how many players can say that? Two actually. Soriano and Joaquin Arias, a utility infielder who was a player to be named later in the 2004 trade that sent A-Rod from Texas to the Yankees. Of the three players in the trade, Arias has the most World Series rings, earning two with the Giants in 2012 and 2014. Soriano hit 412 homers and stole 289 bases, but was a bad defensive player who started at second base in the American League and ended in left field in the National League. Soriano had one swing at free agency and used it to stay in the field, because who among us hasn’t taken a bad job? The Cubs took Soriano back to the postseason, where he went 3-for-28 (.107) without an extra-base hit in two losing three-game sweeps. A Hall of Fame what if he had stayed a Yankee. Maybe they’d be adding a monument at Yankee Stadium and Yankee fans would be accusing the voters of anti-Yankee bias when Soriano falls short. No.
- José Valverde: Senor Smoke is about to enter a No Smoking Zone. Saved 288 games, which ranks 32nd, right behind Armando Benitez, not the kind of company to keep to get into the Hall. Led the NL twice and AL once in saves, his only three 40-save seasons, but had a 9.82 career postseason ERA. That included an epically bad 2012, when Valverde blew a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning of a potentially clinching ALDS Game 4, and a 4-0 lead in Game 1 of the ALCS vs. the Yankees on two ninth-inning home runs. By the end of the World Series, the Tigers, swept by the Giants, were finishing with Phil Coke. Valverde gave up nine runs in 2.2 innings that postseason, good for a 30.33 ERA. Sometimes where there was Senor Smoke, there was fire, too. No.