The candidates for the 2013 class of the Hall of Fame include: four players with 500 or more home runs, two players with 3,000 hits and one pitcher with 300 wins.
It’s more than ironic that on Wednesday it might also have no inductees voted in by the writers for the first time since 1996 (the year the Veterans Committee picked Jim Bunning, thus lowering the standards for a future generation of pitchers.)
Talk about a divided electorate. Voters are mulling a ballot that seems nothing but players we know used PEDs, we suspect used PEDs, we think used PEDs, might have used PEDs or lied about using PEDs. And Dale Murphy.
Each voter gets to apply his personal ethics on his ballot. Not surprisingly, we have as many opinions as voters. Perhaps more.
For me it’s simple. If you were a Hall of Famer before using PEDs, you’re in. If you would have been a Hall of Famer despite using PEDs, you’re in. If PEDs made you a Hall of Famer, you’re out. And if a voter has a different standard, that’s their right (Bill James, who doesn’t have a vote, said on Clubhouse Confidential on mlb.com his standard was dishonesty: Clemens in, Bonds out. Fair enough.)
Meanwhile, spare me the moral indignation that PEDs hurt the game. As Joe Biden might say, that’s malarkey. (What hurts baseball are high ticket prices, too many commercials and Rick Sutcliffe’s pablum passed as commentary).
PEDs hurt the stats and records, and skewed the history of the game, but so did segregation. Is there any question which of the two is more immoral?
Baseball survived players taking drugs to enhance their performance, just as it did the cocaine scandals of the ’80s when players took drugs to enhance their pleasure.
Nearly 75 millions fans attended games last year, or almost 2.5 million per team. That’s 1.5 million more than 2011. Imagine how many more fans it would have drawn if not for steroids.
This whole idea of the game being hurt by PEDs reminds me of George Carlin’s rant about saving the planet — the planet will be here long after we’re gone. Baseball will be here for a long time after those that tried to save it are gone.
On to how I’d vote on the Class of 2013, if only I had a ballot instead of a blog (in order of returning players by 2012 vote totals, then first-year players on the ballot):
Jack Morris: The leading returning vote-getter from last year, when he was named on two-thirds of all ballots — or about one-third more than he should have been. Morris got 311 votes in 2011 and 382 in 2012; Kevin Brown, a better pitcher than Morris, got 12 votes in 2011 and didn’t return to the ballot. There is nothing in Morris’ record that says Hall of Fame — a 3.90 ERA, 254 wins, a 39.3 WAR — but for writers’ recollections of 1991’s World Series Game 7. Memory, like witness ID, is notoriously unreliable. No.
Jeff Bagwell: There’s something about Bagwell voters don’t like. He didn’t get 3,000 hits (2,314 and 1,401 walks), 500 home runs (454) or a .300 lifetime batting average (.297). No one says he used steroids, but some folks think he did. If there’s a case against Bagwell, I wish someone would make it. Otherwise, he had five seasons with an OPS of more than 1.000, a career .948 OPS and a 76.7 WAR. Yes
Lee Smith: Here’s the truth about Lee Arthur: He wasn’t that good. As a closer, he was a compiler. Better than Dick Tidrow, yes. He saved a lot of games, but he lost a lot, too — 21 more than he won. He had a .647 career OPS against; Kevin Brown, who couldn’t stay on the ballot, had an OPS against just eight points higher in nearly 2,000 more innings. No
Tim Raines: I vacillate on Raines like Obama making a Cabinet selection. He stole 808 bases, batted .294 over 23 seasons and had a 66.2 WAR, which is the no-man’s land of in or out. He also never finished higher than fifth in an MVP vote and didn’t make an All-Star team in his final 15 seasons, and mostly deservedly so. I’m shaky, but . . . Yes.
Alan Trammell: I want to believe. Trammell is comparable to Barry Larkin, last year’s inductee — a .767 career OPS to Larkin’s .815, four Gold Gloves to Larkin’s three, the MVP Trammell should have won in 1987 to the one Larkin did win. Both had WARs of 67.1, Trammell in a season more. But Trammell was an All-Star only six times to Larkin’s 12, and didn’t compete against Ozzie Smith for those Gold Gloves. I could be convinced, but . . . No.
Edgar Martinez: DH is not a position. It’s a spot in the batting order. Edgar was a Hall of Fame hitter but a bad baserunner and fielder. Of course, if the Mariners hadn’t made Martinez spend parts of four seasons in AAA and entrusted him with a regular job before he was 27, he might be a Hall of Famer. And they wouldn’t be the Mariners. No.
Fred McGriff: Poor Crime Dog doesn’t look as good as more of the sport’s criminal element joins him on the ballot. Too bad. McGriff hit 493 home runs; if he had overstayed his welcome and hit seven more, his candidacy would have looked better. I supported him in 2011, but the advanced metrics — a 48.2 WAR and a 134 OPS+ — show he’s short. No.
Larry Walker: Is Walker a Hall of Famer or is Coors Field a Hall of Fame hitters park? I’ve got a bias against Coors Field. Walker’s record — an .865 career OPS away from Coors, a 69.7 WAR, an MVP in 1997 — is worthy. But he had only one other MVP finish in the top five, and only one other, maybe two, Hall seasons in his first five at Montreal. No.
Mark McGwire: Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs — 412 of them after he turned 30. He hit 220 home runs in four-and-a-half years for the Cardinals after he was traded in a 1997 deadline deal for three pitchers — Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein — who won 30 games for the A’s. Without PEDs, I’m guessing you can shave those numbers by at least a third, which makes McGwire Dave Kingman with a better eye. No.
Don Mattingly: Your classic the good-times-didn’t last candidate. You know the husband who said he’s been happily married for seven years? His wife interjects and says but they’ve been married for 15. Mattingly had four Hall of Fame seasons. Unfortunately he played for 14. No.
Dale Murphy: Not sure what more I can say that hasn’t been said. The case against Dale Murphy. The Hall of Fame is not Ellis Island. Everyone doesn’t get in. No.
Rafael Palmeiro: If Don Sutton has a comp as a hitter, it’s Palmeiro — 569 home runs, 3,020 hits and one top-five finish in MVP voting. Most amazing accomplishment? He won a Gold Glove in 1999 when he only played 29 games in the field. And he gave Congress the testimony it deserved. No.
Bernie Williams: Williams is second in all-time postseason home runs, with 22. Of course, he played nearly a full season in the playoffs with the Yankees, hitting his 22 home runs in 545 at-bats and 121 games. Another Yankee centerfielder, Mickey Mantle, hit four less postseason homers in 272 less at-bats. Yankees fans point to Williams as evidence the Hall has an anti-New York bias; if he was inducted Yankee haters would point to him as evidence the Hall has a pro-New York bias. No bias. No.
Barry Bonds: Bonds had three MVPs and 445 home runs before he, uh, filled out. He was already a Hall of Famer. Yes, he cheated, and anyone who wishes not to vote for him because of that shouldn’t be vilified for it. If Bonds doesn’t make it, that means the players with the most hits (Pete Rose) and home runs (Bonds) will be retired five years and not in the Hall. I say put Bonds’ plaque next to Ty Cobb’s. They deserve each other. Yes.
Roger Clemens: The skinny, younger Clemens was a Hall of Famer before he turned into a hulking pitcher/psycho. Eighth all-time in WAR (133.1) and third all-time among pitchers, that’s a lot more Clemens than PEDs. Like Bonds, you don’t have to like someone to vote for them. Yes.
Mike Piazza: Do you convict on suspicion? Piazza never admitted using, but didn’t convincingly deny either. I’m torn on Piazza. By all accounts, he was as decent a star as Bonds was a scoundrel, but you can’t dole out punishment based on likability. Piazza has the numbers, and he probably deserves a yes for having to stare down a crazed Clemens armed with a shattered bat in their famous Series confrontation. I’m waiting for more evidence. No.
Curt Schilling: Pretty amazing that three teams — Boston, Baltimore and Houston — had Schilling before someone figured out what to do with him. Equally amazing that it was the Phillies who did: give him the ball and let him pitch. From 1992 on Schilling was great when healthy — he missed good chunks of four seasons to injuries. Schilling is the first of an interesting trio of pitchers for consideration — Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina will take the ball to face voters in the years ahead. Schilling was more dominant, and his postseason record is a tiebreaker: 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts (compare that to Morris’ 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA and ask again where Morris’ rep comes from). Perhaps it’s the 2004 Red Sox fan in me coming out. Yes.
Kenny Lofton: Hall of Fame candidates’ careers aren’t normally as transient as Lofton’s — he played with 11 teams in a 17-year career, and one team (the Indians) three times. Blame the Astros, who dealt Lofton after 74 at-bats for Willie Blair and Eddie Taubensee. (Imagine a young Lofton leading off for Craig Biggio and Bagwell). Lofton’s credentials have been overwhelmed by the PED controversy, but he doesn’t compare badly to Raines: he had a lifetime .299 average, he stole 622 bases, won four Gold Gloves and had a 64.7 WAR. Alas, he had just one top-five MVP finish. I reserve the right to review in the years ahead. No.
Craig Biggio: It’s hard to argue against 3,000 hits, and Biggio had 3,060 of them — 291 of them home runs, 668 of them doubles. He also walked 1,160 times and stole 414 bases. Biggio spent a lot of his career in scoring position, and his 1,844 runs scored rank 14th all-time. But he never hit .300 the last nine years of his career and had only two top-five MVP finishes. There’s the odor of a compiler about him. Maybe he compiled just enough. (Quick trivia: Who was the second baseman Biggio moved to center field for in 2003? Answer below) Yes.
Sammy Sosa: Six-hundred home runs are the new 450. Easiest nay on the ballot, except for perhaps Royce Clayton. I pondered longer over Lofton, Trammell and Biggio. Sosa concentrated 292 of his 609 home runs in a five-year period from ages 29-33, but even with all his homers, he’s a marginal candidate. He had a career .344 on-base percentage and a 54.8 WAR, and when we’re done calculating how many of his homers were PED-aided, we can begin guessing how many were corked bat-aided. No.
David Wells: Baseballreference.com lists Wells’ weight as 187 pounds. That must be his American Legion-playing weight. He has a heavier case for the Hall than some might imagine — 239 wins and 10 more in the postseason. But his career ERA is 4.13 and he received Cy Young votes in just two seasons. Wells is another example of why the Yankees won four times in five years from 1996-2000: they had two sure Hall of Famers in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera (and a third in Clemens), but many more who were close (Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Williams, Wells, David Cone). No.
(Trivia answer: Biggio moved to center field in 2003 for Jeff Kent to play second base. Kent will be on the ballot next year)