Hall of Fame Class of 2017: Who should go in

It’s time to talk about a sometimes-sordid election, with voters whose motives have often been questioned and results which have been accused of being illegitimate. And in which many a feud has consequences.

Forget about politics and the president-elect and John Lewis; they have nothing on the Hall of Fame results to be announced Wednesday and the bickering between some members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and Curt Schilling.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 will be announced then and it carries an important distinction: it will be the last conducted by secret ballot. Apparently those entrusted with the upkeep of the history of America’s pastime can’t be trusted. All we’re missing is a few tweets about fraud and our annual Hall of Fame elections won’t differ much from our quadrennial presidential ones.

Revealing the votes next year is a solution that’s worse than the problem. Three voters didn’t cast a ballot for Ken Griffey Jr., last year, who managed induction without them; two did vote for David Eckstein, who failed to secure it, even if it was more support than he deserved. The integrity of the Hall will survive the mini-mandate for Eckstein.

Four-hundred-and-forty votes were counted last year, and not all of the voters conformed. Two players were inducted, three were close enough to be within a modest rally of making it this year and several more were kept out by their association, alleged or otherwise, with PEDs.

As results go, there’s been worse, whether baseball or politics.

“We want transparency from the people we cover,” said the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Derrick Gould, president of the BBWAA. “And now we have a chance to do that ourselves.”

It’s a noble goal, if a misplaced one which has consequences. Transparency will have unintended side effects. Will voters be voting their conscience, or filling out their ballots to avoid the insults of social media? Will voters be voting for Ivan Rodriguez because they think he’s a Hall of Famer, or because the most active posters on social media do? Peer pressure is a powerful motivator.

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, according to Jayson Stark’s column on the issue at ESPN.com. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Talk about voter intimidation. There was none when the Today’s Game Era committee ushered former commissioner Bud Selig, who oversaw a strike that saw a World Series canceled and a PED enforcement policy that didn’t see much of anything, into the Hall, because those votes were conducted by ultra-secret ballot. The writers aren’t the only ones who need the sunlight of transparency.

There’s a point to what the BBWAA aspires. Voting against Rickey Henderson because he played cards in extra innings of a playoff game or against Mike Schmidt because of some long-ago grievance seems petty because it is. Even this year, Schilling lost votes because of a bad-taste tweet about journalists. You can think less of Schilling as a person for his tweet, but not as a pitcher and Hall of Fame candidate. Like every other player, Schilling deserves to be judged on his career, not on his sense of humor or politics.

Ted Williams went into the Hall of Fame 51 years ago this summer and in his speech told the audience: “I received two hundred and eighty-odd votes from the writers. I know I didn’t have two hundred and eighty-odd close friends among the writers. I know they voted for me because they felt in their minds, and some in their hearts, that I rated it …”

Williams did, of course, and he probably had 280-less close friends among the writers than he had votes. Or 279 at best. But even he was gracious enough not to point out that 20 writers didn’t vote for him — or seek to identify them — for reasons their own. Many, like some of Schilling’s naysayers, were probably personal and not baseball. “Knights of the Keyboard” Williams called the press corps and he meant it to be even more derisive than it sounds.

Who knows what he would call the press corps today. The age of Twitter is even less chivalrous, and woe to the first writer to submit a contrarian ballot in 2018.

On to this year’s new candidates (for some previous analysis, click here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013). 

  • Ivan Rodriguez: As the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner documented in a Tuesday story, Jose Canseco did almost as much damage with his pen as he did with his bat. In his book Juiced, Canseco named Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro as steroid users, and neither cleared 25% of the Hall of Fame vote. Canseco accused Rodriguez, too, and it’s about all that stands between I-Rod, who was Yadier Molina with power and speed, and first-ballot induction. Rodriguez batted .296, hit 311 home runs, stole 127 bases and won the MVP, 13 straight Gold Gloves and everything but Canseco’s Mr. Clean badge. We’ll see what that’s worth. Yes.
  • Manny Ramirez: Manny took bathroom breaks inside the Green Monster; it’d be worth it to vote Manny in to see what kind of Manny moment there’d be at the induction ceremony. On the merits, Manny would be in — 555 home runs, .312 average, .996 OPS, and a 154 OPS+, which is tied with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, better than Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and Harmon Killebrew, among others, and better than Hall of Fame candidates Vladimir Guerrero and Jeff Bagwell. Manny earns demerits, though, for everything non-hitting: baserunning, defense (-22.5 WAR in his career), two drug suspensions and civility. Inducting Selig, who played defense on PEDs as Manny did on fly balls, opened the Hall door to drug offenders a tad, not whole. No.
  • Vladimir Guerrero: He passes the eye test, in that he had all the skills, but how did he use them? He could hit bad balls, but probably swung at too many (one walk every 12.2 plate appearances, though 250 of his 737 walks were intentional), he could run but probably should have done so less (97 caught stealings and a league-high 20 in 2002), he could throw, and often overthrew (125 errors). The question is how much you want to hold it against Guerrero that he was 36 in his last season. Not enough. If he had continued — he tried to play but couldn’t work out contracts — he would likely have topped 500 home runs, even if that’s the new 400. Add that to a.318 average and .931 OPS. You can’t complain that Craig Biggio or Don Sutton is a compiler and then deny Guerrero. You could, but … Yes.
  • Mike Cameron: Was traded for a Hall of Famer in Ken Griffey Jr., and had eight 20-homer seasons. Won three Gold Gloves, hit 278  homers, but struck out every 4.1 plate appearances. No.
  • J.D. Drew: It would be worth it to induct Drew just to see the reaction of Phillies fans. Watch battery sales spike. Drew was outstanding in two seasons (323/414/613 for the 2002 Cards and 305/436/569 for the 2004 Braves), pretty good in a couple of others and otherwise uninspiring for such a high draft pick. The Cardinals dealt him for Adam Wainwright 14 years ago, which counts as a pretty good deal. Drew hit 242 homers and had an .873 OPS, and who knows what he might have compiled had he not missed a season at the beginning of his career when he held out and several more at the end when he stopped playing at 35. No. 
  • Jorge Posada: First-ballot Hall of Very Good, like fellow Yankee dynasty mainstays Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. Did everything well offensively — .273 average, .848 OPS, 275 homers, 939 walks — but nothing extraordinary. Led the league in only one offensive category — grounded into double plays, which he did twice. If there was a Hall of Fame for unrecommended aggressive baserunners, he’d be first ballot there, too. No.
  • Magglio Ordonez: Poor man’s Manny Ramirez. Pretty good hitter, pretty bad fielder. Hit .300 in 10 of 14 seasons, including .363/434/595 2007 which earned him AL MVP runner-up. Had seven 100-RBI seasons and hit 294 homers, but lost majors parts of three seasons to injury and was -11.8 WAR in the field. Elected mayor of a town in his native Venezuela in 2013, so has experience in winning votes. No.
  • Derrek Lee: Had a Hall of Fame stretch, but it only lasted three years and was lost on the Cubs. Led the NL in average (.335), slugging (.662), OPS (1.080) and OPS+ (174) for a Cubs team in 2005 which won 79 games and had two other .900 OPS-plus seasons. Cubs got the better of the deal with the Marlins, having sent them Hee-Seop Choi, who was back in South Korea by 2007, though still playing as recently as 2015. No.
  • Tim Wakefield: If only resiliency were a qualification. Won 200 games and pitched until he was 45. Was a part of many postseasons, highlighted by two complete-game wins, as a rookie, for the Pirates in their gut-wrenching seven-game 1992 NLCS loss to the Braves; throwing Aaron Boone’s Game 7 winning homer in the 2003 ALCS; and taking the Game 3 blows of the Yankees in a 19-8 debacle so Derek Lowe could start. Wakefield had an 8.59 ERA in that ALCS, but Lowe won the clinchers in the ALCS and World Series. No.
  • Edgar Renteria: Was a regular at age 19 and done at age 34. Hmmm. Someone’s career trajectory is off by a couple of years. Delivered a World Series-winning hit at 21, had two .330 seasons, a 100-RBI season, a 40-steal season and won two Gold Gloves at shortstop, yet was otherwise disappointing, as a career 94 OPS+ attests. Hit .286 and had 140 homers and 294 steals. No.
  • Melvin Mora: Career .277 hitter with a 340/419/562 outlier in 2004. Hit 27 homers in ’04 and 2005 and had 19 plate appearances in the 1999 postseason with the Mets after just 39 in the regular season. Claimed manager Dave Trembley disrespected him in 2009 when Mora was benched because of his .679 OPS. If Melvin thought that was disrespect, wait until he sees his vote total Wednesday. No.
  • Carlos Guillen: Took over at shortstop in 2001 when Alex Rodriguez left as a free agent, and Mariners improved from 91 wins to 116. It wasn’t all Guillen’s doing, since he hit .259. He did have more A-Rod like seasons with Detroit, slugging .500 or better and hitting .300 or better three times each. Lifetime .798 OPS and 111 OPS+ isn’t bad, but isn’t good enough. No.
  • Casey Blake: If perseverance was a requirement, Blake is in. Waived three times and released once before coming to the Indians. Didn’t become a regular until he was almost 30, and hit 154 home runs after his 30th birthday. Became a pretty good platoon piece at third vs. lefties. No.
  • Jason Varitek: Varitek says he never told A-Rod that the Red Sox don’t throw at .260 hitters before giving him a hockey-fight like face rub with his catcher’s mask. Even if he didn’t, the thought of it is enough for a yes from Red Sox fans. Varitek hit 20 homers three times, won a Gold Glove and was top 20 in MVP voting three times. He was not nearly as good offensively (99 OPS+) as his rival Posada, but better defensively and had a better wit. Even if it’s apocryphal. No.
  • Orlando Cabrera: When the Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra for Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, Red Sox fans had the same expression as the dog after he finishes his bowl of food: Where’s the rest of it? Cabrera didn’t wow — he hit .294 with a .785 OPS and four steals in 58 games — but the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. He left as a free agent and played for nine teams in 15 seasons. Everything else pales by the 58 games and 14 more in the postseason he played for the 2004 Sox. .272 hitter, won two Gold Gloves, had 216 steals and 123 homers. No.
  • Pat Burrell: Ranks somewhere between Bryan Bullington and Ken Griffey Jr. among top picks in draft. Hit 251 of his 292 homers for the Phillies, but left after 2008 World Series win to go to the team the Phillies opposed (the Rays). This rarely works out well (see Edgar Renteria, going from 2004 Cards to ’05 Red Sox and committing 30 errors, or manager Johnny Keane, going from 1964 Cards to ’65 Yankees and dropping 22 games). Burrell got one more ring with the 2010 Giants, though he was 1-for-27 in two Series. His only hit in the two Series was the double that set up Pedro Feliz’s Game 5 Series winner in 2008. Burrell didn’t score it, having been removed for a pinch-runner. No.
  • Freddy Sanchez: Barely qualifies for the ballot, let alone the Hall. Played in just 10 seasons and three of those were 20 games or fewer. .297 hitter who rarely walked (a season-high 32) and had doubles power. Hit .344 to win 2006 NL batting title and led the league with 53 doubles, or five more than his home run total for his career. No.
  • Arthur Rhodes: Seeing Rhodes on the ballot is proof he’s retired. It didn’t seem as if he ever would — he pitched 2.2 scoreless innings in the 2011 postseason without allowing a hit, and he was just 42 when it ended. Pitched so long he was a free agent six times (seven if you count his release from the Rangers in 2011, who came to regret it when he opposed them in that year’s World Series). Made 900 appearances, 61 of them starts until the Orioles put him in the bullpen for good. 8-0 for the 2001 Mariners with a 1.72 ERA and 10-4 with a 2.33 ERA the following year. Just 33 saves. He needs a Hall of Fame wing for lefty specialists for admittance. No.
  • Matt Stairs: Third all-time among Canadian home run hitters (behind Larry Walker and Justin Morneau) with 238, though likely to drop behind Joey Votto (221) soon. Stairs is best remembered for the pinch-homer he hit in the 2008 NLCS, but he had 38 for the A’s in 1999, one of two 100-RBI seasons. Stairs was 40 when his homer — one of only three career postseason hits in 24 at-bats — won the 2008 NLCS and had been a Phillie for just six weeks. He was acquired at the end of August for a minor-league pitcher who was a lot worse than John Smoltz, the kind of move that got Pat Gillick inducted into the Hall in 2011. Not Stairs. He’ll have to settle for the Canadian version. No.

If I had a ballot: Rodriguez, Guerrero, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Schilling. No objection to Edgar Martinez. And if I had a peremptory challenge, I’d use it on Lee Smith.

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1 Response to Hall of Fame Class of 2017: Who should go in

  1. Sean Kernan says:

    Many excellent points in main part of blog. No surprise to see you call it like it is per Selig, Schilling, Schmidt and Henderson. Nice historical anecdote on TW and his ‘Knights of the Keyboard’ u were right about Vlad G. too.

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