If you’re in favor of a big Hall of Fame, 2018 is your year.
The Modern Era Committee, which presumably knew a thing or two about expansion, expanded the Hall by adding Alan Trammell and Jack Morris. That’s two inductees.
The writers, who have spent the last few years trying with equal measure to deal with the steroid issue and social media criticism, have Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez and Trevor Hoffman all polling at more than 75% and Mike Mussina just below it, on ballots made public. That’s five more inductees, maybe six.
(Nothing against Martinez supporters, but if Edgar doesn’t get in, head to Twitter to see the outrage.)
The Hall of Fame could induct seven players, perhaps eight, this summer. That’s not a Hall of Fame class, but a mob.
The votes will be announced on Wednesday, and it could be a press conference that, like a four-hour game, goes on and on.
No class has had more than four players since 1999 (George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount by the writers; Smokey Joe Williams and Orlando Cepeda by the Veterans Committee); this year’s class might be the biggest for players since 1972 when seven went in (Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax and Early Wynn by the writers, Lefty Gomez and Ross Youngs by the Veterans Committee and Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard from the Negro Leagues).
It’ll take a late rally to equal 1946, when 10 players, including all of the “saddest of possible of words: Tinker to Evers to Chance,” were inducted by the Old-Timers committee (Jesse Burkett, Frank Chance, Jack Chesbro, Johnny Evers, Tommy McCarthy, Joe McGinnity, Eddie Plank, Joe Tinker, Rube Waddell and Ed Walsh; Chesbro won 41 games, pitched 454.2 innings and threw 48 complete games in 1904, which is a pretty good career in a single season.) I’m not sure if the committee was named for the players being voted on, or by the voters doing the picking. Open only a decade, apparently the Hall had some catching up to do.
Why will the class of 2018 be so big? Did Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero and Edgar Martinez, who got 74%, 71.7% and 58.6% of the vote last year but are headed for induction this one, improve? Did we have a resolution on PEDs? Or is there recency bias in play, the stars of a more familiar era all seeming like Hall of Famers because everything of your own generation is better? No, no but with more concurrence, and just maybe.
On to this year’s new nominees.
- Chris Carpenter: If you want to know why the Blue Jays went 22 years without a playoff berth, check out Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. Carpenter and Roy Halladay, both Blue Jays No. 1 picks, started it — for the Cardinals and Phillies, respectively. In fairness to the Blue Jays, Carpenter pitched 152 games over six seasons for them and put up a 4.83 ERA. Carpenter went on the DL three times in 2002 and had shoulder surgery after the season, so the Blue Jays took Carpenter off their 40-man roster and offered him a minor-league deal, which he refused. Not sure who replaced Carpenter on the Jays’ 40-man roster, but it’s doubtful he was better over the next eight seasons, even though two more were essentially wasted by injury. In the other six seasons Carpenter won 95 games, led the NL in ERA in 2009 and in innings pitched in 2011, which hardly seems a good idea for someone with his injury history. Carpenter won two World Series for the Cardinals, but paid a price for it. He pitched 253.1 innings, including the postseason in 2006, and just 21.1 in 2007-08 combined; he pitched 273.1 innings in 2011, and just 17 more for the rest of his career. Four times with the Cardinals Carpenter topped 220 innings, and his career is one of the reasons innings limits are in vogue today. No.
- Johnny Damon: Damon had a Hall of Fame Game 7 in the 2004 ALCS vs. the Yankees, homering twice and knocking in six runs. That was about all Damon did in that series — he was 3-for-29 without an extra-base hit otherwise. Damon is about as Hall of Very Good as it gets — he had 2,769 hits (54th all-time), scored 1,668 runs (32nd all-time) and stole 408 bases (tied for 67th). He batted .300 five times, stole 30 bases four times and won World Series with the Yankees and Red Sox (Ramiro Mendoza and Eric Hinske did in this century, and some guy named Babe Ruth in the last one). Damon batted ..327, stole 46 bases and scored 136 runs in 2000, which earned him one MVP vote and a trade from the Royals to the A’s. Damon was brought to the Red Sox as a free agent after the 2001 season by GM Dan Duquette, who was fired shortly thereafter when the team was sold. For all the deserved credit heaped on Theo Epstein for 2004, it was Duquette who signed Damon and Manny Ramirez and traded for Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. No.
- Livan Hernandez: Hernandez is no Hall of Famer, but he might have been had Eric Gregg called all his games. Hernandez struck out 15 — according to fangraphs.com, his next highest count was 11 — in a 2-1 complete-game Game 5 1997 NLCS victory over the Braves that probably still rankles. “It was a little big,” the Braves Fred McGriff said, presumably about the strike zone and not Gregg. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury: “(Gregg) had a strike zone so wide he could have slept in it.” Braves fans were outraged, which was no small source of joy for fans of every other team, who wondered if Braves fans had ever watched Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux work. If nothing else, that Game 5 proved self-awareness was not a strong point of Braves fans. Hernandez was MVP of that NLCS and the World Series, which the Marlins won in seven without aid from Gregg. Hernandez won 178 games and led the NL three times in inning pitched, but he’s a pretty good candidate to be shut out on Wednesday. He lost 177 games and led the NL five times in hits allowed for four teams. His 95 ERA+ isn’t good and his 4.44 career ERA is worse; until there’s a Hall for innings-eaters, Livan is out. As a hitter, Livan was pretty good, batting .221 and hitting 10 homers, one off Glavine. No.
- Orlando Hudson: If Hudson gets a vote, it will be the first for a player from Spartanburg Methodist College. Reggie Sanders, who also matriculated there, was shut out in 2013 and Mookie Wilson, who went there before going to South Carolina and scoring an important run in Mets history, didn’t get on the ballot. Hudson’s case might have been better had he not stopped playing at age 34, but he had his reasons. After a 283/357/417 season at age 31 for the Dodgers in 2009, he became a vagabond, going to the Twins in 2010 (268/338/372), the Padres in 2011 (246/329/352) and the White Sox after the Padres released him in 2012 (204/261/312). In 2010, Hudson implied that racism hurt black players in free agency, and it seems worth wondering if there was a connection to the depreciation in his play. Hudson: “You see guys like Jermaine Dye without a job. Guy with (27 home runs and 81 RBIs) and can’t get a job. Pretty much sums it up right there, no? You’ve got some guys who miss a year who can come back and get $5, $6 million, and a guy like Jermaine Dye can’t get a job. A guy like Gary Sheffield, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, can’t get a job. … We both know what it is. You’ll get it right. You’ll figure it out. I’m not gonna say it because then I’ll be in (trouble). Call it what you want to. I ain’t fit to say it. After I retire I’ll say it. I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to say after I retire.” There was plenty of knee-jerk criticism to Hudson’s comments instead of examination of a sport that’s troubled to attract African-Americans. Anyone who saw the response to Adam Jones’ comments on the racism at Fenway Park last year can see why Hudson wavered to go on. Hudson was wrong about one thing: Sheffield, who’s on the ballot for the fourth time, isn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer, though that probably has more to do with PEDs than performance. No.
- Aubrey Huff: Huff wrote his autobiography and called it “Baseball Junkie,” and not because he loved the game. Daniel Brown at mercurynews.com: “Huff is the villain of his own autobiography. By his own blunt account, he spent his Giants career, from 2010-12, as a pill-popping, lie-spinning, egomaniac who disrespected his wife and endangered his kids. ‘I was an absolute scumbag for the most of my life,’ he writes in the introduction. And over the course of 250 pages he establishes that case beyond a reasonable doubt.” Given the number and discourse of his many Twitter fights now, it makes you wonder what Huff was like then, because he’s not so likable now. Too bad voters won’t need the character clause to keep Huff out. He hit 242 homers and had an .806 OPS, but he was a poor defender (-12.6 WAR), topped 56 walks only once and played his last major-league game at age 35. His book sounds better than his career. No.
- Jason Isringhausen: Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson were Generation K for the mid-90s’ Mets. Who knew the K stood for kaput, which is what happened to their careers. Isringhausen, according to a 2016 nj.com story, blamed it on overuse. An MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM tweet, quoting Isringhausen: “In the minors if we didn’t pitch 9 innings, we got a talking to.” Nice to see the Mets are learning from their mistakes. All three Generation K pitchers missed full seasons because of injuries before they were 25; combined they won 104 games. Only Isringhausen had a successful sequel. Moved to the bullpen by the Athletics he saved 300 games, 217 of those for the Cardinals. Isringhausen turned 40 in 2012, his final season; Pulsipher and Wilson had each been out of MLB for seven years by then. No.
- Andruw Jones: Which Braves centerfielder has the better Hall of Fame case? The one who won back-to-back MVPs (Dale Murphy)? Or the one who never won any? Jones hit 368 homers and won 10 Gold Gloves for the Braves before leaving as a free agent for the Dodgers. Jones was 30 and had one foot in the Hall, but he took it out and detoured to the concession stand. Jones hit .158 for the Dodgers in 75 games and his weight soon was far lustier than his batting average. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers called him “the tubbo,” and Jones played like it. Simers in the Los Angeles Times in April 2008: “I wanted to know if the tubbo thought he could maybe hit his weight at some point this season. He said he’s not fat and doing just fine, apparently envisioning himself as some sort of supermodel and weighing in with a .105 batting average.” (If there’s a Hall of Fames for sports writer/curmudgeons, T.J. is a sure first ballot.) Jones never played center field after 2010 and finished his career as a platoon outfielder/DH, his physique more closely resembling Prince Fielder’s than a Gold Glove outfielder. The end of Jones’ career obscured the beginning. Jay Jaffe at si.com: “From 1998 to ’06, Jones hit a combined .270/.347/.513 for a 118 OPS+, averaging 35 homers and 21 fielding runs; his 6.1 WAR trailed only Alex Rodriguez (7.8 WAR) and Barry Bonds (7.5 WAR) in that span.” Not many players eat their way out of the Hall. Jones did. No.
- Chipper Jones: If Curt Schilling thinks his tweets are keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, he should check Jones’ feed. Chipper might have played on the left side of the infield but he doesn’t play on that side politically. No matter. He’s as first ballot as the first ballot gets. It was a long time ago that Jones seemed a consolation No. 1 pick because Todd Van Poppel wanted too much money. So was Carlos Correa in 2012 when Mark Appel wanted No. 1 money-plus. Van Poppel won 40 major league games with a 5.58 ERA in 11 spotty big-league seasons. Chipper hit 468 homers, had 2,726 hits, a .930 OPS, 141 OPS+ and 85.0 WAR, with little of it coming from defense. The Braves made the right pick and saved money, which didn’t keep them from asking taxpayers to pay for their news ballpark. Yes.
- Carlos Lee: White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson christened Carlos Lee, El Caballo, which is Spanish for horse. If Lee was a horse, he was no thoroughbred. La Mula might have been more apt, since Lee ran at a slower pace (his 125 steals are a mystery as yet unsolved) but had plenty of kick with his bat. Lee hit 30 homers for five straight seasons from 2003-07 and 358 for his career. But Lee only once walked more than 58 times and hit into 206 double plays, topping 20 five times and leading the league with 27 in 2007. Lee made the postseason only once, when the White Sox were swept in the ALDS in 2000. They traded him to Milwaukee after the 2004 season, and won the World Series the next year. Given Lee’s -11.4 defensive WAR, that might not be a coincidence. No.
- Brad Lidge: Lidge had one of the worst postseasons ever, losing three of the Astros’ last six games in 2005. He threw a game-winning homer to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the NLCS and another to Scott Podsednik in Game 2 of the World Series; by contrast, Jermaine Dye’s Series-winning single in Game 4 wasn’t so bad. Lidge had a 6.23 ERA in the 2005 NLCS and Series, and yet his career postseason ERA was 2.18. Apart from those two series, his postseason ERA was 1.23. Lidge lost his closer’s job in 2007 to Dan Wheeler as the Astros lost confidence in him and then traded him to the Phillies. The next year Lidge was Hall of Fame trustworthy — 41-for-41 on saves in the regular season wirh a 1.95 ERA and .565 OPS against, and 7-for-7 in the postseason with an 0.96 ERA, pitching in nine of the Phillies’ 14 postseason games. Like Keith Foulke with the 2004 world champion Red Sox, Lidge was in his age 31 season; like Foulke, he was never much good again, apart from an injury-shortened 2010. Lidge was often prone to walks but fanned 799 in 603.1 career innings, saved 225 games and had a career .676 OPS. No.
Wednesday: Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Jamie Moyer, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano