The not-so-good news is this: There is still a ballot logjam, which looks to remain a problem for a few more years. And since the 2014 decision by the Hall of Fame that reduces from 15 to 10 the number of years a candidate may remain on the ballot, a player is more likely to exit the ballot without election even though he may indeed be a Hall of Famer. This is why strategic voting is both crucial and necessary now.
Compounding the issue is the return of opprobrium for players with known associations with performance-enhancing drugs (PED). If you think they are cheaters who don't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, then this is not a problem. But if you think that the PED issue is much more complex and encompassing than punishing only the most visible contingent, the players, then this is a problem.
And compounding all of this is the certitude that the veterans committee (to use the generic term) is simply inadequate to redeem those players who fell off a BBWAA ballot before the writers could elect them. Which is why strategic voting is crucial.
2018 Returning CandidatesThe following 14 players have had at least one voting round and are returning for 2018: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martínez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker.
The table below displays voting percentages for the 14 returning players on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, including the number of years on the ballot (includes the current year, 2018), their first year on the ballot, their projected final year (provided they receive at least five percent of the vote each year), their voting percentage in their first year, their voting percentage in their latest year, their highest percentage, and their average percent.
|Voting Percentages for Players on the 2018 BBWAA Ballot
||Years on Ballot*
In accounting, they call it LIFO—Last In, First Out: From the returning class, the two players best positioned to cross the 75-percent threshold into the Hall of Fame are Vladimir Guerrero, who notched 71.7 percent of the vote in his ballot debut last year (and whom I had pegged as merely a borderline candidate three years ago, although I thought he was a definite Hall of Famer), and Trevor Hoffman, whose two-year trend from 67.3 percent in 2016, his inaugural year, to 74.0 last year almost guarantees that he will be elected this year. (Hoffman, too, I had pegged as a borderline pick, but, as with Guerrero, I included him as borderline with respect to the voters' likely collective perceptions and not my own.)
Free-swinging slugger Vladimir Guerrero burst onto the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2017--is he bound for Cooperstown this year?
After that, though, we start to shoot craps. Edgar Martinez had the next-best showing, but his 58.6 percent, a 12-point jump from his 2016's 46.4 percent, comes with only two years left on the ballot including this year's vote. Even the same jump this year will leave him just under the threshold as he could wind up like Tim Raines, elected by the BBWAA in his final year last year, or Jack Morris, who did not garner 75 percent of the writers' votes in his last year but who did win over the Modern Baseball Committee this year (although I determined that the Catfish Hunter of his era shouldn't get a Hall pass from the Modern Baseball Committee).
Of the four players with at least 50 percent of the vote last year, Mike Mussina seems poised to make the big move. First, he has shown a positive trend since his 20.3 percent showing in 2014, more than doubling that in three years. But more significantly, he carries substantially less baggage than do Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling. Schilling, whose anti-Muslim views may have made him an alt-right darling even if they cost him a slot on ESPN, was stuck a few ticks under 40 percent since his 2013 debut until cresting above the 50-percent line in 2016, only to slip back a few points the following year.
However, both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each broke above the 50-percent mark in 2017, the second year that both showed upward movement from their high-30s stasis of their first three years. And with the election of Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez last year, each with suspicions of performance-enhancing drugs, this may be why Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan implored BBWAA voters not to vote for players who used performance-enhancing drugs, thus putting Bonds and Clemens back into the PED doghouse along with Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa.
Moreover, Ramirez's 23.8 percent of the vote on his ballot debut was not only about equal to Mark McGwire's entire 10-year sojourn on the ballot, it was better than Rafael Palmeiro ever managed—and this as Ramirez failed two drug tests, the second of which forced him to quickly retire from baseball, with both test failures coming after Major League Baseball had instituted its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in 2006. No wonder Joe Morgan had to draw the line for BBWAA voters.
If enough writers heed Morgan's entreaty, Sosa could find himself dropping off the ballot this year while Ramirez and Sheffield could also take serious hits. Meanwhile, Billy Wagner and Jeff Kent have maintained marginal support, and while Kent has reached the halfway point of his maximum allotted time, Wagner is facing just his third vote. More seriously, though, are the fates of Fred McGriff and Larry Walker: McGriff, languishing with an average annual voting percentage of 18.9, has but two more tries to get to 75 percent—a faint hope—while Walker isn't much better off with one additional year than has McGriff.
And then come the candidates hitting the 2018 ballot for the first time—and how many of them are likely Hall of Famers?
2018 First-Time CandidatesMaking their debut on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot are the following 19 candidates: Chris Carpenter, Johnny Damon, Liván Hernández, Orlando Hudson, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Jamie Moyer, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano.
The following two tables list the 33 candidates on the 2018 ballot, first the 19 position players, and then the 14 pitchers. They are ranked by their career Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference (bWAR) along with other representative qualitative statistics (explained below each table).
Here are the 19 position players on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR. First-time candidates are marked in bold italic.
|Position Players on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR
wOBA: Weighted on-base average as calculated by FanGraphs. Weighs singles, extra-base hits, walks, and hits by pitch; generally, .400 is excellent and .320 is league-average.
bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.
fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.
OPS+: Career on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 OPS+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.
wRC+: Career weighted Runs Created, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 wRC+ indicating a league-average player, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a player is than a league-average player.
Here are the 14 pitchers on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by bWAR. First-time candidates are marked in bold italic.
|Pitchers on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, Ranked by bWAR
||W-L (S), ERA
||216–146 (22), 3.46
||139–78 (1), 3.20
||178–177 (1), 4.44
||61–75 (601), 2.87
||47–40 (422), 2.31
||86–75 (63), 3.67
||51–55 (300), 3.64
||26–32 (225), 3.54
bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.
fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.
ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
ERA-: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
FIP-: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 FIP- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.
The table below lists the Hall of Fame statistics for all 33 candidates on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, ranked by JAWS (JAffe War Score system). Please note that the JAWS ranking is for the player at the position for which he has been ranked and is not a ranking across all positions, and also that the JAWS statistics for each player may include values generated at other positions. First-time candidates are marked in bold italic.
|All 2018 Hall of Fame Candidates, Hall of Fame Statistics, Ranked by JAWS
|Bonds, Barry (LF)
|Clemens, Roger (SP)
|Jones, Chipper (3B)
|Schilling, Curt (SP)
|Mussina, Mike (SP)
|Walker, Larry (RF)
|Thome, Jim (1B)
|Rolen, Scott (3B)
|Martinez, Edgar (3B)
|Jones, Andruw (CF)
|Ramirez, Manny (LF)
|Sosa, Sammy (RF)
|Guerrero, Vladimir (RF)
|Sheffield, Gary (RF)
|Santana, Johan (SP)
|Kent, Jeff (2B)
|Damon, Johnny (CF)
|McGriff, Fred (1B)
|Zambrano, Carlos (SP)
|Moyer, Jamie (SP)
|Vizquel, Omar (SS)
|Carpenter, Chris (SP)
|Hernandez, Livan (SP)
|Hudson, Orlando (2B)
|Millwood, Kevin (SP)
|Wood, Kerry (RP)
|Lee, Carlos (LF)
|Wagner, Billy (RP)
|Hoffman, Trevor (RP)
|Huff, Aubrey (1B)
|Matsui, Hideki (LF)
|Isringhausen, Jason (RP)
|Lidge, Brad (RP)
fWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.
bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.
WAR7: The sum of a player's best seven seasons as defined by bWAR; they need not be consecutive seasons.
JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score system—an average of a player's career WAR and his seven-year WAR peak.
JAWS Rank: The player's ranking at that position by JAWS rating.
Hall of Fame Monitor: An index of how likely a player is to be inducted to the Hall of Fame based on his entire playing record (offensive, defensive, awards, position played, postseason success), with an index score of 100 being a good possibility and 130 a "virtual cinch." Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.
Hall of Fame Standards: An index of performance standards, indexed to 50 as being the score for an average Hall of Famer. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.
Of the first-time candidates, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome are this year's most likely inductees. Ranking sixth in Jay Jaffe's JAWS system for third basemen, Jones, the 1999 National League's Most Valuable Player when he rattled off a .319/.441/.633/1.074 slash line, good for a 169 OPS+ and a 6.9 bWAR with 45 home runs and 110 runs batted in, was an eight-time All-Star with one World Series ring earned in 1995 with the Atlanta Braves, the only team the switch-hitter played for in a 19-year career.
One of the greatest third basemen of all time, Chipper Jones seems a sure bet to be elected on his first ballot.
Ranked tenth by JAWS among first basemen, although he started only 1090 games at first in 2374 total starts, Thome became the seventh hitter in Major League history to reach at least 600 career home runs in 2011—however, I noted at the time that Thome's rare feat seemed to have gone relatively unheralded. That may have been because the slugging left-hander was then playing for the Minnesota Twins, not only in the media hinterlands even in the best of times, but in the midst of a 99-loss season, the worst record in the American League and ahead of the even more hapless Houston Astros (then in the NL) in the Majors. Nevertheless, Thome, who in addition to ranking eighth with 612 home runs is seventh in walks with 1747 and 26th in RBI with 1699, seems to be considered a no-brain pick now, particularly as he piled up all those round-trippers—six years with 40 or more homers, including a career-high 52 in 2002—"the right way": As with Frank Thomas, Thome played through the Steroids Era with never a taint of scandal.
Borderline First-Time CandidatesAfter Jones and Thome, though, the choices get more interesting, as I noted in a recent article examining the borderline candidates for 2018 and 2019. Scott Rolen has all the qualifications for the Hall of Fame—a solid, reliable middle-of-the-order hitter and one the best defensive third basemen in history, essentially a poor man's Mike Schmidt—except for the fame part as, like Thome, he was a Larry Lunchpail kind of ballplayer who showed up to do his job without fanfare; furthermore, Rolen has the unfortunate distinction of premiering on the same ballot as Chipper Jones—could BBWAA voters possibly elect two third basemen in the same year?
Similarly, Johan Santana looked to be well on his way to the Hall of Fame as the most dominant starting pitcher for a five-year period from 2004 to 2008. In that span, the left-hander won 86 games against only 39 losses, good for a pair of Cy Young Awards, first in 2004 and then in 2006, when he won the pitching Triple Crown with 19 wins, 245 strikeouts, and a 2.77 earned run average, essentially becoming the Sandy Koufax of his era. But like Koufax, Santana became hampered by injuries and lost that stranglehold on hitters. Was Santana's glory period strong enough to convince voters he is a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher?
Ace southpaw Johan Santana seemed destined for Cooperstown early in his career--was he dominant enough to justify a Hall vote?
Omar Vizquel has the opposite problem: The shortstop's defensive wizardry, for years a staple of the highlight reel, had countless observers herald Vizquel as a sure-fire Hall of Famer, the Ozzie Smith of his era, but on paper he does not seem to be an Ozzie Smith as much as a Rabbit Maranville, whom the writers did eventually vote into the Hall. Will Vizquel find himself having to sweat out several ballots before getting the call—or will he even get that call?
Then there is the case of Andruw Jones, whose own defensive wizardry in center field had him ranked higher than the immortal Willie Mays, at least according to advanced defensive metrics—his glove work alone was worth 24.1 wins by the reckoning of Baseball Reference's Defensive Wins Above Replacement—while with 434 career home runs, Jones supplied a strong power stroke. And for the first ten years of his career, Jones brooked comparisons to Ken Griffey, Jr. But then Jones fell off a cliff, leaving a messy second half of a career that truly puts him on the bubble.
Both center fielder Johnny Damon and starting pitcher Jamie Moyer had long careers with moments of distinction, Damon as one of the "idiots" who helped the 2004 Boston Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series victory, and Moyer for, well, being Jamie Moyer, who had won only 46 games up to his age-30 season but retired after his age-49 season with 269 wins, 35th all-time and just 31 wins from the vaunted 300 wins. Damon too found himself fairly close to another Hall of Fame milestone mark as his 2769 hits, 54th all-time, is 231 hits shy of the 3000-hit circle. But despite longevity and flashes of excellence, both Damon and Moyer are compilers, not an insult as in an era of high talent compression they managed to stay on several Major League rosters, but hardly is it an endorsement for Cooperstown.
The Rest of the First-Time CandidatesWith the continuing ballot logjam, it is an accomplishment for any candidate to make the Hall of Fame ballot, a distinction the 11 remaining first-time candidates can embrace as they make their only appearance on a writers' ballot in 2018. Notably, seven of those candidates are pitchers, four starters and three relievers.
One of those starting pitchers, Carlos Zambrano, was the modern-day Wes Ferrell: Zambrano's overall bWAR is 44.6, but 6.3 wins of that come from his batting prowess. The brawny switch-hitter batted .238 lifetime with 165 hits, 26 doubles, and 24 home runs as his career OPS+ of 62 is just 20 percent lower than Omar Vizquel's. In 2008, Zambrano rapped out a .337/.337/.554/.892 slash line, good for a 123 OPS+, as his career-high 28 hits in 83 at-bats included four doubles, a triple, and four home runs while he scored nine runs and knocked in 14. His oWAR (Wins Above Replacement for offensive play only) of 1.4 was nearly half the value his pitching contributed as he made his third (and final) National League All-Star team and collected the second of three Sliver Slugger Awards. And although he batted only .161 in 2006, six of his 11 hits were homers as he stole a base in his only career attempt.
Yes, but could he pitch? Zambrano finished in the top five of NL Cy Young voting three times including in 2006, when he led the NL in wins with 16, although his best year might have been 2004, when he posted a 16–8 win-loss record, a 2.75 ERA, and a 160 ERA+, the last two career bests; however, his 3.57 FIP, fueled by his MLB-leading 20 hit batsmen, reflects his tendency to give up gopher balls (14 home runs in 2004) and free passes to first (81 walks in addition to the 20 HBP) as he led the NL in walks in 2006 and 2007. The fiery right-hander, whose 12-year career was spent with Chicago Cubs save for his final season in 2012, with the Miami Marlins, is tied for 82nd all-time with 102 hit batsmen in 1959 total innings pitched as he found himself in scrapes with umpires, opposing players, and his own teammates alike.
When he was healthy, Chris Carpenter was the ace of the starting rotation, particularly during his nine-year tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals, which he had joined officially in 2003 as he recovered from elbow surgery following his start with the Toronto Blue Jays. But if the Cardinals were worried about taking a gamble on a .500 pitcher (Carpenter went 49–50 with a 4.83 ERA in his six years as a Blue Jay) with arm trouble, that gamble paid off: His first year after the surgery saw him post a 15–5 record and a 3.46 ERA, merely a prelude to his 2005 season when he won 21 games against just five losses with a 2.83 ERA, a 2.90 FIP, and a 150 ERA+, good enough to capture the NL Cy Young Award. Carpenter was third in Cy Young voting in 2006, leading the Cardinals to a World Series championship, including a Game Three victory, allowing the Detroit Tigers just three singles over eight shutout innings. He won another World Series ring in 2011 with two wins in three starts while posting a 2.84 ERA against a high-powered Texas Rangers team. Chris Carpenter reinvented himself with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he would merit serious Hall of Fame consideration had injuries not hampered his career.
The very picture of a workhorse pitcher, Livan Hernandez pitched for nine teams in his 17-year career while establishing some curious black ink. The big right-hander led the NL in innings pitched for three years in a row from 2003 to 2005, and he pitched at least 200 innings ten times, seven of those seasons consecutively, while also pacing the senior circuit in games started and complete games in two of those three years. But then Hernandez also led the NL in hits allowed five times and earned runs and losses once each. He was runner-up to Scott Rolen for Rookie of the Year voting in 1997 and made two All-Star squads, and when the (then-)Florida Marlins won their first World Series in 1997, Hernandez, who had outdueled the Cleveland Indians' Orel Hershiser twice to pick up a pair of wins in the seven-game series, was named series Most Valuable Player, this on the heels of his having been named MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, when he had out-pitched no less than Greg Maddux in Game Five, a complete-game victory in which Hernandez struck out a record 15 Braves batters.
Another reliable innings-eater is Kevin Millwood, who won 15 or more games four times and threw 200 or more innings pitched five times in a 16-year career spent with seven teams starting with the Atlanta Braves until 2002. Pitching in the teeth of the Steroids Era, the right-hander had four years with an ERA under 4.00, two of those seasons with an ERA under 3.00, 1999, when he finished third in NL Cy Young voting with a 2.68 ERA, and 2005, when, pitching now for the Cleveland Indians, he led the American League in ERA with a 2.86. Millwood had four seasons with at least 15 victories while he went to the World Series once, in 1999, when the Braves were swept by the New York Yankees. Millwood allowed five runs, four of them earned, in the first three innings of Game Two as the Yankees under David Cone cruised to a 7–2 victory.
Kerry Wood exploded onto the baseball stage one month into his rookie season when the Chicago Cubs starter threw a one-hit shutout against the Houston Astros in May 1998 in which he struck out 20 batters, tying Roger Clemens for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game (since matched by Randy Johnson and Max Scherzer). Finishing the season with a 13–6 win-loss record, 233 strikeouts, and a 3.40 ERA (his FIP was 3.16 while his ERA+ was 129), the fireballing right-hander took the National League Rookie of the Year honors over Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. Alas, Wood soon proved susceptible to injuries: He missed all of 1999 recovering from Tommy John surgery and would be placed on the disabled list 14 times in his 14-year career. In 2007, he moved to the bullpen, where he was the Cubs' closer the following year, saving 34 games and striking out 84 hitters in 66.1 innings. In fact, Wood struck out 1582 batters in 1380 total innings for a ratio of 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, second only to Randy Johnson all-time. Like Chris Carpenter, Kerry Wood could have been a Cooperstown contender had he managed to stay healthy.
Injuries also dogged Jason Isringhausen, who, like Wood, began his career as a starting pitcher, Isringhausen in 1995 with the New York Mets, before taking a closer role when he was traded to the Oakland Athletics during the 1999 season. The right-hander blossomed in Oakland, recording 67 saves between 2000 and 2001 before he left for the greener pastures of St. Louis as he signed with the Cardinals after the 2001 season. (Isringhausen, along with Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, was one of the high-profile defections for which the A's had to solve as told in Michael Lewis's influential book Moneyball.) Isringhausen helped the Cardinals to two World Series appearances in 2004 and 2006, when St. Louis won it all against the Detroit Tigers, although he missed the 2006 season with a hip injury. For an eight-year stretch, from 2000 to 2007, Isringhausen averaged per year 61 appearances, 63 innings pitched, 58 strikeouts, 34 saves, and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 2.81 ERA and a 154 ERA+. Injuries prompted Isringhausen to leave the Cardinals after the 2008 season, and he bounced from team to team until his final season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. His 300 career saves ranks 26th, tied with Fernando Rodney and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.
With a powerful fastball in the high 90s and an equally devastating slider, Brad Lidge was one of the most dominant closers of the 2000s. The right-hander began as a setup man for the Houston Astros in 2002, striking out 97 hitters in 78 appearances and 85 innings pitched in 2003, before Billy Wagner's and Octavio Dotel's departures enabled him to move into the closer's role. Lidge took full advantage in 2004, striking out 157 batters in 80 appearances, a ratio of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings, and 94.2 innings pitched as, following Dotel's mid-season departure, he posted 29 saves and a stingy 1.90 ERA, 1.97 FIP, and 228 ERA+.
The Astros' full-time closer in 2005, Lidge helped lead the team to its first World Series appearance with a career-high 42 saves, a 2.29 ERA, a 2.13 FIP, and a 185 ERA+ while striking out 103 in 70.2 innings pitched, the second of three consecutive seasons with 100 or more strikeouts. Yet Lidge was buffeted in the 2005 postseason: Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals crushed a three-run homer off Lidge in Game Six of the National League Championship Series that may still be in orbit, and Lidge was on the hook for two losses against the Chicago White Sox as they swept the Astros in the World Series. Dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2008 season, Lidge helped guide the Phillies to a World Series victory with 41 saves, a 1.95 ERA, and 92 strikeouts in 69.1 innings pitched. In 39 postseason appearances, Brad Lidge posted 18 saves, a 2.18 ERA, and struck out 62 in 45.1 innings pitched.
Winning four Gold Gloves with three different teams, second baseman Orlando Hudson was truly a journeyman, toiling for six teams in an 11-year career that saw him chosen for two All-Star squads, representing a different team each time. The slick-fielding switch-hitter was 18 runs above average for Total Zone total fielding runs in his career while he was worth 99 defensive runs saved, with a defensive WAR (dWAR) of 12.9. Hudson was also a decent if unspectacular hitter, with five years with a batting average of .270 or better in seasons in which he was qualified for a batting title, four consecutive years with an OPS+ of 100 or better, six consecutive years with 25 or more doubles, and four consecutive years with 10 or more home runs.
Nicknamed "el Caballo," "the Horse," Carlos Lee was indeed a workhorse during his 14-year career, split largely between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox with stops at three other teams. Lee played in 150 or more games per season ten times, mostly as a left fielder although he did start playing at first base once he slowed up. Hitting for both average and power, the right-hander was a reliable performer at the plate, collecting 150 or more hits in a season nine times, 30 or more doubles nine times, 25 or more home runs eight times, 90 or more runs scored five times, 90 or more runs batted in nine times, and, for a big man, 10 or more stolen bases eight times. He hit .290 or better seven times in years in which he was qualified for a batting title, and for a power hitter, Lee had a decent eye at the plate, striking out 90 or more times only twice. Lee ranks 85th all-time in home runs (358), tied with Hall of Famer Yogi Berra; 89th in RBI (1363), tied with Bobby Abreu; 89th in doubles (469); and 162nd in hits (2273). Lee is also seventh in grand slams, tied with Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams with 17. Carlos Lee was a solid lineup fixture if never the franchise player.
After Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui is the best Japanese hitter to play Major League Baseball, and the gap between the two illustrates how challenging it has been for Japanese hitters to succeed in American baseball. "Godzilla" did not enter the Majors until his age-29 season in 2003, two years after Suzuki's debut, and he soon rattled off a streak of 518 consecutive games played as a left fielder and designated hitter for the New York Yankees, ended only when he broke his wrist on a fielding play in May 2006. The left-handed power hitter was the American League runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2003 when he posted a .287/.353/.435/.788 slash line with 42 doubles, 16 home runs, 82 runs scored, and 106 runs batted in. He nearly doubled his home run total the following season while batting .298 and again knocking in 100 or more runs (108), the second of four seasons with 100 or more. Matsui won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009 in grand style, rattling off a scorching .615/.643/.1.385/.2.027 slash line with three home runs and eight RBI, impressive enough to earn him Most Valuable Player honors for the series, which saw the Yankees defeat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
Aubrey Huff was a solid performer for much of his 13-year career, which began with the Tampa Bay (then-Devil) Rays in 2000, with whom he remained until a mid-season trade to the Houston Astros in 2006. The left-handed-hitting corner infielder and -outfielder swaggered to prominence in 2003 with a .311/.367/.555/.922 slash line from a career-high 198 hits including 47 doubles, 34 home runs, another career-high, 91 runs scored, and 107 runs batted in. He put up near-identical numbers five years later with the Baltimore Orioles, but it was when he signed with the San Francisco Giants in 2010 that Huff's fortunes rose, posting a .290/.385/.506/.891 slash line with 35 doubles, 26 home runs, 100 runs scored, and 86 RBI as he helped the Giants into the postseason—Huff's first postseason appearance as a Major League player. In the World Series, he unspooled a .294/.368/.588/.957 slash line with two doubles, one homer, three runs scored, and four runs driven in, helping the Giants to a five-game World Series victory over the Texas Rangers, the Giants' first world championship since 1954. Huff signed a two-year deal with San Francisco, with whom he finished his career and earned another World Series ring in 2012, although by then Huff was a bench player.
As has been the case for the past several ballots, it is an accomplishment for these 11 candidates to even make the 2018 ballot. None of them stand a chance of being elected, which might have been the case anyway were there not a ballot logjam, but is certainly the case now, when there is a plethora of candidates from which to choose. But before we get to strategic voting, we must address the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, the specter of which has haunted the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for more than a decade and has pushed itself into the forefront once again this year.
"Times Shouldn't Change for the Worse"One day after the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released, BBWAA voters received an email from Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan imploring them not to vote for candidates with connections to performance-enhancing drugs (PED).
Morgan was careful to delineate players with concrete connections—"[p]layers who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in . . . the Mitchell Report"—from players merely suspected of having PED connections, but the impetus for his letter, after the PED furor had abated over the last few years, is quite clear: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and Ivan Rodriguez had all been elected to the Hall of Fame in the last two years, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—both poster children for PED—had both crossed the 50-percent vote threshold in 2017, and Manny Ramirez, who had retired from Major League Baseball in 2009 after failing his second drug test, debuted on the 2017 ballot with 23.8 percent of the vote, about as strong a showing as Mark McGwire ever managed during his 10 years on the ballot.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan implored voters not to vote for PED-connected candidates--will his plea affect the vote?
Although Morgan is a vice chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame and is a member of its board of directors, he claimed not to be speaking on behalf of the Hall or even on behalf of all current Hall of Famers, but he did state that he was representing the view of many of them who believe that admitting steroids users "will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn't bear."
Whether Morgan is leading the charge or is simply the cat's paw for others is unclear; Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall's vice president of communications and education, distanced the Hall from Morgan's statement, noting that it was "a Hall of Famer initiative" while adding, "That being said, we were aware of it." And at least one Hall of Famer disagrees with Morgan: Willie McCovey stated that the bulk of Morgan's missive was aimed specifically at Barry Bonds, whom the San Francisco Giants' former first baseman believes should be elected to the Hall of Fame, adding that with respect to PED, "Guys took things ever since baseball existed."
Thus the palace intrigue continues, but the ramifications are quite apparent, particularly in Morgan's denunciation of steroid users who cheated the game, cheated other players, cheated themselves: "[S]teroid users don't belong here. What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse."
Well, bravo, Joe. But have you gone far enough? It is easy—far too easy—to blame the players for cheating, for taking PED. After all, they are the direct beneficiaries, first of the increased capabilities afforded to them through the artificial enhancement provided by PED, which in turn lead to increased opportunities in MLB, and thus in turn to increased opportunities to establish their legacy.
The pinnacle of that legacy, for the very few who qualify for it, is a berth in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is what concerns Joe Morgan and the presumed others for whom he purports to speak: "There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America."
Morgan even closes his letter with a postscript appeal to family values:
"Families come to Cooperstown because they know it's special. To parents, it's a place they can take their kids for an uplifting, feel-good visit. It's a place where kids can see what true greatness is all about. It's a place where youngsters can dream that one day they too might get in. This place is special. I hope it stays that way."
In other words, let's perpetuate the myth that baseball exists only in some magical cornfield of dreams in Iowa and is immune from the corruption of reality that taints every other human endeavor. Morgan even alludes to this by referring to the "sanctity" of being elected to the Hall of Fame, and he is hardly the only one as we speak of Hall of Fame "enshrinement" and of the Hall itself as being "hallowed."
But the cold, hard reality is that baseball is a business whose primary goal is to remain a going concern while, ideally, showing a profit, and to do so means that every team must put the best product possible onto the playing field every season using a very precious commodity: Major League-level baseball talent.
Undoubtedly, the pressure to first reach the Major Leagues, and then to stay in the Majors, has tempted many players to use PED to give them that edge over a field of competition that has a high talent compression: There are many qualified players in the Majors, and there are only a limited number of slots available on Major League teams—the temptation for players on the talent margins to use PED can be enormous.
Yet to think that the players are the only actors guilty in the PED scandals, to the point that they alone deserve to be banished from the Hall of Fame for "cheating," for "put[ting] up huge numbers [that] made great players who didn't cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame," as Joe Morgan alleges, is to ignore all the other actors in the business of baseball who enabled those players to continue to participate in Major League Baseball—after MLB had codified its drug policies, the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, in 2006, and after specific players had been suspended for violating those policies, yet were able to find work in MLB after their suspensions.
There are two kinds of hypocrisy in the stance taken by Joe Morgan and those he purportedly represents: One is to castigate by banishment from the Baseball Hall of Fame only the players associated with PED while ignoring the front offices that hired them, the on-field managers who guided them, the leadership of baseball such as the Commissioner of Baseball who oversaw them, and the Baseball Writers Association of America that bestowed awards upon them.
The second kind of hypocrisy is the ongoing employment and recognition by those parties of players who have been caught cheating in order to put the best possible product on the field after those players have served their suspensions but before they get to the stage of being banned permanently. Morgan can bemoan the "huge numbers" PED users generated, which are individual accomplishments, but they ultimately serve a collective purpose—to win baseball games. How many divisional championships have been tainted by PED? How many league pennants have been tainted by PED? How many World Series titles have been tainted by PED?
We talk about putting asterisks next to the individual player records to indicate that those records have been tainted by the players' having used, or had been suspected of using, PED, of creating a special wing in the Hall of Fame for the Steroids Era. But don't their teams and the very infrastructure of Major League Baseball belong there too? Players do not perform in a vacuum, and they do not unilaterally put themselves into baseball games. They are hired by front offices, they are inserted into lineups by managers, they are recognized for their accomplishments by organizations such as the BBWAA, with all of this overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball—all of whom are just as culpable as the players.
Before we explore this non-player culpability, let's explore the environment that continues to enable "cheaters" to "prosper" before their cheating grows so egregious that they are banned permanently from baseball, while they can still help teams put the best possible product on the field, a product that could conceivably deliver a World Series championship.
Baseball Business as Usual
Before the 2006 Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program was established by the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, goes the conventional wisdom, drug policies and penalties were "the Wild, Wild West," with murky parameters as to what substances were illegal and what the consequences were for that illegality.
After 2006, the parameters were now clearly defined including the penalties, which eventually grew to include an 80-game suspension for the first positive test result for PED, a 162-game suspension for the second positive test result, and a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for the third positive test result. To date, the only MLB player with a lifetime ban is pitcher Jenrry Mejía, banned in February 2016, although he can apply for reinstatement and be eligible for reinstatement two years after banishment. Middle infielder Neifi Pérez failed three tests by August 2007, but as the substance was amphetamine and not a PED, he was not banished although his poor offensive performance combined to effectively end his career anyway.
Yet even with the codification of drug policies and penalties after 2006, Major League players continued to be caught in the dragnet of drug testing—but despite this stigma, they continue to work in Major League Baseball.
Two of the most notorious players are Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. Ramirez served a 50-game suspension after testing positive for the first time in May 2009 and then, two years later, he received a 100-game suspension for a second positive test, whereupon he immediately retired, just as immediately fueling observations that as far as his legacy was concerned, his goose was effectively flambeed—his sudden retirement was seen as an admission of guilt, and guilt in the post-Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program agreement era was an unequivocal acknowledgement of cheating the game. There could be no "game of shadows" of hiding behind murky, ill-defined rules and penalties—the 2006 agreement spelled those out, and had even strengthened them in subsequent years. By the time Ramirez would arrive on his first Hall of Fame ballot, it was said (including by me), he would undoubtedly disappear faster than Rafael Palmeiro.
Slugging left fielder Manny Ramirez is one of the candidates Morgan has singled out for boycotting--will Manny lose votes in 2018?
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame ballot: Between Ramirez's retirement and his first ballot appearance in 2017, a lot of players began to test positive for PED and other substances, and despite the escalating penalties, that did not seem to stop them from getting work in the Majors. The marquee example is Alex Rodriguez, who on the basis of those numbers that appear to be preventing Joe Morgan from getting a good night's sleep lately is one of the greatest baseball players of all time: Third all-time in runs batted in (2086), fourth all-time in home runs (696), 16th all-time in wins above replacement (117.7; Baseball Reference version), 20th all-time in hits (3115), and so on.
Rodriguez had already admitted to having used PED back in the Wild, Wild West days, during the 2001 to 2003 seasons, with Rodriguez winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2003, with the Texas Rangers, for the first time after being the runner-up the previous season. The 2002 AL MVP winner, Miguel Tejada, later appeared on the Mitchell Report list of admitted and suspected PED users in 2007; he was later suspended for 105 games in August 2013 for testing positive for amphetamine; Tejada, already in his age-39 season in 2013, had his MLB career effectively ended as a result.
Then, in 2013, Alex Rodriguez was one of 13 players suspended in connection with the Biogenesis of America scandal, in which an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida, was accused of supplying Major League players with PED such as human growth hormone. Rodriguez's suspension was initially 211 games, although Rodriguez appealed the suspension—the only player to do so—which allowed him to play to the end of the 2013 season and reduced the suspension to 162 games, in other words, all of the 2014 season, when after a lengthy, contentious arbitration process the suspension was upheld in January 2014.
Rodriguez returned for the 2015 season, posting in his age-39 year a .250/.356/.486/.842 slash line with 131 hits, which saw him reach the 3000-hit plateau and become just the fifth player in MLB history to collect at least 3000 hits and at least 500 home runs; 33 home runs, which saw him pass Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list; and 86 runs batted in, which saw him pass Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds for fifth and fourth, respectively, on the all-time list—all while the New York Yankees paid him $22 million for the season as part of the 10-year, $275 million contract he signed with them in 2007.
Yet Rodriguez is only the most auspicious of the 13 players suspended in 2013 as a result of the Biogenesis scandal. Ryan Braun, a five-time All-Star, received a 65-game suspension while some of the 11 players who received 50-game suspensions included Antonio Bastardo, Everth Cabrera, Francisco Cervelli, Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta; Cabrera, Cruz, and Peralta had been chosen as All-Stars in 2013. In addition, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colón, and Yasmani Grandal had all received 50-game suspensions in 2012 for their involvement with Biogenesis.
Furthermore, Braun had allegedly tested positive for testosterone in 2011, an allegation that would have netted Braun a 50-game suspension but that Braun successfully challenged on procedural grounds, raising questions about how test collector Dino Laurenzi, Jr., handled the test sample. Braun won the 2011 appeal, but his actions during and after the appeal netted him the additional 15 games as part of his 2013 suspension, which would have been the same 50 games meted out to the 11 others.
Nevertheless, Braun picked up where he had left off with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, for whom he continues to play and for whom he was named an All-Star in 2015. Melky Cabrera continued to find work after his suspension, picking up with the Toronto Blue Jays before signing with the Chicago White Sox in 2015, for whom the switch-hitting outfielder batted .296 with 42 doubles and 86 RBI in 2016. Jhonny Peralta had received his 50-game suspension as a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2013—which didn't stop the St. Louis Cardinals from signing the hard-hitting shortstop to a four-year contract at the end of that year, with the Cardinals declaring that they were not the "morality police" and that Peralta had "paid for his mistakes" before disclaiming, "obviously if he were to make another [mistake], then it would be a huge disappointment."
Nelson Cruz has proved to have been anything but a disappointment following his 50-game suspension, although the PED taint did seem to dog him initially after he turned down a $14 million qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers, to whom he was contracted when he had been suspended. Just prior to the start of spring training in 2014, the slugging right fielder and designated hitter signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom Cruz led the Majors in 2014 with 40 home runs while driving in 108 runs. His stock on the rise, Cruz rejected the Orioles' qualifying offer of $15.3 million for a four-year, $57 million contract from the Seattle Mariners. With the Mariners, Cruz has hit 126 home runs and driven in 317 runs over the past three seasons, leading the AL in RBI in 2017 with 119 while being chosen as an All-Star in 2015 and 2017 and finishing in the top ten for MVP voting in those two years as well.
Meanwhile, Bartolo Colón has managed to keep working in MLB even at the age of 44. The big right-handed starting pitcher has posted a 79–63 win-loss record with a 3.95 ERA (and a 3.89 FIP and 98 ERA+) since 2012, when he received his 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone while with the Oakland Athletics. In 2013, Colón's age-40 season, he won 18 games for the A's against only six losses for a .750 winning percentage while posting a 2.65 ERA, a 3.23 FIP, and a 147 ERA+ as he made the AL All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young balloting. With the New York Mets in 2016, Colón was named to the National League All-Star squad as, in his age-43 season, he posted a 15–8 win-loss record, a .652 winning percentage, with a 3.43 ERA, 3.99 FIP, and 117 ERA+.
Since the Biogenesis scandal, Major League players who have been suspended for violating MLB's drug policies include outfielder Cameron Maybin, a member of the 2017 World Series champions the Houston Astros; right-handed starting pitcher Ervin Santana, a 2017 All-Star with the Minnesota Twins who posted a 16–8 record with a 3.28 ERA while leading the Majors in complete games (5) and shutouts (3); Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello, currently a free agent who has not played in the Majors since his suspension; second baseman Dee Gordon, who with the Miami Marlins led the National League in 2015 in hits (205), batting average (.333), and stolen bases (58) before testing positive for PED in 2016; outfielder Marlin Byrd, whose second positive drug test in 2016, resulting in a 162-game suspension during his age-38 season, effectively ended his career; and Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte, whose 2016 All-Star campaign was followed by an 80-game suspension in 2017.
While some players on the margins, Marlin Byrd or Chris Colabello, have had their careers effectively ended as a result of positive drug tests, others have experienced only a blip in their careers as teams seem to accept a failed test as simply a cost of doing business, such as a manufacturing company that pays a fine for polluting but continues on unabated. A failed drug test is simply a cost of doing business, part of the price of putting the best product possible on the field, with the aim of bringing a world championship to the city that hosts the team.
Alex Rodriguez helped to bring a world championship to the New York Yankees in 2009, the team's 27th World Series championship, by far the most in MLB history. When Rodriguez appears on his first ballot in 2022, no doubt that Joe Morgan will once again be urging voters to vote their consciences with respect to "cheaters" like Rodriguez, who like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez is ridiculously overqualified for the Hall of Fame in terms of the hallowed "numbers" of baseball, the individual statistics that moral arbiters such as Morgan believe, implicitly or explicitly, deserve an asterisk next to them to indicate that the numbers have been tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
But what of the "numbers" of games won by the teams that hired or retained these players after they had been suspended for using PED? What of the "numbers" of division titles, or league pennants, or world championships, that resulted from the teams that strived to put the best product on the field, even if that "product" included players with PED associations? Moreover, what of the "numbers" in terms of the millions of dollars that these teams earned from putting the best product on the field, even if the cost of generating that revenue included the suspensions of those players with PED associations? As the St. Louis Cardinals acknowledged after signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta following his suspension resulting from the Biogenesis scandal, the team was not the "morality police."
No, that "morality" is left to the Hall of Fame, the final arbiter of legacy. Granted, inclusion in the Hall of Fame—with "inclusion" often described by the hallowed term "enshrinement"—is a privilege, not a right, a privilege awarded by a private institution dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy of baseball. It is a legacy that attempts to create a mythos of baseball, that of the national pastime as a reflection of what is good and great about America, an illusion of hard work, fair play, and excellence embodied in the careers of the individuals who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. As Joe Morgan stated in his letter: "For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls honor those who played the game hard and right."
But why stop at those who played the game, Joe? Why not include all those who make the game possible, the owners, the front-office executives, the on-field managers, the commissioner, the writers who chronicle the game and bestow its awards? Without all these enablers, there would be no players to play the game—and the Baseball Hall of Fame has blithely ignored the culpability of these non-players who stood shoulder to shoulder with the players throughout this "tainted era where records were shattered," as Morgan put it.
Instead, the Baseball Hall of Fame has given a number of them a literal pass, a pass into the "hallowed halls" with nary the scrutiny it has given to the players even though they bear as much responsibility, if not more so, as do the players. We turn now to these enablers.
The PED Enablers in the Hall of Fame
Baseball players do not magically appear on the rosters of baseball teams and on the lineup cards of the teams as they take the field. They are hired and acquired by front-office executives and selected to play by the on-field managers, as part of a system called Major League Baseball that is overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. Affiliated with MLB are the media, specifically, the baseball writers who belong to the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), who vote on various seasonal awards such as the Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young Award for the American League and the National League, as well as voting on the players eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
All of these parties have enabled the use of PED, and all except the BBWAA have had representatives be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame after having benefited from players who have used PED—but unlike the players, they have undergone little if any scrutiny for their role in "[t]he cheating that tainted an era [and] now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too," to quote once again from Joe Morgan's letter.
Let's break down these enablers in turn.
Managers. In 2014, the Expansion Era Committee voted unanimously to induct Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame. Let's note that one of the 16 committee members who voted unanimously was none other than Joe Morgan. All three managers are among the top five all-time in wins, and all three won at least one World Series championship.
And all three managed players with PED connections who helped to win all those games and titles that put Cox, La Russa, and Torre into the Hall of Fame.
I am indebted to ESPN columnist Rick Reilly for this insight, who made this connection between the newly-elected managers and their PED-connected players not long after the Expansion Era Committee vote had been announced. Reilly notes that as of late 2009, the three managers "oversaw at least 34 players who've been implicated as PED users and never noticed a thing wrong." Of the players on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot Morgan alludes to but does not cite by name, Bobby Cox managed Gary Sheffield while Joe Torre also managed Sheffield along with Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez; next year's ballot will mark the debut of admitted PED user Andy Pettitte, who helped Torre win four World Series championships for the Yankees.
Roger Clemens (shown with the Boston Red Sox) helped Joe Torre win two World Series. Torre is in the Hall of Fame; Clemens is not.
Meanwhile, Tony La Russa managed Mark McGwire both with the Oakland A's and with the St. Louis Cardinals, including McGwire's record-breaking 1998 season; McGwire's 2001 retirement put him at the forefront of the PED backlash, but seven years on the BBWAA ballot seemed to have no effect when La Russa appeared on the 2014 Expansion Era ballot, although McGwire got no pull-through from La Russa's election three years later when McGwire appeared on the Today's Game ballot.
The three managers were inducted at the 2014 ceremonies along with players Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas. Thomas was the lone active player to speak on the record to the Mitchell Committee as a long-time opponent of PED, and during his Hall of Fame eligibility period he was equally adamant about declaring that he had, echoing Joe Morgan's language, played the game the "right way," which makes his recent commercial endorsement of the over-the-counter testosterone booster Nugenix a rather droll one.
Executive. One of two candidates elected on the 2017 Today's Game Committee ballot was John Schuerholz, who had been the general manager of the Kansas City Royals from 1981 to 1990 before filling the same position for the Atlanta Braves from 1990 to 2007, and then becoming the Braves' president from 2007 to 2016. He won World Series with the Royals in 1985 and with the Braves ten years later, and, like Cox, he oversaw the winning of 14 consecutive division titles with the Braves during his tenure.
He also hired and acquired the same PED-associated players whom Cox managed on the field including Melky Cabrera, David Justice, and Gary Sheffield. Other players who passed through the Braves organization during Schuerholz's tenure include Matt Franco, Kent Mercker, Denny Neagle, and Mike Stanton, all of whom appear in the Mitchell Report.
Schuerholz was elected by all 16 members of the Today's Game Committee. Among those members were Bobby Cox and Frank Thomas.
Commissioner. Appearing with John Schuerholz on the 2017 Today's Game Committee ballot was Allan "Bud" Selig, who had been the Acting Commissioner of Baseball from 1992 to 1998 before officially becoming the ninth Commissioner of Baseball in 1998, holding that position until he stepped down in 2015. Selig received all but one of the committee's votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try.
Selig was the Commissioner of Baseball all through the Steroids Era, from the Wild, Wild West to the 2006 adoption of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to the appointment of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to lead an independent investigation into PED that same year. By 2006, much of the damage had been done, and the Mitchell Commission, which focused exclusively on the players and not the infrastructure of baseball that enabled the players to use PED, was essentially Selig's public relations mechanism to make it appear as if MLB was taking decisive action, as Baseball Prospectus writer Joe Sheehan maintained in 2007.
Selig himself told different stories to different audiences regarding his awareness of the PED problem. In 2005, he claimed to reporters that he had never even heard about steroids until 1998 or 1999, on or just after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had re-ignited baseball with their 1998 home run chase. But in 2006, as he testified to Congress, Selig claimed that he had spotted the PED problem as early as 1994, and by 1998 he was already working on a "strategic plan" to eliminate PED from the game.
The bottom line is that Bud Selig did little to stem the flood of PED into MLB until the problem blossomed into a seemingly perpetual issue, one that is likely to remain an issue for years to come. As a former franchise owner, of the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig had been squarely the owners' commissioner ever since, as an owner, Selig engineered the removal of his predecessor Fay Vincent over the issue of collusion in the late 1980s, when owners teamed up to depress free-agent salaries and discourage the signing of free agents, with team owners agreeing in 1990 to pay the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the players' union, $280 million in damages. Selig continued that de facto loyalty to the owners throughout the PED era, focusing on the players' behavior while ignoring the infrastructure of baseball in which the players operate.
For his loyalty, Bud Selig was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, two years after he retired as commissioner.
Notice that we have not mentioned anything about the players' union, which had as much culpability as any party in the PED issue and that had to cooperate with Selig in order to facilitate a drug-testing agreement.
To date, the MLBPA has no representation in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In late 2017, the Modern Baseball Committee met to vote on a slate of ten candidates, nine players and one executive, Marvin Miller, the Executive Director of the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982, who was instrumental in dismantling the Reserve Clause, introducing modern free agency, and increasing the salaries of baseball players, making Miller one of the most important figures in the history of baseball. Miller received seven votes from the 16-member Modern Baseball Committee, which included Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, five short of the 75 percent necessary to be elected, this marking the eighth time that Miller, who died in 2012, has failed to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Cox and Schuerholz and Selig were all voted in on their first try.
Baseball Writers' Association of America. The BBWAA is an indirect party in the PED issue in that it makes no policy with respect to regulation or enforcement. However, it is culpable in that the BBWAA supplies the voters for the players' ballot and is the group targeted by Joe Morgan's letter imploring those voters not to vote for players with confirmed PED connections, specifically, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield, with Sammy Sosa a shadowy candidate whose PED connections are not as clear as the others.
Starting with the 2016 election, the Baseball Hall of Fame amended the voting rules for the BBWAA, requiring that voters must have been active BBWAA members within 10 years prior to the election. This sloughed off emeritus voters who had not been keeping up with baseball, including the PED furor, and the effect was immediate: Mike Piazza, dogged with usage of androstenedione ("andro") early in his career, although andro was legal and available over the counter at the time, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016.
The following year, Jeff Bagwell, long dogged with rumors of PED usage, was elected to the Hall along with Ivan Rodriguez, elected on his first ballot even though he too had been implicated with PED going back to Jose Canseco's 2005 tell-all book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. Moreover, Manny Ramirez, whose Hall of Fame goose seemed to have been burned to a crisp way back in 2011, when he failed his second drug test, received 23.8 percent of the vote on his first ballot while both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens nosed past the 50-percent mark for the first time.
Clearly, the streamlined BBWAA votership had abandoned the moral dudgeon that had marked BBWAA voters in years past, which then necessitated the PED smack on the nose administered by Joe Morgan and the unnamed other Hall of Famers he purported to represent to keep the voters in line.
But the BBWAA had been guilty of hypocrisy for years. Recall that the BBWAA also votes on the seasonal awards including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards. The BBWAA had been voting those awards to PED users all along—and not just in the Wild, Wild West days, either, when Bud Selig either didn't know about any PED problem or when he already had a solution to the problem, depending on which story he was telling.
During his career, Barry Bonds won seven MVP Awards, the most ever by any MLB player in history. He won four of those awards consecutively, from 2001 to 2004, when everybody had realized that there was a PED problem and Bonds appeared to be in the thick of it. Similarly, Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, the most ever by any pitcher in MLB history. He won two of those consecutively, in 1997 and 1998, when the PED issue was beginning to manifest itself, and then in 2001 and 2004, when there was clearly a PED problem in MLB, with Clemens, in his age-41 season in 2004, a seeming beneficiary of the problem.
The BBWAA voted Barry Bonds a Most Valuable Player an unprecedented seven times but has not elected him to the Hall of Fame.
How could the BBWAA vote awards for Bonds and Clemens, in essence stating that they were the best position player and pitcher, respectively, for that season, and then refuse to vote for them for the Hall of Fame?
Granted, that is a collective charge levied against a group of individual voters, and I do not know how many, if any, members who voted on the seasonal awards also have a Hall of Fame vote. Nevertheless, the BBWAA is the arbiter of both seasonal awards and career legacy, and it smacks of hypocrisy to say, in essence, yes, you were the best player or pitcher in a given year, and thus we'll recognize that, but your overall conduct prevents you from entering the Hall of Fame, which is for the best players who kept their noses clean because baseball has standards.
Say It Ain't So, Joe
By now, it is clear that as long as a player does not get himself banned permanently from baseball, he can still find a job on an MLB team even if he does get himself suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. This is simply the cost of putting the best product possible on the field, much like a company pays a fine for exceeding emissions or pollution standards during the course of manufacturing. After all the moral thundering and posturing that has been done about PED, it has done little to alter baseball's business as usual.
But while the PED stigma may follow a player significant enough to merit serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, that stigma does not appear to apply to the front-office personnel who hired or acquired the player, or to the on-field management who penciled the player onto the lineup card as the team sets out to win games, divisions, pennants, and world championships. That stigma also does not apply to the Commissioner of Baseball who presided over the rise of performance-enhancing drugs and who did little to arrest the rise until it became an endemic and systemic problem.
The simplistic moral outrage expressed in Joe Morgan's letter to the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America mirrors the personal-responsibility mantra that falls squarely and exclusively on the players while ignoring the infrastructure of baseball without which players would not even have a venue in which to play, let alone "cheat."
In that respect, Morgan is the ideal spokesman for the Hall of Fame, which reflects the primacy of the owners while treating the players as employees who should be grateful for the privilege of being allowed to enter the Hall of Fame. After all, the BBWAA, which votes for the players, is subject to various strictures with respect to their voting—in December 2016, the BBWAA itself voted overwhelmingly to make all ballots by its Hall of Fame voters public in a measure to increase transparency. However, in November 2017 the Baseball Hall of Fame rejected the BBWAA's initiative. By contrast, the various veterans committees do not have to disclose their members' ballots, and the veterans committees are the ones that vote on the managers, the executives, and the commissioners.
As an active member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Joe Morgan has been a tool to orchestrate conduct that reflects the attitude of the owners, an attitude that strives to create that "uplifting, feel-good" atmosphere about the national pastime overseen by the beneficent owners of baseball, who treat the players as if they were precocious children who must be punished when they are willful or disobedient while they themselves do not have to be held to account for enforcing segregation in baseball, for holding its players like chattel through the Reserve Clause, for colluding to discourage the hiring of free agents once the Reserve Clause had been abolished, and who looked the other way at the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs as long as their business continued to be profitable, and when the outrage over PED finally forced baseball to address the problem, the owners continue to employ PED violators as long as they have not been banned permanently from the sport.
You evaluate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had, not the baseball that conforms to some childish, whimsical conception of baseball as a pure and innocent pastime immune from the corruption of the society that spawned it. Performance-enhancing drugs are as much a part of baseball as the gambling and brawling that marked its beginnings, the racism—individual and institutional—that marked its development until the middle of the 20th century, and the indentured servitude that marked its economic model until the 1970s and the abolition of the Reserve Clause and the rise of free agency.
And to think that only the players are responsible for PED is to fail to recognize the infrastructure of baseball that enables the players to participate in the first place. While the opprobrium over PED has raged in the foreground over the legacies of players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro, the non-players who also compose the infrastructure of baseball have quietly waltzed through the back door into their places in the Hall of Fame: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre, the managers who inserted those players into their lineups, day after day; John Schuerholz, the front-office executive who hired and acquired those players; and Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball who watched the entire distasteful PED era unfold under his guidance of baseball.
Once inside the Hall of Fame, these non-players begin to serve on the various veterans committees appointed to evaluate players and non-players alike for their inclusion in the Hall, working with Hall of Famers such as Joe Morgan in what begins to look like a star chamber that determines the legacy of baseball. And if that sounds too conspiratorial, then these veterans committees should have to make public their ballots, their complete record of who they did or did not vote for, as the voters of the BBWAA called for starting with the 2018 ballot--until that initiative had been struck down by the Hall of Fame itself.
"Times shouldn't change for the worse," Joe Morgan writes in his letter imploring BBWAA voters not to vote for players with established ties to PED. Indeed, they shouldn't. With the recent rules changes by the Baseball Hall of Fame, from requiring that BBWAA voters make public their ballots to the 2014 rule change that limits players' maximum allotted time on the BBWAA ballot to ten years, the various veterans committees will now assume greater responsibility for voting players and non-players alike into the Hall of Fame.
This means a far smaller body of voters, half of whom already members of the club for which they are deciding additional membership, with another quarter of that body composed of the executives in direct service to the business of baseball, meeting in private to cast their ballots, which they do not have to disclose to anyone; all we see is a partial tally of the top vote-getters. This is in essence a peer vote that does not have to be shared with the public, many of whom will come to the Baseball Hall of Fame for, as Joe Morgan terms it, "an uplifting, feel-good visit."
Is it "uplifting" to know that baseball legacy is being concentrated into fewer, less accountable hands exercising a selective morality when it comes to players and non-players? Is it a "feel-good" experience to know that the perception of baseball is being shaped by the minority that controls the infrastructure of baseball at the expense of the majority that labors within that infrastructure?
Say it ain't so, Joe.
Strategic VotingThe renewed furor over performance-enhancing drugs highlights yet again an ongoing problem with determining baseball legacy, but there is still another problem that is a bigger one regardless of your attitude toward PED: There is an ongoing ballot logjam in which there are more qualified candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame than there are slots in which to vote for them.
That number of qualified candidates can vary depending on how you feel about candidates with known or suspected PED association. For me, I count 17 players whom I would vote for if I had a Hall of Fame ballot from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The maximum number you can vote for is ten. A candidate must receive at least five percent of the vote in order to remain on the BBWAA ballot, and a candidate can remain on a BBWAA ballot for a maximum of ten years before being removed permanently from the ballot.
This can then lead to the situation of strategic voting, which is what you have to do when you have too many choices and not enough time or opportunities to realize all those choices. You have to prioritize your voting based on those restrictions.
So, for example, if I had a 2018 BBWAA ballot, I would not vote for Chipper Jones or Jim Thome. Not because I think that either or both is not a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but precisely because each of them is absolutely a Hall of Famer: I am counting on at least 75 percent of the other voters to check the box for Jones and Thome so that I can use those votes for other candidates who are likely to receive less support for their candidacies.
There is the danger of the "Ken Griffey Effect" in this strategy. In 2016, Griffey received 99.3 percent of the vote, with all but three of 440 voters casting a ballot for Griffey, thus denying him from becoming the first-ever BBWAA candidate to be elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame. (Griffey had to settle for merely having the highest voting percentage ever accorded to a candidate.) This failure launched the stirrings of a witch hunt to find the three voters who didn't cast their ballot for Griffey, with rumblings that those voters did not deserve to have a Hall of Fame vote since they were clearly incompetent in not voting for such a blindingly obvious candidate.
Fortunately, baseball's version of The Ox-Bow Incident never occurred, but it may have cast a chilling effect on subsequent voting. Despite the Hall striking down the BBWAA's initiative to make all ballots cast public, many voters do make their ballots public voluntarily, and they have done for quite some time. Now, however, the threat of peer pressure might unduly influence a voter's choices—exacerbated by Joe Morgan's letter to voters imploring them not to vote for PED-associated players.
For the record, I would have been one of the three voters not to have voted for Griffey, for precisely the same reason why I would not vote for Jones and Thome this year—yes, Griffey is a blindingly obvious candidate, so I would expect at least 75 percent of the voters to choose him while I use that vote for Griffey to support a less obvious, but equally deserving, candidate.
That is strategic voting, which I believe is necessary given the logjam of qualified candidates, and which I believe will continue to be necessary until the logjam dissipates. When will that happen? Hard to say, except that BBWAA voters need to elect candidates at the pace at which they have been doing since 2014 in order to thin the ballot and reduce the logjam, unless the Baseball Hall of Fame elects to increase the number of votes that can be cast on a ballot, increase the amount of time a candidate can remain on a ballot, or decrease the voting percentage needed to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Hall has previously rejected a request to increase the number of votes that can be cast, it is unlikely that it will reverse its 2014 decision to limit the number of years a candidate can remain on the ballot, and it is equally unlikely that the Hall will reduce the voting percentage needed to be elected. And at least for that last one, that is as it should be—it should be hard for a candidate to get into the Hall of Fame, and we hope that in time it won't be thought necessary to increase the number of votes that can be cast. Restoring the number of years a candidate can remain on the ballot to 15 years is not only a good idea—it should not have been changed in the first place.
The good news, in a sense, is that the number of bona fide Hall of Fame candidates looks to be slowing in the next few years. Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera are the most likely Hall of Fame inductees in 2019, with Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Michael Young among the borderline candidates. Derek Jeter is the only no-doubt pick in 2020, while the 2021 class offers no clear-cut candidates. Meanwhile, the presence of David Ortiz and especially Alex Rodriguez on the 2022 ballot is sure to get Joe Morgan's pen scratching another urgent missive to BBWAA voters cautioning them not to vote for PED performers.
But as for the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, here is how I would vote, were I to have a ballot.
2018 Hall of Fame Candidates on the Bubble
Although I would not vote for the following candidates even given the opportunity to do so, I do believe that they are truly on the bubble: Were any of them to be elected to the Hall of Fame, I would not complain as I believe that each has a legitimate case for the Hall, but it is one that I do not agree with. At least, not yet—as we will see below, I have shifted my position somewhat on one candidate for whom I was previously equivocal, not clearly coming out in support of his candidacy, which I am doing this year.
If the defensive metrics are to be believed, Andruw Jones is one of the greatest center fielders of all time, and at least for the first ten years of his career, he looked to be on his way to Cooperstown as a top-notch defender and a first-class slugger. Then his career tumbled over a cliff, and the former king of center field found a hard time simply securing a job as a corner outfielder. Was Jones's peak dominant enough to compensate for his stumbling to the finish line? I don't think that it was, but it does carry some weight.
Already a consistent performer just as the PED era was getting underway, first baseman Fred McGriff seems to be penalized for not posting the eye-popping numbers of that inflated era, which in turn is used as evidence that McGriff played the "right way" and is more worthy of the Hall of Fame than the cheaters. I've been looking at McGriff for the past eight ballots, and I still see a player on the bubble, consistently very good but not great, not the marquee player. McGriff has just two more chances on the Hall of Fame ballot. Would the full fifteen years players used to have on the ballot have helped to build the case for McGriff? If so, is it a case of Ralph Kiner? Or Jim Rice? I suspect the latter.
Languishing on the lower reaches of the Hall of Fame ballot, slugger Fred McGriff already seems like a relic of a bygone era.
Brian Kenny of MLB Network recently made the case for right fielder Gary Sheffield as being comparable to Vladimir Guerrero, and thus a Hall of Famer as Guerrero seems certain to be voted in this year, and it think it is a valid comparison—their numbers are very similar, and Sheffield certainly has a strong case for the Hall of Fame. Yet Sheffield, always an important cog, never seemed to be in the spotlight in the same way that Guerrero seemed to be. Sheffield was the runner-up to Guerrero in American League voting for the 2004 Most Valuable Player Award, with Sheffield playing for the New York Yankees while Guerrero toiled for the (then‑)Anaheim Angels—Guerrero just edged out Sheffield in several categories. It is a small margin, but sometimes that is the margin between being on one side of the threshold and the other.
2018 Hall of Fame Candidates I Would Not Vote For—But Do Consider Hall-Worthy
Again, as part of the strategic voting approach, I consider these seven candidates to be worthy of the Hall of Fame, but I would not vote for them this year, largely with the expectation that other voters would vote for them.
Just as I gave right fielder Vladimir Guerrero the edge over Gary Sheffield above, I now state that I would not vote for Guerrero on this ballot. I had already pegged him as a Hall of Famer back in 2014, and his garnering of 71.7 percent of the vote last year in his ballot debut heralds well for his chances to be elected this year. As part of the big dice-rolling that occurs with strategic voting, I am betting on at least 75 percent of the voters to check the box for Guerrero and elect him this year.
Similarly for Trevor Hoffman, I identified him as a Hall of Famer as well back in 2014, and as the first reliever to notch both 500 and 600 saves fell just one percent shy of election last year, his second year on the Hall of Fame ballot as he debuted in 2016 at 67.3 percent, I am also betting that at least 75 percent of the voters will choose Hoffman this year and send him to Cooperstown.
Already knocking on Cooperstown's door after two years on the ballot, reliever Trevor Hoffman seems a sure bet to be elected.
Of course Chipper Jones is a Hall of Famer—Jay Jaffe's JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) system lists him as the sixth-best third baseman in history with a classic 3-4-5 slash line, .303/.401/.529, with a .930 OPS and 141 OPS+, 2726 hits, 549 doubles, 468 home runs, 1619 runs scored, and 1623 runs driven in, and he walked 103 more times (1512) than he struck out (1409). The 1999 National League Most Valuable Player also played his entire 19-year career with one team, the Atlanta Braves, which may be the last time we see that occurring for a while.
About the only thing Manny Ramirez didn't accomplish on his way to becoming one of the greatest right-handed batters in MLB history was to win a Most Valuable Player Award, although he did finish in the top five of MVP voting four times and in the top ten nine times. All right, the left fielder was never going to win a Gold Glove as his Total Zone total fielding runs above average for his career was –109. And then there is the whole PED issue as he failed two drug tests after MLB had codified its drug policy in 2006. Thus the fact that Ramirez garnered nearly one-quarter of the vote on his 2017 ballot debut must have sent Joe Morgan scurrying for his pen. Ramirez is just starting his tenure on the Hall of Fame ballot, and unless Morgan's persuasive skills are better than they seem, Ramirez will be back after 2018.
However, that might not be the case for Sammy Sosa, who prompts the question, "Why does a hitter with 609 lifetime home runs and 1667 runs batted in not feel like a Hall of Famer?" The slugging right fielder is the only hitter in MLB history to have hit 60 or more home runs in three different seasons, and although he never led the league in home runs in any of those years, he did lead the National League in homers in two other seasons, in runs batted in twice, and in 1998, the year in which Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record with 70 long balls, Sosa, who had hit 65 homers, was named the NL MVP. Sosa was the MVP runner-up to Barry Bonds in 2001 when he hit 64 round-trippers, drove in a league-leading 160 runs, and managed to top Bonds in both total bases (425) and in intentional walks (37) as Bonds broke McGwire's single-season home run record by three homers.
All but forgotten after his glory period during the PED heyday, Sammy Sosa could easily fall off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2018.
Yet in 18 seasons, Sammy Sosa generated just 58.4 wins above a replacement player, with just six seasons of 5.0 bWAR or better, indicating an All-Star level of value. Sosa was a good right fielder, with 104 fielding runs above average, and a career dWAR of –1.0, which is more a factor of positional adjustment for right field, borne out by Sosa's career oWAR of 49.6. All those gaudy numbers seemed not to count for much. Sosa is a conundrum irrespective of the PED taint, and I feel that I should include him in my strategic voting because he has been hanging onto his place on the Hall of Fame ballot by his fingernails, with his 8.6 percent of the vote last year a marginal improvement over the previous year's 7.0 percent, and he is in his sixth year this year with time and support running out. Somehow, though, there seems to be so many other candidates who are more deserving.
However, the other guy with 600 home runs on this ballot, Jim Thome, doesn't have that problem, although I wondered in 2011, when the left-handed first baseman and designated hitter reached the 600-homer plateau, whether he was getting any recognition for reaching this milestone. That doesn't seem to be a problem now as Thome, truly one of the great Three True Outcomes hitters of all time—eighth in home runs (612), seventh in walks (1747), and second in strikeouts (2548)—appears to have plenty of support on his first ballot, which is likely to be his only ballot as he starts to write his Cooperstown acceptance speech.
Whether Omar Vizquel enjoys that same level of support is doubtful although he is sure to spark ongoing debates between the numbers geeks, who claim that the durable shortstop was a steady compiler on the offensive side while the defensive metrics don't quite make the Cooperstown case for him, and the "eye-test" traditionalists who point to the stacks of highlight reels and say, "there's your case, pal." My own take is that Vizquel is somewhere between Ozzie Smith and Rabbit Maranville—he doesn't have the glowing defensive case that got Smith elected on his first ballot in 2002 (on a ballot that was not nearly as strong as Vizquel's first ballot despite the presence of eight candidates who were subsequently elected to the Hall of Fame), yet Vizquel's case is nevertheless stronger than Maranville's, still one of the most gratuitous selections that the writers have ever made. Vizquel will not get elected in 2018, but he will get at least five percent of the vote and live for another year of debate.
My 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Strategic Ballot
I will admit at the outset that a couple of my votes are quixotic ones, for candidates who are truly on the bubble and could easily be replaced by the three candidates above, whom I identified as being on the bubble as well. The other eight, however, are sure Hall of Famers.
- Scott Rolen (First year on ballot)
Rolen's two biggest challenges are that fellow third baseman Chipper Jones debuts on the Hall of Fame ballot this year as well, and that Rolen played in the shadow of other, high-profile stars as a blue-collar, Larry Lunchpail kind of player who did not establish their kind of fame. It will take a few tries for Rolen to get into the Hall of Fame. That starts here, because he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
- Johan Santana (First year on ballot)
Injuries contributed to Santana's ineffectiveness after 2010, his age-31 season, and he was out of baseball after the 2012 season (although he did throw his only no-hitter that year), but he was worth 50 wins above a replacement pitcher over 12 seasons, with 35 of those coming during his five-year period of dominance, an average of seven wins a season for his 34 starts each season. Had Johan Santana not won three ERA titles, three strikeout titles, and two unanimous Cy Young Awards during that five-year span, I would not consider him a viable candidate for the Hall of Fame, which typically requires that a candidate be very good for a very long time. Santana is the exception who proves that rule, and the test comes from how much he was able to accomplish during his relatively brief career.
- Billy Wagner (Third year on ballot)
Fireballing southpaw reliever Billy Wagner has managed to hang onto the ballot--does he stand a chance of being elected to the Hall?
When I evaluated Billy Wagner as a borderline candidate in 2014, I was so sure that he would not survive his first ballot that I dismissed his case as a foregone conclusion even as I touted his sometimes-amazing record. Well, Wagner has survived two ballots with about 10 percent of the vote, far from the 75 percent that he needs but enough to keep him in the discussion. Wagner's 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched is better than either Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera, while his 187 ERA+ is topped only by Rivera's 205 ERA+, with both about even with respect to WHIP—Wagner sports a 0.998 to Rivera's 1.000. Furthermore, Wagner held batters to a .187 batting average, again besting both Hoffman and Rivera, each with a .211 batting average against. As with the re-evaluation of contemporary starting pitching as exemplified by Johan Santana, we need to re-evaluate contemporary relief pitching as exemplified by Billy Wagner.
- Mike Mussina (Fifth year on ballot)
For the stat geeks, Mussina's FIP is 3.57 and his ERA+ is 123, while his 83.0 bWAR is nearly ten wins better than the 73.9 average of 62 starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and his JAWS ranking is 28th, better than Tom Glavine, Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, and, well, 34 other starting pitchers already in the Hall of Fame. Mussina never won a Cy Young Award, but he finished in the top five for Cy Young voting six times and was the runner-up to Pedro Martinez in 1999. That is not a bad place to be—who was going to top Pedro in 1999, with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings pitched? No one.
- Jeff Kent (Fifth year on ballot)
Another ballot-basement dweller, slugging second baseman Jeff Kent has not impressed voters with his Hall of Fame credentials.
As a second baseman, Jeff Kent hit 351 home runs, the most at the position, and 377 home runs overall, 74th all time and more than Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner, Joe DiMaggio, and Johnny Mize. Kent drove in 1518 runs, 54th all time and more than Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Billy Williams and certain Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. And Kent played his entire career at a position that was more difficult than any of them. Kent was the 2000 National League Most Valuable Player, no small feat considering that not only was runner-up Barry Bonds in the same league as Kent, he was on the same team as Kent. We may be looking at the current Alan Trammell, and while Trammell just received some Cooperstown justice from the Modern Baseball Committee, it is not too late for the writers to elect Jeff Kent themselves.
- Curt Schilling (Sixth year on ballot)
The right-handed starting pitcher was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award three times, twice to Randy Johnson and once to Johan Santana, and there is no shame in that. Schilling struck out 300 or more batters in a season three times and came within seven of that plateau once; his 3116 career strikeouts, one less than Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, are 15th all time, while his strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.38 is fourth-best in the live-ball era. That is just in the regular season. In 19 postseason games, Schilling won 11 of those with just two losses while posting a 2.23 ERA; in seven World Series games, he won four and lost only one with a 2.06 ERA and one shutout as he won three World Series rings. Curt Schilling ranks 27th among starting pitchers according to JAWS. Sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.
- Roger Clemens (Sixth year on ballot)
Managers like Joe Torre penciled in Clemens's name onto the lineup card with regularity, particularly in 1999 and 2000, when Torre's New York Yankees won back-to-back World Series behind Clemens. Executives like John Schuerholz hired and acquired players like Clemens with regularity. Adjudicating bodies such as the Baseball Writers Association of America awarded the Cy Young to Clemens seven times, more than any other pitcher in baseball history. And Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig presided over the entire era.
Schuerholz, Selig, and Torre have all been elected to the Hall of Fame since Roger Clemens first appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot in 2013. Baseball history as told by the Hall of Fame is a fairy tale with little grounding in reality. Get real and elect Roger Clemens.
- Barry Bonds (Sixth year on ballot)
Bonds and Rose are integral to baseball history, and even their absence from the Hall of Fame is problematic because of their centrality—why aren't they in the Hall of Fame for their accomplishments? Do parents employ the "few bad apples" explanation, which implicitly exonerates the barrel as being blameless in causing apples to go bad? Or do they attempt to explain that the barrel, which we should recognize as being the infrastructure of baseball, enabled the apples to go bad?
Actually, the most accurate explanation would note that the "apples" are part of the infrastructure, but the Baseball Hall of Fame, although its marquee elements are the players (does anyone go to see Pat Gillick's plaque apart from his family members?), is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the institution of baseball, which makes a structural critique unacceptable. No, better to take the "personal responsibility" approach and place the blame squarely on the moral failing of the player.
Barry Bonds is on the other half of the PED poster from Roger Clemens, with the same infrastructure that supported Clemens supporting him. The BBWAA saw fit to name him the National League's Most Valuable Player seven times, and in the two years in which he was the runner-up MVP, he could easily have been named the winner.
You could look it up—that's baseball history, warts, "bacne," shrunken testicles and all. The Baseball Hall of Fame shouldn't be a fairy story to lull children into a fantasy version of baseball in which storks deliver baseball players and Santa Claus rewards the best of them with Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards. That is denying a reality that will only be more painful when they grow up. Celebrate the baseball you have, not the baseball you wish you had.
- Larry Walker (Eighth year on ballot)
Ranked 10th by JAWS among right fielders, Larry Walker is watching his Hall of Fame chances disappear like a ball hit at Coors Field.
How many more excuses are they going to come up with for why Larry Walker is not a Hall of Famer? In a very real sense, it doesn't matter because Walker, with only three more years left on the BBWAA ballot, has garnered just about 20 percent of the vote in any given year, and he would have to secure nearly four times that number to be elected. It's not impossible, just very improbable, which is a shame given that Walker was a five-tool player who still played more games than Kiki Cuyler or Chuck Klein, two right fielders who are both in the Hall of Fame. Larry Walker isn't better than either of them? Nonsense.
- Edgar Martinez (Ninth year on ballot)
The good news is that Martinez was bubbling under the 60-percent vote mark on the 2017 ballot. The bad news is that the right-handed hitting star has just two chances to get to the 75-percent threshold for election. On the other hand, Tim Raines was just about where Martinez was in his eighth year, and he was able to close the gap in his final two years. But why take the chance? The first box I'd check would be for Edgar. He not only deserves it, he needs it.
Last At-BatsDespite the fact that performance-enhancing drugs are the herpes of the Baseball Hall of Fame—just when you thought they had gone away, here they come again—with Joe Morgan delivering the latest outbreak with his letter to BBWAA voters urging them not to vote for candidates with connections to PED, and that the ongoing ballot logjam necessitates strategic voting in order to accommodate the optimal distribution of votes to an overflow of qualified candidates, I am, curiously enough, wildly optimistic about the 2018 Hall of Fame vote.
In fact, I will go out on a limb and predict that BBWAA voters will elect not three, not even four, but five—count 'em!—five candidates to the Hall of Fame this year.
All right, I think there will be four for sure, with the fifth a strong possibility although not outside the realm of probability. Granted, BBWAA voters have voted for five candidates in a year only once, in 1936, which was the inaugural vote, but they have voted for four candidates four times, the most recent being in 2015.
The five candidates I think could pass the 75-percent threshold are:
Chipper Jones: 86.7 percent
Jim Thome: 83.2 percent
Trevor Hoffman: 81.4 percent
Vladimir Guerrero: 79.5 percent
Edgar Martinez: 76.2 percent
Jones and Thome are the LIFO candidates—Last In, First Out—as the generally acknowledged first-ballot Hall of Famers among the 2018 first-timers. Hoffman debuted strongly with 67.3 percent in 2016 and edged up to the threshold with 74.0 percent last year—it's a brief trend but a positive one, and he should slip past the threshold this year. Guerrero debuted with a bang in 2017—71.7 percent—which seems too definitive to simply be an initial enthusiasm that will wane; he looks to be elected to the Hall this year.
Martinez might not make that 17-percent jump in one year, although voters may indeed be heeding the lessons of Jack Morris's last three years on the BBWAA ballot, ultimately failing to make it via the BBWAA, as well as Tim Raines's last three years, who did make it on his final year on a BBWAA ballot, and give Martinez the push over the line before his final year in 2019.
Will designated hitter Edgar Martinez find himself elected to the Hall of Fame before he runs out of time on the ballot?
But if Martinez does not make it this year, he will likely be very close as a few other candidates start to make their move:
Edgar Martinez: 73.1 percent
Mike Mussina: 69.6 percent
Curt Schilling: 64.3 percent
Roger Clemens: 61.4 percent
Barry Bonds: 60.7 percent
Joe Morgan's PED missive will likely give a few voters pause, but it will equally be likely to produce a backlash among voters who might not be enthusiastic about supporting Bonds or Clemens but who resent being told how to vote even by a current Hall of Famer.
As for the remainder of candidates, I do not see any new or returning candidates getting to the 40-percent mark, let alone the 50-percent mark. Omar Vizquel may get into 30-percent territory while Scott Rolen and Johan Santana may debut in the 20- to 30-percent range as Larry Walker remains within that range too.
Among the newcomers, Andruw Jones may get at least five percent of the vote to stay on the ballot although recent center fielders from Jim Edmonds to Kenny Lofton have not survived their first vote. Among the returnees, Manny Ramirez could drop into the 10- to 20-percent range, Fred McGriff is likely to hold his place as is Gary Sheffield, while this may be the year that Sammy Sosa pulls a Rafael Palmeiro and exits the ballot with less than the five percent needed to hang on.
All of which might turn out to be utter garbage when the results are announced on January 24, but I can guarantee that the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot will return for 2019 with even more opportunities for strategic voting.