With the new Hall of Fame ballot finally official, it’s time to weigh in on who should make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown for enshrinement. The official rules allow a voter to pick up to 10 candidates. Believing that you should vote as many times as they’ll let you, I always take all 10 votes. Sometimes there aren’t really 10 guys I think should be in, but I like to take the time to acknowledge a particular favorite, or to try to insure that a player remains on the ballot for another year so that he gets a better look the next time. I know that’s not the way the vote is supposed to go, but I still like doing it that way. I’ll get to them in a minute, but I want to comment on two other aspects of Hall voting first.
The Steroids issue clouds this entire ballot and will do so for some time. On a personal level I would never vote for someone I was sure or heavily suspected had used the damned things. I know others disagree, but that’s my position. So it means that guys like Barry Bonds (Mark McGwire, etc.) would never appear on my ballot, unless I could be convinced that the steroid allegations were wrong. Much of the defense of these guys comes down to the “character clause” in the Hall of Fame criteria. The argument seems to go something like this, “There are con men, and thugs in the Hall so what’s a little steroids among players?” The problem is that it is different. Being a con man or a thug doesn’t impact the way the game is played in the same way that steroids do. If Ty Cobb was a thug (and I have no problem agreeing with those who say he was) it didn’t change how he hit the ball or how he ran the bases. If Hack Wilson was an alcoholic (and he probably was) it meant that he was out of the game early because he could no longer perform. Steroids do the exact opposite of alcohol in that they prolong a career artificially. And frankly if you know your baseball history (and I presume that if you read this site, you do) then you know the “character clause” was put in place to keep out the likes of Joe Jackson, whose actions materially harmed the game, not some slug of a human being who could hit anything. From its beginning the clause was meant to deal directly with what was going on during games, not with what a player was doing off the field. In that sense, it’s very poorly worded. And I’m aware this argument isn’t the most clearly worded paragraph I ever wrote, but this is more of an emotional issue than it is a rational issue.
Another problem I have with the Hall vote is who votes. You ever meet one of these guys? Some of them are great guys, some are jerks. In other words they are about like most people. And like most people they know very little about the history of the game. They may know one team, but seldom know the others well. Sure they can read a boxscore, but we all know that it doesn’t really give you more than a cursory feel for what went on. Further, it’s “writers” who do the voting, not “media” types. Bob Costas doesn’t get a vote. Neither does Vin Scully. You think they don’t know as much about the game as the “writers”? Sure they do, but they are excluded from voting. I’d like to see the voting system changed. I’ve suggested before the SABR guys do the job, but I’m not sur they aren’t so steeped in stats that they can’t see the non-statistical aspects of the game. I saw on ESPN some guy (forget who) suggest that the writers (expanded to include electronic media also) pick 10 players off the ballot, then a committee of experts vote on who gets in (the NFL does something close to that) with a minimum number of people having to be chosen. I think there are holes in the plan (like a minimum number having to be elected) but it’s worth a close look. To me the big problem is deciding who is and who isn’t an “expert” (I’m absolutely sure I and my readers are. So maybe we should be the group.).
So there’s my soap box. Below are my picks for this year. I know you’ve been dying to find them out, so here they are (alphabetically). Feel free to disagree with any of them (or with the two points above). It’s a free internet and you have the right to be wrong.
1. Jeff Bagwell–In my opinion, Bagwell is the best 1st baseman of the last 25 years who is eligible for the Hall (Pujols isn’t yet). His numbers are good enough to make it. I’m going to leave it at that because Bill Miller at “The On Deck Circle” makes a case for Bagwell on his blog (see blogroll at right) and I’m not going to be able to top Bill’s commentary.
2. Craig Biggio–I always thought that Bill James had it wrong by making Biggio the best player of his era, but not by much. He was a good hitter, got the magic 3000 hits, could play the outfield, second base, catch, and do all of them well. He helped his team to a number of playoff spots, but they never won a ring. I don’t hold that against him.
3. Edgar Martinez–Enough already with the “he’s only a DH”. How many really great hitting/fielding combinations are there in the Hall? Do you think Ozzie Smith is in because he could hit or that Ted Williams is in for his ability to field the Green Monster? Guys who could do only one thing well are all over the Hall of Fame. Paul Molitor is in and he was primarily a DH. Martinez was a superb hitter, had power, and got hung up in the Mariners minor league system (no wonder they seldom win). Once he got to the Majors, he could hit anything.
4. Don Mattingly–Was always a favorite of mine. He hit well, played a good enough first base, and was a team leader. His career is short (as are a lot of Cooperstown inductees) but much of it was superior. It’s enough for a Dodgers fan to support a Yankees player (forget where he now manages) for the Hall, but Mattingly gets my vote.
5. Jack Morris–One of the best “money” pitchers I ever saw. He’s going to get a lot of support for his 1991 World Series performance, but he was better than just one game. He led three teams to the World Series (Detroit, Minnesota, Toronto) and each won. He pitched well in two (not the Toronto victory). He is the victim of one of the more convoluted arguments in Hall of Fame voting. The same people who claim he shouldn’t be in because of his high ERA are many of the same people who tell us that ERA is an overrated stat (Make up your minds, folks).
6. Mike Piazza–Best hitting catcher I ever saw, which is tough for a Roy Campanella fan to say. The knock on him is that he wasn’t much of a catcher. Well, he led the league in putouts, assists, errors, passed balls. Quite a mixed bag. As he aged he became known as a good handler of pitchers, especially as young hurlers. I’m not sure how true that was, because it seems to be said of a lot of aging catchers. Whether true or not, he gets onto my ballot for his hitting.
7. Curt Schilling–Two words: bloody sock. OK, there’s more. He was an ace (or co-ace) on three World Series winners, won a lot of games, struck out a ton of batters, and was one of the leading anti-steroids spokesmen. He is, however, something of a loud mouth. Put a (bloody) sock in it, Curt.
8. Tim Raines–Will someone please explain to the writers that Raines was a great player?
9. Alan Trammell–Overlooked and underappreciated. I wonder how much his disastrous managing stint in Detroit hurts his chances?
10. Larry Walker–I don’t want to hear about Coors Field. He played wonderfully in Montreal, hit well in any park, and had a cannon masquerading as an arm.
So that’s my list. I really miss not being able to vote for Kenny Lofton, Julio Franco, Jeff Conine, and Bernie Williams. I’m not sure any of them belong in Cooperstown, but all meet one of the two categories I mentioned in my first paragraph. Maybe next year, fellas.