The Hall of Fame ballot is as crowded as it has ever been, mainly due to a bunch of Hall of Fame caliber players who aren’t getting elected due to their links to PEDs. In a world where PEDs didn’t become a hot button topic, players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez would already be enshrined. Because they haven’t been, the ballot has ballooned to many deserving candidates that you need to sift through to potentially come up with your best ten. Many times in the past, voters didn’t even have to worry about submitting a full ballot. There were years where very few players were even worth voting for, and even years where there wasn’t one surefire candidate on the ballot. We are not in that place at the moment.
As for Joe Morgan‘s letter begging voters to not vote for anyone linked to PEDs, I don’t think it will have any actual weight on the voters. Those who have decided to never vote for them obviously don’t need Joe Morgan to tell them what to do. Those who look at a player like Barry Bonds and decide he was a HOF talent regardless of PED use are likely to keep voting for him. In other words, who exactly is Joe Morgan going to sway, especially since he played in an era where a now illegal substance was prominent in the game?
If I were voting for the Hall of Fame, this would be my ballot….in no particular order:
3B Chipper Jones (Braves) – The biggest no-brainer on the list. Jones is one of the best third basemen and switch hitters in the history of the game, ending his career with 468 home runs and a .303/.401/.529 (141 OPS+) triple slash. Jones had an OPS higher than 1.000 five times in his career, drove home 100+ runs nine times, and even added in 150 career stolen bases (not that he needed any of those stolen bases to be a Hall of Fame player). He should easily clear the 75% threshold.
1B Jim Thome (Indians) – As a Yankees’ fan, I will always remember that moment when third baseman (yes, third baseman!) Jim Thome hit his first career home run against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. That one home run would grow to 612 by the time his career was over, making him one of the premiere home run sluggers in the history of the game. He did that while only leading the league in home runs one time, giving him the least number of home run titles among the 600 home run club (not that the club is a big one). He hit 40+ home runs six times (once hitting the 50 home run mark), drove home 100+ runs nine times, and finished with a .276/.402/.554 (147 OPS+) triple slash. I expect Thome to lose a few votes only because he hit a lot of home runs in an era where PEDs were prevalent, but I find that absurd. He should easily coast in on his first try.
OF Vladimir Guerrero (Expos) – When Guerrero was a free agent after the 2003 season, there was plenty of hesitation around baseball when it came to signing him, as teams were seemingly scared off by a back issue. The Angels eventually signed him on a discounted contract, and all he did was hit .319/.381/.546 in 3,606 plate appearances with the Halos over the next six seasons. Think about this: A player on a Hall of Fame path signed a deal that paid him less money in his first year than he earned in the previous year for the Expos. Easily one of my favorite contracts ever. Guerrero barely missed out on getting into the Hall of Fame in his first year, but won’t miss out in his second year. Known for being a free-swinger, Guerrero actually compiled a .379 OBP in his career to go along with his 449 home runs. One of the most exciting players of his generation.
SP Mike Mussina (Orioles) – While the Yankees didn’t get any kind of discount on Mussina, they also made an outstanding signing when they signed the dependable Baltimore ace, though his career with the Yankees didn’t include a World Series crown. One of the most inventive players of the generation (you will read stories about how Mussina would sometimes improvise in the middle of actual games he was pitching in), Mussina won 270 games (117 games over .500), while compiling a 3.68 ERA (123 ERA+) over the length of his career. While that ERA is a little higher than you may want out of a Hall of Fame pitcher, remember a few things: 1. He pitched his entire career within the traditionally hard-hitting American League East; 2. He pitched his entire career in the steroid era, where many numbers were inflated across baseball. Often overshadowed (and rightfully so) by Pedro Martinez, Mussina threw 200+ innings 11 times, won 18+ games six times, and had six top 5 finishes in the Cy Young Award race, coming in second once. Because of the presence of Pedro and Randy Johnson, Mussina had a tough time ever being the best pitcher in his league….but he was often among the best. He will get in eventually, though he still may be a bit short this year.
DH Edgar Martinez (Mariners) – When it comes to specialty positions, like closer and designated hitter, you can’t simply be great. You have to be special. Martinez was special. Over the course of 18 years and 8,674 plate appearances, Martinez hit .312/.418/.515 (147 OPS+). His .418 OBP ranks him 21st all-time, and the OPS+ is good for 45th. I can understand the debate with Edgar. 1,396 of his career starts came at designated hitter, and he was locked into the position from 1995-2004. His career was riddled with injuries before that, but from 1987-1994, he hit .303/.391/.460 (133 OPS+) over 2,638 plate appearances. If he continued to play third base, he likely wouldn’t have been able to pad his numbers, and he likely would have had trouble staying on the field. All fair points. I am overlooking those arguments because the thing he did well was something he did exceptionally well.
OF Larry Walker (Rockies) – .281/.357/.483 (128 OPS+) in 2,690 plate appearances. That is what Larry Walker did from ages 22-27, while playing for the Expos. Before joining the Rockies, Walker was already stamping himself as a strong hitter. I agree that his tenure in Colorado greatly enhanced his profile, but should we really hold that against him? If you wish to weight the numbers by ballpark, that is what OPS+ tries to do. He had a 147 OPS+ as a member of the Rockies, while hitting .334/.425/.618. I understand the arguments about him not being a great road hitter, but a .278/.370/.495 triple slash away from his home park is strong. I don’t think Jim Rice belongs in the Hall of Fame, so I am not proving much by saying this: Rice hit .277/.330/.459 in 4,551 career plate appearances away from Fenway Park. When Walker left his friendly confines, he was still a feared bat. I wouldn’t vote for Vinny Castilla or Andres Galarraga. But Walker? Sign me up. He is better than being lumped in with players who were “Coors Field Specials.”
SP Roger Clemens (Red Sox) – I get it. In 1997-1998, while with the Blue Jays, Clemens went 41-13 with a 2.33 ERA (196 ERA+; 2.44 FIP). These seasons represented his age 34-35 years, and came after he was famously tossed out of Boston because the front office thought his career was nearing an end. Over the previous two seasons, he went 20-18 with a 3.83 ERA (130 ERA+), though his strikeout rate was still strong. Clemens wasn’t the same pitcher after he was dealt to the Yankees, pitching to a 3.99 ERA and 114 ERA+ in five seasons with the squad. He signed with the Astros, and was incredible before one last (bad) hurrah with the Yankees. Anyone with a brain would recognize that pitchers don’t typically age like this. When a pitcher starts to slow down in their early 30s, there usually isn’t a big comeback in their veins. They may bounce back for a year, but Clemens was a star quality pitcher for many of the years following his stint in Boston. That said, when you look at the body of work, and the fact that he dominated lineups that features players who were juicing, and you come to the conclusion that Clemens’, with all of his flaws, should still be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
OF Barry Bonds (Giants) – Bonds was a baseball prodigy. When he was 27 years old, his career numbers were .275/.380/.503 (147 OPS+) with 176 home runs and 251 stolen bases. He was well on his way towards Cooperstown, but ego had to get in the way. He didn’t like the fact that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were on the “chicks dig the longball” campaign, so he had to resort to performance enhancers to make him even better than what he was. He turned himself into a freak of nature, hitting 73 home runs in his age 36 season. When he was 42 years old (his final season), he compiled a .480 on-base percentage, securing his tenth career title in that category. He had a season where he walked 232 times, 120 of them intentionally. He turned himself into a real-life version of a video game character. If you played Bases Loaded Baseball when you were younger, Bonds turned himself into video game legend Paste, arguably the best hitter in the history of all video games. Bonds get in on my ballot because his accomplishments are extraordinary. They are so well above what everyone else did in his era that you simply cannot toss the results aside. Would I rather not include him on some moral clause? Maybe. However, I think the body of work is so outrageous that ignoring it is foolish.