Over at Jays Journal, the staffers did a quick vote on the Hall of Fame. It was hardly scientific and, with only nine of us voting, it’s a pretty small sample size. I’m going to use this space here to explain how I voted and why.
I wrote about the Hall of Fame debate from a minor league perspective over at Grading on the Curve where I’m a co-editor of the site. I don’t really get into the debate of who should or shouldn’t get into the Hall but try to place myself in a minor leaguer’s head and figure out what kind of messages that they’re receiving from what the writers and MLB have done.
Now, had I actually been voting for the actual Hall of Fame, I would have given more than about 30 seconds of thought into my ballot but I’m actually pretty happy with what I came up with. There are a couple of names that I probably would have added had I deliberated a bit more but since it’s a fake HOF ballot, I’m not going to get too worked up about it.
My HOF Ballot:
As you can see, I’m a believer in the “Small Hall” theory. I think that the Hall of Fame should be kept quite exclusive. This is a reason why I might not add any names if I had more time to reflect. Yes there are some players who have some excellent credentials that I left off the ballot but there’s something else that I’m doing with this ballot that I think I should make a note of.
One of the things that I’m looking at for hitters is more than just the slugging aspect of the game. Yes, Frank Thomas was a big slugger but he also sits as having the 19th highest OBP of All Time. Incredible, huh. That, combined with 521 home runs and a 156 OPS+ for his career make for pretty convincing evidence.
The other two are more borderline. Biggio is impressive not for his overall offense, but for his ability to play three different, middle-of-the-diamond positions well over the course of his career. While he tailed off at the end of his career, contributing solid but not stellar numbers from Age 35 to Age 41, his peak from Age 23 to Age 35 was pretty incredible with only two years falling below league-average production (according to OPS+; it’s only one when you look at wRC+). He did it with a rare combination of solid power, great speed and a tremendous ability to hit the ball hard everywhere. He also reached the magical 3000 hit plateau that many HOF voters look for and fell just short of the 300 home run plateau (291).
I’ve included Raines because, when you compare his career with Biggio’s, there’s actually no way you couldn’t vote for him. Biggio’s career wRC+ was 115. Raines’s was 125. Biggio’s OPS+ was 112; Raines’s was 123. Raines produced at least a 2.8 rWAR for 13 consecutive years from 1981 to 1993, going over 5.0 rWAR six times over that span. When you look at Fangraphs’ fWAR, Raines produced over 2.4 fWAR every year over the same 13 year span with six seasons above 5.5 fWAR (and five seasons above 6.0).
Plus, I’ve met Tim Raines and he’s awesome.
Greg Maddux is a no brainer. I’ve always loved watching pitchers who make it an art. The ability to dissect the plate in every way imaginable was Maddux’s hallmark and he just made every stripe of hitter look foolish. To me, Maddux shows how throwing a baseball is the great leveler. He didn’t need to throw it hard and he wasn’t the kind of physically imposing specimen that most scouts look for. With his nerdy professor look (Professor of Pitching), his small build and, frankly, normal appearance, Maddux was the everyman with gifts that only became apparent when he threw a baseball.
Despite the current trend (at least by the Blue Jays) to draft pitchers who can throw 96 mph and blow it by their competition when they’re young, Maddux represents the importance of control, changing speeds and pitching. And he did it in an era where home runs and strikeouts were sexy. While he still struck out over 3300 batters in a 23 year career, his rates were far lower than someone else I’ll talk about shortly but he was no less effective.
The final two names on my ballot are, indeed, controversial. I’m at the point in my own mind where I think that large percentages of baseball players were using performance enhancing drugs at some point during their careers. I’m sure you’ve heard all the arguments for including or excluding players connected with PEDs in or from the Hall of Fame.
The fact is that we don’t know where to draw the line. The other problem is that baseball was more than tolerant of drug use when it benefited the game and neither Bonds nor Clemens was ever suspended by Major League Baseball nor were they ever convicted of a crime.
When it comes to Bonds, I’m not sure where people draw the line in the sand and say “this is when he started to juice.” Here’s a fact for you. He was the best player in the game before he started using PEDs. In his last four years with the Pirates, Bonds had fWARs of at least 7.0 and two of those years, he posted fWARs of 9.6 and 9.8. In his first year in San Francisco, he posted an fWAR 10.5. In 1992 and 1993, he had a wRC+ of over 190! That means that his offensive production was almost double what the league average was. Sure, he could have been juicing but this was still in 1992 and 1993 and Bonds was still stealing in the neighbourhood of 30 bases a year. Even if he doesn’t (allegedly) do steroids, this Barry Bonds is still a Hall of Famer. He was easily the greatest player of his era. I’m old enough to remember this Barry Bonds leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to some great years that they’re still trying to recapture.
The same argument goes for Clemens. Sure he was approaching normalcy when he came to Toronto (and allegedly started using PEDs) but he still had three of his eventual seven Cy Youngs by then to go with a 192-111 record, a 3.06 ERA (144 ERA+) and 2590 strikeouts. Even if Clemens reproduced what he did in his final season in Boston (10-13, 3.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 242 2/3 innings), for four more years, he still would have made the Hall of Fame or would have been, at the very least, a solid candidate).
Ok, he (allegedly) took ‘roids, won four more Cy Young awards, was selected to six more All-Star Games, had three more 20-win seasons, struck out over 2000 more batters, etc. He broke no major league rules and was never convicted of anything. People didn’t (and still don’t) like him but many writers have used the Ty Cobb comparison. He wasn’t a fantastic guy either and he’s in the Hall.
Because I think that there was rampant PED use by players we know about and still don’t (and may never) know about, I can’t exclude one of the greatest pitchers of all time from the Hall of Fame. Was the playing field level? No, but I don’t think that you have a select few cheaters on one end and 99% on the other end. Remember how betrayed we felt when Ben Johnson was caught doing steroids. He wasn’t exactly the only one in that field who didn’t do it. He was just the one who was caught.
Who else would I have voted for given the chance? Probably Tom Glavine for sure. I’ll chalk up my abstaining from voting for him as being a “first ballot” thing. I want to create some separation between him and Maddux. I think Maddux was that good for that long and was that special a pitcher that I think that Glavine will go in but, in my mind, he’s in a slightly different class as Maddux.
I could also be convinced by Jeff Bagwell and Mike Mussina. I’ll vote for them next year when the Baseball Writers Association of America sends me my ballot. I’m still waiting, guys. And no, with great apologies to Jack Morris, I just don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer.