Well, if 3,000 words weren’t enough for you in Part 1, here are 2,000 more!
Part 2 features a list of the borderline players, the guys I had to think long and hard about. Really, any one of them could be elected and I would be perfectly fine, but as it stands, I would only vote for three (if there was any more room): Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and Jeff Kent. Edgar was actually on my ballot last year, but because of the influx of talent (and the 10-player limit), he was relegated to Part 2. Sorry, Edgar.
I would like to add a note on the steroid guys. You’ll see that Sosa, Palmeiro, and McGwire are all on here, below my personal threshold, even though I voted for Bonds and Clemens. Look, I don’t know if those guys would have been Hall of Famers with or without steroids. All I can do is take an educated guess. I’m just taking a stab in the dark here. We all are.
I’ll leave it to Joe Posnanski to provide the voice of reason, as usual: We are no closer to a a logical narrative about the Steroid Era than we were five years ago. There’s no consensus about how much steroid and PED use ACTUALLY affected power numbers (not just talk but actual study of the subject), no consensus over why steroid use should be viewed differently than amphetamines or other drugs, no consensus about the role the people who run baseball played in the era, no consensus about anything really.
Still, I’ll write a little something on everyone because they all deserve to be recognized for their great careers.
Mike Mussina. Jack Morris is going to come very close to making the Hall of Fame this year. But Mussina had a much better career. It’s not close:
Mussina: 270-153, 3562 innings, 3.68 ERA, 123 ERA+, 1.192 WHIP, 3.58 SO/BB, 82.7 WAR
Morris: 254-186, 3824 innings, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.296 WHIP, 1.78 SO/BB, 43.8 WAR
I just don’t see any viable argument where you vote in Morris and not Mussina. Morris pitched more innings and completed more games, yes, but he also pitched in the 70s and 80s when this was more common. Morris had a better postseason numbers, yes, but Mussina was no schlub in the playoffs either. I think the arguments for Morris end there. And those are just not enough to overcome Mussina’s advantage in, like, every other area.
Mussina had a lower ERA while pitching his entire career in the A.L. East. While he didn’t win 300 games, he was one of the more consistent pitchers of his generation – he made at least 27 starts from 1992 through 2008 and won at least 13 games in all but three of them. He was also one of the better fielding pitchers of his time – he won seven Gold Gloves, the last of which came when he was 39.
I would vote for Mussina in almost any other year. But, as it stands, the Hall of Fame only allows you to vote for a maximum of ten. He’ll have to wait until the ballot clears out.
Jack Morris. Morris received 67.7% of the vote last year, after receiving just 22.2% in his first year of eligiblity in 2000. Since this is his final year on the ballot, I think the voters will push him over the hump, even with a stacked ballot.
Look, I hope Morris gets elected. I wouldn’t vote for him, but it’s not like I have some schadenfreude complex where I would take pleasure in him not getting elected. He was one of the premier pitchers in the 80s and threw one of the greatest games of all time. He’s been involved in some of the most memorable baseball moments. So while I don’t think his numbers match up to the Hall of Fame, he is, undoubtedly, an important figure in baseball history.
But if your career ERA is just 5% better than the league average, I don’t see how that constitutes a Hall of Famer. I’m just trying to be pragmatic here.
Edgar Martinez. Edgar was one of the most feared hitters of his day and finished his career as one of only fifteen players with a .310/.410/.510 line. You could argue that the ultimate goal of a hitter is to reach base any way he can – only twenty were better than him.
Larry Walker. Have you ever marveled at Walker’s 1997 through 2001 seasons? You haven’t? Well, you should:
1997: .366/.452/.720, 409 total bases, MVP. His 409 total bases were the most in 50 years.
1998: .363/.445/.630, batting title
1999: .379/.458/.710, batting title
2000: .309/.409/.506 (a down year)
2001: .350/.449/.662, batting title
In those five years, he also hit 30 home runs three times and won four Gold Gloves. Yes, he played in Coors Field, which averaged (I’m guessing) fifty schmagillion home runs per game at the time. But he still had a 158 OPS+, which adjusts for park-related factors.
Unfortunately, Walker had a huge peak but was unable to maintain it or stay healthy into his late 30s. He only played 150+ games once in his career. He still finished with a .313 average and 141 OPS+, but his lack of consistency leaves him just shy of the Hall, in my opinion.
Jeff Kent. I think Kent’s numbers lie well within the range for Hall of Fame second basemen. Here is how he stacks up with some of his contemporaries:
Craig Biggio: .281/.363/.433, 112 OPS+, 64.9 WAR
Roberto Alomar: .300/.371/.443, 116 OPS+, 66.8 WAR
Ryne Sandberg: .285/.344/.452, 114 OPS+, 67.6 WAR
Jeff Kent: .290/.356/.500, 123 OPS+, 55.2 WAR
Kent holds the all time record for home runs by a second baseman with 377. He hit more than 25 home runs six different times and drove in 100+ runs from 1997-2002 and 2004-2005. For a second baseman to finish his career with a .500 slugging percentage is quite extraordinary – Rogers Hornsby is the only other one to do it (and no one else is particularly close).
Sammy Sosa. Sammy Sosa was like a superhero – he had charisma, he sprinted to the outfield in between innings, he hit long home runs, he appeared in ads, he was funny. I remember trying to get my sister to watch baseball in the late ’90s, and while she hated the sport, she loved Sosa. It was hard not to like the guy.
Sosa hit more home runs over a five-year period than anyone, ever. In 1998, he and Mark McGwire took down Roger Maris’s home run record – McGwire, of course, finished with 70, and Sosa was right behind him with 66. The next year, Sosa hit 63, and followed that with 50, 64, and 49 home runs from 2000-2002. It was, quite simply, one of the best displays of power in the history of the game – for five years he averaged 58 home runs and topped 60 three times.
We don’t know that Sammy Sosa took steroids like some of his other contemporaries. He hasn’t gone to court and he was never suspended. We have our suspicious (I certainly have mine), but his case lies in a gray (grey?) area. Of course, we know Sosa is prone to cheating. Awhile back, there was an ESPN report that linked him to the anonymous list of 104 players that tested positive in 2003, but even that has never been confirmed.
I would not vote Sosa for the Hall of Fame. Unlike Bonds and Clemens, I don’t think he would have had a Hall of Fame career without some help. And, even with 609 career home runs, he is only 17th on the all time WAR list for right fielders, behind guys like Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith and Larry Walker. But, man, he was fun to watch.
Bernie Williams. Bernie is, of course, a personal favorite, one of the cornerstones of the Yankees’ dynasty. Between 1996 and 2002, he hit .300 with 20+ home runs, 100+ runs, 90+ RBI’s, and 70+ walks in every season. Between 1997 and 2001, he had WAR’s of 5.5, 5.2, 5.5, 5.2, and 5.2. He never won an MVP, never hit more than 30 home runs, but he was one of the most consistent forces in baseball for nearly a decade.
Alan Trammell. Trammell is a tough call. By WAR, he’s well ahead of other Hall of Fame shortstops like Barry Larkin and Lou Boudreau and Rabbit Maranville.* But despite his 110 OPS+, 70.3 WAR, and excellent defense, I would not vote for Trammell. I don’t think his offensive numbers are good enough to justify his election. He was, undoubtedly, one of the premier shortstops of his day, and he paved the way for a new era of offensive shortstops in the 1990’s. But, I think he falls a bit short.
*Then again, just about everyone is ahead of Rabbit Maranville. He was elected in 1954, just months after his death actually, even though in his career he hit just .258 with an 82 OPS+.
Rafael Palmeiro. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Palmeiro was actually suspended for steroids, which effectively ended his career in 2005. This is, I think, inexcusable. Steroids in the late ’90s lie in a gray (grey?) area, since there was no testing, there was no public consensus against them, and some of them were perfectly legal. But then testing began in 2005, and Palmeiro was caught red-handed, just months after he waved his finger in front of a grand jury and said he had never taken steroids (period).
Palmeiro is one of just four players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, and the others were all clear Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray. Palmeiro was one of the most consistent power hitters of his day – he hit 38 or more home runs in every year between 1995 and 2003. He has the 11th highest WAR for any first baseman, and his closest comparables (according to Baseball Reference) are Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, and Ken Griffey Jr.
The numbers are there. So is the suspension. He won’t get in, and he shouldn’t.
Mark McGwire. Say what you want about McGwire, but there is one inexcusable fact: he was the best home run hitter in the history of the game.
No, he didn’t hit the most home runs. He no longer has the single-season record. But, he hit more home runs per at bat than anyone, and it’s not particularly close:
At Bats per HR, career:
1) Mark McGwire, 10.61
2) Babe Ruth, 11.76
3) Barry Bonds, 12.96
4) Jim Thome, 13.76
And here are the single season records:
1) Barry Bonds (2001), 6.52
2) Mark McGwire (1998), 7.27
3) Mark McGwire (1999), 8.02
4) Mark McGwire (1996), 8.13
We may never see such a prolific power hitter ever again. But, for now, I can’t bring myself to vote for him on a ballot where there are so many other deserving candidates.
Fred McGriff. I think McGriff is a victim of his time. He never hit more than 36 home runs, never won a batting title or an MVP, and was never flashy. He had to compete with an offensive explosition like the game had never seen. He was overshadowed and underappreciated.
I would not vote for McGriff because JAWS ranks him as the 27th best first baseman of all time, behind guys like Will Clark and John Olerud and Keith Hernandez. He was also a terrible defense first baseman.
But, man, he was consistent. He never topped 36 homers, but he did hit more than 30 ten different times. He finished with 493, the same as Lou Gehrig, and probably would have had 500 if not for the strike in 1994. It’s funny – if McGriff had hit 500 home runs, I think he would have a much higher percentage of the vote. Writers like those round numbers. But he only received 20.7% last year, and I think that will only go down until he plays out his time on the ballot.
Lee Smith. Smith compiled saves like no one else before him. His 478 stood as the record for a decade. But, he was never as dominant as some of his contemporaries, and his 29.4 WAR would be one of the lowest in the Hall.
He probably had a better career than Bruce Sutter, who was elected in 2006, but I don’t think Sutter should be in the Hall either. I think only a handful of relievers are deserving: Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Goose Gossage. Maybe Rollie Fingers too. I’ll have to give some more thought to Billy Wagner and Joe Nathan when they are eligible. But that’s about it. It’s slim pickings for relievers, and rightly so – their value is much less than starting pitchers or everyday players.