Cooperstown, NY. A small town of just under 2,000 people, yet one that is renowned among the entire baseball community. Yes, you probably know already that Cooperstown houses the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. With a packed ballot this year containing 35 total candidates, including 19 newcomers, not every player on this year’s ballot will have a chance to achieve baseball immortality, but still, I’m going to try and make a case for each and every player’s enshrinement right here. Each player will be presented in alphabetical order as presented on the ballot. This part will cover the third and final column of members, which includes 12 players. For reference during the article, all WAR figures will be represented as determined by Baseball Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.
To kick off this portion of the article, I present to you the least controversial case of anybody on the ballot. Anybody who knows the name Mariano knows that he’s a Hall of Fame pitcher, but let’s run through the numbers anyways. His 652 saves are good for first of all time, as is his adjusted ERA (ERA+) of 205. For those unfamiliar with ERA+, the number of 205 means that Rivera was 105% above league average for his career. To put it into perspective, Jacob deGrom’s historic 1.70 ERA this season culminated in a 216 ERA+, and Rivera was able to keep up a very similar (league adjusted) pace for his entire 19 year career. I’m sure you’ve heard the stat of how more men have walked on the moon than scored on Rivera in the playoffs, but truthfully, you could say that about a lot of players, albeit most with far less playoff experience. That fact alone doesn’t justify how good Mariano was in crunch time, so let’s give you some concrete evidence now. In 141 innings of postseason play, Mariano only allowed 11 earned runs, good for a microscopic 0.70 ERA. His postseason WPA (Win Probability Added), a mark of 11.7, is almost triple that of the second place mark of 4.1 (among all pitchers). He is far and away the best to ever close out games, a task that many pitchers have been unable to achieve long term success doing. Although he may not have had gaudy strikeout numbers, he was the best of all time at breaking bats, just ask Ryan Klesko. Now, you can absolutely make the argument that “specialists” like Mariano shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame because they only pitched one inning of a game. The only problem with that argument is that you would be wrong.
Now here, we make the big leap from surefire to controversial, starting with the most under appreciated player on this year’s ballot. First of all, let me get this out of the way and say that the standard that third baseman are held to by Hall of Fame voters is absolutely absurd. There have only been 9 third baseman voted into the Hall of Fame that played past 1940. Two were voted on via the Veteran’s Committee (Ron Santo and George Kell), and Kell had a career WAR that rivaled Eric Chavez (37.4). The rest of the bunch? Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson, and Paul Molitor. That’s not to say Rolen was better than any of them, he wasn’t. But his career 70.2 WAR is a mere .3 behind Santo, and his career average of 1.25 defensive WAR per season is almost equal with fellow ballot member Omar Vizquel’s number of 1.22. His career OPS of .855 proves that he was elite on both sides of the ball, but his 2018 results of 10.2% were concerning to say the least. I’m not necessarily a Big Hall guy by any means, but the stipulation of third baseman being held to the standards of Schmidt and Mathews needs to die. Rolen is a bona fide Hall of Famer.
Well, you can’t bring up a controversial Hall of Fame candidate without mentioning Curt Schilling. He has all the numbers. 3116 strikeouts, a 4.38 K/BB ratio (good for fourth of all time in the modern era), a number of huge postseason performances (bloody sock anyone?) resulting in a 2.23 postseason ERA, a 79.6 career WAR. So what gives? In his 6th year of eligibility, Schilling received only 51.2% of the vote, certainly not what you would expect for a player of his pedigree. Schilling is easily the most documentable case of the so called “character clause” of the Hall of Fame voting process. He’s been in almost constant controversy regarding his statements about various political topics, which I won’t address here, but I will take this time to remind you all that Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame. Granted the playing ability is significantly different between the two, Ty Cobb was a notably terrible person. Schilling was undoubtably a Hall of Fame pitcher, but his inability to stay out of trouble off the field is severely hurting his chances.
Sheffield is a largely forgotten member of the 500 home run club, but he was also overshadowed by the greatest era of power that has ever been. He didn’t have a clean 509 home runs either, as he was named on the Mitchell Report, and he never denied the allegations. He was also a very polarizing player to say the least, causing a lot of clubhouse drama wherever he went. At the same time, his .292 batting average, 509 home runs, and .907 OPS are all elite marks, tainted or not. While he was named on the Mitchell Report, it’s really anybody’s guess as to how involved with PEDs he actually was. And come on, can anybody honestly say that they never tried to imitate Sheffield’s legendary bat wiggle? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dki_G8o6wLE
The only player ever with 3 60 homer seasons, this segment will focus far less on the homer hitting abilities of Sosa. However, just because, here’s his numbers anyways. 609 homers, 1667 RBI, an .878 OPS, and an MVP award in his famous 1998 season. Sosa’s Hall of Fame case is certainly helped by his power numbers, but let’s go back to that 1998 season for a second. This is still 4 years post strike, and attendance numbers still were not back up to full force. McGwire and Sosa took the league by storm with their home run race, with hordes of people flocking to stadiums they were playing in to see if they could add to their totals for the year. It created a buzz that baseball desperately needed to revive itself, and you can truthfully make the argument that Sosa and McGwire saved baseball. They were the beginning of an era that left fans craving more, and forced people to come watch games because of the potential for an all out power display. For all of the members in the Hall of Fame that played in the late 1800s that are in for “shaping the game”, I think there’s an equal argument to be made for Sosa “saving the game”.
So, does anybody actually remember Tejada winning the MVP in 2002? Or winning the Home Run Derby in 2004? Anybody? Ok well, honestly Tejada usually falls into that category of “oh yeah he played a couple games didn’t he?” But honestly he was way better than I ever remember him being. From 2001-2006, he played in all 162 games every single year, and averaged 30 homers and an .852 OPS per season during that stretch. He wasn’t much to speak of defensively, but he can be legitimately regarded as one of the top 20 offensive shortstops of all time. A’s fans fondly remember him for sure, particularly for helping keep their famous 20 game win streak alive with back to back walk-offs.
Known as a defensive wizard during his 24 year career, Vizquel might not have had the prowess that Ozzie Smith had, but man was he ever good. He is pretty easily a top 5 defensive shortstop of all time, and plays like this are just absolutely timeless. While not known for his potent bat, Vizquel still racked up 2877 hits, an impressive mark good for 43rd all time. He may have not had the offensive ability of Scott Rolen, but his defense certainly speaks for itself and he was more or less a standard offensive shortstop. He was never a liability, achieving a respectable .336 OBP with 404 career stolen bases. Omar deserves some credit here, and he’s getting it.
My absolute favorite player on this ballot, Wagner is being grossly disrespected by the voters. First of all, not many kids will have their dominant arm broken twice and be able to grow an upper-90s fastball with their off hand. Second, Wagner’s career ERA of 2.31 is only .1 behind Mariano Rivera. Lastly (not really but I’ll stop here), Wagner was an absolute force when it came to striking batters out. For his career, Wagner struck out 1196 batters in only 903 innings (11.9 K/9). By comparison, Wagner allowed 960 baserunners to reach base safely via hit, walk, or HBP. Wagner struck out 236 more batters than he allowed to reach safely. With his off hand. Add 422 saves to the mix and you have yourself a one of the top 3 closers of all time. 11.1% in his third year is criminal.
Alright, time to kill the Coors argument for good. I tackled it a bit in part 1 of this series with Todd Helton, but Walker has an even stronger case against it. The owner of a career .965 OPS, Walker OPS’d .865 on the road for his career, which also included several seasons for the Expos. Walker’s career mark is good for 15th of all time, and naming the players in front of him would be pointless because all you need to know is 15th of all time. As mentioned in part 1, the Coors Field Hangover Effect does well to negate the positive effects provided by the spacious outfield and high altitude. Walker however, experienced no such hangover during his time with the Rockies. In 8 full seasons in Colorado (not including an injury plagued 1996), Walker only OPS’d less than .800 on the road twice. He OPS’d over .900 on the road twice, including an unfathomable 1.176 road mark in his 1997 MVP season. Walker as written off as a “Coors product” without people ever diving into his actual stats. You want road production? He gave you road production. Even if his road numbers weren’t as elite as they already were, the aforementioned “Hangover Effect” would be enough to justify his dipped road numbers, providing a balance to his beefed up home numbers. But, no argument needs to be made here with Walker being one of the best players of his generation on both sides of the ball, even barring the occasional mental lapse. He was an absolute menace, with Scott Rolen calling him the “best player he ever played with”. He even gave Billy Wagner a run for his money at “best off handed players” by batting off handed against Randy Johnson.
While Vernon Wells had a largely productive career in Toronto, his swift fall from grace once he got traded to the Angels leaves you thinking about what could have been. He was only 32 in his first year with the Angels, but saw his number dip drastically across the board, similar to Jason Bay did as mentioned in part 1. Still, he had a very productive peak with the Blue Jays, including a 5 year stretch of averaging 29 homers and an .853 OPS per season.
YOUUUUUUUUUUUUK. How did Youkilis only play for 10 years? He was a player that almost everybody remembers, from die hard to casual fan. He was a staple for the Red Sox at one of the heights of the Yankees – Red Sox rivalry, and was one of the more beloved players in baseball for his on field quirks. Before we were introduced to the wacky stance of Hunter Pence, Youkilis gave us quite possibly the most legendary batting stance of all time. You’d be lying if you said you never tried to imitate Youk during a game of front yard wiffle ball. Dubbed the “Greek god of walks” in the movie Moneyball, Youk deserves a statue outside of the Hall in order to properly recognize his contributions to batting stances everywhere.
The all-time Ranger, Young was a model of consistency during his tenure with Texas. He played in more than 150 games for 10 out of 11 years, and racked up 200 or more hits in 6 of those years. He is one of only 7 players to have had a stretch of 5 or more consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, and is #1 in Rangers franchise history in hits. With all of these hit milestones, it’s no surprise that Michael Young was a .300 hitter for his career, and was inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame shortly after his retirement. An all-time leader in hits for a franchise should be worthy of some consideration.
There is certainly a lot of controversial choices on this section of the ballot, and I hope I swayed you one way or another on players you might not have been too sure about. If you missed parts 1 and 2, make sure you go check those out! Thanks for reading everybody! Don’t miss the official Hall of Fame announcement tomorrow on MLB Network at 6 pm ET.