Hall of Fame voting is one of the more polarizing events on the winter baseball calendar. Hot takes, alleged disrespect, favoritism, and blatant ignorance run wild. While I try not to criticize or condemn other’s picks, I thought it would be a fun opportunity for me to share my hypothetical ballot along with my thought process—and leave the criticizing to you! Fair warning, you will see “steroid guys”, a few defensive stars, and a certain relatively-below-average-defensive-shortstop among my ten selections on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.
Speaking of those “steroid guys”, let’s start hot with Barry. Barry Bonds is exhibit-A for me when it comes to the steroid era. I have settled on the belief that I want to judge players based on their performance on the field. The performance enhancing drug factor is such a complex issue with so many layers, it’s very easy to get caught up with your own personal emotions while weighing the situation. The facts, as I see them, state that this was a time in baseball history where the league was littered with players who used PEDs—some we know of, and others we don’t. I feel obligated to recognize dominance for what it was, in an era that was shrouded in fog.
To me, the Hall of Fame should be the pinnacle representation of baseball history. It should tell the stories of the legendary players who dominated the game. Writers and reporters should strive to put opinions and personal agenda’s by the wayside and present information and facts as they are.
Bonds was, arguably, the most dominant offensive player the game has ever seen. Anyone who is interested in baseball enough to even read this article knows this already. His Baseball Reference page could have a wing all to itself in Cooperstown.
Some of Bonds’ accomplishments have almost reached urban legend status. In 50 years, are kids going to believe that he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded during the ninth inning of a close game? Did this guy really hit 73 home runs in a single season and also steal over 50 bases in another? What do you mean seven MVP awards? One thing is for sure, it’s going to be tough to explain to our kids one day how we swear that Mike Trout was the best baseball player of all time. He could be, theoretically, if we continue to act as though Barry Lamar Bonds never happened.
By deliberately keeping Bonds, and others linked to steroids, out of the Hall of Fame, we are robbing future generations of an iconic portion of baseball history. I do not believe we have the right to censor the game’s past. This may not be the most popular of opinions, but even as villains of the game’s past, these players need to be enshrined and remembered, as the elite of the elite, during a time where most of the game was quietly as dirty as they were.
Well, I seemingly used Bonds’ segment to get on a soapbox and justify the inclusion of the rest of these “cheaters”, as my dad affectionately refers to them as. I’ll elaborate a little bit more from here on out—as once Bonds gets in, the door will be open for others.
Roger Clemens would be the next player on that list who would make the trip to Cooperstown, after a decorated career with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Astros. Clemens was an absolute bulldog competitor who had one of the most distinguished careers of any pitcher in recent memory.
The back of Clemens’ baseball card speaks for itself. His 354 wins rank ninth all time. He was a seven-time Cy Young award winner, more than any other pitcher in history–the first of which, with Boston, was also accompanied by an American League MVP award. Clemens also posted 138.7 rWAR over his 24 season career, which is also first all-time amongst pitchers in the Live Ball Era (post 1920). Pitching in an era that was overtly conducive to offensive success, Clemens flipped the script on the rest of the league and dominated the game in a way that few of his contemporaries could rival.
The Rocket also thrived on the biggest of stages in October, where he posted a career 2.37 ERA in his World Series starts, on route to winning back to back titles with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000.
As is the case with Bonds, Clemens’ link to PEDs is the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding career, that has stood in the way of his election to the Hall of Fame.
One would think that the former Yankee captain would be a relatively drama-free selection in his first year of eligibility in 2019. One who would think that, however unfortunately, would be mistaken. If I may redirect you to the second sentence of this article, it should pass for an explanation as to why there is apparently a revolution being brought on by extremists on both sides of the circus that is the world of baseball hot takes.
Derek Jeter had a remarkable 20 year career for the New York Yankees, highlighted by a multitude of accolades and World Series championships. The 1996 American League Rookie of the Year was the face of Major League Baseball as the captain of the last true dynasty the sport has seen. Jeter led the Yankees to five World Series championships and holds a handful of career postseason records, some of which include hits, runs, total bases, and doubles.
While Jeter is most fondly remembered by Yankees fans for his October (and November) contributions, his impact was not limited to autumn. Jeter currently ranks sixth all-time in MLB history with 3,465 career hits. The 14-time All-Star led the American League in hits in 1999 and 2012, and posted a remarkable .310 career batting average.
While Jeter was a five-time Gold Glove award winner at the shortstop position, many critics argue that he was, in fact, a well below average defensive player. Analytics tend to side with those critiques, in this case, as Jeter posted an alarming -8.3 career defensive rWAR. Despite his defensive shortcomings, he posted a relatively average .976 career fielding percentage. Jeter was the epitome of a sure-handed shortstop, who would make the plays within his range—however limited that may have been.
The overwhelming factor that comes to mind, when it comes to Jeter, has to do with his ability to deliver in crucial moments, on the biggest of stages. Always one with a flair for the dramatic, the Yankee captain encapsulated the nuances of playing winning baseball. To those who berate Jeter’s lack of range at shortstop—how fitting is it that one of his most iconic moments was a backhanded flip from damn-near the first base dugout, to nail the potential tying run at the plate, in the bottom of the seventh inning of a playoff game?
That’s almost Michael Jordan-level of petty competitiveness. Almost as if Jeter knew one of the biggest knocks on his career was his defensive range, he was going to go ahead and make sure that one of his classic career highlights was a game saving play he made in October—over 100 feet away from where any shortstop would be expected to be.
There is the crowd that believes his career accomplishments were a product of being surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast and overblown hype from the New York media market. I simply don’t agree with the argument that some make, that Jeter wouldn’t be considered a Hall of Fame caliber player if he played in a smaller market. I don’t care if Jeter played for an expansion team on the moon, his stats are worthy of the Hall of Fame anyway you look at them. Factor in the big-time postseason moments, records, and championships, you have a slam-dunk first ballot vote from me. Jeter was a player who made others around him better, I believe that the Yankees were able to be as successful as they were, in large part, thanks to their shortstop. In your alternate universes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeter made some of those smaller-market teams a force as well.
Jeter will, assuredly, give a speech this July to a baseball world that unanimously respects him. You can love or hate the Yankees, that’s fine; however, there is not a reason for anyone to not have the upmost respect for Derek Jeter. An iconic, ever-classic competitor and champion, his latest achievement might just be his most impressive—making the entire baseball community happy for the success of a Yankee.
The player whom I was most intrigued with on this year’s ballot was Andruw Jones. There was a time in Jones’ career where it seemed inevitable that he would one day receive the call to Cooperstown, likely as a first ballot candidate. Boy, did things change.
Jones burst onto the scene as a 19 year old for the Atlanta Braves, announcing his presence on the national stage by hitting two home runs in a World Series game at Yankee Stadium in 1996. He achieved superstardom over the next decade and was a five-time All-Star for the Braves, establishing himself as the finest defensive centerfielder of his generation in the process.
Age was not kind to Jones, and his career was derailed much earlier than anyone could have predicted. Heavy regression in his 30s aside, I believe Jones did enough in his teens and twenties to still garner enough voter recognition to eventually become a Hall of Famer.
Jones’ calling card was undeniably his defensive mastery in center field. Currently, Jones is the all-time leader, among outfielders, posting 24.4 defensive rWAR. For perspective, here are some other notable Hall of Fame outfielders along with their career defensive rWAR totals:
Willie Mays 18.2
Roberto Clemente 12.2
Joe DiMaggio 3.2
Ken Griffey Jr. 2.2
Mike Trout (for fun) 3.1
Jones also earned 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for his standout defensive work, from 1998-2007. Mays, Griffey Jr., and Jones stand as the only center fielders to have ever been awarded 10 consecutive Gold Gloves (Mays and Griffey Jr. being first ballot Hall of Fame selections). Jones’ longtime Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox, has gone on record to describe Jones as the greatest defensive centerfielder he had ever seen in person, an extensive list that includes both Griffey Jr. and Mays—not a bad endorsement from a Hall of Famer with 50 plus years of experience in professional baseball.
Despite his all-time great defensive prowess, Jones was far from solely being a defensive specialist. His 434 career home run total currently ranks sixth all time amongst centerfielders. Jones paced the NL with a career high 51 home runs in 2005, finishing second in the MVP race to future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.
While Jones’ career certainly took a turn for the worse once leaving Atlanta, he produced an outstanding 61.0 rWAR from his rookie year in 1997 through his final year with the Braves in 2007 (he added 0.1 rWAR in a brief September call up in). The latter part of Jones’ career represented a harsh decline, as he bounced around with the Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees over his final five seasons, compiling only an additional 1.7 rWAR.
To me, Jones is almost a victim of an extended, impressive prime occurring too early in his career. It is exceedingly rare to find a player who averaged over 5.5 rWAR per season, over an 11 year span. The fact that Jones fell off as hard as he did seems to have left fans and writers alike wishing for more. Even as many view his career to be undeserving of Hall of Fame attention, I firmly stand as one who appreciates the historically unique, dynamic defensive impact he brought while patrolling a premium position—while subsequently providing significant offensive value.
Major League Baseball has proven in recent years to be a successful multi-billion dollar industry, on an annual basis, that provides entertainment to millions of fans around the globe. You simply cannot be a successful entertainment business, of that magnitude, without having world-class entertainers. Manny Ramirez can lay claim to not only being one of the best right-handed hitters of all-time, but also one of the premier entertainers the game has seen in quite some time.
One of the quirkier personalities who finds himself on the 2019 ballot, you never quite knew what to expect when going to the yard to watch a game in which Ramirez would play. One thing, however, you could take to the bank would be seeing a handful of incredible at-bats from one of the most feared sluggers of his generation.
Ramirez spent 19 years lighting pitchers up around the majors. The majority of his dominant career was spent with the Indians and Red Sox, before a quick—yet equally impressive—stint with the Dodgers, before relatively forgettable stops with both the White Sox and Rays. The corner outfielder finished his career with a .312/.411/.585 triple slash line, an OPS of .996, 555 home runs, and 1,831 RBI. The 12-time All-Star was an integral part of both the 2004 and 2007 World Championship teams with the Boston Red Sox.
While Ramirez is most remembered for his time in Boston, he began his career with an impressive eight-year run in Cleveland. Ramirez led the Indians to two World Series appearances in 1995 and 1997, as part of a downright scary, young offensive core. In 1998 with Cleveland, Ramirez posted a career-high 45 home runs. The following year, the Cleveland outfielder led the league with an astounding, career-best, 165 RBI—still the highest single-season total since 1938, when Jimmie Foxx drove in 175 runs for the Red Sox.
In addition to his impressive regular season accomplishments, a large part of Ramirez’s legacy was carved in the postseason. He currently holds the record for career postseason home runs with 29, and shares the all-time record for postseason walks with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, as both drew 72 base-on-balls in October. Ramirez received World Series MVP honors in 2004 with Boston, after hitting .412 in the series as the Red Sox swept the Cardinals to capture their first title since 1918.
Ramirez’s Hall of Fame campaign has faced an uphill battle, to this point, as he served multiple PED suspensions throughout his career. Only time will tell if this eccentric, one-of-a-kind personality will generate the voting traction required to become enshrined in baseball’s hallowed halls.
Scott Rolen, admittedly, seemed to be a little bit of a stretch for me. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, I think I’ll always be someone who leans on the side of voting yes, rather than no, when it’s a close call and I have an available vote. The more I looked into Rolen’s career, the more intrigued I was by his body of work in comparison to other third basemen who have already been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Rolen’s career spanned 17 seasons, the best of which he spent with the Phillies and Cardinals; while also spending time with the Blue Jays and Reds. The big-bodied third baseman was known for being a force offensively, as well as being one of the top defensive players in the majors at his position while in his prime. The eight-time Gold Glove award winner was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1996, and was a National League All-Star selection seven times in his career.
Rolen steadily compiled a .281 career batting average, 316 home runs, 517 doubles, and finished with more than 1200 RBI and runs. In addition to those traditional offensive stats, Rolen compiled a rWAR of 70.2, with his defensive rWAR comprising 21.2 of that total. That total of 21.2 would rank higher than every Hall of Fame third baseman not named Brooks Robinson (Robinson amassed a staggering total of 39.1 defensive rWAR).
While most would consider Rolen to be in the category of “very good” rather than Hall of Fame material, his numbers actually present a compelling case when compared to other’s elected at his position. Third base is a relatively underrepresented position in Cooperstown, having only 17 inductees—less than any other position, with the exception of designated hitter.
When compared to the numbers of other enshrined third basemen, none of them can claim to best both Rolen’s career home run total as well as his defensive rWAR. Truly a unique force on both sides of the ball, Rolen played a significant role in changing the way third base was played and provided a blueprint for current stars of today who excel both offensively and defensively at the position.
Rolen’s stoic, professional demeanor did not draw the lights and cameras his way with regularity, and does not seem to be as exciting of a pick as some of the other players on the ballot. While the Hall of Fame traditionally defers defensive accomplishments in favor of offense, I hold a great appreciation for those who made strong impacts with both the bat and the glove. Rolen’s game may not have been described as ‘Ruthian’, but his contributions as a baseball player, all things considered, were surprisingly rare and impressive. Casual fans might not remember or regard him to be a Hall of Famer, but I’d be willing to imagine that his peers who competed with and against him, remember him as one of the greats.
To be at your best in the most crucial of situations, you need to be someone who has considerable mental toughness. Curt Schilling represents an athlete, to me, who played the game with a world-class level of mental toughness. A postseason legend who dominated opposing hitters for 20 years, Schilling proved to be a menacing competitor who was eager to empty the tank, and then some, in order to beat you.
The right-hander bounced around to begin his career, with stops in Baltimore and Houston, before settling down in Philadelphia. While with the Phillies, Schilling found his stride, and helped lead Philadelphia to a World Series appearance in 1993. He led the National League in strikeouts in in 1997 and 1998, striking out 300 or more batters in both seasons. The workhorse topped 250 innings pitched in both seasons, and started the All-Star game for the NL in 1999.
While Schilling established himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game in Philadelphia, it was after a trade to the Diamondbacks that he etched his name in baseball history. Forming one of the most lethal one-two punches for a pitching staff that the league has ever seen, Schilling teamed up with current Hall of Famer Randy Johnson to lead Arizona to its first, and only, World Series title. The Diamondbacks won a thrilling seven game series over the New York Yankees, who were three-time defending champions. Schilling started three World Series games for Arizona and recorded a 1.69 ERA on his way to being named co-MVP of the series with Johnson.
In 2004, Schilling made his way to Boston to join the Red Sox and played a pivotal role in another playoff run that would add even more mystique to his legend. Facing a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox stormed back winning games four and five, sending Schilling to the mound for game six at Yankee Stadium.
In what became known as the ‘Bloody Sock Game’, Schilling pitched through a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, sporting a blood-stained sock, and delivered seven innings of one run baseball to earn the win. Boston would go on to win the ALCS and sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series title in 86 years.
Schilling would go on to win one last World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2007, and retired with a career postseason record of 11-2. His .846 career postseason winning percentage is the highest of any pitcher in MLB history (minimum 10 decisions).
Known as one of the greatest postseason warriors of all time, Schilling also produced impressive career totals in the regular season. He is a member of the 3,000 career strikeout club, retired with 216 career wins, was a six-time All-Star, and led his league multiple times in wins, complete games, strikeouts, games started, innings pitched, WHIP, K/BB, and BB/9.
Having an extended run of success in October is a one-way ticket to becoming a baseball legend. Curt Schilling, while a spectacular regular season pitcher in his own right, dominated postseason baseball and owns the hardware to back that statement up. Fittingly, I expect it will only a matter of time until the big right-hander gets the call to Cooperstown. I’m sure we can all expect an interesting speech from the outspoken future Hall of Famer in one of these coming summers.
As the owner of one of the most iconic right handed swings in recent memory, Gary Sheffield mashed a winding path for himself around the league that, I am cautiously optimistic, should end up in Cooperstown, New York.
Sheffield produced a devastating career triple slash line of .292/.393/.514 over his 22 year career in the majors. After debuting with the Brewers as a shortstop at the age of 19, he transitioned third base with the Padres, and then patrolled the outfield with the Marlins, Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, Yankees, and Mets.
The nine-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger became a member of the 500 home run club in 2009 with the Mets, in what would be the final season of a remarkable career. Sheffield retired with some glowing offensive statistics which include 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI, 1,,636 runs, 2,689 hits, 253 stolen bases, and 1,475 walks to only 1,171 strikeouts. His .907 career OPS solidifies and represents his strong combination of both power and patience that he brought to the plate. The corner outfielder also produced 60.5 rWAR.
In what may have been Sheffield’s most impressive season, he led the underdog 1997 Florida Marlins to their first world championship in franchise history. Sheffield spent that year dominating National League pitching for the Marlins to the tune of a .314/.465/.624 slash line. He finished the year with 42 home runs, 120 RBI, 16 stolen bases, 142 walks and only 66 strikeouts. Sheffield spent his entire career being a dangerous presence in the middle of various lineups.
Gary Sheffield’s legacy seems to underwhelm slightly when one thinks back to just how great of a hitter he was in his time. Not just a pure power hitter, Sheffield mastered the art of hitting, in large part, due to his immaculate patience and control of the strike zone. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is jaw-dropping considering how the game has evolved today.
As Sheffield’s career saw him bounce from one franchise to the next, his ever-iconic bat waggle could be seen mimicked in backyards and Little Leagues across the country in the 1990’s and 2000’s. There was a time when 500 home runs would present power hitters a golden ticket to the Hall of Fame, times have obviously changed; however, Sheffield’s abilities as a pure, complete hitter transcended that of a mere power hitter. His all-around, strong offensive abilities stood out above many others, in a time when offensive baseball ruled the game.
Major League Baseball has made a concerted effort in recent years to push the “make baseball fun again” mantra, and how it’s time to “let the kids play”. These initiatives are great and fans love to see the passion and energy that is becoming more commonplace with today’s players. The Javy Baez’s and Ronald Acuna’s of the world are doing their part in bringing excitement and charisma to ballparks around the league. Baseball is fun when the players have fun—and I can’t think of too many players who had more fun than Slammin’ Sammy Sosa.
Tell me your mind doesn’t automatically flash back to Sosa sprinting out to right field in Wrigley Field, hoisting the American flag over his head while saluting fans in the bleachers. Or maybe it was his patented double hop out of the box after crushing a no doubter into the night air.
Sammy Sosa was undeniably one of the great entertainers the game has seen. The only ones who would not have been captivated by the excitement that Sosa’s presence in the batter’s box presented, would be the poor soul standing on the mound roughly sixty feet in front of him. The former MVP and Chicago Cub legend tormented Major League pitching for nearly two decades.
Sosa, like many of his peers from the 1990’s and 2000’s, has been linked to performance enhancing drugs. There was also an incident involving a corked bat that has tarnished some of the legacy that he had built. Those shadows aside, Sosa produced some of the most dominant offensive seasons that we have ever seen.
Sosa had an absolute offensive explosion from 1998-2002 with the Chicago Cubs. In that five year span, Sosa hit .306 and averaged 58 home runs and 141 RBI per season. His OPS in that stretch was a remarkable 1.046. Between 1998 and 2002, Sosa was named to five All-Star teams, earned five Silver Slugger awards, and received the National League MVP award in 1998—after the thrilling home run chase with Mark McGwire while he led the Cubs to a Wild Card berth, finishing a game ahead of the San Francisco Giants.
Sosa remains the only player in Major League history to hit 60 or more home runs in three separate seasons. Sosa crushed 68 home runs in 1998, 63 in 1999, and 64 in 2001. Unbelievably enough, Sosa did not lead the National League in home runs in any of those seasons. In 1998, McGwire led with 70, in 1999, McGwire led with 65, and in 2001 Bonds led with 73.
Between 1998 and 2001, Sosa put up three of the top 10 single season total base counts in baseball history. In 1998, Sosa set a then single season mark by recording 416 total bases. A year later in 1999, he recorded 397 total bases, at the time good for fifth most in a single season (today that total stands as 10th best). For good measure in 2001, Sosa bested his own Major League record by putting up 425 total bases—a record that still stands today.
I get the crowd who is against the idea of Sosa in Cooperstown. Outside of that five year bonanza, his seasons, while very good, don’t necessarily scream Hall of Fame. For my stance, I just can’t justify voting for certain players who were linked to PEDs, and not Sosa. That stretch of utter dominance along with the sustained power leading him to be a member of the 600 home run club were enough for me to give my vote to this charismatic slugger.
Larry Walker, in his 10th and final season of eligibility on the ballot, has seemingly picked up traction with some support from mainstream media members in recent months.
Frankly, it’s pretty amazing that Walker is in this position in the first place. One of the most productive, balanced, all-around great players from his generation should not still be on the outside looking in after what should be a pretty embarrassing decade for voters.
More than just a dangerous pure hitter, Walker was also a recipient of seven Gold Glove awards as a right fielder, and was regarded to be a smart, opportunistic player and baserunner who could beat you in multiple ways in any given series.
The classic, lazy knock on Walker has always been the fact that he spent ten years of his illustrious career playing for the Colorado Rockies. Critics point to his home and road splits in Colorado as enough reasoning to have left him off of ballots.
As a member of the Rockies, Walker hit to the tune of a .363 batting average while hitting at Coors Field. He also hit 154 of his 383 career home runs at home, in that time. Those power numbers were good for a 14.53 AB/HR ratio in Colorado. These numbers represent jumps from his overall career production of a .313 average and 18.03 AB/HR.
I refuse, in this case, to chalk Larry Walker’s career up to being a complete product of the Rocky Mountain air. If you were to wipe out all of the numbers he put up as a Rockie in Coors Field, his career average would still stand at .289, and his career AB/HR ratio would be 20.39. In other words, a higher career batting average than Hall of Fame outfielders such as Ken Griffey Jr., Reggie Jackson, and Carl Yastrzemski for context. And that’s eliminating ten years of home games during Walker’s prime.
I will concede, Walker’s numbers absolutely insist that the hospitality of Coors Field improved his final career lines. But we certainly should not concede the fact that he was a dominating force for the better part of two decades, on both sides of the ball, in Colorado and in ballparks all over North America.
The amount of discredit that Rockies hitters receive is disappointing to me. I completely understand that hitting in that environment is a big time advantage over virtually every other ballpark. But the fact of the matter is, they are still Major League games, and the hitters still need to produce. Walker’s offensive production in Colorado was extraordinary even by Coors Field standards. In recent years, more has been brought to light by players and reporters acknowledging the unique and specific challenges that Rockies hitters have to deal with while adjusting to different pitch spin in road games, which they do not see in Colorado. There are two sides to this coin, and Walker was able to minimize those issues while still proving to be a force outside of Colorado over the length of his career.
I personally think that it’s time that the Colorado Rockies franchise is rewarded for having a standout, stud player. The media has treated Coors Field like a joke for years, seemingly discrediting any and all accomplishments that it yields. You just do not see that happen in other quirky places that have histories of definitively being conducive to offensive success. Yeah, I’m looking at you Babe Ruth and a certain house you may or may not have had a hand in building. There is also a monster and a pole in Boston I’d like to have a word with.