The BBWAA released its annual Baseball Hall of Fame ballot on Tuesday, which includes a striking 37 names, with 24 of those names being new this year. This year is notable for being the first in which Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, the three most prominent players associated with steroids, are eligible. Of course, that means that we fans will be subjected to plenty of sanctimonious hot air from the various card-carrying blowhards of the BBWAA about "preserving the integrity of the game". Joe Posnanski had an excellent column about the three arguments that any anti-steroid era player defends: they're cheaters, they wouldn't be Hall-worthy without steroids, and they hurt the integrity of the game.
It's a shame that all of these voters feel that anyone with the least hint of possible steroid use be forever barred from enshrinement, although funnily enough that doesn't stop many of those same voters from celebrating the Ty Cobbs and Cap Ansons and Kenesaw Mountain Landises of the world, just to name three of the more prominent bigots who kept minorities out of baseball for over half a century. I suppose the "real" journalists of the BBWAA just cannot help but getting on their high horse whenever the opportunity presents itself. And so it will be this year, probably louder than any other because of the addition of Bonds and Clemens and Sosa to the ballot.
As you can probably tell, I do not believe there is any reason that suspected (or, for that matter, confirmed) PED users should be kept out of the Hall of Fame. Steroids are a part of baseball's history, for better or worse, and keeping that era's best players out of the Hall is a lot like the NCAA demanding that USC forfeit all of their games when Reggie Bush played. You simply cannot rewrite history like that; those games actually happened, and the results counted. Furthermore, until very recently, there was no structure in place to tell who used steroids and who did not, and it was not technically cheating. If we followed that logic, the Hall of Fame would have to remove everyone up to and including Babe Ruth that played when the majors were comprised entirely of white players.
So much for steroids. But what should be done with those 37 names on the ballot? Who deserves to be enshrined? The Baseball Hall of Fame is notoriously difficult to get into; over the last decade, just sixteen players have been elected via the BBWAA ballot, as compared to thirty basketball players and around fifty football players. My parents joke that if I had my way, "Wheeler, deceased" (a name from our 1976 Baseball Encyclopedia with one at-bat to his credit in the 19th century) would be a part of the Hall. But I am not really that inclusive in my view of who deserves to be enshrined. Let's look at those names on this year's ballot, beginning with the first-timers. Remember, anyone who played ten seasons or more in the major leagues becomes eligible five years after they retire, which accounts for a few of the names listed.
Mike Stanton (1989-2007)
3.92 ERA, 1114.0 IP, 895 K, 420 BB, 112 ERA+, 68-63, 12.6 rWAR, 13.7 fWAR
Did you know that Stanton is second all-time among pitchers with those 1178 appearances? Or that he made the 2001 All-Star team as a member of the Yankees? Me neither. Regardless, the Hall of Fame is no place for setup men, no matter how long they pitched for. Also, not to be confused with Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton, who can do things like this. OUT.
Royce Clayton (1991-2007)
.258/.312/.367, 110 HR, 231 SB, 78 OPS+, 16.4 rWAR, 21.7 fWAR
Clayton was a slick-fielding, banjo-hitting (career .679 OPS) shortstop with occasionally bad hairstyles (anyone else remember his balding cornrows? Just me?) who also made one All-Star team (1997, with the Cardinals). OUT.
Todd Walker (1996-2007)
.289/.348/.435, 107 HR, 98 OPS+, 8.3 rWAR, 11.5 fWAR
A pretty good hitter for a second baseman with good hands and very limited range on defense. The high point of his career was probably hitting .370 in the Grady Little ALCS in 2003. OUT.
Jose Mesa (1987-2007)
4.36 ERA, 1548.2 IP, 1038 K, 651 BB, 100 ERA+, 80-109, 321 SV, 9.5 rWAR, 13.5 fWAR
Our first truly memorable player! Mesa was a below-average starter until 1994, when the Indians sent him to the bullpen. His one great season came in 1995, when the Indians made Mesa and his fu manchu their closer, and for that one year he was simply unhittable, posting a 1.13 ERA and 46 saves, was named to the first of two All-Star games, and was the Cy Young runner-up. But although he was often an effective closer after that (especially in Philadelphia), he was never again nearly as dominant as in 1995. OUT.
Roberto Hernandez (1991-2007)
3.45 ERA, 1071.1 IP, 945 K, 462 BB, 131 ERA+, 67-71, 326 SV, 17.2 rWAR, 15.2 fWAR
An ageless reliever (he last pitched as a 42-year-old), Hernandez was an effective closer for nine years, and a dominant one for only two, which I suppose is further proof of how fungible the vast majority of relief pitchers are, and how all but the very best don't belong anywhere in the Hall of Fame, except as a paying customer. OUT.
Sandy Alomar Jr. (1988-2007)
.273/.309/.406, 112 HR, 86 OPS+, 11.6 rWAR, 15.7 fWAR
A member of one of Puerto Rico's great baseball families (Sandy Sr. was a longtime big leaguer, and younger brother Roberto is on the short list for greatest second baseman of all time), Sandy Jr. actually lasted much longer than his brother despite being a catcher (he was 41 when he retired), and a big one at that; I had no idea he played the position at 6'5" and 200 pounds. He won the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year and played in six All-Star games in the '90s for Cleveland, but durability was an issue; Sandy only topped 100 games in a season three times after that rookie season. OUT.
Jeff Conine (1990-2007)
.285/.347/.443, 214 HR, 107 OPS+, 16.2 rWAR, 24.4 fWAR
I suppose that if the Florida Marlins could be said to have a face of the franchise in their history, it would be Conine. Snagged from the Royals in the expansion draft, Conine posted All-Star seasons in 1994 and 1995 for the Marlins, and then became a traveling professional hitter after the team's post-World Series fire sale in 1997, changing addresses seven times over the ensuing decade, including a return to Florida in time for their other championship run in 2003. But a left fielder/first baseman who never topped 26 home runs in a season? Um, no. OUT.
Rondell White (1993-2007)
.284/.336/.462, 198 HR, 108 OPS+, 25.5 rWAR, 26.2 fWAR
A gifted athlete who was one of the many quality products of the Expos' farm system in the '90s, White was plagued by injuries his entire career, playing in 100 games just six times. A center fielder in his youth, White was forced to move to left as the injuries piled up. He was also an All-Star in 2003 for the Padres. OUT.
Aaron Sele (1993-2007)
4.61 ERA, 2153.0 IP, 1407 K, 798 BB, 100 ERA+, 148-112, 17.2 rWAR, 33.6 fWAR
An All-Star in 1998 and 2000, Sele was a classic innings-eater, a guy whom you could pencil in for 30 starts and 180-200 innings for several years. But if you were counting on excellence, well...Sele's career ERA of 4.61 also happens to convert to an exactly league-average ERA+ of 100. I don't think that "average" belongs with "Hall of Fame". OUT.
Woody Williams (1993-2007)
4.19 ERA, 2216.1 IP, 1480 K, 711 BB, 103 ERA+, 132-116, 25.0 rWAR, 19.8 fWAR
Like Sele, another rotation filler who made an All-Star game (2003 as a Cardinal). Woody did pretty well as a 28th-round draft pick to stick in the majors for fifteen seasons, and make just north of $50 million over the course of his career. Still, the answer is obvious. OUT.
Jeff Cirillo (1994-2007)
.296/.366/.430, 117 HR, 102 OPS+, 32.0 rWAR, 36.4 fWAR
What a year for random All-Stars from the late '90s! A competent third sacker who hit line drives and got on base, Cirillo basically toiled his entire career in the obscurity of Milwaukee, Colorado, Seattle, and Milwaukee again, not making the playoffs until his final season, as a pinch hitter with Arizona. Yawn. OUT.
Ryan Klesko (1992-2007)
.279/.370/.500, 278 HR, 128 OPS+, 24.6 rWAR, 32.7 fWAR
Our first semi-legitimate slugger! God, I used to hate Klesko when I was a kid. As a member of the Braves, he was one of those guys who was just so hard to get out, and his career pretty much defines the phrase "professional hitter". He was a pretty brutal defender anywhere you tried to hide him (mostly left field and first base), but his bat played well for a decade, capped by a 30-homer season in 2001 with the Padres, also the one year he was an All-Star. OUT.
Reggie Sanders (1991-2007)
.267/.343/.487, 305 HR, 304 SB, 115 OPS+, 36.7 rWAR, 41.8 fWAR
After several productive years in Cincinnati, Sanders became a "have bat, will travel" player, suiting up for seven different teams between 1998 and 2004. He provided decent pop and speed (one of just seven players with 300 HR and 300 SB, two more of whom are further down this list), as well as being a reasonably good defender. But he only made one All-Star team (1995) and had just one truly elite season (1995, with a .306/.397/.579 line, 28 bombs, and 36 steals). OUT.
Shawn Green (1993-2007)
.283/.455/.494, 328 HR, 162 SB, 120 OPS+, 31.4 rWAR, 34.9 fWAR
My dad will happily claim Shawn Green as the most accomplished fellow alumnus of Tustin High School (while simultaneously grumbling about the next-most-famous Tiller, ESPN's Doug Gottlieb), and he certainly ranks in the top ten for Jewish baseball players. An indifferent defender in right, Green had a big stick, thrice clubbing 40 homers in a season, with a high of 49 in 2001 for the Dodgers. For a few years he was also a running threat, turning in a 30-30 season with the Blue Jays in 1998, and he was named to two All-Star games. My favorite little factoid about Green was that he absolutely owned John Smoltz (.552 career average), to the point where Smoltz actually asked him how he could get him out during a game in 2007. Too bad he couldn't hit his entire career off of Smoltz clones. OUT.
Steve Finley (1989-2007)
.271/.332/.442, 2548 H, 304 HR, 320 SB, 104 OPS+, 40.4 rWAR, 44.2 fWAR
A physical marvel who played center field in his age-42 season, Finley's numbers bear some scrutiny for the anti-PED crowd. A speedy guy when he first came up, Finley had three seasons of 30+ steals through 1995 but only two seasons of double-digit home runs (10 and 11). Thereafter, his power numbers rose dramatically, as he his 257 of those home runs after turning 31, starting with a 30-homer season in 1996. A two-time All-Star ('97 and '00), Finley was regarded as an excellent fielder (five Gold Gloves between '95 and '04) whose reputation allowed him to stay in center even as his range slipped in his late thirties. A good center fielder, but not a great one. OUT.
David Wells (1987-2007)
4.13 ERA, 3439.0 IP, 2201 K, 719 BB, 108 ERA+, 239-157, 49.4 rWAR, 61.2 fWAR
Crafty lefty alert! The ageless Wells (44 in his final season) pitched for nine different teams, appearing in the playoffs with six of them (Blue Jays, Reds, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, and Padres), a record that he shares with just one other player. A three-time All-Star ('95, '98, and '00), Wells threw a perfect game in 1998 and won 20 games in 2000, both for the Yankees. As someone who did not necessarily look like an athlete, it's perhaps appropriate that Wells idolized Babe Ruth, sporting a Ruth tattoo and taking the mound for his first Yankees start in an authentic 1934 Ruth cap. He was something of a character, publishing a ghostwritten autobiography in early 2003 that was criticized for its inaccuracies. He was a durable pitcher, and at times a very good one, but never truly elite. OUT.
Julio Franco (1982-2007)
.298/.365/.417, 173 HR, 281 SB, 111 OPS +, 39.7 rWAR, 48.6 fWAR
There are ageless players, and then there was Julio Franco, who played regularly later in life (he was 49 when he suited up for the last time) than any position player ever. Given that he's Dominican, there's a chance that he might actually have been older than advertised. Franco played most of those seasons consecutively (he did spend a couple of them in Japan), and what is more, he looked half his age. The dude was absolutely shredded, which I suppose you would expect from someone whose regular breakfast was a 14-egg-white omelet, oatmeal, banana, and juice. In his 40s. Franco was runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year in 1983, when I was born, and last played in the majors a year after I had graduated from college. A three-time All-Star ('89-'91), Franco began life as a shortstop, eventually moving to his left, first to second base and then to first base. He piled up over 2500 hits and won the 1991 batting title with a .341 average, and holds all sorts of "oldest player" records. There definitely needs to be a Julio Franco exhibit in Cooperstown, but he doesn't quite have the juice to a plaque. OUT.
Kenny Lofton (1991-2007)
.299/.372/.423, 2428 H, 130 HR, 622 SB, 107 OPS+, 64.9 rWAR, 66.2 fWAR
Okay, we have an actual argument to make! Quick, name the two men to play in both a Final Four and a World Series. Lofton was the backup point guard for the Arizona Wildcats in 1988, and Tim Stoddard - who attended the same high school as Lofton - won a title for North Carolina State in 1974. The table-setter for those Cleveland offensive juggernauts in the mid-'90s, Lofton was the kind of leadoff hitter who can appeal to both traditionalists (led the AL in steals every year from 1992-96) and stat-heads (945 career walks and an 80% success rate on the basepaths). Lofton is the other man besides Wells to play in October for six different teams (Indians, Braves, Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants). He made six straight All-Star teams from 1994-1999 and won four Gold Gloves. As a leadoff hitter, he stands out as maybe the best in his era; there were all of those steals, and only once in a full season did he post an on-base percentage lower than .350. Some might disagree, but the evidence here is good enough for me. IN.
Curt Schilling (1988-2007)
3.46 ERA, 3261.0 IP, 3116 K, 711 BB, 127 ERA+, 216-146, 76.9 rWAR, 86.1 fWAR
Schilling is the greatest baseball player ever born in Alaska by a long, long stretch, and while some people might not think so, I believe that his Hall of Fame case is pretty solid. A rare strikeout pitcher with impeccable control, Schilling's career 4.38 K/BB ratio is the best of any pitcher who played after 1900, and he is one of only sixteen pitchers with more than 3000 strikeouts. Are you a traditionalist? How about three 20-win seasons, three runner-up Cy Young finishes, and six All-Star games? Playoff chops? Try an 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in 19 starts, a WHIP of 0.968, co-ownership of the 2001 World Series MVP, three rings, and, of course, the Bloody Sock Game, one of the three or four most famous pitching performances in postseason history. The defense rests. IN.
Craig Biggio (1988-2007)
.281/.363/.433, 3060 H, 291 HR, 414 SB, 112 OPS+, 62.1 rWAR, 70.5 rWAR
He may not get in on his first couple of tries, but Biggio's outstanding durability and piling up of counting stats will ensure his eventual induction. Converted from catcher to second base early in his career, Biggio had gap power (his 668 doubles are fifth all-time), speed, defense (four Gold Gloves), and toughness (he was plunked a record 285 times, and played in 2800 of a possible 3013 games over 19 seasons). He was, for a long time, the best second baseman in the National League, partly evidenced by seven All-Star selections and a pair of top-five MVP finishes ('97 and '98). Of his top ten career comps on Baseball-Reference, only #2 Derek Jeter and #9 Lou Whitaker are not (yet) in the Hall of Fame. IN.
Sammy Sosa (1989-2007)
.273/.344/.534, 2408 H, 609 HR, 234 SB, 128 OPS+, 54.8 rWAR, 64.1 fWAR
Regardless of his possible steroid use, Sosa was one of the most dangerous power hitters in the National League for several years, and an entertainer too. His sprints out to the field, huge swings (did anyone put more effort into their swing than Sammy?), and hops after sure home runs are all images that we have seen hundreds of times. At his peak (1998-2002), he hit 60 home runs three times, without ever actually leading the league (finishing second to Mark McGwire twice and Barry Bonds once). In his younger days he had a pair of 30-30 seasons, although he was not necessarily a terrific base-runner. And he remains the Zeus of the Dominican baseball pantheon (well, tied with Pedro and possibly Marichal). If this is supposed to be a Hall of Fame, how can you exclude someone as famous as Sosa? IN.
Mike Piazza (1992-2007)
.308/.377/.545, 2127 H, 427 HR, 143 OPS+, 56.1 rWAR, 66.8 fWAR
Homer alert! If your name is Clay and my appreciation for Piazza irritates you, feel free to skip down. Also, if you are my dad, you might want to apply the "Piazza rule" to this section lest he fall off the ballot entirely (for years it was a given that if my dad was watching a Piazza at-bat during a Mets game, the only outcomes were either a strikeout or a GIDP). Anyway, Piazza was the best-hitting catcher in baseball history, even if he couldn't throw out my arthritic grandmother trying to steal second base. He was also, unquestionably, the greatest draft steal in baseball history, a 62nd-round pick of the Dodgers in 1988 as a favor to his dad by family friend Tommy Lasorda. Piazza made 14 All-Star teams over 15 seasons, won the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year, 12 Silver Sluggers, and finished in the top ten in MVP balloting seven times. He twice hit 40 home runs, when his home parks were the offensive black holes of Dodger and Shea Stadiums. The fact that the hopeless Mets actually made a trade for Piazza was one of the seminal moments of my childhood, and he delivered for them. Have you seen the 2000 Mets team that he carried to the World Series? Apart from an excellent season by Edgardo Alfonzo, the lineup was below-average: older versions of Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura, Mike Bordick, Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Derek Bell, Rey Ordonez, Joe McEwing...oh, you think the pitching staff was superb? Mike Hampton and Al Leiter were very good, but they were followed by Glendon Rusch, Rick Reed, and Bobby Jones (Who? EXACTLY!), and the bullpen was anchored by Armando Benitez, who terrified opposing batters and Mets fans alike. So, yeah, Piazza carried that team, with a .324/.398/.614 slash line and 38 home runs. Next question. IN.
Roger Clemens (1984-2007)
3.12 ERA, 4916.2 IP, 4672 K, 1580 BB, 143 ERA+, 354-184, 133.1 rWAR, 145.5 fWAR
The numbers are incredible, as are the seven Cy Young Awards ('86, '87, '91, '97, '98, '01, '04), the MVP ('86), eleven All-Star selections, and two rings. He is certainly a Hall of Fame jackass, but hey, Ty Cobb is in there, so you can't hold that against him. Whatever chemical help he may have received, Clemens was a dominant pitcher across three decades who pitched the first 20-strikeout game in baseball history and was a genuine terror to hitters everywhere (specifically Piazza; who doesn't remember the inexplicable bat toss?). Part of me will enjoy watching him twist in the wind at the whim of the voters (my friends Kris and Chris are nodding solemnly right now), but it is impossible to deny his accomplishments. IN.
Barry Bonds (1986-2007)
.298/.444/.607, 2935 H, 762 HR, 514 SB, 182 OPS+, 158.0 rWAR, 168.1 fWAR
Read those numbers again. No, really. Then scroll up and compare them to the other hitters, specifically Piazza, Biggio, and Lofton. Piazza was a tremendous hitter, and he's not even in the same ballpark. If you are one of those people who discounts anything Barry did after he started juicing, here are his career numbers after 1998: .290/.404/.556 411 HR, 445 SB, 3 MVP Awards, 8 All-Star selections, and 8 Gold Gloves. That makes him essentially equal to Piazza, only with speed and defense. Then, of course, he went and turned into the most dangerous hitter in baseball history. Here are some things you may not be aware of. From 1992 (his last year in Pittsburgh) through the end of his career, Bonds' lowest OPS was .999 in 2006. After his rookie year, he never struck out 100 times in a season, but hit the century mark in walks fourteen times. In 2004, he was walked 120 times intentionally, a record that I expect will stand forever. His 688 career intentional passes are more than Jim Rice (670) or Andre Dawson (589), to name two Hall of Famers, had walks of any kind. Rickey Henderson and Babe Ruth are the only players within 500 walks of his 2558. He is the only player with 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. He won four more MVPs in the 2000s. In 2004, he reached base a ridiculous 367 times in 617 plate appearances, setting the OBP standard with a .609 mark. You could split his career between two people (pre-and-post-1998), and both of them would deserve to be elected on the first ballot. IN.
Whew. Twenty-four ballot rookies, and we still have over a third of the names to go. Next week I will review the thirteen players returning to the ballot.