Growing up a baseball fan, I used to think I’d know who I’d vote for if I ever got a Hall of Fame vote. The BBA votes on the Hall of Fame Ballot every year. This is my first ballot. And to quote John Patrick Shanley, “I have doubts. I have such doubts!”
I’ve had issues already with voting in the past. Click here to re-live that dilemma. But I feel like the Hall of Fame vote is even bigger. It’s forever. One of my last posts had HoF undertones as I examined the worthiness of Andruw Jones when it came to joining the Hall. I argued both sides and had no issues filling the entire post, and that’s just for one player, much less the 37 on the ballot this year. Luckily I was able to eliminate most of them pretty much immediately. I’ve listed those guys below as the ones I didn’t even consider voting for:
Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Reggie Sanders, Shawn Green, Jeff Cirillo, Woody Williams, Rondell White, Ryan Klesko, Aaron Sele, Roberto Hernandez, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Mike Stanton, Sandy Alomar, Jose Mesa, Todd Walker, Fred McGriff, Bernie Williams, David Wells, Alan Trammel, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez and Kenny Lofton.
Out of the remaining players we have a few different groups. We have steroid users. We have great players that won a lot of awards, but didn’t reach any of the “magic numbers” that gain you entry into the Hall. And last we have some players that were solid, but didn’t seem to capture the Hall of Fame spirit for one reason or another. We’ll start with that last group.
The players in this group are Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Lee Smith.
Smith was a great closer. He had more Saves than anyone in baseball, and held that title for a while. However that was his only real threat to making it. Since then, two players have obliterated his record with over 600 Saves (Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera) while others who are right behind him on the list aren’t anywhere near Hall material (Troy Percival, Jose Mesa, Roberto Hernandez). In addition, he only led the league in Saves (his signature stat) 3 times while having pedestrian ERA and WHIP numbers. It was a different time back then, but his overall numbers just weren’t impressive enough, and other than All Star appearances, he wasn’t very awarded in his day. He was the easiest to dismiss.
That brings us to Tim Raines, whose numbers compare favorably with Ricky Henderson’s. Henderson has over 3000 hits and the stolen base record. Raines does not. But he has a higher career batting average (294 to 279). He also won a batting title and led the league in steals his first four years in the league. Raines is 5th on the all time stolen bases list, and one of only 5 guys with 800+ SBs. However he never got higher than 5th in MVP voting, won only one 1 Silver Slugger and no Gold Gloves. Raines is one of the best base stealers of all time, but outside of that his numbers aren’t good enough for the Hall, no matter how similar his numbers are to Henderson’s (compare them some time….you’ll be surprised).
That leaves me with Jack Morris and Jeff Bagwell. If you asked me before this season, I’d have said no to both right away. But after reading this article by Tim Brown I re-thought it. Brown was interviewing Morris, they talked about the HoF vote and Morris told Brown to consider every CG that he had as a Save. That makes Morris compare very comparatively to Dennis Eckersley. That helped Morris a lot in my view. But his 3.90 ERA and 1.29 WHIP aren’t that great. He also only got 2,478 Ks in 18 years. The CGs are impressive, but, again, it was a different era back then. It helps his cause, but I’m still not sure about him.
Jeff Bagwell played in the steroid era. Most people believe that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs. But, when compared to everyone else who played in his era, his numbers don’t look as strong. Is that fair? The article I linked earlier tackles the question that Bagwell makes us consider. If you didn’t use steroids, and played in the steroid era, are your numbers allowed to be a little less impressive? It’s admirable that you resisted temptation to take the steroids. If we let steroid users and their inflated numbers in the Hall (another question entirely) then we should certainly allow you and your slightly lesser numbers in, right? Bagwell had a great career. He won an MVP and a Rookie of the Year. He also won 3 Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. He was a career 297 hitter with 449 HR, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 R and 202 SB. Those numbers show me a well-rounded player, who had speed, power and could drive in some guys. Did he have any “magic numbers”? No. Did he play in an era of cheaters, resist the temptation to cheat though it could have prolonged his career and made him more money and still have numbers that were almost as good as the guys who did cheat? Yes. Should that count for something? Absolutely. Is it enough for him to make the Hall? Well that’s the question isn’t it?
Obviously steroids are an issue. Not just for the guys who took them, but also for the guys who played with them. Bagwell’s numbers don’t stack up well to the leaders of his era, but they are still great. Is there an element of wanting to reward him for not taking steroids? Yes. Is that a good enough reason to put him in the Hall? No. Is that extra oomph enough to push his good numbers to Hall of Fame territory? Yes. That’s what we have to consider now. It’s more than numbers. You have to consider what a player did in comparison to others who played with him and others who played his position. That helps Bagwell. It hurts Raines and Morris.
Some players were giants of their eras. They won a lot of awards or championships. However they may not meet the “magic number” requirements.
Okay you’ve said “magic numbers” like 6 times. What are those?
Thanks for the question Mr. Italics. Some milestones in baseball are more impressive. Reaching those milestones used to mean you would be a shoo-in for Cooperstown. Those numbers were 300 Wins, 3,000 hits and 500 HR. However, great pitchers aren’t getting to 300 Wins anymore due to the way the game has changed. The 500 HR club has been sullied with steroid users. And 3,000 hits have come close to losing meaning due to compliers. Knowing that, does that mean you have to be friendlier in considering the career numbers of other guys? Who am I thinking about? Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy.
Mattingly had 2,153 hits, 222 HR and a 307-career batting average. Good numbers. Not great. But he won an MVP, 9 Gold Gloves and 3 Silver Sluggers. That’s a lot of hardware. Plus 6 All Star appearances. He was a great player in his generation who won a lot of games with the Yankees. He also only played 14 years. His numbers are good, but frankly not really close to any magic numbers. It’s the awards that are impressive. And he won a ton of games with the Yankees.
Dale Murphy was even more awarded for some bad Atlanta Braves teams. His numbers were a little better than Mattingly’s, with 2,111 hits, 398 HR, and 161 SB. He had 2 MVPs, 5 Gold Gloves and 4 Silver Sluggers with his 7 All Star appearances. He was more awarded, but his team wasn’t as good. Should team success matter? Maybe in some sports, but I don’t think it matters in much in baseball. Although good players on bad teams sometimes have it tougher as they get pitched around.
Murphy and Mattingly were good. Great in their time. The awards show that. I think that helps their overall chances, though their numbers may fall a little short. What’s next?
Well then there’s the question of does it mean more to be a first ballot hall of famer than to get in on your 4th, 7th or 14th try? I think so. There are three players that I think belong in the Hall at some point (Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling). I considered their numbers and think they are good enough, but none of them are icons. At least in my opinion. Will I vote for them in the future? Yes. Will I vote for them this year? Maybe. Part of me wants to wait for a year or two then give them my vote. But then they may already be in. And that may also mean that I don’t vote for anyone this year. Should that matter to me? I don’t know. But it does.
Okay so that’s the little stuff that, frankly, isn’t that little. A lot to think about. I’ve got a lot in this post, so I’m going to break it up into two parts. I’ve tackled the first chunk of issues, but I’ll save the big issue for the next post. Check back to see my thoughts on steroids users in the Hall and take a look at the guys I actually voted into Cooperstown.