Baseball HOF voters will come up short if no player is elected this year

There are no shortage of sports topics for which I like to obsess about: the Minnesota Twins, fantasy football, the push for NHL teams in the South to return to the North, etc.

Sometimes those rants can get a little long, which is pretty much what happened with me on Twitter yesterday. Twitter was not built for such rants as my Baseball Hall of Fame one. It merits a blog post instead.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inductees will be announced tomorrow, assuming that there are any to announce at all. According to Baseball Think Factory, which keeps a running tally of voters’ ballots when they are posted online, has 125 ballots so far tabulated. And the results? No player has the 75 percent needed to be inducted. Still a lot of votes missing – roughly 80 percent – but it’s still telling.

There are “big” Hall of Fame guys – people who want lots of players in – and “small” Hall of Fame guys. I’ve always thought of myself as a small Hall guy, keeping Cooperstown induction limited to only the best.

Yet I would be stunned to see no player inducted when the ballot appears to have no shortage of players worth voting for, even if you’re like me and don’t think known performance-enhancing drug users should be in.

And that’s where things get messy. That’s why some voters have opted not to submit a ballot, or submit an empty one (the latter counts against the vote totals of other players).

Some writers are uncomfortable with having to vote for PED users and suspected PED users. Everyone has their own opinion of who should be included in the process, and that’s fine by me. But to me, there are quite a few worthy players on the ballot with no known reason to suspect them of PEDs, so to submit a blank ballot is pretty unfair to the clean players.

Example: Craig Biggio has 3,000 career hits. No player eligible has been left out of the HOF with 3,000 hits. He’ll get in one day. So why the wait?

And if you’re worried about voting in someone who we might find out later on did test positive for PEDs during baseball’s anonymous testing (like David Ortiz did during 2003 testing), I understand the concern.

But sometimes cheaters get away with it. Gaylord Perry threw a spitball, and is in the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were once involved in a scandal to throw a game (both were cleared, but there was solid evidence implicating them). Use of amphetamines in the 1960s and 1970s was widespread.

Some guys get away with it, and some guys don’t. That’s life. And my take is I’d rather let a couple of steroid users into the Hall than keep a couple of innocent, deserving players out of it due to suspicions.

So, as I did last year, here are the players that would get my vote if I had a ballot:

  • Jeff Bagwell. What I wrote last year about Bagwell pretty much sums up my thoughts this year. “If after his Hall induction we find out that he took steroids – and yes, I wouldn’t vote for anyone that took steroids – so be it. Sometimes people get away with it. That’s life. Not every criminal is apprehended. There are cheaters in the Hall of Fame right now. But I believe in innocent until proven guilty.” Had 449 career homers and a .948 OPS.
  • Craig Biggio. The great Joe Posnanski thinks that Biggio will be the recipient of collateral damage due to this ballot if he doesn’t get in. That’s very true. More than 3,000 hits. Bill James said in 2001 that Biggio is the fifth-best second baseman of all-time. Also played extensively at catcher and center field (who does that?). Five seasons of 20+homers. Four Gold Gloves. He’s in, and he shouldn’t have to wait.
  • Edgar Martinez. What I wrote last year still rings true: “The stats are just too good to ignore for me, even if he was often injured throughout his career and rarely played in the field. Hit .312 with a .418 OBP over 18 major league seasons in Seattle. His 147 OPS+ (basically his OPS in comparison to the era he played and ballpark he called home) is 40th all-time, tied with Jim Thome, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell. That should give you an idea of the company he keeps on that list. He’s ahead of modern players like Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder.”
  • Fred McGriff. I think McGriff is someone who is only going to look better on the ballot as the years go by during our current pitchers’ era. McGriff hit 493 homers in 19 seasons. He slugged better than .500 for his career and made five All-Star Games, and probably lost out on other selections due to juiced-up contemporaries. Enjoyed a seven-year peak from 1988-94 in which he hits 242 homers (35 per season) and slugged .545 with a .390 OBP. Yet remarkably in that peak, only two of his All-Star selections occurred.
  • Jack Morris. Didn’t have him on my fake ballot last year. Morris collected 67 percent of the vote last year, a number that every player who has reached it has eventually gotten in. MLB Network made an interesting comparison between Morris and Mickey Lolich that was eye-opening. Morris’ 3.90 ERA would be the worst among Hall of Famers if elected. But he won 254 games, was a five-time All-Star, was top-five in Cy Young voting five times. Won World Series with three different franchises, twice serving as the undisputed ace on those teams. Had a 2.96 ERA in seven World Series starts. Another interesting stat: No AL pitcher in the DH era has more eight-plus inning starts than Morris (248). Hard to imagine that getting matched again. He was the ultimate workhorse.
  • Mike Piazza. Piazza might be the most fascinating case on the ballot. It seems that most baseball fans probably think that Piazza did steroids. And the story fits. After all, Piazza was a former 62nd-round draft pick (a favor to Tommy Lasorda) who became the greatest offensive catcher of all time. Piazza is the best example of my stance that there just isn’t enough evidence to keep him out.
  • Tim Raines. I love this guy’s case. Only got 48 percent of the votes last year. But I could go on and on about Raines’ numbers. He ranks fifth in stolen bases, and among players with more than 300 steals, he is the most efficient base stealer who ever lived. He hit .294 in a 23-year career, and he had a peak from 1981-87 with Montreal where he hit .310 and stole 504 bases (72 per season) and 63 triples. This one seems to easy to me.
  • Curt Schilling. Best strikeout-to-walk ratio in major league history of anyone with at least 1,000 innings pitched. Only 216 career wins in 20 seasons, but an ERA+ of 127 and a career WHIP of 1.137. And the postseason counts for me too just as it did for Morris. Led the Phillies to a World Series appearance and the Red Sox and Diamondbacks to titles. Postseason stats are sick: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 19 starts. World Series ERA: 2.06. Wow!
  • Alan Trammell. Another guy I added from last year. I’ve been swayed. Enjoyed a 20-year career entirely with the Detroit Tigers. Six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. If you believe in WAR (wins above replacement), Posnanski points out that Trammell ranks tied for sixth among shortstops behind only Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Arky Vaughan and Luke Appling. I’m not sure Trammell has the classic peak some voters desire. But 20 years at shortstop hitting .285 really doesn’t happen that often.
  • Larry Walker. What I wrote last year: “The Coors Field homer-happy reputation has no doubt hurt his candidacy. He hit .313 for his career and slugged .565. Those are facts. From 1994 (when he was not calling Colorado home) to 2002, he hit .339 with a .631 slugging percentage and averaged 28 homers and 15 steals per season. And while I can’t find advanced defensive metrics for the prime of his career, he did win seven Gold Gloves. I know the Denver air helped him, but I just can’t ignore his numbers and Gold Gloves. He was unquestionably a better hitter at home during his career. But maybe he just felt more comfortable at home too. In 1999, he hit .461 at Coors Field. Thin air or not, there was more going on there than just altitude.”

There is no Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, nor should there be. Baseball may not have been governing itself against PED use, but it was still an illegal activity that gave them distinct advantages over their peers. And there’s just too much evidence that they used for me to ignore.

I would keep them out.

Finally, I’ll leave you with Raines’ most memorable moment. This was Raines’ first game in 1987 after collusion kept him from being on a team in the season’s first month. He had quite a debut in this May game against the Mets on national TV.

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