Before revealing my ballot, I should say a few words about how I think about Hall of Fame voting. Everyone has their own twist on the Hall of Fame, which is why voting generates such heated and interesting debate. You deserve to know my own views.
First and foremost, I see the Hall of Fame as the physical manifestation of Major League Baseball's ongoing narrative. It should capture what it means to experience the game at its best through every generation. This view has some significant implications on this year's ballot:
- Steroid users should enter the Hall of Fame. Steroids were a part of a whole generation of the game at the turn of the millennium. The Hall of Fame should capture the best of every generation, regardless of how good or bad the generation was. I wouldn't say that I want to celebrate PED use, but letting steroid users in the hall is necessary to treasure the best the 1990s and 2000s had to offer. PEDs tarnished the generation, but rendering all accomplishments and memories for an entire time period meaningless is excessive.
- Designated hitters should also be in the Hall of Fame. The DH isn't an experiment anymore. It's been around for 40 years now. Like it or not, the DH is part of the game, so it demands some recognition in the Hall of Fame. It is part of MLB's narrative.
- Narratives are about more than performance. The best players tend to produce the best the game has to offer, but there is some wiggle room in my view. The absolute greatest of all-time transcend no matter what context they played in. However, the interesting Hall of Fame cases involve the tier of players below GOAT status. I'd rather enshrine a borderline player who contributed to some larger piece of MLB's narrative than a player who did not. This makes my Hall of Fame a bit less scientific, but welcome to reality. The best moments tend to be a combination of skill and good fortune. I'm okay with a Hall of Fame that embraces that reality.
Without further ado, my selections this year.
Jeff Bagwell - Bagwell's production through the 1990s rivaled known juicers, even though he most likely wasn't one. He hit dingers but should also get credit for the well-rounded game he brought to the ballpark. Bagwell ended up with over 200 steals, a surprising total for a slugging first basemen. He also had a discerning eye, as evidenced by his career .408 on-base percentage. Bagwell was a dynamic offensive talent, won an MVP award, and had a unique style with his big crouch and backwards step in the batter's box. He's a rather easy Hall of Fame choice for me.
Barry Bonds - Obviously, the only thing keeping Bonds out of the Hall is his PED use. PEDs aren't an impediment for me, so he's in.
Roger Clemens - See Barry Bonds.
Tom Glavine - Believe it or not, Glavine is a borderline case for me. The most impressive thing on his resume is 300 career victories, and that is impressive. He might be the last pitcher ever to get 300 wins with how pitcher use has evolved in the game. However, Glavine also somehow mustered a pair of Cy Young awards despite pitching in Greg Maddux's shadow his entire career. The historical significance of 300 victories, combined with the legendary Braves pitching staff he helped anchor in the 1990s, got him on my ballot.
Greg Maddux - Easiest decision on my ballot. Should be an easy decision on everyone's ballot. Yeah, Maddux got a "healthy" outside corner from umps, but it was only so noticeable because he was unfairly good at exploiting it over and over and over with his pinpoint accuracy.
Edgar Martinez - I'll admit I probably am biased because Edgar is my favorite player ever, but the DH award is named after him and he is the consensus greatest DH of all-time. That alone is enough to place him in my Hall of Fame.
Mark McGwire - I'll admit that this is my most borderline choice. McGwire has admitted to steroid use. He was basically a one-trick pony, more or less, as his entire candidacy rests on the back of all the baseballs he sent sailing into the stands (and beyond). He doesn't hold the single season home run record, and his career home run total doesn't look so impressive in context of PEDs and the turn-of-millenium power surge. However, McGwire was the right slugger at the right time. He was the first man to get past 61 home runs. Too many people have forgotten how hallowed that mark was when McGwire bested it. He captivated the nation for the entire 1998 season. I remember buzz very early in that year because he ended 1997 on a home run binge and got off to a quick enough start in 1998 to make people wonder. McGwire wasn't just a star; for the summer of 1998 he was an iconic hero that transcended the game. That makes Mark McGwire worthy of Cooperstown in my book.
Mike Piazza - The greatest slugging catcher of all-time. His hitting more than made up for his defensive limitations.
Frank Thomas - Somehow, despite back-to-back MVP awards in the 1990s, I think Frank Thomas is underrated. Maybe the problem is his nickname. "The Big Hurt" got more than his fair share of home runs, but he was one of the most complete hitters to ever play the game. He walked more than he struck out for his career, batted over .300 despite limited speed, and threw in nearly 500 doubles to go with his 521 career home runs. Great nickname, significant recognition in his prime, tremendous stats...Thomas has a well-rounded Hall of Fame resume that hopefully gets him in sooner rather than later.
Craig Biggio - His candidacy is largely built on 3,000 hits which he compiled by playing longer than he probably should have (at least as an everyday player).
Jeff Kent - Strength of his case is how much power he provided as a second basemen. However, he was never a great defender, drove in a ton of runs thanks in large part to all the walks Barry Bonds drew in front of him, and somehow found a way to make Bonds look like a nice guy when compared to him. Kent falls in the "very good" category for me, which falls short of enshrinement.
Fred McGriff - I think McGriff gets overshadowed and probably underrated, but he again is a victim of the "very good" status for me. He gets lost in the shuffle of his slugging peers at first base, and also lost in the shuffle of his own teams (namely the iconic pitching staffs of the 1990s Braves teams he played on).
Jack Morris - I don't see a Hall of Famer in Jack's stats. Maybe I would feel differently if I had actually watched Morris pitch in his prime because it seems that many of his strongest defenders build their case on anecdotes. I'm not opposed to anecdotes in the Hall of Fame (see my case for Mark McGwire) but I don't see Jack Morris as a transcendent figure. He needs to be to overcome the stats in my book.
Mike Mussina - Mussina is a borderline case for me, and I opted on excluding him. He was always among the game's best but lacks a signature moment, signature season, stunningly great peak, or remarkable longevity. Borderline cases have to have something compelling for me to include them, and Mussina falls short of that.
Rafael Palmeiro - I'm not as bothered by Palmeiro's positive drug test at the tail end of his career. The 500 home runs and 3,000 hits are impressive, but he collected both so quietly in part because he was a bit like Mussina - always among the best at his position, but never the best. He also lacks a signature moment, season, or remarkable peak. He did have longevity that allowed for the impressive career totals but those totals happen to fall in categories where crazy inflated totals were the norm during his playing days.
Tim Raines - The sabermetrician in me appreciates Raines's game. He was a remarkably efficient player with incredible base running, deceptive speed only because he played under Rickey Henderson's shadow, and underrated power. Still, Raines is a borderline case for me because the outfield has one of the higher Hall of Fame standards and his value is so quiet and cerebral in nature. I'll admit that I might feel differently if I had actually seen him play in his prime.
Curt Schilling - Schilling was my last cut on the ballot. I could have included him as the tenth person (I only inducted nine if you count them up). He has lots going for him - the bloody sock, the dynamic duo he made with Randy Johnson in Arizona, high strikeout totals in his prime, stunning control as he aged. The career ERA is a bit high but he played his career in hitter's parks in a hitter's era. In the end, I looked at my ballot and had already eliminated Mussina and Morris, while including Maddux and Glavine. I asked myself which pitchers Schilling was closer to, and the answer was obvious to me: Mussina and Morris. I hope somebody votes for Schilling though. Even as I write about him I wonder if I should put him on my ballot.
Lee Smith - I only include Smith as a "notable" omission because he has enough support in the real vote. Smith's candidacy, if you ask me, is a product of serendipitous timing. He was a nice relief pitcher that began saving games right before closers became a legit thing in baseball. As a result, he was the all-time saves leader for a spell before saves became the asset that they are today. There were pioneers (Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter) before him and men who perfected the craft (Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera) after him. Smith is an easy omission on my ballot.
Sammy Sosa - It is fair to call me a hypocrite for including McGwire and excluding Sosa, because the case for both of them is quite similar. However, all of Sosa's value is wrapped up in his peak (which was quite impressive), whereas McGwire had a big more longevity. McGwire was also more of a cultural icon, in my opinion, partly because there was more anticipation that he could be the guy to break the record. Sosa burst on the scene out of nowhere, not unlike Roger Maris from way back when. Roger Maris, by the way, isn't a Hall of Famer.
Larry Walker - Even though I thought Walker was an amazing hitter during his playing days I never saw him as a Hall of Famer. He was too injury-proned. Maybe that's unfair, but could a team really ever count on him as the anchor of their offense? I don't think so. His numbers are comparable to Hall of Famers despite the injuries, which some might argue works in favor of his Hall of Fame case. But I don't care about a perfectly scientific Hall of Fame that rewards rate stats. For me, Walker is a great player but lacks any definitive piece in his resume to make him a Hall of Famer in my book.
There's plenty of room to debate my choices. Who makes the Hall of Fame on your ballot?