My Hall of Fame ballot for 2015
Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.
This was the most difficult ballot I’ve ever filed and I’ve been voting since 1992. I deemed 17 players Hall of Fame worthy for 10 spots. Some years I might have been hard pressed to even find six. The logjam was caused by a great generation of pitchers on the ballot for the first time, joining those players who have been blocked for various reasons the last two years by my BBWAA colleagues. Add another with 3,060 hits, who missed by two votes and should have been elected earlier this year.
Before I get into it, here are the seven players, to my chagrin, who didn’t make the cut: Jeff Kent, who hit the most homers ever as a second baseman (351 of 377); Mark McGwire, the first player to hit 70 homers; Tim Raines, the National League’s equvilant to Rickey Henderson; newcomer Gary Sheffield and his 509 home runs; Lee Smith with 478 saves; Sammy Sosa, with 609 homers, and Alan Trammell, certainly a better offensive player than Ozzie Smith if not as fancy defensively. I gave all of them very serious consideration.
I’m not a big proponent of extending the size of the ballot, although I did vote at the most recent BBWAA meeting to increase the slots from 10 to 12, a recommendation to the Hall’s Board of Directors that I doubt will be accepted. Twelve slots would have made little difference to me this year, although I probably would have added Smith and Trammell. Both were grandfathered in when the Hall diminished the eligibility requirement for players on the BBWAA ballot from 15 years to 10 years. Smith has two more years of eligibility after this one and Trammell one. That’s why I would’ve voted for them had the extra spots been available. A player still needs five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot the next time around. Maybe next year, we’ll see.
Hall officials stated last summer that the new eligibility period makes the ballot more manageable. Actually, it moves players through the ballot process much faster. In defending the move, the Hall noted that shortening the eligibility period actually effects a very low percentage of candidates. Here are the actual numbers: since the BBWAA began voting for the inaugural Class of 1936, 115 players have been elected, 13 in their last five years under the historic rules of eligibility, 11.3 percent. That is hardly negligible. Most recently, Burt Blyleven was elected in his 14th year and Jim Rice in his 15th.
So let’s get back to my actual ballot, which is chocked with six pitchers, three of them –- Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz — on the ballot for the first time. Johnson is a slam dunk with 309 wins, a .646 winning percentage, and is second only to Nolan Ryan with 4,875 strikeouts. He won five Cy Young Awards, was an All-Star 10 times, split the 2001 World Series MVP with Schilling, pitched a perfect game, and his ninth highest lifetime WAR among pitchers of 104.3 is the tops of any pitcher not already in the Hall besides Clemens, who, like Bonds, is plagued by mitigating circumstances. Johnson, it can be argued, is the most dominant left-handed pitcher in baseball history.
Next up is Martinez, whose .687 winning percentage (219-100) over 18 seasons is the sixth highest in history and by far the best of his era. He’s next up in pitcher’s WAR at 17th (86.0) and 15 of those hurlers above him (sans Clemens and Johnson) are in the Hall. To me, though Pedro’s overall numbers are not outstanding, anyone who saw him pitch in his prime knows he was one of the most electric pitchers of his era.
But voting for Pedro created a quandary and made me take a second look at Schilling, who’s in his third year on the ballot and one guy I hadn’t voted for before. Schilling was 216-146, but in many ways he was just as dominant as Martinez. Schilling, of the bloody sock, was an 11-2 pitcher in the postseason and 4-1 in winning the World Series three times, once in Arizona and twice in Boston. In contrast, Pedro was 2-4 in the postseason and 1-2 in the World Series. Schilling’s WAR of 80.7 is 26th on the all-time list.
In my mind, if I voted for Pedro, I had to vote for Schilling. That made me take another look at Mussina, who had 270 wins and a .638 winning percentage in 18 years with the Orioles and Yankees. Mussina’s WAR of 82.7 is 24th on the all-time pitcher’s list, two spots above Schilling. Thus, if I voted for Pedro and Schilling, I also had to vote for Mussina, which I did, also for the first time.
That left Smoltz among the top first-ballot pitching candidates, completing the trifecta of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who all played for 10 years together on some great Braves teams. Maddux, with 355 wins and Glavine, with 305, both were inducted earlier this year. Smoltz doesn’t have those gaudy numbers. He split his career as a starter and closer, heading to the bullpen after Tommy John surgery knocked him out for the entire 2000 season. He had 213 wins and 154 saves. The obvious comparable is Dennis Eckersley, who was elected to the Hall with 197 wins and had 390 saves after Tony La Russa turned him from a starter to a lights out closer with the A’s in 1987. What put me over the edge on Smoltz was that he was part of Braves teams that won 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series. He was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in the postseason, the 15 wins second only to Andy Pettitte’s record 19.
The rest of my ballot was easy. Biggio is the only player with 3,000 or more hits not in the Hall except Pete Rose — suspended since 1989 for gambling — and Palmeiro, who failed a Major League Baseball-administered drug test. Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Bagwell all deserve to be in. They are tainted by the PED era and the perception they took drugs, although there’s no quantitative proof of that. Bonds is the all-time leader with 762 homers, Clemens had 354 wins, Bagwell’s 79.6 WAR is 37th on the all-time list of position players and tops among retired first basemen not yet elected to the Hall, and Pizza hit 396 of his 427 homers while playing behind the plate, the most ever among catchers.
Let the exchange of opinions begin.