The newest inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced Wednesday afternoon on the MLB Network. It will be the most intriguing vote in the illustrious history of the Hall.
Statistically speaking, the best hitter and pitcher of the last seventy years are on the ballot for the first time. They should be no-brainer first ballot inductees. Yet, odds are, the names "Barry Bonds" and "Roger Clemens" will not be announced on Wednesday. There is some speculation that no names will be announced as a sort of protest by the sportswriters against the "Steroid Era" which has cast a cloud over every statistical accomplishment over the last fifteen years, at least.
It creates an ethical tightrope for voters. Baseball purists were dreading the arrival of this day. What to do with the best players of the last two decades? Do we just ignore them? Pretend Barry Bonds didn't break Hank Aaron's home run record? As far as I know, Bonds' name still sits atop the record books. Have we taken away the four Cy Young Awards that Roger Clemens won after he turned 35 and awarded it to whoever finished second those years? I've looked on various web sites and they all still list Clemens as the winner in 1997, 1998, 2001, and 2004. That's not to mention the other three which he won in 1986, 1987, and 1991 when he was supposedly "clean".
We can't just delete a decade from baseball history. These are not the Watergate tapes. Nixon might have been able to erase 18 minutes, but Bud Selig cannot erase 18 years.
For these reasons, I give the slightest of nods to Bonds and Clemens in the direction of the doors to enter the Hall of Fame. I would warn them not to expect too many people to hug them as they enter.
Maybe they should build a separate wing of the Hall, maybe in the basement, paint it black, dim the lights, and dedicate it to the "Steroid Era." This is where they could tell the story of the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 which brought baseball back from its doldrums. Fans were still bitter about the baseball strike that cancelled the 1994 postseason. But Sosa and McGwire brought fans back. Who can forget Big Mac giving forearm smashes or Sosa blowing kisses to the sky following their 40th, 50th, 60th, and beyond home runs (not good English, I know)? For good or bad, it's part of baseball's history.
Bonds and Clemens were far and away the best during this time. Yes, I give them credit for being great players even before they allegedly became "dirty." Any other players who were caught using any form of performance enhancing drugs during this time I wouldn't be as kind. That goes for McGwire, Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro. Without cheating, these players would have been above average players, but not superstars.
Now that I got that moral dilemma out of the way, here are the other, less controversial, players I would vote for entry:
Mike Piazza- I just don't get why I'm not seeing near unanimous approval of Piazza. He is far and away the best hitting catcher I've ever seen. I'm sure a lot of it is the speculation that he might have been on something. It is the problem with the greats of the Steroid Era is you just don't know who was clean or not. So I choose not to speculate too much. 400-plus home runs and a lifetime batting average over .300 (.308, actually) for a catcher is far and away good enough for admission to the Hall of Fame.
Tim Raines- Raines is second only to Rickey Henderson as the best leadoff hitter I've ever seen. Raines had six consecutive seasons of 70 or more stolen bases. Let that sink in for a minute. How durable do you have to be to sustain that kind of wear and tear? His 808 career stolen bases ranks fifth all-time. The original "Rock" deserves to get in... and with a Montreal Expos cap.
Jack Morris- One of the best big game pitchers I have ever seen. Morris should be enshrined almost based solely on his historic 10-inning shutout victory over the Braves in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series... at the age of 36. The best word to describe Jack Morris is he was a winner. He was a member of four World Series Championship teams. He was also the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. How can you leave the guy with the most wins in a decade out of the Hall of Fame? I don't care if his career ERA was 3.90.
And that's it.
I see Morris' longtime teammate with the Tigers, Alan Trammell, getting a lot of love. Trammell would've probably been considered the best hitting shortstop of the 80's were it not for being vastly overshadowed by Cal Ripken, Jr. Quite honestly, I'd consider his longtime double play partner, Lou Whitaker, more than I would Trammell.
Former Houston Astros' teammates Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio deserve strong consideration, but come up just short in my book. Despite Biggio having over 3,000 hits (typically an automatic ticket to the Hall), Bagwell is the better candidate and somewhere down the road I think I might change my mind. He is another one who suffers from playing in the Steroid Era and his best years came right in the heart of it. But they were some great years, averaging 38 HR, 119 RBI, 121 runs, .297 average, and 17 stolen bases per season from 1996-2003.
Biggio was a hard-nosed player (second all-time being hit by a pitch 285 times), but at no point did I ever consider him one of the best players in baseball. Sure he had 3,000 hits, but he played for 20 years. 150 hits per year doesn't impress me.
I'd love to see Lee Smith get in, but I have a hard time thinking of a Hall of Famer as someone who played for nine teams. But he was one of the most menacing closers I've ever seen.
Dale Murphy is a one of the nicest guys to ever grace the field. He was also one of the smoothest defensive centerfielders I've seen with one of the strongest arms. Oh yeah, and he won the National League MVP back-to-back years (1982, 1983). He just needed maybe two or three more productive years and a batting average (.265) maybe twenty points higher to get in.
Edgar Martinez was a great, great hitter-- one of the best right-handed hitters of all-time -- but baseball is more than just hitting. I would never vote for a strictly DH player for the Hall of Fame... but if I did, it would be for Edgar.
Larry Walker was a unique player. He was a big man who could hit, run, and throw. As hard as it is to overlook his .313 career average, unfortunately, I can. He played, mostly, in the high altitude of Colorado... during a period of suspected juiced balls... and during the Steroid Era. How much could any combination of those factors have inflated his numbers?
And, finally, there is Curt Schilling. As a Rhode Islander, I have a hard time ignoring my negative personal feelings towards Schilling for the way his failed video game venture further crippled a financially-strapped state. Having said that, Schilling is a borderline Hall of Fame member. In fact, I think he is very similar to Jack Morris. Like Morris, one needs to look beyond just the numbers and see that Schilling was a winner. Schilling was a member of three World Series Championship teams, including the first one in Boston in 86 years. While his career ERA (3.46 ERA) may not be that impressive, his postseason statistics are incredible. In a remarkable 19 postseason starts, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. Who will ever forget the "bloody sock" game against the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs? In the World Series, Schilling was even better-- 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA. Schilling also had three seasons of 300 or more strikeouts. That's probably something we may never see again in this age of pitch-limits and innings caps. He ended up 15th all-time in strikeouts with 3,116.
The remarkable thing is that Schilling was never even considered the best pitcher on his team in those championship years. He was always considered the number two guy behind Randy Johnson (in Arizona) and Pedro Martinez (in Boston). He'll get in some day, but like Morris, he'll need to wait.
Inductees will be announced Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the MLB Network. It should be interesting.