A year ago, for the first time since 1996 no one was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. A lot of it was the backlash and a form of protest by the writers to a list of players who starred during the "Steroid Era."
Last year, I wrote a column stating my view that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, albeit their plaques should be displayed in a dark room in the basement somewhere. How can Major League Baseball rationalize not having the all-time home run leader, not to mention the all-time hits leader, in their Hall of Fame? And MLB is just going to ignore the most dominating pitcher of the last thirty years? Apparently so.
This year's field of first-time candidates includes many that writers will find more palatable to the taste buds. Still lurking in the shadows, however, will be the names of Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, and McGwire.
Last year, I would have voted in Bonds, Clemens, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, and Jack Morris. Voters are allowed to vote for as many as ten candidates for enshrinement. I think that is too many and like to limit myself to five. The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the best of the best. It should not be allowed to be watered down, which I feel it already has.
I have a very simple criteria for who should be in the Hall of Fame. My primary test is simply the eye test. I watched these players. I, as a fan of baseball, knew which hitters and which pitchers I was intimidated by. I knew which players I would want to tune in to watch. I knew which players were clutch and came up big in the postseason.
Numbers and stats are secondary. I have a good idea of what their numbers are. I don't need any sabermatrician breaking down WAR and UZRs for me. I also don't care how the stats of players today compare to players already in the Hall of Fame.
ERAs change in relation to eras, as do home runs, stolen bases, batting average, etc. One hundred years ago, "Home Run" Baker led the American League in home runs with ... nine. In 2013, Paul Goldschmidt and Pedro Alvarez tied for the National League lead in home runs with 36. In 2001, twenty-one players hit more than 36 home runs. In 1968, Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a .301 average.
Players need to be judged in the era they played. Now let's get to who I would vote into the Hall of Fame:
1. Greg Maddux. It is an absolute no-brainer to vote for one of the smartest pitchers of all-time. He wasn't blessed with overpowering stuff, but he had pinpoint control and could out-think any hitter. His 355 career wins (one ahead of Roger Clemens) may very well never be surpassed by any future pitcher. Oh, and he won a Gold Glove eighteen times!
2. Tom Glavine. The Billerica, Massachusetts native deserves to go into the Hall of Fame with longtime teammate Maddux. And next year, they should stand at the door to welcome the third member of their trio, John Smoltz. The names Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz should be linked in baseball history like "Tinker to Evers to Chance" or "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."
3. Mike Piazza. I don't get it. He is the best hitting catcher I have ever seen, yet only garnered 57.8% of the vote last year. 427 career home runs and a .308 career average? Absurd numbers for a catcher. Piazza was a 12-time All-Star. He is clearly a Hall of Famer in my book.
4. Jack Morris. Perhaps no one player (not suspected of using PEDs) has sparked more debate the last two years than Morris. He is an example of a guy that I don't care what the numbers say. Morris was a winner. He was a member of four World Series championship teams. He had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980's. He made a major league record fourteen consecutive Opening Day starts. Similar to Bert Blyleven, it might have taken a while, but Morris belongs.
5. Tim Raines. Along with Rickey Henderson, Raines revolutionized the leadoff position in the 1980's. He stole 70 or more bases six consecutive seasons from 1981-1986. Raines was a member of three World Series Championship teams.
Close, but not yet:
Frank Thomas. Here's an example of someone I actually had to go back and look at the numbers to remind me how good "The Big Hurt" was. My first reaction was that Thomas was not Hall-worthy, but I have gone back and forth since. Being a part of a winning team counts for a lot in my book. It's one of the things that helps Morris, and hurts players like Don Mattingly. Thomas never played in a World Series. Actually, he only appeared in the postseason three out of his nineteen seasons (hitting an abysmal .224). Maybe that's why I forgot about Thomas. But he did win back-to-back MVPs (1993, 1994) and compiled a .301 career average with 521 home runs. He finished top four in MVP voting another four years. Thomas will get in, but I have my rules (only five players, remember?).
Jeff Kent. His name intrigued me when I noticed he was on the ballot. The more I started thinking about it, the more I began thinking, "Why isn't Jeff Kent getting more buzz?" I think I may know why. Same reason it took Jim Rice so long to get into the Hall. Sportswriters don't like Jeff Kent, the man. A couple of things in Kent's favor are the position he played and that he won an MVP. Kent is one of the best hitting second basemen of my time. I think he is a better candidate for enshrinement than Craig Biggio among second basemen.
Jeff Bagwell. I wrote last year that he deserves to get in some day. He did win an MVP (1994). He appeared in one World Series (2005), but also was a flop in the postseason, hitting only .226. Bagwell had some monster years, but I would have liked to have seen him doing it over a longer time.
The elephants in the room:
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Hey, I said they deserved to be in last year. I still think they should. Baseball made their bed, now they need to lay in it. I just don't want to see Bonds and Clemens on the same stage with this group of players. Heck, if I were Maddux or Glavine, I'd strongly consider boycotting the induction ceremony if Bonds and/or Clemens were being inducted with me.
Thoughts on other candidates:
Edgar Martinez- put together maybe only eight or nine really great, standout seasons... oh yeah, and that DH thing.
Curt Schilling- I'm not ready to say "yes," yet. Great postseason record a major plus.
Larry Walker- No doubt his numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, but longevity and that Coors Field thing.
Fred McGriff- I feel guilty that I don't consider "The Crime Dog" more strongly, but I don't.
Lee Smith- Last year may have been his best chance to get in. Way too many other stronger candidates.
Mike Mussina- Again, very good pitcher, but great? 270 wins and a .638 winning percentage, though, so maybe.