It won’t happen, but here’s why Mariners greats Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez should go into the Hall of Fame together.
The first thing I did when I got my Hall of Fame ballot this year was happily check the box next to Ken Griffey Jr.’s name.
I’ve been anticipating this moment for roughly 5½ years, ever since Griffey drove away from the Mariners in June 2010 and started his Hall of Fame clock. In 21 years as a voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, it was the easiest choice I’ve ever had to make.
No need to crunch the numbers, no need to agonize over any steroids cloud hanging over him. Just formally honor one of the greatest careers in baseball history, and wait to see how close he’ll come to being a unanimous selection when the results are announced Wednesday. My guess: Griffey will surpass Tom Seaver’s record 98.84 percentage in 1992, but will fall short of unanimity. I’d love to be wrong on the second part.
Next I checked the box by Edgar Martinez’s name, because I have crunched those numbers very carefully and painstakingly. And I long ago came to the conclusion that Martinez’s statistical résumé is completely worthy of a Cooperstown residence.
I allowed myself a moment of reverie to imagine these two longtime teammates — partners in perhaps the greatest moment in Seattle sports history — standing on the stage together during July’s induction ceremony.
Then I snapped out of it, because the reality is that Martinez, in his seventh of 10 potential years on the writers’ ballot, has no chance of getting voted in this time. But here’s some encouraging news for the Edgar faithful: According to the tracking work done by Hall of Fame ballot guru Ryan Thibodaux, Martinez is at 46.7 percent on the 167 ballots that had been made public Tuesday afternoon.
That represents an increase of 30 votes — more than anyone else on the ballot. I’ve often felt that Martinez needed to first get over 50 percent to have a legitimate shot to catapult over the anti-DH bias and past the 75 percent threshold for Hall of Fame election.
My ballot again included the maximum allowed 10 candidates. A recent proposal from the BBWAA to expand the ballot to 12 names was rejected by the Hall of Fame. That decision, along with the Hall’s unilateral determination to shorten the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, have been widely interpreted as an attempt to keep the so-called “steroids candidates” out of Cooperstown.
I’ve explained my policy on the steroids issue numerous times, and it continues to irk a lot of people. So be it. I’ve agonized greatly over this question and decided it’s simply impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty who used and who didn’t, particularly in an era when steroids use was rampant.
Furthermore, players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were allowed to compete and remain in good standing with Major League Baseball. Their statistics have never been invalidated.
If the Hall of Fame is to accurately reflect the history of the game, I find it hard to justify leaving out two players who rank, by pure statistics, as two of the greatest ever. I’ll join ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in quoting columnist Ian O’Connor: “I’ll vote for the bad guys, but only if they’re really, really, good.”
So Bonds and Clemens continue to get my vote, as they have since they entered the ballot. Many have asked, if you’re voting for them, why not Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire? Simple answer: Bonds and Clemens were vastly superior players by virtually every measure.
My other holdovers from last year’s ballot are Tim Raines, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Raines is the best leadoff hitter in history not named Rickey Henderson and is long overdue for the Hall of Fame. Piazza is the best offensive catcher in history, with apologies to Johnny Bench, and fell just short of election last year at 69.9 percent. Bagwell ranks as one of the top first basemen in history in a wide range of statistical categories.
Piazza and Bagwell epitomize the steroids dilemma facing voters. The candidacy of both undoubtedly has been hurt by innuendo regarding PEDs, yet there is no definitive link involving either of them. But if and when they join the Hall — Bagwell is knocking on the door as well — I’m reminded of a quote by Bill James:
“Eventually, some players who have been associated with steroids are going to get into the Hall of Fame,’’ James wrote in 2009. “…If nothing else, somebody will eventually get in and then acknowledge that he used steroids.
“Once some players who have been associated with steroids are in the Hall of Fame, the argument against the others will become unsustainable.”
Not only do I wholeheartedly believe that, but I also feel that there’s a good chance that someone in the Hall right now used steroids and no one knows it. And I won’t even get into amphetamines, which were rampant in previous generations and are now categorized by MLB as performance-enhancing drugs.
There are a lot of layers to this issue. It’s a lot like discussing politics: People tend to get entrenched in their stances, and it’s hard to change minds. Which is why Bonds and Clemens remain longshots for election.
In the meantime, my final three votes went to players for whom the Hall of Fame debate will involve good, old-fashioned baseball issues: pitchers Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, and shortstop Alan Trammell.
The former two, superb starters in what was primarily an offense-dominated era, are on my ballot for the first time because of the spots vacated by last year’s election of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.
Trammell is someone I voted for years ago but had left off more recently because of the 10-player limit. This is his final year on the ballot, and he ranks comfortably among the best shortstops in history.
There were numerous other players to whom I gave strong consideration, especially closer Trevor Hoffman. I’m sure he will eventually get my vote, once the ballot clears. And we know for sure that one ballot spot — Griffey’s — will come open after Wednesday.