As has been the case in recent years, I voted for the maximum 10. Actually, I like to put it slightly differently. I voted for three, and re-voted for seven. My new votes were first-timers Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero as well as Trevor Hoffman.
When Cooperstown’s Class of 2017 is announced Wednesday, it could be a momentous day in Baseball Hall of Fame annals.
One year after Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr. was elected with 99.3 percent of the vote — I’m still searching for those three fools who left him off their ballots — former teammate Edgar Martinez is poised to make a stunning leap that puts him on the brink of induction in his final two years on the ballot.
Furthermore, after years of ballot stagnation, as many as five former players could be voted in by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who seem to be undergoing a fundamental change in the way they evaluate candidates.
In his 10th and final year on the ballot, Tim Raines is a virtual lock to get in, judging by revealed ballots compiled by Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker. Raines was at 22.6 percent after his second year on the ballot, seemingly hopeless to ever reach the 75 percent threshold. Now he’s polling at 89.8 percent of the 218 votes Thibodaux has tracked down out of the estimated 435 cast. That’s a testament to the willingness of voters to wrap their minds around new methods of judging players’ worthiness.
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Jeff Bagwell, likewise, is almost guaranteed to be announced as a Hall of Famer in his seventh year on the ballot. Bagwell, polling 88.4 percent on Thibodaux’s tracker, has been hampered by vague, unproven steroids suspicion, which is becoming a less-volatile factor, as we’ll discuss. I’ve voted for Raines and Bagwell every year they’ve been on the ballot, so their slow rise is gratifying.
Two first-timers on the ballot, Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, appear to be coin flips to make it this year. Pudge is at 78.2 percent and Vlad at 72.0 percent, so it will all depend on how the 49 percent of mystery votes swing the election.
Finally, reliever Trevor Hoffman is borderline as well in his second year on the ballot. Hoffman is at 72.4 percent, but interestingly, closers have historically done better among voters who don’t disclose their ballot. So Hoffman has a solid chance to hear his name called.
It was just four years ago, in 2013, that the BBWAA didn’t see fit to vote in anyone. In three of the previous five years, they voted in just one player. The result has been a clogged ballot that hampered candidates such as Martinez, who was often the “odd man out” for those voters constricted by the 10-man limit. But with three BBWAA candidates inducted in 2014, four in 2015, two in 2016 and perhaps three, four or five this year, the ballot finally is opening up, which further bodes well for Martinez in his final two years of eligibility.
Here, then, is the ballot I submitted, revealed last month on Twitter but amplified here. As has been the case in recent years, I voted for the maximum 10. Actually, I like to put it slightly differently. I voted for three, and re-voted for seven. Once you vote for a player once, it takes real extenuating circumstances not to keep including him on your ballot. My new votes were first-timers Rodriguez and Guerrero as well as Hoffman, who filled the final spot opened up by the selection of Griffey and Mike Piazza last year, and the departure of Alan Trammell, no longer eligible.
In alphabetical order:
• Jeff Bagwell. I think the election of Piazza, subject to the same steroids innuendo as Bagwell, made it easier to vote for Bagwell, who fell just short last year. His career line of a .297 batting average/.408 on-base percentage/.540 slugging percentage (much of it done at the hitter-unfriendly Astrodome) speaks for itself. But throw in above-average defense at first base and stellar baserunning (202 stolen bases), and Bagwell is a slam dunk. For the sabermetrically inclined, Bagwell’s 79.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) ranks fourth among first baseman after 1900, behind just Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and Jimmie Foxx.
• Barry Bonds. No need to debate the credentials. Bonds’ statistical package rivals anyone’s in baseball history, up to and including Babe Ruth. It’s a matter of how you judge those linked to steroids, and I’ve been clear on that, having voted for Bonds each of his five years on the ballot. I feel like it was such a murky era, with so much uncertainty over who did or didn’t use steroids — with results that were not invalidated by MLB — that I have opted to vote purely on performance.
And more voters are coming around to my way of thinking, clearly swayed further by the Hall of Fame election of former commissioner Bud Selig this year by the veteran’s committee. The thinking is, if the great enabler of the steroids era is in, how can you keep out the players? Piazza’s election had some effect as well, I believe. Bonds and Roger Clemens are at 62 percent on Thibodaux’s tracker, and while that will decline in the final vote, they are trending upward.
Before we move on, I’ll explain quickly why I didn’t vote for Manny Ramirez, a first-timer on the ballot who statistically is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Ramirez twice tested positive for PEDs after baseball instituted a penalty program. As with Rafael Palmeiro, that’s the line for me, and Ramirez crossed it not once, but twice.
• Roger Clemens. Everything I just said about Bonds goes for Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young winner who, absent the steroids factor, would be recognized as one of the top three pitchers in baseball history. In fact, Bonds and Clemens are a tag team. You really can’t vote for one without voting for the other.
• Vladimir Guerrero. Sometimes you just know you’re watching a Hall of Famer, and I always felt that way with Guerrero. He was a brilliant, albeit unorthodox, hitter with a gun for an arm and enough speed to once steal 40 bases in a season. I hate to use the vague term “feared hitter,” but just ask opponents how they felt about Guerrero.
• Trevor Hoffman. This was the last box I checked, and I vacillated between Hoffman and Larry Walker before settling, finally, on Hoffman. I tend to think closers are over-valued, but I eventually decided that a handful of them are so transcendent — Hoffman and Mariano Rivera chief among them — that it’s silly to let that prejudice stop you. Speaking of which …
• Edgar Martinez. Martinez has had to fight against a similar bias against designated hitters, but he has made a remarkable surge the past two years, from 27 percent in 2015 to 43.4 percent last year to 66.2 percent on Thibodaux’s latest tracker. No need to re-state Martinez’s case at this juncture; more to the point, I’ve come to believe that Martinez will be voted in by the BBWAA in the next two years, particularly if he cracks 60 percent. I would have said exactly the opposite a year ago.
• Mike Mussina. Mussina is somewhat of a stealth candidate, because he wasn’t widely regarded as a Hall of Famer throughout his career. But then you looked up at the end of it and realized he had the credentials. There are the 270 victories (a superb total in the five-man rotation era), the .638 winning percentage, the 3.58-to-1 strikeouts-to-walk ratio (second among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings), and 82.7 career WAR, ranking 24th among all pitchers in history. As a bonus, Mussina won seven Gold Gloves.
• Tim Raines. Voters are finally realizing that Raines got on base at an extraordinary rate (more than eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn, for instance) and was an extraordinary threat once he was there. He is the only player with at least 70 steals in six consecutive seasons and is the career leader in stolen-base percentage at 84.7, among those with at least 400 attempts. I could go on, but there’s no need to push Raines’ case anymore. He’s finally going in, deservedly (and belatedly) so.
• Ivan Rodriguez. I didn’t even think twice on Pudge. Like Guerrero, he passed the eye test, as well as the stat test. He was the best defensive catcher of his era and one of the best offensive catchers ever, with a .296 career average, 311 homers and 2,844 hits. What more could you ask for?
• Curt Schilling. Many writers dropped their vote for Schilling because they didn’t like his politics, particularly his seeming endorsement of a T-shirt advocating the lynching of journalists. I fall emphatically in that category, but no way I’m going to withhold my Hall of Fame vote because of it. My senatorial vote, yes, but my Hall of Fame vote is based solely on his pitching credentials, which are impeccable.