The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2013 inductees (if any, beyond the Pre-Integration Era men already announced) January 9.
That means eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are in the process of filling out their ballots. And, in some cases, writing about their ballots. If you want to keep track of the voting as it comes in, Baseball Think Factory is compiling publicly announced votes.
Let's first stipulate that I don't think the BBWAA should be voting for Hall induction at all, or if they do get a vote, it should be shared with other qualified groups, such as broadcasters, as I spelled out in this post here a month ago.
Nevertheless, whether we want them to or not, these writers do get to vote, and many of them have been writing about their vote -- or lack thereof, as John Fayman, a Reds beat writer, wrote Monday -- he's not sending in a ballot at all. At least that's somewhat intellectually honest, as opposed to the Arizona Republic's Mark Faller, who's sending in a blank ballot. Faller's blank ballot will affect the overall voting percentage; Fayman's won't.
Then there are the PED scolds: Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat -- and Cohn is one of the exhibits against BBWAA voting. He's a columnist. Does he even cover the sport on a daily basis?
Chaz Scoggins of the Lowell Sun gets a little closer to the gist of the PED issue:
We all have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. My personal line is that if a player or pitcher used PEDs before Major League Baseball banned them, I won't hold it against him. If he was caught using them after the ban, like Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez were, then I won't vote for him. In the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, I believe their records already merited induction into the Hall of Fame before they fell under the suspicions of using PEDs.
You may agree or disagree with that position, but it's at least an intellectually honest one to take.
T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com has decided to stop voting, and touches on the Hall's own criteria for one of his reasons:
If the BBWAA continues to serve as the Hall's electoral body, the organization must develop guidelines with the Hall of Fame about how to handle it. Noting that character is a criterion simply isn't enough, especially for any club that includes Ty Cobb as a member. I do see a distinction between doping and other character issues. We seem to have decided we will tolerate thugs, racists, domestic abusers and thieves in the Hall of Fame; there is a consensus that off-the-field ugliness doesn't change what a player accomplished on the field. But PEDs did change what we saw on the field. A player who used banned drugs did not simply disgrace himself, he altered himself.
Quinn is absolutely correct. The Hall's voting guidelines state:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Those guidelines were written in the 1930s, when BBWAA voting began, and have not been changed. What do they even mean? They are, clearly, subject to interpretation. I'm not one of those who thinks we should simply rank players by WAR and induct those above or below a certain line. We're not voting for the Hall of Statistical Achievement. It's the Hall of Fame. To me, one qualification for a Hall of Fame is, well, to be famous. There are things about playing careers of some great players that might transcend their numbers. This isn't to say we should induct, say, Roger Maris, simply because he hit 61 home runs and broke a revered record. Maris' overall career wasn't good enough.
Anyway, that's an argument for another day. There's one more writer's work you need to see -- that's from Marc Maturo of the Rockland County Times. Look at Maturo's qualifications for voting:
Rockland County Times’ sports reporter Marc A. Maturo is a lifetime honorary member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was the Mets beat writer for the Gannett Westchester Newspapers from 1978-1985, and every year continues to write in the name of Pete Rose on his Hall of Fame ballot.
Wait, what? This man was a Mets beat writer nearly 30 years ago and he still gets a Hall ballot? Does he even watch baseball any more? The inclusion of Rose (who he repeatedly calls "Petey-boy" throughout his article) on his ballot disqualifies him in my eyes; further, he goes on ridiculous and irrelevant tacks attacking modern baseball for, among other things: high ticket prices, divisional play, night games in the playoffs and (you have to read this, or you won't believe it):
And this is not to mention opening the season in weather better suited to curling than to baseball, and ending in weather also best suited to curling than to baseball. Baseball is, after all, "The Summer Game." But don’t tell this to players seen in postseason dugouts sporting parkas, Trapper’s hats and arctic hand warmers; and don’t tell that to the very people who make it all possible, the suckers, er, fans, who also can be seen sporting Antarctic-like gear, wrapped wonderfully in blankets. Integrity my foot!
Never mind that the 2012 baseball regular season started five calendar days before the 1968 season (the last before divisional play), and the 2012 World Series ended just 18 calendar days after its 1968 counterpart. Facts be damned!
Marc Maturo is a perfect example of why the Hall needs to change who votes for its inductees. My linked post above gives one suggestion of how that change might work.
1,000 words into this post, I'm finally going to get around to the headline. What would I do if I had a ballot this year, and could vote for up to 10 players, as the writers can? Who would I vote for, and why? First, here are the 37 names that appear on this year's BBWAA ballot, in alphabetical order:
Sandy Alomar, Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Roger Clemens, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernández, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martínez, Fred McGriff, José Mesa, Jack Morris, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Reggie Sanders, Curt Schilling, Aaron Sele, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Todd Walker, David Wells, Rondell White, Bernie Williams, Woody Williams
Let's first eliminate those who really don't belong under any condition; these men are on the ballot simply because they've played at least 10 seasons and have been retired for five years:
Alomar, Cirillo, Clayton, Conine, Hernandez, Klesko, Mesa, Sanders, Sele, Stanton, T. Walker, White, W. Williams
That leaves 25. The following players had fine and long careers, but don't have the counting stats, the awards, the league leadership in enough categories, or a combination of the above. These are the "Hall of Very Good" candidates:
Finley, Franco, Green, Mattingly, L. Walker, Wells, B. Williams
I'm also not one of those who thinks no one should get in on their first attempt; a player's career is what it is. A first-time nominee's numbers aren't going to change next year. Either he's in or not. Same thing for a unanimous vote -- no one on this year's ballot deserves one, in my opinion, but next year, when Greg Maddux appears on the ballot for the first time, I think he should be. There's no reason for any writer to not vote for Maddux; doing so just because "Babe Ruth wasn't unanimous so no one should be" is, in my opinion, intellectually dishonest. Anyway, now I have 18 possibilities for my (maximum) 10-vote ballot. Here's my take on each of those 18:
Jeff Bagwell: His 1994 MVP season might have had some numbers for the ages if not for the strike. Back problems ended his career early, or he'd have likely had 500 home runs and close to 3,000 hits. Those who have connected him to PED allegations because of his physical frame are, in a word, despicable. Vote: IN
Craig Biggio: Passed the still-significant 3,000-hit mark. Stole over 400 bases with a good SB percentage. Seven-time All-Star, played three of the most difficult defensive positions well for multiple seasons. Like his longtime teammate Bagwell, a key contributor to six playoff teams. Vote: IN
Barry Bonds: According to the book "Game of Shadows", Bonds began doing PEDs after 1998, allegedly because he was jealous of all the attention Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire got for the home-run chase. Had Bonds retired after 1998, he'd have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 411 home runs, 445 steals and a career OPS+ of 164. He's one of the 10 best players of all time; while he is a thoroughly vile individual, in my opinion, he's also a Hall of Famer. Vote: IN
Roger Clemens: The Bonds test can apply to Clemens as well; if he had retired after 1996, before his resurgence in Toronto starting in 1997, he'd have had 192 wins, over 2,500 strikeouts, three Cy Young Awards (and a second- and third-place finish), one MVP and key contributions to four playoff teams. Holding my nose again, I vote: IN
Julio Franco: Played for a long time. A very long time. He might still be playing somewhere, for all I know. Led his league in a significant offensive category just once (.341, AL batting title in 1991, also his only 200-hit season); doesn't have any of the significant offensive career milestones. Vote: OUT
Kenny Lofton: Great base-stealer and leadoff man in his early years, but after age 30 was just league-average (OPS+ of 102). Even with all the early steals, ranks just 15th on the all-time list. Hall of Very Good for Lofton. Vote: OUT
Edgar Martinez: Many think he should be the first (almost) full-time DH in the Hall. But I look at his overall numbers: 2247 hits, 309 home runs, and think: Hall of Very Good. His top three baseball-reference comps: Will Clark, John Olerud, Todd Helton. Do those guys look like Hall of Famers to you? Me, either. Vote: OUT
Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog isn't well-liked by Cubs fans because of his attitude during his tenure in Chicago. Then he tried to hang on long enough to get to 500 home runs. Led his league in HR twice, but never hit 40. His numbers to me: good, not great. Vote: OUT
Jack Morris: Ah, here's the guy causing all the trouble. Ask yourself this: if Morris doesn't pitch that great game in the World Series in 1991, is anyone even considering him? He did lead his league in strikeouts (once), but also in walks (once), runs allowed (once) and wild pitches (six times). Doesn't have the career milestones. Vote: OUT
Mark McGwire: Everyone with as many home runs as McGwire has is in. He eventually came clean about his PED use, and has become a respected hitting coach. This one's a close call, but my vote is: IN
Dale Murphy: For six years, including his two MVP seasons, Murphy was one of the best, if not the best, hitters on the planet. Then he fell off the cliff: after age 31, he hit like Neifi Perez (.234/.307/.396). Not good enough for a long enough time, none of the major milestones. Vote: OUT
Rafael Palmeiro: This is a tough one after I said McGwire should be in due to his home run prowess. Palmeiro hit only 14 fewer homers than McGwire, and also passed the 3,000-hit mark. But he lied to Congress, and was suspended from baseball after that. Too many negatives for me. Vote: OUT
Mike Piazza: The best-hitting catcher of all time. He's been accused of PED use because of back acne (no, seriously; read that for its utter ridiculousness). Vote: IN
Tim Raines: Second-best leadoff hitter of all time, behind Rickey Henderson. Fifth on the all-time steals list; never got the attention he deserved early in his career because he played in Montreal. Labor issues (including collusion) cost him close to 200 career hits. Vote: IN
Curt Schilling: More than 3,000 strikeouts. Had some of his best years after age 30; was a key contributor to three World Series champions. Vote: IN
Lee Smith: Held the saves record at one time; still third. Led his league in saves four times, but never seemed truly dominant, as Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley was. Pitched in the postseason just twice (1984 Cubs, 1988 Red Sox). Vote: OUT
Sammy Sosa: The only player with three 60-homer seasons. Had the greatest offensive season in Cubs history in 2001; holds the Cubs' team home-run record and is one of only two players (Manny Ramirez the other) to have a 160-RBI season since the 1930s. Vote: IN
Alan Trammell: Never led his league in any significant offensive category; never won an award (though he probably should have been AL MVP in 1987, when he finished second). Has none of the major milestones and his top baseball-reference comp is Edgar Renteria. A very good player and a class act, but not a Hall of Famer. Vote: OUT
Thanks for reading this far. So, if I had a Hall of Fame ballot this year, there would be nine names on it: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Piazza, Raines, Schilling and Sosa. The interface here doesn't allow polling with multiple votes, so any poll here wouldn't tally up your votes properly. I invite you to leave your votes in the comments.