The first major event of baseball’s calendar year is the unveiling of the Hall of Fame voting results. Every January, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announces the newest players elected to Cooperstown. It’s a highly anticipated, but generally fairly straightforward, affair. Any player who receives 75% of the vote on ballots cast becomes enshrined alongside the greats of the game.
Despite the seemingly simplistic nature of the voting process, it has always been flawed by subjectivity. Even Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters of all-time who won an NL-best eight batting titles and had a career batting average of .338, was left off of 13 ballots in 2007. Voters are given just a one-sentence guideline on how to vote – “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”.
The ambiguous nature of the “rules” allows the writers to become the gatekeepers to one of the most hallowed places in all of baseball. Many will try to explain their rationale for why they voted the way they did, and some will surely make you wonder why they are being entrusted with one of the most sacred duties associated with the game. But that is the system being used and one that will likely go unchanged for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, we take a look at the merits of the notable first time candidates and those who are back on the ballot after receiving at least 25% of the vote last year and offer a prediction as to whether or not they get in.
Jeff Bagwell – One of two former Houston Astros “Killer B’s” on this year’s ballot, Bagwell is in his third year of eligibility after receiving 41.7% and 56.0% in his first two tries. A former Rookie of the Year and MVP, Bagwell was a career .297 hitter, fell 12 home runs shy of 500, and his .948 OPS is the 22nd best of all-time. Fairly or not, though, some voters are keeping Bagwell off of their ballots due to the belief he took steroids, despite the fact there is no evidence he did. That, in itself, may be enough to keep him out of the Hall. PREDICTION – 62%
Craig Biggio – Bagwell’s longtime teammate and another of the “Killer B’s” is making his first appearance on the ballot. With 3,060 career hits, Biggio is one of just 28 players in the elite 3,000 Hit Club; an achievement that nearly guarantees a plaque in Cooperstown. The hits, though, were as much a product of volume as they were consistency. He played 20 seasons and only hit .300 or better four times. Additionally, though, he is fifth all-time in doubles, fifteenth in runs scored, and tenth in plate appearances. The catcher-turned-second baseman also made a significant position change nearly as well as anyone ever, earning four Gold Gloves at his secondary position. Of the first-ballot candidates, he likely has the best chance of being inducted and, if he isn’t elected this year, it’s likely only a matter of time. PREDICTION – 69%
Barry Bonds – If his election was based on stats alone, Bonds would be as sure a bet for the Hall of Fame as anyone. 22 seasons. 762 home runs. 14 All-Star appearances. 7 MVP awards. Any list of the all-time greatest hitters will have his name on it. However, he has been forever tainted due to PEDs. Bonds has denied ever taking any such substances, but there is a lot of evidence supporting the theories that he did. The ironic thing is that he was probably a Hall of Famer without taking steroids. Prior to the 1998 season (using this as a benchmark since this is when the home run records started to fall), Bonds had played in 12 seasons and was just 26 home runs shy of becoming the only member of the 400-400 club. Though some of his best years came in the highly questionable second half of his career, he was already on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats. But, it is what he did in those later years that may ultimately keep him out of the Hall. PREDICTION – 41%
Roger Clemens – Facing the same steroid-related problems as Bonds, Clemens was also probably on his way to Cooperstown early on in his career, but it is the success he had from his mid-30s to early 40s that is truly remarkable and unusual. From 1997, when he was 34, to 2005, Clemens won 149 games, posted a 3.22 ERA, and struck out 1,912 batters. He made six All-Star teams and won four Cy Young Awards. His appearances on career leader boards are numerous, including the most Cy Youngs, ninth-highest win total, the third-highest strikeout total, and the third-highest WAR for a pitcher. It is a resume as deep as any hurler in the history of the game. Were it not for the PED allegations, he would be a first-ballot inductee. As it stands, though, he and Bonds will likely finish with a nearly identical vote total due to their similar predicaments. PREDICTION – 41%
Kenny Lofton – Lofton was a key piece of the Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s that sold out Jacobs Field, won several division titles, and scored runs like no other team at the time. A solid leadoff hitter, he is best known for his speed. He led the AL in stolen bases for five consecutive years and his 622 steals ranks fifteenth all-time. Lofton did play in the Majors for 17 seasons and managed a lifetime .299 batting average, but after his sixth all-star appearance in 1999, his career was largely underwhelming, playing for nine more teams for no more than a season at a time. Also working to his benefit is his glove, as he is considered by some to be one of the best defensive center fielders in history. PREDICTION – 32%
Edgar Martinez – Martinez is arguably the best pure designated hitter of all-time. Very few players have been able to base a career solely around swinging the bat, but Martinez mastered it. In 2,055 games over the course of 18 seasons, Martinez was the DH in 1,403 of them. He is the Seattle Mariners’ all-time leader in games, runs, doubles, RBI, walks, and on-base percentage and is within the top two or three in most other major categories. He is one of just 10 players in MLB history who ended his career with a .300 batting average, .400 OBP, 300 home runs, 500 doubles, and 1,000 walks—and he is the only eligible member of that club yet to be inducted into the Hall. As just a one-dimensional player, though, many writers have felt it hard to justify his enshrinement. In two previous years on the ballot, he topped out in 2012 with just 36.5% of the vote. PREDICTION – 38%
Jack Morris – This may be the most crucial year yet for Morris on the ballot. This is his 14th season eligible and, if he doesn’t receive the 75% necessary this year, he may find it even more difficult to make it in on his final try. Next year, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas will be eligible and, with a 10-player voting limit, many writers will have full ballots and Morris may suffer because of it. So the former Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins ace may need to get in this time around. He was a good, but rarely great, pitcher during his career. He was an innings-eater and his 254 wins tie him for 42nd all-time, while his 2,478 strikeouts put him at 32nd. If elected, his 3.90 career ERA would be the highest for anyone in Cooperstown. He is best known for his 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and it will remain that way if he never gets his 75%. PREDICTION – 72%
Mike Piazza – Sixteen catchers have been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame and Piazza hopes to make it seventeen. One of the best offensive backstops of all-time, he is the career leader in home runs at the position with 427. He also tops the position in slugging percentage and OPS. His .308 career batting average is third-best behind Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey. If there is a knock on Piazza, though, it is his defensive ability. He had just a 23% career caught-stealing percentage and never ranked in the top-ten in the category during any season. Additionally, many people believe Piazza used PEDs, though there is no real evidence of it aside from the circumstantial presence of back acne, which some writers will surely allow to influence their votes. The former Rookie of the Year and 12-time all-star may finish behind only Biggio among the first-time candidates. PREDICTION – 63%
Tim Raines – Raines was a dominant force in the 1980s for the Montreal Expos. Every year from 1981 to 1986, Raines had at least 70 steals, including 90 in 1983. His total of 808 stolen bases is good for fifth all-time. He was an All-Star seven consecutive years and is one of the top leadoff hitters ever. Unfortunately for him, he played in the same era as Rickey Henderson and lived largely in his shadow. As two speedy, top-of-the-order players with similar skill sets, Henderson received more publicity due to his outgoing personality and stolen base dominance in the American League that included his 130-steal season of 1982; the same season Raines led the NL with a mere 78. Raines’s 84.7 stolen base percentage for his career was actually nearly four full points better than Henderson’s. Though he had just 2,605 hits compared to Henderson’s 3,055, Raines’s .294 career batting average was 15 points better. Raines has been on the ballot for five years and his vote totals have grown steadily over the last couple, picking up 48.7% in 2012. Had he reached the 3,000 hit plateau, he would be a surefire Hall of Famer. As it stands, he will likely need a few more years for enough voters to become convinced to support his candidacy. PREDICTION – 53%
Curt Schilling – Schilling was never the best pitcher during any particular season, but much of his legacy is based on what he did in October. In 2001, he and Randy Johnson shared the World Series MVP trophy as they both led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title. It was for that reason the Boston Red Sox traded for him during Thanksgiving weekend of 2003. The following postseason, he delivered one of the most memorable big game performances ever in the infamous “Bloody Sock Game”, when he gave up just one run in seven innings on a sutured ankle to force a Game 7 in the ALCS. He helped the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years then and followed that up with another title three years later. In 19 career postseason starts he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. But does playoff dominance warrant a spot in Cooperstown? During the regular season, he won just 20 games three times and had some marginal years during the middle of his career—which contributed to his relatively low career win total (216) for a potential Hall of Famer. He does, however, rank 15th in career strikeouts with 3,116 and was a workhorse, topping 200 innings pitched nine times. His 76.9 WAR also ranks him 26th among pitchers and every eligible player ranked higher has been enshrined in the Hall. The lack of any Cy Young Awards and only six All-Star games may hurt his candidacy, but he should still receive his fair share of votes. PREDICTION – 47%
Lee Smith – The one-time career saves leader, Smith is back for his eleventh attempt for induction. He was one of the first true closers in the Majors and spent 18 years closing out games, finishing with 478 saves; a record that stood for 13 years. But he was never truly dominant, finishing with an ERA below 3.00 in just five seasons. His accomplishments are also less impressive when compared to today’s standards for closers. Even with the higher level of importance of closers in today’s game, he is still the only pitcher to record 25 or more saves in 13 consecutive seasons. Only five relievers have ever been inducted to Cooperstown, though, and they were all players who were dominating or changed the game. Smith’s totals were more the product of a long and steady career. Last year, he saw his highest vote total in his ten previous tries at the Hall with 50.6%, but it may only be downhill from here. PREDICTION – 46%
Sammy Sosa – Sosa is in his first year on the ballot and is facing the same set of circumstances as Bonds. According to a New York Times report, Sosa tested positive for a banned substance in 2003, tainting his career accomplishments. Unlike Bonds, however, Sosa’s numbers weren’t as impressive prior to the years in which he may have been using PEDs. He only hit 40 home runs once prior to the epic 1998 chase with Mark McGwire. After hitting 66 that season and winning the MVP award, he became the first player ever to hit 60 twice, then did it again two years later. He would finish with 609 in his career; the eighth-most ever. Aside from his power numbers, though, his stats were less impressive. His 2,306 strikeouts are the third-most all-time and he finished with just a .273 batting average. McGwire’s time on the ballot has shown how hard it is for a pure power-hitter linked to PEDs to find Hall of Fame support. PREDICTION – 27%
Alan Trammell – Another veteran to the Hall of Fame ballot, Trammell is making his twelfth appearance, peaking with 36.8% last year. The long-time Tigers shortstop has found it difficult to gain significant traction in his bid for Cooperstown. The six-time all-star was always a well-rounded player, and is one of the best offensive shortstops ever, but rarely stood out in any one particular area. The only category in which he ever led the American League was sacrifice hits. He had seven seasons in which he hit higher than .300, three in which he had more than 20 stolen bases, three in which he scored more than 100 runs, and two in which he had more than 20 home runs. He will always be considered a solid player for his 20 years of service in Detroit, but may never be seen as great in enough voters’ eyes to be Hall-worthy. PREDICTION – 39%
It is entirely possible that not a single player passes that magic 75% threshold to make the Hall of Fame this year. And as we enter the stage at which players linked to PEDs begin to infiltrate the ballot in high numbers, voters will be forced to answer the question of “should they or shouldn’t they?” and, until there is a more clear guideline on what is to be expected of voters, the elections of the next decade may be messy. As it stands now, the writers can take it upon themselves to interject their own feelings, as right or wrong as they may seem, to determine who is worthy of enshrinement. We’ll find out if anyone meets the vaguely interpretive criteria this time around on Wednesday.