Today we’ll be finding out the newest inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’ll be lots of discussion about the steroid era, and the legitimacy of people like Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens. As always, there’ll be a call of Pete Rose to have his suspension removed, and complaints that the writers that vote don’t know what they’re doing any more – limiting the choices to one or two lucky players.
I’d been thinking about this a lot since last year’s ceremony to the Hall brought the great Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. into their fold. I wondered to myself who I might choose if I was given the chance to vote. I feel like I’m just adding my voice to the void, but it’s still a fun exercise. So what follows is my choice of the ten most eligible men that should join their compatriots in Cooperstown:
1. Larry Walker – In my opinion, Walker is one of the most underrated producers in baseball from the period he played. He was the batting champion in 1998, 1999 and 2001 – the leader in doubles (1994), home runs (1997), OBP and OBS (1997, 1999) and managed the 30-30 club in 1997. Of course, this is all with the Colorado Rockies – for whom he played from 1995-2004 – so there’s always going to be a stigma and expectation that those numbers are jacked because of being a mile into the sky. I personally don’t care what the temperature means, but I’m also a huge Rockies fan. It’s obvious that for 25 years the team has struggled to stop hitting, but has no trouble managing to do it themselves. Thing is, it’s a hitters park, but Walker did just as fine outside of Denver. The 4-time All-Star was above .265 and hammered home 101 of his 383 home runs in Montreal (1989-1994). The one splotch mark on his career is that he never really made it to the postseason, only notching 19 games total, including a trip to the ’04 World Series with the Cardinals. He also didn’t make much of a mark with his final team. Despite this, I think his stats and leadership garner him a necessary inclusion to the Hall of Fame. This also isn’t just because he’s one of the Blake Street Bombers (and the final one eligible to make it in to HoF), therefore putting the first Colorado Rockie in the Hall. He’s also one of the best Canadian players ever.
2. Jeff Bagwell – This is a no-brainer. Bagwell missed induction by 3.4 percent, and he had risen nearly 16% from the year prior. If you’re analytical about time spent on the ballot, Bagwell is due this year. It’s certainly not without purpose, however, as he is basically Mr. Astro. Bagwell holds numerous records for his only team (1991-2005) including but not limited to batting average (.368, 1994), Runs (152, 2000), most home runs (449, 38th all-time), most RBIs (1529, 51st all-time), and walks (1401). He’s second to Craig Biggio, who alongside Lance Berkman – the trio basically legitimized Houston baseball – and that means he’s almost the best lock this year for the Hall of fame, at least in my book. The only shame of it is, like Walker and Biggio and many others – he never won a World Series, merely subbing in for a few at bats as a symbolic leader in 2005, their sole appearance and loss to the Chicago White Sox.
3.Vladimir Guerrero – Considered by many to be one of the most underrated batters of the 2000s, Vladimir Guerrero is appearing on the ballot for the first time. I believe most pundits put him on the edge of induction, but not only am I a big fan of his, I outright hope he will be another first-timer unlike his fellow Expos like Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Tony Perez. Guerrero is a sure thing like they were, and will likely eventually get in – but may have to wait a few years like Jeff Bagwell. One big reason is, like Bagwell and Walker, he never won. This is a theme that happened over the past twenty years that we had great players that never achieved the greatest achievement in baseball. He’s actually tied with Bagwell for home runs (449), so that would be a neat thing to have the pair get their combined 898 into the Hall at the same time. In all, he ended up with 2004’s MVP, 9 All-star appearances (1999-2002, 2004-2007 and 2010), and batted over .300 from 1997 to 2008. A perfectly solid player with a perfectly wide open spot waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.
4.Trevor Hoffman – Not enough people appreciate relievers. I understand tradition and history, and absolutely love when a pitcher is able to be more versatile – such as Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner being able to hit, come back in after much less rest, or generally stay in for 9 innings each outing. However, as I grew up, so did the closer. My first introduction to live baseball saw John Franco come in and help the Mets stomp the Colorado Rockies in their first appearance at Shea Stadium in the 10th inning. For a man to come up and show such calm under pressure like that blew my tiny six-year-old mind. As I grew to appreciate the sport more, and remembering Franco – and his crosstown counterpart, Mariano Rivera, there was one more name across the country that kept popping up as well – Trevor Hoffman. As he anchored the San Diego Padres during their peak years from 1993-1998, he was absolutely stellar. He had nine years with 40+ saves, and only dipped below 30 once in 15 years – the 2003 season where he sat out nearly the entire season with shoulder injuries. This run included a stretch of 41 straight saves from 1997-1998, and a personal record 53 saves in the 1998 season. The shining achievement of his career, however, is the record-breaking 500th and 600th saves he accrued. In all, he only made it one more, to 601. His record for most saves held from 2006 to 2011, when Mariano replaced him. The pair likely won’t see company for a great deal of time.
5.Edgar Martinez – The DH is also a hotly contested position in relation to the Hall. Never before has a player been vaunted into the elite based on his performance almost solely as the designated hitter. If steroids didn’t dominate most of the conversation, this would probably be the biggest news this week in baseball. Martinez is undoubtedly deserving on numbers alone, but he also was part of the heart in revitalizing baseball in Seattle alongside last year’s inductee Ken Griffey Jr. He was the batting leader and part of the 1995 team that had one of the most exciting comebacks in recent memory, over the Yankees 6-5 with a double that sparked longtime admiration from Mariano Rivera, who cited Martinez as the only person he hated to face during his tenure as closer. A 7-time All-star, Edgar is undoubtedly the man who ushered in the legitimacy of the position, as now made even more popular by David Ortiz. If Martinez doesn’t make it, Ortiz surely will. Shame though, as Martinez is easily the one that should usher the position into the hall as well.
6.Ivan Rodriguez -The man known as “Pudge” spent the majority of his career backstopping the Texas Rangers – but I know him somehow better from his last two seasons as the catcher for the Washington Nationals, who found their identity as he came in to veteran leadership there. He was personally the MVP of my fantasy team those years (2010-11) and the latter-life journeyman was incredibly versatile for more than just Texas: he was there in 2003 to help the Marlins win their second World Series, he appeared in his 11th All-star game with the Detroit Tigers (2004-2008), tying Mike Piazza and Johnny Bench for most as a catcher, filled in for Jorge Posada on the Yankees in ’08, and produced two more stints in Texas (one for his old team and one for Houston in ’09) before coming to the Nationals to help guide their future star Wilson Ramos. In his career, he had a batting average of .290, 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBI. Four players that match that? Hank Aaron, George Brett, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds (Todd Helton later matched them, as has Albert Pujols). On that note, too, if Ivan makes it into the Hall, it should pave the way for those players that naysayers have denied for years, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Either way, Rodriguez may deserve it more than them, as he was an even more versatile player.
7.Fred McGriff – This is a bit of a stretch, as I don’t expect baseball writers to vote him in – but he was one of those supporting characters that I always loved seeing behind the plate. The ‘Crime Dog’ – as broadcaster Chris Berman dubbed him in reference to the cartoon McGruff – started his career helping build up the Toronto Blue Jays towards the championship team they would be come. He only played from 1986-1990 for them, but he helped to move Toronto’s radar higher, especially when he was traded to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. That’s not the reason he was great for Toronto, of course, as he hit 125 HRs and 305 RBIs in his four years there. San Diego was fine, as he went to his first All-Star game, but after a year and a half he came to the team that would define him even further – the Atlanta Braves (1993-1997). There he’d hit another 130 HRs and lead the Braves to third title – their first since 1957 and first in Atlanta. That would start off a run of 11-straight postseason appearances for the team, including five straight NL Championship Series, three of which McGriff participated in. After Atlanta, he also spent time on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, all in all accruing nearly 2,500 hits, 493 HRs and 1,550 RBIs. By all means a sturdy player, and one of my favorites, but probably won’t get in on numbers alone.
8.Tim Raines – Another journeyman, Raines is on his final year of eligibility with the Hall of Fame ballot – and there are a lot of people who think this will finally do it for him. At the end of these terms, typically players that need that tiny push to get them in will do so, and last year’s ballot had Raines with a 69.8% approval. Undoubtedly one of the best players never inducted, Raines has the most stolen bases of any player not in (808) – good for fifth after Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb. If that weren’t enough, he was the batting champion on 1986, has 2,605 hits, 980 RBIs and 170 HRs. In addition, he won the World Series three times – twice as a Yankee player (1996 and 1998), and once as the first base coach for the 2005 Chicago White Sox. If that’s not enough for consideration anymore, we should definitely let in those that played above Raines on my list – six of them never won. As it is, he’ll likely get in – but if he doesn’t, there’s always the Veterans’ Committee to look forward to. Thing is, he’s one of the last of a great era pre-steroid batters that we never got in. He was overlooked in favor of so many other equally deserving players, but 2017 is when he’ll get his due.
9.Gary Sheffield – Much like Fred McGriff, Mr. Sheffield was a journeyman supporting player that was able to transition between third base and shortstop and every outfield position. He won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997, but also had stints from Milwaukee (1988-1991), San Diego alongside McGriff (1992-1993), Los Angeles Dodgers (1998-2001), Atlanta (2002-03), the Yankees (2004-2006), the Tigers (2007-08) and the New York Mets (2009). Between Milwaukee and the Mets, he managed to get 5 Silver Sluggers, 9 All-star appearances and was the NL batting champion in 1992. Perhaps it’s because of that year he struck home with me. 1992 was the year I first got into baseball, and thus the first time I heard about many of the cities across America. Sheffield put San Diego on the map as much for me as Tony Gwynn did, and then following him through his other teams, including two that were close to my home, I was able to enjoy his versatility. He ended his career with 509 HRs (good for 26th all-time), 1,676 RBIs and 2,689 hits. If anything stops him, it will be the multitude of reports against players that allegedly took PEDs. Sheffield denies knowledge, and I’m incredibly forgiving, but the baseball world is not.
10. Melvin Mora – Okay, this one would likely be considered cheating – but he’s one of my favorite baseball players of all time. Briefly starting for the New York Mets from 1998-2000, it was thrilling to watch him swing between second and third in a time when I idolized the position because of players like Nomar Garciaparra. Being my hometown’s shortstop, I loved Mora just the same. So when the Mets ditched him in the heart of a race for the playoffs in 2000, I was a bit sad. The good thing was that he stayed close, spending nearly the rest of his career in Baltimore, becoming their everyday starter from 2004-2009. I even got to see him play up in Boston late in 2004. Mora was an all-star for the Orioles in 2003 and 2008, and was 2nd in batting average for the AL in 2004. After it appeared his time was spent and the team was rebuilding, Mora headed off to Denver with a new contract as the everyday shortstop for another team I love, the Colorado Rockies. The thing is, Mora will never be well known, or get even close to 5% on this ballot. He’d be my personal pick, though, if I had one. It’s these utility players and everyday grinders that bring the heart to baseball, and it’s wonderful when they mean something great to at least one person. To me, at least, Melvin Mora was that player.
Lee Smith (I know I mentioned closers should get in, and I do believe Smith should have during the wain years in the 2000s…he truly is one of the great closers, but by now politics have gotten in the way and he’ll likely have to wait for the Veterans vote.)
Jason Varitek (key catcher for the Red Sox during their three recent World Series, one of my favorite players and just not as big a name as those above.)
Jorge Posada (on a lesser team would have disappeared, but like Varitek was a key piece for the Yankees during their dynasty.)
Roger Clemens (fantastic pitcher for Boston and subsequently Toronto, but by the time he’d made it to New York, he was clearly on steroids. I’m not against letting those that did PEDs in, and he at least basically admitted it, so he should be in someday – but I’m still annoyed that he did it to be a great Yankee. Could have done fine without them.)
Curt Schilling (on the other hand, a great pitcher that supposedly didn’t need PEDs, he really does deserve to be in eventually – just dial back the politics first. Not that I’m against that either, but there are still 14 more deserving people currently).
Barry Bonds (PEDs…but he has 762 HRs), Manny Ramirez (temper..but he has 555 HRs), Sammy Sosa (PEDs…but he has 609 HRs), Edgar Renteria (important to the Marlins, but baseball?), J.D. Drew (stinky)
Now, as an addendum I’m no expert on those committees that find they should include people supportive of or at least linked to the game such as Marvin Miller, the ultimate labor leader who directed the players union into one of the strongest of any union in the United States. He’s eligible this year, and if it were up to me, he’d have been in well before he passed away at 95 back in 2012. Given that April 14th will be Miller’s 100th birthday, what better way to remember his legacy by inducting him through the Veteran’s Committee? Again, he’s one of the few I actually know of outside the typical balloting, so there are probably other perfectly eligible men and women that worked within the MLB. Hopefully all get their due someday.
Hopefully all these great athletes and coaches and the like get their due someday as well.