I thought I would struggle greatly when filling out my Hall of Fame ballot this year, but it turned out to be a lot easier than I thought.
First, I put check marks next to the four guys I voted for a year ago:
CRAIG BIGGIO ... JACK MORRIS ... TIM RAINES ... CURT SCHILLING
Biggio is a no-brainer, a veritable stats machine during his playing days. He barely missed last year when he was done in by a combination of those who never vote for first-ballot guys and by anti-steroid protesters who refused to vote for anybody. I'm guessing he gets in fairly easily this time, as he should.
Morris is making his final ballot appearance and it'll be close -- he received 67.7% of the vote last year (75% is required). I know his ERA is a little too high for some and his victory total is a little too low. Still, his status as a workhorse during an era in which both baseballs and bodies were juiced, and his postseason performances (especially for the 1991 Twins), put him over the top for me.
Raines simply is one of the best leadoff men ever, a dynamic game-changer for most of his 23 seasons. Every eligible player with an OBP as high as Raines who reached base as often as he did is in the Hall. Plus, he's the second-most successful base thief ever.
Schilling, like Morris, is a borderline pick and I can understand why he didn't get more votes last year, his first on the ballot: low-ish win total, a less-than-spectacular ERA. Nevertheless, he did have fine regular-season numbers (3,116 K, the second-best K-to-BB ratio in history), and I can't deny his postseason numbers: 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, including 4-0 and 1.37 in five elimination games. I love clutch.
Next, I voted for two guys I passed on last year (with the promise that I would revisit their candidacies in the future):
JEFF BAGWELL ... MIKE PIAZZA
Bagwell, despite playing most of his career in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, ranks in the top 40 all-time in slugging, HR, OBP and walks, and he teamed with Biggio to turn the once-horrible Astros into annual contenders. In giving Bagwell my vote this time, I have been influenced by proponents of JAWS, a wins-above-replacement metric that compares a player to others historically at his position. Bagwell's JAWS score ranks second only to that of Albert Pujols among post-World War II first basemen. Plus, he's now been on the ballot for four years and nobody has been able to amplify any of the steroid whispers.
Piazza, arguably the best offensive catcher in history, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Because he made his debut on the ballot last year alongside so many infamous juicers, I wanted to give it another year to see if anything came of the long-stated rumors about Piazza's use. Nothing did, so it's an easy choice.
Then, I went with three first-year candidates, each of whom I consider a slam-dunk selection (though I'm sure others would disagree, as others always do!):
TOM GLAVINE ... GREG MADDUX ... FRANK THOMAS
Glavine won 305 games, had five 20-win seasons, won two Cy Youngs and was a stalwart for the Braves teams that ruled the NL in the 1990s. He also was 1995 World Series MVP (2-0, 1.29). Despite all of that, he might not get in immediately because of Maddux's presence on the ballot, which would be ridiculous.
Maddux, well, you know ... I'm not even going to bother throwing any stats out there. If he doesn't get in, it's time to take the vote away from me and my peers.
Thomas had a .301 career average, 521 HR, 1,704 RBI, .419 OBP, .555 SLG, back-to-back MVPs, 11 seasons with 100+ RBI. Nevertheless, some say he's not a Hall of Famer. Please. Even if voters want to use his DH status against him, he had monster stats from 1992-97 as the White Sox's first baseman. How can there even be a debate?
Finally, it got a little more difficult. Should I stop at nine? Or should I add one more to reach the maximum votes we can cast? I've been a Hall voter since the mid-'90s, and only once, when I was much younger and less selective, did I opt for the maximum. Would voting for 10 now somehow make me an easy mark?
If I did go with 10, would I check the box next to the name of "accidental" juicer Barry Bonds or longtime suspect Roger Clemens? How about squeaky-clean first-time candidate Mike Mussina?
One could argue quite convincingly that Bonds and Clemens already were Hall of Famers before their alleged cheating began. And while circumstantial evidence is strong in Clemens' case, he actually was exonerated in a court of law. I very well might vote for one or both as early as next year. But for now, I decided to hold off to see if any new information gets presented in the next 12 months.
Mussina? Now there's an interesting one.
The very first thing I do when perusing my Hall ballot every year is the "feel test." Does this guy "feel" like a Hall of Famer? And I must admit that, at first blush, Mussina didn't. His numbers are very good (270-153, 3.68 ERA, 2,813 K), but not one of them screams: "I'm a Hall of Famer!" He had only one 20-win season (his last, at age 39), he never won a Cy Young and he never won a title.
Then again ...
In many key sabermetrics, Mussina compares quite favorably to Glavine and comes out well ahead of Morris. He also had more wins, a lower ERA, more strikeouts and fewer walks than Morris. The more I delved into the numbers, the more I felt guilty about the prospect of voting for Morris but not for Mussina.
Then there's this: I didn't want to contribute to Mussina getting knocked off the ballot for good. If a candidate doesn't get 5% of the vote in any year, he no longer can be considered in the future. Given that it often takes years for voters to warm up to certain candidates -- Bert Blyleven was named on only 17.5% of the ballots his first year but finally made it in his 14th try -- I didn't want Mussina to go away forever.
So, MIKE MUSSINA, welcome to my Hall of Fame "team."
Every year, there are a few guys on the ballot that make you say, "Really?" This time, that list includes Amando Benitez, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Timlin and ... wait for it ... Jacque Jones.
That's right: Jacque Jones, a real good guy with a real bad arm.
In three decades covering baseball, I've never seen a worst outfield arm. More times than not, the poor guy would throw the ball almost straight down into the ground. It was the damnedest thing I ever saw.
Although his offensive numbers weren't anywhere near Hall-worthy -- .270, 165 HR, 630 RBI -- they actually were better than I thought because I mostly remembered him striking out repeatedly.
I liked Jacque as a person, though, and maybe enough members of the Hall ballot selection committee did, too.
That's the only explanation I can come up with for him being listed at all.
If he gets even one Hall vote, it's time to drug-test BBWAA members!
If he gets even one Hall vote, it's time to drug-test BBWAA members!