The time for decision making is upon us. We knew it was coming. It was inescapable. And, now, the debate begins in earnest. Who gets into the Hall of Fame from the “Steroids Era”? For the first time, the BBWAA is going to be voting with not just one or two suspected users on the ballot. No longer can they ignore the Mark McGwire‘s and Rafael Palmeiro‘s and vote for the guys whose careers were mostly over by the time of the Steroid Era. The new names on this year’s ballot are screaming for attention – and a decision has to be made. Are they in or out?
There frequently seems to be a sentiment out there that leans one of two ways:
- Let them all in, regardless of who did or didn’t use steroids. Vote them in based on their statistics, and include mention of the Steroid Era and/or that player’s suspected steroid use on their plaque. After all, the Hall of Fame is more than just about recognizing great achievements; it’s also about telling the story of baseball’s history, and ignoring the use of steroids would be like ignoring the fact that the White Sox were in the World Series in 1919.
- Leave them all out. Since we can’t know for sure who was or wasn’t on ‘roids, how can we possibly consider any of them to be all-time great players? How could we allow names like Sosa, Clemens and Bonds to stand alongside Ruth, Mays and Aaron? The entire generation is tainted, therefore none of them should be allowed into such a sacred position in the history of the game.
Which side do you take? Which way do you lean? It’s an incredibly difficult choice to make. Well, allow me offer an alternative solution. It would require more work than has ever been done before by the BBWAA. But for the integrity of the HOF, I believe it would be worth it.
I don’t believe it would take an incredible amount of investigation to determine who would be legitimately suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, and who wouldn’t. Some names are immediately suspicious, because of either a lot of accusations, or possibly even a failed drug test at some point in their career. Now, I’m not going to advocate that every player suspected of steroid use should be eliminated from consideration, but I’m also not ready to allow anyone who had great numbers during the era in either.
I believe there is a way to determine whether or not a guy would have been a legit HOF candidate without having ever taken PED’s. I understand there is an element of subjectivity to this, but let’s be realistic: there’s a lot of subjective reasoning behind guys getting into, or being left out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. For example, it blows my mind that Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame – I couldn’t be more convinced of a right-place-at-the-right-time circumstance, in which a player just happened to play on a prolific team, and therefore was recognized more than other, more talented, players of his era. And, I know I would have people argue with me all day long on that opinion. But, that’s just it . . . it’s an opinion. And, if we’re going to have to be making decisions about the guys from the Steroid Era, why not allow one more opinion into the mix, in order to attempt to get truly worthy candidates into the HOF?
So, my next few posts are going to be related to my vote regarding the names that are on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. I’ll put this in order based first on how highly they ranked after last year’s voting, then I’ll address the guys on the ballot for the first time. We’ll look at 5 at a time, until we get toward the end, because there’s always a bunch of guys that just happen to be on the ballot for the first time, based on when they retired, but obviously aren’t going to be in the HOF.
#1 – Jack Morris – YES. As I mentioned before, he was the ace of 3 World Champion staffs. He was on a 4th team that won a World Series, though it was his next-to-last season in the majors, and at 38 years old, he was showing signs of slowing down. He didn’t even pitch in the postseason for that team (’93 Blue Jays). Morris pitched probably the 2nd best World Series game in history (no one competes with Don Larson) – 10 shut-out innings, game 7, 1-0 win in 1991, leading to his World Series MVP award. In the first two World Series he pitched, he went a combined 4-0, with a 1.54 ERA. No, he never won a Cy Young. No, he didn’t win 300+ games. But, those same arguments have been used against plenty of other Hall of Fame pitchers, who eventually got in (go look at HOFer Red Ruffing‘s stats sometime – a guy who pitched in a much more pitcher-friendly era – and see how they compare to Morris). I also believe we have to start setting aside the 300-win benchmark, because we’re going to be lucky to see anyone come anywhere close to that again. Only 5 of the 24 pitchers to achieve that mark have done so in the last 25 years. Morris’ 254 wins shouldn’t be down-played – in the 16 full seasons he played, he averaged almost 16 wins per season. Morris also averaged 230 innings per season during those 16 seasons. But, let’s also keep in mind what we’re talking about – the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Records. Was Morris famous? Was he considered elite in his generation? His postseason performances alone were enough to earn him that kind of recognition. There’s no doubt in my mind that he belongs in the HOF.
#2 – Jeff Bagwell – YES. If you saw his body, you might initially be a little suspicious of PED-use, until you realized that he never went from scrawny guy to big guy. Bagwell could have been a linebacker. He was a big dude from day one. And, his numbers don’t suggest anything more than a typical rise and fall associated with a player’s peak years. In fact, had he not missed so much time due to injury (and had his career not been cut to just 14 full seasons – 2 of which were strike-shortened), his numbers would be even more impressive. During his peak years (age 26-32), he averaged .309 with 37 HR, 118 RBI, and a 1.026 OPS – all while averaging just 145 games those years. He also averaged 110 walks with just 105 strikeouts per season – a difficult task for a guy that hits that many home runs. In my opinion, Bagwell belongs in the HOF.
#3 – Lee Smith – YES. There are so few closers in the HOF, it’s tough to draw comparisons. But, I’m honestly confused as to how Bruce Sutter got into the HOF before Lee Smith. Unless you base it on the fact that he retired much earlier, and he developed the split-finger pitch like no one else had, there’s nothing based on the stats that would suggest Sutter belongs in the HOF more than Smith. When Smith retired, he held the all-time record for saves (478), compared to Sutter’s 300. Sutter had 4 of his 12 seasons end with him having an ERA over 4.00. Smith had 1 – his last. Smith averaged 34 saves over 14 seasons from 1982-1995. Sutter’s best 9-year stretch saw him average just 30 per season. Their ERA’s and WHIP’s were comparable during their best years (Lee – 2.91 & 1.22; Sutter – 2.72 & 1.13), and they both averaged 81 K’s during those prime seasons. Smith simply had more of those dominant seasons than Sutter. I don’t know why there aren’t more closers in the HOF, and I definitely don’t know why Lee isn’t already there.
#4 – Tim Raines – NO. Look at his numbers. What impresses you? 808 stolen bases? Yes, that ranks him 5th all-time. Anything else? Not really. Also, shouldn’t it matter that it took him 23 seasons to accumulate that many stolen bases? Does it not matter to anyone that the last 9 years of his career, he stole an average of 9 bases per season? The first half or so of his career, he was an excellent base-stealer. And, if his career had ended after 14 seasons, he would have been 1 stolen base behind where Vince Coleman stood at the end of his 13-year career. Is Vince Coleman a HOFer? No! Consider this: Raines’ best 15-year stretch averaged .296, .814 OPS, 51 stolen bases, 153 hits, 221 total bases (sadly, his most impressive stats). Another player on the ballot’s best 15-year stretch: averaged .300, .798 OPS, 40 stolen bases, 151 hits, 214 total bases. Pretty comparable, right? Other than 10 more stolen bases per year for Raines, these are very similar players. And, to even the playing field, I’ll point out that player B has 4 Gold Gloves, which Raines never won. Who is this comparable player? . . . Kenny Lofton. Anyone ready to vote Lofton into the HOF? Hall of Very Good – yes. All-Time Great? No. Same goes for Raines.
#5 – Alan Trammell – NO. Not sure why he had a sudden jump in voting percentage last year. Someone must really be lobbying for him. There’s really nothing about Trammell’s career that stands out as HOF worthy. He’s another one that should be in the Hall of Very Good. I think perhaps he’s getting some attention after Barry Larkin was voted in (another one that doesn’t make sense to me). But, if Larkin was at all questionable, Trammell is even more so. 4 Gold Gloves in 20 seasons (about 14 of which were full seasons – he only averaged 76 games per season his last 6 years), but he also had 5 seasons in which he had 15-22 errors each year. So, it’s not like he was a defensive wizard – above average, but not all-time great. Offensively, his hits and RBI totals put him somewhere in the middle of the pack among HOF shortstops. But, the rest of the guys in the HOF excelled somewhere – defensively, on the base paths, etc. Trammell wasn’t a prolific base-stealer (236 in his career – caught 109 times), home-run hitter, or really anything else. He was very good at what he did – but, not a HOFer.