As we continue the discussion regarding this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, we’ve now crossed over into all of the players who are on the ballot for the first time. The first two “newbies” on the ballot were considered in my last post (Clemens & Bonds), and we begin today with someone else who is suspected of PED use:
#16 – Mike Piazza – NO. There’s some suspicion around Piazza. He wasn’t as high-profile as Bonds or Clemens, so he never got the press the others did. But, there was an admission to using “andro” (a type of steroid) before it was illegal. So, with PED’s he breaks Fisk’s home run record for catchers by a little more than 40 – over an 18-year career. So, if you say the PED’s helped him on 5 fly balls that should have been outs instead of homers each season, that puts him in the Lance Parrish/Yogi Berra range in career home runs as a catcher. Never won a Gold Glove as a catcher, and actually was pretty bad behind the plate. He averaged over 8 errors per season behind the plate, and has a career total defensive WAR score of 1.0. The guy was essentially a DH/1B in catcher’s clothing. And, no one’s voting in a guy at either of those positions with the numbers he had in his career. Somewhat questionable numbers, and not really excelling at his position are reason enough for me to leave him off my ballot.
#17 – Curt Schilling – YES. A lot of the same arguments I made for Jack Morris could be made for Schilling. No Cy Young awards, and only 216 career wins. But, consider this: the first 5 seasons of his career, he was caught in no-man’s land between starting and relieving. It wasn’t until he was 26, in his second season in Philadelphia, that he finally became a full-time starter. So, it was really over the remaining 15 years of his career that he accumulated his win total. And, if you look more closely, you’ll see that it was more than just 198 wins over 15 years – his win percentage was .615, he averaged 190 K’s per season, to go along with just 39 walks. Schilling was also a phenomenal postseason pitcher: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 3 rings and a World Series co-MVP in 2001. Schilling also surpassed one bench-mark for pitchers that often gets you into the HOF – 3,116 career K’s. Now, did Schilling use PED’s? He’s never been accused, to my knowledge. I do find it somewhat suspicious that three of his best seasons were at the ages of 34, 35 and 37. But, if he was using, it didn’t help him as much as it helped Clemens, who had minuscule ERA’s and huge strikeout totals in his late years. Schilling won a lot of games in his later years, but his ERA and strikeout totals were more consistent with the rest of his career. Therefore, I don’t see enough evidence to doubt Schilling’s numbers, which were very good.
#18 – Kenny Lofton – NO. As much as I enjoyed watching Lofton play, and as much as I liked him as a person, I don’t see any evidence to suggest he belongs in the HOF. 622 stolen bases in 17 seasons is nice, but not astounding. And, nothing else he accomplished in his career even puts him in the top-100 all-time. Very good player. Nothing more.
#19 – Craig Biggio – NO. I’ll say what I’ve said before about other players – being an above average player long enough to accumulate a milestone number does not make you worthy of the Hall of Fame. Yes, Biggio has 3,060 hits. But, he had to play until he was 41 to get there. He averaged just 160 hits per season, as a full-time player. He never led the league in hits or batting average. And, of the 28 guys in the 3,000-hit club, only 2 have a lower career batting average than Biggio – Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson. And, there’s a whole lot more on their resumes than 3,000 hits. In 19 full seasons, he was an All-Star just 7 times. That means that 12 of 19 years, he wasn’t even considered one of the top 2 or 3 at his position – by fans or managers. Some want to make a big deal out of the fact that he played 3 different positions. But, if you take a look at why, you’ll see a different picture. He started at catcher, and in his first 3 full seasons, committed 8, 9 & 10 errors, respectively, while throwing out just 23% of base runners. That’s an okay catcher, but if you can move the guy elsewhere because he’s an above-average bat, and put someone else behind the plate, then that’s what you do – so that’s what Houston did. Then, later in his career, Houston signed a significantly better offensive second-baseman, so they needed to move Biggio again. So, he played some center field. In the equivalent of less than 2 full seasons in center, Biggio committed 15 errors. Again, not the worst solution, but certainly nowhere near Gold Glove caliber. So, because he was a professional athlete, he was able to play more than one position on the field – big deal. If he had been a star at more than one position, or an award winner at more than one position, then I could see making a big deal out of it. But, he wasn’t. No MVP awards (only finished in the top-10 3 times), 4 Gold Glove awards (no less than 2, of which, were undeserved – ’96 & ’97 – since at least one other second baseman had a significantly better year in the field; and in ’97 he won in spite of committing 18 errors, winning with the lowest fielding percentage at 2B since 1978). So, what was Biggio really good at? Leaning into pitches with plate armor on his elbow. He’s 2nd all-time in HBP, and led the league in HBP 5 times – as often as he led the league in any other significant batting category, combined. All this is probably overkill, but I know some people who are adamant that Biggio is an all-time great. He simply stayed healthy long enough to accumulate one time-honored stat, then promptly retired, and never really accomplished anything else that would make him “great.”
#20 – Sammy Sosa – NO. There wasn’t as drastic of a leap in his numbers during the suspected steroids years as I expected. I thought I had heard someone say that a guy who had never hit 40 before in his career was suddenly hitting 60+. It’s not quite like that. He hit 36, 40 & 36 from 1995-1997, at the ages of 26-28. It would make sense that his number could conceivably continue to climb for another year or two before starting to dip, due to age. So, from ages 29-32, he most likely would have hit 80-100 fewer home runs. And, from ages 33-35, he would have hit about 30-40 fewer home runs. So, what does that mean for his career? A total more in the 450-475 range. He might still could have won an MVP (if no one else was doping either). He probably still would have been an All-Star 5 or 6 times. But, without the PED’s he goes from all-time great, to all-time good.