Hall's take on the Hall

Bob Levey

...of Fame.

It's that time of year again. The air is cold and crisp, there is snow on the ground (somewhere, probably), lights line the houses up and down the street, and families come together to celebrate. Yes, it's Hall of Fame voting season. Oh, and Christmas, I guess. But mostly Hall of Fame time.

Named after my forefathers, the Hall of Fame exists to house and exhibit the history of the game and to honor its very best players and people. Everyone has their own opinions on the Hall and what it takes to be inducted. Only about 600 of those opinions actually count, but that doesn't stop the rest of us from chiming in.

Today, it's my turn to bombard you with my thoughts and opinions. Without further ado, here are the 10 players who I would put on my ballot if I had one; last week's episode of the Phil Naessens Show, in which we discuss the ballot, is embedded at the bottom.

The ten players split up conveniently into pairs:

Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens

I'll keep this short. I'm not happy that we have a Steroid Era, but all I really care about is the things that happened on the field. If you don't want players to cheat, then at least make rules about it and enforce them rather than complaining after the fact that the honor system didn't work; if you fail to do that, then live with the results. I get that there is a character clause to take into account, and I might consider using that as a tie-breaker against a borderline guy like Sammy Sosa or (don't hate me) Mark McGwire, but I can't use it to keep all-time greats out of the Museum of All-Time Great Baseball Players.

There is no argument against the raw numbers of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Legitimate arguments can be made that they are the best player and best pitcher, respectively, in the history of the game. The only way to leave them off of the ballot is to penalize them for PED's, and complete disqualification just seems extreme to me given the magnitude of these players' greatness. I simply don't feel that their crimes deserve that type of capital punishment. Instead, I propose a balanced way of docking them for their transgressions. For each player, there is a point in time at which they are generally believed to have begun juicing. For Bonds, it is after the 1998 season, when he was overshadowed by the drug-fueled chase for Roger Maris' record. For Clemens, it is after he left the Red Sox and wanted to revive his declining career.

Here is my compromise: Just lop off the enhanced sections of their careers. End Bonds after 1998, his age-33 season; he still has 411 home runs, 445 steals, three MVP's, eight Gold Gloves, a 966 OPS, and around 100 WAR. He's still an inner-circle Hall of Famer. Cut Clemens off after 1996, his age-33 season and last year in Boston; he still has a 192-111 record, 2,590 strikeouts (16th all-time), three Cy Youngs, a 144 ERA+, and at least 80 WAR. That sounds pretty similar to (or slightly better than) Tom Glavine's overall value, and he's being talked about like an obvious choice.

Remove the entire PED sections from their careers, and these guys are still shoe-ins.

Greg Maddux & Tom Glavine

There's not much to say about Maddux and Glavine. Maddux is one of the best five or so pitchers in history, and is universally respected in just about every way. Glavine has 305 wins, two Cy Youngs, around 70 career WAR and a sterling postseason record. He was at his best in the five World Series in which his teams played, and he won the Series MVP in the only Fall Classic that his team won.

There is one thing, though. There are one or two guys who I am leaving off my ballot who I might normally rank above Glavine. Someone has to get left off. However, I went with Glavine on a tie-breaker due to the cool story that it would be. His manager, Bobby Cox, and his partner in crime, Greg Maddux, are already getting in this year. It would be really neat to see all three of them go in together. I normally don't like starting my analytic statements with "If would be really neat," but there it is. I guess you could make an argument that it would be equally cool to see Cox and Maddux go in this year, followed by Smoltz and Glavine together next year, but whatever. No one seems to think about poor Smoltzy in this line of reasoning.

Jeff Bagwell & Craig Biggio

Simply put, Bagwell and Biggio should both have been elected last year. They could have gone in together and had the podium to themselves. It would have been Astros Day, the greatest day in franchise history in the midst of a run of historic awfulness by the team on the field. It was an immense missed opportunity by all parties involved. It was also a mistake based on the fact that both of these guys are deserving players with no specific (or even loosely implied) links to PED's. Worst of all, it means that they have to take up space on this year's overcrowded ballot, thus preventing other deserving players from getting votes. It is omissions like this that caused Deadspin to actively pursue corruption of a broken system.

In case you are unclear on their credentials, here you go. Bagwell hit 449 home runs, stole 202 bases, batted .297/.408/.540 for his career, won an MVP and a Gold Glove, and was generally a great all-around player. If you like WAR, he's at about 80 on both scales. Nothing about his career arc suggests a chemical boost in any way. He's easily one of the ten best first basemen of all time, and everyone above him and immediately below him is either a Hall of Famer or hasn't yet been on a ballot. Biggio has 3,060 hits, 414 stolen bases, 291 home runs, 668 doubles (fifth all-time) and four Gold Gloves; he was another great all-around player who had a Hall-worthy nine-year peak and was one of the 10 or 15 best second basemen in history. He's borderline, but he's good enough. Both guys get a little sentimental boost for playing on only one team for their entire careers, which helps make up for their lack of postseason success.

Curt Schilling & Mike Mussina

The case for Curt Schilling is similar to the case for Jack Morris, except better. Schilling's raw numbers don't jump off the page -- 216 wins, 3.46 ERA, no Cy Youngs -- but he makes up for it with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of all time (4.38), 3116 strikeouts (15th all-time), around 80 WAR, and an immaculate postseason career; he went to the World Series four times with three different teams, posted a 2.06 ERA in seven starts, and won three rings. He's one of the best big-game pitchers of all time, which sounds like something that Morris supporters would say. The difference is that the statistics actually agree that Schilling was a big-game pitcher, and he has more regular-season greatness to back it up.

Mike Mussina, meanwhile, is similar to Morris in that you had to be there to appreciate him. Like Schilling, he never won a Cy Young. He didn't reach the postseason heights that Schilling did, though he pitched well in the playoffs and reached two World Series. He won 270 games but finished with a merely "good" 3.68 ERA (123 ERA+). However, he had a long career as an ace starter, he accrued over 80 WAR, and he won seven Gold Gloves, for what that's worth. Basically, if you support Glavine for the Hall, you have to understand that Schilling and Mussina each had better careers despite lower win totals.

Alan Trammall & Tim Raines

I'll be honest. I'm too young to fully appreciate Alan Trammell and Tim Raines. I was born in 1985, and their times as star players were done by the time I was old enough to notice. I remember Trammell in the twilight of his career, and I remember Raines catching on for a season with the A's after finally winning a couple of titles with the Yankees.

Trammell is one of the 15 or so best shortstops in history, and shortstop is one of the most important positions on the field. His career is on line with other Hall of Fame shortstops from the past, and he compared well with the other great shortstops of his era (Cal Ripken, Robin Young, Barry Larkin). He wasn't the best at any one aspect of the game, but he was a good hitter (.285/.352/.415, 2,386 hits), had some pop (185 home runs), had some speed (236 steals, albeit at a low success rate), and was a good defender (four Gold Gloves, excellent scores on defensive metrics). He should be in.

The argument for Raines usually involves a comparison with Tony Gwynn. Gwynn is rightly heralded as an all-time great, and he went in nearly unanimously on his first ballot. Raines was almost exactly as valuable as Gwynn, but he received far less fan-fare and didn't achieve some of the more visible accolades that Gwynn did. While Gwynn was famous for his hitting ability (eight batting titles, 3,141 hits), Raines reached base at nearly exactly the same clip (.385 for Raines, .388 for Gwynn) in nearly exactly the same number of plate appearances. Sure, a walk isn't always as good as a hit, but these guys were table-setters; getting on base in any way was the goal, and Raines ultimately scored quite a few more runs than Gwynn did. Plus, once on base, Raines rivaled Rickey Henderson as the best base-stealer of all time. Rickey racked up a far larger total, but Raines still swiped 808 bags with the best success rate in history (84.7%); Rickey was only safe 80.8% of the time. Raines also hit for slightly more power than Gwynn and finished with 170 home runs. I would consider him the second-best leadoff hitter of all time, after Rickey, and I think that's awfully impressive. I think that Joe Posnanski put it best: "If Gwynn was a 98% Hall of Famer, Raines should be 90% Hall of Famer."

Worthy, but pushed out due to ballot limits

Frank Thomas

Perhaps I'll talk more about the Big Hurt next year, if there is space for him on my ballot. He was a favorite of mine growing up, and only got more endearing as time went on. He hit 521 home runs, batted .301/.419/.555 for his career, won two MVP's, enjoyed an awesome late-career resurgence with my favorite team, and is widely believed to have been clean. He'd probably make it above Glavine if it weren't for my need to satisfy my nostalgic side by pairing the latter with Maddux.

Mike Piazza

Piazza is, quite simply, one of the best-hitting catchers of all time, and easily one of the ten best backstops overall. He hit more home runs than any other catcher in history, batted .308/.377/.545, and was totally decent behind the plate. While it's possible that he juiced, there have been no (legitimately-based) outright accusations to that effect, and he certainly never tested positive for anything (that we know of). It's a tough choice for me between him, Glavine, and Biggio; on a ballot with no limit, Piazza would be there in a heartbeat.

Edgar Martinez

You would expect better counting stats from a guy who was primarily a designated hitter (309 homers, 2,247 home runs), but he batted .312/.418/.555 and was one of the most feared hitters in the game in his prime. I like him as the first "true DH" in the Hall (unless you count Paul Molitor), but he'll have to wait awhile for space to open up on the ballot.

Hall of Very Good

Jack Morris

I just don't buy it. Morris was really good. He was a reliable workhorse, and he had a couple of really famous big-game victories. But his overall body of work doesn't stack up (3.90 ERA, 48 WAR averaged between the two scales), his peak wasn't good enough, and he didn't win any hardware to justify the "dominant reputation" argument. He did have two incredible World Series runs in 1984 and '91, but he also fell flat in the '92 Series and his overall postseason record was a merely solid 7-4, 3.80. His comparables include "Hall of Very Good" names like David Wells, Kevin Brown, Rick Reuschel, Dennis Martinez, and Jamie Moyer.

Mark McGwire

Again, please don't hate me. I love Big Mac. Always have, always will. He was the star when I was growing up. Don't personally care if he did anything wrong, and I believe that he's sincerely sorry for all of the hooplah. And he is also the greatest home run hitter of all time. However, he was sort of a one-dimensional player, and that one dimension may have been helped by the PED's (if only to keep him on the field long enough to hit more dingers). Honestly, I flip back and forth on this one, and I'm sure that I'll flip-flop a couple more times before all is said and done. In fact, I put him on my theoretical ballot last year. But for now, he just barely misses in my eyes. And I assure you, that's difficult for me to say.

Sammy Sosa

I basically see him as McGwire, but not quite as good. He was slightly more well-rounded as a baserunner and defender, though.

Rafael Palmeiro

I'm probably a bit hypocritical when it comes to Palmeiro. I think that I subconsciously hold the PED's against him, since he actually tested positive and received a suspension. Otherwise, I'm not sure how I could overlook his 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. He was a bit of a "compiler," but he had a pretty big peak in his thirties.

Larry Walker

Honestly, there are so many other better players on the ballot that I haven't even really considered Walker. It is possible that I may support him in the future when I've taken a closer look at his career. He's a .313 career hitter with 383 home runs, but he also played his prime years in Coors Field at its offensive peak. He won an MVP and seven Gold Gloves and accrued around 70 WAR, though, so we'll re-visit him next year if there's room.

.....

To wrap things up, here is last week's episode of the Phil Naessens Show, in which we discuss some of the borderline and underrated players on the ballot. My segment starts at about 29:40 and goes about 24 minutes.

Who would be on your Hall of Fame ballot? Let us know in the comments!

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