The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2017 on Wednesday, and there are three players joining the ranks: OF Tim Raines, 1B Jeff Bagwell, and C Ivan Rodriguez.
A few words about each player:
Tim Raines | OF
First, this is our tenuous A’s connection. We will be listed as one of his teams on his plaque! Not holding my breath that he’ll wear our hat, though. He played 58 games for the 1999 A’s, and he was even slightly above replacement level despite not hitting at all. That 1999 team was sort of like the mini version of 2012, but the gritty reboot prequel where we didn’t quite make the playoffs at the end — rookies coming up and contributing, some random veterans and role players joining the party and playing over their heads, and the whole motley crew shocking everyone by making an actual run (87 wins!). For a kid who juuust missed the ‘88-90 World Series teams, and only vaguely remembers the 1992 ALCS squad, this was the first time my team was truly fun and exciting. And Raines was there, at age 39!
As for his actual career, the part that got him into the HOF, Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters of all time. He got on base almost exactly as much as Tony Gwynn, and he’s fifth all-time in steals at a far higher success rate than anyone above him (even Rickey). He added in some midlevel power, for a career 125 wRC+, and overall he racked up around 65-70 WAR. He’s a deserving candidate who took a little longer than most to get his due, but the voters made the right call by choosing him before he fell off the ballot next year.
Jeff Bagwell | 1B
One of my absolute favorites. The Astros were my “NL team” for years, mostly because of Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and the flashy logo they switched to in 1994 that 9-year-old me thought was the coolest thing ever. I actually had a rooting interest in the 2005 World Series. Of course, now they’re in our division, so I hope they lose 110 games every year forever, but we’ll always have Paris.
Anyway, Bagwell was one of the best first basemen of all time and should have been in on the first ballot. He did everything great — average, on-base, slugging, baserunning, defense, consistent health for over a decade, with an MVP award mixed in, all on one team for what that’s worth. The only thing he was missing was a championship, and he wasn’t much good in six playoff appearances.
I have two regrets about Bagwell’s career. The first is that he and Frank Thomas (who were born on the same day) weren’t healthy enough for an epic showdown in that 2005 World Series. The teams they’d anchored for years finally made it, at the same time, but they were 37 by then and had missed most of the year; at least Bagwell got a few at-bats in the Series and got to notch a hit.
My other regret is that, in 2013, when no (post-19th century) players got elected to the HOF, we didn’t get the following result instead: Bagwell and Biggio both elected, but just them, with Houston’s current team coming off 106 and 107 losses the previous two seasons. It could have been Astros Day for a fanbase that surely needed a win. Instead, both players stalled around 60-70%, and later went in as featured members of larger classes. Such a missed opportunity, for two guys who were obviously going to make it anyway.
But that’s all in the past, and the important thing is that both are in now. Even better, Bagwell joins Mike Piazza as players who overcame generally unfounded PED whispers to earn induction. That doesn’t mean PEDs are no longer a consideration, but clearly the direction we’re headed is that some sort of actual evidence will be required in order for it to really cost a deserving member. I think that’s a positive trend. (And, taking a step further, Bonds and Clemens both inched up over 50% as well.)
Ivan Rodriguez | C
One of the best catchers of all time, with a legendary throwing arm, nearly 3,000 hits, over 300 homers, and even some speed. He won an MVP for one team, then went to the World Series with two others (and one once). Seeing your team play against Pudge was absolutely terrifying, and he could completely shut down your running game while also beating you from the batter’s box. Jose Canseco says he did steroids, but, meh. You’re free to hold that against him if you wish. The voters certainly didn’t, sending him in on his first ballot like he deserves. Like with Bagwell, I see this as progress toward the players I grew up watching being properly represented in the sport’s history.
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A couple other notes:
- I think it’s neat that these guys largely represent teams that don’t have a lot of players in the Hall: the Expos, Astros, and Rangers.
- Just missed: closer Trevor Hoffman came 5 votes short (74.0%), and slugger Vladimir Guerrero came 15 votes short (71.7%). They’re probably shoo-ins for next year. Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina (two candidates I support) both made jumps over 50% as well.
- Coming up next year: Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana
- A few more fun names comings up next year: Johnny Damon, Omar Vizquel, Jamie Moyer, Hideki Matsui, Jason Isringhausen (and Ben Sheets and Brian Fuentes no wait stop throwing things at me)
The rest of the Class of 2017, which was already known: former Royals and Braves GM John Schuerholz, and commissioner Bud “PEDs are bad except when they’re helping my career” Selig. The Spink Award (for writers) went to Claire Smith, and of course the Frick Award (for broadcasters) went to our own Bill King.