On New Year’s Eve, everyone with a ballot to vote for the 2019 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame turned in their selections. I, of course, do not have a ballot, but that won’t stop me from sharing how I’d vote.
Because this got real wordy real fast, I’ve decided to cut it up into two posts. Hopefully, that makes it all a bit easier to digest. Later this week or next, I’ll explain why I didn’t vote for certain people.
Note that each ballot is held to a maximum of 10 selections. Without further adieu and in no particular order:
162.8 Wins Above Replacement – .298 average /.444 on-base percentage /.607 slugging percentage – 7 Most Valuable Player awards
Barry Bonds might be the best baseball player who ever lived.
He was the best player of the 1990s and the 2000s. Bonds was perhaps the perfect offensive player, almost like an earlier version of Mike Trout. He excelled at everything. He showed ridiculous levels of plate discipline, creating fables of umpires assuming a pitch was a ball because Bonds didn’t swing. He coupled that with true batting skill, not just for power, but for putting the ball wherever he wanted. And then later, regardless of how he did it, Bonds became the best power hitter ever, breaking Hank Aaron’s legendary home run record. Even if that became what defined his career, Bonds was so much more.
He was a smart baserunner, rarely giving away outs (514 stolen bases, 141 caught stealings) and fast enough to make outfielders worry going first-to-third. Defensively he had the range to easily handle left field and a good-enough arm. Given how bulky he ended up, it might be hard to remember just how athletic Barry Bonds was. He was simply on a different level.
Did he use steroids? It’s likely. Do I care? Not really, especially in a sport that relishes bending the rules. At the time, using what Bonds likely used wasn’t against the rules. I can’t keep him out for it. How else do we draw a line? I’m uncomfortable with the moralism of some writers to attempt to banish any perceived steroid user while ignoring the rampant amphetamine use of prior decades, for example.
The situation sucks. That’s the truth. Baseball did a terrible job of policing this for about 15 years and now here we are. That said, even if we arbitrarily decide Bonds’ career ends after 2000, he’s still one of the best outfielders ever. Bonds was so good that to keep him out of the Hall of Fame devalues its very existence.
There can be no shrine to baseball’s elite without him. Period.
139.6 Wins Above Replacement- 4916 innings – 4672 strikeouts – 1580 walks – 143 ERA-plus – 7 Cy Young awards – 1 Most Valuable Player award
Same story as above. Sure, he probably took steroids. But you just can’t have a Hall of Fame without arguably the best right-handed pitcher ever.
Roger Clemens is the textbook definition of a power pitcher, racking up strikeouts like virtually no one else in history. He pitched forever and at a very high level. He won a ton of awards and was a defining pitcher of his era.
Clemens attacked hitters with a hard, mid-to-upper 90s fastball and later developed a devastating split-finger fastball. He possessed the prototypical drop-and-drive mechanics, using his powerful legs to pump heat to the plate. Clemens pitched aggressively, living on the inside corner and intimidating hitters. Older fans surely remember his antics with Mike Piazza, when the latter was a New York Met. That was fairly normal.
Clemens was excellent in three distinct decades, winning Cy Youngs as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros. He produced indelible moments, like becoming the first hurler to strike out 20 hitters in a game. He struck out 17, 15 and 19 hitters in various postseason starts. Clemens was the picture of dominance, a snarling fastball-throwing punch-out machine.
Statistically, he has a case to be the best who ever lived.
But, of course, the steroids. It’s the ever-present cloud over his masterful career. How do we handle this? Do you want to simply pretend his post-Red Sox career didn’t happen? No problem. He’s a no-brainer anyway.
83.0 Wins Above Replacement – 3562 innings – 2813 strikeouts – 785 walks – 123 ERA-plus
It’s easy to forget how good Mike Mussina was. He’s a pretty good pitcher in an era dominated by Mount Rushmore names like Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson. Mussina rightfully isn’t in that class.
But Mussina is absolutely one of the best pitchers of all time, and a deserving Hall of Famer. By bWAR alone, he’d rank right now as the 22nd best pitcher in the Hall, just between Robin Roberts and Fergie Jenkins. I think what people miss about Mussina is the longevity. No, he didn’t burn down the league like a Pedro or Clayton Kershaw. He didn’t rack up countless Cy Youngs like Maddux or Johnson.
He simply was a really good pitcher for 20 years in a heightened offensive era. Mussina was craftier than he gets credit for. He threw a ton of pitches from a variety of arm angles, which helped ease the blow of his diminished velocity later on. His knuckle-curve was flat-out nasty.
79.6 Wins Above Replacement- 3261 innings – 3116 strikeouts – 711 walks – 127 ERA-plus
It’s hard to argue Mussina’s case and not apply the same logic to Curt Schilling. Schilling might even have a better case given that his peak was better (from 1997-2004, he threw 1824 innings with 1945 punchouts to a 142 ERA-plus). Plus he dominated in the postseason, most notably in 2001 for Arizona and 2004 for Boston. That stuff matters. Baseball is a sport of moments, and Schilling produced some indelible ones. We should reward players who excel in October.
Schilling pitched in the model of Clemens, a dominant power arm racking up strikeouts and limiting the walks. Schilling threw hard (upper-to-mid 90s) with a devastating split-finger fastball. He racked up most of his career value with the Philadelphia Phillies before moving on to Arizona and then Boston. He was superb at each stop.
Much of the discussion surrounding Schilling today turns to his political rants and failed business ventures. There can be some handwringing as to whether he’s violated the fabled “character clause,” but I don’t buy it. We’re not electing anyone to sainthood here.
There are so many pitchers in the Hall of Fame who aren’t on his or Mussina’s level that to keep them out borders on absurd.
70.2 Wins Above Replacement – .281 batting average /.364 on-base percentage / .490 slugging percentage
Scott Rolen is one of the best defensive players to ever grace a diamond. Rolen was strong-armed and nimble at third base and coupled that with a better-than-you’d-think offensive game.
An excellent glove at a premium position with high on-base skills and plenty of power turns into a Hall of Famer real quick. But he was never famous — Rolen was grouchy with the press and avoided endorsement opportunities. Not surprisingly, he rarely was regarded nationally as among the game’s inner-circle — those headlines belonged to guys like Bonds, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and more — but that’s more a function of the broader baseball community’s inability to recognize defense.
It turns out that preventing runs is important. I’m not saying Rolen was that good, but he was an upper-echelon player without a doubt. (The same is true of Adrian Beltre, who also should be a Hall of Famer when his time comes.)
No, Rolen didn’t tally 3000 hits or 500 home runs. No, he never won an MVP. Voting for Rolen is an exercise in ignoring the traditional benchmarks, and I’m happy to do it.