First, I’d like to apologize to all the members of the Baseball Writers Association for the long wait. Though I do not have an official ballot, I recognize that many in the BBWA like to use my ballot as a template, a “key,” if you will. As always, I’m glad to help.
Official voters are allowed up to ten votes each year. Some fuddy-duddies like to vote for less than ten, but that’s just rude. To gain entry into the hall, players must appear on at least 75% of the ballots. This year, there are 33 players on the ballot; since each ballot can only contain ten, it is quite difficult to muster 75%. All real ballots need to have ten players on it. Anything less is just old-fogey stuff.
There are 17 guys who I would seriously consider if there was no limit. I’ll group them for you.
Group A: Superstars on Steroids
- Roger Clemens
- Barry Bonds
- Manny Ramirez
With these guys, the question is how much you think their careers were influenced by their apparent drug use and by how much you care. Clemens and Bonds are two of the best ten players in the history of the world, and that is no exaggeration. That’s enough for me. I care something about steroid use and its place in evaluating players of that era. These guys were over-the-top great, though. It’s hard for me to believe that the gain Babe Ruth got by the exclusion of all black players wasn’t just as great as the gain these guys got.
As for Manny, I don’t know why people miss his brilliance. Look back over the draft history of your fantasy league, if you have one. In my league, Manny was a first or second-round draft pick twelve years running. You knew you could count on Manny Ramirez. Sosa? He wasn’t great enough to make it worth arguing for. If you are anti-steroids, I’ll sacrifice Sosa for you.
Group B: Slam Dunks
- Chipper Jones
- Edgar Martinez
- Mike Mussina
- Jim Thome
- Vladmir Guerrero
I’m committed to getting ten on my ballot, and these five are the best remaining, in more or less this order. I’m up to eight players already; only two spaces to go.
Group C: Famous Guys
Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield and Trevor Hoffman
All four of these guys show up on the Hall of Fame ballots I’ve been seeing. (The ballots from the few writers that haven’t been waiting for my guidance.) Look, I love the lot. In particular, it seems like Curt Schilling belongs in any true history of the heroes of baseball. And I haven’t even gotten started on Larry Walker; I might fund the candidacy of Larry Walker. There’s only two spaces left, though, and even though my propensity toward groupthink makes me want to choose from these four, I’ve got two I like better.
Group D: Whattabout guys
- Fred McGriff
- Billy Wagner
Scott Rolen and Johann Santana
These four guys seem just as likely to get Hall of Fame love as some of the players in the previous category, but everyone forgets about them. Johann Santana has every bit the case that Mike Mussina does; Scott Rolen is just as deserving as Vladimir Guerrero. I’d be happy to round out my top ten with these two.
Still, my last guys are Fred McGriff and Billy Wagner. McGriff was one of the great home run hitters of his generation, as reliable as they came. Fans of McGriff’s teams well understand the phrase “counting to McGriff,” which was the act of counting the batters until he would come to the plate and save the day.
Wagner, for some reason, has played second fiddle to Trevor Hoffman in Hall of Fame talk. They were both relief pitchers and their stats were similar. Wagner’s were a little better, but Hoffman is the reliever with some hall support.
And goodness gracious, let’s not consider two relievers. A ballot like mine can be taken seriously if it has three steroid guys or no famous guys or five slam-dunk guys, but two relief pitchers? Hold it right there, pal. No self-respecting Hall of Fame ballot can have two relief pitchers on it.
If even some of the great talents of the game were placed in a position–closers–that the team felt increased their chances of victory. These unique talents responded by re-defining an era, pitching only an inning at a time, almost always to finish a game their teams had in hand. Two of those guys were Hoffman and Wagner. Now, we are in the midst of a “reliever backlash,” and it’s not in vogue to waste one of your hall choices on a guy with a bunch of saves.
Well, I remember how incredibly defining closers of that era were, and I’ll remember Wagner as the most insane. He was striking out a batter an inning, decades before it became a realistic goal. It seemed like he was a foot shorter than everybody else but it never mattered.
Yeah, I’ll take a reliever, and it’ll be Billy Wagner.