Entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the most heralded honors in any of the major sports. Located in quiet Cooperstown, New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame contains 314 inductees, including 217 players. Over the years, the National Baseball Writers of America have shown to be on very different pages. During the collection of public votes for the upcoming Hall of Fame election (tracked by Ryan Thibodaux), numerous issues have arisen regarding the “deserving” players on this year’s ballot.
The Tough Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot
Steroid Era Players
Following the election of Bud Selig, who appeared on 15 of 16 possible ballots as part of the Today’s Game Era Committee, writers began to change their positions on supposed steroid users who appear on the ballot. They felt that if Selig, who was commissioner and therefore oversaw the Steroid Era, was honored, it is only fair that players have the same chance at the Hall.
The Big Guys
According to Thibodaux, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have had a net gain of 15 and 16 votes, respectively, from returning voters this year. They currently stand at 70% of votes, with 126 public so far. This jump displays the change in thinking by writers who feel that if the enabler is in, those who took advantage of the era deserve to be in as well.
Meanwhile, Ivan Rodriguez, another alleged steroid user, seems to be a favorite to enter the Hall this year, for good reason. He is one of the best catchers of all-time, certainly on the defensive side, having won 13 Gold Glove Awards. First baseman Jeff Bagwell, who faced some accusations as well, is also leading the pack for induction.
Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa, two more notorious accused steroids users, are struggling to retain votes, hovering around 11%. Manny Ramirez, who failed two drug tests very late in his career, has also received minimal support.
It’s time to move on and just put these guys through. The Steroid Era may have been preventable, but it happened, and there’s no eliminating it from baseball history. It’s there, the players were there, and the numbers are there. If people are at such a crossroads about the issue, just add an asterisk next to their names.
It makes no sense to keep a seven-time MVP (Bonds) and seven-time Cy Young Award winner (Clemens) out of the Hall of Fame. Bonds is also the all-time home runs leader, while Clemens is a 350 game winner and 4,600 strikeout pitcher. As detrimental to the game as the Steroid Era may have been, it was still a part of baseball’s long history, and can’t be undone by ignoring it. Those players belong in Cooperstown.
For some odd reason, closers have been a major topic of discussion between voters recently. Trevor Hoffman, second on the all-time list, is entering his second year on the ballot; flame-throwing left-hander Billy Wagner, whose K/9 trumps that of both Hoffman and all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, becomes eligible for the ballot in 2019.
Many writers argue that being a closer requires no special skill, and that relievers are just failed starters. Others feel that, while closers have become relied upon in the game of baseball, they don’t deserve as much credit as starting pitchers do, mainly because they only pitch one or two innings per game.
Part of History
The use of closers started to become popular in the 1980s, were prevalent in the 1990s, and became a normal, everyday occurrence in the 2000s. Closers are another part of the game that can’t be ignored; the game changed and adopted the role of closers. In today’s game, relievers regularly throw 95+ miles per hour. It is an impressive feat to throw a ball that hard, albeit over a short amount of time, but many closers are dominant and deserve recognition for their part in the game. They’ll exist for the rest of time, unless doctors find a way to make arms rubber and last nine innings. Therefore, Hoffman belongs; Wagner, given his 422 saves and the dominance he had over hitters, belongs; Rivera will be a first ballot Hall of Famer due to his regular season and postseason accolades.
Closers Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, and John Smoltz are all in the Hall. At the time of their inductions, they were the greatest closers of all-time. Now, a whole new class is coming and its members belong right beside their predecessors.
Lee Smith, in his last year on the ballot, while an effective closer with 478 saves, won’t see the support Rivera will get and that closers of his era got. This is unfair, as he is third on the all-time saves list, behind the aforementioned Rivera and Hoffman.
In perhaps the largest debate on the ballot, former Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez has faced an uphill climb in his eight year on the ballot, and has gained 21 votes this year already. Following his retirement, many claimed David Ortiz would one day be a first ballot Hall of Famer. If this is the case, Martinez should be in already. While Ortiz hit more homers (541) and seemed to come through in the clutch all the time, he played in a big market like Boston; Martinez was in Seattle for 18 years. Martinez was a career .312 hitter who twice was the American League batting champion.
Writers have had their share of criticism about designated hitters, just as they had about closers. The fact is, the DH is a part of the game that won’t be changed anytime soon. Martinez and Ortiz benefited from being designated hitters and made the position what it is.
Given a ballot, I’d vote in the following players:
- Jeff Bagwell
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Vladimir Guerrero
- Trevor Hoffman
- Edgar Martinez
- Mike Mussina
- Tim Raines
- Ivan Rodriguez
- Billy Wagner