In case you don’t follow the Baseball Hall-of-Fame voting as closely as we do, here’s where it stands today. In a thinly veiled attempt to block steroid users from getting in, two years ago the Baseball Writer’s Association of America changed the amount of years a player could stay on the ballot from 15 down to 10. And… it’s worked. Mark McGwire, he of the “chicks dig the long ball” era (and commercial), lasted the full ten years on the ballot before being knocked off. (Amazingly, he was back on the ballot this year as an option for the new “Today’s Game Era Committee” and, surprise, once again didn’t get enough votes.) Rafael Palmeiro, he of the finger wagging statement “I have never used steroids” to a congressional committee (oops, turned out he had) lasted just four years.
However, many alleged or confirmed steroid users continue to get enough votes to stay on the ballot (5%) but not enough to get elected (75%). This has created a logjam of worthy candidates. Each writer can choose up to ten players on their ballot (we are only choosing eight who are worthy here so we will quickly say here that our final two choices would go to Fred McGriff and Trevor Hoffman respectively, with Vladimir Guerrero immediately joining the ballot when there is room for him next year). With that in mind, let’s dive into the remaining fifteen candidates with at least a snowball’s chance in Hell of being elected and give you… 8 MLB Players Who Should Be In The Next Hall Of Fame Class And 7 Who Shouldn’t.
15 Should: Edgar Martinez
Seven time All-Star. Two-time batting champion. Hall of Fame worthy qualities to be sure, but all Edgar Martinez did was hit. Yes, you can take that statement in two ways, and yes, its meant to be taken as such. In our mind, you have to be truly exceptional to get voted in when you spend just minutes actually participating in each game, and even leave the clubhouse for a chunk of time each night to hit the cage while your teammates are on the field. But Edgar Martinez WAS exceptional, the greatest designated hitter of his generation, despite playing over 70% of his games without ever stepping on the field to play defense. In 2015, two of the best pitchers in baseball history, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were both elected. They agreed on one thing. “The toughest guy I faced I think -- with all due respect to all the players in the league -- was Edgar Martinez,“ Pedro said. Johnson put it more simply. “Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen.”
14 Shouldn’t: Lee Smith
A seven-time All-Star with three top five Cy Young Award finishes, Lee Smith was one of baseball’s best closers for over a decade from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. In 2010, he was asked to write the prologue to the book “Fireman,” an ode to closers, which featured none other than Mariano Rivera on the cover, because he was so respected in the position. Of the five players who have held the career saves record longer than for one year since 1964, two of them, Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers, are already in the Hall of Fame, and one other, Mariano Rivera, is probably going to make it on the first ballot. That leaves two: Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. So why is he on our “shouldn’t” list? It all brings us to a familiar point - a reliever impacts the game as minimally as any position outside of DH and as a result we feel that we have to hold its candidates to the absolute highest standards. With only ten spots on our ballot, we feel we can really only justify choosing one.
The answer then, becomes easy. Hoffman has the same amount of All-Star appearances and top-five Cy Young award finishes but over 100 more career saves than Smith. He was, in fact, so respected and so prolific that in 2014, the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award was created, alongside than none other than, you guessed it, the Mariano Rivera American League Relieved of the Year. Hoffman was exceptional. We are clearly not alone in thinking Hoffman was exceptional. Smith was just short of that.
13 Should: Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez should join fellow Puerto Rican Edgar Martinez in Cooperstown this year, the only player in his first year of eligibility to receive the honors. A 14-time All-Star with 13 Golden Gloves and the 1999 AL MVP, Rodriguez has great credentials for the Hall-of-Fame on both offense and defense. He broke in at age 19, making him the youngest catcher in Major League history, and achieved remarkable longevity for his position, lasting 21 years and catching 2,427 games, the most by a player… ever. Despite all that wear and tear, his cannon arm gave him a caught stealing percentage for his career of 46%, ranking 39th in history and leading the majors in five different seasons. On offense, he scored more runs (1,354) and knocked more hits (2,844) in his career than any other catcher. Nicknamed Pudge for his 5’ 9”, 205-pound frame, his offensive numbers even hold up against even more traditionally prolific offense positions. In fact, he is just the fifth player in Major League history to hit better than .290 with at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 300 home runs, and 1,300 runs batted in — alongside a few “decent players” named Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, George Brett, and Babe Ruth. He even won a World Series, in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. He simply checks all the boxes.
12 Shouldn’t: Jorge Posada
The case for Jorge Posada when put side by side during his first year on the ballot with fellow catcher and Puerto Rican Ivan Rodriguez is simple: four, as in four times a champion, and six, as in six World Series appearances in total. In fact, Posada practically played a full season in his postseason career, coming to bat 492 times over 125 games as was one of four players that was a centerpiece of a dominant Yankees franchise for the better part or two decades, alongside Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. During the regular season, however, Posada was merely… very good. He was an All-Star and Silver Slugger five times, and had one top-five MVP season, when he was voted third after hitting a career high 30 home runs and 101 RBI in 2003 (before losing to Pudge’s Florida Marlins in the World Series). His caught stealing percentage was only 28%, he never won a Golden Glove, and he only had 1,664 career hits and 900 career runs. He simply doesn’t hold water compared to a great like Rodriguez.
11 Should: Tim Raines
There is no other way to put this: its unfair that Lee Smith, a very good but undeserving player is in his final year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame in his 15th year when Tim Raines, a great and underrated player is facing down his last chance in year 10. Raines is a tale of two stories and two decades, which together add up to Hall of Fame credentials. He was simply one of the greatest players in Montreal Expos history, dominating baseball for a ten year stretch from 1981-1990 starting from the bright young age of 21 with seven consecutive All-Star appearances, leading the NL in steals four consecutive years, and earning MVP votes six different times. In his strike shortened rookie season he had 71 stolen bases in just 88 GAMES. Upon transferring to the AL in his 30s, he then spent the 1990s slowly losing his speed but continuing to hit for a solid if at times high batting average and winning a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1996. His final numbers include being fifth all-time in stolen bases with 808, and the four in front of him are all in the Hall. What’s more. he was caught just 146 times. That's an 84.7 percent success rate, the highest mark in baseball history for anyone with 400 or more tries.
10 Shouldn’t: Larry Walker
From one great early career Expo to another, Tim Raines was traded partly to make room for the 24 year old wunderkind Larry Walker, who had just nearly had a 20 home run/20 steal season in his rookie year. He played four more all-around seasons in the early '90s with the Expos, before signing as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies, where he would play for a decade before finishing his 17 year career in St. Louis. Over that period, the 1997 MVP appeared in five all-star games, won three Silver Sluggers, and earned seven Gold Gloves, primarily thanks to his extremely strong arm in right field. Walker, however, gets dinged for two reasons, neither of which was really in his control. Repeatedly hit by injuries, he played over 143 games only once in his career, meaning his total numbers like 2,160 hits and 383 home runs failed to meet typical Hall of Fame standards. Additionally, he played in Colorado, where the thin air inflated his already low career numbers to perhaps more lofty standards than a man of his talents should have achieved. Walker’s “slash line” in Coors Field was an absurd .381 career batting average/.462 career on base percentage/.710 career slugging average. Elsewhere, he hit a simply very good .282/.372/.501.
9 Should: Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell (Pictured Left) is the greatest hitter in baseball history eligible for the Hall of Fame, not directly linked to steroids, who has yet to be elected. He is in his seventh year on the ballot, and time will soon be running out. Rookie of the Year in 1991, three top-three MVP finishes, including winning the award in 1994, and hitting 30 or more home-runs nine out of ten years in his decade long peak from the mid-90s to the mid-00s, Bagwell has the hardware and long period of dominance to make him a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Playing his entire career with the Houston Astros, there was nothing Bagwell couldn’t do on the offensive end of the sport, even somehow willing his stout 6’0”, 215 pound frame to 202 career stolen bases. Surprisingly, given his build, history shows him to be a great defensive player too. His late-career shoulder injury in part kept him from hitting the “counting stats” of 500 homers and 3000 hits, but at a position loaded with all-time greats, one of the most respected baseball statistical analysts, Jay Jaffe, has him as the sixth most valuable first baseman of all-time, only behind Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, Cap Anson, and Roger Connor, Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers all.
8 Shouldn’t: Jeff Kent
Jeff Kent didn’t begin to make an argument for the Hall of Fame until he joined the San Francisco Giants at age 29 in 1997, but that began a 10 year peak with three different NL clubs (the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers as well) that saw him hit no less than 22 home runs and bat in no less than 93 runs at arguably the weakest offensive position in baseball, second base. He went to five All-Star games, won four Silver Sluggers, and was the 2000 NL MVP over that same period. Here’s the thing about Kent though. While he played second base and was arguably one of the best five hitters in history at the position (he stands alone atop the leader board in career HR), by nearly every metric he was below average in the field, costing his team runs rather than saving them, while manning a spot in the field that has historically put a premium on defense. He was, in essence, a first baseman playing out of position, and as first baseman go, he was merely just good. He had good but not great overall counting numbers, with 2,461 career hits and 377 career home runs. All this adds up to falling just short of being Hall worthy.
7 Should: Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling had only pitched around 800 innings by the time he was 29, due to coming out of the bullpen early in his career in Baltimore and Houston and battling injuries in the mid-90s with the Philadelphia Phillies. By comparison, 2014 Hall of Fame inductees John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez had logged nearly double that amount, over 1500 innings each, by that age. Perhaps that’s why a pitcher whose career value compares favorably to Smoltz and Pedro, in numbers both traditional (nearly equivalent amount of wins and strike-outs for all three) and new (nearly equivalent career WAR) has been passed over for four straight years now. Perhaps his greatness simply snuck up on us. We haven’t even begun to list Schilling’s post-season credentials, where he was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA over 19 appearances, helping lead his teams to three World Championships in four attempts, including a 2001 MVP winning performance at age 34 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and, of course, helping break the seven decade long curse as the staff ace for the Boston Red Sox in 2004 at age 37.
The truth however, is that Schilling has never been very likable by the media and he isn’t winning himself any new friends these days, particularly when he tweeted applauding a t-shirt threatening the lives of journalists at a Trump rally in November. This, after being fired from ESPN earlier this year for stating “a man is a man no matter what they call themselves” on Facebook. Whatever you think of the man however, his performance as a pitcher should stand alone and earn him a nod this year.
6 Shouldn’t: Sammy Sosa
Seven-time All Star. Six-time Silver Slugger. MVP of the 1998 season. Eighth all-time in career home runs. 29th in RBI. So surely as the 2016 Chicago Cubs rode to the best record in the majors and their first World Series victory in over a century, Sammy Sosa’s face, as arguably the greatest hitter in north side history during his 13 years there, must have been everywhere, right? Well… not exactly. The “Cubs Icon in Exile,” as the Wall Street Journal called him, watched the World Series from Paris, France.
At this point, its widely assumed that Sammy Sosa took steroids. A sudden and mammoth jump in his numbers in 1993 was followed by an even more absurd power-stretch in 1998-2002, which saw him hit more than 60 home runs three times. Figuring out what to do about judging accused steroid users when it comes to Hall of Fame voting time in a complex question, as the truth tends to be murky about when and if they took injections and what effect it had. Sosa, however, did very little else at the plate besides hit for power, was a subpar defender and despite playing in the Wild-Card era, and only reached the postseason twice. For these very reasons, he had one year, for example, where he hit an astounding 63 home runs while batting in 141 runs but finished 9th in the MVP voting. ninth. If you ask the question “would he have been a Hall of Fame caliber player without steroids?”, the most logical answer to conclude with Sosa and his one major ability to hit the ball a long way is “no.”
5 Should: Mike Mussina
See #7, Curt Schilling. Once again, Mike Mussina’s career numbers compare favorably with recent inductees Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in both traditional and untraditional. Unlike Schilling, he was actually quite liked and admired. He was also uniquely intelligent, a Stanford graduate and the only major athlete featured in the 2006 documentary Wordplay about the New York Times crossword puzzle. He was not only a great pitcher but he even was known as a great fielder, winning six Golden-Gloves.
Mussina’s problem is this: he was always consistently very good but never great. He won at least 11 games in 17 straight seasons with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1990s and the New York Yankees in the 2000s but only reached 20 once, in his final age-39 season, falling just short at 19 twice. He finished in the top-six in Cy Young voting nine times, but never won it. He never led the league in strike-outs or ERA, but was in the top-five six times for the former and seven times for the latter. His career numbers are no different. He finished with 270 wins, falling just 30 short of the sure-fire Hall-of-Fame vote 300, and likewise 2813 career strike-outs, just short of the guaranteed induction 3000 milestone. And all this while pitching in the AL East, a hitter’s division in the 1990s and early 2000s, a hitter’s era. He is unquestionably one of the best pitchers of his era and deserves a nod.
4 Shouldn’t: Gary Sheffield
Gary Sheffield is a tough one to judge in the steroids era performance question. He was clearly a great hitter before he may have taken performance enhancers, earning a third place MVP finish at just the young age of 23 for the 1992 San Diego Padres. Similar to Barry Bonds, he probably would have been one of the best hitters in baseball for a long time without any outside assistance. But unlike Bonds, Sheffield spent most of his 20s battling injuries, managing only one full season, where he hit 42 homers for the Florida Marlins in 1996. He was also horrible in the field, his -195 fielding Defensive Runs Saved is the second-lowest of all time (would you believe Derek Jeter is the first?) and from the moment he broke in with the Milwaukee Brewers at the age of 20, the team accused him of “indifferent fielding” and of fabricating a foot injury (which later was proved to be an actual broken bone). He even admitted that “if the official scorer gave me an error I didn’t think was an error… I’d throw the next ball into the stands on purpose.” He later accused baseball icon Joe Torre of treating African-American Yankees players harshly and inequitably.
Sheffield should perhaps gain points for being the sole player without provocation to admit to using steroids, and therefore perhaps should be given the benefit of the doubt that he had been actually duped into doing so, as he claimed. But, like Sammy Sosa, if we hold him to the test of being a good teammate, a leader, always trying his hardest, and being able to reach the hall without the help of performance enhancers, he falls just, JUST, short.
3 Should: Roger Clemens
By nearly every measure, Roger Clemens (Pictured Right) was the greatest pitcher of the last 90 years, lapping the competition of Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove, and more. Sustained greatness? He had that. He won his first Cy Young Award in 1986 at the age of 23, and his last in 2004 at the age of 41. Dominant stretches? He had that. He led the league in ERA four times in seven years between 1986 and 1992. Or you could pick the four times in eight years he led the league in strike-outs between 1991 and 1998. Traditional career stats? Ninth all-time in Wins, third in Strikeouts. New career stats? Third all-time in pitcher WAR beyond none other than Walter Johnson and the man the award he won a record seven times is named after, Cy Young. On the mound, he could only be described as “fierce,” hurling his 6’4” frame towards the plate with all the energy he could harness. No-one could question his passion and dedication to the game.
In 2012, Clemens was acquitted of all charges that he had lied to congress in denying he used performance-enhancing drugs to extend his long career. We may never know the truth, but he is one of two players we can say clearly passes a test of being good enough to make the hall even if all the allegations are, in fact, real. He was first accused of using drugs to enhance performance in 1998, the second of back-to-back Cy Young seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. If he had retired the day before that season started, Clemens would have finished with 213 wins and 2862 strike-outs, which, you guessed it, are roughly equivalent to Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Throw in five ERA titles, six All-Star appearances, four Cy Young awards, and an MVP on his resume already, and he may even have been elected first-ballot.
2 Shouldn’t: Manny Ramirez
When the most memorable phrase associated with you is “Manny being Manny,” it is not a ringing endorsement for being promoted to the upper echelon of your profession alongside men who gave their life to being the best at playing the game they loved. If that were the only strike against Manny Ramirez, however, it probably wouldn’t stop us from promoting him as worthy of the Hall of Fame. He is after-all, a 12-time All-Star, 11-time MVP vote recipient, nine-time Silver Slugger, 15th all-time in Home Runs, 18th in RBIs, and 10th in Batting Average in the post-Ted Williams era (he of the last of the .400 hitters). Manny was also “just” the World Series MVP for a team that broke nearly a century old run without a World Championship for the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
Ramirez however, was suspended for PED use twice, and even retired to avoid having to serve the 100-game sentence he was hit with the second time. He was perhaps unlucky that he was one of the few stars of the steroid era to play long enough to get to a point when testing got stringent enough to officially catch him in the act. But he is the only current Hall eligible player who actually failed a drug test. And much like Pete Rose admitting to betting on baseball, we think the clear cheating should keep him out of the Hall for life.
1 Should: Barry Bonds
The list for greatest baseball player ever has three names and three names only on it. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds. Bonds was definitely the least liked of the three men, and is undoubtedly the only one linked to performance enhancing drug abuse. Much like Roger Clemens, he never failed a Major League-administered PED test and was exonerated of perjury in a federal criminal case. Bonds himself argues “there are a lot of perceptions in this world. Some people aren't getting punished for it, so why should others? You shouldn't be punished on perceptions.” Perhaps more than anyone, however, Bonds showcased what was assumed to be the physical aspects associated with PEDs, the huge muscle growth, the acne, etc., and perhaps the psychological aspects as well (his mood certainly seemed to swing quickly and easily).
Once again, however, even if you take Bonds earliest season when he was accused of steroid use, 1997, he holds up as Hall of Fame worthy. He had already won three MVP awards by that time, which would tie him for most all-time if he hadn’t actually won four more later in his career. He was already a six-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner. He was a 300 HR/300 SB player, putting him on a list with only six other players, including his father Bobby Bonds. His all-time WAR in just 12 seasons would have ranked him 58th of all time, ahead of Mike Mussina and just behind none other than Ken Griffey, Jr., he of the “practically only player to stay clean” during the steroid era identity, and three votes from a unanimous election into the Hall of Fame. Without hard evidence proving his cheating, and being one of the best of the game before there was even suspicion, we think Barry Bonds should join Griffey Jr. in the Hall.