The official 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released last week and unfortunately (at least for me) I’m not on the list of members of the Baseball Writers’ Association who receive the ballot. Maybe we should have some sort of “fantasy league” for the annual Hall of Fame voting, where baseball enthusiasts could cast their votes and have them tallied to compare with the writers.
The usual debates have begun about who will be announced as the selections on January 8. Will there be any first-ballot picks this year? Will any of the carryover players from last year be selected? Was the shutout of all candidates last year warranted? Should the players linked with suspected performance-enhancing drug (PED) use be voted in? Are “clean” players of the PED era being unjustifiably snubbed by some voters? I have my own thoughts about these as a “fantasy” voter.
First of all, my criteria for voting for a player would include the following factors: the player has to be dominant at his position in his era, as evidenced by repeated seasons among the league leaders in several categories; the player has been recognized for “best player” awards such as MVP, Cy Young, Gold Glove, and Silver Sluggers; the player’s career has included appearances and performances in post-season play, as an indicator that he was a key contributor to winning teams in the most competitive games.
My over-riding philosophy is that the Hall of Fame should include only the “best of the best” players. My expectation is that the Hall includes only the top 1-2% of the players in the game. Admittedly that will exclude a lot of really fine players over the years. Hence, this approach requires a somewhat arguable dividing line that separates the stars from the superstars when making my selections.
So here are my fantasy 2014 votes.
Let’s start with the new entrants on the ballot this year. The cast of superstars who are eligible for election the first time this year include Frank Thomas , Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Larry Walker, Jeff Kent, and Mike Mussina.
Maddux and Glavine are unquestionably atop my list this year. I think they are both legitimate first-rounders in any era. In fact, I don’t know why Maddux would not be on 100% of the ballots this year, surpassing Tom Seaver who has the record for being on 98.84% of the ballots in his first year. By the way, the last time former teammates were elected to the Hall in the same year was 1984, when Dodgers greats Don Drysdale and Pee Wee Reese were enshrined.
Frank Thomas is my other selection from the 2014 eligible players. Besides his outstanding seasons in the 1990s, anyone with the nickname of “Big Hurt” has to be in the Hall, right? I drew the line on Walker, Kent, and Mussina , not viewing them in the “best of the best” category.
From the list of carryovers from previous years, pitcher Jack Morris, who is in his 15th and final year of eligibility, gets my vote. He gets considerable criticism for his career 3.90 ERA, but he won more games in the 1980s than any American League pitcher and his teams won three World Series.
Relief specialist Lee Smith also earns my vote. He’s definitely in the same class as current Hall of Famers Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage as all-time best stoppers.
I thought Craig Biggio should have been selected as a first-rounder last year (getting close to the required vote with 68.2%), but I believe he was a victim of some voters choosing to send in blank ballots in protest over the PED issues. He gets my vote, since he is among the career leaders in hits, runs scored, and doubles. Oh, by the way, he excelled as a starter at three positions over his career—catcher, second base, and outfielder.
Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza suffered unfairly from the veil of suspicion around their possible PED use. However, they are both on my list of vote-getters this year. Mike Piazza may be the best offensive catcher to ever play the game. If elected, he would undoubtedly be the lowest draft pick (62nd round in 1988) that was selected to the Hall. Talk about a guy who exceeded everyone’s expectations!
Bagwell, one of Biggio’s “Killer Bs” teammates with the Astros, was a perennial leader for MVP voting during most of his career, winning in 1996. In addition to his average of 34 home runs as season, he was an adept fielder at first base, a high total bases hitter, and even stole 30 bases in two different seasons.
I’m passing over the rest of the prior year carryovers highlighted by Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling. They were all fantastic players but they don’t make my cut for “best of the best.”
The question then arises about the prominent players who have been at the center of the PED era, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa. In their first year on the ballot in 2013, Bonds and Clemens garnered only 36-37% of the vote. Obviously, many of the voters were trying to send a strong message of disapproval. Before last year, McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro never received any serious consideration either.
Normally, I’m fairly conservative or “old-school” around such controversial issues that challenge the history and tradition of the game. However, on this one, I think a look back in history several years from now will show the PED era was just another dark period which challenged the integrity of the game, but was remediated. Players’ use of foreign substances, corked bats, and amphetamines during past years were not among baseball’s brightest moments either.
I think Bonds and Clemens are two of the greatest players in history and hence deserve to be inducted, despite the dark cloud cast by the PED era. I shouldn’t have to take the stance that they were both Hall of Fame caliber players before their suspected PED use or that they never failed a publicly disclosed drug test administered by Major League Baseball. But if those factors actually make a difference to someone, then that just makes my case stronger. By any measure, Bonds and Clemens were outstanding talents and among the “best of the best.”
Thus, I’ve cast all of my ten votes. Realistically however, based on past years’ voting (except for last year when there was a shutout), only two or three candidates will get enough votes to be inducted in this year’s class, despite the fact we have the deepest ballot of exceptional candidates in several years. Who would be your fantasy picks?