MLB Hall: Who Didn’t Make Cooperstown

A number of potentially worthy players fell short in this round of voting

The Hall of Fame rules allow for up to ten players to be inducted into Cooperstown every year.  This year, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America selected three.

There were eight more players on the ballot that make compelling Hall of Fame arguments.  Some were kept out for procedural reasons that Hall of Fame voters have held to for a long time, others based on things they did in their playing career and, in at least one case, well afterward.

Having taken a look at the three worthy selectees yesterday, it’s time to take a closer look at the players who were held out, and the arguments both for and against keeping them in.  Imagine being a voter.  Would you vote for these players?

Trevor Hoffman:  74% of the vote

Hoffman fell just short of the 75% voting threshold in his second ballot.  He is all but penciled in for a likely 2018 selection.

The argument for Trevor Hoffman:  Hoffman’s 602 saves are second on the career list behind only Mariano Rivera.  He twice finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting, remarkable for a relief pitcher.  A critical member of the 1998 Padres team that went to the World Series, Hoffman is regarded as one of the best closers in the position’s abbreviated history.

Hoffman’s longevity is remarkable, relative to his position.  Few closers, historically, are good for more than five years.  Hoffman was effective from 1994-2009.  He is second all-time in games finished.

The argument against Hoffman:  Trevor Hoffman led the National League in saves twice.  In 1998, he led the league in Win Probability Added.  Those were the only times in which Trevor Hoffman was the top pitcher in the league at something.

The argument against the argument against Hoffman:  Yes, Hoffman was often eclipsed by closers with great single seasons but not such great careers.  However, he saved 602 games for an organization that was not exactly an October mainstay during his time there.  Also, leading the league in WPA is a pretty significant claim to make.

Vladimir Guerrero:  71.7%

Vlad came close on just his first ballot.  It is almost a given that he will be inducted in 2018 given his high first year total.

The argument for Vlad Guerrero:  Scouts often regard him as the most talented player they have ever seen play the game of baseball.  Vlad had all the tools a ballplayer needs for success.  He could do everything an outfielder is capable of doing.  Won American League MVP in 2004, and finished in the top three in voting two more times.  Career batting average of .318 with 449 career home runs in 16 seasons.

The argument against Vlad Guerrero:  It’s his first ballot, and it’s hard to give a one-time MVP with less than five hundred homers or three thousand hits a first ballot induction.  Other than that, reasons are hard to come by on this one.

The argument against the argument against Vlad Guerrero:  The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum.  Do the less well-known paintings in the Louvre cheapen the experience of going to that museum?  No?  Then why do Hall(s) of Fame set arbitrary rules for who can get in and how they can get in?

Edgar Martinez:  58.6%

Edgar Martinez is climbing toward induction, and stands a fair chance to make it in on one of the next couple ballots.

The case for Edgar Martinez:  His 68.3 career Wins Above Replacement is in line with the average Hall of Fame member, similar to that of Ivan Rodriguez.  Regarded by many as the greatest DH to ever man the position.  Hit .312 for his career with 309 home runs.  Had a higher on base percentage than any of the three members of the 2017 Hall of Fame class, and the second highest of anyone on this year’s ballot.

The case against Edgar Martinez:  He was primarily a Designated Hitter, and many writers feel strongly that a DH should never get into the Hall of Fame, despite being a position in Major League Baseball for forty years.  Others believe that perhaps one should get in, but since David Ortiz will be on the ballot in five years there is somehow no need to celebrate an all-around hitter like Edgar Martinez.

Roger Clemens: 54.1%

Roger Clemens has passed the halfway mark for the first time, and he now seems on track for eventual induction, although it’s extremely tricky to say with Clemens and a couple of other people on this list.

The argument for Roger Clemens:  Let’s start here:
Jeff Bagwell:  79.6 Career WAR
Tim Raines:  69.1 WAR
Ivan Rodriguez:  68.4 WAR
Roger Clemens:  140.3 WAR

Seven Cy Young Awards and the 1986 MVP.  Third in career strikeouts.  All-time leader in Win Probability Added as a pitcher.  (Numbers two through nine on that list are either in the Hall of Fame or named Mariano Rivera.)  One of the central figures in the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

The argument against Roger Clemens:  He took performance-enhancing drugs.  Many people believe this to be cheating and would like to keep everybody connected to these substances out of the Hall of Fame forever.

The first argument against the argument against Roger Clemens:  Every single one of Roger Clemens’ career numbers, including those influenced by miracles of modern medicine, stand in the record books to this day.  In the eyes of Major League Baseball in every official capacity, those numbers are legitimate.

They happened.  Roger Clemens’ late career resurgence happened.  It was amazing.  He was excellent.  To people where I live in Boston, he was a perfect villain, which only makes sports more fun.  To anyone approaching middle age doubting themselves, he was an inspiration of sorts.

Roger Clemens’ legendary offseason workout routines, which we now can safely figure were aided by ethically questionable helpers, brought a lot of people who could use a workout into a gym.  While it is unfortunate and disappointing that he did not do this entirely on grit, determination, and the need to make Dan Duquette eat crow, everything that happened happened.  If you don’t like it, please feel free to figure out time travel.

Barry Bonds:  53.8%

The most controversial candidate on the ballot, Bonds saw some solid gains this year, but still not enough to make the Hall.

The case for Barry Bonds:  Seven MVPs, eight Gold Gloves.  Career leader in walks, intentional walks, and home runs.  Second all-time in WAR for position players, ahead of Willie Mays.

Statistically speaking, he had some of the best seasons ever.  He also stole over 500 bases in his career.  There was a period where there was no reliable way to get Barry Bonds out.  He might be one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball.

The case against Barry Bonds:  He was involved with BALCO, so like Clemens, he must be kept out.  The numbers, after all, are impure.  We do not know how many home runs Bonds ought to have hit so we can no longer compare him historically to the other greats.

The second argument against the argument against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens:  In 2003, there was informal testing conducted that was supposed to be confidential until it suddenly wasn’t.  While we only know a handful of names that were on the list of failed tests, we know that list is one hundred and four names long.

There were not one hundred and four players like Barry Bonds in 2003.  There was not one other player like Bonds in 2003.  We are not talking about Popeye pulling out a can of spinach and suddenly growing muscles larger than his own head.

As for comparing players across eras, that was impossible long before steroids came into the equation.  It is hard to compare Bonds to Ruth because Babe Ruth played in a league that did not allow people who looked like Barry Bonds to compete.  It is as hard to say what impact that had on his numbers as it is to say how inflated Bonds’ totals are.

Hank Aaron played when “greenies” were part of the game, which is an era that stretches across several decades.  A more common word for “greenies” would be amphetamines.  We do not know who did and who did not take these, but we know they were common in baseball clubhouses and hardly frowned upon.

Before about 1980, players were often seen smoking cigarettes in the dugout when given the opportunity.  Do we have to wonder about modern numbers because players tend to smoke less and aren’t allowed to do so during games?

There is no era in the history of baseball where the stats can be considered historically pure.

Mike Mussina:  51.8%

The eighteen year veteran seems to be on a pace for eventual enshrinement, but there are people who still need to be convinced.

The case for Mike Mussina:  If you were to measure the most effective pitches of his era, Mike Mussina’s knuckle-curve would be somewhere between Pedro Martinez’ changeup and Randy Johnson’s slider.  Both of those guys, of course, were obvious Hall of Famers.

Remember the Win Probability Added list that Roger Clemens tops, and 2-9 are either in Cooperstown or Mariano Rivera?  Mussina’s tenth.  Numbers eleven, twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen on that list are all Hall of Famers.  (Roy Halladay is thirteenth for those wondering.)  Advanced numbers like Mussina.

The case against Mike Mussina:  There are plenty of people out there who believe the Hall of Fame should be a very exclusive club, and one of the requirements to entry is being one of the best players at your position in your era.  Mussina pitched in an era with Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Rivera, and John Smoltz.

Mike Mussina never won a Cy Young Award or a World Series.  He was a five time All Star.  The bullet points on his resume make it tough.

The case against the case against Mike Mussina:  Mostly, Moose was a victim of timing.  He had a great season in 1999.  Unfortunately, he had it in the American League, where Pedro Martinez had a historic season.  He was the best pitcher on a couple of great Yankee teams that endured grueling playoff schedules and eventual upsets.  Many of those same Yankees ended his title hopes earlier as an Oriole.

Curt Schilling:  45%

Come to think of it, perhaps Barry Bonds is no longer the most controversial candidate on the ballot.

The case for Curt Schilling:  In the past, Hall of Fame voters have given a lot of credit to October success.  Few players in baseball have had postseason careers along the lines of Curt Schilling.  He won two World Series rings in extremely memorable fashion.  He already has an artifact in the Hall of Fame; his bloody sock from 2004.

Outside of Joe Namath and now possibly Kris Bryant, few people have set the bar for a season as high as Schilling did in 2004, mostly just by being Curt Schilling.  He would call Boston radio stations from his car and give his opinions (on baseball).  He said the phrase “World Series” a lot in a city desperate for a title.  The gamble paid off.  He was invariably one of the bigger parts of one of the more memorable teams in a very long time, and that’s the kind of story that gets in the Hall.

The case against Curt Schilling:  In the above paragraphs, you will notice precious few numbers.  In fact, there are none.  Schilling’s Hall case isn’t really based on numbers, because he’s short on career milestones.  If you believe Hall of Famers should check off certain statistical boxes, Schilling is a tough sell.  He never won a Cy Young award, he has trouble standing out among his contemporaries who are now in Cooperstown, and you can’t make the Hall of Fame on tall tales alone.

Besides, the bloody sock is already in the Hall of Fame.  Schilling can be recognized in the Hall without being enshrined, much like all record holders are regardless of enshrinement.

The other case against Curt Schilling:  In recent years, Schilling’s behavior has become increasingly unhinged.  He opened a video game studio to make one game that was critically well-received, but did not fund the company’s larger goal of making the kind of game that is all but guaranteed to bankrupt a small studio like the one Curt Schilling started.  So, having failed to make a game to compete with World of Warcraft, Schilling has since decided to end a career in sports broadcasting and begin a new career in being a political pundit and potential Senate candidate in Massachusetts.

Now, I understand that his political opinions are simply that, opinions, to which he is absolutely entitled.  Should he follow through on his promise to challenge for Senate, I happen to live in Massachusetts, and I will make it my duty as a voter to hear him out as I would a candidate who is more politically experienced.  However, I also understand that freedom of speech allows the writers who have Hall of Fame votes and are displeased with Curt Schilling’s words of recent to not allow him a platform on which to speak.  Such is the risk of being outspoken in a free society.

The argument against the arguments against Curt Schilling:  Curt Schilling is not running for US Representative to the Hall of Fame.  While his political beliefs are right there on his sleeve, there are a lot of people in society who have loud political views who are pretty good at their jobs at the end of the day.  The Hall of Fame is about rewarding people for being good at the job of playing Major League Baseball.  It is not for keeping people out because you would like a word or two with his hat.

As for Schilling’s lack of Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, Schilling was victimized by playing his early career for a Phillies team that was often going nowhere.  The 1993 team was a fun firework of a baseball team that made the World Series, partly behind Schilling’s postseason work.

Curt Schilling led the NL in complete games four times.  Among qualifying pitchers, he has the third best career strikeout to walk ratio in baseball history.

Manny Ramirez:  23.8%

In his first year on the ballot, Manny Ramirez finished just ahead of Larry Walker and Fred McGriff.  If he eventually gets in, that would be one of the lowest first ballot scores of any inductee.

The case for Manny Ramirez:  He was the best right handed hitter of his era.  Manny Ramirez hit 555 home runs.  He had a career average of .312 and an OPS of .996.  He was, like Bonds, one of the rare power hitters to win a batting title.  His time with Boston was one of the best unions of ballpark and swing in the history of baseball.  Led the AL in OPS in 1999, 2000, and 2004.  2004 World Series MVP.  Hit 29 postseason home runs.  That would make him the all-time leader in the category.

The case against Manny Ramirez:  Remember Bonds and Clemens?  Same thing.  Got caught with PEDs, so the above doesn’t matter to a whole lot of people.

Beyond that, Manny never won an MVP award and never finished higher than third in the voting.  He was long said to be a legendary RBI man, but he led the league in the category exactly once.  There’s also a case to be made that his career might have been a year or two shorter than it could have been due to both suspensions and, to reuse an old phrase, Manny Being Manny.

The third case against the case against Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens:  Many of us will spend our Sunday afternoon and evening watching the AFC and NFC Championship Games.  America loves the NFL and I’m no exception.  Like so many others, I can’t quite get enough football and think about it quite a bit.

Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs have been in and around football for every bit as long as if not longer than baseball.  For the most part, however, NFL players who get caught are met with a brief suspension and no condemnation about their careers being “tainted.”  Nobody writes off their good years.  They get cheered when they return as though they’ve come back from an injury.

PEDs would not, in and of themselves, disqualify anyone from Canton, Ohio.  It’s worth wondering why the same people who get upset about an outfielder padding their stats hardly bat an eye at football players taking the same substances in a sport where a bad hit can injure a person in a permanent way.

Bonus:  Sammy Sosa:  8.6%

Sosa barely stays on the ballot this year, scraping the bottom of the barrel.  If I had a vote, I would have voted for Sosa.

The case for Sosa:  Among many other things, he hit 609 home runs.

The case against Sosa:  He did so under the influence of PEDs.

The fourth case against the case against Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and for that matter Mark McGwire who is no longer even on the ballot:  If you can remember 1998, think back to 1998.

Did people generally enjoy the 1998 MLB season?  Did more people watch baseball because that season was particularly thrilling?

Be honest:  Did you enjoy the 1998 MLB season?  I did.  1998 was one of the most fun years to be a baseball fan in my lifetime.  Everybody was talking about the home run chase throughout the season in a way that people in the part of Pennsylvania where I lived at the time very much don’t in a normal year.

I remember being in Orlando with my dad and crowding around the windows of an ESPN Zone with a bunch of other passerby to watch Mark McGwire hit.  This was in August, well ahead of the record falling.  Shortly after he hit, they cut in again to show Sosa, and we all rushed back to the window.

1998 probably didn’t save baseball from the strike, at least not singlehandedly.  A generous handful of the all-time greats playing at the same time helped a lot.  Contending teams in large markets such as New York, Boston, and Chicago helped.  This was when TBS still showed every Braves game and the Braves won the NL East every year.  That didn’t hurt.  Still, ’98 was the year that brought baseball back into the conversation.

Whatever you want to feel about the Steroid Era, do not pretend that 1998 was not fun, and do not pretend it was not good for baseball.

That is my biggest gripe with Steroid Era Outrage; this idea that we have to retroactively pretend we didn’t enjoy the results, or that we were oblivious to what was really going on.  Both are untrue.  People joked about the players being on steroids at the time (and earlier than that), but ticket sales were up and attention was up.  There was no wool pulled over anybody’s eyes.

For more Hall of Fame talk, I sat down with The Sunshine Boys this week to talk about Joe Henderson’s ballot.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.