With the announcement of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 imminent, we’re now several weeks into the annual hand-wringing about this year’s ballot specifically and the problems with the election system in general.
Far more learned, insightful and eloquent writers than me have tackled just about every variable involved at this point, so a rehash of the various issues here wouldn’t serve as much more than an echo chamber.
But I will say, as I sat down to fill out a ballot in my second year as a Hall voter, the task felt noticeably more difficult than it did last winter. The logjam brought on by divisions over how to handle the so-called Steroid Era and the Hall’s arbitrary 10-player limit for voters helped make any combination I tried when filling out my ballot seem unsatisfactory.
There was never any question about whether I’d check 10 names. It was just a question of how to determine who to leave out — and I still don’t know that I came up with the right answer. Or, the answer that feels best to me. There is, of course, no right answer, despite the cottage industry that has developed around insisting that black and white are the only acceptable solutions.
Gray is prevalent on this ballot once you get beyond Greg Maddux, who won’t be a unanimous choice but could challenge Tom Seaver’s record for being named by the highest percentage of voters (98.84 percent in 1992). Maddux will be on stage in Cooperstown this summer along with his former manager Bobby Cox and Cox’s contemporaries Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, who were selected last month by the veterans committee.
From all indications, they figure to have even more company, with fellow first-timers Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas garnering strong support. And there’s a chance Craig Biggio will get in this time after just missing the 75 percent threshold last year (68.2 percent) in his first appearance on the ballot. Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Biggio were on my ballot.
I did not vote for Biggio last year, citing a significant decline in his production toward the end of his career. He also was not particularly effective in the postseason, but at least he helped his team get there. Upon further reflection, his total body of work is deserving of a Hall slot sooner or later, and it behooves everyone to crack the Cooperstown doors a bit wider so we can avoid even more significant ballot chaos in the coming years.
The other names I checked:
Mike Piazza, whose remarkable offensive production at a position more focused on defense stands far above his peers. Got a funny feeling in your stomach about PEDs with him? Present some evidence. I can’t imagine it’ll come close to matching whatever circumstantial case could be built against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. (Speaking of that pair, as I said last year, I can envision a scenario in which I’d vote for both, but not as long as this ballot backup persists. They’re not electable right now, and I’d prefer we get some players most agree are worthy in the Hall.)
Jeff Bagwell, same deal. His numbers are overwhelming. He got 59.6 percent of the vote last year and doesn’t have the park factor hanging over his head like Larry Walker does, so chances are he’ll get in eventually. He may have to wait a while, though.
Edgar Martinez was the best designated hitter in history. As long as that position exists — and remember, it has since 1973 — we can’t simply ignore it. Also, he played in the field in 592 of his 2,055 career games, so it wasn’t as if he never picked up a glove.
Curt Schilling is an interesting case. His 216-146 record is mediocre by Hall standards, but as we’ve learned to de-emphasize pitcher wins in recent years, that becomes less of an issue. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38 is second in MLB history only to Tommy Bond (career: 1874-84) and he was simply dominant in the postseason. Which brings us to …
Jack Morris, the most polarizing candidate on the ballot for several years running and now in his final go-round. The arguments have all been made, but I’ve voted for him the last two years based on his status as the go-to starter (if not always necessarily the “ace”) for three different World Series-winning teams in a nine-season span and his undervalued ability to pitch deep into games.
Alan Trammell continues to poll far worse than his accomplishments deserve, as his numbers compare favorably to those of any shortstop in the Hall. His misfortune was playing on the cusp of a new era of more athletic, powerful shortstops, but he was a force in his era — a far superior offensive player to Ozzie Smith and an all-around player just about at Barry Larkin’s level.