Not having to pay admission in Cooperstown means one thing—a player's numbers are good enough to merit inclusion in one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.
For years, those numbers have been 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 300 wins.
But there are other numbers that are equally important—and often overlooked: How a player seeking admission stacks up against those already enshrined.
Sure, a player's career needs to stand on its own at the final hour, but you'd be surprised at how you might view the careers of some of this year's top candidates for election after looking at the numbers side by side.
Let's take a look at the stories those numbers tell.
Rick Weiner is a Featured Columnist covering all of MLB and a member of B/R's Breaking News Team.
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Everyone has their own opinion on the steroid era and whether players that we know—or strongly suspect—used performance enhancing drugs should be enshrined.
Here's my take on whether guys like Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro belong in the Hall of Fame or not:
I'm not talking about some form of punishment where those hitters must wait until their final year on the ballot to gain induction.
Instead, wait and see what happens with pitchers from the steroid era.
With the playing field heavily slanted in the batter's favor, wait and see if higher ERAs and WHIPs damn the best pitchers of the steroid era to the Hall of the Very Good.
If not, then sure, vote in the suspected cheats that you believe deserve enshrinement.
But if the pitchers from that era are penalized, then the punishment should fit the crime and keep those batters out of the Hall of Fame.
With that being said, you'll find no mention of the players named above on the pages that follow, simply because I don't believe they're candidates for a spot in the Hall of Fame this year.
Jeff Bagwell is.
Some believe that Bagwell was using PEDs, but I'm not one of them—and that's why he's included as a candidate.
It's the last place we want to find our favorite players, but the vast majority of a generation's All-Stars wind up as members of this fraternity.
Players on this year's ballot who are receiving bids this semester include:
While everyone remembers Tim Raines for his exceptional speed, that's selling the man short—his speed was his greatest asset, but it also made him one of the most exciting and explosive players in the game for more than a decade.
His 808 career swipes are the third most in baseball history, and both men ahead of him, Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock, are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Both Brock and Henderson are obvious selections to compare Raines to, but I'm constantly taken back to a comparison that ESPN's David Schoenfield once made when debating Raines' Hall of Fame merits.
Without clicking on the link, see if you can figure out who Player X is:
Raines: .294/.385/.425, 170 HR, 980 RBI, 2605 H, 1571 R, 808 SB, 2502 G
Player X: .338/.388/.459, 135 HR, 1138 RBI, 3141 H, 1383 R, 319 SB, 2440 G
Their stats are similar—Player X has a significantly higher batting average and more hits, while Raines has more power, runs scored and stolen bases—but all things considered, these two players are pretty darn close to one another.
Tim Raines might not be as accomplished a hitter as Tony Gwynn was, but Raines was just as potent of an offensive force.
He belongs alongside his fellow National League All-Star in Cooperstown.
In a big game, you wanted Jack Morris on the mound.
From 1980 through 1992, no pitcher in baseball won more games than Jack Morris, who picked up 216 victories over that 12-year time frame—an average of 17 a year for more than a decade.
He started 13 Opening Days for three different teams, three All-Star Games and of the seven postseason series in which he took part, Morris started Game 1 six times. Five times, he started on short rest to pitch in either Game 4 or Game 7 of those series.
Do we need more proof that Jack Morris was not only an ace for multiple teams and for more than a decade, but that he's one of the best big-game pitchers the game has seen?
Morris' numbers stand up against Red Ruffing's, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967:
Ruffing: 624 G, 273-225, 3.80 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
Morris: 549 G, 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
So what exactly is keeping Morris out of Cooperstown?
The only real argument that can be used against Morris is his ERA—and it's a weak argument when you look at what he accomplished over his career.
If Red Ruffing is a Hall of Famer, so is Jack Morris.
Two icons of the game, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, each put together six consecutive seasons with 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. Jeff Bagwell not only matched their streaks, but was two RBI away from doing that for eight consecutive seasons. (He finished with 98 RBI in 2002.)
Sticking with the Iron Horse and the Beast for a second, they are also two of the three first basemen to have scored and driven in more than 1,500 runs since 1900—and to do it without the security blanket of a DH spot to enjoy.
The third? Bagwell.
Save your breath when it comes to the steroid allegations against Bagwell, because he's never failed a drug test (as far as we know)—and unlike Barry Bonds, there was never a noticeable change in Bagwell's physicality—he has always been a big, powerful individual.
Think about this for a second: Here's a guy who has accomplished things that only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx have been able to do while playing first base.
Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx!
There isn't a rational argument to be made as to why he is not in the Hall of Fame.
A 12-time All-Star, Mike Piazza won 10 Silver Sluggers, finished in the top 14 of MVP voting nine times and won the 1993 National League Rookie of the Year after hitting .318 with 35 home runs.
To compare Piazza to only one Hall of Fame catcher would be doing him a disservice, for Piazza's numbers stand up against virtually every catcher already enshrined.
He is the greatest home run-hitting catcher of all time. 396 of his 427 career home runs came at the catcher position, ahead of the legendary Johnny Bench, second with 389.
Take a look at Piazza's career slash line: .308/.377/.545/.922.
His .308 batting average would be third among Hall of Fame catchers, trailing only Bill Dickey (.313) and Mickey Cochrane (.320).
Roy Campanella currently has the highest slugging percentage among Hall of Fame catchers with a .500 mark. Piazza's .545 mark dwarfs that—and would be tied with Hack Wilson for the 14th-highest in Cooperstown, ahead of players like Frank Robinson (.537) and Willie McCovey (.515).
As far as catchers go, only Yogi Berra (1,430) and Bench (1,376) have driven in more runs than Piazza, who finished his career with 1,335 RBI. Along those lines, only Carlton Fisk (2,356) and Berra (2,150) have more hits than Piazza (2,127).
For those into OPS, Piazza's .922 mark would be the highest of any catcher in the Hall of Fame and put him in a tie with Chuck Klein for the 22nd-highest mark in Cooperstown.
He was a miserable defensive catcher, there's no denying that fact.
But what he accomplished at the plate more than makes up for his defensive deficiencies.
Mike Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Craig Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and a second baseman.
The argument most commonly used to disparage Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame credentials is that Biggio was a compiler, never really a great player.
When you look at his numbers against Hall of Famers who, like Biggio, played multiple positions over the course of their careers, that argument gets laughed out of the room.
Biggio's career slash line is on par with those posted by Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken Jr.:
Ripken Jr.: 276/.330/.447
His career on-base percentage of .363 is on the same level as one of the biggest on-base machines of the past 40 years, George Brett, who finished his Hall of Fame career with a .369 mark.
Biggio has more career home runs (291) and hits (3,060) than Joe Morgan, who hit 268 home runs and accumulated 2,517 hits over a 22-year career. Biggio played for 20 seasons.
Only five players in baseball history have hit at least 600 doubles and stolen at least 400 bases: Rickey Henderson, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor and Craig Biggio.
No matter how you skew the numbers, the end result is the same: Craig Biggio belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Alan Trammell was as consistent as they come.
Part of one of the great double-play combinations in baseball history with Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell is in his 12th year on the ballot.
A six-time All-Star, Trammell won four Gold Gloves, hit .300 seven times, won a World Series MVP and finished second in the AL MVP voting in 1987.
His numbers compare favorably to one of the most recent inductees into the Hall of Fame, Barry Larkin.
Larkin was a 12-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner who hit .300 five times and won a regular-season MVP award.
Take a look at their career numbers side by side:
Trammell: .285/.352/.415, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 2,365 H, 236 SB.
Larkin: .295/.371/.444, 198 HR, 960 RBI, 2,340 H, 379 SB.
Had I not put the player's name next to his career numbers, could you have determined which stats belonged to which player?
Alan Trammell belongs alongside his National League counterpart in Cooperstown.
Pitching during one of the most prolific offensive eras that the game has ever seen, Curt Schilling still managed to win more than 200 games, pitched to an ERA below 3.50 and struck out more than 3,000 batters.
Like Jack Morris a generation before him, Schilling was one of the great big-time pitchers of his generation, evidenced by his 11 postseason wins, fifth-most of all time (Schilling is tied with Greg Maddux for the distinction).
While his lifetime numbers might not be as impressive as those hurlers already enshrined, Schilling isn't far off.
Take a look:
Avg. HOF Pitcher: 251-176, 2.96 ERA, 3,782 IP, 2,039 K
Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,261 IP, 3,116 K
Among Hall of Famers, Schilling would rank 11th in strikeouts—one whiff away from a tie with Bob Gibson for 10th place.
As for the rest of his numbers, considering how slanted the playing field was in the batter's direction, the difference between Schilling and a pitcher already enshrined becomes irrelevant.