At the risk of starting a debate over whether the MLB Hall of Fame remains a remotely all-encompassing chronology of America's pastime, it bears mentioning that the greatest players don't necessarily receive a plaque in Cooperstown.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa would all be in the Hall of Fame right now if not for allegations of artificially enhancing their performance.
Rumors and/or evidence of steroid use will keep at least half a dozen of today's MLB stars out of the Hall of Fame, while incessant injuries, inconsistent performance and a handful of other factors will also contribute to the demise of these 25 big-name players.
*All statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs.com
Oftentimes, exclusion from the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with a player's illustrious career on the field and everything to do with what else they did in life.
Shoeless Joe Jackson was allegedly a conspirer when the Black Sox threw the 1919 World Series. Though Jackson was never officially implicated—and actually played pretty well in the series—the fourth-best batting average in history remains banned from the Hall of Fame.
Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were banned from the Hall of Fame in 1983 by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn—and subsequently reinstated two years later—for taking jobs as casino employees after their playing careers ended.
Steve "Mr. Clean" Garvey was all but a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame at the time of his retirement. But then the scandals started coming out. Apparently Garvey had fathered many children out of wedlock—which was evidently a much bigger bugaboo in 1989 than it is these days—and it resulted in his unofficial exile from the Hall of Fame.
Then, of course, there's Pete Rose. Baseball's all-time hits leader is perhaps the most infamous non-member of the Hall of Fame, having routinely bet on games while still serving as the manager of the Reds.
As you may or may not have heard 15,847 times over the past several years, performance-enhancing drugs are the hot button issue of this generation. Several members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have publicly stated they'll never cast a vote for a steroid user.
We don't want to talk about guys who have no place in the Hall of Fame discussion, nor do we want to start critiquing anyone still young enough to completely alter the course of their career. Therefore, the list of candidates was immediately narrowed down to players still on rosters who are over the age of 29 with a career WAR of at least 20.0 (according to Fangraphs).
Those criteria narrowed the playing field to roughly 120 candidates from which we worked our way towards the cream of the Oreo by breaking off pieces of the two chocolate cookies bit by bit.
By that, I mean the obvious candidates for the Hall of Fame like Mariano Rivera and Albert Pujols were deleted from the top end of the list while guys like Mark Ellis and Jon Garland were similarly expunged from the list for the opposite reason.
The list was eventually whittled down to 25 guys who have good enough careers to one day be in the voting discussion, but not good enough to ever get 75 percent of the vote.
Though some of these guys wouldn't necessarily be considered stars anymore, they made their share of All-Star teams throughout the years and are among the upper echelon of players when it comes to wins above replacement.
Bartolo Colon (Age: 40, Career WAR: 42.8)
Jason Giambi (Age: 42, Career WAR: 49.9)
David Ortiz (Age: 37, Career WAR: 39.1)
Andy Pettitte (Age: 43, Career WAR: 66.3)
Alex Rodriguez (Age: 37, Career WAR: 111.1)
Miguel Tejada (Age: 39, Career WAR: 41.9)
Five of the six guys listed here also appear in this unofficial list of the greatest suspected steroid users. The sixth (Colon) has frequently been accused of using steroids, testosterone, stem cells and seemingly anything that anyone has ever claimed could help his baseball career (especially food).
At what point will the Hall of Fame just build a "Cheater's Wing" and give an homage to these players and the ones listed in the history slide?
When my dad used to take me to the Hall of Fame, he would point out all his favorite players and tell stories of their playing career.
At this rate, is there going to be anything to point out to our children in Cooperstown?
Josh Beckett (Age: 33, Career WAR: 38.9)
Josh Hamilton (Age: 32, Career WAR: 23.8)
John Lackey (Age: 34, Career WAR: 35.9)
Jake Peavy (Age: 32, Career WAR: 35.8)
Aramis Ramirez (Age: 35, Career WAR: 36.1)
Johan Santana (Age: 34, Career WAR: 47.4)
Mark Teixeira (Age: 33, Career WAR: 40.7)
This is easily the most upsetting group on the list. You can feign anger or disgust in Alex Rodriguez and company, but at least they provided us with a substantial amount of entertainment over the years. You can be upset that the guys in the next few groups didn't quite do enough to make the Hall of Fame, but who's to say they didn't play to the fullest of their ability for over a decade?
These guys, however, were robbed from us by a consistent barrage of bumps and bruises.
Hamilton's well-documented struggle with drugs and alcohol not only delayed his arrival in the majors by several years, but would likely be cause enough for the BBWAA to decide he's not worthy of being part of the prestigious Hall of Fame. And whether or not it's connected to past substance abuse, he's had difficulty staying healthy.
Ramirez has missed at least 13 games in nine of the past 10 seasons (including 2013), playing in just 81.7 percent of possible games over that stretch. Teixeira has missed a ton of games over the past season and a half. The more that comes out about his wrist injury, the more I doubt if he'll ever play anything close to a full season again.
Peavy has missed at least seven starts in five of the past six seasons. Lackey struggled through 2011 before missing all of 2012. Beckett never had any substantial trips to the disabled list, but only had two fully-healthy seasons in his career and posted a 5.01 ERA in the season in which he made the most starts.
Last, but certainly most disappointing, Santana only had five really healthy seasons in his career, dominating everyone in his path from 2004-08. Through the end of June in 2012, he seemed to be experiencing a career renaissance that could push him back towards the Hall of Fame. He then made five straight horrible starts and hasn't been seen since.
Mark Buehrle (Age: 34, Career WAR: 46.5)
Carl Crawford (Age: 31, Career WAR: 37.8)
Adrian Gonzalez (Age: 31, Career WAR: 30.0)
Dan Haren (Age: 32, Career WAR: 37.4)
Carlos Lee (Age: 37, Career WAR: 28.3)
Jose Reyes (Age: 30, Career WAR: 35.5)
Both Buehrle and Lee were pretty good for a long stretch of time, but were never particularly great, save for one season each in the mid-2000s. The former was good for double-digits in the wins category on an annual basis, but was never anything special in the ERA or strikeout department. The latter was good for 30 HR and 10 SB per season, but always played sub-par defense.
The best-case scenario for each of them is ending up with Tim Raines' career numbers; the more likely outcome is a Kenny Lofton or Cesar Cedeno career arc. Great names and nothing to be ashamed of, but not Hall of Famers.
Haren's bad back and current shoulder injury are putting an abrupt end to what was looking like a long and productive career just two years ago. He had seven great seasons, but he would need at least two or three more high-level years in order to really get into the discussion.
Gonzalez is just a judgment call on my part.
The 25th spot on this list was a toss-up between him and Brandon Phillips, but I think Phillips has the better chance at a Hall of Fame career. Gonzalez is just a generally above-average first baseman in terms of fielding, average and power. He strikes me as a poor man's version of Todd Helton, who is really just a poor man's version of Jeff Bagwell.
A.J. Burnett (Age: 36, Career WAR: 34.7)
Adam Dunn (Age: 33, Career WAR: 22.8)
Cliff Lee (Age: 34, Career WAR: 44.3)
Derek Lowe (Age: 40, Career WAR: 42.5)
Jered Weaver (Age: 30, Career WAR: 28.4)
Dunn might be the first person in history to miss out on the Hall of Fame with 500 home runs and no link to steroids. He's sitting on 426 right now and has at least a few more years as a DH left in his career. Unfortunately, he has a .238 batting average that's getting worse by the year.
Lee has been the most valuable pitcher in all of baseball over the past six seasons, but the previous six seasons of his career weren't nearly as glamorous. He'll be 35 in two months and is still several seasons away from having enough top-of-the-line seasons to be a solid candidate for the Hall of Fame.
Lowe never really found his niche. He was a great reliever for a couple of years before becoming a middle-of-the-road starting pitcher. His high WAR is more a testament to his durability for 16 years than an indication of significant talent. From an innings pitched per WAR point of view, he's just barely better than Yovani Gallardo.
Burnett walked way too many batters and typically had an average-at-best ERA.
Weaver was something special from 2010-12, but the velocity on his fastball has dropped by 3.5 MPH over the past three seasons. His control is all over the place as well. His percentage of pitches in the strike zone is at a career low and by a considerable margin. Granted, he's only made seven starts this season, but it's not a good sign.
Roy Oswalt (Age: 35, Career WAR: 49.0)
Oswalt was the most consistently-good pitcher of the 2000s. From 2001-2011, Oswalt had 11 consecutive seasons with at least 20 games started and a FIP of 3.80 or better.
Back problems in 2011 and 2012 forced him out of the league until a week ago when he resurfaced to strike out 11 Nationals in a span of five innings. If he can put together a respectable three months over the latter half of this season, he could become just the 42nd pitcher to reach the 50.0 WAR plateau in the past 50 years.
Would that be enough for him to get into the Hall of Fame? Only time will tell. He's still young enough to pitch at an above-average level for another few years, but the history of back pains at least puts that in doubt.
It would be nice to see some piece of the 2005 Houston Astros make the Hall of Fame. Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Roger Clemens all failed to make the vote this past winter, Andy Pettitte has been connected to PEDs and Lance Berkman is borderline at best.