After Manny Ramirez hit his 500th home run last night, ESPN.com ran a poll asking users to essentially vote "absolutely, yes, maybe, or no" on the Hall of Fame chances for 24 active players, plus the recently retired Mike Piazza. Here's one man's ballot, in alphabetical order:
Carlos Delgado—Delgado burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1994, with a few obscenely long home runs that reached the Hard Rock Cafe at the SkyDome, but didn't become a regular player until two years later. Toiling in obscurity for a mostly mediocre team, he was, until last year, a very consistent producer, notching ten consecutive seasons with 30 home runs and 90 RBI or more.
However, he only reached "Holy crap!" status in two of those seasons, 2000 (.344/41/137 with an OPS of 1.134) and 2003 (.302/42/145 with a 1.019 OPS).
This season, he became the career leader in home runs among Puerto Ricans, but he has made a single All-Star appearance (2003), and played in October for the first time in 2006. While he was a feared hitter for many years, I don't think he stands out enough to get voted in, and may have to wait for the Veterans' Committee to enshrine him.
Jason Giambi—The Giambino had an incredible five-year run from 1999-2003, during which he picked up an MVP award in 2000 and signed a monstrous free-agent contract with the Yankees, but we now know that he was juicing at the time. Given how the voters have treated the likes of Mark McGwire, I can't see an admitted steroid user breaking in without reaching major milestones, and Giambi won't sniff 500 home runs (he's currently at 375, and the end of his career is visible on the horizon). He's out.
Tom Glavine—Only five left-handed pitchers have won 300 games: Warren Spahn (363), Steve Carlton (329), Eddie Plank (326), Lefty Grove (300), and Glavine (305 and counting). Glavine has relied on impeccable control rather than overpowering stuff to be this successful, and it allowed him to be one of the game's best pitchers for Atlanta from 1991 to 2002. He won Cy Young Awards in 1991 and 1998, a World Series MVP in 1995, won 20 games five times, fields his position well, is a good hitter for a pitcher, and was one of the most respected players of his generation. He's in on the first try.
Ken Griffey Jr.—Junior broke into the majors as a teenager playing with his dad, then spent the next decade as the premier center fielder in the game. He is probably the best all-around outfielder since Mantle and Mays owned New York a half-century ago. He has that beautiful uppercut swing, a cannon arm, and once upon a time could run wild on the bases as well, making him arguably the most exciting player to watch for much of the '90s.
His fielding won him ten Gold Gloves, but he somehow only won a single MVP award (1997, with a .304/56/147/1.028 line). He has eclipsed 40 home runs seven times, 50 homers twice, and perhaps most importantly in the eyes of the voters, looks much the same at 38 as he did at 24. There has been no Bonds-esque body transformation, and it appears as if he has compiled his staggering numbers (599 HR, 1,728 RBI, .923 OPS) honestly. He's a first-ballot lock.
Trevor Hoffman—Hoffman has parlayed an extraordinary secondary pitch (his change-up) into 535 career saves (and counting), and a reputation as one of the most feared relievers in baseball for well over a decade. He has been remarkably consistent, only twice posting an ERA north of 3.00 and saving 40 games nine different times. Every time the bullpen door has opened to "Hells Bells," the other team has known that the game is over. Given the voters' bias against relievers, he may have to wait, but he will make it in at some point, a la Goose Gossage.
Randy Johnson—Simply put, the Big Unit was one of the two or three most dominant pitchers in the game for fifteen or sixteen years, with countless memorable moments in between. A 6'10" string bean who put the fear of God in lefties and righties alike, he has accumulated five Cy Young Awards (1995, 1999-2002), close to 300 wins, and with the next feeble whiff at his overpowering slider, he will move into sole possession of second place on the career strikeout list.
That slider is simply the best in the game's history, and he was able to combine it with a blazing fastball that has only slightly diminished with age. He struck out 300 batters six times, including a ridiculous 372 in 2001, won 20 games three times, and hasn't walked 100 batters since 1992. He also shared the 2001 World Series MVP with Curt Schilling, and memorably killed a bird with a pitch. He's a first-ballot lock.
Chipper Jones—Let me state, that as a Mets fan, I am utterly terrified of Chipper every time he steps to the plate against my favorite team. He won the 1999 NL MVP largely because he batted .800 with 52 homers and 176 RBI against the Mets that September, although my math might be a little off.
He has established himself as one of the best switch hitters ever to play the game, with career numbers (so far) of .310/398/1,334/.955. It's impressive to note that he's hitting .413 through the first third of this season when you realize that he hasn't played 150 games since 2003.
He's a team-first player who has switched positions multiple times to accommodate the Braves' best interests, but will be remembered as one of the best-hitting third basemen ever. He's in, even if he has to wait a year or two.
Jeff Kent—Kent has the 2000 NL MVP on his shelf and some of the best offensive numbers of any second baseman in history, and he's still plugging along at the age of 40. He has 370 career bombs at a position not renowned for slugging players, and eight seasons of over 100 RBI, not to mention he's done his part to keep the moustache in vogue. Given that his competition as the best at his position during his prime is essentially Roberto Alomar, I think Kent will eventually make it in.
Greg Maddux—The Professor has won 350 games with more underwhelming stuff than his former teammate Glavine, but his control and mastery of his craft is perhaps unmatched in baseball history. He simply made hitters look overmatched and uncomfortable. He dominated the National League for years, taking four straight Cy Youngs home from 1992-1995, and posted an ERA under 3.00 every year from 1992-1998, including sub-2.00 seasons in 1994 and 1995. He has quietly struck out over 3,300 batters, and won at least 15 games for 17 consecutive seasons. He'll get in the first time around.
Pedro Martinez—Some of Pedro's career numbers don't jump off the page due to the staggering amount of injuries he's accumulated, but for seven years from 1997-2003, he did the best impersonation of Sandy Koufax since, well, Koufax. He was the most electric pitcher in the game, capable of greatness every time he took the hill. Despite being undersized and fragile, he brought an unmatched swagger that intimidated opponents.
He mixed overpowering pitches with phenomenal control; in his best season, 1999, he won 23 games, striking out 313 against a mere 37 walks with an ERA of 2.07. His career ERA is still only 2.81, and he boasts the best winning percentage of all time (209-93, .692). He has over 3,000 career strikeouts, three Cy Youngs, a World Series ring, and has always been one of the most charismatic pitchers in baseball. He's in the first time around.
Jamie Moyer—Despite a "fastball" that now barely gets into the 80s, Moyer has won 235 games, including two seasons with more than 20, but has never been close to the best pitcher in his league. He's never had an ERA under 3.00, and his career mark is 4.22. Moyer has had a successful career, but is not a memorable pitcher and almost certainly won't make the Hall of Fame.
Mike Mussina—Moose is one of the best "almost" pitchers in baseball history. He's won 19 games twice, and 18 twice, but never 20. He's been to the Fall Classic twice but never won, and has been one of the more consistent pitchers in the game, but never good enough to get serious consideration for a Cy Young Award, having never finished in the top three. Despite over 250 career wins and steady production, I don't think he'll get in.
Andy Pettitte—Pettitte may not have eye-popping career numbers, but has a reputation as a great big-game pitcher that will get him some attention whenever he retires and appears on the ballot. Unlike the Moose, he has some hardware (four rings), and has won 20 games (twice).
Still, he's never been a dominant pitcher; his highest strikeout total is 180 (1,894 career) and only twice has he posted a sub-3.20 ERA, and only one other time come in under 3.80. He's had a good career, but unless he hangs around another few years (he's only 35) to pile up some numbers, I think he'll fall a little short.
Mike Piazza—It's amazing that a 62nd-round draft pick turned himself into the best-hitting catcher of all time, and that he put up big numbers despite playing his entire career in pitchers' parks (LA, New York, San Diego, and Oakland). No, he couldn't throw out your grandmother, but he was a highly regarded game caller who could block the plate, even though he knew that opposing base-runners would be attempting to take out the best hitter on his team every time they came barreling in from third.
He put a mediocre Mets team on his back and took them to the World Series in 2000, when they had no other serious threats in the lineup and a pretty good, but not outstanding, pitching staff. His 396 home runs as a catcher are a record, and he hit .308 for his career with an OPS of .922. He's in on the first try.
Jorge Posada—Posada was a mainstay on the 1998-2000 World Series teams for the Yankees, and has been one of three constants (with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera) on the team since then. He has been one of the better offensive catchers in the game, and while he's not superb defensively, he has been capable enough that there have never been serious discussions about moving him (as there were with Piazza). Posada could get in after a few tries, but I think he'll have to wait for the Veterans' Committee if anything.
Manny Ramirez—Manny will long be remembered for his puzzling base-running decisions, his adventurous defense, his various quirks, and his absolute mastery of the art of hitting. Simply put, there is no better right-handed hitter in the game.
He can hit with power to all fields, and his seasonal averages of .312/40/133/.999 are simply mind-boggling. Not only has he put up huge numbers year after year, he will go down as one of the more memorable players to ever play the game. He's getting in on the first ballot.
Mariano Rivera—How could you vote against the greatest closer of all time? He's been the relief anchor on three World Series-winning teams, has one season with an ERA above 3.00 (and seven with an ERA under 2.00) since becoming a reliever, and has saved 458 games and counting. And he's done it all with only one pitch that hitters still haven't figured out how to hit. In fact, now in his 14th season, he's 15-for-15 in save opportunities, with 24 strikeouts in 25 innings and a microscopic 0.36 ERA. Wow. He'll get in on his first try.
Ivan Rodriguez—If Piazza is the best offensive catcher ever, Rodriguez is quite possibly the best defensive catcher since Johnny Bench. He's thrown out 47 percent of attempted base-stealers over his career, and has always been active behind the plate as well. He also served as the final piece of the puzzle in Florida's 2003 World-Series run, guiding a young pitching staff through the postseason.
He hasn't been too shabby with the bat either; Pudge is a career .302 hitter with some pop (289 homers, 1,202 RBI) who picked up an AL MVP in 1999 (although only because some writer in Minnesota refused to vote for a pitcher in the top 10, denying Pedro in his virtuoso season). He's in, likely the first time around.
Kenny Rogers—Really? ESPN saved a spot in their poll for a guy who's never won more than 17 games in a season, or had a sub-3.00 ERA as a starter. The Gambler has rarely been the best pitcher on his own team, let alone in the league, and was also a noted postseason choke artist until 2006. He's won 214 games, but won't sniff the Hall.
Curt Schilling- Schill has two more career wins than Rogers, but has more bright spots on his resume. He's won 20 games three times (2001, 2002, 2004), and has been one of the best pitchers on four teams that have gone to the World Series, winning three times. He has been the anti-Rogers in October, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, and of course no one will forget the Bloody Sock Game, certainly not in New England.
He also has three 300-strikeout seasons on his way to over 3,000 for his career. While I think Schilling may have to wait a few years, I think he's done enough to deserve a spot in Cooperstown.
Gary Sheffield—Sheffield, one of the most intimidating hitters in the game for much of the past two decades, has compiled some pretty good career numbers when you consider that he couldn't string three full seasons together until 1996-98, after he'd already been in the majors for eight years. Now he's within striking distance of 500 home runs and 1,600 RBI with a .915 career OPS.
Of course, he's had to deal with plenty of steroid allegations, and perhaps more damning, has never been viewed as a stellar teammate. I lived in Los Angeles when he was a Dodger, continually asking to be traded and then rescinding those demands. He's been passed around to seven teams, mostly via trade. Perhaps that's a byproduct of being thrust into the spotlight as a teenager in 1988.
Perhaps because of his injury history, he's only been an All Star three times. But if his absurd bat speed can help him eclipse 500 home runs and he can overcome the steroid allegations, he might just have enough juice (no pun intended) to work his way in.
John Smoltz—The member of the great Braves trio of starting pitchers who actually had overpowering stuff has reinvented himself twice and continues to be an upper-echelon pitcher even into his forties. He was the most intimidating of the three on the mound (at least until he took off his hat and revealed his bald dome), and the only one who could rear back and simply blow hitters away. He only won 20 games once, his Cy Young season of 1996, but has 210 for his career, and this after becoming one of the best closers in the National League for a three-year span from 2002-04 before re-converting to the rotation.
He accumulated 155 saves in those three-plus years. He has over 3,000 career strikeouts against less than 1,000 walks. While his career numbers may be lower than his teammates, he was just as memorable and effective a pitcher for a team that has made the postseason (October stats: 15-4, 2.70 ERA) practically every year of his career. It would be just if he, Maddux, and Glavine can all enter on the same ballot.
Frank Thomas—The Big Hurt was being talked about as a first-ballot cinch ten years ago, after becoming the first hitter ever to compile at least a .300 average, 20 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, and 100 walks for seven consecutive seasons (Ted Williams did it for six), picking up AL MVP honors in 1993 and 1994 along the way. After that, of course, he had trouble staying healthy, but still put together huge years in 2000, 2003, and 2006.
There shouldn't be any steroid questions about him; the former college tight end was always enormous, and struck fear in the hearts of pitchers before even stepping in the box by swinging a huge rusted iron pipe in the on-deck circle. He's gotten the career numbers (.302/520/1701/.978), and although he may not make it on the first try, he'll get in shortly after that.
Jim Thome—Thome, like Thomas, has always been known for being a good hitter with limited defensive skills, but he never really reached the same "Oh my God!" level that Thomas did. Thome has always been somewhat of an all-or-nothing hitter; 919 of his 1,963 hits have gone for extra bases, and he has struck out 2,099 times, good enough for third all-time.
He does have a respectable career line of .280/517/1426/.968, but has never won an MVP, and has only been an All-Star twice. Still, he has been a feared hitter for a long time, and his career numbers should get him in at some point.