These MLB Stars Are the Only Ones Worthy of 2017 HOF Enshrinement

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterDecember 29, 2016

These MLB Stars Are the Only Ones Worthy of 2017 HOF Enshrinement

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    The first year Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, I voted "not now."

    OK, technically I just didn't vote for them, but as I explained then in a column for CBSSports.com, it was more of a "not now" vote than a "not ever" vote.

    "They may never get in," I wrote, "but my guess is eventually they will."

    Eventually is coming.

    It likely won't happen this year based on early voting numbers tracked so carefully by Ryan Thibodaux. But Bonds' and Clemens' numbers went up last year after the Hall of Fame made changes in the electorate, and Thibodaux's tracking numbers suggest they'll rise even more significantly this time around.

    Some votes switched after a Hall of Fame committee decided to enshrine Bud Selig, the commissioner who oversaw baseball's steroid era. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports talked to some of those voters and explained why they switched.

    The Selig decision didn't affect my vote. I've voted for Bonds and Clemens since 2014 for reasons I explained then on Facebook.

    Three years later, I feel the same way. And just as I did in 2014, I used the maximum 10 spots on this year's ballot.

    Here they are in alphabetical order (as they're listed on the ballot), with the reasons why each one belongs.

Jeff Bagwell

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    Jeff Bagwell fell 15 votes short of getting in last year, and one of the votes he missed was mine. I wrote then that I would give Bagwell and three other near-misses another look 12 months later, and I have.

    What I see now is a player who compares well with others I've voted for. Bagwell's career OPS+ of 149, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, is higher than that of Mike Piazza's (142), who got in (with my vote) last July. As the persistent @Bags4HoF regularly reminds me on Twitter, Bagwell had a 10-year period in which he ranked among the league leaders in many offensive categories.

    He's still a borderline case, but I'm comfortable now putting him on the right side of the border.

Barry Bonds

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    Asked last summer about his legacy, Bonds had this to say: "I entertained you guys, so why are you asking me? If you feel I did something that entertained you to the point you were happy, you should write that. If you feel I didn't, you should write that."

    If only it were that simple.

    Bonds did entertain us. He amazed us. But he also disgusted us, with the bloated body, bloated stats and bluster emblematic of the steroid era.

    Some voters may say he had Hall of Fame numbers before he began using, but I don't care about that. I'd feel comfortable excluding him for cheating, if only we had enough evidence to separate those who cheated from those who didn't.

    Everyone in baseball enabled the cheaters, not just Selig, but also every player whose union helped stand in the way of testing. In a way, they're all guilty.

    Was Bonds guiltier than others? Probably so, but he was also better on the field than others. He might be the living symbol of the steroid era, but he was also the era's best player.

    Unless we're going to eliminate an entire era from Hall of Fame consideration, the era's best player belongs in there.

    Yes, Barry, I was happy watching you. No, Barry, I'm not entirely happy voting for you.

    But once again, I have.

Roger Clemens

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    Bonds and Clemens are linked in much of the Hall of Fame discussion, but their cases aren't identical. Clemens has received a handful more votes than Bonds, perhaps because he's better liked or a touch less demonized.

    My buddy Jon Heyman wrote last year on CBSSports.com why he was willing to vote for Bonds but not Clemens. Heyman said he believes the story that Bonds began juicing in response to the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa received in 1998 but doesn't believe anything Clemens has said.

    I see them as more similar, the best hitter and the best pitcher of their generation, both tainted by almost-certain drug use. I vote for Clemens for the same reason I vote for Bonds; his accomplishments demand it, and I'm not willing to punish him for his drug transgressions while voting for others who likely cheated too.

    If you go strictly by what he did on the field, Clemens is the easiest of choices. He was a seven-time Cy Young winner who also won an American League MVP. From 1986-98, he led the majors in wins (217) and was second to Greg Maddux in ERA (2.87). His 2,953 strikeouts in that 13-year span were 600 more than anyone else had.

    I could go on, but why bother? No one is keeping Clemens out of the Hall of Fame with an argument that he didn't do enough. The only argument against him is off the field and whether he did too much.

    As with Bonds, I hold my nose and accept it.

Vladimir Guerrero

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    Over a decade, from 1998-2007, Vladimir Guerrero was one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. He had a high batting average (.327 over those 10 years, .318 over his full career). He hit home runs (449 in his career) and drove in runs (1,496). He even had a season with 40 stolen bases.

    As a right fielder, he had one of the best arms in baseball. At the plate, he was one of the best bad-ball hitters of all time. He was dangerous because he could do damage, but also because he did it even when pitchers were trying to work around him.

    He could hit anything, and perhaps because of that, he swung at everything. If there's any negative on Guerrero's credentials, it's that he rarely walked. He led the league in intentional walks five times, but in 2006, he had as many intentional walks (25) as unintentional walks.

    The intentional walks boost his case by showing what opposing managers thought of him. The lack of unintentional walks means Guerrero does a little worse with modern analytics.

    Paul Swydan of FanGraphs wrote a well-argued column saying that while he considers Guerrero deserving, he believes Larry Walker is even more so. Walker does better with analytics, thanks in part to his career .400 on-base percentage and also to ranking better on defensive metrics.

    I've seriously considered a Walker vote each of the last two years but haven't yet voted for him. I did vote for Guerrero, believing him to be the more dominant player.

Trevor Hoffman

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    In this winter, where closers have been richly rewarded, it feels right to vote for the only guy other than Mariano Rivera with 600 career saves. In fact, Trevor Hoffman and Rivera are the only two closers with even 500 career saves. Since the active leader, Francisco Rodriguez, has just 430 and turns 35 in January, nobody's catching Hoffman and Rivera anytime soon.

    Save totals are obviously controlled in part by circumstances, but Hoffman was impressively consistent and was dominant in other categories too.

    My buddy Jayson Stark of ESPN.com makes a compelling argument that Billy Wagner is Hoffman's equal in many of those other categories, and Stark voted for both Hoffman and Wagner last year. I voted for Hoffman and not Wagner last year and have done the same this year. Saves aren't everything, but they are what we celebrate for relievers. Hoffman had a lot more of them and thus had a lot more fame. (It is the Hall of Fame, after all.)

    Besides, a closer's primary job is to preserve the lead, and Hoffman's career save percentage of 88.8 ranks fourth (behind Craig Kimbrel, Joe Nathan and Rivera) among the 48 pitchers with 200 or more saves. Wagner is 10th, at 85.9 percent.

    Hoffman got 67.3 percent of the vote last year, his first on the ballot. That suggests he'll get in eventually, and it may even happen this year.

    In a year when Major League Baseball named its National League Reliever of the Year award after Hoffman (with the American League award named after Rivera), Hoffman belongs as much as ever.

Edgar Martinez

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    Every year Edgar Martinez has appeared on the ballot, I've stared at his stats, looking for the kind of dominance that would make up for not playing defense.

    I looked at the stats again this year, but I also looked back at who Martinez was. I covered the American League during almost his entire career, and without fail, opponents considered him one of the best hitters in the game.

    He hit for average. He had extra-base power. He drove in runs. He had an OPS of .993 or better in six consecutive seasons.

    I wish he'd led the league more times in more categories. I wish he'd finished higher in MVP voting. I wish he hadn't torn his hamstring so badly in 1993, forcing him into the full-time designated hitter role.

    But we have to judge Martinez on who he was and what he did. I've come around to the idea that what he was and what he did are good enough to get my vote.

Mike Mussina

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    Back when I was making the case for Jack Morris, I wrote that Hall of Fame voters had become too tough on starting pitchers.

    "Only one of the last 21 players elected to the Hall was a starting pitcher—Bert Blyleven—and he retired 20 years ago," I said in that December 2012 column.

    With Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, the balance has been restored. But something else I wrote in that Morris column still holds. We still haven't elected a starting pitcher who pitched his entire career in the American League in the designated hitter era.

    Mike Mussina not only did that, but he spent his entire career in the AL East at a time when the division had the toughest lineups in the game.

    Mussina doesn't have a slam-dunk case. He never won a Cy Young (he finished second to Martinez in 1999). He won 20 games just once (although he won 18 or more five other times). His 3.68 ERA would be the highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher since World War II.

    But let's put that ERA in context of the league and the ballparks Mussina pitched in. Baseball-Reference.com's ERA+ attempts to do that, and Mussina's 123 matches the career ERA+ of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. It's better than the career ERA+ of Hall of Famers Glavine (118), Bob Feller (122) and Warren Spahn (119), among others.

    I never did succeed in getting Morris into the Hall of Fame. He peaked at 67.7 percent of the vote in 2013.

    Mussina jumped to 43 percent last year, his third year on the ballot. He should gain votes this year. I know of at least one vote he has added.

    Mine.

Tim Raines

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    Just as with American League starting pitchers, leadoff hitters have been underrepresented in Hall of Fame voting. It's as if we've been comparing everyone to Rickey Henderson while being unwilling to vote for anyone who doesn't completely match up.

    Tim Raines wasn't Henderson, but he was very, very good over a career that spanned 23 seasons. Voters seem to have picked up on this; Raines got only 22.6 percent of the vote in his second year on the ballot but rose to 69.8 percent in 2016, his ninth year.

    Raines is down to his last chance, but early-voting totals compiled by Ryan Thibodaux suggest he will get in. With just over 30 percent of the ballots already accounted for, Thibodaux has Raines at 90.1 percent.

    Raines scored 1,571 runs in his career (54th all time) and stole 808 bases (fifth). He made the All-Star team seven straight years.

    Five players who played for the Montreal Expos have already made it to Cooperstown, New York (Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson). This year's ballot includes two more who should make it—Guerrero (in his first year of eligibility) and Raines (in his last).

Ivan Rodriguez

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    He was the best catcher of his era, perhaps the best of any era.

    He could hit, he could throw, and he even got better at handling pitchers and calling games (an early criticism) later in his 21-year career. He made the All-Star team 14 times and won 13 Gold Gloves, the most of any catcher and as many as Ozzie Smith won at shortstop.

    There's simply no way you can look at Pudge Rodriguez's career and say he wasn't a Hall of Famer.

    Well, there is one way. Jose Canseco, in his 2005 book Juiced, alleged he personally injected Rodriguez with steroids when the two were teammates with the Texas Rangers. If you're a PED hardliner, unwilling to vote for any player who has been accused, you can justify lumping Pudge in with the rest of the cheaters.

    I'm not willing to make that judgment. When I saw Pudge Rodriguez play, I always felt I was watching a Hall of Famer. When I look at his stats and his accomplishments, I see a Hall of Famer.

    He easily gets my vote.

Curt Schilling

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    Curt Schilling the person would not get my vote.

    Curt Schilling the pitcher deserves it.

    He's loud. He's offensive. He called a T-shirt advocating the lynching of journalists "awesome," an interesting move for someone who presumably would like journalists to vote him into the Hall of Fame.

    Schilling said in a radio interview with WPRO (via Alex Reimer of Forbes) he wants to run for Senate from Massachusetts. We can only guess what he'll advocate for the voters of that state.

    But the Hall of Fame voting rules don't provide for a test of intelligence or common sense. They do use the word "character," which some of my fellow voters have used to deny Schilling their vote. According to Ryan Thibodaux's vote tracker, Schilling has lost an amazing 18 votes from those who supported him a year ago.

    He kept mine because I was voting for the Hall of Fame, not for president or the Senate.

    He was one of the dominant pitchers of his era. His context-inclusive ERA+, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, was the same as Bob Gibson's and Tom Seaver's and higher than Jim Palmer's or Juan Marichal's.

    And in an era where reputations are made in a three-tiered postseason, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts and even better (4-1, 2.06) in the World Series.

    He never won a Cy Young (but finished second three times) and won just 216 games. But Pedro Martinez won 219 and got 91.1 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot.

    Schilling won't come close to that. He shouldn't.

    But Curt Schilling the pitcher earned his way to Cooperstown.

    Curt Schilling the person could still keep himself out of it.

A Quick Word About the Near-Misses

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    The Hall of Fame limits us to 10 votes. Some would like to see that changed. I don't mind it.

    It's not fair, because nothing says there can't be more than 10 deserving players on the ballot at one time. But the 10-vote limit sharpens your thinking because it requires you to carefully choose.

    Most years, I don't get all the way to 10. This year, I did.

    I might have even gotten to 11 had it been allowed because Larry Walker has been among the final players I considered each year he has been on the ballot. So far, he's fallen just short.

    I looked seriously at others, including Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith and Sammy Sosa.

    For most of those, I felt their career accomplishments fell just behind the 10 I voted for. For Ramirez, I felt his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs took him out of serious consideration. Unlike others, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, he got caught after baseball began to take steroid cheating seriously. To me, that's a much worse offense.

    Sosa didn't get caught, at least not for drug use. But his only real Hall of Fame qualifications are a seven-year power span that was almost certainly steroid-driven. I feel comfortable leaving him off while still voting for Bonds, Clemens and the rest.