Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell is quickly becoming the biggest story of the Hall voting season, as a large bloc of writers deny him their votes on the basis of “suspicion” of having used “performance enhancing” drugs during his playing days. No one’s accused him of anything, mind you, because there’s no actual evidence that he did anything untoward (and certainly no evidence that he “cheated” given that there was no rule against using steroids in baseball), but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what’s implied by these references to collective, ethereal suspicion.
I don’t think it’s hard to imagine what my thoughts on this witch hunt are, but as it relates to my (hypothetical) ballot, it’s neither here nor there since I don’t penalize players for steroid usage whatsoever. Given that fact, Bagwell is a no-brainer. One of the most talented hitters of his era largely overshadowed due to not putting up the gaudy home run totals of McGwire, in no small part because his best years were spent in the mammoth confines of the Astrodome. He was also a good baserunner and defender, making him one of the more well rounded players at the position and, in my opinion, clearly one of the five or six best first basemen of all time.
Barry Larkin: I grew up in the Cincinnati era watching the Reds, and I have to admit, I never really thought of Larkin as a Hall of Famer. Though he won the National League MVP in 1995, he never really seemed to play that well again, and he was hurt quite a bit. It didn’t help him that a bumper crop of hitting shortstops came along and warped peoples’ perspective of the position. But judging Larkin’s career numbers against other players at the position, I think it’s pretty obvious he belongs in this class, and he’d probably be a no-brainer if he’d come along 10 years earlier, before A-Rod, Jeter, and Nomar hit the scene. He’s 12th all time among shortstops in fWAR, and had a better on base percentage over his career than Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount, and Ernie Banks. Add in 379 stolen bases and very good defense and Larkin clearly belongs in the Hall.
Edgar Martinez: Of all the players likely to miss the cut for enshrinement this year, none make me angrier than Martinez. Let’s not mince any words here: there is no argument to be made that Edgar Martinez is one of the best hitters of all time. Several others have already made a compelling case recently, go read them.
So let’s just be honest with ourselves; Martinez isn’t getting votes because there’s a bias against him due to the perception that he was a career DH. That’s not entirely accurate, first of all, as Martinez played over 4,500 innings at third base and wasn’t a butcher by any means, but a desire to help him remain healthy and keep his bat in the lineup. He was also out-shined personality wise by his teammates, which included Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro at the beginning of his American career. It’s a shame that Martinez is the forgotten man of that bunch, because only A-Rod has clearly been a better player than Martinez.
It’s okay to not like the DH rule, but it is a rule, it is an official position, and it’s not fair to refuse to vote for a player simply because his manager thought that was the best place to put him in the lineup. Every year Martinez fails to even get close to election, to say nothing of actually hitting the 75% threshold needed for election, is a black mark on the integrity of the voting process.
Mark McGwire: As I said with regards to Bagwell, I don’t put any weight whatsoever on steroid usage, so that doesn’t affect my evaluation of McGwire. There’s a strand of thought that “if you take away the home runs,” McGwire wasn’t really a Hall of Fame player, to which I offer a resounding poppycock! First of all, you can’t take away the home runs! Evaluating McGwire without the home runs would be as silly as arguing that Babe Ruth shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame because, excluding his 714 home runs, he only had 2,159 hits in his career. The fact of the matter is that McGwire was a career .263/.394/.588 hitter who delivered the optimal outcome for a single at bat more often than any other person in the history of baseball. By comparison, Reggie Jackson hit .262/.356/.490, and I don’t often hear people calling him a one trick pony. There’s no need to make this overly complicated; McGwire’s a Hall of Famer.
Rafael Palmeiro: I’ve been one of the more ardent supporters of Palmeiro I can think of over the years, but I admit that Keith Law made me reconsider that position last week. Not because of his steroid usage or the speculative idea that he wasn’t good enough absent (not banned) drugs to put up Hall worthy numbers, but by pointing out that Palmeiro lacked an obviously dominant peak during his career. It’s a fair point, and worth keeping Palmeiro off your ballot if that’s what you preference, but to me there’s something to be said for longevity and consistently producing, and Palmeiro certainly did that with 15 season of playing in at least 150 games (two of the years he failed to do that being 1994 and 1995), and nine seasons of at least 4.5 fWAR. You can call that compiling stats if you want to, but a player who’s not in the lineup provides his team no value so, in my opinion, a player who can play as often as Palmeiro and consistently produce at that level is a very valuable commodity indeed.
Tim Raines: The new Candidate of the Internet now that Bert Blyleven has been voted into the Hall, Raines is a great example of how a player can be underappreciated based on our understanding of the game at the time. Put simply, Raines derived a lot of his value from his ability to get on base at a time when that skill was woefully underappreciated. Raines walked a whopping 1,330 times in his career, but your average “traditionalist” probably only sees the 2,605 hits, which isn’t too shabby in its own right. But with a better appreciation for how important it is to get on base, Raines’ .385 OBP looks a whole lot better, especially when you consider that he stole 808 bases in 954 attempts. That’s a better percentage (84.7%), than that of the “greatest of all-time” Rickey Henderson (80.76%). Raines also reached base more times than Tony Gwynn.
Alan Trammell: I confess that I really don’t have any real recollection of Trammell or any strong personal feelings about him, but he’s essentially even with Larkin in WAR and only about 5 fWAR behind Robin Yount and Ernie Banks. Sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.
Larry Walker: I confess, I really have no idea what to do with Larry Walker. His numbers are certainly impressive, and to the eye he was a tremendously talented player. But he also played his home games in Coors Field before the humidor came to be, and he’s got some pretty massive home/road splits. I don’t really know what to make of the Coors effect yet, and I don’t know that we ever really will. That said, wRC+ is park adjusted, and Walkers 140 mark is pretty solid. This is a place where, if I had a real ballot, I’d engage in some tactical voting and let consensus take its course. I have an extra spot, and I’m truly up in the air on whether Walker belongs in or not, so I’d cast a vote for him, and if said vote helps to push him over the threshold, well that would mean that an awful lot of other voters cast their vote for him as well. I could live with that.