My (hypothetical) Hall of Fame ballot

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.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

34 thoughts on “My (hypothetical) Hall of Fame ballot

  1. LarryAtIIATMS

    Brien, wow. So it IS possible to write a HOF piece that does not make me want to smash my laptop computer into the nearest brick wall.

    Still, I think this piece never should have been posted, because now I may be tempted to read someone else's HOF piece. Then again, I could use a new laptop.

  2. Shawn

    "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."

    I'm not so sure Martinez was better than Griffey but frankly many HOFers are worse than Griffey and Arod.

    • BrienJackson

      I don't know that Martinez was better than Griffey, but it certainly can't be said that Griffey was clearly better. Martinez had 7 season with a wRC+ of 155 or better and at least 500 plate appearances, Griffey had two. Griffey gets a bump from playing centerfield, but he probably should have been moved to rightfield sooner than he was, and it's not at all clear that Martinez couldn't have been a serviceable third baseman if the M's had let him be.

      • Shawn

        Actually it is surprisingly close…

        In 22 seasons, Griffey put up 78.6 WAR.
        In 18 seasons, Martinez put up 67.2 WAR.

        Griffey actually had a negative total dWar (-2.3)for his career while Martinez was very slightly positive(.3). Granted, Griffey did that in 20325.0 innings with 18287.0 in CF while Martinez had 4605.1 innings at 3B and 224.0 at 1B.

        Griffey's career is sad to look at. From an offensive stand point, he might have generated 10 WAR over the last 10 years of his career. From a defensive stand point, he easily lost 9. If he had retired around 2001, we'd be talking about a 75 WAR player over 12 seasons. I'm not sure that there are many players that have topped that kind of peak.

        However, the wRC+ argument is kind of cherry picked. Looking at WAR, Martinez put up a single season high of 7.7 and a total of four over 6 WAR. Griffey had a single season high of 9.7 (along with an 8.5 and 9.4) and a total of six over 6 WAR.

        However, from a purely business point of view… Martinez cost 1/3rd of what Griffey did over his career ($49M verse $151M) and was obviously the better value.

        • BrienJackson

          Well using wRC+ would be isolating just offense, whereas WAR would account for defense.

          • Shawn

            Correct but I think general consensus is that Martinez was a better hitter than Griffey, its just a matter of how much the defense, base running, etc adds in. The reality of it is not enough.

    • Dave

      I would take Ichiro over Martinez any time and it isn't even close in my mind.

      • BrienJackson

        From a purely offensive perspective, that's simply laughable. Ichiro is a career .326/.370/.421 hitter while Edgar hit .312/.418/.515. Ichiro's best season by wRC+ (134), was bested by Edgar is a whopping 10 seasons (of at least 500 plate appearances), and an 11th one if you lower the threshold to 400 plate appearances.

        • Dave

          But if you include his phenomenal defense and his great baserunning I think its no contest. Ichiro is the far more valuable player. That doesn't take anything away from Martinez contributions as a hitter but Ichiro is a superior player.

  3. Sandy

    Brien, I cannot believe we have to go over this again. Steroids absolutely were banned by baseball during Bagwell's career. Fay Vincent issued a memo to teams in 1991 specifically banning illegal drug use. See: http://www.steroidsinbaseball.net/assets/memo.pdf. It specifies: "including steroids." There wasn't testing, but steroids were explicitly banned. Further, it's obvious that most players considered steroid use to be cheating — otherwise, those using would not have hidden their actions as they did.

    Brien, you can discount steroid use when deciding on your Hall of Fame ballot; that's your choice. I happen to agree with you that Bagwell should be in the Hall, as his numbers warrant election and there's no evidence that he cheated. But please stop claiming that steroids were not banned, as that is factually inaccurate. Steroids were banned, and the users chose to violate the rules.

    • BrienJackson

      The commissioner issued a memo? That's nice. It is not, however, the way rules are made in Major League Baseball. Vincent's memo had no binding authority on anyone, and as such does not constitute a rule by any stretch of the definition.

      • Matt

        Brien, sometimes you amaze me at how graceless you are with arguments you don't agree with. Steriods were "banned" by baseball. Using or distributing steroids without a prescription were absolutely illegal by the laws of the US. This made them "illegal substances" which made them explicitly AGAINST THE RULES of Major League Baseball. The memo from the Commissioners office just clarified what should have been (and what should still be) obvious to all involved: Using steroids without a Doctor's prescription is and was against the rules of baseball.
        Make your argument, by all means. Some people don't mind Steroids and argue that they should be allowed. But, please don't distort the FACTS and parrot a lame and uninformed line about Steroids ever being legal in MLB. A graceful response would be to just thank Sandy for bringing up a cogent point and go back and correct your article.

        • BrienJackson

          The "it was against the law anyway" standard has a sort of superficial appeal to it as a work around, but how far are we going to take that? Suspending players if they cheat on their taxes? Removing Babe Ruth from the Hall of Fame for drinking during prohibition? Amphetamines have been illegal under federal law since 1971 as well.

          It seems that unless we're going to go all the way with this, it's just a handy line of thought to rationalize a standard we want to hold.

          • Sandy

            You wrote in your piece that there was "no rule against using steroids in baseball." Are you now arguing that there was a rule, but because others weren't enforced, this one doesn't matter?

            The arguments about cheating on taxes or drinking during prohibition are specious, since those activities have nothing to do with on-field performance. They are irrelevant to this discussion. With regard to amphetamines, that's a classic case of two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right. Yes, baseball should have been more active in preventing amphetamine use, but how is that relevant to whether steroids were banned?

            Along the same lines, and with regard to the Hall of Fame, we often hear about how Player X is in, and he did Y, therefore Player Z should be in — whether the offense was using greenies, being a racist, or having a sub-.750 OPS. Just because the voters made mistakes in the past doesn't mean they should compound those errors by making new mistakes.

          • BrienJackson

            You misunderstand the point: The conundrum isn't so much that "two wrongs make a right," it's that the writers who are clamoring to use the integrity clause to exclude steroid users from the Hall of Fame decidedly do NOT think the same standard should be applied to the players of previous eras who used greenies.

          • Matt

            Argue, argue, argue. Using Steroids were against the law and against the rules of baseball. Sandy is right, you were wrong. Just be man, admit it and move on.

          • BrienJackson

            Well when you support your claims with evidence like that, how could one disagree?

          • Matt

            Any REASONABLE person can see that Steroid use by the likes of Bonds and McGwire was illegal and therefore against the rules of MLB. It really is just that simple. No more evidence needed.

            Unfortunately you are more interested in defending your ego than conceding the obvious. Too bad, really. You could be a good writer. Seriously. But you end up making silly, ridiculous arguments that everybody can plainly see are wrong just in the interest of not having to admit you were wrong. I'm not sure where you think that will get you, but at the end of the day, at least you will protect your fragile and false sense of ego.

          • It seems worth pointing out that the genesis of PED hysteria was the discovery of Andro in McGwire’s locker in 1998. Andro, of course, was neither banned nor baseball nor considered a controlled substance by the government (and interestingly, it’s legally classified as an anabolic steroid now, even though it’s not an anabolic steroid, which goes to show how good the law is).

            PED’s aren’t just anabolic steroids.

      • Sandy

        So are you claiming that only something explicitly defined in the CBA counts as a "rule"? What about the "best interests of baseball" clause that every commissioner has used to some extent? Vincent has no latitude to ban something in baseball that was already banned by the United States government? Even if you claim that Vincent couldn't ban steroids unilaterally, they were already banned by the fact that their use without a prescription was illegal. The preferences of the MLB Players Association do not supersede the authority of the federal government.

  4. BrienJackson

    "So are you claiming that only something explicitly defined in the CBA counts as a "rule"?"

    In broad strokes, yes.

    "What about the "best interests of baseball" clause that every commissioner has used to some extent? "

    The best interests power is a bit esoteric, but as I've written before it basically exists to allow the commissioner to do something for which he can wrangle broad support for amongst the owners and the union. You'll notice that it's never invoked for a controversial issue that would potentially be met with a significant backlash against the commissioner, at least not by Selig.

    "Vincent has no latitude to ban something in baseball that was already banned by the United States government? "

    Correct.

    "Even if you claim that Vincent couldn't ban steroids unilaterally, they were already banned by the fact that their use without a prescription was illegal."

    See above, but this formalistic reasoning really gets you nowhere. Without passing a formal banned substance list through the proper channels, instituting some sort of enforcement mechanism for the rule, and having a culture that so much as pretended to be opposed to the activity it just beggers belief to say something is "banned."

    Also, your position begs the question: if the commissioner had the authority to unilaterally impose a rule change without collectively bargaining it, why didn't he have the authority to enforce the rule?

    • Sandy

      The federal law banning steroid use without a prescription does not require that workplaces accept the law as part of their "culture." Their use is simply banned.

      As far as Vincent having the authority to enforce the steroid ban, I would suggest that he did — if he could have found an effective way to do so administratively. What he could not do (or at least, what he was unwilling to do) was force players to pee in a cup or give blood — hence the need for testing to be a part of the CBA. Regardless, whether an enforcement method was in place or not, steroid use was prohibited.

      • BrienJackson

        "The federal law banning steroid use without a prescription does not require that workplaces accept the law as part of their "culture." Their use is simply banned. "

        This is relevant for the application of the federal government, not for Major League Baseball.

        As for the rest of your post, I suppose we're down to the definitional level now. Put simply, in my view any rule that inherently can not be enforced is not a rule at all, in much the same way it would be silly to say those crazy old laws banning mowing your lawn while wearing a blue hat after 2:00 P.M. on Thursdays actually make said activity illegal. They don't, because they can't be enforced, and thus your free to "break" them.

        • Sandy

          "This is relevant for the application of the federal government, not for Major League Baseball."

          That statement is without meaning. Major League Baseball is a business entity operating within the United States and is subject to federal law. This notion you have that there is a distinction between what is permitted in baseball and what is permitted under federal law is silly. Federal law applies to the Major League Baseball workplace just as it applies to other workplaces, except where specifically exempted, such as for antitrust regulations. You claimed in your piece that steroids were not against the rules, but business entities do not have the right to opt out of federal law, therefore all relevant federal laws apply to all U.S. workplaces unless specifically exempted. One is a subset of the other.

          • danrizzle

            This would bring us back to the "cheating on taxes" or "drinking during Prohibition" point. Your counterargument to that was that cheating on your taxes and drinking during Prohibition don't make you a better ballplayer. Well, to that I would challenge you to show me how taking steroids makes people better ballplayers.

          • BrienJackson

            And even if you can show that, it's not clear to me how such an arbitrary distinction squares with the post above. Although she pulled a nice trick by specifying all "relevant" federal law in the penultimate sentence, that is clearly a meaningless distinction.

          • Sandy

            What arbitrary distinction am I making? That only relevant federal laws apply? I noted "relevant" because, as I previously mentioned, some industries have exemptions, such as baseball with antitrust legislation. It's not a trick. If you are referring to the distinction between on-field and off-field activities, for the purposes of a discussion about steroids (which this is), their affect on on-field performance is the genesis of the rule.

            An arbitrary distinction is when you try to make the claim that baseball's rule-making capacity is somehow outside the bounds of the federal government's. There is no distinction — one's authority is subject to the other's, and one's laws trump the other's powers.

            Also, I'm a guy, not a "she." But I've misspelled your name before, so let's call it even.

          • Sandy

            I know this has been discussed before in this forum. Since steroids build muscle, it seems evident to me that at a minimum they turn some fly balls into home runs. That means that, at a minimum, they help some users with their on-field performance some of the time. Of course, every user thinks they help with performance, or there would be no motivation to take them, but that's neither here nor there.

            Regardless, this really has nothing to do with the fact that they were banned, which was the original point. Whether they aid performance or not, they were banned, and Brien said they weren't. That's incorrect.

      • BrienJackson

        Forgot; this:

        "As far as Vincent having the authority to enforce the steroid ban, I would suggest that he did — if he could have found an effective way to do so administratively. "

        Is simply inaccurate, as Vincent would have lacked the authority to hand down any punishments to the players outside of the CBA.

        • Sandy

          I agree that Vincent probably could not have suspended players without a change to the CBA, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have taken other action, such as using the media to embarrass players known to be steroid users. He likely made the judgment call that such enforcement actions were not worth the cost, given how they would have jeopardized relations with the union. The most effective way to enforce the ban was to negotiate a testing regimen, which is ultimately what happened.

          • R Johnston

            You can't be serious. If Vincent had used the media to out steroid users he'd have lost his job for violating the CBA, otherwise there would have been a fully justified players' strike until he was fired. Intentionally embarrassing players is, in fact, punishing them, and can only be done in accord with the CBA.

          • BrienJackson

            And absent some actual evidence, he would have certainly opened MLB up to a number of lawsuits from the union and he done so.

            It's rather weird to be defending the authority of the commissioner through the prism of Vincent, since it's long been established that Vincent is a petty tyrant who believes he ought not be constrained by the opinion of anyone else or silly things like limits on his ability to do whatever he wants. He attempted to wield the office as though his opinion was literally the only thing that mattered in baseball, with the opinion of the union and the owners a mere afterthought to be brushed off if it conflicted with what Vincent wanted. Predictably enough, this attitude left him with no allies or defenders, and got him removed from his position following a vote of no-confidence from the owners. It's true enough that part of that opposition was from the Selig-Reinsdorf wing that wanted to take a hard line on the salary cap and union busting, but from a broader perspective no one trusted Vincent to competently handle the labor negotiation.

            The man was quite possibly the worst commissioner in the history of baseball, and that's really saying something.

          • Sandy

            First, baseball executives use the media to embarrass others all the time, often anonymously. Vincent certainly could have done so (and maybe did so in other contexts). We regularly read about the "senior club executive" or "a source within the Commissioner's office."

            Further, given Vincent was on the outs with the owners, he probably knew his time was short. I don't think he was particularly worried about his job.

            Again, none of this is especially relevant to my original point, which was that Brien's statement about "there was no rule against using steroids in baseball" is incorrect. There was a rule, and if you don't think the Commissioner had the authority to make or enforce that rule, just think of his memo as a reminder of the federal law already in place. Steroids were banned.

  5. Eli

    If Bagwell makes it then open the door for Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa and all the others.

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