the newspaper votes: national baseball hall of fame 2016
The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2016 inductees on Jan. 6. Widely considered one of the most difficult halls to enter, Cooperstown has seen ballots with a glut of a talent in recent years, and voters have taken very different approaches. In 2013 no one was inducted, while in 2015, four players were inducted. Writers are allowed to vote for up to 10 candidates, which usually seems a bit much, yet may be appropriate when considering players from the star-studded ’90s and early 2000s. Players go on the ballot five years after their retirement and can stay on for 10 years (a recent switch from the previous 15-year rule). Voting is done by recognized sportswriters, a group which (shockingly!) does not include any of our staff.
My first three votes go to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire. When all three retired they were seen as sure-bet hall of famers. That changed when the three were caught up in baseball’s steroid saga. Many view steroid users as cheaters, and some have refused to vote for any players from the ’90s out of fear of voting for a steroid user. I see this logic as hypocritical—if baseball was plagued with steroid use, you can hardly fault each individual user for adapting to the competition.
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McGwire thus gets my vote as the best pure-HR hitter of all time, averaging 10.61 HR per at bat over his career. This is McGwire’s final year of eligibility on the regular ballot. Clemens retired with a career FanGraphs WAR of 133.7, making him the most accomplished pitcher since the end of dead-ball era. Barry Bonds, meanwhile, was the most feared hitter since Babe Ruth. After setting the single season home run record in 2001, Bonds’ walk-rate soared, allowing us to marvel in the mystery of just how good he could have been if pitchers weren’t afraid to pitch to him.
My next group of votes go to players who I expect voters will overlook for reasons other than steroid use. Alan Trammel, like McGwire, is in his final year of eligibility, so he’s partly on my ballot for strategic reasons. While Trammel has been forgotten due to the rise of elite offensive shortstops in the ’90s, he was a star of his era, flashing the defensive talent that shortstops are generally remembered for, while putting up a good OBP (.352) relative to his position.
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Jim Edmonds is in his first year of eligibility. A dominant player from 1995 to 2005, Edmonds was an elite defender playing a demanding defensive position—centre-field. Unfortunately, he may be remembered more for his shorter stint as a power-hitter, leading naïve viewers to incorrectly categorize him as an average player in a power-hitting era. Finally, if Edmonds is deserving then so is Larry Walker. Despite retiring with a FanGraphs WAR of 68.7, Walker’s candidacy hasn’t merited much discussion. Walker put up elite offensive and defensive seasons, batting .350 or higher four times.
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Mike Mussina’s hall of fame chances are better than anyone who I’ve mentioned thus far. A strong defensive pitcher with good control, Mussina’s numbers superficially don’t look quite hall of fame worthy, but when you factor in that he pitched a significant amount of his career in hitter-friendly Camden Yards and Yankee stadium, he comes out looking much better (as his comfortably-hall of fame WAR of 82.2 shows).
Jeff Bagwell is not too far from getting elected either, having finished sixth on the 2015 ballot, with 55% of writers voting for him (75% of writers are needed for election). With a career OPS of .948, Bagwell’s failure to get inducted thus far seems to be the result of vague suspicion about steroid usage, and perhaps his relatively short career of 15 years.
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Mike Piazza is within striking distance of getting elected, having come just 28 votes short of induction in 2015. Like Bagwell, Piazza is suspect to steroid suspicions, but his reputation as the best offensive catcher of all time with 427 career home runs and a .308 career batting average makes his eventual induction inevitable.
Finally, I can’t not vote for the consensus star of the class. Ken “The Kid” Griffey Jr. put up some strong defensive years in center-field, and retires with 630 career home runs, despite seemingly being injured for half of his career.