‘Tis the season for Hall of Fame debates. The ballot went out in November, and voters have until the end of the year to send in their picks. The newcomers to this year’s ballot aren’t the strongest bunch. While you’ve got some really solid players—I always loved watching Torii Hunter—none even comes particularly close to being Cooperstown-worthy. Tim Hudson is probably the best of the group, but he’s a borderline case at best, and certainly not first-ballot. That leaves us with the guys who’ve been on the ballot before, a group that includes some of the best players to ever set foot on a baseball diamond.
I try to stay out of the prediction business with things like this. So instead here are my takes on who should and shouldn’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
My take on the PED problem that faces HOF voters is that there should be a special place in the Hall for the asterisk players. Those guys defined baseball for more than a decade. Whether you’ve got marginal cases of guys who were only implicated in the 2003 survey, or clearer cases like A-Rod’s, the desire of the baseball writers and the Hall of Fame to pretend the steroid era didn’t happen is increasingly untenable. The closest we’ll come to a MLB truth and reconciliation commission is a Hall of Fame that acknowledges the “cheaters” while celebrating their accomplishments. Because turn-of-the-millennium baseball without the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and even A-Rod, is unrecognizable.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame
Yes, he used steroids, and his record 762 home runs will be forever tainted. But to deny Barry Bonds a place in the Hall of Fame is to deny epochal greatness. His career WAR of 162.8 is fourth all-time and the best since Babe Ruth. His career OPS of 1.050 is also fourth all-time. When he stepped up to the plate you expected to see something amazing. 26% of his 2,935 hits were home runs. The man struck such fear into the hearts of pitchers that, according to this delightful video from SB Nation’s Jon Bois, in 2004 he could have recorded the best OBP in MLB history without swinging the bat once.
It’s easy to forget that he also stole 514 bases and won eight Gold Gloves. He used PEDs, sure, but lots of guys used PEDs in those days, and nobody did what Bonds did. Put an asterisk on his plaque if you like, but he’s got to go to Cooperstown.
The same goes for Clemens. He’s third all-time in pitching WAR and in strikeouts and 12th in ERA+. He’s not just one of the best of his era but one of the best to ever set foot on a pitcher’s mound. I don’t have a universal standard for PED-tainted players—maybe they should have higher standards than non-PED guys—but it’s inexcusable to let the greatest pitcher of his generation, one of the all-time greats, a spot in the Hall of Fame. Make the asterisk as big as you want. But you’ve got to put Clemens in there.
Curt Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame
The continued Curt Schilling snubbing is perhaps even more egregious than that of Bonds and Clemens. As my friends and Twitter followers know, I do not share Curt’s politics. I think his opinions are terrible and the way he goes about expressing them is stupid. (I also think it’s hilarious that he was involved in the border wall crowdfunding scheme, for which four of his co-conspirators were indicted.) But the Hall of Fame is not a political club—good thing, since it’s home to segregationists and alleged Klan members. The Hall of Fame is a collection of the game’s great players who did incredible things.
Curt Schilling was a great player who did incredible things. He leads all modern-era starting pitchers (excluding active pitchers) in strikeout-walk ratio. His 127 ERA+ is 24th all-time among starters. But his true greatness was in the postseason. The 2001 World Series co-MVP holds the record for strikeouts in a single postseason and recorded a 2.23 ERA in 133.1 career playoff innings. He was probably already a Hall of Famer going into 2004, but when he threw 7 innings and allowed 1 earned run on a haphazardly repaired ankle in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS—the Bloody Sock Game—it became a certainty. I don’t care how dumb his political opinions are; Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer.
His prospects seem pretty good this time around, as he’s steadily increased his vote share in recent years and surpassed 70% in voting for 2020. Hopefully the remaining 5% he needs come to their senses in his penultimate year on the ballot—and hopefully he writes a short, baseball-focused induction speech.
Who else should (maybe) get in
Billy Wagner ranks sixth all-time with 422 career saves and posted a sub-1 WHIP in a sixteen year career. One of the best relievers of all time. Seems like a no-brainer.
Scott Rolen was a very good hitter, with an .855 career OPS, and a great fielder, with eight Gold Gloves and a defensive WAR of 21.2—45th all-time. One of the best third-basemen the game has seen. It’s a borderline case, but he should get in.
Gary Sheffield was the most terrifying man in baseball. The mere mention of his name brings to my mind nightmarish images of his foreboding bat-flapping stance. A PED guy, sure, but with over 500 home runs he deserves an asterisked slot in the Hall.
Todd Helton is a Hall of Famer. He led the league in OPS in 2000, the first of a five-year streak of OPSes over 1.000. On top of those five monster years, which included five all Star appearances and three Gold Gloves, he put in several other strong seasons offensively. His .953 career OPS is 18th all-time (though, granted, thanks to Coors Field he’s much lower in adjusted OPS+) and he was one of the most dominant hitters in an era full of dominant hitters.
Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in the history of the game. He’s been implicated in some PED stuff—including a positive test in 2009—which is why he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but come on. This is the guy who (we think).peed inside the Green Monster, cut off a Johnny Damon throw from deep center field in shallow center field, and high-fived a fan in between making a catch and doubling a guy off. He made baseball fun to watch. In a sport that hates fun, Manny brought laughs and a devastating swing. Give him a plaque with an asterisk.
The same goes for Sammy Sosa. He made the game fun, though not quite in the same way, and he’s one of the best hitters of all time.
Other than the Big Three I mentioned at the top, the player who’s generated the most controversy in recent years is Omar Vizquel. While some think his defensive prowess outweighs his consistently subpar offensive performance, others point out that Scott Rolen is essentially What If Vizquel Could Hit, and even he’s a borderline case. Here, I’ll weigh in:
No, he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. He was a bad hitter.
(from the Baseball Reference page for the Hall of Fame ballot)
LaTroy Hawkins was a pretty good pitcher, but he literally could not have been worse at the plate. He never got on base; he went 0-8 in his career for an OPS+ of -100.
Curt Schilling stole one base in his career. I would like to have seen that.
Nick Swisher and Michael Cuddyer each pitched one shutout inning in their careers. The two have very similar offensive stats, but Swisher has the clear edge on the mound, with 33% fewer hits allowed (2) than Cuddyer (3). If you’re a voter torn between the two, there’s your tiebreaker.
Dan Haren had a career OPS of .511, the only pitcher on the ballot over .500. This is not very close, but, I would argue, far too close, to Omar Vizquel’s .688.
Who I’d like to see inducted:
- Curt Schilling
- Roger Clemens
- Barry Bonds
- Billy Wagner
- Scott Rolen
- Todd Helton
- Manny Ramirez
- Gary Sheffield
- Sammy Sosa
Most of these guys won’t get in this year. Maybe ever. But the backlog of PED-era players will only grow, and voters aren’t doing themselves any favors kicking the can down the road. And, more importantly, these guys should be in the Hall of Fame.