Just about a week ago, the new Hall of Fame ballot was released, and within seconds of its release, the debate began again. Should Pete Rose, the All-Time Hit King, be allowed into the Hall?
You know what, my opinion on this topic is going to stay shrouded in mystery (OK, not really mystery, I think he should be in, but that is not what this column is about).
No, this is about the guys who are eligible for the first time or 10th time, as the ballots for the 2016 Hall of Fame class came out this week. The usual names are on it, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, and as per usual due to the PED era, these great players (and I don’t give a crap what you say, PED’s or not, these guys were all going to be great players), will be left off the ballot.
Then you see the nostalgic group. You know, the group of guys you remember playing for your team and there’s always some fond memory of them being solid contributors, but not quite Hall of Fame great. Guys like, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo or Jim Edmonds who are on the ballot and may get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot a couple of years, but will never get in.
That brings me to the cream of the crop so to speak. These guys could all make some claim to being in the Hall. If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame (I wish I did), here is the 10 I would put on my ballot this year, in order from 10-1 (The team in parentheses are the team they should be enshrined in):
10) Fred McGriff (1B, Atlanta Braves): There were few steadier than the Crime Dog. If his 493 HR’s, 1550 RBI and career .284 hitter aren’t good enough, he was an All-Star Five times, and he twice led the league in HR. He was also part of an Atlanta team that dominated the sport in the 90’s and he was a major part of that.
9) Lee Smith (P, Chicago Cubs): Dude was flat-out scary when he took the hill. You could tell hitters were a little hesitant to take their hacks off of big Lee Smith. He was going to challenge everyone who came to the plate with that wicked heater and just dare you to hit it. His 478 saves were the most ever, until a guy named Trevor Hoffman came around and then of course Mo Rivera. But there was no more intimidating figure on the hill than Lee Arthur Smith.
8) Jeff Kent (2B, San Francisco Giants): Ok, besides the porn ‘stache and the surly attitude, Kent could flat-out rake, doing so from a position that wasn’t expected to supply that kind of pop, second base. He was the league MVP in 2000, on a team with Barry Bonds. He was an All-Star five times, and was always a danger in that line-up giving great protection to Bonds. Even later in his career with the Dodgers, Kent was one of the few guys you had to worry about when he was coming to the plate.
7) Gary Sheffield (OF, Florida Marlins): While there may have been talk about Sheff and PED’s, nothing was ever proven and unless there is rock hard proof, I think Sheff has to not only garner consideration, but should get in. In all my time watching baseball, I cannot remember anyone with a faster bat than Sheffield. His career 509 HR’s (25th all time) and 1,676 RBI (26th all time) to go along with a .292 lifetime average, should be good enough. But add in the fact that he could be a threat on the base paths too (253 SB’s) and that he walked more than he whiffed in his career, the only question for Sheffield should be, which cap should he be wearing.
6) Edgar Martinez (DH, Seattle Mariners): This is the most personal of all the candidates to me, as Edgar is one of my favorite players. One of the arguments that is keeping him out is that he was a full-time DH and therefore only half a player. Well, if you are going to make DH a position, then a guy should not be penalized for playing it.
Especially when he is considered the best of all time at that position. Even the powers that be in MLB think he was the best, why else would they name the award for the best DH each season after him?
Edgar led the AL in hitting twice and his career .312 average is good for 92nd best of all time. While he was in a lineup with the likes of A-Rod, Junior, Buhner and Tino Martinez, opposing pitchers always had to know when Edgar was due up. He is just a professional with a bat in his hand, and maybe the best pure right-handed hitter I have ever seen. Although not known as a slugger, he did have some pop as his 309 career blasts can attest, and ask any pitcher who pitched in the AL in the 90’s who was the last player they wanted to see at the plate with the game on the line, and Edgar was the name that was spoken.
5) Tim Raines (OF, Montreal Expos): The only player on this list who is more under-rated than Edgar. If Ricky Henderson played during any other era, Raines would be known as the greatest lead-off hitter of his time. Unfortunately, Rock was always in the shadow of Ricky and therefore always thought of as second best. But when you just look at the pure numbers of Tim Raines, there is no doubt he belongs in Cooperstown. Raines is one of only three players in MLB history to score at least 1500 runs (He scored 1571, which is 54th best all time) and not be in Cooperstown, one of the others I will get to in a bit and the other is a known PED guy in Rafael Palmeiro.
Besides being a career .294 hitter with a career OBP of .385, Raines had a bit of pop hitting almost 200 bombs from the leadoff spot. He is fifth all-time in stolen bases (808) and 13th in stolen base percentage (84.7%). He was the most dangerous lead-off man in the NL and anytime he was on first, it might as well have been a double.
Add it all up and it should be enough to run himself into Cooperstown.
4) Mike Piazza (C, Los Angeles Dodgers): Yogi Berra, Roy Campenella and Johnny Bench are three of the greatest hitting catchers of all time and all of them are enshrined in Cooperstown. But not one of the three can hold an offensive candle to Mike Piazza, who is without a doubt, the greatest hitting catcher of all time. With his 427 blasts and 1335 RBI, there is no reason Piazza shouldn’t have his bust in Cooperstown.
Then you add in the fact that he was a lifetime .308 hitter, and he had the single greatest season by a catcher ever in 1997 when he hit .362 with 40 HR and 124 RBI (losing out on the MVP Award to Larry Walker whose numbers were aided by Coors Field, while Piazza did it in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium). The only reason Piazza is not already there is because his name was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, even though there has never been any evidence that he used PED’s.
The only argument about Piazza and the Hall of Fame should be whether he is in the Dodger cap he should be in, or the Mets cap that New York fans have deluded themselves into believing he should wear.
3) Trevor Hoffman (P, San Diego Padres): The greatest reliever in NL history. Hoffman showed the world that to be a dominant closer, you didn’t need to hit 100 mph on the gun, as he did it with the 2nd best change-up I have ever seen (next to Pedro). Hoffman is number two all-time in saves, and to me what he accomplished is a lot more impressive than the guy who sits atop the all-time save list because Mo pitched on Yankee teams that won between 95-102 games every year, while Hoffman was on Padre teams that, while good a lot of the time, also had some 70+ win seasons too.
He is one of two players who should be able to get in on their first ballot this year, the other is still to come. There are very few certainties in baseball, but one of them was when Hells Bells was blaring over the speakers, the Padres were about to win a game, and a Hall of Famer was taking the mound.
2) Jeff Bagwell (1B, Houston Astros): The only holdover who deserves to be in the Hall more than Hoffman. Like Piazza and Sheffield, Bagwell is being penalized for playing baseball in the PED era. Bagpipes was one of the most feared hitters in baseball, with great power (449 HR), ability to drive in runs (1529 RBI), great hit tool (Lifetime .297 hitter) and even some speed for a first baseman (202 SB).
He was the best hitter on a team that was competitive for the better part of a decade. Last year his teammate Craig Biggio was elected, this season it is Bagwell’s time. He is one of those guys that as soon as you hear his name, if you don’t think PED’s (and you shouldn’t) you should automatically think Hall of Fame.
1) Ken Griffey JR (OF, Seattle Mariners): Speaking of automatically thinking of Hall of Fame, here is my number one choice to get in this season, his first on the ballot, Ken Griffey Jr. I know I will get arguments about this, but Griffey is arguably the greatest player to ever play the game. His combination of power, average, speed and defense is unmatched. Had he been able to be injury free in his career (and his injuries were a direct result of the way he played the game), there is no doubt in my mind that he would be the all-time home run king.
Think about it this way, he basically missed the equivalent of five seasons due to injury throughout his career, and he still hit 630 HR (6th all time), drove in 1,836 runs (15th all time), had 1,192 extra base hits (7th all time), won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves and was one of the few great players of that time who was NEVER associated with PED’s. He played the game with such joy and flair, and there is no better ambassador for the game of baseball than Griffey.
Right now, Tom Seaver holds the record with 98.84 percent of the vote in his first season of eligibility to enter Cooperstown (yes, five idiots did not vote for him his first year), Ken Griffey Jr. is the one player who should be able to challenge Seaver for highest percentage.
So there you have my ballot of the 10 guys I would vote for to be put in the Hall this year. If Pete Rose were eligible, there is no doubt I would have voted for him too, but he isn’t. Obviously there is no way 10 guys get in this year, and sadly I think that only two will get inducted (Griffey & Hoffman), with Piazza and Raines just missing out this season.
Of course, there is a reason that it is called the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Very Good. I guess if it was too easy to get in, it wouldn’t make it special at all.