After the major league dream is realized, another takes its place: making it to Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer. Every year, the Baseball Writers Association of America holds those aspirations in their hands when they fill out their ballots. This year, they had their hands very full. Several candidates, specifically those connected to steroid usage, in or nearing their last year of eligibility were joined by a new class of potentially deserving players in their first year on the ballot.
How should voting shake out? Who should be part of the class of 2022? Here is our vision.
There are certain names that just simply synonyms with the game of baseball, names that everyone the world over is aware of whether they are an avid fan or a disinterested party. Names such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays… and Barry Bonds. But why is Bonds so well known and how many of those reasons are positive cases for him to receive a Cooperstown plaque?
In my opinion, many.
Bonds’ first known steroid offense was in 1998 which undoubtedly assisted Bonds during the second half of his career. But before his first known offense, Bonds was already on a path to Cooperstown. From 1986 through 1997, Bonds hit .288/.408/.551 with 374 homers, an absurd 1.28 walks to strikeouts ratio and 417 stolen bases along with a 13.3 dWAR. He was already the epitome of a five tool player.
Though tainted by his PED use, the moments Bonds took part in during the late 1990s and early 2000s are part of baseball lore. The entire world looked on as he, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled to be the first player to break the single season home run record in ‘98 and the whole world was watching and following along as Bonds sent his record breaking 762nd career home run into the night at Oracle Park in 2006. Simply put, in those days, Barry Bonds was baseball.
The name Barry Bonds is also synonymous with cheating. The pressing issues are unfortunately also part of baseball lore: his aforementioned steroid usage beginning in that unforgettable 1998 season, the fact that he was on trial for lying under oath as well as a number of other charges and the media tornado he was at the center of for many years. But inasmuch as Bonds’ usage created at least somewhat of an advantage, he played during an age where a good portion of the league was using alongside him, some of which graces the Hall today.
For a very long time, both before, during and after the height of the steroid era, from spitballs to trash cans to science, baseball players have been looking for an advantage. In a recent interview, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, speaking about steroids, said that if he was in the position in which he recognized the opposition gaining an advantage on him and he noticed a way to get it back, he may have made the same choice.
Considering he could have made a case for the Hall if he retired after the 1997 season, those who omit Bonds for his steroid usage seems like punishment for getting caught and furthermore a failure to come forward. The same can be said for others on this exact ballot. It is high time for some of these omissions, Bonds’ included, to come to an end.
There are other secondary factors which hurt Bonds’ case for Cooperstown. He was known as a subpar teammate and per David Samson, an equally subpar staff member during his tenure as hitting coach in 2016. But inasmuch as voters are tasked with taking an entire individual’s career into account, both on and off the field, they are also asked to consider an individual’s mark on the history of the game.
Simply put, you cannot tell the story of baseball without Barry Bonds. He may not be a stand up guy, but his imprint on this game is just too deep.
Barry Bonds needs to be a Hall of Famer.
Not too far removed from the shoes of Bonds is Roger Clemens. The other main culprit in the Mitchell Report and the other most predominant figure in a media and legal frenzy that spanned nearly an entire decade, Clemens’ name holds the same tarnish due to suspected PED usage. Like Bonds though, Clemens was well on his way to a plaque before his first suspected use case in the same year, 1998. After debuting in 1984, Clemens was 213-118. He held down a 2.97 ERA via a 1.147 WHIP and got very close to eclipsing the 3000 strikeout mark within his first 14 seasons. During that time frame, he walked just 924, giving him a strikeouts to walks ratio of 3.12. Accordingly, before ‘98, Clemens won an MVP and four of his seven Cy Young awards.
More so than Bonds, Clemens, who last toed the rubber in 2007, was dominant without any known use of steroids for the bulk of his career and very likely would be there had he retired after the 1997 season. But also more than Bonds, Clemens holds some major character issues. His approach to pitching garnered him the moniker of ‘headhunter’. He’s also well known for a complaint about having to carry his own baggage, having a clause in his contract that did not require he join his club (the Yankees) on road trips he wasn’t pitching in later in his career and multiple run ins with media.
But, again, a Hall of Fame vote has not and should not and has not required the tag ‘nice guy’. The best storyteller could not possibly depict baseball without Clemens who was Hall of Fame caliber while sober for much of his career. And for that reason, Roger Clemens is a Hall of Famer.
One of the more polarizing figures on the ballot, Jones coupled immense power with absolutely astounding defense.
A .254/.337/.486 career hitter, Jones was the equivalent of Giancarlo Stanton (so far) at the plate for 17 seasons but his defense sets him apart.
In addition to ranking within the top 40 on the all time career home run list with 434 and the fact that he hit at least 30 in seven of his 16 full seasons, Jones supplanted his lack of batting average with a 24.4 dWAR, a mark which ranks 22nd all time in MLB history. In 2007, Jones won a 10th consecutive Gold Glove tying him with the likes of Al Kaline, Ichiro Suzuki and Ken Griffey Jr.
Jones declined very suddenly late in his career which apparently wears heavy on the mind of voters as he only garnered a minuscule percent of the vote during his early years on the ballot but voters were kinder to Jones in 2021 when he garnered 43% of the vote.
Based on his prodigal power and wizardry on defense, Andruw Jones is a Hall of Famer.
Big Papi is a .286/.380/.552 hitter, Ortiz is responsible for invigorating one of the most iconic teams in baseball and propelling them out of their curse and to three World Series titles. And he did not not stop until the day he retired. In his age 40 season in 2016, Ortiz had one of his best seasons as a pro, leading the MLB in doubles with 48, slugging percentage at .620 and OPS at 1.021. One of the most prolific home run threats in recent history, Ortiz slammed 30+ long balls in five straight seasons from 2002-2007. He hit 20+ homers in 15 straight seasons from ‘02-2016. While some may blame the lefty hitter’s success on Fenway Park, he actually hit more homers away from Boston (319) than at it (222).
On top of his on field success, David Ortiz was a leader and a community steward. And he should be a Hall of Famer.
Rolen is one of the best third basemen to ever play baseball. His 70.4 WAR ranks him 10th all time in that category behind all but one player (Adrian Beltre) who is not in the Hall. Included in that is a 21.2 career dWAR which allowed Rolen to do things like this at the hot corner:
Rolen was considered one of the best players in baseball for the first eight years of his career, including his rookie season in which he won Rookie of the Year. From 1997-2004, he slashed .287/.379/.524 with 222 homers, a 917/587 K/BB and a 10.8 dWAR. After being derailed by injury in 2005, he was the second best position player on the 2006 St Louis Cardinals. He hit .296/.369/.518, propelling them to the World Series title. He was also still a force up until his age 35 season when he made his sixth of seven All-Star games and hit .285/.358/.497.
Off the field and in the clubhouse, Rolen had an overall good rapport and continues to stay involved in it to this day. In 2010, he was awarded the Reds’ Good Guy Award. Despite some friction between he and his first team, the Phillies, his former teammate Curt Schilling has been campaigning for Rolen on social media. In 2018, Rolen became a coach at the University of Indiana, a post he still holds.
One of six only third basemen to hit 300+ homers with an OPS+ of at least 120 (four of the other five are in the Hall) and the 10th best guy to ever man the hot corner man per JAWS, Scott Rolen belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Schilling is a very polarizing case. One of the most outspoken figures in the world of baseball and other arenas since his retirement particularly on social media, he enters his last year on the ballot. But he didn’t want to be on it. After coming 16 votes shy of election in 2021, Schilling requested that his name be removed from the ballot this year. However, Schilling’s request was denied and he will be up for election for the 10th and final time in 2022.
With 3,116, Schilling ranks 15th on the all time strikeouts leaderboard. Every player ahead of him has a plaque in Cooperstown. Amongst those 15 players, Schilling has the best walks to strikeouts ratio at 4.38. Those command figures rank him second all time amongst players with at least 1,000 IP.
Despite somehow never winning a Cy Young award, Schilling placed twice three times. He is one of only six players of all time to post three 300+ strikeout seasons. Since the start of his career in 1988 to the present day, Schilling ranks third all time in complete games with 83 behind only Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson. Furthermore, Schilling was a crutch in the postseason, going 11-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 19 games. He pitched into the 6th inning in all but two of those games, tossed four complete games and allowed one run or less in 12 of them. Schilling was relied upon in elimination games four times. His squad won each of those contests. He was named the NLCS MVP in 1993 and co-MVP of the 2001 World Series.
Schilling’s provocativeness since his retirement has caused some writers to leave his name unchecked in his nine years on the ballot and his recent denouncement of the BBWAA may cause more writers to do the same in his final year of eligibility. He has many character issues that have haunted him since his retirement and his reputation as a teammate was not the greatest. The BBWAA would be risking quite a bit giving Schilling a free microphone at his potential induction ceremony. The question is did Schilling do enough negative off the field to take his vote away? In my opinion, he did not and as one of the best pitchers in baseball for the bulk of two decades, he gets a check mark.
A shoe in for 20+ homers every season, Sheffield was one of the best power hitters in baseball for much of his 22 year career. The offensive metrics speak for themselves: .292/.393/.514, 509 HR, 1676 RBI. Sheffiled was a 1997 World Series champion with the Marlins, a nine time All-Star and placed within the top three in MVP voting three times. Possibly the most staggering statistic Sheffield posted was his supremely low strikeout rate of 10.7%, rare to find in a pure slugger. Amongst the members of the 500 home run club, Sheffield’s is the third lowest.
These numbers are certainly becoming of a Hall of Fame plaque. But there is a lot of evidence which has caused Sheff to fall well short of election his first six years on the ballot. Firstly, he was a defensive liability, posting a -27.7 dWAR. Secondly, he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report and admitted taking part in the BALCO scandal in sworn testimony. And thirdly, Sheffield didn’t make many friends among the media during his career. He was also in legal trouble at a very young age and is known for several negative instances with team management and fans which brought questions regarding his professionalism and character to the surface, questions that swirled around Sheff for much of his career.
The ultimatum: do Sheffield’s offensive metrics hold enough weight to propel him to Cooperstown or not? I believe they do. Like Bonds, while he may not have been the best guy, Sheffield was an indomitable offensive force whenever he stepped to the plate for two decades. His signature bat waggle and incredible strength and bat speed was known all around the baseball world and is still often imitated to this day. Sheffield is one of 22 players of all time to hit 500+ home runs and post a 140 OPS+. 15 of those players are current Hall of Fame members. Though Sheffield has trended upward in recent years, it is in doubt that he will make it before his years of eligibility are up, but in our mind, he’s a Hall of Famer. And he’s wearing a Florida Marlins hat.
As a one inning specialist who doesn’t see much action, you need to be pretty special to warrant a Hall of Fame case. Wagner was that good.
Wagner debuted in 1995 and took over the Astros’ closer role almost immediately. After posting nine saves in 1996, he posted at least 20 in 10 of his next 11 campaigns, the only omission being an injury hampered 1998 season. Wagner’s control numbers were absolutely ridiculous. His 11.9 K/9 is the highest in major league history for anyone who threw at least 800 IP. He contrasted that with a 2.99 BB/9. In addition, he Wagner was a master at limiting damage. His 0.998 WHIP, the second lowest WHIP in MLB history, proves that he was nearly untouchable and one of the best shutdown arms to ever toe the rubber.
Looking at Wagner next to Trevor Hoffman who got his plaque in 2018, the similarities are pretty glaring.
Wagner’s case when compared to Hoffman produces either support or the ability to leave him off depending on which point of view you share. On the plus side for Wagner, he struck out 63 more hitters than Hoffman in less innings while posting a very comparable WAR of 27.81 (Hoffman’s was 28.1). On the other side, is the argument about workload. Hoffman held down a 2.87 ERA in 1089.1 IP while Wagner held down his 2.31 ERA in 903 IP.
Did Wagner do enough to warrant the Hall of Fame selection? It seems to be a split vote as Wagner garnered 46.4% of the vote last year. I am of the opinion that as one of the stingiest arms of all time in high leverage situations for nearly two decades, Billy Wagner belongs in Cooperstown.
A lot like Sheffield, Ramirez struggled defensively but he could certainly make it on his offensive metrics alone. Over 19 seasons, he was a .312/.411/.585 hitter with 555 home runs which ranks 15th on the all time list. A triple crown threat in many of his seasons, a 12 time All-Star, a nine time Silver Slugger and a two time World Series champion, Manny is undoubtedly one of the greatest offensive threats the game has ever seen.
But there is a big problem: Manny spent too much time being Manny.
Ramirez did not appeal or make any sort of public statement; he just left. Before that, there were frequent moments of controversy that tarnish Ramirez’s name beyond repair. In 2008, Ramirez, one of the most beloved figures among Red Sox fans, was traded to the Dodgers after he assaulted a 64-year-old traveling secretary. In 2011, Ramirez arrested charged with domestic battery in an altercation with his wife.
Beyond those instances, Manny Ramirez was a selfish player. And it goes past the time he take a coffee break inside the Green Monster during a game or made an inexplicable dive to cut off an outfield relay throw. During his time in Cleveland, he was known for regularly showing up late to team events and he regularly skipped fan friendly events and All-Star Games for unexplained reasons and phantom injuries that miraculously cleared up right afterward.
In our opinion, Ramirez just had far too many character issues, which voters are encouraged to take into account. Although you don’t have to be mother Theresa to make Cooperstown, you need to be better than this. I simply cannot in good confidence put his face next to ultimate sportsmen and stewards such as Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr, Cal Ripken Jr and others.
A-Rod’s on field merits are the stuff of legend. Over 500 home runs, over 3,000 hits, three MVPs, 14 All-Star selections, a World Series and the 16th best WAR of all time. On the field, he was one of the best baseball players of all time. But every single one of his accomplishments is marked with an asterisk due to his infamous use of steroids. After breaking into the MLB at the height of the steroid era where many of his role models were using, it is doubtful we ever saw who A-Rod, the natural specimen, truly was.
Two suspensions, a web of lies and deceit, a hand in spreading the word about South Florida based biogenesis to players around the league and not enough evidence as to who he was without PEDs. A-Rod’s legacy is simply too tarnished to warrant election.
When Larry Walker made the Hall last year and broke the barrier of players who called Coors Field home for much of their career, Helton backers hoped it would open the Hall doors for him.
While Helton gets very close as a career .316/.414/.539 career hitter, there are some striking differences between he and Walker. Firstly, Walker played in and was good in other home parks. Helton spent his entire career with Colorado, taking advantage of the altitude and small dimensions of the most hitter friendly stadium in baseball. Secondly, Walker was a good defender, posting a plus 2 dWAR in the outfield. Helton, playing the least demanding defensive position on the diamond, first base, was the opposite. He posted a dWAR of -5. Along with the typical Coors-influenced skewed home/road splits, Helton’s BABIP was equally skewed in his favor. He had good fortune wherever he went, BABIPing .342 at home and .319 on the road.
Helton’s offensive numbers are impressive but with the Coors factor, good luck and bad defense, he just misses our ballot.
Sosa was one of three players involved in the baseball spectacle of the 90s, the race to 62 home runs. He is reknowned as one of the greatest power hitters of all time, ranking ninth on the all time home runs list with 609 and the final member of the 600 home run club. But he had a lot of help.
Before his first suspected use of steroids in that 1998 season, Sosa was not anywhere close to being on the Hall of Fame track. From 1989 to 1997, Sosa hit .257/.308/.469 with 207 homers. After his first suspected use, he hit .287/.372/.588 with 402 homers over the course of his last nine seasons, including at least 40 in each season between ‘98 and 2003. On top of steroid usage, Sosa had other performance enhancing issues, namely the discovery that he was inserting corks into his bats in 2003.
Unlike Bonds, Sheffield and Clemens who were on a Hall of Fame track before their first suspected use case, steroids and other performance enhancing measures made Sosa a completely different specimen. Without them, it is arguable he would have gotten close to the accolades he managed. And for that reason, he is not a Hall of Famer.
Presenting my 2022 mock ballot: