Tomorrow, January 6, 2015, is announcement day for the 2015 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'll talk about who I think should go in, who might go in, who shouldn't go in and those that we will be waving au revoir to after the announcement.
Shameless book plug. If you remember 2013, nobody got in and that happened to be the year that I wrote my thoughts in book form. If you'd love to help me out and purchase a copy from the Kindle Store, you can get that book, 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Nominees: The Case For 37 Men. Click the book title and you can purchase it through Amazon for only 99 cents. I get 35% of the profits, meaning Amazon gets the rest. Now onto the list for this year.
This year, there are 34 men vying for votes. We'll start with a short list of the guys who I don't think will get 5% of the vote, which is a requirement to stay on the ballot for next year. I am not slighting any player on the list, as we know it is an honor to even be considered, but there are some that I know won't get the votes needed. Here they are (alphabetically): Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, and Jason Schmidt. Those were all first year ballot eligible.
That brings us to 22 left. Three guys are in their 13th year or later and will be leaving the list after they don't get the 75% vote to be inducted as the Hall of Fame is changing their standard to ten years on the ballot, rather than 15 years. Those guys are Lee Smith, Alan Trammell and Don Mattingly. Smith had 29.9% in his 12th year on the ballot, with his highest percentage three years ago with just over 50 percent of the votes in 2012. Trammell is on his 15th ballot and had 20.8% a year ago. Finally, Mattingly had 8.2% of the vote in his 14th try, so this is #15 for him as well. Down to 19 left.
Let's take a look at those last 19 men. I'll do it alphabetically, telling you a little about each, what I think their chances are and if I would vote them in for 2015.
Jeff Bagwell (5th ballot, 54.3% last year): Bags was the heart of the Houston Astro teams of the 90's and the early part of the 2000's. He was the 1991 NL ROY and won the NL MVP in 1994. He also finished runner-up to the MVP in 1999 and went to four All Star Games. He hit 449 homers his 15 seasons in Houston, but has been grazed by the PED scandal just enough to keep him on the outside. He's been in the 54-60% for the last three years and I do think, in time, he will get there.
Craig Biggio (3rd, 74.8%): As much as Bagwell was the heart, Biggio was the soul of the Astros from 1988-2008. He missed induction by one vote last year. The 7-time National League All Star converted from catcher to second base and didn't miss a beat. His 668 doubles leave him fifth all-time. If there is such a thing as a lock, he should be it. He is probably near the top of my ballot, if I had one.
Barry Bonds (3rd, 34.7%): If pure numbers and records made a Hall of Famer, Bonds would be as much of a shoo-in as say, Pete Rose. Bonds holds the single-season and career home run records and has been National League Most Valuable Player seven times. However, two things hold Barry back from the Hall. First and foremost is the argument of PED use. The second is that he is not well liked by a media that likes to be liked by its players. Me personally, I'll let him in when they let Rose in, which might be sooner than you think with Bud Selig gone.
Roger Clemens (3rd, 35.4%): Clemens is the pitching equivalent of Bonds. He has won six Cy Young awards, 354 games (good enough for ninth all-time), and was on two World Series championships with the New York Yankees. However, he is under scrutiny because of the McNamara case and like Bonds, was not well liked by everyone in the media, the guys who have the votes to induct him. He is probably not getting in this year and may struggle as long as the media has that vote. Again, I'd let him in in time.
Carlos Delgado (1st): Delgado spent most of his career north of the border, playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. Even though he hit 473 career homers (two behind Hall of Famer Willie Stargell), he never played in a postseason until 2006 with the New York Mets. With only one postseason appearance, three All Star appearances and a runner-up placing in the AL MVP in 2003 (a close loss to Alex Rodriguez' last season in Texas), his homer total falls below the 500 that writers love to see to be more of a shoo-in to the Hall. As with Stargell, some get in with less, but Stargell owns two World Series rings that Delgado didn't even get a sniff at. One of my personal favorite players, but he will not get in. A pretty career though.
Nomar Garciaparra (1st): Nomar was in a great class of shortstops of Jeter, Ripken and A Rod for most of the 90's. Unfortunately, the Red Sox had more success after he was traded to Chicago in 2004, winning their first World Series since 1918 three months after Nomar was given the heave-ho. A 5-time All Star and a career .313 hitter, he was also the 1997 AL Rookie of the Year. Yet, in all of that personal success, the teams he was around never won a World Series and that will hurt his chances to being inducted in Cooperstown. He'll get some votes due to a large Red Sox vote following, but I doubt he makes the Hall. I know he doesn't get my vote.
Randy Johnson: (1st): The Big Unit was a dominant force from almost day one. A 5-time Cy Young award winner, winner of 303 games and co-MVP of the 2001 World Series as he and Curt Schilling led the Arizona Diamondbacks to the championship over the New York Yankees. His 4,875 strikeouts are second only to Nolan Ryan in history as he led the league in strikeouts nine times. I can't see Johnson failing to make the induction this year. He's as good as gold to be enshrined this July.
Jeff Kent (2nd, 15.2%): Although he garnered some public support as a castaway on Survivor, his career was equally impressive. He won the NL Most Valuable Player award in 2000 as he hit .334, with 33 homers and 125 RBI, leading the San Francisco Giants to the NLDS that year. He and Barry Bonds helped lead the Giants to the World Series in 2002 and helped the Giants, Astros and Dodgers get to the NLCS in his career. Even though he was a 5-time All Star, I don't think he has enough to get in the Hall. A great career, but just short of a Hall of Fame career.
Edgar Martinez (6th, 25.2%): Martinez played third base and was part of the early generation of good designated hitters. While only Paul Molitor has been inducted from that era, designated hitters are garnering more attention with the likes of David Ortiz in the last few years. The 7-time AL All Star ended his career with a .312 lifetime batting average. What hurts Edgar, is that unlike Molitor and Ortiz, he has no World Series rings. He won AL batting titles in 1992 and 1995, but I don't see that as enough to get the call for Edgar.
Pedro Martinez (1st): Pedro rose to fame in the backdrop of Montreal, but in Boston is where Martinez made himself a star. He was traded to the Red Sox after winning the NL Cy Young in 1997 and added two more Cy Youngs to his hardware in 1999 and 2000. He finally got his World Series ring in 2004. He finished with 8 All Star appearances and 219 career wins. Pedro also crossed the 3,000 strikeout threshold in 2007 with the New York Mets. His celebrity and the northeast contingent will probably get him in Cooperstown, even though I'm not sure it will be this year. He'd be on my ballot as his character is one of those that makes baseball fun.
Fred McGriff (6th, 11.7%): Before 50 homers became the norm in the late 90's, McGriff was among the league leaders every year in Toronto and walked off with two AL home run titles as a member of the Blue Jays. However, he didn't get his World Series ring until 1995 as a member of the Atlanta Braves. He finished his career in Tampa Bay with 493 home runs. While he was a vital part of the Braves back-to-back World Series appearances in 1995 and 1996, along with being the main cog in Toronto in the late 80's, it probably won't get him to Cooperstown. With as many guys getting votes this year, it wouldn't surprise me if he fell below the 5% threshold for next year's ballot.
Mark McGwire (9th, 11%): Big Mac gives me more emotional heartache than any player up for nomination for the Hall of Fame. In Oakland, he won the AL Rookie of the Year while breaking the rookie homer record with 49 in 1987, then followed that up taking his teams to the World Series in three consecutive years, winning in 1989 over the Giants. However, it was 1998 that I and most baseball fans will never forget. He and Sammy Sosa brought life back to baseball (along with Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak) with a home run breaking season for the ages. As they competed in September, McGwire eventually became the single-season home run champion (until Bonds broke the record three years later) with 70 home runs. The downfall and what I think will hold McGwire out of the Hall is his testimony (or lack thereof) in 2005 before Congress. His tears and pain as he testified were obvious and incriminated the game of PED use. He might be the exception of the PED users that I would grant induction, purely because of what he meant to bringing back the game in '98.
Mike Mussina (2nd, 20.3%): Mussina was a durable starter in all of his 18 seasons in MLB, even though he did not win 20 games in any season until his last in New York as a Yankee. He won 270 games over those 18 years and may become this generation's Bert Blyleven. He will probably have to wait even though he was a winner no matter where he was, whether that be Baltimore or New York. He would be on my ballot because he was as consistent as they come.
Troy Percival (1st): A 4-time All Star was overshadowed in his own bullpen as his Anaheim Angels won the 2002 World Series. His 358 saves are not an automatic, as fellow closer Lee Smith has struggled and failed to get into Cooperstown, despite being reliable to close out games. He saved 30 or more games in eight out of nine seasons in Anaheim and had 28 in 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays. Based on closer history, you have to be really special to get in. Odds are he won't. It would surprise me if he doesn't get the 5% to hang on for a while though.
Mike Piazza (3rd, 62.2%): To be honest, I am kind of surprised to see Piazza still on the outside. He holds almost every offensive catcher record including 427 homers. He did it all under the spotlight of Los Angeles and New York. He only made the World Series in 2001, but dominated the catcher position from his NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 1993, until he finished his career in Oakland in 2007. He should be in this year. I can't see the writers waiting another year on Piazza.
Tim Raines (8th, 46.1%): From his rookie season in 1981 in Montreal, Rock rolled and ran the bases as well as Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman. He led the NL in stolen bases from 1981 through 1984, with his high of 90 in 1983. Raines had 10 or more steals in 16 consecutive seasons through 1996. He is fifth all-time in career steals. He won a World Series in 1996 with the Yankees, despite not stealing a base in the series. The bad news for Rock is that homers are valued more than steals by the writers (Chicks dig the long ball, player) and that means that Rock may be sitting outside the Hall until the Veterans Committee vote him in. I loved watching him play and for me, he's on my ballot, right next to Craig Biggio).
Curt Schilling (3rd, 29.2%): I can only see that personality is holding him back from Hall induction. He speaks his mind and that rubs people the wrong way. A 7-time All Star and 3-time World Series champion tells you the most important stat, Schilling is a winner. He won 20 games in a season three times and was Co-MVP of the World Series in 2001 with Arizona. Then, he followed that up with possibly the greatest performance in World Series history while leading the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004 in the "Bloody Sock" game. For historical perspective alone, he's on my ballot. Unfortunately, it may take time to convince the writers of MLB.
Gary Sheffield (1st): A 9-time All Star, playing 22 seasons between eight different teams, he won his lone World Series appearance as a member of the Florida Marlins in 1997. He is 25th on the all-time homers list with 509. He also won a batting title in 1992 while a member of the San Diego Padres. Known for his power, you may be surprised to know that he is a lifetime .292 hitter. He finished as the runner-up to the AL Most Valuable Player award to Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels in 2004. While he has the homer numbers that the voters like, he may not have enough accolades and post-season numbers to get him to Cooperstown. Some of his numbers surprised me, but not enough to get my vote.
John Smoltz (1st): Smoltz pitched his first 19 seasons in Atlanta and did everything well. He won 24 games to lead the majors in the Braves' lone World Series victory season in 1996. After missing an entire season in 2000 due to injury, he came back in 2001 as the Braves' closer through 2004, making him the only pitcher in major league history with 200 wins and 150 saves in a career. Along with last year inductees, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz helped the Braves dominate over a decade in the NL East. Even though they only won in 1996, they appeared in five World Series together in the 90's. He also struck out 3,084 batters throughout his career. Smoltz is as much of a slam-dunk as his teammates' induction a year ago. He definitely gets my vote and should be inducted in July.
Sammy Sosa (3rd, 7.2%): Up until 2004, I would've said that Swingin' Sammy was a guarantee for the Hall. He was as much a part of the bringing back of baseball with Mark McGwire in 1998, even winning the MVP over him in the National League that year. From 1998-2001, Sosa became the only player in major league history to have four consecutive 50 homer seasons. However, in 2003, the wheels began to fall off for Sosa. Sosa spent time on the disabled list with toenail issues and then the infamous corked bat incident in June. After coming back from the suspension, helped lead the Cubs to the NLCS and the Cubs lost to the Marlins in seven games. At the end of the 2004 season, the love for Sosa had worn out and he left the team before the final game's completion. Even though he finished out strong in Texas in 2007 with 21 homers to finish his career with 609, good enough for eighth on the all-time list, the damage had been done with the PED discussion in front of Congress two years earlier. While I might consider a vote for Sammy, most voters aren't even thinking about it. It has become so bad for Sammy that he may fall under the 5% threshold this year.
Larry Walker (5th, 10.2%): Walker started his career and might have sown his legacy had the 1994 season gone to completion. He was leading the Montreal Expos to the best record in the game. Then the strike came. Once it was over, Walker went to Colorado for 10 seasons and continued to show that he was one of the best hitters in the game, winning three batting titles in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and won the NL Most Valuable Player award in 1997 . While critics complain that his hitting was stilted thanks to the air of the mountains of Colorado, Walker closed out his career with a .313 lifetime batting average. In 2004, he was traded to St. Louis and helped the Cardinals to the World Series and while his teammates were faltering, Walker hit .357 and smashed a pair of home runs in the sweep by Boston. Even though I consider Walker one of the most underrated players in the game, because of his time in Colorado, he probably won't get the votes. However, he would get the nod from me.
So there you have it. My ballot would include Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Rock Raines, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Larry Walker. I know that is 11, but if I had to leave one of those off this year, I'd say Walker.
My honest feeling tomorrow is that Biggio, Johnson, Piazza and Smoltz will get the votes necessary, even though I'd love to see a couple more. The biggest class ever was five in the first year of the Hall in 1936. Give me your takes.
Thanks for reading,