My vote for Hall of Fame: Raines, Hoffman, Schilling and Walker
It’s Hall of Fame voting time, and you know what that means: anger, rage, apoplexy, nervous breakdowns, general blubbering — and that’s just from the fans who attach their self-worth to whether a particular former baseball player gets a plaque in Cooperstown.
If you don’t vote for their favorite power hitter of all time or if you snub a pitcher who, in their humble opinion, moonwalks on water, you are an imbecile, quite likely un-American and almost surely a non-athlete. Every year, I wonder why I put myself through this. I’m eligible to vote because I have a Baseball Writers’ Association of America card. I didn’t ask for the card or the abuse, and I guess I could just ignore the ballot every year. But there’s a sense of responsibility involved here. Some former players deserve to be honored and, just as importantly, deserve not to be tainted by the inclusion of the less deserving.
In recent years, we’ve seen a softening of public perception regarding the Steroid Era. It wasn’t so bad, people say. Lots of Americans are on one drug or another, they say. Come to think of it, I liked Barry Bonds more when his head was the size of a hot-air balloon, they say.
There hasn’t been a softening about performance-enhancing drugs on my part. Just because former commissioner Bud Selig, who is viewed by many as the chief enabler of the Steroid Era, is now in the Hall doesn’t mean the door should be open to players who used PEDs.
The Steroid Era has tainted many players, and although that might seem unfair, it’s impossible to tell if someone with large muscles and gaudy statistics was guilty or merely guilty by association. If there is a suspicion a former player might have juiced during his career, I withhold a checkmark on my ballot. And I don’t care if he never tested positive or if he was never implicated in any official investigation.
Don’t blame me. Blame the era.
With that in mind, here’s my ballot:
I’ve come around on Raines. He has been hurt by the fact that he played 23 seasons and had his share of injuries, which watered down some of his stats. But he was an All-Star seven straight seasons, from 1981-87. He led the National League in stolen bases four times, has the fifth-most stolen bases in major-league history and has the second-highest stolen-base percentage (84.7) of anyone with at least 300 attempts. He also won a batting title. The former White Sox is in his 10th and final year on the ballot. He received 69.8 percent of the vote last year, with 75 percent necessary for induction. It’s his time.
Hoffman owned the career saves record when he retired in 2011. At one point, he threw in the mid-90s, but when his power started to desert him, he developed a killer changeup. That pitch turned him into one of the best closers of all time. In a 15-year stretch, he had at least 30 saves 14 times. There continues to be debate over whether closers deserve to be in the Hall. All I know is that hitters hated facing Hoffman, whose changeup looked exactly like his fastball – until it dropped like an anvil at the plate.
The guy is a boor. Post-career, he has insulted pretty much everyone who isn’t a white male. But that has nothing to do with whether he was a good pitcher. That’s the criteria we voters are supposed to consider, not whether Schilling has turned into a brute. I won’t vote for someone who cheated or tarnished the game while he was a player or a manager (hello, Pete Rose). Schilling never did that. He was excellent in the postseason, going 11-2. His playoff winning percentage (.846) is third all-time. He has three World Series rings. He has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.383) of any pitcher in the modern era. He’s deserving.
I know, I know: He played 10 seasons at Coors Field, where the air is thin and the outfield is huge. But a great hitter is a great hitter, and Walker would have been that no matter where he played. He started his career in Montreal, where he hit .301 in 1992 and .322 in 1994. His career took off in Colorado, where he won a National League Most Valuable Player award in 1997, hitting .366, with 49 homers and 130 runs batted in. He won seven Gold Gloves in his career, and he was a great baserunner. You can say his offensive numbers were inflated by playing for the Rockies, but what other player hit as well as he did at Coors Field? No one, not even Todd Helton.