Every Baseball Hall of Fame vote for the last 10 years has been about steroids: Who used them, who didn’t use them, who might have used them and who cares?
We get a bit of a respite this year. Oh, the usual suspects are on the ballot — and by ‘‘the usual suspects’’ I mean ‘‘players who could have moonlighted as pharmaceutical reps.’’ That would be Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. There’s little doubt they cheated. In the last several years, the debate has shifted to whether they should be forgiven their sins and their era. That’s reflected in the number of people who voted for Clemens (54.1 percent) and Bonds (53.8) last year. Seventy-five percent is needed for induction. Sosa finished with only 8.6 percent because, well, I’m not sure why. Because he has lied so steadfastly about his usage? They all have!
See how easy it is to get sucked down into the sewer?
Back to my purported respite. I don’t see any steroid judgment calls on the ballot this year, and that’s a relief. There’s no Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez or Craig Biggio, players who made me raise an eyebrow during the Steroid Era and ignore them when they became eligible for the Hall. There will be no Rodriguez backers asking who made me ‘‘judge and jury.’’ Answer: The shadow government.
It’s possible some of the players I’m voting for fooled everyone when it came to performance-enhancing drugs. But you only can go with what you think and see and feel. And other than the obvious cheats, I don’t see many candidates who were under suspicion as players.
Here’s my ballot, in no particular order:
Trevor Hoffman: At 74 percent, he just missed getting in last year. The former career saves leader figures to get a nice call from the Hall this time around. During the meat of his career, he had at least 30 saves in 14 of 15 seasons. Yes, he was a closer. And he was great at it.
Jim Thome: Thome, who spent four seasons with the White Sox, ranks eighth all-time in home runs (612). Five players in history had at least 500 homers, 1,500 runs scored, 1,600 RBI and 1,700 walks: Bonds, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Thome. That Gentleman Jim was a great ambassador for the game doesn’t hurt his cause.
Curt Schilling: His worldview might be loathsome, but that has nothing to do with how good a pitcher he was. He was especially effective in the postseason, with a winning percentage (.846) that is third all-time. He ranks first in strikeout-to-walk ratio among non-active pitchers who played after 1900. And, no, I didn’t research that stat myself.
Chipper Jones: This is his first year on the ballot, and he should do well. He’s an eight-time All-Star who hit .303 and had 468 homers in his career. He’s one of nine players in major-league history with at least a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage and 400 homers. A pro’s pro.
Larry Walker: He’s not going to make the Hall. His crime is that he played his home games at Coors Field, where the vast outfield and the thin air are a huge benefit to hitters. He was great early in his career with the Expos, but that doesn’t seem to resonate with voters. If you can’t get past the discrepancy between his home (.348) and road (.278) batting averages, at least give him credit for his seven Gold Gloves and excellent baserunning. I do.
Edgar Martinez: I’ve been slow coming around to Martinez’s worthiness, but I’m here to rectify that. He played his entire 18-year career with the Mariners, hitting .312. He was a seven-time All-Star, including in 2003, when he was 40 and hit .294. Excellence and longevity. Not easy.
Fred McGriff: This is a vote based purely on my belief that McGriff didn’t use steroids when many players of his era did. He didn’t have the power numbers Mark McGwire, Bonds and Sosa had, but I think there’s a pretty good explanation for that. He should be rewarded for 493 homers that require no asterisks.
Vladimir Guerrero: It was a joy to watch him take mighty cuts at pitches no one else would think of swinging at. Oh, and he hit .318 despite his supposed lack of discipline at the plate. He wasn’t a great fielder and ran into a lot of outs on the basepaths, but the operative question here is the only one that matters: Who cares?
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