One of the great joys of my freelance writing year is the affiliation with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance that brings an organized Hall of Fame ballot and vote among the various writers in the group. It brings together the same type of varied approach to the analysis of Hall of Fame worthy ballplayers, yet from the perspective of varied mix of observers, media movers and fans. There’s a clear voice for that as well, and often it shows a light that’s gotten dimmed some in recent years.
For myself, my approach to my ballot is to honor the absolute best of the era, without being too much of an elitest. Everybody is not Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth, players who defined not only their eras of baseball, but sports and cultural history as well. To respect the context of the game is see the true greatness in it. There are the absolutes, but there are also those that were so great for long enough at their peak that they proved to be an undeniable guiding force in an era of the game. That is a Hall of Famer to me; a player that was clearly greater than his contemporaries and meets the standard set before him at both his position and in the context of the game overall.
What will actually happen, who knows. I’m 100% sure that all of these men will not reach the Hall of Fame this year, or even the next, or even after that. There is little to no chance that there will be a second straight shutout, but its guaranteed that somebody will be grossly overlooked as well. The BBWA ballots that have been made public already have shown that, and the BBBA vote also showed a similar sentiment. But what is for certain is that I will continue to champion for the performers and the ones that defined and shaped the game in one capacity or another for a stretch of their career. All of these men fit that description, and all have my confidence as being worth torch bearers of baseball’s greatest cumulative honor.
And with that, I give you my selections of the 2014 Hall of Fame class….
Craig Biggio: Biggio cut a unique swath through the game, and at his best, he was the best second baseman in the National League, making seven of eight All-Star Games from 1991-1998. He excelled at catcher, second base and center field, making him one of the most diverse threats in the game saw across his career. This varied impact is best shown in his unique split as being the only player ever have 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 250 home runs, 1,000 RBI and 400 stolen bases. He has the most leadoff home runs in NL history and is (more dubiously) that all-time leader in being hit by pitches. Basically, he did more enough of everything better than most that he deserves the call.
Barry Bonds: It’s simple—he’s the best player of his era, and arguably all-time. The debate can be what it is, but ultimately the truth for Bonds in my book is that didn’t inject himself into the Hall of Fame; he was already there. I’ve looked at the truth of both ends of Bonds numbers previously, and I stand by th0se facts until the end. Him and Clemens get packaged together in the court of opinion regarding their worthiness, but that is not exactly fair either, because Bonds body of work both under and without the influence of PEDs was far superior than anybody else’s in the game.
Roger Clemens: Clemens case is a bit cloudier, as his career was in a tailspin before he hit Toronto in 1997 and reinvigorated his career at the age of 34, subsequently having another great run of his career for the next eight years. But to credit his body of work to that stretch is using blinders, because what he did in Boston still remains him at his best. As a Red Sox, he went 192-111, with 2,590 strikeouts, won three Cy Young Awards and one MVP. Clemens was the best and most dominant pitcher of the 1980’s and is worthy on those merits alone.
Tom Glavine: He was a steady assassin that didn’t make much noise along the way, and will always be grouped together and compared in conjunction to his rotation mates. But the truth of the matter for Glavine is that he was on the way to being who is now before the Braves even took off. After losing 17 games in his first full season, he went on a run of 14 consecutive years of double-digit wins. This stretch included five seasons of at least 20 victories, with three of those years coming consecutively. He took home two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top 3 five other times, and was the World Series MVP in the Braves lone World Championship season, going 2-0 in the 1995 World Series, and carrying a 1.60 ERA overall in that postseason.
He easily sits among the top handful of left-handers all-time, only inarguably surpassed by Koufax, Johnson, Grove, Carlton and Spahn. And for a guy that spent much of his career steadily being the second best guy on his own staff, it is time for him to get first dibs for a change.
Greg Maddux: My ballot might as well had shown up with his name checked already. With respects to Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera, Maddux was far and away the greatest pitcher of not only his generation, but probably at least one to two before it as well. The definition of both consistency and artistry on the mound, he commanded both the strike zone and game flow with an unequalled ease.
In an era where power ruled both on the mound and off the mound, he was a stark contrast to the times that he owned none the less. Velocity was not needed for his approach to the mound, as his placement of simply a two-seam fastball and change-up were so precise, it created self-doubt in batters before he even released the ball. If that wasn’t enough, he mixed in variations of sliders, cutters and splitters along the way as well and ultimately became one of the most unlikely members of the 3,000 strikeout club (3,371, 10th all-time). At his peak in the early 90’s, he won four consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Cubs and Braves, amassing an incredible 75-29 record from 1992-1995, with a 1.98 ERA, completed 37 games, struck out 733 batters compared to issuing only 176 walks and allowed on average less than one base runner per inning.
Yet for Maddux, it is volume that speaks the loudest. His 355 wins are the second-most of any player born in the 20th century, and he is the only pitcher in history to win at least 15 games for 17 consecutive seasons. In addition to it all, he is the owner of a record 18 Gold Gloves as well.
As of now, the highest vote percentage in history belongs to Tom Seaver, with 98.84% in 1992. A lot has changed since then in regards to the skepticism regarding candidacy, but if there ever was a perfect storm for a consensus inductee, it’s Mad Dog: a conqueror that appeared to be anything but, that achieved on his own wiles in unquestionably unpolluted manner over and above both the questionable and clean alike.
Mark McGwire: I maintain that my only issue with PED usage is if the player took an obvious jump in production to a level that he had never saw before. Do I deny that McGwire’s performance spiked? Absolutely not. However, this is also a man that was destroying the ball in his early 20’s as well, and likely would have surpassed 500 home runs regardless. He was a winner and a pinnacle part of the game during its reconstruction, and for those reasons alone, he remains worthy in my opinion.
Mike Mussina: The push to question the worthiness of wins in today’s game subsequently also pulls the very worthiness of Mussina’s career into question as well. Because by and far, wins are what pulls him away from the pack of the very good and into the great. And while there are some pitchers who build reputations on high win totals by association, after a while if that keeps up, maybe its time to consider they are the reason over the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. Mussina is the poster child for this scenario, as he never led the American League in wins once, but this was just as his great seasons being overshadowed by the better ones of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens at the same time. This kept him from the Cy Young victories, but it didn’t keep him from winning at least 10 games for 17 straight years (an AL record), a mark that only Cy Young, Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Don Sutton and Maddux can claim to have done. One thing that all of them have in common (or soon will): a plaque in Cooperstown. So yes, wins still do (and forever shall) matter.
Mike Piazza: The confusion on the greatness of Mike Piazza is one of the strangest phenomena’s around the game right now. There seems to be no consensus on exactly why he’s not a Hall of Famer yet. Some bunch him into the suspected PED user group, while others put it on his lack of defensive prowess. Others even say that his offensive chops are not up to a Hall of Fame par, due to his lack of “magic numbers”. However, in real time while Piazza was active, there was no doubt who was the most dominant force at catcher not only at the time, but ever. And his separation from the pack regarding backstops at the plate has not changed in the slightest. He hit over 30 home runs in nine of 10 years from 1993 to 2002, and hit over .315 in seven seasons. If the point of the Hall is to honor the greatest at what they did all-time, then Piazza is a shoe-in, as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, and by a fair margin.
Curt Schilling: My opinion has changed on Schilling, and do think he is worthy of one of the ten spots on this year’s ballot. In many ways, he was the Felix Hernandez of his era: a dominant pitcher that struggled in the wins categories with some subpar teams in Philadelphia, but then fulfilled the “what if he played for a contender” debate once he actually did. He spent the end of his career solidifying himself as one of the most dominant and successful pitchers of his era. He was precisely dominant, carrying the greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio of all-time (3,111 K’s to 711 walks – a 4.4 to 1 ratio) and compromised one half of arguably the greatest 1-2 punch in history with Randy Johnson for the early 2000’s Diamondbacks.
It was in Arizona that he started his dominant postseason foothold, and in Boston where turned it into the lore that truly separates him from a great pitcher, to a Hall of Famer. His career record in October was 11-2 in 19 starts, where he carried a 2.23 ERA. In the Series, he was 4-1 in 7 starts and won three of the four series he reached (and all that he was a lead hurler in). Schilling is a perfect hybrid case for why regular season performance matters in both does and context, but how an extremely dominant postseason resume can be a deciding factor as well.
Frank Thomas: The Big Hurt was simply the best right-handed hitter of the 1990’s, a decade where he hit .320, over 300 home runs, drove in over 1,000 runs and won back-to-back MVPs (over a mid-prime Ken Griffey, Jr). In the all-time sense, Thomas was a bit of a victim of circumstance, as some of what could have been his mos enduring accomplishments were eclipsed by either fantastic, over-the-top efforts or by things outside of his control. Three times in his career he hit over over .345, yet won only one batting title, and in 1994, the MLB strike ended what was taking off to be a Triple Crown winning season for him (.353/34/101 through 110 games).
Injuries curtailed the middle of his career, and ultimately clipped where is career totals could have landed, but when healthy he was still dominant, finishing in the top 5 of the MVP votes in 2000 and 2006. He is one of seven players to hit .300 for his career and top 500 home runs, and easily stands in the group of the great batsmen in the history of the game.
For more on what’s to come and the inevitable debate to come, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan