MLB Hall of Fame

Cullen Jekel’s Imaginary MLB Hall of Fame Ballot

On January 22nd, Major League Baseball will announce the next group of players who have been voted into the MLB Hall of Fame. There are 15 players returning to the ballot after missing the cut last year, while another 20 players are eligible for the first time.

The voting rules are pretty straightforward. Each eligible writer can vote for up to 10 players on a single ballot. If a player garners at least 75% of the votes cast, he’s inducted. A player stays on the ballot for up to 10 years if he earns at least 5% of the vote. If a player doesn’t get to 75% of the vote by his 10th year on the ballot, he falls off the ballot.

MLB Hall of Fame
Main Gallery, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York, July 2005” by Marcbela is licensed under Public Domain

Here, I’m not going to look at each of the 35 players on the 2019 ballot. Instead, I’m going to vote for 10 players and explain why I’m voting for each of those individuals. I won’t delve into the why I didn’t vote for the other 25. This is the second time I’ve done this, and I’m going my hardest to stay consistent with my thoughts from 2013. Though, of course, there is change regarding some certain players, as my thought process has changed on at least one of those players.

Note that I’m not predicting who will make the Hall of Fame this year. I’m not going to pretend that I know what other, more seasoned baseball writers think about this process. Yes, I’ve read some articles where those writers explain their ballots, but not every writer does this. Some have hard-and-fast rules about who they vote for. Many won’t vote for guys who have been even connected to steroid use. Some won’t vote for guys with personal character flaws.

To each his or her own.

Now, in no particular order, here’s how I would vote for the 2019 MLB Hall of Fame.

 

MLB Hall of Fame Votes

Barry Bonds

Year on Ballot: 7th
Last Year’s Vote: 56.4%

Yes, he’s the face of the Steroids Era. However, in my estimation, home runs saved baseball after the 1994 strike. Bonds is one of the three mashers responsible for bringing baseball back from the brink of irrelevance. Put an asterisk by his name if you want, but the numbers can’t be ignored. The Home Run King deserves a spot in Cooperstown.

With his voting percentage creeping up over the years, from a low of 34.2% in 2014 to last year’s high, there’s a chance the actual voters will get this right and induct the former Pirate and Giant before his 10 years is up.

 

Roger Clemens

Year on Ballot: 7th
Last Year’s Vote: 57.3%

With hitters seeking every advantage they could find, it was no surprise that pitchers would, too. So if I’m going to vote for Bonds, I’ve got to vote for Clemens, The Rocket. A man who won 354 over a 24-year (!) career that included stops with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros.

In that time, Clemens won seven Cy Young awards, with six coming while pitching for those AL East teams. His seventh came with the Astros when he was 41. He also won MVP in 1986. His 4,672 career strikeouts rank third all-time behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.

Again, put an asterisk by his name if you want, though I feel it’s unnecessary. Regardless, he deserves enshrinement.

 

Sammy Sosa

Year on Ballot: 7th
Last Year’s Vote: 7.8%

When writing about Bonds, I stated that he was one of three mashers I feel are responsible for saving baseball after the 1994 strike. The other two were involved in the Great Home Run Chase of 1998: Mark McGwire (who’s fallen off the ballot) and this man, former Cub Sammy Sosa.

It’s interesting comparing Sosa to Bonds and Clemens. All three players were connected to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and all three are in their seventh year of voting. But unlike Bonds and Clemens, both of whom garnered over 50% of the vote last season and have a reasonable shot at getting inducted before their 10 years is up, Sosa is closer to falling off the ballot before his 10-year mark.

Why, exactly, is that? It seems that it’s because Bonds was more of a complete player than Sosa. Plus, while Sosa hit those home runs, he isn’t at the top of the all-time list. In that 1998 Home Run Chase with McGwire, Sosa finished second. While he’s great, he’s not an all-time great.

At least that’s the perception. I disagree. He kept the Cubs relevant through some very lean years. He made seven All-Star games and even won the MVP in 1998. That was the year he finished with 66 home runs to McGwire’s 70. In three seasons, he hit more than 60 home runs, and added 50 home runs another year. He led the league in runs scored three times, home runs twice (ironically, in none of the years he hit more than 60), RBIs twice and total bases three times. Before all the PED talk, he collected two 30-30 seasons. His 609 career home runs rank ninth all-time.

Sosa is an all-time great. He’s got my MLB Hall of Fame vote.

 

Scott Rolen

Year on Ballot: 2nd
Last Year’s Vote: 10.2%

Rolen scored a 56.9 on the Jaffe WAR Score System (adorably abbreviated as JAWS) compared with 55.7 averaged by other Hall of Fame third-basemen, as determined by Jpos. That means the former Philly, Cardinal, Blue Jay and Red is better than the average Hall of Fame third-baseman.

That somewhat surprises me, but for the fact that the position is underrepresented in Cooperstown. Overall, Rolen slashed .281/.364/.490 with just over 2,000 hits. 316 of those hits went for home runs. But the seven-time All-Star also earned a whopping eight Gold Gloves at the hot corner, including winning seven in a eight-season span between 1998 and 2006. He earned his first Gold Glove at the age of 23, his last at the age of 35. That’s impressive.

 

Mariano Rivera

Year on Ballot: 1st
Last Year’s Vote: N/A

Never one too high on closers, it shocked me when, in later 2018, the Eras Committee elected to the MLB Hall of Fame Lee Smith. He’s a former closer for, among others, the Cubs and Cardinals. Smith, grandfathered into the 10-year limit, had a whopping 15 opportunities to be elected to the Hall of Fame by voters. He earned 50.6% of the votes in 2012, but only 34.2% in his last year of eligibility, 2017.

Simply, at best, he’s a questionable Hall of Famer.

On the flip side is the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera. He spent his entire 19-year career with the New York Yankees, winning five World Series in that time. As a closer, he rarely pitched more than an inning per outing, but his 56.2 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) is higher than that of several hitters appearing on the ballot. That includes Jeff Kent (55.4), Omar Vizquel (45.6) and Fred McGriff (52.6). That’s pretty incredible.

The 13-time All-Star is also baseball’s all-time saves leader with 652. Without question, Rivera is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

 

Roy Halladay

Year on Ballot: 1st
Last Year’s Vote: N/A

Looking at Halladay’s numbers as a whole, one wouldn’t think he’s an MLB Hall of Fame pitcher. But with Halladay, who died on November 17, 2017 in a plane accident, his healthy seasons show he was the dominant pitcher of his era.

In 2002, Halladay finally started more than 20 games in a season. He made the All-Star team that season with Toronto, finishing the year 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA, 157 ERA+, and a 1.191 WHIP. He followed that up by winning the Cy Young in 2003, going 22-7 with a league-leading nine complete games, two of them shutouts, with a 3.25 ERA, 145 ERA+, a 1.071 WHIP and 204 strikeouts.

In 2004 and 2005, Halladay appeared in only 40 combined games. In the following six seasons–four in Toronto, two in Philadelphia–he would finish in the Top Five of voting for the Cy Young Award every season, once again capturing the award in 2010.

What you’re looking at is essentially a guy who pitched the equivalent of eight full seasons. He finished with eight All-Star appearances, two Cy Young Awards (one in each league), and he placed in the Top Five in Cy Young voting in seven of those eight seasons. He led the league in wins twice, complete games seven times, complete game shutouts four times, innings pitched four times, ERA+ once and WHIP once.

Debate longevity all you like. To me, that dominance is more than enough to get the call to Cooperstown.

 

Larry Walker

Year on Ballot: 9th
Last Year’s Vote: 34.1%

Walker is hurt by the “Coors Field Factor,” in that most of his offensive prowess came during his time with the Rockies in the thin-aired Coors Field. It baffles me why that’s being held against him. It’s not like he had much of a say in the matter. And it’s also not like he didn’t hit well outside of Coors Field.

In his 17-year career that began in Montreal, went through Denver and ended in St. Louis, Walker went to the All-Star Game five times, he earned seven Gold Gloves, three batting titles, three Silver Slugger awards and the 1997 National League MVP. For his career, he slashed .313/.400/.565 for a .965 OPS.

No, Walker’s career home run and hit numbers don’t scream Cooperstown, but his peripherals do. Looking at his overall hitting numbers and defensive capabilities, it’s a shame Walker will fall off the ballot after next season.

 

Mike Mussina

Year on Ballot: 6th
Last Year’s Vote: 63.5%

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to include Mussina, but after taking another look at his numbers, I’ve changed my mind. His 63.8 JAWS tops the 61.8 for other Hall of Fame pitchers. His 270 career wins over 18 seasons is nothing to sneeze at. Sure, his ERA is high (3.68), but considering the competition he faced–he spent his entire career in the AL East. It was first for the Orioles (1991-2000), then the Yankees (2001-2008)–that shouldn’t be a surprise.

While the seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner never won a Cy Young, he finished in the Top Ten nine times and the Top Five six times. In 2008, his final season, he finally won 20 games after flirting with it on five separate occasions.

 

Manny Ramirez

Year on Ballot: 3rd
Last Year’s Vote: 22.0%

I’m stunned Ramirez doesn’t get more love in the MLB Hall of Fame voting, but then again, he had some suspensions and his colorful attitude drove more people crazy than it did endear fans and writers to him.

But I loved Manny-Being-Manny.

His flamboyant style of play was a calling card of the dominant Indian teams of the mid-90s. He even made the usually unbearable Red Sox worth watching as they undid the Curse of the Bambino. Forget his later stints with the Dodgers, White Sox and Rays (which was a thing, evidently), and remember Manny Ramirez for what he was on the field: a big kid on the field having the time of his life while belting 555 career home runs to go along with a .312/.411/.585 slash line.

Put an asterisk by his name if you must–just put him in the MLB Hall of Fame.

 

Edgar Martinez

Year on Ballot: 10th
Last Year’s Vote: 70.4%

I’m also changing my tune on Edgar Martinez, a solid hitter who averaged 24 home runs per season for 18 years, all with Seattle. He won two batting titles and five Silver Sluggers, while going to the All-Star Game seven times.

Why the hold up?

Well, he played the majority of his career as a designated hitter. Martinez would become the first full-time DH enshrined in Cooperstown. And I can’t think of a better player to get that honor.

The designated hitter rule came to be in 1973, and it’s about time those guys started getting into the MLB Hall of Fame. Like writers using Coors Field against Walker, why should playing the bulk of his career as the DH be held against Martinez? He didn’t choose the role, but he certainly thrived in it, slashing a career .312/.418/.515. His team, the Mariners, exploited the rule better than any team during Martinez’ career, and it’s really only been matched since by the Boston Red Sox with David Ortiz. But even Ortiz, bound for the MLB Hall of Fame when eligible, didn’t do it for 18 years.

Martinez is about to make history by making the MLB Hall of Fame. And he’s got my vote for it.

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