And now, finally, the third part of the Hall of Fame ballot breakdown … here are the 14 players I tossed and turned over for the last few months. (Editor's note: Join Joe at 2pm ET for a live chat when the announcements are made.)
* * *
Length of career: 15 years, 9,431 plate appearances.
Place in game's history: He has a strong argument as the fourth-best first baseman in history, behind Gehrig, Foxx and Pujols. Obviously, a few others have arguments for that fourth spot as well -- Johnny Mize (I'd actually choose him fourth and Bagwell fifth, because Mize missed three years for World War II), Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey and a couple of others on this ballot.
Personal thoughts: I used to have a fun argument with a friend of mine based on this question -- if you were a big league pitcher, who would scare you more at the plate, Jeff Bagwell or Gary Sheffield? The question doesn't revolve around who was the better hitter. No, the question is about who looked and seemed more intimidating at the plate. Who created the most sparks? Yes -- the fear factor. Dumb stuff. But fun.
Sheffield was so menacing, the way he would shake that bat behind his head, wave it like he was going crazy, like he was bubbling with rage á la Capone/DeNiro before he went nuts in "The Untouchables," like he just couldn't wait for you to throw the ball, like he just couldn't wait to crush your pitch seven miles, like he was just sitting there muttering, "Come on, throw that ball, I'm going to hit it so hard that baseballs that haven't even been stitched yet will feel it. Oh yeah, just throw me that pitch, come on …"
And Bagwell: Totally different. He just had that wide stance, that crouch, that slight flutter of the bat. Oh man, chilling. To me, it's no contest -- I would rather pitch to Sheffield every day and Sunday. Sheffield was like one of those gangsters in the movie who talks a lot. Bagwell was like one of those gangsters in the movie you never actually see when you're alive.
You might remember this: Bagwell was a dreadful third baseman when he was drafted out of the University of Hartford. All he did in the minor leagues was hit. I don't mean that as a cliché … that's really all he did. He hit for no power, showed no speed and was a nightmare defensively. All he did was hit … .316 in rookie ball, .310 in Low A, .333 in Double-A. It's all well and good to rip the Red Sox for trading him to Houston when he was a minor leaguer -- they deserve to be ripped -- but the truth is that there are a lot of guys who can just hit, and few of them become big league stars. Pat Tabler was a bit like that. Kevin Seitzer was a bit like that. Hal Morris. I'm sure the Red Sox knew they were giving up a potential major leaguer in Bagwell. But I'm also sure they thought Pat Tabler was his upside.
So, they had to be as shocked as anybody when, right out the gate, the guy banged 15 homers despite playing half his games in the Astrodome. The Astros put him at first base, and I'm sure the Red Sox thought: Well, he'll never hit with enough power to be of much value there. But he hit 18 homers in his second year, 20 homers in his third, and then he had that insane 1994 MVP season. Then he won a Gold Glove and he started stealing bases and the Red Sox had to be going out of their minds …
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 20 years, 12,504 plate appearances
Place in game's history: Only player ever to play 250 games at catcher, center field and second base, but then he's the only player to play 100 games at all three positions as well. In fact, he's the only player to play even 50 games at all three positions. Roger Bresnahan, in the Hall of Fame as a catcher, did play some outfield and 28 games at second base. … Bill James, in the Historical Abstract, ranked Biggio the fifth best second baseman of all time in 2001. I'd rank him closer to 10th right now.
Personal thoughts: I really thought Biggio was the one lock on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. And he still might get elected. But I really don't think so -- I see him at around 70%.
There really has never been a Hall of Fame ballot quite like this one, and you have hundreds of voters trying to make sense of it all. I think Biggio could be collateral damage. He will get in next year or the following year almost certainly. I just thought with 3,000 hits and the bevy of other honors -- the Clemente Award, the Hutch Award, the Branch Rickey Award, the four Gold Gloves, four All-Star Game starts and everything else -- he would overcome the monster ballot. It's looking more and more to me like he won't.
Biggio offers an interesting paradox: I think, in a strange way, he's a worse Hall of Fame candidate because he got 3,000 hits. Yeah, it's a dumb concept, but I think he would be a better Hall of Fame candidate if he had retired in 2005 with 2,795 hits than he is now with 3,000 hits.
Notice above, I mention that Bill James ranked Biggio as the fifth best second baseman of all time in 2001. After the 2001 season, Biggio was 36 years old. And he was at the end of a magnificent peak. From 1992 to 1998 -- seven years -- Biggio hit .300/.406/.460 with 112 homers, 247 stolen bases, four Gold Gloves, six All-Star appearances and so on. He was, for those seven years, a great player. His seminal year, 1997, should be celebrated forever -- .309 average, .415 on-base percentage, .501 slugging percentage, 37 doubles, 22 homers, 47 stolen bases, 146 runs, 81 RBIs, 84 walks and 34 more HBPs, did not ground into a single double play, won the Gold Glove at second base … it was an incredible season.
All of his seasons in those days had at least a whiff of that greatness. In the Historical Abstract, Bill compared Biggio to certain first-ballot Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. year-by-year, and Biggio -- because he got on base more, ran better, was a doubles machine and scored more runs -- looked very good in the comparisons.
After 2001, though, Biggio became a very different player. His batting average tumbled. His on-base percentage tumbled. He stopped stealing bases. He was a defensive liability in center field and wasn't the same defensively when he returned to second base. There is no shame in this, of course -- he was in his late 30s, and for a guy in his late 30s he wasn't bad. He still hit doubles and he popped a few more homers. But he was no longer a great player. And he wasn't a great player for six years.
So, while he compiled some numbers playing those six years -- he got his 3,000 hits, scored his 1,844 runs (16th all time), his 688 doubles rank fifth all-time, he passed 400 stolen bases and almost got to 300 homers (291) -- I think he gave too many people the wrong impression. The impression is that Craig Biggio was a compiler, one of those guys who stuck around for a long time and, in doing so, compiled Hall of Fame numbers. But I would argue that does a great disservice to Biggio. I think he was a great, great player who was fit enough to play well past his prime.
In other words: I don't think 3,000 hits alone should get a player into the Hall. That said, I don't think 3,000 hits should in some strange way detract from Biggio's great heights, either.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 22 years, 12,606 plate appearances
Place in game's history: Open-ended question, isn't it? By the numbers, he's one of the 10 best players in history. But many doubt the numbers … He or Ted Williams is the best left fielder in the history of baseball, with Rickey and Yaz a tick or two behind. … Single-season home run record holder with 73 … Career home run record holder with 762. People will argue forever how they feel about that.
Personal thoughts: Would Ty Cobb have used steroids? I want you to think about that question for a minute. Would Ty Cobb have used steroids? While you think, take a look at a handful of Cobb quotes:
"Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest."
"I may have been fierce, but never low or underhand."
"Baseball was 100 percent of my life."
"Many a writer has said that I was 'unfair.' Well, that's not my understanding of the word. When my toes were stepped on, I stepped right back."
"I regret to this day that I never went to college. I should have been a doctor."
"In legend, I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport."
So what do you think? Would Cobb, who famously needed to win but who held himself to principles that few others really understood, have used steroids?
Answer: We have no bleeping idea.
See, that's the trap of this whole PED Hall of Fame discussion -- it's tempting to start thinking you know more than you know, understand more than you understand and can get inside the heart of someone else.
What we do know is that Ty Cobb was obviously a rough player, disliked by many, involved in too many controversial incidents to count here, including a well-publicized gambling accusation and numerous violent encounters. And what we do know is that on the first Hall of Fame ballot -- with the so-called character clause already in place -- Ty Cobb received more votes than anyone else, including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.
Why? He was widely viewed by the sportswriters as the best player of all time. In the end, character clause or not, the writers understood their mission was to honor the best who ever played the game. I think that's still our mission. I don't think it's right to pretend that the steroid and PED stuff never happened -- it absolutely did happen and should be part of the evaluation of a baseball player's career. But I don't see how steroid use in an era when there was no testing, no policing and (I believe) tacit encouragement to use PEDs can or should be, on its own, a Hall of Fame disqualifier.
Barry Bonds is the greatest player I ever saw. How much of it was unnatural? I don't know -- some of it. How much of it was a taint on the game? I don't know -- some of it. I don't take his career numbers at face value, especially the home run numbers. But I do believe he's one of the best to ever play the game.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 24 years, 4,916 2/3 innings pitched.
Place in game's history: Again, open-ended question, isn't it? By the numbers, one of the five best starting pitchers ever, with an argument for No. 1 … Dominated the game at 23 … Dominated the game again at 42 … Won seven Cy Young Awards and was probably robbed of two or three more … Mentioned at length in Mitchell Report and has gone to extraordinary lengths to prove that he did not used PEDs. He was indicted for perjury and found not guilty on all counts.
Personal thoughts: I write this in another piece -- I don't know how many votes Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds will get, but I do believe that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds will get exactly the same number of votes. That is to say their cases seem intrinsically locked in the voters' minds. Two all-time players, both were incredible as older players, both were widely accused of steroid use, both went on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice, both were obvious steroid users in the greater public's mind.
But are they exactly the same? Bonds went on trial for lying to a grand jury. Clemens went on trial for lying to Congress in a hearing he himself sought. Bonds reluctantly dealt with all of this. Clemens publicly and vigorously fought to clear his name. Bonds was convicted of obstruction. Clemens had two trials, one was dismissed because of misconduct by the prosecution; in the other, he was found not guilty on all counts.
I just think it's a fair question to ask: Are Bonds and Clemens the same?
Either way, I think Clemens’ greatness as a player makes him a Hall of Famer.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 18 years, 8,674 plate appearances.
Place in game's history: Like Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, one of the 15 or so best first baseman/DH-type hitters in history. Unlike them, he almost never played first base … One of the greatest hitters who ever lived. … One of only 12 non-active players in baseball history to post a .310/.410/.510 line over a 4,000 plate-appearance career. Of the 12, only Martinez and Shoeless Joe Jackson are not in the Hall of Fame. And we know why Shoeless Joe isn't in … Career 147 OPS+ is same as Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell.
Personal thoughts: As many have said, Edgar Martinez was a one-dimensional player. He couldn't run. At all. He couldn't field -- he only played the field in 592 of his more than 2,000 games, and never well. He could do one thing -- hit a baseball.
Of course, when you are as good at that one thing as Edgar Martinez was, it's not really one thing. Edgar hit for high averages. And Edgar hit with force -- twice he led the league in doubles. And Edgar hit with power -- he banged 309 home runs and did the bulk of that in a seven-year period. And Edgar got on base -- he had 90-plus walks eight times in his career.
There are a lot of "one-dimensional" players in the Hall of Fame, especially if you consider "pitching" to be one dimension. But even just on the hitting side: Ted Williams was largely a one-dimensional player. Willie Stargell was essentially a one-dimensional player. Ralph Kiner? For sure. Willie McCovey was called "Stretch," but he probably would have played many games as a DH had he been an American League player in Edgar's time. Paul Molitor played more than 1,000 games as a DH.
One dimension -- if it's amazing enough -- should be celebrated by the Hall of Fame. Edgar, I believe, was that good a hitter.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 16 years, 7,660 plate appearances.
Place in game's history: One of the 15 or so best first baseman/DH-type players … Most efficient home run hitter the game has ever known, crushing a homer every 10.6 at-bats. … Over four seasons, hit .290/.437/.704 with 52, 58, 70 and 65 home runs … Admitted using steroids in a difficult interview with Bob Costas; many felt he didn't go far enough in his admission or concede the role that steroids played in his amazing numbers.
Personal thoughts: I have written a lot about Mark McGwire, and I don't have much more to add here. I have voted for him since his second year on the ballot. I think he's the most powerful home run hitter I ever saw play. I think his admission of using steroids, while awkward and self-interested and at times halting, was admirable. I think steroid use played a large role in his career -- he was a workout fiend anyway, and steroids not only played a role in making him superhumanly strong, they helped him recover from injuries that threatened his career. I also think his 70-home run season was one of the most amazing feats of performing under pressure that I've ever seen, and his pre-game batting practice was one of the greatest shows in baseball history.
I still believe Mark McGwire should be in the Hall of Fame. But this year's ballot, in my mind, is overstocked. And with a 10-player limit -- a limit I feel certain the Hall of Fame and BBWAA will at some point reconsider -- he does not make the cut.
My Hall of Fame vote: No.
* * *
Length of career: 18 years, 9,041 plate appearances
Place in game's history: One of the 25 or 30 best center fielders ever … Back-to-back MVP awards … Was the heart not only of mediocre-to-lousy Atlanta Braves teams of the 1980s, but of Superstation TBS' commitment to bringing baseball to America … Universally beloved for the way he treated the game, the fans and his teammates.
Personal thoughts: When Dale Murphy's career started to decline -- and, as we know, Murphy's career declined way too fast -- the Braves found themselves in a tough spot. Murphy was hitting in the .220s -- he was obviously shot. But he was so popular and so beloved. He had, essentially, been Atlanta Braves baseball for decade. On top of this, the Braves were horrendously bad -- dealing Dale Murphy at that moment was tantamount to walking up to every single Braves fan (and there weren't many in the late 1980s) and delivering a quick, cold slap in the face.
Except … Dale Murphy publicly acknowledged that the Braves really had to trade him. His public class made the trade go over with relative smoothness. The Braves went on to all sorts of glory without Dale Murphy. And Murphy's career crash landed in Colorado, where he finished two home runs shy of 400.
You can tell a thousand stories about what a great guy Dale Murphy was. And, in his prime, he was one heck of a player. In the 1980s, he was second only to Mike Schmidt in homers, second only to Eddie Murray in RBIs, fourth to Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount and Dwight Evans in runs scored. He won those two MVPs and he won five Gold Gloves, and he had a 30-30 season and ...
… and it ended much too quickly. In 1987, as a 31-year-old outfielder in a juiced ball year, he was amazing -- .295/.417/.580 with 44 homers and 115 runs scored. It was, by WAR numbers, his best year.
In 1988, he was a 32-year-old outfielder and all but unplayable -- he hit .226/.313/.421 and led the league only in double-play groundouts.
If only he had two or three good seasons in his mid-30s -- nothing special, just Eddie Murray-type, good, mid-30s seasons -- he would be in the Hall of Fame right now. But he didn't. When it ended, it ended.
I have voted for Dale Murphy every year because I think, in his prime, he played at a Hall of Fame level and because I think the character clause should cut both ways. Dale Murphy will come off the ballot after this year – and, in some ways, I think that's a good thing, because I think the Veterans Committee needs to stop messing around with the picked-over eras they keep searching and start looking at players from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. I intend to keep making Dale Murphy's case for them … though this year, because the ballot is so overstuffed, I did not vote for the Murph.
My Hall of Fame vote: No.
* * *
Length of career: 20 years, 12,046 plate appearances
Place in game's history: One of the 15 or so best first baseman/DH-types in baseball history … Four players in history have 3,000 hits and 500 homers. They are: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray and Raffy Palmeiro … Tested positive for an anabolic steroid. Has maintained his innocence and continues to say that he never knowingly took a steroid.
Personal thoughts: I have been on record as saying that I think Rafael Palmeiro -- at least in terms of baseball history -- should be treated somewhat differently from McGwire and Bonds and Clemens, because he tested positive on a drug test and they did not. I'm not saying that Palmeiro's steroid use should disqualify him from the Hall of Fame -- I don't believe that. I just think that once baseball cared enough to test, the rules changed.
Here's one way you might look at it, and forgive the crude comparison: Let's say there's a stretch of open road where you know there are no police officers. You know this because the police have made it clear that they will not police that area. So, every day, you drive 100 mph on that open road. You know it's not legal. You know it's dangerous and potentially self-destructive. You also know you won't get caught, because there's nobody even trying to catch you.
Then, one day, the police announce that they are cracking down on that area. Let's say that one of the speeders hit a tree. Let's say that they noticed teenagers speeding in that open area, and a couple of them wrecked (they are fine -- nobody gets hurt in these imaginary scenarios). There was a huge neighborhood uproar. The government got involved. And now, the police are serious about their crackdown. They will have police armed with radar guns. They put up big signs showing the speed limit and, on the signs, they say that violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and publicly embarrassed. And you still speed 100 mph down the road.
Now, from a legal or social standpoint, both scenarios are the same. Speeding at 100 mph is illegal in either case. If you think speeding at 100 mph is wrong, it's wrong in both scenarios. But, it seems to me, it's significantly worse in the second case. You understand what's at stake. You understand the cost. There is no confusion about any of it.
Palmeiro's career really lacked a great peak. He had years that would look amazing in almost any other era, but even his best statistical year -- probably 1999 -- wasn't close to the best season in baseball that year.
In 1999 Palmeiro hit .324/.420/.630 with 47 homers, 148 RBIs and 96 runs, and he won a Gold Glove.
But every bit of that tarnishes when you look even just a bit closer. The Gold Glove was probably the most embarrassing one in the history of the award -- he only played 28 games at first base all year and 128 games as a DH.
The power was, at least in part, a function of his ballpark -- he slugged .698 in Texas.
His .324 batting average, while terrific historically, was third best on his own team (behind Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez). His .420 on-base percentage -- again, historically great -- was ninth in the American League. He didn't lead the league in anything. And he didn't finish Top 10 in the American League in WAR.
It was like that throughout his career. Palmeiro's consistency was extraordinary -- Steady Eddie Murray-like, really -- and I think if there had been no steroid issue, he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But I think when you really look at him in context of his era, he's a borderline case. On this ballot, for me, there are more than 10 players who I have ranked higher.
My Hall of Fame vote: No.
* * *
Length of career: 16 years, 7,745 plate appearances
Place in game's history: One of the 10 -- or five -- best catchers in the game's history, depending on how much consideration you give to defense … Best-hitting catcher who ever played the game … Selected in the 62nd round in what Tommy Lasorda has said was a personal favor to Mike's father, Vince, who had spend countless hours working with Mike on his game … In 1997 Piazza hit .362/.431/.638 with 40 homers, 124 RBIs and 104 runs. It's almost certainly the greatest offensive year ever for a catcher … Piazza hit 30-plus homers nine times. Next best among catchers? Johnny Bench with four.
Personal thoughts: I think it's clear how I feel about Piazza. He's the best-hitting catcher ever. I don't think it's particularly close. I hear people bring up steroid questions with Piazza, but he was not named in the Mitchell Report, he never tested positive, he has denied ever using and I just don't care for the whole guessing game.
Enough of that: I want to discuss a grammatical question that has bothered me for some time. My buddy Vac -- the great Mike Vaccaro -- wrote this in Sunday's New York Post:
"I voted for [Piazza] because he was the best offensive catcher I ever saw, because he assembled one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- offensive résumé of any catcher ever born."
Now, people use "if not" two ways -- and those two ways are very different. The first way they write it, "if not" generally means "maybe." So the sentence would read: Piazza assembled one of the greatest -- maybe the greatest -- offensive résumés ever.
The second way, "if not" means "but not." So the sentence would read like this: Piazza assembled one of the greatest -- but not the greatest -- offensive résumés ever.
I've seen "if not" used both ways, and it drives me nuts because I often can't tell which way the author meant. In this case, I was pretty sure I knew and I texted Mike to confirm -- which he did -- that he meant it the first way. He thinks Piazza has one of the greatest, and maybe the greatest, offensive résumés among catchers ever. That's the way I think "if not" should be used, but I'm OK if we go with the other way. I'm just looking for some consistency.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 23 years, 10,359 plate appearances.
Place in game's history: One of the 10 or so best left fielders ever, and there's an argument to have him sixth, behind the Golden 5 (Williams, Bonds, Musial, Henderson, Yaz). … Most efficient base stealer the game has ever known … Batting champion, four-time stolen base champion, led league in runs twice, should have won at least one and maybe two MVP awards …
Personal thoughts: Always fun to compare Raines to Tony Gwynn, who was an almost exact contemporary and whose length of career was almost exactly the same:
Raines: 1979 to 2002
Gwynn: 1982 to 2001
Raines: 10,359 plate appearances
Gwynn: 10,232 plate appearances
Raines: .294 batting average
Gwynn: .338 batting average
Raines: .385 on-base percentage
Gwynn: .388 on-base percentage
Raines: 4,076 times on base
Gwynn: 4,094 times on base
Raines: 1,571 runs
Gwynn: 1,383 runs
Raines: 980 RBIs
Gwynn: 1,138 RBIs
Raines: 430 doubles, 113 triples, 170 homers.
Gwynn: 543 doubles, 85 triples, 130 homers.
Raines: 808 stolen bases, 146 caught stealing.
Gwynn: 319 stolen bases, 125 caught stealing.
Raines: 66.2 Baseball Reference WAR, 70.6 Fangraphs WAR
Gwynn: 65.3 Baseball Reference WAR, 67.8 Fangraphs WAR
Don't you see? They were equally great players … just in very different ways. Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 98% of the vote, because voters love stuff like hits (he had 3,000) and batting average. If Tony Gwynn is a Hall of Famer -- and he absolutely is -- I think Tim Raines is a Hall of Famer.
My Hall of Fame vote: Resounding yes.
* * *
Length of career: 20 years, 3,261 innings pitched.
Place in game's history: One of the 25 best starting pitchers in history, in my opinion … Greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings pitched. … One of the most storied and dominant postseason pitchers … Had three 300-strikeout seasons. Only Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan had more.
Personal thoughts: I have written at some length about how I think Curt Schilling is not only a Hall of Famer but well above the line. His inconsistency and low win totals will be held against him -- he won't get in this year and probably won't get close to 50% of the vote. But I don't see him as a borderline case -- he had a dominant peak and strong career numbers and postseason excellence. I think he was a better pitcher than Tom Glavine, who I also believe is a Hall of Famer and who I believe will sail into the Hall next year because he had 300 wins.
After Curt Schilling pitched an amazing Game 1 in the 2001 World Series, I wrote a column for the Kansas City Star about him and how much his father meant to him. I woke up very early the next morning to an email from Curt Schilling thanking me for that column. I don't bring this up as a humblebrag -- though it might be one -- but because in many ways I think it gets at the heart of Curt Schilling. He had just pitched a magnificent seven innings against the three-time world champion New York Yankees. He had dominated the game. He had given Arizona one of its greatest sports thrills.
And that night – that very night -- he was at his computer reading columns about it (and not just any columns -- it would have taken some effort to find my column in Kansas City). It was a very typical thing for him to do, and I'm certainly not judging whether it was right or wrong. These things shouldn't be judged as right or wrong. The point is: This is who Curt Schilling was. He was public, and he was driven -- undoubtedly still is driven -- by a certain kind of ambition and hunger for fame, a difficult-to-pinpoint fury and a competitive nature that separated him from most. He was the sort of guy who would go on the Internet and read stuff minutes after pitching one of the greater games in World Series history.
Great athletes -- many people have told me through the years -- are wired differently from most of us.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 18 years, 9,896 plate appearances.
Place in game's history: One of the 20 or so best right fielders ever … Hit 609 homers in his career and is the only player in baseball history to top 60 homers three times … From 1998 to 2002, he hit 292 home runs -- the most for any player over a five-year period.
Personal thoughts: Sosa is the focus of my favorite trivia question, one that I'm still trying to find the precise wording for: You know Sammy Sosa topped 60 homers three times. How many of those years did he lead the league in home runs?
The answer is: zero. But I think the way the question is worded, people would automatically guess zero, so I need to work on it. The year he hit 66 homers, McGwire hit 70. The year he hit 63 homers, McGwire hit 65. And the year he hit 64 homers, Bonds hit 73.
Maybe the question should be this: Sammy Sosa twice led the league home runs. How many homers did he hit each of those years?
Answer: 50 homers and 49 homers. I don't know. I'm still working on it.
Sosa's connection to PEDs is even more muddled and disjointed than some of the others -- The New York Times reported that he was on a failed drug test list in 2003, but the test was supposed to be secret and nobody ever publicly confirmed or shot down the report and, well, like I say, this is the house-of-mirrors world in which writers are trying to vote for the Hall of Fame. Lots of people just assumed Sosa was a steroid user -- you probably remember Rick Reilly's famous/infamous offer to have Sosa take a drug test.
Sosa's Hall of Fame case is mostly built around home runs … he hit only .273 for his career, and did not get on base. He did flash some speed and defensive talent as a younger player, but really it's about the homers. It's an interesting case that should be discussed for a while, I think. But this year, there are at least 10 more worthy players in my mind.
Hall of Fame vote: No.
* * *
Length of career: 20 years, 9,376 plate appearances
Place in game's history: One of the 10 or 12 best shortstops in history. Bill James, in the 2001 Historical Abstract, ranked him ninth, though that was before Derek Jeter … Similar Hall of Fame case to Barry Larkin. Was a great all-around player who played a good defensive shortstop, got on base, hit with some power and flashed some speed. He's probably not quite as good a player as Larkin, but was a bit more durable, which explains why his 67.1 Baseball Reference WAR is exactly the same as Larkin's.
Personal thoughts: I keep coming back to that 1987 MVP vote. Trammell just barely lost the MVP to George Bell, even though he was by really almost any measure except home runs a markedly better player. If Trammell wins that MVP award, do people view him differently? Do people say, “Oh, I see,” as they compare him to other shortstops in the Hall of Fame?
Shortstops in Hall of Fame by Baseball Reference WAR (from 1901 on):
1. Honus Wagner, 110
2. Cal Ripken, 90.9
3. Ozzie Smith, 73.0
4. Arky Vaughan, 70.0
5. Luke Appling, 69.9
6. Barry Larkin, 67.1
ALAN TRAMMELL, 67.1
7. Pee Wee Reese, 63.1
8. Joe Cronin, 61.9
9. Lou Boudreau, 51.7
10. Luis Aparicio, 51.7
11. Bobby Wallace, 51.6
12. Joe Tinker, 50.4
13. Joe Sewell, 49.2
14. Dave Bancroft, 46.5
15. Travis Jackson, 42.0
16. Rabbit Maranville, 39.4
17. Phil Rizzuto, 38.1
I realize that many people would want some, perhaps most, of these players booted out of the Hall of Fame. But they are in, and they are not getting booted out, and they create a standard that Alan Trammell towers over.
One other point: I hear people say, "I never thought of Alan Trammell as a Hall of Famer." I understand that. I never saw him that way, either, not when he was active. But I also thought cameras on phones was a stupid idea, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was a good but not great song and “The Shawshank Redemption” was a perfectly fine movie that would be forgotten soon enough. Time and perspective help us judge things. Trammell's defense, while very good, was overshadowed by Ozzie's. Trammell's offense, while very good, was overshadowed by Cal's. Trammell's MVP year was spoiled by a bad vote.
I think a fair look back at his career reveals that he was better than remembered … and a worthy Hall of Famer.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
* * *
Length of career: 17 years, 8,030 plate appearances.
Place in baseball history: One of the 10 best right fielders in history … Could not stay healthy, had five seasons in which he played 105 or fewer games and only one in which he played 150 or more … Seven-time Gold Glove winner, three-time batting champion, 16th all-time in OPS … Obviously had numbers skewed by Coors Field.
Personal thoughts: Bill James is not a Walker-for-Hall-of-Fame guy, and I never like being on the wrong side of Bill James. But I think Walker belongs. I like players who do everything well, and Walker at his best was the epitome of that. He hit, hit with power, got on base, ran the bases well, stole some bases, played good defense, gave fans baseballs at inopportune times and was a complete wacko about the number 3.*
*Supposedly, Walker was so nuts about the number 3 -- his number was, of course, 33 -- that he got married on the third of November at 3:33 p.m., and according to the wonderful SI story written by SOE colleague Leigh Montville, he would always take batting practice swings in multiples of three.
There is no question that Walker's home-road splits are over the top:
But still … oh, wait, those aren't Larry Walker's home-road splits. Those are Jim Rice's. Sorry.
Ah, right, those are Walker's splits. But since those are just super-sized versions of Jim Rice's splits anyway -- and Rice just got voted into the Hall of Fame -- I don't think they are disqualifiers. Walker was a terrific all-around player who stood out in a crazy offensive era.
My Hall of Fame vote: Yes.
Have some questions or comments about these picks? SportsonEarth will host a special Hall of Fame chat with Joe on Wednesday at 2pm ET, right when the announcements are made -- so be sure to mark your calendars. (Click here for Part One of Joe's HOF column series. Click here for Part Two.)