I usually make big pronouncements about who belongs in the Hall of Fame off the top of my head, without actually looking closely at the issue. I decided this year, which will be the most contentious vote in Hall history, that I would make the effort. Understand from the start that I am 100% uninterested in the moral or physical aspects of PED usage. I won’t mention it again, but you can assume I’ve ignored it.
There are four candidates who are the elite of the elite. Two of those are the elite of this group of four: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The other two … well, now I’m going to have to mention PEDs again, because these two players, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, should be instant inductees. But Bagwell is already up to his 3rd ballot, and most people seem to think he and Piazza will once again be on the outside looking in. The only connection between these two players and PED usage is based on gossip. You want to talk about the moral high ground? It’s bad enough that Bonds and Clemens won’t get the votes, but Piazza and Bagwell? The longer it takes to get them into the Hall, the less the Hall means, and the more those voters will deserve to be called dumbshits.
The guy who would finish #11 on my list (i.e., the guy who comes closest to getting my hypothetical vote without actually receiving it) is Larry Walker. Yes, he was helped immensely by his home park, but he was a great player for many years. But not enough great years. He finished with fewer than 2000 games played, which is why his counting stats aren’t Hall-of-Fame impressive (2160 hits, 383 homers).
The other six players I would vote for, in alphabetical order, are: Craig Biggio, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa.
I accept that I am somewhat inconsistent. McGwire, in particular, played in fewer games than Walker, and Walker also had six more Gold Gloves. I admit I am surprised that the numbers don’t push McGwire to the elite of the elite. But the 583 HR do provide quite a push.
Who’s missing? Most obviously, Jack Morris, who will probably get in, and who would be a terrible choice. Relief pitchers are nowhere to be found on my list (most notably, Lee Smith is missing). Edgar Martinez was a late scratch … despite my love of his bat, he didn’t play as much as he needed to be in the Hall. That this is attributable in part to the ignorant Mariner management that didn’t put him in the majors to stay until Edgar was 27 years old is unfortunate; it’s also a fact that can’t be denied, no matter that it’s not Martinez’ fault. I gave Alan Trammell a little extra thought, but I felt he came down on the wrong side of the list.
My friend Jonathan Bernstein, who I count on to always have a good head about baseball, made his list and it’s almost exactly the same as mine … he includes Trammell, leaves off Sosa although he thought Sammy was on the bubble. Neither of us would vote for Jack Morris; Jonathan says a Morris induction would be “an amazing travesty”, and I don’t disagree.
I haven’t given much evidence here, although if anyone is interested enough, we can argue in the comments section, and I promise to be more precise. You are welcome to make arguments about PEDs, but I’ll ignore them. I think I’m right, you think you’re right, the time for discussion is long past. But if you think there are good reasons why any of my choices are bad ones, or if you think I’ve missed someone (say, Kenny Lofton or David Wells), I’m interested in your take.