Baseball writers are more stupid than you think they are. Okay, maybe that’s not totally fair, but they are disproportionately crotchety old sabermetrics-phobic men who are more concerned with waxing nostalgic about the good ol’ days of yore than appreciating the accomplishments of the stars of the present.
This manifests itself most prominently in the great PED debate, which questions whether players who used steroids should be allowed into the Hall of Fame because they “ruined the integrity of the game” and made certain counting stat accomplishments less indicative of greatness.
How could we possibly enshrine these vile cheaters alongside hallowed titans of the game like Ty Cobb (a violent bigot who routinely spiked his opponents and intimidated umpires) and Willie Mays (who, along with many stars of the ‘60s, used amphetamines to enhance performance)? I think you can tell where I stand on this issue.
Anyway, whether because writers just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a muscular guy who played in the ‘90s — even though he was never implicated in taking steroids — or because he only played 15 years in the toughest offensive park in the league and fell 51 homers short of 500, it took Jeff Bagwell a full seven years on the ballot to finally make the Hall.
With apologies to Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Frank Thomas, Bagwell was the best first baseman of his era, a top five all time at the position, and quite possibly the most underrated player in baseball history. It’s a travesty that he didn’t get in sooner, but hey, better late than never!
Speaking of travesties, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens once again failed to crack even the top five of voting despite being arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of all time. Seriously, this can’t be emphasized enough: these aren’t just greats, they are players of the highest caliber. I don’t care if they take up two spots on the American sports PED Mt. Rushmore (alongside Lance Armstrong and A-Rod).
Simply going off ability, Bonds can’t be listed separately from the likes of Ruth, Mays or Williams; Clemens from Johnson, Grove or Koufax. It’s an insult to the game for these players to be blacklisted from the Hall, but at least they both cracked 50 percent for the first time. And another player’s induction may be a sign that their luck is finally about to change in the coming years.
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is another guy who has a legitimate claim to the title of best all-time at his position. Synonymous with excellence behind the plate, Rodriguez won an MVP in 1999 and snagged 13 Gold Gloves at catcher over his career.
It shouldn’t be at all surprising that he is a first-ballot inductee except that he is another star who was linked to steroids in his prime. Pudge’s name isn’t as infamous as Bonds’ or Clemens,’ but if he can make it, surely there is room in the near future for players even better than he was.
Also entering the Hall of Fame in 2017 is Tim Raines, the Montreal Expos dynamo who could give Jeff Bagwell a run for his money in that Most Underrated Player Award I just gave out two minutes ago. Consistently overshadowed by the greatest leadoff hitter and most prolific base-stealer in history, Rickey Henderson, and playing about 20 years too soon for the extent of his abilities to be fully realized through sabermetrics, Raines offered Henderson-lite on-base ability and gap power while stealing bases at a more efficient rate (84.7 percent to be exact, the highest percentage ever for a player with 400 or more attempts).
In a 1980s that was devoid of all-time great talent, Raines accumulated the highest WAR in the National League over the decade. Somehow, it took the BBWAA a full ten years, the maximum time someone can spend on the ballot before becoming ineligible, to make the right call on Raines.
A couple more notes: Trevor Hoffman missed the cut by one percentage point in his second year on the ballot. He’ll make it in 2018 and be the first Hall of Famer to have spent his entire major league career exclusively as a reliever.
I feel like Curt Schilling was hurt by his outspoken political opinions and brazen personality as much as Bonds and Clemens were by their steroid use. Schilling did enough to make the Hall even if he never played in October, and on top of that he might just be the best postseason pitcher ever.
It’s a farce that David Ortiz will almost certainly make it in on his first or second try when it’s looking increasingly likely that Edgar Martinez, his spiritual predecessor at DH who lowkey had a much more impressive regular season career, will miss altogether.
Maybe it’s the homer in me, but I was sad to see Jorge Posada fail to reach the requisite five percent in order to stay on the ballot. It was unlikely that he was ever going to make it, but only one year of eligibility doesn’t feel right for a guy who could make a pretty strong case for being the best catcher of the 2000s.