Four players gained entry, but two of the best ever once again fell short, while another deserving candidate fell off the ballot entirely.
Another year, another criminal exclusion from the Hall of Fame for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Last week, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America released the official election results for the class of 2018. The results were predictably frustrating. Though four deserving players received the 75 percent of ballots necessary for induction — Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman — Bonds and Clemens moved one year closer to falling off the ballot for good, tallying 56.4 and 57.3 percent, respectively.
I wish this story could lead with the players who achieved immortality rather than harping on those who missed the cut, but this is just what happens when two genuine titans of the game, guys with legitimate claims to GOAT status, continue to be disrespected. I’ve said it before in this space, but it bears repeating now: I simply don’t care about the steroid issue. Was it against the rules? You bet. Did drugged-up guys gain a competitive advantage against clean ballplayers? Absolutely. But the question we should be asking is this: were steroids a magic pill that made a couple of mediocre major leaguers into MVPs? And the answer is a resounding no.
Barry Bonds had already tied the MLB record with three MVP awards and become the charter member of the 400-400 club (homers and stolen bases) before he started juicing. Sure, he never would have smacked 73 dingers and broken Hank Aaron’s career record without the drugs, but even then it’s disingenuous to suggest that ‘roids had everything to do with Bonds’s record-breaking run from 2001 – 04. Most major leaguers were on something at this point, and Bonds still managed as dominant a stretch (relative to the rest of the league) as anybody in history, perhaps only rivaled by Babe Ruth in the early ‘20s. Clemens too had already established himself as a future Hall of Famer in his drug-free youth, capturing three Cy Youngs, an MVP, four ERA titles and more than 2,500 strikeouts. Considering all the other shady figures from the game’s past who are already enshrined in Cooperstown, I hate seeing these two indelible parts of baseball’s rich history left out.
Don’t worry, just in case you’re a purist who hates my guts right now for defending those no-good-dirty-rotten cheaters Bonds and Clemens, I’ve got plenty of other thoughts on this year’s ballot as well. First, an unpopular opinion: Chipper and Vlad didn’t deserve anywhere near the amount of votes they received. Jones tallied an incredible 97.2 percent on his first ballot, the 11th highest total in history, while Guerrero found his way in at 92.9 percent in his second after a more than 20-percent increase. Let me be clear, I think both guys are no-brainer Hall of Famers, transcendent talents who doubled as two of the game’s most marketable celebrities. In a perfect world, they’d each have 100 percent of the vote. But because the BBWAA is stupid, placing a restriction on the number of players that can be included on a ballot and harboring writers who wouldn’t vote for an obvious pick to uphold the meaningless tradition of nobody getting in unanimously, I have to look at things from a different perspective.
Jones was an ultra-consistent on-base machine and an MVP, but he was also an average defensive third baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter who only topped 40 homers once in the top-heaviest offensive stretch in MLB history. In other words, he’s got no business being included as an inner-circle baseball great. Guerrero, meanwhile, managed a leap of more than 20 percent while a superior counterpart of his, Larry Walker, received just 34 percent in his eighth year of eligibility. Both were slugging right fielders with cannons for arms, athletic MVPs who became statues toward the back end of their careers. Unfortunately, voters clearly dinged Walker for playing his prime years in the offense-happy confines of Coors Field. It’s a damn shame, as Walker reached greater heights in the field and at the plate than Guerrero ever did. His 1997 season with the Rockies is one of the least talked about all-time great campaigns.
I’m fully on board with Hoffman getting in the hall. There is somewhat of an anti-closer movement out there today, mostly comprised of context-independent statheads and WAR junkies, which believes that no reliever short of the great Mariano Rivera deserves enshrinement. Nonsense says I. If you spend the better part of two decades as a top five player at your position and set a record in a major statistical category (his 601 saves were topped by Rivera), you’re in.
Another rule: if you have an award named after you and finish with a .312/.418/.515 batting line over an 18-season career, you’re a Hall of Famer. In related news, Edgar Martinez once again fell short in his penultimate year of eligibility with just over 70 percent. If he doesn’t get it next year, I riot.
You know what I would really like to see from voters going forward? A little consistency with their rationale in voting. Why aren’t Bonds’s and Clemens’s percentages identical? Who would possibly vote for one and not the other? Why do character and actions outside the game seem to affect Curt Schilling more than any other player in history? Why did Omar Vizquel, a defensive whiz at shortstop who only twice posted an above-league-average offensive season by comparative metrics, receive almost five times as many votes as Andruw Jones, who smacked 434 homers and is ranked firmly alongside Willie Mays and Tris Speaker as one of the best defensive outfielders ever?
Finally, let’s pour one out for Johan Santana. A two-time Cy Young winner who was ludicrously robbed of a third because voters preferred Bartolo Colon’s 21 wins to his 16, Santana was the best pitcher in baseball for a five year stretch from ‘04 to ‘08. When you strip away the mystique surrounding Sandy Koufax and examine the respective eras in which these two lefties pitched, their primes look pretty darn similar, down to their dominant primes and overall brevity of their careers. The difference of course is that Koufax is hailed as being one of the greatest pitchers ever while Santana fell off the ballot in his first year with a measly 2.4 percent of ballots. Disgraceful.