The Baseball Hall of Fame is a mess. We can thank the entire steroid era for that, as the BBWAA has taken it upon itself to be the game’s morality police, meaning a generation of players led by Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds will likely never end up in Cooperstown. We can talk about that another day, if anyone isn’t completely bored by the topic.
Tuesday the BBWAA released its 2014 ballot. One of my favorite things in sports is the ballot listing almost any and all players who’ve been out of the game the requisite five years. Instead of scorn, we should applaud and laugh along with any writers who deem Jacque Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Steve Trachsel, etc. worthy of a vote when the balloting is revealed on Jan. 8.
Anyways, let’s look at the new names on the ballot, especially the guys who have actual shots at landing in Cooperstown.
Guys with a legit shot:
Greg Maddux: Finished with 355 wins, which will likely be a record for players who featured in the 21st century. Wins might not be a useful tool to evaluate pitchers, but Maddux had the reputation as the game’s best starter for nearly a decade and won four straight Cy Youngs from 1992-95. Maddux is a no-brainer on the first ballot. Moving on.
Tom Glavine: He hung on long enough to win 305 games, which most of the writers still value making him an automatic. Glavine is going to get in, if not the first ballot within the next year or two. Is it possible Glavine lived off his rep from the mid-90s Braves for a long time? His lifetime 1.314 WHIP and 5.3 strikeout-per-9 numbers don’t blow you away. Make no doubt, by the criteria in place, Glavine is a Hall of Famer. As time passes he’ll likely be mentioned more with the Don Sutton’s of the world, rather than the Tom Seavers.
Frank Thomas: Somehow, looking back, The Big Hurt feels underrated. I’d chalk this up to the 1994 player’s strike. Thomas won back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and 1994, but then managed to get lost in the shuffle when other guys bulked up and starting re-writing the record books. For a while there Thomas was right there with Ken Griffey Jr. as the face of the game and then faded away, despite being a productive player right up until he was 39 when he drove in 95 with the Blue Jays. Maybe the baseball world took Thomas for granted?
History is going to look kindly on Thomas retroactively, especially since we almost all consider him a “clean” player, if only through anecdotal evidence. Thomas himself has been outspoken against PED users during his era. Regardless of that, he hit over 40 homers five and finished with 521 to go along with a .301 lifetime batting average. It puts him alongside Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jr. , George Brett, Dave Winfield, Rafael Palmeiro, and Al Kaline as players with over 500 homers and a .300 lifetime average. Those might be “old school” measuring metrics, but however you add it up, Thomas should be an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Mike Mussina: Here’s what I know right now: Mussina isn’t going to get elected in 2014. My prediction, he’ll become the new Bert Blyleven — a player the new-school media will champion more and more with each passing ballot and eventually get elected down the road before his 15 years on the ballot are up, barely.
In a way you can define Mussina by his near-perfect game against the Red Sox, broken up with two outs in the ninth by Carl Everett in September, 2001. Very, very good if not ever truly great.
However you frame it, Mussina makes for a very compelling candidate with his 270 wins and lifetime 3.68 ERA. Nine times he finished in the Top 10 of the Cy Young Award balloting, including at ages 23 and 39, but never won it. There was something about Mussina that made the baseball media reluctant to paint him as one of the game’s elite for nearly two decades. It’s hard to put a finger on. All I know, and this isn’t a scientific Hall of Fame argument, if I had to win one game I’d hand the ball to Mussina ahead of both Maddux and Glavine.
Jeff Kent: Kent probably won’t get enough votes because of his reputation as a jerk. It’s good to know that for some writers, answering questions in a civil manner is more important, apparently, than on-field performance. All you need to know is Kent was the best offensive second baseman in baseball for a decade. His lifetime .855 OPS trails only Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer and Jackie Robinson of second baseman in Cooperstown. It’s also higher than Rod Carew, Eddie Collins and Joe Morgan.
Kent also won an MVP award with the 2000 San Francisco Giants in a year Barry Bonds hit 49 homers. I suppose this was the lesser of two evils for the writers. He should also get bonus points for keeping the traditional 1980s baseball porn mustache alive well into the new millennium.
Kent, rightly or wrongly, will probably end up judged by the writers with the same suspicion as Jeff Bagwell. They never failed a drug test but have been stigmatized by the era, making writers reluctant to simply look at their numbers when casting their ballots.
Moises Alou: Above-average player for 17 seasons, but falls short of the Hall of Fame. He’ll always have a spot in baseball history due to his very important role in the Steve Bartman play.
Not a chance:
Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham, Damion Easley, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, Luis Gonzalez, Scott Hatteberg, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Lo Duca, Matt Morris, Trot Nixon, Hideo Nomo, Jay Payton, Kenny Rogers, J.T. Snow, Shannon Stewart, Mike Timlin, Steve Trachsel, Jose Vidro.
Token Sympathy Vote:
Richie Sexson: I once took him in the first round of a fantasy draft, so he’d get my goof vote.
Best Player on the Ballot Who Was Once Cold-Cocked by Darryl Strawberry:
Armando Benitez: The two-time All-Star will always be remembered for inciting this epic Yankees/Orioles brawl. That alone is worth putting his name on the ballot.