Now that all the votes have been cast in this year’s Hall of Fame election, I can let you in on a little secret.
The whole process has become so convoluted that a longtime baseball writer like me could tell you early last month that there aren’t really any worthy candidates this time around and then put a check beside seven names on the 28-player ballot.
The system, which allows qualified members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) to select up to 10 players, seems to work pretty well, but trying to discern any rhyme or reason in the process is akin to eating soup with a fork.
The 400 or so voters have just a one-sentence guideline from the Hall of Fame to help them in their deliberations: “Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Thanks for clearing that up. Three of the six pillars of HOF eligibility presented above are basically synonyms that leave voters to decide whether a player is actually a good human while, in most cases, having scant first-hand knowledge on which to base such a subjective judgment. The other three are a lot easier to apply, but the soup is just murky enough to allow every voter to create his or her own individual standard for Hall of Fame worthiness.
Which brings us back to me and my seven-player ballot, which includes Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Francisco Rodríguez.
Remember, I really was the guy who wrote in early December that the overall quality of the players on the ballot was so uninspiring that there is a pretty good chance that the only player inducted at Cooperstown in July would come from the Contemporary Era Committee, which chose Fred McGriff at the start of baseball’s Winter Meetings. We’ll find out if I was on the right track when the results are announced January 24th.
The only candidates with classic HOF resumes are going to trip over those three character moguls. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez have tremendous career numbers, but were way too prominent in baseball’s performance-enhancing drug scandal. Pitcher Andy Pettitte isn’t in quite the same ballpark but would be a much more viable HOF candidate if he had not shown up in the Mitchell Report and admitted to using Human Growth Hormone.
The steroid hawks in the BBWAA have already dispensed with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, so you know the ARod, Ramirez and Pettite candidacies aren’t going anywhere soon, and it will be interesting to see how the voters handle nine-time All-Star and first-year candidate Carlos Beltrán, who played a big role in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.
I’m guessing Beltrán’s vote total will reflect a less militant standard when it comes to on-field cheating, but he doesn’t have slam-dunk HOF fame credentials, so it may be a few years before it’s possible to gauge the impact of scandal on his candidacy. Early vote trackers have him being named on more than 50 percent of ballots, which would suggest he could gain induction fairly quickly unless there is enduring Astrogate resistance among the other half of the electorate.
None of those four players got a check mark on my ballot, but you probably noticed that one player with known steroid connections did. Gary Sheffield admitted early on that he used a banned steroid cream and was tangentially connected to the BALCO PED scandal through his friendship with Bonds, but he gets a pass from me because he insisted that he didn’t know it was a steroid at the time and was an early proponent of mandatory steroid testing.
You see, the latitude allowed in the BBWAA voting process pretty much let me create my own standard for judging Sheffield’s career. He was a dominant, dynamic nine-time All-Star with obvious HOF offensive numbers (509 home runs, 1,676 RBIs) who ranked among the top three vote-getters in MVP balloting three times.
The early trackers, which represent about a third of the total votes, also suggest that Rolen and Helton will gain induction, which would be just fine with me. Rolen’s career numbers are not off the charts, but he was a terrific all-around player with eight All-Star appearances and nine Gold Gloves, and who was named on 63 percent of the ballots last year.
Helton’s numbers are unassailable, but he has been penalized for playing his entire career in Colorado and putting up his biggest numbers during a period when Coors Field was an absolute hitter’s paradise. He definitely benefited from the thin air of the Mile High City, but there are a number of Hall of Famers whose offensive numbers were enhanced by playing in stadiums with short porches or a Green Monster.
Not sure that Wagner will make it to the 75 percent threshold for induction, but I voted for him because he had a Hall of Fame career in a role that only recently has gotten sufficient respect from HOF voters. I also voted for Francisco Rodríguez, who probably won’t get much love from the BBWAA. Just felt he needed to be recognized for ranking fourth on baseball’s all-time save list and for being one of the game’s most dominant relievers during the early 2000s, albeit for too short a period to make a strong enough case for Cooperstown.
Andruw Jones was on the ballot for the sixth time after barely cracking 40 percent last year, but – based on recent vote tracking – seems to be benefitting from the less star-studded 2023 ballot. He got my vote because his career numbers are decent and, from 1998-2007, was the best defensive outfielder in the game and won 10 straight Gold Gloves to prove it.
Spent a lot of time going back and forth on Jeff Kent, who in his prime was one of the most dangerous offensive second baseman in the game. He averaged 28 home runs and 110 RBIs over a nine-year span with the Giants and Astros and was the National League MVP in 2000. Don’t think he’ll jump all the way from 33 percent last year to induction in his final year of eligibility, but I loved his hard-scrabble attitude and the way he gave no ground to Bonds in the Giants clubhouse.
So, I threw him a vote and still had three left unused. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t sure he was going to vote for anybody when the ballot arrived in the mail.