If you’ve been keeping up so far, you know it’s time to finish off the 35-man Hall of Fame ballot with our final five. Each of these candidates received, at minimum, 51.2% of the vote last year. In addition, all five of these candidates have been on the ballot for at least six years with one up for the final season before he falls off the ballot. We have reached the elite of the elite here, readers. But with each candidate, there’s that one thing – and not that one thing Curly talked about in City Slackers. No, in this case, that one thing is keeping them out of the Hall of Fame. Judging by the early returns on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame tracker, with roughly 19% of the estimated ballots already available, at least two of the five I’ll profile today have a good shot of getting in.
One thing to keep in mind. With the selection of Lee Smith to the Hall of Fame, every player except for Gil Hodges who has ever received at least 50% of the vote at some point – excluding those that are active on this ballot – have eventually made it to the Hall of Fame. Some had to wait for a Committee to step in, but it happened for them. Eventually. That’s important because each of these five passed that 50% mark last year.
Stay around through the profiles as the Walk-Off Walk ballot will be revealed. This ballot won’t count, but all five of us got together to see what our ballot might look like. Much like the actual Hall of Fame criteria, a player had to be on 75% of the ballots – in this case, at least four. But first, let’s look at the 50% Club.
Hall of Fame Week 2018
.312/.418/.515, 309 HR, 56.0 JAWS
When it comes to pure hitting, few were better after 1990 than Martinez. From 1990 until 2001, Martinez raked at a .321 clip, averaging 21 homers and 36 doubles along the way. He twice won batting titles in 1992 and 1995 and also led the league in on-base percentage three times with a absurd .479 in 1995. He was named an All-Star six times, finished as high as third in the MVP race, and won five Silver Sluggers. He ranks in the Top 100 all-time in batting average while his career OBP is the 21st-best ever. He ranks just outside the Top 50 in doubles with 514.
But that one thing? You already know the answer – he was a DH. Of the 2055 games he played in his career, 1403 came as a DH. Which is fine if that’s your argument, but Paul Molitor played 1174 games at DH compared to 1495 games in the field. He gets a pass? Frank Thomas played over 300 more games at DH than he did first base. He gets a pass? Both were first-ballot Hall of Famers. Now, of course, their overall cases are much better than Martinez, but the DH argument is a bit flimsy in my mind. If the game allows it, who are you to ding them for it?
One of the developments that only helped Martinez was related to a recent decision by an Eras Committee for the Hall of Fame to elect Harold Baines. Is it right that Martinez, a much better overall hitter than Baines, has to wait for his own Committee vote later down the line as this is it for Martinez? He’s not on the ballot next year. Fortunately, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Martinez will be elected. Consider one, he passed 70% of the vote last year, coming up about 20 votes short. With a little less than 20% of the ballots known at this point, Martinez has picked up a net gain of eight votes. He’s also received all four of the votes from first-time votes. The momentum is in his favor for inclusion this year.
270-153, 3.68 ERA, 63.8 JAWS
Also riding some momentum is Mussina, who came 49 votes short last year and has the third best net gain for votes with 10. Mussina is a body-of-work guy. He never won a Cy Young, though he finished in the Top 5 six times including a runner-up in 1999. He was durable and rarely missed a start, including in his final year when, at the age of 39, he reached the 200-inning threshold for the eleventh time. He was a five-time All-Star and was a gifted defender, winning seven Gold Gloves. Only 32 pitchers have more wins than “Moose.”
But that one thing? Saying Mussina is a body-of-work guy is a nice way of saying he was never considered one of the best pitchers. Part of that was his pitching style which didn’t lend itself to many big strikeout seasons – though he did have four 200-K campaigns. Another part is simply Mussina being underrated. Eighteen years in the AL East during an era of hyper-offense in a pair of home parks that aren’t kind to pitchers and you end up with an ERA of 3.68? It’s more impressive than it seems at first glance. But the biggest reason is simply that Mussina, while very good, was almost never elite. He was very good in a lot of ways. Often, those type of players fail to make it to the Hall.
But being a body-of-work guy isn’t the worst thing when you have nearly two decades of almost-always very good pitching. Yeah, he didn’t win a Cy Young and he never led the league in K’s. He wasn’t Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson. But he was plenty good and seems like a good bet to join the Hall this time around.
216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3116 K, 64.1 JAWS
If you’re searching for dominance, you found it. Schilling led his league five times in K/BB rate, passed the 300-strikeout barrier three times with two strikeout titles, and of his four Top-5 Cy Young finished, three were runner-ups. A workhorse when healthy, Schilling twice led the NL in innings pitched and four times led the Senior Circuit in complete games. He took home both an NLCS MVP against the Braves in 1993 and a World Series MVP against the Yankees back in 2001 as a member of the Diamondbacks. That was his first of three rings. Of course, we all remember the Bloody Sock game. In 19 starts in the postseason, Schilling had a 2.23 ERA, threw two shutouts, and had a WHIP under 1.00. Of the 14 people with more strikeouts, the only one not in the Hall of Fame is Roger Clemens.
But that one thing? Like it or not, Schilling is being hurt by who Schilling is over what Schilling was. Since retiring, Schilling has embraced a philosophy that, to use an understatement, rubs many people the wrong way. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) has used an interpretation of the character clause that some feel is inappropriate, but regardless, it’s keeping Schilling out so far. And let’s be fair and say that Schilling has doubled-down on many of his statements which have been classified by some as either racist, transphobic, or white nationalist. I don’t want to really get tied down to the specifics here and what he said when and all that. You can find many of the instances I brought up with a quick internet search.
Should the actions off the field overshadow a player’s contributions on? Certainly, it has in the past. And should comments and actions after retirement prompt likely Schilling voters to jump ship? Whether you agree or not, that’s been the direction of things. Of course, to what degree is it fair to hold perceived character flaws against potential members of the Hall? Did Chipper Jones not commit adultery much like Babe Ruth also did? Isn’t that an even worse offense as it actually occurred whereas Schilling’s politics, whether you find them reprehensible or not, are not exactly destroying people’s lives?
Schilling should be in the Hall. I don’t look forward to a speech he’ll likely give roasting those that voted against him and how long it took. I don’t think he’ll have the level of appreciation or gratefulness for this opportunity like 98% of all those that are fortunate enough to join the Hall of Fame. And I won’t be upset if he misses out and has to wait another year. It’s hard to feel sympathy for such a toxic person.
354-184, 3.12 ERA, 4672 K, 102.8 JAWS
.298/.444/.607, 762 HR, 514 SB, 117.8 JAWS
There’s really no point in splitting up these two. Both last played in 2002. Both won the ultimate individual award typically available for them more times than anyone else (Bonds has 7 MVPs while Clemens has 7 Cy Youngs). Bonds won eight Gold Gloves, two batting titles, and twice led the league in homers on his way to the most homers in history. Clemens led the league in ERA seven times, won an MVP, and picked up five strikeout titles along the way. Bonds went to 12 All-Star Games, Clemens went to 11. Bonds took home a dozen Silver Sluggers while Clemens picked up picked up a pair of World Series rings as a member of the Yankees. Only nine players have ever reached a score of 100 in JAWS, one of the most popular measurements of worthiness for inclusion in the Hall. Henry Aaron, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Cy Young along with Bonds and Clemens. That’s the entire list.
But that one thing? This may shock you, but it has to do with Steroids. Shortly after 1998, Bonds began to work with Greg Anderson and BALCO so that Bonds could keep up with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s power numbers. The next spring, he shed the lean look for a muscle-bound one. Two years later, he broke the single-season home run title. Bonds continues to refuse that he knowingly took steroids. Clemens’ likely begun shortly before Bonds during Clemens’ time with the Blue Jays. Like with Bonds, it has never been proven that Clemens knowingly took any illegal substance/PED.
Nevertheless, there is more than enough smoke here to consider both likely PED users. And that’s why two of the best to ever play the game are in their seventh year on the ballot. Both are off to decent starts with around 72-73% of the voter, but neither is flipping votes. Both players have landed on just one ballot that they weren’t on last year – the same one by Bill Center. And while it’s still early – we haven’t yet reached 20% of the estimated amount of ballots – momentum is a huge thing for players who have been on the ballot awhile. Last season, Edgar Martinez had a net gain of 36 votes from returning voters. Mike Mussina had 31 and Larry Walker hit 40 when it came to net gain. The previous year, Martinez had a net gain of 48, Mussina added 26, and Walker added 17. Momentum is key and now, Martinez and Mussina are favorites to join the Hall this year while Walker could come close.
That same year, 2017, Bonds and Clemens saw a 27 vote net gain. But that momentum was halted last year when Bonds only gained one vote while Clemens gained three. Their slow starts this year are just as noteworthy. Will they ever get enough support? Probably. But it likely won’t be this year.
The Walk-Off Walk Ballot
To close up this week of Hall of Fame articles, I asked the other four members of the blog – Ryan Cothran, Michael Francis, Stephen Tolbert, and Brittni Swanson – to give me their ballot. Four of us went with 10-person ballots while Brittni had nine on her ballot.
Here are the results: Getting votes from all five of us are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, and Roy Halladay. Those six will be joined by Mike Mussina, Larry Walker, and Scott Rolen to make our nine-person ballot.
Andruw Jones came one vote short as Stephen and I left him off. Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez (Stephen), Fred McGriff (Brittni), and Todd Helton (me) all received one vote.
What’s your ballot look like? Here’s a link with all of the potential members of the 2019 class.