Reflections on the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

As a lifelong baseball fan who grew to love the game in some of its most turbulent times, including the steroid era and 1994 strike, I have taken an increased interest in the annual Hall of Fame vote.  The men on the ballot in recent years, including this one and ones to come, were the giants of the diamond during my youth and early adulthood. 

There have been some tough individual cases in the past, such as the exclusion of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Pete Rose due to lifetime bans, but never before have so many players been cast under scrutiny for potentially tainting the legacy of America's pastime.  In the space below, I will fill you in on things you may not have known about the top candidates and will opine on whether or not they are getting in this year, or ever.

Jeff Bagwell, 1991-2005, Houston – First Baseman

.297 Average – 449 Home Runs – 1991 N.L. Rookie of the Year – 1994 N.L. MVP

Bagwell will easily get the call this year, his seventh on the ballot.  He has lasted this long due to the steroid stigma surrounding 1990s sluggers, though a smoking gun never surfaced against him.  Many observers consider Bagwell one of the greatest first basemen since Lou Gehrig, and for good reason.  He cleared 40 home runs in a season three times and 100 RBI nine times and even stole 30 bases on two occasions.  If I had a vote to be counted, he would have had it from the beginning.

Tim Raines, 1979-2002, Montreal, Chi. (A.L.), N.Y. (A.L.), Oakland, Baltimore, Florida – Outfielder

.294 Average – 2,605 Hits – 808 Stolen Bases – 7x All-Star – 3x WS Champion – 5th All-Time Steals

Admittedly, I didn't have Raines on my hypothetical ballot until this year.  Playing in Montreal didn't help him in the "fame" department, and by the time I started following the game, he was in decline.  However, his Reagan-era performance was one for the history books, with seven straight All-Star appearances from 1981-87, three seasons with an average over .320, and six consecutive seasons of 70 or more steals.  His early ballot returns show him going in easily (must receive 75% of vote) in his final year of eligibility.    

Ivan Rodriguez, 1991-2011, Texas, Florida, Detroit, N.Y. (A.L.), Houston, Washington – Catcher

.296 Average – 311 Home Runs – 46% Runners Caught Stealing – 2003 WS Champion – 1999 A.L. MVP

As with most 1990s stars coming up for Hall of Fame consideration, steroid speculation has been the nagging "what if?" in Pudge's case.  Early returns show him included on over 85% of ballots, so he just may sneak in on his first chance.  He is a no-doubter as an offensive catcher, whose rifle arm gunned down more than 50% of runners who tried to steal on him in eight separate seasons.  He's in by 2018. 

Vladimir Guerrero, 1996-2011, Montreal, Los Angeles (A.L.), Texas, Baltimore – Outfielder

.318 Average – 449 Home Runs – 2,590 Hits – 2004 A.L. MVP

Like Raines, Guerrero rose to stardom in the Montreal baseball graveyard but got enough big-market media exposure in Los Angeles to gain induction to Cooperstown quickly.  Blessed with one of the best arms you'll ever see, he hit over .310 nine times and struck out more than 90 times only once.  He's a deserving selection and is currently coming in just over the required threshold.  He will be close.         

Trevor Hoffman, 1993-2010, Florida, San Diego, Milwaukee – Pitcher

2.87 ERA – 601 Saves – 7x All-Star – 2nd All-Time Saves

Stats-based models don't think highly of Hoffman, who held the career saves record briefly before being passed by Mariano Rivera.  Trevor is slightly outpacing his 2015 first ballot performance (67.3%) but may end up just shy of induction this year.  Look for him to enter Cooperstown no later than 2018 thanks to a staggering total of 601 saves, including nine seasons with at least 40.  He wasn't flashy, but it is hard to leave him out if Bruce Sutter is in there. 

Curt Schilling, 1988-2007, Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, Arizona, Boston – Pitcher

216-146 W-L – 3.46 ERA – 3,116 Strikeouts – 6x All-Star – 3x WS Champion – 11-2 Postseason W-L

Schilling, one of the all-time great postseason pitchers, cleared 50% in last year's vote, his fourth; unfortunately, he is stuck this year, as many writers who voted for him last time are abstaining from doing so because his controversial political views hurt their feelings.  His regular season credentials are strong enough, but he's a postseason legend in the form of Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, and Red Ruffing.  He's confined to purgatory for now but should get in by the time ballots weaken in a few years.  

Mike Mussina, 1991-2008, Baltimore, New York (A.L.) – Pitcher

270-153 W-L – 3.68 ERA – 2,813 Strikeouts – 5x All-Star

Mussina has kept his opinions to himself, so he's gained roughly 20% from 2016 on released ballots thus far and is outpacing Schilling.  He lacks the postseason résumé Curt possesses and had his ERA bloated by the steroid-era American League, but only 12 Hall of Fame pitchers have a better winning percentage than he does (.638).  He will fall short this year but looks to go in by 2019 at the latest.

Roger Clemens, 1984-2007, Boston, Toronto, New York (A.L.), Houston – Pitcher

354-184 W-L – 3.12 ERA – 4,672 Strikeouts – 11x All-Star – 7x Cy Young – 2 20 strikeout games

and

Barry Bonds, 1986-2007, Pittsburgh, San Francisco – Outfielder

.298 Average – 762 Home Runs – .444 On-Base Percentage – 14x All-Star – 7x N.L. MVP

With no steroid controversy, Clemens and Bonds are two of the biggest slam dunks since the Hall opened in 1936.  Their numbers speak clearly, but Bug Selig's recent selection for Cooperstown effectively greases the skids for the stars of the era he presided over to get in as well.  Both are over 70% in early ballot releases this year, significantly higher than the mid-forties percentages they received a year ago.  At some point, a consensus must be reached at how baseball will remember the Juiced Era.  Personally, I feel that it will be hard to tell future generations about the game without the biggest stars of an era enshrined in the Hall.  Barring unforeseen developments, Bonds and Clemens will be inducted no later than 2018.         

Manny Ramirez, 1993-2011, Cleveland, Boston, L.A. (N.L.), Chicago (A.L.), Tampa Bay – Outfielder

.312 Average – 555 Home Runs – 12x All-Star – 2x WS Champ – 15th All-Time Home Runs

In spite of Selig's Hall of Fame selection, and the positive impact it has had for Bonds and Clemens, it appears that Ramirez, one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever, is paying the price for brazenly defying baseball after it got serious about ridding the game of steroids.  He was punished twice near the end of his career for positive tests and is coming in low with early ballot releases.  Unless attitudes change, Ramirez, and later Alex Rodriguez, may have a hard time getting in.     

Eventually

Edgar Martinez

Not Looking Good

Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa, Lee Smith, Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff

One and Done

Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordonez, Derrek Lee, Tim Wakefield, Edgar Renteria, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen, Casey Blake, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Pat Burrell, Freddy Sanchez, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Stairs

Seth Keshel, former Army captain and Afghanistan veteran, is a grassroots coordinator for the Convention of States Project – Texas.  He worked with two championship Ole Miss baseball teams in college and has worked as a strategist for several professional baseball players.

As a lifelong baseball fan who grew to love the game in some of its most turbulent times, including the steroid era and 1994 strike, I have taken an increased interest in the annual Hall of Fame vote.  The men on the ballot in recent years, including this one and ones to come, were the giants of the diamond during my youth and early adulthood. 

There have been some tough individual cases in the past, such as the exclusion of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Pete Rose due to lifetime bans, but never before have so many players been cast under scrutiny for potentially tainting the legacy of America's pastime.  In the space below, I will fill you in on things you may not have known about the top candidates and will opine on whether or not they are getting in this year, or ever.

Jeff Bagwell, 1991-2005, Houston – First Baseman

.297 Average – 449 Home Runs – 1991 N.L. Rookie of the Year – 1994 N.L. MVP

Bagwell will easily get the call this year, his seventh on the ballot.  He has lasted this long due to the steroid stigma surrounding 1990s sluggers, though a smoking gun never surfaced against him.  Many observers consider Bagwell one of the greatest first basemen since Lou Gehrig, and for good reason.  He cleared 40 home runs in a season three times and 100 RBI nine times and even stole 30 bases on two occasions.  If I had a vote to be counted, he would have had it from the beginning.

Tim Raines, 1979-2002, Montreal, Chi. (A.L.), N.Y. (A.L.), Oakland, Baltimore, Florida – Outfielder

.294 Average – 2,605 Hits – 808 Stolen Bases – 7x All-Star – 3x WS Champion – 5th All-Time Steals

Admittedly, I didn't have Raines on my hypothetical ballot until this year.  Playing in Montreal didn't help him in the "fame" department, and by the time I started following the game, he was in decline.  However, his Reagan-era performance was one for the history books, with seven straight All-Star appearances from 1981-87, three seasons with an average over .320, and six consecutive seasons of 70 or more steals.  His early ballot returns show him going in easily (must receive 75% of vote) in his final year of eligibility.    

Ivan Rodriguez, 1991-2011, Texas, Florida, Detroit, N.Y. (A.L.), Houston, Washington – Catcher

.296 Average – 311 Home Runs – 46% Runners Caught Stealing – 2003 WS Champion – 1999 A.L. MVP

As with most 1990s stars coming up for Hall of Fame consideration, steroid speculation has been the nagging "what if?" in Pudge's case.  Early returns show him included on over 85% of ballots, so he just may sneak in on his first chance.  He is a no-doubter as an offensive catcher, whose rifle arm gunned down more than 50% of runners who tried to steal on him in eight separate seasons.  He's in by 2018. 

Vladimir Guerrero, 1996-2011, Montreal, Los Angeles (A.L.), Texas, Baltimore – Outfielder

.318 Average – 449 Home Runs – 2,590 Hits – 2004 A.L. MVP

Like Raines, Guerrero rose to stardom in the Montreal baseball graveyard but got enough big-market media exposure in Los Angeles to gain induction to Cooperstown quickly.  Blessed with one of the best arms you'll ever see, he hit over .310 nine times and struck out more than 90 times only once.  He's a deserving selection and is currently coming in just over the required threshold.  He will be close.         

Trevor Hoffman, 1993-2010, Florida, San Diego, Milwaukee – Pitcher

2.87 ERA – 601 Saves – 7x All-Star – 2nd All-Time Saves

Stats-based models don't think highly of Hoffman, who held the career saves record briefly before being passed by Mariano Rivera.  Trevor is slightly outpacing his 2015 first ballot performance (67.3%) but may end up just shy of induction this year.  Look for him to enter Cooperstown no later than 2018 thanks to a staggering total of 601 saves, including nine seasons with at least 40.  He wasn't flashy, but it is hard to leave him out if Bruce Sutter is in there. 

Curt Schilling, 1988-2007, Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, Arizona, Boston – Pitcher

216-146 W-L – 3.46 ERA – 3,116 Strikeouts – 6x All-Star – 3x WS Champion – 11-2 Postseason W-L

Schilling, one of the all-time great postseason pitchers, cleared 50% in last year's vote, his fourth; unfortunately, he is stuck this year, as many writers who voted for him last time are abstaining from doing so because his controversial political views hurt their feelings.  His regular season credentials are strong enough, but he's a postseason legend in the form of Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, and Red Ruffing.  He's confined to purgatory for now but should get in by the time ballots weaken in a few years.  

Mike Mussina, 1991-2008, Baltimore, New York (A.L.) – Pitcher

270-153 W-L – 3.68 ERA – 2,813 Strikeouts – 5x All-Star

Mussina has kept his opinions to himself, so he's gained roughly 20% from 2016 on released ballots thus far and is outpacing Schilling.  He lacks the postseason résumé Curt possesses and had his ERA bloated by the steroid-era American League, but only 12 Hall of Fame pitchers have a better winning percentage than he does (.638).  He will fall short this year but looks to go in by 2019 at the latest.

Roger Clemens, 1984-2007, Boston, Toronto, New York (A.L.), Houston – Pitcher

354-184 W-L – 3.12 ERA – 4,672 Strikeouts – 11x All-Star – 7x Cy Young – 2 20 strikeout games

and

Barry Bonds, 1986-2007, Pittsburgh, San Francisco – Outfielder

.298 Average – 762 Home Runs – .444 On-Base Percentage – 14x All-Star – 7x N.L. MVP

With no steroid controversy, Clemens and Bonds are two of the biggest slam dunks since the Hall opened in 1936.  Their numbers speak clearly, but Bug Selig's recent selection for Cooperstown effectively greases the skids for the stars of the era he presided over to get in as well.  Both are over 70% in early ballot releases this year, significantly higher than the mid-forties percentages they received a year ago.  At some point, a consensus must be reached at how baseball will remember the Juiced Era.  Personally, I feel that it will be hard to tell future generations about the game without the biggest stars of an era enshrined in the Hall.  Barring unforeseen developments, Bonds and Clemens will be inducted no later than 2018.         

Manny Ramirez, 1993-2011, Cleveland, Boston, L.A. (N.L.), Chicago (A.L.), Tampa Bay – Outfielder

.312 Average – 555 Home Runs – 12x All-Star – 2x WS Champ – 15th All-Time Home Runs

In spite of Selig's Hall of Fame selection, and the positive impact it has had for Bonds and Clemens, it appears that Ramirez, one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever, is paying the price for brazenly defying baseball after it got serious about ridding the game of steroids.  He was punished twice near the end of his career for positive tests and is coming in low with early ballot releases.  Unless attitudes change, Ramirez, and later Alex Rodriguez, may have a hard time getting in.     

Eventually

Edgar Martinez

Not Looking Good

Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa, Lee Smith, Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff

One and Done

Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordonez, Derrek Lee, Tim Wakefield, Edgar Renteria, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen, Casey Blake, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Pat Burrell, Freddy Sanchez, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Stairs

Seth Keshel, former Army captain and Afghanistan veteran, is a grassroots coordinator for the Convention of States Project – Texas.  He worked with two championship Ole Miss baseball teams in college and has worked as a strategist for several professional baseball players.