2023 BBWAA HOF Ballot: Three return with cases and controversies

Manny Ramírez

“A savant in the batter’s box . . . an idiot everywhere else.”—Jay Jaffe, on Manny Ramírez.

But wait . . . there’s more! Namely, the rest of the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballot, the candidates returning for another go-round. They’re not going to Cooperstown. Three in particular have actual Hall cases but aren’t likely to go this time, and maybe not for a few more times—if at all—before their BBWAA ballot eligibility expires.

Two were murderers at the plate. One was a shortstop acrobat. Two were considered head cases while they played; the acrobat’s days since his career ended have fallen into deep enough disrepute. The murderers at the plate are Manny Ramírez (LF) and Gary Sheffield (RF); the acrobat at shortstop is Omar Vizquel.

There are ten left fielders, eleven right fielders, and ten shortstops in the Hall of Fame who played their careers all or mostly in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era. The following table shows Ramírez, Sheffield, and Vizquel according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. The parenthetic numbers next to their names indicate their positioning among those Hall of Famers at their positions, if they do become Hall of Famers themselves:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Manny Ramírez (LF; 2) 9774 4826 1329 216 90 109 .672
Gary Sheffield (RF; 6) 10947 4737 1475 130 111 135 .602
Omar Vizquel (SS; 9) 12013 3727 1028 25 94 49 .409

Manny Being Manny

Manny Ramírez’s Hall of Fame case is entirely in his bat. He’s got the numbers at the plate for enshrinement. No questions asked. He also has the attitude history (Manny Being Manny) and issues that made him as big a pain in the butt to his own teams as he was to opposing pitchers.

First, we’ll address his defense. It all but didn’t exist. Ramírez wasn’t just below his league average for the traditional fielding percentage and range factors, his career finished with him being worth -109 defensive runs below his league average. He should have been a designated hitter. (And, was—for a mere fourteen percent of his 2,302 lifetime games.)

The best side of Ramírez was that, in Cleveland and Boston especially, he was known for a tremendous work ethic. He all but included that in his thinking when he said, so memorably, after winning the 2004 World Series MVP as those Red Sox swept the Cardinals to break the actual/alleged curse, “I don’t believe in curse, I believe you make your own destiny.”

That was the blessing. And, the big problem. Because Ramírez made his own destiny, all right, perhaps encapsulated best by The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe: “A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramírez could be an idiot just about everywhere else—sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so.”

Any amusement factor in Manny Being Manny died long before his playing career finally did. You can hark back to all the times he seemed to want out of Boston, and the time the Red Sox put him on irrevocable waivers after the 2003 season only to find no takers—even knowing a claiming team would have to surrender no talent in return.

The Yankees could have had afforded the remaining five years/$104 million on his contract, Jaffe noted; they reached for Gary Sheffield, instead, and Sheffield was seen as his own kind of head case. The Angels could have had afforded him, too; they reached, instead, for Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, who became an Anaheim fan favourite his entire time there.

As Jaffe reminds us:

There was the time in 1997 that [Ramírez] “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought [Hall of Famer] Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch . . . the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off center fielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about thirty feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run . . . the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first . . . and so much more.

. . . But there was also a darker side, one that, particularly after he left the Indians, went beyond the litany of late arrivals to spring training, questionable absences due to injury (particularly for the All-Star Game), and near-annual trade requests. Most notably, there was his shoving match with 64-year-old Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick in 2008, which prefigured Ramirez’s trade to the Dodgers that summer, and a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence/battery in 2011 after his wife told an emergency operator that her husband had slapped her face, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of the bed. (That domestic violence charge was later dropped after his wife refused to testify.) Interspersed with those two incidents were a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, the second of which ran him out of the majors.

Those suspensions for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances were handed down to him after the so-called Wild West Era during which the rules were that there were no rules. They may also have handed down the final portion of his blockage from the Hall of Fame in the end.

But if you were to establish a Hall of Their Own Worst Enemies, Ramírez would likely be first ballot, unanimous. More’s the pity.

Sheffield of Dreams

Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield, a study in destruction at the plate whose defense undermines his Hall of Fame case drastically.

Strictly by his counting statistics, Gary Sheffield has a Hall of Fame case. His talent was as outsized as his reputation for self-centricity. He was a study in pending destruction at the plate and he had a concurrent one-for-one-and-all-for-Gary reputation. He also found himself mistrustful of team management after his first team, the Brewers, absolutely mishandled him starting with an injury first mis-detected.

Sheffield also had a very strange problem for a guy whose career came largely in a high-offense era and who could invoke terror with one swing: he played too much in home parks that didn’t really favour righthanded hitters. (His time in Dodger Stadium was an exception; he hit very well there.) That plus the nagging injuries he battled for much of his career land Sheffield in a strange position.

For all his home runs (509), for all that he sits in the top 25 for walks and runs created, his offensive winning percentage (.687) puts him just inside the top one hundred. A player that talented with his kind of stats should have pulled up a lot higher. Especially since he was far enough more difficult to strike out than to walk—lifetime, Sheffield walked exactly 300 times more than he struck out.

If you look at him according to wins above replacement-level player (WAR), Sheffield’s defensive deficiences slaughter him, fat worse than Ramírez’s do him. Sheffield had a fine throwing arm but his -195 fielding runs below league average left him the second lowest of all time. It’s the reason why his peak and career WAR are well below the Hall of Fame standard for right fielders.

In some ways Sheffield was a wronged man. When the Brewers sent him down early in his career after accusing him of faking an injury, he wanted out and badly. He tended to nuke more than burn bridges when he felt he was done wrong. He was also accused falsely of tanking plays with the Brewers after a hard wild throw in the minors caused a rift with a manager who subsequently apologised to him.

He got dinged by the BALCO case when it turned out he really might have been tricked into using an actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance. It’s also important to know that that occurred before baseball finally faced the issue and implemented testings and penalties, and Sheffield didn’t exactly make it his life’s indulgence.

Even the hardest-line writers against actual or alleged PEDs inclined to give Sheffield the benefit of the doubt, including and especially Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, a man not known to suffer actual or alleged PEDs and their users gladly:

Sheffield is the only star I know who, as an active player, without provocation admitted to using steroids; he did so in a 2004 SI story I wrote. Why would he make an admission? Because, he told me, he had testified under oath that he had been duped into using them.

Sheffield said he told the BALCO grand jury the previous year that [Barry] Bonds arranged for him to use “the cream,” “the clear” and “red beans,” which prosecutors identified as steroid pills from Mexico. Sheffield, however, said he was told the substances were legal arthritic balms or nutritional supplements . . . When he later learned that the BALCO products were steroids, he told me, “I was mad. I want everybody to be on an even playing field.”

That’s it; we have no evidence that ties Sheffield to steroids other than those several weeks before the 2002 season when Sheffield lived at Bonds’s home. Even during that 2002 season, when players were resisting the idea of steroid testing, Sheffield spoke out in favor of it [see here], saying, “I would like to see testing. I mean you see how much guys are using it. Unless you’ve got something to hide, you won’t mind testing, right?”

There are far more prickly men in the Hall of Fame than him. There are Hall of Famers who were their own worst enemies to a far greater extent. There are such players (see Ramírez, Manny, for one) who have been and will be kept out of Cooperstown. Sheffield may end up having to wait for the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee to send him there, but he wasn’t just a study in likely destruction at the plate. His terrible fielding undermines it far more, but he has a genuine Hall of Fame case.

If he makes it at last, Sheffield probably won’t be one hundredth as controversial a Hall of Famer as Harold Baines is (for his record, not his person) and Curt Schilling may yet become. (For his person, not his record, which is now before that Contemporary Era Committee.)

The Rubaiyat of Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel, a Hall-worthy candidate as a defensive shortstop, but whose domestic abuse and sexual harassment issues may block his entry.

Even if I believe the Hall of Fame should pay a lot more attention to run prevention, and I do, I’m not settled firmly on either side of yes or no regarding Vizquel. But that’s taken strictly on field terms. The in-depth revelation of domestic violence accusations, plus subsequent sexual harassment accusations while he managed in the White Sox system, affected his Hall vote last year, may yet obstruct his path entirely, and leaves me with a taste in my mouth that’s comparable to a castor oil martini.

I once sketched a rather elaborate take on why you should vote for Vizquel if you’re going to vote for him. It hooked mostly around the impression a) that he wasn’t as close to being the second coming of Ozzie Smith as people remember him being, though he looked that way; but, b) that he was the outstanding defensive shortstop of the 1990s. If you’re talking about players whose major or sole selling point is defense and enough of it, and have the highlight reels to back them up, Vizquel in the ’90s certainly looks like The One.

His acrobatics happened often enough to convince lots of Gold Glove voters in those years. But the bad news is that Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. was better with the glove in that decade . . . and he didn’t play the position past 1996 except for three games in 1998. Even playing less of that decade than Vizquel played at shortstop, Ripken was worth a lot more defensive runs above the league average.

Ripken wasn’t quite the acrobat Vizquel often was, but Ripken did the job in the field very well above league average. Vizquel was worth +128 fielding runs lifetime; Ripken was worth that just from 1990-96. If you want to put a defense-first lineup out there, take the shortstop worth +181 lifetime fielding runs (third in history behind Mark Belanger and Ozzie Smith) over the one worth +128.

Now think of the two-way lineup, the lineup full of men who’d be Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball. Who are you really going to choose at shortstop—the guy with the 112 OPS+ (Ripken) or the guy with the 82 OPS+ (Vizquel)?

Vizquel turned up a few hits shy of 3,000 in 22 seasons. (He also walked only 58 fewer times than he struck out.) But it isn’t just milestones or totals that make a Hall of Famer. His real other apparent selling point is his longevity, and I’ve bumped into only too many people around the baseball forums who want to put him in on the Harold Baines factor: that the Hall of Fame won’t be soiled if it’s the Hall of the Gold Watch.

Well, yes it will. And, yes it is. That argument doesn’t fly. Just because one Era Committee was foolish enough to elect Baines it doesn’t mean he should be any sort of Hall of Fame standard. It’s rare enough for a player to get two decades in the big leagues, of course, but by itself that isn’t and shouldn’t be enough for the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame is supposed to be about greatness, not time in service, other than the ten-season minimum for eligibility. Greatness, not mere acrobatics. (Anyone who thinks Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith got to Cooperstown merely by being acrobats on the left side of the infield doesn’t know their actual run-prevention records.) Greatness, not merely showing up for work every day. (Once and for all: there was a lot more to Cal Ripken, Jr. than just breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak.)

Vizquel shakes out as the number 42 shortstop of all-time. Ripken, in case you wondered, shakes out as number three. Álex Rodríguez shakes out as number two, but he’s there strictly because of his hitting—he wasn’t anywhere near Vizquel or Ripken defensively. (A-Rod, of course, has his own controversies shadowing his Hall candidacy.)

You don’t have to compare Vizquel to Ripken exclusively to try making his Hall of Fame case. I’m not entirely convinced that being just inside the top fifty by eight equals a Hall of Famer, either. Just off that alone, I could be persuaded one way or another. But his  domestic violence/sexual harassment issues (before you think about feeling terrible for him, you should feel more terrible for his victims) make his Hall entry less likely than they might have been before those came to sad light.

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Some of the foregoing has been published previously.

Big Papi leads my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

David Ortiz

David Ortiz, Hall of Famer in waiting. 

It would be nice to think that the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s annual Hall of Fame voting can be more than merely symbolic in the bigger picture. Not just because I happen to be a life member, but for reasons I enunciated in a previous essay addressing how to adjust the Hall vote.

Including that we of the IBWAA aren’t just a gaggle of bathrobe scribblers. We do have members of the Baseball Writers Association of America among us. But we also have a flock of very dedicated writers who watch baseball and think hard about the game we love, at least as hard as the average “legitimate” reporter/commentator.

We think hard about the Hall of Fame, too. We want to see the worthy get their due. We cringe with everyone else when the less worthy stand at the Cooperstown podium. We lament when the worthy don’t get their due. We want to see the Hall of Fame represent geniune greatness, not mere sentiment or a kind of gold or platinum watch.

Our baseball hearts break with anyone else’s, too, when we see men on the ballot we thought looked to be Hall of Famers in the making when they first hit the field or the mound only to be waylaid for assorted sad reasons.

There’s sadness enough on this year’s Hall ballot. But there’s also joy enough. And, additional or recurring controversy enough. That’s one, two, three bases, you’re in at the old ball game’s vote for the game’s highest known honour. Let’s hope that, this time, between the BBWAA, the Golden Era Committee, and the Early Baseball Committee, they step up with the bases loaded and knock it right out of the park.

We of the IBWAA vote only for those on the BBWAA ballot. More’s the pity, because I’d love to see us make ourselves known about the Golden Era and Early Baseball Committees’ candidates. (Frankly, I’d love to have even a symbolic hand in giving their due  to Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil, and Tubby Scales.)

Following will be my Hall votes this time around, and why, symbolic though they are. You may notice no review of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. That’s because the IBWAA already “elected” them and thus removed them from our annual ballot. In the real world, of course, neither Bonds nor Clemens are in yet. They’re also now on their final real-world BBWAA ballots. (So, for that matter, is Sammy Sosa.)

They’re still hobbled by, you know, that stuff with actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances. Never mind that a) they’re believed to have indulged during the pre-testing, so-called Wild West PED era of the 1990s/early Aughts; or, b) they had Hall of Fame credentials to burn before the points at which they became suspect.

But on with it. There’s only one BBWAA ballot newcomer getting my vote:

 

David Ortiz 

Big Papi is problematic for one reason only: that anonymous 2003 testing that 1) turned him up positive but 2) was supposed to be anonymous and to determine just how broad a testing program to come should be. And even Commissioner Nero has said, often enough, that there was enough false positive doubt to remove the taint from him.

Ortiz didn’t even know about that anonymously-tested positive for a few years to follow . . . and he never flunked a drug test in thirteen years once the mandatory testing programs began in earnest not long afterward.

The anti-DH bias doesn’t hold anymore, not with Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez in the Hall of Fame, it doesn’t. (Harold Baines, you say? Sorry, that was a Today’s Game Committee mistake—a big mistake. Baines was and remains a classic Hall of the Gold Watch player and nothing much more than that. The Today’s Game Committee decided to give him the platinum watch of a plaque in Cooperstown. Nobody says I have to agree with it or keep my mouth shut about it.)

But as a designated hitter, especially once he joined the Red Sox, this guy was a wrecking machine. Not given much of a shot with the Twins while they still played at home in the old Metrodome, Ortiz going to the Red Sox got a big boost right out of the chute: he moved from a home “park” that wasn’t so great for him to one that was.

He also moved from a team that wasn’t as good as the 2003 Red Sox were at putting men on base for him to drive in. He’d given previous hints to what he could do in the postseason; then, in 2004, he damn near became the postseason with what he did to help the Red Sox overthrow the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Ortiz helped the Red Sox break the actual or alleged Curse of the Bambino at last and helped them to two more World Series rings before he was finished at last. He was nothing to trifle with in the postseason overall (.289/.404/.543; seventeen home runs; .947 OPS) but he was a weapon of mass destruction in the World Series. (.455/.576/.795 in fourteen World Series games; 1.372 OPS; nine of twenty Series hits going for extra bases including three over the fences.)

Big Papi was must-see everything once he flipped the switch and went from good to great to off the charts at the plate. That’s before considering he finished his career with 541 home runs, 1,192 extra base hits total, and 48 percent of his hits going for extra bases overall. He’s also one of only three men to finish their careers with 500+ home runs and 600+ doubles: the others are Bonds and Hall of Famer Henry Aaron.

So how does Ortiz stack among the Hall of Fame DHs according to my Real Batting Average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances)?

DH PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Frank Thomas 10,075 4550 1667 168 121 87 .654
David Ortiz 10,091 4765 1319 209 92 38 .637
Edgar Martinez 8674 3718 1283 113 77 89 .609
Harold Baines 11,092 4604 1062 187 99 14 .538
HOF AVG .610

Ortiz is only fourteen RBA points behind Thomas and 28 points ahead of Martinez, and he’s 27 points above the Hall average for DHs. (Yes, that’s Baines 72 points below the Hall’s DH average—considering those who spent all or the majority of their careers in the role.)

You know something? Yes, let’s get it out of the way, since there’s been more than a little carping from the anti-DH crowd: Ortiz played 265 games at first base lifetime . . . and he wasn’t terrible at it.

He didn’t have a lot of range, but he was only three points below his league average for fielding percentage, he was only seven defensive runs saved below the league average, and he had decent hands that enabled him to turn more than a few double plays. We’re not exactly talking about the second coming of Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart here.

But we are talking about the arguable second-greatest full-time DH ever to check in at the plate. We’re also talking about a guy who avoided more than a few Red Sox scandals during the heat of his career there (they don’t remember Papi Being Papi with due derision) and a guy who could and often did put the entire city on his back when disaster or terrible mass crime struck.

Who can forget This is our [fornicating] city! that Opening Day following the Marathon bombing and launching the Red Sox to their third World Series conquest with Ortiz in the lineup? Just pray that, during his Cooperstown induction speech, Big Papi doesn’t surrender to the overwhelming temptation to holler, This is our [fornicating] Hall of Fame!

 

The rest of my yes votes

Todd Helton—Unlike Hall of Famer Larry Walker, the Toddfather never got the chance to show what he could do with a park other than Coors Field as his home park. Even with the width of his home/road splits, though, Helton hit respectably enough on the road that you’d have a hard time convincing anyone that he wasn’t as Hall of Fame as a first baseman gets.

Helton also crosses the average Hall of Famer’s batting threshold according to Bill James’s Monitor and Standards measures, and his peak value is a few points above the average Hall of Fame first baseman. He was a rare bird who walked more than he struck out, was an on-base machine (.414. lifetime on-base percentage), and he was deadlier at the plate with men in scoring position than he was with the bases empty.

He wasn’t the second coming of Keith Hernandez at first base, but he was a well above-average defender. That still sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.

Andruw Jones—I’m pretty sure people still have a near-impossible time reconciling Jones’s too-staggering decline phase to his peak through age 29. It started with his final, injury-marred Atlanta season, and continued so profoundly in Los Angeles that he became indifferent enough to be a sad punch line before he was finally bought out of his deal.

But that peak should still be enough to make Jones a Hall of Famer. He wasn’t just a Hall-level hitter before those later-career health issues, but he was way off the proverbial charts as a run-preventive center fielder. He had a great throwing arm, a genius for finding sure routes to balls despite his habitual shallow positioning, and both elevated him where it mattered the most—and not just in the highlight reels, either.

Jones retired with the second-most defensive runs saved above his league average for any player at any position—only Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson’s +293 out-rank Jones’s +253. Jones is also +80 ahead of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, incidentally.

Don’t be silly. I’m not calling Jones a better player than Mays, or even Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. They were just too much better all-around to kid yourself. I am saying, however, that taken strictly for his defense Jones was the most run-preventive defensive center fielder who ever played major league baseball.

Measure him by wins above replacement-level player (WAR), and Jones’s seven-year peak WAR is above that of the average Hall of Fame center fielder. There are plenty of peak-value Hall of Famers in Cooperstown. Jones’s Hall of Fame teammate, Chipper Jones, wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said upon his own induction that if you wanted to beat the 1990s Braves “you had to go through the Jones boys, too.”

That’s the way Hall of Famers play the game. And if the Hall now gives more value to defense than in the past, Jones assuredly deserves the honour even more.

Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones—the best in the game at center field for long enough, and the second-most run-preventive defender at any position, ever. That sounds like a Hall of Famer to me. 

Jeff Kent—The best-hitting second baseman of the expansion era was traded three times before finding a home with the Giants at 29. He was also a product of a high-scoring era, but he wasn’t a particlarly great defensive second baseman even if he was slick on the double play. That -42 defensive runs saved below his league average doesn’t enhance him.

Neither does his reputation as a personality often described as “prickly,” and its still to wonder whether Kent’s once-notorious attitude issues remain enough to keep the BBWAA from putting him in despite the continuing ballot crowd. More telling, though, is that both early-career mishandlings plus enough injuries over the second half of his career had big enough hands in his final performance papers.

Kent’s 351 home runs as a second baseman remain the most for any player playing that position. (The man most likely to have threatened that record, Robinson Canó, may not get the chance after all.) That helps his Hall case, as does his overall fine postseason record.

He wouldn’t be the worst man or second baseman in the Hall. I’ll vote for Kent on the record alone, but I do suspect he may yet find himself needing a future Era Committee to give him the second look he may yet need to get his plaque.

Scott Rolen—It wasn’t Rolen’s fault that he was villified and sullied during his early seasons in Philadelphia. He just wasn’t the kind of guy Loud Larry Bowa and Drill Sgt. Dallas Green loved. He was soft spoken, he let his prep and his play do his talking, and he didn’t blow up the nearest inanimate objects when a swing missed or a play faltered or a game was lost. You hear a lot of lip service to let’s just get ’em tomorrow. Rolen lived it.

If he’d been a fighter pilot, Rolen would have earned a rep as the classic maintain-an-even-strain type. The Right Stuff. Bowa, Green, and the Phillies front office misread Rolen as indifferent. Even if every teammate he had knew better. He hustled himself into injuries and that only added to the sullying, in Philadelphia and in St. Louis, where he ran afoul of Tony La Russa despite playing his usual kind of hard and delivering performances that helped the Cardinals to a few postseasons and a World Series ring.

Rolen fumed over La Russa souring on him for being injured in honest competition. If only he could have then-Brewers manager Ned Yost for a skipper. Yost called him “the perfect baseball player. It’s his tenacity, his preparation, the way he plays. He tries to do everything fundamentally sound. And he puts the team first—there’s no fanfare with him.”

Then-Cardinals GM John Mozeliak came publicly to regret trading Rolen to the Blue Jays. Former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty caught wind that Rolen wanted to play closer to home   and pried him out of the Jays for the Reds. Rolen helped the Reds to a couple of postseasons, too.

Rolen wasn’t the hitter Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones was, but Jones wasn’t the defender Rolen was, either. Not by about ten country miles. Rolen won eight Gold Gloves and they weren’t by reputation alone. Only Robinson and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt have more such awards at third base.

Rolen had eleven seasons averaging ten or more runs saved at third and three in which he averaged twenty or more. His 140 defensive runs above league average are tied for sixth amont third basemen all time. Preferring to leave it on the field and at the plate without starving for publicity or acting like the star he did his best not to present himself being may have been Rolen’s number one career problem.

Every team should have that kind of problem, then sit back and watch themselves win a little bit more with it. Rolen’s Hall candidacy gets more traction year by year. He deserves a plaque in Cooperstown and he should get it before his ten years’ ballot eligibility expires.

Curt Schilling (with prejudice)—On the mound: no-questions-asked Hall of Famer. (Only Schilling plus Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez have ever struck 3000+ batters out and walked -1,000 batters.) He sought the biggest of the big games and delivered when he got them most of the time.

Off the mound: no-questioned-asked jerk. It only begins with eleven words: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required,” on a T-shirt; “OK, so much awesome here,” in a tweet he deleted at the speed of light when the you-know-what hit the you-know-what and he pleaded sarcasm. He also said of it in due course, “Gotta own the times you go off the rails.”

Schilling’s Phillies general manager Ed Wade once said he was a horse every five days and a horse’s ass the other four. I’ll say again: When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see his plaque, just tell them he’s not the first and won’t be the last Hall of Famer at the ballpark who was a Hall of Shamer away from it.

I don’t have to love the man to respect and vote for the pitcher. But let’s let Jay Jaffe have the penultimate word, from The Cooperstown Casebook:

I wouldn’t invite Schilling into my own home, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest.

Gary Sheffield—Strictly by his counting statistics, Sheffield has a Hall of Fame case. His talent was as outsized as his reputation for self-centricity. He was a study in pending destruction at the plate, and he had a one-for-one-and-all-for-Gary reputation that wasn’t always justified.

His career happened mostly in a high-offense era, but he had an odd problem: he played too much in home ballparks that hated righthanded hitters. (Strangely, too, he did well enough in one of them, Dodger Stadium.) Marry that to the nagging injuries dogging him much of his career and he lands in a strange position.

For all his home runs (509), for all that he sits in the top 25 for walks and runs created, his offensive winning percentage (.687) puts him just inside the top one hundred. A player that talented with his kind of stats should have pulled up a lot higher. Taken all-around, his lack of black and gray ink (top ten finishes) leaves Sheffield as borderline as it gets. His defensive deficiencies (-195 defensive runs below his league average) killed him for peak and career WAR, too.

Sheffield could be his own worst enemy but in some ways he’s also a wronged man. He tended to nuke more than burn bridges when he felt he was done wrong, but he was also accused falsely of tanking plays with the Brewers after a hard wild throw in the minors caused a rift with a manager who subsequently apologised to him.

Dinged by the notorious BALCO steroids case when he really might have been tricked into using an actual/alleged PED, Sheffield’s ding, too, came before the formal testing/penalty program. Even the hardest-line writers against actual or alleged PEDs inclined to give Sheffield the benefit of the doubt. I do, too.

There are worse men in Cooperstown than Sheffield, and there are Hall of Famers who were their own worst enemies to a far greater extent. He may end up having to wait for an Era Committee to send him there, but Sheffield has a real Hall of Fame case. And he won’t be half as controversial as some other Hall of Famers who might come to mind.

Billy Wagner—Maybe the most underrated relief pitcher of his and just about any time. He was as lights out as relief pitchers got and then some, even allowing that nobody yet has really figured out a final objective and definitive way to rate relief pitchers of any era.

Wagner yanked himself to a pinnacle following a childhood about which “hard scrabble” might be an understatement. (Too-frequent home changes; poverty so profound that peanut butter on a cracker equaled dinner often enough.) He was a small man who made himself into a lefthanded assassin. (Two right arm fractures during his impoverished childhood compelled him to go portside.)

Billy the Kid finished his fifteen-year career with a 0.99 walks/hits per inning pitched rate; and, when it comes to win probability added, Wagner has only four relievers ahead of him, Hall of Famers all: in ascending order, Trevor Hoffman, Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, and The Mariano. He was also on his own planet when it came to missing bats. In fifteen full major league seasons (he had a cup of coffee with the 1995 Astros), his strikeouts-per-nine innings rate fell below 10.0 only once; he retired with a lifetime 11.9 rate.

Nobody could hit this guy too often: the lifetime batting average against him is .187. Here’s how the hitters did against the other Hall of Fame relievers:

Lee Smith—.235.
Rollie Fingers—.232.
Bruce Sutter—.230.
Goose Gossage—.228.
Dennis Eckersley—.225.
Hoyt Wilhelm—.213.
Trevor Hoffman—.211.
Mariano Rivera—.211.

Would you like to be reminded whom among those men pitched in the most hitter-friendly times? That would be Smith (in the final third of his career), Hoffman, The Mariano, and Billy the Kid. It’s to wonder how much more stupefying the record might be if Wagner could have avoided assorted injuries including late-career Tommy John surgery.

Maybe his only flaw was a Sheffield-like tendency to nuke bridges once he left town, though for far different reasons. Wagner waged war against those he thought didn’t share his competitiveness and determination. But he finally admitted in his memoir, A Way Out, “I learned a lot about criticism and how not to be a leader when I was traded.”

When he walked away after 2010, he decided his family was a lot more important to him than whatever else he could accomplish as a pitcher. “There’s nothing left for me to do in baseball,” Wagner admitted after leaving the park one last time. “I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about whether I’m a Hall of Famer. People are either going to like me or hate me, and I can’t change their minds. Besides, life is about a lot more than this game.”

If you must, call Wagner the Bert Blyleven of relief pitchers, with a Hall case that kinda sorta sneaks up on you upon deeper analysis. But he does deserve the honour.

The Rest of the Newcomers

I didn’t vote for the rest of the BBWAA ballot newcomers, but a few were geniunely sad:

Carl Crawford—On-base and speed machine ground down by injuries, especially when he tried playing through them anyway to avoid certain managers dismissing him as a quitter. He was a great defensive left fielder, too. (+99 runs saved above his league average.) Short enough of a Hall of Famer, but better than you remember him.

Prince Fielder—Finished at 32 thanks to neck injuries and surgery, but he sure looked like a Hall of Famer in the making for a few years with that big incendiary bat, didn’t he? I did zap him once in print for a seemingly indifferent take on the Tigers’ postseason elimination, but I changed my mind—you’d rather he trashed the clubhouse or wailed about the injustice of it all?

Ryan Howard—Everyone in Philadelphia would love to rewind the tape back to just before Howard’s Achilles tendon injury turned him almost overnight from the deadliest of the deadly to a journeyman who still had some pop but little else in the final five seasons of a thirteen-year career. No great defensive first baseman, the injury eroded Howard’s real ticket to Cooperstown, his thunderous bat.

Tim Lincecum—Won two Cy Young Awards in his first three seasons. A small guy who pitched big, maybe too big for his size, much like Mike Boddicker a few generations earlier. I’ve seen Lincecum described as an injury waiting to happen. His painful fadeaway was too sad especially because The Freak was extremely likeable as a person and known as that kind of teammate, too.

Justin Morneau—Had Hall of Fame talent, won a single American League Most Valuable Player award that he didn’t really deserve (going by WAR, Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana probably deserved that 2006 MVP, too, but if you won’t give it to pitchers Grady Sizemore among the position players really deserved that year’s MVP), and was done in gradually but surely by a few too many concussions.

Álex Rodríguez—Of course it’s sad that a guy who didn’t need help to be Hall of Fame-great went for it, anyway. First out of terrible insecurity after signing that mammoth deal with the Rangers; later, out of hubris at minimum. His post-career image-rehabilitation efforts may be laudable, if controversial. (He’s criticised at least as often as he’s praised.) But it’s going to be impossible to forget that—even if there were many compromising issues around baseball’s Biogenesis investigation—A-Rod did a splendid enough job compromising himself.

Jimmy Rollins—What Rollins has to sell is speed on the bases and solid shortstop defense. The bad news, part one: His 95 OPS+ (OPS adjusted to all parks, not just his home park) and .330 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot aren’t quite what a Hall of Fame leadoff man should have, and he didn’t steal enough bases to make himself a Lou Brock-like Hall case. The bad news part two: He’s 53rd all-time for defensive runs above his league average—with +38. At minimum there are eighteen men going nowhere near the Hall of Fame who were good for more.

Mark Teixiera—He looked like a Hall of Famer in the making, didn’t he? A few too many injuries keep him from pulling up far enough beyond several non-Hall first basemen, but when he was healthy the switch-hitting Teixiera was a genuinely great hitter and a well above-average first baseman.