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.

Fixing the Hall of Fame vote, revisited

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s time to look again at how to fix the Hall of Fame’s voting processes.

Last year’s Hall of Fame vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America was troubling enough, for more reasons than just Curt Schilling falling short sixteen votes and Schilling’s demand to be removed from their ballots. This year’s vote could prove just as big a pain in the rump roast.

It’s the last roundup for a few players thanks to the ten-year limit on the BBWAA ballot. Schilling is one of them. Others include some with that storm cloud of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances still hovering above them. (Good morning, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.) It’s also the first roundup for a couple of players above whom the cloud hovers (Alex Rodriguez) or gets pulled (David Ortiz).

Whatever those issues truly are, I’m still convinced we can agree upon this much: Something is still drastically wrong with the Hall of Fame vote. The vote still needs to be fixed. The question remains how to do it. The answers won’t be any more simple now than last year. But they’re worth revisiting.

Last year, the big sub-issue was the blank ballot. There was too much talk about some voting BBWAA members turning in blanks. What I said then still holds: how many blanks came in isn’t as relevant as thinking that, if you do submit a blank ballot, you should lose your Hall vote a spell.

What I didn’t suggest was how long following such a submission. Maybe losing your next two Hall votes should send the message: This isn’t the presidential election where, in some states, you’re entitled to answer to no parties producing candidates to your taste with a) the write-in vote; or, b) the ballot choice “none of these candidates.”

I’m not all that willing to allow the voting baseball writers a write-in vote. Some of their published arguments for or against certain Hall candidates cross into Cloud Cuckoo-Land as it is. But if a voting writer submits a complete blank, he or she should be blanked from the next two Hall votes.

At least, so long as the foolish ten-year limit for BBWAA ballot candidates remains in place. The far better course would be to re-open the eligibility window. It used to be fifteen. Why not make it twenty? You’d run far less risk of ballot logjams that might squeeze a Hall-worthy player out of the running through no fault of his own.

All that said, let me repeat what I wrote last year: Voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly a right. The Hall gave the writers the privilege almost a century ago. With privilege comes responsibility, regardless of any controversies attached to any Hall candidates. The responsibility still includes the one holding the voting privilege doing his or her job—thinking hard, and voting.

It would be far simpler to exercise that responsibility without the ten-year eligibility limit. So here’s hoping the BBWAA thinks that one over and re-opens it to fifteen or twenty years’ eligibility.

Every year, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America sends its membership a ballot for the Hall of Fame. Yes, it’s only symbolic, since the Hall of Fame doesn’t recognise us as a voting entity. No, the vote isn’t simple, cut, dried, or pre-natal surgery.

When I get my IBWAA Hall ballot, I take some time to think it all over. Then I vote. I even write about how and why I voted for the players I choose. I might now advocate returning the fifteen-year eligibility period or making a twenty-year period for candidates, but the flip side of that coin is that the BBWAA asked for it with the ten-year period—and, if I can do my symbolic job, they can do their real ones.

The ten-year maximum eligibility was imposed in the first place out of concern to do whatever the writers could think to keep those nefarious suspected users of actual/alleged PEDs from getting through. Aside from that jet taking off decades ago (greenies, anyone?), the bullets with which they shot themselves in the proverbial foot traveled far enough to delay or torpedo entirely more than a few legitimate Hall of Fame cases thanks among other things to several jammed ballots.

Kenny Lofton surely wasn’t the only man wondering why the number ten center fielder ever to play major league baseball can’t be in Cooperstown (pending a future Era Committee consideration) except as a visiting customer.

Everybody still with me? (All ten of you?) Good. Now hear (well, read) this. If we really want to fix the Hall of Fame vote, the Hall itself should step up, step in, and decide the BBWAA has played enough games for long enough. It’s time to broaden the Hall vote. It’s time for the BBWAA and the assorted Eras Committees to have company among those conferred the privilege of voting for the Hall of Fame.

Who else should be invited to the party? I had some ideas about that last year, and they’re worth revisiting with a couple of adjustments:

1) The living Hall of Fame players and managers themselves. No one should feel funny about allowing such as Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, George Brett, Bobby Cox, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey, Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Herzog, Trevor Hoffman, Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Cal Ripken, Jr., Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, John Smoltz, Joe Torre, and Larry Walker, to name a few, voting for successors worthy of joining their fraternity.

Some of them get to be part of assorted sixteen-member Eras Committees, of course, which also include “executives, and veteran media members” according to the Hall itself. We can adjust that reasonably: The living Hall of Famers should have to choose whether to vote concurrent to the BBWAA or as members of one or another Era Committee considering overlooked/snubbed BBWAA candidates—but not both.

Left to right: Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons. Why shouldn’t they and their fellow living Hall of Famers have Hall of Fame votes?

2) The living Ford C. Frick Award winning broadcasters, and those currently working in major league broadcast booths. They see as much of the games as the writers do. The Hall would not be disgraced by the like of Marty Brennaman, Joe Buck, Chip Caray, Bob Costas, Jaime Jarrin, Jim Kaat, Brian Kenny, Buck Martinez, Tim McCarver, Al Michaels, Jon Miller, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, or Suzyn Waldman, among others, having a vote.

3) The statistics mavens, since statistics remain the life blood of baseball.  No, ladies and gentlemen, it would not be a travesty for Allen Barra, Bill James, Keith Law, Rob Neyer, or the folks at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, FanGraphsretrosheet, and The Elias Sports Bureau to be included in the Hall of Fame vote. So much of their work has provoked re-assessments of several subsequent Hall of Famers as well as incoming Hall candidates. They should not be regarded as voting interlopers.

4) Those writers/historians who were never admitted to the BBWAA ,but who’ve established themselves long and with particular distinctions as blessings to the game. Find us a valid reason for ageless Roger Angell plus Paul Dickson, Richard Goldstein, Peter Golenbock, John Helyar, Donald Honig, Peter Morris, George F. Will, or plenty of the fine excavators of the Society for American Baseball Research, just for openers, to be excluded from the Hall vote. You’ll have a simpler time finding Atlantis.

5) Umpires with above-average ratings. (God and His servant Doug Harvey only know you don’t even want to think of bringing Angel Hernandez or half the arbiters who worked this year’s postseason into the voting fold.) Those people had the second-best views of Hall of Fame candidates for themselves. (The first-best is probably a tossup among several.) The best umpires didn’t just call the pitches or the plays, they developed particular appreciation for players who strove for and achieved Hall of Fame-level excellence.

They would not lack credibility as Hall voters if allowed the chance. Should a voting umpire lose his (or her, in due course?) above-average rating, their Hall vote can be suspended for that year.

6) How about the IBWAA? As in, members not concurrent BBWAA members (we do have a few, including Spink Award Hall of Famer Jayson Stark) but whom the IBWAA leadership deems by their actual works to be worthy of a Hall of Fame vote to exercise wisely and diligently. (Fair disclosure: I’m not an IBWAA leader or officer yet.) The IBWAA is not just another gaggle of fans ranting our heads off. We’ve got some excellent observers, analysts, commentators among us who have earned the chance.

7) Establish a Pioneer Committee. This would be a group considering and giving due to those people—players, executives, statisticians, others—whom we’d consider to have changed the game profoundly in ways other than how they played or managed or administered the game. (It wouldn’t have let Marvin Miller wait until death did he part for his well-deserved Cooperstown enshrinement, either, if it lived while he did.)

The Pioneer Committee could begin with considering Curt Flood, who kicked the door to free agency open just enough with his reserve clause challenge. It could consider Andy Messersmith, who shoved the door open all the way by finishing what Flood started and prevailing right to the end. It could consider Tommy John, who enjoyed a long, distinguished second act after undergoing the first of the ligament-replacement elbow surgeries that’s long since borne his name.

They didn’t quite post Hall of Fame playing careers, but they all changed the game profoundly, and irrevocably. There should be a place in the Hall of Fame for all three.

This Pioneer Committee should also consider those such as Allan Roth, arguably the godfather of deep statistics. Bill James, who picked up where Roth left off, all but invented sabermetrics, and sired subsequent generations of deeper analysts many of whom came to play key roles in re-developing baseball organisations. Bob Kendrick, whose administration and representation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum does invaluable work advancing the Negro Leagues legacy not as mummified artifacts but as a just portion of living, breathing major league baseball history.

If those are unworthy of consideration for having Hall of Fame votes, remember that my Antarctic beach club has yet to find a buyer.

8) Dump once and for all the prejudice against first-time votes/first-ballot Hall of Famers. If you think a player or manager belongs in the Hall of Fame, vote him in the first time. (Again, raising the eligibility limit back to fifteen years or all the way to twenty years should help.) You don’t need reminders of how many Hall of Famers you assumed to be locks waited five or more times to get their due. Or, of how often you wrote fuming over that sad fact.

People still think it’s more than a little surreal, if not insane, that Yogi Berra, Craig Biggio, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Hank Greenberg, Lefty Grove, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, and Cy Young aren’t first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even if things worked out well enough for Ford that he got in on his second try, the following year—next to his old running mate Mickey Mantle, on Mantle’s first.

By now you’ve probably noticed no mention of Joe and Jane Fan into the Hall vote discussion. There’s one bloody good reason not to even think of handing them a Hall vote: the hash they’ve made over All-Star Game votes, too many times, either with ballot-box stuffings or choosing to confer gold watches.

The All-Star Game vote needs a complete overhaul, too, though that’s still a subject for another day for now. But do you really want to know how much worse Joe and Jane Fan would make the Hall than the Today’s Game Committee that decided Harold Baines deserved a platinum watch?

Portions of the foregoing essay have been published previously.—JK.

How I vote on this year’s IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

(Photo of the Hall of Fame by the Hall of Fame.)

The Internet Baseball Writers Association likes to vote for the Hall of Fame, too, even though it’s purely a symbolic vote, and never mind that some IBWAA members are also voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. As an IBWAA life member myself, the exercise is exhilarating and only occasionally frustrating.

Most of the time, the frustration is because there are those candidates still on the BBWAA Hall ballot whom the IBWAA previously “elected.” When an IBWAA vote into the Hall coincides with a BBWAA vote into the Hall, though, it’s a pleasant exhilaration. When we choose a Hall of Famer before the BBWAA does, we get to claim bragging rights for foresight and insight. (Don’t we?)

As I do pretty much every year, I vote in the IBWAA election and give my most reasonable explanations for my vote. Even knowing as I do that my opinion means three things (jack, diddley, and squat) in the big picture, and even knowing it would be easier to glean right reason from a politician’s fustian than to get me an official Hall of Fame vote, we of the IBWAA count for more than something so far as I’m concerned.

So, with six “yes” votes to be submitted to the IBWAA tally this time around—and equal support for the same voting transparency among the BBWAA—this is how I marked my IBWAA Hall ballot. First, my “yes” votes:

Todd Helton—Helton may be hurt by the Coors Canaveral factor even more than Larry Walker was for long enough. Unlike Walker, The Toddfather never got the chance to show what he could do with a park other than Coors 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.

One of those rare birds who walked more often than he struck out, Helton also struck fear enough into opponents with 185 intentional walks to prove it. He was an on-base machine (.414 lifetime OBP) with power to boot. And he was something else you can look up: he was deadlier at the plate with men on and/or in scoring position than he was with the bases empty.

Defensively, Helton wasn’t quite the second coming of Keith Hernandez, but he was an excellent defensive first baseman, too. All the above sound like a Hall of Famer to me.

Andruw Jones—His too-staggering decline phase, beginning in his final, injury-marred season in Atlanta, turned Jones into a punch line he didn’t exactly discourage when he came across as indifferent as well as ill-conditioned in Los Angeles and ended up being bought out of his deal.

So what makes Jones a Hall of Fame candidate? His peak through age 29. He was an above average hitter whose late-career health issues might have kept him from hitting 450 or even 500 lifetime home runs, but even more is that he was off the charts as a run-preventive center fielder.

Jones had a solid throwing arm and a genius for finding the right routes to balls despite his tendency to more shallow positioning. It might have cost him highlight-reel time but it elevated him where it matters most. The only player with more defensive runs above league average than Jones at any position is Brooks Robinson: +293 for Robinson, +253 for Jones, who’s also +80 ahead of Willie Mays.

Read carefully: I’m not calling Jones a better player than Mays, I’m not even calling him a better player than Ken Griffey, Jr., and I saw all three of them play in or while still in their primes. (Don’t ask about Griffey’s run prevention numbers alone—trust me when I say you’ll be embarrassed.) But I am saying Jones was the most run-preventive center fielder who ever hit the yard.

By wins above replacement-level player, Jones’s seven-year peak WAR is above the peak value of the average Hall of Fame center fielder. There is a large enough contingency of Hall of Famers who got to Cooperstown by their peak value. If the Hall really is giving defense more attention than in the past, Jones would not disgrace it by being there.

Jeff Kent—Yes, he’s the best-hitting second baseman of the expansion era. But despite his late settling-in (traded three times before he found a home with the Giants at 29), Kent was also product enough of a high-scoring era. For middle infielders, defense looms large enough, and Kent wasn’t a particularly great-fielding second baseman despite his deftness on the double play: -42 defensive runs below league average doesn’t bode well.

He was his own worst enemy with a personality often described as “prickly,” but a lot of his issues come down to his health. He incurred enough injuries later in his career that, married to his early-career mishandlings before reaching San Francisco, it puts him just outside the top twenty second basemen of all time.

Still, less crowded Hall ballots may give Kent a jump before his time on the BBWAA ballot ends. So might his 351 home runs as a second baseman, the most for any player playing that position. So might his overall fine postseason record. The question becomes whether Kent’s once-notorious attitude problems remain enough to keep the writers from putting him in no matter the ballot crowd.

I wasn’t exactly Kent’s biggest admirer myself for long enough, but I won’t object if he’s elected to the Hall in due course. If he doesn’t survive on the BBWAA ballots yet to come, a future Era Committee may give him a second and deeper look and elect him.

Scott Rolen—Why on earth would a player who was Rolen’s kind of near-perfect balance between an excellent hitter and a top-of-the-line fielding third baseman be villified and sullied?

If you were the Phillies with whom Rolen came up, and you were the kind of fellow who spoke softly, carried yourself likewise, and let your preparation and play do your talking for you, you just weren’t Loud Larry Bowa’s and Drill Sgt. Dallas Green’s type. They were fool enough to dismiss Rolen as an indifferent player when every teammate he had knew better.

And Rolen’s propensity to hustle himself into injuries actually added to the sullying. After the Phillies shipped him to the Cardinals, Rolen played the same kind of hard, delivered the kind of performances that helped the Cardinals to some postseasons including one ending in a World Series ring, but he ran afoul of Tony La Russa over, you guessed it, injuries.

It galled Rolen no end that his manager might sour on him for being injured in honest competition, and La Russa likely forced Rolen’s trade to Toronto, a trade then-Cardinals GM John Mozeliak publicly came to regret making. Former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty knew better—hearing that Rolen wanted to play closer to home, he pried Rolen out of the Blue Jays for the Reds and Rolen helped them to a couple of postseasons, too.

The injuries might have kept Rolen from putting up fireworks-spectacular numbers at the plate but he was a great third baseman. Then-Brewers manager Ned Yost wasn’t blowing smoke when he called Rolen “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.”

He wasn’t the hitter Chipper Jones was, but Jones wasn’t the defender Rolen was, either. (Rolen’s 122 OPS+ is ninth among third basemen all time.) Rolen won eight Gold Gloves and they weren’t given to him by reputation alone; among third basemen, only Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt have more. He had eleven seasons of averaging ten or more runs saved and three in which he averaged twenty or more; his 140 total defensive runs above league average is the nineteenth-highest of any defender at any field position anywhere and tied for sixth among third basemen.

Rolen’s number one problem his entire career was that he didn’t present himself as a star. He preferred to leave it on the field and at the plate; he wasn’t a publicity hound and never really tried to become one.

His Hall candidacy has received more traction each year he’s been on the ballot. Considering this year’s absolute paucity of first-time candidates who really belong in the Hall of Fame, Rolen’s vote could jump even more profoundly than it did last year. A third baseman whose number one selling point is strong hitting and top of the line defense deserves better.

Curt Schilling (with prejudice)—On the mound: no-questions-asked Hall of Famer. One of only four pitchers to strike 3,000+ out and walk less than 1,000, and he did it in a glandular time for hitting. (The others: Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez.)  He all but demanded the big-game heat and delivered when he got it 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 Schilling deleted swiftly enough 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.”

Let’s let Jay Jaffe have the ultimate 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.

I don’t have to love or respect Schilling as a person to respect what he did on the mound. When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see Schilling’s plaque, just tell them he isn’t the first and won’t be the last to be a Hall of Famer at the ballpark and a Hall of Shamer away from it.

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. He 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.

Sheffield played on several pennant contenders and won a World Series ring with the 1997 Marlins. (He also got dumped among the many in the notorious fire sale following that triumph.) His home runs may make you (and him) think he’s a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer, but taken all around his paucity of black and gray (top-ten finishing) ink leaves him at pronounced tweener status. He looks as borderline as borderline gets.

If you look at him according to WAR, Sheffield’s defensive deficiences slaughtered him: he 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.

So do I. There are worse men in the Hall of Fame 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 wasn’t just a study in likely destruction at the plate, he has a real Hall of Fame case.

And he won’t be even a hundredth as controversial a Hall of Famer as Harold Baines (for his record, not his person) is or Curt Schilling (for his person, not his record) may yet become.

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.

He 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.)

Billy the Kid was a small guy who made himself into a lefthanded assassin (two right arm fractures during his impoverished childhood compelled him to go portside); he 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 time? 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.

If Wagner had any flaw, it was his almost Sheffield-like tendency to nuke bridges once he left town, though for very different reasons. Neither player came up the easy way before entering baseball, but Wagner waged war against those he thought didn’t share his competitiveness and determination.

When the Astros traded him to the Phillies and subsequently remade their roster for their run to the 2005 World Series, Wagner lamented publicly that he wished they’d done it the year they traded him. With the Phillies in 2005, he questioned the team’s commitment publicly and ripped them after leaving for the Mets.

In due course, though, Wagner admitted in his memoir, A Way Out, “I learned a lot about criticism and how not to be a leader when I was traded,” he wrote, specifying leaving the Astros but applicable to the rest of his career, too. 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 thinking the final time he drove away from the ballpark but into retirement. “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.”

His Hall vote from the BBWAA jumped from 16.7 percent in 2019 to 31.7 percent last January. The guy from whom The Mariano swiped “Enter Sandman” as his entrance music just might have a surprise or three left that just might finish with him standing where he belongs in Cooperstown.

Now, the no votes. First-time ballot entrants are marked with an asterisk.

Bobby Abreu—When Abreu retired, I noticed that he was a lot closer to being a Hall of Famer than people thought. He was a five-tool player; he was one of the most disciplined hitters of his time; he had power and speed to burn together; and few players in his time were as good at wearing pitchers down as he was.

He didn’t quite cross the thresholds to Hall of Fame performance in the end, unfortunately, even if he managed to remain an on-base machine. Defensively, he was the least appreciated top-of-the-line right fielder in his first eight seasons, yet he didn’t win a Gold Glove until 2005 when his defense already turned to the negatives for run prevention.

Abreu’s career deserves second, third, even fourth looks regardless. He may not quite be a Hall of Famer after those, either, but he was a terrific player.

Mark Buehrle*—A no-hitter and a perfect game enhance his career, and he was a fine pitcher who was excellent on more than a few occasions. (He was also a pretty sharp fielder at his position.) But neither the traditional nor the advanced analyses get him through the door, nor does his postseason record overall enhance him. Buehrle shakes out as the number 90 starting pitcher of all time.

He might linger a little past the five percent threshold in year one of his Hall eligibility, but I can’t see him going past that.

A.J. Burnett*—It’s not a stretch to guess that the injury-prone Burnett reached the Hall of Fame ballot purely because he’s retired five years. He had a seventeen-year career that landed him number 352 on the all-time starting pitching survey, and it’s to wonder whether his injuries—including Tommy John surgery that cost him most of 2003 and a third of 2004—kept him from performing equal to his talent.

Burnett’s career was also stained when the Marlins asked him to leave the team down the stretch in September 2005, after he ripped the faltering Fish to reporters saying, “We played scared. We managed scared. We coached scared,” after a 5-3 loss to the Braves. He apologised in due course, but he went on to the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Pirates, and the Phillies. The injuries continued.

Michael Cuddyer*—Dependable hitter, a fan favourite in Minnesota, but nowhere within rear-view visual distance of a Hall of Famer. He has a place in baseball history, though: he’s the only major leaguer to hit for the cycle and hit two home runs in the same inning during the same season. (He turned that trick in 2009.)

Dan Haren*—Sure looked like a Hall of Famer in the making early in his career. It didn’t stay that way, although the oft-traveled pitcher did post a fine career in the end.

LaTroy Hawkins*— A Hall of the Gold Watch candidate, but that’s all. He was good enough to be in bullpens for sixteen major league seasons after spending his first five as a fifth starter. The enemy batters hit .257 off him lifetime when he came out of the pen, though with 78 home runs against him lifetime as a reliever he wasn’t a pushover for the long ball out of the pen, either.

Tim Hudson*—He looked even more like a Hall of Famer in the making when he was making his bones in Oakland, but he didn’t look that much like one after leaving Oakland. But he could be and often was a terrific pitcher who worked in quite a bit of hard luck.

Torii Hunter*—He looked more like a Hall of Famer at the peak of his career than he really was, and he might survive a ballot or three before falling away. But Hunter was a terrific player who hit well and played center field around the league averages on the plus side, though not well enough to save as many runs as his skills and Gold Gloves suggested. He was also well respected in his clubhouses.

Andy Pettitte—Turn away permanently from the actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance issue and face the fact once and for all: Pettitte used human growth hormone briefly and to recover from an elbow injury. He wasn’t looking for another edge on the mound.

In 2002 I was injured. I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my elbow. I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone. Though it was not against baseball rules, I was not comfortable with what I was doing, so I stopped.

Everybody with me? Good. Now hear this: Pettitte was practically the same pitcher in the regular season as he was in the postseason—what Jaffe has called a plowhorse rather than a racehorse. Regular-season ERA: 3.85. Postseason ERA: 3.81. World Series ERA: 4.06. He was durable and dependable, and that was all.

The lefthander was famous for his look of peering out over his upraised glove while taking his signs, while living on the ground ball with his sinkers and cutters. But he piled Hall of Fame-looking win totals as much on high run support as his own ability (his run support was 10 percent better than the park-adjusted league average before his first attempt at retirement, Jaffe has recorded), and he wasn’t as good at missing bats as a lot of contemporaries who won’t be seen in Cooperstown except among the guests.

Pettitte’s a classic example of truly tenacious competitor who was really an above-average pitcher and occasionally great. But the Hall of Fame isn’t just about “above average,” unfortunately. Which is a shame because Pettitte was one of those Yankees who earned respect even from those to whom just the mere mention of the team’s name is enough to send them through the ceiling.

He ends up at this writing as number 91 among all-time starting pitchers. Didn’t I mention Mark Buehrle is number 90?

Aramis Ramirez*—He looked most like a Hall of Famer during his first five seasons with the Cubs. For an eighteen-season career that’s not even close to enough. He actually out-homered a few Hall of Fame third basemen in the end, but he played in a higher-offense time and he wasn’t that good a defensive third baseman.

Manny Ramirez—His 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.

The amusement factor of Manny Being Manny died long before his career did. He was deadly in the regular and the postseason (and a World Series MVP for the 2004 Red Sox, where he said memorably through his exhaustion, “I don’t believe in curse, I believe you make your own destiny”); he was arguably the worst such enemy of any player who was his own worst enemy.

There’s also that little matter of his using actual or alleged PEDs after the so-called Wild West Era during which the rules were that there were no rules. Ramirez got suspended  twice for them after baseball’s belated crackdown, and the second drove him out of the majors once and for all. And, away from reaching the Hall of Fame.

Sammy Sosa—Does it seem at times as though he’s baseball’s forgotten man? Sure it does. It seems surreal to those who saw Sosa in his prime becoming one of the game’s most popular players. Even to those who saw him turn into a player divisive enough to alienate his clubhouse before his time with the Cubs, where he became a gigastar in the first place, was done.

Remove every suspicion you ever had about Sosa and actual or alleged PEDs, every moment of his infamous Congressional appearance, every doubt the leaked 2003 test results planted even if you, too, suspect he might have been a false positive as some of those results turned out. Look at Sosa the player objectively.

His biggest claims to fame and the Hall of Fame are his home run prowess. If you assumed the PED thing inflated his numbers, reasonable analysis says Sosa might have joined the 500 home run club without them, whether or not he’d have run with Mark McGwire in the 1998 home run chase.

That would put him in the Hall of Fame regardless, until you consider that when Sosa blossomed at last as a power hitter he shrank in just about all other aspects of his and the game—and I once saw him hit a pair of monstrous home runs in one game at Dodger Stadium.

And he’s still the only player in history to hit 60+ homers in three out of five seasons without leading the league while leading it twice hitting 50 and 49, respectively. That’s surreal no matter how you look at it.

If he’s not the best player on the ballot, he’s not getting a Hall of Fame vote. (Defensively, Sosa flipped entirely: he’d been an above average right fielder before his power plant finally went online and a below-average one after it.) And his time on the BBWAA ballot is running out.

Sosa’s career WAR are 1.4 below Bobby Abreu. Believe it or not. If anything, that makes more of a case that Abreu was better than we think than that Sosa’s a Hall of Famer. I’m not voting for them now, but I could be persuaded in the other direction in the future, even if it means Sosa’s case going to an Era Committee’s consideration and Abreu really was the kind of Hall of Famer who sneaks up on you.

Nick Swisher*—He was useful enough, well liked in his clubhouses, and had good power while switch hitting. He had a career year in 2005 and was useful enough as a Yankee to win his only World Series ring in 2009. But he’s not going to the Hall of Fame. Some think it might be a shock if he gets even one sentimental vote, but such a vote wouldn’t surprise me.

Shane Victorino*—He played at elite or near-elite levels when he could play. The Flyin’ Hawaiian was something of a late bloomer, and late-career injury issues took care of his Hall of Fame prospects. But when he could play Victorino was something to behold.

Tell me that you didn’t also love Victorino’s contributions to the Phillies’ 2008 World Series triumph or (especially) what he did for the 2013 Red Sox—the Game Six grand slam in the ALCS; the three-run double off the Monster in World Series Game Six to start the Red Sox toward the Promised Land. And he has his place in baseball history: one of only two players (the other: Hall of Famer Jim Thome) with two postseason salamis.

Omar Vizquel—I sketched a rather elaborate take recently on why you should vote for him if you’re going to vote for him. It hooked mostly around a) 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) he was the outstanding defensive shortstop of the 1990s.

He was just that—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. He was a highlight reel 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 the decade than Vizquel, Ripken was worth a lot more defensive runs above the league average. He wasn’t the acrobat Vizquel often was, but Ripken in the field did the job 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. Who are you going really 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, 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 Baines should be a Hall of Fame standard. It’s rare enough for a player to get two decades in the big leagues, 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. Alex Rodriguez shakes out as number two, but bank on it: he’s there strictly because of his hitting—he wasn’t anywhere near Vizquel or Ripken defensively. I’m not entirely convinced that being just inside the top fifty by eight equals a Hall of Famer.

Even if I believe the Hall 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. And if I’m not firmly on the plus side of yes, I can’t vote for him.

Barry Zito*—Did any pitcher of his time have a sadder-looking story? (Maybe Tim Lincecum and Dontrelle Willis.) He looked like a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer in the making in Oakland, pitching like one with his array of off-speed breaking balls (and a Cy Young Award in the bargain), and with a delightfully quirky personality to match. Zito was many things, but boring wasn’t one of them.

Then he signed his notorious big deal with the Giants . . . and collapsed with no apparent reason or rhyme. He didn’t look anything like what the Giants paid for until the 2012 postseason, when he pitched 7.2 shutout innings in NLCS Game Five and (with a lot of help from Pablo Sandoval’s three home runs) out-pitched Justin Verlander in Game One of the World Series sweep-to-be.

Remarkably, Zito kept his head up, offered no excuses, and carried himself like a professional during his Giants seasons. If there was a Hall of Fame where class and musical pedigree alone matter—he’s a self-taught guitarist who’s had his music turn up in film; he’s the son of a one-time arranger for Nat King Cole—Zito would be elected in a walk.