The Cooperstown Worthy: A Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Discussion

This is my first try at a “joint blog,” as I’m calling it. Within this post, my friend Braden Leap and I are going to discuss (and maybe even argue) about who should get into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013—and who needs to try again.

The format is easy enough: one of us starts, the other rebuts. Then he who rebuts, starts. And so on.

The rules are relatively simple: we’re only looking at guys on the current Hall of Fame ballot who have the numbers to get in and are trying to get in for the first time.

So, sorry, Royce Clayton and Ryan Klesko—you guys aren’t even in the conversation.

We’re also going to take a look at four others who are the ballot for the second or more time. We’re looking at these certain candidates because of a) their position or b) when they played.

In the first category (guys on the ballot for the first time), we’re looking at the following retired players:

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Mike Piazza
  4. Curt Schilling
  5. Kenny Lofton
  6. Craig Biggio
  7. Sammy Sosa

In the second category, we’re looking at a Closer, a Designated Hitter, a guy who played during the Steroids Era but was never connected to steroids, and two guys who played during that same era and were connected to steroids. Respectively, they are:

  1. Lee Smith
  2. Edgar Martinez
  3. Fred McGriff
  4. Mark McGwire
  5. Rafael Palmeiro

Before we begin, here are little biographies about Braden and me.

Braden Leap

Lifetime Royals fan who thought the Shields trade was good, considering there’s no way we’ll resign our talent in the long-run.  Current grad student and instructor at Mizzou.  I voted less of stats on more on how I remember the players.  This probably seems overly subjective to some, especially when compared to stats which are typically conceived of as “objective” (whatever that really means).  But, as we know, stats actually say nothing by themselves and only have meaning through our interpretations of them.  Thus, while most interpret stats when they vote, I interpreted my feelings towards the players in addition to the manner in which I remembered them.  One of the primary issues I wrestled with during my decisions was, of course, PEDs.  I tried to think of logical ways to qualify some and disqualify others.  Often times though, it just came down to a gut feeling on whether or not I felt like someone should or should not be in the Hall of Fame.

Cullen Jekel

A former Tiger and now (a somewhat lawyerish) Roo, I root for the Cardinals above all else, but then follow that up with my adopted-hometown team, the Kansas City Royals. But damn, it’s hard to root for a team that’s had one winning season in my lifetime. Yet I agree with Braden: the more I look at it, the more I like the trade that brought James Shields to the Royals. The next two seasons should be fun in Kansas City—with maybe a little heartbreak involved, too. This is, after all, Missouri. I relied heavily on stats since they were at my disposal and since I don’t remember watching most of these guys play. I also struggled with the PED issue and questions like: what-does-3,000-hits-now-mean? And: what-does-500-homers-now-mean? Should a basher get it just because he bashes the ball well? I mean, Dave “King Kong” Kingman isn’t in the Hall. I try to keep my personal feelings out of it, and for the most part, succeeded: I don’t like Barry Bonds, but the man’s probably the third best player in the history of the game—how can I keep him out? Unlike Mr. Leap, as does at least once, I try to just look at how the game is played on the field. I ignore what a player did before Congress. In my Hall of Fame, Pete Rose is enshrined, as he should be. Again, though, also like my fellow writer, if it’s a tough call, I trust my gut instinct. Stats, after all, don’t necessarily tell the entire story.

Since I came up with this idea, I give the floor first to Mr. Leap, starting at the top, with the Homerun King: Barry Bonds.

Barry Bonds

Braden Leap: No on Bonds.  Clear user of steroids who’s (sic) records are based on the use of steroids.  I also just have a personal dislike for the guy.  Or, I should say, based on how he was portrayed in the media he appeared to be completely unlikable.  Didn’t help his case.

Cullen Jekel: The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the best of the best of his era, regardless of the reason for which the era is known. That’s the thing here: Barry Bonds was the best of the Steroids Era. But even more than that, he was the best in era directly preceding the Steroids Era, too. How many guys can so that? How many players are the best of the best of two different eras?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Steroid Era began with the Great Homerun Chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I know this isn’t really when players first took steroids, but let’s just that’s when The Era began.

Before then, Bonds had already won three MVPs: two with the Pirates and one with the Giants. (Check out his stats here.) From 1986, his rookie year, to 1997, Bonds made the All Star game 7 times, won 7 Silver Sluggers, won 7 Gold Gloves, led the league in walks 5 times (what power hitter does that anymore?), had 5 30-30 seasons and 1 40-4o season. Without a doubt, he ruled the Era before steroids took over with a silver bat and golden glove.

And then, with the Steroid Era, and fans’ fascination with the long ball, Bonds re-invented himself, winning another 4 MVPs—in a row! Plus another 7 All Star appearances, 5 Silver Sluggers and leading the league in walks another 7 times. He re-invented himself. No longer did he steal bases much (28 in 1998, and then never more than 15 in a season), but he jacked anything that came in vicinity of the strike zone. He hit 73 homers in 2001, a record that I doubt will fall. It was, after all, the Steroid Era, but there’s no denying that Barry Bonds rule that era, too.

Bonds also holds the all-time records in home runs, walks and intentional walks while ranking in the Top 10 in another eleven categories, including WAR and offensive-WAR. He finished with over 500 stolen bases and was just 65 hits shy of the exclusive 3,000-hit-500-home-run club.

Yes, his image may be tarnished because he came across as off-putting, and yes, he participated in the Steroids Era. But he owned that era, and his all-time numbers are some of the best ever. Not since Babe Ruth, who started as a pitcher, has one player so dramatically shifted the way he plays to capture America’s audience and succeeded to such an extent.

Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer.

Roger Clemens

Cullen: Just as Barry Bonds was the best pitcher before and during the Steroid Era, Roger Clemens was the best pitcher before and during that era.

In his career, “The Rocket” won 7 Cy Young Awards, including back-to-back titles twice, when he was 23 and 24, and then again when he was 34 and 35. He also won the MVP in his dominant 1986 season, his first full season in the majors at age 23 when, for the Red Sox, he went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and struck out 238 batters while having a WHiP under 1.

He won his last Cy Young Award at age 41 with the Astros when he went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA while striking out a 218 batters in just over 214 innings pitched.

Overall, Clemens pitched in 24 seasons for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros, spending 21 of those seasons in the tough AL East. He would win 2 World Series Titles with the Yankees while accumulating a 354-184 record (that’s a .658 winning percentage) and ranking in the top ten in WAR, WAR for pitchers, wins, strikeouts and games started.

He is without a doubt one of the best pitchers to have ever thrown in the Major Leagues, and more importantly, he was the best of the best of his era, and deserves a spot in Cooperstown, regardless of whether he took PEDs.

Braden: As your stats show, Clemens was clearly really good.  For a really long time.  Again, I’m tempted to DQ based on PEDs.  Would he have been this good for this long without PEDs?  No one can really tell.  Just based on my previous logic applied to other players though I feel like I should DQ him.  Regardless, I still feel like he should be in the Hall.  He was just that good.  I don’t really recall many pitchers that were not Royals from this era.  I mean yeah, I can name a few, but no one really stands out like Clemens, except Edgar Martinez.  So, while I DQ others based on PEDs, I can’t with Clemens.  He’s too good to keep out.

Mike Piazza

Braden: I’m unsure what to do with Piazza.  One of the better hitting catchers of all time.  Also had an epic feud with Clemens that was super entertaining.  Within that being said… I remember him being criticized as a liability behind the plate because of a weak arm.  If Frank White can be kept out of the Hall because of his hitting, then Piazza should be able to be kept out because of his weaker defensive abilities.  So, what to do?  Was he good?  Yes.  Obviously.  Was he really Hall of Fame worthy… I don’t think so.  I vote no.

 

Cullen: Ha! I love the little battle with the Rocket. Very clever of Piazza to break his bat and have the broken part somehow hit Clemens. Yeah, Roger: he did it intentionally.

That aside, yes, Piazza was a weak defensive catcher. He probably should have played first base during his career, but having that type of offensive production from behind the plate outweighed his defensive problems. I honestly can’t believe his numbers. I had no idea he hit the ball that well. Plus, while behind the plate, he won 10 Silver Slugger awards. That’s a lot. His WAR wasn’t the best, but his other numbers are just astounding for a full-time catcher: 344 doubles, 427 homeruns, .545 slugging percentage and a lifetime .308 average. Now those are Hall of Fame worthy numbers.

But kudos for getting Frank White into the conversation. Won’t lie: didn’t see that coming.

 

Curt Schilling:

Cullen: In addition to being a terrible analyst on Baseball Tonight, Schilling was an overrated pitcher locked into legend because of “Bloody Sock” and helping the Red Sox break the Babe’s curse in 2004. But the Hall of Fame is reserved for the top pitchers of the era—not the top post-season pitchers of the era. Despite the fact that he helped bring Boston a title, its first in such a long time, Schilling is not a Hall of Fame pitcher, and this is backed up by his stats.

First, I highly doubt we will ever see a pitcher win 300 games again. 250 might be the next 300. But Schilling didn’t even reach 250. In fact, he was two great seasons away from that number. He finished with 216 wins in twenty seasons with the Orioles, Astros, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox. He only averaged 15 wins a season. While he did make 6 All Star appearances, he never won the Cy Young. (He finished second thrice.) He won three World Series titles in his career, but in all three seasons, he wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team—Randy Johnson upped him in 2001 in Arizona while Pedro Martinez outpitched him in 2004 and everybody else on Boston’s rotation did better than Schilling in 2007 (though Curt was 40 then).

I have often spoke about players ranking in the Top Ten in categories, and Schilling doesn’t do that much. The only thing he ranks in the Top Ten on is the rate of strikeouts/base on balls.

Simply put, Schilling didn’t win enough during his career to earn a spot in Hall of Fame, despite what he did in the post-season (11-2 record, I believe). Plus, when looking at advanced metrics, he just doesn’t add up well to other guys already in the Hall.

Braden: Your stats are compelling with Schilling.   BUT, can you really keep the bloody sock out of Cooperstown?  Regardless of stats, I’m up in the air on Schilling because of his post season performances.  From what I recall, he was one of the greats.  Forget the top 10 stats.  In this era, Schilling was one pitcher you wanted on your team when you needed to win in the clutch.  Clearly Top 10 in the that sense.  Still… was he that great?  I dunno.  Maybe my indecision indicates that he wasn’t.  That he wasn’t so great as to say, “YES! He must be in the Hall of Fame!”  Thus, while I think there’s a compelling argument to be made for Schilling… I’m going to vote no as well.

 

Kenny Lofton

Braden: I remember old baseball coaches talking about the one thing in baseball you can’t teach being speed.  Now, strictly speaking, this is true, although good base running can make even less than fast guys decent base runners.  Regardless, Lofton absolutely killed because of his speed.  I’m unsure about the numbers, and as I’ve said, I don’t really care about them anyways (JEKEL’S NOTE: “Anyways” isn’t a word, but anyway…), but Lofton has to be somewhere near the top of all time stolen base leaders.  He tore up the base paths and had incredible range in the outfield.  Consequently, I have to say he’s a Hall of Famer.

 

Cullen: Lofton was 15th all-time in stolen bases with 622. Between 1992 and 1996 with the Tribe, Lofton stole between 54 and 75 bases each season, including 60 in 1994. He led the league in that category all of those seasons. (In 1998, he stole 54 bases again, but did not lead the league.) The problem is, he was only the Top of his Era during six or seven seasons, depending on if you count 1998 (which I’ll go ahead and do). Being the Best of the Best for seven seasons in an eight-year period is great—but it’s not Hall of Fame worthy.

 

Craig Biggio:

Cullen: It used to be that getting 500 career homeruns or 3,000 career hits automatically got you into Cooperstown (and if you got both, then the Upper Echelon of Cooperstown). But with PEDs, the 500 homerun mark got diluted, regardless of whether rightfully so. Not much has been said about the 3,000 hit mark, but I think it’s been diluted, too, especially if the guy only hits for a lifetime average that is under .290 (which is purely subjective on my part).

But that’s why Craig Biggio, a career Astro who played 20 seasons in Houston while making one World Series appearance, is not a Hall of Famer. He may have over 3,000 career hits, but his .281 lifetime batting average just doesn’t cut it. Plus, he only hit 291 homers in his career. That’s a good number, but not a Hall of Fame number. That’s not a number that makes up for the pedestrian lifetime average.

Looking at the Top Ten numbers, Biggio makes two: number of times being hit by a pitch, and doubles. He also ranks 15th all-time in runs scored. He made 7 All Star teams and won 4 Gold Gloves at second base (he also played catcher and all three outfield positions during his career).

Simply put, Biggio was a good ballplayer, but not a great ballplayer. Unfortunately, only the greatest players of his era should be enshrined.

 

Braden: Discounting 3000 hits because of the PED era?  You’re crazy.  Who cares what his lifetime average was.  He has 3000 hits.  He’s in.  Automatic.  There’s no real argument here.  If you have the desire and ability to play long enough, at a high enough level, to get 3000 hits then you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  There is no more automatic number than 3000.  I’m not a stats guy, but even I cannot ignore 3000 hits.  You want to discount Biggio because lifetime .280 is “pedestrian?”  It’s not even that pedestrian!  .250.  That’s pedestrian.  .280 lifetime is above average, which I’m sure you’ll think above average doesn’t get you into The Hall of Fame.  But 3000 isn’t pedestrian.  It’s Hall of Fame.  Thus, you can’t discount 3000 by pointing to a different stat.  That’s just how it is.  Biggio is a clear yes.

 

Sammy Sosa

Mark McGwire—Steroids Era Player Connected to Steroids

Braden: I’m writing this as a dual vote because both players get into the Hall because of the home run race or don’t get into the Hall because of steroids.  While a lot of writers would like to bar any players that used steroids, I would like to make a special case for these two.  Were the numbers inflated because they were juicing?  Yes.  Are there other players currently in the Hall of Fame who used performance enhancing (steroids, testosterone, etc.) or enabling (amphetamines) drugs who’s (sic) stats were inflated because of them?  Yes.  But this isn’t even the argument I really want to make.

McGwire and Sosa should be in the Hall of Fame because the home run race brought Major League Baseball out of the slump funk.  I was young at the time, but I distinctly remember my dad berating MLB after the ’94 strike; vowing to never go to another game again.  Now, did we go to another game again?  Yes.  The point though, is that without the McGwire/Sosa homerun race I’m not sure as many fans would have returned to baseball.  I’m not sure MLB would even be where it’s at today, almost 20 years after the strike, without the home run race.  It brought baseball back from the grave.  It made baseball fun again.  It got baseball fans over the strike and reminded people why they loved baseball to begin with.  Who care if they were taking steroids.  This isn’t about the numbers.  It’s about how important they were to baseball at the time, and no one was more important to baseball than McGwire and Sosa.  Consequently, I vote yes on both.

 

Cullen: I wholeheartedly agree that these two bashers saved baseball after the Strike. That certainly earns them some points.

Originally, I was going to say Yes for McGwire and No for Sosa, the reason being that Sosa did nothing well other than hit the long ball. But as I took a closer look…the same can be said for Big Mac. So I had to re-change my thinking here, and now, I believe, both men should be enshrined if for nothing more than that during the Age of the Homerun, these two men were the Kings—and not just the Kings of the Midwest, but overall, Kings.

 

Lee Smith—Closer

Cullen: There are currently only five pitchers in the Hall of Fame who were considered “closers” at one point in their careers: Dennis Eckersley (197-171, 390 saves), Rollie Fingers (114-118, 341 saves), Goose Gossage (124-107, 310 saves), Bruce Sutter (68-71, 300 saves) and Hoyt Wilhelm (143-122, 227 saves).

When you dig a little bit, it’s easy to see why those five are in the Hall: Eckersley not only had almost 400 saves but also had around 200 wins. He had two careers: as a starter, then as a closer. He dominated as both. Fingers, Gossage and Sutter were the top closers when the closer was the new fad. And Wilhelm is arguably the first full-time closer (having played from 1952-1972 and only making 20 starts).

So, what about Lee Smith, a guy who, when he retired, held the all-time record for saves with 478? (He’s since been surpassed by Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, both of whom have recorded more than 600 saves.) Smith pitched in the era of Eckersley/Fingers/Gossage/Sutter and had more saves than all of them. He made 7 All Star teams (that seems to be happening a lot) while leading the league in saves four times—once being the strike-shortened season of 1994.

I’m honestly at a loss of whether Lee Smith should be enshrined in Cooperstown. Of the top ten pitchers in saves, only two are in the Hall. (Though another two aren’t yet eligible, and very well may get in on their first chance. I’m talking Hoffman and Rivera.)

This is Smith’s 11th year on the ballot. He garnered just over 50% of the vote last year, much below what is required. According to Bill James’ Hall of Fame monitor, Smith rates a 13 when the average Hall of Famer rates a 50.

Saves is perhaps the stat most diluted in recent eras. Closers are treated like kings—and aren’t often asked to get more than 3 outs or throw anything other than a heater. Smith, though he didn’t pitch in the recent eras, definitely suffers from today’s closers being so overrated.

He won’t make it into Cooperstown, but this blog is about whether I think he should. And, honestly, despite his high number of saves and leading the majors in all-time saves when he called it quits, it really doesn’t appear that Smith should be a Hall of Famer.

He’s out.

 

Braden: I have no real argument with your analysis of Lee Smith.  I would like to say you do make some excellent points as far as the manner in which the perception of today’s closers impacts voters’ perceptions of closers in previous eras.

 

Edgar Martinez—Designated Hitter

Braden: Edgar Martinez… A designated hitter in the Hall of Fame?  The fact that Martinez was primarily a DH will undoubtedly hurt him with voters.  I think it’s easy to disqualify someone on the grounds that they didn’t play the field, but at the same time, DH is a position and he was a good hitter.  But was he a great hitter?  Was he one of the best hitters of all time?  Was his hitting good enough to qualify him for the Hall based solely on his hitting?  I’m not so sure he was that great of a hitter.  Some will probably point to his stats.  Saying look at this or look at that number.  But as a kid I don’t remember thinking, “O no.  It’s Edgar Martinez up to bat!”  No, thoughts like that were reserved to players like his teammate Ken Griffey Jr.

 

Cullen: Martinez made seven All Star teams and had over 500 career doubles to go with a .312 batting average. He led the league in runs scored once, doubles twice, RBI once and average twice. If he played a position, like third base, the entire time and put up those numbers, he’d be in. But he didn’t. He was a Designated Hitter in a great lineup and that had Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner (remember: traded by the Yankees). To get in as a DH, he had to have more years like the ones he produced six or seven times. There will come a time when a DH gets into the Hall of Fame (Billy Butler, perhaps?), but now is not the time, and Martinez is not that DH.

 

Fred McGriff—Steroids Era Player Never Connected to Steroids

Cullen: The Crime Dog is a guy who played during the Steroid Era but who has never been connected to taking steroids. Still, his playing in the era has hampered him as he put up numbers that would be considered great in other eras, but look rather pedestrian in the Steroid Era. Plus, he falls under the cloud of the era, and that cloud may be why voters have kept out McGriff for three years, only getting 23.9% of votes last year.

Does he belong in Cooperstown, though? Let’s look at his stats.

McGriff anchored first base for 19 seasons for several teams: Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays (yes—Devil Rays), Cubs and Dodgers. He made only 5 All Star teams in those years but did hit 493 home runs (leading the league twice) and drove in more than one hundred runs in eight seasons.

But he did not finish in the top ten in any offensive category, and only finished in the top ten in defensive games played at first base and assists by a first baseman. I think that just goes toward longevity, which is dandy, but one doesn’t make the Hall based only on longevity.

Going into this, I thought that McGriff was a Hall of Famer. He did almost reach 500 homers without being connected to PEDs and had a decent batting average for a power hitter (.284), but he never won an MVP and only made a handful of All Star teams.

In the end, McGriff just didn’t do enough to make the Hall of Fame.

 

Braden: It’s sad to say, but I want to say yes simply because of his nickname.  I don’t even know what it means, but as a kid I remember him and Chipper Jones being on some good Braves teams simply because of that nickname.  Yet, I feel like I should have a little more reasoning other than liking someone’s nickname as to why I want to vote someone into the hall of fame.  So… the test.  Was he really that good?  Like you say, I don’t really think so.  So, I vote no on McGriff.

 

 

Rafael Palmeiro—Steroids Era Player Connected to Steroids

Cullen: This is Palmeiro’s third year on the ballot, and he didn’t even reach 13% of the votes last year. He won’t get in this season (or, probably, ever), but should he?

I think he should.

Palmeiro belongs to the ultra-elite club of players who have 3,000 career hits (3,020) and 500 career homeruns (569). He did this over 20 years with the Cubs, Rangers and Orioles. Palmeiro drove in over 100 runs in 10 of eleven seasons between 1993-2003—the only season in which that did not happen was 1994, the year that almost killed baseball.

He only made four All Star teams. I can’t believe that. This is from a guy who averaged 33 HR, 105 RBI and a .288/.371/.515 over two decades. How does someone like that only make four All Star teams? That’s crazy.

He also nabbed three straight Gold Gloves at first.

In his career, he ranked 6th at career assists by a first baseman and 6th in all-time extra base hits.

Simply put, Palmeiro had a great, long career that saw him get more than 3,000 hits and more than 500 homeruns. He was also great defensively at first base. Despite being linked to taking PEDs, Rafael Palmeiro was among the best of the best of his era and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

 

Braden: I would like to slightly amend my previous statement.

I don’t care what his career stats are.  I don’t care that he has 3000 hits.  I know what I said with Biggio… 3000… automatic.  But Biggio did not testify to Congress and then immediately test positive!  He can’t be voted in.  He was great in the field AND at the plate.  But that testimony, and the manner in which it was given… For him to test positive following it just makes me not want to vote for him.  Therefore, while the stats you bring up are clearly compelling… they aren’t good enough to make up for that testimony.  In regards to this vote’s relationship to Sosa and McGwire… It may seem completely contradictory, and it is somewhat, but like I said with them; I voted them in partially because of the chase’s relationship to baseball.

And that’s all we’ve got!

Who gets into Cooperstown will be announced at some point today. From reading stuff from those whose votes matter, it looks like only Craig Biggio will get in. But that remains to be determined.

Hopefully, someday voters will develop a set of guidelines to help them determine which players from the PED Era should get into the Hall of Fame. But I have a feeling that won’t be for some time. Regardless, players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds deserve to get a little more credit (and a little more of the vote) than they do. Fans and writers and the baseball world loved these guys (OK, maybe not Bonds) when they were at the top of their game. All three deserve to be in Cooperstown, and if not this year, then definitely some year down the road.

UPDATE: No players were elected into the Hall of Fame in 2013, the first time that’s happened since 1996. You can see the full results here.

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  1. #1 by Chris Ross on January 9, 2013 - 11:16 AM

    Nice post. It’s going to be very interesting and possibly frustrating over the years I think to see other guys get voted in. This debate is going to be never ending for as long as baseball is around whether they get in or not. There is a right answer in my opinion and I think they shouldn’t get in. I don’t see why they should and I know they were such a big part of baseball history but it doesn’t seem fair to let them in. Really intrigued to see what happens over the next 5 to 10 years surrounding this. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I’d love to hear what you have to say http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/hall-of-infamous/

  1. Cullen Jekel's Imaginary MLB Hall of Fame Ballot - Fourth Quarter Sports

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