Another January, another Baseball Hall of Fame Election. While two deserving players were elected – the highest and lowest ever draft picks to be enshrined – many others were not. The question was not if Ken Griffey Jr. was going to elected but rather what would his vote total be? Would he unanimous? He did ultimately set the record, garnering 99.3% of the votes, leading Bob Costas to castigate the three writers who didn’t vote for him and called for their voter cards to be turned over. Easy Bob. Mike Piazza is of course also deserving of baseball’s biggest honour, being the sport’s most offensive catcher of all time. For him the biggest will be Dodger Blue or the two colour Mets Cap? Many seem to be leaning towards the latter, especially because of his iconic post-9/11 home run at Shea Stadium, but let’s not discount his years with Los Angeles.
That is all well and good, but let’s examine the cases of some other greats who didn’t quite make the cut this year:
Jeff Bagwell: I was always a huge fan of Bags and ever since his name first appeared on the ballot I have been wanting and hoping that one day he will be elected. His old Astros teammate Craig Biggio was elected last year and I always felt that Bagwell wasn’t too far behind. And he’s not. At 71.6%, he fell just 15 votes shy and is sure to join his fellow “Killer B” in Cooperstown in 2017.
Trevor Hoffman: Although I played second base as a kid, I was always in awe of the closer and Hoff is a big reason why. He played in an era where the “true closer” was just coming into form. Sure there are closers in the HOF, but guys like Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers were not specialists; they would pitch 3,4,5 innings to finish games. Even Eckersley and Smoltz had hybrid careers, successful as both starters and relievers. This brings us to…
Lee Smith: I’ll admit off the top that I am too young to have seen Smith play and appreciated what he brought to the game. But looking at his numbers it is easy to tell that he deserves to get the nod. He was the first pitcher to reach 400 saves and held the record for 13 years until it was broken by Hoffman (and later Rivera). The fact is that he is still third all-time in saves and sportswriter Jim Murray once called him “the best one-inning guy” he has ever seen. In the history of the game, the closer is a relatively new phenomenon and as voters skew younger, the closer (and DH) is likely to get more respect. While Smith probably won’t make up enough ground to get elected in his final year, he shall be an interesting case study for the veteran’s committee once Rivera and Hoffman ascend to baseball royalty.
Tim Raines: Oh Tim Raines. The Rock of baseball. His time is also running out, but unlike Smith, sits in a much better place, and may actually get in before his time runs out. He sits just 5% from the threshold – between Hoffman and Bags – and is likely to reach that target next year.
Roger Clemens & Barry Bonds: I’ve grouped these two together for obvious reasons. No two players have come up more frequently in the discussion of PEDs than these two. In the past, I have always had two minds about whether or not they should be elected, but now I sit on the side of yes they should. Here’s why: No one knows for sure when the steroid era started, but most would agree it was the 1990s. One writer argued that Bonds didn’t start taking until 1999 after he witnessed the “great” home run chase of 1998. The great Peter Gammons starts at 2005 when baseball instituted drug testing. Even if we go back to 1995 or 1996, Clemens and Bonds are still worthy in my books. By the time The Rocket came to Toronto, he was already a three-time Cy Young Award winner, five time All Star, AL MVP, Wins leader twice, and ERA leader four times. Those are pretty good numbers to me.
Bonds even more so. By 1996, Barry had already won five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, 3 NL MVPS, had five All Star Game selections and was both the leader of HRs and RBI’s in 1993. Also, unlike Mark McGwire he always had a high average, his career total is .298. I think part of the reason these two haven’t been elected yet is twofold: They were not exactly media-friendly. Bonds in particular was very mercurial and Roger was just a complete dickhead. But also, it seems that the BBWAA and others don’t want to hold themselves accountable for their role in baseball’s steroid era (though to be fair, some are now making peace with that). Many players from the dead-ball era were drunks and tons more from the 70s and 80s were coke fiends and meth heads. A number of those players are in the hall. Irrespective of their personalities and what they did or didn’t do, Bonds and Clemens have the numbers worthy of a Hall plaque.
But for me, their is one player’s case that intrigues me more than any of the others listed:
Billy Wagner: I was always a fan of Billy Wagner (I did have thing for closers remember). But sadly, I never realized how good his numbers were until I was watching the Hall of Fame coverage earlier today. True, he was a 7x All-Star, but he was also a very underrated player compared to his compatriots. Many are comparing him to Hoffman because they played at the same time and were both on the ballot for the first time this year. Hoffman is second in career saves, Wagner is 5th. Only three other pitchers have at least 400 saves, and one of them won’t be eligible for induction for another three years. Wagner’s ERA is almost a half-run lower than Hoff’s (2.31 compared to 2.87), has a much greater ERA+, and one of the highest strikeout per nine innings total in the game’s history. Hoffman got 67%, Billy just 10.5%. Wagner was definitely in the top three closers of his generation and the two ahead of him are going to be elected within the next five years. Yes, he may have only 10.5% this go round, but once Hoff an Rivera are enshrined and the modern-day closer is finally acknowledged, Wagner’s stock will only go up.
2016 was a good year that left a good deal of deserving players out. Your move 2017.