There's no question in my mind that the best part about covering sports at WKTV is that Cooperstown is in our market. There's no place closer and the folks in town watch us more than any other news station. Cooperstown, I've said many times, is my "happiest place on earth," (Between April and October anyway) because it's known, whether true or not, as the "Birthplace of Baseball." I've covered every type of HOF related event in the Coop and I always feel blessed when I get to talk with President Jeff Idelson and the many baseball legends, whether they're enshrined in the Hall's Gallery or not.
In just a few days, the Hall will announce the results of the most controversial writers ballot in history. Some of the top guys in the modern era of baseball are eligible for the first time, but many of them are considered cheaters, for their alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. Some have the bad luck of being on this ballot. Guilt by association may hurt two that should be easy first ballot Hall of Famers. There's also a few holdovers from last year's ballot that have pretty good chances to make it as well. So I decided, like many sports fans like to do, to figure out whom I would vote for, if I had the chance.
First and foremost, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. All three obviously have the stats to be first ballot Hall of Famers, but because of PED allegations none will get in this year. Sosa I don't think will ever get in, because his numbers are pretty much all linked to cheating, whether through PEDs or even corked bats (he was caught with at least one during his career). Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, who have each been on the ballot a few years, are in the same boat. Bonds and Clemens, however, both had monster numbers before either touched anything extra. I honestly feel that both deserve to get in. But I wouldn't vote for either this year, because of what Mr. Idelson told me when I interviewed him this week, reminding me about Rule 5 in the voting guidelines: "Voting shall be based on player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Yes both Bonds and Clemens deserve to get in, but it wouldn't be on my vote this year. (Probably not next year either, when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas will be first timers, or the year after that, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz are first timers.)
I feel differently about Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio, however. I feel bad, because each are the best at their position of this era, but each are also quietly suspected of using, though no one's ever officially accused them. Piazza has the best offensive numbers of any catcher, EVER. 427 HRs, 396 as a catcher, including nine seasons of hitting at least 30. His career batting average was .308 and he drove in 1,335 RBI, six times hitting over 100 in a season, with the second longest streak in MLB history, 15 straight games with at least one RBI, in 2000. Only nine others hit 400 HR, hit over .300 for their careers and didn't strike out more than 100 times in a season. Among those names are Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Piazza was also a 12 time All-Star, the MVP of the game in 1996 and the NL Rookie of the Year in 1993. Biggio had over 3,000 hits, 668 of which were doubles, putting him fifth all-time in that department. He drove in 1,175 runs, scoring 1,844 and his 146 in 1997 were the most since 1932. He's also the "King of the HBP," having been hit 287 times, the most in the modern era, second all-time. A seven time All-Star, Biggio also won four gold gloves at second base.
The problem is Piazza and Biggio both seem too good to be true, even if both are 100% clean. Biggio was close in the Houston clubhouse with admitted user Ken Caminiti, as well as Jeff Bagwell, who has been rumored to have been too close with Caminiti as well. Bagwell is another story, as it's his third year on the ballot and solely by the numbers, he should be in Cooperstown as well. But his numbers (449 HR, 1,529 RBI, 1,401 BB, .297 career AVG) just feel dirty to me. Bagwell I wouldn't vote for this year. But Piazza and Biggio I would. MIKE'S VOTE: MIKE PIAZZA AND CRAIG BIGGIO
Curt Schilling. Yikes. Where do I begin? I don't think it would be possible for me to impartial when it comes to this guy. Whether or not the bloody sock in 2004 was a fake, Schil was one of the guys that delivered a championship to the Red Sox and I can never thank him enough for that. He was also on the title team in 2007, though far less effective then. In fact, his Hall of Fame credentials are really more from his NL days, with the Phillies and Diamondbacks. When and if Schilling does make it someday, it will ignite some fantastic hat debates. (Which of the three should he go in as? Hey, you'll hear it this year between the Mets and Dodgers if Piazza gets in as well.) As for Schilling's numbers: 216 wins, 3.46 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, 3,116 strikeouts (15th all-time), 20 shutouts, an 11-2 postseason record with a 2.23 ERA in those games. He also had a fantastic 4.38-to-1 strikeouts to walks ratio in the regular season. His three world series titles, two with Boston and one with Arizona in which he was co-MVP, speak for themselves and he was also in a fourth with Philadelphia. But believe it or not, I also invoke Rule 5 with Schilling, at least for this season. He's actually lacking in integrity in my eyes, whether it be "shilling" (pardon the pun) for GW Bush the day after winning the title in 2004 or his truly awful management of his video game company, in which he laid everyone off. If I'm going to punish Bonds and Clemens, I'm just going to have to do it to Schilling as well. Ouch, that hurts.
Jack Morris is a very interesting case. It's his 14th year on the ballot and thanks to the strong pitchers on it for the first time next year, if he doesn't make it here, he's done. Morris earned 66.7% of the needed 75% last year, which means he should get enough this year. Does he deserve it? 254 wins, with at least 20 three times, 2,478 strikeouts, 28 shutouts, a 1.296 WHIP, a no-hitter in 1984 and five All-Star selections. But Morris, like Schilling, was a big game pitcher in the postseason, where he technically won four championships, though he was really on great in 1984 for Detroit and in 1991 for Minnesota. (He was part of the rotation for Toronto in 1992, but wasn't that good, then didn't even make the postseason roster in 1993.) His ten shutout innings for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 Fall Classic is one of the great pitching performances ever. It's for that reason I would vote for him. Yes Schilling has better numbers, but he'll have his chance again down the road. This is it for Morris and I'd like to see him get in. MIKE'S VOTE: JACK MORRIS
Lee Smith is another toughie, as Dennis Eckersley was really the best reliever of that era, but had to convert from being a starter. Smith was consistently the best reliever, pretty much all through the 80s, though he didn't break 40 saves until late in his career, 1991. I never understood why the Red Sox got him in 1988, then swept him out by 1990. He was a lot more reliable than his replacement, Jeff Reardon, but for whatever reason, he went to St. Louis, where he revitalized his career. His 478 saves over 18 seasons were the most until Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera surpassed him and he finished 802 games, an MLB record. His career ERA was 3.03, WHIP 1.256 and he struck out 1,251 batters. He was a seven time All-Star and holds the saves records for both the Cubs and Cardinals, two bitter rivals. You can debate whether relievers belong in the HOF if you want, but I say this is one guy who surpasses them all and if I could, I'd give him the thumbs up. MIKE'S VOTE: LEE SMITH
There's no question that Tim Raines has great credentials as well. A .294 career batting average and the NL champ in 1986, 2,605 hits, 1,330 walks, 1,571 runs scored (leading the league in both 1983 and 1987) as well as 430 doubles. But it's stolen bases that are where Raines excelled, with 808 in his career, leading the NL every year between 1981 and 1984. But that number only put him fifth on the all-time list. Raines was a seven time All-Star and three time World Series champion, but only two of those titles came as a player, and it was when he was really more a reserve with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998. I've never really thought Raines was quite good enough for the Hall and if I had a vote, I wouldn't give it to him. The same goes for Julio Franco and Kenny Lofton, who both appear on the ballot for the first time. Neither had as many hits, runs, or stolen bases as Raines, so they're both a no on my list.
Some people might make a case for David Wells, with 239 wins, 2,201 strikeouts, a 1.266 WHIP, two World Series titles and a perfect game in 1998. But his 4.13 ERA and my general dislike for "Boomer" could never result in a yes vote for him, especially over Morris and Schilling.
Dale Murphy has no chance, though his kids have been campaigning hard, given that it's his last year of eligibility. But even given how great a guy everyone says he is, his numbers just aren't good enough. 398 HR, with six seasons of at least 30, 1,266 RBI, five of at least 100, 1,197 runs scored and just a .265 career batting average. He was an All-Star seven times and won five gold gloves. It amazes me that he won the NL MVP twice, but I guess it's because offensive numbers were pretty low in 1982 and 1983. I compare Murphy to my favorite player all-time, former Red Sox Dwight Evans, who was dropped from the ballot after just three years, in 1999. "Dewey" hit 385 HR, 1,384 RBI, 1,470 runs scored, 483 doubles and also walked 1,470 times, nearly 500 times more than Murphy. He only made three All-Star appearances, but won eight gold gloves. There's no way Murphy is a Hall of Famer if Dewey isn't.
Now Fred McGriff on the other hand, is a different story. I've never been a huge fan of "The Crime Dog," but always had a lot of respect for him and certainly never thought of him as a PED guy. His numbers always seemed not impressive enough to warrant speculation, either a cheater or a Hall of Famer. But as I broke down his credentials, I saw that okay, his 493 HR were seven shy of 500, but he hit at least 30 in ten different seasons. He hit 1,550 RBI, with at least 100 in eight different seasons. He walked 1,305 times, scored 1,349 runs, hit 441 doubles and was a career .284 hitter. He was an All-Star five times, winning the MVP of the game in 1994, right before the strike by the way, and won a World Series title with Atlanta in 1995. I like those numbers, though he's never going to make it this year after getting just 23.9% last year. That's less than Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez who are far less impressive and not even worthy of researching in my opinion. McGriff, however, is and I would give him a yes. (Though like Piazza and Schilling, his hat discussion would be crazy! Five years with Toronto, Four and a half with both Atlanta and Tampa, plus a few years with San Diego, the Cubs and the Dodgers mixed in. Oy!) MIKE'S VOTE: FRED MCGRIFF
So looking back, I would've voted for five guys this year: Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Fred McGriff. Curt Schilling might make my "ballot" in the future, and who knows, maybe Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will as well, but not this time. In any case, it will be fascinating to see how the real voters see all these guys. We'll find out Wednesday at 2 p.m. live on MLB Network!
WEDNESDAY NOTE: I'm hearing all across the board that no one is getting in off this year's ballot. That would be a real shame for Cooperstown, as the three Pre-Integration Veterans Committee inductees won't bring in too many people. It's also a shame for Jack Morris, who has no chance of getting in next year, his last on the ballot. I really hope they experts are wrong on this one.
To see my orgiginal post, go to: http://levinsports.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-most-controversial-hof-ballot-in.html