Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

January 6, 2014

Column: One writer's unofficial Hall of Fame ballot

— What better way to start a freezing, wintry morning than with baseball?

Baseball will be at the forefront of sports again on Wednes-day when the latest inductees are announced for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There are other halls of fame in the world for just about any activity in existence, but the baseball shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y. reigns supreme in the sports world. Type in Hall of Fame on the Internet and baseball comes up.

Enshrinement is still a big deal, but it has gotten tougher in recent years thanks to the eligibility of the ‘steroid’ era players who helped stain the numbers that once meant an automatic placement in the shrine.

There was a time when 500 home runs, 3,000 hits or 300 wins was ‘all’ it took. Thanks to the suspicions of steroids, that is no longer the case.

Barry Bonds (762 home runs), Sammy Sosa (609), Mark McGwire (583) and Rafael Palmeiro (569) would have been shoo-ins in the past, but none are likely to ever get elected by the Hall of Fame voters because of the ‘s’ word.

Bonds was likely a Hall of Famer without the ‘help’, and Palmeiro may have been too with all those long balls and 3,020 hits if he hadn’t waved his finger at Congress that he was innocent of steroid use, later tested positive and disappeared forever.

Sosa and McGwire were not worthy of enshrinement until much later in their careers, and did themselves no favors when Sosa suddenly couldn’t speak English and McGwire didn’t’ want to talk about the past. Bonds just didn’t want to talk to anyone.

The 3,000 hit barrier will be tested again this year. Craig Biggio was never accused of drug use, but has been called a ‘compiler’, apparently meaning he hung around for 20 years to get those 3,060 hits. Look for him to fall short again.

There are three 300-game winners also on the ballot. Greg Maddux (355) will get in on the first ballot, and Tom Glavine (305) may not. Remember that ‘compiler’ tag, Glavine could also be in that category. Roger Clemens (354) is another candidate stained by the ‘s’ word.

At least someone will get voted in this year. No one did in 2013 when the only inductees were three men who have been dead for nearly 80 years. Biggio (68.2 percent) and Jack Morris (67.7) were the top vote-getters, but it takes 75 percent to get in.

Who will get there in 2014? There are plenty of big names on this list, as would be expected for the best to play the game. Seventeen players remain on the ballot from last year, and another 19 newcomers that played for more than 10 years at the highest level.

It has gotten more difficult on the Hall of Fame writers, who can’t help, but have their own biases, both positive and negative, seep into their ballots. Some won’t vote for anyone associated with the ‘s’ word. Other players might be perceived as compilers or not being worthy of ‘first ballot’ induction.

That is why it is one of the most difficult shrines to get voted in. There are only 300 that have been inducted since the Hall of Fame was founded in 1936, and honestly several of them, especially the ‘old-timers’s have dubious credentials.

The results of the ballot released on Wednesday will include plenty of worthy candidates, and others, such as 12 of the 19 newcomers who shouldn’t receive the needed 15 votes to receive consideration again in 2015.

Jack Morris is the only player with his final chance. You get 15 years, this is his 15th. Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice made it in Year 15. Morris will not.

Here is a look at what my ballot would look like. Only Greg Maddux is guaranteed to get in, but Frank Thomas is deserving of the same. Not sure the rest will get that 75 percent.

Now I know voting for Bonds and Clemens is like voting for Ross Perot or a Libertarian for president. It is almost a wasted vote, but they both did the same to their legacies.

1. Greg Maddux. Absolute lock. Some high schoolers can throw harder, but few could place the ball better than just about anyone to ever pitch. He had 355 wins, 3.16 ERA, 4 (straight) Cy Young awards, 18 Gold Gloves, 13 of those in a row.

2. Frank Thomas. The ‘Big Hurt’ didn’t need steroids. He hit 521 home runs with a .301 batting average. Two MVP awards, top 4 in voting six times. He was a slugger, but walked 1,270 more times than he struck out.

3. Barry Bonds. The numbers are immortal. He is first in home runs (762) and walks (2,558), and third in runs (2,227) and RBIs (1,996). He didn’t need steroids, he was already better than everyone else. Also hated the media, and the rest of us.

4. Roger Clemens. Only one of the best pitchers in history. He is third all-time in strikeouts (2,478), ninth in wins (354) and had a 3.12 ERA. Ditto with Bonds. He didn’t need steroids, but the ‘s’ word will leave him waiting for a while

5. Tom Glavine. It is hard to ignore 305 wins, two Cy Young awards, and finishing in the top three in voting six times. His Hall of Fame journey could be much like Don Sutton, who won 324 games, but had to wait five years to get in.

6. Jeff Bagwell. His odd batting stance didn’t help his ailing back, but Bagwell hit 449 home runs and won an MVP award in 15 years, the second shortest career of any of the other 17 holdovers still on the ballot. If only he had been healthy.

7. Tim Raines. Raines didn’t hit for power, but did everything else. He played when stolen bases mattered, and ranks fifth all-time with 808 of them. He also hit .301 with 2,605 hits. A seven-time All-Star, led the league twice in runs scored.

8. Craig Biggio. This is a tough call. He had 3,060 hits, made seven All-Star teams. won four Gold Gloves, led the league in doubles three times and runs twice. That .281 lifetime average and ‘compiler’ tag may keep him waiting.

9. Mike Piazza. This choice came down to Piazza, Mike Mussina and Jack Morris. Piazza is the choice, leading all catchers with 427 home runs, while batting .308. Mussina will remain on the ballot, Morris will be a Veteran Committee choice.

10. Fred McGriff. Bias pick. The ‘Crime Dog’ was always one of my favorite players. He hit 493 home runs, played in five All-Star games and finished as high as fourth in MVP voting. Probably not an immortal, but certainly at the next level.

Those are my top 10 choices for the Hall of Fame, with the official announcement slated for Wednesday. Waiting to join them in Cooperstown in July will be the manager trio of Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.

There are other players that deserved some consideration, but I couldn’t find a place for Mussina, Morris, Jeff Kent, Lee Smith or Edgar Martinez on my ballot.

Let the debate continue. Can’t wait to see who gets in.

Here is a sure sign of spring; Pitchers and catches report in just over a month.

*****

Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@ bdtonline.com.

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