Brett Borzelli’s 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot
In his first year casting a ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Pinstripe Alley and Baseknock MLB writer reveals who he’s voting for and why.
This is my first year casting a ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame as a voting member of the IBWAA. It’s an honor and a privilege to do so, and it’s something I have been looking forward to for a very long time. Before I reveal my choices and reasoning, let’s first address the specter that hangs over the Hall of Fame voting process every year.
A large number of writers have chosen to withhold votes from some of the players suspected of using certain Performance Enhancing Drugs. Some have even declared that anyone who played during the Steroids Era should simply be passed over, as if that period in baseball history had never occurred.
But it did happen. As did the Cocaine Era before it, and the Amphetamine Era before that. We may not have wished for it, we may not like it, but it’s an undeniable part of baseball history.
For generations, ballplayers have sought to gain an edge through chemical use. The notion that using steroids, HGH, or andro is cheating, while taking cocaine or amphetamines is not, is laughable. A drug is a drug is a drug.
To be clear, I don’t applaud drug use. Quite the contrary, I’m glad that Major League Baseball and the Players Association finally reached an agreement to bar substances of abuse and punish users. The sport is better for it.
I also firmly believe that each and every one of these substances do more harm than good to the individual user. Implementing a formal ban that carries with it consequences for violators removes the pressure that athletes face to turn to dangerous drugs in order to compete. Thus, the health of the players is protected while the playing field is simultaneously leveled. Bravo.
But Major League Baseball did not ban steroids and issue penalties to users until the 2005 season. Amphetamines were not outlawed until the following year. So labeling players who were suspected of using prior to that as “cheaters” is disingenuous. They weren’t, in fact, cheating. They were merely following the lead of a legion of ballplayers who came before them, and they were playing within the rules in place at the time.
Holding recently retired players to a much higher standard than their predecessors from previous eras is patently unjust. I would never vote to remove admitted amphetamine user Hank Aaron from the Hall of Fame. So how can I in good conscience withhold my vote from suspected steroid user Barry Bonds?
Applying such a uniform moral code may seem so obvious as to not warrant a mention. Unfortunately, such a statement is necessary because some people apparently don’t believe in the concept of universal fairness.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan recently wrote a letter to voters, imploring them to deny admission to players suspected of using very specific substances, regardless of whether or not they actually did or broke any rules in the process. I don’t know if Joe Morgan used amphetamines, but he played in an era where consumption of “greenies” was rampant. If Morgan didn’t indulge, it’s a safe bet that some of the people he reveres did.
“It’s a museum that should tell the story of the game, not a gallery of saints. To pretend it’s the latter for purposes of excluding those who used PEDs different from your generation’s preferred substances is … convenient in the extreme,” IBWAA Honorary Chairman Dayn Perry wrote for CBSSports.com in response to Morgan’s letter.
I couldn’t agree more. Admitted users of cocaine and amphetamines are already enshrined in Cooperstown. I’m not going to participate in a plot to hold current candidates to an unreasonably high standard of perfection that has never existed before in the history of the game.
Each candidate deserves to be considered on his merits, and that’s precisely what I’ve done. So without further ado, I present to you the ten players that I am submitting on my Hall of Fame ballot:
Barry Bonds received MVP votes for 15 of his 22 seasons. He won the award a record seven times, including a run of four consecutive years. He was also a runner-up twice. No other player has been named MVP more than three times.
He won eight Gold Gloves, 12 Silver Slugger Awards, and three Hank Aaron Awards. Bonds was named to the All-Star team 14 times.
His 762 career home runs is the most in baseball history, as is his 2,558 walks. His 162.4 career WAR is second all-time behind Babe Ruth (183.7) among position players. Bonds is third on the all-time list with 2,227 runs scored, fifth with 1,996 runs batted in, and finished 65 short of the 3,000 hit plateau.
He hit 73 home runs in 2001 to set a new single-season record, which still stands. Bonds is the only player in baseball history with at least 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases. He is also the only one with at least 400 of each.
Bonds helped two struggling franchises get back to respectability. He led the Pirates to three straight division titles, following a ten year postseason drought. He also led the Giants to four playoff appearances in seven years, after a nine-year absence.
In 2002, Bonds slugged San Francisco all the way to Game Seven of the World Series. His eight homers, 18 runs scored, and 27 walks set new single-season playoff records. His .700 on-base percentage, 1.294 slugging average, and 1.994 OPS are all career World Series records.
It is beyond dispute that Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. But voters have kept him out of the Hall of Fame because of steroid speculation. This, despite the fact that Bonds played for 19 years prior to the substances being banned. Once they were, he never tested positive, nor was he ever sanctioned for any other violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement.
The all-time home run champ was dragged into the BALCO scandal when his personal trainer was indicted. Bonds was later charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. This is a highly suspect tactic that prosecutors sometimes employ when they have little or no evidence against someone and they are unsuccessful in their attempts to coerce that person to forfeit their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. Bonds was acquitted on the perjury charge, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 10-1 to overturn the obstruction of justice conviction. That outcome tells me everything I need to know about the case. I cannot in good conscience hold that sordid affair against Bonds.
Bonds should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He deserves to take his rightful place in Cooperstown.
Roger Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards. No other pitcher has more than five. He won it in consecutive years twice, and also had five other finishes in the top six.
The Rocket received MVP votes in 10 seasons, and is one of only three pitchers in baseball history to have won the award. He was an eleven-time All-Star, and won the Triple Crown twice.
He paced the league in wins four times, strikeouts five times, and ERA seven times. Clemens also led in complete games three times, shutouts six times, innings pitched twice, ERA+ eight times, FIP nine times, WHIP three times, and winning percentage three times.
His 140.3 pitching WAR is third all-time behind Cy Young (168.5) and Walter Johnson (165.6). His 4,672 career strikeouts is third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). With a record of 354-184, Clemens is the only pitcher in the live-ball era besides Lefty Grove to finish his career at least 150 games over .500. Clemens is ninth on the all-time win list, but is third behind Warren Spahn (363) and Greg Maddux (355) for the live-ball era.
In 1986, Clemens became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. Although others have since matched the feat, Clemens did it again 10 years later and remains the only pitcher to have struck out 20 batters in a game twice. In 2001, he became the first pitcher ever to start a season 20–1. He won 20 games six times. Only five live-ball era pitchers have reached that benchmark more than Clemens.
There’s no doubt that Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers ever. Voters have kept him out of Cooperstown because of steroid accusations, despite the fact that Clemens had compiled an indisputable Hall of Fame resume before the substances were banned. Once they were, he never tested positive, and he was never been sanctioned for any violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement.
Clemens was, however, dragged before a Congressional committee that tried to pressure him into giving self-incriminating testimony. When that failed, he was charged with making false statements. Unsurprisingly, prosecutors engaged in misconduct and a mistrial was declared. He was prosecuted again and found not guilty on all counts. Clemens was clearly the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt, which I won’t hold against him. I sincerely hope that others don’t either.
Roger Clemens also should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer and deserves to take his rightful place in Cooperstown.
After his nine-game cup of coffee in 1996 and 90-game rookie campaign the following year, Vladimir Guerrero played 14 MLB seasons. He received MVP votes 12 times, winning the award once.
He was a perennial .300 hitter, having eclipsed the mark in every season but two. In the two years he didn’t, Guerrero hit .290 and .295. He got 200 or more hits four times. Guerrero was a nine-time All-Star and won eight Silver Slugger Awards.
In addition to being one of the best all around hitters of his generation, Guerrero is one of only 11 players in baseball history to finish with at least 400 home runs, 400 doubles, 2,500 hits, and a .300 career batting average. Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig, and Stan Musial are already enshrined in Cooperstown. Manny Ramirez and Chipper Jones are on this year’s ballot along with Guerrero. That’s a pretty impressive group.
In the live-ball era, only 13 players with as many plate appearances as Guerrero’s 9,059 retired with a higher batting average than his .318 mark. All are in the Hall of Fame. Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Gwynn, Al Simmons, Paul Waner, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Jimmie Foxx, Sam Rice, and Charlie Gehringer form another impressive group. Note that only Boggs, Carew, and Gwynn began their careers within the last 75 years.
Vlad had a lifetime .931 OPS. Only 16 live-ball era players with as many plate appearances as Guerrero have retired with a better mark. Frank Thomas, Mickey Mantle, Jeff Bagwell, Musial, Mays, Ott, Ruth, Ted Williams, Foxx, Gehrig, and Hornsby are already in the Hall of Fame. Bonds, Ramirez, and Thome are on the ballot with Guerrero, while David Ortiz and Todd Helton are not yet eligible.
Kudos to IBWAA members for voting to enshrine Guerrero last year, his first on the ballot. Unfortunately, he received only 71.7% of the vote from the BBWAA, and thus failed to gain admission. There’s no question that Guerrero belongs in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, he will pick up the necessary votes this year.
Trevor Hoffman retired in 2010 with 601 career saves, which was an MLB record at the time. He was the first pitcher in history to reach the 600 saves plateau. He had also been the first to record 500 saves.
Mariano Rivera followed right behind, becoming the second pitcher to hit each of those marks. Ultimately, Rivera surpassed Hoffman and finished with 652 saves.
Will 600 saves become the new standard for closers? Not likely. It’s a better bet that 600 saves becomes an elusive milestone, like 4,000 strikeouts or 700 home runs.
The shelf-life of an elite closer is typically extremely short. Not surprising, considering it’s the highest pressure job in the sport. That’s what makes Hoffman’s and Rivera’s achievement even more remarkable. Doubly so that their careers ran concurrently.
Francisco Rodríguez is the closest active pitcher with 437 saves, and he is no longer utilized as a closer. Huston Street (324) and Fernando Rodney (300) are the only other active pitchers who have made it as far as halfway there. Street is 34 years old, while Rodney is 40.
We may have to wait decades to witness someone accomplish what Hoffman and Rivera did. So why on earth wasn’t Hoffman inducted in his first year of eligibility?
It’s baffling. Elite one-inning closers have been an essential part of the game for over 30 years. Hoffman should have been recognized for being the cream of the cream that he is. The good news is, he received 74.0% of the vote last year, so he only needs to pick up a few more votes this time around to take his rightful place in Cooperstown.
Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, one of the greatest third baseman of all time, and one of the best overall players of his generation. He retired with a .303 career batting average, 468 homers, 1,619 runs scored, and 1,623 RBIs.
During his 18-year career, Jones received MVP votes 13 times, including his first nine seasons. He won it in 1999.
Jones was an eight-time All-Star, won two Silver Slugger Awards, and won the batting title in 2008. He was also runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 1995.
Among switch hitters, only Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504) hit more home runs. Only Murray (1,917) drove in more runs. Pete Rose (2,165), Mantle (1,676), and Murray (1,627) are the only ones who scored more times. Jones was the only switch hitter in history to finish with a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, and .500 slugging average.
Mike Schmidt (548) and Eddie Mathews (512) are the only third basemen with more home runs than Jones. Adrian Beltre (1,642) is the only one with more runs batted in, while Jones is tops in runs scored and OPS (.930).
This is Chipper’s first year of eligibility. He should be considered a no-doubt-about-it first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez made his major league debut for a pretty woeful Seattle Mariners team in 1987. The beleaguered franchise had never experienced a winning season. But Martinez would go on to become the veteran leader required to guide the Mariners out of the darkness.
The club finished over .500 for the first time in 1991. Four years later, the Mariners ended the season tied for first place in the American League West. They beat the Angels in Game 163 to clinch their first ever division title.
Martinez came up in the bottom of the ninth with two on and Seattle trailing by a run in the decisive game of the 1995 ALDS. His two-run double clinched the series win against the Yankees in walk-off fashion, catapulting the Mariners into their first LCS.
At the time, the Kingdome was crumbling, attendance lagged, and the organization was struggling financially. Public support for a desperately needed new stadium was virtually non-existent. All of that changed with one swing of Edgar’s bat. To say that Major League Baseball likely would have left the city of Seattle decades ago were it not for Martinez is not a stretch.
The Mariners went from perennial doormats to one of the best teams in baseball at the turn of the millennium. Beginning with that magical 1995 season, Seattle made the playoffs four times in seven years. The run included three division crowns and three ALCS appearances.
Over a nine-year period ending in 2003, the Mariners won 90 or more games five times, while never finishing below third place. They also notched an AL-record 116 victories in 2001. Financing for what would become the majestic Safeco Field was approved, andMajor League Baseball in the Emerald City was saved. Martinez has been widely credited with being the catalyst.
One of the best hitters of his day, Martinez retired with a .312 lifetime batting average and .933 OPS. He was a seven-time All-Star, won five Silver Slugger Awards, two batting titles, and a Roberto Clemente Award. He received MVP votes five times, finishing as high as third in 1995.
To date, Martinez is the only full-time designated hitter to have won a batting title. He led the league in hitting for the second time in 1995 with a .356 average.
His 68.3 career WAR places Martinez ahead of many Hall of Famers including Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Willie McCovey, Duke Snider, and Ernie Banks. Since the average batting WAR among Hall of Fame inductees is 69, Martinez actually has a higher WAR than virtually half of those already enshrined. Accordingly, the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards rating system has pegged Martinez at 50, which is the mark given to “average” Hall of Famers.
IBWAA members voted to induct Martinez into the Baseball Hall of Fame last year. Unfortunately, he received only 58.6% of the vote from the BBWAA, and thus failed to gain admission. This will be the ninth year on the ballot for Martinez. He certainly has earned the honor of enshrinement.
Hideki Matsui enjoyed a prolific 10-year career in the Nippon Professional Baseball league before moving to MLB. While playing in Japan, he was a three-time MVP, nine-time All-Star, and won eight Best Nine Awards.
He led his team to three Japan Series championships, taking home MVP honors in 2000. Matsui also won the prestigious Matsutaro Shoriki Award that year, which is presented annually to the person who made the greatest contribution to the development of professional baseball in Japan.
A .304 career NPB hitter, Matsui was consistently one of the top offensive threats in the league. His .OPS over 10 years was .996, and he topped one thousand in five seasons.
Despite the much shorter NPB schedule at the time (130 to 138 games), Matsui still managed to drive in 90 or more runs seven times. He eclipsed the 100 mark five times. He hit at least 20 doubles and 20 homers eight times, while swatting 50 long balls in his final season in Japan.
Matsui played before there was a posting agreement in place between MLB and NPB. Japanese players were indentured to their teams for ten years before they were allowed to leave as free agents.
He didn’t make his major league debut until 2003 at age 29. But Matsui made an impact immediately upon arrival. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. In the process, he became the second Yankees outfielder after Joe DiMaggio to start an All-Star game in his first season.
In total, Matsui was a two-time All-Star here, and also garnered MVP votes twice. He drove in 100 or more runs four times, and led the league in games played in each of his first three MLB seasons.
Perhaps saving his best for last, Matsui earned World Series MVP honors in 2009. It was his final year in the Bronx.
Across 20 MLB and NPB seasons, Matsui clubbed 507 career homers, drove in 1,649 runs, and scored 1,557 times. His lifetime OPS was over .900.
I sincerely hope that Hall of Fame voters do not ignore Matsui’s professional career in Japan. NPB is considered a major league by MLB and should be treated as such. Matsui has earned the honor of becoming the first Japanese player to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Mike Mussina should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I previously published a lengthy article explaining why. Please read it.
Curt Schilling was a six-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion, and won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2001. He received MVP and Cy Young Award votes four times. Schilling was the Cy Young runner-up three times from 2001 to 2004. He led the league in wins and strikeouts twice each.
One of only 16 pitchers in baseball history to record over 3,000 strikeouts, Schilling retired with 3,116. Each of the other members of that exclusive club have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, except Roger Clemens.
His 79.9 career pitching WAR places him well above the average Hall of Famer. In fact, only 23 of the 74 pitchers already enshrined in Cooperstown have amassed more. Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, and Tom Glavine are among the many who have compiled lower career WAR than Schilling.
While his career regular-season achievements more than qualify him for Cooperstown, Schilling’s success in the playoffs lifts him into a much higher stratosphere. He is 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over 133 plus innings in the postseason. His .846 winning percentage is unmatched among pitchers who started as many games. Moreover, his team won an astounding 15 of his 19 postseason starts.
Schilling elevated three separate franchises to new heights. He won LCS honors in 1993 to put the Phillies into their first World Series in 10 years. He was co-MVP of the 2001 Fall Classic, going 4-0 in the playoffs to help the Diamondbacks get there for the first time and subsequently win it.
The Bloody Sock in 2004 served as the impetus for the Red Sox to finally get past the Yankees and onward to their first title since 1918. He was 3-1 in the playoffs during that run. Schilling went 3-0 in the 2007 postseason to help Boston claim their second championship in four years following the 85-year Curse of the Bambino.
The word “legend” is reserved for players like Schilling. His postseason prowess spanning 14 years was certainly legendary.
Why Schilling isn’t already residing in Cooperstown is a mystery. Maybe this year.
Jim Thome was a five-time All-Star who received MVP votes nine times. He won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2002, Silver Slugger Award in 1996, and AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2006.
Thome drove in 100 or more runs nine times. He led the NL with 47 home runs in 2003.
Having retired with 612 home runs, Thome is one of nine members of the exclusive 600 club. He also finished with 1,699 RBIs, 1,583 runs scored, and a .956 OPS.
If you are looking for character, integrity, and sportsmanship, you won’t find a better example than Jim Thome. He is widely expected to win election on his first try. Thome deserves it.