This is an exercise that I have thought about doing for the last three years, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble. Voting for Baseball’s Hall of Fame in my opinion is the ultimate honor for a writer, but in recent years we have seen ballots from some people that look like they took about as much time considering their ballot as they did opening the ballot’s envelope. We’ve also seen others treat it like it is some unbearable weight that has been bestowed upon their shoulders. Some of the vitriol seems to have dissipated now that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are no longer on the ballot, but still.
When it comes to Hall of Fame voting, I have always been fascinated by the process of putting together a ballot, like how much time and care should be put into it. I don’t think you can talk about Hall of Fame voting without mentioning Jay Jaffe (not at Fangraphs) who not only developed JAWS, but whose book “The Cooperstown Casebook” is one of the best at explaining the history of baseball’s highest institution.
I’m not a BBWAA member and probably never will be. Therefore, I will never have the honor of casting a ballot for the Hall of Fame. But if I were and I was in for the necessary 10 years that it takes to become a Hall of Fame voter, this is what my ballot would look like.
Before we get into my hypothetical ballot. Let’s get something out of the way. Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez have the numbers to warrant inclusion, but both were suspended for PEDs. Ramirez was actually suspended twice. I think both would have been Hall of Fame players without the added boost, but it my opinion, it is hard to look past an actual suspension. There are players that I would vote for that have been linked to PEDs and other controversies, but none of them were actually suspended by the league.
I will admit that there was never a time that when I watched Bobby Abreu during his 18-year career that I thought I was looking at a Hall of Fame player. I don’t think I was alone either as he made just two All-Star teams and one a single Gold Glove. However, look deeper, and you find a well accomplished player that certainly deserved more praise. Abreu finished his career with 2,470 hits, 574 doubles, 288 home runs and 400 stolen bases. Only six players in major league history have at least 250 home runs and 400 stolen bases in a career. Of the six, only Abreu, Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds aren’t currently in the Hall of Fame. Abreu finished his career with a .395 on-base percentage and was a good defensive outfielder that again, was solid if unspectacular.
Let’s get controversial right off the top. Carlos Beltrán might have been a first-ballot selection if not for his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. He is one of eight players in major league history with at least 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases despite playing at a time in history where the stolen base wasn’t utilized. His success rate of 86.4 percent on steals is the most of any with 200 attempts. He doesn’t have a lot of the milestone numbers that some voters look for, but finished with 2,725 hits, 565 doubles, 435 homers, 1,582 runs scored and 1,587 RBI. Beltran slugged .609 and had 16 homers in 65 career games in the postseason. In addition, he was regarded as a good defensive outfielder for at least the first half of his career.
So, how can I ignore his role in the sign-stealing scandal with the Astros? I can’t, but I’m not going to weight it too heavily either. Beltran was said to be at the center of it, but also became a convenient scapegoat. The Astros took more liberties than any other team, but it is also unlikely that they were the only club using electronics to steal signs. Beltran was also never suspended by the league, which is also a big deal for me as I will state later on.
While watching Adrían Beltré during his career, I’m not sure it ever occurred to me that I was watching a future Hall of Famer. But, in my opinion he is the safest pick on this ballot to be enshrined in his first year. 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 636 doubles while playing exceptional defense at third base. We would probably feel even better about his candidacy had advanced fielding metrics existed during the early part of his career.
Had I put together a hypothetical ballot last year, I’m not sure that it would have included Todd Helton. He spent his entire career playing at Coors Field, but was one of the best hitters in the game at his peak. The recent election of Fred McGriff no doubt helps his case. He is currently 15th among first baseman in JAWS, right ahead of Eddie Murray. The only players in front of him that are not in the hall are Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Rafael Palmeiro. Pujols and Cabrera aren’t eligible yet but are likely first ballot guys. Votto should probably get in as well. Palmeiro would be in as well if not for his association with steroids.
Maybe controversial in some circles, but Andruw Jones is the best defensive center fielder that I have ever seen and might be the best to ever play the game. His peak was short, but he finished his career with 434 home runs and a 111 wRC+ for his career which also includes the final five seasons of his career where he seemed to go off a cliff. Like Beltre, if we’d had the defensive metrics then that we have now, Jones would have set a new standard for outfielders. His .254 career average falls short, as do his 1,933 hits, but I couldn’t leave the best defensive center fielder in the game off my ballot and I think he deserves to be in the Hall.
The Hall of Fame hasn’t always treated catchers well, but Mauer ranks seventh in JAWS. All six of the players ahead of him are enshrined, as are the four players directly behind him. Concussions forced Mauer to finish his career as a first baseman, but there was a long stretch during his peak where he was the top backstop in the game. He is the only catcher to ever win three batting titles and has an MVP Award as well. He’s tracking towards induction in his first year, but if it doesn’t happen in 2024, it will soon enough.
This was probably the most difficult decision I had on the list. Andy Pettitte was a great pitcher and had a great career which last 18 years. He won five championships. Four during the Yankees’ dynasty and then another with Houston. Pettitte accumulated 256 wins and amassed over 3,300 innings not counting the postseason where is the all-time leader with 276 2⁄3 more innings. His 3.81 career ERA gives me some pause, but again, he was a key contributor on five championship teams. I probably never considered him a Hall of Fame pitcher while I was watching him, but like Abreu, I think he clears the standard when you consider the full body of work.
I guess at this point, I need to outline my stance on players that were associated with PEDs. I grew up watching baseball throughout the 80s and 90s and I have a hard time accepting that what I watched somehow doesn’t count. For many years, the league had no testing and no way of punishing players for PED use. Additionally, the man that oversaw much of this era as commissioner, Bud Selig, is enshrined anyway. So, I draw the line at players that were actually suspended for PEDs.
With that out of the way, Gary Sheffield was one of the most feared right-handed hitters in major league history. His career numbers place him right in the middle of many Hall of Fame players, whether it is counting stats like his 509 home runs, or rate stats like his career 140 OPS+. He finished his career with just under 2,700 hits and a .292 career average. Never one to campaign for his accomplishments, Sheffield did give some background on being linked to BALCO and the Mitchell Report back in December.
Sheffield is in the final year of eligibility on the writer’s ballot. I’m skeptical that he gets in, but if he doesn’t, I feel pretty good about his chances with the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee.
Chase Utley is another player that I have gone back and forth on. He put together a fine career, but doesn’t have the counting stats or the awards that typically sway voters. A lot of his value is tied to his fielding and his base running. He got a little bit of a late start to his career, but at his peak, he was one of the most productive players in the game. It will be interesting to see what kind of support he gets in his first year. I’m not sold that Utley actually gets in, but he’d have my vote.
There is a great debate to be had about closers and the Hall of Fame. Compared to starters, they simply don’t contribute the same value over a career. However, they are a big part of today’s game and have been that way for some time. If they are historically a part of the game, then you almost need to adjust the standard. At the end of the day I agree with something that MLB.com’s Mike Petriello said this week in regard to Billy Wagner and his candidacy. If Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman are in the Hall, then Wagner needs to be as well.