Tampa Bay Sports Day

Esposito: If I Had a Hall of Fame Vote

We’re less than 24 hours away from when the debates begin and the arguments follow.

On Tuesday, National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of this year’s voting by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America to see which former players will be formally inducted this summer. Moments after the announcement, the praise and questions will ensue.

This year’s ballot included 34 former players, with 17 first-timers on the list. They made the cut by playing at least ten years in the bigs, or had at least five percent of the vote in previous elections. Writers have the ability to vote for as many as ten candidates, and also have the option of turning in blank ballots.

Already, reports indicate that some writers have done so, voted for no one, and in most cases, these represent some sort of protest. However, if you scratch the surface of this protest, you might find some writers who put themselves above the process. As in, “Really? No one in your estimation deserved a vote?”

You will learn tomorrow that some writers cast votes for players who clearly did not deserve a vote. All good players, no doubt, maybe even an All-Star once or twice, but worthy of the Hall of Fame?

This is not to diminish the overall accomplishments of the following, but seriously, do you consider these good ballplayers plaque-worthy: Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Brian Giles, or Jason Schmidt. But you may find tomorrow that some writers tossed them a mention. In some cases, it might be for one or two great moments, or maybe it was in kindness for past cooperation, but if you see these names with votes, what does that say about the voter.

Perhaps none of these former All-Stars will receive a vote. The big thing this year is that for the first time, as many as 50% of the ballots have been turned in with ten names checked. In the past 75 years or so the writers have been in charge of doing the voting, never has there been a year where as many as 25% of the ballots have been turned in with as many as ten names picked.

Talk about a strong candidates list. Before going further, here are the choices. In alphabetical order:

Rich Aurilia, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Roger Clemens, Carlos Delgado, Dye, Erstad, Floyd, Nomar Garciaparra, Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Troy Percival, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Schmidt, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, John Smoltz, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker

Impressive list, isn’t it. A lot of home runs, wins and saves on that list. And look who’s no longer on the list, Rafael Palmiero, who was crossed off last year after receiving less than 5% of the vote for waving his finger at Congress, and then being caught in the medicine jar.

However, truth be known, I personally, am not as bothered by those who were using PEDs at some point in their career, and if I had a vote, that would be evident. The past tells me that someday in the future, the black and white of using PEDs will turn grey, and that’s a story for another time, but for now, the shadows persist.

The PED debates will follow Tuesday’s announcement. And when the press gathers to congratulate those will be inducted, many questions will regard the use of PEDs and whether or not the new Hall of Famers will endorse those who did admit they used, or are accused of using.

I don’t have a vote, but I’ve been writing about baseball professionally for over 30 years. But if I did have a vote, this would be my ballot:

The automatics are easy: Johnson, Martinez, and Smoltz. The consensus amongst many writers is that the pitcher’s list in Cooperstown will swell considerably.

The next two names that come up often and are thisclose to election are two Astros, those Texas Bees, Bagwell, and Biggio. No time to get into a whole stat comparison, but yes, they belong. They have the numbers, and Biggio was just two votes shy last year.

Then come the controversial choices. I would elect Piazza, Bonds, and Clemens. We can debate the merits at another time, but I have my reasons. For one, having witnessed just about Piazza’s entire career, from the time he came up as a Dodgers rookie, you just can’t tell me he doesn’t deserve a plaque. And many writers never dispute the stats. Seems they’re just stalling to see if his name shows up on some Wanted poster, as in PED jail.

That leaves just two spots, and that’s where many writers have been shoehorned into a dilemma. It’s Mattingly’s last year on the ballot, his 15th and final. Jack Morris was eliminated last year after 15 tries, missing it by not too much, and many feel he someday deserves the honor. Future candidates will have just ten years on the ballot, a variation just instituted.

Then there’s this group who certainly deserve strong consideration: Kent, Martinez, McGriff, Mussina, Raines, Schilling, Sheffield, Smith, Trammell, Walker, and those two bad boys of PED notoriety – McGwire, and Sosa.

So with the clock ticking down, and choices must be made, I’ll go with…
Mattingly, and Smith. Donnie Baseball’s significance is already well-documented – his only fallacy was being on Yankees teams which did not make it to the postseason (only once), or he would have a plaque already – and for Smith, in his 13th year on the ballot, there were well over 400 games where he walked off with the save, when 300 was the criteria (pre-Mariano), and that has to mean something.

Those are my choices. What are yours? Place your ballots and check them tomorrow. Then be sure to make plans to be in Cooperstown the weekend of July 24-27 for the Induction Ceremony. If you’ve never been, you’ll love it.