There is the celebration and then there is the recognition, and I’m more interested in the latter than the former when discussing the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When you get elected into the Hall, you receive your big induction day, thousands of people converging upon tiny Cooperstown to revel in your greatness and, if you’re still around, hear you speak. Then you get immortalized in the Plaque Gallery, the room that should tell the game’s story better than any other room on the planet.
I wouldn’t enjoy a celebration day for Curt Schilling, whose support for the January 6 insurrection attempt at the Capitol building marked his latest display of hellbound behavior. None of those, it should be stressed, which also include calling for the murder of journalists or mocking trans people, qualify as “conservative.” They’re just hateful.
Yet can the Plaque Gallery, which already houses all sorts of bigots, miscreants and rogues — long ago rendering the ballot’s “integrity, sportsmanship, character” wording irrelevant — fully tell the game’s story without including Schilling? It can’t, in my opinion.
Here is my full writer’s ballot, with the Hall planning to announce the full tally on Tuesday.
1. Barry Bonds
Remember when he and the next guy on this list represented the most difficult voting quagmire? The whole debate about illegal performance-enhancing drugs now feels quaint. I maintain that whatever help Bonds used to attain his statistical dominance reflected his era just as much as the man himself. Hall election or no Hall election — and for what it’s worth, Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame voting tracker indicates that no one will hit the required 75-percent threshold — Bonds will never be revered like Hank Aaron, who died last Friday and who graciously yielded the all-time home run mark to Bonds. I trust us, as a species, to handle that difference while still acknowledging Bonds’ greatness.
2. Roger Clemens
Like Bonds, The Rocket Man is in his ninth of 10 years on this ballot, his dominance mitigated by his strong connection to illegal PEDs, surely knowing that their chances will worsen if they get passed on to the Era Committees, which will consist significantly of contemporary players already in the Hall. You know what else complicates this duo’s chances, conceding the triviality of this entire matter? The pandemic. No pressure exists on the voters to elect anyone this year because last year’s electees — Derek Jeter, the late Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker — will be feted this July after the Hall rightly scrapped the 2020 ceremony. The stage won’t be empty regardless.
3. Todd Helton
Finally, just a good old-fashioned baseball discussion! This marks my second straight time checking the box next to his name and it’s his third year overall. He was a fantastic offensive performer even when you factor in hitter-friendly Coors Field, as evidenced by his 133 OPS+, and he appears in line for a healthy jump from last year’s 29.2-percent showing.
4. Andruw Jones
Another guy who looks primed for a leap thanks to no great first-year candidates arriving on the ballot, Jones gets remembered rightly for outstanding defense, and when you combine that with his peak plate performance — a 111 OPS+ from 1998 through 2006 — you get yourself a Hall of Famer. This marks his fourth year here and I’ve voted for him each time.
5. Andy Pettitte
Another illegal PED guy, although he admitted and apologized once he got caught, Pettitte bolstered his candidacy greatly via the 3.81 ERA he posted in 276 ⅔ postseason innings, most of those during a time when bats ruled the game. In his third year of eligibility, the beloved left-hander has miles to go before he can join his fellow Core Four members Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the Plaque Gallery, as he tallied 11.3 percent last year. He has my vote for the first time, though, and at least 10 other voters have switched similarly, as per Thibodaux’s data.
6. Manny Ramirez
Unlike Bonds, Clemens or Pettitte, the all-time hitter Manny got caught utilizing illegal PEDs — twice! — after the players collectively bargained disciplinary measures for this transgression. My stance on Manny changed in December 2016 when an Era Committee expeditiously elected Bud Selig, a highly deserving candidate as long as you ignore the three times he got caught violating the game’s Basic Agreement for colluding against the players while owning the Brewers.
7. Scott Rolen
The third baseman joins Jones as a fourth-year candidate rising nicely, obtaining 35.3 percent last year and on track for a good kick this time. Like Jones, his defense elevates him from a maybe to a definitely on my ballot, as I’ve voted for him every time.
8. Curt Schilling
If it’s possible to put his myriad post-retirement controversies aside, there shouldn’t be any controversy over his on-field greatness. By the way, if you saw the report that “numerous” Hall voters tried to change their Schilling vote to a No after the Capitol riot, it was actually just one, and the Hall correctly didn’t switch it.
9. Gary Sheffield
It’s his seventh time here and my first time supporting him, simply because I didn’t find space previously on the “maximum of 10” ballot. Yet another guy tied to illegal PEDs (as was the style at the time), Shef put up some fantastic old-school numbers — 509 homers and 2,689 hits, to name two — while also drawing walks, all of which enabled him to be a huge asset despite unsteady defense.
10. Sammy Sosa
People seem to forget that, from an evidentiary standpoint, all we have to connect Sammy to illegal PEDs are his bulging physique, his bulging statistics (609 homers!) and his epically hilarious usage of an interpreter during the 2005 Congressional hearing even though he spoke great English. That gets it done in the court of opinion, not so much in actual court. And certainly it shouldn’t keep him out of the Plaque Gallery. He, like everyone else here, ranks as an integral part of the game’s story.
So very close: I’ve never faced a tougher call, in 15 years of doing this, than checking my 10th box with either Pettitte’s name or that of Bobby Abreu, whom I would have loved to include.
Gridlock victims: With a limitless ballot, I’d look more closely at stud second baseman Jeff Kent, stud closer Billy Wagner and first-year starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson.
Not for me: I didn’t support Omar Vizquel’s case even before domestic-violence allegations emerged against him, and that awful news appears likely to halt what had been impressive progress in his first three years on the ballot.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from the late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: Name the current Mets coach whose name can be heard on a radiocast during a 2018 episode of “The Americans.”
The passing of the great Larry King brings to mind one of my favorite “Yankees fans subculture” stories: When they’re really good and electric — think their dynasty years from 1996 to 2001, some of the Alex Rodriguez years and when Aaron Judge emerged — Hollywood heads south to Anaheim to see them, since they rarely play at Dodger Stadium. There was nothing like standing on the field before a Yankees-Angels game at Angel Stadium and seeing all of the VIPs, having secured access, chatting with Joe Torre, or A-Rod, or Joe Girardi. Mr. King, while a lifelong Dodgers fan going back to their Brooklyn days, enjoyed being part of this scene, joining Billy Crystal, Roy Firestone, Jason Patric, Robert Wuhl and many others. I’m sorry I won’t see him there anymore.
The Pop Quiz answer is Chili Davis.
If you have a tidbit connecting baseball to popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]
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