The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees were announced, and there were some omissions. There was no Bobby Grich. No Dwight Evans. No Ted Simmons. No Kevin Brown, Alan Trammell, or Lou Whitaker. So in that sense, it was a clear disappointment.
Technically, though, I suppose those players didn’t have a chance to get voted in. So we have to live in this reality. It turns out this reality isn’t so bad! There’s still no Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in a museum that purports to tell the history of baseball and celebrate the players who made fans cheer the most, but that’s a technicality. Three players were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and all of them deserve to be there.
Was this as good as a Hall of Fame reveal could get? Was there room for improvement? Could it have been much worse? Let’s review the 2017 Hall of Fame announcement, paying particular attention to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the news.
There were three worthy Hall of Famers. One of them was long-suffering. One of them was medium-suffering. One of them didn’t suffer at all. The end result: three worthy Hall of Famers, and that’s all that matters.
Tim Raines was the Bert Blyleven of his time, a player that stat-enamored folks had to bleat about over and over and over again until the resistance gave up. Like Blyleven, Raines was really, really, really good. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and the only reason he had to wait so long was because he was a product of the ‘80s.
What was wrong with the ‘80s? Well, the real answer to that depends on how much time you have. But as the decade pertains specifically to Raines’ candidacy, the ‘80s featured ...
- Low offense
- Rickey Henderson
- Cocaine-related scandals
... and all of that served to hose Raines in some capacity. Start with the raw numbers, which don’t look as impressive as they might have in another era. Indulge my messing around with my favorite Baseball-Reference tool one more time, and let’s put Raines’ statistics back in 1999.
That is extremely satisfying. From 1981 to 1990, Raines was clearly one of the best players in the world. Looking at the raw stats through today’s prism, comparing him to stars from the ‘90s, it’s hard to fathom that. This helps. He was so very good at his job.
Of course, the biggest problem was that he played at the same time as Rickey Henderson, which is like one of the best cartoonists in the world writing a strip about a boy and a stuffed tiger at the same time Bill Watterson gets syndicated. What unfathomably bad timing. Yet it doesn’t change the quality of the product at all. It’s only fair to evaluate it on its own merits.
Jeff Bagwell was one of baseball’s greatest sluggers, someone who will eternally terrify any pitcher who remembers what it was like to face him. His unorthodox poopin’-in-a-filthy-campsite-portable batting stance wasn’t just amusing. It added to the sense of coiled, pent up power that was eventually going to uncoil and destroy us all.
He had to wait a few years because he was muscular in the ‘90s. Could he have done performance-enhancing drugs? Sure. They literally all could have, right down to the tiniest utility infielder you can name. But the proof against Bagwell was that he was muscular in the ‘90s, and that’s an embarrassing standard of proof.
Ivan Rodriguez was the essence of catching, captured in a glass jar and opened in a candlelit ceremony at Stonehenge during a summer solstice. He was a teenager with a .294 OBP in Double-A when he was called up to catch for a contending team, and he caught Kevin Brown and Nolan Ryan in his first two starts. No pressure, kid.
Four days before Rodriguez was called up, he was the subject of a feature in the Dallas Morning News that ended with this sentence:
Ivan Rodriguez went out, bought a razor and shaved for the first time in his life.
He was a legend before he started hitting. And then he started hitting. And hitting and hitting, and hitting. For a catcher, he was one of the best ever. Sure, he probably had some, you know, help. If you want to account for that, while making sure to account for the help his opponents had, that’s understandable. But he was one of the best two-way catchers we’ll ever see, and he was a worthy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are inching closer. Not close enough. But closer. With Rodriguez’s “Only God knows” non-denial denial not preventing him from getting in on the first ballot, and Bud Selig getting in with the help of baseball’s sudden, mysterious surge in popularity after the strike, there aren’t a whole lot of arguments left, other than “Nope. Never. Never ever,” but voting has been just a touch more nuanced than that. There are all sorts of arguments other than a categorical refusal to consider anyone linked to PEDs.
Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez are inching closer. They’re over 50 percent now, so that means they’re on the Tim Raines plan. They’re both clear Hall of Famers to me, but they’re not so inner circle that I dismiss the opinions of anyone who opposes them. There are arguments against, which means a wait and a photo finish isn’t the worst thing in the world. At least they’re climbing.
In which I express mild disagreements with some of the results. It’s not that I think Vladimir Guerrero is a shoo-in, but I would have loved for him to make it, just to clear up some of the 10-player-limit logjam. That goes for Trevor Hoffman, too, whom I’ve decided to support for the first time, even though I could change my mind tomorrow. .
Mostly, though, I’m disappointed in the lack of progress with Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, and Sammy Sosa, who are completely stagnant. Though now that I type that entire list out, maybe I’m just a little too big-Hall for my own good, and I should just accept that I’ll never been satisfied.
No. No, it’s everybody else who is wrong, not me.
Jorge Posada falling off the first ballot is just gross. The idea of him getting dumped so quickly got the feature treatment here, so go there if you want a longer argument. The short of it is that he was one of the best hitters at his position for 13 years, and it’s a position that is usually devoid of sluggers. He was a rare creature, and that’s before you get to the bonus points that players usually get when they stick with one team for their entire career. And that’s before you get to the part where he was in just about every postseason for a generation, winning four championships with the most visible franchise in the sport.
A Hall of Famer? Leaning no. Still wavering. But someone who we don’t get to consider again? He joins Kevin Brown, Jim Edmonds, and Kenny Lofton on the list of amazing players who failed to impress 95 percent of the people paid to write about the sport. Maybe I’m the weirdo, here.
No. No, it’s everybody else who is wrong, not me.
Curt Schilling is a total buffoon, the horrific result of a mad scientist accidentally leaving a pair of synthetic buttocks and a copy of The Fountainhead in the same lab. He spent his post-election funk yelling at a fake Sidney Ponson account and loudly explaining that it was a real Sidney Ponson account.
If I were writing a novel titled Curt Schilling’s Cognitive Dissonance and opened with this scene, my editor would complain about it being too outlandish. Though if I were ghostwriting Schilling’s autobiography, I guess a good working title would be Don’t Care, Know For a Fact It Is, so it all evens out.
With that out of the way, he’s in this section because he lost 10 percentage points for being a butt. Potential Hall of Famers should not lose points for being a butt. The entire Hall is filled with butts. There will be butts voted in for the rest of the museum’s existence. What I’m concerned about is with how Schilling pitched, and I’m pretty convinced that he was one of the best pitchers of his generation.
If Schilling were a butt for his entire career, a weaponized Pierzynski, I could almost see it costing him under the nebulous character clause. But Ryan Spaeder conclusively showed that wasn’t the case, detailing four different character and leadership awards that Schilling won. He might have rankled teammates. He’s always been a bit surly. But he wasn’t thought of as clubhouse poison, and it’s not even close.
There might have been good reasons for some of the 10 percent who flipped. Maybe they just liked Vlad and Pudge more. Maybe they had a change of heart, like I’ve admitted to with Walker and Hoffman. That’s great! For the significant numbers who focused on the dumb comments and ignorant memes? Gross. I want the story of baseball, not the story of baseball as told by the players I also want to eat ice cream with.
Manny Ramirez is somewhere in the gray mists of Hall of Fame ethics, coming along when steroids and PEDs were still tacitly approved, but continuing to get busted long after the firestorm. There is a significant faction of voters that vote for Bonds and Clemens because they were great before the Steroid Era, but don’t vote for anyone whose transgressions came later, and that’s perfectly fine! It’s a consistent platform, at least.
Except I would like to kindly point out that Ramirez was outstanding as a rookie in 1994, and he just kept getting better, so there’s at least a chance that he wasn’t dirty from the start. Mostly, though, I consider him closer to Bonds than, say, Rafael Palmeiro on the good-lord-look-at-what-this-guy-did scale, and I don’t consider anyone close to Bonds. Ramirez played parts of 19 seasons, playing in 2,302 games, and he was a career .312/.411/.585 hitter. He had an OPS over 1000 for six straight seasons, and an OPS over 950 for 12 straight seasons, leading the league three times. He was one of the purest hitters I’ve ever seen.
Other than the, uh, impurities.
But I’m talking about aesthetics, the combination of instinct and form, power and grace, the balance of patience and explosion. Ramirez was as good of a hitter as we’ll see for a long, long time. He deserved more than one out of every four votes.
Could have been better. Could have been much, much, much worse. It’s hard to be too much of a curmudgeon when Tim Raines is finally in, and he’s flanked by two very worthy inductees.
Thanks for Hall of Faming with me this year, and I look forward to seeing you in about 11 months, when we’ll absolutely scream at each other about Omar Vizquel.