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The only correct ballot for the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame

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Jorge Posada made me realize that it’s time to vote for Scott Rolen, if that makes any sense.

San Francisco Giants vs. St Louis Cardinals

Hello, and welcome to my annual description of what the Only Correct Hall of Fame Ballot looks like. If you have a different ballot, well, it can’t be correct. That wouldn’t be logical, considering that this is the only correct ballot. Please go back and try harder.

There is a complication, however, in that I have to admit that last year’s Only Correct Hall of Fame Ballot was, uh, wrong. I screwed up. I didn’t put Jorge Posada on my fake ballot, and he dropped off because he didn’t receive five percent of the vote. Because my ballot is a fake ballot, it wouldn’t have mattered if my ballot was adjusted, but it’s real to me, dammit. I was so disgusted that Posada fell off the first ballot — even if I’m pretty sure he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame before Ted Simmons and Gene Tenace — that I regretted the whole exercise.

While I toyed with the idea of a strategic fake ballot for years, I could never muster the courage. Vote for the best players, end of exercise. The shunning of Posada was an epiphany. He might not have deserved induction, but he definitely deserved more consideration. The ballot logjam is a mess, and the 10-vote minimum is a joke.

So here it is: an entirely strategic ballot. Here goes nothing.

1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens

They might not get in this time, but they’re polling at 66 percent of the public ballots, and even a faint whiff of momentum helps them. Both were among the best players of all-time before the performance-enhancing drug craze, and both of them were the absolute best players in an era where a significant percentage of their peers were also dirty.

Imagine telling the story of baseball and omitting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. I guess it just gives us all time to learn about other Hall of Famers, like, uh ... Elmer Flick?

3. Edgar Martinez

The best DH of his era, one of the top two ever. The old argument still applies. Baseball has a position called the “designated hitter.” It’s an important position that has a huge effect on a team’s overall success. Edgar Martinez was one of the best DHs ever. He deserves recognition.

If you’re not swayed by the statistics already, there’s no sense convincing you, but an 18-year veteran who finishes with a career line of .312/.418/.515 and an OPS+ of 147 deserves to be in the Hall of Fame even if he sat down on first base and threw his glove at every ground ball for the last 15 years of his career. That line is obscene, and it tells us that Martinez hit baseballs better than almost everyone who ever lived.

I would like the Hall of Fame to be filled with people who hit baseballs better than almost everyone who ever lived.

4. Mike Mussina

Like Martinez, he’s close on the public ballots. Like Bonds and Clemens, the appearance of momentum or inevitability can only help him. He’s a victim of his era, which hurt his ERA. Can’t have the ERA without the era, and we’ll use Baseball-Reference’s updated toy to show what his career stats would have looked like in a more recent run-scoring environment.

It’s not inner circle. But if the bar is Jack Morris and Catfish Hunter, it’s hard to express just how much better Mussina was. Look at that 10-year stretch of 200-plus innings and an ERA in the twos and threes. That’s wildly valuable and rare, and the knuckle-curve was one of the best pitches of a generation.

5. Curt Schilling

Still a racist nincompoop. Still someone who deserves to have “FW: FW: FW: RE: FW:” on his plaque to honor his unending search for the truth. Still one of the best pitchers I’ve ever watched, and close enough on the public ballots to support in the hopes that he could help clear up the logjam.

6. Trevor Hoffman

I’m not entirely sure if Hoffman should be in the Hall. The argument is less that he was better than almost everyone else that he played with, and more that he stayed healthy for an awfully long time. I’ve struggled with this decision here and here. The biggest argument against is to compare him to different Hall of Famers and their impact on their respective teams. When the Reds had Barry Larkin, they had a shortstop who was better than almost every other shortstop in the game for years and years. When the Padres had Trevor Hoffman, they had a closer who was roughly as effective as half the closers in any given year. A vote for Hoffman is a vote for consistency and longevity.

At the same time, this is a strategic ballot, and I’ve already made my peace with the idea that Hoffman would be a fine enough representative. His inclusion wouldn’t be an injustice. Far from it. So I want him off the ballot to ease the logjam. He’s close enough to where every vote could count. Get him off and work on some of the players at the bottom of the ballot next year.

7. Gary Sheffield

Jim Rice got in because the writers tripped over themselves to retroactively give him the Most Feared Hitter Award for a decade. I wanted to pooh-pooh this selective revisionist history, except I understood. Sheffield and Jeff Bagwell were my Jim Rices. They were the players who seeminging got 17 at-bats in every game, who looked like coiled fury and punishment with every plate appearance.

Unlike Rice, though, Sheffield has numbers that clearly put him with the Hall of Fame’s best. If I’m making a ballot that’s filled with the 10 best candidates, I’m not sure if Sheffield gets in over Sosa, Walker, McGriff, or Manny Ramirez. But Sheffield is the one most in danger of falling off the ballot, so he gets my strategic vote. Hang in there, buddy.

8. Johan Santana
9. Scott Rolen
10. Andruw Jones

I’m probably a no on at least a couple of them, but I want them all on the ballot for another year. Santana compares more favorably to Sandy Koufax than you think, and I’d like another year to contemplate this. Rolen reminds me of Will Clark, with a lot of value and a lot of missed time, and I think there’s something to the idea that he received a single MVP vote in just four of his 17 seasons, finishing in the top-10 just once. The story of baseball can probably skip his chapter without losing a whole bunch. But I’d like another year to contemplate this.

That brings us to Jones, who was one of the greatest defenders in baseball history. When you use the words “greatest” and “baseball history,” the Hall of Fame klaxon should absolutely be going off in your head. And he happened to complement his defense with 10 years of hitting, too. While he fell into the same viper pit that got Dale Murphy and absolutely disappeared far too early, he still finished with more than 400 home runs. The equation goes something like ...

434 dingers

+

one of the best defensive players in baseball history

=

Hall of Famer, even if he hit .190

But Jones didn’t hit .190. He hit .268/.346/.506 from the ages of 20 through 29, while being the Ozzie Smith of center field. I’m pretty sure this isn’t just a strategic vote, and that I would vote for him on a list of my top-10 candidates, but Jones is extremely close to falling off the ballot. I’d like another year to contemplate his candidacy, maybe more so than anyone else on the ballot.

That gives us this ballot:

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Edgar Martinez
  4. Mike Mussina
  5. Curt Schilling
  6. Trevor Hoffman
  7. Gary Sheffield
  8. Johan Santana
  9. Scott Rolen
  10. Andruw Jones

You’ll notice that there are omissions. There’s no Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Vladimir Guerrero, who are all easy Hall of Famers for me. That’s because they’ll get in this year, and they don’t need the help of my fake ballot. Those resources have already been allocated, and I can apply mine somewhere else. If I had to do a non-strategic ballot, it would probably look like this:

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Edgar Martinez
  4. Chipper Jones
  5. Jim Thome
  6. Mike Mussina
  7. Curt Schilling
  8. Vladimir Guerrero
  9. Manny Ramirez
  10. Sammy Sosa

Larry Walker and Gary Sheffield would take that last spot on a different day, depending on my mood. Maybe Jeff Kent. Maybe Andruw Jones.

But this is a fake ballot that needs some four-dimensional chess to it. Who’s going to fall off? Who’s close enough to get in? Who needs momentum? Who can help clear the logjam for next year? My fake ballot addresses all four of those concerns, and we can be back here next year with another correct ballot. Except next year’s might actually be filled with the 10 best players on the ballot.

What a wild concept. Down with the 10-player limit. Up with Andruw Jones. Thank you.


The strange journey of Bonds’ 756th home run ball to the Hall of Fame