Mixing it up this week. Instead of taking incoming mail, this week’s Mailbox is actually about a certain piece of outgoing mail — the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which was supposed to be postmarked December 27 by those writers whose vote is more than hypothetical.
We tend to dwell on the negative and the controversial when it comes to the Hall of Fame voting. There’s little guidance on how to handle those associated with performance-enhancing drugs, so the voting for the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens becomes an exercise in chaotic grandstanding.
Some change their voting on a whim from year to year, an aggravating and even irresponsible approach.
And the backlog of players deserving to be in — and the reduced number of years that names will appear on the ballot — suggests it’s not going to get any easier in coming years.
The process can become a drag. That stinks, because that’s the opposite of what it should be. The Hall of Fame balloting allows us to revisit history, to reminisce about the absolute best we — and the sport itself — ever saw.
It inspires a good kind of revisionist history. The advances we’ve made in evaluating and valuing players allows for reconsideration about certain excellent players who because of circumstances beyond their control may not have been properly appreciated in real time. (Hello, Tim Raines. Or Alan Trammell, the shoulda-been MVP in 1987.
The discussion of the Hall of Fame — and the determination of who gets to be so enshrined — is supposed to be fun, a celebration taken seriously, if that makes sense.
So let’s have some fun. Here’s a wholly arbitrary ranking of all 34 players on this year’s ballot, from most Cooperstown-worthy to the least. A fraction of them are Hall of Famers. All are worthy remembrance, appreciation, and acknowledgment.
THE TEN WHO GET IN
1. Pedro Martinez: Three of my favorite Pedro stats: 1) Including the postseason, his won-lost record with the Red Sox — in the American League East, during the steroid era — was 123-39. That’s a decent 162-game season right there. 2) His 1.74 ERA in 2000 was 3.17 below the American League average. 3) His career adjusted ERA of 154 is second in baseball history — to a closer, Mariano Rivera.
2. Randy Johnson: Can’t blame the Expos for trading him for established fireballer Mark Langston in 1988. But imagine a parallel baseball world in which the Expos held on to him, and still acquired Pedro in November 1993.
3. Mike Piazza: The greatest-hitting catcher in baseball history, but just a mediocre Marlin (.278/.263/.389) during a five-game Miami layover between Los Angeles and New York.
4. Jeff Bagwell: That .750 slugging percentage in 1994 is mind-boggling … at least until you stumble over to Barry Bonds’s page.
5. Tim Raines: Most similar player every year from age 24 to age 39: Rickey Henderson. Sure, there’s only one Rickey. He’s the greatest. But there have been very few as good as Raines.
6. Curt Schilling: I’m puzzled by why there’s any debate. One of the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time, the best K/BB ratio in modern history, 216 wins, and three World Series rings. He should be a lock.
7. Craig Biggio: Yeah, he was a compiler at the end. But at his peak, he had seasons of true brilliance, most notably 1997, when he scored 146 runs, had 67 extra-base hits, stole 47 bases, put up a .309/.415/.501 slash line, was hit by a pitch 34 times, didn’t hit into a single double play all year, and won the Gold Glove. Greatness.
8. Alan Trammell: Derek Jeter had a 115 career OPS+. Trammell’s was 110. And one of them could play shortstop.
9. Barry Bonds: Can’t stand him, but he’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen and it’s not close.
10. Roger Clemens: Can’t stand him, but he’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen not named Pedro.
OTHERS WORTHY OF SERIOUS CONSIDERATION AND EVEN EVENTUAL ELECTION
11. Edgar Martinez: The greatest DH of all-time and owner of a .312/.418/.515 career slash line would be in already if the Mariners had the sense to play him regularly before he was 27 years old. And we thought Wade Boggs had to wait his turn.
12, John Smoltz: Sixteen more wins, 236 fewer saves than Eck. I think he just misses this year.
13. Mike Mussina: A 3.68 career ERA isn’t spectacular. But, context: A 3.68 career ERA while pitching his entire 18-year career in the American League East during the swollen heart of the steroid era is a mark for Mussina, not against him.
14. Jeff Kent: I’d put him in, but I’d put fellow second basemen Lou Whitaker and perhaps Bobby Grich in ahead of him.
15. Larry Walker: Lowest batting average in stretch from 1997-99: .363. Man, that era.
16. Gary Sheffield: That intimidating waggle of the bat — he could make a Louisville Slugger look lighter than a Wiffle bat — made you wonder whether his intent was to pulverize the pitch or the pitcher.
REQUIEM FOR ’98
17. Sammy Sosa: From 1998-2001, Sosa strung together seasons of 66, 63, 50, and 64 home runs. The 50-homer season was the only one of the four in which he led the league.
18. Mark McGwire If it’s possible to remember something fraudulent fondly, then I’d say that describes how I feel about McGwire’s summer of 1998. It was as fun then as it was inauthentic, and I remember it well, sort of.
THANKS FOR PLAYING
19. Fred McGriff: Sometimes I wonder if he deserves a further look. But it’s tough to get past that career-high of 36 homers for someone whose case is made by his slugging prowess.
20. Nomar Garciaparra: If you remember him as the charismatic and beloved line-drive machine during that stretch from 1997 to, oh, the Sports Illustrated cover, you know how tempting it is to try to sneak him onto the ballot. He’s not a Hall of Famer. But I wish he was, and I hope he gets enough votes to stay on the ballot.
21. Don Mattingly: He’s the Nomar of his time in the sense that he had a too-short run of truly exceptional play.
22. Carlos Delgado: Very statistically similar to David Ortiz. Hard to believe he was once a catcher.
23. Lee Smith: Completely forgot he finished up with Expos in 1997.
24. Brian Giles: From 1999-2002, hit no fewer than 35 homers, and his lowest OPS during that four-season stretch was .994.
25. Tom Gordon: Accumulated 75 fewer wins but four more saves than Smoltz.
26. Cliff Floyd: Had three seasons of 28 or more homers. Have to figure there would have been many more if not for the devastating wrist injury in 1995.
27. Jermaine Dye: Hit 164 homers over his final five seasons, including 44 in 2006 and 27 in his last year, 2009. Would have been cool to see a Damon-Beltran-Dye outfield in Kansas City for a decade or so.
28. Jason Schmidt: Finished second to Eric Gagne in the National League Cy Young voting in 2003. Others receiving votes: Mark Prior and Russ Ortiz.
29. Rich Aurelia: Always thought of him as the National League version of John Valentin.
30. Troy Percival: Had a 1.80 ERA in 34 games for 2007 Cardinals. I don’t remember him pitching for the Cardinals, do you?
31. Darin Erstad: Had monster season at 26 in 2000 (.355/.409/.541, 240 hits, 25 homers, 28 steals). Highest adjusted OPS in nine seasons to follow was 97 in 2004.
32. Eddie Guardado: Everyday Eddie was barely Every Other Day Eddie — he exceeded 81 appearances once in his 17-season career.
33. Tony Clark: Had a .291 slugging percentage in 275 at-bats for the ’02 Red Sox. As a first baseman. Grudge, held.
34. Aaron Boone: Hold Game 7 against him if you want. But he’s also the reason the Yankees, rather than the Red Sox, ended up with A-Rod. Thank god it’s them instead of you.