Hall of Fame Class of 2020 — Jeter, Simmons and ???

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We started seeing the ballots over the weekend, and the headaches began.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love the Hall of Fame and all it represents for fans of baseball history. And yes, I annually wring my hands in despair over what I consider to be a watering down process taking place as new voters come on board feeling compelled to submit ten names a year for induction simply because there are spaces for ten names on their ballot.

However, I also recognize that voting on Hall of Fame induction is not an easy task. There are tremendous players coming forward for consideration every year, and not only is this an in depth statistical exercise, there are emotions, likes and dislikes, and warm memories (or in the case of Jeff Kent, maybe not so warm) that influence our preferences.

So rather than wait for today’s announcement of the latest HOF class and begin railing loud and long over those selections that don’t coincide with my be-all/end-all judgements on the topic, I decided to approach things as though I had a vote on this 2020 class (something I truly wish I had, but likely never will).

Like most voters (I hope, anyway), I have some baseline parameters I will follow at the outset of my deliberations. Personal beliefs that I will incorporate into filtering down my selections that are mine only.

We’ll start with the easy one (to me) — no steroid cheats. The damage done to over 100 years of historical, statistical relevance as a result of the video game numbers these cheats put up over a sustained period of time bridging the turn of the 21st century remove them from any consideration. In my personal Hall of Fame pecking order, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson get my vote long before any of the steroid “stars.” Period.

Next, for a first ballot vote, the player must be incredibly special, both statistically over a long period of time, and in the image that remains impressed within my memory bank when I think back on them as a player. Names like Mays, Seaver and Griffey Jr. come to mind. And yeah, Mariano Rivera.

And lastly, since it is my vote, I allow a level of subjectivity to eliminate anyone from consideration on a year-by-year basis who fails the “flaming asshole” test. This filter is rarely invoked, and when it is, it typically would only mean moving a deserving player back a year or two in their ten-year process of shooting for inclusion. Bottom line — bad behavior warrants consequences.

Taking those prerequisites forward into the Class of 2020 ballot, here’s how I see it:

For starters, I only see sixteen “real” candidates among the dozens on the actual ballot. Those names include those who got enough votes a year ago to return, and a couple of newcomers.

For reference sake, to me the following players represent the “true” 2020 choices– Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.

This list includes everyone with 7.5% (Jones) of the vote or more from a year ago, and only Jeter and Giambi among first-year eligibles (apologies to Bobby Abreu, but Harold Baines got your spot and everyone else like you for the next 100 years with his monumental joke of an induction a year ago).

Okay, let’s get the filtering process started.

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Steroid Cheats

I consider one’s position on whether to include (or not) those implicated for illegal steroids use a personal one among the voters. I also believe it is fruitless for those that believe they should never be inducted into the HOF to try and convince those with the opposite stance otherwise, and vice versa. So we will dispense with my annual rant on the subject, and simply say that on this wannabe voter’s ballot, the names Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, Sheffield, Pettitte, Giambi and Sosa will forever be left off, and I hope that there are enough folks that feel as I do with real ballots out there to keep these steroid cheats out of the Hall of Fame forever.

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No-Asshole Rule

Proving that there are very few coincidences in life, the majority of the assholes on this year’s ballot were already eliminated in the steroid section (hello Barry, Rog, Sammy, Manny and Shef), but don’t think for a second we’ve forgotten about good, ole Jeff Kemp. Kemp is a tough one, because as a second baseman his offensive numbers warrant strong consideration (377 dingers, 2461 hits), however his arrogant, petulant attitude that permeated his entire career, not to mention his weak-at-best glove work, keep him off my ballot this year, with the caveat I’ll start fresh with him annually until his ten years are up.

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Hall of Very Good

Baseball history is littered with great players who fell just short of the Hall of Fame. This ballot is loaded with more of the same. Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones and Larry Walker all fall into this category.

I worry when the announcement comes out later today that we will hear Walker, Jones and Rolen included among the new HOF members. Walker, in particular, seems to be gaining momentum, which troubles me the way Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Harold Baines trouble me. Outstanding players all, who to me fall just short of HOF-worthy. But today, when voters seem compelled to choose ten names per ballot regardless, we now annually are subjected to folks like these very good players gaining ground on undeserved immortality.

Walker had 383 homers and 2160 hits in his career, to go with a .313 lifetime average. Super numbers for sure, but not Dave Parker numbers. And Parker remains on the outside looking in. And that doesn’t even begin to open up the whole Coors Field can of worms, when it comes to Walker (the most accomplished of all those who benefit from the thin Colorado air). Yeah, his offensive stats were padded. No doubt. But even with those enormous, Coors-aided numbers on the back of his baseball card, Walker still comes up short of MLB immortality.

So does Jones, who absolutely warrants additional consideration because of his all-time great glove work. In fact, you could argue that few centerfielders were more dominant at both the plate and in the field than Jones was for that ten-year period between 1998 and 2007. But a ten year run gets Jones into the Braves Hall of Fame (or whatever they call it at their new ballpark), not Cooperstown. He didn’t even reach the 2000-hit plateau folks, which to me is a deal-breaker (see Richie Allen for more on this topic).

Rolen benefits from the dearth of third basemen in The Hall, but that shouldn’t be enough to throw a great-yet-not-all-time-great into the mix. Sorry Scott, you’re not a Hall of Famer. And the same goes for Todd Helton (see Walker above), Wagner and (for one more year anyway) Vizquel, who comes soooo close due to his combination of sustained defensive excellence over twenty-plus years and a good-enough bat at the one position that allows that in Cooperstown.

If you’re keeping score at home, that leaves us with The Captain, Derek Jeter, who will go in easily in this, his first year on the ballot (SportsAttic Note: Going to predict that at least one voter leaves Jeter off this year, denying him the honor of joining his teammate Mariano as the only unanimous entrants. Why? I dunno, just a feeling), and Curt Schilling.

Schilling is a lightning rod, and justifiably so. He dances around the margins of the asshole factor, having clearly embraced such a distinction now that his playing days have concluded. He “only” won 216 games in his career, fewer than many MLB hurlers that haven’t garnered entrance into The Hall. But Schilling gets in for me because his regular season excellence is good enough (multiple times winning 20+ — yes, wins still matter to a few of us –, three times striking out over 300 batters), and his historical impact is high.

The guy was 11-2, with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play, covering three different franchises.  He was part of the Red Sox squad that broke the curse in ’04, and offered us the bloody sock moment along the way. He was still with the Sox for their next title in ’07, which was Schilling’s final year as an active player, and he went 3-0 during that postseason run to punctuate an amazing career featuring excellence at the most critical of moments.

And of course he was the World Series co-MVP in 2001 (along with Randy Johnson), when the Diamondbacks ended the Yanks three-year title run in seven games. That was also the year he offered us one of the better baseball quotes of the 21st Century, as he prepared to take on the heavily-favored Bombers, who were said to sometimes win with the pre-ordained aid of “mystique” and “aura” — “when you use the words mystique and aura, those are dancers in a nightclub. Those are not things we concern ourselves with on the ball field.”

So it’s Derek Jeter and Curt Schilling for me. Jeter in his first year of eligibility, and Schilling in year eight, which is about the right amount of time for a guy on the bubble to cool his jets. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, gentlemen.

Ten slots on the ballot, only two worthy of the immortality afforded MLB’s all-time greats, as memorialized in Cooperstown.

And now it’s time to go for the Advil and await the official announcements.

Play ball!

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