Make or Break Year for the Baseball Hall of Fame

Standards for Hall of Fame induction have been eroding over the past several years, and this being 2020 and all, with the world getting more painful to endure by the day, there really couldn’t be a worse time for the Class of 2021 HOF ballots to be mailed out.

It was bad enough that Derek Jeter’s near-unanimous enshrinement had to be sullied by the inclusion of great-not-legendary Larry Walker a year ago. This year’s ballot offers a veritable chamber of horrors for those of us who are pained by the watering down process that seems to worsen annually, aided and abetted by new voters with little respect for the sanctity of Cooperstown.

There are 25 candidates this year for voters to ponder, and a few do warrant strong consideration. However, several candidates were just good enough during their playing days to tempt the new wave of participation-trophy voters to add their names to their ballots.

This new breed of voter suffers from a mindless desire to submit the maximum-allowed ten names every year. And that’s where the watering down effect is captured, as many good, but nowhere near Hall-worthy, players benefit from such stark ignorance of the intent of the rules and standards the voters have been charged with safeguarding.

To put this year’s ballot conundrum in it’s proper perspective, SportsAttic will break down the 2021 candidates utilizing the following four categories:

Steroid Cheats (6 of them this year)

True Contenders (3)

Good-not-Great Pretenders (7)

How The Hell Did They Get On The Ballots? (9)

*Steroid Cheats — The poster children just keep creeping along, don’t they? Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds may actually pull it off this year. Both of the lying cheats crossed over 60% in voting a year ago, leaving the distinct possibility that as the forgiving nature of our populace continues to work in their favor, coupled with the largesse of those bound and determined to write down ten names, 2021 will be their year. Let’s hope not. Because then it opens the door to the rest of them — Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte and Manny Ramirez — none of whom should ever be allowed into The Hall without buying a ticket. As a side note, we’d like to take a minute here on Pettitte. Just because he’s a seemingly good guy, particularly when compared to two of the game’s all-time dickheads in Bonds and Clemens, doesn’t mean he is any less a steroid cheat. In fact, he’s one of the few who actually admits his wrongdoing. Points for being a decent human being, for sure, but he still shouldn’t get on a Hall of Fame ballot. And oh by the way, if we are protecting all-time standards here (and that is the charge put to all HOF voters), Pettitte’s career numbers would leave him short anyway! As an additional aside, it was tempting to throw Jeff Kent into this grouping (you know the old line about if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…), but we will refrain from presuming Kent’s steroids guilt simply due to locale and association (plus we like that he overtly despised Bonds for most of the time that they were teammates).

*True Contenders — Curt Schilling was the high vote getter not earning induction a year ago, so he enters in the pole position this year. Unlike his steroid-enhanced brethren, Schilling’s candidacy suffers as time moves on (this is his ninth year on the ballot — they only get a decade to earn the necessary votes), because each passing year gives him more time to alienate voters by making absurd statements and engaging in bizarre behavior. He’s joined in the serious consideration camp by Omar Vizquel, the best defensive shortstop of the modern era this side of Ozzie Smith, who is bidding to be the first inductee since The Wizard himself to enter The Hall holding a glove and not a bat. We reluctantly add Kent to the “strong consideration” group, too, despite our bias and resentment toward him for not realizing his potential during his time in a Mets uniform (remember the David Cone trade, folks?). Kent’s monster power numbers at the second base spot compare favorably with several HOF legends (Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg — that’s good company), but his blacksmith’s touch with the leather, prickly personality and world class pornstache have kept him on the outside looking in up until now.

*Good-not-Great Pretenders — This is where things get dicey, because those voters desperate to get to ten names have a multitude of options to choose from that will hasten the slide toward a Hall of Very Good if we aren’t careful. Consider, if you will, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Mark Buehrle, Barry Zito and Bobby Abreu. Since the ballots were released, I’ve read articles making the argument for each of these candidates to be voted in this year. It makes my head hurt. To any advocate out there who believes these are the types of players that have earned their way into the Hall of Fame, I need only respond with the following names — Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, Vada Pinson. Baseball history is littered with outstanding players whose careers were fantastic in their own right, but just missed legendary status. And as a result they also missed out on the Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick around the horn on this year’s pretenders, beginning with Rolen — just because The Hall is light on third baseman doesn’t mean we should lower standards! Rolen was really, really good. Rolen isn’t Hall of Fame-worthy. Period. Wagner was a terrific reliever, but he doesn’t belong in the same sentence as a Mariano Rivera, let alone Bruce Sutter or Rollie Fingers. Next? Jones had a world class glove, played on championship-caliber Braves teams, and put up several years of impressive power numbers. Worth a thought and quick consideration, sure, but in the end Andruw Jones is not a Hall of Famer. Beurhle and Zito? Really? Very good pitchers. That’s that. And here’s the one that seems to be trending right now for this year’s water-down apologists — Bobby Abreu. Yes, Abreu has a lot of advanced metrics that seem to warrant serious consideration for a vote. Is he a stronger candidate than Harold Baines was? Yes, but two wrongs do not a Hall of Famer make. And Abreu is an epic fail when it comes to the baseball eyeball test. Hustle, taking the extra base, running into a wall trying to save a run/game, swinging at a ball out of the strike zone when your teammates need a base hit over a walk and are relying on you to be “the man.” Abreu came up small in all of these categories over the course of his career. He is the anti-Dave Parker, a star who compiled awesome stats, but whose numbers actually paled in comparison to his fire and intangibles between the lines. Go home, Bobby Abreu. If the Phillies (I think that’s the team we are supposed to think of when we think of Abreu, right?) have a franchise Hall, let them put you in there. Not Cooperstown. Not this year. Not ever.

*How The Hell Did They Get On The Ballot? — Okay, really now, LaTroy Hawkins? Is there a handbook or manual somewhere that can help explain how they arrive at the nine place holders that round out this year’s Hall of Fame ballot? A.J. Burnett, Dan Haren, Michael Cuddyer, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Steve Swisher, Shane Victorino? Serviceable major leaguers all, you could even argue that Hudson, Burnett and Hunter border on the pretender category, but come on already! And here we arrive at the heart of the dilution problem. If you remove these nine names from consideration, it leaves a voter with only sixteen players to choose from, and a ballot with ten slots to fill, if you believe 1. they are truly legendary, or 2. you fear receiving an incomplete grade if you haven’t filled in all ten blanks. And for those opting for Door Number Two, this isn’t the SAT’s, where you might get lucky with a guess and it pays to fill in every available space.

So in case you missed it, the SportsAttic ballot that will bring you the most deserving Class of 2021 Major League Baseball Hall of Famers will include…drum roll please…

A blank ballot.

Schilling falls just short, despite his postseason glory and above-average career stat line (El Tiante, anyone?).

Vizquel misses out, barely, but will get this vote a year from now (Jeter should be the only inductee when they do the 2020 makeup ceremony next summer, but that was already blown up by Larry Walker’s inclusion, so the last thing we want to do is add a second shortstop to next year’s festivities).

And Jeff Kent? Sorry, but Kent remains at the tippy top of the Hall of Very Good. A great player, with tremendous offensive credentials compiled during the Steroid Era, a glove constructed from stainless steel, and an absolutely abominable mustache.

It’s the Hall of Fame, folks. Only the legends should be awarded the bronze bust.

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