Ken Griffey Jr., Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver all came close. But it took until last year for a player to be unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mariano Rivera, the dominant Yankees closer, was named on all 425 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
A year later, Derek Jeter could join his former teammate in that golden inner circle when the voting is announced Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop from 1995-2014, has so far been included on every ballot made public. He is a lock to receive the required 75 percent, but it’s possible a recalcitrant voter or two could leave him off the ballot.
Rockies slugger Larry Walker, in his 10th and final year on the ballot, would have to make a considerable leap from 54.6 percent of the votes last season. But he is trending in the right direction.
Controversial stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling are moving forward but may not yet have enough support.
Any players elected by the BBWAA would join catcher Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller for induction July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Miller was executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-82. The Hall’s Modern Era Committee selected Simmons and Miller in December.
Other players on the ballot: Bobby Abreu, Josh Beckett, Heath Bell, Eric Chavez, Adam Dunn, Chone Figgins, Rafael Furcal, Jason Giambi, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Paul Konerko, Cliff Lee, Carlos Pena, Brad Penny, Andy Pettitte, J.J. Putz, Brian Roberts, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano, Sammy Sosa, Jose Valverde.
A chance to get creative
The BBWAA has elected 11 players over the last three years, clearing out what had been a packed ballot.
It took Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez 10 years to gain the necessary 75 percent. Jeff Bagwell needed seven years and Mike Mussina six.
As the electorate gets younger and more attuned to analytics, the gates of Cooperstown have been thrown open.
The flood of new Hall of Famers also has given voters leeway to get a little more creative this year, and that was something I took advantage of in voting for Todd Helton and Billy Wagner.
Helton received only 16.5 percent of the vote last season and Wagner 16.7 percent. I suspect voters view Helton’s .953 career OPS as being a product of Coors Field and see Wagner’s 422 saves, sixth all-time, as falling short of Hall of Fame material.
Helton had a 1.048 OPS at Coors Field and .855 on the road, a significant gulf. But it’s hard to ignore a career .316/.414/.539 hitter.
When compared with other players of his era and factoring in above-average defense at first base, Helton is worthy of more consideration.
The same is true of Wagner. He played only 16 seasons and pitched 903 innings, but his 187 adjusted ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings are more impressive than Hall of Fame relievers Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Goose Gossage.
Mariano Rivera, a unanimous choice last year, had a record 205 adjusted ERA. But his WHIP (1.00) was slightly higher than Wagner’s and the K/9 (8.2) isn’t close.
Wagner was a dominant reliever and should get a good look.
The other newcomer to my ballot was Derek Jeter. Not much explanation is needed there considering his five rings and 3,465 hits.
So I’ll use this space to point out that the Red Sox lineup on Sept. 28, 2014, at Fenway Park, the last game Jeter played, included Bryce Brentz, Rusney Castillo, Garin Cecchini, Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, and Jemile Weeks.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, and Larry Walker are holdovers on my ballot.
Bonds and Clemens have been excluded from Cooperstown because of their links to performance-enhancing drugs. But MLB and the Players Association ignored PED use until a testing program was put in place in 2006, and I draw a line there.
That’s why Manny Ramirez, who tested positive twice after the program was started, does not get a vote.
Rolen, a superb two-way player, climbed from 10.2 percent to 17.2 percent last season and I suspect he’ll continue to move up. Rolen won eight Gold Gloves at third base and hit 25 or more home runs seven times.
Schilling likely would have been a Hall of Famer several years ago if not for a series of repellent comments. The Hall of Fame asks us to consider the integrity and character of candidates, but I view that in the context of baseball.
Schilling was clearly one of the best pitchers of his generation and one of the top postseason pitchers of all time. He has always received my vote.
Walker played 10 years in Colorado and his gaudy offensive statistics reflect that. But he also played eight years for other teams and mashed for them. He belongs in the Hall.
Walker is in his final year of eligibility after getting to 54.6 percent in 2019. He was once as low as 10.2 percent.
Voting for the Hall of Fame is still done by mail, writers asked to return their completed ballot to an address in New York via an envelope that comes stamped and addressed.
It’s one of the few times all year I drive to the local post office and drop something in the outgoing letters slot. It just seems right.
This one is for Nick
Nick Cafardo died covering the Red Sox — on his day off. That’s how he much loved baseball and writing about the game. The sun rose and Nick followed it to the park.
The Globe’s longtime baseball columnist was felled by a fatal embolism last year during spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. He was widely liked and respected, and he has been posthumously elected as the 2020 winner of the Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious service to baseball writing.
A plaque in Nick’s honor will appear in perpetuity at the Hall. With my ballot this year, I hope to honor Nick in a smaller way by reflecting on the candidates he championed and reconsidering my own views.
Nick covered baseball for most of his 30 years at the Globe. Long before I became the paper’s Red Sox beat writer in 2000, Nick was traveling the major league circuit, filing daily dispatches for a generation of readers. I worked the beat through the historic 2004 World Series and have since contributed periodically to the Globe’s baseball coverage. But Nick stayed on the job night after night, season after season, for another 15 years until his last morning in Fort Myers.
I admired Nick for many reasons, including his stamina, his commitment to his craft, his kindness, his calmness under the nightly pressure of deadlines, and his humor, which helped him stay above the infighting that can infect Boston’s competitive sports media.
Nick and I disagreed on some Cooperstown candidates. Most significantly, I never voted for players I strongly suspected of cheating with performance enhancers, most notably Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Nick supported them unwaveringly.
“Great players should be in the Hall,’’ he said.
Nick approached his Hall vote as he did life. He had a big tent of friends. He also had a big heart for Hall candidates. At times, he expressed regret that he could include only 10 players on his ballot.
Last year, Nick hit the 10-vote limit, checking boxes for Clemens, Bonds, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte, Curt Schilling, Jeff Kent, and Omar Vizquel. I voted for Rivera, Martinez, Mussina, and Schilling.
Rivera, Mussina, and Martinez were inducted last summer, along with Roy Halladay.
This year, I have no doubt, Nick would have voted again for Clemens, Bonds, Sheffield, Pettitte, Schilling, Kent, and Vizquel. I also have no doubt Nick would have voted for first-time candidate Derek Jeter. No argument there; Jeter is a hands-down first-ballot Hall of Famer.
I cannot support Sheffield, Pettitte, Kent, or Vizquel. But, with Nick in mind, I have taken another look at Clemens and Bonds. I believe they joined a multitude of major leaguers who turned to performance-enhancers during baseball’s scandalous Steroid Era. And while I believe cheaters should be sanctioned, I also believe in second chances.
This is a slippery slope, of course. What about suspected steroid-boosted sluggers Sammy Sosa (609 home runs) and Manny Ramirez (555), who also appear on this year’s ballot? Nick supported Sosa in his first year of eligibility eight years ago, but not again. He never voted for Ramirez, saying he wouldn’t support anyone who failed a test under MLB’s current policy on performance-enhancers.
I share Nick’s views on Sosa and Ramirez. But this year I have honored his memory by casting votes for Clemens and Bonds, who established themselves among the greatest players in baseball history before they allegedly chose to cheat. If Clemens and Bonds reach Cooperstown, I hope visitors recognize that these two sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame talents were denied the sport’s highest honor for many years as punishment for their transgressions.
With all that in mind, I marked my 2020 ballot for Jeter, Clemens, Bonds, and Schilling. It would be their honor to share a place in Cooperstown with Nick Cafardo.
I’m not giving in yet
Nope, nope, nope, nope.
I have said for years that one day I may awake and say, “OK, OK, I give in. I know not which juiced pitchers pitched to which juiced batters, and which home runs would have landed on the warning track or which K’s at 94 m.p.h. would have been a line drive if thrown at 89, so I shall let all the PED suspects in.”
But that day has not yet come. So, sorry, Barry, Roger, Manny, and Sammy: Once again, no Hall of Fame vote for you.
So, first up is Derek Jeter. What a waste of time and space it would be to enumerate his vast accomplishments. Suffice it to say he could beat you every which way, and did, over a 20-year career. Yes, he was given a couple of reputation-only late-career Gold Gloves (blame that on the coaches and managers, not us), and that seems to bother some people.
The only question for him is unanimity. No sane voter could possibly look you or me in the eye and say that Jeter is not worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
I cast a ballot for Curt Schilling in the hopes that every voter ignore the things that come out of his mouth on subjects other than baseball. In my view, the only time he was not just a good but a positively great pitcher was when he was hurt.
He was a big-time, big-game pitcher, at his best in the postseason, when he was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and a WHIP of 0.968 to go with 120 K’s and 25 walks. He fanned 300-plus three times, with lifetime totals of 3,116 K’s and 711 walks. Absent the aforementioned injuries, he’d have won far more than his total of 216. To me, him not being in is positively ridiculous.
Omar Vizquel’s misfortune was to have a career that overlapped with a glorious trio of stellar rivals who helped make their era the Golden Age of Shortstops. He couldn’t swing a bat the way Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jeter did, but there is no doubt he flashed superior leather to anyone in his time at that key defensive position. That matters to me (full disclosure: I stumped for Bill Mazeroski).
He and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar were the best DP combo ever — you read that correctly — and Vizquel was rewarded with 11 Gold Gloves. Oh, and he managed to sneak in 2,877 hits when we weren’t looking. As a little kicker, he led the league in sacrifices four times.
Perhaps if he had done backflips en route to his position he’d have been identified as the American League Ozzie Smith, which he most undoubtedly was. And Ozzie waltzed into the Hall. One more thing: Vizquel was still a viable shortstop at age 45. This is a singular distinction.
Larry Walker and Todd Helton suffer in the voting from the Curse of Coors. Yes, Walker played nine-plus of his 17-year career in that notorious hitter’s paradise, while Helton enjoyed its charms for every one of his 17 years. For some voters, it is clear guilt by association.
But the fact is that Walker was no All-American out on the road. Of course he was better at Coors. Who wasn’t? Now please look at the full body of work. He was a lifetime .313 hitter who four times hit .350 or better. He was the 1997 National League MVP. He could steal a base. Oh, and how about the seven Gold Gloves? He was a very good all-around outfielder.
I didn’t vote for Walker right out of the chute. But I have seen the light and I really hope he gets in. That he’d be the first Canadian-born position player (hi there, Ferguson Jenkins) would be a bonus.
Poor Helton must apologize for spending his entire career in a Colorado Rockies uniform. But what a career. He was a lifetime .316 hitter who hit over .300 12 times. He had a run of five consecutive years with an OPS in excess of 1.000. He had a six-year run from 1999-2004 in which he averaged 37 HRs and 121 ribbies. He won four Silver Sluggers. And, yes, he won three Gold Gloves. Coors or no Coors, he was a heck of a player.
Maybe I shoulda: Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, Scott Rolen.
One man stands alone
Derek Jeter gets this vote. The one and only.
The Yankee shortstop had it all. He looked like a Hall of Famer from the first day. He was skilled and clutch. He was a winner. He played every day and never did anything to disgrace his organization or the game of baseball. He ranks sixth on the all-time hits list. He was a captain. He has five championship rings.
Like Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivera on recent ballots, Jeter makes the selection easy. He is a no-doubter, and we can’t say that about many candidates anymore.
Jeter is the one.
We are allowed to vote for as many as 10 candidates, but I am a Small Hall guy. I have never voted for 10 and am stunned at the trend of voting for 10 guys, then complaining you can’t vote for more. Really? When I look at the ballot, I do not say, “Hmmmm, who are the best 10 players on this ballot?’’ I look at the ballot and ask, “Who are the Hall of Famers on this ballot?’’
It is not an exercise any of us take lightly. And it’s gotten much more complex and controversial in recent years. There are analytics people and fans of certain players who want to strip you of your vote if you don’t agree with them. Or perhaps burn your house down.
Voting was much more fun before the advent of advanced metrics and performance-enhancing drugs. Those were the days of Ron Santo vs. Brooks Robinson and Luis Tiant vs. Don Drysdale and Catfish Hunter.
Now we have folks who can prove that Scott Rolen is a Hall of Famer. Or Bobby Abreu. I think these are the same people who believe Jackie Bradley Jr. brings as much to a team as Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio. JBJ saves a lot of runs, you know.
Larry Walker has a good chance to get into the Hall of Fame in this, his 10th year on the ballot. Sorry. Not a Hall of Famer. This does not make him a bad guy or a bad ballplayer. Cooperstown is home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Very Good.
PEDs are another matter, and it’s a huge problem for the Hall and for voters. A Hall of Fame that includes Harold Baines but rejects Barry Bonds is downright laughable. We’ve seen the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and Pudge Rodriguez inducted, but the door is still closed for Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez.
Clemens and Bonds are getting closer, and I understand why anyone would vote for them, but they are not going to cross the magic 75 percent barrier this year. Younger voters tend not to care about the juicers (David Ortiz will sail into Cooperstown when he is first eligible) but I am staying on the crumbling Wall for at least another year. Probably more.
You probably could talk me into Omar Vizquel and/or Jeff Kent. Vizquel was a magician and amassed 2,877 hits. Kent dominated his position (second base) in the time he played. He was much better than Bill Mazeroski for sure.
Finally we have the curious case of Curt Schilling. Schill got up to 61 percent last year — the highest percentage for anybody who didn’t make it. He will gain more ground this year and could get to 75 percent, though I expect it will take one more year. Schilling will make it this year or next.
The Big Lug’s win total (216) is low for a starter, but he was 11-2 in the postseason and perhaps the greatest strike-thrower of the 20th century. He never walked anybody.
But contrary to what those in his fan club say, Schilling is not a slam-dunk candidate who’s being denied strictly because of his persona. Is he better than Tiant or Orel Hershiser, who never made it? Some metrics frame Schilling as a Cooperstown cinch. Others lump him with Kevin Brown, Bob Welch, and Tim Hudson.
Plenty of room for seven
Just one newcomer — welcome, Derek Jeter — gets added to my ballot this year.
But before getting to the picks and the why-the-picks, let’s not gloss over the bombshell that this is the first time since 2013 that I’ve dipped below the 10-vote maximum.
While my motive might have been as simple as blowing the mind of colleague Dan Shaughnessy, who thinks I’m hell-bent on expanding the Hall to make sure every Tom House, Dick Drott, and Harry Feldman gets in, my reasoning boiled down to just two factors.
The first should be obvious, that this was a relatively weak year for first-timers on the ballot. (Heath Bell? As if.)
Second, last year’s party of four inductees cleared a logjam that’s been clogging my ballot the last few years. As a result, no load-management contortions this year.
The Rule of 10 remains ridiculous. Hall of Fame voters are big boys and girls who don’t need an antiquated and completely random limit. So, nine votes are not enough, 11 are too many, but 10 is just right? Did Goldilocks draft these rules?
Ten is an arbitrary figure, and while the framers of the voting rules could not have foreseen the PED era and its ensuing Hall of Fame conundrum that has led some to want to vote occasionally for more than 10, I like to think they deeply regret placing artificial restraints on voters.
Barry Bonds: He’s only one of the two most dominant and impactful players of his generation. I have both seen and heard that there’s a whiff or four of PED use surrounding his career. I also see his name on the ballot, I see his stats and awards sheet, and I see that my voting instructions are based on a number of factors, including “integrity” and “character” as well as the player’s “record,” “playing ability,” “sportsmanship,” and “contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
I want to see his name on a plaque at Cooperstown that tells his full, unvarnished story.
Roger Clemens: See above.
Derek Jeter: I saw nearly all of the 302 games Jeter played against the Red Sox, each roughly five hours in duration, more than enough time to gain an admiration for his consistency, talent, leadership, durability, competitiveness, and all those slap hits to right field.
He wasn’t the type of player who I watched, especially on defense, and thought he was clearly the most talented or dangerous player on the field. But he was a great deal more than “very good.”
He had enough intangibles, many which paid off particularly well in his 158 (!) postseason games, to deserve entry into the Hall of Fame. I don’t subscribe to the fervor that he should be a unanimous pick, but he’s still an easy pick.
Manny Ramirez: Just about the most dangerous and talented hitter I’ve ever seen. Those two failed drug tests speak to serious flaws in his judgment and character, but again, I send my voting litmus tests to different labs than other voters.
Scott Rolen: Barely saw him play in person, but I believe all his stats, offensively and defensively, lift him above the bar — not by a lot, but by enough.
Curt Schilling: A dominant pitcher, regular season and postseason. The rest is noise.
Larry Walker: It’s his last year, and I do hope he gets in via the larger vote versus a committee down the line. He was a five-tool player whose career was discounted too much by too many because of the 9½ seasons he played in high-altitude Denver.
Maybe I can be convinced in the future: Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton.
Selig opens the door
My first choice on my first-ever Hall of Fame ballot goes to first-time nominee Derek Jeter, a no-doubter in my book whom I had the pleasure of covering from his earliest Yankee days to his final ones.
From Rookie of the Year to World Series champion, from locker room newbie to franchise captain, Jeter was one of the most consistent performers, and people, I have ever encountered in this job. It was a trait so admired within the Yankee walls, one you would expect his Core Four compatriots Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte to laud often. They’ve known him since A ball.
But I was always amazed at the reaction of players who would come into the Yankee universe via trade, free agency, or the minors. They were awed by how much better Jeter was in person than he seemed from afar, with an attention to detail, a level of effort, and a passion for winning that was unmatched.
As someone who is lucky to get paid to watch sports for a living, I’ve always said Jeter is one of the few athletes I would have paid to see. He deserves the Hall, and he deserves to follow his friend Rivera as a unanimous selection.
If only the rest of the ballot were as easy. For so long, I thought I’d never vote for a suspected steroid user, but after seeing baseball relax its own rules by letting former commissioner Bud Selig into the Hall, I changed my mind. If Selig could have a place of honor in the Hall, then the players who helped get him there shouldn’t be locked out.
So Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are in, especially because they were Hall of Fame players even before the PEDs that were willfully ignored on Selig’s watch. For me, that’s what swayed my Manny Ramirez vote. When I first saw Manny, he was a minor leaguer on his way to the Cleveland Indians whose debut at Yankee Stadium earned me one of my first-ever tabloid back-page stories. He was one of the best righthanded hitters I’d ever seen. That’s how I see him.
For Curt Schilling, it’s all about being clutch. In addition to having numbers, he was the best big-game pitcher of his era.
Finally, I think Jeff Kent and Larry Walker make the cut on numbers alone, and I think it’s a shame when players are hurt either by playing in a market that doesn’t get as much attention as others or in a park that is considered too hitter-friendly.
In my book, if MLB sanctions Coors Field as a major league stadium, then the numbers there are just as valid as those accumulated anywhere else.