takes a break from politics to assess the MLB Hall for Fame ballot for the committee looking at modern era players previously overlooked by the writers in the regular ballot.
As many readers know, apart from forecasting the outcomes
of political elections, we also annual make predictions for the Major League
Baseball Hall of Fame. We’ll be back in
a couple of weeks with those predictions for the voting now underway for the
regular ballot, to be announced on January 24, 2023.
But later today (Sunday, December 4) at 8 PM Eastern, we will hear
the outcome of the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee’s deliberations. This is a group comprised of eight Hall
of Famers, six baseball executives, and three members of the Baseball Writers
Association of America (BWAA). They are
considering – or better stated, reconsidering – the candidacies of eight
players from 1980 on who did not get elected in their years on the regular
ballot conducted by the BWAA.
We’re not going to predict what the committee will decide,
but we will give our point of view on which of the eight players are
HOF-worthy. And what a
collection of players! Albert
Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don
Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmiero and Curt Schilling – just
about all of them evoke extremely strong
emotions, save perhaps McGriff. Bonds
and Clemens are reviled as the poster children of the Steroids Era, with their wildly inflated stats, weirdly shaped later-years’ bodies and generally loathsome personalities. Palmiero, who tested positive just days after
lying his way through memorable finger-wagging denials before a Congressional
committee, is not far behind. Schilling
and Belle, while not caught up in the performance enhancing drug (PED)
scandals, are still two of the most despised players ever to don a uniform. On the other hand, Mattingly and Murphy are
among the most deified players of the modern era, lifers with the Yankees and Atlanta, respectively, while McGriff, who played with distinction for six teams, is certainly highly
respected. The failure of the first five
to make the HOF in the regular ballot was not exactly bemoaned, whereas the
exclusion of the latter three is still viewed as an injustice by their legion of
Now readers of our past Hall of Fame
articles know that we take a dim view of players linked with PEDs. Our position is
simple. Many people incorrectly believe
that steroids were legal during the now infamous “Steroids Era,” and therefore we
should not punish Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others for taking them. But that is simply false. In 1991, then Commissioner Fay Vincent banned
the use of illegal substances, specifically including steroids. The problem was that baseball could not come
to agreement on an enforcement mechanism until over a decade later, when a random,
mandatory testing program was launched in 2003.
But that does not mean the PEDs guys did nothing wrong – of course they
did, they violated an outright ban.
So, we stipulate at the outset that we
believe that Bonds, Clemens and Palmiero were all known PED users and should
not receive a spot in the hallowed HOF. It matters not that they may have been
non-users for significant portions of their careers, and even played at Hall of
Fame levels in those “clean” years. For
years on end, they violated a rule that sought to protect the fairness and integrity
of the game, thereby achieving an advantage over rule-abiding players, and distorting
the statistics that are part of the fabric of the game. Their statistics and achievements are
tainted, and they disgraced the game in ways that still – obviously – resonate
to this day. There is no serious
discussion (which is a shame) of clawing back their awards, their
championship rings, their multi-millions, or rejecting (or at least noting) their
tainted stats. But we can deny them the
highest honor in the game. Indeed, that
would seem to be the least we can do.
Enough of them, good riddance. That said, the discussion comes
down to the other five, whom we analyze below.
To arrive at our conclusions, we use
the following analytic methodology. We compare each player to Hall
of Famers at his position across a number of key
statistics, both traditional (hits, homers, RBI’s and batting average) and
non-traditional (OPS+ and WAR). We show the average statistics for
comparison groups, by position. So we will compare, say, Mattingly
and McGriff to first basemen who are in these four groups:
· The “Top Half” of first basemen enshrined in the
HOF (using WAR to guide the rankings)
· The “Average” of all HOF first basemen
· The “Lower Half” of the first basemen in the HOF
· The “Next Ten,” the ten first basemen who have
the highest WARs among those who are not in the HOF.
The last two groups define “borderline”
candidates. Our general feeling is that to be worthy of the HOF, a
candidate must be better on most of those statistics, and at least as good on the others, than the last two
groups. That is the main cut.
But we also give some consideration to how many All-Star teams a player
was named to, and how many times a player was in the Top 10 in MVP or Cy Young
voting. And postseason play can certainly be a factor as
well. We try to keep it all completely objective, not letting
personalities get in the way, as, we believe has happened with players such as
Jeff Kent, who was, in our view, Hall-worthy, but was and is despised by sportswriters and
has yet to make it in the regular voting.
Our headline view is that McGriff and Schilling are HOF-worthy,
but Belle, Mattingly and Murphy fall a bit short.
UPDATE: It was just announced that Fred McGriff was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee, the only player named.
Fred McGriff retired in 2004 and was on the ballot from 2010 to 2019,
never achieving more than the 40% of the vote he received in this last year. He was always a tough call for us, and was
one of the very few where we changed our minds over the years. We finally convinced ourselves that, on
balance, he belongs in the HOF. He was a classic “compiler” with 19 years
in MLB. In that time, he made only five
All-Star teams, so it is hard to argue that he was among the greats of his
era. But using the chart below, you can
see that his home run and RBI totals make a strong case – the homers are way
above those in the Top Half of first basemen in the HOF, and his RBI total is right
with them. On the minus side, his WAR and OPS+ are more in line with the borderline groups, those in the bottom half of the HOF and the next 10. But postseason play is another
mark in his favor, as he hit 10 homers and drove in 37 runs in 50 games, about
a third of a season, and had an OPS of .917.
On balance, it all tilts toward a Hall of Fame career, as you’d have to
put him a cut above the borderline groups.
Don Mattingly spent
15 years on the ballot and never did better than the 28% he received in his
first year, 2001. He was one of my
idols. He came up to the Yankees in 1982
and quickly proved himself to be an adept line-drive hitter, albeit with little
power. But in his third year, he learned
how to leverage the short porch in right and finished fifth in the MVP voting. From 1984 to 1988 he was arguably the best
player in the game, hitting for both power and average and rivaling fellow New
Yorker Keith Hernandez as the best defensive first basemen in MLB. He won the MVP in 1985. But back injuries robbed him of the rest of
his career, and he was a shell of himself from 1989 through 1995, when he retired at age 34, when the Yankees were on the cusp
of another dynastic run. (I was surprised
to discover, however, that he was in the Top 20 for MVP voting in both 1993 and
1994). Mattingly had one last lion’s
roar in his only postseason series in 1995, going 10-24 with four doubles and a
homer in a loss to a rising Mariner team.
It was one to quit on. He was
beloved, but was neither transcendent for long enough to make the HOF on the
strength of his great years (a la Sandy Koufax), nor durable enough to compile
HOF career stats over a long career (as is clear below, when he clocks in below
every grouping on almost all measures).
So we have to leave our beloved Donnie Baseball off of our ballot.
Dale Murphy made
the ballot in 1999 and stayed on for the entire 15-year period, but he too
never exceeded the 38% he received in his first year. He was a two-time MVP who played 19 years,
one short of McGriff, but he did not compile offensive statistics comparable to
McGriff’s. While he had strong power
stats, his HOF candidacy suffers by virtue of his quite low OPS+ of 119 and WAR
of 44, both below the two borderline groups, in some cases by quite a lot. Like Mattingly, he made the postseason only
once in his career, in 1982, but unlike Mattingly, he did not do much with it,
managing three singles in 11 at bat in a first round elimination. He was gone before Atlanta had its great run
in the later 1990’s. All in all, Murphy
was a fine player and one of the greats in the early 1980’s, but he is hard to
support for the HOF, and we don’t.
Albert Belle was
on the regular ballot for only two years, achieving 8% in his first year in
2006 and then failing to achieve the 5% threshold the next year. He had an even shorter career than Mattingly’s, though it was statistically even more impressive.
Belle did have a few sensationally productive seasons, but never won an MVP award. He was terrible defensively, which hurt
his WAR, which was already well below what he needs for serious HOF consideration. There are 63 outfielders NOT in the HOF who have higher WARs than Belle’s 37! As we noted with Mattingly, if you are going
to have a short career, it better be Koufax-esque to make the HOF, and Albert
Belle, productive as he was, did not come near that standard.
Curt Schilling just came off the regular ballot, having achieved 59%
of the vote last January, the highest total of his 10-year stint. He is the anti-Mattingly, in almost every way. Schilling is as odious as Mattingly is
dignified; he’s perhaps my least favorite player, and I am hardly
alone. I am enormously offended by his racist, transphobic and generally incendiary
comments over the years, his cozying up to white supremacists, his expressed
desire to “hang journalists,” his support of the January 6 insurrection and on
and on. But on the field, which is what matters, Schilling sported a
sterling ERA+ of 127 and his WAR is a hefty 81, both up there with the top half
of HOF starting pitchers. And you also have to consider his postseason
performances, which were sublime, with an 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA. Hate
him or hate him (is there any other option?), Schilling merits induction to the
HOF; I’m holding my nose and giving him a thumbs up.
Who knows what the committee will do! But this much is clear – their vote will continue to be a referendum
on the Steroids Era, for certain. Their
verdicts on Bonds and Clemens will be the big news of the day, and will carry
enormous weight in the years to come.
We’ll be back by December 15 with our
predictions for the regular ballot and our views of the Hall-worthiness of
those on the ballot. Stay tuned!