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2017 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

I’m writing this on Christmas Day, with the Colorado wind rattling my windows. This is my penance. Granted, penance is an amorphous concept for an atheist. But lots of people — even as a lifelong journalist with much evidence to the contrary, I would say most people — are trying to do the right thing most of the time. The trick, as somebody famous once said, is figuring out what the right thing is.

This will be my last ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It has been a privilege to participate in this ritual for the last few years. I qualified in 2010, so it hasn’t been that long. I was term-limited anyway because I left my last job as a newspaper sportswriter in 2012, although I continued covering the Rockies for a radio station’s website for a few years after that. Much of that coverage ended up on this blog.

Under the Hall’s recent rule revision, I would have been done as a voter in 2021. So I don’t want to imply my departure has any great significance for anyone but me. But I do want to explain why I’m cutting out a few years early, no doubt with characteristic longwindedness, because when I first got the vote I thought it was about the coolest thing in the world. Much of this will be personal stuff that readers interested only in this year’s ballot will find boring or useless or self-indulgent or all three. So, please, if that’s you, just scroll to the bottom for the ballot. I am over the charm of internet snark, so don’t waste the effort.

I did not think having a Hall of Fame vote was cool because I share with many of my fellow voters a reverence for the museum in Cooperstown. I took the obligatory trip one summer with my son when he was young. I got to show him video of Luis Aparacio, which was cool. You can do that now on YouTube. I got the obligatory speeding ticket on our way there, which I gather is one of the revenue sources used to prop up local government in those parts. But my son and I agreed that watching actual big league ballgames in different cities was more fun than walking around a museum, even a cool one, so that’s what we did with our summertime trips thereafter.

Furthermore — and here I am in a small minority of humans, I think — our various attempts as a species to  achieve immortality have always seemed to me doomed and delusional. I think the most likely outcome is an abrupt end to our little science experiment, and even the great Greek philosophers will be lost, let alone the best outfielders measured by wins above replacement. Besides, why baseball and not medicine or rocket science or something? So it was never the Hall that I revered. But I did revere baseball itself, and still do.

My father grew up in Newark, N.J., where his parents took him to see the Newark Bears, the Yankees’ top farm club at the time. Most of the Yankee greats of that era passed through. My paternal grandmother was the first devoted baseball fan I knew. She told stories of the great DiMaggio. Until I was 8, we lived outside New York and my father would take me and my two brothers to the old Yankee Stadium. The summer before JFK was assassinated, we moved to Chicago, where, despite living on the south side, my father fell in love with Wrigley Field, home to daytime baseball and Ernie Banks. Many years later, long after my father died, I took my son to Wrigley on one of our summer ballpark trips from Denver, and we sat in about the same spot where my father and I sat. For a nomadic family like mine, there are not that many opportunities for this sort of continuity.

I sort of remember picking my first favorite team. When you get to be my age (62), most of your older memories are actually memories of memories — you remember how you have told the story over the years, not the event itself. The story I have told, which I can only hope is grounded in the actual event, is sitting in the back seat of my mother’s tan DeSoto — a tank with tires — with my older brother waiting for my mother to return from some store. He is leafing through a baseball magazine — Street & Smith’s, I presume, because that’s the only one I remember from those days. He has a favorite team and now I must pick one so we can root against each other. I look through the black-and-white pictures and I pick the Orioles because of the bird on the cap. Still my favorite baseball cap. Of course, when they had the full bird on the cap, they sucked. Then they went to the cartoon head of a bird and got really good. Then they followed the nostalgia movement and went back to the full bird and sucked again. Then they went back to the cartoon head and got good again. So.

When I was a kid, you could pick up WBAL after dark all over the eastern half of the country and I would listen to Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell call the games. When the Orioles were on the west coast, I would fall asleep with a transistor radio at my ear. That sort of stuff. The 1966 World Series came just after my 12th birthday. It was the event that taught me miracles could happen. Many years later, when I was unemployed for a few months following the demise of the Rocky Mountain News and brief, unremarkable stints at two subsequent employers, I wrote a letter to Jim Palmer proposing a book for the 50th anniversary of the ’66 team. Never heard back. Palmer was eight days shy of his 21st birthday when he threw a four-hit, complete-game shutout at the Dodgers in Game 2 of the ’66 Series. Sandy Koufax was the losing pitcher. Wally Bunker was three months shy of his 22nd birthday when he followed up with a six-hit, complete-game shutout in Game 3. Those were miracles.

When big league baseball came to Colorado in 1993, I bought season tickets. I couldn’t really afford them, they weren’t very good seats and I didn’t use them most of the time, but that was how big an event it was to me. My son was 3 when I took him to the first Rockies home game. Eighty thousand people showed up at Mile High Stadium. Eric Young led off the bottom of the first — the first home at-bat by a big league player in Colorado — with a home run. The pennant proclaiming that he was there still hangs on the wall in my son’s room at my house.

Baseball and cars were the safe subjects I could talk about with my father. As I was growing up, there were also the options of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but we stuck pretty much to baseball and cars. I like to think my son and I have a broader menu than that, but there is something to be said for continuity.

So anyway. It felt like a privilege to be invited into an electorate charged with curating and cultivating a real-time celebration of a history that had come to mean so much to me. I was not your typical Hall voter. I had never covered baseball as a beat guy. I started my career in news, covering local politics and government, got hired by the Rocky as a City Hall reporter, then moved to sports and covered the NFL and NBA as a beat writer before getting a column and a baseball writer’s card in 2000. I got to work with Tracy Ringolsby and Jack Etkin, a couple of veteran baseball writers who were extremely kind to and tolerant of a newbie who came in writing opinions, as columnists do, knowing far less than they did about the immediate subject matter.

But I also had a distance that was helpful journalistically. As I learned in my own career, there is an ongoing tension in journalism between experience and sympathy. Let’s say you’re an editor. You’re hiring someone to cover a beat. You want someone aggressive, someone smart, someone who will be more than a stenographer; someone who will dig beneath the surface and the public relations and tell your readers what is really going on. You want someone fearless, and yet personable enough to develop the sources one needs to do such a job well. Over time, as that person becomes more experienced, she comes to understand better and better the reasons the people she covers do the things they do. Maybe they’re good reasons and maybe they’re not, but as she gets to know them she comes to understand why those reasons make sense to them and she endeavors to explain this to her readers, which inevitably sounds like justifying and rationalizing to a reader without any of the personal sympathy. So the debate among newsroom managers was always how long to leave someone on a particular beat. Some papers had institutional rotation programs; everybody switched assignments after a certain period of time. Some papers let beat people stay on their beats indefinitely, cultivating “experts” in the field, which became more and more useful as the era of sportswriters on television dawned.

So, yes, finally, I am coming around to this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. During my days as an NFL beat writer, Pete Rozelle was the commissioner. During my days as an NBA beat writer, David Stern was the commissioner. Everybody knew these guys were hired by and operated at the pleasure of the club owners, but they both managed to rise to a level higher than that. Each became the face of his sport. Their highest calling did not seem to be making their employers rich, although they certainly did. Their calling seemed to be guiding their sport through all the treacherous waters of modern-day American life, into which each of these sports will inevitably wade, employing young people from every social, economic, ethnic and racial segment of life, as they do.  These two did a pretty good job of it. Any close observer can point to individual mistakes, but they left their sports in better shape than they found them, and not just financially.

My immediate impression upon beginning coverage as a columnist of post-season baseball was that most of the baseball beat writers were apologists for Bud Selig. And I could see why. He was very good to them. He treated them the way politicians used to treat political writers — as part of an association, their common bond being knowledge and understanding of a complex subject most other people knew less about. As a journalist, you get used to being treated as an outsider most of the time, which is fine, because that’s what you are. But, contrary to common perception, journalists are people, too. They like to be liked; they like to be respected. Bud respected the writers and they protected him.

When you read the litany of Bud’s accomplishments as commissioner, they’re all about money. He made everybody rich. So, good for him. He was a car salesman, and a really good one. Everybody has known a great sales person. They’re ebullient, they’re infectious, they make you want to come along. Bud sold baseball.

By the time I started covering it, baseball’s steroid era was in full bloom. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had just had their memorable home run battle of 1998, obliterating the previous record, held by Roger Maris for 37 years. Maris had exceeded by one home run the previous record, held by Babe Ruth for 34 years, and he had an extra eight games on the schedule in which to do it. That was what passed for controversy at the time. Bud gushed over the ’98 race. It was the greatest thing ever, mainly because baseball had been struggling to right itself after a labor dispute washed out the 1994 World Series. Good times were here again. Everybody was making money. Suspicions about the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs were nothing new. The NFL had instituted its first steroid ban 11 years earlier. Bud was having none of it. These were baseball’s glory days and anyone who said otherwise was a nattering nabob of negativity.

It was, as many have said, an institutional failure all the way around. Between Bud and Donald Fehr, the head of the players’ union, Fehr is perhaps the more reprehensible character because he’s smarter and there’s a greater likelihood he knew exactly what he was doing. Gene Upshaw had famously pioneered rules against steroid use in football as a union man because, as a former player, he thought he was protecting the health of his members. Still, Fehr was doing his job as he saw it, which was akin to being a defense attorney. Your guy may have done it, but it’s your job to argue convincingly that he didn’t because the process requires somebody to do that. You are purely a partisan; what is right, what is true, doesn’t necessarily matter because that’s somebody else’s job to figure out.

In baseball, of course, it was nobody’s job. Bud was doing his job as he saw it, too — to sell the game of baseball. There are only two ways to explain how he could have taken so long to arrive at his come-to-Jesus moment in which he morphed into a vengeful steroid hunter so late in the day: He was a liar, or he was an idiot.

Up until three weeks ago, I thought I understood where the Hall of Fame was on the steroid business. True, it had never said anything explicit. And, true, the public conversation, especially as it moved to the internet and social media, has consistently moved against trying to impose “moral judgments” on the Hall by penalizing candidates with steroid use on their resumes. But the Hall clearly made a decision to leave its statement of voting criteria the way it was:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

I knew it had left “integrity, sportsmanship, character” in there on purpose because the Hall has been on the case recently with respect to revising and updating its rules. It has reduced the period of a player’s consideration by the 400 or so voters from 15 years to 10. It has instituted a code of conduct for voters. It has revoked lifetime voting privileges. Over the years, these three words in the voting directive have been examined as if they were forensic evidence. And two of the game’s most accomplished stars, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have been denied admittance to the Hall through their first few years on the ballot for no other reason. The Hall chose to make no change in rules that clearly had a part in that outcome.

So I thought the Hall management was reflecting the will of the players already enshrined, many of whom have expressed the view that they would be disappointed or angered or both if known steroid users were to be admitted. Some have even said they would not return for the annual induction ceremony. There will come a time when the powers that be figure out a solution. I think it was my former Rocky colleague Derrick Goold, now of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and finishing up a term as president of the Baseball Writers, who suggested including obvious transgressions on the player’s Hall plaque. That’s a good journalist’s solution — this is part of the story, too; you decide. On the other hand, historians may marvel at the fact that Lance Armstrong was thoroughly disgraced for cheating through chemistry in cycling, stripped of his titles, forced to surrender sponsorship money received in bad faith, a complete fall from grace, while baseball players who did the same thing suffered only a short delay in their deification.

Three weeks ago, the Hall’s latest iteration of a side-door committee — panels charged with reviewing players no longer eligible in the general voting as well as non-players associated with the game — elected Bud Selig not two years after his long-awaited and merciful retirement as commissioner. So that’s the Hall talking, too. Somehow, Bud isn’t stained with the era he enabled. Talk about a sales job.

I don’t know if these side-door committees are given the same voting rules as the writers, but if they are, you can justify shoving Bud in at the first available opportunity by resolving the previous question — liar or idiot — in favor of the latter. Over time, I’ve come to that position myself. “Useful idiot” is the phrase that comes to mind. Going back to those days in the late ‘90s and early aughts, it was a time when nobody in baseball wanted to know nuthin’. It reminds me a little of the college football coach who doesn’t want to know about the methods used in recruiting. Or, to get more sinister, higher-ups in the Catholic Church during the period before the pedophilia scandal finally broke. Willful ignorance is not the same thing as knowingly hiding damaging information, but it’s pretty close. Baseball was enjoying commercial success of a sort it had never known, and few people inside the game wanted it to stop. Everybody was getting paid. They looked only when they had to, when prosecutors and Congress and mostly non-baseball writers began to investigate what had become an open secret. The use of steroids without a prescription, after all, had been a federal crime since 1991. All this was against the law, if not baseball’s rules. It was only after Congress called Selig and Fehr in and berated them publicly that Bud converted. Like many converts, he became more sanctimonious than anybody about the things he had ignored for so long.

A lot has been written already about Bud’s election to the Hall. Some voters who had withheld votes for the obvious steroid guys switched as a result. If he’s going in then they should go in. That sounds rational to me, and yet I see an important distinction in the mechanism used to slip him in. Had Bud appeared on the main ballot, would he have been elected in his first year? Uh, no. Too many of the writers withholding votes from Bonds and Clemens would have withheld their votes from Bud, too. And rightfully so, in my opinion.

So the guy who made everybody rich gets a special dispensation. Shockaroo, there.

The two columns I’ve read on this with which I identified the most were by Wallace Matthews of New York Sports Day and Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Like them, I don’t look forward to Hall of Fame voting anymore, which is probably why I procrastinate this way. It also doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I now view the Hall as a hypocrite, so being one of its instruments now seems more like being a stooge.

Matthews gave up his vote immediately and Schultz made this his last ballot, only because he’d already sent it in when he made the decision.

I have a different reason for casting one last ballot: I have a dream where I don’t vote — I’ve got only six days left and have received two reminders from the Hall already — and Tim Raines fails to be elected by one vote in his last year of eligibility. It’s unlikely, sure, but in an electorate of roughly 400, it’s possible.  So the little kid in me casts one more ballot so as not to be haunted for the rest of my life by an event with an infinitesimal chance of occurring.

On the bright side, removing the fun from this also spares you last year’s unusually obsessive determination to write about every freaking player on the ballot, which might, frightfully, have turned into an obsessive-compulsive annual ritual. I’ve expressed my thoughts on pretty much everyone I’m voting for this year in previous ballot posts, other than the first-year guys, which anyone interested can probably deduce from the longwinded previous discussions.

Except for Gary Sheffield. I made Sheffield my 10th vote last year and took a fair amount of grief for hypocrisy myself. Here was a voter with “obvious cheaters” as a category refusing to vote for Bonds or Clemens or McGwire or Sosa, voting for a guy named in the Mitchell Report. I have two excuses for not explaining this at the time. One is it was late on a Sunday, late in last year’s Hall of Fame voting season (in fact, past the Hall of Fame voting season, although before the results were announced), and the post explaining my ballot was already absurdly long. The other is my brain had long ago decided what it thought about Sheffield and steroids, and the distinction between him and those “obvious cheaters” seemed so obvious to me, it went without saying. It became obvious to me shortly thereafter that I was completely wrong about this.

So let’s start with that mental blind spot because I’m doing it again. Throughout my career as a reporter and columnist, generally speaking, when people were ashamed of something they’d done, or, even if they weren’t ashamed, if they knew other people would think it was a bad thing, they found ways to avoid admitting it. Maybe by refusing to comment. Maybe by changing the subject. Maybe by resorting to a line of bullshit designed to filibuster until the time for questions had expired. The methods they used to avoid admitting what had in some cases been authoritatively documented were generally not that hard to spot. It’s basically nothing more than having a working bullshit detector.

This was mostly what we saw from the people I now label “obvious cheaters,” those who engaged in concerted, prolonged programs of ingesting performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire didn’t want to talk about the past. Sosa forgot how to speak English. Bonds thought it was flaxseed oil.

Sheffield is a different kind of cat. He is one of those people who has no apparent filter between his brain and his mouth. From pretty much the moment he showed up as a young big league player, Sheffield was a fountain of opinion and feeling. It got him in trouble, too, on a pretty regular basis, throughout an exceptional career. He talked about race. He talked about money. He talked about his resentment over these things, about what seemed his chronic feeling of being disrespected. Often, these comments were not particularly well thought out. But they were unfiltered Gary. He could have spared himself a lot of grief if he’d had a filter going, but he didn’t.

So when Sheffield talked to Sports Illustrated in 2004, a year before the congressional hearings where McGwire and Sosa would play dumb, when he appeared before the BALCO grand jury, when he wrote his own book, published in the spring of 2007, when he appeared on HBO’s Real Sports in the summer of 2007, before the Mitchell Report was issued the following December, he did pretty much the opposite of what McGwire and Sosa did before that congressional committee. And if you knew anything about Sheffield, if you’d followed his career, it didn’t surprise you at all. Gary Sheffield was not going to go with a no-comment, and he wasn’t going to change the subject.

So he told his story. He’d gone out to California during the height of the steroid era, the off-season after Bonds set the single-season home run record in 2001, to train with Bonds. I’d covered the NBA during the Michael Jordan era, so this was a familiar phenomenon. A young trainer named Tim Grover had pitched Jordan after the Bulls star was beaten up and beaten down by the Bad Boys of Detroit. Grover’s pitch was Jordan needed to get stronger. It began a famous 15-year relationship that made Jordan one of the strongest players in the game and a six-time champion. So other really good players who wanted to reach the highest level would go to Chicago to train with Jordan and Grover. They wanted what he had.

That’s what Sheffield did. The tale he told Andrea Kremer on Real Sports was told in exactly the same way Sheffield gave every other interview. The words came tumbling out of his mouth. He wanted to train with Bonds. Bonds told him his lab could provide vitamins uniquely suited to his body’s needs. They came in the form of a cream. Sheffield thought steroids were administered with a needle to the butt. After a little while, Sheffield grew resentful of Bonds’ controlling personality, got fed up and booked. BALCO, Bonds’ lab, followed up with a bill for the cream. Ultimately, Sheffield had his wife write a check. That’s why he’s called before the BALCO grand jury. That’s how he ends up in the Mitchell Report.

If Sheffield knows the cream contains steroids, which it does, maybe he figures out a slightly less incriminating way of paying for it than a check. If he wants to make himself look heroic, maybe he claims he booked because he discovered, to his shock, that Bonds was giving him steroids and he wanted no part of it. He did neither of these things. He told his tale the way he always did. He didn’t avoid questions, he didn’t deny anything except knowledge of what was in the cream.

I believed him. That was based on watching him earnestly express himself throughout his career. My bullshit detector didn’t go off. He didn’t hide from the press like Bonds. He didn’t clam up like McGwire. He didn’t pretend not to understand English like Sosa, although, granted, that would have been a harder route for a native of Tampa.

There is no allegation that I know of connecting Sheffield and PEDs other than his time with Bonds before the 2002 season. That season just happened to be his least productive between 1999 and 2005, so it doesn’t look to me like he got any competitive advantage out of it. Cheating requires willfulness. I didn’t see any.

Could I be wrong about all of this? Of course. We are in the murkiest area of the steroid debate, the area where those who want to let them all in have the strongest argument. I am making distinctions based on feelings and suppositions. The spectrum runs from those who have been the subject of rumor or innuendo to those whose deeds have been documented in books or courtrooms or both. So each voter is on his or her own to draw lines in this swamp in an attempt to abide by the Hall’s stated voting criteria. I have always argued that we never have perfect information in journalism; we do the best with what we have. But, admittedly, in this case, in the area closest to the line, wherever we draw it, we are doing little more than guessing.

Ivan Rodriguez, for example, on the ballot for the first time this year, is not named in the Mitchell Report. But he’s named by Jose Canseco as part of the steroid crew in Texas. For all the grief Canseco has taken as a clown, there’s a pattern to those guys he named: They all deny it and, one by one, those denials crumble. McGwire and Jason Giambi eventually admitted using steroids. When tests were finally implemented, Rafael Palmeiro tested positive. That leaves only Juan Gonzales and Rodriguez among the high-profile teammates Canseco named in his book, “Juiced.” Rodriguez has adroitly avoided the subject all these years, except once, when he was asked if he was among those who tested positive in major league baseball’s first, anonymous testing, as names began to leak in 2003. “Only God knows,” he said.

So my opinion, my guess really, is that Canseco was telling the truth about the deal in Texas, including Pudge. I don’t know that, but I suspect it, and Rodriguez has behaved in a way consistent with those who did steroids and didn’t want to admit it, so I’m not voting for him in his first year on the ballot, even though I probably would otherwise.

I get that a lot of people will find these distinctions untenable. And they are. Although I would note for the record that the religion that has grown up around the Mitchell Report is a little funny. Give Bud credit: When it finally came time to cover his ass, he got one of the most respected men in America to front for him. George Mitchell’s panel had no subpoena power and few people with a potential of legal jeopardy were willing to talk voluntarily, so he was basically going through the same thin public record as everybody else.

As Schultz wrote, Bud’s election gives a pretty good indication of what’s coming around the bend. Make it all about the numbers, that other stuff is too hard. And that’s fine. If the Hall had said that to start with we could have avoided all this, although it might have had an insurrection on its hands from existing members. During my years as a voter, I thought I was helping the Hall be whatever it wants to be, which felt like an honor. Now I think the Hall and Bud are pretty much alike, seeing exactly what they want to see.

My 2017 ballot had 11 names on it, which is one too many and happens surprisingly often to me, so I removed Curt Schilling just for being a dickhead. This isn’t a good reason; the Hall has no prohibition against dickheads and is already home to several, as has been well-documented in defense of the obvious cheaters. I probably wouldn’t have gone with that as a reason if this weren’t my last year, but hey, I’ve already admitted I’m making purely subjective judgments, and maybe Schilling will hesitate the next time he is moved to share the comedic appeal of lynching people. Then again, he’s Curt Schilling, so maybe not.

My 2017 ballot (ballot no. 238):

Jeff Bagwell

Vladimir Guerrero

Trevor Hoffman

Jeff Kent

Edgar Martinez

Mike Mussina

Tim Raines

Gary Sheffield

Billy Wagner

Larry Walker

2016 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

It occurred to me as I was putting this together that I have never given appropriate  credit to the anonymous gnomes of the internet who take pleasure each year in making fun of the no-hopers on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. They inspired me to write at least something about every name — 32 this year — on the ballot. So they deserve credit for that.

In fact, it probably turns out I write more about those I’m not voting for than those I am. This is partly because there are more of them and partly because most of my votes are repeats and it’s boring making the same arguments over and over. So, for a block of seven candidates I’m voting for again, I’ll refer you to past posts for particulars, if you’re interested. What follows is a stream of consciousness about some of the people and issues that came up this year. As usual, if you’d prefer to skip the verbiage and just harvest the ballot, you can scroll to the bottom.

For the edification of the gnomes, the screening committee of baseball writers that sets the ballot each year errs purposefully on the side of inclusion, and here’s why:

Of nearly half a million high school baseball players in the U.S. each year, less than 6 percent wind up playing on a college team. Of those, about 10 percent will be drafted by a big league team. Of those, about 10 percent will actually make it to the majors. Of those, according to one voluminous study of 20th century players, about one in five position players will play 10 big league seasons, the minimum to be eligible for the Hall. So, roughly speaking, about 0.01 percent of high school players, or one in 10,000, will achieve eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Considering how many players now come from outside the U.S. feeder system, it’s probably fewer than that. For most of them, appearing on the ballot is the only recognition of this achievement they will receive.

Here are the players who accomplished that feat and were included on the 2016 ballot but have roughly the same percentage chance of being elected as they did as young players of becoming eligible. For our purposes, the cutoff is a deficit of 12 or more in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric (average of career wins above replacement and seven best WAR seasons) to the average score of existing Hall of Famers at the player’s position.


Garret Anderson

In Anderson’s rookie season with the Angels, 1995, he batted .321 with 16 home runs and 69 RBI in 400 plate appearances. He was edged out for rookie of the year by Marty Cordova, who would play nine seasons. Andy Pettitte finished third.

Anderson played 17 seasons, all but the last two for the Angels, who drafted him out of high school in 1990. He batted cleanup in all seven games of the 2002 World Series, driving in the winning runs in Game 7 with a third-inning, bases-loaded double off the Giants’ Livan Hernandez. He finished fourth in American League MVP voting that year (behind Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano) and was a three-time All-Star. His career slash was .293/.324/.461 with 287 homers and 1,365 RBI.

His JAWS score of 24.2 ranks 86th all-time among left fielders and 29.1 points below the average score (53.3) of the 19 left fielders already in the Hall.

Brad Ausmus

Rarer even than Hall-of-Famers are Ivy League graduates active in the major leagues, which Ausmus was throughout his 18-year career after mixing terms at Dartmouth with seasons in the minor leagues and sacrificing his collegiate eligibility in the process. He was a terrific defensive catcher, winning three gold gloves and finishing 10th all-time in fielding percentage. He was an American League All-Star in 1999. His defensive wins above replacement (18.3) were more than double his offensive WAR (8.6).

His JAWS score (15.7) ranks 99th among catchers and 27.4 points below the average (43.1) of the 13 catchers in the Hall.

Luis Castillo

A three-time All-Star, three-time gold glove winner and two-time league stolen base leader, Castillo was the only player on the roster of both Marlins championship teams (1997, 2003) who did not get traded in between, although he did not appear in the ’97 World Series. He finished with a career slash of .290/.368/.351. His 370 stolen bases rank 93rd all-time. He was a key member of the ’03 champions.

His JAWS score (26.4) ranks 69th among second basemen and 30.5 points below the average (56.9) of 20 second basemen in the Hall.

David Eckstein

The 5-foot-6-inch “X factor” joined the Angels as a 26-year-old rookie in 2001, batting .285, stealing 29 bases and finishing fourth in rookie-of-the-year voting. He was a two-time All-Star and one of the few shortstops to win World Series in both leagues, with the Angels in 2002 and Cardinals in 2006. He was named most valuable player of the ’06 Series, batting .364 in the five-game victory over the Tigers.

His JAWS score (19.9) ranks 112th among shortstops and 34.8 points below the average (54.7) of the 21 shortstops in the Hall.

Troy Glaus

When baseball executives do the regression studies that demonstrate their tendency to overpay veteran free agents, Glaus is one of the cautionary tales. The year he turned 24, his third season with the Angels, he led the American league in home runs with 47 and made the first of his four All-Star games. Of his career WAR of 37.9, accumulated over 13 seasons, more than half, 20.4, came in seasons two through five, culminating in his World Series MVP in 2002, when he batted .385 with three home runs in the Angels’ seven-game victory over the Giants. His career slash was .254/.358/.489, with 320 homers and 950 RBI.

His JAWS score (35.3) ranks him 37th among third basemen and 19.7 below the average (55.0) of 13 third basemen in the Hall.

Mark Grudzielanek

A regional Skee ball champion in Texas at age 16, Grudzielanek was unofficially the most misspelled name on television graphics of his generation. Vin Scully turned it lyrical, pronouncing it Grass-a-lonic. An above-average defender on either side of second base, he accumulated offensive WAR of 23.4 and defensive WAR of 8.9 over a 15-season career with five teams. Grudzielanek made his only All-Star appearance in his second season, 1996, when he batted .306 and stole 33 bases for the Expos. He won his only gold glove in 2006, at the age of 36, for the Royals.

His JAWS score (23.4) ranks 76th among second basemen and 33.5 below the average (56.9) of the 20 second basemen in the Hall.

Mike Hampton

No one will ever know if Hampton’s career trajectory would have changed materially had he not succumbed to the Rockies’ seduction in 2001, signing an eight-year, $121 million contract to pitch half his games at Coors Field. After dominating the National League with his power sinker in 1999 for the Astros, going 22-4 and finishing second to Randy Johnson in Cy Young balloting, Hampton was traded, enjoyed a good year for the Mets (15-10, 3.14), and then became the centerpiece (with Denny Neagle) of Colorado’s attempt to prove it was not a pitcher’s graveyard.

On June 10, 2001, after the Rockies beat the Cardinals 12-3 at Coors Field, Hampton’s record was 9-2, his ERA 2.98. From there, the experiment unraveled in a hurry. By the end of the season, those numbers were 14-13, 5.41. The next season, his last there, they were 7-15, 6.15. He got back on track with a couple of solid seasons in Atlanta before injuries derailed his career. There is no way to know what if any contribution those two years at elevation made, but the tendency of Rockies pitchers to break down — physically, mentally or both — is what led to some of the club’s odder experiments later on.

Hampton called it quits after 16 years with a record of 148-115 and an ERA of 4.06.  Remove the two years in Colorado and those numbers are 127-87, 3.72. He was one of the best-hitting pitchers of his era, winning five silver slugger awards. He took full advantage of his time in Colorado in this respect, winning silver sluggers both years and putting up a career-best seven home runs in 2001. His career batting average was .246 with 16 home runs — 10 in his two years with the Rockies — and 79 RBI.

His JAWS score (27.3) ranks 301st all-time among starting pitchers and 33.5 points below the average (62.1) of 62 starting pitchers in the Hall.

Mike Lowell

On one level, there are few awards in baseball as prestigious as World Series MVP. If your definition of greatness includes rising to the occasion when it matters most, this is the award that attempts to capture that quality. Unfortunately, because it rewards performance in such a small window, the result often seems random. Lowell won it in 2007 when his nice, round .400 batting average made him the selection after Boston’s four-game sweep of the overmatched Rockies, a series in which an MVP wasn’t really required.

Overall, Lowell was a .252 postseason hitter for Florida and Boston and a .279 career hitter overall. His power numbers were OK — 223 career homers, 952 RBI, 108 OPS+ — but not extraordinary. The same could be said of his defense at third base. He became a fan favorite in Boston, but his career didn’t last long enough to take advantage of the WAR career adding machine. He was a four-time All-Star whose best year was ’07, when he batted .324 with 21 homers and 120 RBI, finishing fifth in regular-season MVP voting.

His JAWS score (24.1) ranks 84th among third basemen and 30.9 points below the average (55.0) of 13 third basemen in the Hall.

Mike Sweeney

A three-time player of the year for the Royals, Sweeney was a natural hitter who batted over .300 five times and barely missed it as a career average (.297). He started as a catcher, where he struggled defensively, moved to first base, and ultimately to designated hitter. In the five seasons from 1999 through 2003, he accumulated 18.6 wins above replacement, more than three-quarters of his career total. He appeared in the postseason only once, getting a single at-bat for the Phillies in 2010 at age 36. He singled.

His JAWS score (23.2) ranks 102nd among first basemen and 31.0 points below the average (54.2) of the 19 first basemen in the Hall.

Randy Winn

An impressive athlete who could hit from both sides of the plate, run and play defense, Winn was drafted in the third round by Florida in 1995. While he had a nice 13-year career, playing for five teams, he never quite lived up to the athletic promise. He was named to just one All-Star Game, in 2002, for Tampa Bay. Statistically, he was roughly average, both offensively and defensively, with a career OPS+ of 99. His career slash was .284/.343/.416.

His JAWS score (26.1) ranks 95th among center fielders and 31.1 points below the average (57.2) of the 18 center fielders in the Hall.


These exclusions pare the original ballot from 32 to 22 names. Here they are, listed in order of their JAWS rankings relative to the average of players at their positions already in the Hall:

  • Barry Bonds +64.3
  • Roger Clemens +41.2
  • Ken Griffey Jr. +11.6
  • Jeff Bagwell +9.7
  • Mike Piazza +8.1
  • Alan Trammell +2.8
  • Curt Schilling +2.4
  • Tim Raines +2.3
  • Mike Mussina +1.7
  • Edgar Martinez +1.0
  • Larry Walker +0.5
  • Mark McGwire -2.3
  • Jim Edmonds -5.8
  • Sammy Sosa -7.1
  • Jason Kendall -7.2
  • Gary Sheffield -9.0
  • Lee Smith -9.0
  • Fred McGriff -10.1
  • Trevor Hoffman -10.4
  • Billy Wagner -10.4
  • Nomar Garciaparra -11.1
  • Jeff Kent -11.5


Obvious cheaters

This category remains controversial, and will, no doubt, for the foreseeable future. I explained my rationale at some length two years ago and you should refer to that post if you want a more verbose explanation than I provide here. With something like 100 honorary voters coming off the rolls as a result of this year’s change in voting qualifications, it will be interesting to see the effect on the percentages these players receive. I would expect them to rise on the assumption that the older voters bumped from the rolls were more likely to penalize them for using performance-enhancing drugs than the younger voters who now make up a larger proportion of the total.

The willingness to shrug off obvious cheating with the usual rationales — everybody was doing it; who knows who was doing it; modern chemistry is a part of sports, like it or not — still baffles me. Some of it comes from veteran baseball writers protective of former commissioner Bud Selig, who botched the steroid era quite spectacularly but treated beat writers well and was rewarded with their loyalty. Minimizing the cheating minimizes his mistake. Some of it comes from a moral relativism that derives from a devotion to sabermetrics — the numbers are really all that matter; the numbers would have been good enough without the cheating. And some of it comes from a related dependence on quantifiable certitude — the view that if we can’t know with certainty who did and who didn’t, we shouldn’t attempt to make any distinctions at all. As a lifelong journalist and the son of a historian, this seems to me either hopelessly naive or purposefully impossible. We are always doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. That’s life.

For those attached to one or more of these rationalizations, or to another rationale entirely, I urge a viewing of the 2014 documentary Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story, currently playing on Showtime. Is there any good reason Armstrong should be vilified and lose everything in his sport while baseball players who did exactly the same thing stand for election to be glorified and immortalized in theirs, other than the fact that baseball, like cycling, was asleep at the switch at the time but, unlike cycling, had no outside entity like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to clean up afterward?

One recent development is also worth mentioning in light of claims that the “morals clause” in Hall of Fame voting represents the antiquated remains of a bygone era and should properly be excised if anybody ever gets around to modernizing the rules. The Hall of Fame has quite noticeably taken charge of this process over the past couple of years. It has taken the voting logistics from the Baseball Writers Association of America and given them to an accounting firm. It has reduced the time a player may remain on the ballot. It has reduced the time a voter may continue participating after he or she stops covering the game. Amid all these reforms, it has not changed this language in our instructions at all:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

The Hall knows what this means in 2016 and it has elected to leave it in. If you have heard players already in the Hall talk about this, you know why.

My imperfect standard remains the same. Where there is evidence of cheating I find convincing, I’m not voting for the guy. Where there is mainly suspicion and rumor, I am, if he’s qualified. On that basis, I disqualify these players from consideration this year, as I have in the past:

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Mark McGwire

Sammy Sosa


This leaves me with 18:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. +11.6
  • Jeff Bagwell +9.7
  • Mike Piazza +8.1
  • Alan Trammell +2.8
  • Curt Schilling +2.4
  • Tim Raines +2.3
  • Mike Mussina +1.7
  • Edgar Martinez +1.0
  • Larry Walker +0.5
  • Jim Edmonds -5.8
  • Jason Kendall -7.2
  • Gary Sheffield -9.0
  • Lee Smith -9.0
  • Fred McGriff -10.1
  • Trevor Hoffman -10.4
  • Billy Wagner -10.4
  • Nomar Garciaparra -11.1
  • Jeff Kent -11.5


To this point, the process has been reasonably straightforward. I rely on Jaffe’s quantitative sorting metric unless and until I disagree based on my own qualitative judgment — the “eye test.”

Now it gets less straightforward. I like Jaffe’s formulation that players added to the Hall of Fame should be at least as good as those already there — the impulse not to dilute the quality of the place. Still, the effort to compare performances across many generations, during which the game has changed so much, is approximate at best. For example, in 1970 the Veterans Committee elected a Cardinals pitcher from the 1920s and ’30s by the name of Jesse Haines. He won 20 three times, 210 overall, career ERA of 3.64. His JAWS score (27.3) is exactly the same as Mike Hampton’s.

So when these quantitative assessments reach the relatively small differences among our 18 remaining candidates, the decisions get more subjective.

Unfortunately, both qualitative and quantitative measures struggle mightily in the same area  — the specialist, baseball’s closer. It is an issue this year because three of our 18 — Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner — are closers.

For most of baseball history, relief pitchers were the guys who weren’t good enough to be starters. By definition, they were not good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That is still true of most relief pitchers — all but the ones designated to finish games. Of 310 elected members of the Hall, only five were elected as relief pitchers.

Based on Jaffe’s attempt to quantify this judgment, two of the five — Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers — don’t belong. Their JAWS scores are well below those of the other three — Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm and Goose Gossage. In fact, the Relief Pitchers JAWS Leaders page over at is a mess. It makes Greg Swindell and Turk Farrell two of the top 12 relievers of all time, ahead of Smith, Sutter, Wagner, Hoffman, Dan Quisenberry and so on.

Why? Well, because they were once starters and earned a bunch of WAR in that role, then hauled them over to the relievers’ page. The best reliever never to have started a major league game, according to Jaffe’s model, is Sutter, who ranks 17th. So if the closer has a value anywhere near what the modern general manager is willing to pay for one, JAWS has yet to illuminate it.

What would be the key metrics? Being old school, or maybe just old, I start with earned-run average. If the idea is to hold a lead, you want to give up as few runs as possible.

  • Billy Wagner: 2.31
  • Hoyt Wilhelm: 2.52
  • Bruce Sutter: 2.83
  • Trevor Hoffman: 2.87
  • Rollie Fingers: 2.90
  • Goose Gossage: 3.01
  • Lee Smith: 3.03
  • Dennis Eckersely: 3.50

Or maybe ERA+, which adjusts for ballparks and makes the league average 100:

  • Billy Wagner: 187
  • Hoyt Wilhelm: 147
  • Trevor Hoffman: 141
  • Bruce Sutter: 136
  • Lee Smith: 132
  • Goose Gossage: 126
  • Rollie Fingers: 120
  • Dennis Eckersley: 116

How about saves? There is something arbitrary about this volume number, depending as it does on the quality of your team — how often it is ahead late — and, in days of yore, before it became automatic, your manager’s inclination to bring you into such situations.

  • Trevor Hoffman: 601
  • Lee Smith: 478
  • Billy Wagner: 422
  • Dennis Eckersley: 390
  • Rollie Fingers: 341
  • Goose Gossage: 310
  • Bruce Sutter: 300
  • Hoyt Wilhelm: 228

The more modern the player, the more likely that player is to pile up saves because the degree of specialization has increased over time. One would expect to find an inverse correlation between saves and innings pitched per appearance. Eckersley spent half his career as a starter; older relievers pitched more innings per appearance. Moe Drabowsky famously replaced Dave McNally in the third inning of Game 1 of the 1966 World Series and pitched the rest of the game. What, exactly, is the value of the modern specialist who comes in only at the very end, to pitch one-ninth or less of a game, usually when his team is ahead?

The sabermetricians appear to have decided that a team leading late will go on to win so much of the time randomly that even elite closers deserve credit for only a handful, or fewer, of their saves each year. I discussed this at some length last year with respect to John Smoltz, whose career WAR suffered noticeably — and made him a sub-par HOF candidate as a starting pitcher, according to JAWS — because of his years as an elite closer. The fact the Braves chose to use him in that role during those years demonstrates that they estimated the value of the position quite differently from the way the WAR numbers do. To make matters worse, the average JAWS score of the five relievers already in the Hall — which becomes the standard for aspiring candidates — is inflated by Eckersley’s WAR numbers, the majority of which — 45.6 of 62.5 — he earned as a starter.

Over the course of his 18-year career, Hoffman accumulated a total of 28 wins above replacement, according to, or an average of 1.6 per season. Simple subtraction tells us that according to this metric, which Jaffe uses to determine Hall of Fame worthiness, an average replacement relief pitcher would have piled up 573 saves in the circumstances in which Hoffman accumulated 601. Assuming this average replacement player had Hoffman’s durability, he would finish his career with the second-most saves in history, same as Hoffman.

Does anybody believe this? If so, why do the people entrusted with running big league teams pay closers what they pay them these days?

So WAR and JAWS don’t help much, if at all, when it comes to relievers, except possibly as a relative measurement among them, since it might be wrong about all of them in the same ways.

For example, JAWS gives Hoffman and Wagner exactly the same score (24.0). Hoffman has a slightly better career WAR; Wagner a slightly better prime WAR. They even out. So, when Hoffman partisans start quoting his stats, they often insert a minimum requirement of 1,000 innings pitched. That leaves him first in baserunners allowed (1.058 WHIP), an impressive marker. As it happens, Wagner’s number is better (0.998), which might explain why Hoffman partisans put in the innings minimum. Were it not for the round number, the difference between Hoffman’s 1,089 innings and Wagner’s 903 wouldn’t matter much. After all, Smith pitched 1,289, and that hasn’t helped him in 13 years on the ballot.

Complicating all this is the general consensus that Mariano Rivera will be elected to the Hall as soon as he becomes eligible. So there is a certain level of dominance that bypasses the positional problem. Even JAWS approves of Rivera, although he still trails Eckersley. There are Hoffman partisans who believe he should hold the same trump card Rivera holds. But unlike Rivera, Hoffman never got a chance to shine on the big stage. He made only one World Series appearance, giving up two earned runs in two innings. His career postseason ERA is 3.46.

In a way, closers in baseball are like kickers in football. They play a crucial role at certain critical moments, but for the vast majority of the time, they watch from the sidelines or the bullpen, as the case may be. The small cohort of voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame has similar difficulty comparing them favorably to the guys on the field most of the time. Only three have made it — George Blanda, Lou Groza and Jan Stenerud — and two of those played other positions as well.

Not to bring Ray Guy into the conversation, but I’m punting. The traffic jam of worthy candidates allows me to take more time to think about this and wait for the ballot to open up enough that devoting a spot to a specialist doesn’t require taking one from a deserving everyday player. I’ve got 11 non-relievers I’d like to vote for this year, and when I ask myself whether I would take one of the closers over one of them if I were building a team, the answer is no.

Which gets me down to 15:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. +11.6
  • Jeff Bagwell +9.7
  • Mike Piazza +8.1
  • Alan Trammell +2.8
  • Curt Schilling +2.4
  • Tim Raines +2.3
  • Mike Mussina +1.7
  • Edgar Martinez +1.0
  • Larry Walker +0.5
  • Jim Edmonds -5.8
  • Jason Kendall -7.2
  • Gary Sheffield -9.0
  • Fred McGriff -10.1
  • Nomar Garciaparra -11.1
  • Jeff Kent -11.5


Ken Griffey Jr.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. Early on, Junior’s long, picturesque swing from the left side earned him “The Natural” nickname, in memory of the Bernard Malamud character. Steeped in baseball as a kid in the clubhouse of the Big Red Machine — his father played right field — he was ready to roll almost from the moment the Mariners made him the first overall pick of the 1987 draft at age 17.

Two years later, he was a big league starter. Three years later, at 20, he was an All-Star, the first of 11 consecutive selections and 13 overall. He received MVP votes after 10 seasons, winning the award in 1997, when he led the American League with 56 homers, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 393 total bases, 23 intentional walks and a slugging percentage of .646.

He won nine gold gloves along the way, all of them before age 30. The vast majority of his career WAR also came in his 20s. His JAWS score (68.8) makes him the only center fielder not (yet) in the Hall of Fame with a better score than the average of the 18 center fielders already there. He trails only Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle. He leads Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider.


Here is the group of seven candidates I voted for last year that I am voting for again, and for the same reasons. Check last year’s post to explain my votes for Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Alan Trammell, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, Mike Mussina and Larry Walker. You will find a particularly long-winded rant on behalf of Walker, which I am likely to repeat at some point before his eligibility (not to mention mine) expires, because quantitative analysis suggests his modest HOF vote totals are the result of irrational prejudice.

I refer you to the same post to explain my vote this year for Edgar Martinez. I wanted to vote for him last year, as I wrote at the time, but he was No. 11 on my list. Luckily, three of the guys I voted for won, so a spot opened up. I would only mention here a mesmerizing career OPS of .933 and OPS+ of 147. The man could hit.


A word or two about Trammell, on the ballot for the last time this year, and Raines, who gets one more shot after this one if he needs it.

On the JAWS list at shortstop, Trammell sits just ahead of Derek Jeter, who will be elected in his first year of eligibility and serenaded to Cooperstown by the New York Philharmonic, and Barry Larkin, who was elected in 2012 with 86.4 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Trammell is about to fall off the ballot after 15 years, never having achieved 40 percent of the vote.

About the only logical explanation is that voters don’t put much value on defense at arguably the most important defensive position, which doesn’t say much for voters. Trammell has the best defensive WAR of the three, but his offensive numbers were also excellent for a middle infielder. Put them together and they surpass the work of his more popular fellow shortstops, according to the quants, but it doesn’t matter. His partner in that long-lived Tigers double-play combination, Lou Whitaker, received even less respect from the national voters. Who knows, maybe Trammell is paying for the unfortunate accident of playing shortstop in the American League in the era of Cal Ripken.

Whatever the explanation, it’s hard to reconcile an educated voting body giving such disparate treatment to players whose skills and achievements were so comparable.

Raines was caught by the Hall’s reduction in player eligibility from 15 to 10 years. Now in his ninth year on the ballot, he suddenly has one more instead of the six he would have had under the old rules. At the rate he was building support, it could matter. Starting at 24.3 percent of the vote in 2008, he rose to 55.0 percent last year. Here’s hoping logic and urgency turbocharge his push to 75.

Quantitatively, he should be a shoo-in. JAWS makes him the eighth-best left fielder of all time, ahead of Manny Ramirez, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell and many others. His 55.6 JAWS score is 2.3 points better than the average of 19 left fielders already in the Hall.

His 808 stolen bases are fifth all time and the four above him — Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb — are in the Hall already. His success rate when he took off — 85 percent — was higher than any of the four above him on the volume list. He was an OBP guy before OBP was cool in front offices, putting up a career .385, contributing to an .810 OPS for a player who never hit 20 homers in a season. If Trammell suffered by comparison to Ripken, perhaps Raines suffered by comparison to Henderson. Advanced metrics make it clear both of these guys belong.


Having settled on Griffey, Martinez and the seven unsuccessful candidates I voted for last year, I had one vote remaining and two more candidates I wanted to vote for. Because the JAWS numbers relative to their positions are similar for the remaining six, I began with the eye test.

Nomar Garciaparra sure looked like a Hall of Famer through his 20s, but injuries sabotaged the remainder of his career so thoroughly that the volume offensive numbers he seemed certain to produce never materialized. His rookie-of-the-year award and seven top-13 MVP finishes show how good he was when young and healthy, but except for one year his 30s were a wasteland and never allowed WAR’s longevity bias to work for him. Troy Tulowitzki’s career WAR should pass Nomar’s next year, and Tulo is not exactly an ironman either.

Jim Edmonds did not strike me as a Hall of Famer while I was watching him play. He was a very good player, and his numbers reflect it. Maybe I’m spoiled. I did see Mays and Mantle live as a kid. So Griffey qualifies and Edmonds doesn’t. Good batting averages, but not great. Good power numbers, but not great. Terrific fielder; eight gold gloves.

His similarity scores on go to guys like Lance Berkman and Ellis  Burks, Dale Murphy and Fred Lynn. He never started an All-Star Game while playing for the Angels because Griffey or Kenny Lofton always did. In the National League, he alternated with guys like Berkman and Andruw Jones. He ended up with four All-Star appearances, which seems a bit low for a player with his numbers and suggests how many other outfielders were putting up numbers like that, too.

Jason Kendall was a nice hitter, particularly early in his career, when he batted .300 or better in four of his first five seasons. He did it twice in his remaining 10. He was an All-Star in three of his first five seasons, and then never again. He never won a gold glove. During his years with the Pirates they were going to Charles Johnson, Ausmus and Mike Matheny, and Mike Lieberthal one year.

He had unusual speed for a catcher, but he never had much power, which is pretty much a requirement for a catcher who wants to be in the Hall of Fame. Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra — the top six JAWS scores at the position — each had more than 300 career homers. Kendall had 75. Early in his career, his similarity scores go to Mickey Cochrane, who had the fewest homers (119) of catchers above the JAWS average for Hall of Famers at the position. By the end, his closest comparable was Dick Bartell, a journeyman infielder of the 1930s and ’40s.

Like Edmonds, Fred McGriff put up big numbers for much of his career and yet did not consistently rise above his contemporaries. From 1988-90, he received MVP votes every year as a member of the Blue Jays, but the first basemen making the American League All-Star team were guys like Mark McGwire, George Brett, Don Mattingly and Cecil Fielder.

He was traded to the Padres following the 1990 season (with Tony Fernandez, for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter) and found himself in an All-Star mix with Will Clark, John Kruk, Gregg Jefferies and the emerging Bagwell. Three years later, he was traded again, this time for Melvin Nieves and Donnie Elliott. He continued to crank out the home runs, but after Atlanta he was a journeyman, going from the Rays to the Cubs to the Dodgers back to the Rays. He had five All-Star appearances in 19 seasons.

McGriff is a close call. His offensive numbers are very good, and so are his comparables (David Ortiz, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Paul Konerko). But there are guys above him on the JAWS list at first base who have gotten less consideration. He did not dominate the competition at his position in either league. I thought of him as a very good player, but not a great one.

I want to vote for Jeff Kent. To my mind, JAWS underestimates the value of his power and production from a defensive position that so seldom provides them at anything like his level. His 377 career homers rank first all-time among second basemen, ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan and all the rest. His 1,518 RBI rank third, behind Hornsby and Nap Lajoie, who played in a different era and considerably longer. Granted, Kent played in an offensive era, but his numbers were still impressive, especially in 2000, the year he won the National League MVP award by batting .334 with 33 homers and 125 RBI. You know how many second basemen have won that award in the last 50 years? Three: Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Kent.

Like McGriff, he was a five-time All-Star. Unlike McGriff, he was often beaten out by a Hall-of-Famer in Biggio. In 1997 and ’98, he was in the top 10 of National League MVP voting and Biggio was the All-Star. The closest McGriff came to an MVP award was a fourth-place finish in 1993.

My final vote came down to a battle between Kent and Gary Sheffield. Knowing Sheffield would not make my final cut in last year’s traffic jam, I eliminated him early. But I kept thinking about it afterward because as a fan who was usually rooting against the teams he played for, he scared the hell out of me — that menacing bat-wave, the explosive pop when he crushed the ball. It flew off his bat like a missile. The relentless danger he posed at the plate reminded me a little of an old favorite, Eddie Murray, a Hall of Famer often overshadowed by a more celebrated teammate and yet a fearsome competitor and consistent producer. Our brains make the connections they make, so, just for grins, I put their numbers side by side.

The main difference is durability. Murray played 3,026 games in 21 seasons; Sheffield, 2,576 in 22. Still, in 15 percent fewer games, Sheffield managed, like Murray, to exceed 500 home runs, and slightly exceed Murray’s All-Star appearances (nine to eight). When it comes to overall offensive production adjusted for ballparks, Sheffield’s career OPS+ was 140, compared to Murray’s 129. Playing different positions, both ended up with negative defensive WARs, although Sheffield’s was worse. Still, as with Kent, watching the guy play it seemed obvious that his defensive deficiencies were a small price to pay for that bat.

Both passed my eye test. By a whisker, I gave my final vote to Sheffield.

So here’s my 2016 ballot:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Mike Mussina
  • Mike Piazza
  • Tim Raines
  • Curt Schilling
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Alan Trammell
  • Larry Walker

Happy new year.




As you may have gathered, the blog is on hiatus until further notice. Of my small cadre of loyal readers, a few will reply, “What do you call what it’s been on since the last post?”

Well, wise guys, that was more like suspended animation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the words of the Big Lebowski, there were a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. In the end, KOA decided to go in a different direction with its afternoon drive programming and let me go.

My media credentials to all local teams, venues and universities are invalid because they all say I’m representing KOA. For now, at least, I no longer have access to players and coaches, which is pretty important to the reporting I’ve done on the blog.

I don’t have any idea what happens next. For the last decade or so, I’ve been employed by three organizations that had one thing in common — they were shrinking. Layoffs and rumors of layoffs; buyouts and rumors of buyouts; an incessant, relentless emphasis on cutting, cutting, cutting.

I’d like to find a way to get on the other side of this curve if I can, to find an organization that’s growing and ambitious and trying to do more, not less. Maybe that’s in the media and maybe it’s not. It may be a pipe dream but there’s only one way to find out.

My plan is to let things shake out a bit, let it be known that a (ahem) veteran free agent is available and, you know, see what happens. My preference is to stay in Colorado, but my first priority is finding something inspiring to do with myself. If that turns out to require relocation, then that’s what’ll happen.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the always spectacular Colorado summer and take my time. I don’t want to rush into the wrong thing. For example, I already have an offer to become an insurance salesman. All respect to Needlenose Ned Ryerson, probably not going to do that.

A new canvas

Welcome to the new home of my writing. After 36 years in the newspaper business, I’ve finally joined the 21st century and gone electronic. Whether you followed my columns in the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post or you’re a new reader, please feel free to bookmark this page and check in for my latest posts.

I expect to encompass a variety of forms here — interviews, analysis, argument, news, notes and, with any luck, a little humor. Some of it is likely to build off interviews and conversations Dave Logan and I conduct on 850KOA’s afternoon drive show weekdays from 3-7 mountain time. If you’re not within range of the terrestrial signal, you can tune in through iHeart radio or stream us live on

At the bottom of each post you’ll find a comments link which will take you to the 850KOA Facebook page. Please feel free to offer your thoughts. I’ll be linking each post on Twitter (, Google+ and my personal Facebook page. You can always reach me by email at as well.

Feedback is always welcome. And off we go . . .

Dave Krieger