Notes on the newest Hall of Fame class and voting

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America did a pretty good job with their latest Hall of Fame ballot. They elected Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Chipper Jones, and held off Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

They could have done better by electing Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Omar Vizquel - and even long shot Fred McGriff - but maybe those guys will make it on another ballot. Mussina is on the ballot another five years.

Before we get too far into the Hall of Fame analysis, I want to share my favorite memory of covering Thome during my days at USA Today.

Thome, from Peoria, Ill., and polite as anyone can be, is a lug of a guy with massive arms, 612 career home runs and a .402 on-base percentage.

Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only left-handed batters with more career home runs than Thome, who was never associated with performance-enhancing drugs.

But Thome was associated with a soft spot for baseball history. He consumed it with every organization that employed him.

He played most of his career with Cleveland and loved getting to the ballpark to talk with Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller. As a Minnesota Twin in 2010 and 2011, he got wide-eyed talking hitting with Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.

And when he played for Baltimore in 2012, he enjoyed learning about the franchise of Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.

My favorite historical moment with Thome came in the final days of the old Yankee Stadium in 2008. In September of that season, I was doing a cover story for USA Today on the closing of Yankee Stadium.

Thome was in town playing for the Chicago White Sox. He and I got a chance to see Lou Gehrig’s pole, thanks to our tour guide, Alex Rodriguez. The pole was in a room under the grandstand near the right field corner.

A stadium security guard wouldn’t let me walk down the corridor. A-Rod and Thome were walking by - on their way to the batting cage - and heard my pleas for the sake of the story.

And that’s when A-Rod told the security guard that he would take me to the room.

Gehrig’s pole was in a dirty and dusty room down the right field corridor from the Yankees clubhouse. The room was used to repair broken stadium seats and so broken seats, wrought-iron frames, work benches, tools and boxes were scattered everywhere.

One of the poles was painted with graffiti. A-Rod explained to Thome that the room was where Gehrig, who was suffering a degenerative nerve disease that was ravaging his body, would come for privacy when the clubhouse got too noisy.

“He’d come here, sit and rest his head on that pole,’’ A-Rod explained.

There was silence. Thome could almost feel the presence of the Iron Horse.

Thome stared at the pole and held out his giant forearm.

“Look at the hair on my arm, it’s standing up,’’ Thome said. “This gives me goosebumps.’‘

Wednesday’s vote total did the same for Thome, who got 89.9 percent of the BBWAA vote. Jones was at 97.2 percent, Guerrero 92.9, Hoffman 79.9. Mussina had 63.5 percent, Clemens 57.3 and Bonds 56.4.

Cool twist: Thome, with the Indians, and Jones, with the Braves, were the third basemen when those two teams met in the 1995 World Series, won by Atlanta. Now, they are going into Cooperstown together.

Other thoughts on the Hall of Fame voting:

* Clemens and Bonds didn’t make the Hall of Fame, but I don’t understand how voters can check their name, saying there is no hard-and-fast evidence they used steroids.

Here’s evidence: Clemens in each of his age 41, 42 and 43 seasons, pitched more than 200 innings for the Houston Astros, posting a 1.87 ERA at age 42 in 2005.

And Bonds hit 195 home runs from age 38 on. Does that seem a bit odd?

Bonds and Clemens made serious dents in the credibility of records. That’s a character issue. If character and PEDs don’t count on the Hall of Fame ballot with these guys, when will it count?

* Jones is the 12th third basemen to make Cooperstown, but how does he compare to the elite of the elite at that position?

Jones was a switch-hitter with 468 home runs and 2,726 hits. He played for Atlanta his entire career, won a National League MVP, but never a Gold Glove Award. The Orioles’ Brooks Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves and had 2,848 hits.

The Phillies’ Mike Schmidt had 548 home runs, 2,234 hits and 10 Gold Gloves, while the Royals’ George Brett had 3,154 hits, batting titles in three different decades but only one Gold Glove. All of those guys played their entire career with one team.

* It will be interesting to see which team cap will go on Guerrero’s plaque. He played mostly with the Expos and Angels. The Expos have three other Hall of Famers - Tim Raines, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson - and the Angels have nobody. The Hall decides which cap, but it does consult the player. Guerrero was known to swing at everything - high pitches and those that bounced in front of the plate. He averaged 34 walks a season.

* Former Orioles pitcher Mussina, on the ballot for the fifth time, shot up percentage-wise from the 51.8 percent he got in 2017, and it is a huge mistake by the BBWAA that he’s not been elected. Mussina pitched in the shadows of Randy Johnson, Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, but he had 270 victories and nine top six finishes in the American League Cy Young voting.

But Mussina, pitching exclusively in the AL East, was in the league’s top 10 for ERA 11 times. He won 18 games five times. He had a 3.68 ERA and pitched well in the postseason for the Orioles and Yankees, striking out 16 in 14 innings over two games for the Orioles in the 1997 ALCS.

* Vizquel didn’t make it on his first try. For some reason, it takes voters forever to recognize defense. Vizquel is one of the best defensive shortstops in the history of the game. He had 11 Glove Gloves and 2,877 hits. Come on, he deserves to be in.

* The first-time players on the ballot for 2019 include the Rockies’ Todd Helton, the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay and the Astros’ Roy Oswalt.

Although they elected Trevor Hoffman and his 602 saves, voters still aren’t sure about the value of closers and how they should be judged historically.

Hoffman has an interesting route to the Hall. His career started as a shortstop with Cincinnati. He failed as a shortstop and the Reds made him a pitcher. Then, the Florida Marlins took him in the 1992 expansion draft. Then, the Marlins traded him to San Diego in a deal that brought them Gary Sheffield.

Rivera, who was a failed starter, is a no-brainer, considering his postseason record (0.70 ERA, 42 saves), 652 career saves and the fact that there were 143 plate appearances by Hall of Famers against him, and only two - Ken Griffey Jr. and Pudge Rodriguez - managed to hit home runs against him.

Halladay won two Cy Youngs and finished second two other times and his candidacy got an emotional bump after he was killed in a plane accident in Florida. But while he had a dominant stretch, he also had a short career with 203 wins. His case is similar to Curt Schilling, who had 216 wins.

Oswalt had a career ERA of 3.63 but only 163 wins.

Pettitte had a 3.85 ERA and 256 wins and pitched for winning teams in New York and Houston. But he admitted to using HGH to speed up recovery for an elbow injury. How should that play with voters?

Like his Rockies teammate Larry Walker, Helton, a first baseman, will lose support because he played in hitter-friendly Coors Field in Denver. Helton had 2,519 hits and while his road slash line of .287.386/.469 is impressive, let’s assume he’s a long shot to make Cooperstown.