My 2019 Hall of Fame ballot

The 2019 Hall of Fame class has now been announced, and it’s quite a compelling class of inductees, huh?

Mariano Rivera became the first player ever to be named on 100 percent of submitted ballots and permanently sealed the career Yankee’s legacy as the greatest closer of all-time.

Roy Halladay was elected in his first year on the ballot, a bittersweet moment for family and fans of the Blue Jays and Phillies ace, who tragically died in a plane crash a little more than a year ago.

Edgar Martínez finally made it to Cooperstown, garnering enough votes in his 10th and final attempt, a great moment for the Mariners franchise and for supporters of the designated hitter around baseball.

And Mike Mussina finally made it as well, completing an impressive six-year journey from 20 percent support to 76.4 percent support to secure his permanent place in the Hall of Fame and give fans of the Orioles and Yankees a rare common reason to celebrate.

For the ninth year, I had the privilege to submit a ballot. It doesn’t any easier with time, not with the overwhelming volume of information and opinion we now have at our disposal to help make these decisions. But it remains an honor to participate in a process that means so much to so many folks.

Before we get to my decisions, an annual reminder of the voting process ...

* There were 35 players listed on this year’s ballot: 15 returning players who received at least 5 percent support last year, plus 20 first-timers who have been retired for five years and were selected by a screening committee.

* A player must receive 75 percent support to be elected. He must receive at least 5 percent to remain on the ballot, but anyone who doesn’t make it after 10 years is dropped and is handed over to what used to be called the Veterans’ Committee for future consideration. (That committee, if you didn’t already know, elected both Lee Smith and Harold Baines last month.)

* In order to vote, you must have served at least 10 consecutive years as an active member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. If you haven’t actively covered baseball within the last 10 years, you lose your eligibility.

* Per the rules established by the Hall of Fame, writers may vote for as many as 10 players. (I only voted for eight players this year, but I support the push by many writers to allow for unlimited votes per year.) Ballots had to be postmarked by Dec. 31.

* The criteria we are instructed to consider by the Hall: “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.

And with that, here you go: My ballot and thoughts on all 35 players up for consideration this year ...

ankiel-catching-sidebar.jpgRICK ANKIEL - NO
So much of the Hall of Fame debate is predicated on comparing players. Players from the same era. Players across different eras. Players who had similar careers. Is there anyone in the history of the game who legitimately can be compared to Ankiel, though? This has to be regarded as a truly unique career, filled with highs, lows, disappearances, re-emergences, success and failure as both a pitcher and a hitter. And now an attempt at one more comeback as a pitcher. Ankiel spent the 2011-12 seasons with the Nationals, and it was fascinating to cover him. The guy could throw a perfect strike from 350 feet, just not from 60 feet, 6 inches. Obviously, he’s not a Hall of Famer. But, man, what a remarkable story he authored.

JASON BAY - NO
Over a six-year stretch from 2004-09 with the Pirates and Red Sox, Bay averaged 30 homers, 99 RBIs, a .375 on-base percentage and an .894 OPS. That’s really good. Then he signed a four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets. And has too often happened when guys sign long-term deals with the Mets, it all came crashing down. From 2010-13, Bay averaged nine homers, 37 RBIs, a .314 on-base percentage and a .688 OPS. His career ended before he turned 35.

LANCE BERKMAN - NO
It’s human nature to bring a predetermined opinion of a player with you before officially evaluating his Hall of Fame chances for the first time. And I’ll admit I entered this process thinking Berkman wasn’t close to worthy of induction. Then I started looking at his career, and lo and behold he has a real case! A career .293/.406/.537 slash line. A six-time All-Star, a four-time top-five finisher in the MVP vote. A .949 OPS in 52 career postseason games. Among all players with at least 7,000 plate appearances during his career, Berkman’s .943 OPS ranked seventh - ahead of David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero. Whoa! So what’s the problem? A lack of volume. Berkman finished with only 1,905 hits and 7,814 plate appearances. He only qualified for a batting title in 10 of his major league seasons. Among all players during his career, he ranked 14th in WAR (behind Bobby Abreu). So he comes up a bit short in my book. But he’s much closer to making the cut than I assumed. Sadly, he’s not going to get another chance, because he was named on only 1.2 percent of ballots, well below the 5 percent minimum required to remain eligible.

BARRY BONDS and ROGER CLEMENS- NO
Because they’ve now each been on the ballot seven times, and because the cases for and against them are nearly identical - and, most importantly, because they happened to line up back-to-back alphabetically on this year’s ballot - might as well combine these two into one explanation. If you’ve read my column before, you know why I haven’t voted for either player. Despite obvious Hall of Fame stats and the unquestioned fact each is among the very best ever to play this game at his respective position, there is clear and convincing evidence that each took PEDs. No, neither was ever convicted in court or punished by Major League Baseball for his actions, but no reasonable person can deny each did take PEDs. They broke U.S. law and MLB rules - yes, even though there was no testing, steroids were banned by MLB in the early 1990s - and they did so in a selfish attempt to boost their own personal performance, in the process threatening the integrity of the game. The Hall of Fame instructs us to consider a player’s integrity, character and sportsmanship in making this decision, and I choose to abide by their instructions. More and more voters are choosing not to do that, and both Bonds’ and Clemens’ vote percentages have slowly risen over the last seven years, from the mid-30s in 2013 to 59 percent this year. They’ve got three more years to reach 75 percent, and it may well happen. If it does, I just can’t help but wonder what that “celebration” will look like. And wonder if that’s really what fans of this great sport want.

FREDDY GARCIA - NO
In 15 seasons with seven different organizations, Garcia went 156-108 with a 4.15 ERA and 1.303 WHIP. He made two All-Star teams, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1999 and third in Cy Young Award voting in 2001. He made $53.5 million over the course of his career. Hey, kids: Be a workhorse starting pitcher when you grow up!

JON GARLAND - NO
In 13 seasons with six different organizations, Garland went 136-125 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.387 WHIP. He made one All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting in 2005. He made $52 million over the course of his career. Hey, kids: Be a workhorse starting pitcher when you grow up!

TRAVIS HAFNER - NO
“Pronk” was quite a masher for the mid-2000s Indians. From 2004-07, he averaged 32 homers, 108 RBIs and a stout .296/.410/.567 slash line. He did very little after that, though. Over his final six seasons, he averaged 12 homers, 42 RBIs and a pedestrian .250/.346/.427 slash line.

ROY HALLADAY - YES
This one’s bittersweet. Halladay should have been the one taking the phone call today from Jack O’Connell of the BBWAA to learn he had been elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. Sadly, he wasn’t the one to take the call, having tragically died in a plane crash a little more than a year ago. Would Halladay have been a first-ballot electee if he was still alive? I’d like to believe the answer is yes. I certainly would’ve still voted for him. The man was simply a beast on the mound for a good decade, probably the best pitcher in baseball for roughly four of those years. He was a two-time Cy Young Award winner, plus finished runner-up twice. He tossed 67 complete games (13 more than anyone else in the sport during his career) and 20 shutouts (tied with Randy Johnson for most in the majors during that span). He ranked fourth in ERA, fifth in WHIP and seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio during his career. And of course he recorded only the second no-hitter in postseason history, joining Don Larsen in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs. It will be difficult to watch this summer’s induction ceremony without Halladay there to receive his plaque. But even if he’s no longer with us, his pitching excellence will never be forgotten.

TODD HELTON - YES
How about some appreciation for not only one of the best hitters of his time but one of the best hitters of all time? Don’t believe that? Well, Helton finished his career with a .316 batting average, .414 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage. Only six others in history with at least 9,000 plate appearances can also claim to have done that: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial. Yeah, that’s some serious company. Helton was top-five in OPS in six straight seasons, he was top-four in on-base percentage in eight seasons and he was top-four in batting average in seven seasons. The only players to produce a higher OPS than him during his career were Manny Ramírez, Albert Pujols and Jim Thome. So how come Helton didn’t come anywhere close to election in his first try on the ballot? Ah, yes, the Coors Field effect strikes again. Did the thin Rocky Mountain air help Helton, like so many other Rockies over the years? Yes. His .345/.441/.607 slash line at home was ridiculous. But it’s not like his road numbers were terrible. He owned an .855 OPS in his career away from Colorado, which actually ranked 10th in the majors. Besides, as I’ve argued in the past in my defense of Larry Walker, why do we penalize Rockies batters for calling the best hitting park in baseball their home when we don’t penalize Dodgers hurlers for calling the best pitching park in baseball their home? Sandy Koufax had a 1.37 ERA at Dodger Stadium, 3.38 everywhere else. Don Drysdale had a 2.19 ERA at Dodger Stadium, 3.31 everywhere else. Did anyone ever try to argue they didn’t deserve to be in Cooperstown because their stats were inflated by their home ballpark? Here’s hoping support builds for Helton each year and he gets there some day, because the guy deserves to reside alongside the best hitters in baseball history.

ANDRUW JONES - NO
Oh, what might have been. If you had asked any astute baseball observer in 2006 if Jones was going to make the Hall of Fame, you would’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response. There would’ve been just one caveat: “As long as he keeps this up a few more years.” Alas, Jones couldn’t keep it up. In his first 10 full seasons, he averaged 34 homers and 101 RBIs while winning nine Gold Glove Awards as the unquestioned best center fielder in the sport. And then over his final six seasons, he averaged 15 homers and 44 RBIs and won only one more Gold Glove. He simply wasn’t the same player anymore. Had he just been able to sustain some level of success for a little bit longer, he would’ve been a lock. Instead, he fell into the dreaded club that already included Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly as players who were well on their way to Cooperstown but simply couldn’t sustain it long enough.

JEFF KENT - NO
The argument for Kent: He was the best power-hitting second baseman of his time, actually the all-time home run leader among second basemen. That’s a valid argument. But it’s not enough for me. Kent may have been a great power hitter for a second baseman, but he wasn’t a great power hitter for his generation. He only ranked 49th in slugging percentage among all major leaguers during his career, behind Carlos Lee and J.D. Drew. On top of all that, he was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a good fielder. He didn’t provide much of anything on the bases. Unless you’re one of the very best offensive players of your time (regardless of position) you better bring something else to the table to boost your case.

TED LILLY - NO
Did you know his given name was Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III? Why? Because his great-grandfather was an honest-to-god Rough Rider who worked alongside Teddy Roosevelt and decided to name his son after the former president. And the name kept getting passed down from generation to generation. Come on, how great is that? (Greater than Lilly’s 4.14 ERA in 356 career appearances, that’s for sure.)

DEREK LOWE - NO
Lowe had quite an eventful career. He was the Red Sox closer for three seasons and recorded 81 saves from 1999-2001, then became a starter in 2002 and went 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA to finish third in Cy Young Award voting, then struggled in the regular season in 2003 and 2004 only to come up big in the postseason and help break Boston’s World Series curse, then spent the next seven seasons averaging 34 starts for the Dodgers and Braves before petering out at the end of his career. That’s a lot for one career.

EDGAR MARTÍNEZ - YES
At long last, Martínez’s day has come. And just in the nick of time, since this was his 10th and final time on the BBWAA ballot. What a journey it was for Edgar, who bottomed out at 25.2 percent on the 2014 ballot, but then clawed his way back, topped 70 percent last year and finally topped the magic threshold for induction this year. The case against him - and I admit I sat on that side of the fence for several years before hopping over to the other side - was that his career wasn’t especially long (only 8,674 plate appearances) and that he was entirely one-dimensional because he was a designated hitter. Over time, voters came to recognize that he was a late bloomer not because he wasn’t ready for the big leagues but because the Mariners stashed him at Triple-A into his mid-20s even though he clearly had proven himself at that level. And though he didn’t contribute in the field, the DH has become an integral part of the American League game. Few, if any, DHs have ever been better. And isn’t that what the Hall of Fame is supposed to do: Honor the very best at each position? So let’s hear it for Edgar Martínez, Hall of Famer. Glad it finally happened.

FRED McGRIFF - YES
Speaking of guys in their 10th and final year on the ballot ... Unfortunately, McGriff’s story didn’t have the same happy ending as Martínez did. (Yet. We’ll get to that in a moment.) This is my ninth year as a voter, and the previous eight times I didn’t vote for “The Crime Dog.” And I never felt good about my decision. I always felt he had numbers (493 homers, 1,550 RBIs, .509 slugging percentage) to merit inclusion, but I also felt he just didn’t stack up with the best hitters of his time. Problem was, some of the best hitters of his time were better than him because they were aided by PEDs. I convinced myself that shouldn’t change my vote, but I finally convinced myself otherwise. Here’s why: Though his career totals didn’t quite stack up with the best hitters of his time, when you evaluate him on a year-by-year basis he absolutely does. For seven straight seasons, McGriff ranked as one of the top four hitters in his league in homers, top five in OPS and top 10 in slugging. That’s Hall of Fame stuff. But what also helped push him over the hump for me was his postseason performance, which I never appreciated enough in the past. He finished with a .917 OPS in 57 postseason games. And that wasn’t simply the byproduct of one or two monster series. McGriff had a .950 OPS in six of the 10 postseason series he appeared in during his career. That’s consistently rising to the occasion. I’m sorry it took me this long to fully appreciate him, and I’m sorry he didn’t ever come close to 75 percent approval on the BBWAA ballot. Here’s the silver lining, though: The Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game Era committee will consider McGriff’s career at the 2021 Winter Meetings, and his odds of election through that process seem to be awfully good.

MIKE MUSSINA - NO

I will admit something: I was nervous Mussina was going to fall one vote short this year, and that my vote would’ve made the difference. You just sensed this was going to be close, and indeed it was. Though in the opposite direction. Mussina received 76.4 percent support, seven votes above the 75 percent mark. And so he’s in at long last. For the record, I’m happy for him and all his supporters. I take no issue with his election. If more than 75 percent of voters say he’s a Hall of Famer, then he’s a Hall of Famer. Here’s what I can tell you about my thought process: I gave Mussina’s career a thorough re-examination every year, always searching for a reason to change my mind. The problem is that I never found a valid reason. I get the case for him: He was consistently very good for 17 full big league seasons, and he pitched all of his career in the fearsome AL East. My counter-case: He ranked 11th in ERA among all pitchers with at least 2,000 innings during his career (between David Cone and Al Leiter) and 11th in ERA+ (which adjusts for ballpark and league). He only finished top-three in Cy Young Award voting once. He only finished top-three in strikeouts three times. Now, about that argument that he was forced to pitch in the AL East his whole career ... only 23.9 percent of all of his innings came versus AL East opponents. His ERA against the division was 3.78; against everyone else it was 3.65. Basically, his career ERA was a grand total of 0.03 higher as a result of pitching in the AL East. It simply didn’t have any substantial impact on his stats. Meanwhile, his postseason numbers (7-8, 3.42 ERA in 23 games) were fine but nothing that elevated his Hall of Fame case, a la Curt Schilling. None of this is to suggest I believe Mussina was a bad pitcher. On the contrary, he was a very good pitcher for a long time. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, though, I still believe in the idea that a player must have some element of greatness attached to his name. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I thought. Mussina is heading to Cooperstown. Good for him.

DARREN OLIVER - NO
In 20 seasons with nine different franchises, he went 118-98 with a 4.51 ERA and 1.439 WHIP. He never finished in the top 10 of his league in any meaningful statistical category. He made $49.393 million over the course of his career. Hey, kids: Be a left-handed pitcher when you grow up!

ROY OSWALT - NO
I remember covering the 2005 National League Championship Series, in which Oswalt won series MVP with two dominant performances including the pennant clincher, and thinking to myself: “This guy is making a Hall of Fame case for himself.” Indeed, he was. Through the first six seasons of his career, Oswalt was an impressive 98-47 with a 3.05 ERA, 1.179 WHIP, five top-five Cy Young Award finishes and the aforementioned October success. But he turned pretty average after that. Over his final six seasons, he was 51-48 with a 3.85 ERA, 1.228 WHIP and one sixth-place Cy Young finish. Put those all together and what do you get? A borderline case for Cooperstown that doesn’t quite cut it. The voters didn’t seem to think he was even borderline, though, because he was named on only four ballots, equating to 0.9 percent. And so he’s one and done. That’s really a shame, because this guy deserved more credit than he got.

BAlls on Field.jpgANDY PETTITTE - NO
Because he was a Yankee, and because he was a part of four championship teams, Pettitte is placed by some in the upper echelon of pitchers of his era. Look, he had an exceptionally fine career, going 236-153 with a 3.85 ERA over 18 seasons (15 with the Yankees, three with the Astros). But he was not among the very best of his time. Among all pitchers with at least 2,000 innings during his career (1995-2013), he ranked 19th in ERA (just ahead of Bartolo Colon) and 35th in WHIP (tied with Kyle Lohse). That’s not a case for Cooperstown. And even if it was, Pettitte’s PED connection - he admitted in 2007 to having taken hGH in 2002 while healing from an elbow injury - disqualifies him in my book. No, his infraction wasn’t nearly as significant as his friend Clemens. And, yes, he handled his admission with dignity lacking from many other accused users. But that doesn’t change the fact that he did it in the first place.

JUAN PIERRE - NO
Batted .295 with 2,217 hits and 614 stolen bases during a 14-year career that included five consecutive seasons playing in 162 games. Throw in a World Series ring with the 2003 Marlins, and that’s a very nice career.

PLÁCIDO POLANCO - NO
Speaking of nice careers, Polanco hit .297 with a .343 on-base percentage and 2,142 hits, and was MVP of the 2006 ALCS for the Tigers. Alas, he didn’t get a ring during an otherwise solid 16-year career.

MANNY RAMÍREZ - NO
On the short list for “Greatest Right-Handed Hitter of All-Time,” with a phenomenal .312/.411/.585 career slash line to go along with 555 homers, 2,574 hits and 1,831 RBIs. He also won two rings with the Red Sox and owned a sparkling .937 OPS over a remarkable 493 postseason plate appearances. But ... he was twice suspended after testing positive for PEDs. There was simply no excuse for his actions, and they disqualify him for the Hall of Fame, not only in my book but in the overwhelming majority of voters’ books as well.

MARIANO RIVERA - YES
Who’s the greatest closer of all-time? You don’t have spend more than a nanosecond contemplating this one. How about the all-time leader in saves (652), games finished (952) and ERA+ (205)? How about the guy who was 42-for-47 in save opportunities with an 0.70 ERA and 0.759 WHIP in 96 postseason games, the man who was on the mound to record the final out in four of the Yankees’ five World Series titles during his career? There was only question surrounding Rivera as he reached the ballot this winter for the first time: Would he be the first player ever to receive 100 percent of the vote? The answer: A resounding yes. Rivera was named on 425 of 425 ballots, and so now the greatest closer of all-time gets to be remembered for doing something else nobody in the history of the sport had ever done. That’s a fitting honor.

SCOTT ROLEN - NO
There may be no trickier case to consider on the ballot than Rolen’s case. Scroll through his stats page and you see a guy who played for 17 years and enjoyed a nice amount of success, but not a guy who screams “Hall of Famer.” It’s not until you dig deeper and consider his advanced stats (namely, WAR) and realize he indeed has a case. That case is built extensively on Rolen’s defensive prowess at third base, where he legitimately was a wizard. But was he such a wizard in the field that he deserves to join an extremely small group of Hall of Famers who made it to Cooperstown primarily for their defense? We’re talking Ozzie Smith/Bill Mazeroski territory here. And the answer, in my opinion, is no. Rolen not only rates 45th all-time in Defensive WAR, he only ranked in the top 10 four times in his career (only once ranking higher than sixth). Among everyone who ever played at least 50 percent of their games at third base, Rolen ranks sixth (behind Brooks Robinson, Adrián Beltré, Buddy Bell, Clete Boyer and Graig Nettles). Was he a great defensive third baseman? Yes. Was he close to the very best ever? No. And he simply didn’t hit enough to gloss over that fact.

CURT SCHILLING - YES
I made a point to hold my nose as I checked off the box next to Schilling’s name this year. I’ve voted for him each time he has appeared on the ballot, because I believe his often-dominant pitching performance in the regular season - three Cy Young Award runner-ups, two ERA title runner-ups, two WHIP titles, two strikeout titles, five strikeout-to-walk ratio titles - combined with his brilliant postseason performances - 11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 starts - make him worthy of election to Cooperstown. It just makes me sick to my stomach to keep voting for someone who has said, tweeted and retweeted offensive, demeaning and bigoted things during his post-retirement years. As much as I denounce all of that, I don’t believe it’s fair to invoke the “character clause” for words and actions that weren’t connected in any way with the actual playing of the game. PED users threatened the integrity of the game. Bigots, abhorrent as they are, did not. Curt Schilling, the pitcher, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Curt Schilling, the man, however, doesn’t deserve to be celebrated.

GARY SHEFFIELD - NO
Everyone seems to forget just how great a hitter Sheffield was: 509 homers, .292/.393/.514 slugging percentage. Only eight others in major league history boast that impressive stat combo, and six of them are Hall of Famers (all but Bonds and Ramírez). Alas, Sheffield shares more in common with Bonds and Ramírez than the rest of the group, because he admitted in 2004 to taking a testosterone-based steroid supplied by BALCO. Which is why he still doesn’t earn my vote.

SAMMY SOSA - NO
Here’s yet another one who falls into that unfortunate category: Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, no Hall of Fame due to PEDs. True, Sosa was never suspended or publicly admitted being a user. But the New York Times reported he tested positive in 2003, and that report has never been questioned. Now, if you’re someone who votes for Bonds and Clemens and Sheffield, you should be voting for Sosa as well. If, however, you’re like me and don’t vote for Bonds and Clemens and Sheffield, you should not be voting for Sosa. Which I don’t.

MIGUEL TEJADA - NO
For a seven-year stretch from 2000-06, Tejada was so good. Hit .297 with a .351 on-base percentage and .498 slugging percentage. Averaged 29 homers, 116 RBIs and 102 runs. Played 162 games every single year. Won an MVP with the A’s. Then came the second half of his career, in which he bounced from Baltimore to Houston to Baltimore again to San Diego to San Francisco to Kansas City and also pleaded guilty to perjury and was suspended 105 games for violating MLB’s drug policy. Quite a fall from grace.

OMAR VIZQUEL - NO
Was Vizquel the best defensive shortstop of all-time? No, Smith holds that title. Was Vizquel just a notch below “The Wizard” and worthy of the Hall of Fame because of it? Some say yes, including a good number of players and coaches and managers who watched him up close and personal over an astounding 24-year career. More (including myself) say no, because the numbers just don’t support it. Vizquel ranks 10th all-time in Defensive WAR, but ranked in the top five in his league only four times in his career. Vizquel is baseball’s all-time leader in double plays, but he led his league in that category only once. He never led his league in assists. If you’re going to get to Cooperstown via your glove - and that’s the only way Vizquel is getting there - you have to unquestionably rate as one of the absolute best ever in the field. Unfortunately, he doesn’t.

BILLY WAGNER - YES
I honestly don’t understand why he gets so much less support than Rivera or Trevor Hoffman (elected last year). Because if he wasn’t right there alongside those two, he wasn’t far behind. A career 2.31 ERA and 0.998 WHIP over 903 innings. (By the way, that’s the lowest WHIP in modern baseball history by a pitcher with at least 900 innings.) A career strikeout rate of 11.9 per nine innings. (By the way, that’s the highest in baseball history by a pitcher with at least 900 innings.) He was an elite closer in 12 of his 16 big league seasons. I can understand not having enough support to approach the 75 percent mark. But 16.7 percent? I really don’t understand that.

LARRY WALKER - YES
The first time I voted for Walker (in 2011) he finished at 20.3 percent. Three years later, he bottomed out at 10.2 percent. Then began the slow climb. And now he’s at 54.6 percent in his ninth season on the ballot. Can he make the final leap to 75 percent next year? I sure hope so, because he deserves it. He’s one of only 14 players in major league history with a career .400 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage. The only non-Hall of Famers on that list are Bonds, Ramírez and Mike Trout. His .965 OPS ranked fifth among all players during his career with at least 7,000 plate appearances, behind only Bonds, Ramírez, Frank Thomas and Thome and ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr. and Martínez. He won three batting titles and also stole 230 bases while winning seven Gold Glove Awards. He was a complete player, hardly a simple product of Coors Field (where he took only 31.1 percent of his career plate appearances). The guy slugged .500 away from Colorado. Besides, as stated earlier in my justification for Helton’s vote, it’s not fair to penalize hitters who called Coors Field home when we don’t penalize pitchers who called Dodger Stadium home. It’s time to give Walker his due.

VERNON WELLS - NO
Had a nice run with the Blue Jays from 2002-06 (.288/.336/.499, averaging 28 homers and 97 RBIs). And he played an excellent center field, winning three Gold Gloves. Aside from that, though, there’s just not that much of a case.

KEVIN YOUKILIS - NO
They don’t make nicknames like they used to, but “The Greek God of Walks” is an awfully good one, isn’t it? Youkilis was a “Moneyball”-style star before such things were en vogue. His career on-base percentage (.382) was more than 100 points higher than his batting average (.281). I had forgotten how abruptly his career came to an end, though. An All-Star at 32 in 2011, he was finished two years later.

MICHAEL YOUNG - NO
Ask even savvy baseball fans to list the best pure hitters of the 21st century, and most will probably overlook Young. They shouldn’t. The owner of a lifetime .300 batting average, he had an amazing five-year run with the Rangers from 2003-07 in which he batted .316 while averaging 101 runs and 212 hits. The 2005 AL batting champ, Young just quietly went about his business and put together an outstanding career that deserves to be remembered more.

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