My 2020 Hall of Fame ballot

After a string of 20 new electees in the last six years, the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 was always destined to be small. But not so small that there wasn’t room for two electees.

Derek Jeter, the obvious choice in his first year of eligibility, will be joined on the stage in Cooperstown this summer by Larry Walker, who narrowly earned election in his 10th and final year of eligibility.

Jeter was named on 396 of 397 ballots submitted by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, falling one vote shy of matching former Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera as the only player ever to receive 100 percent support. Walker was named on 304 ballots, a 76.6 percent support rate that lifted him into the Hall by only three votes.

Curt Schilling didn’t get to the 75 percent threshold, but the right-hander did move to within the precipice at 70 percent, setting the stage for his potential election next year (his ninth on the ballot). Roger Clemens (61 percent) and Barry Bonds (60.7 percent) remain stuck well below the mark with two years of eligibility remaining.

For the 10th year, I had the privilege of voting. And for the 10th year, I now disclose to you my full ballot and explanation for each of the 32 candidates who were under consideration.

As always, I don’t expect anyone to agree 100 percent with my decisions. But as always, I do expect everyone to respect the time, effort and integrity I put into this daunting process ...

I’m not sure most people appreciate how good a hitter Abreu was. For his career, he hit .291 with a .395 on-base percentage, piling up 2,470 hits, 574 doubles, 288 homers and 400 steals. He’s one of only 12 players in baseball history with 500 doubles and 400 stolen bases. And his peak was even better: From 2001-09, he averaged 41 doubles, 21 homers, 102 RBIs, 30 steals and a .400 OBP. Trouble is, Abreu played during an era with plenty of bigger-name, more-productive hitters. Which helps explain why he was an All-Star only twice and never finished higher than 12th in MVP voting.

World Series MVP at 23. American League Championship Series MVP, 20-game winner and World Series champion again at 27. A no-hitter at 34. That’s a really impressive resume for a big league pitcher. And Beckett was a good, at times great, one. But consistency was never his thing; he had a sub-3.05 ERA in three seasons but an ERA over 4.60 in three other seasons. And then injuries brought a halt to his career before his 35th birthday.

During a three-year stretch with the Padres from 2009-11, Bell posted a 2.36 ERA and Major League Baseball-high 132 saves. The husky right-hander also became well-known for his sprint in from the bullpen upon entering a game. Bell signed a three-year, $27 million deal from a Marlins team that decided to spend a bunch of money on free agents upon opening its new ballpark in 2012. Like that team, Bell turned into an overpriced disaster and was traded to the Diamondbacks. He would bounce around from the D-backs to the Rays to the Orioles to the Yankees to the Nationals, who offered him an invitation to spring training in 2015. When he didn’t make the opening day roster, Bell announced his retirement.

There’s not much left to say at this point. Like so much else in this world today, you’ve probably long since made up your mind about Bonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy, and nobody’s going to change your mind now. For those who don’t already know my longstanding stance on the matter: I do not vote for anyone for whom there is clear and convincing evidence of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Though MLB didn’t test for steroids at the time, they were both against league rules and against U.S. law. Players who took them did so knowing they were illegal and against the rules, and they did so in a selfish attempt to boost their own personal performance, in the process threatening the integrity of the game. (Hmm, is that a phrase that has come up again recently?) The Hall of Fame instructs us to consider character, integrity and sportsmanship in addition to playing performance when voting, and I choose to follow those instructions. Do I like that the all-time home run champ isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown? No, not at all. But would I like the message that would be sent to future players that you can still make the Hall of Fame if you selfishly cheat to boost your own performance? No, not at all.

Did you realize Chávez played 17 seasons in the big leagues? I’ll admit I didn’t. That might be because after averaging 591 plate appearances from 1999-2006, he averaged only 181 from 2007-14. He was around for a long time, just not in a prominent role the whole time. In his prime, Chávez was a very good player, a six-time Gold Glove third baseman for the A’s who averaged nearly 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

What I said about Bonds applies here as well. Clemens clearly was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. And he clearly didn’t pass the character, integrity and sportsmanship test, given the evidence he took PEDs.

Dunn-w-Bat-Gray-2010-sidebar.jpgADAM DUNN - NO
There have been 355 players in Nationals history, and 24 of those played in more games for this franchise than Dunn did in his two seasons here (2009-10). Few have been as much fun to watch as Dunn was, though, because few players have had his particular combination of skills and personality. At the plate, Dunn was maybe the original “Three True Outcomes” guy in baseball. Get this: 645 of his 1,316 plate appearances with the Nats resulted in a home run, a walk or a strikeout. That’s a staggering 49 percent of his plate appearances. During the nine-year peak of his career, he averaged 37 homers, 94 RBIs, 103 walks and 185 strikeouts. In the field ... well, Dunn was not good. In 1,642 career games played in the field, he was charged with 120 errors and finished with a Defensive Runs Saved rating of minus-167. Yikes. But he did it all with a big goofy grin on his face and a carefree attitude that perhaps left some thinking he didn’t care but really just proved he understood he was simply playing a game that didn’t completely define his life. We could all learn a thing or two from The Big Donkey.

Desmond DeChone Figgins had a unique name and was a unique player during his time. He was an everyday player for the Angels and Mariners, but he had no regular positions, bouncing around between third base, second base, shortstop, center field, left field and right field. He had almost as many career stolen bases (341) as RBIs (403) and he wound up getting MVP votes in four separate seasons.

He was National League Rookie of the Year in 2000 with the Braves, then earned his fourth career All-Star selection 12 years later with the Cardinals in his final full big league season. In between, Furcal was a solid hitter (.281 batting average, .346 on-base percentage) and solid defensive shortstop (15.0 career WAR off defense alone). Throw in a World Series ring with the 2011 Cardinals, and that’s a nice career.

Boy, was he a feared hitter for a stretch there around the turn of the century. From 1999-2003, Giambi averaged 39 homers, 122 RBIs and an insane .311/.444/.596 slash line. He finished in the top-10 in MVP voting in four of those seasons, winning the award in 2000. How’d he do that? Well, by 2004 it got out that Giambi admitted to a grand jury he took steroids and injected himself with human growth hormone during that period. He publicly apologized prior to the 2005 season, though he didn’t specify what exactly he was apologizing for. Two years later, he came completely clean and said he and others in the sport should’ve admitted their mistake much earlier.

Hey, we’ve finally got a yes vote! Sorry it took so long this year, but there just weren’t any worthy candidates with names that came earlier in the alphabet. Helton is worthy, though, even if a majority of my colleagues don’t see it that way. All the guy did was hit .316 with a .414 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage across 9,453 career plate appearances. You know how many other players have ever done that? Six. Their names are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial. So, yeah, that’s awfully elite company. Alas, Helton is being penalized for calling Coors Field home his entire career. Yes, he benefitted from the altitude, which helped him produce a gaudy .345/.441/.607 slash line at home. But he still produced an .855 OPS on the road throughout his career, which ranked 10th in the majors during that time frame, and all nine guys ahead of him on the list are either Hall of Fame shoo-ins or have been/will be held out for PEDs. Beyond that, I’ve argued for years Rockies hitters (most notably Larry Walker) shouldn’t be penalized for playing in the thin air. We don’t penalize Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale for having pitched at Dodger Stadium in the 1960s, which significantly lowered their career ERAs. Helton was a great hitter, no matter where he played. He deserves to join the other great hitters of his time in Cooperstown.

When he turned 30 in 2002, Ibañez’s career totals included 27 homers, 112 RBIs and a .741 OPS in only 830 big league plate appearances. Twelve years later, he retired with 305 homers, 1,207 RBIs and an .801 OPS over 8,278 plate appearances. Talk about a late bloomer.

We can debate the greatness of his career, if you want. Was he the greatest hitter of his time? No. Was he a great defensive shortstop? No. Was his squeaky-clean image a bit of a façade? Yes. Here’s what we can’t debate: Jeter was the heart and soul of a Yankees franchise that won five World Series titles during his time in uniform. He recorded 3,465 big league hits, the sixth highest total in history. He reached base 4,717 times, 12th most ever (more than Ted Williams). He owned a career .310 batting average across more than 12,000 plate appearances, something only four others in history have done (and three of those played in the 1910s). He joins Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio and Robin Yount as the only players in history with 3,000 hits, 500 doubles, 250 homers and 250 stolen bases. Oh, he also played in 158 postseason games (just shy of a full big league regular season) and produced 200 hits, 32 doubles, 20 homers and 111 runs. Is that a Hall of Famer? Without question. A first-ballot Hall of Famer? Absolutely. Worthy of joining Rivera as the only players to ever be named on 100 percent of BBWAA ballots? Well, certainly there have been others over the decades who deserved that honor as well, but yes, Jeter himself deserved it even if he fell one vote short. You can nitpick his career all you want. The guy was one of the most important (and successful) figures in baseball for one of the most important (and successful) franchises, and he deserves every accolade he’s receiving today.

Boy, was he good for a while. From 1998-2006, Jones averaged 35 homers, 104 RBIs and an .860 OPS. And, on top of that, he won the Gold Glove Award in center field each of those seasons. But then ... he fell off a cliff. Once he turned 30 in 2007, Jones became a .214 hitter who averaged 15 homers, 44 RBIs and a .734 OPS. He didn’t win another Gold Glove. Some will argue his nine-year peak was enough to get him into Cooperstown. I just don’t think that’s enough on its own. His defense was spectacular, but his offensive production (while impressive) wasn’t truly elite. Even during those peak nine years, he ranked 31st out of 78 qualifying big league hitters in OPS, tied with Troy Glaus. Jones was a joy to watch play, but he just wasn’t quite good enough for quite long enough to make the cut, in my opinion.

Should the all-time home run champ among second basemen make the Hall of Fame? Not if that’s his only case for enshrinement. Yes, Kent hit more homers (351) as a second baseman than anyone in MLB history (plus another 26 while playing other positions). But he produced a .900 OPS in only three of his 17 big league seasons. And his .855 career OPS ranked 46th among all major leaguers who played during those years, behind Mike Sweeney and Ray Lankford. Throw in his subpar play in the field, and there’s just not enough to Kent’s case to merit inclusion.

Outside of the South Side of Chicago, where he spent the vast majority of his career, Konerko wasn’t really considered a star. But he should’ve been. Over an 18-year career, he launched 439 homers, drove in 1,412 runs and amassed 2,340 hits. He was a six-time All-Star and on four occasions finished in the top-20 in MVP voting (twice finishing in the top-six). Maybe those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers, but they’re plenty impressive in their own right. (And for the record, my decision not to vote for him had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he graduated from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., the same year I graduated from the nearby rival Horizon High School. I’m not petty like that. Go Huskies!)

What a fascinating career the lefty had. Drafted by the Expos in 2000, he was part of Omar Minaya’s infamous 2002 trade that sent Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. (Oh, what might’ve been!) It took a while, but Lee eventually took off in Cleveland, going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008 to win the AL Cy Young Award. One year later, he was traded to the defending champion Phillies and nearly helped them win another title. Then he was traded to the Mariners, who a few months later traded him to the Rangers, who went to the World Series in 2010 and watched Lee dominate. He then signed back with the Phillies in 2011 as part of a super rotation with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt but never made it back to the World Series and saw his career come to an abrupt halt at 35 due to arm injuries. Put that all together and what do you get? A 143-91 record, 3.52 ERA and 1.196 WHIP, a Cy Young Award, an ERA title and a 7-3 record and 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason starts but zero championships.

One of only 10 big leaguers to come out of Northeastern University - for the record, Northwestern has had 28 - Peña was sort of a poor man’s Adam Dunn. He hit 286 homers, drew 817 walks and struck out 1,577 times over a 14-year career.

A two-time All-Star, Penny went 121-101 with a 4.29 ERA and 1.376 WHIP across 14 big league seasons, finishing with an ERA+ of 99 (one tiny notch below league average). Career earnings: $49,287,500. It pays to be average, folks.

There’s no debating Pettitte’s importance to the Yankees’ success during their late ’90s heyday (and, to a lesser extent, the Astros’ success in the mid ’00s) but let’s not elevate the lefty to a platform that includes the very best pitchers of his time. Pettitte went 236-153 with a 3.85 ERA that ranked 19th among all qualifying big league starters during his career. He also admitted in 2007 to having taken hGH while recovering from an elbow injury in 2002, and though he was one of only a few PED users from that era to actually apologize right away for his actions, the fact he did take the stuff in the first place disqualifies him from Hall of Fame consideration by my standard.

A pretty consistently effective late-inning reliever for more than a decade, he finished with 189 saves, a 3.08 ERA and 1.152 WHIP. With that name, though, can you imagine the heckling he heard whenever he blew a save?

One of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time. No questioning that. And he twice was suspended after testing positive for PEDs. No rewarding that.

My professional baseball writing career officially began in 2001 when I spent the first of two seasons on the Orioles beat. At the time, a hot topic was the battle between Jerry Hairston Jr. and Brian Roberts for the starting second baseman’s job. Hairston won the job those two seasons I was around, but Roberts eventually took over and stayed there for a decade, racking up 367 doubles and 285 stolen bases. Along the way, Roberts was named in the Mitchell Report and he admitted that he used steroids, though he claimed he tried them only once in 2003. Among the other players named in the Mitchell Report? Jerry Hairston Jr. These two really were forever linked.

Rolen is an exceptionally tough call. On the surface, his career totals (316 homers, 1,287 RBIs, 2,077 hits, .855 OPS) fall a bit short. He never led the league in any one particular category. He received MVP votes only four times and only once finished higher than 14th. He made seven All-Star teams and won eight Gold Glove Awards. It’s that last point that begins to make the Cooperstown case for him. Rolen was an elite defensive third baseman. At least, that’s the argument his supporters make. Is it actually true? And is it enough to get him in? Well, he ranks 45th all-time in Defensive WAR (according to Baseball-Reference), and only once in his 17 big league seasons did he rank better than sixth in the NL. Among third basemen, he ranks sixth all-time, behind Brooks Robinson, Adrián Beltré, Buddy Bell, Clete Boyer and Graig Nettles. So while he certainly deserves to be remembered as a great defender, he probably doesn’t deserve to be remembered as one of the greatest of all-time. And if you’re going to reach the Hall of Fame on the strength of your defense, you’re going to need to be unquestionably one of the greatest of all-time.

In what has become an annual tradition, I made a point to hold my nose as I placed a checkmark next to Schilling’s name on the ballot. I take no pleasure voting for the right-hander each year, because his words, actions and tweets post-retirement are offensive, demeaning and at times bigoted. But I continue to insist that is not valid reason not to vote for him. The so-called “character clause” applies strictly to on-field matters, in my opinion. If you took PEDs, you threatened the integrity of the game. If you said awful things, you exposed yourself as a bad guy but you didn’t negatively impact the results of a ballgame. What Schilling did do during a 20-year career was positively impact the results of a whole lot of ballgames. He owned a 3.46 ERA during an era when the league ERA was 4.30. He led his league in either wins, innings, strikeouts or WHIP six times. He was baseball’s all-time leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio before the sudden influx of strikeouts overtook the sport a couple years ago. And he was one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever (11-2, 2.23 ERA, 0.968 WHIP in 19 starts), playing a huge role in leading three teams to World Series titles and another to the Fall Classic. All of that, to me, is worthy of a place in Cooperstown, even if I’d have to hold my nose every time I looked at his plaque.

If you vote for Bonds and Clemens, then you absolutely should vote for Sheffield, because he has the numbers: 509 homers and a .292/.393/.514 slash line that rivals the best hitters in baseball history. But like Bonds and Clemens, Sheffield doesn’t get my vote for PED reasons. He admitted in 2004 to taking a testosterone-based steroid (i.e. “the cream”) supplied by BALCO, having been introduced to that infamous lab by none other than Bonds.

The 2006 Nationals were bad. Really bad. But Soriano made that bad team very enjoyable to watch on a nightly basis (once that whole matter of refusing to switch from second base to left field was resolved, of course). He hit 46 homers (still the Nats club record). He stole 41 bases (joining Bonds, José Canseco and Álex RodrÍguez in the ultra-exclusive 40-40 club). He actually led all MLB outfielders with 22 assists. It was fun. And then the Cubs signed Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract that sounded ridiculous at the time and still sounds ridiculous today. He never lived up to that contract, but he nonetheless put together a nice career that included 412 homers, 481 doubles, 289 steals and a lot of smiles.

As with Sheffield, I’ve never understood those who vote for Bonds and Clemens but not Sosa. You can’t tell me his on-field performance (609 homers, 2,408 hits, 1,667 RBIs) and his impact on the sport during the 1998 home run chase don’t merit a spot in the Hall of Fame ... if he was clean. Which he was not. He was among the players who tested positive for PEDs during MLB’s 2003 trial program, according to a New York Times report six years later, though commissioner Rob Manfred has since suggested he can’t vouch the results of that program were 100 percent accurate. Even so, Sosa (who continued to deny he took PEDs) was caught corking his bat in a very public manner. Given the newest electronic cheating scandals that have just been in the news, let’s not forget that someone from the previous generation did it the old-fashioned way and deserves to suffer the repercussions of that.

The former Diamondbacks, Astros, Tigers and Mets closer known as “Papa Grande” amassed 288 saves and a 3.27 ERA over 12 big league seasons. His postseason record (0-3, 9.82 ERA in 14 appearances) was less impressive.

Another of the toughest calls for me, because his case doesn’t fall along conventional lines. Vizquel’s .688 career OPS would rank among the lowest among all non-pitchers in the Hall of Fame. His 82 OPS+ (which normalizes OPS and accounts for league and ballpark factors) would be the lowest. So he wouldn’t be getting in for his offense. Was his defense alone good enough to overcome that? In my opinion (based on statistical research), the answer is no. Vizquel ranks ninth all-time in Defensive WAR, and the only non-Hall of Famer ahead of him is Mark Belanger (who was a whiz at shortstop but a dreadful hitter). But here’s the problem: Vizquel’s high career ranking is a product of longevity, not dominance. He ranked in the top-10 of his league’s Defensive WAR only five times, never leading his league and only twice finishing second. He’s third all-time in assists by a shortstop but never led his league and only once finished higher than fourth. He’s the all-time leader in double plays turned by a shortstop but led his league only once and outside of that one year never finished higher than third. Point is, he was essentially the third- or fourth-best shortstop in his league in any given season. That’s good, but is that Hall of Fame good? Yes, he was good enough to play 24 years in the majors and rack up 2,877 hits. And you don’t play in the majors for 24 years unless you’re bringing something significant to the table. But I don’t believe longevity alone merits a place in Cooperstown.

Slowly but surely, Wagner is making his way up the list. It may never be enough to reach 75 percent, but he deserves to get there. If we’re ranking the best closers of the 1990s and 2000s, it’s unanimous Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera at the top, Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman next and Wagner right behind them, with a sizeable gap until you get to the next guy (Troy Percival or John Wetteland or José Mesa). Wagner hasn’t come anywhere close to receiving the same support as Rivera or Hoffman, but he should. In addition to a 2.31 ERA and 422 saves, his career 0.998 WHIP is the lowest of any pitcher who threw at least 900 innings in the modern era. And his 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest of any pitcher who threw at least 900 innings in the modern era. If you were to describe the two qualities you’d most want in a major league pitcher, wouldn’t you want a guy who 1) puts the fewest runners on base while 2) striking out the most batters? That’s who Wagner was. Yes, his career total of only 903 innings pitched is low, but he averaged 57 appearances and 60 innings and topped 70 appearances in five of his 15 full big league seasons. That’s sufficient work for his era. Here’s hoping his vote total continues to climb and he makes a real run at Cooperstown before it’s over.

The last name on this year’s ballot presented the most dramatic case. This was Walker’s 10th and final crack on the BBWAA ballot, and it always looked like it was going to be close. It’s testament to a lot of people that Walker was able to make it from only 20.3 percent support in his first crack in 2011 to a scant 10.2 percent in 2014 to baseball immortality in 2020. For someone who included Walker on his first ballot 10 years ago and included him on every ballot since, it’s a gratifying conclusion to the process. I was on board with his candidacy from the beginning, believing one of only 14 players in MLB history with a .400 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage deserves to be inducted. (The only others on that list not in the Hall of Fame are Bonds, Ramírez and Mike Trout.) I believed a guy with three batting titles, 230 stolen bases and seven Gold Glove Awards was the kind of complete player who deserved to be included. I believed a guy who had a .500 slugging percentage outside of Colorado (where he only took 31.1 percent of his career plate appearances, by the way) deserved to be included. And enough colleagues finally agreed.

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