From the official Baseball Hall of Fame BBWAA Rules for Election – 5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
I wish I had a cool Ken Griffey Jr. story to share. Naturally, I saw him play plenty of times, primarily against the (Devil) Rays. He actually was merely so-so in 42 games against Tampa Bay: batting average .231, on-based percentage .309, slugging percentage .444, and only nine of his 630 home runs.
Those mighty Rays, man. Giving Hall of Famers fits since 1998.
Putting the check next to Griffey’s name on the ballot was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made in my eight years as a voter. Simply, his career playing record and contributions to the Mariners and Reds warrant induction in the Hall of Fame. I don’t see much, if any, room for debate about Griffey, who was elected today along with Mike Piazza.
As always, I conducted my research. I’ll admit that was a much shorter process with Griffey.
I looked at his numbers on Baseball Reference, then checked his name on my ballot.
Similarly, I believe that Trevor Hoffman’s playing record and contributions to the Marlins, Padres, and Brewers made him a Hall of Famer. He became the all-time saves leader in 2006 and held that distinction until Mariano Rivera passed him in 2011. I checked Hoffman’s name not long after I checked Griffey’s.
Then I devoted a few minutes to each of the five holdovers from last year’s ballot, players I checked in December 2014 but who did not join John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson in the Hall. I found nothing to convince me I had been wrong about those five, so I checked them, too.
I was allowed to check as many as 10 players, but that’s where I stopped this year: seven.
Here are all seven players I checked this year (asterisk indicates holdover from 2014):
- *Jeff Bagwell
- Ken Griffey Jr.
- Trevor Hoffman
- *Fred McGriff
- *Edgar Martinez
- *Mike Piazza
- *Lee Smith
I did not vote for the following players, because I didn’t believe their career playing records and/or on-field contributions – while substantial, in many cases – earned them induction into the Hall of Fame:
- Garret Anderson
- Brad Ausmus
- Luis Castillo
- David Eckstein
- Jim Edmonds
- Nomar Garciaparra
- Troy Glaus
- Mark Grudzielanek
- Mike Hampton
- Jason Kendall
- Jeff Kent
- Mike Lowell
- Mike Mussina
- Tim Raines
- Curt Schilling
- Mike Sweeney
- Alan Trammell
- Billy Wagner
- Larry Walker
- Randy Winn
I researched every player on the ballot, first-year guys as well as holdovers, as thoroughly as I believed they deserved. Among the ballot newcomers, only Hoffman and Griffey stood out to me.
Because they were a cut above the average All-Star, I gave a few holdovers from last year’s ballot – Kent, Mussina, Raines, Schilling, Trammell, Walker – a closer look than most of the ballot newcomers.
I’ve written before that I’m not one of those voters who believes a player should have to wait a year or two (or longer) before induction. If a player is a Hall of Famer, he is a Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility.
So, rest assured every borderline candidate received due consideration from me in his first year on the ballot. That said, I look again at those guys every year.
What do I look for? Some obscure statistical nugget that might have emerged since my last round of research, or some fresh, new compelling argument in favor of a player’s candidacy.
When it comes to judging the merits of career achievements, I am willing to have my mind changed. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have a couple more years as a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America voting electorate (I think; more on that below), and I could very well end up voting for one or more of these borderline players someday.
I found nothing to change my mind this year.
Nor did I change my mind about Rule No. 5.
I didn’t make that rule. But when I earned my place among the BBWAA electorate (by covering the game for 10 consecutive years), I made a commitment to follow that rule as well as my knowledge would allow.
I interpret it to mean conduct within the framework of the game – not based on personality. To become a Hall of Famer, then, a player must exhibit superior playing ability and superior integrity, character and sportsmanship as it relates to baseball.
Based on that interpretation, I can only make my decisions based on the information available. Regarding suspected users of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), it means taking into consideration compelling circumstantial evidence (appearing in the Mitchell Report, being associated with the BALCO scandal, etc.), as well as the certainty provided by failed PED tests (Rafael Palmeiro) and confessions (Mark McGwire).
Whispers and innuendo are not enough for me to eliminate a candidate from consideration, but this is not a court of law: Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt does not apply. This process is governed, ultimately, by personal subjectivity.
So, once again, I did not vote for these candidates:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Mark McGwire
- Gary Sheffield
- Sammy Sosa
To be clear, I would have voted for all five of these candidates in their first years of eligibility if not for Rule No. 5.
A lot of prominent and well-respected voters have publicly written that they changed their minds this year about Bonds and Clemens. Fair enough. It’s all subjective. I could not join them, as tempting as it might be to throw my hands in the air and just vote on the numbers.
I might not agree that the integrity, character and sportsmanship guideline is fair and/or a valid measurement of Hall of Fame worthiness, but as long as it’s there – and as long as I’m a voter – I’ll muddle through and make the best decision I can make with the information available.
The Hall of Fame announced in July that the electorate would change, starting this year. What once was a lifetime responsibility and honor now will be rescinded – at the discretion of the Hall of Fame – once a voter has been inactive for 10 years.
I was an active member of the BBWAA from 1999-2009. I became an honorary lifetime member in 2010. I am not sure, but the math tells me my 10 years as a voter ends after 2017.
Becoming a Hall of Fame voter was one of the great and humbling moments of my career. It’s a tangible connection for me to the history of the game I have loved since I was too young to tie my own cleats.
I will miss being part of the process. But no matter how many more years I have, I will continue to take the responsibility seriously. And as maddening as the process can be sometimes, I will always appreciate the enormous privilege it is to help acknowledge the greats of the game.