When you get right down to it, I guess this is what it boils down to: I believe in a small Hall. So before you’re bored by another baseball Hall-of-Fame discussion, let me give you my latest ballot, which I submitted just before the end of 2017.
Now let me tell you, quickly, why: Bonds and Clemens are both in the arguments for greatest player and greatest pitcher of all-time; Ramirez was one of the most uniquely gifted hitters – not sluggers – in the history of the game; Chipper is, to me, one of the most well-rounded superstars in the game’s history; and Edgar began for me, admittedly, as a crusade against designated hitter bias because he was, at the time, the greatest to have played his position.
Now a word about steroids and numbers: I stopped caring about both years ago because they both corrupted the game. In fact, they go hand in hand. Steroids led to outrageous numbers, which destroyed the baseline for many Hall-of-Fame candidacies. I go largely by my eyes and gut now.
Ramirez failed multiple tests. But if you watched him hit, you know he was special. I just don’t understand how some people can ignore the steroids with Bonds and Clemens now, but not with Ramirez. That makes no sense.
Now let me tell you a little bit about the kind of players I value historically, which is to say that I generally value multi-talented players who did not merely hit for average, or power, or run well, or play defense. You had to do some combination of all of them. Admittedly, there are exceptions to every set of rules. But like I said, I go largely with my gut.
If you asked me to compile my favorite players (during my lifetime) in terms of skill sets, here’s what I’d come up with for a top 5, in no particular order: Ken Griffey, Derek Jeter, George Brett, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor. They all hit for average and power. They all ran well. They were all clutch. They had weaknesses, be sure, but all of them had the capacity to bunt for a hit or jack out of the ballpark, albeit to varying degrees.
If I expanded this list further, Chipper Jones would be on it, too. Switch-hitter. Ran well. Moved from third base to shortstop when called upon. Hit for average and power. Clutch.
Look, I’m not perfect. And in this day and age, no Hall of Fame voter is anymore. But home runs were produced in such mass quantities during the steroid era that I have a hard time bringing myself to vote for guys like Jim Thome (612 homers) just as I did Mark McGwire. Thome was a decent average hitter, but he didn’t run especially well, wasn’t a good defensive player. To me, he was a No. 5 hitter in my lineup. Would I take him on my team? Sure. But I wouldn’t build around him.
In recent years, baseball has altered the Hall of Fame voting policy. Voters have similarly changed their standards in the wake of the steroids scandal because guys like Bonds and Clemens seem headed for enshrinement. Before too long, guys like me, who know longer cover baseball regularly, won’t have a vote anymore, which is entirely OK. As it stands, I’m voting almost entirely on players I covered during the majority of their careers, which is how it should be.
Are there holes in my ballot? You bet there are. Does that make me an idiot in the eyes of many? Undoubtedly. But I’m done trying to rationalize every selection (and non-selection) on my ballot because, thanks to the polluted steroid era, there is a numerical or ethical standard that can be used for (or against) everyone.
So I go with my eyes now. And my gut. And my memory of what a Hall of Fame player looks like in my eyes and no one else’s.