Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Hall of Fame Team

The results of the annual Baseball Writers Association of America vote for the 2015 Hall of Fame class will be announced on January 6. Including players carried over from previous years, this year's eligible cast has more potential worthies than BBWAA members qualified to vote can list on their ballot since the rules specify that no more than ten players can be named by any one voter. But this year's Hall of Fame ballot has a worthy candidate for every position on the diamond, with the arguable exception of third base, including five starting pitchers and a closer.

2015 Hall of Fame Team

At first and second base, a pair of Houston Astros--Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Bagwell has fallen short in each of his first four years of eligibility, probably because of suspicions he used performance-enhancing drugs, although he has not been identified as a known steroid user. Biggio just missed last year by two-tenths of a percentage point in his second year of eligibility, and his chances may be worse this year because of impressive first-year of eligibility additions to the ballot--especially pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.

At shortstop, Detroit's Alan Trammell, in his next-to-last year of eligibility and little hope for this year. A terrific all-around shortstop, Trammell had the misfortune of being a direct contemporary of Cal Ripken, Jr., and Ozzie Smith when all three were in their prime.

At third base, Seattle's Edgar Martinez--the first player with a realistic shot at Cooperstown whose career was primarily as a designated hitter. Martinez started only 532 games of his 2.055 total games at third, virtually all at the beginning of his career, but fits my 2015 Hall of Fame team at the hot corner because there is no other third baseman on the ballot worthy of Cooperstown.

Hall of Fame-worthy outfielders this year include Barry Bonds--even if just for the first thirteen years of his career, 1986 to 1998, before jealousy of the accolades given to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in their 1998 race to eclipse Roger Maris's 61 was said to have motivated his use of steroids--Tim Raines and first-time-on-the-ballot Gary Sheffield. Similar to Trammell at shortstop, Raines's achievements, including a .294 lifetime average and 808 steals (fifth all-time) hitting mostly at the top of the order, were somewhat obscured by his being a direct contemporary of two of the greatest lead-off batters in history--Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor--as well as his playing in Montreal in the years he was at his best.

If we exclude Bonds because he betrayed the game by using performance-enhancing drugs in the last third of his career, Larry Walker's career is also worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Walker's .313 lifetime average, however, was built on the foundation of his ten seasons playing in Colorado, where his .334 batting average and three batting titles in ten years may be somewhat open to question given the Rockies' mountain-high thin-air advantage. Walker hit only .282 in his eight other big league seasons and seems a long shot for election by the BBWAA, especially now that eligibility has been reduced to at most ten years.

At catcher, Mike Piazza, who's on the ballot for the third time. There are widespread suspicions that Piazza used performance-enhancers, but no catcher in history was the offensive force he was.

A terrific starting rotation could be had from this year's ballot with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz--all being considered for the first time--and Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, who are on the ballot for their third and second year, respectively. Neither Schilling nor Mussina are likely this year, and either or both may ultimately suffer the fate of Jack Morris, one of the best pitchers of his generation in the 1980s, who was considered to have a borderline Hall of Fame career and failed in his last year of eligibility, which (in an untimely coincidence for his prospects) came in the first year of eligibility for Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, whose Cooperstown credentials were never in doubt.

And then, of course, there is Roger Clemens, who like Bonds has been hurt in Hall of Fame voting by his very close association with steroids. If we discount the entire second-half of his career, which is when the PED allegations against Clemens are focused, Rocket Roger's years with the Boston Red Sox would by themselves be a strong knock at the Hall of Fame door--even a battering ram. Clemens had three of his six career 20-win seasons, won four of his seven ERA titles, three of his five strikeout titles, won 192 of his career 354 victories, threw 100 of his 118 complete games, completed 38 of his 46 shutouts, and pitched 56 percent of his total innings with the Red Sox between 1984 and 1996. He was the major league's most dominant pitcher most of those years.

The closer for this 2015 Hall of Fame team would be Lee Smith, a power reliever with no fewer than 29 saves every year between 1983 and 1995. Smith has only three more years of eligibility remaining on the BBWAA ballot, but was down to less than 30 percent of the vote last year after having been named on more than half the submitted ballots in 2012.

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