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An entirely reasonable Hall of Fame ballot

Perhaps more so than postseason awards, the Hall of Fame divides baseball fans and writers. With plenty of division between modern thinkers and traditionalists already in play, the Hall of Fame debate also generates questions of steroid use and morality. This will not focus on those divisions. Here, is an entirely dispassionate take on this year's class.

The Hall of Fame is in flux, but Greg Maddux is someone on which everyone can agree.
The Hall of Fame is in flux, but Greg Maddux is someone on which everyone can agree.

Rehashing the countless controversies over the Hall of Fame isn't really necessary. The lines have been drawn and plenty of other people can guide you through the treacherous maze of nonsense and self-righteousness that comes along with it. But, simply put, the Hall of Fame matters. It's a tribute to the game's greats - a museum that belongs to the fans. It's also an honor given out to a select few. Nothing is ever perfect, be we should do our best to make the Hall of Fame as good as it possibly can be.

With that in mind, here is a complete analysis of every player on the 2014 ballot, which is due on December 31. A few things should be made clear up front. First, a voter can only vote for ten players. With that in mind, I have divided this article into players who absolutely do not deserve induction, players who have some case, players whom I would I have voted for if I had more room, and players I would vote for this year. I have made no attempt to rank players within sections. Second, I will not vote strategically because I don't have a real ballot. Greg Maddux is getting in, so there is some logic to the idea that you should leave him off in order to give a spot to someone who needs it more; I won't be doing that. Finally, I will be basing my decisions on the following criteria, which is included on the official ballot.

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.

No name-calling, no harping. No focus on the author.

Entirely Undeserving

There are a few players on the 2014 ballot who clearly don't belong in the Hall. I can't think of a reasonable argument for any of the following players and have included their career fWAR for reference.

Player fWAR
Armando Benitez 9.0
Eric Gagne 11.9
Hideo Nomo 24.0
J.T. Snow 12.6
Jacque Jones 13.1
Mike Timlin 13.1
Paul Lo Duca 17.8
Ray Durham 30.3
Richie Sexson 17.2
Sean Casey 16.1
Todd Jones 11.2

Close, But No Cigar

Here I'll provide a little more detail because the following players all have some Hall of Fame case. I'll start with list of players and their career fWAR, but will then dissect my reasoning.

Player fWAR
Don Mattingly 40.7
Fred McGriff 57.2
Jack Morris 52.7
Jeff Kent 56.6
Kenny Rogers 47.2
Lee Smith 27.6
Luis Gonzalez 55.3
Moises Alou 48.2
Rafael Palmeiro 70.0

Mattingly was a very good player, but he doesn't hit any of the key Hall of Fame markers. He had a short peak (only four years) and his overall body of work doesn't offset that shortcoming. Mattingly had three or four really strong seasons, but everything else was somewhere between okay and good. And those peak years weren't Koufaxian.

McGriff is a tough one because he's right on the borderline. His total WAR is little light and while he was a great hitter for a number of years, he didn't really do much else. His baserunning and defensive numbers are average at best. McGriff was a very good player, but he simply wasn't one of the top 1-2% of players in the game's history.

Jack Morris is absolutely the most contentious name on the list, but I don't really see a case for him. Maybe you could convince me he's worthy, but he is certainly not one of the ten best players on the ballot. An argument in favor of Morris is an argument in favor of expanding the definition of greatness. I'm not against the idea, but the boundaries of the Hall as presently defined don't call for his inclusion. Morris never had a 6 win season and his career ERA and FIP are both within 5% of league average for his era. There is no Hall of Fame peak and his overall resume doesn't warrant it. His overall postseason resume isn't terribly impressive, but he does have Game 7 of 1991 World Series in his back pocket if the argument was closer. Morris was a very good pitcher, but the Hall of Fame shouldn't be about honoring good pitchers, it should be about honoring great ones. If you choose to see Morris as a Hall of Fame, that's fine, but you can't make the argument that he is deserving and the other pitchers in the next two sections are not. There simply isn't a way to make that argument.

Kent is very close, especially considering how thin second base has been offensively over the years, but when putting him up against the game's other greats he falls short. You could make a case for Kent, but it's certainly not a slam dunk.

Kenny Rogers is basically Jack Morris, except he started out as a reliever, so his overall value is suppressed. Rogers was better than the average pitcher during his time in the league, but not significantly so - even though he enjoyed some postseason success.

Lee Smith was a very good relief pitcher, but the amount of impact a reliever can have is quite small. There's a case to be made that "relief pitcher" is a position and that we should account for that, but the separation between Smith and the greats is large enough that I'm comfortable with a Hall of Fame without him.

Gonzalez's overall resume doesn't blow you away, and if not for that magical 2001 season, he's probably not even in this category. Pretty short peak, not enough strong seasons to make up for it. Moises Alou, essentially, is Don Mattingly without the peak. Good, just not great. He was good enough to make you consider it, but there isn't much of a case to be made.

Rafael Palmeiro is right on the border for a couple of reasons. First, his counting stats stand out - 500 HR, 3,000 H, 70 WAR. That's a pretty easy ticket to the Hall of Fame, but I hesitate to include him because a lot of those numbers were put up via longevity. There are a few strong seasons in his peak, but nothing terribly remarkable. He has a lot of pretty good years, and not a lot of fantastic ones. There's also a slight knock against him for testing positive for PEDs, which isn't a significant factor because the ballot doesn't call for any specific penalty, but if one is asked to consider integrity, as the Hall voter is, then there should be some negative effect for someone who test positive after claiming never to have taken PEDs in front of Congress. You could convince me, but he's just on the outside looking in.

Left Off Only For Space

We know that the ballot limits voters to ten selections per year, which means that not every worthy candidate can make it. Here are the players whom I would vote for if given an unlimited allotment of check marks.

Player fWAR
Larry Walker 69.0
Mark McGwire 66.3
Edgar Martinez 65.6
Craig Biggio 65.3
Alan Trammell 63.7
Sammy Sosa 60.4

Three of the guys on this list - Walker, Martinez, and Biggio - are absolutely Hall of Famers for their overall body of work and their peaks. The only reason they aren't on the "ballot" for me is because there just isn't enough room. McGwire and Sosa have career numbers that could go either way, but their peaks were remarkable and can't be ignored. Trammell is one I've struggled with as a Tigers fan. If I was drawing up the Hall of Fame from scratch, I don't think I'd include him based on what I would want it to look like, but if you take the current Hall of Fame as the standard, Trammell belongs comfortably. He was a top notch defender and a pretty good hitter for his position and his era. If only the superior Lou Whitaker hadn't been tossed from the ballot; they should have given their speech together.

The Class of 2014

The following ten players are whom I feel are most deserving of induction. It's hard to imagine an honor that is supposed to go to the best players in history not going to any of these men. Simply put, a Hall without a few of these players is something other than a collection of the game's greats. Here's the list, and then a few thoughts.

Player fWAR
Barry Bonds 164.1
Curt Schilling 83.5
Frank Thomas 72.4
Greg Maddux 114.3
Jeff Bagwell 80.3
Mike Mussina 82.3
Mike Piazza 63.6
Roger Clemens 139.9
Tim Raines 66.3
Tom Glavine 63.9

On this list, the only struggle was Piazza. Not because he isn't a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but because I could easily make the case that one of the previous six was more deserving. Bonds, Maddux, and Clemens are inner-circle, all-time greats. A Hall of Fame without them isn't worth visiting. Below them, Schilling, Thomas, Bagwell, Mussina, Raines, and Glavine are absolute locks. Their resumes are essentially unassailable from an on-field perspective.

Which brings us to the final point. If we stripped away questions of performance-enhancing drugs, this would be a pretty simple exercise. There are easily ten surefire choices here and 16-18 who are probably worthy based on their raw performance. We can consider integrity, character, and sportsmanship, but we should not do so without evidence.

We know for a fact that Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs. It's something we can verify. Punishing steroid users is fine, but there is only one person on the ballot who tested positive - Palmeiro (McGwire admitted using after the fact as well). There are whispers about others, but nothing beyond that. Bonds and Clemens had some legal issues surrounding steroids, but nothing was ever proven. Beyond that, if we want to consider integrity, sportsmanship, and character in the Hall of Fame debate, shouldn't it apply to every transgression? Drunk-driving, domestic abuse, and racism are bad, but we don't sit around ruminating about Ty Cobb or Tony LaRussa. A character clause is fine, but you can't apply it selectively. Character matters or it doesn't, it can't just be character as it relates to steroids.

We don't know who did what, we don't know if steroids really help you play baseball any better, and there's nothing that makes the steroids of the 1990s fundamentally different than greenies or anything else in the game's history.

The Hall of Fame is about honoring the best players in baseball history. We can disagree about the merits of certain candidates, but we have to be consistent in our methods. It's a subjective vote, but subjectivity doesn't mean there isn't a set of best practices. All players should be held to an ethical standard or all players shouldn't. If held to such a standard, the evidence of poor character should be legitimate and not based in gossip. And most importantly, voters should have a set criteria that they work from and should judge each player the same way. You shouldn't decide that you want someone in the Hall and then construct a case. Their careers should speak for themselves.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.