Earlier today, BtBS released its Hall of Fame writer survey, where we argued on behalf of the eight players we felt had earned a spot in Cooperstown. Now comes the fun part: the fan vote! How did last week’s survey turn out? Whom did you select for (imaginary) enshrinement?
The readers weren’t quite as aggressive as we were — only three players made their cut:
- Jeff Bagwell (80.3 percent of ballots)
- Tim Raines (79.4 percent)
- Ivan Rodriguez (75.1 percent)
Still, that’s probably more than the BBWAA will pick. Plus, several players were within a stone’s throw of the 75 percent threshold:
Overall, we saw eye-to-eye; most of you approved of the players we supported, even those linked to PEDs, while casting only a few troll votes. (Poor Freddy Sanchez — he couldn’t even get a single ballot!) Here are the reader and writer results in tabular form, for easier comparisons:
BtBS Hall of Fame vote 2017
The results here are heartening, as always. Thanks to everyone who made their voice heard; hopefully, the BBWAA will start to listen to our cries as well.
That’s not the only thing BtBS had in mind for Hall of Fame season. As we’ve done in the past, we ran a second poll of our writers — with a twist: This one had no 10-player limit. Given the ability to pick as many players as we wanted, we expanded our Class of 2017 from eight to 10:
- Jeff Bagwell (95.8 percent of ballots)
- Barry Bonds (95.8 percent)
- Tim Raines (95.8 percent)
- Roger Clemens (91.7 percent)
- Edgar Martinez (91.7 percent)
- Mike Mussina (91.7 percent)
- Manny Ramirez (91.7 percent)
- Ivan Rodriguez (91.7 percent)
- Larry Walker (91.7 percent)
- Vladimir Guerrero (87.5 percent)
Should Vlad and Manny have made it onto the normal ballot? Or was it best that they stayed off it? Our writers duke it out below.
The case for:
Anyone who watched Vladimir Guerrero play probably remembers both his prodigious hitting and his subpar defense. Given that most people would expect the best players in any sport to be at least passable on both fronts, Guerrero’s Hall of Fame case may seem a little thin.
FanGraphs’ Paul Swydan published a detailed piece about Guerrero’s chances for the Hall of Fame, one that essentially concluded that he was a very good player, but not a lock for this honor. The article reads, at the end:
No one is going to complain if he is voted into the Hall of Fame, but on a crowded ballot he is merely one of the qualified candidates, rather than one of the most qualified candidates.
However, it is also important to look at where Guerrero falls within the context of his franchise, and against that backdrop, his case for the Hall of Fame gets slightly better.
Guerrero was an elite hitter for the Montreal Expos, and set several records for that team. What is perhaps most impressive about these numbers, though, is that many of them still lead the franchise (now, of course, the Washington Nationals). Take a look at the Nationals’ team records: Guerrero ranks first in career OPS, nearly 100 points ahead of Bryce Harper (who ranks third) to date. He also still leads the franchise in total home runs and slugging percentage, and ranks third in OBP.
While there is still time for Harper to catch him (which one would expect if he stays on the team much longer), it’s notable that Guerrero both set and holds so many records for this franchise. Finally, if one takes a look at the Nationals’ Baseball-Reference page, Guerrero is listed as the team’s best player for four out of his eight years with the team.
The main point of this historical foray is that even if Guerrero isn’t the easiest choice for the Hall of Fame, he was easily one of the biggest names in the Montreal/Washington franchise’s history. That level of status — being a historically great player on a team — should count for at least something.
The FanGraphs article makes a good statistical argument: Guerrero could easily be a Hall of Fame player, even if it’s not a cut-and-dried decision. Essentially, he may need another reason or two to push him over the top. The franchise records that he set, many of which still stand today, should be seen as that final piece.
The case against:
Last week, my colleague Luis Torres mused on Vladimir Guerrero’s Hall of Fame case. After recounting his magical experiences seeing Vlad at a Rangers game and in the city of Cooperstown, Luis recalled coming to an epiphany:
Up to that point I always assumed that Vlad was a worthy Hall of Famer. I got really caught up in the narrative and mystique of Vlad that I never questioned it. When I got to the hotel room that day, I decided to finally check out his stats on FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
I was really disappointed.
This was a feeling I could empathize with. In my pre-sabermetrics days, I looked at Vlad’s lifetime average in the .310s, his season after season of 30+ homers and 100+ RBIs, and figured he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Then I learned of WAR, and the rock-solid case came crashing down.
That’s not to say Guerrero definitely shouldn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown. After all, only 124 position players have more rWAR than his 59.3; only 155 position players have more fWAR than his 54.3; and only 57 position players (since 1950) have more WARP than his 63.8. Per FanGraphs, 10,124 position players have come to the plate in major-league history, which means he’s at least in the 98th percentile all-time.
Yet Guerrero’s career totals just don’t stand out on the jam-packed ballot. He’s certainly not better than Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, or Curt Schilling, each of whom leads him by all three WAR measures. FanGraphs’ Paul Swydan laid out why Larry Walker is superior to Guerrero as well. Ivan Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez have about nine-win advantage in rWAR (they’re at 68.4 and 68.3, respectively), and each opens up the lead to more than 10 by fWAR.
Really, the most convincing argument against Guerrero comes from a comparison I’ve relied on for a while, and one that Luis used in his piece:
Vlad vs. Abreu
Abreu is everyone’s idea of a Hall of Very Good type — someone who had a tremendous peak, but petered out before compiling the aggregate stats for enshrinement. While Guerrero has the luster of his hitting approach and his overall swagger to bolster his case, he’s ultimately similar, if not inferior, to Abreu. For that reason, I don’t think Guerrero deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
(Well, that, and as an Orioles fan, I’m still smarting after this.)
The case for:
Manny is one of those players that is on a first-name basis with everyone. Through fifteen years with Cleveland and Boston, he was one of the premier sluggers of the 1990s and 2000s, broke the Red Sox’s World Series drought in 2004 and repeated in 2007. When Manny was good, he looked fun, wild, carefree, and like he was playing the game with joy; when Manny was bad, he looked careless, lazy, and disengaged.
On the stats alone, Ramirez should be an easy inclusion: he’s seventh in rWAR among left fielders, and five of the players in front of him are already inner-circle Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, and Carl Yastrzemski), while the sixth (Barry Bonds) seems likely to be in the next couple years.
Of course, the Hall isn’t about the stats alone, and Ramirez did plenty of distasteful stuff in his career. He tested positive for PEDs in 2009 and 2010, and, allegedly, in the leaked 2003 test as well; he shoved a 64-year-old Red Sox employee in an altercation over tickets; and in 2011, he was charged with domestic violence when his wife called the police (though he was not convicted). None of that should be minimized, though they’re of varying levels of importance; the PED violations were basically victimless, and came with contemporaneous in-game consequences via suspensions, whereas the same cannot be said of the two violent incidents (assuming he did in fact hit his wife).
It’s important to distinguish between what will happen, and what I think should happen. What will happen: Ramirez won’t get into the Hall of Fame, certainly not this year and probably not ever. Ryan Thibodaux’s vote tracker has him at 28.8 percent, and he has the tarnish of steroids without the best-of-all-time talent of a Clemens or a Bonds needed to transcend that tarnish in the eyes of the voters.
What I think should happen, or wish would happen, is that Manny would make the Hall, and be celebrated for a weekend in Cooperstown. His transgressions are real, and his violent outbursts are undoubtedly serious. I don’t mean to wave them away when I say that nobody is perfect, and that Manny had to work under a much harsher spotlight than any of us and than many other MLB players.
But I do believe that, and I also believe that keeping him out of the Hall won’t help him or anyone else. Unlike some of his peers, Manny is not currently and actively spouting hate or encouraging violence, and I’m filled with joy rather than dread at the prospect of a speech by him. Given that, and given his utter dominance between the foul lines for the better parts of two decades, Manny is an easy “yes” vote for me. I’m not completely convinced I’m right, and there might be ten other players who deserve it more this year, but ultimately, I think Manny should be in the Hall.
The case against:
In terms of wins above replacement — an easy, if imperfect, way to compare players across eras — Ramirez has a borderline case. His career fWAR of 66.4 does rank among some rock-solid, first- and second-ballot Hall of Famers such as Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith and Craig Biggio — all infielders for whom the offensive expectations for enshrinement are lowered. His closest contemporary in the outfield is 10th-year darling Tim Raines, whose career fWAR is an exact match for Manny. (If you’re in the “actually, the character clause is bad” camp, and you’re voting for one and not the other, you may have some ‘splainin’ to do.) He would by no means become the worst left fielder in Cooperstown were he to gain entry, but he’s not in the same league as some of the other players on the ballot — Bonds, Clemens and Schilling — for whom there is no on-field argument against their enshrinement.
It is for this reason, perhaps, that Manny is more rarely mentioned as a victim of the character clause than his more talented counterparts; even those secretly invoking it can rationalize a “no” vote for Ramirez in other ways. Yet Ramirez and his long list of infractions make him a poster child for exclusion based on the much-maligned clause, perhaps even more so than Schilling and his particularly reprehensible brand of politics.
Ramirez is just the second legitimate Hall of Fame candidate who actually failed a test for Performance Enhancing Drugs and suffered consequences after it was finally legislated out of the game by the league. Though there is little question that Bonds and Clemens used, for Ramirez there is none; he was suspended twice for PED use, and after the second instance Ramirez abruptly retired (and subsequently attempted a failed comeback) rather than face punishment.
Far more serious than his PED usage are Ramirez’s violent outbursts off the field. In 2011, he was charged with domestic violence after he — *ahem* “allegedly” — slapped his wife so hard that she fell backward, knocking her head against the couple’s headboard. As so often happens, especially when concerning rich and powerful athletes, the charges were dropped after the spouse in question declined to continue to cooperate with the investigation. Another incident for which no charges were filed occurred in 2008, when Ramirez shoved the Red Sox’ 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground because he might not be able to get 16 free tickets for his friends and family.
The argument in favor of enshrining people like Ramirez and Schilling always collapses toward comparisons to other unsavory characters who are already in Cooperstown. What sort of backward thinking is that? Are we forever beholden to the mistakes of our past, or might we instead strive for better? If you believe that the Hall of Fame should consider only on-field performance, that’s fine. But if we’re letting bad people in just because we always have, let’s not.