The Hall of Fame has released its 10-man Today’s Game Era ballot for consideration to be inducted into the Cooperstown museum. The Today’s Game Era committee considers players who made their biggest contributions from 1988 and on. Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Lee Smith, and Joe Carter were the players chosen. In addition, managers Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson, and Charlie Manuel were put on the ballot, as well as late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
The candidates will be voted on by a 16-man committee on December 9th during the Winter Meetings, and a minimum of 12 votes are required for Hall of Fame induction. The names of the people who will be on the committee have not been released yet.
This committee last met only two years ago, and they elected executive John Schuerholz, the architect of the great Braves teams of the 90s, and *trying not to wretch* former commissioner Bud Selig. Of the returning candidates, Piniella got seven votes last time, while Baines, Belle, Clark, Hershiser, Johnson, and Steinbrenner received “fewer than five votes.” To spare candidates any embarrassment, the exact vote total is never revealed when it is fewer than five.
I saw a lot of clamoring on Twitter about the absences of Kenny Lofton and Rafael Palmeiro, both of whom have Hall of Fame cases that deserve to be revisited. Ironically, they have stronger cases than anybody on the ballot, but you can’t pin their omissions on the selection committee. They are simply not eligible yet. Lofton will not be eligible until 2024, and Palmeiro not until 2022.
The best candidate that was left off the ballot was Mark McGwire. It is a shame that it has come to this, as his Hall of Fame case has been torpedoed from his first appearance on the BBWAA ballot because of the persisting belief that anabolic steroids are magic pills, and the arbitrary, selectively applied morals clause. It is possible that the selection committee shares this believe, but it is also possible that they felt putting McGwire on the ballot would have been a waste. Three-quarters of the voters tend to be former managers and players, and they tend to be as outraged as anyone concerning steroid use.
It is also possible that the Hall wanted to avoid drawing attention to a steroid user. The Hall of Fame has never made an official stance on steroid users, but actions speak louder than words. For example, the relatively recent rule change to reduce player eligibility from 15 years to 10 years was clearly an attempt to make sure Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens never make it in. If it is one thing that the Hall is good at, it is selective history.
Brett Saberhagen and David Cone were also notable omissions. They were remarkably similar pitchers. Their RA9 and WAR are very close. Cone had a better strikeout rate, but Saberhagen’s walk rate was less than half of Cone’s. Saberhagen has two Cy Young awards; Cone has one. I think they lack a strong enough peak to merit Hall induction, but I can see why there are complaints that they were not on the ballot. The committee tends to favor outdated stats anyway, so I doubt they would have gotten much consideration with fewer than 200 pitcher wins.
Orel Hershiser actually made the ballot, but his Hall case is a bit worse than that of Saberhagen and Cone. He pitched more innings, but his 3.93 RA9 is higher and he has only 51.6 WAR. He does have a Cy Young award and a great postseason track record. He has a 2.93 RA9 in 132 postseason innings pitched. That could carry a lot of weight with the voters, but it hasn’t so far. As with Saberhagen and Cone, he lacks a Hall of Fame caliber peak, and his 204 pitcher wins will not impress the committee.
The hitters are rather underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, they were great players (well, not Carter, so much), but they all played offense-first positions where the standard is pretty high.
Belle was a great hitter, slashing .295/.369/.564 with a 139 wRC+ for his career. Though longevity is frequently overrated, the fact of the matter is that Belle was not good enough to get into the Hall of Fame on a 12-year career, the first two of which he played a combined 71 games. Baines had a whopping 22-year career, but a 119 wRC+ from a DH/RF is far short of the Hall of Fame standard. Clark has his fair share of supporters, but he is a first baseman with a career 136 wRC+. He is basically a better fielding Carlos Delgado. None of these three players fare well by Jay Jaffe’s JAWS construct.
As for Carter: no. Just no. He was a poor fielder who hit only .259/.306/.464 for his career. That is only a 102 wRC+. He does have a walk-off World Series win to his credit, and a great playoff moment got Bill Mazeroski into the Hall of Fame, but Maz was also a an all-time great defensive second baseman. Carter did not even crack 20 WAR for his career!
The Veterans’ Committee can be unpredictable, but the only player I can see them inducting is Lee Smith, especially in light of Trevor Hoffman getting in last year and Mariano Rivera a mortal lock to get in this year. Let’s not kid ourselves; the voters are probably going to put a lot of weight on Smith’s save total, the third-highest ever.
When looking at a list of the best relievers ever, there does not appear to be a lot of rhyme or reason as to why some relievers are in the Hall of Fame and some are not, even for those who pitched before the fabrication of Holtzman’s Folly. Going by stats that actually matter, Smith compares remarkably well to Hoffman, and I am guessing that most of the voters believe that Hoffman is a worthy Hall of Famer. By JAWS, Smith was better than Hoffman, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers. His 3.32 RA9 also looks good compared to other historically good relievers.
It is tough to evaluate non-players for the Hall of Fame. Steinbrenner, Piniella, and Johnson are unlikely to get in based on how they fared last time. Manuel was an odd choice for the ballot, especially in place of Jim Leyland.
Though I would not vote for him — I’m not big on relievers not named Mariano Rivera being in the Hall of Fame — I can see Lee Smith getting elected, but I would be surprised if anybody else got in too. Aside from McGwire, there is a scarcity of good candidates that are eligible for the ballot. It is a different problem than the Modern Baseball Era, which suffers from having too many interesting candidates.
The whole process needs an overhaul. This is from my article on last year’s ballot, which I linked above:
“The Veterans’ Committee is a great idea in theory. The BBWAA has made mistakes over the years, and giving those overlooked players a second chance is a worthwhile effort. The execution of it, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The Veterans’ Committee has been panned and criticized for decades. It is responsible for some of the most egregiously bad Hall of Fame selections. There have been countless articles written criticizing the Veterans’ Committee...
“One thing that has not improved is the ballot selection. The whole point of the Veterans’ Committee is to give overlooked players a second chance, especially players who got little or no support on the ballot. Players like [Lou] Whitaker and [Bobby] Grich. Instead, the ballots tend to favor popular players.”
With Alan Trammell getting in last year, the Veterans’ Committee does occasionally get one right. I can’t speak for everyone, but it is worth it to me to see a few of the BBWAA’s misses get in even if it means a lot of undeserving players get in too. That doesn’t mean that the Veterans’ Committee process doesn’t need a lot of work. Here’s hoping that Trammell’s double play partner Lou Whitaker joins him next year. Speaking of second basemen, Bobby Grich would be great too!
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.