I’ve been intrigued by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for nearly as long as I can remember. Growing up in Phoenix, Cooperstown seemed like it was half the world away. Fast forward 30-something years, and my world collides, somewhat, with the Hall of Fame. To clarify, I am not a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. I am, however, an official member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA). With membership in the IBWAA comes voting privileges for the year-end awards and the yearly Hall of Fame ballot. The IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot mirrors the official one, unless players have been voted in already. For the 2021 version, our ballot was the exact same, with two exceptions. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are already members of the IBWAA Hall of Fame. For the 2021 voting cycle, no player on the ballot garnered enough votes for induction.
I wanted to share my ballot with our growing readership group here at Prospects1500.com. Let the debates begin, and get down to business.
There are 11 new candidates to the ballot this year. None of them are 1st ballot Hall of Famers, and I don’t think I’ll feel compelled to vote for them in any year. They are, as follows:
Mark Buehrle, A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, LaTroy Hawkins, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, and Barry Zito.
But the ballot looks like this. 🙁 It’ll have to be a “click for a surprise” situation for Rolen watchers. pic.twitter.com/TpWskey8KE
— Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) November 19, 2020
That leaves 12 players in consideration for my ballot. Each and every one of these players were very good for multiple seasons, and there really is an argument that can be made for all of them. Some of them had memorable postseason campaigns, some have longevity on their side and some are remembered more for the things they did away from the diamond.
I considered Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, Billy Wagner and Omar Vizquel, but ultimately was not swayed internally to cast them my vote. It’s impossible to think of the Yankees 2000 dynasty without thinking of Pettitte, however, to me, he was simply just pretty good. He had a 1.35 WHIP and 6.6 K/9 for his career. If not for his postseason success, he wouldn’t be held in nearly as high regard. Pettitte was only voted to 3 All-Star games and never won a Cy Young. Abreu enjoyed an 18-year long career and was a true power and speed threat in his prime. He compiled 400 SB, which is good enough for 74th all time. He slugged nearly 300 homers and had a career .291 batting average. Despite that, Abreu never finished higher than 12th in MVP voting and made exactly 2 All-Star games.
Billy Wagner excelled as a left handed closer, of which there aren’t many in baseball. He finished his career with 422 saves, falling two short of John Franco for the most saves as a LHP. The supporting statistics are superb with a 0.998 WHIP, 2.31 ERA and 11.9 K/9. I can accept the argument from those that are voting Billy the Kid in, but the bar for a closer is really high in my mind. He’s not on the Mariano-Hoffman level, but Wagner isn’t far behind. Vizquel is an ageless wonder. He played an amazing 24 years, finishing his age-45 season with Toronto in 2012. A defensive wizard, Vizquel earned 11 Gold Gloves, including 9 straight from 1993 to 2001. While defense is important, very important actually, he didn’t get it done with the bat. 80 home runs and a .272 average are nothing to write home about. The 404 SB and 1445 Runs are nice totals, however Vizquel falls short in an era where batting stats were robust.
The last two stricken from my ballot were Jeff Kent and Todd Helton. Kent is regarded as one of the best power hitting 2nd basemen, and I hold him in that same regard. You can’t argue with the 377 home runs, the 1518 RBI and the .290/.356/.500 slash line. Even more impressive is that Kent did his most if his damage in his age-29 season and beyond. For me, Kent needed 3-4 more really good years to push closer to those long-established Hall bench marks of 500 home runs and 3000 hits. I may vote for Kent in the future, but he falls just short for me as of now.
When I think of Coors Field, I think Todd Helton. The Rockie masher was one of the most feared sluggers for a half-decade, and deservedly so. He put up a slash line of .316/.414/.539 with 369 HR and 1406 RBI. He was also walked more than he struck out, which is an impressive feat. As good as his first 8 years were, it’s his last 9 years of mediocre production that prevents me from giving him a yes vote. Helton comes agonizingly close to making the grade, but as I look at the totality of his career, he’s in the Hall of Very Very Good.
Ultimately, I voted for 6 players on my ballot. They are, in alphabetical order: Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa. While I realize there are many different thought processes and viewpoints on steroids, I also realize that it’s simply impossible to know who was using and who wasn’t. Did Manny and Sammy hit homers off of pitchers that were also using? Would their strikeouts be less if pitchers hadn’t been using? It’s a slippery slope and one that it really really hard to draw a line in the sand on.
Mr. Jones is the best defensive center fielder that I’ve seen, in person. Willie Mays, to me, is the best all-around player ever. Andruw won 10 straight Gold Gloves, with his first one coming at age 21 in 1998. He was named to 5 All-Star games and finished 2nd in 2005 MVP voting to a guy named Pujols. Known for excellence on both sides of the ball, Andruw finished with 434 home runs while making highlight reel-level catches on a daily basis for the Braves.
12x All-Star, 9x Silver Slugger, 1 Batting Title, 14 straight years of 20 or more home runs. What Todd Helton was to the NL, Manny was to the AL, only for twice as long. He finished with 555 Home Runs and a slash line of .312/.411/.585. He was simply an absolute terror at the plate and is worthy of a vote.
For 9 straight seasons, Rolen was as good of a 2 way player at the hot corner as anyone. He has 8 Gold Gloves, 7 All-Star nods and a Silver Slugger to his name. His 70.1 WAR ranks 100th all Time. I realize that some will cast aside Rolen, but I think that’s a mistake. He added great value defensively and offensively for his teams.
I do not take Schilling’s commentary and political viewpoints into the equation. He’s entitled to his opinion, whether I disagree with it or not. Between the lines, Schilling was one of the best postseason pitchers, ever. Check these stats out: 11-2 record, 2.23 ERA, .968 WHIP!! He was no slouch in the regular season either, with 3116 Career K’s and a 1.13 WHIP. On the field, he’s a no-doubt Hall of Fame pitcher. Off the field, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
The nephew of Dwight Gooden, it’s difficult to pin down one team for the Sheff’s hat. Is he a Marlin? A Dodger? Don’t forget two excellent seasons with the Yankees. Sheffield played for 8 different teams and made All-Star games with 5 of them. A 9-time All Star, 5-time Silver Slugger, along with a batting title as a Padre in 1992, Sheffield was going to hit the ball, and he was going to hit it hard. He benefits some from longevity, having played 22 years. The 509 home runs with a .292/.393/.514 get him in to the hall. You had to plan for Sheffield, he wasn’t an easy out, and that matters.
Sosa, along with McGwire, transfixed America late in the summer of 1998. Following the strike, which knocked out the 1994 season, baseball was looking for a couple of sluggers that could make the country tune in. They did that, and more. PEDs aside, Sosa had enough raw power in his bat to slug 35 or more homers for a decade. His numbers are inflated, however he’s a product of the Steroid era. I understand why some won’t ever vote for him or other sluggers tied to steroids, however I can’t play the what-if game. I have to take into account his 609 Home Runs and nearly 1700 RBI. Place an asterisk on his plaque if you want, but he belongs in the Hall.
Going through each person on the ballot, I did not take the responsibility lightly. I understand that the IBWAA’s vote does not actually enshrine players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, however I will continue to treat the process with reverence and will continue to use my ballot as a method to enlighten others, and maybe even engage them in a healthy discussion of merit. Who would you vote for? Please feel free to comment, and reach out to me on Twitter (@MKelley_ND).