Last year, I took a look at the candidacies of the 12 players on the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot who played for one or both of the Major League Baseball teams based in New York.
This year I will do that again, as 11 former Mets and Yankees will have the opportunity to have their name join the immortals in Cooperstown, New York. Unlike last year, there are no slam dunks on the ballot, but that just means that second tier Hall of Famers and borderline guys will have a better shot.
C Ivan Rodriguez (Yankees, 2008)
Pudge Rodriguez could only have been helped by the election of Mike Piazza last year. The evidence that Pudge took steroids is more substantial, as Jose Canseco named him as one of the players that he injected with steroids while on the Texas Rangers. However, Rodriguez is yet another player who never failed a drug test, and I stated my stance on steroids last year.
The short version is that it should definitely be penalized, but it should not be an automatic disqualifier for the Hall of Fame.
Based on his accomplishments alone, Pudge is a first ballot Hall of Famer. He hit .296 with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI in a 21-year career with six teams. He was a 14-time All-Star and a 7-time Silver Slugger Award winner. His 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases helped him win the AL MVP Award in 1999, and he won the 2003 NLCS MVP Award after he drove in 10 runs for the eventual world champion Florida Marlins. And while Piazza is arguably the greatest offensive catcher ever, Pudge is arguably the best defensive catcher ever.
The 13-time Gold Glove Award winner broke Carlton Fisk’s record for games caught in 2009, and he threw out 45.68% of attempted base-stealers.
The Yankees are known for their lineage of great backstops, but Rodriguez is not a part of that. He was traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Yankees in 2008 after Jorge Posada had season-ending surgery. He ended up platooning with Jose Molina, who was by no means a slugger, and he batted .219 with two home runs, three RBI, and four stolen bases in 33 games down the stretch as the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
It will be interesting to see how the new Hall voters, who got much younger last year while also decreasing in number, handle Rodriguez. For me, he is clearly a top 10 catcher in the history of the game, and as such deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame. That said, his connection to steroids may keep him out of the hallowed halls for a year or two.
CF Mike Cameron (Mets, 2004-2005)
Mike Cameron is best remembered for two things: May 2, 2002, the day that he hit four home runs in one game for the Seattle Mariners, and his great defense that netted him three Gold Glove Awards. The one-time All-Star had five 20-20 seasons with four different teams, and he finished his career with 278 home runs and 297 stolen bases. His batting average of .249 is lower than that of any position player currently in the Hall.
After four seasons in Seattle, Cameron signed a three-year contract with the Mets to become their starting centerfielder. He batted .231 in 2004 with 30 home runs, 76 RBI, and 22 stolen bases. In a 2005 game, Cameron, who was playing right field, collided with Carlos Beltran, causing him to play in only 76 games that year. He was then traded to the San Diego Padres that offseason. In two seasons in Queens, Cameron hit .247 with 42 home runs and 35 stolen bases.
Cameron was a talented player, but not a Hall of Famer. It is possible that he receives one or two votes, but not much more than that.
UT Melvin Mora (Mets, 1999-2000)
Melvin Mora played over 150 games at four different positions and for four teams, but he is best remembered as the Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman for much of the 2000s. His ability to play many different positions caused him to win only one Silver Slugger. That year, 2004, he batted .340 with 27 home runs, 104 RBI, and a league-leading .419 on base percentage. Mora also went to two All-Star Games in his 13-year career. In that career, he batted .277 with 171 home runs and 754 RBI.
The 27-year-old Mora joined the Majors in 1999 with the Mets, who used him as a utility player. He got only 39 plate appearances in 66 games with the Mets, but he made a name for himself in that year’s NLCS. Going up against the Atlanta Braves and their vaunted pitching staff, Mora hit .429 with his first big league home run, two RBI, and two stolen bases. The Mets fell to the Braves, but won the pennant the following season. However, they had already traded him to Baltimore. In a year and a half of regular season action as a Met, Mora hit .248 with six home runs in 145 games. He never played in another playoff game after the 1999 season.
Mora was a perfectly serviceable Major Leaguer, but he is not a Hall of Famer, and he will likely not receive any votes.
C Jorge Posada (Yankees, 1995-2011)
The first member of the Core Four to make a Hall of Fame ballot, Jorge Posada is a very borderline candidate. His offensive statistics don’t blow you away, but they are solid for a catcher (.273/.374/.474 with 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI). As a matter of fact, Posada is one of only five catchers with 1,500 hits, 350 doubles, 275 homers, and 1,000 RBI.
The other four are Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Ivan Rodriguez.
He was not great defensively, especially late in his career, but he held his own and even caught David Wells’ perfect game. His abilities behind the plate are even more considerable due to the fact that he was drafted as a second baseman. He is a five-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger.
Now, I feel that it should be noted that Posada is not a five-time world champion like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte are. Posada was not on the postseason roster in 1996, a season in which he played in eight games. But he is still a four-time World Series winner who played virtually another season in the playoffs. Posada hit .248 with 11 home runs in 125 postseason games, and he was in the middle of several big plays.
Jeter’s relay throw in the 2000 World Series and his famous flip play were both to Posada, who made spectacular tags both times. It was his home run that served as the only run in the Yankees’ 1-0 win in Game 3 of that 2001 ALDS. He also tied Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS with a bloop 2-run double against Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning.
Posada, who spent his entire career with the Yankees, is one of the five legendary Yankee catchers. Comparing him to the other four doesn’t do him any favors. Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra are two of the ten best catchers ever, and I believe that Thurman Munson was a considerably better player than him as well.
Elston Howard didn’t have the power that Posada had, but he was a better hitter and he was much better and more versatile defensively. That said, Posada was probably the better all-around player. His number 20 is retired, as are Dickey and Berra’s 8, Munson’s 15, and Howard’s 32.
I would put Posada in the Hall of Fame ahead of Howard. If I had a vote, I might give one of my 10 available check marks to Georgie. If I was voting for the 10 best players that I felt were on the ballot, he probably wouldn’t sneak in. But if I was voting more strategically to get certain people more votes, I would definitely give one to him. I really hope that Posada makes it to year two on the ballot so that people can take a good look at his candidacy.
Comparing him to the other catchers on the ballot, he doesn’t have the steroid suspicion that Rodriguez has, and he was clearly better than Jason Varitek. But I am not certain that he will receive the necessary 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot. Several really good players have been snubbed and kicked off the ballot in year one in recent years, including Carlos Delgado and Jim Edmonds.
SP Mike Mussina (Yankees, 2001-2008)
As we look at the holdovers on the ballot, we begin with Posada’s teammate for eight years, Mussina. Moose was a pillar of consistency, finishing his career with nine top-6 finishes in Cy Young Award voting and 17 seasons with double digit wins in an 18-year career. He also won 147 games with the Orioles and 123 with the Yankees, making him one of only eight pitchers to win at least 100 games with two different teams. Of the seven eligible pitchers, five are in the Hall of Fame.
Yes, Mussina’s 3.68 ERA is a little high for some people, but I feel that it is important to remember that he spent his entire career in the AL East during the Steroid Era. Spending so much time and having so much success with both teams he played for means that if Mussina ever does make the Hall of Fame, he’ll have a tough decision to make. He could choose to enter the Hall of Fame without a specific team on his cap, as Catfish Hunter and Greg Maddux did. But he has to get there first.
Mussina is one of the better pitchers the Yankees ever had. Beyond his 123-72 record and 3.88 ERA in eight years, he was a part of so many big moments in Yankees history. He won Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. He made his first career relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, helping to hold down the fort until the offense made its comeback.
He won three of his seven Gold Gloves with the Yankees, and two of his top six Cy Young finishes came with them as well. He never won a World Series, but he was on two pennant-winning Yankee teams. And who could forget his near-perfect game against the Red Sox in 2001, when Carl Everett broke it up with two strikes in the ninth?
Being 117 games over .500 should get Mussina in, and I expect his percentage to soar this year. He already went from 24.6% in 2015 to 43% last year. And this year, there are no great pitchers on the ballot for the first time. That should help Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Mussina. I don’t think he’ll get in, but he’s only on the ballot for the fourth time; he has time.
SP Roger Clemens (Yankees, 1999-2003, 2007)
We all know that if Clemens had never taken steroids, he would already be a Hall of Famer. Just to name a few of his accomplishments, he has 354 wins, a record seven Cy Young Awards, the third most strikeouts ever, and two of the five 20-strikeout games in history. I think he should’ve been elected a long time ago.
Clemens pitched for the Yankees for six years, going 83-42 with a 4.01 ERA and 1,014 strikeouts. He went to two All-Star Games, won the 2001 AL Cy Young Award, and won two World Series as a Yankee. Some of his worst seasons were in pinstripes, and if and when he is elected, it will be with the Boston Red Sox.
Thanks to the narrowing down of the people who vote on who makes the Hall, Clemens and Barry Bonds saw their vote percentages jump from the mid-30s to 45.2% and 44.3%, respectively. Clemens always receives a few more votes than Bonds for some reason. That trend is helpful, and so is the fact that Bud Selig, who let the Steroid Era take place and then tried to destroy the reputations of players like Bonds and Clemens, was elected via the Today’s Era Committee. There are some who feel that if Selig is in, the two faces of the Steroid Era should be in as well.
LF Tim Raines (Yankees, 1996-1998)
Tim Raines is on the ballot for the tenth and final time, and I am cautiously optimistic that he will finally get elected. He got 69.8% of the vote last year, and usually a total that high leads to election the following year. On top of that, there are no sure bets on this ballot and it’s his final year. That should bump his total, but I don’t have a ton of faith in the BBWAA to get him elected.
Raines should be a Hall 0f Famer because he was the best lead-off hitter of the 1980s not named Rickey Henderson. He hit .294 with a .385 on base percentage, and you could argue that he is the best base stealer of all-time. Not only did he steal the fifth most bases ever (808), but he has the best percentage of anyone who attempted 400 or more. He was also the seventh player to debut after World War II who hit 100 triples and scored 1,500 runs.
Raines will hopefully become the third person elected to the Hall as an Expo, but his case was helped by his time in New York. Serving as a backup outfielder and DH, Raines hit .299 with a .395 on base percentage and 26 steals in 242 games. His two World Series titles came as a Yankee as well.
2B Jeff Kent (Mets, 1992-1996)
Jeff Kent was not a good teammate or a good defender, but man, could he hit. The slugger hit .290 with 377 home runs and 1,518 RBI. He is the only second baseman with six straight 100-RBI seasons, and he holds the record for most home runs as a second baseman. Will that be enough to get him over the edge? It doesn’t look like it. But he should get elected, as his eight 100-RBI seasons, 2000 NL MVP Award, and .500 slugging percentage attest to.
Kent was traded as a rookie to the Mets in 1992 by the eventual world champion Toronto Blue Jays. By the time he had gotten traded to the Cleveland Indians in mid-1996, he had batted .279 with 67 home runs and 267 RBI in parts of five seasons with the Mets. He didn’t become the slugger he’s known as today until 1997, his first season with the San Francisco Giants.
Kent’s 16.6% from last year was his highest percentage in three years on the ballot, but he still has a long way to go. He’s the best second baseman on the ballot, so I think his vote total will increase this year, even if it doesn’t go up by much.
OF/DH Gary Sheffield (Yankees, 2004-2006, Mets 2009)
Sheffield is another potential steroid user. He played for eight teams in 22 years, and he played well everywhere he went. He was the first player to go to an All-Star Game with five different teams, and he and Fred McGriff are the only players to hit 30 home runs in a season with five teams. He also came in the top-10 in the MVP voting six times with five teams. Combine that with his .292 batting average and 509 home runs, and he is a Hall of Famer to me.
Sheffield was an All-Star and Silver Slugger in each of his first two seasons with the Yankees before getting injured and missing most of the 2006 season. He hit .291 with 76 home runs and 269 RBI as a Yankee. After two years in Detroit, the 40-year-old Sheffield signed on with the Mets. He hit .276 with 10 home runs in 100 games, and on April 17, 2009 he joined the 500-home run club.
For some reason, players like Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and Sheffield have gotten very little respect from BBWAA voters. Sheffield received only 11.6% of the vote last year, and I don’t know if that will go up much this year. Sheffield, like Kent, was known to rub some media members the wrong way, and that usually has more of an impact than having over 1,000 extra base hits does.
RP Lee Smith (Yankees, 1993)
We close out this article with two of the greatest closers of all-time, neither of whom will make the Hall of Fame this year. Lee Smith and his 478 saves only got 34.1% of folks to vote for him last year, which is shameful. Hopefully a variation of the Veteran’s Committee votes him in at some point, but this year he’ll probably get about 40% because it’s his last year on the ballot.
Three of Smith’s 478 saves and eight of his 802 games finished came in eight games with the Yankees in 1993 after a late-season trade from the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished that season with 46 saves and an All-Star selection, his third straight 40-save season.
There are five relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and Smith has more saves than all of them, a better ERA than one of them, and more All-Star appearances than two of them. I rest my case.
RP Billy Wagner (Mets, 2006-2009)
Why Billy Wagner isn’t in the Hall baffles me. Trevor Hoffman is likely to make it this year, but Wagner will be lucky if he improves upon his 10.5% from last year. That is despite 422 saves, a 2.31 ERA, and 11.9 SO/9 in his career. In fact, Billy the Kid had fewer than 10 SO/9 twice in his 16-year career. He is also the Houston Astros’ all-time saves leader. And all of that despite the fact that he was naturally right-handed.
Wagner pitched at a Hall-worthy level during his tenure in Queens. In three years plus two games in 2009, he nailed down 101 saves with a 2.37 ERA and 230 strikeouts. He was an All-Star in 2007 and 2008.