A very interesting year saw three players and two former Yankees get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Last Wednesday, Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell was elected to the Hall, along with leftfielder Tim Raines and catcher Ivan Rodriguez. There were many noteworthy developments, so let’s dive right into the BBWAA voting.
C Ivan Rodriguez (Yankees, 2008)
Pudge snuck in on the first ballot with 76% of the vote. No doubt that number would’ve been higher had it not been for Jose Canseco’s testimony about personally injecting the former Texas Rangers catcher with performance-enhancing drugs. But he still got enough to become the second backstop to make the Hall in his first year of eligibility (after Johnny Bench). Rodriguez may not have done much with the Yankees, but he was certainly qualified: with the Rangers alone he went to 10 All-Star Games, won 10 Gold Gloves, and claimed the 1999 AL MVP Award. He will go in as a member of the Rangers. He was probably aided by the induction of Mike Piazza the year before, and his better defensive reputation no doubt helped him make it over fellow first-timer Vladimir Guerrero.
CF Mike Cameron (Mets, 2004-2005)
I said that Cameron might receive a vote or two, but instead the talented centerfielder was one of 11 players who didn’t get a single vote. And it was for good reason, seeing as Cameron’s .249 batting average is lower than any position player’s who is in the Hall.
UT Melvin Mora (Mets, 1999-2000)
Mora, who garnered a mere 246 at bats with the Mets before having a solid career with the Baltimore Orioles, also did not receive any votes.
C Jorge Posada (Yankees, 1995-2011)
There are exactly five catchers in baseball history who amassed 1,500 hits, 350 doubles, 275 home runs, and 1,000 RBI, and after the 2017 election, you can now say that four of them are in the Hall of Fame. They are Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Ivan Rodriguez. The fifth guy is Jorge Posada.
I was afraid that Georgie would only spend one year on the ballot, and he did, garnering only 3.8% of support in a year where he needed at least 5%. I’m not saying that Posada is a Hall of Famer, but he is borderline and he deserved a second look. Unfortunately, that look will never come. It is possible that if Rodriguez wasn’t on the ballot, Posada’s status would have been elevated, as he would’ve been the best catcher there. But that was not the case, and now Posada will have to wait for a veteran’s committee to add him.
SP Mike Mussina (Yankees, 2001-2008)
It’s starting to look like it will be a matter of when, not if, Mike Mussina makes the Hall of Fame. The sabermetrics community has made him one of their posterboys, and although I am not a fan of sabermetrics, I will be happy with Moose making the Hall, no matter how it happens. Since wins are not held with very high esteem these days, the fact that Mussina has a .638 winning percentage and 270 wins is not going to get him in. But apparently his WAR is really good. Similarly, I was not happy that Curt Schilling’s dumb Twitter comments lost him votes. That probably benefited the former Yankee, though. For the second year in a row, Mussina made one of the bigger climbs up the percentage ladder, this time creeping over the half-way mark with 51.8%. It is now the popular opinion that Mussina should have a plaque in Cooperstown, and that percentage should continue to rise. Next year, Mussina will once again be the best non-PED tainted starter on the ballot. I could see him getting in as early as 2019.
SP Roger Clemens (Yankees, 1999-2003, 2007)
For the first time, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds both crossed the 50% threshold. It is now overwhelmingly likely that they will both someday get elected. In their fifth try, Clemens got 54.1% and Bonds got 53.8%. In 2016, the subtraction of many older BBWAA voters helped the two tainted stars, and in 2017 the induction of Bud Selig, who was the commissioner that let the Steroid Era happen and then tried to clean his legacy by muddying those of players like Clemens helped the Rocket garner an even larger portion of the vote.
I don’t want to link the candidacies of Clemens and Bonds, but they are so similar. Also, Clemens always seems to get more votes than Bonds for whatever reason. In 2017, he got 239 votes to Bonds’ 238. I guess the writers have deemed him more likeable.
LF Tim Raines (Yankees 1996-1998)
It finally happened. It took all 10 tries, but Tim Raines is finally headed to the Hall of Fame. It was truly a collaborative effort, as people like me and sabermetrics fans came together to make the case for arguably the best lead-off hitter ever not named Rickey Henderson. His process was actually sped up because he didn’t have the last five years after the Hall made a new rule that stated that players could only appear on the ballot for a decade, and Raines got 86% of the vote, only one less vote than Bagwell. Both elections were long overdue, and Raines will join other legendary lead-off hitters like Henderson and Billy Hamilton in the Hall.
While his case was definitely aided by his time in New York- he stole his 800th base in 1998 and won World Series in both ’96 and ’98- Raines will wear a Montreal Expos cap on his plaque. In parts of 13 seasons north of the border, Rock hit .301 with a .391 on-base percentage and 635 stolen bases, going to seven All-Star Games and winning the NL batting title in 1986.
2B Jeff Kent (Mets, 1992-1996)
I’m starting to think that the man with more home runs than any other second baseman in history will never get the respect he deserves from the writers. Like Mussina, his percentage was higher than it had ever been in his fourth year on the ballot. But for Kent that meant 16.7% of the vote, 12th among players who weren’t elected. I honestly think there is no reason other than when people fill out the ten best players on the ballot, he doesn’t quite crack the list. The perpetual logjam and the Rule of Ten have hurt him, and he seems doomed to be in the teens forever. Hopefully, that changes.
OF/DH Gary Sheffield (Yankees, 2004-2006, Mets, 2009)
Like Kent, Sheffield got a mere 13.3%, but that was his highest percentage in three years on the ballot. In my opinion, he was just as good of a hitter (maybe a bit worse) and just as bad of a defender as Manny Ramirez, who got nearly a quarter of the vote in his first appearance (23.8). Also like Kent, Sheffield didn’t get along with the media, and that definitely has something to do with his dismal finishes. I get that people who fill all ten spots have to find reasons not to vote for guys, but it is baffling to me that only 59 out of the 442 ballot-casters could squeeze him in there. We’re talking about a guy with a World Series ring, over 500 home runs and 1,000 extra base hits, and a batting title. Well, I’m talking about him. And not enough people are listening.
RP Lee Smith (Yankees, 1993)
Well, that’s it. The last player to get to spend 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, at least for now, has come and gone. And despite being easily one of the 10 best closers ever, and probably a top five closer at the time of his retirement, Lee Smith topped out at 50.6% of the vote back in 2012. His percentage plummeted when starters Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Tom Glavine first joined the ballot in 2014, and he never recovered. In his last year on the ballot, Smith only got a bump of one-tenth of a percentage point, receiving 34.2% of the vote. I’m still unaware of what he had to do, but clearly being a seven-time All-Star, three-time Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, and retiring as the career saves leader wasn’t enough. Here’s to hoping we see him on a veteran’s committee ballot before too long.
RP Billy Wagner (Mets, 2006-2009)
Another criminally underrated reliever, Wagner has been overshadowed by Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith the last two years. That seems ridiculous, but to some writers, it seems equally ridiculous to vote for three closers when a maximum of only ten players can be selected. And while Wagner figures to pick up a few Smith voters next year, that will hardly be enough to make up the rest of the votes he needs. Billy the Kid and his 11.9 SO/9 garnered a whole 10.2%, down slightly from 2016. At the same time, Hoffman, who has the same number of All-Star selections, a higher ERA, and less strikeouts in 186.1 more innings, got 74% and is a virtual lock for enshrinement next year. And even with that, Wagner will still be overlooked in 2019, because that will be the year Mariano Rivera hits the ballot.
Like every year, there was some good and some bad. But in terms of the New York players, this was a solid showing by the voters, who finally ended Tim Raines’ long wait and made sure that Pudge Rodriguez would not have to endure one.