As the New Year approaches, while many of you are thinking about the College Football Playoff and/or the NFL Playoffs, this writer is looking forward to the upcoming year’s baseball Hall of Fame elections. Each year presents us with some new questions, and some old, such as “Will this be the year that the steroid users get into the Hall?” and “Has the Hall of Fame become the Hall of Very Good?” These questions are difficult to answer easily, but I will try to do my best to do so in this piece.
The 2016 First-Timers
The 2016 newbies on the ballot for the most part have one thing in common…. Mediocrity. If you look past Griffey and NL all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, this year’s ballot features names such as Jim Edmonds, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell, David Eckstein, and Brad Ausmus. Griffey is a lock and I’ll predict that Hoffman will get in eventually, just not this year.
As mentioned above, this year’s ballot of newcomers is weak to say the least, so writers will have more space on their ballots to select HOF hopefuls like Mike Mussina, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, and Mike Piazza. Unfortunately for Barry Bonds and co., it still seems as if voters are not ready to acknowledge players with steroid involvement. With 20% of the ballot already in, Clemens and Bonds are getting near half the vote. This is great progress, but 75% of the vote is needed for enshrinement. The prediction that you can take to the bank is that Ken Griffey, Jr. will get in the Hall in his first year of eligibility. One of the greatest players of the 1990s (and with no connections to ‘roids) Griffey could break records in the HOF voting department too. The only questions for Griffey are: Who won’t vote for him? and What cap will he wear on his plaque? I also think this will be the year that Mike Pizza, arguably the greatest-hitting catcher of all time, gets in. Piazza has a 59.4 career WAR, while the average HOF catcher has a 52.5 career WAR. According to Baseball Reference, Piazza is most comparable to Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, and Gary Carter. Even commissioner Rob Manfred vouched his support for Piazza. Two other HOF hopefuls include Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell. Last year these two were both around 57%. Bagwell also clears the average WAR of HOF first baseman, however he is an unfortunate victim of the steroid era. No players who displayed great power in the ’90s, except for a select few like Griffey and Frank Thomas, are exempt from steroid speculation. This is what has been keeping Bagwell just short of the HOF vote. It’s really a coin flip whether this guy gets in or not in 2016. A more sure bet is that he will eventually get in. Raines, unlike Bagwell, was known for his prolific speed. “Rock” tallied an impressive 808 stolen bases over 23 years, or 35 bags per year. What is even more impressive is his historic 1981-84 seasons, where Raines totaled 314 swipes. What may rock Raines in the end is his lack of sustainability of these numbers and his failure to capture an MVP award. Lastly, we move to Mike Mussina. Mussina is severely underrated considering he put up extremely solid numbers in the AL East through the 90s and the better part of the early 2000s. While never taking home a Cy Young award (if not for Pedro’s insane ’99 year, he would have) Mussina compiled 6 top-5 CY finishes in 18 years, while facing the likes of Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and other poster boys of the Steroid Era. While posting average playoff numbers at best, Mussina made it to the 1996 ALCS with Baltimore before Jeffrey Maier stole the show. Mussina retired from the Yankees a year before they won it all yet again in 2009. Last year he garnered 24.6% of the vote; that number should at least double this year. If we’re letting the likes of Raines and Bagwell in, Mussina certainly deserves a spot in the Hall.