After a lot of careful research and consideration, I dropped my first Hall of Fame ballot in the mail earlier this week.
Talk about tricky waters to navigate.
There are so many players who are suspected of performance-enhancing drug use appearing on the ballot every year, and it's tough to find a uniform criteria to judge everybody by. I do not take a "hard line" stance when it comes to evaluating suspected PED users for the Hall. Surely some benefited more than others by what they put in their bodies, and that's where the ambiguity comes in and makes this such a challenging process.
I chose to judge each player case by case, based on their own individual credentials. And here's the eight who got my vote this year, listed in alphabetical order:
Jeff Bagwell: His numbers speak for themselves - 449 homers, a .408 on-base percentage and .948 career OPS. He combined power, batting average, and patience at the plate, and he put up some of his best seasons playing home games inside the Astrodome, which did no hitter any favors. He was a unanimous NL MVP in 1994 and even won a Gold Glove at first base that same year. Not a tough call here …
Barry Bonds: It comes down to this for me when considering Bonds' candidacy: Even if you take no stats into account past the 1998 season, when the PED suspicions really began to swirl around him, he still produced a Hall of Fame career. From 1986-98, Bonds won three MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves and was an eight-time All-Star. He hit 411 homers and averaged a 30-30 season over this 13-year period. Get him into Cooperstown. Put an asterisk by his name, place him in a separate wing along with other suspected users, whatever. Just get him in the Hall, where he belongs.
Roger Clemens: The same logic applies for me when it comes to Clemens. Taking into account his career from 1984-97, before PED suspicions might cloud his numbers for some, Clemens collected four Cy Young awards and an MVP. He went 213-118 with a 2.97 ERA and 2,882 strikeouts over this time. That strikeout total alone - not even counting the final 10 years of his career - would rank him 15th out of the 77 pitchers currently in the Hall.
Vladimir Guerrero:I wasn't completely sure about this first-year candidate when I first began to contemplate my picks. But the numbers speak for themselves: a .318 batting average, 449 homers, 1,496 RBI, a .931 OPS. Particularly impressive was a 10-year stretch (1998-2007) during which he hit .327 with 353 homers and a .980 OPS. He notched two 30-30 seasons and in 2002 fell just one homer shy of becoming just the fifth member of the 40-40 club. One of the game's great all-around talents. Right this way, Vlad.
Trevor Hoffman: He gained 67 percent of the vote last year, his first on the ballot, bringing him close to the 75 percent needed for induction. The longtime Padres closer is getting in sooner rather than later. Hoffman ranks second all-time with 601 saves, and he's 123 ahead of No. 3 on that list (Lee Smith, who happens to be in his final year on the ballot). I didn't over-think this one. Punch Hoffman's ticket …
Tim Raines: His impressive career body of work caught me by surprise a bit, and I think I know why. While Raines was wreaking his havoc with the Expos in the National League, Rickey Henderson was doing the same with the A's in the American League. In my mind, it always seemed Rickey's exploits were dwarfing Raines' (West Coast bias!!!). At any rate, Raines is one of only five players with 800-plus stolen bases. The other four are all in the Hall of Fame. "Rock" gets in …
Ivan Rodriguez:A first-ballot candidate with a PED cloud hanging over him. Jose Canseco claimed to have injected him with steroids while with the Rangers. But Rodriguez never tested positive for anything and was not named in the Mitchell Report. "Pudge"'s case for the Hall is overwhelming. He's a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner with one MVP award on his shelf. He hit .296 with 311 career homers, and in nine different seasons he threw out over 50 percent of runners trying to steal against him. A terrific all-around player, and it's hard for me to believe PED's were the driving force behind it.
Curt Schilling: Unquestionably, he's one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time. Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, four complete games and two shutouts in the playoffs, getting named the 2001 World Series Co-MVP and 1993 NLCS MVP. He's also got 216 regular-season victories and 3,116 strikeouts to back his case. Given the views he's expressed about journalists, I've got no reason to want to do this guy any favors. And his social media rants have offended so many different segments of our society. But if you keep him out of the Hall based on the "character" clause in voting guidelines, you also need to go back and evict some of the unsavory characters who already reside in Cooperstown. Schilling's baseball resume is worthy of induction, despite what anyone might think of him as a human being.