On Monday, the Baseball Hall of Fame released the names of ten veteran Hall of Fame candidates that will appear on the 2017 Today’s Game ballot. It will be the inaugural vote for the Today’s Game Committee, one of the four newly created era committees that will vote in cycles, replacing the old system that had been in place since 2010. This ballot includes players, managers, and executives who worked the bulk of their careers in the period from 1988 to 2001. Here’s a look at the ten members on the ballot, followed by my analysis of the candidates.
Baines is best known for his time with the White Sox, where he developed into a consistent 20 home run, 90 RBI hitter. That translated into a 22-year career during which he hit .289 with 384 home runs and 1,628 RBI. His 2,866 hits are actually the most of any eligible player not in the Hall of Fame, besides Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds, who would be locks if it weren’t for their connections to PEDs. Baines also hit an impressive .324 across six different postseasons in his career, which only enhances his resume. The thing working against Baines is that he served as a DH more than he played the field and he wasn’t a very good outfielder when he was out there.
Belle was a phenomenal hitter in the 1990s, and one could only guess what his total numbers would have looked like had he not been forced into an early retirement due to a form of arthritis in his hip. He slugged .564 in his 12-year career, belting 381 home runs and 389 doubles. He is still the only player to reach 50 home runs and 50 doubles in one season. What many fans tend to forget is that prior to his career ending condition, Belle rarely missed a game; he was actually baseball’s active leader in consecutive games played after Cal Ripken’s streak came to an end. The two factors that will present the largest roadblocks to Belle entering Cooperstown will be his brief career by Hall of Fame standards and his often controversial behavior throughout his career, both with the media and other players.
Will Clark was a steady performer for a decade and a half, mostly with the Giants and Rangers. The 1st baseman finished his career in 2000 with a highly impressive slash line of .303/.384/.497, although he was slightly overshadowed during his time by other 1st basemen who hit a lot more home runs than he did. Nonetheless, Clark was a consistent producer at the plate who probably never got the recognition he deserved.
Hershiser certainly had flashes of brilliance throughout his career. His historic 1988 season was one for the ages, as he set an MLB record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings and was named NLCS and World Series MVP for the Dodgers. Hershiser was phenomenal in the postseason throughout his career, compiling an 8-3 record and a 2.59 ERA across 22 appearances (18 starts).
He only fell off of the writer’s ballot last year, but McGwire will hope to get in through the Veteran’s Committee on his first try. The 12-time all-star ranks 11th in career home runs, highlighted by his record setting 1998 season, when he bashed 70 long balls. His candidacy in the eyes of the writers was undoubtedly hurt over the years due to his admission of taking performance enhancing drugs during his career, but it will be interesting to see if Big Mac fares better in front of the Today’s Game Committee. If he can garner at least 50% of the vote, that will be great news for the future prospects of guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Johnson managed in parts of four different decades, most memorably as the leader of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. His career winning percentage sits an impressive .562, which ranks ninth among all manages who managed over 2,000 games. The other eight are all in the Hall of Fame. Notably, Johnson only managed one full season in which his team had a losing record. Although he was fired four times during his career, one can certainly argue that a few of them were unjust.
He managed 23 seasons in the big leagues, compiling a total of 1,835 wins. Piniella’s highlights include a World Championship with the 1990 Reds, taking the Mariners to their first postseason in 1995, and later leading Seattle to a major record 116 wins in 2001.
Schuerholz spent 26 years as a general manager in the big leagues, first with the Royals and later with the Braves. He is noted for putting together the dominant Royals teams of the 1980s, including the 1985 championship squad, and the Braves dynasty of the 1990s. A full list of his most significant transactions is far too extensive to write here, but a few of the most memorable were the acquisitions of players like Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff, and Gary Sheffield, and the drafting and amateur signings of countless future all-stars.
The longtime Yankees owner presided over 11 American League pennants and 7 World Championships. His behavior was often viewed as controversial, but Steinbrenner knew how to build a winning ballclub.
The ninth commissioner of baseball held the position for longer than anyone other than Kennesaw Mountain Landis. During his tenure, he implemented wild card teams (and later the wild card playoff game), interleague play, and instant replay. He also presided over the 1994 strike and the steroid era, leaving somewhat of a black mark over his legacy. However, the game became much more profitable than ever before during Selig’s tenure. Selig will be a very interesting candidate on this year’s ballot, as it’s anyone’s guess on how the committee will view his contributions to the game.
The Today’s Game Committee consists of 16 members, each of whom may select anywhere between zero and five candidates for enshrinement. As with the regular BBWAA ballot, a candidate must receive 75% of the vote to be inducted.
Now for my analysis of the ballot, starting with the players. Harold Baines was a great hitter, but his career totals are more a factor of being very good throughout a very long career than ever being a Hall-of-Fame caliber performer. It also doesn’t help that he didn’t contribute anything defensively. Will Clark, while also very good, just wasn’t outstanding for a long enough time for me to say he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was never as good as he was the first six years of his career, when he often garnered MVP consideration, and that simply isn’t a long enough peak to justify voting for him. Orel Hershiser falls into that same category for me. From 1984-1989, he finished in the top three in the National League in ERA five times. However, for the rest of his career, an 11 year stretch, his ERA+ was only 100, meaning he was merely a league-average pitcher, and he never finished in the top 10 in ERA again.
The two players who I believe have the best cases are Albert Belle and Mark McGwire. Belle had a short career, but he was a historically dominant hitter during the time he played. I generally prefer players who were Hall-of-Fame worthy for close to a decade rather than players who were very good, but never great over a longer career. McGwire didn’t do a whole lot other than hit home runs, but he hit for power better than mostly anyone else, and was among the most feared hitters in baseball for over a decade. He also walked a lot, resulting in a .394 career on-base percentage that makes up for his mediocre batting average. Belle and McGwire would both probably have my vote, although each of them does carry their baggage.
Both managers, Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson, present strong resumes. Non-players’ careers are much more difficult to evaluate. I’m on the fence in regards to both of them, so if I had a ballot, I’d probably leave them off. Still, if either was inducted this year, I wouldn’t have an issue with it.
John Schuerholz could be the strongest candidate on the ballot. His long-standing success for two different teams make it easy for me to say yes to him.
George Steinbrenner is another candidate I would probably say yes to, given his major role in rebuilding the Yankees dynasty and helping to make the franchise arguably the most successful and recognizable in pro sports.
I would not feel comfortable at this time with Bud Selig getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t feel right to me that historically great players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have found such a difficult time gaining any kind of momentum, while the man who presided over the steroid era would be a first-ballot inductee. My opinion will may very well change on this matter, but for now, I’m not ready to induct Selig into Cooperstown.
Usually, it’s unlikely, though not unprecedented, for more than one or two candidates to get in on the veterans ballots. I think Selig will get in, as well as Schuerholz. Every commissioner who served at least seven years is in the Hall of Fame, although some did have to wait. Despite my opinion of him, he did do a lot of good for the game. Pure general managers have found it very difficult to get in, but Schuerholz had such a great deal of success, that it would be hard to find a more qualified GM.
I don’t see either manager getting in this year. Johnson and Piniella could be inducted at some point, but they’re not in the same class as Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre, who were all inducted three years ago.
Steinbrenner has been on a veterans ballot before, but received less than half of the votes, so it would take a big jump for him to get in this time.
It may be more likely than not that no player from this ballot gets in. For Baines, Clark, and Hershiser, the reasons I listed above in my analysis will probably be the reasons most of the voters will feel a reluctance to write their names down. Belle and McGwire, on the other hand have too many obstacles in their way. Belle was never the most well-liked guy in the game, and it’s very hard for me to believe that at least 12 of 16 voters will be able to look past McGwire’s PED use, and even if they do, he’s still a very borderline candidate.
The results of this vote will be revealed on December 5th, when a few of these names could join baseball immortality, and in January, the results from the annual BBWAA election will be announced.