David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
No matter how you feel about the process, we’ve always believed transparency is the best policy when it comes to voting on awards, whether it’s for MVP or the Hall of Fame, which will announce its Class of 2016 this Wednesday.
If you accept the responsibility of casting a ballot for Cooperstown, the least you can do is explain the selections. And the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the electorate that votes for the Hall of Fame, helps facilitate that by giving its members the option of going public (at BBWAA.com).
For the modern candidates, as in those players retired between five and 15 years, there are no closed-door committees, no behind-the-scenes campaigning. Just a list of names mailed out to qualified BBWAA members — ones who have been active for at least 10 consecutive years — with a return envelope.
As for whatever a member opts to do with that ballot, well, it’s his or her choice — within the rules, of course. Everyone has to sign the ballot that is sent back. So people can be held accountable, either by the Hall of Fame or an interested population.
In recent years, social media has helped lift the curtain and provide the ability for some to conduct exit polling on ballots posted early on Facebook or Twitter. So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s my official 2016 ballot, listed in alphabetical order. The Hall of Fame limits voters to 10 selections — a rule that recently has come under review — and I used the full allotment this year.(* indicates likely 2016 inductee).
JEFF BAGWELL: Statistically speaking, Bagwell should be a no-brainer as one of the best first basemen of all time. During his peak years, from 1993-2000, Bagwell had a slash line of .311/.428/.583 with a 162-game average of 38 home runs and 128 RBIs. He also ranks 21st in baseball history with a .948 OPS. I’m aware of the PED whispers, but to me, suspicion doesn’t keep someone out of Cooperstown.
BARRY BONDS: This is Bonds’ fourth year on the ballot and the fourth time I’ve voted for him, so my stance hasn’t wavered. It’s interesting to note, however, that some voters have admitted to changing their minds and have checked the box next to the Home Run King this time around. Bonds was never disciplined by Major League Baseball and his accomplishments in the sport are unparalleled. Unlike Pete Rose, Bonds is eligible, and belongs in.
ROGER CLEMENS: Like Bonds, Clemens is saddled with a courtroom PED circus on his resume, but again, I’m not having two of the sport’s legendary players take the fall for a sketchy generation. Seven Cy Young Awards, third all-time with 4,672 strikeouts, behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. Any time you watched Clemens pitch, you thought Hall of Famer.
*KEN GRIFFEY JR.: Not much debate here. The only suspense involves whether Griffey will be the first unanimous pick, and we already know that’s not likely to happen, based on the history of the voting process. Griffey’s 630 homers were packaged with spectacular defense before injuries derailed the latter part of his career. A handful of voters, with some inexplicable agenda, are bound to leave him off.
TREVOR HOFFMAN: Relief pitchers are a tricky bunch when it comes to Cooperstown, and this group really tests a voter’s definition of “fame.” Hoffman is second all-time with 601 saves, and his 9.4 K/9 ratio is better than Mariano Rivera’s. Twice finished second in the NL Cy Young vote, including in 1998, when his 53 saves placed him seventh in MVP balloting.
EDGAR MARTINEZ: No doubt penalized for being almost exclusively a DH, Martinez still took the role to another level with a career slash line of .312/.418/.515 over 18 seasons. But the seven-time All-Star is in his seventh year on the ballot and running out of time, having appeared on only 27 percent of the ballots last year, far below the necessary 75 percent.
MIKE MUSSINA: While his numbers may not immediately scream Hall of Famer, they’re magnified by his strength of schedule. He pitched his entire career in the bruising AL East during the game’s offensive peak. Mussina didn’t win 20 games until his 18th season, but 11 times, his ERA was a full run below the league average. Won seven Gold Gloves, and as control goes, his 3.583 strikeouts per walk ranks 15th all-time.
*MIKE PIAZZA: I whiffed on my initial prediction of Piazza as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, apparently because I underestimated the strength of the PED whisper campaign against him. What other reason could there be for keeping Piazza out of Cooperstown? With 427 homers and a career slash line of .308/.377/.545 as a catcher, Piazza finally will get his due in his fourth year on the ballot.
TIM RAINES: With 808 stolen bases, a .385 on-base percentage and 1,571 runs scored in his 23-year career, Raines is second only to Rickey Henderson when it comes to the game’s greatest leadoff hitters. But they played at the same time, which probably explains why Raines’ accomplishments tend to be overshadowed some. Still, he’s got a Cooperstown resume.
CURT SCHILLING: In his 20 seasons, Schilling had a ton of strikeouts (3,116) and barely walked anybody (711) — the two best qualities for a pitcher. In fact, his career 4.3826 strikeout/walk ratio ranks second all-time to Tommy Bond, who retired in 1884. Finished runner-up for the Cy Young Award three times, had three seasons with more than 20 victories, went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 playoff starts and split the 2001 World Series MVP with Randy Johnson. Somehow, Schilling got only 39.2 percent of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot.