As much as I’d love to use this space for a lengthy debate regarding my ballot for the Hall of Fame class of 2020, this explainer doesn’t really need much explaining.
It’s only three players: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter.
Bonds and Clemens, two players linked to PEDs (but never punished by MLB), are becoming less controversial selections with each passing year. Both have appeared on my ballot every year of their eligibility, and they continue to gain traction as some BBWAA members change their minds and newer voters enter the fray with a more liberal view of the PED era.
In an effort to navigate some of this gray area, any player who has been disciplined by MLB for PED offenses is disqualified in my mind (sorry, Manny Ramirez).
I’ve detailed my reasoning on this repeatedly, so here’s an excerpt from last year’s column, which I feel summed things up pretty well.
As for Bonds and Clemens, we’ve already been over this a million times. Obviously, both fit the description as transcendent, once-in-a-generation players as well as being among the greatest to put on a uniform. For the record, neither one was ever disciplined by Major League Baseball for performance-enhancing drugs, and in an extremely complicated era for all sports, that’s the threshold I go by when it comes to their Cooperstown eligibility.
It’s also worth noting that the BBWAA — the same organization that has kept both from the Hall thus far — voted Bonds the MVP seven times, including four straight from 2001-04, regardless of whatever suspicions floated around him. Clemens earned both the MVP and Cy Young Award from the BBWAA in 1986, and the writers voted him six more Cy Young Awards before his retirement in 2007.
I’ve never wavered on Bonds and Clemens since they first appeared on the ballot in 2013, but plenty of others have flipped on them since, which is partly the reason why both have climbed from the high-30s percentage-wise to nearly 60 last year (59.1 and 59.5, respectively). Given that neither has played a game during that period, a philosophical shift (or bending to backlash?) can be the only explanation.
I think we can all agree that Jeter is a no-brainer, the only suspense being whether he’s able to match former teammate Mariano Rivera as a unanimous selection.
Beyond those three, there are cases to be made for others on the ballot, and voters are allowed to pick 10. But I re-examined my own process last year after Harold Baines got in by a 12-vote majority cast by the Today’s Game Era committee. No offense to Baines, but that sort of nudged me toward more of a “small hall” mentality — something I had wrestled with since I first started voting 14 years ago — and my past two ballots now reflect that.
Careers are dissected more thoroughly now than ever before, and advances in statistical analysis have provided us with a multi-dimensional snapshot of a player’s performance. That’s definitely elevated a number of players in recent years, and good for them. I’ve just chosen to focus on those at the top of Olympus rather than the group being evaluated on the margins.