The Baseball Writers Association of America, of which I am a member, has voted in at least one first-ballot Hall of Famer three years running. Seven first-ballot candidates have been elected overall in that time—Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas (2014); Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz (’15); Ken Griffey Jr. (’16)—a record for any three-year period since voting began in 1936.
Nineteen first-year candidates populate the 2017 ballot. But it looks like the BBWAA’s streak of first-year inductees will end. The first-year candidate with the best chance of getting elected is Vladimir Guerrero, but without a signature milestone or moment, he may fall just below the 75% threshold needed for election.
The first-year candidates also face a strong class of returning players, starting with Jeff Bagwell (71.6% last year), Tim Raines (69.8) and Trevor Hoffman (67.3), all of whom could win election this time. (All were on my ballot last year.) I’ll take more time to research the new guys before revealing my ballot, but here’s an early look at how I think they will fare in the voting. I grouped them into categories according to their chances for election this year, and within each group ranked them by career earnings, according to baseball-reference.com, to create another sense of “value” during their careers.
Vladimir Guerrero ($126 million)
Guerrero should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but I don’t sense enough baseball writers have a clear, easy narrative for him to give him his deserved honor. He played his first eight seasons in Montreal without getting to the postseason and he reached his only World Series at age 35 with Texas—and then hit .071 in a five-game loss to the Giants.
But Guerrero was a wizard with the bat. Few hitters have combined his ability to hit the ball as hard and as often as Guerrero. He finished his career with a .318 batting average and 449 home runs. Only five men ever reached those thresholds of hitting for average and power: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. That means Guerrero is the only man born in the past 95 years to hit for that high of a batting average with that many home runs. There’s your quick and easy narrative.
It Will Take Years
Ivan Rodriguez ($123 million)
The voters have consistently delayed or denied candidates with connections to performance-enhancing drug use. The PED evidence against Rodriguez comes from his former Rangers teammate Jose Canseco who wrote in his 2005 book Juiced that he educated Rodriguez about steroids in 1992, along with fellow teammate Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro, and personally injected them with steroids “many times,” including in the clubhouse. “After a while it became no big deal to them,” Canseco wrote. Canseco even spelled out the drug regimen: “a combination of growth hormone and steroids—mostly Deca and Winstrol—but with a small dose of testosterone.”
Nobody knew the drug culture better than Canseco. As Dave Stewart, a pitcher and a teammate of his with the A’s in the late 1980s and early ’90s, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, when Canseco wrote his book and many people attacked the messenger, “I don’t like his work ethic, and I don’t like him as a teammate. But one thing I can’t say about him is he’s a liar. As far as what Josie’s saying, I can’t deny it or verify it … If this is all made up, he’ll suffer from serious damages. But if you’re an admitted steroid user, believe me, you’d know who uses them.”
Rodriguez brought no legal action, but he did tell the Detroit Free Press in 2005 about Canseco’s charges, “I have nothing to say about that. They are some very serious comments he said. This is not true. I just say what I feel. I don’t need to use any other stuff. I don’t need it. I’ve been in baseball for 14 years not using that. I don’t need it. Whatever comments he says are not true. I’m just going to move on and concentrate for this coming season.”