The MLB Hall of Fame today announced this year’s inductees. The players elected are Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, and Ted Simmons. Jeter and Walker made it the traditional way, by a vote of the writers within ten years of the player’s retirement. Simmons made it by the vote of something called the Modern Baseball Era Committee. Its purpose is to elect deserving players overlooked by the writers during the ten year period.
Jeter’s selection was a no-brainer. Along with Honus Wagner and Cal Ripken, Jeter is one of the three best shortstops of all time. (You could make a case for Alex Rodriguez, but you would have to overlook (1) his use of performance enhancing drugs and (2) the fact that he played only about half his games as a shortstop.
Jeter missed out by one vote on unanimous selection. Mariano Rivera, his teammate on those championship Yankee teams, remains the only Hall of Famer elected unanimously.
Jeter was on the ballot for the first time. By contrast, this was Larry Walker’s last year. Walker barely scraped through. He appeared on 76.6 percent of the ballots. 75 percent is the cutoff.
Walker’s credentials are probably good enough to warrant his induction. His “wins above replacement” (WAR) number, which estimates the number of wins teams derived from having him on the field instead of a replacement level player, is 72.7. Among right fielders, Reggie Jackson is just above him at 74.0. Harry Heilmann is just below him at 72.2. Both are in the Hall of Fame and both are generally deemed deserving, as far as I know. Jackson certainly is.
It’s also good if a Hall of Famer has done some “famous” things. Walker won the 1997 Most Valuable Player Award and three [correction, seven] Gold Gloves. He was a three-time league leader in batting average and twice had the highest on-base percentage plus slugging average (OPS).
It’s true that Walker only made five All-Star Games, which strikes me as a little light. But a resume doesn’t have to be spotless to warrant Hall of Fame selection.
Ted Simmons almost certainly would not have made the Hall of Fame without the revolution in the way baseball statistics are analyzed. Simmons acknowledged this, saying:
I have to be honest, if it weren’t for the analytics people, my career as a potential Hall of Famer probably would have been shut down a long time ago. When they start talking about on-base percentage and WAR … then it became a real study. Then the real comparisons started to develop. It’s difficult to match up with people like Bench, who won World Series year in and year out. Fisk, in Boston, having great, great years.
The comparisons can be — well, they’re not looked into as thoroughly as they should be. But in the last 20 years, analytics departments have all become so in depth, people have started talking about WAR and what was involved in that. And people started looking at me and revitalized my candidacy for the Hall of Fame.
Simmons’s all-time WAR number is 68.8. That’s just below Gary Carter (70.1) and just above Pudge Rodriguez and Carlton Fisk (68.7 and 68.5). Carter, Fisk, and Rodriguez are in the Hall of Fame. They were elected the usual way, Rodriguez on the first ballot.
Simmons never led the league in anything other than double plays grounded into (once). However, he did play in eight all star games. I think his selection to the Hall of Fame is probably deserved.
Now let’s look at some who weren’t selected this year. Curt Schilling just missed. He received votes from 70 percent of the electors.
Schilling’s career got off to a slow start as mainly a relief pitcher who wasn’t parlaying his great stuff into strong performance. However, Schilling hit his stride when he became a full time starting pitcher in 1997 with Philadelphia.
This was the beginning of a great ten year run in which he made six all star teams and finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting four times, including three second place finishes. Five times he had the best strikeout/walks ratio in the league, and I believe he has the best such ratio of all time. How amazing is it to strike out more than 300 batters in a season, while walking fewer than 40? Schlling did in 2002, and came close a few other times.
Schilling’s career WAR is 80.5. That’s just behind Bob Gibson and just ahead of Tom Glavine and Carl Hubbell. All three are generally considered upper tier Hall of Famers.
Like Gibson, Schilling boasts an exquisite post-season record. He went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP (walks plus hits over innings pitched) in 19 starts and 133.3 career playoff innings. Schilling won three World Series rings, was named MVP of the 1993 NLCS, and co-MVP of the 2001 World Series (with Randy Johnson).
Clearly, Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame. Why isn’t he? Probably because he’s an outspoken political conservative. That, at least, is the most plausible explanation I can come up with. Sportswriters tend to be even more liberal and more politically correct than their counterparts who write in the news sections.
Nonetheless, I believe Schilling will make the Hall of Fame next year, the next to last in which he will be eligible via the traditional means of entry. For one thing, his vote totals have been increasingly robustly in recent years.
For another, next year there will be no new players on the ballot with a strong claim on selection. Schilling will be at the top of the list and should finally make it. If he doesn’t, it will be difficult to take the Hall of Fame seriously.
Finally, what about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? Both have resumes at least equal to Jeter’s. However, both used performance enhancing drugs.
Neither made much progress with the voters this year. They are stuck at about 60 percent with only two more years to go. More likely than not, neither will make it.
Should they? I can argue it either way. However, my view is that, having damaged the game through their cheating, Bonds and Clemens should not be in baseball’s Hall of Fame.