The Baseball Writers' Association of America released their ballot for the 2015 Hall of Fame voting yesterday, effectively ringing in six weeks of arguing, bloviating and grandstanding among the 570-something BBWAA members who will be casting a ballot, and of course the millions of us baseball fans who won't.
The results of the voting, which will be released on January 6, should be pretty interesting. As with the 2014 ballot, there's an impressive crop of players making their first appearance. Literally half of the 34 eligible names, in fact, are first timers, most of whom – guys like Rich Aurilia, "Everyday" Eddie Guardado and Troy Percival – don't have a shot at making the Hall. But there are a couple that have the potential to leapfrog the returning candidates and go straight into Cooperstown.
In order to be elected to the Hall of Fame, your name needs to appear on at least 75 percent of the cast ballots. Of the 17 returning candidates, Craig Biggio came closest last year, garnering 74.8 percent of the vote; Mike Piazza (62.2), Jeff Bagwell (54.3), Tim Raines (46.1), Roger Clemens (35.4) and – cue ominous music – Barry Bonds (34.7) are among the players back for another go as well.
Though there are at least 20 players on this year's ballot that are legitimate Hall of Fame contenders, BBWAA members are only allowed to vote for up to ten of them. Not everyone turns in a full ballot, and there are usually one or two voters who can be counted on each year to turn in a blank ballot in protest of the steroids era, Obamacare, or women wearing pants; but if I had a vote in this year's HOF election, these are the ten players I'd put on my ballot:
Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan currently hold the joint record for highest percentage of ballots as a first-year candidate (98.8 percent), but "The Big Unit" has a chance to come close to that – 303 wins, 4,875 career strikeouts (the most by any left-hander, and second to Ryan overall), nine strikeout titles, four ERA titles, and five Cy Youngs all make a pretty compelling case for first-ballot election. Plus, Johnson would probably be the first Slipknot fan to be inducted into Cooperstown.
Pedro's career wasn't as long as Johnson's, but in his prime he was basically the Sandy Koufax of the steroids era, averaging 17 wins, a 2.20 ERA and 252 Ks from 1997-2003, and taking home three Cy Youngs in the process. Pedro was a total badass, and deserves to be fast-tracked into the Hall.
Look, I think the Designated Hitter is a crime against man and God, but after 41 years it clearly isn't going anywhere – so it's time to stop penalizing great players for spending a significant portion of their careers as DHs. Last year, Frank Thomas became the first Cooperstown inductee to have played more games at DH than in the field, so perhaps there's hope for Edgar, who logged 1,403 games as a DH and spent only 592 in the field. In any case, the dude could flat-out rake – and a career slash line of .312/.418/.515 over 18 years seems pretty damn HOF-worthy to me.
No MLB catcher ever hit more home runs than Piazza, and his well-earned reputation as the best-hitting catcher of all time more than outweighed his liabilities behind the plate. Plus, my late grandma had a mad crush on him. (This one's for you, Grandma Rae!)
One of the great leadoff men of the '80s and '90s, Raines ranks fifth on the all-time stolen base list with 808, and hit .294 with a .385 on-base percentage over 23 seasons. But with only three years of eligibility left, he's running out of time to snag a place in the Hall.
Time is also getting tight for Tram, one of three players (along with Lee Smith and Don Mattingly) who've been grandfathered in despite the imposition of the new "ten years and you're out" rule. This will be the Tigers shortstop's 14th year on the ballot – and while he seems like a prime Veterans Committee candidate if he misses out this year and next, he was a great player who deserves induction now.
Yes, he's a classic "compiler" who hung on too long in his quest for 3,000 hits, and there were at least two better second basemen (Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker) who never got within spitting distance of Cooperstown. But I'm a "Big Hall" guy who believes compilers have a place among the prodigies, and Biggio was pretty great for a big chunk of his career.
"Bags" was an absolute hitting machine in his 15 seasons with the Houston Astros, and his 449 career home runs and .297/.408/.540 career slash line are even more impressive when you consider that he played his first nine seasons in the bat-dulling confines of the Astrodome.
"The Rocket" was outed as a PED user by his old friend and teammate Andy Pettitte, which is probably why he won't get into the Hall again this year, despite his 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, five strikeout titles, seven ERA titles and seven Cy Youngs – and the fact that he's a raging douchebag won't help his case much, either. But the guy was unquestionably a brilliant pitcher, and there was much more to his extended dominance than whatever he may have been injecting or ingesting. He'd get my vote, if I had one.
And speaking of PEDS…There's no question that I would reserve a space on my ballot for Barry Bonds. Yes, he used "the cream" and "the clear" and god knows what else; but plenty of other players of his era were experimenting with similar chemical cocktails, and none of them dominated the game like Barry did. (Not to mention that his numbers in the early/mid-90s were pretty insane as well, and that was before his head grew several hat sizes.) 762 career home runs, a .298/.444./.607 career slash line, a 182 career OPS+, and seven MVP awards? I don't care if he was drinking the blood of virgins every night – that's Hall of Fame material, right there.
Dan Epstein's latest book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76, is now out via Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. He's on Twitter at @BigHairPlasGras