The hallowed halls of Cooperstown. A village steeped as much in mythology as much as it is a conglomerate of artifacts that look to tell the story of the National Pastime. Only the elite of the elite deserve enshrinement into the heralded Jerusalem of baseball’s inception.
Poetic musings aside, here is my hypothetical ballot, filled out to abide by the same rules as those writers who do have official votes.
- Barry Bonds: To call Barry Bonds the greatest natural player who ever lived—or at least the greatest since the days of Willie Mays—would not be hyperbole. His case is, by a landslide, the most polarizing, as his general maltreatment of the media, and questions surrounding his late-career surge leave a lot to be desired when considering the Character Clause factor, and go to explain why he still awaiting election on his 10th and final ballot. Beyond this, the argument of “he was a Hall of Famer before” his ‘supposed’ steroid use is further nulled by suspicion, though he did generate 99.9 rWAR through his first 13 ‘clean’ seasons, a period in which he collected 3 NL MVP’s and amassed all 8 of his Gold Glove awards. As has been said before, to deprive Cooperstown of arguably the greatest player who ever lived just makes the Hall feel incomplete.
- Roger Clemens: Clemens is Thing 2 to Bonds’s Thing 1, as the two have been paired together as the faces of the PED era. Rocket, too, is entering his 10th and final year on the ballot. The numbers speak for themselves: 7 Cy Youngs, 354 victories, 4,672 strikeouts, and two pitching Triple Crowns. Alas, his supposed steroid use, and noted affair with then-underage country singer Mindy McCready, are the two major thorns in his cases’ side. Separating the man from the player, though, Clemens sits as one of the best handful of pitchers to ever toe the rubber.
- Todd Helton: John Lennon once claimed that people merely hated Linda Eastman solely based on her falling in love with and marrying Paul McCartney. And in this case, most hate, or at least, disavow the Hall of Fame legitimacy of Todd Helton, based on where he played his home games, Coors Field. If we were advised that all players who play for the Rockies are ineligible for the Hall of Fame when the city of Denver was first gifted a franchise, it’d register in our brains as nonsensical. In the 150-plus year history of Major League Baseball, only 13 hitters with at least 9,000 plate appearances retired with a .300/.400/.500 slash line, one of those being Todd Helton.
- David Ortiz: Speaking of players PED ties; a leaked failed test in 2003 definitely hurts Ortiz’s case, but so should the acknowledgment that 2,009 of his 2,274 starts came as a DH. His career 55.3 rWAR puts him on the borderline, but traditionalists will cite his heroics in, not one, but three Red Sox World Series runs, as well as the 541 career home runs in staking his claim to baseball immortality. For me though, it’s an all-time mark of 3.2 postseason WPA and the aforementioned home run total that gets Ortiz across the finish line and into Cooperstown.
- Álex Rodriguez: Álex Rodriguez is many things; an unfaithful husband, multiple-time PED offender, longtime postseason underperformer, and at times, inauthentic. One thing that can’t be denied about A-Rod though, is his place as one of the three-to-four best middle infielders in baseball history. His age-20 season in 1996 ranks 2nd all-time to 2012 Mike Trout in rWAR, 9.4, and he posted a .974 OPS from 1996-2009. A possible selection of Rodriguez could be seen as a softening of stances for the chances of Bonds, Clemens—who will make their way to the Veteran’s Committee in lieu of a selection in ‘22—and Manny Ramírez, but like those first two, Rodriguez’s career alone merits a place in Cooperstown.
- Scott Rolen: The National League’s answer to Brooks Robinson, albeit, with a much better bat, Rolen meets all of the criterium needed for a Hall of Fame third basemen. Only him, Mike Schmidt, and future lock Adrián Beltré are the only third basemen to accrue 300+ home runs and 15+ dWAR. He may not be the sexiest pick, but Rolen is as deserved a Hall of Famer as it currently sits.
- Curt Schilling: The only true-blue reason Curt Schilling isn’t in the Hall of Fame is thanks to doings off the field. We won’t get into that, as he’s on my list thanks to what he did on the field. One of the few pitchers to consistently balance stuff and command, Schilling averaged 1.7 BB9 from 1995-2007, a stretch where he posted a 3.43 ERA (133 ERA+), and even better 3.19 FIP, made more impressive as this stretch overlapped with the Steroid era. Giving him a platform on baseball’s arguably biggest stage is a scary proposition given recent history, but Schilling’s on-field performance merits him podium time.
- Gary Sheffield: I recently shared my thoughts on Sheffield on the site, so I’ll just leave them here.
- Billy Wagner: WAR apologists will discount Wagner based on his measly overall total of 27.7. Traditionalists will say he “didn’t win when it mattered,” as seen with his career postseason ERA of 10.03, but ignore the fact that this sample is limited to 11 2⁄3 innings. The bigger picture lies in metrics such as ERA+, where Wagner ranks 2nd only to Mariano Rivera, at 187. Add a 1.43 ERA and 13.5 K/9 in his final season in 2010, and one can see that the self-taught left-hander still had plenty in the tank after 16 years and 422 saves.
- Bobby Abreu: Abreu is a 60-WAR player who put up a lot of counting stats that read well on the back of the baseball card: 2.470 hits, 288 home runs, 400 stolen bases, and 1.363 RBI. He is one of just 13 players to retire with 400 steals and an OBP above .390 (.395). As the ballot thins in the coming years, I could see myself voting for Abreu, but for now, he remains a strong-omission.
- Joe Nathan: He may not have had the same overpowering stuff as Wagner, but Nathan retired with a career 2.87 ERA and averaged a 2.24 ERA (195 ERA+) from 2003-13. He’s a first-year omission for now, but most certainly someone I’d hate to see removed in the fashion of his former teammate, Johan Santana, who received just 2.4 percent of the vote in his lone year on the ballot in 2018, less than the required 5-percent to remain on the ballot.