Eight players who’d have my vote for Baseball Hall of Fame

Fred McGriff may have company when he’s inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, this summer, and it could very well be another former Blue Jay who joins him on the stage.

The results of the writers’ ballot for the Hall’s class of 2023 will be revealed Tuesday (McGriff was elected by the 16-person Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee) and the most likely player to be elected is third baseman Scott Rolen, who played in Toronto for a season and a half before being traded to Cincinnati in a deal that brought back Edwin Encarnacion, among others.

Only members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with at least 10 years’ membership get to vote on the writers’ ballot, which means I’m eight years away. But if I did have a ballot, mine would have included eight players (voters are allowed to choose up to 10).

First, some ground rules:

  • I don’t care if you took steroids. I believe the playing field in the steroid era was pretty much level. Roided-up pitchers were facing roided-up hitters on a regular basis. Multiple players who took steroids but were never caught are already in the Hall and there’s literally no way to know who was or wasn’t doing anything, so I’m assessing players’ accomplishments on the field relative to their peers’ accomplishments.
  • Don’t be stupid. If you were dumb enough to get caught after Major League Baseball started testing in 2004, you don’t get my vote.
  • No scumbags. If a player was involved in domestic abuse or sexual violence, he’s not getting my vote no matter how good a player he was.
  • No 2017 Astros. What’s the difference between their cheating and the steroid guys? For one, it wasn’t a level playing field. For another, steroids can’t help you hit a curveball, but knowing a curveball is coming can very much help you not be fooled by one.

Here are the eight players who would have been on my ballot this year, if I had one, in alphabetical order:

Bobby Abreu

When people watched him, not many immediately said, “That’s a Hall of Famer.” But a closer look reveals a career slash line of .291/.395/.475. and that he’s one of only six players in history to notch at least 250 home runs, 500 doubles, 200 stolen bases, 1,400 walks and 1,400 runs scored. The others are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Rickey Henderson and Barry Bonds. That gets him in for me.

Mark Buehrle

I’m not saying he’s a Hall of Famer, but I’m also not willing to say that he isn’t. Being around him for the three years that he was with the Jays showed me not only his effect on other players in the clubhouse but what a reliable 200 innings every season actually meant. Since my ballot isn’t full, I have room for him. I believe he deserves the tip of the cap that a Hall of Fame vote is, and he deserves to stay on the ballot for a few more years as the way we look at starting pitchers evolves.

Todd Helton

Voters diminish what he accomplished because of the hitting environment in Colorado, where he played his entire 17-year career. No one ever took votes away from players who played at hitter-friendly Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, though. Helton is one of only 19 players in history to hit over .300 with an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500 in his career. All the others are in the Hall of Fame except for Manny Ramirez, who is on the current ballot, and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who is ineligible. Helton’s career on-base-plus-slugging-percentage on the road was .855, about the same as Ken Griffey Jr.’s .860.

Andrew Jones

Maybe the best defensive center-fielder in the history of the game, and he also hit 434 home runs. Yes, the end of his career was awful, but had he not played those last five years, he’d have been elected to the Hall already. I’m not going to penalize someone for continuing to play as long as somebody was offering him a job.

Jeff Kent

His 354 home runs as a second baseman are the most in major-league history and he was a career .290/.356/.500 hitter. He gets knocked by voters because he was a crappy defender, but he wasn’t bad enough to stop his teams from giving him 1,986 starts at the position. There are plenty of poor defensive players who are in the Hall of Fame on the strength of their bats.

Scott Rolen

In the conversation for the best defensive third baseman to play the game while also posting an OPS+ of 122, which means his OPS was 22 percent better than the average hitter while he played. Both third base and defense are vastly under-represented in the Hall of Fame and Rolen was named on 63.2 players of ballots last year, the top player to not reach the 75 percent threshold for election.

Gary Sheffield

The right-handed slugger belted 509 home runs and posted a career OPS of .907, 40 percent better than the average big-leaguer over his 22-year career. He was an all-star in 1992, an all-star in 2005 and seven more times in between. His involvement with the BALCO scandal in 2002 has kept him out so far. He has two more shots and probably won’t make it.

Billy Wagner

I can’t understand why this guy hasn’t been elected yet. The most dominant reliever not named Mariano Rivera, the left-hander posted a career ERA of 2.31, a WHIP of 0.998 and struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings. All those numbers are better than Trevor Hoffman’s, and he was elected on his third try because he was, at the time, the all-time saves leader with 601. In 16 years in the big leagues, Wagner held opponents to a measly .187 batting average.

Mike Wilner is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for the Star and host of the baseball podcast “Deep Left Field.” Follow him on Twitter: @wilnerness


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