Being a baseball fan, December is a nostalgic time of year for me.
Now that I’ve been a baseball enthusiast for close to two decades, when the ballot is announced for the Baseball Hall of Fame each year, it now takes me down memory lane remembering some of the players I grew up watching.
This year’s ballot was announced Monday, and there’s no shortage of superstars I remember watching as I grew up.
Eligible this year are some of the greats of the 1990s and early 2000s — Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez. Pudge Rodriguez was arguably the best defensive catcher in the last three decades, and Vladimir Guerrero had a rare combination of power and speed that only Mike Trout can match. Manny is most known for “Manny being Manny,” and while he posed such a threat at the plate, suspensions for illegal substances overshadow his career.
Let’s not forget the carryovers from previous ballots, too. Names like Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines and Sammy Sosa highlight a star-studded ballot. Bagwell, Hoffman and Clemens just missed enshrinement last year, and Clemens and Sosa’s impacts are shrouded by their off-the-field controversies.
Then, there are those who I have fond personal memories of watching. One name in particular is Freddy Sanchez, a middle infielder who won a World Series with the San Francisco Giants but spent much of his prime in Pittsburgh. Freddy most likely won’t even get a vote this year, but I fondly remember sitting in the upper deck of PNC Park Oct. 1, 2006, watching Freddy Sanchez go 2-4 to win the 2006 National League batting title. Somewhere at my house, I still have the “Go Freddy Go” we received upon walking into the stadium.
So who do I think gets elected this year? I think there will be three new additions to the Hall of Fame — Bagwell, Hoffman and Rodriguez.
Bagwell, in the era of the 1990s where steroids ran rampant, was as cool as the other side of the pillow. In his career, he averaged 30 home runs and 102 RBI each year, never hitting under .265 in a full season. He topped 100 RBI eight times, but what’s more impressive is he twice posted 30/30 seasons (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases). He’s one of the few power hitters from the 1990s who hasn’t been linked to steroids, and with a fellow star of the 1990s inducted with the last class (Ken Griffey Jr.), Bagwell’s time to shine is now.
The case for relievers in the HOF has always been a hot topic, but in recent years, voters have seemed more amicable to enshrining them, and so Hoffman stands next in line to receive a bid. Hoffman posted 601 saves in his career, second all-time. He led the league in saves twice, and posted at least 40 saves in a season nine times. Hoffman converted his save opportunities at an 89 percent rate — never blowing more than seven saves in a year. There’s not a reliever I can think of in today’s league that even comes close to being as automatic as Hoffman was.
Finally, there’s the case of Rodriguez. The longtime Texas Ranger is probably the best combination of offensive and defensive skills in the last 60 years, and it’s evidenced by his 13 Gold Glove awards and seven Silver Slugger awards — including six straight years where he won both (1994-1999). He has caught more games than any other player in MLB history, and he doesn’t look to be surpassed soon, as the next-closest active player is 500 games away. With players such as Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter already enshrined, voters would be silly not to allow Pudge to join them.
There are a few players who I believe will again come close to achieving baseball immortality, but won’t. Those players include Tim Raines, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez. The lack of love for the Crime Dog, a player who hit close to 500 home runs in his career, is puzzling. Perhaps it was his appearances in the Tom Emanski TV commercials that voters seem to remember. What hurts Martinez is his serving as a DH for much of the second half of his career, and Raines’ body broke down in the second half of his career, overshadowing what a baserunning threat he was in the first half of his career.
The last remaining question — who will be the “average” player on the ballot who receives a sympathy or protest vote from one of the writers this year? Previous winners have been Aaron Sele, Jacque Jones and Garret Anderson. This year, my money is on J.D. Drew. I bet there is someone in Philadelphia who’s still spiteful of the 1997 draft who just wants to make a mockery on the system, or perhaps an overzealous Boston sportswriter who respects Drew that much to write him on his ballot.
Here’s hoping you enjoy the trip down baseball’s never-ending memory lane.