Before we get into my remarkable defense of these selections, I should remind everyone that I am not a credentialed member of the Major League Baseball press. I’m just some guy on the internet with free time and access to a blog. Before this, the closest I ever came to voting for real is when Dan Le Batard turned his vote over to Deadspin.
Like many kids, baseball has been my first love. It is the first sport I can remember playing with my father. Memories like hitting my first wiffle ball home run over the backyard fence, watching the Mets play the Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium and the game ending on a leaping catch on a line drive by Desi Relaford, and the way it felt watching Ken Griffey Jr. win back-to-back Home Run Derby championships in 1998 and 1999, are etched into my mind as clear today as they were back then.
I have now lived long enough to see my favorite player of my youth, Larry Walker, be retired for so long that he has reached his final year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame.
I grew up idolizing these players. Pretending to be Roger Clemens throwing against the Pitchback net with my baseball that had the finger markings so I knew where to grip each pitch. I feel a genuine emotional connection to these players and feel as though the older I get; the less likely I will feel this way about each new class of potential inductees.
My imaginary votes were cast for players I believed to be among the very best of their generation. Players you cannot tell the story of Major League Baseball without. I believe in voting for players deserving of the Hall of Fame recognition, and not being forced to vote for ten candidates if ten are not deserving. This year’s ballot could have seen me vote for five more than the allotted ten. The five just missing the cut are: Jason Giambi, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner.
And now for the ones who made the cut.
Barry Bonds: (Pittsburgh Pirates 1986-1992, San Francisco Giants 1993-2007)
To put it simply, Barry Lamar Bonds is the best baseball player to walk God’s Green Earth since the days of his Godfather Willie Mays and Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. He is the undisputed home run king. The single season home run king. Buck Showalter once walked him with the bases loaded to avoid pitching to him.
Bonds represented the National League 14 times as an All-Star. Seven times he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, a record. An eight time Gold Glove winner. A twelve time Silver Slugger winner. Two time batting champion. He once had a .609 on base percentage for an ENTIRE SEASON.
The only reason Bonds is not currently in the Hall of Fame and is not the first ballot Hall of Famer he deserved to be has less to do with a faux outrage over sanctity of the game, and more to do with his surly attitude toward the press. The baseball press and “Respect the biz” journalists, are still, to this day, upset with the way Bonds treated them throughout his tenure in Major League Baseball.
Roger Clemens: (Boston Red Sox 1984-1996, Toronto Blue Jays 1997-1998, New York Yankees 1999-2003, 2007, Houston Astros 2004-2006)
The Rocket is another player swept up in faux steroid or performance enhancing drug outrage. Clemens is the only player in Major League Baseball history to win 7 Cy Young Awards. He is the only player in live ball history to record 350 wins AND 4,500 strikeouts. He struck out a record 20 batters in a single game twice and did it ten years apart.
Roger Clemens was an 11-time All-Star representing the American and National Leagues. He appeared in All-Star games in three decades. He had the lowest ERA seven times, across three decades with five of those times in the 1990’s alone. Including three straight from 1990-1992. He won the American League MVP in 1986. A five time American League strikeout leader, and a four time Major League Baseball wins leader. He went a season where he started off with a win-loss record of 20-1.
Clemens should have been a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer, but has been kept out of his rightful place in the hall for similar reasons to Bonds. Clemens always maintained a prickly relationship with the press and now they are exerting their undue power over him and his rightful place in history.
Todd Helton: (Colorado Rockies 1997-2013)
During my childhood, I LOVED the Colorado Rockies. Coors Field is one of the most aesthetically pleasing fields to watch a game on television. You have the Rocky Mountains in the background. The outfield looks much bigger and cleaner here than anywhere I can remember watching a game, even in the era of standard definition. It also didn’t hurt that in the golden era of Coors Field baseball the games had inflated scoring from the high altitude.
Beyond the nostalgia bonus Helton receives, part of the reason he appears on my ballot is that he is, in my opinion, the greatest Colorado Rockie of all-time. He means more to the Rockies franchise than Matt Holiday or fellow ballot member Larry Walker. Better than Mike Hampton and Charles Johnson. More valuable than Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette.
Todd Helton helped to establish Colorado as a baseball community. He stayed loyal to the club throughout struggling seasons and heartbreaking playoff losses. He was the heart and soul of a team and served as a professional middle of the lineup bat who hit for power and average throughout his career. Beyond his traditional resume, when baseball needed to carve out its own niche against the Avalanche, the Broncos, and Nuggets, Todd Helton became the star the team needed to become relevant. For his tremendous career and influence on Major League Baseball, Todd Helton deserves to be a Hall of Famer.
Derek Jeter: (New York Yankees 1995-2014)
I’m not going to waste time in this blog that I have already been working on for over a week describing why Derek Jeter, the best winner of the last 20 years is a Hall of Famer. He is on pace to become the second ever unanimous baseball hall of famer, and richly deserves it. Jeter’s stay in Cooperstown should be a nice reprieve from the crushing realization that he is the CEO of the Miami Marlins who have been an unmitigated dumpster fire since he took control of the organization.
Andruw Jones: (Atlanta Braves 1996-2007, Los Angeles Dodgers 2008, Texas Rangers 2009, Chicago White Sox 2010, New York Yankees 2011-2012)
After watching roughly three decades of National League East baseball I can attest that Andrew Jones is the best defensive centerfielder I have ever seen. If at any point a ball went in-between the second baseman and the shortstop in the air, Andruw Jones made the catch.
Before his legs gave out and he became a power hitter, Andruw Jones won ten consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998-2007. The lasting memory of Jones may be his overweight years on the White Sox and Yankees, but for those of us who had the opportunity to witness him at his peak, he is without a doubt a Hall of Famer and deserves his invite to Cooperstown.
Manny Ramirez: (Cleveland Indians 1993-2000, Boston Red Sox 2001-2008, Los Angeles Dodgers 2008-2010, Chicago White Sox 2010, Tampa Bay Rays 2011)
For my money, there was not a more dominant or feared right-handed bat in baseball than Manny Ramirez. During his time in Cleveland alongside Albert Belle and Jim Thome, Manny played on a team that simply mashed opposing pitchers to death and had it not been for Jose Mesa and the late 90’s Yankees, the Indians may have broken their long-tenured World Series curse.
Manny achieved a new level of fame across his years in Boston and Los Angeles. Together with David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek, and Johnny Damon he served as one on the most recognizable faces in the “band of idiots” that broke the Curse of the Bambino.
When the Red Sox finally had seen enough of Manny being Manny, they sent him to Los Angeles where he damn near won the National League MVP in a fraction of a season. Ramirez’s high-profile stays in Cleveland, Boston, and LA made him an ambassador of fun to a game that is often seen as severely lacking it to the outside world. Manny brought in the casual fan with his childlike fun, and relaxed attitude. From disappearing into the Green Monster to relieve himself in between pitches to diving to cut off a Damon throw-in, Manny played with the wonder that all adults should have.
Curt Schilling: (Baltimore Orioles 1988-1990, Houston Astros 1991, Philadelphia Phillies 1992-2000, Arizona Diamondbacks 2000-2003, Boston Red Sox 2004-2007)
Curt Schilling holds a lot of views that I find reprehensible, and he expresses them loudly and frequently. That does not take away from what he meant to the sport of baseball and his remarkable greatness while on the pitcher’s mound.
Schilling led a young Phillies team to the World Series against Toronto, toiled on many lost seasons in Philadelphia, and then alongside Randy Johnson, powered the Diamondbacks to their only World Series victory. After leaving those Desert Heat teams, Schilling went on to help the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino and win a World Series while having his actual Achilles tendon stapled to his leg like a bad prank Dwight intended for Jim in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Schilling had a year where he won 23 games and walked 33 batters. He won 45 games across two years in Arizona and won another 21 games in his first full year in Boston. That’s 66 of his career 216 wins across three full seasons. The man just needed to get away from teams led by Rico Brogna and Mickey Morandini to be successful. You cannot tell the story of Major League Baseball without Curt Schilling and his remarkable accomplishments.
Gary Sheffield: (Milwaukee Brewers 1988-1991, San Diego Padres 1992-1993, Florida Marlins 1993-1998, Los Angeles Dodgers 1998-2001, Atlanta Braves 2002-2003, New York Yankees 2004-2006, Detroit Tigers 2007-2008, New York Mets 2009)
Gary Sheffield rubbed a lot of teams the wrong way and ended up playing for a lot of teams because of it, but before time ran out they were happy he wore their colors.
Sheff hit over 500 career home runs, won a batting title, and finished sixth all-time in hit by pitches. He has a batting stance that will be emulated by beer league softball players for generations. He won the 1997 World Series with Marlins and then got traded in their traditional post-championship fire sale. He hit 30 home runs for five different teams, he hit at least 25 with six different teams. He represented five teams in the all-star game. He damn near hit .300 for his entire career.
Gary Sheffield served as one of the games preeminent professional hitters for over two decades. He has earned the call to the Hall of Fame.
Sammy Sosa: (Texas Rangers 1989, Chicago White Sox 1990-1991, Chicago Cubs 1992-2004, Baltimore Orioles 2005, Texas Rangers 2007)
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire saved Major League Baseball by hitting moonshots and breaking records. Every single baseball fan owes them a debt of gratitude that can never successfully be paid in full.
The 1998 home run chase serves as a pivotal moment in the history of baseball. Sosa hit 20 home runs in June. He hit the most home runs ever in a 10 years span with nearly 500. He’s the first player to ever hit 60 home runs in three straight seasons. Trading him from the Texas Rangers is the worst decision George W. Bush ever made.
Sure Sosa sprayed cork all over the infield at Wrigley Field and he somehow forgot how to speak English before Congress, but has there ever been a better example of what a Hall of Famer in the 1990’s should be? Would these players be making half the money they are now without Sosa and McGuire? Would we have half the nonstop press about baseball without them? Sosa is one of the greatest players of all-time and deserves to be immortalized for it.
Larry Walker: (Montreal Expos 1989-1994, Colorado Rockies 1995-2004, St. Louis Cardinals 2004-2005)
Larry Walker is the greatest Canadian baseball player of all-time. He won the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player and led the league in home runs that year. Then, for an encore, Walker won three batting titles in four years from 1998-2001, breaking a streak of four in a row by Tony Gwynn.
Walker also won seven Gold Gloves for his stellar work in right field. This play not withstanding.
This is Walker’s last year of eligibility and he has been unfairly punished for playing a bulk of his career at Coors Field before the humidor era. If hitting in the higher end of the .300’s just happened to be so easy at Coors Field than the Rockies would be putting up 2018 Houston Astros numbers at home every night. They would be winning National League West every single year if every player could match Walker’s averages. Walker is a professional hitter and one of the most complete players of his era and I proudly cast my imaginary ballot on his behalf.