Even the most casual fan knows the road map to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The simplest route is to become an elite starting pitcher or run producer or to hit for average on a consistent basis. Being a standout closer is acceptable, albeit rare, as is being a defensive wizard, even without exceptional offensive skills.
There are also three general ways to be kept out of the Hall of Fame even if most of the proper statistical criteria are met: bet on baseball, be suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs or become a loathsome character who repels enough Baseball Writers Association of America members to not receive the necessary 75 percent of the vote.
This year's ballot, like every one in the foreseeable future, includes several legitimate candidates who bear the taint of PED suspicions. It also has the unsavory Curt Schilling.
Because of them, when the results are announced Wednesday, many of the unchosen players will receive as much, or more, attention than Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith, the four candidates who received my 2017 vote. That's a shame, but it won't take away from the accomplishments of those fortunate enough to make it.
Raines, Hoffman and Guerrero all have good shots this year, along with Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Smith, however, is likely to be disappointed again in his final year on the ballot.
I've been voting for Raines and Smith every year they have been eligible, and it'll be nice to see Raines finally get his due after starting out with only about a quarter of the total votes in his first year. It shows that people's opinions change over time, and sometimes all it takes is someone of note to champion your cause.Lee Smith BOB LANGER / Chicago Tribune
Cubs pitcher Lee Smith during spring training on Feb 26, 1986.
Cubs pitcher Lee Smith during spring training on Feb 26, 1986.(BOB LANGER / Chicago Tribune)
According to an online Hall of Fame tracker Ryan Thibodaux runs, voters' opinions on a couple of prominent steroids-era candidates also have changed, and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are gaining support and closing in on induction.
I call it the "Bud Bounce" for former Commissioner Bud Selig, a veterans committee selection who is inadvertently dragging Bonds and Clemens in with him. The logic of some voters is that PED users shouldn't be penalized if the man who presided over the steroids era is inducted.
Makes sense, but I still can't bring myself to reward cheaters just because a committee rewarded Selig.
I can only imagine what Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Frank Thomas will think when Bonds and Clemens get in. All three made eloquent induction speeches about playing the game the right way and might have to decide whether to speak out or forever hold their tongues.
Most voters now backing Bonds and Clemens have declined to do likewise for Sammy Sosa, who reportedly failed an anonymous drug test, or Manny Ramirez, who twice was suspended for PED use.
Ironically, it was a little more than 13 years ago that Selig attended Sosa's 35th birthday party in the Dominican Republic and gave him a plaque celebrating his 500th home run, declaring Sosa "one of the greatest players in the history of the major leagues." This was after the 2003 season, when Sosa was caught using a corked bat and Major League Baseball security reportedly gave the Cubs time to clean out his locker before confiscating his other bats.
Maybe Selig will give Sosa a shout-out in his induction speech.Sammy Sosa CHARLES CHERNEY / CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Sammy Sosa speaks to media after game to discuss the corked bat incident on June 3, 2003.
Sammy Sosa speaks to media after game to discuss the corked bat incident on June 3, 2003.(CHARLES CHERNEY / CHICAGO TRIBUNE)
I considered voting for Rodriguez, easily the best catcher of his era, but can't easily dismiss Jose Canseco's allegation that he personally injected "Pudge," along with Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and other Rangers teammates. Canseco's tell-all book caused a lot of outcry when it was released more than a decade ago, and people don't think highly of him for narking on his fellow players. But I don't remember Rodriguez or anyone else suing him for defamation.
One player I never considered was Schilling, the former pitcher and disgraced ESPN analyst who retweeted someone who called for journalists to be lynched. He later deleted it and said it was a joke, as if murder was a humorous topic.
I didn't vote for Schilling before he became the poster child for idiocy, feeling he was borderline at best. For the record, I have nothing against loathsome characters getting into the Hall of Fame and am absolutely certain a few will make it in the coming years.
Player (year on ballot), 2016 percentage
75 percent needed for selection
Jeff Bagwell (7th), 71.6
Tim Raines (10th), 69.8
Trevor Hoffman (2nd), 67.3
Curt Schilling (5th), 52.3
Roger Clemens (5th), 45.2
Barry Bonds (5th), 44.3
Edgar Martinez (8th), 43.4
Mike Mussina, (4th), 43
Lee Smith (15th), 34.1
Fred McGriff (8th), 20.9
Jeff Kent (4th), 16.6
Larry Walker (7th), 15.5
Gary Sheffield (3rd), 11.6
Billy Wagner (2nd), 10.5
Sammy Sosa (5th), 7
First year on ballot: Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez, Derrek Lee, Tim Wakefield, Edgar Renteria, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen, Casey Blake, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Pat Burrell, Freddy Sanchez, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Stairs.
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