The Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2017 will be announced tonight. The annual announcement is a rite of winter, and every year the unveiling of a new class accompanies the requisite outrage over who got in, who didn't get in, or who got in but - like every player ever elected - didn't get every vote possible.
Along with all of that will be suggestions on how to improve the election process, criticisms of the electorate, and probably more than a few overly-defensive writers who take themselves a little too seriously.
Oh, and we'll also celebrate the careers and the contributions of those who've gotten in before we move on to getting pissed about those who didn't.
Part of this is good, because the Baseball Hall of Fame would matter less if we didn't have sharp opinions about it, how the voting process works, and ultimately, who was inducted into it. And while I can engage in heated debates about who should be in the football and basketball halls of fame, the reality is that in baseball more than any other sport, who gets immortalized with hall induction just matters a little more. Be honest, you have no real opinion on whether Joe Jacoby or Kurt Warner should finally get elected in a few weeks (both should, by the way) or whether the recently-retired Steve Smith (yes, but it should take a while) is Canton-worthy. And you won't give me a hot take on whether Sidney Moncrief (no), Bobby Jones (yes), or Chris Webber (no, but it's a better debate than you think) should ever get their moments in Springfield, but even the most casual baseball fans have thoughts that they're VERY willing to share on who should be in, who should be out, and what's wrong with the way players get chosen.
Here's the thing: I don't think the process is that bad. I think it silly - and easily fixable - that voters are restricted to marking no more than ten players on their ballots, and there's a part of me that thinks it'd be cool if chroniclers of the game like Marty Brennaman and Vin Scully or people who've devoted hundreds of thousands of hours to studying and writing about the sport like Bill James had a say in who goes to Cooperstown, but by and large, I think that even within some arbitrary parameters the people who are Hall of Fame voters get it right.
I mean, think about it. Is there a former player who's exclusion from the Hall of Fame is that egregious? Is there anyone whose qualifications are so clearly and undeniably airtight that their induction should be considered automatic? There's players not in the Hall that I think should be in, but I understand why they're not. I'd vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but for the most part I understand why others don't (I do find it hypocritical that there are writers who had to know what was happening in the sport 20 years ago but who won't even consider voting for a suspected cheater, but I also believe that the number of those type of voters is relatively small). I'd put Tim Raines in the Hall of Fame, but I understand why a lot of voters have looked at his numbers and see a difference between greatness and an all-time great, and I've also come to grips with the fact that as time passes, minds change, players and their accomplishments get re-contextualized, and the makeup of the electorate evolves as well.
And since I'm sure you'll ask, I'd put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame but I understand why he's not in. We can have a Hall of Fame without Pete Rose, but we can't have a blog about the Hall of Fame without him.
I can be indignant as anyone when players I like don't get voted into the Hall - no one wanted Barry Larkin to get his ticket punched more than I did - I'm glad that we have former players who have to sit on the ballot to wait their turn. I'm glad we don't just wave them all to upstate New York for their inductions. I'm glad we get to spend extra time debating the Hall of Fame merits of Edgar Martinez (yes) or a Mike Mussina (no). Few things in sports are a fun to argue about with your buddies than a guy's Hall of Fame case, but it wouldn't be as fun (if, like me, you still believe that talking about sports should be, you know, fun) if it was a black and white every year as "in" or "out."
We're asking human beings to determine who gets into the Hall of Fame, which means that the entire process is an inexact science left to the natural biases, preferences, and individual criteria of every voter. It'd be insanely less fun - downright dumb, in fact - if there were statistical milestones or an accumulation of career accomplishments that guaranteed election. Instead, we have actual people applying their own personal criteria to their ballots, meaning that what's important to one is irrelevant to another. Meaning that some voters will take their vote too seriously, others not at all, and a few will look at their ballot as more than just something that helps determine who gets a plaque in a museum.
I'm cool with human beings choosing who goes into the Hall of Fame, and so I accept the imperfections and flaws that come with allowing humans beings getting to choose who goes into the Hall of Fame. Humans will never be perfect, so neither will this process.
But they will have an opinion, and they will go out of their way to share it, and since I'm a human being with an opinion, and forum with which to share it, here's who I'd vote for the Hall of Fame's class of 2017, using their (dumb) ten-player limit with nothing more than a couple of sentences for each guy, because God knows there's enough blogs about Hall of Fame voting that will bore you with a bunch of numbers.
Jeff Bagwell. Second-best first baseman of the last 70 years. The PED connection, never much of a big deal for me, is limited to his use of Andro, which at the time was not only not outlawed by Major League, but was readily available at the same type of stores that sell awful-tasting protein shakes. Also, laughed at every joke I told after I sneaked down to the blue seats behind the on-deck circle with my friend Rich during a game at Riverfront in 1999.
Tim Raines. If Rickey Henderson had never been born, both baseball and the world as a whole would be less interesting places. Also, Tim Raines would be considered the greatest leadoff hitter ever. His best seasons are forgotten by some because he played in Montreal, and because he played for so damn long after he'd peaked. Still, as an aging player, he had some nice seasons for some championship teams in New York, and he was THE reason why you chose "Nat'l All-Stars" when you played RBI Baseball on Nintendo.
Barry Bonds. Best player I ever saw. And I'm probably saying that if he never juiced. For five years, a Bonds at-bat - no matter the game situation - made you stop what you were doing to watch. Helped save baseball in one city and revitalize it in another. Kinda made wearing an earring look cool. Most people who've looked into the specifics of Bonds' PED use pinpoint 1998 as the year he started juicing. If you want to discard everything he did from that point on, feel free. But for those first 12 seasons, Barry Bonds piled up numbers that compare favorably to players already in the Hall. He was the best player of the 90s (which pains me to say because I revered Ken Griffey Jr.), in most seasons he was the most feared hitter in the game, and he was already a three-time MVP, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, had won seven Silver Slugger Awards, had led the league in OPS multiple times, and was baseball's second-ever 40/40 guy. I'd put the Barry Bonds in who set new records once he started on the 'roids, but even if I did pretend to care that he did ultimately juice, I couldn't discount the numbers he put up before the juicing began.
Curt Schilling. I thought Curt Schilling was a gasbag as a player. I hear he's one now, although I stopped paying attention to him so long ago, that I don't know for sure. What I do know is that he's the best postseason pitcher of my lifetime that's not named "Madison Bumgarner," excelling in October for three different franchises. He also walked 75 fewer batters during his 20-year career than the 2016 Cincinnati Reds did in more than 1,800 fewer innings.
Roger Clemens. If Roger Clemens would have retired after the 1992 season, he would've hung it up possessing the eighth-highest winning percentage, a career 2.80 ERA and a higher SO/9 average than Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, among others. More than a third of his 152 career victories would have been shutouts he would've finished with complete games in nearly one-third of his starts, and at the time, he would've held by himself the single-game strikeout record. That's a Hall of Famer in my book.
Edgar Martinez. The median age of people in the United States in 37.9. This means that more than half the people in this country were born more than five years or later after the designated hitter made its debut in 1973. It's been here for a long time, it's not going away, and if we're going to all blow Mariano Rivera in two years when he's inducted for being the best pitching specialist of all-time, then let's put the greatest DH of all time, who also played 18 seasons in the same city he helped save baseball, in.
Ivan Rodriguez. I didn't watch Johnny Bench play. I did watch him on The Baseball Bunch, and if they have a Hall of Fame for sports-themed TV shows aimed at kids, he's as much as lock for that one as he was for Cooperstown. Bench is the only catcher to go in on the first ballot. Rodriguez should be the other. Pudge is the most complete catcher I ever watched. He played for a billion years at the games's most demanding position, was a huge presence for the criminally underappreciated '03 Marlins, and while there are rumors of him juicing, there were no positive tests, and honestly, I don't care whether he, or most players, did PEDs anyway.
Larry Walker. His numbers were inflated by playing in Denver, but he did have some very good seasons in Montreal before joining the Rockies, he was a key acquisition and huge postseason performer for the '04 NL Champion Cardinals, he was better than average as a baserunner, and has was very good defensively. Plus, he seemed to take neither himself, life, or baseball too seriously. On my fake ballot, that might matter more than anything.
Fred McGriff. I'll make admission here: Aside from checking how Roger Clemens would've ranked historically had he retired in 1992 and seeing how close the 2016 Reds were to walking as many hitters as Curt Schilling did in his entire career, I did very little research for this, instead making these meaningless selections based on gut, preference, what I know, and what I remember. But I did stop to read some good pro-McGriff and anti-McGriff pieces. The pro is that he was supposedly a clean slugger who had 493 homers, a mere seven away from what used to be the magical milestone of 500. The con is that when McGriff was at his peak as a home run hitter, he wasn't exactly out-dingering the game's immortals, and that even as he continued to go yard deeper into his career, with no suspicions on PED use, the home run by then was cheapened by those who careers were - and are - dogged by them.
In every sport, my favorite players are those who played for a very, very long time but who had periods of excellence within their lengthy careers. McGriff is an example. He played parts of 18 seasons, appeared in five different postseasons, and had good numbers in October. He never hit went deep more than 37 times in a season, but he did have ten years of 30 or more homers. From 1988 through 1996, he hit .288, his OPS was .916, and he averaged 33 homers a season (he was at 34 homers when the '94 strike cancelled the remainder of the season, and cost McGriff a shot at 50 bombs in a year). The writers have held first basemen to high standards - electing only three since 1950 - but McGriff does have comparable numbers to Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda.
He also had the nickname "Crime Dog," a play off of McGruff The Crime Dog, who was - and I guess, might still be - a creepy cartoon dog who wore a trench coat and told kids not to talk to strangers. Either way, Fred's nickname was among the game's coolest. Baseball doesn't have cool nicknames anymore.
But if the Hall Fame exists, as many claim it does, to tell the history of a sport, than that sport's history can't be told without including the name Tom Emanski, a man developed training techniques that produced Baseball World's back-to-back-to-back AAU champions, and who filled nearly every cable television commercial break with ads for his baseball instruction videos.
Those commercials starred, among others, Fred McGriff..
I think we'd all agree that those spots belong in Cooperstown. So too then, does the man who made a cameo in them.