The voting process for the Hall of Fame has become impossibly difficult; for me, there are too many worthy players for not enough spots, and too much ambiguity and confusion regarding those with connections to performance-enhancing drugs. The process will remain difficult with the 2016 ballot, which isn't as loaded as the 2014 or 2015 ballot, but it is stout.
Next year's ballot begins with Ken Griffey Jr., who will become the first overall No. 1 selection in the June amateur draft to make it to the Hall of Fame, which, if you think about it, is an amazing tribute to the degree of difficulty of the game of baseball. Griffey made 13 All-Star teams and won 10 Gold Gloves; he was the second player ever (after Willie Mays) to win a Gold Glove in a 50-homer season. He won an MVP, and finished in the top five of the voting four other times. He is one of the best players of his generation. And his swing, technically and aesthetically, certainly is one of the best of all time.
Ranking the greatest center fielders of all time is hard, but according to most statistical measures, Griffey would rank sixth behind Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker and Joe DiMaggio. Defensively, Griffey was breathtaking to watch, yet certain advanced metrics don't even place Griffey in the top 25 of defensive center fielders of the modern era, which is why we cannot pay full attention to a statistic that places Griffey so low on that list.
He was a natural in every way. He claims he never struck out in high school. Soon after he signed with the Mariners as an 18-year-old, he and the other 1987 Mariners draftees were brought to the Kingdome in Seattle to give them a look at what hopefully would be their baseball destination. That day, Griffey Jr. took batting practice, and while slashing line drives all over the field, he was laughing and joking with members of the media, literally in mid-swing. Most 18-year-olds would be intimidated by taking BP in such a place under those circumstances, but not Griffey because he grew up in a ballpark, and he always knew he'd be a big leaguer. After his first round of BP that day, he took a rest, then came back, and proceeded to hit home run after home run, many of them to the upper deck in right field.
Griffey played one year in the minor leagues, then the following spring training, the Mariners decided they didn't want him to make the club -- they thought he was too young -- so they lined him up against every tough left-hander in the Cactus League. He hit all of them, so they had no choice -- he made the club as a 19-year-old. He had a productive rookie year, and he homered in back-to-back at-bats with his father, Ken Sr., the only time that has happened in major league history.
Trevor Hoffman is also up for the Hall of Fame in 2016. He saved 601 games, second to Mariano Rivera's 652: no one else in history has as many as 480 saves. Hoffman saved at least 30 games in nine seasons, he had eight seasons with at least 40 saves and one season with more than 50. He finished second in Cy Young voting twice, and in five seasons received an MVP vote. His save percentage is one of the best of all time, his efficiency in that role was astounding. What will work against Hoffman is his innings pitched: 1,089 1/3. Bruce Sutter (1,042 innings pitched) is the only other Hall of Fame pitcher voted in by the writers with fewer innings.
Billy Wagner will also be up for the Hall. He saved 422 games, had a 2.31 ERA in 903 career innings. The only two pitchers with an ERA that low in that many innings in the Live Ball Era (1920-present) are Wagner and Rivera (2.21). Wagner had 1,196 strikeouts, an astounding 11.92 per nine innings for his career: that is the highest rate of any pitcher with at least 900 innings from 1900-present. He also allowed only 601 hits; his 5.99 hits per nine innings is the lowest by any pitcher with at least 900 innings in the Live Ball Era. Wagner made seven All-Star teams, and had two top six finishes in the Cy Young race. But again, the innings will be a problem for him as no pitcher has ever been elected to the Hall having thrown fewer than 1,000 innings.
Griffey is a lock to make it, but Hoffman and Wagner might not make it in their first year on the ballot because they were closers. In the closer era, the sabermetric community maintains that a reliever's work is so little, it's hard for him to both contribute significantly to his team, and distinguish himself from his counterparts on other teams. One sabermetrician said Andy Pettitte, Tim Hudson and Rick Reuschel are more worthy Hall of Famers than Hoffman or Wagner. Still, Hoffman and Wagner will be strongly considered for the Hall, which would add three more solid candidates to a ballot that's back-loaded with solid candidates.
This year, I voted for 10 players: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz. I have voted for 25 years, and I acknowledge, without apology, that I am different from most voters. I set the bar lower than most. In my opinion, there are different levels to the Hall of Fame -- you don't have to be Willie Mays to make it. And, with the current PED guys, Bonds and Clemens, I am simply not comfortable being the moral arbiter. But even with the election of Biggio, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz this year, the addition of Griffey, Hoffman and Wagner in 2016 leaves, by my count, 17 players that deserve serious consideration for the Hall.
I believe it's time to go from a 10-player limit on the ballot to an unlimited ballot, but the Baseball Writers Association of America has asked the Hall of Fame to consider that change, and the Hall rejected it, saying it would consider going from 10 to 12, but, for now, no further. So, there are clear Hall of Famers who I can't vote for because there's no space.
It killed me that I did not vote for Mike Mussina this year because he is a Hall of Famer, but I didn't have enough room for him. Next year, I will. It kills me that I have stopped voting for Edgar Martinez because I have run out of room on my ballot -- he is a Hall of Famer. I believe Mark McGwire, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Lee Smith are Hall of Famers, and cases can be made for Larry Walker and Fred McGriff, but, alas, there is no room.
I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. I have voted for him many times, but the ballots have been so strong the last couple of years, he has fallen out of my top 10. Next year will be his 15th and final year on the ballot. I likely will vote for him in 2016, but who will I take off?
That is one of the problems with the 2016 ballot. Every year now, that is the problem with the ballot.