We'll start with a list of 21 names. (2013 presents the biggest of Moral Dilemmas. The cream of that crop is Bonds, Clemens, AND Sosa? Sammy Sosa may teflon his way into the Hall. More on this later.*) And there will be a real class of awesome. There could be a record number of inductees from the writers in 2014.
But first? Cut the pretenders.
21. Kenny Rogers
20. Jaime Moyer
These two are multiple decades worth of solid pitching, but if this proves to be their last season, their ERA's will be a full four-tenths of a run above and beyond the highest Hall of Famer. They are out.
19. Nomar Garciaparra
If he never got hurt? It would absolutely be a different story. But he's Jim Fregosi in the modern era. And he's gonna return in 2009. Yeah.
18. Omar Vizquel
In a different world, a different time? He would be a Hall of Famer. But in this modern world? Nope, even though some metrics do say that he is worthy of consideration.
17. Carlos Delgado
In 16 seasons, his average line was .277/37/119/.383/.543. His OPS+ is 137. But here's the thing? He will be perceived as a poor man's Jim Thome. And with Thome as a marginal candidate? That makes Delgado out.
16. Mike Mussina
On his 18th season, Mike Mussina is our last best hope for a long time to get 300 wins, with or without the Big Unit making it. With a reasonably successful 2008 and 40 wins to go to get to 300? The Moose will likely be back again. If not? He's a pretender.
15. Jason Giambi
Yeah, he cheated, but he at the very least threw himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion. And it's not as if he is been completely useless since he's gone off the juice. But the man needs to hang on as long as possible and put some distance between him and the other cheat cheatersons before he will have a real case for Cooperstown.
Of course for some of you, obvious pretenders are obvious. It's fine. But now it gets interesting. Here are people with clear Hall of Fame resumes. Great players with few skeletons in their closet, and if 2008 will be their last season, they have no chance at the Hall in the first ballot.
14. Jeff Kent
As second basemen go, Kent is an all-time offensive stud. He'll likely retire with the 2nd best slugging percentage, the most home runs and the third most RBI ever for a second baseman. He's definitely going to get in eventually, but because he's a dick and underrated? He's got a long way to go to be first balloted.
13. Jim Thome
500 Home Runs, even from a universally beloved role model who spits hot fire like Jimmy Thome? Means nothing in the steroid age. It doesn't matter that his career Isolated Power number is higher than his career batting average. It doesn't matter that his OPS+ is 149. It doesn't even matter that his average line is .280/41/112/.407/.562. He's in no way a first ballot guy.
12. Curt Schilling
The Mighty Mr. Montague is Alaska's greatest athlete, and he will be the man who breaks up the Murkowski family of politics in the land of Seward's Folly. He also has a well-deserved reputation as a clutch playoff pitcher (10-2 2.23 ERA in 133 1/3 IP). But here's the thing, among the crop of pitching in this day and age? Schilling is still in the middle of the pack of great. Not entirely his fault, but he is gonna have to wait his turn.
Or am I showing my bias? Read on to find out...
11. Trevor Hoffman
Sure, Hoffman is the record-holder for most saves. And never mind my opinion on closers and their superstar legitimacy, the only closer who seems like he would have a first ballot claim on lockdown is Mariano Rivera. Hoffman was good, but so was Lee Smith.
10. Gary Sheffield
Remember, this is in reference to a mostly white mainstream media. Likability does come into play. Also, he does have the niggling cloud of steroid abuse over his head. That being said? His career to this point ranks at about a B/B+ version of a Frank Robinson clone. But with so many easier choices and being 17 dingers away from 500? Plenty of reasons why 2014 won't be his year.
Now we get to the great debate. There are seven names that are odds on to be in a clusterfuck of a discussion in terms of who gets in if they all pack it up this season. One has a milestone in his sights. He may not. But suffice it to say, this is the stuff fat old white people like.
9. Ivan Rodriguez
He is the most dominant defender that Baseball has seen from behind the plate. Even now, runners think twice while stealing when he's behind the plate. He's not a Ray Schalk or Ozzie Smith in terms of offensive weakness either. But if he goes this year, he goes in the face of tangibly the greatest offensive catcher of all-time. Could the really Hall be Saucy enough to go 2 catchers, 1 year?
8. Pedro Martinez
From 1997 to 2003, this was an average Pedro Martinez season, 18-6 2.20 ERA with 271 strikeouts. Was he dominant? Absolutely. By any metric, he's getting in, but on the first ballot? Probably. Am I underrating him as a subtle tweak to Sawx Nation?
7. Randy Johnson
Why am I underrating him? He's at 288 wins. He is so achingly close to the milestone that you can figure he's going to hang on for one more year. He's on pace for 5 more wins this year. He may be playing end man on the rotation, but a 7-14 season next year gets him to 300. He's in if he doesn't, though.
6. Tom Glavine
300 wins is nice. Multiple Cy Young Awards is nicer. But here's the deal as to why he's still probably on the outside looking in.
- Average Record and ERA+ of SP HOF potentials
Jaime Moyer 13-10; 105
Kenny Rogers 12-8; 109
Mike Mussina 17-9; 122
Curt Schilling 14-9; 127
Pedro Martinez 17-7; 159
Randy Johnson 17-9; 137
Tom Glavine 15-10; 118
John Smoltz 12-8; 127
Greg Maddux 16-10; 134
Leaves him as somebody worthy, but may be Don Sutton in terms of a man with Hall of Fame credentials.
5. John Smoltz
Forced versatility is something that is always intriguing. Dennis Eckersley became a reliever because nobody would let him start anymore. Smoltzie? His arm would fall off if he faced more than three batters at a time. Both moves saved careers. However, Smoltz was able to become a good starter again. Trade him with Pedro if you want my real list, Sox Fan.
4. Frank Thomas
While seasons of 20, 34, and 74 games under his belt may have tampered his full career totals, Hurts credentials are undeniable. A career .978 OPS, 500 homers, the black ink that Delgado and Thome lack, consecutive MVP awards, and he was one of those who railed against the use of steroids. He's first ballot close.
3. Mike Piazza
It's a really stupid reason why he's not a lock. Mike Piazza is only the greatest offensive catcher ever. But it's an issue of perception. A career line of .308/36/113 doesn't matter as much as the fact that Ivan Rodriguez was also an awesome catcher. And it wouldn't make any sense for a writer to vote for TWO catchers, right?
Right. (But if any lock returns? Piazza gets his spot in lock city.)
So, we've left pretender town, rolled up past marginal city, and fought our way through the BattleDome that is people with a real first ballot case. So what's left?
2. Ken Griffey Jr.
He'll never get to 700 Home Runs. He's likely locked out of 3000 hits. But even despite the dystopian nightmare that the Reds turned his career into? He's done more than enough for the game of baseball by the fact that he's awesome. 600 still has boldness and genius power as a Home Run Total as well.
1. Greg Maddux
Now he may never have been the most dominant pitcher of his generation. He may be lower in the stat game than Roger Clemens. But 350 wins and 4 consecutive Cy Youngs don't tell you anything that you don't already know. Greg Maddux is incomprably awesome. He is first ballot whenever he wants it.
Obviously, some of the names on this list won't retire. Some have milestones to set. Some will get that one last big deal. Some have no idea when to retire. But you know what? It's gonna be awesome.
*I mean what I said Biggio fans, he's the garnish to the 2013 HOF class.