Bagwell, Raines, Hoffman among top holdover candidates for election
By Barry M. Bloom
NEW YORK -- Prominent names, old and new, highlight the annual ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which was released Monday and mailed to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez and catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are the prominent newcomers. First baseman Jeff Bagwell, outfielder Tim Raines and closer Trevor Hoffman missed election in the 2016 vote by slim margins. And with the lack of a first-ballot lock, Bagwell, Raines and Hoffman all have good chances again this time around.
The announcement of the Class of 2017 is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network and MLB.com. The induction ceremony will be held on July 30 behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"I do think about it," Rodriguez said when asked about his first time on the ballot. "Now that the year gets closer, I think about it almost every day."
The ballot will grow tighter again during the next three years, with first-ballot certainties Chipper Jones (2018), Mariano Rivera ('19), and Derek Jeter ('20) set to enter the mix. Jim Thome, who hit 612 homers in 22 seasons, will also be on the ballot for the first time in '18.
Players can remain on the ballot for up to 10 years. Those who receive less than five percent of the vote in any given year are taken out of consideration. A player's name must appear on at least 75 percent of the ballots to be elected, and voters can list up to 10 names.
Bagwell, who played his entire 15-year big league career with the Astros, fell just 15 votes shy of the 330 required for induction in 2016. Bagwell batted .297 with 449 homers and a .948 OPS, the latter of which is ranked 22nd all-time. Raines, in his final year on the ballot, was 23 votes short a year ago. Raines, who is fifth on the all-time list with 808 stolen bases, played for six teams over the course of 23 seasons.
Hoffman, the all-time National League leader with 601 saves -- 552 of them for the Padres -- missed by 34 votes in his first year on the ballot. He's not taking anything for granted this time around.
"It's a totally different process now. They eliminated a lot of voters," said Hoffman, noting that the electorate was trimmed to 440 voters from 549 in 2015. "You just never know how that's going to play into it. I don't know if it's easier or harder to get in."
Of the ballot newcomers, Guerrero might have the best chance of immediate election. In his 16-year career, spent mostly with the Expos and Angels, Guerrero had a slash line of .318/.379/.553 with 449 homers, 1,496 RBIs and an OPS of .931. His WAR of 59.3 is ranked by baseball-reference.com as the 125th-best of all-time among offensive players.
Guerrero could become the first position player from the Dominican Republic to earn a plaque in the Hall. Pitchers Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez are the only Dominicans already in. Martinez and Guerrero were teammates in Montreal.
"Vlad's one of the greatest guys and best teammates I've ever been around," said Torii Hunter, who played with Guerrero for two seasons on the Angels. "I felt honored to play on the same team with a Hall of Famer."
Rodriguez's stellar career lasted 21 seasons for six teams, and he played in 2,427 games behind the plate -- the most in Major League history, and 201 more in three fewer seasons than Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. Rodriguez started in 2,346 of them, batting .296 with a .798 OPS and 311 home runs. His WAR of 68.4 places him 76th on the all-time list and third among catchers behind Johnny Bench (75) and Gary Carter (69.9), who are both in the Hall.
"I feel very excited about it," Rodriguez said. "It's hard to believe five years went by that quick. It feels like I just retired a couple of years ago. It will be nice. It will be fun. Hopefully I can be in the Hall of Fame. Nobody knows. I'm feeling positive."
Posada was a significant part of the Yankees' Core Four, along with Rivera, Jeter and Andy Pettitte, and he played on five World Series champions in his 17-year career -- all with New York. For those who might doubt Posada's Hall credentials, compare this stat: Yogi Berra, who played on 10 World Series championship teams and 14 overall with the Yanks and was elected to the Hall in 1972, had an .830 OPS. Posada's was .848.
By any metric, Ramirez is one of the best postseason offensive players of all-time, having played in 111 playoff games for the Indians, Red Sox and Dodgers, generating a .937 OPS. He batted .412 when Boston swept St. Louis in the 2004 World Series, winning the Series Most Valuable Player Award as the Red Sox won their first title in 86 years.
In his 19-year career, Ramirez had a slash line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 homers, 1,831 RBIs and a .996 OPS. Those impressive numbers might not be enough for some voters, however, as he failed tests for performance-enhancing drugs twice -- with the Dodgers in 2009 and the Rays in '11, his last Major League season.
Among the quartet of top newcomers, there is certainly no first-ballot lock like Ken Griffey Jr., who was elected a year ago with a record 99.3 percent of the vote. Mike Piazza joined him, amassing 83 percent in his fourth try. Voters, who must have at least 10 years of consecutive membership in the BBWAA, gave Bagwell 71.6 percent, Raines 69.8 percent and Hoffman 67.3 percent.
Hall of Fame voting history suggests that all three of the top holdovers will ultimately be elected. The matter is certainly most pressing for Raines, whose ballot eligibility was cut from 15 years to 10 following a rule change by the Hall of Fame's board of directors in 2014.
The good news for all of them is that every player who has received at least as high a percentage as Raines has eventually been voted in, via either a BBWAA or a Veterans Committee election.
The news is not so good for Lee Smith, who is in his final year on the ballot after garnering only 34.1 percent last time. The right-handed reliever, who ranks third on the all-time list with 478 saves, is the last of three players grandfathered in when the Hall's board of directors voted for the rule change, because their time on the ballot was between 11 and 15 years. Don Mattingly and Alan Trammell were the others.
Both are no longer on the BBWAA ballot, but are eligible to be considered by the revamped Today's Game Committee election, though neither is on this year's ballot of 10. The result of the committee's vote will be announced on Dec. 5 at the Winter Meetings outside Washington, D.C.
This year's Today's Game ballot includes players Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser and Mark McGwire, managers Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson, Braves president John Schuerholz, former Commissioner Bud Selig and late Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner.
Smith will be eligible for consideration when the Today's Game Committee meets again under the new Eras Committees rotation in two years.
"The only way I think Lee will get in is by the Veterans Committee," former teammate and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins said. "For eight to 10 years, he was the all-time leader in saves. He was pretty dominant."
All Eras Committees have 16 members, who can each place a maximum of five names on the ballot.
McGwire, the first player to hit 70 homers in a single season, fell off the BBWAA ballot after receiving 12.3 percent of the vote in the most recent balloting in his 10th and final year. McGwire, now the Padres' bench coach, admitted to using PEDs, which appears to have had a huge impact on his vote totals.
The complete ballot: