The 1994 MLB strike was arguably the worst work-stoppage in sports history. The owners and players couldn’t reach a deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, resulting in money being withheld and both feelings and pocket books being hurt. Even though the majority of the season had already been played, the players elected to walk off the job in August and commissioner Bud Selig officially cancelled the rest of the season in September.
The game’s popularity took a major blow. Attendance and television ratings plummeted when they returned in ’95, and the fans who were in the stands made sure their frustrations were heard. Baseball was at an all-time low and needed to find a way to regain its fan-base.
Say hello to the steroid era. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa led the home run surge in the late ’90s, both eclipsing Roger Maris’ MLB-record 61 dingers in multiple seasons. Baseball was exciting again. Then came Barry Bonds’ 2001 season. The Giants slugger had never reached 50 long-balls in a season before, but that didn’t stop him from going deep 73 times that season, setting a new record.
It wasn’t just the hitters; power pitchers like Roger Clemens were also enjoying inflated numbers. But it was what the game needed, so wilful blindness abounded.
Eventually, the massive leap in power, coupled with the drug-testing trajectory of every other major sports league, forced the MLB to start testing for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in 2003. In the years since, via one avenue or another, we’ve confirmed what everyone already knew: McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, and many others were juicing.
In spite of owning some of the best numbers the game has seen, and doing the league a service, none of those four are in the Hall of Fame. They’re all still being punished for their PED use. Bonds and Clemens are going on their sixth year of eligibility in 2018. Will the voters continue to soften their stance on PED users, or will they continue to wait? I’ve got odds on that and the rest of the 2018-eligibles.
2018 Hall of Fame Locks
Trevor Hoffman: 1/90
Chipper Jones: 1/85
Vladimir Guerrero: 1/75
Hoffman and Guerrero narrowly missed out on the Hall this year, receiving 73.9 and 71.7-percent of the votes, respectively. For Hoffman, it was an improvement from the 67.3-percent he received in 2016, which was his first appearance on a ballot. But the longtime Padre and his 601 career saves (second all-time) will have to wait another year.
Guerrero garnered a lot more support in his first year than originally expected, and the eight-time silver slugger who hit a career .318 at the plate is a no-doubter for 2018. Players who come this close are virtual locks to make it the year after.
When you think of the ideal third baseman, there is one name that comes to mind: Chipper Jones. The two-time Silver Slugger finished his career with a .303 batting average and 468 home runs (33rd). His brilliance also extended to the field, ranking in the top-five in fielding percentage in five different seasons. This will be Jones’ first year on the ballot, and it will likely be his last. The average HOF third-baseman has a career WAR of 67.5, a seven-year peak WAR of 42.7, and a 55.1 JAWS; Jones passes with flying colors, possessing a career WAR of 85.0, a seven-year peak WAR of 46.6, and a 65.8 JAWS. The longtime Brave will also receive a lot of support due to playing in the steroid era and remaining clean.
On the Fringe
Barry Bonds: 3/2
Roger Clemens: 3/2
Edgar Martinez: 2/1
Mike Mussina: 7/1
Curt Schilling: 7/1
It seems a little odd that a seven-time MVP, eight-time Gold Glove winner, 12-time Silver Slugger, and the all-time home run king is not in the Hall of Fame after appearing on five ballots. Yes, I was referring to just one player with all those credentials. Barry Bonds has not been forgiven for his PED use. To many voters, admitting him into the HOF would tarnish the legacy of past inductees who did not cheat. The exact same can be said of Roger Clemens, who is a seven-time Cy Young winner, a six-time 20-game winner, and third in career strikeouts. Both of these players are well above the average in any Hall of Fame test, but it’s a slippery slope once you let one PED user in.
While voters are opening up to Bonds and Clemens, who received 53.8 and 54.1-percent, respectively, of the votes this year, I see both waiting at least one more year.
Edgar Martinez, who possesses a career .418 on-base percentage (21st), will be entering his ninth year on the ballot. But the longtime Mariner is truly a bubble guy for the Hall of Fame. He narrowly passes the JAWS test and received his highest percentage of HOF votes last year 58.6-percent, up from 43.4-percent in 2016. I expect the voters to take Martinez into his tenth and final year on the ballot.
Mussina and Schilling are entering their fifth and sixth years, respectively, but it’s hard to put either pitcher in before Clemens.
Manny Ramirez: 19/1
Jim Thome: 20/1
Larry Walker: 33/1
Fred McGriff: 35/1
Jeff Kent: 50/1
Lee Smith: 75/1
Sammy Sosa: 100/1
Omar Vizquel: /1
Gary Sheffield: 115/1
Billy Wagner: 125/1
Scott Rolen: 250/1
Andruw Jones: 300/1
Appearing on his first ballot in 2017, Manny Ramirez received more support than many pundits expected (23.8-percent). The outfielder ranks 83rd in career batting average (.312), 32nd in on-base percentage (.411), 18th in RBIs (1,831), 15th in home runs (555), and eighth in both slugging percentage and OPS (.585 and .996). However, unlike Bonds and Clemens, Ramirez did actually test positive for PEDs. It was believed this would severely harm his chances, but many voters are obviously willing to overlook it. Manny will get into Cooperstown, he’ll just have to wait a handful of years. Jim Thome will appear on his first ballot in 2018, and like Manny, will get in eventually, but it won’t be for a while.
Sammy Sosa is also haunted by his PED use and has no chance at getting in until Bonds is accepted. Even then his bid isn’t that strong. Of the rest, Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel, and Andruw Jones are all eligible for the first time, but I don’t like any of their odds to ever be enshrined.
Photo Credit: randomduck (flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.