This year it’s all about Derek Jeter, a towering figure among and above the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame nominees.
The former New York Yankee shortstop, in his first year on the ballot, likely will enter Cooperstown with 100 percent of the ballots from the Baseball Writers Association of America. The 2020 class will be announced Tuesday.
A year ago, Jeter’s former teammate, nonpareil closer Mariano Rivera, became the first player ever to be a unanimous selection – all 425 votes. Jeter should continue the trend. It will be hard to imagine any writer denying his entry. For one who does, we’d all love to hear that explanation.
On the other hand, former Colorado outfielder Larry Walker, in his final year (10th) on the ballot, earned my vote for the first time. Many believe that Walker is in the same situation as Seattle’s Edgar Martinez, who earned 85.4 percent of the vote last year in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
However, Martinez needed just a handful of votes his final year to pass the 75 percent threshold. Walker has so much more ground to cover this year, as he garnered just 54 percent in 2019. He would need approximately 85 more favorable votes than last year. That’s a mile high.
Even though Walker had a better career average than Jeter (.313 to .310) and 123 more home runs (383 to 260), what has held Walker back is the Coors Field Affect. Voters believe that his statistics are misleading because he played 10 of his 17 seasons in Denver’s hitter-friendly thin air.
Todd Helton, a career .316 hitter, also has solid numbers but he suffers from the same Coors Effect. He earned just 16.5 percent of the vote his first year in 2019. No Colorado player has reached Cooperstown.
Yet Walker this year, and perhaps Helton one day, could be beneficiaries of the Baines Effect. Harold Baines, a .289 career hitter in 22 big-league seasons, was on the writers’ HOF ballot for only four years, receiving just 4.6 per cent of the votes in 2011. A candidate must receive at least 5 percent of the vote to remain eligible. But last year a Veterans Committee suddenly and unexpectedly decided that Baines was Hall worthy. What that did is lower the threshold for enshrinement, allowing voters to judge candidates with a renewed perspective.
Walker likely will fall short this year but I believe another one of those committees will lift him into immortality.
It also may take a committees to decide the fate of the notorious steroid-stained superstars who are approaching their final years on the ballot. Players such as Roger Clemens (8th year), Barry Bonds (8th year), Sammy Sosa (8th year) and Manny Ramirez (4th year) are slowly gaining support. One or two may be close to 75 percent this year, just not with my vote.
I look forward to the day when the Steroid Gang passes through their 10-year waiting period – unrewarded – and depend on a HOF committee to elevate them. Current Hall of Famers are more stubborn than the writers. They don’t want their plaques hanging on the wall next to them.
By the way, when those mega-stars drop off the ballot in two years, Alex Rodriguez, with ungodly numbers yet caught at least twice enhancing, will appear for the first time, in 2022. Here we go again.
Having said that, I voted this time for two players with a touch of substance abuse, Jeff Kent for the seventh time, and Gary Sheffield for the first time. Both had tremendous offensive numbers yet have been on the fringe of abuse discussions.
Kent denies it and there is scant evidence. Sheffield has admitted that he once used a steroid (he says he didn’t realize) when recovering from an injury. As far as my research could determine, he did it once, he admitted his mistake and he said he never used again. It’s my feeling, he wasn’t an habitual user out to cheat the system.
The fifth player on my ballot is dazzling shortstop Omar Vizquel, a player who you had to see to appreciate. His defensive prowess was unmatched during his years in the league. His offensive and defensive numbers compare favorably with Ozzie Smith. He got just 42.8 percent last year but could clear 50 this time around. He may be, like Walker, a final-year favorite.
Players such as Andy Pettitte, Curt Schilling and Andruw Jones, may move up and in, perhaps due to the Baines Effect. But it doesn’t look like any first-year player, other than Jeter, will generate much sustainability.