It's the silly season for baseball, as winter meetings and free agency combine with Hall of Fame debates to take up way too much of our free time. But this year's HOF ballot is especially fascinating—a crop of elite players tied to PED use are eligible for the first time, and will compete with some strong veterans running out of chances.
To that end, we've reviewed the 37-player ballot, due back on Dec. 31, and identified which players won't be heading to Cooperstown next year.
First year on the ballot:
Sandy Alomar, Jr. Had four amazing seasons for the mid-'90s Indians, then dropped off the face of the earth forever. The prototypical defensive-minded, power-free catcher who had the misfortune of playing in an era when slugging backstops were in vogue.
Craig Biggio. Impeccable stats, spent entire career with one team. As the Times puts it, "Biggio did not have bulging muscles, so most people assume he was clean." Think that's dumb logic? Wait until at least 25 percent of voters leave him off because "he's a Hall of Famer, but not a first ballot Hall of Famer."
Barry Bonds. The AP conducted a straw poll of 112 BBWAA voters (there are more than 600 in total), and found that Bonds has only 45 percent support. Yes, it's about the steroids, and the integrity of the game, and we presume those voters also want to vacate all the championships from that era because they weren't won on an even playing field.
Bonds has no chance of getting in this year, even though he never tested positive for PED use, was not convicted of perjury charges relating to his BALCO involvement, and was one of baseball's best players even before he grew into a hulk. Voters leaving him off their ballots will feel a large amount of unearned smugness.
Jeff Cirillo. For more than a decade, there wasn't a team that regretted having Cirillo on its roster. King of the "oh yeah, he was pretty damn good, wasn't he?" all-stars. Not a Hall of Famer.
Royce Clayton. His star turn as Miguel Tejada in Moneyball will not be enough to sway the voters. Nor will his remarkable headshot.
Roger Clemens. In the AP's straw poll, Clemens received 43 percent of the vote. Never failed a drug test, was acquitted of all charges against him. It doesn't help that he's a supremely unlikable person.
Jeff Conine. Forever the face of the Marlins. Isn't that enough?
Steve Finley. A 25-HR outfielder in an era when every team had eight of those.
Julio Franco. It's really depressing that Julio Franco retired five years ago. Sure, we haven't heard his name in a while, but a part of us hoped he was still knocking around, hoping to catch on in spring training with the Indians or whoever. Will not make the Hall of Fame, but if he did, which cap would he wear?
Shawn Green. Yep, Shawn Green was definitely a professional baseball player for a length of time. No doubt about it.
Roberto Hernandez. One day, closers will get their due. Foolish voters will stop punishing them for being uniquely suited to an in-demand job, just because that job offers a small sample size. That day, you'll see closers inducted into Cooperstown just as often as any other position. And on that day, Roberto Hernandez still won't be a Hall of Famer.
Ryan Klesko. Ryan Klesko hit 278 home runs? When the fuck did that happen?
Kenny Lofton. If you only count the Cleveland years in the '90s, Lofton is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Unfortunately you also have to count the other years.
Jose Mesa. Baseball Reference's closest comparison to Mesa is David Weathers.
Mike Piazza. There's no earthly reason Piazza isn't a cinch for the HOF, right? A .308 average, 427 home runs, 1,335 RBI—these are killer numbers for anyone. But to do it while catching, and for 16 mostly injury-free seasons? What inane excuse could a voter possible give for not listing Piazza on their ballot? I can't wait to find out.
Reggie Sanders. Hey, I remember him!
Curt Schilling. No one has ever made more out of two postseasons, except for perhaps Reggie Jackson and Joe Namath mashed together to form some kind of Moreauian horror.
Aaron Sele. Possible the least evocative name on the ballot.
Sammy Sosa. This is just embarrassing for everyone. Let's give Sosa less than five percent so he falls off the ballot, then never speak of it again.
Mike Stanton. A career set-up man; I can't begin to imagine how voters will weigh his candidacy. "Oh, this is quite the respectable WHIP."
Todd Walker. Was third in the AL in sacrifice flies in 2003.
David Wells. Ha! No.
Rondell White. Fun fact: Every pack of baseball cards made from 1993 on is guaranteed to contain at least two Rondell Whites.
Woody Williams. What? Isn't there a screening process for the ballot?
Jeff Bagwell Steroids, probably.
Edgar Martinez. His fourth year on the ballot, Martinez's support among voters has been remarkably steady. That's because the 60-plus percent voting against him are still hung up on the DH thing.
Don Mattingly. If he played anywhere but New York, he'd be Jeff Conine.
Fred McGriff. So they don't vote in the guys who might have inflated their numbers with PEDs. But then they also don't vote in the guys, like McGriff, whose stats suffer only in comparison to the inflated numbers. Makes sense.
Mark McGwire. Do we have to go through this again?
Jack Morris. The argument against Morris is that he's a good-to-very-good pitcher whose legend rests solely on 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the '91 World Series, and would have the worst ERA in Cooperstown. The argument for him is that he was indisputably the best pitcher of the 1980s.
Morris's percentage of votes received has risen every year, from a low of 19.6 percent in 2001 all the way to 66.7 percent last year. No one who's gotten that many votes has failed to eventually make the Hall of Fame. But it won't be this year—it'll be next year, in his 15th and final appearance on the ballot.
Dale Murphy. Speaking of, it's Murphy's last go-round before he'll need the Veterans Committee to get in. Murphy is one of three players to win multiple MVP award and not be in Cooperstown (Juan Gonzalez and Roger Maris are the others), but his elite years were brief, and he suffered a huge drop-off at age 31.
Rafael Palmeiro. Steroids, inflated '90s numbers, etc.
Tim Raines. The biggest injustice on the ballot. Here's a Gammons piece from 1986 naming Raines and Rickey Henderson the greatest leadoff men of all time, and that's a statement that's still safe to make today. But Raines has always suffered from this sick need of the writers to compare him to Henderson, and of course he's going to be found lacking.
Also, the cocaine. There's a segment of baseball writers who can't forgive Raines for his involvement in the Pittsburgh drug trials, which resulted in the suspensions of 11 players. It was a black eye for baseball, but nothing compared to the collusion scandals the following years, and the steroid era of the '90s. Still, Raines is being punished by naive writers who first lost their innocence when they found out some athletes use recreational drugs. Those voters are becoming a minority, and Raines's percentage of votes has risen from a low of 22.6 to 48.7 last year. It's just a matter of time.
Lee Smith. Smith's votes have been on the rise, as the closer becomes accepted as a vital part of baseball. He finally cracked 50 percent last year. But in his 11th year on the ballot, and a host of worthy candidates become eligible, he may run out of time.
Alan Trammell. Took a massive leap last year, but that was probably the product of a weak ballot. Trammell's the sort of guy a voter feels good about voting for, as long as there's no danger of him actually getting in.
Larry Walker. Made the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. But looking at the inductees, ours is a little more selective.
Bernie Williams. Sorry, playing center in Yankee Stadium doesn't get you into the Hall by default.
And there you have it: No one will be elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Book your trip to Cooperstown now to see Deacon White's great-great-granddaughter.