Hall of Fame Voting, Part II: Martinez and Bagwell

By Jeff Dickson, Director of Food & Beverage

Part 2 of series of blogs on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s inductees, names still on the ballot, the voting process, and what it takes to make it to Cooperstown. 

With over a month having passed since the latest round of Hall of Fame voting (wow, this offseason is flying by) it’s time to not so much reflect on previous ballots, but to look ahead. How will the voting go in future years? How should it go? There will surely be a lot of controversy surrounding ballots over the next few years, most of which is based on the issues of the Steroids Era and the apparent inclination of voters to leave the best players of this era off.

Mark McGwire. Edgar Martinez. Jeff Bagwell. Rafael Palmeiro. These four players averaged almost 480 career home runs. They were among the best hitters of their eras, yet only one (Bagwell) received even 40% of votes to make it in the Hall. To varying degrees the word ‘steroids’ has something to do with that. Most everyone knows about McGwire and Palmeiro and their appearance before Congress. Martinez and Bagwell, however, have never been reported or even accused with any shred of evidence of any involvement with performance enhancing drugs.

To be fair, voters have made cases against them both that have nothing to do with PEDs. Martinez, with 309 home runs, a .312 career batting average, a .933 OPS and an outstanding 127 OPS+ should, by all accounts, be a surefire Hall of Famer. But the fact that he spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter turns some voters off. I find this line of thinking absurd. Would he really have been a better player, or more valuable to his team, if he had played below average defense, like many former players enshrined in Cooperstown, while putting up those numbers? This wouldn’t even have been much of an issue with Martinez, however, as he was actually a solid third baseman before suffering injuries which led the Mariners to put him in the DH role. Because it was best for the team. So how is that a negative against him?

My larger point here is that DH is a position in baseball, and Edgar Martinez is the best DH of all time. Others, Paul Molitor for example, spent a lot of time as DH but because they also played in the field are in the Hall. But where is the cutoff for spending too much time at DH? Half of a player’s at bats? A quarter? Obviously, it makes no sense to put arbitrary limits on such a thing, but that just illustrates the point that it makes no sense to leave such a great hitter out of the Hall of Fame.

Another reason for Martinez’s low vote totals may just be the fact that he played in the steroid era and is guilty by association. Or, even if that isn’t the exact thinking of voters, his numbers just don’t mean the same had he put them up in the 70s or 80s. Even more so than that, Jeff Bagwell is fighting an actual perception from some voters that he did take, or may have taken, PEDs. This, mind you, is without even a shred of proof. The only thing one can say when making a case that he took PEDs is that he came into pro ball as a skinny kid and became one of the more muscular players in the game. I mean, it’s not as if someone can gain strength and mass simply by lifting weights and working hard. Oh, wait…

Without getting into a specific debate about what constitutes PEDs and the difference between what you can buy at your local GNC and what is considered illegal by Major League Baseball (lists, by the way, which often overlap) I want to touch on the idea that voters can leave someone out based on unsubstantiated allegations.

With Martinez you can make a case, albeit a poor one in my opinion, that he is not a Hall of Famer – steroids or no steroids. But with Bagwell it seems that a lot of voters agree that his numbers alone would get him in the Hall, but they think he took PEDs so they won’t vote him in. This is absolutely ridiculous. And not only is it not fair to Bagwell, it’s not fair to all the clean players who will come after him. For all the voters who are on their high horse about this and want to part in trying to figure out who did or didn’t take PEDs, I say make it easy on yourself. Either stop trying to guess and go only on what you know, or give up your vote.

One more thing on Bagwell for the (probably small) contingent that doesn’t think he has the numbers to be in the Hall. Not only did he have 449 Home Runs, a .297 batting average, .948 OPS and 149 OPS+ while playing in the pitcher friendly Astrodome, but he stole 202 bases while playing above average defense. He was a complete, and terrific, player. He played alongside Craig Biggio for 15 seasons as the faces of the Astros franchise. Biggio, with over 3,000 hits is very likely to make it in the Hall, possibly even on the first ballot as voters may reward him for having no links to PEDs and for playing his entire career with one team. And while I love Biggio, he is one of my favorite players of all time, Bagwell simply was better. His 111 OPS+ is nowhere near Bagwell’s, and while they did play much different offensive roles this still illustrates how much more of prolific hitter Bagwell was.

This is not to take anything away from Biggio, as I would vote him for him in a heartbeat; it is just a good comparison considering all their years played together, the majority of when their home park was as bad a hitter’s park as you could find in the 90s. But if you vote Biggio in, you have to vote Bagwell in. And if you don’t vote either of them in, then you might was well stop voting altogether.

 Jeff is entering his second season with the ‘Dads and first as the director of food & beverage.  The Oneonta, NY native joined the Crawdads in 2011 as a concessions assistant, and has previously worked with the Oneonta Outlaws as a sports marketing intern.  Jeff is a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and North Carolina Tar Heels.

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