My 2023 National Baseball Hall Of Fame Ballot

Owen Russell's picks for National Baseball's Hall of Fame this year./Kaylin Guzman

By Owen Russell

 

   If you are a long-time reader of the Vanguard, you may remember former managing editor John Schilling filled out his own Baseball Writers of America Association Hall of Fame ballot. In doing so, he wrote a detailed explanation for each of his choices. Well, as an avid baseball fan and unscrupulous thief, I thought it would be fun to mimic John and create one of my own this year. 

   The 2023 Hall of Fame Ballot was released on Nov. 21, and voting has already begun. Littering the ballot are plenty of New York baseball icons and borderline candidates who may finally enter baseball’s hallowed halls. 

   It should be stated that I am not a member of the BBWAA, and therefore my opinions mean nothing. My votes do not count; I am simply a nerd pouring over spreadsheets for fun.

   Before diving in, here are a few things to keep in mind. For a player to be elected to the Hall of Fame, he must receive more than 75% of the total vote. A player remains on the ballot for ten years unless they receive less than 5% of the vote. If a player fails to receive 75% of the vote in ten years, or if they receive less than 5%, then they are eliminated from the ballot and must hope for an outside chance of getting elected by one of the Hall’s “Era Committees.” Voters are allowed to vote for as many as 10 players, but are not required to cast a single vote.

   Now with that established: Let’s dive into the madness!

 

The No-Brainers

 

   Todd Helton: Sports matter. Baseball is a sport, and therefore it matters. The Colorado Rockies are a baseball team, and therefore they matter. And Todd Helton is the best player in Colorado Rockies’ history, and therefore he matters. Not only does Helton matter, but he deserves to be a Hall of Famer without question. 

   Helton played 17 years for the Rockies, a rarity for a player of his era. In those 17 years, he distinguished himself as an all-around player, winning the batting title in 2000, along with four Silver Slugger awards, three Gold Gloves, and five All-Star selections. He was a stalwart at first base, playing the fifth most games in league history at the position. 

   As far as the Colorado Rockies go, Todd Helton is at or near the top of all offensive categories. He leads the franchise in hits, RBIs (runs batted in), and doubles. His OPS, batting average, and on base percentage all hover around the top, just below Hall of Famer Larry Walker. 

   Since joining the ballot, Helton’s stock has steadily risen. His first year, 2019, Helton earned 16.5% of the vote. Last year he earned 52%. With some of last year’s big names gone from the ballot, Helton seems poised to garner more attention from voters.

   Not only does he have the statistics, but he represents an entire franchise. The Colorado Rockies joined the major leagues in 1993. Since then, Helton has been the face of their franchise. If elected, he would be only the second Colorado player in the HOF (Larry Walker being the first), but electing Helton would mean that the franchise’s all-time best player is finally immortalized.

   Scott Rolen: Rolen was last year’s shocker. In 2022, Rolen jumped from 52% to 63 % of the vote. With five more years on the ballot, he is as close to a lock as there is.

   The biggest knock against Rolen is that he was never a lights-out hitter. But his numbers are certainly solid enough compared to other third basemen residing in Cooperstown. His .364 on base percentage ranks just below Paul Molitor and above Brooks Robinson. His .490 slugging (total bases divided by at bats) ranks better than George Brett. But if you are unconvinced by his batting stats, Rolen was no slouch in the field.

   In fact, Rolen may be one of the best defensive third basemen of the past 20 years. He won eight gold gloves from 1998-2010. His defensive WAR (wins above replacement) ranks sixth all-time among third basemen, above every Hall of Famer except Brooks Robinson. You would be hard-pressed to find a third baseman with the resume of Scott Rolen.

 

The Pumpkin Eaters (Cheaters)

 

   Alex Rodriguez: A three-time MVP, 10-time Silver Slugger, 14-time All-Star. A home run king who swatted 696 homers. In any other universe, Rodriguez is not only a Hall of Famer – he is one of the most prolific players in MLB history. However, this is the universe where A-Rod tested positive for anabolic steroids. And that is the 400-lb orangutan sitting on the chest of his Hall of Fame resume.

   If the voters could not forgive Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, or anyone who got wrapped up in the performance-enhancing drug plague, then there is seemingly no hope for Rodriguez. That being said, I hold nothing against these cheaters. They did what they did. We cannot erase that. 

   Rodriguez and his peers deserve to be in Cooperstown, even if they put asterisks next to their names.

   Manny Ramirez: I talked about steroids for A-Rod, so I will not mention the needle anymore.. Ramirez hit over 550 home runs, ended his career with a .410 on base percentage, and crushed his way to a .585 slugging percentage. 

   But even if we ignore the electric numbers, Ramirez has etched his name in baseball history like no other. His fingerprints are all over the fabric of the game. In 2004 Ramirez made a name for himself winning Boston’s first World Series in nearly 100 years. Ramirez put on a spectacular performance, shouldering the load as the Series’ MVP. 

   But if you need an even more solid case, take a look at Ramirez vs. David Ortiz. Ramirez ranks higher than Ortiz in practically every statistical category. But because of the steroid issue, he has languished on the ballot for six years while Ortiz succeeded in his first try. 

   Carlos Beltran: You may be asking yourself: “Why is Beltran lumped in with these steroid pumping dirtbags? He never touched the juice.” And you are correct! But hide your trash cans because Beltran represents the first player stained by the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal to see the ballot. Will Beltran’s involvement hurt his chances? 

   More than likely. But as I have demonstrated, I care not about cheating. I am scum. And as scum, I am able to look past the scandal which got Beltran fired from the Mets before ever managing a single game. For those who need refreshing, Beltran was a member of the 2017 Houston Astros, and the only player specifically named in their sign-stealing scandal. It will undoubtedly hurt his chances, but taking a peek at his advanced metrics, Beltran resides among a throng of Hall of Fame talent. He ranks in the top ten for offensive WAR among center fielders. The top ten represent seven Hall of Famers, one current player (Mike Trout), and Bernie Williams (who inexplicably only lasted two years on the ballot). It seems as though the numbers are in Beltran’s favor. He was never much of a talented fielder, but he wasn’t a liability either. 

   If Beltran can survive this ballot, he may benefit with some distance from the Astros’ cheating scandal. I mean he was 40 years old at the time…

 

Relievers’ Rights

  

   Billy Wagner: Wagner enters his eighth year on the ballot, picking up quite a bit of steam. In a stunning turn of events, Wagner earned 51% of the vote last year, becoming a serious contender in his final two years. And it’s clear to see why.

   Among relief pitchers, Wagner may be the best not yet in the Hall. He ranks sixth all time in games finished and saves. He’s a seven-time All-Star, with his first appearance coming in 1999 and his last in 2010. His WAR is most similar to Trevor Hoffman (Hoffman had a career 28.0 compared to Wagner’s 27.7). Hoffman made the Hall in his third year, so why not Wagner?

   Advanced metrics don’t tell the whole story. Hoffman ended his career with over 600 saves, compared to Wagner’s 422, but that shouldn’t discredit Wagner’s resume. He played at an elite level up until his last season. Wagner is the measuring stick for how all future relievers will be evaluated. Do you have to be Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman to deserve recognition? Or will the league recognize how important relief pitching really is and expand their horizons?

   Francisco Rodriguez: Here it is. The hot take which discredits me in the eyes of all respected sports journalists. But I stand by it. Francisco Rodriguez deserves my vote.

   K-Rod (in reference to his ability to strike out batters with ease) was the definition of electric. He led the league three times in saves, and remains the only player in major league history to account for 60 saves in a season. Rodriguez’s 437 saves ranks above Billy Wagner, and cements him as fourth all-time. He’s a six time All-Star, and two time Reliever of the Year. And if you want to play the “what-if” game, he probably should’ve been the CY Young in 2008. His 62 saves were historic, and his 77 strikeouts in 68 innings helped earn the K-Rod moniker. But this is the Hall of Fame, and we don’t deal in “if, buts and maybes.” We deal in absolutes. 

   Rodriguez has some pretty serious knocks against him. He has a history with the law, being caught up in multiple physical altercations including one where he punched a fellow player at Citi Field and tore ligaments in his hand. His statistics are just as volatile. His 2.86 ERA is fine, but it doesn’t stand out. He walked more batters than a Hall of Fame reliever should. But for the most part his resume is right up there among the game’s best relievers. A vote for K-Rod would help him stay on the ballot for another year, and hopefully stop voters from ignoring relievers anymore.

 

The Borderline Boyz 

   

   Andy Pettitte: The only starting pitcher to make my ballot, Pettitte is most notably a member of the Yankees’ “Core Four.” Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada comprised the group which came into the majors around the same time and helped New York win a bevy of World Series trophies in the late 90s and early 2000s. Rivera and Jeter may garner much of the praise for those trophies, Pettitte lays claim to postseason heroics of his own.

   In the history of Major League Baseball, no player owns more postseason wins than Andy Pettitte. He has the most innings pitched, the most games started, and the fourth most strikeouts. These may seem like skewed stats, but considering the nearly 150 year league history, it remains impressive that Pettitte’s name rises to the top. He was no schmuck in the regular season either.

   His 256 wins place him within the top 50 pitchers of all-time. Among those 50 pitchers, 40 inhabit the Hall of Fame. Pettitte better pray voters overlook his unimpressive 3.80 ERA. If they’re anything like me, voters will see the merit of Pettitte’s postseason prowess, and give him another year on the ballot.

   Andruw Jones: Jones’ career resembles that of Scott Rolen. They both earned a reputation for stellar defensive play, and though they were not the most dominant hitters, they still swung a serviceable bat which helped prolong their careers. However, Jones suffers from position syndrome. 

   According to Defensive WAR, Jones is the preeminent center fielder. There is no one better. His ten Gold Gloves illustrate that. But with a position so deep offensively it remains hard to stand out.

   His offensive numbers may not have been as elite, but they still hold up. His 434 home runs rank one below Carlos Beltran, and just above Hall of Famer Duke Snider. It is head scratching that Jones has only received 41.4% of the vote, but there is promise. 

   Jones’s first year on the ballot saw him receive only 7% of the vote. Same thing in his second year. Although now that voters have had some time to ruminate on his career, Jones has continuously climbed. With five more years on the ballot, Jones will more than likely make the Hall of Fame. 

 

   Gary Sheffield: Does Gary Sheffield deserve a vote more than Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, or Jeff Kent? I don’t know. That is what is so frustratingly beautiful about baseball. The game manages to be subjective and objective at the same time. The stats will be what they are, but it is up to us to synthesize and decide what matters most. That being said, Gary Sheffield is a player who made a name for himself crushing baseballs, and that’s good enough for me.

   Sheffield’s offensive WAR is sixth all-time among right fielders. Higher than Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Vladimir Guerrero, and Dave Winfield. In other words, he hit the ball better than your favorite right fielder and looked cool doing it. His funky batting stance made no sense. The way he waved the bat looked like an old man threatening children to scram off his property. Sheffield wagged willy-nilly in the face of opposing pitchers, smashing 509 home runs over his 22-year career.

   There is the question of whether Sheffield knowingly touched steroids or not, but even if he did it wouldn’t change my mind. His fielding left a lot to be desired, and will more than likely hamper his Hall of Fame chances. Sheffield has spent eight years on the ballot. In that time, he has jumped from 11% of the vote to 40%. Unfortunately for Sheffield, he has been stuck at 40% for two years. Unless there is a sweeping change of heart, Sheffield will remain on the outside looking in. It seems bleak, but he gets my vote. Does that count for anything?

   Honorable Mentions

   Jeff Kent: Voting is tough. You have ten slots, and while that sounds like a lot, there are plenty of worthy players who are lost in the shuffle. This is Kent’s tenth year on the ballot, and one way or another, it will be his last. The question is whether it is on a throne or in a body bag. That’s a harsh way of saying he’s either going to be elected or relegated to the Era Committees. 

   Kent is arguably one of the game’s best-hitting second basemen. He has the most home runs at the position and is a four-time silver slugger. His 55.4 wins above replacement (WAR) rank him above Hall of Famer David Ortiz and just below Hank Greenberg. But Kent just doesn’t cut it on this list. He was never a very good fielder, and his 17 seasons make his home runs just a bit less impressive. He is a one-time MVP, but I just don’t have the room for him on my ballot. I believe he may make it in once his name falls off the ballot and finds its way to the Era Committees.

   R.A Dickey: Another player who most likely won’t live to see his name appear on another ballot. R.A Dickey, a new addition to this year’s ballot, captivated audiences with his unorthodox style. In 2012 he knuckle-balled his way into our hearts, not to mention the CY Young award, after flying under the radar up until then. Dickey represents what makes baseball so unique.

   After bouncing around in the majors for 10 years, he stepped out of obscurity and revived his career in astronomical fashion. While he may not warrant a HOF vote and may not even garner 5% of the vote, he does warrant a mention. He became a substantial innings eater, leading the league in innings pitched, in his late 30s. Dickey won’t make it to Cooperstown, but us New Yorkers will always cherish his funky knuckleballs.

   So that’s my Hall of Fame ballot. It has been fun, but it also shows what players have to endure. A player can spend 20 years in the majors, work his butt off, and compile a Cooperstown-worthy career. Once he retires, his legacy is in the hands of nerds who have never stepped on a major league diamond. It is totally backwards, but totally baseball at the same time.

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