It's more or less an annual tradition that we talk about the candidates for the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame. This year, Benster is going to be weighing in as well. We will cover 1st year candidates in this post, then circle back for the rest on Saturday. By the way, this is the strongest group of first-year candidates we've seen in a long time.
I'm old enough now where I've seen many of the players on the ballot, so I figure my opinion is worth something.
Opinions you've got for sure. So let's weigh in, shall we?
One and done (most likely) candidates. These guys are on the ballot because they meet the minimum requirements, but no one thinks they're worthy. I will dispatch each with a brief comment, and Benster will weigh in as he feels necessary:
Rick Ankiel: Started out as a pitcher, then became an outfielder. Memorable more for personal issues than anything he did on the field.
Interesting story, but his baseball career is more about the virtual circuit. Not a HOF player at all.
Juan Pierre: Speedy outfielder, sort of a modern-day Mickey Rivers, but less of a character than Mickey. Had a few nice seasons, but that was it.
He was underrated member and key contributor to the '03 Marlins, but doesn't belong.
Darren Oliver: He had a long career, 20 seasons. Was a starter initially, but ended up being a situational lefty. Won more games (118) in the majors than you might think, but was never a dominant player.
Not even close.
Jon Garland: Tall righthander, pitched most of his career with the White Sox. Had his best year in the championship season of 2005, winning 18 games for the Sox with an era of 3.50. He was never a dominant pitcher but he would definitely keep you in the game.
Solid #3 starter. As a rule, number 3 guys aren't in the HOF unless they are John Smoltz. He's not Smoltz.
Freddy Garcia: A good righthander, teammate of Garland on the 2005 White Sox. More successful career than Garland overall, winning 156 games. Similar career to current Twin Ervin Santana. A guy you were never afraid to trot out there, but not a HOF pitcher. May get enough votes to get a second crack, but probably not.
Had some good years in Seattle; other pitchers of his generation were better.
Ted Lilly: A poor man's Tom Glavine. Lefthander, bounced around a lot. Had several good seasons with the Cubs. He won over 10 games in 10 different seasons, which will keep you around. Good guy, by all accounts.
A good glue guy to have in your rotation. Glue guys don't make the Hall.
Michael Young: A good infielder, mostly at 3rd base. Had some power and usually hit for a good average -- lifetime .300 hitter. Made the All-Star Game 7 times, usually representing the Texas Rangers. Similar career to Ian Kinsler, although Kinsler is a better overall player. Might get a second look, but won't make it.
I'd also add that the Rangers were inconsistent during his tenure. Since he was one of the leaders of the team, that's not a good look.
Jason Bay: A power hitting leftfielder who bounced around a lot. Hit over 30 home runs in 4 seasons. Career numbers are similar to guys like Jesse Barfield, who you might remember but don't consider a HOF player. Of course, Barfield had probably the best outfield arm in the American League during his career. Bay was out in left because he couldn't throw.
Did win Rookie of the Year, but a lot of guys who aren't in the Hall won Rookie of the Year.
Travis Hafner: Essentially a poor man's Jim Thome. Like Thome, he played the bulk of his career with the Indians. Hit 42 homers in his best season (2006), but ended up with about a third of Thome's career totals. Thome is in the Hall of Fame. Hafner is not going to get there.
He also struggled with injuries, which greatly shortened his career. Even so, he's not dominant enough to get by that.
Vernon Wells: A contemporary of Jermaine Dye and of similar value. He hit 270 homers and did win 3 Gold Gloves, but he was never great and he made the mistake of playing the majority of his career in Toronto, which meant no one paid much attention to him. But if no one thought Jermaine Dye was a HOFer, no one will think Wells is one, either.
Wells got caught in the shuffle, due to residing in the unglamorous city in baseball's glamor division. I'd be shocked if the Vets Committee gives him a second look.
Derek Lowe: He had a career that resembled John Smoltz, except he wasn't nearly as good. A starter who became a closer and then went back to being a starter, Lowe won 176 games, which means he had a substantial career. He also was a key member of the Red Sox when they finally broke through in 2004. Is that enough? Probably not. He may get enough votes to stay on the ballot, but I don't think he's ever going to get in.
Lowe won all three clinching playoff games in 2004, which is impressive. But it's not enough.
Kevin Youkilis: A guy who had great taste in teammates, he's a right-handed version of Mike Moustakas. Hit with moderate power and for a good average. Remembered more for being a colorful character than anything he did on the diamond.
Bill James famously called Youkilis "The Greek God of Walks." He'll have to live with that being his claim to fame, although I bet he rarely pays for a drink in a Boston bar.
Placido Polanco: Actually a pretty good player who was an excellent #2 hitter, but his career is scattered because he bounced around a lot. A career .297 hitter with decent power and a good glove, he was always a guy you wanted on your team. He might stick around on the ballot for a cycle or two, but I fear his tendency to be on the move will hurt him.
Those Tiger teams he played on were better than you might remember. If the '84 Tigers had to wait for recognition, Polanco will have to wait as well.
Miguel Tejada: An excellent career, but a steroid and HGH user who lied to Congress during their 2005 investigation. His stats are comparable to players like Alan Trammell (in the Hall) and Robinson Cano (active but with PED problems of his own). If he'd put together the career he did without juicing, I think he'd have an argument. Not sure he does now. May stay on the ballot for a while, though.
I think steroid users have no business even being on the ballot. Bye, Miguel.
Multiple ballot guys -- these guys will stay on the ballot, but won't make it in our estimation:
Roy Oswalt: An excellent pitcher who was never the staff ace, he won 163 games and had an superb career ERA (3.36), but he was, like Jon Garland, usually the #3 starter. Some of that was because his teammates (Clemens, Pettitte, Halladay) were just better, but when you look at his overall numbers, he compares favorably to people like Ron Guidry and Bret Saberhagen, who were great pitchers. But, you might notice, neither Guidry nor Saberhagen are in the Hall, either.
I want to like Oswalt. I really do. I just can't think of a signature moment in his career, though. It wouldn't surprise me if he falls off the ballot, but he's likely to stay on for another year.
Lance Berkman: He had a really nice career -- 366 homers, career .293 average, and was a winning player who was a contributor in multiple World Series teams. Is that enough? Do you think Jim Edmonds and Dick Allen are HOF-worthy? Maybe, but neither are in, although Edmonds has a better case. Berkman's career numbers are similar to those guys. Hall of the Very Good, if you ask me.
Berkman is borderline to me as well. He's a guy that I think the Veteran's Committee will give a second look some day.
Andy Pettitte: Man, this guy is a tough case. He won a lot of games (256) and was a key figure on some great Yankees teams. He also helped the Astros make the World Series in '05. But he was a PED guy, too, and he also was a bit of a weasel when you look back at things. If he'd laid off the juice, he'd be a no-brainer. But for now, I don't think he's there. He'll get a chance to make his case, though.
I've always compared Pettitte to Whitey Ford. Both were proven postseason performers. The problem is, Whitey Ford's only drug of choice was booze. You can argue about the morality of that, and his hijinks with Mickey Mantle are legendary. But he didn't use steroids. I'd be a hypocrite if I thought Pettitte was a Hall of Famer.
Todd Helton: For me, the most interesting guy on the 1st year list. I think Helton was a great player. He hit .316 for his career and hit 369 home runs. He was a Gold Glove first baseman, a leader, and probably one of the best ambassadors the game has had in the 21st Century. But he played his entire career at Coors Field, so some voters are going to knock him. I think the comparable player in this case is Jeff Bagwell, who is in the HOF on merit. Bagwell had to wait a few years, and Helton might, too, but he's a HOF player for sure in my estimation.
We'll discuss the other longtime Rockie on the ballot later. I think Helton belongs. I also find it hypocritical that people hold Coors Field against guys like Helton, when there are plenty of players who benefited from their own home ballparks, including a list of Yankee left-handed power hitters as long as your arm. The Gold Gloves at Coors should count for something, too.
Roy Halladay: Doc died in a plane crash, but we're going to forget that. Based on his career, which was somewhat shorter than some HOF pitchers, does he deserve enshrinement? I think yes, and I think he clears the bar rather easily. He won over 200 games and had an outstanding ERA (3.38). He was a straight-up intimidator and a stopper of the first rank. You gave him the ball and he got the job done. He also threw a no hitter in the playoffs, which only Don Larsen beat. He was the greatest pitcher in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays and a key player for some very strong Phillies teams as well. He may make it on the first ballot, but if he doesn't, he'll be there soon.
Doc was a very fun pitcher to watch. He's going to get in on the first ballot. He was the type of pitcher you wanted to give the ball to.
Mariano Rivera: Quite simply the greatest relief pitcher of all time. He was dominant and amazingly consistent. He kept Louisville Slugger in business with all the bats he shattered with his terrifying cutter. And yet he was a modest, gentlemanly player who was universally respected throughout baseball. But he was a stone killer. An all-time great for sure.
My only complaint about Rivera is that he dominated the Twins. When you can consistently get major league hitters out with one pitch, it's hard to deny your greatness. I consider myself lucky to have watched him play.
That's that. See you later for the returning candidates.