January 1, 2018
By Tracy Ringolsby
It won’t be for another 23 days – January 24 – that the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the Class of 2018 for induction next July. Ballots from veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America had to be postmarked by midnight Dec. 31. But there’s one thing I have come to accept.
Larry Walker, easily the most complete player I have seen in the 43 seasons I have covered big-league baseball, won’t be among the inductees. But there is hope. Sure he only has two years of eligibility for the BBWAA voters to give him his due, but for the first time in the eight years he has been on the ballot there are early indications that he is starting to gain some traction.
Having never even received 25 percent support in the last eight years. Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs), who tracks ballots that are made public, has Walker with 40 percent support from the 151 ballots he has seen. He can mark another vote down for Walker today. He’s on my ballot, for the eighth time.
Walker is one of nine boxes checked on the ballot I submitted, all of which are among the top 10 vote getters on @NotMrTibbs tracker.
Scratch Curt Schilling. He won more than 15 games five times in 20 years, but dominating over time? Sorry. He had impact seasons but they were scattered. He had a winning record in only 10 of the 20 seasons. And it’s hard to overlook his Diamondbacks moment when in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series he pulled himself.
After Miguel Batista took over and got one out, Randy Johnson, who worked seven innings in a 15-2 Game 6 victory that forced Game 7, came on to get the final four outs and claim the victory when the D-Backs rallied in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 victory.
Support For. …
Walker was the total player. He hit for average. He hit for power. He had speed. He had a strong, accurate arm. He had wonderful instincts defensively and on the bases. Put his numbers across the board into the computer and it will produce a list of one player who was as complete as Walker. And please, don’t waste my time moaning about Coors Field, where Walker had 31 percent of his career plate appearances.
As Hall of Famer George Brett explained more than three decades ago, as a player you adapt your approach to what will help your team win in your home park because it’s where you play half your games. Hall of Fame? You don’t play to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You play to win. The Hall of Fame is a huge honor, but it is something a player focuses on when he is retired.
Bonds and Clemens can go to together. Yes, the steroid accusations taint their careers, but they were the overwhelmingly dominant players of their era, and were dominate even before the PED subject became a hot topic. And the assumptions about them were made before the Major League Baseball Players Association finally consented to outlawing PEDs as part of the Basic Agreement.
Biggest question about Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero is who didn’t vote for them and why? The credentials are there, even if I would rank them the fourth (Chipper), fifth (Thome) and seventh (Guerrero) on the ballot behind (1/2) Bonds and Clemens, (3) Walker, and for Guerrero (6) Mussina.
Mussina won 15 or more games 11 times – nine times more than 15. He worked the 162 innings necessary to qualify for an ERA title in each of the first 16 years of his 18-year career. He won seven Gold Gloves, and never was honoured with a Cy Young Award, but received votes in nine different seasons.
Edgar Martinez is the ultimate DH, and unlike others who might have shown more power, he was never linked to PEDs. He got a late start on his career, not even signing his first contract until age 20, four/five years older than most Latin players, but was durable. Yes, being a DH was a factor in his durability, but it is a position in the lineup and much like relief pitchers it can’t be ignored. And just how respected was he for his work as the DH? Well, MLB does annually give the Edgar Martinez Award to honour the game’s best DH for that season.
Trevor Hoffman showed it wasn’t all power. He briefly held the MLB record for career saves, until Mariano Rivera surpassed him, Hoffman’s 601 saves – 51 fewer than Rivera – are 123 more than Lee Smith, who ranks third on the all-time list.
They aren’t all going to make it.
Walker, alone, underscores that, but from @NotMrTibbs’ tracking there appear to be five in line for the 75 percent support necessary for induction with Mussina at 72 percent on New Year's morning and Bonds and Clemens both having shot up to 70 percent support.