HALL OF FAME, CLASS OF 2018

Now that the Hall of Fame Class of 2018 has been announced, baseball fans can really begin to get ready for the end to the long winter. Exactly 17 days, that’s three weeks and three days, from today, the Red Sox pitchers and catchers will hold their first work out in sunny, and, hopefully, warm Florida.

Just one month from today, the Red Sox will be entertaining the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jet Blue Park in their SEVENTH spring training game against a major league rival. When I was driving back from Connecticut with the rain freezing on my windshield on last Monday, baseball seemed a long way away, but today, thinking about the new members of the Hall of Fame and looking at my calendar, I realized it is almost here.

I was really pleased to see one of my favorite ball players get elected to the Hall. Vladimir Guerrero looked like an old farmer when he went to the plate but he could hit a baseball. He got base hits on pitches that would have hit another batter, on balls that a catcher couldn’t reach on the outside, balls that no other player would have paid attention to and it seemed that, as people often said, ‘ he never saw a pitch he didn’t like.’

‘Vlad The Impaler’ as he was called, an outfielder and designated hitter, hit .318 for his 16 year career with 449 homers and 1,496 RBI’s and a career .553 slugging percentage. He made the All Star team nine times and was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2004 when he hit .337 and had 39 homers and 126 RBI’s with the Anaheim Angels.

If you look closely, behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ slugging third baseman, Josh Donaldson, in the Toronto future is a young man named Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Vlad’s 18 year old son. Just named the top third base prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, he hit .323 with 13 homers and 76 RBI’s in 119 games last year at Class A Lansing and Dunedin in his first year in the Toronto system at age 18. Jim Callis at MLB.com said of the young Guerrero, ‘with his advanced feel for hitting, mature approach and exceptional hand-eye coordination, Guerrero should contend for batting titles on an annual basis’. He apparently is more disciplined than his father at the plate so there may never be a hitter again who could hit the ball, wherever it was pitched, like Vladimir Guerrero.

Both Chipper Jones and JimThome were elected in their first year on the ballot. Chipper, who played his entire career with the Atlanta Braves and was a member of the teams that went to the Playoffs every year from 1996 until 2005 was a career .303 hitter who hit 468 homers and drove in 1,623 runs as a switch hitter. He was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, when he batted .319, with 45 homers and 110 RBI’s.

Jim Thome played for six different teams, including the Cleveland Indians, where he spent his first 13 years, and played in the post season with five of them. He hit 612 home runs, the eighth most of all time and drove in 1,699 with a career batting average of .276 and a slugging percentage of .554.

Trevor Hoffman, who spent 16 of his 18 year career with the San Diego Padres, saved a total of 601 games, a number exceeded only by the great Mariano Rivera in baseball history. He pitched in 1,035 games and had a career ERA of 2.87 with 1,133 strikeouts in just 1,089 innings pitched. As a Closer, he finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting in 2006 when he saved 46 games, appeared in 65 and had a 2.14 ERA.

All four of these players are legitimate Hall of Famers with no blemish on their record to discourage voting for them. They will be joined at the induction ceremony on July 29th by Alan Trammel and Jack Morris who were named by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were bypassed again by the voters. Clemens received 57.3 percent of the votes cast and Bonds 56.4 percent. Election requires a player appear on 75 percent of the ballots cast and there were 422 ballots cast this year.

Bonds, in a 22 year career, hit more career home runs, 762, had more walks, 2,558, more intentional walks, 688, and more home runs in a single season, 73, in 2001, than any player in baseball history. He won seven MVP Awards in a career that started with the Pittsburgh Pirates and ended with the San Francisco Giants.

Given his admissions and problems with lying to the investigating committee, about steroid use there could be a question about his qualification. However, baseball puts him on the ballot and makes him eligible for selection therefore, his career should be evaluated based on his performance. After all, when baseball doesn’t feel a person should be eligible, like Pete Rose, he is not even placed on the ballot.

Clemens, however, probably the last player to win more than 300 games, won 354 and lost 184 in a 24 year career with four different teams, was never proven to use steroids, continuously denied their use, never tested positive and was never disciplined for abuse.

He won seven Cy Young Awards and was the American League Most Valuable Player with the Red Sox in 1986, when he won 24 and lost just 4 with a 2.48 ERA. Aside from Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball and thus not eligible for the Hall, Clemens may have the best credentials of any player not elected to the Hall.

Ken Rosenthal, one of the most respected and knowledgeable of the Baseball Writers’ Association members who vote in the Hall of Fame election, recently wrote that he had voted for Bonds and Clemens this year, for the third year in a row, because he is tired of what he called the ‘mental gymnastics’ and ‘hair splitting’ that goes on annually with regard to the question of steroid use.

He said that some players who obviously used steroids are already in the hall, and he named Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza ‘and others we do not know about’ as examples, and the fact that in many cases, ‘we don’t know who did what and to what extent’. He would apparently draw the line at those players such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez where there had been proof of steroid use accompanied by punishment.

The Class of 2018 is an outstanding example of elite players who earned their place. Like every class in recent years, the Baseball Writers’ Associations’ actions in denying Clemens a spot puts a dark cloud over the entire process. As usual, the worst Baseball Commissioner in history is doing nothing to resolve this issue. He’s too busy tinkering with the rules of the game.

Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame and it’s time this problem was fixed.

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