On Wednesday, January 24, the MLB and Baseball Writer’s Association of America announced the 2018 MLB Hall of Fame Class: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman. These four legends will be joined by Alan Trammell and Jack Morris in an induction class rivaled by few others in terms of talent and character. Each player undoubtedly had their own unique career and personality, but also continues to make a lasting impact on their respective fanbases and the overall game to this day.
Each year, the BBWAA collectively votes on choice candidates for the honor with final inductees receiving 75 percent of the vote. However, a separate Modern Era Committee, formed by the MLB, attempts to find any potential reputable candidates who may have slipped through the cracks since the first vote in 1936. Thus, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris joined the class for their significant contributions to the game throughout the 70s and 80s, despite having failed the BBWAA’s ballot standards for years. This year’s Modern Era ballot seemed to particularly highlight the 70s and 80s decades, a move potentially emphasizing the achievements of players during a time before the prevalence of steroids.
Especially with the inclusion of performance-enhancing drug users on the ballot, the voting process tends to draw particular scrutiny as of late. Both all-time home run leader Barry Bonds and 7-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens missed out on the honor by slim margins. In this way, the selection committee has persisted in their statement against rule breakers, continuing to disallow confirmed PED-using players into the Hall. However, there are still players that many would argue have the credentials and the character to join the Hall of Fame despite the committee’s reluctance to accept them.
In recent years, the BBWAA has followed particular statistical analytics, mainly Wins Above Replacement to determine the quality of the player, along with character, reputation, and award considerations. WAR only became popular in recent years after the Oakland Athletics organization first developed the tool to identify talent under heavy financial stresses. Essentially, a program compares annual statistics and production of individual players with a convoluted average MLB player at that specific position. The final result is then purely the number of wins that the player contributed to their team. This comparison then allows programs like the BBWAA to properly determine the efficiency and true value of a player to the team. On account of the BBWAA’s usage of WAR, many popular players miss out on the Hall because of the statistic’s ability to see past societal, media, and human influence. These unfortunate cases are commonly referred to as “snubs.”
One of these snubs, Edgar Martinez, a pillar in the Seattle Mariners organization for years, missed out on the vote by less than 5 percent. Similarly, Mike Mussina, a long-time starting pitcher for the Yankees and Orioles, failed to receive the 75 percent standard, despite his 270 career wins and 82.7 aggregate WAR. Rumors of induction also surrounded first-year, flashy shortstop Omar Vizquel for his elite defense, highlight reel plays, and lengthy career. However, none of these players ever won a World Series, potentially signifying a desire on the committee’s part for players with lasting legacies across the league, not just in their individual fanbases. Vizquel, many have argued, is a textbook example of WAR’s power, looking past the stellar defensive plays and pure athleticism to see the actual statistical benefit of the player’s influence and career. Nevertheless, each player has 15 years of voting to attempt to make the Hall of Fame, beginning five years after their retirement, meaning that both still have some time to make it in the coming years.
That being said, the ballot will continue to receive more qualified and equally valid candidates as they become eligible in the coming years. To name a few, the all-time leader in saves, Mariano Rivera, and the late Roy Halladay top the first-years on the ballot next year. On top of these newcomers, many believe that the BBWAA voters have trended towards leniency for PED-using players, meaning that they could have an even greater chance and draw even more votes away from these long-tenured players on the ballot. With usually only about four retirees receiving the highest honor in baseball each year, the likelihood of making it into the Hall of Fame unfortunately appears bleaker and bleaker for these borderline cases.
This year’s class though, without a doubt deserves the highest congratulations for their achievements throughout the years both on and off the field. Chipper Jones, a career-long Atlanta Braves third baseman, led the vote with an astounding 97.2 percent, on account of his dedication to the Braves organization, his achievements as one of the greatest third basemen of all-time, and an 85 career WAR. Although few ever doubted Chipper’s place in the Hall, there is an unfortunate belief amongst some BBWAA voters that no inductee deserves the fabled 100 percent vote from all ballots. Thus, a few voters every year vote against shoo-in candidates in spite of the system and the elusive 100 percent honor.
The two sluggers in the class, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, each received 92.9 and 89.9 percent respectively. The speedy Guerrero joined the esteemed “30-30 club” multiple years after amounting 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, a rarity in baseball for requiring both immense physical strength and agility as well. Local Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians legend Thome, on the other hand, sits at eighth all-time in home runs, and even more notably, succeeded in a time when most power hitters used PEDs. This trend seems to again highlight the dignified nature of Thome’s career successes, along the likes of Frank Thomas, Guerrero, Ken Griffey Jr. and other substance-free super sluggers in recent years.
Arguably the most surprising of the elected members was San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who managed to make it into the Hall, despite the BBWAA’s neglect of closers in general. Since the significance of the closer role did not really come into play until the 70s, few reside in baseball’s hallowed annals and until recently the Hall of Fame as well. However, Hoffman did sit second to Mariano Rivera’s save record with 601, not only an impressive accomplishment in its own right, but also paving the way for Rivera’s prospective induction next year. Furthermore, Hoffman played for the Padres organization, who have never won a World Series, potentially exonerating him from the BBWAA’s stingy parameters around awards and league legacy.
Finally, the Modern Era committee inductees, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris both made it into the Hall of Fame after receiving the necessary 75 percent minimum from a much smaller committee of 16 experts on baseball during their era. Each won the World Series at least once, with Trammell playing for the Detroit Tigers his entire career and Morris proving himself as one of the most durable and consistent pitchers of his time while mostly a Tiger as well. Both played under legendary Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson in their tenure in Detroit, paying homage to the sustained success and continued legacy of the organization during that time. As the Modern Era committee transitions between eras and purposes, it will be interesting to see how the legacies of these two individual players holds up against the credentials of other timeless inductees.
All six inductees of the class will formally be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer in Cooperstown, N.Y. Next winter the BBWAA will meet again to determine the next class at length. With this honor, each man is enshrined as one of the greatest in his craft, as a ballplayer, a representative of the game, and a first-class man in his own right. It is an honor bestowed upon few but recognized by many.