The day will come when a high school baseball player will sign with Kansas, get drafted too late to justify bypassing college, blossom into a star in college and go on to have a Major League career that will land him on the Hall of Fame ballot and in the middle of yes-or-no conversations.
That day isn’t here yet, but with a little luck it will arrive some day.
The Hall of Fame does not discriminate against players from cold-weather schools. Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor attended Minnesota. Chief Bender attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., Craig Biggio went to Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J., Sandy Koufax to Cincinnati, Jim Bunning across town to Xavier University. Lou Boudreau played for Illinois.
One day, the Rock Chalk Chant will gather momentum in a field on a hot summer day in Cooperstown, N.Y., just not anytime soon.
None of the candidates on this year’s ballot played baseball at Kansas, but I did check the names of 10 players who did not play for KU on my ballot and dropped it in the mailbox well ahead of the New Year’s Eve deadline.
Steroids have muddied the election process because there is no easy way to figure them into the decision.
Here’s how I handled that puzzle: I don’t disqualify known or suspected performance-enhancing-drug users from consideration, but I do form an opinion as to how much they inflated their statistics. It’s a ballot of opinion, not a legal document, so I don’t judge based purely on failed drug tests.
I never have voted for Sammy Sosa, who was a terrific slugger when his muscles grew to Michelin Man proportions, a much easier out before and after his inflated body spawned inflated numbers.
Two selections required no thought whatsoever and they are the first two names I check every year. The order in which I put the checks next to the names:
1 - Barry Bonds: Before his head grew a few cap sizes and he became such a ridiculously productive hitter that managers were known to walk him with the bases loaded, Bonds already was the best hitter in the game, the one whose bat was most respected by pitchers and managers alike. Nobody was better at hitting pitchers’ pitches. The steroids made him quicker and stronger, the quickness advantage enabling him to wait a tick longer to determine the location of the pitch, the added speed and strength combining to drive is power to another level.
Did the steroids play a part in him passing Hank Aaron? Absolutely, which is why I still consider Aaron’s 755 to be the magic home run number at which great power hitters should take aim.
Bonds won seven MVP awards, some coming before he did what a very high percentage of his peers did, cheat to gain an edge at a time when not cheating would have allowed lesser talents to win the awards that he deserved because he was the best of the best.
2 - Roger Clemens: Won a record seven Cy Young Awards, some coming before he took substances that added power to his pitches and staved off the aging process. His first 20-strikeout performance came before long before the juice and so did countless other achievements worthy of Cooperstown.
3 - Ivan Rodriguez: Peers laughed when back in the day they were asked off-the-record if he were a juicer. It was a laugh that said, “Of course he is.”
Jose Canseco said he injected Rodriguez with steroids and let’s be honest, the reason Canseco has been ostracized by peers has everything to do with him blabbing secrets and nothing to do with the accuracy of his tales.
Pudge himself, when asked if he had been one of the 104 players who tested positive during the 2003 survey testing, answered, “Only God knows.” Give him credit for having the courtesy not to lie.
The 14-time All-Star had a reputation for selfishness, a terrible trait for a catcher, but he more than compensated with a rocket for an arm, a live bat and unusual speed for a catcher.
4 - Mike Mussina: He ranked in the top six in Cy Young Award voting nine times. Case closed.
5 - Vladimir Guerrero: A classic five-tool talent who was somewhat like the Andre Dawson of his era, but with better knees, Guerrero won an MVP and finished in the top 10 five other times. A nine-time All-Star, he ran the bases well and was such a dangerous hitter that he led the league in intentional walks five times.
6 - Tim Raines: Other than the great Rickey Henderson, there wasn’t a better leadoff hitter during his era. He knew how to get on base and knew how to steal bases without getting thrown out.
7 - Edgar Martinez: I checked the rules. There is nothing in them that says designated hitters are not allowed in Cooperstown. All the prettiest swings in baseball are left-handed strokes, except Martinez. He’s a member of the Sweet-Swinging Lefty Club, even though he batted from the right side. Outrageously clutch. His absence of ego kept led to his fame trailing his accomplishments. Pitchers knew what a great hitter he was and hated facing him.
8 - Jeff Bagwell: Won an MVP Award and finished in top 10 five other times. Adept at running the bases, stealing them when it made sense and alertly taking the extra base. Did it all, hitting for power and average, drawing walks, playing a strong first base. He’s right there on the border, always an extremely tough call. Vote for him and you wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Send a ballot without his name checked and you wonder the same.
9 - Curt Schilling: Four seasons in the top five of Cy Young voting is not bad, but not great. Six All-Star games doesn’t make him anywhere close to an automatic either. His win-total of 216 is atypically low by Hall of Fame starting pitcher standards.
So why did I vote for this borderline . . . you thought I was going to type “lunatic” didn’t you? I wasn’t going to type that word. Honest I wasn’t. I was going to type “Hall of Fame candidate.”
His outrageous postseason numbers, 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 25 walks and 120 strikeouts, make him among the most clutch pitchers of his or any era.
10 - Manny Ramirez: He was an especially sloppy cheater, once getting nailed with a 50-game suspension, another time with a 100-game stay in the penalty box that sent him into retirement, although he tried to come out of it without success. He twice let his team down by getting caught, and it’s conceivable he spent his entire career cheating, thus inflating his numbers. But my guess is if steroids never had become available to baseball players, Ramirez would have been among the top handful of hitters in the game throughout his career. He made hitting look simple: See the ball, crush the ball.
Every year, after mailing the ballot, buyer’s remorse sets in and I wonder, did I do the right thing? The final five selections all were borderline calls in my mind.
I had no such struggles when I emailed my Heisman ballot last month: 1 - Deshaun Watson, Clemson; 2 - Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; 3 - Lamar Jackson, Louisville.