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I am a piñata, here is my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, take your whacks

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Former San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds waits for his turn to bat in this file photo from Aug. 7. Bonds was indicted Thursday for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Former San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds waits for his turn to bat in this file photo from Aug. 7. Bonds was indicted Thursday for perjury and obstruction of justice.

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.

My ballot:

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.

Comments

Bruce Bertsch 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Kudos for voting for Bonds. Even without the juice, he was a hall of famer and belongs.

Tom Keegan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Pre-juice days, I asked Bobby Cox if he considered Ken Griffey Jr. the best player in baseball. He said he considered him second. Why? He said that if you hit your precise spot, you could get Griffey out. Bonds didn't have a spot, Cox said. Hit more pitchers' pitches than anybody he ever saw.

Nick Kramer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tom, Mr. Verducci at Sports Illustrated has a great article that very eloquently articulates his reasoning for NOT putting the juicers in the HOF. Bonds and Clemens were certainly HOF-caliber players. (So were Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.) In my opinion, though, denying them entry is the appropriate penalty that HOF voters should administer. I'd rather see guys like McGriff, Raines, and Trammel be rewarded for excellence and fair play. Making this distinction would send the appropriate message to all kids and future players.

Steve Jacob 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Hard to debate the steroid boys. No way should Edgar Martinez get in over Fred McGriff.

Tom Keegan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

McGriff played in the field and Edgar didn't, but other than that, I always thought Edgar did even more for a lineup. He was an impossible out and hit so many doubles it made up for his lack of home runs. He finished his career with more walks than strikeouts, as much a statement about how much he was feared as about his sharp eye. Stats aren't everything, but Edgar had a way higher on-base percentage and marginally higher slugging pct.

Josh Galler 2 months, 2 weeks ago

of your five borderline I would switch Manny for McGriff. and curt for Lee Smith I think Bagwell is HOF no doubt.

Tom Keegan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Manny for McGriff, not a bad thought. Will consider in future.

Brett McCabe 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tom, you bring up two issues in this column that are dear to my heart; first, Manny Ramirez. We were fortunate to live north of Boston during the Pedro and Manny years, and the great comeback vs. the Yankees, so our kids are died-in-the-wool Sox fans. My son was playing youth ball during Manny's time and every hitting coach in New England was trying to teach kids the "Manny platform". Not the leg kick, just the platform. Watching his at-bats was a thing of beauty. No twisting himself into the ground, no panic, just a lot of great at-bats. He stood a mile off the plate and covered the whole thing. It was must-watch baseball. (Same with Pedro).

Second, my pet peeve that the NCAA has not had the wisdom to move the college baseball season back so that most of the games are played in late-Spring to mid-Summer. Attendance at games would increase dramatically due to better weather and it would give northern schools a better shot (probably why it won't be adopted). If KU's baseball - and softball - seasons ran through the summer, we'd be season ticket-holders to both - and I think many others would be as well. If the T-Bones can draw a crowd, so could MU, KU and the purple pussycats.

Good column. The steroids thing is baffling and I'm not sure where I'd stand on it if I had a vote. It'll be good for baseball when the voting slate moves past that era so everyone can quit talking about it.

Tom Keegan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Chuck Woodling told me of a Big 8 baseball coach who advocated college baseball becoming a summer sport and ever since he told me that I've thought it a brilliant idea. It would be the only game in town.

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 2 weeks ago

looks good to me.

Trevor Hoffman last year on his first ballot made 67% of ballots, but doesn't get a vote from Keegan.

Looks like Bagwell is poised to make it this year after getting 71.6% of ballots last year.

Time Raines in his final year on the ballot will likely get the boost he needs after netting 69.8% of ballots last year.

Will voters change their minds in voting for Clemens and Bonds, they got a boost last year but need a much bigger boost. Could they be a predictor on Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez HOF chances?

Ben Kane 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I love Pat Burrell. I watched him play almost every college game and he was superman in college. That being said I highly doubt he deserves to be a hall of famer. In fact I don't think most on the list are worthy.

on the barry bonds issue, I too am glad you voted for him. I remember his slender Pirate days and the only knock on him ever was lack of performance in the playoffs.

side note: it will be the last honor Schilling ever receives...

Len Shaffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Tom, I'm surprised you didn't include Jeff Kent. His offensive stats are among the best ever for a second baseman and he turned into a decent defensive player as well. All of that and not the slightest whiff of steroid scandal.

What are your reasons for not including him?

Tom Keegan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I covered the Mets when he was with them. I disagree that he became a decent defensive player when with Giants, if that's when you meant. Too much happens in the middle of the infield to not hold his glove against him.

Jay Scott 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Edgar. I lived in Seattle during the Mariner magic days. Sure the Unit and Junior were great. Edgar was the glue of that team. Nobody was more clutch.

Jeremy Tiemann 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Speaking of lefties, as a 40-something left-handed baseball lover, here is a list I created a few years ago of the best left-handed hitters of my generation (since 1980)

George Brett – batting title in three different decades

Ken Griffy, Jr. – the all-time prettiest swing in baseball

Tony Gwynn – a hitting machine

Reggie Jackson – Mr. October (and not a bad actor)

Rod Carew – the first slap hitter I remember

Ichiro Suzuki – “Chicks Dig the Infield Hit”

Barry Bonds – he could hit before the ‘roads

Carl Yastrzemski – the last to hit the triple crown*

Joe Mauer – developing his game into HOF'er

Wade Boggs / Jim Thome - tie... one could hit and the other can crush, their love child would be a great one

My above list does not consider switch hitters... sorry Pete, E. Murray, and Chipper.

*made list before Cabrera did it.

Tom Keegan 2 months, 2 weeks ago

How about Willie Stargell and Billy Williams?

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