A year after the Baseball Writers Association of America neglected to vote in a single player, the 2014 ballot provides a greater array of more enticing choices. Not everyone will get in (sorry Mike Timlin and Richie Sexson), but even the most implacable analyst would be hard-pressed to not pick at least three. Here are the inductees on my hypothetical ballot, along with runner-ups who came very close and could just as easily have gotten the call:
1. Greg Maddux
The easiest choice, first-year nominees and all. His career numbers (355 wins, 3,371 K’s, 3.16 ERA) are but an abbreviated look at his legacy. He was the winningest pitcher of the 1990’s, anchoring the “three kings” Braves staff (along with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) that won eight division titles, three NL pennants, and the 1995 World Series. He arguably defined the idea of a defensive pitcher, winning a record 18 Gold Gloves (including 13 consecutive ones from 1990 to 2002). He also netted four Cy Young awards, eight All-Star selections, and four NL ERA titles. In the age of live-ball era after 1920, only Warren Spahn has more career wins than Maddux. As good as it will ever get in this or any era.
2. Tom Glavine
A fitting choice to go right after Maddux, not just as a co-ace, but also because his overall numbers are just a step behind Mad Dog’s. Which shouldn’t cast those numbers as second-tier by any stretch: 305 wins, 2,607 K’s, and a 3.54 ERA. Throw in two Cy Youngs and 10 All-Star selections, as well as World Series MVP in Atlanta’s 1995 championship. He’s one of only six left-handers to attain 300 wins, and you might as well add his four Silver Sluggers as evidence of his hitting prowess. And while this is an observation removed from statistics, he was remarkably composed and stoic on the mound win or lose, a notable contrast to the raw emotion frequently displayed by Maddux and Smoltz.
3. Mike Piazza
Even with the whispers of steroid use, this feels like a given to me by any stretch. Sentimentality is perhaps unavoidable: One of my first baseball memories was his long flyout to Bernie Williams to end the 2000 Subway Series, and who doesn’t feel their hairs stand on end watching his mammoth home run just 10 days after 9/11? But Piazza’s career totals transcend any personal attachments: .308 average, 427 home runs, 1,335 RBI, and 12 All-Star picks. He owns the most home runs by a catcher in MLB history, earning a celebration at Shea Stadium in 2004 alongside Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Johnny Bench after claiming the record. All his resume lacks is a championship, and you can’t fault him for only ending up with one WS appearance in 2000 and a few also-ran Mets and Dodgers teams.
4. Frank Thomas
With no disrespect to Edgar Martinez, no one has done as much to legitimize the position of designated hitter as the Big Hurt. Whenever he appeared in the on-deck circle, swinging a rusted piece of rebar he claimed to have found at Old Comiskey Park, everyone knew a home run was imminent. And he provided them in spades: 521 total at his retirement, along with a .301 average, 2,468 hits and 1,704 RBI. He snagged back-to-back AL MVP’s in 1993 and 1994, as well as a batting title in 1997 and AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2000. As far as steroid suspicion, his long-standing advocacy of cracking down on all users should indicate his numbers stand up to scrutiny.
5. Craig Biggio
While some dismissed the uproar of the BBWAA’s refusal to elect anyone last year due to a ballot littered with on-the-fence/steroid-era candidates, Craig Biggio’s failure to attain a bronze plaque proved the outrage was justified. Perhaps it was a bit easy to lose sight of his accomplishments due to spending his entire career with bridesmaid Astros teams, as well as being in the shadow of Jeff Bagwell’s consistent power. But Biggio is the one who made the 3,000-hit club, and one of just nine to collect all of them (3,060) with one team. Throughout his career, he proved both a solid producer and baserunner, grabbing 414 stolen bases to go along with 291 homers and 1,175 RBI. Even with a more resplendent list of first-year candidates in 2014, he doesn’t deserve to be lost in the shuffle.
6. Fred McGriff
Hold that Tom Emanski reference! Crime Dog may look like one of the classic “respectable and durable but not exceptional” candidates at first glance. A career line of .284, 2,490 hits, 493 homers, and 1,550 RBI, with five All-Star selections, is exceptional, but some say it was stretched out for a long time without any singularly phenomenal seasons or accomplishments. Indeed, he never won a league MVP award or a batting title, and one season home run title in both the AL and NL doesn’t exactly boggle the mind. But here’s why McGriff ultimately makes the cut: With those unwaveringly excellent numbers, he was an impact player wherever he went. Indeed, he’s perhaps the most unsung key of the perennial Braves postseason teams in the mid-90s, including their 1995 World Series title (which he aided with a career-high 107 RBI in the regular season and four homers and nine RBI in the postseason). To those who felt he lacked a signature moment or year to be in the Hall, ask yourself: Would you select Bill Mazeroski if he hadn’t hit the series-winner off Ralph Terry in 1960?
Alan Trammell, Curt Schilling, Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Mike Mussina