Of this year’s 37 candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot, voters are limited to voting for a maximum of 10 players. There is no minimum, so some writers will send in blank ballots. With players needing 75 percent of the vote, a blank ballot can hurt a player who might be on the edge.
I am not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, but I hope to be someday in the future. Once a writer has been a member of the BBWAA for 10 years, they earn the right to vote for the Hall of Fame.
Even though I am not a member, I still like to pick my Hall of Fame votes every year. Of this year’s group, I have 10 players I would vote for. Here are the first five and my reasoning behind each candidate.
1. Lee Smith
When Smith retired from baseball, he was the Major League Baseball all time leader in career saves. He was the first pitcher in the history of the game to amass over 400 saves. Smith finished with 478 career saves.
There are currently five relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame and Smith has more career saves than all of them. The five relievers in the Hall of Fame are Dennis Eckersley (390) followed by Rollie Fingers (341), Goose Gossage (310), Bruce Sutter (300), and Hoyt Wilhelm (227).
Smith pitched 18 seasons. During that time, he racked up 13 seasons of 25 saves or more. Ten times he finished a season with over 30 saves and three times he had 40-plus saves. Smith led the league in saves during the 1983, 1991, 1992, and 1994 seasons.
Smith was a seven time All Star who finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young Award voting four times. He was runner-up for the award in 1991, the same year he finished eighth in the MVP voting while pitching for St. Louis.
2. Craig Biggio
Biggio is one of the very few players who spend their entire career with one organization. He was a first round draft pick of the Astros in 1987. He made his major league debut in 1988 and never looked back as he played 20 years for Houston.
There is said to be no magical number that automatically will gain entry for any player, but in all of baseball history only 28 players have reached 3,000 career hits. Biggio is currently 21st all time in hits. Outside of Derek Jeter (who is still active) and Rafael Palmeiro, everyone else who is eligible and has 3,000 hits are in the Hall of Fame. This will be Biggio’s first year on the ballot and I expect him to gain entry.
In compiling over 3000 hits, Biggio had only one season (of his 20 years in the major leagues) where he finished with over 200 hits (1998). He stole 414 bases over his career and hit 291 home runs. He also had 668 doubles. In 1998 and 1999 Biggio finished with over 50 doubles in a single season. Biggio also holds the dubious record for being the player hit by the most pitches (285) in the modern era. In all of baseball history, Biggio is second only to Hughie Jennings who was hit 287 times between 1891 and 1903.
Biggio was a seven time All Star. He won five Silver Slugger Awards. In 1989 he won his first Silver Slugger Award as a catcher. He then moved to second base and won four more in 1994 and 1995 and again in 1997 and 1998. Three times Biggio finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting and twice in the Top 5. He won four straight Gold Gloves at second base from 1994 through 1997.
3. Mike Piazza
From being drafted in the 62nd round (1,390 overall player picked) of the 1988 draft to hitting the most home runs of any catcher in the history of baseball, Piazza was one of the best. Twice Piazza finished a season with 40 homers.
Known more for his offense, Piazza caught a pair of no-hitters while playing for the Dodgers. Perhaps the most impressive no-no he caught was thrown by Hideo Nomo at Coor’s Field in Colorado, at the time a huge hitter’s park.
In his entire 16 year career, Piazza never struck out more than 93 times in a single season. He is one of just 10 players in history to hit over 400 home runs (427) and hit over .300 (.308) for his career while not striking out 100 times in a season. The other nine are Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols. The first six are in the Hall of Fame. Jones just retired following the 2012 season. Pujols is still active and Guerrero is not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Piazza won the 1993 Rookie of the Year Award and was a 12 time All Star. His rookie season, started a string of six straight all star appearances and six straight Silver Slugger Awards. Overall, Piazza won 10 Silver Slugger Awards. He was a two-time runner up for the MVP award and finished in the top 10 seven times. Four times Piazza finished in the top 5.
4. Tim Raines
The knock against Raines is that he played at the same time as Rickey Henderson. But outside of that, Raines was just as dominant. His 808 stolen bases is the fourth highest career total. Only Henderson, Lou Brock and Ty Cobb have more and all three are in the Hall of Fame.
Of course, Raines was able to do one thing that Henderson never could do, hit from both sides of the plate. Raines was one of the most successful switch hitters in baseball history.
For six straight years, Raines recorded over 70 stolen bases. The first four years of that streak he led the National League in stolen bases.
As a leadoff hitter, Raines was just almost as good as Henderson. Raines banged out 2,605 hits in 8,872 at bats, good for a .294 batting average. He had 170 home runs and drove in 980 runs. In 1986, Raines won the National League batting title with a .334 average. Raines hit over .300 eight times, including four straight seasons.
Raines finished as runner-up to Fernando Valenzuela as the 1981 Rookie of the Year and made the All Star team seven consecutive times, including his rookie season. Three times Raines finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting and he won a Silver Slugger Award in 1986.
5. Rafael Palmeiro
Palmeiro is one of four players to accumulate 500 home runs and 3,000 hits in his career. The other three are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray. All three are in the Hall of Fame.
Palmeiro played for 20 years. He came up with the Chicago Cubs in 1986 and played parts of two seasons and one full season in the Windy City. Over the next 17 years, Palmeiro played for the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles. He went to Texas for 1989 through 1994 before moving on to Baltimore. Palmeiro spent 1994 through 1998 with the Orioles. He went back to the Rangers for another five years from 1999 through 2003 before playing his final two seasons with Baltimore (2004 and 2005).
On May 11, 2003, Palmeiro joined the 500 home run club when he hit a three-run shot against the Cleveland Indians in a game Texas would win 17-10. Two years later, Palmeiro collected his 3000th hit, an RBI double, on July 15, 2005 in a 6-3 win over the Seattle Mariners while with the Orioles.
Palmeiro never led the league in home runs, but he hit at least 22 every year from 1991 through 2004. Ten times Palmeiro finished a season with 30 or more home runs and four times he hit 40-plus.
He was a four time All Star, a three time Gold Glove winner and twice won the Silver Slugger Award.
Tomorrow I will list the remainder of the 10 players whom I would vote for.