- Covers MLB for ESPN.com
- Former deputy editor of Page 2
- Been with ESPN.com since 1995
The Hall of Fame has been at a crossroads for more than a decade now due to uncertainty on how to consider what I call the PED Five, which sounds like an outlaw gang that used to rob stagecoaches and saloons in Dodge City: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. A group that has now been extended to also include Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
To make the Hall of Fame debates even more disorienting, in recent years the various veterans committees have grown exceedingly — what’s the right term here? — magnanimous in their selections. Don’t get me wrong, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and Gil Hodges were all excellent ballplayers and it will be especially enjoyable to see Kaat and Oliva, both in their 80s, get enshrined this summer. It’s also fair to say that none of these players raised the overall level of the Hall of Fame. Kaat has the highest career WAR of that group at 50.5 — a total exceeded by 18 of the 30 players on this year’s ballot.
Before you jump on my case, no, it’s not the Hall of WAR. That’s just one barometer to consider, although career value and statistics have generally been the talking points for a player’s candidacy — not fame or popularity or even contributions made in the postseason.
In a sense, the lack of a clear bar has turned some fans off on the whole process, myself included. I’m still a couple years away from voting eligibility, but my general philosophy would be as follows:
(1) The Hall has elected Bud Selig, John Schuerholz, Pat Gillick, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — all of whom enabled, ignored or simply didn’t care about PEDs in baseball. I don’t see how you can put Bud Selig in the Hall of Fame after he presided over the sport during the steroid era and not Barry Bonds.
(2) Does this player raise the average level of the Hall of Fame?
With that second factor in mind, there is one follow-up question to ask: Who is the best player at each position not currently in the Hall of Fame? Each candidate shouldn’t be analyzed in isolation. So let’s look at the best players not currently in Cooperstown at each position:
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