Henning: Pudge Rodriguez among nine on my Hall of Fame ballot

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Pudge Rodriguez, left, had a career batting average of .298 in 611 games with the Tigers.

Three weeks after a certain election created, well, a stir throughout America, it’s time to toss another piece of dry timber onto the public-opinion blaze.

Having donned a three-piece asbestos suit, adorned with fireproof accessories, here, in alphabetical order, are the nominees on one man’s 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot:

Jeff Bagwell.

Barry Bonds.

Roger Clemens.

Jeff Kent.

Edgar Martinez.

Mike Mussina.

Tim Raines.

Pudge Rodriguez.

Curt Schilling.

Note that the list bears nine names. That’s good, personally speaking. Because had there been even two more players deemed fit for a plaque in Cooperstown – and two were within an eyelash of inclusion –I’d have been forced to do what was done the last two years. I’d have abstained from the Hall of Fame vote.

Two years ago, there were 13 players on a personal list of HOF candidates. Last year, there were 11. The problem, of course, is that Cooperstown’s custodians have this intense romance with the number “10” and have decided only 10 names can each year be advanced.

Rather than confront an abjectly negative exercise in deciding what player, or players, were less Hall of Fame worthy than 10 others, I said no. Not going to do it. The 10-player limit is unjust, silly, obsolete, counter-productive, injurious, pretentious, and a few other words that probably can’t tastefully be cited.

So, rather than expand the list so that all players who crack an elite level of consideration can be accommodated on a studious voter’s ballot, Cooperstown’s intelligentsia have held firm. And rather than mount a more militant protest against the 10-man limit, the Baseball Writers Association of America, whose 10-year members are eligible for a HOF vote, has agreed to play by Cooperstown’s rules.

It’s unfortunate. But, hey, that’s not the only lament shared by some voters during the past month.

On to the matter of those who made it and those who didn’t. Get your flame-throwers ready.

The decision relative to those PED-era suspects, Bonds and Clemens, has, for me, never wavered. Their careers would have been worthy of a Cooperstown plaque had they not once indulged in the performance-enhancers that all evidence suggests was part of too many players’ once-normal routine.

Some who might have been just as mischievous during that Wild West time in baseball – principally, 1991-2003, when PEDs were not illegal and weren’t subject to strict testing – have, in my view, gotten within plaque-raising distance perhaps because of the boost they might have gained.

Hence, there has always been resistance to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro. Their numbers hint at having crossed the HOF threshold perhaps with the help of artificial means. That group has now grown by one: Manny Ramirez, a first-timer on the ballot who qualifies for enshrinement if you assume his numbers were not overly tainted. But the evidence on his behalf seems unpersuasive. And so, for now at least, I’m subjecting his candidacy to further review, given that he has nine more cracks at winning 75 percent of the vote, which is the minimum required for a Cooperstown ticket.

The two players who were this close to winning votes were a pair of right-fielders: Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker. You can make great cases for each. But, in the view of a critic who never believed Jim Rice quite qualified as a genuine HOF player, nor Fred McGriff, Walker and Guerrero likewise finish a hair shy. For now, anyway.

Others chosen range from fairly easy to fairly complicated.

Bagwell: Check out his top 10 numbers for career first basemen: homers, walks, extra-base hits, etc. Simply a terrific hitter during his 15 big-league seasons. The PED era has worked against him. Unfairly. Bagwell belongs.

Kent: Tremendous offensive second baseman. His historical place within a wide slice of career batting numbers makes him a narrow choice.

Martinez: One of the game’s immensely gifted stars. Bad knees made him a designated hitter. And that was fine. Because a man who swung a bat as elegantly, and as productively, as Martinez deserved a lineup spot and now deserves a plaque. Martinez batted .312 for his 18-year career, with a .418 on-base average and .515 slugging percentage.

Mussina: Analyze the numbers. They explain why Mussina nine times finished no worse than sixth in the American League Cy Young sweepstakes. His career statistical niches (they include seven Gold Gloves) are Cooperstown-caliber all the way.

Raines: Long ago he should have been standing on a dais in July, detailing to Cooperstown’s cast why he so appreciated induction. He has one chance left before his 10-year window closes. The voters need to get it right with Raines.

Rodriguez: There are firm suspicions Pudge got some help during that time when PED anarchy prevailed. Doesn’t matter. As with Bonds and Clemens, his career was so distinguished, so extraordinary in the realm of big-league catchers, his indelible marks are more like monuments and withstand any interlude when performance-enhancers might have been a benefit.

Schilling: Not a difficult choice here, although, frankly, I made it difficult early in his candidacy by not sufficiently appreciating some career distinctions. His strikeouts-to-walk ratios were, and are, astounding. His career WAR (wins above replacement) is 80.7 – smack dab between Bob Gibson and Tom Glavine. Schilling gets a thumbs-up.

So, there are the nine, and it’s by no means a neat or simple judgment. Probably the heaviest regret hangs over Walker’s candidacy when his career WAR is so compelling (72.6, a tad beneath the average HOF right-fielder’s numbers).

But a vote for Walker would be difficult, personally, minus a vote for Guerrero. And that’s not an easy justification, even if choosing both would mean 11 nominees – and a refusal on this end to forward a ballot that forces one or more worthy names to be excluded.

Some will ask about Trevor Hoffman. Proper question. Tremendous reliever. But he misses, as Lee Smith missed. Still, sidestepping Hoffman is not a decision made with complete contentment.

But, ah, this year will be a breeze compared with a year from now. At least if Cooperstown and the BBWAA persist with this nonsensical 10-man ballot limit.

Consider these three names that will arrive on next year’s docket:

Chipper Jones.

Jim Thome.

Omar Vizquel.

They’re automatics. Here, at least. And unless this year’s vote pushes at least two of the above nine onto the lawn at Cooperstown next July, we’ll have another overloaded ballot – never mind that one voter’s mind will remain open on Walker and others, as it should be when time, and perspective, and refracted light can spur a vote that years earlier might have been withheld.

Here’s hoping the 10-man limit will be discussed at next week’s BBWAA business session during the Winter Meetings. Rather, here’s hoping that 10-man limit will, once and for all, be regarded as a straitjacket entrapping candidacies that should be anything but shackled.