It’s been nearly two full months since the Baseball Hall of Fame unveiled its ballot for the class of 2024. With a stacked group of first-timers (Adrian Beltre, Chase Utley and Joe Mauer, to name a few) added to the mix this year, the past few weeks have been full of the usual arguing — breaking down candidacies and parsing baseball’s past in an effort to determine just how should be bestowed with the game’s highest honor.
And now, the moment of truth is almost here. We’re just a week away from the voting reveal, which will take place during a live MLB Network broadcast at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The time for deliberation is done, and the time to finally put (virtual) pen to (virtual) paper has arrived. Which is why we’re here today: Below, arranged in alphabetical order, I’ve laid out what would be my Hall of Fame ballot, complete with explanations for each of the players who got my hypothetical vote.
Before we get started, let’s take care of some housekeeping. First, the elephant in the room: How to handle the steroid question? Everyone is free to draw their own line in the sand, and mine is this: If a player was never hit with a suspension for a positive test, I judge his candidacy as if there are no black marks. The fact is that Major League Baseball, its executives, coaches and players, collectively turned a blind eye to PEDs for years, if not decades. It’s hypocritical, to say the least, to condemn a player for going along with what was either encouraged or tacitly permitted at the highest levels of the sport (especially if the evidence of their steroid use comes from the Mitchell Report, testing results which were collected as information-gathering and never intended to be made public).
After that, however, things get trickier: In more recent times, it’s been made clear that PED use is unacceptable, and players who continued to flaunt those rules should be held accountable. This means that Alex Rodriguez, among the most talented players in the game’s history, won’t earn my vote here. Would A-Rod have been a Hall-caliber player without steroids? Absolutely. Did MLB engage in something of a witch hunt, determined to make an example of a high-profile name? Almost certainly. But a willingness to break what were by that point very clear needs to carry consequences, or else what are the rules even for?
This would also disqualify Manny Ramirez, but Ramirez was already off my ballot for a far more serious reason: an incident in 2011 in which he allegedly slapped his wife so hard she fell back and hit her head on the headboard in the bedroom of their Florida home. I removed Andruw Jones from consideration for the same reason, as the former center fielder also faced a domestic assault charge back in December of 2012. The Hall’s oft-quoted character clause — which stipulates that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played — is often trotted out as a reason to withhold support from steroid users. But I believe it’s even more applicable here, in instances in which a player’s behavior doesn’t comport with the values that Cooperstown should be aspiring to uphold.
I’m not Pollyannaish about this; I’m well aware that the Hall is currently home to a great many men who could hardly be described as saints, some of whom have done some truly vile stuff. But that can’t be a reason to stop trying all together. The Hall of Fame is more than a reflection of on-field achievement — it’s a celebration of the best the sport has to offer, and with that comes a responsibility to reckon with what behavior we do and don’t want to endorse. Induction is a privilege, not a right, and while the criminal justice system is obviously allowed to run its course, we should be honest about what we’re doing when we turn a blind eye to abusers.
So now my cards are fully on the table. Without further ado, let’s get to the eight players who did earn my vote, presented in alphabetical order.
My (hypothetical) 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot
It’s in some ways fitting that a player who was underappreciated during his career would also be overlooked on the Hall of Fame ballot. Some may slap Abreu with the dreaded “compiler” label — the implication being that his resume looks better than it really is by virtue of simply hanging around for a long time — but that drastically underrates 1) how good the outfielder was at his peak and 2) how hard it is to keep on compiling in the Majors.
Abreu was selected by the Rays in the expansion draft in the winter of 1997, then shipped to the Phillies ahead of the 1998 season. As soon as he got to Philly, he immediately became one of the best players in baseball, a 20/20 machine who also got on base as well as anyone not named Barry Bonds. Consider: From 1998 through 2005 — a span of eight full seasons — Abreu compiled 45.2 wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference. The only position players who cleared that number over the same timespan? Rodriguez, Bonds, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton and Abreu.
Abreu fell off significantly as he entered his 30s, becoming far closer to average than the superstar he’d been over his first decade or so in the Majors. But of the 26 right fielders currently in the hall, he sits seventh in OBP, third in walks, third in steals, 10th in extra-base hits and third in doubles. He’s also the only player in history to have nine seasons with at least 60 extra-base hits and 20 steals, surpassing Bonds, who only had eight such campaigns. Abreu’s counting stats won’t jump off the page, and he certainly wouldn’t be an inner-circle Hall of Famer. But if you’re credibly one of the best players in the sport for almost a full decade — just two All-Star nods be damned — you belong in Cooperstown.
If I’m taking the character clause seriously enough to disqualify players like Ramirez and Jones — each of whom would have earned my vote otherwise — then why not Beltran, who played a central role in the sign-stealing scandal? The simple answer here is that a team-level operation to achieve team-level success, one that was different only in degree, rather than kind, from other efforts around the league, feels less significant to me than steroid use or domestic abuse allegations.
On the field, it’s hard to argue with Beltran’s candidacy: a Rookie of the Year, nine-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner in center, he was a two-way force for over a decade, averaging five WAR per year from 2001 through 2013. At the plate, he cracked a 125 OPS+ — meaning he was at least 25 percent better than league average — nine different times, with a .283/.371/.511 (131 OPS+) slash line from 2003-2011. He ranks ninth among center fielders in MLB history in hits, fifth in homers at 435, and he’s one of just 39 players to clear the 1,500 mark in both runs and RBI (the other 38 are either in the Hall or kept out for PED reasons). He was also a dynamite athlete, an elite defensive center fielder before knee injuries took their toll who also led the league in outfield assists four times:
Beltran could do it all: run, throw, defend, hit and hit for power. The only other players to top 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases were A-Rod, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson and Bonds. Add in a .307/.412/.609 slash line over 65 career playoff games — including a god-tier run with the 2004 Astros — and that’s a Hall of Fame resume.
Beltre, for me, was likely the easiest yes on this whole ballot. The question isn’t “is he a Hall of Famer” but rather “where does he rank among the best third basemen of all-time”?
Beltré debuted in the Majors in at age 19 in 1998 to great fanfare, with Baseball America ranking him as the third-best prospect in baseball entering the season. He played all the way through his age-39 season in 2018, racking up 2,933 games in the process — he topped 150 games in 10 of his 21 seasons and was over 140 four others. As you might imagine with that kind of longevity, the counting stats are impressive:
- 18th in hits with 3,166
- 65th in runs with 1,524
- 11th in doubles with 636
- 31st in home runs with 477
- 25th in RBI with 1,707
- 15th in extra-base hits
- 15th in total bases
- 40th in times on base
Of course, the rate stats are no slouch either: .286/.339/.480 (116 OPS+), with seven seasons of an OPS+ of 130 or higher. Most of those seasons came after his 30th birthday, which makes Beltre a bit of an outlier. But while his peak came later than most, it was still remarkable: From 2010 to 2016, he slashed .310/.359/.521 (133 OPS+) while averaging over six WAR per year. For the first half of his career, he was arguably the best defensive third baseman in the sport whose bat hovered around league average — still a very good player. For the second half of his career, he was arguably the best defensive third baseman in the sport whose bat was significantly better than league average — a perennial All-Star. Beltre compares favorably to 2023 inductee Scott Rolen, and his longevity as a two-way force deserves induction.
I’m not as high on Helton’s candidacy as some others, but he’s still absolutely Hall-worthy.
To be clear, my relative ambivalence has very little to do with him calling Coors Field home for his entire career; yes Helton’s .345/.441/.607 career line at home is substantially better than his .287/.386/.469 road mark, but that road mark is still very good, and there’s ample evidence at this point that playing your home games at Coors actually hurts your offensive production in road games. Plenty of Hall of Famers also had extreme home/road splits, and Helton’s career 133 OPS+ — adjusted for ballpark conditions — is better than the likes of Tony Gwynn, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Dave Winfield and a host of others.
Whatever park he played in, Helton’s run at the turn of the millennium was something else. From 2000-2004, the first baseman hit .349/.450/.643 (160 OPS+) while averaging 37 homers and 125 RBI a year and earning all five of his career All-Star nods. He was, quite simply, one of the best hitters in baseball — which, combined with stellar defense at the cold corner, made him one of the best players in baseball. Only Bonds and A-Rod accrued more bWAR over that span than Helton’s 37.5.
Of course, Helton didn’t put up a single five-WAR season after ‘04, struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness as he entered his 30s. That left him short of the usual counting-stat bench marks, with 2,519 hits, 369 home runs, 1,406 RBI and 1,401 runs. He’s not Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx or Albert Pujols (or Miguel Cabrera, when he eventually hits the ballot in 2029). Heck, he’s not even Jeff Bagwell or Frank Thomas. But he’s 17th all-time among first baseman in WAR, sitting just behind McCovey, Joey Votto and Mark McGwire while sitting just ahead of Paul Goldschmidt and Harmon Killebrew. And really, this is more of a philosophical argument: You can’t tell the story of the sport without a player who was, for a five-year span, one of the three or four best and most fearsome in it.
Whether it’s on his first ballot or not, voting trends suggest that Mauer is Hall-bound at some point — which is great to see, because he’s been an underrated player for far too long. Some of that likely stems from the hype surrounding him since his prep days: the No. 1 overall pick out of high school in a star-studded 2001 draft that included uber-hyped Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira, Mauer raked his way through the Minors and broke into the Majors at age 20 as baseball’s top prospect. Some of it likely stems from injury, especially the concussion concerns that eventually drove Mauer from catcher to first base after the 2013 season. And some of that stems from spending his career with a Twins team that never got him past the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
But make no mistake: Even though his time behind the plate was cut short, Mauer is one of the best catchers the sport has ever seen. In his decade donning the tools of ignorance, he hit .323/.405/.469 (135 OPS+) and won three batting titles — the first of which came in just his third year in the bigs in 2006, when he posted a .347 averaged and finished sixth in MVP voting at age 23. Three years later, he won the 2009 MVP slashing a ridiculous .365/.444/.587 (171 OPS+), one of just 12 catchers to ever win the award. He led the league in on-base percentage twice and slugging once, with five Silver Slugger Awards to his name. He collected 2,123 hits (ninth among catchers), 428 doubles (third behind only Iván Rodríguez and Ted Simmons among catchers), 143 home runs, 923 RBI (17th among catchers) and 1,018 runs (11th).
And he was no bat-only backstop. Mauer twice led the league in caught stealing percentage (2007, 2013) and was also an outstanding framer behind the plate, well-regarded at the time and validated by recently developed metrics that make us better able to quantify these sorts of things than we were during his playing career.
Of course, Mauer was done catching by the time he hit his 30s, and his declining bat looked a lot less impressive at first base. But while that prevented the St. Paul native from becoming an inner-circle legend, its impact on his career value has been overstated. Mauer’s 55.2 WAR still ranks ninth all-time among catchers, just above the average Hall of Famer at the position. Even if you isolated just the years in which Mauer was behind the plate, he’d still rank 11th — and the 11th-best catcher of all-time is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer, especially when it comes with Mauer’s peak and hardware.
Sheffield has languished on the ballot for nearly a decade now, entering his 10th and final year on the ballot. And admittedly, he’s a hairier case. But the only real evidence that the slugging outfielder used steroids during his career came via the Mitchell Report, which we’ve covered above (and which Sheffield has vehemently contested). While other stars fell from grace after MLB implemented its testing policy in 2004, Sheffield kept right on raking just as he always had without a single positive result. And the overwhelming majority of his career came while the sport’s institutions — including and especially commissioner Bud Selig — was all but giving its players the green light. If Selig is fit for enshrinement, then so is Sheffield, who was among the greatest hitters of his (or any) generation.
Just going by the numbers, there’s no doubt that Sheffield is worthy of Cooperstown. Sure, his defensive limitations in right field were well-documented, limitations that hurt him in advanced stats like WAR. But this man cleared the .300/.400/.500 nine different times in his 22 Major League seasons, including six in a row from 1998-2003 (combined slash line over that span: .313/.419/.566, good for an OPS+ of 156). His career OPS+ is a Hall-worthy 140, and he ranks in the top 10 all-time among right fielders in homers (seventh, 509), runs (eighth, 1,636), RBI (eighth, 1,676) and walks (fifth, 1,475).
Again, advanced stats don’t paint Sheffield as a slam-dunk; he’s at 60.5 WAR for his career, decently below the average Hall of Fame right fielder (71.1) but ahead of Hall of Famers like Vladimir Guerrero, Enos Slaughter, “Wee” Willie Keeler, Sam Rice, Kiki Cuyler and Chuck Klein. I’ll be up front here and admit that his inclusion here largely comes down to vibes: There were very, very few hitters pitchers wanted to face less in his prime than Sheffield, an all-around offensive force who hit, drew walks, hardly ever struck out and hit for prodigious power. He had the signature bat waggle that no one of a certain age will ever forget, or stop trying to imitate. When he dug in the batter’s box, it was a big deal for around 15 years. That’s enough.
Speaking of peak candidates: No one’s peak does more work than Utley’s, who compiled a Hall of Fame resume despite just a decade as an above-average big league regular. Buried behind Placido Polanco on the depth chart in 2003 and 2004, Utley didn’t make much of a case for increased playing time, hitting just .257/.313/.436 (91 OPS+) across his first two MLB seasons. Once he took the second-base job for good in 2006, though, he took off, establishing himself as not just one of the best at his position but one of the best all-around players in baseball.
From 2005 through 2010, Utley was an absolute machine. Here are his averages over that span: 145 games, .298/.388/.523, 133 OPS+, 165 hits, 36 doubles, four triples, 27 homers, 95 RBI, 15 steals, and that’s while only appearing in 115 games during the 2010 season due to injury. Oh, and he was also the best defensive second baseman in the league, even leading the entire Majors in defensive WAR in 2008. Add it all up, and there’s an argument that Utley — despite never finishing higher than seventh in MVP voting during that span, while watching teammates Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins take home the honors — was the best position player in the sport. Look at this year-by-year WAR breakdown, keeping in mind that anything above 5.0 is generally considered to be All-Star caliber.
- 2005: 7.3
- 2006: 7.3
- 2007: 7.8
- 2008: 9.0
- 2009: 8.2
- 2010: 5.8
The only position player to accrue more WAR than Utley in that span? Albert Pujols, and it wasn’t particularly close. Here is every second baseman to ever put together a run of at least five straight 7+ WAR seasons: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan, Charlie Gehringer and Utley. That’s it, that’s the list. Not Jackie Robinson, not Ryne Sandberg.
And Utley had other good years. Injuries impacted his next five seasons, but he still hit .270/.355/.435 (116 OPS+) while averaging 4.0 WAR per year — some very solid production, especially considering that they were his 6th- through 10th-best seasons. His seven-year peak WAR is well above the average Hall of Fame second baseman, and again, I’m more of a large Hall guy: If you were among the best at your position for an appreciable length of time — let alone maybe the best at any position, as Utley was — you get my vote. Add to that the feeling you got while watching Utley, and his role in bringing a World Series to Philly in 2008, and his case feels open and shut.
It feels like Wagner has been judged unfairly during his time on the ballot. Yes, his holistic numbers will never look at impressive as the other pitchers in the Hall due to the increased specialization of closers in recent years. But that specialization is a part of the fabric of the game, and holding it against Wagner doesn’t pass the smell test to me: Closers are as much a part of baseball as anything else, and as such the best among them deserve recognition alongside the best at every other position. And there’s no doubt that Wagner was indeed among the very best.
Wagner only pitched 903 innings in his career, well below every other reliever currently in the Hall. (Next to last on the list is Bruce Sutter at 1,042.) But again, modern usage trends and sabermetrics are to blame for that, not Wagner. And based on rate stats, Wagner was better than just about everyone not named Mariano Rivera. Take a look:
Hall of Fame reliever comparison
He’s across-the-board dominant there. He’s also sixth in career saves, has more strikeouts than Hoffman and was the most dominant reliever, on a rate basis, in history, aside from Rivera (who got 100 percent of the vote and feels like an unfair standard to hold other closers up against). The question is simple: Do closers deserve Hall of Fame recognition? Especially given where the game is at in 2024, I believe they do, and you can’t answer that question affirmatively and leave Wagner out.