The newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame are one step closer to induction as the candidates for the Class of 2017 were announced on Monday as the annual Cooperstown ballot was unveiled.
A total of 19 new names join the list of 15 holdovers looking to gain entry to a place among baseball’s immortals. Among the most recognizable of the first time candidates are Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, and former Cleveland Indians outfielder Manny Ramirez.
To reach the Hall, a player needs to appear on 75% of the ballots cast by more than 400 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Results of the process will be announced on January 18 on the MLB Network.
Ramirez is not the only former Indians player to crack the ballot for the first time as former Cleveland utility man Casey Blake, infielder Orlando Cabrera, and reliever Arthur Rhodes are also on the list this winter. They join one-time Cleveland infielder Jeff Kent, who returns to the ballot for the fourth time this winter.
Guerrero is expected to fair favorably on his first ballot. The numbers are harder to predict for Rodriguez, who endured suspicions of steroid use during his career and was one of numerous players mentioned by Jose Canseco in his book, “Juiced”.
Ramirez’s Hall of Fame chances were damaged significantly during his playing days after two separate failed drug tests put a sizeable blemish on his otherwise Hall worthy numbers. In 19 seasons in the Majors, Ramirez hit .312 with a .411 on-base percentage and .585 slugging percentage while amassing 555 career homers, 12 All-Star nods, and nine Silver Slugger Awards. He won the 2002 American League batting title, was the MVP of the 2004 World Series, and sits 15th on the career home run list. He spent eight big league seasons with the Indians, the team that drafted him in the first round of the 1991 draft, before he spent parts of eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox, where his star reached peak brightness. He also spent time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays at the MLB level and the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and Chicago Cubs at the minor league level as recently as 2014.
Blake spent 13 seasons in the Majors, but those figures include a total of 49 games over his first four years with Toronto, Minnesota, and Baltimore, before arriving on the scene as an every day player in Cleveland in 2003. His best years were easily on the shores of Lake Erie, where he spent six years and 810 games. He hit .266 with the Indians with 116 homers and ended his career with a .264 average and 167 long balls.
The final year of Cabrera’s 15-year career began in Cleveland, where he worked as an infielder and regular at second base prior to Jason Kipnis’ call-up in 2011. Cabrera appeared in 91 games, hitting .244, before he was dealt to the San Francisco Giants prior to the trade deadline.
Rhodes spent 20 seasons in the Majors from 1991 to 2011. The left-handed reliever, who later became more of a specialist, spent time with nine different clubs at the MLB level and had one of his better seasons when he came to Cleveland in 2005. He went 3-1 in 47 games, posting a 2.08 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
Kent was a five-time All-Star and the 2000 National League MVP during his 17-year career. His stop in Cleveland was his shortest stay of the six he made during his playing days and he was largely forgettable. He was dealt by the New York Mets to the Indians before the deadline in 1996 with Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza, but he hit .265 with three homers, seven doubles, and 16 RBI in 39 games while playing first, second, and third base. The Indians made a first round exit in the ALDS and he was dealt in November of that offseason to the San Francisco Giants in a six-player deal and his career took back off on the West Coast. He has received no higher than 16.6% of the vote in his three years on the ballot thus far.
With no surefire first ballot Hall of Famer in this year’s class of candidates, it could be a prime time to strike for several players returning to the list who pulled in big numbers last year.
Jeff Bagwell enters his seventh year on the ballot and has seen a steady climb in his numbers from 55.7% of the vote to 71.6% last season, when he missed induction by 15 votes. Trevor Hoffman, owner of the second-most saves in MLB history, achieved 67.3% of the vote in his first year on the ballot last season in what was a positive result for the long-time closer.
Tim Raines and Lee Smith will be staring down their final year on the ballot. Raines pulled in 69.8% of the votes last season, a jump of nearly 15% from his previous total. A 22-year veteran of six clubs and a seven-time All-Star, Raines was one of the top leadoff men in the game and is fifth all-time in stolen bases, but has remained stuck as a fringe candidate in the eyes of the voting public. Smith, who spent 18 seasons with five different teams while also appearing on seven All-Star squads, was the all-time saves leader when he retired from the game in 1997. He received votes on just 34.1% of the ballots last season, far removed from his best 50.6% pull back in 2012, and is unlikely to make his way in to Cooperstown this winter.
First time candidates on the ballot this year include Guerrero, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Blake, Cabrera, Rhodes, Pat Burrell, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Carlos Guillen, Derrek Lee, Melvin Mora, Magglio Ordonez, Jorge Posada, Edgar Renteria, Freddy Sanchez, Matt Stairs, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield.
Returning players include Bagwell, Hoffman, Raines, Smith, Kent, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker.
Players failing to attain at least 5% of the vote will be removed from future ballots, but could gain entry through the various established Era Committees. Candidates can remain on the ballot for ten years before falling off, after baseball reduced the years of eligibility from 15 to 10 in 2014.
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