Several Former Tribe Stars Highlight Next Batch of Hall Eligibles

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced on Monday the list of candidates on this year’s ballot for potential induction in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Several players with strong ties to the Cleveland Indians will make their first appearances.

A total of 33 candidates are up for the vote this offseason, including 19 players for the first time. The new class of candidates include several former Indians – Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel – as well as former Atlanta Braves stars Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, and lethal left-hander Johan Santana.

Other players on the ballot for the first time this year are three more with ties to Cleveland (Johnny Damon, Kevin Millwood, and Kerry Wood), pitchers Chris Carpenter, Livan Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen, Brad Lidge, Jamie Moyer, and Carlos Zambrano, and position players Orlando Hudson, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Lee, and Scott Rolen.

Chipper Jones and Thome are thought to be the top candidates of the new list of eligible players. The switch-hitting Chipper spent 19 seasons in the Majors, all in Atlanta, becoming an eight-time All-Star and the 1999 National League MVP.

Thome’s prolific career as one of the best sluggers in the game will be judged for the first time. A 22-year Major Leaguer, he spent the majority of his career in Cleveland, but spent time at five other stops around baseball with the Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Twins, and Orioles. He was a 13th round pick by Cleveland in the 1989 draft and reached the Majors as a September call-up in 1991. He played 13 seasons with the Indians, including the first 12 of his career. He finished no higher than fourth in league MVP voting in his career and was an All-Star just five times, but he remains one of the best of his power hitting generation and did so with no links to the performance enhancing substances that have tarnished the numbers of some of the feared players of his cohort. His 612 career home runs are eighth-most all-time and his at bats per home run rate of 13.76 is fifth-best in baseball history. A total of 337 blasts came while representing Cleveland.

He was also well-known for his eye at the plate and still ranks seventh with 1,747 walks in his career. He is one of just five players in baseball history to record at least 500 homers, 1,500 runs scored, 1,600 runs driven in, and 1,700 walks (joining Barry Bonds, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams).

Being considered a clean player in an otherwise dirty era could help Thome, as long as voters are willing to separate his performance from others of his time.

Ramirez, Vizquel, and Thome celebrate a Segui HR - AP
Ramirez, Vizquel, and Thome celebrate a Segui HR – AP

Vizquel also appears on the ballot for the first time after his own lengthy big league career. A veteran of 24 seasons at the Major League level, Vizquel started off with five seasons in Seattle with the Mariners, where he brought home his first of eleven Gold Glove Awards before being traded to the Indians. His career took off in Cleveland, where he spent eleven years manning the shortstop position for the Tribe, becoming an All-Star in 1998, 1999, and 2002 as one of the best defenders in the game. His Gold Glove collection is second-most all-time among shortstops and he owns the best career fielding percentage at short with a .985 mark. His contributions at the plate often get ignored and he was a threat at times on the base paths.

While Cleveland fans might consider him a shoe-in for the Hall, defensive-first players have not always gotten much benefit of the doubt for inclusion. The argument for Vizquel took a hit when he retired with 2,877 hits, just short of one of the key milestones that seems to help players with induction.

Several other first timers on the ballot saw their careers swing briefly through the Indians organization.

Damon spent 18 years in the Bigs, beginning with the Kansas City Royals. An All-Star twice in his career, he later spent time in Oakland before far more publicized stops in Boston (where he was part of Indians manager Terry Francona’s World Series club with the Red Sox in 2004) and New York with the Yankees. As his career dwindled down, he played for Detroit and Tampa Bay until his final stop on the Major League circuit with the Indians in 2012. He appeared in just 64 games for the Tribe that season, hitting .222 in what would be his final big league games.

Millwood spent one strong season with the Indians in 2005, leading the American League with a 2.86 ERA while finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting. At that point of his career, he had already spent six seasons with Atlanta (making his lone All-Star team in 1999) and a pair of seasons in Philadelphia. He left the Indians after one year, playing four years with the Texas Rangers before single seasons with Baltimore, Colorado, and Seattle to close out his 16-year career. He was 169-152 with a 4.11 ERA.

Wood saw injury short-circuit a promising start to his career. The National League Rookie of the Year in 1998 with the Chicago Cubs, he spent his first six big league seasons as a starter and was an All-Star in 2003 for the Cubs. He remained in the Windy City from 1998 through the 2008 season, turning into an All-Star closer in his final year with the club. He signed with the Indians as a free agent in 2009 and saved 20 games in his first season with the club, but was dealt the following year to the Yankees for a pair of minor leaguers. He spent the second half of 2010 with New York before returning for two more years in Chicago, retiring after 14 seasons with an 86-75 record and 63 career saves.

Fourteen players, including those to receive at least 5% of the overall vote on the ballot last year, return to the BBWAA’s ballots for a chance at becoming part of the Class of 2018, including a pair of former members of the Tribe. The group of 14 includes reliever Trevor Hoffman, who missed induction last season by just 1% of the vote, and slugger Vladimir Guerrero, who fell just 3.3% short a year ago.

Jeff Kent was a member of the Indians organization for a blink of an eye in 1996. Acquired mid-year from the New York Mets as part of the trade that sent Carlos Baerga to the Big Apple, Kent spent the second half of his fifth big league season hitting .265 for the Tribe, working at first, second, and third base, but not providing the offense needed. He was dealt back to the National League following the season, finding a new home and prosperity with the San Francisco Giants. He was an All-Star for the first of five times in 1999 and won the NL MVP in 2000, hitting .334 with 33 homers and 125 RBI. He hit a career-high 37 bombs in 2002 in his final season with the Giants. He followed up his successful years in the Bay with two seasons in Houston before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers for four seasons, including his final All-Star team in 2005.

Lofton, Ramirez & Vizquel - AP Photo/Frank Gunn
Lofton, Ramirez & Vizquel – AP Photo/Frank Gunn

Manny Ramirez spent his first eight big league seasons with the Indians after being drafted in the first round of the 1991 draft out of high school. He made it to the big leagues by 1993 and became a full-time contributor to the club the next season. He broke out in a big way in 1995, securing right field and becoming an All-Star for the first of 12 times. He made three more trips for the Tribe and hit .313 in his Indians career with 236 homers and 804 RBI before leaving via free agency following the 2000 season to sign with the Boston Red Sox. He spent eight seasons calling Fenway Park home and was an All-Star each one, hitting .312 in his Boston career with 274 homers and 868 RBI. He was traded to Los Angeles in 2008, spending parts of three seasons with the Dodgers before playing 24 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2010 and five games with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. Performance enhancing drug scandals rocked the latter portion of his career, putting his Hall status in heavy jeopardy despite owning a career .312/.411/.585 slash in 19 seasons with 555 home runs.

The other returning names on the list include several with checkered pasts – Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa – and some of the more prominent players of the 1990s and 2000s, including Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, and Billy Wagner.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce the results of the Hall of Fame balloting on January 24, 2018.

Photo: Associated Press

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