I go back and forth with how I feel about the MLB Hall of Fame. The museum in Cooperstown is an absolute delight for any baseball fan, and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone. However, I've developed a level of contempt over the past few years for the election process and the names and faces hanging in the plaque room. It's possible that it's an intrinsic small-hall bias that makes me feel some type of way about guys like Harold Baines getting the call. Maybe something broke the moment Bud Selig, the outright crook that he is, was shuttled through the back door. But as strong as those feelings can get, I can't quit the appeal of filtering through each year's new candidates, discussing their merits, and filling out a fake ballot. So, let's do that.
Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players to ever put on a pair of cleats. The list of guys who have tested positive for or been associated with sports drugs is vast, but none of those guys were able to come anywhere close to matching Bonds' raw talent or achievements. The Hall is filled with racists, drug users, and parasites; it's time for the writers to stop excluding Bonds because they don't like the guy.
Roger Clemens is in a similar position. Arguably the best pitcher in the history of the game, the writers have ostracized Clemens based on steroid use and a general loathing of his personality. There are worse people in the Hall already. There are few, if any, more talented.
Manny Ramirez was an extremely skillful hitter with a career .312/.411/.585 triple-slash line, 555 homeruns, and 8 straight top-10 MVP finishes. He wasn't a good defender, but he was a 12-time All-Star and was an integral part of two World Series winning Red Sox teams. The case against Manny isn't based on his on-field merits, but on his multiple positive PED tests. He's far enough above the line for me to ignore those arguments.
As much as I'd like to say Curt Schilling doesn't deserve a plaque, I think he does. He had a strong peak, good longevity, and excellent postseason performance. He was part of three World Series winning teams with one WS MVP, and he had 6 career All-Star game appearances. I'm focused on his on-field merits here and would give him my vote, but for what it's worth, Schilling the person deserves nothing.
The sabermetric community helped push Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker over the cusp into the Hall of Fame, and I think their next pursuit, for good reason, is Scott Rolen. Edgar was the better hitter but Rolen more than made up the difference with his above average defense at the hot corner. Rolen's case is fairly strong, if unexciting. His 70.1 bWAR came in large part thanks to his defense, his all-around skill set, and his longevity. I think he did enough over the course of his career to warrant induction.
Those five are the easy ones for me. I think Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa are all comparable here and I'd have trouble voting for one or two of them while leaving the others out. Sosa hit a ton of homeruns, Sheffield was a very good hitter, and Jones was a pretty complete centerfielder for the better part of a decade. You can make a good case for these guys, and big-hall voters will include all of them. In my opinion, Rolen did enough to differentiate himself from this group. Maybe you think otherwise; that's your prerogative. However, I generally think that if I'm on the fence with a player, I'd withhold my vote, and that's what I'm doing here.
Bobby Abreu, Jeff Kent, Omar Vizquel, and Andy Pettitte are in the next tier down and I have an easier time withholding support for them. Pettitte is probably the closest here, with the requisite longevity and a substantial amount of excellent postseason performance, but the rest of his career wasn't quite where it needs to be to warrant a Hall of Fame vote.
It seems too bad that the entire class of first-year players on the ballot are likely to fall off, but I suppose it happens. There are players on this ballot deserving of induction into the Hall, but I wouldn't be surprised if none of them get in, for one reason or another. The one that feels most likely, Schilling, is the one I'd least like to see earn the honor. My hope is that he doesn't go in alone. So, to wrap up, I'd vote for five: Bonds, Clemens, Manny, Schilling, and Rolen.