Thus far, hot stove season is simmering, but the bombshells won't truly be dropped until the winter GM meetings kick off and some roster jenga'ing took place in preparation for next month's Rule 5 draft. However, the biggest news during this portion of the dead time was and always is the announcement of the yearly National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which dropped yesterday. After all, we baseball fans love to debate who belongs and who doesn't.
This year's Cubby-connected contenders feature a pair of familiar faces who have been on the yearly BBWA ballot for a little while now and a few "fresh-faced" newcomers too. Shall we take a look?
Both Lee Smith and Sammy Sosa are major players in the history of the Chicago National League Ballclub. However, unfortunately both men come with their fair share of baggage, as well.
Lee Smith is in "do or die" mode. If the closer doesn't make it past the 75% mark this time around, he will drop off the ballot and won't be up for induction again until he's eligible for the Eras Committees (more on that later). Smith was once the all-time, career leader in saves with 478, but has since slipped down to third, behind Mariano Rivera and ballot-mate Trevor Hoffman. Furthermore, the true merit of closers in the HOF continues to be debated, especially true specialists such as Smith.
However, ranking third all-time behind two sure-fire HOF'ers certainly speaks and since "lesser" closers (i.e. Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, etc.) have passed the test, Smith's exclusion feels like a glaring oversight.
Meanwhile, on the surface level, Slammin' Sammy Sosa's eye-popping numbers scream first ballot inductee - 609 homers, 9x an All Star, an MVP award and his role in the famous 1998 assault on Roger Maris' record should seal the deal quite easily. Of course, as with any slugger from the 90's/00's, the legitimacy of his marks are murky, at best.
Sammy is now on his fourth attempt and barely garnered enough votes last year (6.6%) to stay eligible. There's no doubt that this has everything to do with steroid allegations and I doubt his corked bat incident helps the cause. That's not to mention his well-documented clubhouse problems.
Those are the cases for the two returners; now, let's take a look at the first-timers up for vote:
The trio just so happen to all be former Cubs first basemen. However, both have severely different levels of importance in the history of the Northside franchise.
Derrek Lee was with the Cubs from 2004 through the 2010 seasons as the regular first baseman. Always a steady presence with a potent bat and stellar defense, Lee had a career year during the 2005 campaign, where he burst out with a starting All-Star nod, 46 long balls, the batting title, a Gold Glove award, Silver Slugger and finished third in the MVP voting. Furthermore, he was in contention for the coveted Triple Crown all along the way.
Unfortunately, a broken wrist the next seasons zapped him off his power and his production entered a steady decline. Though he remained a fan favorite, D-Lee never approached those sort of numbers again.
McGriff is the most interesting case among the three newbies. In any other era, I think "Crimedog" would have been a near-lock for Cooperstown. The five-time All-Star garnered MVP votes in seven different seasons and, most importantly, he finished his career just short of the 500 HR club with 493. Unfortunately for him, he was a 30+ home run threat in a time of 60+ home run threats and rampant steroid use, which has largely left him buried and criminally forgotten.
His Cubs career is nothing more than a blip. In a year and a half with Chicago, he produced well enough (.276 avg with 42 homers), but did so for teams that ultimately went nowhere.
Finally, Matt Stairs was the textbook definition of a journeyman player, suiting up for 12 teams in his 19 year career. Only one of those years was spent in Chicago - in 2001, he was signed as a free agent to man first base as a stopgap measure in between the departure of franchise favorite Mark Grace and the promotion of prospect Hee-Seop Choi.
While Stairs never led the league in any offensive categories or made the All-Star team, etc., he did provide a 20+ homer, above average offensive presence, a career 14.3 WAR, and a World Series ring with the 2008 Phillies. Plus, he certainly had a Hall of Fame nickname - "Wonder Hamster."
With a name like that, he would have fit right in with this team too.
All told, of the five Cubs on the general ballot in 2016, there are really only two who will likely merit serious thought - Smith and Sosa. McGriff is sort of stuck in the middle and seems destined to stay caught in the informal black hole known as the "Hall of Very Good." Meanwhile Derrek Lee and Matt Stairs both had long, productive careers, neither produced HOF caliber numbers along the way.
However, if I had a voice, I'd definitely cast a vote for both Smith and Sosa. Lee Smith was undoubtedly the top closer of his generation and the only two people with more career saves will make Cooperstown. In addition, while I was initially against allowing any of the "steroid era" sluggers in, we'll never know for sure who did and didn't and/or when they started. Plus, it's a crime to ignore an entire generation of players based on such hazy circumstances.
That said, both men face uphill battles, with names on the BBWA ballot like Rock Raines, Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero and Jeff Bagwell sure to garner most of the attention. I guess we'll see how it goes.
But hold on, Sosa and Smith aren't Cubs fans only hopes for representation at the 2017 Cooperstown induction ceremony. While they are the only two real contenders on the writer's ballot, we haven't even taken a look at the "Today's Game Era" ballot.
There are five former MLB players, three executives and two managers which comprise the 10-name ballot, which is to be voted upon at the Winter Meetings. Formerly known as the Veterans Committee, the newly established Eras Committees consider candidates from four different eras on a rotating basis. The Today's Game portion features those who made an impact from 1988 to 2016.
None of the players or executive have any ties to my favorite baseball team; however, two of the managers certainly do:
Davey Johnson had an All-Star caliber playing career at second base, spent mostly with the Orioles and Braves. Notably, at least to me anyway, he wrapped up his 13-year tenure in the MLB with a brief and forgettable, 24-game stint with the 1978 Cubs. Seeing as his election is based upon his post-playing career as a manger for the Mets (including the famed '86 WS Champs), Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and Nationals, his Cubs connections will have no bearing on the decision.
On the other hand, while "Sweet Lou" Piniella's twilight years at the helm of the Cubs weren't the focal point of his career, they certainly won't hurt his case. Guiding the infamously hapless franchise to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in 100 years looks pretty good on the resume. Add in a World Series title with the 1990 Reds, his guidance of the 116-win '01 Mariners and a career .537 winning percentage and Piniella appears to have a serious chance.
Unfortunately, Lou didn't make the RnR HOF ballot though.
So, there you have it - a complete look in at the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot with a Cubbie blue lens. Will any of the above Cubs make it into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown? If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Lou Piniella having the best chance of any of the Cubs-contingent, with Lee Smith having an outside chance of sneaking in as well.
What are your opinions on the Hall of Fame ballot for this year? Who should be in? Who should be left out? I encourage you to leave your opinions in the comment section below.