The Baseball Hall of Fame was opened in Cooperstown, New York in 1939, and for all of the ensuing 73 years since that time, baseball fans have been debating about who "belongs" in the Hall - and who doesn't. With the names of all-time greats Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa - all of whom have been suspected of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) during their stellar careers - on the ballot for the first time this year, the "who's in, who's out" debate is raging hotter than ever. The Baseball Writers of America, who vote on potential Hall inductees, have two camps within their ranks - some writers who feel that Hall selection should be based simply upon what the player did on the field, and ohers who feel that anyone suspected of PED use should NEVER be in the Hall. Within these two groups are also those who feel that players such as Bonds, Clemens and Mark McGwire should be elected at some point, but certainly not the first time they become eligible, and McGwire's poor showing in the years he has been on the ballot reflect that camp.
ESPN the Magazine recently threw a little more fuel on the fire when they released their "Hall of 100" list. The magazine teamed with their online and TV partners to take a fresh look at the greats of the game for a new analysis of which players really are the best of the best.
Their panel of experts - editors, writers, reporters and on-air personalities was given a list of more than 300 names: players already in the actual Hall of Fame or on the ballot, as well as past and active players who surpassed certain seasonal and career benchmarks, and from this initial list, 100 players were chosen as the "Best of the Best", without regard to off-the-field discretions or suspicion of same - a "judgment free zone," as the magazine terms it.
For a complete list of the "Hall 100," I refer you to the ESPN.com website. I'll just make a few comments here on some of the selections which caught my eye.
Barry Bonds finished third on the list - behind only Babe Ruth, who still, after all these years, was deemed the number one player of all time, and his godfather, Willie Mays.
Clemens - the greatest pitcher of recent decades - came in 7th, and another recent hurler who hasn't been retired long enough to be on the ballot, Greg Maddux, finished 13th. Two other current players, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, placed 18th and 19th, respectively.
Flamethrower Randy Johnson, another player who hasn't yet qualified to be on the ballot, was named at number 23, while another recent retiree, Ken Grifey jr. was at number 34.
A player who has been rejected by the Hall for reasons other than drugs, Pete Rose, finished at number 37 (probably lower than Pete would have put himself), just ahead of current player Derek Jeter. At number 41 was pitcher Pedro Martinez, who is also not yet eligible. Sandy Koufax, in comparison, finished at number 44, just ahead of Warren Spahn, the all-time winningest left handed pitcher.
At number 49 is a player who has just retired, Chipper Jones, so he won't be eligible for the actual Hall for another five years. As Jones finished up his final season with the Braves, I must admit that I was a little surprised at the number of writers who referred to him as a "surefire" Hall of Famer, but maybe he is, in their opinion. At any rate, there's an impressive list of great players who were ranked below him on ESPN's Hall of 100.
All-time great relievr Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, who plans to return this season from the injury which sidelined him for much of the 2012 season, came in at number 67. Jeff Bagwell, who's on this year's ballot, was 68th; former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who should be eligible soon, was 69th; starter-reliever John Smoltz was 75th, and Mike Piazza, who's also on the ballot for the first time this year, finished 78th.
Mark McGwire was 83rd; Craig Biggio, also a first-time nominee this year, was 90th; current pitcher Roy Halladay finished 92nd, and pitcher Tom Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz' teammate on the great Braves' pitching staffs of the 80s and 90s, was named at number 93.
Jim Thome, one recent slugger who to my knowledge has never been suspected of using performance enhancing drugs, placed 94th on the Hall of 100 list, just ahead of Sammy Sosa. Another player who hasn't received much Hall support in recent elections, Tim Raines, was 96th - just ahead of the late Ron Santo, who finally made it into the Hall last year.
So there you have it - the 100 greatest MLB players of all time, as selected by the ESPN crew. As you might expect, this list includes a lot of players of more recent vintage - players who have played in the "ESPN Era," if you will - and views some of the players of earlier eras with less regard than they have been given in the past.
Just more fuel for the "Hot Stove League" - the best time of the year for baseball fans.
The 2013 Hall results will be released soon.