There are several polarizing Baseball Hall of Fame cases on the 2022 BBWAA ballot. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens enter their final years of eligibility seeking a sizable increase from where they ended up in last year's voting. Newcomers Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz are similarly controversial, but different from Bonds and others in so many ways. Curt Schilling may or may not want to be in the Hall of Fame after all, but he's definitely got a shot in his last appearance on the ballot. There's plenty of fodder for baseball fans and the media to discuss as the filled-out ballots continue to roll in.
One name you won't see on the ballot is Lance Berkman. The switch-hitting phenom earned six All-Star nods throughout his career, won a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals, finished as a top-five MVP candidate in four different seasons and turned in some of the strongest campaigns we've ever seen from a Houston Astro.
When it came time for him to appear on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 2019, however, he received just a 1.2 percent share of the votes. He was removed from further consideration due to the rules that a player must earn five percent to stay on for another year, and that was that. For longtime teammate and Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell, that's not right.
Sean Casey invited Bagwell on his podcast, "The Mayor's Office," and discussed Berkman's Hall of Fame credentials. With Berkman ranking among the likes of Mickey Mantle and Chipper Jones in terms of pinch-hitting production, Casey pointed to Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez's stats and argued that there wasn't too much of a discrepancy.
"100 percent. If you're gonna do that with Edgar — who's a great hitter, don't get me wrong — Lance played left field, he could play center for a bit, he played first base and a good first base," Bagwell said in reference to Martinez's role as a designated hitter. "And let me tell you something: Lance can freakin' hit... He's just a special hitter. He hits everybody. I don't get it, man."
Just how special was Berkman's skill set at the dish? Bagwell recalled a time he had gotten on first while Casey was manning the bag, and Berkman was up to bat. Berkman kept fouling off pitches — all fastballs, as Bagwell noted to Casey — because he knew he was much stronger against off-speed pitching. And just as Bagwell told Casey of the "Big Puma's" strategic approach at the plate, Berkman was given a nice, juicy changeup... which he then roped into left field for a base knock, much to Bagwell's pleasure and Casey's surprise. If that's not truly special hitting, I don't know what is.
But he wasn't the only teammate Bagwell discussed in terms of Hall of Fame candidacy. Two players actively on the ballot — Jeff Kent and Billy Wagner — also got Baggy's approval.
"I mean, he (Wagner) should be in the Hall of Fame and so should JK (Kent)," Bagwell said. "I think it's ridiculous. Maybe they're not great at talking to the media, but what do you do on the field, and you were dominant, and they both (were). Jeff Kent won an MVP with Barry Bonds on the team! You know how hard that is to do? I mean, the guy has seven of them."
Wagner is on a pretty solid trajectory toward enshrinement in Cooperstown, though he still has a lot of work to do. He earned just 10.5 percent of the vote on his first appearance in 2016, which has since jumped all the way up to 46.4 percent in his 2021 voting. Things aren't looking as good for Kent, who received a 32.4 percent share of the vote last year, which was his third-to-last go-around on the BBWAA ballot.
Bagwell was elected with an 86.2 percent share of the vote in 2017, but not until after six years of coming up short of the required 75 percent.