Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2017 looks strong with Bagwell, Hoffman, Raines

With Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza taking their rightful spots in Cooperstown next summer after their election to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Wednesday, it’s already easy to see how the Class of 2017 shapes up.Next winter’s slate of new candidates is headlined by Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez, all great players, but all facing significant odds against gaining induction on the first ballot, for various reasons. MORE: 25 best players not to make Hall of Fame | FAGAN: Raines will get my vote next yearThe story of next year’s class figures to be the happy ending to the story of this year’s players who fell just short. Jeff Bagwell needs to pick up 15 votes in his seventh year on the ballot, Trevor Hoffman needs to gain 34 after his strong debut this year and Tim Raines, in his last shot with the writers, needs 23 more votes. All three should be able to make those gains. When they do, it will be a victory for three players who share a common bond of having been overshadowed by contemporaries who were making baseball history. Bagwell, Hoffman and Raines won’t be inner-circle Hall of Famers, but that does not make them unworthy of elec

tion — each will get there on merit, finally getting their due for outstanding careers.MORE: Do higher percentages bode well for Bonds, Clemens?For Bagwell, who had a .948 OPS and 449 home runs in 15 seasons and ranks second to Albert Pujols in wins above replacement among first basemen since World War II, being held out of the Hall this long has been the most egregious. Bagwell never was publicly connected to performance-enhancing drugs, yet has seen his candidacy sidetracked by speculation, much like Piazza, who has now found his way in. Particularly galling is that while Bagwell has every right be thought of as clean, the player who stole his thunder by cracking the history books was Mark McGwire, also on the outside of the Hall and looking in because of the chemical help he got.Hoffman, meanwhile, might be known as the greatest closer of all time if not for the existence of Mariano Rivera, who not only played at the same time, but was part of the Yankees team that spoiled Hoffman’s only trip to the World Series. It may be gauche to talk about saves these days, but a telling indicator of how well and how long Hoffman did his job is that he had 14 seasons of 30 or more saves, while Rivera had 15 and only one other pitcher — the woefully overlooked Lee Smith — has reached 10.MORE: Classic images of Ken Griffey Jr.  | Classic images of Mike PiazzaThen there’s Raines, who not only had the misfortune of being a leadoff man at the same time as the best in baseball history, Rickey Henderson, but had his best years in Montreal, at a time before nightly highlight shows, the precursor of GIFs, removed the cloak of invisibility from small markets.None of the three is on his way to Cooperstown today, and given the public tracking of ballots leading up to the release of the election results, that is not a surprise. What the final, official tally tells us is that the Hall is within reach for three very deserving players, each of whom should keep July 23, 2017, free on their calendars for a great big party in upstate New York.

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