The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 will likely welcome its first members this weekend, when the “Today’s Game” Era Committee votes on 10 candidates who made an impact on baseball between 1988 and the present.

Of the 10 names up for election this year – Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Joe Carter, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Lee Smith, and George Steinbrenner – it seems unlikely that more than one of the 10 candidates will hear his name called, as seven of them were on the ballot two years ago.

Here are the three likeliest names to garner votes Sunday:

Lou Piniella

APB/HB Reuters

Position: Manager
Teams: Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, Cubs
Years: 1986-2010
Previous Era Committee high: Seven votes (43.75 percent) in 2017

Gm. W-L Win% Gms. Over .500 Playoff Berths WS Titles
3548 1835-1713 .517 +122 7 1

The fiery Piniella’s 1,835 wins rank 16th all-time. Among managers still not in Cooperstown, only Dusty Baker, Bruce Bochy (who’s still active), and Gene Mauch won more. “Sweet Lou” was the backbone of the Mariners franchise for a decade, guiding the team to its only four playoff berths, including the miracle run to the ALCS in 1995 and the powerhouse 2001 team that won a record-tying 116 games. A three-time Manager of the Year, Piniella also experienced success in Cincinnati, where he won the 1990 World Series, and Chicago, where his Cubs won two straight division crowns. Before managing, he played for 18 seasons, collecting over 1,700 hits and the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year.

However, aside from Piniella’s shocking World Series win during his only career Fall Classic appearance, his teams didn’t finish the job. His Mariners teams never won the AL pennant, his Devil Rays teams were disasters, and his Cubs teams went 0-6 in the playoffs. He has a pretty good case on the surface, and grabbing the third-most votes on this ballot two years ago may indicate the committee’s willing to look at him again. But an overall mixed bag of success may work against him.

Lee Smith

Stephen Dunn / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Position: RP
Teams: Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds, Expos
Years: 1980-1997
JAWS: 24.9 (16th among RP)
HOF Monitor: 127
BBWAA HOF ballot high: 50.6 percent in 2012 (10th of 15 years on ballot)
Previous Era Committee high: N/A

GP W-L ERA SV K BB WHIP WAR 7-Yr. Peak WAR
1022 71-92 3.03 478 1251 486 1.26 29.4 20.9

Smith retired as baseball’s all-time saves leader, though 2018 inductee Trevor Hoffman and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera have since passed him. At his peak, Smith was one of the best closers in the game, making seven All-Star appearances and leading the league in saves three times while earning one Cy Young runner-up finish in 1991.

Although Smith ranks well below the average for a reliever on metrics such as JAWS, Fangraphs’ Jay Jaffe points out in his evaluation of Smith’s candidacy that it can also sometimes be difficult to properly judge relievers via those metrics. What Smith has going for him this year is a voting committee that saw him pitch, history as baseball’s former active saves leader, and, truthfully, a pretty clear path as arguably the most accomplished player on this ballot.

Right now, Smith and Gil Hodges are the only two players who aren’t in the Hall despite getting over 50 percent on the writers’ ballot, but that should change; this is probably Smith’s year.

George Steinbrenner

GMH/SV Reuters

New York Yankees owner, 1973-2010
Previous Era Committee high:
Less than five votes in 2017

Perhaps the most (in)famous owner in sports history. Steinbrenner bought the Yankees for $8 million in 1973 after several losing seasons and not only restored them to their former glory, but turned them into a $4-billion monolith. Under his watch, the Yankees won seven World Series titles, including four in five years from 1996-2000, plus another four pennants. It can be argued that Steinbrenner changed the entire industry of professional sports by throwing unprecedented amounts of money at superstars Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter at the dawn of free agency – contracts that ushered in the modern era of athletes earning hundreds of millions of dollars.

But there’s another side to the Steinbrenner regime. He regularly meddled in the Yankees’ day-to-day operations, firing managers left and right, most notably giving Billy Martin the ax five different times. The farm system was routinely emptied to chase short-term solutions, many of which never worked. He also ran into trouble with baseball frequently, including a 1974 suspension for an illegal political donation and a lifetime ban in 1990 for hiring a gambler to find dirt on star player Dave Winfield (he was reinstated three years later). The ban actually allowed the then-woeful Yankees to develop, and keep, the eventual core of their 1990s dynasty without interference.

Steinbrenner’s faults must be taken into consideration, even if so much of what he did for the Yankees and baseball merits a plaque. Last time around he was overlooked by a contemporary committee. Was that due to the presence of two other executives in Bud Selig and John Schuerholz who were virtual locks? Or because of the blots on his resume? This year’s vote will give us an answer.

Our verdict: Although we do like Piniella as a candidate and think his time may come down the road, it’s Smith and Steinbrenner who get our two votes this time around. Our realistic prediction, however, would be that it’s just Smith who gets the call.

Note: These reviews make use of JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score), developed by Hall of Fame historian and author Jay Jaffe, and Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor to help better evaluate each player’s candidacy. All WAR courtesy Baseball-Reference. Seven-year peak WAR is a player’s total WAR compiled during his seven best seasons.

Menu