Disclaimer: Regardless of whether or not we end up voting steroid users in, the HOF isn’t pure. It never has been. There are cheaters in the Hall. Racists and domestic violence abusers as well. It makes no sense to be fine with these guys getting in but throwing a hissy fit when it comes to steroid users.
You know what else gave players a competitive advantage? Amphetamines, corked bats, spit balls, and more. The point of the HOF is to tell the story of baseball. Steroids defined an era, for better or worse. It was awesome. Anyone who was there knows that. It’s time we start celebrating it. Anyways, we don't have the steroids problem when discussing these ballot newcomers below.
Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones Jr. is one of the first baseball superstars I remember following. In addition to being the offensive centerpiece of the 90s Braves mini dynasty, Chipper is arguably the most popular Atlanta athlete of all time. The 1990 #1 overall draft pick posted a .303/.401/.529 triple slash line over his 19-season MLB career. His 468 homers are the third most ever for a switch hitter, and his 2,726 hits rank fifth. Jones also won the 1999 NL MVP award, as well as a batting title in 2008. He was never once linked to PEDs despite playing his prime years during the height of the steroid era. The only knock on him was that his 2012 pre-season retirement announcement kicked off a string of wildly unnecessary "retirement tours". However, maybe his most prestigious accomplishment is that Chipper is the Braves representative in Backyard Baseball 2001, the best computer game of all time. He's a lock to get in this year.
Similar to Chipper, Jim Thome played his entire career without ever being linked to steroids (not that it should matter for HOF voting). One f the best power hitters of all time, Thome is one of just 8 players to ever hit 600 homers. He combined his ability to drive the ball out of the park with an elite aptness to get on base, walking 1,747 times (7th all time) and posting a career .402 OBP. If these cumulative stats weren't enough, Thome thrived in his peak. He hit at least 40 homers six times, and at least 30 twelve times. He would have received more national recognition if the late 90s Cleveland Indians had ever won a World Series. To this day those teams remain one of the most underrated groups of all time. Thome will easily join Chipper with first ballot entry this year.
Of the big 3 to appear on the ballot for the first time this year, Omar Vizquel has easily the weakest candidacy. Now there's a case to be made for him, particularly if you compare him to some of the weakest players already inducted. However, I'm a "small hall" guy, which means I like to reserve induction for the best of the best. Not just the best.
(Side note about the HOF....the most common way to gain entry is to do so through BBWAA voting. However, there's also the Veteran Committee. These are groups made of of former players, managers, etc. who vote players in that may have been overlooked by the BBWAA for whatever reason. The problemmmm is that back in the day this guy Frankie Frisch was one of the most popular players of an era, and he let in so many of his undeserving buddies that it's kind of ruined what it means to be a HOFer. This makes it too easy to compare very good players to guys already inducted)
Anyways back to Vizquel's case. 11 gold gloves and 2,800 hits are nothing to sneeze at, but if this was solely up to me Vizquel would be a hard no. It's easy to try and compare him to Ozzie Smith (another "light hitting", defensive wizard), but The Wizard of Oz is legitimately the most valuable defensive player of all time. When adjusted for the era he played in his offensive numbers are also more valuable than Vizquel's according to the stat nerds. Meanwhile Vizquel's hits total was aided by hanging around as a utility player once his best days were behind him, and he was never one of the best players in baseball. If someone wants to make a case for him in the Hall of Very Good, I'm fine with that. But the HOF should be reserved for better.
Finally, a special shoutout to Johan Santana. He was a late bloomer who also had his career shortened by injuries, so he just doesn't have the longevity needed to get in. Still, in his prime he was legitimately the best pitcher alive for a few years. From 2004-2008 he won two Cy Young awards (with two other 3rd place finishes), three ERA titles, three strikeout titles, led the league in WHIP four times, K/9 three times, hits per nine three times, and FIP three times. You get the point. He was otherworldly for a short stretch there. If it was up to me there would be a special place in the HOF where we honor those who had great peaks but not the longevity needed for induction. After all, the point should be to tell the story of baseball.
By the way, speaking of Ozzie Smith earlier. Here are a couple examples of plays he made routinely....