Baseball, as we know, is a game without a clock. Well, except for the pitch clock, a good idea that’s poorly enforced. And, sadly for me, there's the strongly enforced clock that limits my opportunity to tenure on the Hall of Fame voting panel to 10 years after leaving sports writing.
Tick, tick, tick.
This is my sixth year as an "Honorary" voter, marking the first time I'm closer to the end of my tenure than the start. Put another way, I'll never get a chance to vote for Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer and anyone else who retires from here on out. The flip side is that it makes me put even more effort into these remaining ballots.
As always, I follow two ground rules: Once I support a candidate, I stick with him. And I put added significance on a first-ballot vote. (This background will matter later.)
So, here we go. Congrats to the following seven gentlemen who are each one vote closer to joining the Class of 2019.
HOF membership means you were among the greatest players of your generation. But how can we further illuminate the best of the best -- the players so good that the story of their era couldn't be told without them? To me, that's the first ballot. I also frame my stance this way: You don't have to be among the handful of players on a greatest team of all-time (that's too high of a bar), but you do have to be among the handful considered from your generation.
He led the league (first AL, then NL) 5 years in a row, 6 of 7, and 7 of 9. He averaged 8 CGs in those seasons. Last season, the Cleveland Indians had 5 CGs - and they practically lapped the field; no other club had more than 3.
Yes, it's a different game in just the five years since he retired. That's my point. And before you note that his predecessors routinely averaged a LOT more than 8 CGs … well, that's my point again. By his generation’s standards, he dominated, enough to earn my first-ballot support.
I've long been a proponent of closers in the Hall. I supported Lee Smith for years in hopes of acknowledging that era in the gap between Goose-Rollie-Bruce and Mariano-Trevor Hoffman. Now that Trevor is in and Mariano is going in (and Lee Smith, too, coincidentally), I believe Wagner belongs in Cooperstown's bullpen. There's a lot to like on hisstat sheet, especially his 11.9 Ks/9 innings, the best among pitchers who threw at least 500 innings. Many of his numbers are awfully similar to Hoffman. Billy gets bonus points for throwing so hard while being so short and bonus-bonus points for doing it all left-handed despite being a natural righty.
YOU CAN VOTE FOR UP TO 10. WHAT ABOUT THE 3 REMAINING SLOTS?
I pondered many of the solid candidates on the ballot. But is solid worthy of Cooperstown?
Yes, that was a setup for a jab at the selection of Harold Baines.
You can read elsewhere about the cronyism that got him in. To me, the question is whether Baines’ selection by the Today's Game committee should change the way I view a HOFer. That is, should I lower the bar? If so, Fred McGriff would clear it easily, while Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent and Andy Pettitte would be under closer consideration.
I strongly considered McGriff, as he deserves in his 10th and final year on the ballot. Presuming the Today's Game group survives the backlash, maybe those folks will vote in the Crime Dog. (Of course, it would help if they packed the panel with his former team owner, manager and teammates. But I digress.)
That said, I'm a fan of the oversight committee concept. Have to be considering my support of Jack Morris, Alan Trammell and the aforementioned Lee Smith, who needed this second chance opportunity to get in. Here’s hoping the curious decision on Baines prompts the process to be refined, not eliminated.
This also brings up something I’ve written about in recent years: the dinner held in Cooperstown on Induction Sunday that’s exclusive to Hall of Famers. It matters not whether you made it on the first ballot, last ballot or via committee. (It's like the old joke, What do you call a person who finishes last in a medical school class? Doctor.)
I've gotten this far without mentioning Bonds, Clemens and such. Years ago, I expected to soften my stance and support them by now. Still hasn’t happened. Still can't see them in that room on Sunday night.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of my annual indulgence. Feel free to reply with your thoughts. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2019.