MY PICKS FOR COOPERSTOWN
Ever since I became a Hall of Fame voter (around 2004), I've sent an email to family and friends announcing my ballot and explaining the thoughts behind it. Here's what I sent last week, after turning in my ballot for the Class of 2017.
Welcome to another year of meandering through the thought process behind my Hall of Fame vote. I’ve always considered it an honor and privilege to cast a ballot, so I take it quite seriously. With only a few years left on the panel, I take even greater pride in this responsibility.
Despite all that, it didn’t take me long to sift through the newcomers to this year’s ballot. Instead, my focus went to re-evaluating my voting parameters. I came to some new conclusions, which I’ll explain as we go along. Let’s start, though, with the guys who earned my vote:
Bagwell, Raines, Schilling and Smith are holdovers. Once I choose to support someone, I continue to do so for as long as they remain on the ballot. (Regardless of their political beliefs.) This is the final shot for Raines and Smith, so I hope they clear the magical mark. Both were dominant players in my formative days as a hard-core fan and I think the Hall would be a better place with both of them in it.
Pudge was the only newcomer I seriously considered. As I write every year, the Hall of Fame is of course the way you recognize the greatest players in baseball history … and the way to designate the greatest among them is with a first-ballot election. My rule of thumb is whether I’d at least consider that person for a spot on all-time team; that’s not to say Rodriguez was better than Bench, Berra or the original Pudge, but – having covered many of his greatest seasons and having watched his entire career – I certainly consider him in the conversation. I know the PED cloud lingers, but I’ll get into that right after I address the first layer of my adjusted parameters, as those led to the selections of Hoffman, Martinez and Mussina.
There’s no doubt that Edgar was an incredible DH (career .312 hitter), and Hoffman an elite closer (first to 500 and 600 saves; his 601 are second only to Mariano Rivera). I resisted supporting them because of the “yeah, but …” stigma attached to their excellence in a narrow field. In other words, I compared them to all hitters and pitchers and found too many reasons not to support them. But, upon further review, I decided that was unfair. They came along at a time when the game asked them to fill these roles and they became among the top handful of players ever to do them. You could mount many counterarguments here, and I’ve played out most of them in my mind. I came away feeling good about these choices.
As for Mussina, I’ve long felt his candidacy lacked something, maybe a signature piece like a Cy Young, a World Series title or one of those big round numbers (300 Ws or 3,000 Ks). Again, I decided I was being unfair. Those were legit reasons to not vote for him in the first year, but not anymore. Since he’s the guy I researched the most, here are a few nuggets worth sharing:
Now, about the two guys on the ballot for whom numbers are certainly not an issue …
I’ve long said that my reluctance to vote for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds is not merely that they used steroids, but that they already were among the greatest of all time when they decided that wasn’t enough. They chose to enhance their already incredible skills and put up unfathomable numbers.
Perhaps holding that against them is a bit of a workaround to the PED witch hunt. The thing is, I’ve given up that game. I supported Bagwell and Piazza last year, and Bagwell and Pudge this year. We don’t know that any of them cheated, but circumstantial evidence is strong. And in a year when Dee Gordon got popped for ‘roids, everyone who’s played since the days of the Bash Brothers has to be considered a suspect.
With Bonds spending this past season in big-league dugout, and the HOF opening its doors to steroids-era-enabler Bud Selig, I think we’re inching toward the day when those guys get in. I may even support them as soon as next year. I’m just not there yet. (No talk about Manny Ramirez til these guys are resolved.)
Lastly, my stance on everything you’ve read so far – and, uh, thanks for reading this far – is inevitably shaded by the time I spent in Cooperstown this summer, specifically the day before the election, when I got to witness the camaraderie among the guys in baseball’s ultimate fraternity. Along those lines, I have a final thought to share.
You probably know that in 2016 I became pals with Rod Carew. Well, the first time we hung out, Rod told me about a dinner held in Cooperstown featuring only the HOFers. He also shared the seating arrangement, which sounded a lot like the middle-school lunchroom: power hitters here, slap hitters there; power pitchers here, finesse pitchers there. Categories are a bit more nuanced, but you get the gist. Thus, when you hear the results of this year’s election, keep this in mind and try to project which group of existing HOFers each newcomer might fit in with best.
That does it for this year. As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2017.
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