Suppose you’re like me and you had a wish of voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame on the writer’s ballot. What questions would you ask yourself? Would the PED argument, rumors or not, sway your judgment? Would you use sabermetrics in the argument at all? In my case, the answer to both questions is no. I consider myself a traditionalist in terms of stats, focusing on the basic stats – batting average, hits, etc. Why? Because it’s easy to calculate. I applaud the sabermetric community for their efforts, but it seems like they’re over-complicating a game that’s supposed to be for the casual fan. It’s like trying to add math and logic to art and theatre. It can work, but it’s a delicate balance. Not adding it at all probably means it works better.
Maybe I’m being too generous, but I’m looking at purely what a player did on the field. Even if a player did PEDs or had a contentious or even toxic relationship with the media, who does the voting, I can overlook that. Baseball is a game, or at least it should be one, of simple means. Either you can hit a curve or you can’t. Either you can throw 95 in your prime or you can’t. The so-called “morals” clause that is said to pervade the Hall of Fame is completely arbitrary, and thus, I’d argue, completely irrelevant.
Much of the debate comes in regards to the voting process itself, a flawed one at best where writers (who by the nature of their job are supposed to remain impartial but often finds it impossible) have to vote for a maximum of ten candidates in a given year. And those candidates have a 10-year lifespan on the BBWAA ballot, or else their eligibility expires and they have to be considered by the Veteran’s Committee, which is probably even tougher. And to stay on for another year, you have to get a minimum of five percent of the vote (there are expected to be 424 ballots this year, so to survive, you need a minimum of 22 votes). In order to be inducted, you must be named on at least 75% of all ballots. See how confusing this process is?
Despite, or perhaps even because of this, being able to have that vote is baseball’s equivalent of Charlie Bucket finding the Golden Ticket. A lot of people would love to have it.
All of this is a way of saying, this would be my ballot if I had a vote, and assuming I used all ten spots. Candidates will be listed in alphabetical order.
My ballot (if I had one):
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Vladimir Guerrero
4. Trevor Hoffman
5. Chipper Jones
6. Edgar Martinez
7. Manny Ramirez
8. Scott Rolen
9. Curt Schilling
10. Larry Walker
1. Fred McGriff
2. Mike Mussina
Instead of making my cases for who I did vote for, here’s the cases for who I didn’t vote for. I feel like it’s easier to discuss this way.
Some of you who have been following this year’s vote may be asking why I asked why I left off Jim Thome. Well, for me, it’s quite simple: if he hadn’t hit 612 home runs, he probably wouldn’t be in the conversation. It felt like either he hit a home run or did nothing. He was a liability on defense, couldn’t stay healthy for the latter half of his career, never came that close to winning an MVP award, and never played on a World Series winning team (though he came close in 1995 and 1997 with Cleveland). In other words, he felt like a slightly better version of Mark McGwire, and minus the controversy. Thome is actually an easy no for me – I feel like I’m not getting enough out of Thome to get him in. The ones who actually have the vote have him way over the 75% threshold, so he probably doesn’t need my vote anyway.
Another pretty obvious no, at least for me, is his former Cleveland teammate Omar Vizquel. Basically, apply the same argument to Thome, except the fact that he was the defensive whiz at shortstop. But offensively, I couldn’t see it. And as great as he was defensively, I heard he had a knack for letting a lot of easy ground balls go past him. In another year or two, I can see myself voting for him, but he’d still be borderline in my eyes. He’s closer to 30%, so he should be safe beyond the minimum threshold.
The last two cases are the hardest. Fred McGriff doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer, and never quite hit 500 home runs, peaking at 493. But he was a veteran leader who became the first to homer in all 30 Major League stadiums. He won a World Series with the Braves in 1995, beating Thome and Vizquel that year, and played in another one the following year. He also won two home run titles early in his career. I know it’s hard to justify, but he’s got one year left on the ballot, so assuming he makes it, he would get one from me next year on sympathy.
The hardest call is Mike Mussina. The numbers are there, supposedly, except when you look at them a little more closely, you find a little more inconsistency than you’d expect. Compared to his fellow pitcher Curt Schilling, also on the ballot, most of the numbers head-to-head would favor Schilling. (And the only reason that Schilling’s not in right now is because of his outspoken views on everything. Whether he admits it or not, I think he certainly wants that Hall call. But in order to get it, he’s got to play nice with the writers a little bit more, and vice versa, as much as both sides disdain it.)
A head-to-head comparison in stats.
Mussina – 270
Schilling – 216
Mussina – 2,813
Schilling – 3,116
Earned Run Average (lower is better)
Mussina – 3.68
Schilling – 3.46
Mussina – 5 (1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999)
Schilling – 6 (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004)
Mussina – 1 (20 wins in 2008)
Schilling – 3 (22 in 2001, 23 in 2002, and 21 in 2004)
Mussina – 2 (2001 Yankees, 2003 Yankees)
Schilling – 4 (1993 Phillies, 2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox)
World Series Championships
Mussina – 0
Schilling – 3 (2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox)
Neither one won a Cy Young Award, although Schilling finished second three times, and Mussina finished second once.
Admittedly, those stats are a little skewed, but it suggests that Mussina had a tendency to choke late in the season, or late in games. At least three times by my recollection, he came within three outs of a no-hitter or perfect game, and lost it every single time, never actually throwing one in his career. His only 20-win season was his last one in 2008, and he won 20 right on the nose. Admittedly, he had two other ones that were close where the bullpen blew it both times on the last day of the season, but consider this. Schilling and Mussina faced off against each other in the 2001 World Series, not just on opposing teams, but they went head-to-head in Game 1. And Schilling’s Arizona Diamondbacks won easily, 9-1. And in 2004, although this is through no fault of his own, Mussina will always be a part of that 2004 Yankees team that choked away the 3-0 lead to the Red Sox. But even then, Schilling and the bloody sock overshadowed whatever accomplishments Mussina had. The only category where Mussina had the edge over Schilling is career wins. And if Schilling had been more consistent in his early years and towards the end of it, spending a lot of time in the bullpen, his numbers would be much higher. We could argue this until we’re blue in the face. Basically, my argument against Mussina is like his career, at least in my eyes: can’t get it done when the game’s on the line.
Whatever your thoughts are, ask yourself: what’s your metric? What would you do if you had a chance to grant baseball immortality?
If baseball fans read this, I welcome your comments and perhaps your arguments as to why our picks may or may not work.
Photo courtesy of http://www.thesportsquotient.com.