A (fake) ballot for the Hall of Fame
Eight players got my pretend vote, and here are the strident arguments for them.
Welcome back to an annual tradition: The sad, fake Hall of Fame ballot from a baseball writer who wants desperately to vote in real life, but cannot. I probably wouldn’t have the time to write about my ballot as extensively as some folks, but I would still take it seriously. What an honor. Imagine: voting for the Hall of Fame.
Instead, here’s a fake ballot with a lot of words attached in support of my choices. If I’ve written extensively about a specific player’s HOF candidacy in the past, I’ll include a snippet from that post. It’s like a clips show! A holiday clips show.
My ballot is eight players deep. I’m a big Hall type of guy, and it doesn’t bother me to see a large class inducted. Starting from the bottom and moving up:
I’m a late convert to the Walker bandwagon, having previously maintained that he was hurt too often to merit consideration. Here’s a list of seasons in which Walker played more than 150 games:
That’s it. He had three others with 140 games or more. Six others with 130 games or more. That means in five other seasons, not including his rookie year or the ’94 strike, he missed at least a month. It’s hard to vote a baseball player into the Hall of Fame when he didn’t play as much baseball as his peers.
That’s overthinking it, though. Instead of looking at what a player didn’t do and penalizing him without further research, it’s more intelligent to focus on what he did do. He was a career .313/.400/.565 hitter. Before you can shout “Coors Field,” remember there are ways to account for the help he got from his home park. Walker’s career adjusted OPS is 141, and here’s a list of players who hit better than that, but aren’t in the Hall yet. You have players who will get in (Chipper Jones), players who would get in if not for the performance-enhancing drugs (Barry Bonds), and players who aren’t on the ballot yet (Vladimir Guerrero).
Walker is in that company. Forget about the missed time, then. Take the at-bats from Walker’s numerous replacements and fold them into his career totals. He still has the numbers to get in. From 1997 through 1999, he was a .369/.451/.689 hitter, playing outstanding defense and running the bases well. He was one of the more complete baseball players of his era, and while I’m on the fence still, he squeaks onto my ballot. This might change next year, though.
Also, his listed nickname on Baseball-Reference is “Booger.”
Ah, my first you-had-to-be-there candidates. Kent’s WAR isn’t as sexy as some of the other candidates, but you had to be there. Watching him play every day was a delight, just a true delight. You have to take his high-offense era into account — when Kent had an OPS over .900 in 2002, 28 other players did too, compared to just eight last year — but that’s mitigated by his position and rough home parks (Shea, Candlestick, AT&T Park, Dodger Stadium).
Plus, you had to be there.
Oh, it’s more than that. At a position where it’s impossible to stay healthy, Kent stayed both healthy and effective throughout his 30s. He’s the all-time leader for home runs by a second baseman, and his defense was underrated. He gave his teams a middle-of-the-order bat at a position usually filled with scrappy, skinny dudes. From an earnest, if unreadable, screed from 2009:
Does he compare favorably with Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, or Nap Lajoie? Of course not. Does he compare favorably with Ryne Sandberg, Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Doerr, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, Billy Herman, or Red Schoendienst? Absolutely. Whatever argument you could make for the above players over Kent – say, that the player in question was a superior defender – is an argument that could be deflected by Kent’s superior offense.
Jeff Kent hit like Orlando Cepeda, but he played second base. If you’re looking for a one-sentence argument for Kent’s candidacy, that’ll do just fine.
Wait, I take it back. This is my you-had-to-be-there player! I played that card too soon!
I have no problems with the “he just feels like a Hall of Famer” argument, writing this about Jack Morris:
Here’s how I would define the purpose of the Hall of Fame: It’s a museum that tells the story of baseball. And makes wheelbarrows of money. But mostly the first part. And with each player inducted, that’s another chapter that reads “Pay special attention to this player. He was important. He was synonymous with baseball when he played.”
In my baseball-loving life, the only hitter who scared me as much as Sheffield did when he played against the Giants was Jeff Bagwell. Both of them had that rare combination of power, patience, and extraordinarily violent swings. He played defense like he was trying to shoplift slot machines, sure, but that swing, man. That swing.
The “feared” argument was used to get Jim Rice in the Hall, which bugged some folks. I didn’t mind it, though. Hey, 75 percent of the folks felt that way, and I’d guess most of them were around to see it. That fear, justified or not, was a part of baseball’s story for some writers. If Hall of Fame players were selected by a single despot, and his or her argument was “He was a feared hitter!”, the anecdotal evidence would be something to make fun of. Spread across hundreds of voters, though, it makes sense as an argument. If enough people felt the same way, by gum …
Plus: 500 dingers. That’s still impressive, even if the 500-homer club is a little diluted now.
“The best hitting catcher of all-time, Mike Piazza …”
You can start a sentence like that, and no one will stop you for clarification. It’s assumed. It’s known. It’s not debatable. Mike Piazza was the best hitting catcher ever. The real debate starts with how much of that value he gave back with his unfortunate catching, but when you can start the discussion with an uncontroversial statement about the player being the absolute best at something in the history of baseball for his position, it’s hard to build a case against him. Players have to field, usually, and they have to run. Piazza wasn’t very good at either of those.
He could hit, though. Here’s a one-sentence explainer for just how well he could hit: If he were a poor defender at first instead of a poor defender behind the plate, I would still probably put him on my fake ballots. He might not have been the archetype of a ball-blocking, thief-nabbing field general, but like Kent, he gave his teams a cleanup hitter where most teams had someone to hide in the #8 spot.
In other words, you didn’t have to be there. Mike Piazza, being the best hitting catcher of all-time, probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa
You might feel the Hall of Fame is for the best players. You might really subscribe to the integrity clause that voters are supposed to consider. You might not eliminate steroid users right away, but take into consideration how good they might have been without the chemical help, and McGwire and Sosa are just too borderline for you.
At the risk of repeating myself, I see the Hall of Fame as a way to tell the story of the game. You have the artifacts and memorabilia around the museum, sure, but the plaques should be about the players who helped make baseball America’s Pastime and the players who kept the sport interesting over the decades.
McGwire and Sosa were baseball in the late ’90s. They were the story, they were the first 50 pages of a 100-page book about baseball in the ’90s and early ’00s. Put whatever in the heck you want on the plaque — a scarlet asterisk, a gold needle, whatever — but a Hall of Fame without McGwire and Sosa would be like ignoring On The Waterfront in a museum of great American films, just because you disagree with the director’s principles. Pretending it never happened doesn’t make a lick of sense.
As upset as I’ll be when Trammell falls off the ballot, it won’t compare to the seething rage I still have for Lou Whitaker falling off the ballot after one lousy year. I wonder if both of them would have fared better if they both were on the ballot at the same time. There’s an Abbott and Costello sort of symmetry with them, in which it doesn’t make sense to say one’s name without the other’s.
Trammell on his own compares favorably to Barry Larkin:
Larkin takes him in most categories. I think that most people would acknowledge that Larkin had the better career, even after injuries are taken into account. But look at those WAR margins — razor thin, both with the Baseball-Reference metrics and the FanGraphs metric. Trammell played 20 seasons; Larkin played 19. Over their respective careers, they were pretty comparable in value.
The problem is that Trammell played at the same time as Cal Ripken. Call it the Tim Raines Conundrum — when a great player is overshadowed by an even greater player, it’s too easy to pretend like the great player is merely good. Trammell was, indeed, great. He was better than his peers, and he was better than almost every shortstop who ever played the game. He played a demanding, crucial position, and he did it better than almost everyone who ever tried.
It doesn’t make sense to penalize anyone because they played in the shadow of one of the all-time greats. Unless you set the demarcation line at Rickey Henderson or Ripken, it’s imperative to remember that there’s a spectrum for greatness, too.
As long as I’m dumbing down my arguments into single sentences, I’m not sure I can whittle this one down any further:
- The rules of baseball have, since 1973, required that every team in the American League fill a position known as “the designated hitter”
- Edgar Martinez was the best designated hitter in the history of the sport
If Martinez played in the ’50s, it’s not like teams would have reached a point where they would have said, “Sorry, Edgar. We just don’t have a way to get your bat into the lineup, so you’re going to have to retire now.” When he was 31, he played 549 innings at third base. He graded out as above-average in defensive WAR, fielding runs above average, and range factor. Small sample, sure, considering he was usually a tick below average, but he didn’t fit the profile of a player who would have withered away and been forgotten if the DH didn’t exist. He might have played a bad first base.
Like Piazza, even if he played a bad first base, he still would have had the hitting numbers to make the Hall of Fame. So voters are penalizing Martinez for not playing the field poorly and for ably filling a position that 15 teams are required to fill every danged season. The argument against him is the most frustrating one of all.
There you have it. My eight-player fake ballot of …
I can’t believe I did this.
That’s not my fake ballot. Those are the leftovers from my fake ballot, the players I wouldn’t have been able to vote for. This is so, so embarrassing. Here’s my real fake ballot:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Randy Johnson
- Pedro Martinez
- Mike Mussina
- Curt Schilling
- Jeff Bagwell
- Craig Biggio
- Tim Raines
- John Smoltz
Huh. Turns out you can write thousands and thousands of words about the players who deserve to be in the Hall, but can’t crack a 10-player ballot. The Hall might decide to expand the ballot to 12 players soon, but it’s not going to happen soon enough. We’re heading toward a Hall of Fame with about five players from the ’90s. I remember baseball being a lot of fun back then. Maybe the players were all secretly awful.
Or maybe the current voting setup is deeply flawed.
We live in a time where one man’s fake ballot of 18 players can’t even get consideration for the fake Hall of Fame because of some silly rules. Here’s hoping that changes, and that it changes quickly. Otherwise the fake induction ceremonies are going to be exceptionally boring for the next few years.