Voting for the Hall of Fame

Those members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with voting privileges (ten years of membership in the BBWAA) for the Baseball Hall of Fame have until this Friday, December 31, to cast their ballots for this year’s HoF class and the results should be announced January 5, I believe.

Around Twinsville, there will continue to be increased interest in the voting as local favorite, Bert Blyleven, tries to get those last few elusive votes that would allow him to join Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett as Hall of Famers who played most of their careers in a Twins uniform.

The BBWAA. As I mentioned, the HoF delegates responsibility for voting for this prestigious honor to baseball writers. (Seriously… stop laughing… they REALLY do entrust baseball writers with this!) That fact, alone, should tell us all we need to know about how seriously we should take this kind of thing. Still, it IS the Hall of Fame, and it’s the only baseball hall of fame we have, so it’s understandable that players who would like to be so honored pay attention to what the voting baseball writers think.

Ironically, for many players, it’s not until after the five year post-retirement waiting period ends that they first start to give a rats’ ass what baseball writers think of them. (Don’t you think Bert would perhaps have been a LITTLE bit nicer to a few writers during his playing days if he had known so many of them were going to be jerks about voting for him for the HoF decades later?)

I’ve always wondered why the BBWAA gets to decide who goes in to the HoF. It’s not that I have anything in particular against baseball writers as a group or individually. I read a lot of their stuff during the season and much of it is very good. Like most jobs, you don’t get to keep doing something for ten years unless you demonstrate some level of talent. (MLB third base coach might be one exception… nobody has ever been elected to the HoF on the basis of their talent as a third base coach and I wouldn’t want to turn over responsibility for deciding who gets in to the HoF to third base coaches with at least 10 years on the job.) Anyway, I’ve never felt writers were better qualified than any of the rest of us when it comes to judging a player’s HoF worthiness, but lacking any idea of a more knowledgeable group, I never objected too strongly.

Then these writers started getting on their soapboxes about players from the “steroid era” not deserving to be in the HoF.

I’m sure that if you and I sat down and tried to come up with a group of people worthy of casting judgments about others’ “morals”, we could come up with an idea or two. But I’m also pretty sure “sports writers” wouldn’t be at the top of our list. Not that sports writers are, inherently, less moral than any of the rest of us, as a group. But I’ve known enough of them over the years to be damn sure they aren’t morally superior to most other groups, either… and that includes ballplayers. So, if BBWAA members were willing to just vote based on players’ performances, I would reluctantly agree to let them keep their position as HoF gatekeepers. But if they think it’s their responsibility to protect the HoF’s integrity, please… spare me. The percentage of BBWAA members who would have willingly “juiced” in order to be able to play Major League Baseball in the 1990s instead of writing about it would be roughly 100%. I detest the hypocrisy of some of these writers.

Bert By ’11? I would vote for Bert Blyleven because I watched him pitch and followed his career from the time he broke in with the Twins until the time he retired and I firmly believe he was one of the best pitchers in baseball from the time he was a teenager and for a solid 20 years beyond that. Yet, I understand if some writers who saw him pitch through much of the same time period disagree. It’s not like he was Nolan Ryan exactly.

Bert Blyleven

But I can’t understand the writers who say their reason for not voting for Blyleven is that he was never “the best” pitcher in his era… that he accumulated his statistics just by being very good for a very long time.

Since when do we penalize players for being very good for a very long period of time? Shouldn’t a player who maintained such a high level of proficiency for over 20 years… long past the time when other supposedly more “elite” pitchers had retired to their recliners and sofas… be recognized for that kind of endurance? We aren’t talking about a guy who had a dozen decent seasons and then spent ten years working middle relief for any team that would give him a job. He started 25 games his rookie season and started 24 in his final year… 22 years later. Should he have retired a year or two sooner? Probably. But in his 20th season, he won 17 games for the Angels, posting a 2.73 ERA, and leading the league with five shutouts. I can’t blame him for not walking away from the game after that kind of season.

I’ll be glad to see Blyleven take his place alongside Killer, Kirby and Carew.

OK, I’ve rattled on long enough. Here’s a list of the eligible players. They are listed as they are on the BBWAA ballot, first those players who received at least 5% of the vote last year (in order of votes received last year), followed by those players in their first year of eligibility (in alphabetical order). The links take you to each player’s Wikipedia page.

Hall of Fame Ballot    
Bert Blyleven    
Roberto Alomar    
Jack Morris    
Barry Larkin    
Lee Smith    
Edgar Martinez    
Tim Raines    
Mark McGwire    
Alan Trammell    
Fred McGriff    
Don Mattingly    
Dave Parker    
Dale Murphy    
Harold Baines    
Carlos Baerga    
Jeff Bagwell    
Brett Boone    
Kevin Brown    
John Franco    
Juan González    
Marquis Grissom    
Lenny Harris    
Bobby Higginson    
Charles Johnson    
Al Leiter    
Tino Martinez    
Raúl Mondesí    
John Olerud    
Rafael Palmeiro    
Kirk Rueter    
Benito Santiago    
B. J. Surhoff    
Larry Walker

I’ve selected the maximum number (10) of players to include on my ballot. I wouldn’t have had to do that if the writers would have done their jobs in earlier years and already put some of these guys in the Hall.

I voted for the following players:

Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell.

Obviously, I’m not feeling morally superior to any of these players, either.

Alomar and Blyleven should be no-brainers, in my opinion.

Larkin and Trammell were among the best shortstops playing the game in my lifetime and I think Murphy and Parker are largely under appreciated. These four guys had game.

During the time I’ve followed the game, Tim Raines may have been the best lead off hitter and base stealer not named Ricky Henderson.

Some people say that Jack Morris only gets support on the basis of his performance in one World Series game. That may be. But it was one HELLUVA performance.

McGwire and Palmeiro will probably never get in to the Hall of Fame. If that’s the penalty they pay for their sins, so be it. I’m simply not prepared to single them out just because they got “caught”. When we’re ready to throw out everyone who played the game during the steroid era, let me know. I’ll support keeping McGwire, Palmeiro, et al, out of the HoF when we all agree to kick out Cal Ripken and, yes, Kirby Puckett AND impose lifetime bans on Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. Until we’re willing to keep out everyone who’s peak career years were from 1990-2005, I don’t want to hear about how we should selectively disqualify players we don’t like. And when we’ve cleaned out all of those “cheaters”, we can start working on expelling the guys who spent their entire careers using amphetamines (that should thin out the ranks of virtually everyone who played in the 1960s through the 1980s).

If you’d like to cast your own ballot, I suggest you buzz over to Joe Posnanski’s blog and vote there. I suppose I could have put up a poll in this post but, frankly, that would have required more work than I felt like putting in to this post.

By all means, feel free to criticize my picks in the comment section… or better yet, tell us who you would vote for!

- JC

UPDATE 12/30/2010:  This morning, Joe Posnanski posted on his blog his list of 8 “automatic” yes votes for the HoF. He included two players I did not include in my “vote” here, Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez. He makes compelling arguments for each. I’m not ready to vote for Martinez yet. If I were a BBWAA voter, I’d probably have him on my list to consider in the future, but he would be just beyond my “top 10″ out of this year’s eligible players. But I have no excuse for not including Bagwell other than simply copping to having had a brain fart. Bagwell has to be included on my list.

That means I have to remove one of my previously chosen 10. It would come down to Morris, Parker and Palmeiro and the case for each is sketchy enough that you could almost pick one out of a hat and say, “wait until next year.” Having to choose one, it would probably be Dave Parker. Sorry, Pirate fans… we’ll talk again a year from now. – JC