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My 2009 Hall of Fame ballot
Let's begin with a confession: I am a Hall of Fame voting flip-flopper.
I learned last year what this means. 2008 marked my second year as a voter, and I changed my mind on some people, and boy, did I hear it from people. Which is, of course, what makes voting for the Hall such a privilege. Because people care that much.
So let me try once more to explain why this, my third ballot, is different than my second ballot, which differed from my first:
Because I _ like most of us, I'd think _ am trying to get better at life every year.
I tried to be a better father in 2008 than I was in 2007. A better husband. A better friend.
Jack Morris: His numbers might not stand out among the all-time greats, and this is a vote on which I could change in the future. Right now, I view him as the best of his time period (1977-94). The last starting pitcher to get voted in on the BBWAA ballot, interestingly, was Nolan Ryan in 1999. Morris deserves it, in my mind, because his innings pitched (3,824) back up his reputation as a workhorse; because his 254 wins reflect the fact that he hung around games for so many decisions; and because of his postseason excellence. Yes.
If I could get my hands on a DeLorean and some plutonium, I would go back to Dec. 20, 2007 and smack '07 Davidoff upside the head, like 2015 Biff did to 1955 Biff in "Back to the Future Part II." Citing pitchers' wins and a postseason record which is not as good as advertised? Oy vey.
A year ago, I'm not even sure I fully understood OPS+ and ERA+. Now, they are staples of my analytical diet. Perhaps I will be using more sophisticated tools a year from now.
My point being, to lock in on a Hall of Fame decision and stick to it is to rule out future, deeper levels of understanding - that we're all trying to attain, at everything we do.
On a related note, I'm convinced more than ever that actually seeing these candidates play can be as much a hindrance as a benefit. When I think of these Hall of Fame candidates, I initially think of individual moments. For Morris, indeed, it's this game. For Andre Dawson, it's this game, because I attended it and it was part of his 1987 season that won him NL MVP honors. For Jim Rice, it's the entire 1978 season.
But Hall of Fame candidates shouldn't be judged on snapshots, IMHO. They should be evaluated on entire albums of information. The statistics stand the test of time. Our memories are not as reliable.
I'm going to keep working at this voting thing, for as long as it's still the BBWAA's responsibility. And to me, to keep working at it means to keep processing new information. Even if it results in some flip-flops.
Now, the ballot, please:
Harold Baines: For a DH, he just didn't do enough. No.
Jay Bell: I laughed when, looking over his baseball-reference.com page, I was reminded that he concluded his career with the awful 2003 Mets. What typifies that team better than the fact that they have three candidates on this list? In Bell, David Cone and Mo Vaughn, they had three excellent players at their respective bitter ends. No.
Bert Blyleven: No flip-flopping on this guy: Three ballots, three Yeses. The high number of losses should be ignored, as should all the homers he allowed. The guy could deal. He passed the 200-innings pitched mark 16 times. He struck out 3,701 batters. He's in.
David Cone: One of my all-time favorite people whom I covered, and man, he had some terrific years. Not enough, however. When you compare his innings pitched (2,899) with starting pitchers already in the Hall and even Cone's competitors on this very ballot, the affable right-hander falls short. No.
Andre Dawson: A yes in my first two years, but that career .323 on-base percentage really, really bothers me. In that MVP year in '87, he tallied a .328 OBP. Yeesh. Yes, he was highly respected for the way he played the game, but I'm no longer comfortable including him among the elite. No.
Ron Gant: First words that came to my head when I saw his name on the ballot: "Motorcycle accident" (mentioned here). No.
Mark Grace: A very nice career, but not one that merits serious consideration for induction. No.
Rickey Henderson: I look forward to reading the explanation from any voter who doesn't put first-year candidate Rickey on his ballot. Need I even waste time and space elaborating on my Yes vote?
My favorite personal Rickey story came in spring training 2002, when Henderson _ with the Red Sox at this point _ styled after hitting a homer off Orlando Hernandez. El Duque, always on edge, started yelling at Rickey, who shouted back. Afterward, while speaking to the media, Rickey repeatedly referred to Hernandez as "The Duque."
Tommy John: A medical pioneer of sorts, and a darn good pitcher, before and after his surgery. Never quite dominant, however. No.
Don Mattingly: Here's a guy whose career I know about as well as anyone's, and yet the annual look at his b-r page always jolts me. Good Lord, was he phenomenal from 1984 through 1987, and then still excellent in 1988 and 1989, and then he turned into Mark Grace. Please, don't give me the "His numbers were similar to Kirby Puckett's!" line. Puckett played in the middle of the diamond. No.
Mark McGwire: We surely are going to elect some players who used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, and who got away with it. But does that mean we should not punish those for whom we have accumulated evidence? To the contrary, I think that we should use these discoveries to our advantage.
I'm comfortable with what has been gathered on McGwire. Keep in mind that his infamous "I'm not here to talk about the past" proclamation came about a month after he categorically denied using illegal PEDs to "60 Minutes." Once he was under oath, in other words, his tune changed.
When you throw in the fact that McGwire offered to admit steroid usage in return for immunity at that 2005 Congressional hearing _ a fact first divulged by Congressman Tom Davis, and which I have confirmed through an independent source _ then my burden of proof has been satisfied. No. And he would be a Yes for me based solely on his career.
Jack Morris: I absolutely was leaning on my childhood and adolesecent impressions when I voted yes on him the prior two years. A fresh look at the numbers convinces me that he's just not there. A 105 ERA+? A 3.90 ERA? 2,478 strikeouts in 3,824 innings pitched? No.
Dale Murphy: His career reminds me a litte bit of Mattingly's: A handful of elite years surrounded by some decent seasons. No.
Jesse Orosco: Talk about snapshots. But No, of course.
Dave Parker: One of my favorite players when I was a kid, and when I watched the 1979 World Series on DVD, last year, I was struck again how Parker was far and away the best player on the field. Nevertheless, I switched to No last year, and I'm going to stick with that. His length of career makes him an interesting candidate, but the .339 on-base percentage and the fact that he had just one elite season (1985) after 1979 deterred me from supporting him.
Dan Plesac: A great guy and great quote, as you'll see when he appears on the MLB Network as an analyst. That said, No.
Tim Raines: Here's an instance in which I think first-hand observation does impact my decision. Because I got to see what kind of teammate Raines was. He was great with Joe Torre's Yankees from 1996 through 1998, keeping everyone loose with his sense of humor and talking hitting with the younger players on the team.
Now, that written, I think Raines is a Yes, anyway. His personality just strengthens the argument. Raines played long enough that he produced what felt like two distinct careers _ the first (1981-95) as an underappreciated leadoff hitter, the latter (1996-2002) as a very productive part-time player.
Such longevity produced 390 win shares, a statistic created by Bill James in which 400 win shares merits "absolute enshrinement" into the Hall, as this linked story states. Raines' .385 on-base percentage and extremely high stolen-base percentage (808 stolen bases in 954 attempts, an 85 percent success rate) boost his candidacy, as does his .435 OBP with runners in scoring position.
As for his cocaine habit, that's not a disqualifying factor to me. He wasn't cheating; to the contrary, using coke very likely hurt his game. And while I respect Bob Tufts' opinion, always, I disagree with his assertion that we can make an easy link between cocaine usage and association with gamblers. That's too slippery a slope for my liking. As I've said to Bob, couldn't you say that a player's messy divorce and subsequent alimony payments make him more vulnerable to gamblers?
Jim Rice: Ah, Mr. Rice, the most controversial call of all. My first two years, he was a slam-dunk yes, no questions asked.
But to go back to my original premise of why I flip-flop, I'm not blind to what's out there. I've read the many arguments in favor of and against Mr. Rice's induction. And many of them have stuck with me.
The home-road splits are remarkable. Then I re-read Howard Bryant's superb book about the Red Sox's history of racism, "Shut Out," and thought, "True, Rice benefited from playing at Fenway Park. But it was no gift to be playing in Boston in his time period." I e-mailed this thought to Howard, and he admitted he had never regarded Rice's HOF candidacy through that prism.
The offensive totals fall short, and his .8539 career OPS ties him for 147th all-time. He trails his era mates Reggie Smith (.855) and Jack Clark (.8543).
At the end, having it pounded into my head that Rice was "feared," I looked at some of his offensive splits (you also can see the home-away disparity here):
Runners in Scoring Position: .371 OBP/.501 SLG//872 OPS. A better OBP than overall, one tick lower in slugging.
2 outs, runners in scoring position: .358/.414/.773. Better OBP by a little, and much worse SLG.
Late and close: .337/.453/.791. So when the "chips were down," as they say, he was 53 points of OPS worse than overall.
When you throw in his poor defense, I went with No. I'm sure he'll get in anyway, in his final year of eligibility, and I won't lose a wink of sleep over it.
Lee Smith: For some reason, I voted him on my first ballot two years ago, and now, I find him an easy No. What strikes me most is his 1.256 WHIP - so much worse than modern closers like Mariano Rivera (1.020) and Trevor Hoffman (1.049).
Alan Trammell: A no in '07, a yes last year and now a Yes again. He had seven seasons of a 120 OPS+ or better - great for a shortstop (Cal Ripken, Jr. also had seven such campaigns, and Ozzie Smith zero). His defense was excellent.
Greg Vaughn: No.
Mo Vaughn: I was blown away when I saw the career 132 OPS+. But he was done at age 35. And he didn't quite remind Mets fans (or Red Sox fans, or Angels fans) of Keith Hernandez with the leather. No.
Sorry for the delay in getting this out. Been busy here in Motown. Attended this game tonight. The Pistons do an amazing job of catering to young fans. I'm curious to see how much New York's new ballparks, football stadium and arenas do that.
Tags: harold baines , jay bell , bert blyleven , david cone , andre dawson , ron gant , mark grace , rickey henderson , tommy john , don mattingly , mark mcgwire , jack morris , dale murphy , jesse orosco , dave parker , dan plesac , tim raines , jim rice , lee smith , alan trammell , greg vaughn , mo vaughn , matt williams , fruit of the month , hanukkah , back to the future part ii , biff , nolan ryan , delorean , plutonium , hall of fame