Every November for about the last 15 years, a postal worker has placed a cherished envelope in my mailbox. The return address is 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, New York.
I opened the latest one and inside, as usual, was a page entitled “BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” along with my ballot, another page with the previous year’s results and the candidates’ total years on the ballot, and a form letter from the Hall’s president, Josh Rawitch.
That included some basic details and this sentence: "Your participation in Hall of Fame voting is greatly appreciated.”
It’s the ultimate honor for a former player to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But it’s also a pretty big honor to be one of the writers who vote.
I take it very seriously. The deliberations in my head often aren’t easy.
We get to vote for as many as 10 each year. I usually only check off a few. I’ve been a hard marker.
I’m also not big on rewarding the cheaters, be it those whose names had been credibly associated with performance-enhancing substances or a candidate who was identified by Major League Baseball as a key figure in an epic fraud known as the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Which brings me to rule No. 5 that we are given for guidance:
“Voting — Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
I interpret this to mean that I shouldn’t vote for those I feel violated the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” clauses during their playing days — as in the circumstances above.
But I wouldn’t anyway.
I concentrate on the candidates who didn’t fail in those areas.
In the end, I felt just two were worthy for Cooperstown’s Class of 2023 — Todd Helton and Billy Wagner.
Helton’s career slash line came out to .316/.414/.539 in a 17-year career spent entirely with the Rockies. He finished with a .953 OPS along with a 133 OPS+, which sets 100 as a league average and takes into consideration outside factors like the stadium.
The five-time All-Star first baseman, who’s in his fifth year on the ballot, got to hit in the thin air at Colorado’s Coors Field, but his road numbers were also more than credible.
In all, Helton batted better than .300 12 times, including .372 in 2000. He also helped the cause defensively, leading NL first baseman in fielding percentage six times and claiming three Gold Gloves.
Wagner posted some historic numbers over his 16-year career pitching for the Astros, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Braves. The closer’s career 2.31 ERA is the best among retired lefty pitchers with at least 500 innings in the Live Ball Era.
His career WHIP is also the best for any retired reliever with at least 700 innings thrown. That walks-plus-hits-per-innings-pitched ratio? Try 0.998.
The seven-time All-Star, who’s in his eighth year on the ballot, posted 422 saves, second among lefties and sixth among all relievers. Wagner had nine seasons with at least 30 saves, including two with at least 40.
So now I will wait for Jan. 24 to find out the results with everyone else, and for the mail to arrive next November.