My 2015 Hall of Fame ballot. I voted for first-timers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman, along with holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Piazza, and Lee Smith.
From the official Baseball Hall of Fame BBWAA Rules for Election – 5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
I wish I had a cool Ken Griffey Jr. story to share. Naturally, I saw him play plenty of times, primarily against the (Devil) Rays. He actually was merely so-so in 42 games against Tampa Bay: batting average .231, on-based percentage .309, slugging percentage .444, and only nine of his 630 home runs.
Putting the check next to Griffey’s name on the ballot was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made in my eight years as a voter. Simply, his career playing record and contributions to the Mariners and Reds warrant induction in the Hall of Fame. I don’t see much, if any, room for debate about Griffey, who was elected today along with Mike Piazza.
As always, I conducted my research. I’ll admit that was a much shorter process with Griffey.
Similarly, I believe that Trevor Hoffman’s playing record and contributions to the Marlins, Padres, and Brewers made him a Hall of Famer. He became the all-time saves leader in 2006 and held that distinction until Mariano Rivera passed him in 2011. I checked Hoffman’s name not long after I checked Griffey’s.
Then I devoted a few minutes to each of the five holdovers from last year’s ballot, players I checked in December 2014 but who did not join John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson in the Hall. I found nothing to convince me I had been wrong about those five, so I checked them, too.
I was allowed to check as many as 10 players, but that’s where I stopped this year: seven.
Here are all seven players I checked this year (asterisk indicates holdover from 2014): Continue reading →
Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know about newly elected Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. The tall left-hander had a losing record against three teams in his distinguished career.
The Yankees (6-8) were one. The Mets (6-7) were another.
The … um … Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Big Unit, one of the 10 best pitchers ever, winner of five Cy Young Awards, the all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) … that guy went 3-5 with a 5.43 ERA in 11 starts against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1998-2006. The Rays averaged 97 losses during that time span, which happened also to be a time when I covered the team for the Tampa Tribune.
OK, here’s why I bring up the fact that Johnson – as deserving a first-ballot Hall of Famer as you’ll find – was generally pretty bad against the Rays, especially after going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay’s inaugural team in ‘98. I bring it up to illustrate the point that baseball statistics are only useful and revelatory in the proper context.
Also, to remind you that all baseball players are fallible.
Very good baseball players make us forgive their failures. Great players make us forgive and forget their failures. Hall of Famers make us remember and celebrate their triumphs.
Does it matter, really, that one of the greatest pitchers ever struggled mightily against one of the worst teams of the 1990s and 2000s? Not today.
Today, we remember the glare, the intimidation, the menacing mound presence, the mullet. Today, we remember why he was called the Big Unit.
Today, we remember and celebrate their triumphs, ever mindful that none of them were even close to perfect, yet knowing that, for a time, they were the best of the best at what they did.
This was my seventh year participating as a voter in baseball’s Hall of Fame balloting. I earned that privilege as a member of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America from 1999-2009, and I currently hold honorary member status.
I take the privilege seriously. Every year I evaluate the new candidates and re-evaluate the holdover candidates, even the players I voted for previously. There are no automatic selections on my ballot, ever.
That said, once I have decided that I consider a player a Hall of Famer, I vote for him. It never has made sense to me to leave a deserving player off my ballot because he hasn’t waited “long enough.”
No Barry Bonds. No Roger Clemens. No Mark McGwire. No Sammy Sosa. As players, they excelled. They put up the numbers and won the awards. They fall short for me because of the character/integrity/sportsmanship clause in the voting rules.
Voters are allowed to select a maximum of 10 candidates. As you can see, I voted for nine, including six holdovers from last year’s ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Edgar, McGriff, Piazza and Smith.
At some point in their careers, the three first-year candidates I selected arguably could be considered the best pitchers in their respective leagues. That statement is not likely to brook much argument when it comes to Pedro and Johnson, but it also applies to Smoltz, who from 1995-1999 was as dominant as any starting pitcher in the game.
A quick word about my borderline players: Mike Mussina, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell. I strongly re-evaluated their candidacies this year, particularly Mussina. I thought this might be the year that I deviated from my philosophy of deciding that if a player is a Hall of Famer, there is no reason for him to wait.
I gave all three a lot of consideration, and concluded once more that while all three were clearly great players, they didn’t quite make the Hall of Fame cut for me. There was no one, glaring reason why not for any of them.
Rather, as I considered their candidacies again – frankly, as I looked hard for reasons to include them – I could not convince myself that they were Hall of Fame caliber. I reserve the right to be wrong in my assessment (I didn’t vote for Barry Larkin or Andre Dawson, after all). I’m sure they’ll all draw the requisite votes to carry them over to next year’s ballot, and I will begin the evaluation process anew.
For now, though, I’m as satisfied as I can be that the nine players I selected deserved my vote. I look forward to next year, when the first-year candidates will include Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman.
I also hope that the voting process can continue to move toward clarity. I hate that the character/integrity/sportsmanship rule means we, as voters, must act as moral arbiters for baseball’s highest honor after an era when the game itself was tainted by steroids.
But that’s part of it, and I consider it an obligation to participate as well as I can, to conduct the research as thoroughly as possible and to present my conclusions with the utmost respect for the players and the game. I’ll continue to do so as long as they’ll have me.
I’ll leave you with a YouTube video of one of the best All-Star Game moments ever: the Big Unit striking out terrified Phillies first baseman John Kruk.
My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I voted for nine players, including electees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.
I’m not smart enough to solve all of the problems that plague the voting process for baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’ve given my opinion, which is just that — one opinion. I think much of the angst and hand-wringing could be eliminated if they simply eliminated the voting rule that states we have to factor in sportsmanship, integrity and character. It works for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — which certainly doesn’t have things exactly right, but at least the process doesn’t force the voters to make educated guesses about who did and did not do things that were against the rules or the law.
It’s high time the voting process was revamped, anyway. If an attention-seeking sports columnist and TV personality from South Florida can thumb his nose at the process by giving his vote away to readers of a satirical sports news website, something clearly is wrong.
Still, it’s a process I feel compelled to take seriously. I spent 1999-2009 covering baseball, 11 consecutive seasons as a card-carrying, hard-traveling member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Yes, it was a truncated career. It wasn’t my choice to leave newspapers, any more than it was the choice of so many others whose careers went south when the print industry imploded. I hung around long enough to meet the requirement for 10 consecutive years of uninterrupted membership. Growing up, I lived the game. I love it still, and that decade-plus I spent roaming clubhouses and press boxes was the culmination of a dream come true in a lot of ways.
So, I’ll keep voting until they tell me I should stop.
Here are my 2014 selections (I voted for nine players, one fewer than the 10-player limit):
Greg Maddux, RHP
Tom Glavine, LHP
Frank Thomas, DH/1B
Craig Biggio, 2B/C/CF
Jeff Bagwell, 1B
Fred McGriff, 1B
Lee Smith, RHP
Mike Piazza, C
Edgar Martinez, DH
This is my sixth year as a voter. My thoughts on the PED users already have been documented. And you can see by my ballot that my thoughts haven’t changed. I won’t vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. I never voted for Rafael Palmeiro, who fell off the ballot this year. Rumor and innuendo are not necessarily enough to convince me to not vote for a player (witness my inclusion of rumored users Piazza and Bagwell). What separated those two from Bonds and Clemens? The overwhelming preponderance of circumstantial evidence against the all-time home run leader and the greatest right-handed pitcher in baseball history. Simply, the rumbling and whispers about Piazza and Bagwell just weren’t loud enough, and I think their numbers and contributions to their teams made them Hall of Fame players.
A few other notes.
I vote for Martinez because I believe that if we’re going to put relief pitchers into the Hall, all specialists should be included. This argument about “only” being a hitter and not contributing with a glove doesn’t make sense to me. Are we going to exclude pitchers because they can’t hit? Outfielders because they don’t pitch? Nonsense. Baseball specialists who excel at an extraordinary level should be considered for the Hall. Extraordinary specialists whose achievements are historical (such as closer Lee Smith) should be elected.
There’s also this: Martinez won the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award, which is bestowed upon the major leaguer who best combines giving back to the community with excellence on the field. Biggio won it in 2007. Why does this matter? Because if factoring in sportsmanship, integrity and character means Bonds and Clemens are out, how can we not take into account exemplary displays of those qualities? In other words, the way the rule works now, being a good guy during a playing career meant something. That’s one reason I voted for Dale Murphy for five consecutive years before his candidacy came to an end in 2013.
So far, I haven’t deviated from the belief that if a player is a Hall of Famer, there is no reason to leave him off the first year. I re-evaluate each candidate with each new ballot, but unless some new evidence came up the last time I voted, there is virtually no chance I’ll include him.
I’ll finish with this: If the integrity, sportsmanship and character rule was eliminated, I would not hesitate to vote for Bonds and Clemens. I didn’t ask to be some sort of moral cop when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but as long as that rule is in there, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make as informed a decision as possible. Ultimately, it’s a futile exercise, because as I’ve written before — here and in my old life as a sportswriter — no one who didn’t see PED use happen knows for sure if it did. We’re guessing, at best. I hope I’ve made the right choices, and I hope the process is reformed soon.
A BBWAA Lifetime Honorary membership card, along with the envelopes for the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.
I care about the Baseball Writers Association of America. I care deeply about the Hall of Fame vote I earned as an active member of that organization from 1999-2009. When my active membership lapsed after I was laid off from the newspaper where I worked for 16 years, I cared enough to pay the fee that ensured I would remain a lifetime honorary member.
The gold card that comes with honorary membership does more than allow me entry into any Major League ballpark in the country. It is my final tangible link to a 24-year sportswriting career that ended in 2010. It wasn’t entirely my choice to end that sportswriting career, but it’s over and I’ve moved on.
Every December I anticipate the arrival of the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in the mail. Not in my e-mail inbox; in the mailbox that sits under a tree in my front yard next to my driveway. It comes in a distinctive manila envelope, stuffed in there along with a stamped return envelope, biographical information on each of the candidates, a letter from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Jeff Idelson, and the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
I’ll vote for the sixth time this year. Every December, I fax off my ballot to the BBWAA because I want to keep the actual paper it’s on. I sort of envision my kids’ kids holding it one day and talking about how their grandfather contributed, if only in a small way, to baseball history.
So, it means something to me. I covered the game long enough to earn that vote, and I actually got into sportswriting hoping to one day become a Hall of Fame voter. I consider it an honor and an important responsibility.
Now, I am aware that the system as it exists is flawed. It never was perfect, but the Steroid Era threw everything into disarray. The inherent subjectivity of the process practically guaranteed chaos as the list grew to include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others whose candidacies have been tainted by suspicion (or hard evidence, in Palmeiro’s case).
This year’s ballot includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. I’m not saying that’s how I’ll vote, mind you. I’m simply pointing out that those three players are, frankly, Hall of Fame locks.
Where does that leave the likes of Bonds, Clemens, et al? Off my ballot, at least for now. As I’ve written before, it all comes down to Rule 5 of the BBWAA Rules for Election:
“Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
I boldface the salient words – integrity, sportsmanship, character – because voting for the Hall of Fame would be a much different proposition without them. Those words transform an already subjective process into a guessing game. A game that I and 600 or so of my fellow voters are compelled to play every December.
The game reached a new level of absurdity this year when Deadspin announced that it would “buy” a BBWAA voter’s ballot and allow its readers to make the selections. I don’t blame Deadspin, which is just doing what it does. I honestly don’t even blame the anonymous voter who allegedly has sold his or her ballot to Deadspin. Just because I take the honor and responsibility seriously, it doesn’t mean the other 600 or so voters are obligated to do so. That person has his or her reasons, and I hope he or she spends the money well. (Might I suggest a donation to one of baseball’s most famous charities, the Jimmy Fund? Or the Children’s Cancer Center? Or anywhere else but the sell-out voter’s bank account? Because hey … it’s Christmas.)
That voter – or soon-to-be former voter, once his or her name becomes public – is no more absurd than the voters who decided Joe DiMaggio – Joe DiMaggio! – was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Or that Gaylord Perry, an admitted spit-ball pitcher, was somehow more worthy of election than others despite his transgressions.
Or the voters – like me – who take it upon themselves to act as gatekeepers in the face of rampant steroid use in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
There is a simple solution, you know.
Change the rules for election. To be precise, eliminate three words.
Eliminate those stipulations, and we’re back to the numbers.
Then it would be like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which explicitly prohibits the much smaller pool of voters from considering the off-field actions of players.
I can acknowledge right now that my ballot would look a lot different if not for the current wording of Rule 5. Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro absolutely would have earned my vote. McGwire and Sosa might have, as well.
Those three words are there, though. And that means another year of hand-wringing, wondering, speculating. It means watching one of my fellow voters help push the whole thing to a new level of absurdity by selling it to a satirical sports website whose editors are in the business of exposing absurdity in sports – something they do quite well.
As for me, I will continue to take it as seriously as I always have. It means something, this signature honor bestowed only upon long-time baseball writers. It means I’m still part of the game in a small but meaningful way.
And it means I still have a voice in a complicated conversation that I care about a great deal, a conversation that I’m pretty sure is just getting started.
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