Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tales of a first-time Hall voter

The envelope arrived in the mail in early December. I immediately knew what was inside. The return address (Baseball Writers' Association of America) gave it away.

I was more than a little surprised and underwhelmed, though, when I tore the thing open and for the first time in my life held a Hall of Fame ballot in my hands. Wait, this is it? A photocopied, 8½ x 11-inch sheet of paper with 33 names and boxes next to each one to be checked? If you saw it from a distance, you might have mistaken it for a fourth grade math quiz.

The form itself may have been underwhelming; the task of filling it out was anything but. As I scanned through the names of the retired players eligible for election to Cooperstown, two thoughts came to mind:

1) This is the coolest thing ever.

2) This is the most terrifying thing ever.

Since joining the BBWAA a decade ago, I'd anticipated this moment — you must be a member for 10 consecutive years before becoming a Hall of Fame voter — but I didn't fully appreciate just how daunting the responsibility is until it was finally thrust upon me. Seriously, who am I to judge how these ballplayers will be remembered for all eternity?

And that's how I'd feel if I was judging them strictly on their performance between the lines. That, of course, isn't the case. Voters are instructed to consider six criteria when evaluating a player's candidacy: his playing record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which he played.

It's the "integrity, sportsmanship and character" clause that really makes this task so daunting. We're being asked to judge these people not as ballplayers but as human beings, a slippery slope at any point in baseball history but even more so in the wake of the steroids era. Each voter must determine how to handle this delicate matter, whether to eliminate all players suspected of using performance enhancing drugs, only those who were caught or none at all.

There's no right answer to this question, and there's no wrong answer. This isn't a black-and-white issue. It comes in billions of shades of gray.

There is, however, no group on earth more qualified to make these decisions than the 581 tenured members of the BBWAA who voted this year. I've spoken to dozens of them seeking advice on how best to fill out a ballot, and I can say without hesitation not one of them takes this responsibility lightly. They agonize over their selections, wavering back and forth over certain bubble candidates, until they finally make a decision and return the ballot in a sealed envelope.

I will admit I'm not entirely comfortable judging some players whose major-league careers began before I was born and who retired long before I ever set foot in a press box. But only a handful of candidates fit that description. The vast majority of them played during my baseball-watching life, and plenty of them were still playing when I began covering the sport for a living.

Besides, I've talked to enough sportswriters, players, former players and even Hall of Famers over the years about these candidates, enough to get a sense of how each one was regarded both during and after his career. All that information, plus my own statistical research and soul-searching, played a role in my eventual decisions.

The results of those decisions were revealed this afternoon, and two outstanding and deserving men received what must have been emotional phone calls from longtime BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell, who had the honor of informing Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven they had been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Before I reveal my votes, a quick primer on how this all works...

-- The 33-man ballot is created by a screening committee, which is required to include anyone who received at least 5 percent of last year's vote and hasn't been on the ballot more than 15 years.

-- First-time candidates must have played at least 10 seasons in the major leagues and have been retired at least five years (exceptions are made for a player who dies before the five-year waiting period ends).

-- Any player on MLB's ineligible list (ie. Pete Rose) is also ineligible to appear on the ballot.

-- Voters may select as many as 10 players in a given year, though we're not required to select any. No write-in candidates are allowed.

-- Any player who receives at least 75 percent of the vote is enshrined in Cooperstown.

OK, here's how I voted on each of the 33 eligible players...

ROBERTO ALOMAR -- YES
This was an easy decision for me (one of the only easy decisions, I might add). Alomar, quite simply, was the best second baseman of his generation, and without question is in the conversation for best second baseman of all-time. He was selected to 12 straight All-Star Games, won 10 Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers. He was a career .300 hitter who finished in the top 10 of MVP voting five times. He won two World Series rings (hitting a cool .347 in those games, by the way). Only Eddie Collins and Joe Morgan ever played more games at second base. How my colleagues failed to vote Robbie in last year when he first appeared on the ballot is beyond me — probably some lingering resentment over Alomar's umpire spitting incident — but I'm proud to have helped vote him in this year.

CARLOS BAERGA -- NO
The first former Nationals player to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot actually was putting together a Hall of Fame career in the early '90s. Through his first six seasons, Baerga was a .305 hitter with three All-Star appearances and two Silver Sluggers on his mantel. But he never sustained that level of play and spent his later years as a pinch-hitting specialist.

JEFF BAGWELL -- YES
I didn't enter this exercise thinking I'd vote for Bagwell, but the more I analyzed his career, the more I appreciated just how great a player he was. Start with his 449 homers, 1,529 RBI, .297 career batting average, .408 career on-base percentage and .948 career OPS (the 21st-highest mark ever). Throw in his 1994 NL MVP award, plus five other top-10 finishes. Yes, he played during the most offensively friendly era in the game's history, but it's not like he was a run-of-the-mill player during his time. Among all first basemen who played during his career, Bagwell ranked first in runs, doubles and stolen bases, second in homers, hits and RBI, third in OBP and fourth in slugging and OPS. Oh, did I mention he was one of the most underrated defensive first basemen in history, ranking second all-time in assists at his position? I hope in the coming years more of my colleagues come to appreciate Bagwell's greatness. (He received a strong 41.7 percent of the vote in his first crack.)

HAROLD BAINES -- NO
Baines is a better player than you probably remember. He was a six-time All-Star, hit 384 homers and drove in 1,628 runs (29th all-time). But his was a career of longevity, with no sustained run of dominance, and he spent much of it as a designated hitter (almost 60 percent of his plate appearances came as a DH).

BERT BLYLEVEN -- NO
Let me start by saying I am supremely happy for Blyleven that his 14-year wait is over and he has finally gotten the call. He is deserving of this honor, and I take issue with no one who voted him in. Nearly 80 percent of the electorate voted for the guy; obviously he had a legitimate case for induction. I agonized over this one, more than any other name on the ballot. I went back and forth for days, thinking I'd made a sound decision and then convincing myself I hadn't. In the end, I just couldn't pull the trigger for Bert, and here's why: If you have to agonize over a player this much, he's probably not a Hall of Famer. Only 109 players had ever been elected by the BBWAA prior to today (others have been voted in by the veterans committee). That's beyond the cream of the crop. That's the tiniest sliver of bubbles on top of the cream. For me, Blyleven just barely missed reaching that status.

Yes, he won 287 games (27th all-time), recorded 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time) and tossed an incredible 60 shutouts (ninth all-time). But he amassed those impressive numbers over a 22-year pitching career that was among the longest in baseball history. When you look at his career as a series of 22 individual seasons, it becomes less impressive. Yes, Blyleven is fifth all-time in strikeouts, but he led his league only once. Yes, he's 27th all-time in wins, but he never led his league in that category, and he only won 20 games once.

I believe you can only judge a player against those who also played in his time. As much as we want to believe baseball is the same game today as it was in 1901, it's simply not true. The game has changed countless times over the decades, and stats from the early 20th century simply can't be compared to stats from the early 21st century. So, was Blyleven one of the best very best of his time? No. His 3.31 career ERA (which looks fantastic by today's standards) actually ranked 15th among all starters with at least 2,000 innings pitched during the years he played. John Candelaria, Bob Welch and Jon Matlack all had better ERAs during that time. Blyleven wasn't even one of the very best strikeout pitchers of his generation. He ranked seventh in strikeouts per nine innings, behind Mark Langston. Blyleven was an All-Star only twice in his career. He never won a Cy Young Award and finished in the top four only three times.

Finally, there's this: On the day Bert Blyleven retired, how many people said, "THAT guy is a Hall of Famer"? Only 17.5 percent of the voting BBWAA members felt that way five years later when he first appeared on the ballot. That number steadily rose and finally took off in the last three years as various internet campaigns popped up arguing case Blyleven's statistical case for induction.

As I said, I'm supremely happy for him today. I have no qualms with his election, and I respect anyone who supported him. But I just didn't think he made the cut.

BRET BOONE -- NO
A three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger winner, Boone put up some big numbers late in his career. But his run of dominance lasted only three seasons and came too late for him to make a serious case for a spot in Cooperstown.

KEVIN BROWN -- NO
You tend to forget how great a pitcher Brown was at times: six All-Star appearances, two ERA titles. But his dominance came in brief, scattered spurts spread out over an otherwise good, but not great, career.

JOHN FRANCO -- NO
He was a very good closer for a long time. But if you're going to make it into the Hall of Fame as a reliever, you have to have been more than very good. You have to have been great, and Franco doesn't quite make the cut.

JUAN GONZALEZ -- NO
Won two MVPs and six Silver Sluggers, which certainly puts him in the discussion, as do his 434 homers and .561 slugging percentage. But Juan Gone is a perfect example of a player whose numbers look strong against the backdrop of baseball history but not as strong against the backdrop of his own offensively fueled era. Yes, that .561 slugging percentage ranks 18th all-time, but did you know it ranks only 12th among those who played during his career? There were also steroid accusations directed at Gonzalez (mostly from Jose Canseco) and while those alone didn't keep me from voting for him, they didn't help tip the scales in his favor.

MARQUIS GRISSOM -- NO
Grissom was a two-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner who put together six pretty impressive seasons over a nice career. He also served as the Nationals' first base coach in 2009 and is one of the genuinely good guys in baseball. Sadly, that's not enough to make him a Hall of Famer.

LENNY HARRIS -- NO
Another former Nats coach, Harris is baseball's all-time leader in pinch-hits. That's a nice accomplishment. But that's not getting him into Cooperstown without a ticket.

BOBBY HIGGINSON -- NO
OK, the former Tigers outfielder had three great seasons. But he had zero All-Star selections, zero Gold Gloves, zero Silver Sluggers and never finished in the top-10 in any offensive category.

CHARLES JOHNSON -- NO
One of the best defensive catchers of his time, Johnson won four Gold Gloves and was a two-time All-Star. With a career .245 batting average.

BARRY LARKIN -- YES
Had he played in a bigger market than Cincinnati, or had his career not overlapped with Ozzie Smith's so much, Larkin might well have been a first-ballot selection last year. He's still got strong support (62.1 percent this year) and I think he will get elected in the near future as more voters come to appreciate his fabulous career. Larkin was as complete a shortstop as there has ever been in the game. He hit for average (.295), he hit for power (198 homers, ninth all-time among shortstops), he ran the bases well (379, eighth all-time among shortstops) and he fielded his position flawlessly (three Gold Gloves, but he would have won more if not for Ozzie). Here's hoping Barry (another very nice man who previously worked for the Nationals) gets the call next year.

AL LEITER -- NO
He was a two-time All-Star who finished in the top-10 of Cy Young voting twice, thanks to two fantastic seasons. His average season, however, included a 12-10 record and 3.74 ERA.

EDGAR MARTINEZ -- NO
Edgar certainly has a strong case for induction, and it's quite possible I'll change my mind about him down the road. He was, simply, the best designated hitter of his time and probably the best pure DH ever (not that there have been many). He won two batting titles, an RBI title and five Silver Sluggers, and was an All-Star seven times. I was, however, troubled by the fact this obviously outstanding batter never recorded more than 182 hits in a season. And his career totals (2,247 hits, 1,261 RBI) are just a smidge too low for me. If he only had some defensive accomplishments to go along with the borderline offensive numbers, it would probably push him over the hump. But if you're going to make it to Cooperstown strictly on your merits as a DH, your offensive numbers are going to have to knock my socks off. And Edgar's don't quite do that.

TINO MARTINEZ -- NO
He had some very nice seasons and some very clutch hits for some very good Yankees teams. But you have to be more than "very nice" for "very good" teams to make it.

DON MATTINGLY -- NO
Seven years into his career, Donnie Baseball might well have been the best player in the game. During that span, he hit .327 with an average of 27 homers, 114 RBI and 43 doubles, all while playing superb defense. And then the wheels came off and his career fell apart. Had he only sustained even a quality career for a few more years, Mattingly would make it in. Unfortunately, his reign didn't last quite long enough.

FRED McGRIFF -- NO
There may not be another player in history who suffers more than McGriff for simply playing during a time when a lot of people put up big offensive numbers. While the Crime Dog's 493 homers and 1,550 RBI would have guaranteed him election a generation earlier, he falls short when compared to the other sluggers of his time. Among all qualifying hitters who played during his career, McGriff ranks 35th in OBP, 32nd in slugging and 29th in OPS (behind Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon and Ryan Klesko).

MARK McGWIRE -- NO
There's no need to rehash McGwire's career accomplishments. His numbers and his contributions to the game make him a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. His admission to using steroids keep him out. I've spent an incredible amount of time trying to figure out how to handle these cases, and here's what I've come up with: I'm not going to vote for anyone who either admitted to or was caught using performance enhancing drugs. For now. I'm going to re-evaluate these candidates every year as long as they remain on the ballot. My hope is that over time we will learn much more about who did what, how many players did it and what effect it had on the game. We've already learned a lot more in the last couple of years than we knew in the preceding decade. I just don't feel comfortable making these decisions right now. You can always put a guy in the Hall later (as long as he maintains the 5 percent threshhold, which McGwire should). You can't, however, take him out once he's already in.

RAUL MONDESI -- NO
He had two great seasons, which isn't enough. And his career lasted a total of only 10 years, which also isn't enough.

JACK MORRIS -- NO
I get the case for Morris, I really do. He was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. He was the ace of three different World Series teams and pitched probably the greatest game in Series history. But I just can't get over his career 3.90 ERA, which would be far and away the worst in Cooperstown. And it's not like a 3.90 ERA was considering strong during Morris' era. In fact, his ERA was better than the league average in only nine of his 17 full seasons. Among all qualifying pitchers during his career, Morris ranked 39th in ERA, behind Kevin Gross, Doyle Alexander and Charlie Hough. There are all sorts of new-fangled ways to quantify and evaluate players. I think we can all agree, however, that ERA remains the best tool to evaluate pitchers. And the fact is, Morris' ERA was not Hall-of-Fame worthy.

DALE MURPHY -- NO
I know plenty of people who are strongly in Murphy's corner, and I respect their argument. He was absolutely one of the best players of the 1980s and won two MVPs. The problem is that he just didn't sustain that level of play long enough.

JOHN OLERUD -- NO
A two-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and one-time batting champ, Olerud was simply a very good hitter and smooth first baseman for a long time who never ascended to greatness. No shame in that.

RAFAEL PALMEIRO -- NO
My voting criteria with Mark McGwire also applies here, so I won't rehash it, except to point out that despite some who believe Raffy would have been a borderline candidate even without the failed steroids test, there's no question his numbers are Hall-worthy. You combine 3,000 hits and 500 homers, you get in as long as you pass the integrity, sportsmanship and character tests. And I'm certainly open to voting Palmeiro in down the road once I have a better understanding of what really happened with him and how that fits in with the rest of the steroids era.

DAVE PARKER -- NO
The Cobra was a pretty feared player in the late-70s, and he won an MVP, a batting title and three Gold Gloves. But his peak didn't cover enough years to earn my vote.

TIM RAINES -- YES
I went into this exercise thinking I would vote for Raines, and my ensuing research only made me feel stronger about voting for one of the most-under-appreciated players of all-time. Plain and simple, Raines was the best leadoff hitter in history not named Rickey Henderson. Rickey, of course, is the unquestioned king of that unofficial position. But Raines is firmly entrenched as the No. 2 man. He was a seven-time All-Star who won a battle title, a Silver Slugger and four consecutive stolen base titles. Among all those who played during his career, he's second in steals, third in runs, fourth in hits, third in triples, third in walks, eighth in OBP and even 39th in OPS (which isn't bad for a leadoff guy). Here's what really pushed Raines over the top for me: He's fifth all-time with 808 stolen bases. But he's second all-time with an 85 percent success rate on stolen base attempts. How good is 85 percent? Henderson's career rate was 81 percent. Same for Ty Cobb and Vince Coleman. Lou Brock's was 75 percent.

KIRK RUETER -- NO
I'm sure someone can make a case for Rueter, owner of a career 4.27 ERA, no major awards or All-Star selections. But I can't.

BENITO SANTIAGO -- NO
He was a five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger winner. But he never really ascended into that echelon of great catchers like many thought he would early in his career.

LEE SMITH -- NO
Smith gets lots of support from those who look at his 478 career saves and say he was one of the greatest closers ever. I, however, look at his 77 percent success rate in save situations (11th among the 21 relievers with at least 300 career saves, behind Armando Benitez) and say that doesn't make the cut.

B.J. SURHOFF -- NO
He had a nice career, but by no stretch of the imagination a Hall-of-Fame career.

ALAN TRAMMELL -- NO
I thought long and hard about this one, I really did. I've always respected Trammell as a player and believe he doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's a six-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner and a three-time Silver Slugger winner. And when you compare his stats to the other shortstops of his time, he's clearly third-best to Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin. The sticking point for me was that he didn't compile enough "great" seasons (six, by my count) and he's a clear step below Larkin. That doesn't mean he wasn't a fantastic player and one of the best of his time (or any time). But he's not quite in the class of the very best of all-time.

LARRY WALKER -- YES
Walker's credentials are fantastic. He was a five-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, a three-time Silver Slugger winner. He won an MVP. He won three batting titles. He won a home run title. His career batting average was .313 to go along with a .400 OBP, .565 slugging percentage (14th all-time) and .965 OPS (16th all-time). Why didn't more writers vote for him (he only got 20.3 percent)? I suppose it's the Coors Field factor. Roughly one-third of his career plate appearances came at probably the best hitters' park the game has ever known. But should Walker's entire Cooperstown case be based on that alone? I don't think so. Yes, he benefited some from playing in a great hitters' park. So did dozens of great Red Sox players over the years who took advantage of Fenway Park's cozy dimensions. So did plenty of left-handed Yankees sluggers who who took advantage of the short porch in right field at each incarnation of the Stadium. And it's not like Walker was a complete slouch everywhere else he played. He was a pretty darn-good player in the early portion of his career in Montreal, not exactly the smallest ballpark ever constructed. If Walker's case was built entirely on his offensive numbers, I might have hesitated to vote for him. But he was a complete player, a fantastic hitter, fielder and baserunner (230 career stolen bases). That he played one-third of his career at Coors Field doesn't bother me.

So there you have it. That's my first Hall of Fame ballot. I certainly don't claim to have a perfect method for selecting players, and I certainly don't expect everyone (or anyone, for that matter) to agree 100 percent with me.

I do hope, however, you respect my decision-making process and the effort I put into it. As easy as it may seem to fill one of these ballots out, I suspect you'd realize it's an incredibly difficult task if you actually were holding one in your hand that counted.

I sure know I felt that way as soon as I opened that hallowed envelope last month.

57 comments:

Tank said...

I agree with everything other than McGwire, Palmeiro, and Blyleven.

Kudos for voting for Bagwell and Raines.

Sunderland said...

Mark:

I've got to read this more thoroughly to comment, but just the fact that you did this, are laying this out for us and putting your thoughts and decisions out there for us to learn from and review and critique is soooooo freakin' cool.

Thanks so much.

Traveler8 said...

I agree with Sunderland, thanks for being so candid on your decisionmaking process - fascinating stuff.

Nats fan in NJ said...

Sunderland - Ditto...

Dave Nichols said...

Mark, congrats on your first ballot. Though I don't agree with some of your choices and your methodology in some cases, I certainly respect your effort and your thoughtfulness in posting your ballot with your justifications.

joemktg said...

Mark: tremendous review. Wish all writers/voters did this. Takes a set of onions to lay it out here, esp. the Blyleven No vote

Your stance regarding eligibility vs. admitted/tested proven steroid use is clear. So ARod is out. However, does this mean that if no admission and/or no positive tests, then the evaluation is based on field performance? How will you handle Bonds, Sosa, etc.?

Sunderland said...

How could you not vote in Marquis Grissom? He coached Nyjer in 2009 and made Nyjer look HOF-worthy! In 2010, without Grissom, Nyjer fell apart.

Marquis de Hall!

JD said...

Mark,

Great post and I agree with you across the board except for Bagwell; he is totally a hall of famer but not on the 1st ballot. That should be reserved for slam dunks superstars and I think that he was not quite that.

JayB said...

Agreed...that was a great read.....I do not agree with Walker or Larkin but so what right?

Anonymous said...

Fully agree with Bags (not with Donnie Baseball) but greatly enjoyed the reasoning behind it. I wish every voter did this so at least we'd get better info on "why" this guy was and that guy wasn't. Good post.

Doc said...

Nice job Mark. If every voter was as through as yourself, we'd have a valid process.

Thanks for voting for Walker and Raines. For those that care to analyse their stats they are both more than deserving.

It's as you suggest, kind of myopic to pick out Coors field as the only hitter-friendly field in baseballdom. Besides, Walker played a lot of his career in pitcher-friendly Big O in Montreal.

Let's hope Walker and Raines get the vote in future submissions. I really enjoyed watching both on the field.

Stew Magnuson said...

I'm wondering now if there is a scenario where Biggio gets in on his first ballot, and Bagwell and Biggio go into the hall together.

Anonymous said...

Stew, not if their steroids use come out first.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for revealing your votes and rationale. Very interesting.

Thanks also for voting for Jeff Bagwell. In addition to being a great, complete player he played many seasons in the Astrodome, a graveyard for HR hitters. Plus he and Biggio carried the Astros for at least a decade.

upperdeck4 said...

I pretty much agree with you with the exceptions of Jack Morris and Fred McGriff. I know that statistics are important, but in his generation, if I wanted a big game pitcher, it would be Jack Morris. Jack didn't bear down all of the time when he didn't need to; hence the higher ERA. However, he pitched to win and coasted when he could rather than butning himself out.

With respect to McGriff,briefly, the guy was a slugger and a model of consistency, 493 homeruns, 9 years of thirty or more. With respect to integrity,there was never a whiff of scandal about McGriff; upon his retirement he noted pointedly that he was proud that he left with the same body that he began with. Just a great ballplayer and a real good guy.

Bowdenball said...

Thanks for sharing this, Mark. A great read.

However, you did ignore one great reason to support Blyleven- that famous picture of him wearing a T-shirt declaring his love of farting. If that's not a baseball Hall of Famer, I don't know what is.

LoveDaNats said...

It has been a pleasure to listen to your reasoning and gain some insight into the process. Thanks for taking us on the ride.

Ryuga Hideki said...

Mark, really awesome post. Loved reading the whole thing. Just brilliant.

I am new to the game so I don't know most of these names but I must disagree about Bert with you. To be able to play for 22 years itself is such a great task that I would put him in HOF for that. HOF means honoring a career that is distinguished based on criteria you have mentioned. I think Bert fits the bill.

Oh and I am listening to MLB Network and Bob Costas made an interesting point. How do you treat players who had HOF potential even before they started taking steroids? Prime example is Barry Bonds. He was an all star with Pittsburgh as a five-tool player. So Mark, what is your take on that?

pdowdy83 said...

I agree with your votes Mark.

I do not understand how Almoar can get such a high percentage of votes and Larkin can be left out. Larkin and Alomar have nearly identical career slash lines, Larkin's career WAR is 69.8 and Alomar's is 68.2. Like Mark said, if Ozzie wasn't playing Larkin would have as many gold gloves as Alomar and he played the more difficult position. Larkin also won an MVP award and Alomar didn't. They should both be in the HOF.

DFL said...

Unless found to have used steroids, Bagwell deserves induction.

Anonymous said...

Being from Montreal, I had the pleasure to watch many great Expos players play at the Big O.I can list so many(Vlad,Dawson,Carter,Raines, Martinez, Alou,etc...), but the one that was truly special for me was Larry Walker. When you talk about 5 tools, this guy was it.Dawson and Vlad had the same tools as well, but they were either too injured (the former) or not exactly the brightest(Vlad).Nobody could play the outfield like Walker. He was so smart and fundamentally sound that it seemed he never was out of position. With his great arm, he always hit the cut-off man and although he wasn't fast, was probaby the smartest base runner i ever saw. Being an Expos fan meant enduring a lot of heartaches, but none more so than the day Walker signed with the Rockies. And to think that the Expos were so stingy that not only did they not try to sign him,they did not even offer him arbitration to at least get draft picks for fear that he would have accepted....

Todd Boss said...

Thank you for using reasoning, opinion and more than some accumulator stats when it came to analyzing Blyleven. Congrats to him for getting in but (as you probably are thinking) to me he's not nearly among the best 30 or so starting pitchers to ever play the game. Blyleven's inclusion makes him the 31st elected starter to the Hall.

Get ready to be torn a new one on every start-nerd blog out there who will tell you what an idiot you are because you deigned not to vote for Blyleven. At least with his election we can END the incessant pro-Blyleven blog postings that everyone seems to write.

Here was my own anti-blyleven reasoning and mock HoF ballot. http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=403 and http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=533

natsfan1a said...

Thanks, Mark, for letting us in on your voting process and final decisions. You clearly did not take the responsibility lightly, and I'm delighted that you got that tenth year under your belt so as to qualify to vote this year. Congrats and may it be the first of many!

I don't feel that I'm qualified to agree or disagree with the votes, so I won't weigh in there. (What? This *is* still the Internetz, isn't it??)

JaneB said...

For decades I've wondered what it would be like to get to vote for the HOF players. Now I know. Thank you so so so much for sharing.

I wonder who will be the first Nat to go, sometime way in the future? I hope Zimmerman and Strasburg have the kind of careers that put them in.

Great post Mark. And what a great landmark to be able to reach, tha you qualify to vote.

markfd said...

Mark,

First off congratulations to you for acheiving 10 consecutive years and voting for the Baseball HOF.

Second, congrats to Robbie and Bert, both IMHO are deserving of the Hall.

Third, I hope Larkin, Bagwell and Raines make it there someday they deserve it.

Finally, here are some votes I cannot believe, did some people let their pet fill out these ballots!?

Harold Baines 28 votes (Are there that many White Sox writers/BBWAA members?)
John Franco 27 votes (Mets HOF maybe!?)
Kevin Brown 12 votes (most overpaid free agent pitcher HOF!?)
Tino Martinez 6 votes (maybe they were voting for the Yankees HOF!?)
Marquis Grissom 4 votes
Al Leiter 4 votes (???)
Jon Olerud 4 votes (maybe they thought the fact that he wore a batting helmet was cool!?)
BJ Surhoff 2 votes (maybe philantropic HOF!)
Bret Boone 1 vote (maybe someone confused him with his father or grandfather!?)
Benito Santiago 1 vote (maybe catchers who threw from their knees HOF?)

Another_Sam said...

Thank you MZ. Very nice piece, very classy. I'm with you. My voting [pretend voting] is always less analytical than you articulated above, and more emotional. In my mind, Murphy, Morris, and Smith all three had lengthy periods in which they dominated their positions [and had me checking box scores] and thus I would have voted for them. But I've no quarrel at all with your picks. Very nicely done and thank you for sharing your selections and your reasoning.

Section 223 said...

Mark,
Thanks for sharing your thought process. I think most of us agree with "the coolest thing ever."

ThrowsLikeSteveSax said...

Cheers to Rock Raines getting in soon.

Anonymous8 said...

Mark, using your Big Mac criteria does that mean you would vote for Barry Bondsnifnhe was on the ballot today?

We Need a Bat said...

Most entertaining post in the history of this site for me. Thanks for the effort, Mark.

Theophilus said...

Disagree w/ you, Mark, on Blyleven and Morris. Last season, I watched a re-broadcast of Game 4 of the Orioles/White Sox in the 1983 ALCS. Orioles scored 3 in top of 10th against Britt Burns, who was up around 130 pitches, won game 3-0. It's impossible to exaggerate how much strategy has changed in the years since. No way Mr. Wizard Tony LaRussa would manage that game today the way he did in 1983. The kingpin was the guy who could pitch the complete game. Over his career Blyleven threw 60 shutouts; Morris had 175 CG. Those guys were the keystones of their teams for a long, long time.

Blyleven is in, so no big deal. I heard someone on MLB Network say Morris was the starter on Opening Day, Game One of the LCS and Game One of the WS (in the same season)for three different teams. Those are good enough credentials for me.

Others on this ballot who deserve admission are Larkin and Bagwell, Trammell and Walker, and that's pretty much it. I don't believe Bagwell used illegal substances, Bryant Gumble notwithstanding. The tell-tale sign is usually a hyper-burst of productivity followed by chronic injury, sharply diminished production and a trip out of baseball. Bagwell had 14 great seasons starting with his first day in the majors. I don't think he deserves the rap and should get in eventually.

Someone else on MLB Network described Raines as "a poor man's Ricky Henderson." Sort of damning w/ faint praise. His statistics seem to be padded by an extended period as a role(?) player/DH.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Sorta like the opposite of jury duty. Always interesting.

Mark: Based mostly on your discussion of Baines (whose number the White Sox retired *twice,* IIRC), a theoretical question you're bound to face someday: What would someone have to do to be a HOF DH, or is that a contradiction in terms, for you?

BinM said...

Mark: Thanks for being up front with your rationale, player-by-player. And an additional thank-you for staying on the 'same side of the fence' with both Blyleven & Morris; It seems that a number of voters were splitting their vote on those two.

Hopefully the voters wake-up to players like Raines, Bagwell & Walker in the coming years.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark - Thanks for sharing all your thinking on this.

I see some inconsistency in that a lot of your "No"s were because the player had some stellar years but didn't have a sustained performance throughout their career. And a good portion of your reason for voting "No" for Bert is because he has a sustained performance for 22 years (giving him an impressive career) but no stellar years.

Moot point now that he's in, but I thought it was interesting.

Thanks for taking it seriously and letting us see the process.

Constant Reader said...

To me, Fred McGriff is the ultimate HOF conundrum of the Steroids Era. You stated that “While the Crime Dog's 493 homers and 1,550 RBI would have guaranteed him election a generation earlier, he falls short when compared to the other sluggers of his time.” We now know that many of the hitters AND pitchers of that ERA were on steroids. How can you pass on a clean player with some numbers that are very close to HOF worthy in a dirty era but leave open the door for the dirty players with undeniable numbers to get in later? How could you vote for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, or Palmeiro before McGriff? I don’t know if I could live with the morality of that message.

I don’t know who out there will better represent the quandary than Fred McGriff. It’s a tough call. You have my utmost respect for earning the right to make it.

Mark Zuckerman said...

For those who asked how I will handle Barry Bonds ... he becomes eligible in two years, so obviously much can change between now and then. But if he was on the ballot right now, I would not vote for him. As I explained in the case of Mark McGwire, I'm not going to vote for anyone who either admitted to or was caught taking performance enhancing drugs. I know Bonds never failed a drug test, but he did admit to (unknowingly) taking "The Cream" and "The Clear" to a federal grand jury. You can debate whether that's enough proof or not. For me, it is. Again, my initial "no" vote isn't permanent. I hope to learn more about what exactly Bonds did, when he did it, what effect it had and how it compared with other players during the 15 years he's on the ballot. I'm certainly going to be open to voting for him at some point along the way as more information is revealed.

For Sec. 3, who asked about my stance on DHs: I would say a full-time DH would have to have overwhelming offensive stats and impact for me to vote for him. Edgar Martinez was close, but he didn't quite pass that threshold.

And for Anon 7:48: I may not have explained my rationale clearly enough. In general, I believe a Hall of Famer needs to have sustained a superior level of performance over a significant period of time (roughly a minimum of 8-10 years, preferably more). Some guys were superior for 5-7 years, which wasn't enough for my vote. And some guys, like Blyleven, were merely impressive for a long time but not superior for a long enough stretch.

In other words, some guys are great for a few years. Some guys are very good for a long time. Hall of Famers are great for a long time.

Ky said...

Great rundown, Mark! Also, thanks for the accompanying trip down baseball memory lane … though I do feel you could have expanded on why you SNUBBED Surhoff.

Also, congrats on qualifying for the vote — so awesome.

Ryuga Hideki said...

I am wondering how does veteran's committee choose HOF.

And what will be your take on position players with poor defensive skills? for example, adam dunn who might have monster numbers by the time he retires but never known for his defense. or Manny Ramirez (ignore that he took steroids for now) who sucked in the field. I am not aware of many DHs who are or would be eligible for HOF but why treat them any different than position players with poor defensive skills?

Hank said...

Mark,

Thank you sharing your voting experience and explaining your thought process. Clearly, you took it very seriously and put a lot of thought into it.

I agree with you for the most part but with two exceptions: Blyleven and Walker. Any player that accumulated the majority of their offensive numbers in Colorado must be eliminated as a legitimate HOF candidate. If Walker had not spent time in Colorado he would've been no more impressive than Paul O'Neill or Dave Parker. Walker is not a HOFer.

About Blyleven...He pitched in an era when the three top pitchers were power pitchers and they all went on to be HOFers. Blyleven wasn't a power pitcher and his numbers are very comparable to those three pitchers. Blyleven won two World Series titles and he had the greatest curveball of all-time.

BTW, those three top pitchers that prevented Blyleven from winning Cy Youngs and strikeout awards were Seaver, Ryan and Carlton.

The Great Unwashed said...

Great post, Mark. One question, however. If you won't vote for McGwire because of performance enhancing drug use (and I agree with that by the way), then why the vote for Tim Raines who was an admitted cocaine user? Drugs are drugs.

DC Tom said...

Thank you, Mark, and congratulations. It is candid, insightful, and honest writing like this that has me checking this blog repeatedly every day.

There has never been a doubt in my mind that the BBWA members take this responsibility as seriously as you do. Even still, at some point in the relatively near future, I wish the BBWA would make it a *requirement* that all voters explain each of their decisions via the written word. It is not too unreasonable to ask baseball writers to write, isn't it? Those explanations still could be published anonymously.

David said...

Mark,

Great post and very informative. I agree with most of your choices with the possible exceptions of Blyleven and maybe Walker. Both are borderline and its tough to say. I also think that Trammell should somehow be put in the HOF with Whitaker someday as the greatest double play combination in baseball. Maybe someone can write a poem about them someday.

Again very nice post, well written and thoughtful making me want to read it twice.

DC Tom said...

I agree with most of your decisions, Mark. Especially your "yes's" for Bagwell, Larkin, Raines, and Walker.

I think the uncertainty and indecision over how to evaluate steroid (and pre-humidor!) era players like Bagwell and Walker will keep their vote totals down for a period of time. Indeed, I wonder if coming off the "Year of the Pitcher" had a direct effect on this evaluation and causing a further discount of steroid-era hitter statistics.

Larkin and Raines both deserve to be in. But they both increased their vote totals significantly this year, so it does seem like it's only a matter of time for both.

And while I agree that Kevin Brown likely isn't HOF material -- if writers are discounting steroid-era stats of hitters like Juan Gonzalez, shouldn't they be augmenting the stats of steroid-era pitchers like Brown? He has a 3.28 career ERA. More impressively, from 1995-2001, the height of the steroid era, his ERA was 2.65 and was downright microscopic in some of those years. I agree with discounting Juan Gonzalez and Palmeiro, but the other side of the coin would seem to be giving Kevin Brown some bonus points -- and not vote him off the ballot on his first try.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Ryuga Hideki said...
I am wondering how does veteran's committee choose HOF. And what will be your take on position players with poor defensive skills? for example, adam dunn who might have monster numbers by the time he retires but never known for his defense. or Manny Ramirez (ignore that he took steroids for now) who sucked in the field. I am not aware of many DHs who are or would be eligible for HOF but why treat them any different than position players with poor defensive skills?


The veterans committee is made up of Hall of Fame players, longtime sportswriters, broadcasters and baseball executives. Every few years, they compile a list of players, managers, executives and others who aren't on the BBWAA ballot. They meet in private as a group and then vote. This year, they elected former GM Pat Gillick.

As far as poor defensive players go, I would say I will consider them as long as their offensive production is overwhelming. Take a guy like Reggie Jackson. He wasn't known at all for defense. But his offensive production was off-the-charts good. So he's in.

The same, by the way, would hold true for a weak offensive player who was off-the-charts good in the field. Ozzie Smith, of course, is the best example of this type of player.

The Great Unwashed said...
Great post, Mark. One question, however. If you won't vote for McGwire because of performance enhancing drug use (and I agree with that by the way), then why the vote for Tim Raines who was an admitted cocaine user? Drugs are drugs.


No, drugs are not drugs. Steroids and HGH are performance enhancing. While I certainly don't support cocaine use by anyone, I've yet to hear anyone suggest it makes you a better ballplayer.

Anonymous said...

Mark:

I have an issue with the number of All Star selections being a worthy category for HoF consideration. Perhaps it's my personal dissatisfaction with the way ASG votes are conducted (indifferent fans with punch cards in stadiums, too much emphasis on 1st half season statistics, mandatory representation by all teams, possible personal biases by managers and staff when selecting pitchers, player opt-outs, etc.) but I continually hear the number of ASG appearances mentioned first by electors and media members when making a case for Hall election. How do you think ASG appearances rank when compared to other possible criteria?

Ryuga Hideki said...

Mark, thank you very much for taking time to answer all these questions and comments, and sharing all the experience about HOF voting.

David said...

great counter point to the steroids era is the fact that the best pitchers dont have incredible looking stats. mussina, kevin brown, pedro martinez... all borderline, but Pedro i believe would be the first to go in. the win-loss percentage and career era say it all. after that, i think mussina is more deserving than brown.

Big Cat said...

Big Donkey - NO

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anonymous said...
I have an issue with the number of All Star selections being a worthy category for HoF consideration. Perhaps it's my personal dissatisfaction with the way ASG votes are conducted (indifferent fans with punch cards in stadiums, too much emphasis on 1st half season statistics, mandatory representation by all teams, possible personal biases by managers and staff when selecting pitchers, player opt-outs, etc.) but I continually hear the number of ASG appearances mentioned first by electors and media members when making a case for Hall election. How do you think ASG appearances rank when compared to other possible criteria?


I don't use All-Star appearances as a primary factor at all in deciding a candidate's Hall of Fame worthiness, for the reasons you stated. But I do think it's worth mentioning how many All-Star appearances a player had, because I do think it reveals something about their career. Flawed as that process may be, the greatest players of all-time do have a bunch of All-Star appearances. Very few true greats weren't an All-Star at least a few times.

Alomar was an All-Star 12 consecutive years. Blyleven was an All-Star twice in a 22-year career. It's not fair to judge each player's career entirely on that. But I do think it helps separate the absolute best of the best from the merely great.

James said...

Great read Mark. I really enjoy reading the rationale behind your choices and agree with all of them other than the Steroid clouded scenarios. Don Mattingly, Kevin Brown and Juan Gone all just don't pass the sniff test in my book. They all make it into the Hall of Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. BJ Surhoff doesn't really even make the Hall of very good in my book, I am surprised he made the first cut here, and that's coming from a big time O's fan in the 90s.

As for McGwire and Palmeiro, I like to think I would put them in, and look forward to a day when enough of the writers feel the same way. That day might come at some point when we look back and see a whole generation of power hitters absent from the Hall of Fame. That said I will never have to put pen to paper and vote them in, so maybe I would back down at the last minute when lining them up with current HoFers.

Scooter said...

James, I'm pretty sure the "first cut" that Surhoff et al. made was simply playing for ten years.

It's a little surprising how few make it just to that benchmark.

Raff said...

Hi Mark,

First, thank you.

Second, the issue of how good a player was perceived to be during his career seems to be problematic: the whole point of "Moneyball" is that Billy Beane was able to exploit systematic flaws in baseball people's perception of value. How do you factor that in (if at all) -- i.e., that the shortcoming might be in the perceiving, not in the player?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Raff: While I admit that we all perceive different players in different ways (sometimes unfairly) I'd also argue that numbers alone can never completely paint a perfect picture either. There's something to be said for a Hall of Famer to be more than just stats. There's an intangible quality that elevates them above everyone else and makes them legendary, and perception (fairly or unfairly) plays a role in that.

It's not the Hall of The Players With the Best Stats. It's the Hall of Fame.

Ryuga Hideki said...

Do you recommend book or articles that chronicle the use of steroids or PEDs in baseball the best? Thank you.

Drew8 said...

Mark:

Congrats on your first Hall vote and thanks for your diligence. I enjoyed reading your rationale.

One quibble: You say "Hall of Famers are great for a long time." That's not always the case. Sandy Koufax (165 career wins) is in for a run of five remarkable seasons. Dizzy Dean (150 career wins) had just three stellar seasons.

Then there's the Veterans Committee, which voted in Giants outfielder Ross Youngs, who died at age 30.

Bill James says that in assessing greatness you first need to decide whether you're talking about peak value or career value.

His book "Whatever happened to the Hall of Fame?" is a good read.

Greg H said...

Very good read and obviously all based on opinion. You are correct - there is not a right/wrong answer.

But there is a very important question- You did not vote for McGwire and Palmeiro because they took steroids to enhance their performance (supposedly) to get thru the long season. To you this disqualified them based on the sportsmanship/integrity criteria.

Yet you do vote for Tim Raines, a known user of cocaine. With the boost cocaine gives you, it acts in the same way as roids, giving you a boost or an edge to get thru an extra inning game or the long grind of a 162 game season.

There is nobody you voted for who I disagree with. I'd have added Blyleven and Palmeiro (I have other reasons for not voting for McGwire who by the way, was never found to have used a banned substance when it was banned).

Greg H said...

Sorry, 1 amendment to my post-I would not have vote for Larry Walker. Great player, but not HoF great in my opinion.

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