Hall of Fame: The Post I Said I Wouldn’t Write – Romantic About Baseball
A Blog for The Thinking Fan
Hall of Fame: The Post I Said I Wouldn’t Write

For amature bloggers like myself, voting for the Hall of Fame is like playing online poker for fake money. You want to do well out of principle, but I mean, let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter. It’s a big stress reliever in that way, and it one would think that would make it something fun to look forward to every year. It invites interesting discourse, unique perspectives and forces us to take an honest look at MLB and it’s history.

Of course, given our real life experience with Cooperstown discourse, we know this to be aggravatingly far from the truth. Every year we sit through the same frivolous arguing over steroids, WAR, and the nebulous concepts of “character” and “worthiness”. I can’t WAIT to hear Buster Olney profess his “I don’t vote” stance while he probes the writers in his echo chamber to give theirs. It’s my FAVORITE thing to watch writers abuse such a sacred responsibility so they can feel important for a few weeks… MY. FAVORITE. I’M NOT CLENCHING MY TEETH.

About the time the postseason started up, my Podcast co-host Jim and I decided we were going to lay low this Hall of Fame Season for many of the reasons mentioned above. The feeling was the discourse had gotten so repetitive and so toxic that it just didn’t make sense to contribute to it, especially after how much we covered it last year.

Oh, but ya know, now there’s a lockout and after a loooong layoff, i’m back to writing as much as possible… soo here we are?

For this exercise, i’m going to put my fictional, totally meaningless imaginary ballot here, so we can get that out of the way, because we’re not going to to talk about who I DID vote for:

Courtesy of Fangraphs Crowdsouce Ballots

There, are we satisfied? I will take all questions in the comments or on twitter to everyone’s liking.

Voting for the Hall of Fame takes a particular method for those who give it any thought at all (Looking at you, Steven Marcus), and those who aren’t holding it as leverage to get on their ridiculous soapbox (I’m still awaiting a reply, Dan Shaunessey), and I thought I would share a word on my own. For me, a well thought out vote requires breaking players into THREE tiers

TIER 1: FIRST LOOK TEST

These are the players that get votes just automatically looking up and down the ballot. No further research needed, just check the box. The type of case you can make off the top of your head without much thought. Can I vote them in just on one look at their name, knowing what is behind it? Yes. Not much more to say here:

  • Barry Bonds
  • David Ortiz
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Roger Clemens

TIER 2: RESEARCH REQUIRED

After the top tier are awarded their checks, these are the players that are fighting for the remaining spots (fighting, like it’s some kind of privilege to be on my fake ballot). Their case can range from strong, but needing context to just barely on the radar. Granted, that’s a wide spectrum, but how crowded the first tier is can dictate how many members of this group get votes. These players require a little case-building, usually from three angles:

  • ANALYTICS: Statistics that maybe show a player was more of a contributor than maybe we realized.
  • CAREER UNIQUENESS: This one is a little more subjective, and possibly favors the analytical side of things, but really what we’re looking for here is a player that has accomplished something that is regarded as a distinct (or at least, extremely unlikely to be replicated) outlier in either the statistical world, or in the general play of the game. These are players that I tend to like voting for, with the idea that they showcase different ways the game was/is played.
  • HISTORICAL IMPACT: This one is entirely subjective, but what I look for is players who have made a tangible impact on the timeline of the game. The type of player that, if you were making a time capsule that overlapped with their career, you would have to include them in it to tell the complete story of that era.

This is typically my largest tier, and my most complicated. Inclusion here doesn’t mean their case is weak, in fact (like in the case of Rolen and Jones) it can be extremely strong, it just may lack the sort of name brand recognition that makes it so automatic. Maybe their case requires the type of numbers that don’t just come off the top of the head, or maybe we only now appreciate their career thanks to advances in the way we look at the game now:

  • Bobby Abreu
  • Todd Helton
  • Mark Buehrle
  • Tim Hudson
  • Manny Ramirez
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Billy Wagner
  • Jimmy Rollins
  • Scott Rolen
  • Andruw Jones
  • Andy Pettitte
  • Sammy Sosa

TIER 3: NOT CONSIDERED

Mostly there are players who are included on the ballot because they fit the tenure requirements, but lack the statistical resumé to really qualify. However, this tier could also contain some extreme cases, where character plays such a significant role that voting for said player compromises something in ones standards of decency. Curt Schilling is probably the most prevalent example of that on this ballot. I tread lightly on the character end of things though, because as you look up and down this ballot and quick google searches remind us that it is riddled with domestic abusers, cheaters, racists, and much worse. Some we know about, some we don’t, and some we’ve chosen to ignore or de prioritize in the name of this silly game (I’m as guilty as the next voter, here).

For the sake of expediency, some otherwise interesting cases that enter this tier due to flaws beyond reconciliation in my mind:

  • Curt Schilling
  • Omar Vizquel

Anyone not mentioned, you can assume that I just don’t see a situation I would vote for them, based on their on-field performance.

selective focus grayscale photography of baseball
Photo by Rachel Xiao on Pexels.com

Now that we’ve got the method, let’s discuss the madness. One thing that drives me nuttier than squirrel shit is a vast bulk of our Hall of Fame discourse is devoted to the very extremes. The top and bottom tiers occupy a vast majority of discussion marketshare and takes away the nuance of the debate. So let’s talk about that middle tier there, and even more specifically, the names that aren’t bolded.

NOT SO HAPPY HOUR: Tim Hudson/Mark Buehrle, Manny Ramirez/Gary Sheffield

Sometimes two isn’t better, and that is certainly the case when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. When you consider the former of the two examples in the heading, elite innings eaters Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson, neither has a knock down case for entry, but I think their careers are worthy of a conversation, and may even garner a notable amount of votes:

PLAYERrWARIPERAdRSKs
Hudson57.93126.23.49102080
Buehrle59.13283.13.81871870
Source: Baseball Reference

Both players also sport World Series rings (Buehrle in 2005, Hudson in 2014) and both have a comparable amount of All-Star selections (5 for Buehrle, 4 for Hudson). Both had reputations as ground ball pitchers, and while Buehrle fielded his position better by a wide margin, Hudson finished his career with the better ERA and about another 200 strikeouts, despite pitching almost 160 less innings. You can certainly split hairs between these two (well, maybe not in Hudson’s case) but from a voting perspective, voting for one and not the other seems silly, so my gut tells me you have to take them as a pair, and that’s two spots on my ballot that I just can’t spare, so while the case is worthy of more thought, the logistics limit their ability to get the votes.

Now when you move to the position player tandem of this dilemma, you have to take what the stat tables say with significantly less weight. Over their careers, outfielders Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield’s careers seem pretty comparable. Both posted a career OPS north of .900, more than 500 home runs, and were both very bad defensive players. Dig just a notch deeper though, and while Sheffield posted a more interesting power/speed combination of the two (509HR/253SB), Manny takes the cake across the statistical board. What bundles these two players together, to the detriment of Ramirez, is their tied with PED’s. There are other players with comparable ties to the juice like Sammy Sosa or Alex Rodriguez, but Shef and Manny are held back a bit for me because of their lack of career uniqueness. The fact is that we will see less divisive players to post statlines similar to theirs in our lifetime, and not have the same sort of cultural drag of the steroid era. Manny is the better player of this duo, but was the most brazen in his usage and getting caught, thus making a vote for one but not the other a contradiction in of itself. If steroids were the issue, then I guess Shef is the easier vote, but the box has already been opened, so why not vote for the better player? Choosing the lesser of the two evils (whichever that may be) seems like an exercise in futility, so these two have to go as a pair for me, and then we run into the same problem as above. Just no space.

PHALLING SHORT: Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins

I remember in the mid 2000’s, the Phillies were probably the most forgettable pro sports team in Philly. I remember going to games and about the 4th inning spontaneous “E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLESS!!!” chants would ring out in various places. My friends and I would buy nosebleed seats in the brand new Citizens Bank Park and eventually make our way to the box seats, because literally no one cared. Fast forward a couple of years, and the hottest ticket in town was at the Bank. The team hosted 257 consecutive sellout games starting in 2009, thanks to their incredible core of position players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz and more. Rollins in particular was electric during his prime years, and much to this Braves fan’s shagrin, the Phillies became a force in the NL East.

Now two of those players (Howard and Rollins) appear on the ballot, and while I draw many fond (and not so fond) memories of them and their exciting brand of baseball, I can’t find space for either of them on my ballot. Howard was a fine power hitter in his prime, but as long as Todd Helton is on the ballot, his already borderline “maybe” becomes an easy “no”. I am a huge Jimmy Rollins fan, and his 2007 MVP season statline should be hung in the Louvre, but unfortunately facts are facts, and he was a below average hitter for his career (.743 OPS, 95 OPS+), a good but not outstanding fielder (51 dRS), and while his 470 steals is very impressive, it fails to hold up the weight of his middling offensive performance. I think Rollins in particular could hover around the 5% long enough to gain a little steam on a lighter ballot, but overall I think it takes some intense mental stretching to justify a case for a vote.

THE CHEESE PIZZA CHOICE: Andy Pettitte

As long as you live north of Baltimore, it’s a near certainty that even if you order bad pizza, it’s still palatable. Therefore, there’s nothing wrong with ordering a plain, cheese pizza, but let’s be honest, it’s not anyone’s first choice (except my wife, sorry Meg, I had to out you here). This, in a nutshell, is Andy Pettitte for me on the HOF ballot. The WAR checks out (60.2), the ERA looks okay (3.85) given his high number of innings pitched, and he racked up about 400 more strikeouts than Tim Hudson, so it’s viable and defensible to give him a notch. That’s about it though… It’s fine, but when you’re voting on the elite of the elite, there’s nothing at all that jumps out and says “this guy is a hall of famer” outside of a few subjective arguments that lean heavily on that ever dreaded “eye test”. He pitched in some big games, had some big moments. Overall, he was a very good pitcher and deserves recognition for that. No shame in picking him off the Cooperstown menu, but if i’m doing it, it’s because they’re out of a bunch of other things.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Podcast Feed
%d bloggers like this: