SEATTLE – When you spend the better part of eight years closely monitoring, analyzing and summarizing a process, it becomes a little surreal when you are finally inserted into it, no matter the level of anticipation.
Inside the very official-looking, color-printed envelope from the Baseball Hall of Fame addressed to me, I found a ballot, voting information and a self-addressed return envelope for my ballot. Yes, snail mail is still being used, perhaps fittingly by a collection of mostly middle-aged baseball writers. Staring at the ballot and names, the idea that I’m now an official voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame became very real. My dad thinks it’s the coolest thing ever, and brags to his friends about it, who in turn offer unsolicited voting suggestions.
Really, I did nothing extraordinary to get the privilege. The main requirement is 10 consecutive years as a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
So now I’m a voter. I’m thrilled and yet apprehensive. Even before covering baseball and the Mariners, first at The News Tribune and then the Times, I followed the Hall of Fame voting as a baseball fan. But admittedly, I had little concept of all that went into it, often referencing the traditional stats of pitcher wins and homers. I was ignorant to the process and the concept of evaluation, relying on memories, basic stats and personal biases. Some fans might say there are still BBWAA voters stubbornly using that method to this day.
But over the last few years, as “younger” writers like me became eligible to vote and older voters lost their privileges, there has been a conscientious effort to be more open-minded to new stats, different analysis and a less rigid concept of the credentials of a Hall of Famer.
Recently, there has been some debate on Twitter about the influence of social media on voters. The barrage of angry tweets when a voter’s ballot doesn’t register to fans’ liking is palpable. Are voters going along with group-think to avoid the vitriolic interactions? Also now more than ever, teams, players and analysts also lobby and promote the credentials of candidates. A perfect example would be the Mariners’ consistent campaign to get Edgar Martinez elected. Is it wrong to do that? Or is it simply offering information?
In my years of covering the Hall of Fame voting, I tried to avoid criticism of another voter’s ballot. Part of it was the understanding that I would eventually be a voter, but it was also the concept that voter’s ballot was his or her own. Whatever their thinking was for their choices — good or bad — that’s the process, flawed or not. If there was only one way to evaluate the criteria for a selection, there would be no need for voting … in anything. Will I receive angry tweets and emails from people who disagree with some or all of my choices? Absolutely. Will it affect my voting in years to come? It seems highly unlikely. It’s my vote.
Going into this first vote, I had a pretty good idea of my ballot, or at least eight of the 10 spots. Covering the Hall of Fame voting process, you are forced to analyze the candidates and potential choices, whether you have a vote or not. It leads you to putting together an imaginary ballot each year. I’ve envisioned my ballots for the last five years, believing my evaluations and decisions were better than some of my peers with votes.
Still, even with that base knowledge and background, I re-evaluated my choices. I relied heavily on the candidate analysis of Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated and his JAWS metric, which measures a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness. Talking with Jay on a podcast helped solidify some of my choices. Obviously conversations with fellow local voters like Larry Stone, John McGrath and Tim Booth factored into my thinking as well as interactions with other writers and voters at the MLB winter meetings. But in the end, these were my researched choices. It wasn’t simple. I felt like I could have voted for 12 players. And finalizing the last few spots was difficult.
Here’s my ballot, in no particular order:
Edgar Martinez: The first name I checked on my ballot. Because of covering Martinez’s candidacy, I’ve seen so many different numbers and comparisons to know that he’s a Hall of Famer. Also, being born and raised in the era of the designated hitter, I don’t have an ingrained stigma about the position that others do. And if you think David Ortiz is a Hall of Famer and yet don’t believe Edgar is also worthy, then I just can’t help you. One of my favorite stats: “Among players with at least 6,000 career plate appearances, only six have bested each leg of Edgar’s career slash line of .312/.418/.515: Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Joey Votto and Ted Williams.”
Chipper Jones: He is one of only nine players in history – and the only switch hitter – with at least a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging average and 400 home runs. The rest are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth, Frank Thomas and Ted Williams. An eight-time All-Star, he hit over .300 in 10 seasons, including .364 in 2008 – the best in the NL. He was the NL MVP in 1999.
Jim Thome: Yeah, you have to look beyond the traditional counting stats. But he hit 612 homers, eight most in MLB history. He is one of only five players in big-league history with at least 500 homers, 1,500 runs, 1,600 RBI and 1,700 walks, along with Bonds, Ott, Ruth and Williams.
Vladimir Guerrero: His induction seems to be a given after notching 71 percent of the votes last season. A nine-time All-Star with eight Silver Slugger awards and the owner of two 30-homer, 30-steals seasons and the 2004 MVP, he racked up a .318 career batting average and .931 career OPS with 449 homers. Besides his MVP year, he finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting five other times. Only seven other batters in history have at least a .318 batting average and a .553 slugging percentage: Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Trevor Hoffman: He fell just five votes short last season, and his inductions seems a given this year. I considered using his spot to vote someone else also worthy. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and JAWS ratings are well below Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera and Hoyt Wilhelm. But he has 601 career saves, second only to Rivera and he saved 30 or more games in 14 seasons and 40 or more in nine seasons. He was the first pitcher ever to reach the 500 and 600 saves mark. In the era of closers, his longevity and consistency make him worthy.
Barry Bonds: His accomplishments as a hitter are unquestioned, including 762 career homers, a .298/.444/.607 career slash line, 73 homers in 2001 and seven MVPs.
Yet, his accusations as a PED user are just as notable. But, like Roger Clemens (see below), he gets my vote. The arguments of their suspected PED use are not being ignored. But when former commissioner Bud Selig, who allowed the PED usage to run rampant for far too long, is going into the Hall this year, then there can be a place for suspected users who never tested positive. Also “greenies” or amphetamines have enhanced the performance of players for years, including some currently in the Hall of Fame.
Roger Clemens: Seven Cy Young awards, the 1986 American League MVP, 354 career wins, 4,672 career strikeouts, 12 seasons of 200-plus strikeouts and multiple links to performance-enhancing drugs. None of it should be overlooked. He is the greatest right-handed pitcher of my generation. Besides the Cy Young awards, he was top 10 in MVP voting six other times. There’s every indication that he may have cheated. But like Bonds, I voted for him and can’t see myself changing.
Mike Mussina: The unwritten requirement of being a 300-game winner as the key stat for a starter to get into the Hall of Fame is crumbling. While the concept of a “pitcher win” has been reduced in importance due to progressive thinking, the odds of a pitcher reaching 300 wins in the current era seems to be unlikely. He posted 270 wins and logged 11 seasons of 200 innings pitched, was named to five All-Star teams and finished in the top five in starters’ ERA in seven seasons. He accumulated 83 career WAR, which is more than Tom Glavine.
Larry Walker: His fearless, aggressive playing style in the field and on the bases, which helped make him an exceptional player beyond the gaudy offensive numbers, also led to a myriad of nagging injuries that limited his playing time over 17 seasons. He posted a .313/.400/.565 career slash line. He won the batting title three times, hit better than .300 in nine seasons and made five all-star games, earned seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and the 1997 NL MVP. His 72.6 career WAR is 10th best among right fielders with the first eight in the Hall of Fame.
Curt Schilling: A great pitcher, particularly in the biggest of games, Schilling posted a career 216-146 record with 3.46 ERA. He even totaled 22 saves in his 20-year career. He posted nine seasons of 200-plus innings pitched and five seasons of 200-plus strikeouts, including three seasons of more than 300 strikeouts. His career total of 3,116 strikeouts makes him just one of 16 pitchers to strike out 3,000 or more batters. In the postseason, he was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 133 1/3 innings. In the World Series, he was 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA. Has he proven to be pompous, loathsome and a self-promoting person in retirement? Absolutely. But it shouldn’t affect his candidacy.