Explaining my Hall of Fame ballot
Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Andre Dawson among six I voted for
Tim Raines' candidacy looks better, thanks mostly tostolen base and OBP numbers
Bert Blyleven wasn't dominant enough to deserve induction to Cooperstown
Normally at this time I reveal my Hall of Fame ballot. This time, I'll spend most of the time explaining it.
Already, my ballot has been met with considerable ridicule on Twitter and other cyberspace spots. And at the risk of further ridicule, I will detail my thinking here (and yes, thinking did go into it).
Generally, I've voted for one or two more players than average in most years, and this year should be no exception. This time I listed six "yes" votes -- Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Dave Parker and Don Mattingly.
I will comment on all my picks, near picks and no picks down below. But mostly, I'll explain three of my 20 "no'' votes (one of whom has a pretty good chance to turn to a "yes'' in coming years) -- Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez. Those appear to be the most controversial. Or in the minds of many, just plain wrong.
The statistically oriented and sabermetrically inclined tend to think I'm not all there, particularly when it comes to Blyleven. But I do have an explanation.
I don't put quite the same emphasis as some on career statistics, especially in cases where I've had the chance to follow a player's entire career as it was unfolding, as was the case with this year's entire ballot. (That happens when you get old.)
I consider impact more than stats. I like dominance over durability. I prefer players who were great at some point to the ones who were merely very good for a very long time. And I do recall it's called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Numbers.
While Martinez was a superb hitter, and his career .418 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentages are impressive indeed, only twice did Martinez even crack the top 10 in MVP voting (he was third once and sixth once). That suggests something less than dominance. And even on his career totals, he comes up short. His final power figures (309 home runs, 1,261 RBIs) are underwhelming for someone whose whole candidacy is based on offense.
The reason I haven't yet voted for Raines is that while he was a star in Montreal, he was merely a good player for the bulk of the rest his career, spent mainly with the White Sox and Yankees. Raines' offensive career is a little like Mattingly's in that he was exceptional for about a half-dozen years but far less than that for several more. But while Mattingly (who I didn't vote for the first seven years he was on the ballot) was greater in his great years, Raines did have many more seasons of solid performance, and I'm starting to lean in his direction.
A strong case could be made that he makes up for far fewer MVP votes with greater overall career numbers (though not in batting average or slugging percentage). The numbers people will point to Raines' gross totals of 808 stolen bases, 1,571 runs and 1,330 walks but especially to his .385 career on-base percentage, and I may not be able to ignore those figures in coming years. Several very worthwhile points were made and heard in the case of Raines, so worthwhile in fact that I could see myself voting "yes'' on Raines in the future. If I do vote for Raines, he'll become the fourth player I've switched on, turning a "no'' vote into a "yes,'' with the previous ones being Ron Santo, Jim Rice and Mattingly.
So finally, I am starting to see the light on Raines.
Yet, I remain a Bert Blyleven holdout, a position that elicits the most jeers, especially from the vocal and growing stat-minded set.
Every year, I take hits for my lack of support of Blyleven, and this time on Twitter I was called "stupid,'' a "moron" and "idiotic,'' by (at least) a trio of Blyleven supporters. No one player incites more controversy or stirs more emotion over his candidacy, which is slightly ironic after a career that was marked by solid attributes such as consistency and durability but somewhat lacking in drama.
I certainly understand why so many support Blyleven, especially in light of the new emphasis on numbers and the exuberance and passion exhibited by the strong numerically-inclined lobby. The momentum is building for Blyleven to make it, if not this year then certainly next year or the year after. But that doesn't mean I'll be joining the crowd.
First, I want to get three things out of the way. My vote isn't an insult. My three aforementioned "no'' votes, plus Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Harold Baines, Andres Galarraga and Lee Smith all fall just below my Hall of Fame borderline, putting them in the top 2 percent of all players (it's been well established through decades of precedent that almost exactly 1 percent of players make the Hall).
My vote also isn't about market size, as all the players on my ballot except Mattingly earned their vote in small- or mid-sized cities (I also never voted for Tommy John, who had a somewhat similar career to Blyleven's but played mostly in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). And it's definitely not personal, despite what some have suggested. I don't know Blyleven well at all but did cover him when I was an Angels beat writer in 1989 and vaguely recall that I found him to be a fun-loving and decent man. He obviously enjoyed the game and was very pleasant, a lot more pleasant then Rice or Steve Carlton, both of whom received my vote.
I don't love that he is now campaigning for the honor, but it doesn't make me any more or less inclined to vote for him. I have been consistent in my "no" vote, from back when I was in an overwhelming majority in his first years on the ballot until now, when he is viewed by a clear majority of voters as a Hall of Famer. I hope this isn't about digging in my heels after having ridicule heaped on me by his most ardent and in a couple cases over-the-top supporters, and I don't believe it is. Occasionally his supporters engage in ad hominem personal attacks. But as I said, I was a "no'' vote long before he became a cause celebre.
My contention regarding Blyleven is that almost no one viewed him as a Hall of Famer during his playing career, and that is borne out by the 17 percent of the vote he received in his first year of eligibility in 1998, followed by 14 percent the next year. Blyleven obviously had an excellent and extremely lengthy career that looks a lot better to many with a decade to review it. And it doesn't hurt that he's the favorite of the Internet lobby.
Without throwing a single pitch, Blyleven has gone from 14 percent of the vote in his second year to 62 percent last year. I certainly can understand how a statistical re-evaluation can change minds, and Blyleven's career does look better on paper than it did when he was actually performing. Some of his support comes from folks who are relying solely on stats, and a few of them may not have seen any of his career. But I am in the group that believes a player's career goes beyond the numbers, and that there is value in watching a player's career as it is unfolding. For instance, while I may form an opinion on the Hall-of-Fame worthiness of the careers of Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto (all of whom are in Cooperstown) and Ken Boyer (who is not), I concede there is something to having seen and followed their careers while they were happening. The same goes for Blyleven.
Blyleven's career has been re-evaluated for the better by numbers people, and while it's tough to make his winning percentage (.534) sparkle, the stat people emphasize other numbers such as strikeouts (3,701), complete games (242) and WHIP (1.19) and many of them even ignore win totals as being largely the result of circumstance beyond a pitcher's control.
While I leave some room for statistical re-evaluation (and am on the verge of being convinced regarding Raines), I still see Blyleven as just short. I look at numbers, too, and while my numbers may be slightly more simplistic than WHIP, WAR or VORP, I think they tell a story of a pitcher who was extremely good, consistent and durable but not quite Cooperstown-worthy. Blyleven was dominant in a lot of at-bats (thus, the 3,701 strikeouts) and even a lot of games (60 shutouts). But he was never dominant for a decade, a half decade or even a full season.
Only four times in 22 seasons did he receive Cy Young votes (he was third twice, fourth and seventh once), only twice did he make the All-Star team and only twice did he win more than 17 games. I tend not to vote for players who I see as great compilers rather than great players, which is why I don't see Lee Smith or Baines as Hall of Famers, either. Baines and Blyleven compiled similarly in some key areas, with Blyleven finishing with four percent short of 300 victories at 287, and Baines four percent short of 3,000 hits with 2,866. And actually, a case could be made that Baines had more greatness, as he made six All-Star teams, three times the number of Blyleven.
Some will say that Blyleven's career was equal to Hall of Famer Don Sutton's but I say it is just short of Sutton's. They both had big totals in other categories but Sutton wound up with 37 more victories, going over the magic 300 mark by 24.
Many stat people suggest wins are not important in evaluating careers. But until wins don't decide who's in the playoffs and who's out, who makes the World Series and who doesn't, I will continue to view them as important. A pitcher's goal for each game is to win the game, not to strikeout the most batters. And until that changes, I will count wins and losses. I also believe the truly great pitchers pitched to the scoreboard with the real goal in mind.
Some will say Blyleven was handicapped by playing for a string of horrific teams. But his many teams combined for a record of slightly over .500. For the most part, they were mediocre. While his career mark of 287-250 is clearly better than his teams' overall record, it isn't that much better.
My basic philosophy is to emphasis impact more than numbers. That's why I voted for Ozzie Smith but not Trammell (though during their careers it's true the Tigers never would have traded Trammell for Smith). It is why I vote or Jack Morris, a bulldog who was considered the best pitcher of the '80s, and who pitched the best game of the '90s. Morris was considered the ace of three World Series teams and was almost always selected by his manager to start Game One of the playoffs. Blyleven was the ace of many teams but usually mediocre teams. Like Morris he did pitch well in the postseason. But he was not the top pitcher on his two teams that won World Series titles.
Clearly, I don't grade on stats alone, but it is interesting to note that while Blyleven never led the league in wins or ERA he did lead the league in losses, earned runs allowed and home runs allowed. (He did lead once in strikeouts.) His overall impact was big, though not quite big enough in my mind.
Oddly enough, perhaps Blyleven's greatest impact has come since his career ended, as his career has incited history's most heated Hall of Fame candidacy debate.
MLB Truth & Rumors