Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Hall of Fame votes: Blyleven, Alomar, Larkin, Bagwell

I have had my baseball Hall of Fame ballot for weeks and I have taken my time filling it out. ‘Tis the season to procrastinate. I took as much time to complete my ballot as I did my Christmas shopping.

This is my conclusion: The game of baseball is changing and I have to change the way I look at it.

Thus, I am for the first time voting for Bert Blyleven, the longtime Minnesota Twins starting pitcher with an epic curveball and a so-so record. I have debated with myself for years to vote for him, yet could never quite push myself to check his name on my ballot. That so-so career record – only 37 more wins than losses – was the main stumbling block for me. That and the fact he had only one 20-win season and appeared in only two All-Star games in his 22-year career.

What changed my mind?

Mark McGwire.

Though aware of speculation of steroid use, I had voted for McGwire the first four years he was on the Cooperstown ballot. I chose to vote for the man based on the size of his accomplishments, not the size of his biceps and body.

Then, as I had hoped, McGwire came clean and admitted steroid use. But his excuse was lame. He said he used PEDs to help keep him healthy – which I believe knowing first-hand how frustrated he was with nagging injuries while playing with the Oakland A’s. But what I couldn’t believe was Big Mac’s assertion that the PEDs didn’t have an impact on his record-setting home run hitting performance. If so, then why keep taking them?

It was at this point I became disgusted with McGwire – and myself. Why, pray tell, was I voting for him and not someone like Blyleven, who toiled with the Twins and posted remarkable statistics for a perennial losing franchise?

Plus, this is Blyleven’s last year on the ballot and I’m a sentimental guy.

Basically, my moral compass changed and I gained a greater appreciation and respect for Blyleven’s feats instead of focusing on his flaws.

There is something to be said for hard work and longevity and doing it the right way.

That is why in addition to Blyleven, I am also voting for Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who I left off my ballot last year, his first on the HOF ballot. I voted for Roberto Alomar last year, also his first on the HOF ballot, but neglected to vote for Larkin, though he, like Alomar, was a 12-time All-Star. This year, I took a longer look at Larkin and put more stock into his leadership qualities and his longevity and consistency with Cincinnati where he spent his entire 19-year career. I concluded that he was the best player at his position in his era and has the statistics and accolades on and off the field to support that.

So I checked Larkin and Alomar and Blyleven on my HOF ballot this year and one more player, a first-timer in the ballot: Jeff Bagwell.

I did more studying and soul-searching for Bagwell. I must admit I had a harder time voting for Bagwell because the bulk of his power numbers came during the so-called Steroid Era. Though I have never heard or seen his name attached to any report linking him with PEDs, his body type might suggest he used.

I started reading Hall of Fame candidacy stories about Bagwell written by fellow HOF balloters who have spent considerably more time around Bagwell than me. I felt more comfortable and I understood Bagwell to be a multi-talented player, and leader, as opposed to McGwire, who was a one dimensional player.

Hence I voted for Bagwell. It also helps that there are so many new and innovative statistical categories available nowadays to reveal a players’ worth and value. Bagwell has that on his side and he compares favorably with other Hall of Famers.

But the bottom line is this: Bagwell carried himself well and carried a big stick. He played hard, he played through pain and he played with the same team as long as he could. He scored almost as many runs as he drove in, which is more than Mickey Mantle, Jim Rice – and Mark McGwire. Bagwell won a Gold Glove and an MVP and the respect of his teammates.


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