Tuesday, January 22, 2019

My Baseball Hall of Fame vote has new perspective

How’s this for a lead for a story on Baseball Hall of Fame voting: My wife was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Google it.
For most of the 21 years that I have proudly participated as a Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voter for player induction into Cooperstown. I have agonized like our government over a shutdown when filling out my HOF ballot every December, more so this year than ever. It’s not easy. Frankly it IS rocket science.
I literally lose sleep over it. I feel privileged and honored to have a vote and I do not take it lightly and simply slip my ballot in the mail like it’s a rebate. I still read and listen to what other voters – and non voters – say about each viable candidate and re-examine my stance and adjust my launch angle before checking boxes.
But this past year my perspective about baseball, about the world – about everything – changed having been at my wife’s side from the minute she learned she had cancer and the months and moments and memories of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation that followed. Seeing her cry when they discovered “something unusual.” Watching the painful cringe grow on her face during chemo sessions when she wore a head-freezing DigniCap in an attempt to keep all her hair from falling out. Hearing her moan and ache in the middle of the night from the bone-aching Zarxio shots she gave herself.  Listening to her wince and recoil when the accumulation of radiation treatments burned her skin to the point the weight of a bed sheet on her torso was torture.
And me feeling helpless to help her as much as I wish I could. Cancer changes people and not just the ones who get it.
Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame seems a little trivial now compared to praying for your wife to have the strength to fight on.
My wife has courageously managed to get through this process of healing, but we both know cancer is a perpetual extra inning game. Your eyes widen and your priorities change.
That is why I looked differently at my Hall of Fame ballot this year. That and the views of the 16-person Today’s Game Era Committee, which made me realize my commitment of time and energy into Hall of Fame voting is perhaps not warranted or valued.
Formerly known as the Veterans Committee, that committee is comprised of former MLB general managers, managers and players (including Hall of Famers) and I am not naïve to know they know more about baseball than I. We have the same statistical and analytical information available, yet the voting process is much more personal to them.
Hence, in the last two years, Today’s Game Era Committee has voted Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, and, wait for it, Harold Baines into the Hall of Fame. Morris, Trammell and Smith never received 75 percent of the vote necessary for induction by eligible Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) Hall of Fame voters in the 10 plus years they were on the ballot, yet they were always considered viable candidates. Baines, however, never received more than 6.1 percent from BBWAA HOF voters before falling off the ballot after five years. He was deemed, at least in the consensus of BBWAA writers, to be an also ran.
Today’s Game Era Committee this past year had a much different opinion of Baines. He received 75 percent of the votes cast by that 16-member group. I would imagine Barry Bonds is rolling his eyes that Baines is being inducted into the Hall of Fame before him.
By voting Morris, Trammell, and Smith to Cooperstown, Today’s Game Era Committee widened the doors to the Hall of Fame. By voting for Baines, that entry is now the size of a garage door.
This is not to say Harold Baines was not an outstanding player and he certainly is a humble and admirable person who quietly and effectively went about his job for 22 years. There is no disputing that.
What concerns me is this committee’s approach to voting for the Hall of Fame seems to be that of high school kids voting for the Homecoming Game King where popularity takes precedence over merit. Look out for your buddies.
Still, if I am to look at this deeper from a positive perspective, Today’s Game Era Committee in its criteria for voting appears to be rewarding reliability, accountability, loyalty, and – most of all – longevity. There is nothing wrong with that.
Where does that leave me? Tired, confused, and losing patience and faith in the process. It’s become easier to make a case for anyone being in the Hall of Fame, and it’s becoming more a personal crusade – “Blanketity blank should be in the Hall of Fame. What are the writers thinking???!!! -- than a mathematical and moral process. If that were the case I would have voted for Kevin Youkilis for Hall of Fame because he is Tom Brady’s brother-in-law, owns a brewery in Los Gatos and once took a selfie with my son, Drake. Youkilis, by the way, was a three-time All-Star, twice finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and won a Gold Glove. His JAWS number is better than Hall of Famer High Pockets Kelly and his WAR number is better than a DiMaggio.
These days that’s enough to make a case for Hall of Fame, but it’s not logical. I’ve always believed a smaller Hall of Fame is a better Hall of Fame where only the elite of the elite get in. Voting for a Hall of Famer should be more of a gut feeling than an exercise in analytics and debate.
But the game has changed and so have I.
For the first time, Mariano Rivera and the late Roy Halladay were on the HOF ballot and I voted for them without reservation. Rivera is without question the best relief pitcher of all-time, but let’s not forget that he had three of the worst blown saves of all-time: Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and Games 4-5 of 2004 ALCS. Halladay is a more accomplished version of Jack Morris who accomplished a lot in a Koufax-like span.
For the first time I voted for Fred McGriff and Larry Walker simply because they have better Hall of Fame credentials than Harold Baines. And I voted for the first time for Omar Vizquel, an 11-time Gold Glove winning shortstop who had more career hits than Baines and certainly saved more runs and games with his fielding.
For the first time I checked nine names on my ballot. I always have voted for Jeff Kent and last year – influenced by Today’s Game Era Committee -- came around and voted for Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, Donald Trump’s latest endorsement for an election. I came close to making Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, and Todd Helton (who played 17 years with the same team) my 10th and final choice this year, but like most voters, I have to draw a line somewhere. Otherwise, we’d be inducting a dozen Hall of Famers this year and every year.
And, though tempted again, I can’t yet bring myself to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and I take absolutely no joy in that. I fall in the camp of Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci on this and, after this year, I am now inclined to let Today’s Game Era Committee handle their Hall of Fame fate.
One HOF voter recently wrote that Bonds and Roger Clemens “are waiting for the older Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters to die off” so they can be inducted into the Hall of Fame. How comforting to hear that induction into the Hall of Fame is a life or death matter.
If there is one thing I have learned this past year is there is more to life than being an old baseball writer. Much more.