When looking at this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, three names that sprung to mind were Jonah Keri, Dan Le Batard and Ryan Thibodaux.
None of them is actually on the ballot as they weren’t players. But all three factored into the voting process in their own way, changing the way Hall of Fame voting is conducted in the modern era.
My Hall of Fame ballot for the Class of 2018 that will be announced Wednesday consisted of Vladimir Guererro, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina and Jim Thome. I’ll explain my thinking later, but first let’s give a shout-out to the Big Three.
Keri and Le Batard are journalists — the former is a respected baseball writer for cbssports.com, the latter a successful columnist/talking head hybrid for the Miami Herald and ESPN.
Le Batard is remembered for giving his 2014 ballot to Deadspin, making a statement about a vote he considered “worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it.” It sparked a big debate among the Baseball Writers’ Association of America electorate and how it has handled the steroids era, an argument that continues to this day.
The penalty he incurred from the BBWAA was a lifetime voting ban, but Le Batard’s real legacy is opening up a debate about the voting process.
For decades, anyone covering baseball for 10 consecutive years was given a lifetime Hall of Fame vote. Many who hadn’t covered a game in years were helping decide who was worthy of the Hall.
But the Hall of Fame announced in 2015 that only active BBWAA members and those who had been active the previous 10 years would be eligible to vote. A screening process — including a “code of conduct” voters were asked to sign — also was introduced.
The rule change lowered the average age of the voter while also decreasing the total number of votes, improving the chances of PED-tainted stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were shoo-ins otherwise.
A record 581 votes were cast in 2011, but last year the number was down to 442, a 24 percent drop. Clemens wound up with 54.1 percent, while Bonds finished at 53.8. Both are expected to move up in the voting this year, though neither is likely to get the necessary 75 percent for induction.
Keri didn’t make any statement, but his undying love for the Expos, particularly Expos outfielder Tim Raines, led to several analytical pushes for Raines’ candidacy over the last few years. After years of languishing on the ballot, Raines finally was elected last year, and in his induction speech he graciously thanked Keri for “getting my name out there.”
Keri’s advocacy proved players only need one prominent writer to persuade voters to change their minds, giving hope to overlooked candidates who have started out slowly.
The other game-changer is Thibodaux, the compiler of Hall of Fame ballots on his website BBhoftracker.com. Before he began providing updates on how candidates are faring, no one had any idea who would get in until the results were announced.
Now voters can see how someone such as Edgar Martinez or Mussina is faring during the voting process. According to the website, Martinez was at 81 percent Thursday and Mussina at 72.8 percent. It creates interest in the voting but takes away a little of the suspense, sort of like knowing how the Oscar voting is going weeks before the awards night.
OK, back to my ballot, which included two no-brainer, first-time-eligible candidates in Thome and Jones. I picked them first, then checked my two holdovers from last year’s ballot, Guerrero and Hoffman.
The numbers speak for themselves. All four should make it, and perhaps Martinez as well on his ninth try, with Mussina creeping up.
After selecting those four, I began crossing off candidates who had some very good years but really shouldn’t be on the ballot.
Sorry, Kerry Wood. At least you had your 20-K game, the greatest pitching performance I’ve ever witnessed. Ditto, Carlos Zambrano. If there was a Gatorade cooler-bashing Hall of Fame, “Big Z” would be a first-ballot selection for sure.
The other instant X’s went to Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Aubrey Huff, Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hudson, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Fred McGriff, Carlos Lee and Johnny Damon.
Not every great player is a Hall of Famer.
The next round of elimination was reserved for the five biggest PED-tainted suspects. Joe Morgan’s letter to voters asking them to refrain from selecting the alleged juicers was a little late, but I’ve never given them my vote anyway.
I understand the arguments of “It’s just a museum” and “Everyone did it” and blah, blah, blah. I simply believe there should be some penalty for cheating. Bonds, Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield still get to keep their fortunes, which isn’t a bad trade-off.
The last player I check-marked, Mussina, is in his fifth season on the ballot and someone I hadn’t voted for previously, considering him a borderline Hall of Famer who fell just short. But when Jack Morris was elected by the Modern Era committee in December, I changed my mind.
Mussina’s numbers (270-153, 3.68 ERA) are better than Morris’ (254-186, 3.90), and if Morris is in, Mussina deserves a spot as well. Check.
The toughest decision was what to do with Omar Vizquel, the best fielding shortstop I’ve seen outside of Ozzie Smith. But was that enough? In the end, I left his name unchecked, and according to the Hall of Fame tracker Vizquel will wind up well short of the necessary 75 percent.
Like Raines, I think Vizquel will make it in one day.
Perhaps he just needs his own Jonah Keri to get the ball rolling.