Under the system that’s been in place since 1936, nobody’s ever going to hand me a Hall of Fame ballot. That’s fine by me. I don’t want a Hall of Fame ballot. I really don’t. Not the way the process is set up.
I don’t want to be one of those voters who writes a column every winter describing the terrible torture I’ve gone through choosing between a DH from Seattle and a right fielder from Denver, at least one of whom I probably hardly saw because it’s logistically difficult for even the most dedicated baseball writer to be in two leagues at one time.
I don’t want to be one of those voters who reveals himself as hopelessly shallow, dismissing accomplished careers of 15 or 20 years with a hand wave that accompanies some stale folderol about what an honor the Hall of Fame is, therefore let’s honor as few players as possible.
I don’t want to ride the highest of horses declaring that I will never sully the concept of character by approving the actions of anybody who couldn’t have possibly played the game the right way…or didn’t look like he did.
I don’t want to pass along McCarthyite whispers about players there are “suspicions” about.
I don’t want to stroke my chin in print or online and calmly reassure the reader that more time is necessary to discover whether the “suspicions” that are whispered about are unfounded, especially when instead of stroking my chin I could very well be investigating the subject of those suspicions and reporting my findings.
I don’t want to default to defensive and tell those people who don’t like how I voted — not the truly obnoxious among them who peer over my shoulder and pass Orwellian judgment on how “good” my opinions are, nor even the anti-democratic knee-jerks who demand my vote be rescinded when my and their conclusions don’t mesh — that “you know, for all the complaints, we baseball writers do a pretty good job,” with the implication being that nobody else who watches and cares about the sport as deeply could possibly look at a ballot and check some boxes.
The checking boxes part I like. The thinking about baseball in January I like. The reviewing accomplished careers I like. I can do all that on my own. It won’t help put anybody in a hall, but you can’t have everything.
After this year’s Cooperstown candidates were announced, I came across the full list somewhere with an invitation to click on up to ten names, just like a Hall of Fame voter would (except electronically). What the hell, I thought, let’s see what I do.
First name I sought was Mike Piazza. Click.
Honestly, I could have stopped right there in terms of my interest in the Hall of Fame Class of 2015. I’m a Mets fan. Piazza was the greatest Met of his era, an era I reveled in while it was in progress. Mike was the best part of those days. He wasn’t just a great Met. He was a great player, which sounds a little obvious, but think about it. How many “great players” do we have who are busy being great while being Mets? Not many, not for long. Piazza being that, for us, for a full era and then some, was a joy. Damn right he’s my cause for the Hall of Fame.
Of course I understand why Mike’s Hall of Fame status is still up for grabs after two previous unsuccessful elections.
• There was the way every time he did something great as a Met the accompanying commentary always underscored there was something not quite kosher about his appearance. You know, the way when he hit that homer after 9/11 or capped off that ten-run inning or changed any number of games, the announcers would bring up his widely known pharmaceutical habits and the stories the next day centered on his unsportsmanlike muscle mass.
• There are all those attributed accusations from impeccable sources who have gone on the record confirming all the aforementioned talk that dominated 1998-2005 around New York. It’s hard to ignore all those on-the-record quotes, especially when they’re backed up by certified chemical testing confirming that slew of damning assertions.
• And then there was all that detailed enterprise journalism, the stories that absolutely nailed the “suspicions” that Mike Piazza was a Performance-Enhancement hound. You can’t argue with facts when you have placed before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.
CORRECTION: There was virtually no public discussion of Mike Piazza and PEDs when he played. Mike Piazza played eight high-profile seasons in the media capital of the world and there was more journalistic speculation regarding his sexual preference than there were allegations about PEDs. Nobody has come forth with any compelling let alone solid evidence on the matter. No teammate or coach or disgruntled employee, years removed from clubhouse protocol, has stepped forward unable to keep this horrible secret any longer. Nobody has written a story that does more than speculate in associative, elliptical fashion anything beyond, “well, many were doing something, so maybe Mike Piazza did something…” And there were no positive PED tests that have ever come to light. All told, the “suspicions” too many haughty Hall of Fame voters lean on amount to after-the-fact, precautionary ass-covering.
CLARIFICATION: I understand why Mike’s Hall of Fame status is still up for grabs after two previous unsuccessful elections — but it’s disgusting that it is.
“Mike and whoever” would have been sufficient for my clicking purposes, but the Hall of Fame menu is the Lay’s Potato Chip of documents. You can’t have just one. You could, but what’s the point? I could have nine more. So I indulged.
Pedro Martinez. Click. That he was a Met made it only juicier. He was Pedro Martinez and all that meant as an Expo and a Red Sock.
Randy Johnson. Click. Doesn’t seem worth the trouble of elaborating.
Craig Biggio. Click. Three-thousand hits. When did that not become good enough?
Jeff Bagwell. Click. The National League’s premier first baseman post-Hernandez, pre-Pujols.
Barry Bonds. Click. “He’s the best player I ever saw.” I thought that in 1992. Nothing disabused me of the notion thereafter.
Tim Raines. Click. Every highlight package you see, he’s doing something against the Mets. It really was like that, too. And I know he did similar stuff to everybody else for quite a while.
John Smoltz. Click. On one hand, he was a Brave. On the other hand, he was a Brave. That is to say, as with Raines, I got my fill of a fabulous foe, one who stood out as a starter, then a closer, then a starter again. I’m not thrilled to make it three Braves starters in Cooperstown in two years, but taken all by his lonesome he was quite the formidable opponent.
Smoltz is where the machinations behind the click became cumbersome, the juncture the “it was so hard to fill out this ballot” type of column draws breath. And that, quite frankly, makes the whole Hall of Fame topic a drag in my view. I said I don’t want to be that voter.
Then I remembered I’m not a voter in the BBWAA sense and I’ll never be. I’m a fan without a vote, but with passions and instincts and bias. Loads of bias. The kind of bias an airline or a meticulous editor would tell you you have to check before boarding. Nevertheless, I prefer to schlep my bias with me. If I wasn’t packing too much bias for the overhead bin, I wouldn’t care at all about whose plaque gets shipped to Cooperstown.
It’s that bias that informed my final two clicks.
Gary Sheffield. Click.
Carlos Delgado. Click.
My god, I’m biased!
If I was weighed down by real voting responsibility, I might not check those boxes. But I’m not. That said, I’m not necessarily waving a hypothetical banner for two ex-Mets simply because they’re ex-Mets. Cliff Floyd is an ex-Met on this year’s ballot who I liked a lot more than either Gary Sheffield or Carlos Delgado (who, in turn, I liked a lot more than ex-Met Jeff Kent). Cliff Floyd was fun to listen to and fantastic to cheer for and admirably productive when healthy. If I was just going on context-free personal preference, I’d click Floyd right after Piazza and Pedro. If there weren’t a surfeit of legitimately excellent players on the ballot, I’d find a way to click Floyd. I like the notion of casting a vote to honor an honorable career that wouldn’t otherwise receive an iota of recognition, provided there’s enough wiggle room in a given year.
Sadly, that’s a quaint notion in the backlogged winter of our discontent. I didn’t consider clicking Cliff or Rich Aurilia or anybody of that probable one-and-done ilk. Those were good, likable players but it wouldn’t occur to me for a second to enshrine them upstate.
Sheffield and Delgado struck me as different. These were great players in their day. How great? Great enough that it doesn’t seem crazy to have thought of them in their time as “future Hall of Famers”. The same could be said for any number of players I didn’t click on. But I saw Sheffield and Delgado on an everyday basis. I knew who they were and had an idea of their capabilities when they were elsewhere and reviewed their track record when they arrived among us, but to see them regularly was to get it.
I got what made Sheffield, even at the tail end of a long career, such a dangerous hitter. I saw him work pitchers. I saw him turn on pitches. It was only one season, but in 2009, I remember being so impressed by his approach and thinking that I had hardly seen anybody in a Mets uniform combine this guy’s knowledge of and feel for the game. He was diminished but he wasn’t done. Combined with what we he did on all his other teams and the fear that overcame me when he was batting against our guys in some of those other uniforms, I had no problem clicking on Gary.
I saw Delgado longer. I saw Delgado transform a promising lineup into a powerhouse. I saw him play the determining factor in the fast start of 2006 and I watched him strap a struggling team onto his proverbial back in 2008 to re-create a contender. I marveled at the thunder he wrought almost any time we needed it between June and September. I still wonder how much less worse — and maybe better — 2009 would have been had he avoided injury. He was the one Met who didn’t seem intimidated by Citi Field’s dimensions in the early going. Even in 2007, when he slumped, he showed the ability to snap out of it and find a way to win a game. It wasn’t like I didn’t know who he was in Toronto, but he was mostly a rumor to me. His one year as a Marlin was an eye-opener and his four years as a Met showed me what all the American League fuss had been about. Having been exposed to that much Delgado, I had no problem clicking on Carlos.
It really pays to see some of these guys up close and constantly. Take Edgar Martinez, for example. I saw him now and then. I saw him connect for a huge base hit in the postseason once. I accepted as gospel his primacy among designated hitters. But I was never more than vaguely aware of him. That’s not his fault. He just wasn’t playing in games that I was watching. I have no stake in his legacy. I have no bias for him. It wouldn’t occur to me to vote for Edgar Martinez unless it was my job to really think about it. I was just clicking for fun…fairly but not flawlessly informed fun.
So no click for Edgar Martinez. No click for Alan Trammell, that rare American Leaguer whose reputation I was well aware of; I think I would have clicked on him had I not run out of clicks. No click for Mike Mussina, who is being talked up a lot as underrated and maybe he is. No click for Larry Walker, not because he played in Colorado, but because I had only so many clicks to give. No click for Lee Smith, but also no way I’d want to stand in against him in the ninth inning. No click for Fred McGriff, but also no way I’d want to face him in the ninth inning. No click for Curt Schilling, who sorely tempted me, except he had just been on Twitter stubbornly insisting evolution wasn’t real, and that sorely repelled me. It has nothing to do with postseason pitching and everything to do with the personal element.
No click for Roger Clemens. You couldn’t pay me to check a box next to his name unless it’s to bring him up on charges for assault with a hundred-mile fastball. This is also the personal element. Ask me to make a list of the best pitchers of the past half-century and I’ll write Roger Clemens near the top. I deny neither his talents nor achievements. Ask me to play a part in voting him into the Hall of Fame and I’ll either cringe or laugh.
If I was really a Hall of Fame voter, I couldn’t admit that. I’d obscure my bias in high-minded huffery about Clemens not playing the game the right way. Give me a BBWAA membership for ten years and a ballot and then I suppose you’d be paying me to check a box next to Roger Clemens’s name. So no thanks. I’ll stick with passion and instincts and loads of bias and the hope that sooner or later Mike Piazza crushes those “suspicions” like he used to crush the fastballs Clemens didn’t aim directly at his head.