(Editor’s note: Three Golferswest.com writers, Jim Street, Bob Sherwin and Kirby Arnold, were, in another life, baseball beat writers, having combined for nearly 100 years of covering the sport. Here are their three perspectives and votes on their HOF ballots this year).
Filling out the baseball Hall of Fame ballot this time was more difficult than usual.
Not because so many of the steroid-era players, the perceived “bad guys” of the sport, have been landing jobs with Major League organizations that seem to have a different view of the former players’ off-the-field activities than the Hall of Fame itself (that boggles this old mind), but how to react after being told that in a very short time my HOF voting services will no longer be needed, thank you very much.
Under new rules adopted by the HOF Board of Directors, going into effect immediately, nonactive members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have a 10-year window of voting eligibility instead of a lifetime privilege, which had been in effect for 79 years.
As a result, more than 100 baseball writers who retired or became non-active following the 2005 season lost their HOF voting status this year. Many of them undoubtedly watched a large majority of the 32 players on the 2016 ballot play.
But their window has been slammed shut on them, case closed.
It has crossed my mind that for a 60-year period, starting when the BBWAA began voting for the Hall of Fame in 1936, through the 1996 season (the year before interleague play started) many baseball beat writers during that time period never actually saw a game involving teams from the other league.
Therefore, except for trades between American and National League teams, a baseball writer in Cleveland covered only AL games. So the only time highly-regarded baseball scribes like Russell Schneider of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer saw NL players perform was during spring training, All-Star Games, and the World Series.
It’s possible that any future Hall of Famer candidate playing for, say, the Cubs, had two strikes against him from the get-go. The late Ron Santo, who was posthumously inducted on a vote by the Veterans Committee, comes to mind. His career ended long before interleague play began and that could be a factor in why he never received the 75 percent support needed from the BBWAA voters during his 15-year eligibility period.
Still the system seemed to work just fine. It wasn’t until certain website writers and ill-informed (clueless) bloggers decided that retired former baseball writers were not “qualified” to be HOF voters.
As veteran Chicago Sun-Times baseball writer Paul Sullivan recently wrote: “…there should be exceptions for those who retire as baseball writers after spending years on the job. Jerome Holtzman, the late Hall of Fame writer for the Tribune and Sun-Times, spent the final years of his life as MLB historian. If these rules were in effect then, the man who created the save rule eventually would have lost his (HOF) vote.”
As I have previously written, I agree that changes should be made to the election process, weeding out those who probably shouldn’t have been qualified to vote anyway (starting with sports editors who rarely attend(ed) MLB games).
But it is what it is and nothing I do, say or write is going to change anything – and therefore the dilemma.
What to do?
*Do I fill out and submit my 35th consecutive HOF ballot as though nothing has changed?
*Do I select an All-PED team just for spite?
*Do I make it a secret ballot and not tell anyone how I voted?
*Do I send in a signed blank ballot in protest?
*Or do I ignore the ballot altogether and possibly end my voting privileges five years early?
In the end, and out of respect for the HOF and what it stands for, my decision was to take the high road. I opted for the first option and carefully considered the candidates’ careers.
Therefore, my selections for the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 are:
Ken Griffey Jr. – There are 15 players on the ballot for the first time and Junior is the head of the class by leaps and bounds. He is the Willie Mays of my era and watching him play on a daily basis from 1989, when he reached the Majors as a 19-year-old, through 1998, the year before he was traded to the Reds, was a treat. The 13-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and 1997 American League Most Valuable Player could receive upwards of the 97.3 percent of votes that former Mariners teammate Randy Johnson received a year ago. Tom Seaver holds the record with 98.84 percent (425 of 430 votes) in 1992.
In addition to being the Mariners’ all-time leader in home runs (417), Griffey ranks sixth in baseball history with 630 homers. He also ranks high among the game’s greats in total bases (13th) and runs batted in (15th).
Griffey combined his plate prowess with stellar play in the field, where he ranks among baseball’s top 20 center fielders in defensive games played (fourth), putouts (sixth) and assists (12th).
Jeff Bagwell – I’ll admit to being reluctant the past five years to vote for anyone linked to the PED issue, but it’s time to back off a bit and not punish someone for unfounded “rumors”. Perhaps only Bagwell’s hairdresser knows exactly what he didn’t or didn’t do, but the fact is, the former Astro hitting machine put together a Hall of Fame resume.
Trevor Hoffman — Any time you retire from a sterling MLB career as the best at your trade, you belong in Cooperstown. Hoffman was the first closer in MLB history to reach the 6o0-save plateau and in my book that makes him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The second-most successful closer in MLB history (behind Mariano Rivera) makes his ballot debut. He was the first pitcher to reach the 500- and 600-save milestones, pitched in seven All-Star Games, led the NL twice in saves and during one stretch recorded at least 30 saves in 14 out of 15 seasons.
Edgar Martinez – The best right-handed hitter I ever witnessed up close and personal is on the ballot for the seventh time and he still needs a lot of support to get in. But perhaps the doors into the HOF for a designated hitter were opened last year when Frank Thomas became the first inductee to play more games as a DH than anywhere else. The Big Hurt was the DH in 1,310 games and played first base in 971 games. Martinez, who played 524 games as a third baseman, relinquished the position for the good of the team in 1995 as a 32-year-old. The Mariners became a better team, a fact that seems to have been overlooked during his first six years on the ballot and, just like Hoffman, he was the best in MLB history at his position. Even so, Edgar received just 27 percent of the vote a year ago, leaving him far short of the 75 percent needed.
Mike Piazza — A 12-time All-Star, Piazza won the most Silver Slugger Awards (10) and hit the most home runs (396) of any catcher in big league history. The unanimous 1993 NL Rookie of the Year went on to finish in the Top 10 of NL MVP voting seven times. He drove in at least 100 runs six times and scored 100-or-more runs twice and became the first catcher to collect at least 200 hits (201) in 1997. Also led NL catchers defensively in putouts four times, assists twice, runners caught stealing percentage once and fielding percentage once. Posted a .545 career slugging percentage, the 28th-best mark in history. Finally, he was a major factor in Mets’ run to the 2000 NL pennant.
Tim Raines — An All-Star selection in seven straight seasons (1981-87), Raines led the NL in stolen bases four times. Also finished in the Top 10 in NL MVP voting three times and received a Silver Slugger Award in 1986. Hit at least .300 in seven full seasons and scored at least 100 runs in six. He owns the second-highest stolen base percentage (84.7) of any player with at least 300 attempts, and compiled the fifth-most stolen bases (808) in major league history. Led NL outfielders with 21 assists in 1983. He played for the World Series champion Yankees in 1996 and ’98 and should already be in the HOF.
Curt Schilling — The six-time All-Star pitcher compiled three 20-win seasons, nine seasons with 200-plus innings and five 200-plus strikeout campaigns over a 20-year career. He also had three 300-strikeout seasons, third-most in history, and finished among Top Five in Cy Young Award voting four times, including three second-place finishes. The right-hander has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.383) of any modern-era pitcher, and ranks 15th all-time in strikeouts with 3,116. He also starred in the postseason, compiling a career 11-2 record with a 2.23 ERA in 19 games.
Lee Smith — The seven-time All-Star reliever ranks third all-time in saves (478) and was the first pitcher to reach the 400-save milestone. That was not as easy. Early in his career, closers needed to pitch at least three innings to qualify for a save. He retired as all-time major league leader in saves and games finished (802, now third-most) and received three Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Awards (two in NL, one in AL) and finished among Top 10 in league Cy Young Award voting four times. This is his 14th year on the ballot, leaving him with only one more if he doesn’t make it this time.