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The best and worst of the 2019 Hall of Fame vote

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The four players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame were very deserving, and we should probably focus on that.

Mariano Rivera
Cutter. You can tell by the positioning of the right foot.

When you close the tab that holds this article, I want you to close your eyes and exhale, counting to four. Then I want you to inhale, counting to four. Repeat three times. You’re done with the Hall of Fame for months. You’re free.

Until then, eat your Hall of Fame content. It’s filled with fiber.

I have fewer thoughts about the Hall of Fame this year because the thoughts aren’t much different from year to year. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens still aren’t in. I’m still very much into the idea of Edgar Martinez’s election. The only new wrinkles this year were Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay, two players whose candidacy made me scream “YES” before getting to their second name. Maybe this is why I don’t have a vote. I was so eager that I would have voted for Mariano Duncan and Roy Face.

Still, there are bests and worsts from the 2019 Hall of Fame vote that deserve closer scrutiny. Unanimous votes! Michael Young! Edgar! EDGAR! Do you hear me? Edgar?

Best: Edgar!

The anti-DH bias — and to a lesser extent, anti-closer bias — has been one of the most obnoxious components of Hall of Fame voting for years. Baseball decided almost 50 years ago that half the teams in the league would get a position that could be filled by a hitter who doesn’t have to play in the field. Players adapted to this position. They built careers around it. Teams acquired players to play this position, in the hopes of making a better baseball team than their opponents.

There’s a whole ecosystem built around the DH, see. It’s incredibly silly to pretend that a position doesn’t qualify for the Hall of Fame because it’s an impure or unworthy position. Allow me to quote myself from an argument for Edgar Martinez from 2011:

There is a position called the designated hitter. It’s in the rules and everything. Therefore, those baseball players should be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. You don’t get to remove the gannet from Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds because they wet their nests, and you don’t get to eliminate DHs entirely from the Hall of Fame.

Mostly, though, Edgar Martinez’s induction is validation of a brilliant career. He was such an artist, such a savant with the bat for so long. If the DH didn’t exist, buddy, teams would have put him in center field if they needed to. And while that would have messed up his WAR and caused an entirely new conversation, the argument for his inclusion would remain the same: Dude was one of the best players to ever swing a bat.

Best: The logjam still exists, but it’s getting a little better

On Tuesday, because I’m bad at my job, I wrote a column about how the ballot was a little easier to navigate this year. I’m a-going back in to make corrections after this is finished, but I screwed up. At some point, I deleted a big portion of my list, whether because of a copy-and-paste mistake or fat thumbs, which means I thought that I had a list of 14 players who deserve induction, or at least serious consideration. But I had erased Gary Sheffield and Andruw Jones, both of whom should probably get in based on talent alone (even though I just learned that Jones was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife, which certainly means the character clause comes into play). This means 16 players should have been on that list.

Except, wait, I also forgot about Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt (I’ll have more on them in a bit). They deserved consideration, at the very least. I’m still curious about Billy Wagner, too. And Andy Pettitte deserves better than the Bernie Williams/Jorge Posada treatment, where writers overcorrect for brilliant Yankees players with ridiculously long and productive careers.

I wouldn’t vote for Omar Vizquel, but he belongs in the conversation, and I think you should click on this related link!

So there were 21 players who at least deserved serious consideration. Now there are 17 left. And next year, we get ...

  • Derek Jeter
  • Bobby Abreu
  • Jason Giambi
  • Cliff Lee

That’s one for-sure Hall of Famers and three probably-nots, but it pushes us back to an annoying ballot again. With Berkman and Oswalt falling off, though, it’s a little better, at least numerically. There will be 19 to consider next year, with 11 of those players probably getting my fake vote. Which means at least one person gets hosed.

But ... that’s not bad? Especially when that one person is probably Curt Schilling, patron saint of sitting in a corner and thinking about what he’s done.

The logjam is getting better. It’s about time.

Best: We can end the stupid unanimous debate

It’s less offensive to me that Babe Ruth and Willie Mays weren’t unanimous than it is that Joe DiMaggio needed four ballots (although that is a fascinating story of bumblescrewery and general weirdness), but people really had a thing about the idea of a unanimous ballot. My philosophy has always been that if you get 100 people in a room, one of them will believe that Tupac is still alive, another one will think we probably didn’t land on the moon, and another one will think that Derek Jeter’s defense should keep him out of the Hall.

That’s just how humans work. So when you get 400 writers sending ballots, there will be outliers. The Kubrick-directed-the-moon-landing of ballots, if you will. Don’t like it? Root for the robot revolution. I know that I am.

But some people just wouldn’t let this go. And they kept on about it. Is this guy the first unanimous inductee? Is this guy? WHAT ABOUT THIS GUY? It was tiresome.

Now we have a guy. Everyone agrees we landed on the moon, y’all. Finally. Mariano Rivera saved us, pun absolutely intended. We can stop talking about it.

Now we just have to deal with the debates about every subsequent candidate who should be unanimous. Will Jeter be unanimous? Albert Pujols? Mike Trout? Hopefully Rivera will ease the minds of weirdos who didn’t vote for obvious first-balloters because of Ruth and Mays. Now that the seal has been broken, maybe everyone will consider the candidates on their merits. Which is a strange concept, I know.

(I totally would have been the guy to leave Rivera off my ballot strategically to give a vote of support for Oswalt and Berkman, and my day today would have been absolutely ruined. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have a vote.)

Best-worst: Placido Polanco, Michael Young getting votes

I love these votes, if only because it reminds us that people can devote their entire lives to watching baseball and come to a remarkably different conclusion than all of us. Here’s an actual justification for the Polanco vote! It uses fielding percentage, sure, but it’s honest, and I appreciate the willingness to be aggressive with an unpopular opinion.

[whispers] Placido Polanco had a more valuable career than Harold Baines, according to Baseball-Reference.

Well, uh, yeah, but ... look, I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe Bill Madden is onto something. Let ‘em all in.

Still, I like the idea of voting your heart and letting the masses sort it out. If 75 percent of the people saw the same thing about Polanco, I’ll reevaluate. It beats taking whatever the Today’s New Era Game of Tomorrow Today Committee shovels at us.

My fix is this: a Today’s Era of Games Played Then Committee that’s 200 or 300 deep. They can have a nice conference somewhere, with presentations and cocktail shrimp. They can talk and mingle and lobby in the lobby.

But nothing is wrong with a writer throwing a stray vote to a definite non-Hall of Famer because he or she sees something. It gives me something to write about.

Best: Larry Walker is getting closer

I was a latecomer to the idea that Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer, partly because I had a longstanding bias against oft-injured players that was hard to shake. I wasn’t thinking about the 120 games in which they helped their team more than almost any one of their peers could have. I was thinking about the remaining 42, when their team was scrambling and playing someone fresh off the Triple-A shuttle.

Barry Larkin changed my mind, I think. Now I’m all about players like Walker, which is a group that includes Scott Rolen and Will Clark. The trick is they have to cram more value into their healthy days, which all of these players did. Billy Wagner in his prime was better and harder to replace than Trevor Hoffman, and we should adjust for that (while also adjusting for Hoffman’s reliability and longevity).

Walker jumped from 34.1 percent to 54.6 percent this year, which means he’s riding the Tim Raines express into his final year of eligibility. I’m not sure if he squeaks in, but his odds are much better than they were, and he’ll become the cause célèbre of next year’s ballot.

Walker played for the Rockies for 10 years, averaging 121 games with a 147 OPS+, which is significantly better than the OPS+ that allowed Nolan Arenado to finish third in this year’s NL MVP voting. That’s a decade of hitting at roughly an MVP level. So what if he missed a month, on average? Sports cars need more time in the shop, but they’re still freaking sports cars.

Worst: No Bonds, no Clemens, no progress

Pretty sure that at least 40 percent of the voting bloc is completely and irrevocably against the best hitter and pitcher from the last 50 years, if not ever, getting into the Hall of Fame. It’s not going to happen.

There’s no sense rehashing arguments I’ve made over and over again, but I hold firm that a museum that suggests Harold Baines is a major component of baseball’s living history and Barry Bonds is not is a dumb museum, and we should laugh at it.

(Also Bonds has also been accused of repeated abuse and Clemens reportedly had an extended affair with a 15-year-old girl, so maybe it’s okay to stop caring so much. Everything is awful.)

Worst: Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt are off the ballot

Hall of Famers? Look, I don’t know. You can play the he’s-better-than-this-other-Hall-of-Famer game with both, of course. You take Jack Morris, I’ll take Oswalt, and my team will win more games. Same with Jim Rice and Berkman. It’s at least worth debating their merits.

Except, poof, both are off the ballot after one year. Do we not remember how good these two were? From 2001 through 2008, Oswalt averaged 203 innings with a 3.13 (139 ERA+), doing so in the thick of the steroid era while being much, much smaller than his peers. He finished in the top five for Cy Young voting five times in that span, leading the league in ERA, WHIP, wins, and strikeout-to-walk ratios in different years.

He didn’t last long enough to be a Hall of Famer, probably. Two more years, maybe three, and I’m beating that drum. As is, I get it.

We deserved to debate this a little longer, though. He was so very excellent. Now I’m almost sorry that I wasn’t the guy who omitted Rivera to cast a vote for Oswalt.

Berkman was merely one of the greatest switch-hitters of all-time. Sure, he was far weaker against lefties, but he made up for it by being a deity against righties. In nine seasons, he had an OPS over .900 (with an OPS+ over 130) and more than 500 at-bats. He had 10 seasons with more than 550 plate appearances, and he raked in absolutely all of them. His defense was, uh, galootish, which tempered his value substantially.

I’m not sure if Berkman is a Hall of Famer, but he’s kind of the answer to the question, “What would have happened if Edgar Martinez had to play in the field?” He was one of the best hitters of his generation, and his career deserved better than to fall off the first ballot.

This is worth bonus points, too:

berkman cat

Berkman is also an intolerant dingus, so good riddance in a way. Except I’m not someone who considers the Hall of Fame to be a reward given to a specific player, but rather a cataloguing of the very best players in baseball history. Here’s who helped their teams win the most. Here’s who made fans enjoy baseball games the most. Once we figure that out, we can stand in front of their plaques and call them intolerant dinguses, which seems more effective and educational than pretending they don’t exist.

Regardless, I would have liked to debate the on-field merits of both Oswalt and Berkman for longer. Both of them are close to Hall of Fame quality. Both of their careers deserved better. The curse of the overstuffed ballot struck, however, and there was no mercy.

Mostly, though, it was a fine ballot. Edgar, Halladay, Mussina, and Mariano are all no-doubters for me, which means that in two decades, I can look back at this class without cringing. They all belong. That’s almost certainly the best part, and we should celebrate it.