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An appreciation for the 15 players who will fall off the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot this year

These 15 players will fall off the Hall of Fame ballot after just a single appearance. Let’s appreciate them a little bit.

ALCS Game 4: Oakland A's v Detroit Tigers Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

You might be a younger fan, someone who grew up on Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano. You’re just getting to the part where you have to watch them grow old and fade out of the sport, but at least you have your health and youth and freedom and please take me with you.

You might be an older fan, someone who remembers Willie Mays on the Mets, if not the New York Giants. You’ve been through what I’m about to describe, time and time again.

I’d like to think I’m in the middle of those two extremes, and let me spoil something for the whippersnappers: This is when you really start to care about the Hall of Fame voting. This is when the players you watched as prospects, the players you might remember from the draft, the players you remember as rookies, as struggling second-year players, as All-Stars and award winners, get on the ballot. You remember them. You remember their entire careers.

And when they fall off the first ballot, you realize just how danged hard it is to get into the Hall of Fame.

This is a tribute that makes me feel better, a nod to the players who’ve made their first Hall of Fame ballot but won’t see a second. These players were responsible for a lot of happy fun-time baseball memories, and it’s just so odd to see them reduced to a footnote of a much larger baseball story. Eyeballing it, this looks like one of the most interesting lists of first-ballot casualties in recent memory

So here’s what these 15 players will always remind me of, hopefully in a paragraph or less. They might not make the Hall of Fame, but they shouldn’t be forgotten so quickly.

Casey Blake

Oh, alphabetical order. Why did you give me the least interesting player first? You’re ruining the thesis.

Blake never made an All-Star team and never picked up a stray down-ballot vote for any major award. For nine years, though, he was Pretty Good. When the Indians were a win away from the pennant in 2007, they were there with the help of a Pretty Good third baseman. When the Dodgers were in the NLCS in 2008 and 2009, they were there with the help of a Pretty Good third baseman. He was a talented player who was good at his job for nearly a decade, and he’s more than just the guy responsible for Carlos Santana being on the Indians.

(Also, I’m going to remember him as the guy responsible for Carlos Santana being on the Indians.)

Pat Burrell

My muse! No player has made me careen recklessly off of Appropriate Highway more. I don’t know what he does to me. But then again, I don’t know what he does to a lot of people. See, there I go again. It’s not my fault, though. It’s his.

Also, Burrell was very, very good at hitting long, long home runs, and he was an important part of two World Series winners. His defensive foibles consistently limited his overall value, but there are a lot of people in Philadelphia and San Francisco with nothing but positive memories of the slugging galoot. Not so much in Tampa, but that’s nitpicking.

Orlando Cabrera

He was on the Expos for eight years, finishing 10th in at-bats for them, but he’ll be remembered more for being the perfect player for the Red Sox at the perfect time. It wasn’t Nomar Garciaparra, the first-round pick who won Rookie of the Year and made five All-Star teams. It was the random Expos shortstop they got from a temp agency.

Baseball is such a jerk sometimes.

Cabrera was a Pretty Good shortstop for about 12 years, give or take, which is a pretty valuable feller to have around. You’re starting to see a pattern with these guys.

Mike Cameron

Except here we have someone who was Pretty, Pretty Good, a center fielder with enough range to make Mariners fans forget about Ken Griffey, Jr. In retrospect, it was very impressive for the Reds to turn Paul Konerko into Cameron into Griffey. They got to see a lot of interesting baseball that way, even if it didn’t exactly help them win more.

There are worse outfielders in the Hall of Fame. There’s a chance that Cameron will be one of the very best players not to receive a single vote, which is somewhere between a travesty and just right.

J.D. Drew

One of the most polarizing players of his day, and it started before he played a single game. Is Drew the most Scott Boras client of all-time? I submit that he is. He held out and engineered his first team. He signed a big contract and then opted out to get an even bigger contract. And he was really, really good, which is just the sort of player that Boras goes for.

With an extra couple dozen games every year, this might be a column about Drew’s impending election, but Drew usually missed around 25 to 50 games every year because of injuries. He’s not only the most Scott Boras client ever, but he was one of baseball’s most reliable DL tenants. Just don’t forget the part about him being really, really good.

Carlos Guillen

One of the baseball things that I’ll never get over is that the Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Randy Johnson on the same team — three absolute inner-circle Hall of Fame monsters — and when they ditched them all, they got better. What a magic trick!

Mike Cameron up there was a huge part of that, but so was Carlos Guillen, who gave the Mariners four good years and the Tigers a handful of great ones. In 2006, he hit .320/.400/.519 while playing fine defense up the middle. The Tigers won the pennant that year. That’s probably not a coincidence.

Derrek Lee

The Padres have no regrets trading him away because they got a pennant out of it. The Marlins have no regrets trading for him because they got a World Series win out of it. The Cubs have no regrets trading for him because they got one of the best seasons in franchise history out of it, a batting champ who hit 46 homers, hit 50 doubles, won a Gold Glove, and managed to steal 15 bases along the way.

Everyone sure liked having Lee around. It’s amazing to think of how disappointed people were in him when he was 23. He’s one of baseball’s best reminders that a career doesn’t always have to progress in a completely linear fashion.

Melvin Mora

One of the greatest where-in-the-hell-did-that-come-from players of his generation, or any generation, Mora was an unremarkable utility player until he was 31, when he became Wade Boggs with power. I know what you’re thinking, and, yes, there were rumors, but those things don’t work like Popeye’s spinach. If they did, there would be a lot more Melvin Moras.

Instead, there’s usually just one or two every generation. What a weird, fun career.

Magglio Ordonez

Correction: This might be the best player who doesn’t receive a single Hall of Fame vote. Consider ...

Now, you know that’s not the entire story, that there’s a difference in era to account for, with Brett hitting in a far worse environment, and then there’s the positional difference and defense, too. Don’t take this as an argument that Ordonez was close to as good as Brett, because he wasn’t.

But it’s a good indication that Ordonez made a lot of fans cheer while he played. His 2007 season was one of the greatest average-fueled campaigns of the decade, and he could probably hit .300 in Triple-A right now.

Also, there’s this:

And Ordonez is also responsible for this amazing headline:

Magglio Ordonez goes from MLB star to socialist mayor in one year

As one does.

Edgar Renteria

The rules for Hall of Fame voting include this provision:

6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.

That’s for players like Renteria, who didn’t just get a World Series-winning hit, but got two World Series-winning hits, both for cities that had never won a championship before. He doesn’t need to get inducted into the Hall of Fame — he’ll have memorabilia there for a long time. Most baseball players would take a decade off their life to have half of his career.

I’ll also use this spot to remind you one last time that his career arc — .309 hitter at age 19, in serious decline at 31 — makes a lot more sense if he were about three or four years older than he claimed, but that’s baseball for you. Always full of surprises and quirky anomalies.

Arthur Rhodes

Memorable for two things:

  1. Not being called “The Waco Kid” even though he was drafted out of a Waco high school, which always drove me nuts.
  2. Being an awful starting pitcher
  3. Being one of the best middle relievers in baseball for a stretch, even winning 10 games in relief in two different seasons, a rarity for pitchers after 1980.

Three things. He was also a Pretty Good reliever, but you knew that.

Freddy Sanchez

More than anything, he’ll remind me of just how tenuous baseball careers can be. Which means that he reminds me by extension of just how tenuous everything in this place can be.

Here’s the last play of his career. Don’t worry if you’re squeamish when it comes to injuries: There’s nothing gruesome here.

Just like that, a 33-year-old player who could still hit better than the league average never played again. It still makes me sad to this day. He was truly fun to watch, too, with a great combination of high-average batsmanship and superb fielding.

I hope the next guy on this list makes me feel better about baseball.

Matt Stairs

Thank goodness. Stairs was called Wonder Hamster, which is a top-10 all-time nickname. This picture of a hamster holding a baseball bat will give you an idea of where the nickname came from.

1998 Oakland Athletics Photo Day - Matt Stairs Photo by Jeff Carlick/Getty Images

It’s uncanny. Unless ... wait, I guess that’s a picture of Stairs, maybe? We’ll never know. But Stairs was one of the greatest mythical baseball figures of the last 50 years, a part-time player with power who fit on any bench ever assembled. He played for 12 teams over 19 years, and he played until he was 43 years old. He was listed at 5’9”, 200 pounds, which means that he was probably a little shorter and a little heavier than that, and that’s a beautiful sentiment.

He also sold calendars for charity.

I love Matt Stairs, and you should too. I’m not sure that I would vote for him, but I’m not not sure, either. Baseball was way more fun with Stairs in it, and he should probably make a comeback.

Jason Varitek

He’ll be remembered by most as being an All-Star catcher for the Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino, et cetera et cetera, but take a moment to appreciate just how awful the trade was that put him on the Red Sox in the first place.

He was acquired, with Derek Lowe, for Heathcliff Slocumb, who ...

  • Had a 5.79 ERA in 46 innings at the time of the trade
  • Walked 6.6 batters and struck out 6.9 batters in those 46 innings

He was effectively wild the year before that, but he was never particularly good. And for that, the Mariners gave up their top catching and pitching prospect. Amazing. Varitek was a fine catcher for 15 years, but all I can think about when I read his name is the Mariners deciding they absolutely had to have Heathcliff Slocumb.

Tim Wakefield

Back in 2011, the producers of Knuckleball! came to my apartment to film me reading my article, “Tim Wakefield is probably a wizard.” It didn’t make the final cut, probably because it wasn’t a very funny article, but it was a fun experience, at least.

The worst part, though, was that the producers told me that they showed the article to Wakefield and that he read it. My worst fear is always that players actually read the crap I’m shoveling out there, so I was mortified. Then I made the mistake of asking what he thought about it. They looked at each other and said ...

Uh, he didn’t really get it. But I don’t think he is really an abstract humor kind of guy.

I’m still mortified. Gives me the chills to think about it right now, even. You all have to make a promise to never show any of this crap to the actual players I’m writing about. Promise me right now.

Also, Wakefield should fight crime with Matt Stairs and stream it on the internet. If he doesn’t do that, he should come back and pitch for another few years, just because we miss him.

Those are the first-ballot casualties of 2017, and we’ll miss them so. They were World Series heroes and Gold Glovers, All Stars and fan favorites. There was also a guy shaped like a TV from the ‘50s with cats all over him. They deserve more than to be quickly forgotten, so take a moment to appreciate them and all the baseball fun they gave us.

We’re all here for the baseball fun, of course, and they helped. Thanks for the baseball fun, fellas.