Before we get to the 2019 Today’s Game Era ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, let’s take a few moments to discuss the name. The words “Today’s Game Era” are something you have to type into your computer so that your bank knows you’re not a robot. It’s a phrase that sounds like a deceptive plot point from a Paul Verhoeven film. There was an elegance and informative simplicity to the Veterans Committee, and the Today’s Game Era Committee does not have it.
However, it exists as a way for players, managers, and executives who were overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America to get into the Hall of Fame, and as a Big Hall guy, I’m into it. Alan Trammell being out of the Hall bothered me more than Jack Morris getting in. Just don’t get me started about Lou Whitaker.
There are 10 candidates on the Today’s Game Era ballot, and it’s our job to evaluate them. Who has the best chance? Is there any possible way that I don’t rig this in favor of Will Clark?
Let us review the Today’s Game Era candidates from that bygone era. These are the overlooked heroes of the today’s game era of yesteryear. Or something.
6. Joe Carter
Carter finished with 100 RBI or more in 10 different seasons.
That’s it. That’s the argument.
Well, that, and he was also responsible for in one of baseball’s most famous highlights. Bill Mazeroski was exactly one strikeout away from never being in the Hall, after all.
But Carter just wasn’t that good relative to his peers. He just happened to hit behind players like ...
- Julio Franco and Brett Butler
- Roberto Alomar and Tony Gwynn
- Devon White and Roberto Alomar
But if you’re not convinced, consider that Carter had an OBP over .330 just once in 16 seasons, and he wasn’t much of a defender. He was put in great situations, and he helped his teams win often. He was certainly not one of the best players in baseball history, though.
5. Lee Smith
I wrote about Smith as a way to examine Trevor Hoffman’s worthiness. The main rule about closers is that you don’t want to make a Hall of Staying Healthy. Just because a player did his role well for several years doesn’t mean he was a vital chapter in the history of baseball. The most salient point:
When (Smith) came in, it wasn’t always a four-alarm panic in the minds of the three hitters due up.
If Jeurys Familia keeps pitching like Jeurys Familia for another decade, is he a Hall of Famer? Probably not, because there are usually a dozen or two relievers who are just like Familia every year. So it goes for Smith, who was the best reliever in baseball for a season or two, but only has longevity to truly set him apart.
4. Harold Baines
Good for a very, VERY long time. Just kept hitting. Baines played for 22 years, and from the ages of 22 to 40, he was better than a lot of his peers at hitting baseballs.
Just not that much better.
Baines finished with a top-10 batting average in his league in three seasons. He finished with a top-10 OBP just once, and he finished with a top-10 slugging percentage just once (albeit when he led the league in 1984). He never won any major awards, though Baseball-Reference has him as the Edgar Martinez Award winner for both 1987 and 1988, which is both anachronistic and somehow mean.
3. Orel Hershiser
Five brilliant years. An iconic postseason where he carried the Dodgers to their only championship in the last 36 seasons. Another one where he tried to get a long-awaited championship for the Indians. A Cy Young. The record for most consecutive scoreless innings*. Now this is the start of a Hall of Fame argument.
But the peak was too short. He was Carlos Zambrano in a lower-offense era, just with another six years tacked on the back of his career. (If you think that’s an inaccurate comparison, please look at both of their career stats again. Also note that Zambrano pitched professionally this year, and we’re all pulling for him.) Johan Santana had an even more brilliant peak, and I’m not sure that an extra six years of poor-to-OK starts would have been enough to get him in.
With another two or three years added to Hershiser’s peak? I would listen much harder. As is, he was a Hall-of-Fame caliber pitcher for a stretch of six years, with one of those years being a below-average aberration. Hall of Nearly Great? Sure. But there’s a reason he fell off on the second ballot, and it’s not like history has made that vote look bad. Like it did with Lou Whitaker.
Ask me about Whitaker some time.
* Even if it took the Utley Rule before the Utley Rule to get him there, not that I’m bitter.
2. Albert Belle
I had him in the top slot before researching the numbers, and I would have sworn that he had another five good years. Belle retired early because of a degenerative hip, which cost him a chance to pad his numbers at the back end of his career, but for 12 years, he was a .295/.369/.564 hitter, with a 144 OPS+. That’s really not too far from what Christian Yelich did this year for the Brewers, and he’s probably going to win the MVP. Bell averaged that for a dozen years.
Of course, his fielding was atrocious, and not only was he a confirmed cheater, but he was also a huge jerk. I know baseball history is filled with people of color who get a raw deal from a stale, homogenous commentariat, from Dick Allen to Yasiel Puig, but sometimes the jerks really are incredible jerks. Belle ran down a teenager with his car, was arrested for indecent exposure and a DUI, arrested twice for stalking an ex-girlfriend, and was charged with domestic battery. He is, at best, a tremendously disturbed human being by all accounts, and that’s before you get to plays like this:
So I’ll invoke that character clause that writers love to hide behind when the question of performance-enhancing drugs comes up. When it comes to an on-the-fence candidate like Belle — his career 40 WAR would put him behind Jim Rice, you know — this is an easy tiebreaker.
1. Will Clark
The Orel Hershiser of hitters?
[frozen hot dogs and half-consumed beers rain down from the Candlestick seats]
Wait, no, no, I just meant that there’s a similarity between their peaks! Clark was one of baseball’s best hitters for six years before injury gremlins took him down. It’s at this point that I realize there isn’t any hard and fast formula to follow, like:
X number of great years (x 5)
Y number of good years (x 3)
Z number of lost years (x -1)
MAGIC NUMBER (guarantees my vote when reached)
I’m sure someone like Jay Jaffe has figured this out, and I’m just exposing my ignorance here, but for now, all I’m doing is juggling all the great years and the good years and the injury-marred years and the ugly decline years for every candidate, and I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job.
But Clark had 11 seasons with more than 500 at-bats, and he was an excellent hitter in 10 of those seasons. That gets him close, but positional adjustments and defensive stats hurt him. I’m leaning toward a yes vote, but I was also there and recognized just how important he was to the Giants in the post-Mays, pre-Bonds era. If the members of the Today’s Game Era Now! committee disagree, I won’t begrudge them their decision. Maybe I was too close.
Of all the players on the Today’s New Era Hall of Fame Current Committee of Yesterday’s Past ballot, I would probably vote for Will Clark and leave the rest off, but my vote for Clark wavers depending on the tides. This might be a year when no players get in through the second-chance ballot, and I’m OK with that.
All that’s left is for Lou Whitaker to be on the ballot.
Put Whitaker on the ballot, you cowards.