Friday, January 18, 2019

Start to Finish, Halladay, Martinez, Rivera Head to Hall

Start to Finish, Halladay, Martinez, Rivera Head to Hall
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
January 17, 2019

Once again, baseball fans, it’s that time of year where the shovels come out, not because some politician is giving a speech, but because enough snow is expected to fall this weekend to make us forget that in only three weeks pitchers and catchers report for duty in the sunny climes of Arizona and Florida.

In the interim, in frigid central New York, a little business will be attended to as the telephone will ring for a few Major League Baseball greats from the Village of Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

However, dispensing with the bad, the steroid/HGH-addled balloteers should only be admitted to the Hall of Fame with a paid ticket for admission to the museum.

“We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here,” wrote Hall of Famer Joe Morgan in a November 2017 letter to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), hoping to influence their Hall votes in 2018

The cloud of controversy has been dark and heavy, while initially eliminating some from Hall of Fame contention; yet in the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens the BBWAA voters’ support of Bonds rose from 53.8 percent in 2017 to 56.4 percent in 2018, and Clemens’ totals jumped from 54.1 percent in 2017 to 57.3 in 2018. Fortunately, trending downward, are Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez. Sosa’s support dropped from 8.6 percent in 2017 to 7.8 percent in 2018, while voting for Ramirez fell from 23.8 percent in 2017 to 22 percent in 2018, his second year on the ballot. Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa are on the ballot for the seventh year, and hopefully they will not reach the vaunted 75 percent by 2021.

The voting results are due to be released on Tuesday, January 22. What is not released are the ballots of the voting members of the BBWAA. I think they should be disclosed to the public. Let the BBWAA voters defend their votes as I defend mine, even if not as a member of the BBWAA.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame has a so-called character clause. “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” So-called because it has existed since 1945 and more than a fair share of miscreants have found their way to Cooperstown. (

With voting in mind, were I a privileged member of the BBWAA charged with the task of electing the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2019, seven former major leaguers would earn my votes - three first ballot candidates, and four holdovers. Of those seven, I expect only one to be enshrined on July 21, along with two others for whom I would not vote, but deserve induction. Candidates must receive at least five percent of the vote in order to remain on the ballot should they not attain 75 percent the previous year.

The lone realistic freshman on my ballot would be the late Roy Halladay, who pitched his 16 year career with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays. Halladay compiled a 203-105 won-lost record with a 3.38 ERA - one of six pitchers to win more than 200 games with a .650 winning percentage amongst hurlers whose careers began after 1900. In 2010 Halladay pitched a perfect game during the regular season, and adding to that gem, a no-hitter in the playoffs - only the second no-hitter in postseason history. 

Along with eight all-star team selections, Halladay thrice won 20-plus games, won two Cy Young Awards with two runner-up placements, and tossed 67 complete games, leading the league in that category seven times. Halladay’s 67 complete games are the most from 1998 to the present, besting Hall of Famer Randy Johnson by 13.

Should Halladay earn admission into the Hall of Fame, it will be posthumously, as on November 7, 2017, at only age 40, he was killed when his plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

There are four holdovers from 2018 for whom I would vote, three of whom would have earned my vote last year and one I am giving a fresh look. Neither pitchers Mike Mussina nor Curt Schilling are likely to reach 75 percent this year, but I continue to support their candidacies. Mussina’s stock rose as he earned 63.5 percent of the vote in 2018, up nearly 12 points from 51.8 percent in 2017. Should he jump another 12 points Mussina would be Cooperstown bound. Schilling reversed a losing trend, adding more than six points to 51.2 percent in 2018, up from 45 percent in 2017.

With 270 career wins, six-time ballot occupant Mussina spent 10 years with the Baltimore Orioles and eight with the New York Yankees. A big fan of “Moose,” an economics graduate from Stanford University as an Oriole, it hurt my eyes to see him donning pinstripes. Mussina made five All Star teams and won seven Gold Gloves. While overshadowed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz in 2015, Mussina garnered more victories than Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal – with whom Mussina was compared, and Whitey Ford. Mussina ended his career at age 39, the oldest to record his lone 20-win season, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. 

Schilling, bloody sock and all, is a six-time All Star who pitched 20 seasons in the big leagues – three with the Orioles, one with the Astros, eight-plus with the Phillies, three-plus with the Arizona Diamondbacks, then calling it a career with the Boston Red Sox. Schilling tossed 83 complete games, appeared in three World Series, and had three 20-plus win seasons within a four year span at ages 36, 38, and 39. Schilling should have his ticket stamped this summer – was my mistaken prediction the last five years, and while he probably won’t reach 75 percent this year, Schilling still belongs among those earning a plaque in Cooperstown.

Omar Vizquel, was the quintessential shortstop of a generation, having won 11 Gold Glove awards during his 24 year career, second most at that position all time. Vizquel was also the oldest shortstop to win a Gold Glove, having done so at age 39 in 2006. After five years with the Seattle Mariners, Vizquel took his talents to Cleveland continuing to be the defensive gem that will vault him into Cooperstown.

Vizquel was three times an All Star, overshadowed by Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, who will no doubt be elected to Cooperstown in a near-unanimous vote next year. On the field, Vizquel led the league in Fielding Percentage six times as a shortstop and is the all time leader in Fielding Percentage at .985. Vizquel shares the season record with Cal Ripken, Jr. for committing the fewest errors by a shortstop playing in at least 150 games with a paltry three. Additionally, Vizquel is first all time in double plays turned by a shortstop, third all time in assists at shortstop, and 11th all time in putouts made by a shortstop.

At bat, Vizquel compares rather favorably to Hall of Fame shortstops Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, and Luke Appling. Vizquel hit more home runs than Smith and Appling, trailing Aparicio by only three. Vizquel drove in more runs than Smith and Aparicio, stole more bases than Appling, hit for a higher batting average than Smith and Aparicio, while collecting more hits than all three. 

In his ninth, and penultimate year on the ballot, I’m rethinking Larry Walker. More accurately, this is the closest look I have given Walker at all, but his numbers demonstrate a level of excellence and consistency on the field and at bat that should award him his plaque in Cooperstown.

Walker played 17 years for the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals. During that time, his career batting average was an exemplary .313, having won three batting titles, and batted .366 in 1997 while not winning the batting title. Walker slugged 383 home runs, drove in 1,311 runs, while stealing 230 bases - a solid combination of hitting, slugging, and some speed. Walker batted over .320 seven times, and won seven Gold Glove Awards. Walker compares more than favorably with his contemporaries, and more so when examining Hall of Famers from prior generations, yet with just 34.1 percent of the BBWAA votes in 2018, it’s less than likely that number will more than double over the next two years. (Perhaps the Today’s Game Committee will be an avenue for Walker further down the road.)

Because members of the BBWAA are permitted 10 votes, I’m throwing one vote each to first time candidates Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young. I like both players, they each had solid careers, just not Hall of Fame caliber, and neither is expected to survive the process beyond January 22.

On the other hand, the two candidates I expect to gain induction, but for whom I would not vote are Mariano Rivera and Edgar Martinez. I have been consistent in not supporting Martinez, ostensibly a career Designated Hitter, who garnered 70.4 percent of the vote in 2018 - five votes short. In this, his 10th and final year on the ballot, it seems a certainty Martinez, who played his entire 18 year career for the Mariners, will finally reach 75 percent. Martinez is one of only nine players to hit more than 300 homers, more than 500 doubles, bat over .300 with a greater than .400 On Base Percentage, and a greater than .500 Slugging Percentage. Ultimately, he will pave the way for more career designated hitters, such as David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who could be a first ballot inductee in 2022.

The answer to how does one vote against Rivera, is simple - pinstripes - the same answer I will write next year when not supporting sure fire first ballot inductee Jeter. Both absolutely belong in Cooperstown. Rivera, who played his entire 19-year career with the Yankees, could be a unanimous selection - here’s why: 652 saves, first all-time; 2.21 ERA, 11 years under 2.00; and an almost unconscious postseason record of eight wins, one loss, 42 saves, and a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings.

While it is important to not sully the Baseball Hall of Fame with the likes of Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, and Sosa, the focus must be on the greats who will be enshrined this July and how they will continue to be the true ambassadors to the community as so many before them have been. 

Ambassadors such as Doug Harvey, Red Schoendienst and Willie “Stretch” McCovey, who sadly died in 2018 – Harvey at age 87, on January 13, Schoendienst at age 95, on June 6, and McCovey at age 80, on October 31. Harvey, inducted in 2010, was named second greatest umpire in history. Inducted in 1989, Schoendienst, at the time of his death, was the oldest living Hall of Famer. A first ballot electee, McCovey, inducted in 1986, was the first player to hit two home runs in an inning twice in a career. May their memories be for a Blessing.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. He has been a Patron-level member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame since 2007.

1 comment:

  1. I just heard the "Sandman" was elected unanimously. First time ever