I'd stared at my Hall of Fame ballot for a couple weeks, it thumb-tacked to the bulletin board over my desk.
Sources: AP, MLB, Wikipedia
Pushed around some numbers, and more numbers. Considered the men beyond those. I stress over these things, then can barely let them go at the deadline. Same thing for year-end awards.
So for the Hall, here's the list of checked-off players I faxed over this week.
My pal Jack O'Connell, who annually compiles the ballots for the BBWAA, has never been over-taxed counting my votes.
Last year's list: Rickey Henderson.
My angst surely will not assuage fans of Barry Larkin, who was a terrific player and citizen; or Bert Blyleven, who had all those wins and strikeouts; or Tim Raines, who did so many things so well; or Andre Dawson or Jack Morris or Lee Smith or Alan Trammell or even Mark McGwire.
Most of them were great, a couple maybe borderline great. There's nothing wrong with great.
The Hall is better than great. Or should be. I rarely vote for a player who does not get in, turns out. The last, I believe, was Ryne Sandberg, who was inducted the following year.
The Hall, to me, is iconic great. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson – the Hall's first class – great. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. great. Rickey great.
I don't begrudge the marginal player's presence on the ballot or even in the Hall. One man's near-miss is another's extraordinary. One writer's Lee Smith is the next's Goose Gossage (I voted for neither). Andre Dawson doesn't get there and Jim Rice does (no and no)? How fine is that line?
Several years ago I had lunch with Morris at a place across the street from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. His people had called, something about an All-Star game promotion, and would I like to chat over tiny salads and iced tea?
I really liked him. Very smart and very passionate. The conversation turned, of course, to the Hall vote. I admitted I hadn't voted for him. After a moment in which I was pretty sure Black Jack might be coming over the two-top, he laughed (a little) and said he thought he would go through the rest of his life only meeting the 200 or so writers who had voted for him. He added with a smile he'd come across about 400 of them so far.
It's OK, he said, he wasn't mad about it anymore. Not like Blyleven. Yeah, I said, I hadn't voted for him either. Nothing personal. In fact, were it personal, Blyleven would have my vote. I covered him for the L.A. Daily News from 1990-92 when he pitched for the Angels, and there was no more interesting, funny or creative guy in that clubhouse. He and Ken Brett, who did television and radio for the club, had conducted a war of practical jokes one season. Each small victory meant escalation, until on a hot Southern California day Brett made the mistake of conducting an on-field interview in just a shirt and tie.
By the time he thanked his subject for his time, the blue sport coat Brett left hanging on a hook in the dugout was in flames. That by itself deserved some kind of post-career recognition.
I'd probably vote for Morris before Blyleven, based partly on appearances in All-Star games and on Cy Young balloting, partly on the 20-win seasons, partly on the postseason.
That sunny afternoon at Ivy at the Shore, Morris made an interesting argument for both of them.
He asked if I'd voted for Dennis Eckersley. I had, based on what he'd done as a reliever and a starter, the body of work. Fine, Morris said, then give me a save for every complete-game win I had (111). Blyleven, incidentally, had 167 of them.
A not unreasonable argument. They're all good arguments, actually, which is what makes my vision of the Hall so difficult to maintain. I love the energy of the Blyleven camp, the loyalty of the Dawson camp, the exasperation of the Lee Smith camp, the integrity of the Larkin camp, all of that. And when they get it – if they get in – I'll be pleased for those men, because they sacrificed for the game and played it well and the voting body saw them worthy.
On my ballot, however, the bar remains high. Too high for most. I cannot base my vote on the results of previous ballots. I will not vote for a player I believe turned to performance-enhancing drugs, even if for a brief time. And I will not lower my standards, even if they are mine alone. Again, there is great and there is the Hall, which is better than great. It's not gate-keeping, nothing that dramatic. Just my opinion.
All that said, there is a point here:
Congratulations, Roberto Alomar.
- Roberto Alomar
- Bert Blyleven
- Jack Morris
- Barry Larkin
- Andre Dawson