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There’s nothing like the combination of the Hot Stove season’s Christmas break, the impending Hall of Fame ballot deadline and holiday idle hands to inspire some needless hot takes. Just ask anyone on Sports Twitter.
The past few days that’s meant the hot take artists have taken aim at the previously impervious Mariano Rivera, the consensus G.O.A.T. of baseball closers and the biggest new name on the 2019 Cooperstown ballot.
There isn’t a world in which Rivera doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame on his first try. He has 100 percent of the vote so far on the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker, which counts the publicly known ballots. The 100 percent, though, is from 89 ballots — so a fraction of the full electorate, which last year was 422 ballots. The deadline for Baseball Writers Association of America voters to cast their ballots is Dec. 31, so there’s still a ways to go in ballot-collecting.
Mo is certainly deserving. He’s the all-time saves leader and a five-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees whose 0.70 October ERA in 141 innings remains one of the great all-time postseason legacies. Heck, he’s got an award named after him — anybody with an award named after them is probably a sure-thing for the Hall of Fame.
But remember what I said up top: This is the time of the year where people like to use Hot Sports Takes as kindling for their holiday fires. So instead of accepting the facts about Rivera, we’re seeing people fall all over themselves trying to downplay his legacy.
Take Bill Ballou, a Boston-area sportswriter, who is just not voting this year instead of voting for Rivera. His philosophy here: He thinks saves are overrated and doesn’t think Rivera should be the first player to get into the Hall of Fame unanimously — which could happen but is far from certain. Ballou’s solution? He not slighting Rivera by excluding him or just turning in a blank ballot. He’s flat-out not voting.
From his column in the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram:
With baseball becoming increasingly dependent on analytics, I think that closers will eventually evolve out of fashion, but the opposite could happen. Maybe new research will determine them to be the most critical components of a pitching staff.
I could be wrong about all of this, and everyone I have the debate with says, “I see your point, but Rivera is different.” Maybe he is and I’m just missing something. Rivera could be the first Hall of Famer elected unanimously. I think I’m right about closers, but not so much that I would deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.
Thus, I’m not voting this year. A submitted blank ballot is “no” vote for every candidate, so I’m doing a Switzerland and not sending one at all.
In the age of Hall of Fame grandstanding, this isn’t altogether surprising. Voters have been getting cute with their votes for years now — whether it’s how they reconcile the legacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (a legit tough spot) or Dan Le Batard selling his ballot to Deadspin (a legit sideshow).
In this case, though, it seems like a needless hot take wrapped up in weird logic. We’ve seen the value of the pitcher win change over the years — that doesn’t mean voters just ignore starting pitchers. Plus, it’s a Boston-area writer going against a Yankees legend. Even though Ballou says that’s not the reason for his stance, it’s hard to ignore the optics.
We’ve seen this before. There’s always someone who doesn’t want Ken Griffey Jr. to get in with 100 percent of the vote. Or Greg Maddux. Or whoever. It’s usually silly. Sometimes the reasoning goes like, “Well, if Willie Mays didn’t get 100 percent, no one should.” Other times, it’s these odd leaps of logic.
Remember the time a voter picked Hideo Nomo, but not Frank Thomas, Tim Glavine or Greg Maddux because he didn’t want to vote for anybody from the PED era, but was certain that Nomo was clean because he’d seen him play in Japan?
That brings us to Michael Needham. If his name doesn’t a ring in baseball circles, well, that’s OK. He’s the chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio and he most certainly does not have a Hall of Fame vote, but he entered into the fray on Christmas Eve to expound upon why Rivera shouldn’t be elected unanimously.
Yeah, you know it’s Hall of Fame season when the politicos start sliding into the sports elections.
Mariano Rivera is tied with Robin Ventura for career wins above replacement. He pitched 24% of the innings Greg Maddux pitched in his career. The notion he’s a unanimous Hall of Famer is insane.
— Michael Needham (@MikeNeedham) December 24, 2018
And I’m making an argument about the relative value of the closer position. It’s a celebrity position and he excelled in it (while pitching in NY). He pitched about half as many inning as Koufax. https://t.co/tWCkxb9rcD
— Michael Needham (@MikeNeedham) December 24, 2018
Phew! At least he’s not saying Rivera doesn’t belong. He’s saving that for the Boston scribes.
The good news here: Hall of Fame election results will be announced Jan. 22.
The bad news: That’s still almost a whole month of Hall of Fame Hot Takes. Brace yourselves.
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